You are on page 1of 86

Issue 49

December 2008

Table of Contents

Ray Gun Revival
Overlords (Founders / Editors) Johne Cook, L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn Venerable Staff A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor Matthew Winslow - Book Reviews Editor Shannon McNear - Lord High Advisor, grammar consultant, listening ear/sanity saver for Overlord Lee Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand L. S. King - Lord High Editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer Slushmasters (Submissions Editors) John M. Whalen Alice M. Roelke Jenn Silva David Wilhelms Serial Authors Sean T. M. Stiennon M Keaton Keanan Brand Cover Art “Merry Christmas” by Gary Tonge 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

2 3 4 9 9 14 14 22 22 27 27 34 34 41 41 46 51 62 71 71 86

Table of Contents Overlords’ Lair: Merry Christmas, 2008 Gifts From the Galaxy, by Clinton Lawrence Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell Regeneration by Martin Turton RGR Reviews - Book Reviews Matthew Winslow, Reviews Editor Featured Artist: Gary Tonge, UK Calamity’s Child, Chapter Five ROP: Skip a Rope, Part Two by M. Keaton Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand Memory Wipe, Chapter 24 Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon The RGR Time Capsule November 2008
All content copyright 2008 by Double-edged Publishing, a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.

Pg. 2

Rev: 200812A

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Merry Christmas, 2008

Overlords’ Lair
Merry Christmas, 2008
Christmas write this. The snow Cramer gathered together an anthology Itisisdeep on the Eve as I looks like. The street was a tome.Space OperaatRenaissance, pages, ground. It certainly looks like called The and it what I think Christmas weighing in nearly 1000

Pg. 3

outside is completely quiet in my small town, it examines space opera from the beginning and we have our own silent night. up to the present day. It’s a Who’s Who of space opera authors, from Leigh Brackett to We have peace on earth, or at least in one John C. Wright. small town in Wisconsin. Aah. I can feel the stress leading up to the holidays melt away. It didn’t end there. 2008 saw the release of It is a great feeling. The New Space Opera, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. Gardner Dozois I recently had occasion to corrospond briefly is a legend and Strahan is an up-and-comer with SF author Dave Wolverton. I signed up who continues to impress. for his e-mail list, and he said he liked the name of our humble little publication. He At RGR, 2008 was our best ever. We published said he’d just written a space opera novella 40 short stories. We featured artists from the for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine USA, the UK, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Show. Then he something that gets the heart China. We introduced film reviews from Paul of everything we’ve been working toward for Christian Glenn, and added book reviews the past two and a half years. “So here’s a edited and written by Matthew Winslow question for you: does it seem to you that and featuring newcomers Steve Davidson there actually is something of a revival of the and Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. We added new genre?” Slushmasters to the team. We published all or part of new original serial novels. Who When we started looking at the landscape in knows what 2009 will bring? late 2005, there wasn’t much in the way of space opera out there for us to look at. We I’m going to keep this short to get this oiut. started making preparations for Ray Gun Merry Christmas from Ray Gun Revival Revival in January of 2006 and opened our magazine! virtual doors that July. Our one goal was to Johne Cook do our small part to revive the genre. Overlord Breezeway, WI USA The timing couldn’t have been better. That December, 2008 year, editors David G. Hartwell & Kathryn

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Gifts From the Galaxy by Clinton Lawrence

Pg. 4

Gifts From the Galaxy
by Clinton Lawrence

A

lump of coal. Walt was really annoyed now.

missing. Let’s just call in the morning, and get some sleep.” She went upstairs without waiting for his response. He reluctantly followed, for what little good it did him. He must not have slept more than fifteen minutes all night. In the morning, he finally got the police. He thought he heard a human voice, a woman, though it was getting harder to tell. “I want to report that someone broke into my house,” he said. “Anything missing?” “Yeah,” Walt said. “Some milk and cookies.” He said it calmly. From the living room, Eileen said, “You’re sounding like an idiot.” The dispatcher was talking at the same time, but Walt heard only Eileen. He had to ask her to repeat. “Left some gifts under the tree, right?” “Yes.” “We don’t have time to deal with milk and cookie thieves, all right?” With crime almost nonexistent since the occupation, he wondered what the police could possibly be doing that was more important than investigating burglary. “What do you want me to do, then, just forget about

it?” “I would suggest you just open your gifts. If you find something important missing, call us then. Happy holidays.” The dispatcher terminated the call. He never wanted to open the mysterious gift, he had not wanted Eileen or Pam or Johnny to open theirs, either. But they had all received fine presents, better than the ones he had bought. Pam, who could sit for hours looking at a map of their own county, received an interactive atlas of the alien worlds (or at least some of them). Walt was a little surprised they would give a human access to something like that. Johnny got a complete alien spaceship simulator. At least, that’s what it said on the box. Walt didn’t believe that it resembled a real spaceship cockpit in any detail, despite the guarantee. Eileen’s was one of those weird musical instruments the aliens had just started importing, along with sheet music. She, for reasons he could not comprehend, had recently become interested in that kind of noise, much to his disgust. They urged him on, despite his protests. And they laughed when he pulled the coal out of the box, laughed so hard that he almost began to believe that this was some evil prank. “Read the card,” Pam said. “Tell us what it says.” He read it to himself. “Dear Walter, you

He had discovered the invasion of his home at about twelve-thirty. There were already presents spread around the base of the tree when he came down the stairs, and not the ones he and Eileen had bought for their children. He looked around the house, couldn’t find anything, went outside with a flashlight, and finally returned inside. Eileen was waiting for him in the kitchen. “Can’t you be a little more quiet?” she said. “You’re going to wake the kids.” “Someone broke in.” “I noticed. Did you eat the cookies the kids left?” “No. They’re gone?” “Nothing but crumbs.” Walt had been thinking all evening about the cookies—double chocolate chip—and the milk to wash them down. “Help me look around. We’ve got to find out if we’re missing anything else.” Eileen went off looking, and Walt called the police. Busy signal. He looked for five minutes, and called again. Busy. He tried every five minutes for an hour until Eileen finally rebelled. “Forget it,” she said. “There’s nothing else

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Gifts From the Galaxy by Clinton Lawrence
must learn to be a better host in the next year. there myself until this afternoon.” Love, Santa.” Walt looked at the roof again. “You’re right. “What the hell does that mean? He got the That would really ruin the holiday, falling off milk and cookies, didn’t he?” the roof. Merry Christmas, Harold. Maybe we’ll see you later.” Eileen and the kids looked at him, but he just threw the card in the fire. “I’m going over “Always welcome. Show you the antique to wish Harold a merry Christmas.” power tools Santa gave me.” Harold was outside, looking at the roof of his tract mansion. Almost the whole world consisted of these tract mansions now, everyone living in identical houses. They were bigger houses than most of them had before, to be sure. Three stories, seven bedrooms (even if you didn’t need them), with a bathroom attached to each, libraries, offices, dens, five-car garages, and enough land for tennis courts, a swimming pool, and an extensive garden, complete with automated gardening equipment. “Someone break into your house last night?” Harold asked across the fence, lifting off his baseball cap and running his left hand through his thin gray hair. Harold’s mutt Scooter came to the fence and barked. “Yes.” “Sleigh tracks on the roof. Look, on yours, too.” Harold pointed. “I guess I’ll have to make the chimney more secure. Do you have any ideas?” “Too late for that, isn’t it? Didn’t do no harm, anyway.” “I’m going to go up there and take a look.” “Pretty icy up there now. Wouldn’t go up

Pg. 5

all day, every day, not the least sympathetic to his complaints. He couldn’t walk down the hall to the bathroom without Pam accosting him with some stupid trivial fact like the population of Bimipso, the largest city on the planet Zimmercron, a place he firmly wished he had never heard about. But Johnny was the worst. Johnny would actually seek him out, pull him away from the latest pre-invasion violent cop movie he was watching, and force him to be the “You got power tools?” co-pilot in the simulator, pushing buttons and Harold nodded. “You?” pulling levers on command, and then getting angry when he would make a mistake and “It was the aliens, you know. They did it all.” cause them to crash. The thought was intruding upon him these were “Gave us the houses, didn’t they? Never addictions.thattuned in to anthe beginnings of He old Untouchables had none like this before the aliens came. Got episode. These were cops who took action. He a certain right to come give us more stuff if deserved that kind of service. Not until he got they want.” an apology from the police department, and an investigation, would he be satisfied. “I just don’t like them breaking in.” Walt had to wait five days because of the “Got to go.” Harold waved and went inside. labor reforms the aliens had brought to earth. Walt decided to go for a walk in the The first was the two-day work week. The greenbelt, where he would not be able to see second major reform was the three-hour work sleigh tracks on the roofs. Unfortunately, trees day, which for most people started at ten and without leaves failed to hide much, and he ended at two, with an hour for lunch. The most finally went back to his home, helped his son important reform of all, however, was that assemble the simulator, and then hid himself there was not actually any work that needed in the den watching old Dirty Harry movies. No to be done. It was all performed by invisible one interrupted him until it was time to carve nanomachines or magic, depending on who a the turkey. person believed. On the thirtieth, another work day came, and the police business office would be open. As Walt had to wait five days. Five days of He would file his complaint just after lunch.ask he was leaving, Eileen reminded him to agony. He stuck the lump of coal in a corner her best friend Barbara to come over for New of the cellar well hidden by other trash so he wouldn’t be able to see it, but it was never Year’s Eve. forgotten. Eileen played her alien noisemaker He rehearsed his speech in his mind as he #

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Gifts From the Galaxy by Clinton Lawrence
drove to work. There was no trace left of the Christmas sleigh tracks, but he imagined them on each mansion he passed, imagined the arc through the sky (for he had no doubt the aliens responsible for the crime did, in fact, have a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer), imagined them eating cookies everywhere they went. No wonder Santa Claus was portrayed as weighing about four hundred pounds, having to eat several billion cookies every Christmas Eve. His greatest wish was that chocolate was toxic to the aliens. He awoke from his fantasies when he car suddenly skidded to a stop in the middle of an intersection, where another motorist was angrily giving him the finger. It was hard to have an accident now, you almost had to try. Traffic was light even during commute time in urban areas thanks to the redistribution of population and the automatic collision prevention systems, both alien mandates.

Pg. 6

Walt stopped listening when they started He got up and left. talking about their gifts. He was pretty sure he was the only one at the table with a lump of # coal. Lynn had passed him the sports section, and he focused his attention on the hockey The officer who came to the lobby to meet report. He was deep into the description of a him was the only person he saw in the police rare fight between Edmonton and the Rangers station, other than the receptionist. She led when Phil rudely interrupted him. him to a small office in the back. The room had only a desk and two chairs. The walls were “We asked you what you got from Santa.” blank, though the white paint was scratched in places. He could tell she was an alien imme“I don’t want to talk about it.” diately because her eyes were just a little too “Come on, tell us,” Lynn said. “You don’t purplish to be really brown, her hair was just have to be embarrassed.” on the green side of black, and her skin alternated between pale pink and burnt orange. “It’s not that. It’s just that I feel we’ve been These were subtle differences, but ones he had invaded, and I don’t like.” learned to recognize. “We have been invaded,” Phil said. “And as When they were seated, Walt said, far as I can tell, it’s a damn good thing, too.” “Someone broke into my house late Christmas Eve, I “I bet he’s jealous because his present isn’t want and to want something done about it. I He arrived at work at three minutes after you investigate, to catch and prosecute ten and headed straight to the cafeteria, as as good.” the burglar, and I want it done now. I called to always, for the morning coffee break. Indecireport it as soon as I discovered it, and your “It’s not that.” sive, he spent a few minutes before deciding damn dispatcher wouldn’t do anything. We on an Irish coffee and a jelly roll. Barbara rose from the table. “There’s one deserve better.” Barbara gestured to him, and he sat down easy way to find out.” She walked to the phone “Let me look at your file a moment. Yes, at her table. Teri, Lynn, and Phil were sitting on the wall. you did call the department. You were quite with her. It was a mistake, Walt realized imme“Don’t you dare.” persistent, in fact. That is not necessarily an diately, because Teri was reading an editorial admirable trait. From the transcript here, I about the great miracle of Santa’s visit, and Barbara called and talked briefly. “A lump think the dispatcher handled the matter quite how thankful they should be for all the aliens of coal! He got a lump of coal!” professionally. That part of the investigation were doing for the Earth. He imagined the alien we can close right now.” “So that’s why you’re so grumpy today,” editor snickering as he/she/whoever wrote it. Lynn said. “Professionally? She blew me off!” “It was nice of them, wasn’t it?” Barbara “What did you do that was so bad?” Phil said. “We all got wonderful presents.” “The milk and cookies were on the mantle asked. for your Santa, if I understand your customs. “The best ever,” Lynn said. burglar, as you call him, did leave “I didn’t do anything. I’ve got some business And the under the tree, right? Do you really presents “I wouldn’t go quite that far,” Phil said. to take care of. I’m taking an early lunch.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Gifts From the Galaxy by Clinton Lawrence
want us to arrest Santa Claus, Walter?” about it now. Thank you for explaining it.”

Pg. 7

not capable of taking care of ourselves. Everything they do belittles us. I can just feel them “I want you to arrest the alien who invaded “I’m glad you understand. We’ll try to contact smirking at us every time I see them. They’ve my home!” Santa for you and extend your apologies to him. got a secret agenda. Make no mistake about I’m sure he’ll forgive you.” it. They’re mocking us, mocking our traditions, “I’m reading in your file that you received a and I’m sick of it. They have no respect. And lump of coal. Is that correct?” # once they’re finished with us, once we’re not amusing to them anymore, they’re going to “I never told you that!” By the time Walter had finished lunch take what they gave us, and anything else they “It’s part of the record. In my opinion, and returned to work, he was furious again. want, and do you think we’ll be prepared to that’s what this is about, Walter. Apparently He understood what happened. It always survive then? I want them gone. I want them you didn’t understand the message. We’re happened when he encountered an alien to leave the Earth now.” getting complaints mostly from people who while in an angry mood. The aliens had a way And Walter left work, left work an hour got a lump of coal and didn’t understand the of suppressing anger with voice or telepathy or message. Therefore, I will attempt to explain possibly something even stranger. He had had early, and went home to write his letter. His letter was almost his speech, verbatim, but the message. If at any time, you do not under- enough of the aliens’ toying with them. with three or four profanities scattered through stand, feel free to interrupt. “I’m going to have to write a letter,” he told every sentence. He proofread it three times “You are a hostile host, Walter. This is his friends at work. “They won’t be able to before transmitting it, proud that he alone had considered rude almost everywhere in the suppress that until after I’m finished.” the courage to confront the invaders. galaxy. Our species, and most of the advanced “Bad idea,” Lynn said. peoples, avoid planets with rude hosts. You # humans are marginally hospitable, but with “I our aid, influence, and training, we believe you said. don’t understand your problem,” Barbara The next morning, when he went out to “Just think of all they’ve given us. Our can grow beyond that and become truly excep- wonderful houses, spectacular cars, unlimited get the paper, there was a moving van in his tional hosts, and when you are ready, guests travel, world peace and prosperity. They even driveway. The police officer he had spoken to on our worlds as well. Therefore, we have cleaned up all the pollution. And all they’ve was there as well. come to your world to stay, to teach, to give. we let them live here with us. We have given prosperity, leisure, and peace. asked is thatwe’re getting a bad deal. I know I Harold was talking to the police officer. He hardly think I You yourself, Walter, have received much more wouldn’t want to go back to living in that two- waved to Walt as Scooter pissed on his roses. than that lump of coal. You have nothing to bedroom dump of an apartment we had before “Heard you was leaving for a while. Want me to complain about.” watch the place?” they came.” As she spoke, Walter began to feel himself “That won’t be necessary,” the officer said. “Sooner or later calm. She was right. This wasn’t so bad, a lump and start taking.” they’re going to stop giving “They won’t be coming back for a long time. of coal and some missing cookies. This was a You’ll have some new neighbors soon.” good thing, really. These aliens were the best Phil laughed. “They can keep taking the “What’s this all about?” Walt said. By this friends Earth ever had, once he thought about bad things from us all they want.” time, Eileen and the kids had come out as it. “You don’t understand.” Walter stood up. well. “Thank you,” Walter said. “I feel much better “They’re treating us like children, like we’re

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Gifts From the Galaxy by Clinton Lawrence
“Some good news,” the officer said. “Santa contacted us and explained that he made a terrible misjudgment. You shouldn’t have received a lump of coal after all. While the reason listed on your card remains valid, that you should learn to be a better host, he feels that your hostility is the result of great stress in your life, as demonstrated in your actions yesterday. A long vacation is a more appropriate gift. He hopes you will understand that even he can make a mistake and that you will forgive him.” “Vacation? Vacation where?” It was Pam who said this, Walt thought, although he was confused about the whole thing. “You’re going on a tour of some our home worlds. All of you. We wouldn’t want to separate you from your family.” “How wonderful!” Eileen said. “What a special gift!” Pam and Johnny were jumping up and down. “It’s a good thing I got my atlas, isn’t it, Dad?” Pam said. “We’ll know how to get everywhere.” “That’s right,” the police officer said. “And maybe they’ll teach me how to fly spaceships,” Johnny said. “You think they might do that?” “We can’t promise anything,” the police officer said. “I’m sure the commander will let you visit the bridge, though.” She turned back to Walt. “This is the best part. Santa says here in this card that he thinks you can learn to be a better host by being a guest on our worlds. You’ll be able to take everything with you. Your space on the ship is as big as your house. Here are your tickets.” She handed him an envelope. “It won’t take long to load the van. We have a taxi arriving in a few minutes. I think everything’s arranged. Have a great trip.” “Thanks.” “Wish it was me,” Harold said. “Never did travel as much as I’d like. Maybe the Grand Canyon this summer, if I’m lucky.” Maybe these aliens weren’t so bad after all, Walt thought. Just maybe everyone else was right, and the aliens did have good intentions. He felt a little breeze, something like euphoria, brush over him.

Pg. 8

Clinton Lawrence
Clinton Lawrence is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. His fiction has appeared in Galaxy, Reflection’s Edge, T-Zero, The Fortean Bureau, Walking Bones, and a number of other publications. For several years, he was a staff writer for Science Fiction Weekly. A former electrical engineer, he now teaches high school science, and lives in Davis, California.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke

Pg. 9

Evergreen and Always
by Alice M. Roelke

T

he phone rang. Bill Salle scrubbed the towel across his hair again and walked to the phone. The screen said it was long distance, from Mars. He slung the towel to the back of a chair across the room, pressed a button. “Hello?” A face appeared on the screen, a tensed, lonely, rich, bloated white face. A man who worked long hours, slept little and worried plenty. The kind of man who could afford to hire the solar system’s best and most expensive messenger service. “Bill Salle?” His accent had more Earth than Mars. He wasn’t tall enough to be native Mars, either. “Yeah.” The man blinked at Bill’s hair sticking up, still damp. “Excuse my appearance. I just showered.” Sometimes you had to be extra polite with rich people. The wealthy man cleared his throat. “I need a rush delivery.” “That’s my job.” Bill hesitated. “But it is Christmas Eve. I usually don’t work in December.” Bill had earned enough from his years on the job that technically, he was semiretired. In December he went on a cruise, or tinkered with his old space junkers. By January, he was usually ready to go back to work. “Well, I’ll pay top dollar. Whatever your price is, name it.” “One way or double?” The man stared

at him, so Bill reiterated. “Do you just need something delivered to Mars, or from Mars to Earth?” Since the war had ended, deliveries weren’t such a problem. Nor would one generally try to hire Bill for what was now pretty much a cake run. “I need a Christmas tree.” Bill blinked. “Maybe the connection’s bad. You need what?” The man’s face reddened slightly. “A Christmas tree, all right? Evergreen. Pine needles. Get the picture?” “No need to get tough.” Bill eased into a chair in front of the desk, facing the connection. “They’re illegal on Mars, you know. All imported plants are. Well, I suppose a scientist could get one—if he had a good enough reason, and waded through enough red tape.” He stared at his would-be employer. “What do you need one for?” “That’s none of your business. I’ll pay anything you ask. Anything. But I have to have it—by tomorrow. I was informed you were the only one who could get here that reliably, that fast, and without too many questions asked. Was I informed wrongly on any of these accounts?” Bill thought. “Any special tree?” The man waved a hand dismissively. “Just pick one.”

So it couldn’t be some sleight-of-hand smuggling operation. “All right. One pine tree, delivered to you by Christmas, payment of one million. Let’s get a contract whipped up, and I’ll go.” The rich man nodded. # “I need a Christmas tree.” Bill stood in front of the stand with the faded holographic sign in the air rotating “Holiday Trees - Ho Ho Ho.” The trees leaned against a wooden frame. Old-fashioned light bulbs strung between and around them. “Anything particular?” The tree man’s gloves were cut off at the knuckles. He blew on his fingertips. He stood in front of his wares, regarded Bill as if trying to weigh how much he could afford. “Six foot. Pine. Whatever you’d sell a rich guy for a mansion.” He shoved a handful of fifties at the tree man. “And hurry.” The man looked down at the money, and shoved it in his pocket. “Yes, Sir.” # Bill yawned into his coffee cup. In the pilot’s seat of his latest delivery ship, the Argonaut, Bill watched the engine gnaw away at space. Ships these days. Would they ever

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke
stop getting faster? Made him feel downright got a job.” He’d sent gifts ahead. That would old to remember the wars he’d lived through, have to do. the people who’d been alive and now weren’t, Julie frowned. “Again? Uncle Bill, Mom said the millions who’d been born since him and now counted themselves adults alongside him, you promised to come this year.” yet had no knowledge of the terrible years. “Tell her sorry. Something came up.” Sometimes he was glad they didn’t “Well, surprise remember. Sometimes he wanted to stand up visit from don’t blame me if you get a for New her and some other people and say, “Stop. Pay attention. You’re forgetting Year’s!” something important.” He The phone rang. He swiveled the butter-soft, Thanks grinned. “I’ll be sure to be out of town. for the warning.” ergonomic chair he’d never have dreamed of having in the old days, and pressed a button. Julie bopped herself on the forehead and grimaced. “Oh! I gave it away.” “Uncle Bill?” A little blonde’s face appeared in the round of the phone’s face. Bill gave her a smile. His hand hovered over the button, but he didn’t want to hang up on his “Hi, Julie.” niece. He waited. “Is there something else?” “Mom wants to know if you’re coming to Christmas dinner.” Her smile disappeared. “No.” She shook her head. “Happy Christmas, Uncle.”

Pg. 10
Sometimes he wished they’d all just shut up. Mars won independence. Years ago. What was left to campaign and complain about? “Arachnid to unidentified ship.” Words spilled over his radio. Bill sat up straight. On his screen flicked a slim blue ship, as newfangled and fast-looking as Argonaut. And bigger. A lot bigger. His ship’s ID transmitter, the automated signal that constantly identified a ship, pilot, destination, and course, was disabled on Bill’s ship. But if he spoke Arachnid would be able to decipher his identity from his voice print. Probably in about five seconds flat, the way machines worked these days. He gripped the controls. Time to see what this ship could do under pressure. The Arachnid, equipped with a stealth model not unlike his own, hadn’t shown on his scanner, and he couldn’t have shown on its until close. It was pure chance they’d bumbled onto each other. But it would be more than luck if he got out of their scan distance. He zoomed forward, maintaining radio silence. Pushed the throttle. Faster. Fast enough? He increased acceleration until a tiny, growing thrum shook through his protesting ship. It even vibrated his ergonomic chair. Arachnid followed, its engines bigger, but its acceleration slower. He watched as it slid further back on his screen, and further. Then it disappeared. Bill sat back and locked course. After three

Bill thought of roast turkey, of aged relatives “Thanks. You too.” who would want to reminisce about the wars. Of younger ones who’d want to hear stories. After the phone call, he leaned back and The same stories, over and over, the stories tried to read. But he couldn’t keep his eyes Bill hated. And his sister, regarding him, as she open and fell asleep in the too-comfortable asked him carefully how he’d been. chair. She’d never been an unalloyed fan of his, He awoke at the beep for proximity to Mars. but at least he’d been marginally acceptable as He flicked the concealment device that would a war hero. Now she saw him as a man who’d allow him smooth passage without official threw away all his prospects to take up work notice. Looking down at the red surface, tinted as a messenger barely better than a smuggler. in planes and places with green, he studied Bill did not look forward to seeing her, hearing Mars, the Mars he both liked and disliked, but her dance around the things she really wanted would never really know, because he was from to say. Earth. His niece looked at him expectantly, Sometimes he felt a fond regard for Mars, awaiting his answer. “Sorry. I can’t come. I’ve and her stridently self-sufficient inhabitants.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke
minutes, he changed direction, flew some Earth lungs. Big houses, wealthy houses lined more, then headed down towards the atmo- the street. With the slightly bouncing steps sphere. of a native Earther, he strode to a house and knocked. He sat back and thought. Was a stealth patrol standard? Or were they expecting Gustle opened the door in person. Some of Christmas smugglers? He hadn’t been here in the worry marking his face dropped away. “You so long, he had no idea. made it. That was quick.”

Pg. 11

Argonaut dipped into the atmosphere, smooth and neat as a pin, her slick super-aerodynamic needle shape engineered to reduce drag. The inside of the ship didn’t heat. The furniture didn’t rattle. He took another sip of Bill blinked. coffee. It didn’t feel like you were entering an atmosphere at all. Flying one of his old rebuilt Gustle looked back at Bill, smiled an apology. pre-war wrecks would be a lot more fun. He “You got it? If we could get it in… Where is it?” imagined the rattling shake of an old junker. Fighting the controls, the atmosphere that “In my ship. I wanted to make sure I had the would burn him alive if he didn’t hit it just right place.” right. “I’ll help you.” Gustle stepped outside Down in the terraformed atmosphere, Bill with quick steps and shut the door. His stride flew for Wells City, where his client lived. A stronger than the gravity marked him as EarthGlifford Gustle, he’d signed himself. You had born. to be rich with a name like that. Bill imagined “That’s okay. I can carry it.” Bill walked back boarding schools, trust funds, sinecures, and to Argonaut, hauled the tree out, and stood pork. And now a Christmas tree all the way from Earth, right on Christmas Eve. If he gave it on its stump. The branches thumped down it half a try, Bill could get belligerent about and bounced back up with a rustle. Both men stared at the long-needled tree. Pine scent earning this million credits. filled the Mars air. A prosperous little city, Wells. Bill had been “It’s a nice one,” said Gustle finally. “I’ll pay here when it was barely a dustbowl. He parked his chariot at the landing strip on the right you as soon as we get it inside. My little girl’s street and locked her behind him, taking note anxious to see it.” of the other visiting cruisers. High end, mostly the weight. His muscles shiny pleasure ships. Lots of Earth-made, too: felt“Fine.” Bill hefted would have when he was it more than they probably people from back home visiting the younger, but it wasn’t a long trip or a heavy Mars transplants. tree, as trees and trips went. The air was oxygen-comfortable to his

Gustle gave a forced laugh. “My daughter just read A Christmas Carol. Nothing would do but to celebrate Christmas in the old Earth style, even though she considers herself a native Marser in every other respect. Most folks here decorate a tomato plant with paper chains. Red fruit and green leaves, you know. It’s an old Mars tradition.” He held the door for From the house, a little girl’s voice called, Bill. “Daddy, is that my tree?” Around the pine smell, the house Bill entered smelled of medicine, a peculiarly He turned his head, “Just a moment, Julie.” hospital odor. A little girl’s piercing squeal. “My tree! Daddy, it’s perfect!” Hands clapped. Bill expected to see her past the branches, jumping up and down. Probably a little princess with miniature earrings, perfect hair, and perfectly spoiled. But there was no movement. Instead, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure huddled on a long couch. “Have you got a tree stand?” Bill set the tree down. “No,” said Gustle. “I hadn’t thought of that. We’ll have to jury rig something. Eudora—” Gustle looked around. A servant appeared from the background. “Could you get Godwin to find something for a stand?” The native-looking Marser nodded and moved off with quick, quiet steps on the tile and carpeted floor. Gustle moved out of the way so the figure on the couch could better see the tree. A girl huddled on the couch under a big,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke
star-patterned quilt. She looked ten or twelve; Bill couldn’t tell anymore. Too old for Santa, too young for mistletoe. She looked up with wide, open eyes and a big grin in an unhealthy white face. Her bones were the long bones of a native Marser. Her eyes had the socket look to them of cancer. And her head was bald under a knit hat slipping sideways. But the eyes in the sockets danced with life. “Daddy, it’s perfect!” Gustle hunkered and put an arm around the girl’s thin shoulders. “I’m glad you like it, honey.” The little girl stared at the tree like it was a wedding cake. “I can’t wait to decorate it with Grandma’s ornaments!” “You’ll have to be careful. Remember, they’re antiques. Just like me.” “Oh, Daddy!” Bill shifted slightly. “Can you find someone else to hold this?” “Of course. Of course. I’ll be right back, honey.” Gustle rose with a creak in his knees. He strode from the room, calling, “Patton?” Branches poked at Bill’s eyes. He brushed them aside. The little girl stared at his face undisguised and curious. She began to talk. “I bet it was hard to get here. How’d you do it? I know it’s not legal. But Daddy asked what I wanted, if I could have anything for Christmas. I asked for a tree.” Bill replied carefully. “I can take messages just about anywhere, which is sort of like being

Pg. 12

a smuggler. It’s not difficult. Planets are big, Bill stood outside the house. Gustle faced and certain embargoes are hard to enforce, if him, counting out money. “Sorry about that. you’re good enough.” Making you wait, I mean. I should have had everything ready, but I really didn’t think you’d The girl nodded. “My daddy thinks I’m dying. arrive so soon.” He finished counting, and held I guess he’d get me almost anything if I asked out the money. for it. I mean not just for a Christmas present.” Bill hesitated. “That little girl of yours. She She didn’t sound as if she meant to brag. said you started a charity of some kind.” She was still staring at him, that little, sick face with the too-deep, curious eyes. “So you know Gustle gave an embarrassed laugh. “Was what I’m going to ask? I’m going to ask him she talking your ear off? Sorry.” to adopt another kid when I die. Somebody “It’s because of her, isn’t it?” who’ll grow up healthy. My daddy helps a lot of people have better lives. He supports all Gustle nodded, his kinds of charities—he even started one. But its heavy lines explained face suddenly serious, more fully than by late sometimes things need to be personal, you hours at an office. “’Julie’s Fund.’ To support—” know? Like family. He’ll need family, without He cleared his throat. me here to take care of him.” She smiled. “I know grown-ups don’t really need somebody Bill nodded at the cash in Gustle’s hand. to take care of them, but I feel like my daddy “Why don’t you give that to your fund?” does. My mother left us a long time ago. I think she lives out with a salesman on the asteroid Gustle shook his head. “No. I dragged you belt.” away from your family on Christmas Eve. I can’t possibly not pay you for your time.” He held She coughed into her hand. “I’m sorry.” She out the currency. “Cash. So there’s no trouble.” gave him a bright smile. “I’m talking too much. Thank you for getting my tree. Happy Christmas, Bill gave a slow nod. “All right. Let me get Mr.—” you an invoice first, so it will all be aboveboard.” He left Gustle standing with the cash in his “Salle.” He cleared his throat. “Bill Salle.” hands. Bill walked with long, Earther strides, Mars gravity. He Her eyes dimmed, then brightened. “I read bouncing slightly in the and stared at the put his hands in his pockets, sky, about you! You were that man—the man who thick with diamond jewel stars. Saw his breath stopped them from blowing up that second in the air. dome on the moon, during the Lunar War. You’re a real, live hero!” She leaned forward Christmas Eve on Mars. I wonder if they eagerly. “Can I have your autograph?” ever have snow? # He got into his ship, started the engine, and arced toward the stars. Out his window, he saw Gustle start to run after him, his mouth

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Evergreen and Always by Alice M. Roelke
opening and closing. He raised one hand with money flapping in it. Bill raised a hand and waved back. He didn’t spot the Arachnid again, but he flew in silence until safely outside Mars space. He punched the redial-last-number button of his phone. “Julie? Tell your mom I’ll be coming after all. My schedule cleared.” Like the kid had said, some things had to be personal.

Pg. 13

Alice M. Roelke
Alice M. Roelke could count as a starving artist, if she were a bit hungrier and wrote more artful stories. She lives in the United States, and hates Wonderland jokes.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants

Pg. 14

The Garbage Men
by Drew Arrants

“T

here’s CX740, right there in the upper left corner of the screen,” Navigator One said to the Weapons Officer as they sat at the starship’s flight console. “And this is one of its large outer planets. Some of its others will be visible soon.” “Well, I hope whatever we find doesn’t take long to clean up,” the Weapons Officer remarked. “We’ve been in deep space so long, I’ve almost forgotten what—” “Uh, oh,” his colleague said under his breath. “The Captain just walked in. We’d better look busy.” The two young crewmen hunched down and stared intensely at the navigational panels in front of them. While they did their best to appear occupied, the middle-aged figure moved unsteadily past them and finally exited the flight deck. “Look at him stagger,” Navigator One whispered disgustedly. “How can a starship commander get away with that?” It wasn’t easy to stagger with six legs for support, but the Captain had enough alcohol in him to manage it. He paused and steadied himself when he reached the hallway outside the First Mate’s office.

over our instructions from Strategic Mission Command, and they seem to be—well, incomplete. I can’t find coordinates for depots on any of the star’s planets. I don’t understand—” “SMC doesn’t have coordinates,” the Captain explained, “because we never established bases around this star. The last time one of our ships passed through this region was in the Tenth Millennium—well before we were capable of deep-space colonization.” The First Mate stared at her commander. “The Tenth—? Sir, I wasn’t aware that military records from that period still existed. I was taught at the Academy that practically all ancient archives had been destroyed during the last intergalactic war.” “Most of them were,” the Captain answered, hoping that the slight slur in his speech wasn’t detectible. “But you remember the news last year—about the discovery of a couple of long-lost tapes from the prewar era? Well, what the SMC historians found has sent us across 80% of the known cosmos, to this dismal galaxy. “It seems that one of our earliest intergalactic crews made an unscheduled stop somewhere in CX740’s system. They may even have landed on more than one of its planets. So now we’ve been directed to see if they left anything behind, and to undertake whatever disinfectant measures may be necessary.” Several hours later, the starship Sanitizer

Four had entered CX740’s solar system and was approaching the first of its two planets on which primitive space craft could have successfully landed. “You’d better alert the Captain,” the Science Officer said to the First Mate. “We’re coming within sensor range of planet CX740-4’s surface, and in a few minutes we’ll start scanning for debris.” “The Captain is—uh—’resting,’” answered the First Mate. “He instructed me to oversee the scanning and then report to him.” “Yeah, right,” the Science Officer muttered. He knew very well why the Captain found it necessary to rest. “Since we don’t have any coordinates, I think the best plan is to start at the north pole and work southward until we find something—or until the entire surface has been scanned.” “That will work satisfactorily. Proceed,” said the First Mate. “Call me when the results are in.” She went down to her office and was reviewing SMC’s procedure manual for planetary decontamination when the promised notification came. Within a few minutes she had returned to the flight deck and was standing by the Science Officer’s console. “Looks like we’ve found an old landing site—and I mean real old. Get a look at this.” The Science Officer pointed to the scan of a

The First Mate looked up from her desk and rose as the Captain entered. “Captain, sir! We should be reaching CX740’s solar system before the end of this shift. I’ve been looking

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
tiny area on the planet. The image showed three distinct depressions in the surface, each the same distance from the other two, like the points of an equilateral triangle. “This is amazing,” the First Mate said. “That has to be the footprint of one of those ancient Galaxy-class cruisers. I remember the classic tripod landing gear from that restored model at the Academy.” “That isn’t a restoration at the Academy,” the Science Officer replied. “It’s just a replica. The last Galaxy cruiser disintegrated into dust eons ago. We’re talking very ancient history here.” The First Mate realized that her fascination with the image was distracting her from the mission’s purpose. “Well—uh—what about the rest of the scanning? Did the crew leave any trash behind?” “There’s no evidence that they ever left the ship. Perhaps over the millennia, the winds might have covered their footprints with dust. But they didn’t leave any metal or synthetic debris, or it would light up our scanners. And if they dumped organic waste, it was quickly sterilized by solar radiation from CX740. This planet is as dead as a doornail.” Relief spread over the First Mate’s features. “Well, the Captain will be pleased to hear this. Now we only have one other planet to worry about. How far away is it?” Navigator One answered her question. “Right now that objective is almost directly on the other side of CX740, so we’re going to have to circle the star. That’ll take us almost a full shift.” By the time the starship had reached planet CX740-3, the Captain had recovered from the previous shift’s drinking. It was fortunate that he was now fully alert.

Pg. 15
is the organic material? Where’s the data about synthetics and refined metals?”

“Those results take a little longer to scan in, sir. Wait—the synthetic compounds report is “All right, Major,” the Captain said to the coming in now.” The Science Officer paused for Science Officer as he and the First Mate a moment as the information appeared on the entered the flight deck. “What’s all the excite- screen. “No artificial materials, sir.” ment about?” That was good news to the Captain, since a “It’s here in the preliminary scan analysis, positive synthetics scan would have indicated sir,” replied the agitated Science Officer. “The a highly developed civilization. The next scan whole planet—at least the hemisphere that we report, however, was alarming. can see—is covered with organic material. It’s “Sir—the sensors are picking up refined growing everywhere on the surface—and in metal.” the oceans, as well.” “Well, that must be the landing site,” the The Captain frowned and swore. “If it’s First Mate said. “Maybe the crew jettisoned on half the planet, it’s obviously worldwide. Blast those idiots—now we’re going to have to some trash tubes.” conduct a global sterilization operation.” “No, look at the scanner monitor,” the “Sir, how can we be sure that this organic Science Officer insisted. “It’s all over the place. material originated from our Galaxy cruiser?” They couldn’t have left this much metal behind the First Mate asked. “I know they reported if they’d dismantled the entire ship.” finding no evidence of life anywhere in this “My god,” the Captain thought as watched sector, but in all this time, couldn’t—?” the rapidly multiplying symbols spread over “Well, where else would it have come the screen. “Could this planet be inhabited by from?” the Captain snapped. “There’s been no intelligent creatures?” spacecraft in this region of the universe since He quickly called a our cruiser passed through in the Tenth Millen- officers. “Apparently themeeting of his senior garbage has evolved,” nium. SMC Intelligence is quite certain of that.” he told the assembled group, “and this presents The Science Officer added, “Also, the odds us with an ethnical dilemma. If whatever of life developing spontaneously in a dead creatures are down there have developed an galaxy, just by coincidence on the very same intelligence remotely close to our own, we planet that the cruiser landed on—well, that can’t simply exterminate them. We may have likelihood is much too small statistically to be to contact SMC for instructions.” credible.” He heard a restrained but audible collective groan from his staff. Communications over “Ah, well,” the Captain said, “how advanced

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
mega-light years of space would take more than a month to reach their home planet, followed by an equal amount of time for the reply to come back. planet’s waters would slow the analytic process considerably.

Pg. 16
this planet are very deep—” he glanced with irritation at the Flight Surgeon as he spoke— ”the Science Squadron has determined that this planet is an incredibly fertile site for the sowing of organic material. Literally millions of species have managed to develop in its environment—” “Yes, well, get to the bottom line,” the Captain interrupted. “What’s the state of intelligence among all these species?” “Well,” the Science Officer continued, “I can say with confidence that there is no aquatic life that would meet the criteria for higher intelligence. However, a primitive intelligence does exist in one land species—but only one, among all the millions growing there.” He pointed to the large screen on the wall behind him, as the first of a series of images appeared. “Believe it or not, this bizarre creature is actually the dominant species on this planet—despite the fact that, according to the infrared scans, it’s warm-blooded— which of course means it’s diverting most of its metabolic energy for heat rather than intellectual functions. “As you can see from these images, this species shows some signs of developing intelligence: It has built crude cities constructed of stone derivatives and organic material—demonstrating remarkable dexterity for a creature with only two upper limbs. It’s also learned how to refine metals, as we’ve noted, yet never applied that knowledge to construction. Not surprisingly, we can’t find any evidence of artificially modulated radio waves or any other form of telecommunications.” The officer enlarged one of the projected

The Captain sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. We’ll have to do that as well. Then we’ll The Science Officer definitely didn’t want to make operational decisions after all that’s been spend an additional ten weeks in deep space, completed. Are there any questions?” None so he spoke up. “Sir, according to the Academy was forthcoming, so he dismissed his officers of Federation Scientists, refined metal capa- to go about their duties. bility by itself has never been considered a Then he walked back to his quarters alone. marker of higher intelligence. It’s well known Once inside, the first thing he did was take a that some of the great builder primates back in our own galaxy developed that ability millions large bottle of liquor out of the cabinet and of years ago—and in the millennia that they’ve pour himself a stiff drink. been observed since then, they’ve shown “This was supposed to just another absolutely no potential for further intellectual routine inspection—followed,benecessary, by a if evolution. They’ve always remained merely brief decontamination procedure,” unusually intelligent animals. We’re probably “Yet now we have the possibility ofhe whined. intelligent dealing with the same situation here.” rubbish—how the hell am I supposed to deal The Captain listened warily to the Science with that?” Officer’s words. He took notice of the nodding glanced at portraits heads among his staff, confirming their obvious his The Captain grandfather the the wall. of father and on In desire to find a solution which wouldn’t prolong their day, both of those senior fleet admirals the already lengthy mission. had commanded the finest Destroyer-class starships in the universe, and their wartime “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he finally stated. “We’ll conduct a complete examina- victories were still required teaching at the tion of planet CX740-3’s ecosystem and life Military Academy. forms, including detailed photoscans and other He was ashamed to be drinking in front of imaging of its surface. Then we’ll analyze—” he such distinguished ancestors, but even more paused as the ship’s Flight Surgeon raised his his career so mediocre uppermost claw. “Yes, doctor,” he asked impa- ashamed that theirs. He had been now that he compared to knew by tiently. “What is it?” would never be promoted to admiral, and “Sir,” the physician said, “shouldn’t we would never command anything more glorious consider the possibility that intelligent life than a sanitizer ship. might have evolved in the oceans? We really Six days Officer presented ought to examine them in detail, too.” That an in-depthlater, the Sciencesenior staff. “After briefing to the suggestion was followed by another round a detailed analysis of the land areas, and a of subdued moaning. A thorough scan of the time-consuming study of the oceans, which on

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
photographs to show detail. “Beasts of burden,” he explained. “This species has learned to use less intelligent creatures for its own purposes, clearly establishing itself as the dominant life form. However, the extent to which it relies on other animals rather than machinery betrays the limitations of its primitive mind—” The Captain stood up. “I’ve seen enough,” he said. “This species is right on the border between class C intelligence, which merits a sanitation waiver based on developmental potential—and class D, the upper limit of animal intellect, which is subject to decontamination. It’s too close to call at the field level. “We’re going to have to communicate with SMC, and get their determination on this.” He knew that his decision would not sit well with a homesick crew too long away from loved ones. Turning to Navigator One, he ordered, “Move us further out until we’re in a stationary orbit around the planet. We’ll wait at that location until headquarters responds to our message. That’s all for now. Staff dismissed.” As usual after staff meetings, the Captain retired to his suite and reached for the liquor. The next two months, the approximate time for the reception of instructions from Strategic Mission Command, would pass very slowly, and neither he nor the crew would enjoy the long wait. “I am doing the right thing, am I not?” he asked, addressing his father’s painting. “I am a starship commander, just as you and Grandfather were—and I do hold the fate of an entire planet in my claws, even if—” he took a long drink, and then settled back into self-pity.

Pg. 17
While the Captain was getting drunk, the animals have a potential for intellectual develFirst Mate was making her daily rounds through opment?” the various sections of the Sanitizer Four. By The First Mate had seen all that she could midshift, she had reached the flight deck, bear. She clutched her abdomen with two of where she confronted the Science Officer. her claws and put two more over her mouth, “You know, major, it wasn’t very profes- trying to keep from gagging. “You had to show sional to scowl like you did during the staff me these images right after lunch, didn’t you, meeting—even if you weren’t happy with the major?” Captain’s decision.” The Science Officer watched with a mean “Hey, I didn’t appreciate the way he cut smile as the First Mate turned and walked me off before I could finish my briefing,” the away as rapidly as she could. She rushed to the Science Officer responded. “If he’d just let me nearest restroom, where she promptly threw show a little more, I might’ve convinced him up. how animalistic this disgusting species really is. The next four weeks passed slowly and Look here, for instance.” tediously for everyone aboard the Sanitizer He brought up an image on the console Four, but then the boredom was shattered at a screen, and the First Mate jerked in revulsion. highly charged senior staff meeting. It showed a group of the dominant creatures Intelligence Officer One stood before the standing around the roasted carcass of a larger Captain with obvious concern in his eyes. “Sir,” beast, ripping off chunks of flesh and devouring he reported, “our squadron has just discovthem. ered that our ship is under surveillance by the “Oh, my god!” she said. “That’s sickening— dominant species below—in fact, they’ve been they actually eat other creatures? I can’t tracking us for almost a month.” believe that.” She began to feel queasy. “What?” snarled the Captain. “That’s how “Well, if you think that’s repulsive,” the long we’ve been in orbit around the planet. Are Science Officer said, “get a load of this.” He you telling me that they’ve been observing our played back the video recording of an orgy ship ever since we got here—and your section scene while the First Mate stared, trying vainly is only now discovering that?” He glared at the to comprehend the creatures’ behavior. officer with a career-threatening look. “Well, sir,” Intelligence Officer One responded with a quaking voice, “we didn’t catch it earlier, because the unit tracking “They’re reproducing! You heard me cor- us is very small—only three agents at any rectly—this loathsome species actually makes one time—and they aren’t using any type of physical bodily contact when it reproduces. scanning equipment that our sensors can pick Now, how could anybody seriously ask if these up. Also, they’ve been clever enough to move “What in the world are they doing? Is that some kind of combat?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
only at night, when it’s almost impossible to detect them visually. “Intelligence Officer Two noticed an unusual pattern two nights in a row during his last two shifts, so I had him do a quick review of all the sequential photoscans of the area in question. The images confirm a month-long pattern of three figures tracking our ship. Clearly, the dominant species is more intelligent than we thought.” “And perhaps certain officers under my command are less intelligent that I’d thought,” said the Captain. “Now that your squadron has belatedly discovered this activity, have you made a determination as to whether it poses any serious threat to the Sanitizer Four’s mission?”

Pg. 18
analysis of the entire planet, and we’ve found wait for SMC guidance.” absolutely no evidence of any advanced weapHis voice had the ring of finality to it. There onry—there are a few organized territorystates with large land armies and navies—but was a brief silence within the room, and then he curtly dismissed his officers. None of them they’re all at a very primitive stage.” had any desire to linger. The Weapons Officer was sitting across The weekly staff meetings over the next the table from Intelligence Officer One. As a month were notably less emotional, to the contemporary of equal rank with his panicstricken colleague, he shared his discomfort. great relief of all present. Intelligence Officer “Captain,” he said, “we can easily destroy these One reported in his briefings that while the agents! That would send a strong message to tracking agents were still maintaining their nocturnal surveillance of the starship, his whoever’s tracking us that—” squadron had not observed any new activity of The Captain bit his tongue, resisting the urge significance on the world below. to lose his composure. “My god,” he thought, Finally, after what seemed an eternity to “was I as rash as today’s junior officers when I the crew of the Sanitizer Four, the all-important was their age?” reply from Strategic Mission Command arrived. He spoke forcefully. “Allow me to remind The Captain was somewhat into his cups when all of you that as of this moment, we have no notified of the communication, but he immediauthority to do any harm whatsoever to any ately assembled the senior staff. This informaspecies on this planet. Until we receive instruc- tion couldn’t wait, and besides, the importance tions from headquarters, we are limited to of his announcement would obscure any signs purely defensive action.” of intoxication which he might show. “SMC has evaluated our report, and has issued clear instructions. Planet CX740-3 has been classified as a Class D ecosystem. We are to proceed with sanitation procedures immediately.” He smiled at the rousing cheer which his words inspired from his crew. Although decontamination on a worldwide scale was an arduous procedure, at least the crew could finally complete its mission, and then head for home. The Captain looked directly at the Weapons Officer. “Since this planet is mainly water, we’ll eliminate that first. Prepare laser batteries to

“We—sir, we don’t see any—there’s no immediate threat.” The intimidated officer began to stammer. “All three of the agents are—they’re all carrying small quantities of refined metals, but we assume—these objects are either primitive weapons for self-defense, The First Mate was also feeling the tension or tokens for commerce or ornamentation. within the room. She considered suggesting There’s no conceivable way that they could that it might be prudent to move the Sanitizer pose any threat to a starship like ours, Sir.” Four out of stationary orbit, retreating to a more The Captain was becoming increasing distant location while awaiting SMC’s directive. impatient with the young officer’s answers. “I Noting the commander’s mood, however, she wasn’t asking about the offensive capabilities of remained silent. those agents, Lieutenant. Obviously, their sole A moment later, the Captain addressed her duty is to maintain a fix on our position and to report that information to their superiors. It’s unspoken concern. “I still think we’re dealing the capability of the powers who ordered our with a Class D ecosystem, although that’s for headquarters to determine. Even at Class C surveillance that I’m concerned about.” level, it could hardly have developed weapons Intelligence Officer One felt as if he were capable of reaching us. So we’re going to going to faint, right there in front of the entire remain in our present location and continue to senior staff. “Uh, sir, we’ve done an extensive monitor activity down on this planet, while we

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
boil away the seas.” Such an act would mean the eventual demise of all life in the global ecosystem, but time was of the essence. “When the oceans are vaporized, intensify the beam until the land masses are molten,” he continued. “Then we can report with certainty that all the garbage has been removed from the CX740 system.” The First Mate looked up at her unexpected guests. “The Captain’s—well, he’s retired to his quarters a bit early.” “Well, wake the old drunk up. We’ve got urgent news.” plasma beam—?”

Pg. 19

“That’s exactly right. That particular element is useful only in plasma beam weapons!” “This is a Class D culture,” protested the First Mate. “Isn’t it more likely that they’re using it for some other purpose?”

That demand brought a sharp rebuke from the First Mate. “Listen, you can’t talk about the The two subordinate officers exchanged commander like that! Who do you think you disdainful glances at their superior’s ignorance. “Yes, sir!” said the Weapons Officer enthu- are? Besides, we’ll all be going home soon, so “Everyone knows that gold is much too soft siastically. He had been waiting to hear those what could possibly be so—?” to have any utility as an ordinary metal,” the orders for weeks. “It’ll take us about three shifts “You listen,” snapped Intelligence Officer Science Officer said. “Besides, the probe has to fire up the laser generators to maximum intensity. Then we can decontaminate this One. “Remember how the Captain finally gave determined that both of the other agents permission last week to send a high-sensitivity are carrying organic resins—which would be filthy planet and be on our way.” probe into low orbit around this planet, after needed as the lubricant in a plasma cannon. Do The Captain returned to his quarters and saying for weeks that we couldn’t do that you really think that could be a coincidence?” reached for the alcohol. He was stung by SMC’s because it might be too provocative—” “Zenon’s fire!” swore the First Mate. “They harshest conclusion, one that he hadn’t shared “Of course, I recall that,” the First Mate must be preparing a counterattack before we with his staff: that he had greatly overestimatcan launch our sanitation procedures. Come ed the intelligence of the dominant species answered. “So what?” with me. I’ll make sure the Captain sobers below, and that delaying the disinfection to “So this,” the Science Officer obtain headquarters approval shouldn’t have “We finally got enough data backinterjected. up, and—I assure you—we’ll take immediate from that action.” been necessary. probe to do a detailed analysis on what those The Captain had a throbbing headache “They consider me an idiot,” he thought, tracking agents—the ones the Captain feels while he faced his hastily assembled staff. tossing the report onto his desk. “How can are so harmless—are actually carrying.” Ignoring the pain, he questioned Intelligence SMC suggest that the creatures below probably the crewmen’s words aren’t even aware of our presence! What are wasThe apprehension inI’m listening,” said the Officer One. “Okay, they going to claim after they get our final First contagious.on.” Mate. “Go “Are you sure that these creatures actually mission report—that those three agents were possess weapons of mass destruction, Lieutenjust observing the reflection of CX740 off our “We initially reported that the small amount Even if they have WMD hull, as if we were a bright star in the night of metal in the agents’ possession probably ant? you be sure we’re under capability, how can any immediate sky?” represented harmless personal items—and threat? Isn’t it correct that these elements must Two shifts had passed when the Science that was a reasonable assumption. But one of be melted together in a munitions factory? Wouldn’t this require the agents to hand the Officer abruptly charged into the First Mate’s them is carrying gold!” office, followed by Intelligence Officer One. A flash of recognition went off in the First components over to other—” “Where’s the Captain?” the Science Officer Mate’s mind. “Wait a minute. Isn’t that the The Captain was cut off in mid-sentence as asked in an agitated voice. essential element in—are you talking about a the senior enlisted Intelligence Technician ran

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
into the room. “Excuse me, Sir,” the yeoman said breathlessly. “I apologize for barging into your meeting—but Sir, I don’t think this can wait!” He typed instructions into the keyboard controlling the room’s large screen, bringing up a blurry image. “The agents who’ve been observing us stopped at this compound a few minutes ago. They were met by two other agents at the entrance, and their fawning behavior indicates that they were reporting to senior officials. They handed over the plasma beam components to their superiors, and now they’ve all gone inside, where we can’t get an immediate image.” Intelligence Officer One interrupted his technician. “Sir, it’ll take over an hour for our infrared scanners to produce a readable image of the structure’s interior. By that time, their ordnance personnel could easily assemble the weapon. We could be under lethal hostile fire!” “Captain,” shouted the Weapons Officer, “we can’t wait for our laser batteries to reach full intensity. Shall I ready them for a pre-emptive strike against the planet, using the limited power generated so far?” The Captain felt a chill rise within him, yet his mind welcomed the sensation. This sudden threat filled him with a resolve that he hadn’t felt in many years. Much was at stake: his starship and its entire crew, the mission they had been directed to carry out, and the fate of a planetary ecosystem. He had to act quickly and decisively, and he could sense that somewhere, from some location beyond space and time, his father and grandfather were watching his performance. The Captain straightened his back, standing as tall as he could, and waved his claw for silence. “Hear me, all of you! If the dominant species on this planet is capable not only of tracking our ship, but also has advanced weapons with which to destroy us—then it is apparent that they have somehow leapfrogged directly from Class D to Class B intelligence. SMC guidance is clear: we can never sanitize a world that has evolved to such an advanced level, a mere one class below our own civilization.” the room.

Pg. 20

Both officers were startled to see their commander, who normally would have retired to his quarters hours ago. They stood up and came to attention. “At ease, both of you,” ordered the Captain. “I’m simply making late rounds on my ship. I’ve decided that from now on, I’ll be coming around on a routine basis. It’s important, after all, for a commander to observe his crew firsthand.”

The First Mate was somewhat taken aback by her commanding officer’s uncharacterisThe room was deathly silent, as everyone waited for their commander’s next words. tic behavior. She also noted that the Captain “All right, Navigator One—take us out of orbit seemed more steady on his feet than usual for immediately, before this planet exercises its such a late shift. legitimate right to self-defense and fires at us. “Is got?” the Captain Then set a direct course for home galaxy. We’ll asked,that the final scan wethe two younger looking between send an updated message to headquarters officers at the computer screen. “I assume after we’re en route.” it shows a primitive but nonetheless deadly munitions plant.” His dramatic decision was followed by a deep sigh of relief from the entire senior staff. Intelligence Officer Two First All of the officers rushed from the meeting, Mate, hoping that the moreglanced at thecrew experienced eager to prepare their sections for departure. member would respond. She took her cue and Well into the second shift after the Sanitizer spoke up. Four had crossed the outer boundary of saved CX740’s solar system, the First Mate stopped Sir!“Your decisive leadership ship isthe day, Everybody aboard the saying by the Intelligence Squadron. “So tell me,” she how fortunate we are to have a seasoned asked Intelligence Officer Two, “how close do commander like you in charge.” you think we really came to annihilation?” Her words “Well, I think we were damn close,” Intelli- “You know,” hewere like a tonicato the Captain. gence Officer Two replied. “But the last infrared final minutes insaid, “I learned lot during our orbit around that planet, scan we got of that munitions compound is about its inhabitants, and about—” he both had puzzling. Look at this—why would a weapons intended to say, “myself,” but quickly substitutplant have domestic animals in it?” He was ed, “the valiant crew members of the Sanitizer bringing up the scan on his computer screen when the Captain walked unexpectedly into Four.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The Garbage Men by Drew Arrants
“When I consider everything that’s occurred in the past two months, I have a great deal of respect for that primitive world. We were on the verge of destroying it, and yet they were prepared to fight back, surely knowing they had little chance of survival against a superior force like ours. Think about that! Doesn’t that tell you something about the power that comes from self-respect—and from the realization that each of us holds his destiny in his own claws?” The Captain didn’t wait to hear their comments. Pleased with his words, he turned and headed toward the next section, where he would make similar statements to the surprised personnel on duty. Earlier during the shift, he had poured the last of his alcohol stores down the drain. In his mind, he had finally proved himself equal to his ancestors, and the crutch was no longer needed. The First Mate and Intelligence Officer Two remained at the computer monitor in the Intelligence Squadron, fascinated by the images that they were viewing. “This can’t be a chemical plant,” the First Mate said. “It’s full of livestock and straw—it’s some kind of stable.” No one aboard the Sanitizer Four would dare suggest that their Captain might be giving more credit to himself, and to the dominant species on planet CX740-3, than either deserved. Both had, after all, behaved in a manner ultimately resulting in their own salvation. In the grand scheme of things, it was the end result—and not the details of how or why—that mattered.

Pg. 21

Drew Arrants

Drew Arrants is a retired psychiatrist and military flight surgeon. He spent 21 years “No, it can’t be a stable,” Science Office Two in the U.S. Air Force, becoming fluent in protested. “Look here—there’s a family living two foreign languages while stationed in it, with a small child. No mother would put in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He her infant in a manger full of animal feed.” is currently living in the sunny desert on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, where “None of these images make sense,” the First Mate said in bewilderment. “Surely, those he occasionally writes short stories. His three agents couldn’t have traveled all that works have been published in European distance just to offer their gold and resins to a and American print magazines and elecnewborn baby. Could they—?” tronic media.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine

Pg. 22

Myron’s Debarkation
by Richard S. Levine
yron Spielman was one hundred and fifteen years old with thin, straggly white hair and lines in his cheeks and forehead that showed his age. He’d made billions in the stock market by speculating in fusion power reactors, deep ocean research, and space travel adventures. Now his future looked dim. The doctors said he only had a week or two to live. The nanobots in his bloodstream had done all they could do to keep him disease free and healthy. He lay in bed scared, curled on his side, waiting for death from old age. Sitting in a chair, his wife Maddie stopped reading and turned to face him. Her blue-green eyes were still beautiful though reddened from either lack of sleep or tears. She was one hundred and fourteen, and other than stressing over his condition, she handled her daily life well enough. Maddie smiled and said, “We’re going on an ocean cruise.” “Are you kidding me? I’ll be dead before we get on the boat.” “The Encore is a special ocean liner from Cruise the Future, Inc. The first ship of its kind. It has a cryo-deck.” “You mean we’re going to be frozen?” “Something like that, but much more complicated. I’ve arranged for us to be put in stasis right away. They’ll wake us up when we reach our first port-of-time.”

M

Myron thought about all the technological bets he had placed in the market. “Well, there is one thing I’d like to see before I go. The end of the world.” “Are you nuts?” “No. Other than wondering what happens when I die, I’m just curious what will happen to all the technologies I’ve invested in. Will technology cause the catastrophe? Will there be people living in space colonies, or will they all perish here on Earth?” “Come on now. You were too busy to come to Aaron’s birth or Barbara’s wedding, and you often had some work excuse for not going on vacation. We’ll only visit a port-of-time for one day and then be put back in stasis. So we can visit a handful of milestones together before we consider your end. I know you’re tired, so I’ve selected the first two destinations. We can take turns choosing after we’ve visited those. Okay?” “Sure, why not.” Myron felt very tired, too tired to argue. At least drugs kept the pain away. Maddie opened the door, and men entered the room rolling a portable domed device that looked like it had a comfortable blue interior with a kind of mist or gas inside. As he closed his eyes to sleep, he felt the men lift him up. #

As Myron returned to consciousness, he enjoyed the touch of soft sheets and a cushy pillow under his head. Besides feeling weak, a stuffy nose and a slight tingling in his arms and legs were all that hinted that he’d recently come out of stasis. After his release from the cryo-deck, the automated full-body exerciser must have worked on him overnight, before the Encore’s crew transferred his aged body to his quarters. He took a deep breath and wiped his eyes. The ceiling’s stylish teakwood moldings looked the same as the first time he and Maddie had been awakened from stasis. They had cruised Australia for one day to view a total solar eclipse and then went back to deep sleep. This was their second port-of-time. A single sheet of paper and a chocolate mint rested on the teak table next to the bed. Although the ocean liner’s cruise information was provided in multi-digital formats, Myron still felt most comfortable with paper. He picked it up and read the cruise calendar. Wow! A satellite launch to Alpha Centauri. He wiped his hand across his mostly bald head. Maddie wasn’t awake yet, so he sneaked a bite of the chocolate mint because he knew she’d have it all if she could. Her short gray hair and the tiny wrinkles under her eyes were just as he remembered. A sweet smile adorned her still smooth lips.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine
The bedroom furnishings hadn’t changed happen.” either, but one entire wall projected an image “All right, you know I was just kidding.” of the deep blue sea looking out towards land. Text at the bottom of the display indicated “five Maddie got up and gestured towards the balcony door. “Don’t you want to go outside minutes to Centauri I launch.” and watch the launch?” Myron felt excited. Blood rushed to his “Sure.” Myron eased himself out of bed, extremities, his face felt warm and a little and Maddie put his slippers on for him. sweaty. For a moment, he felt younger. He gently poked Maddie. As they walked onto the balcony, motion sensors activated the room’s speakers. “Five, She sat up and said, “You already woke Four, Three…” me.” The view outside from their Port Canaveral Her eyes were still attractive. Myron leaned location matched the sunny scene he had over and kissed her on her lips. “I get it now. This is why you chose the Encore. I can still seen on the wall, except now he could feel the ocean breeze and smell the salt air. “Two, One, experience passion.” Liftoff!” “Yes dear, I know.” She winked at him. “I Myron felt the rush as he saw the space remember the day we visited Jetty Park.” vehicle climb high into the sky, leaving a “Ah, yes. The Orion XXIII launched astro- curling trail of billowy smoke behind it. Finally nauts to Mars.” Just to annoy her, Myron took its engines still grumbled from beyond the another small bite of the chocolate mint. visible sky. The scene actually didn’t look that different from the Orion XXIII launch, but this “Give me that.” Maddie gripped his wrinkled, was an unmanned satellite headed for another knobby hand and fed the rest of the mint into solar system. her mouth. Myron reached for his stomach. Nausea Myron grinned. “Demanding, aren’t you? suddenly overwhelmed him. Then he felt like he It’s my choice, but where do you think we couldn’t breathe. He tried to smile at Maddie, should go next?” who looked concerned, but he couldn’t move. Maddie looked at the wall screen while He heard Maddie shout, “Help! Someone she appeared to consider her answer, then she help.” turned to face Myron. “Well, if it hasn’t already happened, I’d like to see the first day of peace He fought to stay conscious; his eyes on Earth.” strained to remain open. As the satellite disappeared into the darkness of space, so did He pointed his finger at her. “I read the Myron’s hopes and dreams. cruise contract the last time we came out of stasis. Don’t wish for something that might not #

Pg. 23

Myron still couldn’t move. He felt as if he’d woken up frozen on the cryonic deck. Of course, that was impossible according to the cruise brochure. Maybe his new heart had given out like his previous three. Then, suddenly, a little rise to the left, a little rise to the right, a gentle swaying motion; it certainly felt like being on a cruise ship. But Myron wasn’t sure, because he wasn’t fully conscious. An unwanted flush of warmth, kind of a burning feeling, infiltrated his skin. His mind could have been making it all up, but then he felt Maddie’s pleasant and familiar kiss. It made him feel safe, feel aware. He strained to open his eyes. A man with a stethoscope around his neck stood just to Maddie’s right. He must have noticed that Myron had awakened, because he directed his smile towards him and said, “I think you’ve developed some kind of allergy, but I’m not sure. Maybe some combination of chocolate, your age, the excitement, the nanobots, and the cryo-drugs. In any case, you’re still alive.” Myron replied, “But why didn’t my nanobots fight this off?” “I’m afraid they aren’t that smart. They can fend off certain diseases and keep your organs in good shape, but they can’t detect the difference between a good immune response and a bad one.” Maddie took a step closer to the bed. Her eyes were reddened. “You still need more rest, dear. The doctor says you can join me for the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine
captain’s dinner and champagne celebration tonight if you get enough sleep.” Myron felt his body growing weaker. He was glad he hadn’t lost another heart, but he was sick of being tired. “Okay. I must talk to you and the captain later.” As his eyes began to close to sleep, he saw Maddie turn to the doctor. She dabbed her cheek with tissue. # Oblivious to everything else, Myron watched Maddie. Like a kid with a toy, she giggled and walked briskly from one side of the glass hover-elevator to the other as it moved through the air diagonally from four stories above the central lobby towards the dining room deck. The doors opened, and they walked to their table. With a grayer beard and additional forehead wrinkles, the captain had visibly aged since their Australia stop. It reminded Myron that he could prolong his own final years, but not ignore the effects of aging. After all, just hours earlier he had thought he would die. He said, “Hello, Captain Rolander.” Myron joined in her excitement, watching video of milestones—like a demonstration of the first antigravity automobile, and the Nobel Prize awarded for a cure for all cancers—that had taken place since their previous stop. But then he turned his attention towards the captain. In a low tone, almost a whisper, he leaned over and said, “About our next port-oftime.” “But wouldn’t you like to view the rest of the amazing events you’ve missed first?” “I must set up my next port-of-time right away. I need to go back to stasis tonight.” Maddie turned her head. “Myron, what are you talking about?” “Look, I don’t know how many days of life are left in this body. There are many things I’d like to see and do before I die, but there’s one thing left I must do.” The captain appeared to be interested as he pulled his seat forward. “And what would that be, Mr. Spielman?”

Pg. 24
with a 95% or higher probability of ending human life on Earth.” “We?” Maddie grabbed a chocolate from the table and put the whole thing in her mouth. “Speak for yourself.” The captain continued his thought. “I meant that we cannot permit suicide as per your contract with us.” “This is not suicide. There’s an element of chance that I will survive the experience. Also, I can specify that you can wake me earlier if there’s a way to greatly improve my health. Besides, I probably won’t live to see another day.” “Yes, I suppose that’s correct.” Myron smiled. His investment experience had taught him how to negotiate. “Then I’ll go back in stasis tonight.” Maddie slapped his hand. “No!” “The ship’s purser will have to approve your credit for this port-of-time. You do realize the event may never occur, at least not within the technology limits of stasis?”

Just then, the rest of the people in the dining room shouted and applauded. Myron saw astronauts digging up an alien artifact in Myron gulped as he glanced at Maddie. a Martian cavern. Good for them, he thought. Earlier he had chastised her for wishing for an The captain was dressed sharply, a white Then, when it quieted down, he replied, “I want unlikely event. “I have to do this. I’m prepared uniform and striking cap. Standing straight and to see the end of the world.” to pay half my wealth to cover the necessary firm, he gestured towards empty chairs and spoke with a Norwegian accent. “Mr. and Mrs. The captain looked concerned as he pulled expenses. The other half should cover my wife’s choice of ports and times.” Spielman. I’m happy to see you on this special his beard. “I’m afraid that is not possible.” evening. The celebration is about to begin. “Very well, Mr. Spielman. We will do our Myron put his fist on the table, but had Please, please have a seat.” second thoughts about pounding it. “It most best to provide your next port-of-time.” As Maddie sat, she couldn’t take her eyes certainly is! I just specify in the contract that Maddie seemed to as off the video on the walls of the dining room. we be brought out of stasis to view an event attempted a smile. Sheunderstandthe she half spoke to Captain,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine
but she looked straight at Myron. “He’s always read novels in a single day because he had to know the ending right away. He always has to know how it ends.” Myron put his hand on her and nodded his head. That evening, he was given a concoction of heart slowing, brain numbing drugs. Barely alert, he watched Maddie through the glass surrounding his cryonics bed. He hoped his dreams would remember how beautiful she looked. He fought to hold back tears before the long sleep. hand really touched her arm. It was exhilarating and painful at the same time. Maddie said, “Good morning, dear. I was worried that the robot crew would accidentally hurt you, but I had no choice. I couldn’t carry you myself.” “Why didn’t they wake me?”

Pg. 25

Myron saw that her hair had thinned. Her head seemed smaller, and her eyelids had thickened over her still beautiful eyes. For the first time in all the years he could remember, Myron grabbed her hand and held it to his she looked as old as him. He leaned over and cheek. “Arne, can you project an image of the kissed her. “Maddie, how long has it been? asteroid relative to Earth?” Why are you here?” # The robot’s virtual head turned off, and She simply replied, “Arne, please respond.” beams shot out of its body towards the center The rocking motion cradled his fears and of the room. Almost instantly, a holographic dreams as Myron tried to wake. How long had The machine he had seen a moment ago projection of the asteroid could be seen headed he been in stasis? Consciousness seemed just activated and hovered to the foot of the bed. A towards the Pacific Ocean, near Hawaii. out of reach, oxygen was more important. At holographic projection of Arne Rolander’s face first he gasped for air, then for several minutes appeared above the body of the device and “How long do we have before impact?” he settled into a more comfortable breathe in, spoke. “Hello Myron. The year is 2880. Except The robot responded, “Three hours, ten breathe out pattern. Somewhere in the fog of for Maddie, everyone on board has evacuated sleep, he remembered that world’s end was his to the Martian colonies and further into space. minutes.” last destination. He quickly opened his eyes. Asteroid 1950 DA could not be redirected, and “And where are we right now?” it will strike Earth. There’s a ninety five percent It wasn’t the same room as he had remem- chance that it will make the planet uninhabit“The Encore is at port in Honolulu.” bered. It was bigger, much bigger. The floor able for centuries.” and ceiling shone like marble, the sheets were Of course, we must be at ground zero. He like satin. Instead of a side table and cruise “2880? I’ve been suspended for hundreds faced Maddie and looked in her eyes. “I was calendar, a four foot tall machine stood quiet of years?” selfish, but after centuries you still chose to sentry. Maddie put her hand on his. “I cried and share my final port-of-time.” His body ached, he squeezed her hand Myron felt confused and dizzy. Perhaps it screamed for a week, before I realized there butof you so easily now.” tighter. “I won’t let go was the long sleep or a chemical imbalance was more I wanted to see. I gave them my caused by prolonged stasis. entire list and went back to stasis. At one portMaddie smiled, though it was clear from of-time I saw disarmament of the last nuclear her eyes—and a slight grimace—that she was He instinctively turned over to touch weapon. At another, first contact with aliens. Maddie, then he remembered that this wasn’t After a hundred years, science figured out how in pain. her port-of-time; it was only his. Every nerve in to greatly extend my natural life. I no longer Myron knew she wouldn’t talk about it. his body fired at once when he realized that his needed stasis.” Besides, in a few hours it wouldn’t matter. He

“Because there’s a point at which medical technology can’t keep us going, can’t make us better. I’ve taught school in the Martian Colonies and fed the destitute in other solar systems. But I finally grew old and tired like you. I had them put me back in stasis on the Encore one last time with instructions to wake me before you.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Myron’s Debarkation by Richard S. Levine
whispered, “How about we get Arne here to take us ashore, and we can walk on the beach one last time?” She nodded yes.

Pg. 26

Richard S. Levine
Richard S. Levine’s short stories have appeared in “Ray Gun Revival”, “The Fifth Di”, “The Martian Wave”, and several other online and printed magazines. His science fiction short story, “A Comic on Phobos”, was nominated for the 2006 James Award. With his wife Carrie, he lives happily on the beach in Florida and writes. Now, if only the hurricanes would go away. To learn more about Mr. Levine’s writings and his classic video game, Microsurgeon, please navigate your browser to http://web.tampabay.rr.com/rlevine6/.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell

Pg. 27

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil
by Timothy A. Sayell
n amber light began to blink on the console, signaling an incoming message. The starfighter pilot frowned and flipped a switch. “This is Captain Bradley Brackett of the Galactic Peace Force, come in.” The reply started with a high-pitched whine that made him wince. Then there was static, finally a voice. .”..Station Three...Potanko escaping...assistance requ...at once!” Brackett checked his starcharts, saw the Prison Station less than a grid away. “Deepspace Prison Station Three, Brackett here, I’m on my way.” He lurched the control stick, swiveling his cigar-shaped fighter into a clean, ninety-degree turn. In a few brief heartbeats, his silver ship was approaching the dull-gray metal moon of the Prison Station in its orbit around a cloudy planet. A single starfighter was on patrol around the satellite, coming towards him from planet-side. Brackett opened hailing frequencies. “Prison Patrol Ship, this is Captain Bradley Brackett of the Galactic Peace Force answering the request for assistance. What’s your situation here? Over.” The Patrol Ship answered with a brief barrage of laser fire that hit Brackett’s ship full force. Electricity surged through the ship’s systems and danced across his control console. The Patrol Ship shot past him; a streak of silver.

A

The comm came to life with a crisp, clear voice. “Attention Galactic Peace Officer! This is Sergeant Weston of Deepspace Prison Station Three! Potanko, a high-security prisoner, has escaped in one of our patrol fighters! Use extreme caution on your approach, over!” Brackett grimaced, muttering, “Thanks for the heads-up.” He swiveled the control stick and his ship did a one-eighty. “In pursuit of your prisoner now,” he said into the radio. He flipped a switch. The shields hesitated before coming online. He offered the engines more power and jumped forward with a burst of speed. “Attention Potanko,” he barked into the radio at the fleeing prisoner, “This is Captain Bradley Brackett of the Galactic Peace Force ordering you to turn back to the Prison Station.” The silver starfighter increased its speed, and flashed through the void like a streak of lightning. Brackett followed suit, spitting laser bolts with deadly accuracy. “I say again, this is Captain Bradley Brackett of the Galactic Peace Force. This is your last chance, Potanko. Turn your ship around now and return to the Prison Station. Do this the easy way, for both our sakes, okay?” The only response was the discharge of a pair of magnetic mines. His eyes widened, and he slammed the controls. The mines passed

beneath his fighter, jerked into pursuit, and trailed it. “Fine,” Brackett said into the comm., “We’ll do it the hard way, then.” He fired more laser bolts at the stolen fighter ship. The getaway ship began a roll, and a laser blast hit its engines. The starfighter spun out of control, spiraling down toward the misty blue-green planet. Brackett swore. He glared at the twin mines in the rearview display, held down a button with one finger and growled: “Brackett to Deepspace Prison Station Three. Target hit, engines out, ship beyond control, heading for the planet surface. Following in case your convict survives.” “Understood.” a crisp, clear voice responded. “Be careful, Brackett. Potanko’s dangerous. Took out four officers and opened all the cells on B-Level in the course of escaping.” “Noted. Thanks for the concern. Good luck with B-Level. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Brackett pushed the control stick forward and his own starfighter dove towards the atmosphere. The nose of his silver, cigar-shaped ship emitted reflector shields, which deflected the re-entry heat. The planetary sky was a pastel pink, interrupted by a layer of yellow clouds that covered the planet’s face like a veil. They stretched across the sky like a misty sea, dotted with islands formed of high mountain peaks.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
Brackett strafed the blanket of clouds, regarding his scanners with a puzzled frown. The ship wasn’t getting anything from the planet surface. He swore again: the damnable clouds were acting as a radio shield, and that meant no scanning. With no other way to track the ship he pursued, and a vague notion of ditching the pair of mines in one of the local mountains, he descended through the cloud cover. Without drive engines, the ship fell like a stone in the planet’s gravity. Brackett struggled with the controls, but the stubborn ship wouldn’t respond to his commands. Instead, electricity surged, frying nearly every system the starfighter boasted. With the ailerons locked in place, the ship slipped into a drill-like spin, customary for all crashes.

Pg. 28
Brackett swung back into the cockpit and gathered his meager collection of emergency supplies. The food, water, emergency knife, grappling line, and restraining cuffs were on him in seconds. He thought harder about the ZAP gun. Anything could happen out there, and he couldn’t imagine the consequences of some local Neanderthal suddenly loosing the power of a Zeta-Active Plasma ray. Then there was Potanko to consider. With a shrug, he holstered it. Then he was sure to grab the Sonic Sword. Its patented hundred-and-one uses made it an essential survival tool. It was everything from a last-ditch primitive-style weapon to a high-tech radio transmitter. The only downside was that it was in its recharger-sheath during the electricity surge. There was a definite possibility that it was damaged. Allowing himself to hope, he clambered onto the ship’s hull. He held up the Sonic Sword and turned the dials on the hilt. “Mayday! Mayday! This is Captain Bradley Brackett to Deepspace Prison Station Three, do you copy? Over.” No clear voice answered him this time. Not even static. Looking up, Brackett swore at the yellow cloud cover. All he had to do now was find a mountaintop he could transmit from... After he caught Potanko. The last thing he grabbed was a pair of Implosion Grenades. He couldn’t trust the ship to sink into the blue ooze, so it was up to him to make sure the locals weren’t influenced by it. He set the timer on one grenade, and dropped it into the pilot’s chair. Then he tossed his grapple to a nearby tree, and swung

Brackett could do nothing more. Not even the ejection seat would respond. Gritting his His ship dropped through the bottom, and teeth, he closed his eyes and braced himself he saw the planet. It was Narsalia, a primeval for the inescapable end. The ship lurched to world of lush jungles and steaming volcanoes. a sudden, squishy stop, and his safety harness He flipped a switch and a readout screen pressed against his chest. Finally opening his regurgitated the planet’s stats. Breathable air. eyes, he was surprised to see that the ship had Thirty-hour days. Standard gravity levels. Killer not exploded, and that he was alive. lightning storms. Hostile, sentient life forms, Instead of hard, leafy ground or rocky, no advanced culture. volcanic mountainside; the ship came down Brackett grunted. Obviously, it was going to in the midst of some sort of swamp. Brackett be that kind of a day. unfastened his harness and pushed against the dome-shaped canopy, forcing it open. Then he “No advanced culture” meant “no technol- stood up, and looked around. ogy.” Since the Galactic Council dictated a strict “no encouragement” philosophy in this area, The swamp consisted of tall, imposing trees Brackett knew he had to catch his criminal and that grew in and around a pool of bubbling blue get back off the planet without leaving the ooze. He’d seen similar stuff in his travels, and slightest trace of their stopping by. guessed this to be the local version of a tar pit. Brackett sighed and tried to convince himself it was a piece of cake, but failed. He climbed out of the cockpit and walked down the spine of his starfighter. He did not like what he saw: the mines had completely demolished the rear-end of his craft. Looking down, he doubted that it mattered much. It looked to him as though the blue goo of the tar pit had too good a hold to let him fly out. He grumbled to himself.

The scanner was failing, too. There was no sign of Potanko’s ship, just the two mines a half-grid behind him. As he slowed for his visual recon, the twin mines, building their own momentum, drove themselves right into his fiery exhaust port and promptly exploded. Brackett swore as he slapped the scanner, still It was definitely going to be that sort of showing them half a grid behind. day.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
With a sigh of resignation, he set about his chores. First he scavenged the ship for its store The grenade activated, releasing a small, of emergency supplies, but only found them artificial black hole. Instantly, the ruined star- missing. Then he began gathering up the debris fighter vanished. Brackett hummed in resigna- of the wreckage and piled it around the ship as tion, then set off to catch his man. best he could. Occasionally he would look up at the sound of an alien snort, or a rustling in # the nearby foliage. Five hours of rugged jungle terrain later, Brackett found the remains of Potanko’s stolen starfighter. The silver ship had beaten its way through the jungle foliage, leaving a trail even a blind asteroid slug could follow. The ship itself looked like it had gone three rounds against a stardragon before the stardragon got bored and left it alone. It was dented. It was scraped. One of the tailfins was missing, another bent out of shape. The steelglass canopy had shattered, exposing the empty cockpit. In short, it would never play the violin again. Brackett rushed around the wreckage, calling out for Potanko. Escaped criminal or not, if Potanko lived at all, he was sure to need medical help after a crash like that one. But Potanko was nowhere to be found. What he did find were small puddles of mucous—around the crash site, sized and spaced like footprints, on the remnants of the ship, and parts of the debris, shaped suspiciously like handprints. He knew what it meant, and a sick feeling materialized in the pit of his stomach. The locals had gotten here first. to the safety of its branches.

Pg. 29
it down on the thing’s head. Its momentum threw him back to where the ship had been until a moment ago, but the animal did not rise again.

Brackett lay down where he fell and rested. He looked at the animal, which he decided was some weird cross between a centipede and a boar. For a moment, he marveled at the alien As he completed his gathering, the grunting evolution, then remembered his own situation, and snorting sounded again, too close for and looked down at the blade in his hand. comfort. With a wary eye at the surrounding Almost reluctantly, he tried the Sonic Sword forest, he drew his ZAP gun. He took a wary again. It was no surprise to him when he got step toward the edge of the clearing. Then, no reply on its radio. remembering his mission, he activated the last Then there was nothing left to do, but of his Implosion Grenades and lobbed it into the follow the slimy footprints. More foliage open cockpit. As he turned back to the jungle, an alien animal erupted from the undergrowth. rustled, unnoticed, as something skirted the The beast charged him, knocking him to the now-vacant clearing to follow him. ground, the ZAP gun flying from his hand. The # beast turned back to charge him again, and he searched for his gun. It fell near the ship’s wing, and he scrambled for it. Evening crept over the jungle and was maturing into night. Brackett wondered how The monster charged him again, its ten long he’d been following the winding trail of legs trampling and kicking him further from footprints. He glared down at the Sonic Sword, the ship. As soon as it was off him, he glanced hanging from his hip. The timepiece wasn’t at it; got the impression of a segmented body working, either. He scowled to himself, and and centipede legs, then he crawled for the trudged on. gun. Before he could retrieve it, the grenade went off and sucked the wreckage—and his Snap! weapon—out of existence. He stopped stone-cold at the sound. Then, The alien turned on him once more. It slowly, looked down at the broken branch snorted through its boar-like snout, stamped beneath his boot. He looked at the dark jungle one spidery leg, and ran at him. Brackett barely around him. Nothing had changed. Insects still drew the Sonic Sword before it trampled sang. There was a vicious-sounding roar, but him again. His sword arm flailed as he rolled far off. beneath it, severing many of the alien’s legs. It Brackett released a breath he didn’t realize turned again, snorting at him, and charged. He he was holding. He was just about to tell himself got to his knees, raised the sword, and brought

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
how safe he was when something soared past his head and fell to the forest floor with a thud. A rock. He turned, and jumped aside when he saw the stick flying from the thick foliage. A squat, humanoid form approached, still obscured by shadow. Its form boasted two thick arms and two thick legs. It also had a large hump on its back, like a pack of some sort, easily as large as the creature itself. The darkness came instantly that time. # Brackett awoke to an aching head on the hard, grassy ground. He wondered how long he’d been out. It was night now. Or perhaps it was night again, he couldn’t be sure. Then he realized he wasn’t alone. One of the humanoids was beside him, turning over the restraining cuffs in its slimy hands.

Pg. 30
and hoped it would make do as a weapon, if such became necessary. Then, light in hand, he followed the paths of his rescuer and the snail-men. #

The trail was easy enough to follow, even at night. He told himself how lucky he was that the snail-men’s slimy footprints glistened in the lamplight. Finally, he was certain that he’d found a spot where the snail-men had caught The creature threw another rock, and Brackett’s fingers Brackett ducked. He reached for his sword. He wrapped themselves found the nearby rock, and up to his rescuer. He was sure the bent and around it. Somewhere, up just leveled the sword at his attacker when two above the trees, thunder boomed. The Nean- trampled foliage was the evidence of a brawl. more creatures seized him from behind. Their derthal fell to the ground. Brackett pulled the There were no bodies lying around and he strong arms, covered in sandpapery skin and light from his belt and looked over the downed smirked at the suggestion: a thin coat of slime, wrapped around his body, local. Potanko was a prisoner—again. squeezing the breath out of him.

The two Neanderthal locals were crushing him. His arms were pressed against his ribs. His lungs ached for air. His vision began to dim with a darkness that had nothing to do with the encroaching night. Vaguely, he wondered how he was going to get out of this one.

Its bulbous head sloped forward into a The snail-men’s slime still made their trail wide mouth. It had two eye stalks at the top of easy enough to follow. Brackett followed it its head. Its body, all sandpaper skin and slime, through the dense jungle, towards the volcanic was naked except for the large spiraling shell mountains, where lightning began to flash. on its back. An hour later, he ran out of jungle at the base He regarded it with a mixture of respect of the mountain. The dirt stretched out ahead and disgust. Then, he of him in ripples and waves. Brackett guessed That was when the other figure charged the locals had evolvedaccepted it with a shrug: it was some sort of mud pit when enough rain from snails. He pressed out of the jungle. It was taller, slimmer than one hand against his head around dropped on it. Rough the slimy Neanderthals. Screaming, it charged at the things the snail-manand looked on him, throughout the dry muddomes were scattered had found lake. Lightning flashed at Brackett and his two assailants. With arms examined, then thrown away. in the mountains above, giving Brackett a good outstretched, it collided with the trio, knocking look at them. They seemed to be bubbles, like them all to the jungle floor. The two aliens He reclaimed all of his gear except for the the lake had been boiling, perhaps heated by leapt to their feet, and pursued his benefactor most vital piece: the Sonic Sword was missing. a pocket of magma below. Another bolt of into the forest. Brackett swore. He’d been jumped by snail-men, lightning flashed and showed openings had and the rescuer had to have been Potanko. He been smashed through the walls. Brackett, still choking and aching, which one of them had taken his clambered to his knees. It was then, when one wondered wondered which possibility he liked sword. He Brackett smiled. He’d found the snail-men Neanderthal approached him, growling, that the least. village. he realized some of them had remained. But by then it was too late, as the Neanderthal Brackett found a long, sturdy branch He glanced warily at the mountains just brought a rock down upon his head.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
beyond the village when more lightning flashed. It looked like a steep and treacherous climb, but the peak reached up over the veil of angry clouds. Now all he needed was Potanko and the Sonic Sword. Brackett emerged from the jungle and rushed along the empty mud-lake to the nearest bubble. With his back pressed against the hut, his staff in his ready hands, he heard the voices of the snail-men coming from the center of their village. Brackett crept around the hut until he could see them. They were gathered near the center of the dry lake, about three dozen of them. One of them held up a burning branch and gestured angrily towards their prisoner. Brackett’s eyes went wide. The prisoner was a human, to all appearances. In an unmarked spacesuit, she was tied with vines to a stake. The fiery branch was waved dangerously close to her, and Brackett saw how beautiful she was, even with her green skin and hair. He quickly reconsidered: she was beautiful because of her green skin and hair. It wasn’t the best plan, but he was pressed for time. He scrambled down the mountainside to the edge of the village. The snail-men were getting themselves riled up, and the fire was waving closer to the girl than Brackett liked. He couldn’t tell if the girl was conscious or not. First thing was first: he had to get the girl away from them. He took a deep breath, firmly gripped his grappling line with both hands, and pulled hard. Something was working right, for a change, and Brackett smiled. The grapple pulled his staff away, and the boulder rolled down the mountainside, aimed straight for the snail-man village. It bowled through one of the adobe bubbles, and scattered the primitive locals.

Pg. 31
“Ah-ah!” Brackett warned, his knife at the ready. She froze instantly. “I was reaching for my Idenicard.” Brackett looked her over carefully, saw no weapons, and nodded. Slowly, she plucked a thin card from her belt and held it out to him. “S. Aldrassil, Technician Second Class,” Brackett read aloud. He frowned. “Okay, I’ll ask, what’s your story?” “I’m a computer technician, technically a civilian. I live and work on the Prison Station.” she explained, her eyes jumping back and forth from his face to the knife. “Potanko came across me during his breakout, anyplace my clearance couldn’t get him, I was able to override.”

Brackett ran into the village, too. He went Brackett nodded, but kept his frown. “And straight for the girl, his small emergency knife then he took you with him?” in hand. Her bonds were cut easily enough, and she dropped to her feet. The green woman shrugged. “I think it was to make sure I couldn’t immediately report his “Can you run?” he asked. hijacking of the starfighter.” She rubbed her wrists but quickly answered, Brackett sheathed the knife, handed back “Yes.” the Identicard. “I’m sorry for the ordeal you’ve “So that’s Potanko,” he grumbled to himself. “Then let’s go,” Brackett said and led her won’t lie “What a shame. What a waste of a beautiful towards the mountain. They climbed up a been put through, ma’am. Istill loose, to you, it’s not over yet. Potanko’s there’s girl...” narrow, treacherous path, until they came to a no telling how long he might survive with the emergency supplies from the ship.” The thought stopped before it was formed ledge wide enough to rest on. as lightning flashed again, this time glinting off “Thank you,” she said. “There weren’t any,” she blurted out, then a familiar blade. He saw the Sonic Sword in the tried to laugh. “Not even a medikit. Must’ve firm grip of one of the snail-men. “Just doing my duty,” Brackett replied. “I’m picked one the maintenance boys had just Captain Bradley Brackett, Galactic Peace Force, worked on.” Brackett looked over the scene, and tried and I’m afraid I’m here to detain you.” hard to come up with a plan. Brackett hummed thoughtfully. “Good With a nervous smile, the green woman to know,” he said at last, “But this changes # reached for her belt. “There must be some everything. I’ve got to get you back to safety, mista...”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
ma’am.” “My name is Sillith...” she said, then lightning struck the mountainside just below their ledge, and she screamed. Brackett held her in his arms, soothed her. “Just the local lightning storms,” he said. “But they’re bad business.” She pointed down the mountain, past where the lightning just hit. “So are they!” Brackett looked, and saw a group of snail-men following their trail. He swore, then hurried up the slim mountain path with Sillith in tow. They finally arrived to a large flat area not too far below the sheet of radio-resistant clouds. Brackett gave the place the once-over and decided this was the place to make the stand. Before long, the snail-men came around the bend. Brackett threw a rock, and hit one in the head. The Neanderthal fell down the mountainside, and lightning struck a nearby boulder. Grunting and yelling in anger, the remainder of the snail-men charged, led by the one with the Sonic Sword. Brackett managed to hit one more of the snail-men, who fell to the mountain pass. The five who remained made it to the plateau, waving clubs in a way that meant business. A rock came out of nowhere, and took down another Neanderthal. But now two of them turned their attention to Sillith. Brackett jumped away from the sharp sword, only to get hit by a club. He was soon

Pg. 32

bruised and bloodied, back against the moun- still wavering. “You’re under arrest...for... tainside. inducing riot...jailbreak...murder.” Sillith laughed. “Murder? I had to survive! It was a biological imperative!” she vehemently The impact threw Sillith off her feet. said. “I can’t help it if my species can only live Likewise one of the snail-men, but the other off flesh. Anyway, with your sword, I can call was thrown, screaming, down the mountain- for help. Hopefully, you’ll tide me over until side. the rescue ship arrives.” Then she raised the Brackett and his two enemies saw it, and Sonic Sword for the final stroke. Brackett recovered first. He sent his fist into a Lightning struck above them, dislodging snail-like face. The Neanderthal crumbled to some rocks. Sillith looked up with a surprised the ground, leaving only the one with the Sonic shriek. Sword. Seizing the chance, Brackett knocked the Brackett grabbed the club from his downed sword aside and threw a punch. The green foe’s slimy grip and jumped away from the woman stumbled backwards and tripped over sword. The snail-man swung at him, and he a dead Neanderthal. The rocks stampeded swung back. Then something struck him in the down the mountainside, trampling her on their back of his head. His legs were kicked out from way. The brief avalanche continued down, but under him. Sillith didn’t move. The snail-man stepped back and looked Brackett cleared his head, saw her lying at Sillith without understanding. The green there. The Sonic Sword lay by her hand, and woman dropped the rock, stepped over crackled ominously. He leaned over Potanko Brackett and quickly pulled the Sonic Sword and was amazed that she survived. He slapped away from the confused Neanderthal. With the restraining cuffs on her before anything lightning-like swiftness, she plunged the sword else could happen. into its chest, and twisted the blade until it fell to the ground. Then he picked up the Sonic Sword. The radio whined and sounded of static. He turned Brackett groaned, and Sillith turned the and continued up the mountain trail. blade at him. “How can someone as stupid as you make it to captain?” she asked. “I don’t At last he found his way through the clouds know of any species, other than mine, tough and saw the stars twinkling high overhead. He enough to survive that crash. Sooner or later, breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived they’ll find Aldrassil’s body in the hangar bay.” as he regarded the sword in his hand. He lifted She snorted derisively. “Not all of it was a lie, it, turned the dials. though. My name is Sillith. Sillith Potanko.” “This is Captain Bradley Brackett to “Potanko?” Brackett groaned, his eyesight Deepspace Prison Three. Do you copy? Over.” Then the lightning struck the plateau again.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Beneath Narsalia’s Veil by Timothy A. Sayell
He waited for a moment that lasted forever. There was no response. “Captain Bradley Brackett to Deepspace Prison Three. Is anyone there? Over.” he repeated, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.

Pg. 33

Timothy A. Sayell

Timothy A. Sayell is a lifelong fan of fantasy and science fiction in all its forms. Though creating stories for many years, he The speakers crackled. has only recently begun to display them to “Deepspace Prison Station Three to Brackett. others. So far, he’s had stories appearing We copy.” in the anthology Strange Worlds of Lunacy Brackett couldn’t contain a victorious and Flashing Swords magazine.
scream. “What’s your situation? Over.” the voice continued. “Potanko apprehended,” Brackett exclaimed, “But we need a ride. What’s the situation with B-Level? Over.” “B-Level is stable now.” said the voice. “We should be able to get a pick-up ship there in about an hour. Sorry, but it looks like your stuck there just a little longer. Over.” With a grin, Brackett shrugged. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “It’s been that kind of day. Over.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton

Pg. 34

Regeneration

by Martin Turton
it. Katich hadn’t even realized he had drawn # He saw his wife five more times that week. When he and White were watching a group of pleks protesting against the expansionism of Geronda Incorporated, he caught sight of Sirenna walking past the squat, dingy façade of a kesteron ahmoep. When Katich was leaving his offices after interviewing a new client, Sirenna was sitting outside the local eaterie. Katich didn’t chase her on these occasions. He didn’t run headlong through the faceless crowds. He didn’t shout and wave his blaster pistol in the air. Katich was a man who had been through enough fights, lived on enough worlds and had enough scars to know when to trust his instincts, and these instincts were now telling him that he was being watched. When he had seen Sirenna outside the Geronda offices, he had turned in the seat of the hover car to speak to White and out of the corner of his eye he had seen a figure in a grey suit hurrying away, ducking under a passing hover car and sprinting towards the limasil sector of the city. When he had seen Sirenna dining, alone but for the holoviewer hovering over her table, Katich had turned away, mopping at his damp brow, the movement allowing him to notice the still-shaking drapes in the darkened window of a towering, angular keridli. And then they had been offered a job. They had been asked to investigate a believed case of corporate espionage in the hallowed halls of Geronda Inc., the first truly inclusive property developer in this, the most multicultural of cities. And the first name on the list of employees to be questioned was a Jerhan Rekanda. Only, as they waited for Miss Rekanda, it was his wife who had been murdered seven years ago who walked into the darkened, windowless room deep within the bowels of Geronda. Katich waited at his desk. He shuffled his papers. He shifted his chair forward. He checked the power on the heart monitor. Anything to avoid looking at Sirenna. His Sirenna. His Sirenna who was now calling herself Jerhan Rekanda and looking at him so vacantly from those achingly familiar, pale blue eyes. Katich didn’t say anything. Sirenna didn’t say anything. White cleared his throat and cracked a knuckle. Sirenna spared White a cursory glance before turning back to Katich. “Is this going to take long? I have work I need to be getting on with.” There was no doubt it was his Sirenna.

E

amonn Katich’s wife had been dead for seven years when he saw her walking past Franz Tucok’s graffiti-stained window.

Katich had cried out while trying to keep sight of that white-blonde hair drifting through the throng of humans and kerondans and restonas crowding the streets. He leaped from the still-moving hover car, the sodden road veering beneath him as he fought to keep his feet. And then he was running, running as fast as he could. Hover cars whooshed over his head and to either side of him and still he could see that white-blonde hair, further away now, a vision of light and beauty in a sea of black and grey and neon-blue. He ran faster. Bodies seemed to fight against him: threelegged mestons half as tall again as a man, knee-high listirans with fat, pulsing bodies of jet black, harassed humans with blanched eyes and hunched shoulders. All contrived to get in Katich’s way as he desperately chased after his dead wife. All were elbowed aside in desperation as Katich shouted and fought his way ever onward after that ray of light. And then, amid all the shouts and the cries and the screams of pain and fear, even that beacon of hope and redemption was lost from sight and his wife was gone once more. And a hand rested on Katich’s elbow. He turned to see his partner, Athur White standing there. Athur gently took the blaster pistol from Katich’s limp grasp.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
The way she leaned forward so intently on the table, looking up at him from under arched brows. The white-blonde hair, too thick and tied back so carelessly. The face, so delicate and so pale under that shock of white-blonde hair. Her cheeks with too much red paint which only highlighted how pale she was.

Pg. 35

palm computer. Instruments flickered into life married, Miss Rekanda?” and the sound of her beating heart was loud At this, her heart did miss a beat, the in his earpiece, its steady rhythm taunting him from the screen to his right. His own faltering monitor showed a definite surge of activity. heart began to follow the beat, two hearts “No, but I fail to see what that has to do with somebody selling plans...?” beating as one. White reached a giant hand over Katich’s “Okay, you know why we are here, my shoulder to retrieve the papers from the desk. His Sirenna. Come back to him after seven partner and I?” Katich fixed his eyes on hers, years in the grave. to his left another screen showed one blue eye He shuffled the papers together. “It has nothing in intense detail. Katich didn’t need that. He to with that, Miss Rekanda. Nothing at all.” He leaned back in his chair. White was would know if she was lying without it. standing, silent and still as his own conscience # at Katich’s shoulder. “We do appreciate your “There has been a leak in the company— patience, Miss—” somebody’s been selling plans to Offworlders?” Katich waited outside the Geronda offices, She seemed disinterested at the thought. So White’s words still ringing in his ears: “That “Rekanda.” Sirenna folded her arms and much like his Sirenna, who had spent her days tilted her head to one side, stretching the drifting listlessly through life, almost bored was Sirenna, somebody’s messed with her mind—but that’s your wife, Eamonn.” White lines of her long neck. She wanted a cigarette, with it all. had flexed his metal hand, a sure sign that he Katich knew. Rather than offer her one from was stressed. “But aside from that, don’t forget the packet on the desk, he held out the finger“Offworlders?” Katich nodded. “And were we have a job to do here, and we can’t afford piece. you born on Beratan, Miss Rekanda?” you to mess it up like you did on Kastrilok.” “Your co-operation will help speed the “No. I’m from Ricol’s World, left there when It was and process, Miss Rekanda.” I was three years old. I lived on Litansada of Beratan early evening, hover the air lanes teemed with cars and the before coming here seven years ago.” She pavements were filled with creatures hurrying Sirenna sighed and reached out a slender didn’t shift in her seat, her pupils remained white hand, sliding the finger-piece onto the steady, the heart monitor showed no fluctua- home. Katich fingered the handle of his blaster middle finger of her left hand. Katich couldn’t tion in its beat. Every instrument proclaimed pistol. He hoped he wouldn’t be waiting long; help noticing the lack of a wedding band on that Sirenna spoke the truth, and yet Katich the streets of the lower city were notoriously the adjacent finger. An image flashed before well knew that she had never set foot on either dangerous once the second sun had set. Katich his eyes; a room in darkness, shimmering blue Ricol’s World or Litansada. He resisted the urge deliberately avoided looking at the dark figure crouched in the shadowed corner of a limasil neon light blinking crazily out on the street to look at White. rehjir across the street; he could feel the creaand giving the scene a nightmarish clarity as he sees the dark, oily pool of blood reflecting “And you have worked for Geronda for how ture’s eyes boring into him without having to look. that nauseating blue light back at him. long?” When Sirenna finally did leave the building Katich swallowed heavily as he swung the “Seven years. Since I came to this planet.” behind him, he felt that familiar twinge in his headrest towards Sirenna. “And if you could In the closeness of the room, Katich could heart. He saw the way she kept apart from the rest your chin there, like so—that’s it.” He smell her perfume. A musky odour that made others leaving the building. He saw the casual, twisted the brass handle to make sure her chin was well supported and flicked a switch on his his heart ache with longing. “And you are graceful way she looped her purse over her

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
shoulder, and he knew he was lost to her once Sometimes she seemed more direct than more. He stepped out in front of her. “Miss...er, Sirenna had ever been and at other times she Miss Rekanda.” seemed exactly as he remembered his wife. It was this dichotomy that was the most painful Sirenna stopped at the sound of his voice; thing of all. “Well, I thought you might feel a her hand tight around her purse as she looked little more comfortable answering questions at him, recognition dawning slowly. “Mr away from Geronda.” Katich? More questions?” Her brow creased in annoyance. “I really think you should have Sirenna leaned both elbows on the scarred asked them earlier rather than letting your table. “You don’t seem like a PI. Not like your partner hurry you away like that.” She craned partner. He seemed like the hard type.” She her neck to look past him to the busy air lanes, smiled slyly. “You seem too polite.” no doubt looking for a spare cab to hurry her Katich could see the admiration in those home. all too familiar blue eyes as she spoke of “It will only take a moment. And I’ll be glad White. Jealousy welled within him, sickening to drive you home once we’re done.” It was and violent. He swallowed and smiled. “I’ll difficult not to act too familiarly with Sirenna. take that as a compliment. Some would say Katich had to remind himself not to stand too politeness is something of a dying art on these close, not to touch her elbow. Her perfume worlds beyond the Eye.” He looked around the almost made him feel faint with need. dingy eaterie. Three other humans, alone and hunched over their steaming bowls of gruel. Sirenna adjusted the strap of her purse on Outside there was the hum of the hover cars her shoulder as she looked up at him. “So, what and the chatter of alien tongues. is it you need, Mr Katich?” “Some would, Mr Katich.” Sirenna nodded “Perhaps we might do this somewhere more thoughtfully and settled back into her seat. comfortable?” He stepped aside and held out “Some would. But I don’t think you’re as polite an arm for Sirenna to follow him. as you might pretend.” With a heavy sigh she did just that. Katich raised an eyebrow. “You don’t?”

Pg. 36
“Which only begs the question why I have been singled out for this particular politeness.” Her look was challenging and amused. A look Katich knew so well. He leaned on the table and looked deep into those eyes of blue. “Because you remind me of somebody I once knew. Long ago and beyond the Eye.” The tendrils of steam from the coffee wisped between them, and Sirenna smiled and lifted the cup to her lips. # Beratan was a new city. Space was already scarce and buildings soared to thousands of feet in the air. Unlike some other planets where the higher offices cost a premium, the higher the office on Beratan, the cheaper it was on account of the thinning air and the thick, redtinted clouds which obscured any view the offices might have had. The offices of Katich & White were at the very top of Ostirak Tower, two thousand three hundred feet in the air.

Katich watched White turn away from the window, letting the drapes fall back into place. “I don’t know why you keep looking out there. Franz Tucok’s was a dingy eaterie with “No. You questioned twenty-eight people The clouds never clear this high up.” darkened, graffiti-stained windows and the today.” She smiled at Katich’s questioning “I couldn’t care less about the clouds, smell of thick grease heavy in the air. It was look. “You haven’t been the only one making Eamonn. What I’m bothered about is you also mercifully cheap, though his plate of food enquiries today, Mr Katich.” She smiled in messing up another job. We can’t afford to and Sirenna’s coffee still left Katich’s pockets thanks as Tucok placed her coffee in front of lose this one.” empty. her. “Something tells me that you won’t be taking all twenty-eight people out for coffee Katich watched the holo-screen on his “So what was it you had wanted to ask me, this evening.” desk. Sirenna was just arriving at Geronda; Mr Katich?” the marker he had placed in her purse and “That something would be right.” the viewer he had placed across the street

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
were both still fully functional. He looked at White. “It’s her. You said so yourself. What am I supposed to do?” “The dead don’t come back to life, Eamonn. I don’t care how far beyond the Eye we’ve run. It just doesn’t happen. You need to think, Eamonn, keep your mind. Last thing we need is another bloodbath like we did on Kastrilok. Anyway, even when she was alive she brought you nothing but trouble.” Nothing but trouble. But this was a different Sirenna, the same and yet somehow more complete. Katich had taken her to Recasin’s, a bar in the middle of the lower city with drapes permanently closed and more shadowy corners than such a small space might reasonably expect to have. “Your friend White doesn’t like me.” Half of Sirenna’s face was hidden in shadow. She was perched on the edge of the seat as though she expected to catch something from the faded fabric. They were the only humans in the bar; most of the humans in Beratan seemed to stick to the same haunts, finding comfort in remaining with their own kind. Katich had never felt that need. He shrugged. “All White worries about is our work and whether we will be paid so he can buy his next drink.” Katich took a sip of his lysan fire. “And you, Eamonn?” Sirenna’s face slipped into shadow as she turned to look at Katich. His eyes felt bleary, and the chittinous chatter of a pair of kerostans crouched in a corner seemed to echo through his skull. “You come and meet me every other day and walk me home, take me to bars, and yet you never touch me, never

Pg. 37
talk of the case. What is it you want from me?” whelming sense of sadness. He put the glass of lysan fire onto the table in front of him. “Not The thought of touching her filled him with difficult, no. It’s a beautiful name. You remind a sense of dread, she was his wife, a glacial me of somebody I once knew.” He turned to ghost from his past, something to look at but Jerhan, her face was still hidden in shadow, still never touch lest it shatter and break into a and unmoving and silent. But the shape of her, million pieces. the smell of her, the sound of her breathing... The door opened, and a listiran shuffled he took another sip of the lysan fire. into the room, its six legs thin and spindly and Jerhan nodded. “I know, so you told me. But its black body nothing but a darker shadow in a still, a lady never likes to be called by another room of shadows and whispers. The blue neon woman’s name. Just for future reference.” light of a holo screen on the building across the street reminded Katich of a pool of oily blood “Ricol’s World.” Sirenna had never been to on a planet far beyond the Eye. “I want to know that planet. you, Sirenna. Know who you are. Know what “What?” you want.” His eyes ached in the darkness of the room, and the chatter of the kerostans was “Ricol’s World.” Katich softened his tone. now a screeching scrape across his mind. “You said you were born on Ricol’s World. Sirenna finally leaned back in her seat, her I wondered what you remembered of it, face still in shadow, both her hands wrapping Jerhan.” about her almost empty glass of kirohel. Jerhan leaned forward, “Perhaps it would be best if you started by from under arched brows. looking up at Katich She seemed about learning my name, Eamonn.” to say something, but paused and, with a heavy Katich stared at her uncomprehendingly. sigh, she relented. “I remember a hillside under “What? Oh, I called you Sirenna? Jerhan, I’m a thousand-mile sky. I would lay in the dreamsorry.” He raised his glass to her. “Jerhan. Your grass, the purple seeds stroking my skin and the weight of the sky crushing my breast. And I name is Jerhan.” would gaze out at worlds so close I could touch There was a silence at their table, broken them. I could see Stanisdor, Lisderan, Ferohur, only by the constant squawking of the kerostans, Untur’s World...all worlds I had heard about, by the pulsing, fat slide of the listiran dragging I had seen on the holoviewer; all of them so its body across the floor. Through it all Sirenna close, full of life, full of wonder, and yet always regarded him from her shadowed seat, her just beyond my reach as I raised my hand.” body still and tense. “Jerhan.” She finally said. She frowned at the memory. “That is what I “Is that such a difficult name to remember?” remember about Ricol’s World, Eamonn.” The bleariness left his eyes, the screech Another silence, Katich heard nothing but across his mind had descended to a dull the slow beating of his own heart. “And that murmur and Katich was left with an over- made you sad?” he finally asked.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
“It made me feel lost, alone in a world of blackness and silence. And these worlds had been placed there to taunt me with the promises of a life which I would never have.” Katich said nothing. He drained his glass and waved over the bartender. # meeting Jerhan soon. “Maybe somebody from Geronda making sure we’re doing our jobs?” “It’s a plek, Eamonn.” “A plek?” “Plektikir. One of the natives of this shit hole.”

Pg. 38
met the faded blue eyes of his friend, knowing that he would never see him again. “I have to say goodbye to her.” White chewed his lip, his eyes falling to the floor. “Of course you do, Eamonn. Of course you do.” # They had arranged to meet at Recasin’s bar. Katich was relieved to see a dark figure sitting at their table, but as he neared, he saw that it couldn’t be his Jerhan waiting for him. “Good day, Mr Katich.” The voice of the creature was strained and twisted, as though it had difficulty in speaking the unfamiliar language. Katich said nothing. He slid into the seat opposite, concentrating on the comforting feel of his blaster pistol pressed against his stomach. “You enjoy your wife, I hope?” It spoke from a shortened beak which was where a human’s chin would be. It had two round black eyes at the top of its narrow oval face. “Where is Jerhan?” Katich spoke calmly, his hands resting on the table. “Jerhan? Or is it Sirenna you have come to see, Mr Katich?” Despite the difficulty the creature had in speaking the language, it managed to sound teasing, almost intimate. “She is nowhere and everywhere. She is a gesture of our goodwill to you.” The plek gestured vaguely. “What my masters can bring to life, they can...unmake.”

Katich laughed, some of the tension easing “This can’t go on, Eamonn. We have to from his shoulders. “A plektikir? You think a leave. Tonight. I’m getting a bad feeling about plektikir is following me around in a hover car?” this place.” He laughed again, though it sounded hollow in the darkness of the apartment. Through the Katich’s room was on the top floor of an window a faulty sign blinked blue neon light apartment complex. There was a holoviewer into the night sky. “I think the pleks are too which he always had muted, a worn chair busy trying to save their homes from Geronda pointed at it and a bathroom down the hall, to bother about me.” which he shared with seven others. “You know they’re supposed to live for There was something about the sight of thousands of years? That they don’t die, that his partner being so agitated that sent a finger they...evolve?” of dread sliding down Katich’s spine. “We can’t, Athur. We have a job to do. You’re just Katich didn’t like it when White started to nervous because you thought it was Sirenna at think too much—it might lead them both down Geronda.” some unfortunate avenues. “And what has that got to do with Jerhan?” “Thought? That was Sirenna—don’t you recognize your own wife?” White rested a hand on Katich’s shoulder. “Sirenna, Eamonn. Sirenna. I’m only saying “It’s Jerhan, Athur. We were wrong.” He that we’re on a world where the natives are turned away, reaching for his glass of lysan said to have conquered death and we suddenly fire. see Sirenna. Nothing good can come from Come with me. There was a silence and then Katich heard it, Eamonn. Forget the past. come with me.” I don’t care where we go, just White pull the drapes to one side. “Who is that in the silver hover car across the street? The A blanket of ice grasped Katich’s heart. one who’s been watching your apartment for He had run so far to escape his past, and yet the past two hours?” here it was waiting for him on this forgotten “He’s nothing. Nobody.” Katich took another planet beyond the Eye. And now he had faced sip of his lysan fire. He was supposed to be it, faced her, he couldn’t leave without her. He

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
With each word the twisted creature spoke, “Ah yes. Much of the work has already been Katich felt Jerhan slip further and further away. done for you. My masters have already gained “So why taunt me with her only to take her you entrance to the offices of Geronda. There away?” is a man there, a Mr. Caldoun.” “You are a man of many talents, my masters have deduced. They have been making inquiries. You are a man of little conscience and great efficiency. My masters...” The creature glanced around the room, its eyes bright and black and unblinking. “My masters, though capable of great things, by the nature of their existence are incapable of certain other, far simpler actions. Which is where you come in, Mr Katich.” Katich placed both hands flat on the table between them and kept his voice low. “I might as well stop you there. I don’t do that kind of work anymore.” The plek spread its arms, they looked twisted and broken, having two elbows which seemed to bend in opposite directions. “Then I’m afraid Sirenna will be lost to you once more, what my masters can provide so easily can also be taken away.” Katich took a deep breath. He stared at the table, thinking of Jerhan laying in her field of dream grass, alone and lost in a world of darkness. He raised his eyes to that black creature with its cruel beak and beady eyes. “What is it they want me to do?” The plek seemed incapable of facial animation, though something seemed to glitter in those eyes of deepest black. “A wise choice, Mr Katich. A simple task for such a reward.” “The task?” Katich found it difficult to hide his irritation with the plek. Katich suddenly felt very weary. “Cameron Caldoun? The CO?”

Pg. 39
and purples as the second sun crawled toward the clouded horizon. Even in the early evening, hover cars still hummed past. The occasional creature hurried past, eyes downcast, eager to be home.

The plek had told him to come in the night, but Katich knew better than that. Far more “Yes, Mr Caldoun has been making some likely to be challenged trying to sneak in at the investigations out in the easterlands, no doubt dead of night than walking in when some of planning on extending the city even further.” the offices were still partially occupied. The bright black eyes glittered once more. “And in so doing, we are afraid that he has He stooped and pressed his eye to the made some unfortunate discoveries, things scanner, and the doors slid open before him. we would rather remain unknown about our...” The lobby was deserted; the only sound the Another wave of a twisted arm. “Abilities, shall hum of an oxygenator in a shadowed corner. we say? We would like that information to be He ran a thumb along the hilt of his blaster removed from his possession, Mr Katich. And pistol and took the stairs two at a time as he Sirenna will be returned to you to do with as headed for Caldoun’s office. you wish.” Blank screens stared at him, empty and Katich detected a faint hint of sarcasm in accusing as he hurried along the corridors. that last statement but decided to ignore it. Lights flickered into life as he passed. Workers “And when will you need this information?” looked up from offices: lonely men with no wife to return to, mestons who some people “Despite our longevity, my masters are said never slept. A bored looking guard raised an impatient people. Tonight.” The creature a hand in recognition, and Katich offered the leaned forward, its breath smelled of dust man a smile. He pressed on, lights glittering and sand. “A simple task, wait until the offices to life before him and falling into darkness are empty and you can simply walk in and behind. retrieve the information from the files. “Our sources”—again the hint of a smile as the plek Cameron Caldoun’s office had two glass said this—”have told us that it is stored under doors. Even without the name above the the filename Regeneration.” doors, it would have been obvious to anybody that this must be his office, a huge plant with “Of course it is.” Katich rose to his feet and purple-tipped leaves stood inside those doors; without another word left the bar. it had probably cost more money than Katich had seen in his entire life. # As he looked into the room Katich saw a Sunset on Beratan was a muted affair of reds shadowy movement—a dark figure stooping over a desk, just visible in the dim blue light

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Regeneration by Martin Turton
which fed the plant. The blaster pistol slid smoothly into his hand as Katich pressed his back against the wall. He held still, the light overhead soon fading into darkness despite the pounding of Katich’s heart. And then the door was pushed slowly, cautiously open. A stray lock of white-blonde hair had fallen loose and she had her head tilted just so. Katich could only just make out a soft white cheek and a downcast blue eye as she left the office and stepped out into the corridor. “Sirenna.”

Pg. 40
There was a shout, and Katich felt a flashing, searing pain in his back. He smelled burning Martin Turton flesh, and he slumped to his knees. Somewhere behind him he could hear more shouts, more running feet. He tried to rise but fell back to Martin Turton lives in East Yorkshire, his knees. England with his wife and three daughters. In the little spare time he has after working Something flickered overhead, bright and beautiful, at once impossibly distant and yet full time and looking after three children all tantalizingly close. A golden light, a world full under the age of four, he had been working of life, full of wonder if only he could just reach on an unwieldy fantasy novel before turning out and grasp it.

And underneath that golden light he saw a figure, her white-blonde hair so familiar as She turned, pushing the lock of hair care- she walked away from him, never once looking lessly away from her face. “Oh.” A flicker of back. fear across her face. A face he had thought he had known. But she was younger than he had And then she was lost from sight as the thought, the eyebrows a little darker, the mouth light flickered and finally faded into darkness.” more petulant than he remembered, the lips a little thinner. Had he really thought this was his Sirenna? Her arms were folded tightly over a thick folder. “I’m sorry.” She glanced over his shoulder, and Katich turned. The door was still open and an arm trailed along the floor, a dark head turned to one side, the rest of the body hidden from view behind the desk. A pool of blood, dark and oily and reflecting that sickening blue light back at him. Katich thought of another pool of blood on a world far away and he turned, but she was already gone, her footsteps echoing the length of the empty corridor. An alarm blared and Katich was running, his breath loud in his ears. Lights flickered and blinked overhead as he ran. Faceless, empty corridors full of silent windows and bare doors.

to the shorter form in the hope of actually finishing something. His work has appeared in Flashing Swords, Reflections Edge, Abandoned Towers, Allegory, Sorcerous Signals and others, and is forthcoming in The Rage Of The Behemoth anthology.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

RGR Reviews - Book Reviews

RGR Reviews
December 2008

Pg. 41

Book Reviews Matthew Winslow, Reviews Editor
Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann Eos, 2008, 576 pages Reviewed by Steve Davidson There are four primary sources in the world for English-language science fiction -- the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia (which includes New Zealand, ‘of course’). Most of us are more than familiar with the U.S. and U.K. varieties -- and probably equally familiar with the Canadian without even realizing it, but as for SF from Down Under…. Most of us are woefully unfamiliar with speculative literature that hails from the land of kangaroos, Ayers Rock, going walk-about, and the Outback -- unless you count that restaurant chain that wants to put some shrimp on the barbie for you. This was not always the case; in the seventies and eighties, most readers could count on seeing the most recognizably Australian SF author on the shelves of their favorite bookstore. A. Bertram Chandler, with his tales of the Rim Worlds and his most famous character -- Commodore John Grimes (the original Horatio Hornblower of Space) -- was a constant and familiar presence. While few realized it at the time, they were simultaneously reading some of the best ‘future history’ space opera, work-a-day stories of life with FTL and Australian SF that has ever been produced. Indeed, Australia can be so remote in both time and space that the fans Down Under have created their own annual awards (Ditmars), their own publications and even their own publishing houses. While the DUFF program has been in existence for years (Down-Under Fan Fund, used to bring a fan from the island continent to the WorldCon), and there have been a couple of World Cons held in Australia, it is a rare occurrence indeed that sees any regular back-and-forth between what Americans egocentrically think of as the SF world and that other realm - a realm that, although smaller, is equally as vibrant and capable of producing seminal works as our own. I deliberately mentioned A. Bertram Chandler as background for this review. I must now also mention Harlan Ellison, Jack Dann and Dreaming Down Under, because all of them, as well as a host of supporting characters (including myself) come into play. As most will know, Harlan Ellison edited two major anthologies in the late 60s and early 70s -- Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions. If you are not familiar with these works, immediately stop reading, break out the credit card, order them, read them, give yourself some time to recover, and then come back. For a huge number of reasons, Ellison’s anthologies are historically important, important to the development of the SF genre, important to fannish history and important to the concept of the SF anthology as a whole: they taught us that SF anthologies could serve as the break-out forum for both new authors and for old authors learning new tricks. Jack Dann is an award winning writer (Nebula, Ditmar, etc) and an acclaimed anthologist. His Wandering Stars (1974) introduced us all to Jewish-themed science fiction (some very funny stories in there) and introduced us to this editor who likes to push boundaries and has proven capable of unearthing excellent talent and stories. My personal experiences with Australian SF start with Chandler, move through the unfulfilled wish of attending the first ever Aussiecon, and end in the present era with David Kelleher’s BertramChandler website, with Paul Collins, writer and publisher (Ford Street Publishing), and with the last remaining Chandler story to appear in print. I’ve been trying to collect everything by Chandler for my concordance project (an encyclopedia of the Rim Worlds); David has been doing the same for longer and knew that Paul Collins had the rights to the only extant Chandler story. When Chandler’s wife Susan died recently, all of us went looking for ways to get that story into print. Paul eventually hooked up with Jack Dann, who ultimately agreed to publish that story in the second ‘Dreaming Down Under’ anthology -- Dreaming Again.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

RGR Reviews - Book Reviews
The threads don’t stop there though. In addition to being fine, seminal works in their own right, Dreaming Down Under and Dreaming Again have rightfully been compared to Ellison’s anthologies -- the Southern Stars version of a breakout, new-wave, seminal, and ultimately important collection of stories that together herald and confirm the arrival of Australian/ New Zealand speculative literature. And interestingly enough, Ellison retains the last -- the very last -- Chandler story that will see print, if he ever gets around to publishing the third Dangerous Visions installment -- a subject that is extremely touchy and one which I only refer to in passing, because of the Chandler/ Australian SF, last-story-to-be-published connection. The interleaved, intertwined histories of these authors, editors and stories is probably fertile ground for an examination of some esoteric branch of quantum physics, but other than involving me personally to some small degree, such analysis is beyond me. So, I’ll have to confine myself to the reads that can be found in Dreaming Again. typical John Grimes/Rim Runners/alternaterealities tale. For Chandler fans, it is a comfortable and familiar read. Those not steeped in the lore of the Rim Worlds will find it equally fascinating for the take it provides on the Anjin-sama, Will Adams, the Englishman who provided the story that James Clavell based his Shogun novel on.

Pg. 42
SF detective tale; “Riding on the Q-Ball” by Rosaleen Love, that evokes some of the more bizarre SF out there by Lafferty and Sheckley; and “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer that was just plain fun and totally bizarre.

This is a thick book, containing some 35 stories of varying length and genre. Dann has chosen not to limit the author’s scope (hoping that such freedom would allow the chosen authors to experiment, a hope that has been fulfilled) as well s both introductory and concluding The stories that particularly impressed me were matter for each of the stories. “A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead” There is also a rather lengthy introduction (well by Richard Harland, a horror tale and placed worth the read) that gives us Jack’s experienc- some unique images in my head; “Robots & es with Dreaming Down Under and with the Zombies Inc.” by Lucy Sussex, a twisty little present volume. tale; “Nightship” by Kim Westwood that left me confused, bewildered and wanting further I, of course, was interested to read the Chandler explanation; “Lure” by Paul Collins, a neat little story first; Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo is a

Dreaming Again is, to borrow a cliché, a tourde-force. This is one of those anthologies, With my duty to Commodore Grimes dis- along with its precursor, that any serious reader charged, I turned to the front of the book and of speculative fiction is required by law to not began reading each story from beginning to only have on their shelves, but to have read. end -- perhaps the only proper way to approach This collection demonstrates in numerous an anthology featuring numerous authors you ways -- the breadth of the subjects covered, aren’t familiar with. the playing with genre, the disregard for ‘traditional’ story-telling -- that Dreaming Down There are far too many stories to cover individ- Under was not a fluke, not just the best of a ually here, so I’ll provide a summation first: out blip in Australian talent. but was the beginning of the 35 stories included, I was unimpressed of a ‘new wave’, and a wave that has continued with only three. The fault, of course, may very and strengthened over the intervening years. well reside with the reader, since none of those three stories were SFnal in nature, and I am not Web sites referenced in this review: a huge fan of fantasy or horror. www.fordstreetpublishing.com www.bertramchandler.com On the other hand, several stories, drawn www.rimworlds.com equally from the three genres represented in this volume, did capture my attention, did deliver on the sensuwunda and did leaving me feeling that I had not only read a story by a master craftsperson, but had read something new and unique in the world of speculative literature.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

RGR Reviews - Book Reviews
Multireal (Volume 2 of the Jump 225 Trilogy) by David Louis Edelman responses to the game.)

Pg. 43
gamed out prior to being initiated, allowing the user to select the outcome they desire. Edelman is quick to point out that if only one person possesses Multireal, things remain pretty much the same (except that that one person has tremendous powers) but once more than one person has it, selecting your desired outcome becomes a contest of wills between you and the next person—or you and everyone else on the planet (and off) whose lives will be affected by your decisions and selections—and yours by their choices. I’m sorry, but again, I don’t buy it. I’ll leave the question of programming resources alone for now since Edelman’s characters ask that question themselves. The author uses sports analogies to illustrate the usages of Multireal (I’m going to hit a baseball right into the fourth seat from the left in the 120th row of the nosebleed section every time.) The problem is that this simple analogy hand-waves away the infinitude of actual variables that play into every single “decision” we make on a microsecond by micro-second basis. External events that the user is unaware of can influence reality —but if the user is unaware of these events, they can’t be used by Multireal as inputs to the equation, which renders the simulated permutations of reality at least partially false all of the time. (Suppose an earthquake occurred right as the bat contacted the ball, or the radiation front from a stellar event sleeted through the system at just that moment.) My other disconnect (and here I’ll completely admit that maybe I am just not ‘getting it’) is that there are times throughout the story when the author seems to lose track of what is happening in real time, what is happening

We are placed 300+ years into the re-awakening of human society following the Autonomous Revolt, a period when the machines tried to take over and eliminate mankind. By In my review of Infoquake (RGR 48, November dint of major effort and major loss of popula2008) I discussed the ‘disconnect’ I experienced tion, humanity prevailed and an entirely new while reading. I questioned both my own ability social order has been gradually introduced in to ‘get it’, as well as possible ‘glitches’ intro- the wake of the revolt. duced by the author. Herein lies my initial problem with the entire I ultimately determined that Edelman was concept: I find it nearly impossible to accept engaging in some pretty high-handed genre- the idea that only three centuries after the bending by introducing elements of fantasy human species was nearly wiped off the face into an otherwise hard-SF cyberpunk tale. My of the planet by machines, it is willing to allow opinion on that score has not changed now itself to be filled with micro-machines that filter that I’ve completed the second volume of the real world, control emotion, mentation, this trilogy. In fact, my feeling that the author communication and nearly every other aspect himself does not have a complete grasp of the of life and individuality. It’s two centuries plus uses and logic inherent in his future technolo- since Shelly’s Frankenstein and we still haven’t gies was only strengthened by this latest read. gotten over that nightmare—the idea that run control To recap, The Jump 225 Trilogy—Infoquake, technology can God, beyond our seeds of and that, in playing we sow the our Multireal, and (coming soon) Geosynchron own destruction. —depict a far-future, post-(almost)-singularity world in which virtually everyone is loaded up Nevertheless, this is the premise of the with nanobots that communicate via a wireless world we are introduced to, along with its network. Because data can be introduced main characters—Natch, Jara, Horvill, Merri directly into the brain stem by these nanobots, and Benyamin, members of a programming virtual travel, conferencing, programming, sex, ‘fiefcorp’, developers of various nanobot conand just about everything else can be accom- trolling software. Natch is a bit of an outcast, plished by manipulating sensory input. known for playing in the gray area of the business world, to The nanobots also serve as health maintainers, shaker when he who risesthe the level of world acquires source code memory extension, and computation extension, new technology—Multireal—technology for a as well as allowing for the manipulation of the allows the individual to manipulate reality.that physical body—eye and hair color changes, facial expression, and the like. (For example, Multireal is essentially simple in concept: if you were playing poker, you’d upload Poker bring enough programming resources to bear Face 17.4 and the nanobots would prevent the and every decision or action one takes can be appearance of facial expressions of emotional Pyr, 460 pages, plus appendices, 2007 Reviewed by Steve Davidson

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

RGR Reviews - Book Reviews
virtually and what is happening to whom when realized in Infoquake; his pacing is tighter and the two intersect. An incident from chapter after reading the two back-to-back, it is obvious 19 illustrates my point. The main characters that the author has hit his stride. are traveling via tube train and reporters (“Drudges”) are eagerly awaiting their arrival The other trappings of his universe are also in the train station. The press of bodies is so worth looking into. While I may not buy the great that one woman is pushed onto the tracks presentation of the technology that drives the in front of the train. She screams and then story (I may not even buy the technology), I do “the multi networks automatic pain overrides find the society that Edelman has created to cut the woman’s connection.” If the woman be intriguing. It is certainly rich, detailed and (presumably a drudge, so her death is of no different enough to support any number of real consequence…) had multied to the train interesting stories. He’s created an entirely new station, who cares if the train hit her virtual societal structure, one where people choose avatar? Why would the program or the woman the “government” they wish to represent them, allow her virtual body to be pushed? How did religion has been replaced by the opt-in Creed it get pushed? If she was there in person, what and the power structure of society revolves does it matter that her pain overrides were around a Prime Committee, the Defense and cut? (Why didn’t they cut out instantly?) She’s Wellness Council, the L-Pracgs, the Meme Cooperative and the Drudges—independent dead, no more input or output. purveyors of news and gossip. Just prior to this incident, Natch, the entrepreneur, is involved in a battle at which he’s only The overriding concept is one of ‘choice’; the present virtually. This point is well-illustrated theme illustrates the consequences of having by having a projectile pass harmlessly through unlimited choice and the effects this has both his forehead. Why and how then is he jostled, on the individual and the society they inhabit. exhausted and showing all of the signs of My choice affects you; how do we resolve having been in the fight physically? If the multi this? network makes his avatar react to the physical Once again, I think this series is worth looking environment as if he were there, why not turn into. Edelman is an up-and-comer, he delivers off that part of the program? Why not just cut on characterization and he certainly has the connection so he’s not even there? delivered a rich and detailed alternate future, I’m not writing a comprehensive critique of one that I find implausible but that others will this work, so I’ll simply stop with those two be intrigued by. Each of us has our own level examples, other than to mention that there of tolerance for turning off that suspensionwere numerous others that took me out of the of-disbelief button. Cyberpunkistas will absolutely revel in the Possibilities; anyone who story. enjoys watching a rising new star develop will I can say this: Edelman’s writing technique be rewarded. If you want to see the future of is much improved. His characters have a where the SF novel is going, pick up this series. roundness and fullness that was not fully

Pg. 44

Steve Davidson has been an SF fan since watching his first episode of Fireball XL5. He is currently the ‘crotchety’ behind the Crotchety Old Fan blog and is the curator of The Classic Science Fiction Channel, a website devoted to classic science fiction film, television, radio and print. He can be found at www.rimworlds.com/ thecrotchetyoldfan

Steve Davidson

The Book of Skaith (The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, and The Reavers of Skaith) by Leigh Brackett Paizo Publishing, 220 pages, 200 pages, 160 pages, 2008-2009 Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt The mid-to-late 1970s mark a turning point in the history of space opera. It is in this period, according to David C. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s The Space Opera Renaissance, where the term “space opera” begins to be used as a term of praise instead of opprobrium. This shift depended largely on the efforts of two people: the editor Lester Del Rey and the author Leigh Brackett.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

RGR Reviews - Book Reviews
Brackett (wife of another space-opera legend, Edmond Hamilton) got her start writing in the pulps of the 1940s and ’50s, writing adventure science fiction in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs, works that at the time were called “science fantasy” or “planetary romance.” As such, she is a grand master of space opera. Her trilogy, The Book of Skaith, first published in the mid-’70s and currently being republished by Paizo Publishing, shows Brackett at the height of her powers. Stark makes his way to the Citadel of the Lords Protector, where he believes Ashton is being held.

Pg. 45
not too difficult to obtain used. Unlike Stark, readers who visit Brackett’s Skaith will enjoy themselves immensely.

The Hounds of Skaith, the second volume of the story, traces Stark’s journey from the Citadel in the far north of Skaith back to Irnan. The Wandsmen cannot allow Stark’s attack on the Citadel to go unpunished, so they raise forces against him. But Stark is not alone, having found allies among the mysterious Fallarin, among the wild men of the Barrens, and above The novel-in-trilogy stars a hero from Brack- all, in his Northhounds, the telepathic beasts ett’s pulp days, Eric John Stark. Stark is a cross who give this volume its title. between Burroughs’s Tarzan (the articulate beastman of the novels, not the monosyllabic The Reavers of Skaith, the third and final volume, troglodyte of the movies) and C. L. Moore’s opens to find Stark abandoned by his allies and Northwest Smith. The Book of Skaith recounts tortured by the star-captain who had agreed to Stark’s adventures as he attempts to rescue take Stark and his companions to the Galactic his friend and foster-father, Simon Ashton, Union but then betrayed him. Stark must find a from the planet Skaith. The three volumes of way to escape, reunite his allies, and work his the trilogy are The Ginger Star, The Hounds of vengeance on the treacherous Wandsmen, or he will never leave Skaith. Skaith, and The Reavers of Skaith. In The Ginger Star, Stark arrives on the This summary (brief and containing as few backwater planet of Skaith in search of Simon spoilers as possible) comes nowhere near Ashton, who is a diplomat from the Galactic conveying the rich texture of Brackett’s work. Union. Skaith is a dying world, its sun growing The communities and cultures Stark encouncold. It is ruled by a caste of priest-kings known ters on his journey are varied and highly as the Wandsmen and by their more-distant imaginative, each reacting in a different way quasi-divine superiors, the Lords Protector. to the slow, inescapable dying of the planet. Neither the Wandsmen nor the Lords Protector Brackett’s Skaith is a welcome antidote to the takes kindly to the intrusions of offworlders monocultures of too many science fictional planets (this is a desert planet, this is an ice onto what they consider their planet. planet, etc.) Stark’s search involves him in the resistance to the rule of the Wandsman on the part of For lovers of SF adventure on a planetary scale, the city-state Irnan. The prophetess of that Brackett’s Book of Skaith is not to be missed. city, Gerrith, identifies Stark as the Dark Man, Paizo is to be highly commended for reissuing who was foretold to lead the people of Irnan these volumes in their Planet Stories series. to the stars. With the help of the Irnanese, The original Del Rey paperbacks are also

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt grew up in western Michigan and now lives in Arkansas with his wife and dog. He can be contacted via www.myspace.com/DonaldJacobUitvlugt

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Featured Artist: Gary Tonge

Pg. 46

Featured Artist
Gary Tonge
Name: Gary Tonge, gary@vision-afar.com Age: 38 Country of residence: United Kingdom Hobbies: films, great food/wine, art in general, cars Favorite Artist: traditional—Syd Mead; digital—Craig Mullins When did you start creating art? I started working professionally in 1987 as a very young and inexperienced graphic artist for a computer games company. I did not really start using my conceptual and illustrative skills by themselves for client until 2001, however. What media do you work in? Digitally almost exclusively—I have worked in the simple 8/16-bit games era when the graphical potentials were not very high, moving into 3D and into high-end modeling/animation and rendering side during the mid 1990’s. Finally, I found the most stimulation by becoming an art director and conceptual illustrator. Where your work has been featured? Album covers, snow boards, book covers, magazine covers and articles, The National Geographic, The BBC, The Ballistic “Expose” books (I-II-III), game concepts, illustrative concepts for industry, etc. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? http://www.visionafar.com/ - main site http://antifan-real.deviantart.com- other works http://visionafar.spaceart.org/prints.shtml - prints
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 49, December 2008

Featured Artist: Gary Tonge

Pg. 47

How did you become an artist? When I was at school, I really was a bit of a dreamer—but I was always very focused on art and how to make things look interesting. At the time the games industry was very young, but it was starting to look for artists to help produce games (the graphical qualities were becoming high enough to need artists as opposed to the programmers doing their own art)—I was lucky enough to land a job, after quite a number of applications to various companies around at the time. What were your early influences? At an early age, I would have to say that I was influenced greatly by the Star Wars movies, I was (apparently, according to my Mum) totally transfixed and blown away by Star Wars when I was taken to see it at the cinema when I was 7.5 years old!

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Featured Artist: Gary Tonge

Pg. 48

What are your current influences? I find contemporary artists of great interest, but there is so much scope these days for visual stimulus and variety that I find myself inspired by a lot of sources. But the one thing that fires me up more than anything is the world itself—natural beauty and the people I love in my life, my partner and my daughter. These surpass everything else, in my opinion, for inspiration. What inspired the art for the cover? This image is a actually a slight composite of two images (and some painting) that I have created previously—they illustrate the Universe as it is described in a book, they were commissioned a few years ago but I thought it would be lovely to have a Christmas message that showed the enormity of our galaxy and the worlds out there. How would you describe your work? A good mixture of sci-fi, fantasy, conceptual, illustrative, and design. I guess I enjoy turning my hand to pretty much anything these days!

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Featured Artist: Gary Tonge

Pg. 49

Have you had any notable failures, and how has failure affected your work? Nothing stands out as an out-and-out failure, but I do believe that valuable lessons are learned from succeeding in a task and just as many, if not more, are learned when you strive to succeed and fail to accomplish what you intended. What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? Well that is a good question, I guess I would have to say my PC—but I am hankering after a Mac to be honest—if anybody from Apple is out there and wants to sponsor a new machine! What tool / equipment do you wish you had? I think I would like to buy a new Wacom Cintiq screen to work on; having had the opportunity to use my team’s a few times, I really like them. (Anybody from Wacom out there??) What do you hope to accomplish with your art? Well, my personal art, I think, is driven very much by my desire to paint what I imagine to be out there in the far reaches of the Universe—what is more exciting than supposing what is out there to be seen? I think for that, I like the idea of giving people a wider view of what might be real, to expand their horizons and imagination to encompass the idea that anything could, be out there—wondrous vistas and amazing new worlds filled with people like us (or maybe not like us!). Professionally, I want to always give the client the very best output and ideas I can muster, to use my art skills to create new and exciting ideas and images, for products or private visions. And finally, I hope I can always keep learning, I would hate to feel like I had already produced my best piece of art!

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Featured Artist: Gary Tonge

Pg. 50

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton

Calamity’s Child
by M. Keaton
Part Two

Pg. 51

Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope, Part Two

“T

hat’s the last one. Catch cages are loaded.” Pharaoh pulled at the rearmost chain, assuring himself it was still tight. “Take her out,” he shouted, giving the side of the truck bed a pair of quick slaps. The motor coughed to life with a cloud of blue smoke. Gears grinding, the truck lurched into motion. He watched it pull from the yard, shaking his head as his son turned the corner too fast, causing the cages to sway drunkenly from side to side, then moved to help James secure the helicopter to the jeep’s tow-behind. “Hey, Pop,” James said by way of greeting as Pharaoh knelt beside him. “Think it will make the trip?” he asked. James shrugged. “Probably. Jeep’s got the rebuilt trans. I’m more worried about the truck.” He pointed toward a coil of chain, paused while Pharaoh handed it to him. “I guess worst-case, one of us comes back in the chopper for more parts. Somebody’ll have to come back at least once anyway.” Pharaoh straightened, wiped his palms on his jeans. “We need another driver.” “What about Kylee?” James asked, standing as well. “We also need another truck.”

“Or one of those really big choppers, those dragonfly-looking flying cranes,” James said with a distracted smile. “Take the cages back and forth by air. Man, that’d be somethin’ to fly, wouldn’t it?” “We are fine with the ‘copter we have.” “I’m just saying.” The younger man thought a moment. “What about putting a trailer behind the other jeep?” Pharaoh shook his head. “I do not want to leave Martha without transportation.” “Ma never drives anyway.” “Would it make the trip?” James gnawed his lip. “Dunno. It runs all right, but I don’t know how well it’d stand up pulling a load.” “Definitely something to keep in mind for next time.” Pharaoh clapped a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Good idea.” “More work for me in the shop, you mean.” James kicked one of the tires on the towbehind’s double axles. “I think we’re good to go after I pull this one out. Toss bedrolls and food in the back of the jeep when we pull out.” He pointed across the yard, toward the lodge. “Speaking of...” Kylee was headed toward them, laboring with a box that looked too small to be so heavy.

Pharaoh skipped over the hitch and jogged to help her, lifting the box from her arms with a grunt. “Martha said you’d want these,” the girl said, walking behind him, winded. “Oh yes. Nothing cooks like cast-iron.” James met them, helped lift the box into the jeep. “And with that extra ton of ballast,” James announced, “I’m going to pull it around front. Watch the rotors for me, Pop. I never know if they’re going stay folded back until we start bouncing.” Pharaoh nodded. He stepped back, Kylee in tow, as James eased the vehicles from the yard. Pharaoh held both thumbs up as it reached the corner and crept around. “He worries too much,” he told Kylee. “When Ivan and I would go out, we just loaded up and went. No safety checks, no spare parts, nothing. We did not even have the helicopter then. Just two idiots in a truck.” He hesitated, then added, “Given the way some of our trips went, maybe we should have done some planning ahead.” “You guys went alone?” “Nimrod took us until he got too old, then Ivan and I went alone. Even if we did not enjoy it, we would have had to. Guiding hunters is nice, but the veldt is where the real money comes from.” He folded his arms across his

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
chest and contemplated the ruddy morning sky. “It is a strange universe, Kylee. When Selous found this world, he bought any Earth animal he could and brought it here. He did not have a reason, he just wanted them. He thought the langer and their shells would bring in hunters, and money. Instead, the animals lived—some thrived—and now we live by selling their descendants to zoos. His hobby is our living, and his living is our hobby. One never knows.” Pharaoh stopped, watching as James and John returned from the vehicles. He sighed. “In the Hedge, our trucks would be in a museum, curiosities. Here, my sons labor in the machine shop to keep them running, making by hand the replacement parts that cannot be purchased. What I cannot teach them, they must learn themselves where and when they can. Their lives will always be work, hard labor, while in the Hedge, men can go their entire life without soiling a hand. The Frontier is a hard place. And a hard place to watch your children grow.” “Then why?” Kylee asked. “If it’s so bad, why stay?” “It is home.” Pharaoh chuckled, a rumble deep in his throat. “It is not bad, just different.” He gave Kylee a knowing look and let his lips curl into a lupine smile. “On the Frontier, we are free.” Whatever else he might have said was lost as Martha’s voice pealed across the yard. “Kyyy-Leeee! Eye-Van call! Kyyy-Leeee!” “Go,” Pharaoh said with a hand on the girl’s back, “before she deafens us all.” The girl ran to the house laughing. Martha caught her at the door, sweeping her inside and into Pharaoh’s office still at a run. With a deliberate glare to the screen, Martha left the room. “Hi,” Kylee said, still out of breath. “What’s up?” Ivan laughed. “Can you see me okay? You look like a dervish.” “What’s a dervish?” “Look it up in one of your books.” Ivan paused, looked oddly guilty. “How’s Pharaoh treating you?” “Like a rented mule,” she replied, cackling. “I don’t know what that is either, but he said to say it next time you called.” Ivan shook his head. “Well, you look happy.” Kylee shrugged. “I guess. Martha and I are going to do knife work in the kitchen today. That’s always fun. So, when do you get here?” She leaned forward, almost out of the chair, on the question. “What the hell happened to you!?” she interrupted herself. Ivan grimaced, motioned with his left hand at the inflatable cast that encased his right arm. “Broke m’arm. Busted ribs too. Red Dog tried to run me down with a bulldozer. A really damn big bulldozer.” He stopped, then added, “And watch your language.” “Yeah, you too. You gonna be okay?” “House spends too much on med bay for me not to be.” “Why’d Red try to run you over?” Ivan rolled his eyes. “I shot him,” he muttered.

Pg. 52

“Oh, this is a story I have got to hear!” Kylee squirmed back into her chair, making herself comfortable. “I’ll tell you when I get there. It takes some explaining. Let’s just say Red and I ain’t talking right now.” “I guess. You guys are so cool. Tell me already, when do you get here? I’ve been waiting like forever.” Ivan’s face told her the answer before his words. “Not for a while yet. I’ve got another errand to run,” he said reluctantly. Kylee’s eyes narrowed and her lips thinned as she folded her arms. “I’ll bet.” “You remember Quicksilver Rose?” At Kylee’s icy nod he continued, “House is buying her marker.” Pique warred with excitement. “She’s going to be one of us?” she asked cautiously. “She’ll be working for House, if that’s what you mean,” was Ivan’s equally cautious reply. “That’s really great for her.” Kylee pulled her legs up into the chair, hugged them to her chest. “I really like her, too. It’s nice to have another girl to talk to. I mean, Martha’s a girl, but she’s old.” “Wouldn’t tell her that,” Ivan advised. Kylee stuck out her tongue. “That’s why she talks the way she does. Pharaoh told me that he talks slow because he’s going to live forever, but Martha’s getting old so she has to

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
talk efficient.” Ivan lifted a hand to cover his face. “Kid, I definitely wouldn’t repeat that. Sounds like you’ve gotten Mount Kilimanjaro to talk at least.” “We talk a lot when we’re out hunting. Pharaoh knows lots of stuff,” Kylee paused, added pointedly, “At least he talks to me.” “Listen, Kylee, you know it’s just business,” Ivan said, torn between guilt and irritation. “Rose has things left to do, and I have to help her finish them. Then I’m coming to Selous. Promise.” “Like you promised last time?” Ivan turned his head, looking off-screen. “All right. I deserved that. Are we even?” “Do you mean it? You promise?” “I promise,” Ivan nodded as he spoke. “How long?” “Maybe two weeks, if that.” He met her intent glare. “Can you hold out that long?” Kylee propped her chin on her knees. “I’ll be fine. Always have been.” “We okay? Tell me the truth, because if we’re not, I’ll tell them all to go to blazes and come right now.” “Nah. S’okay. You gotta help Rose.” She sighed heavily. “Just sad.” Ivan sighed as well. “I get it, kid. I really do.” They stared at each other. “I have to go. You okay?” “I’m okay.” She gave him a weak smile, partially hidden behind her jeans. “Miss you, Calamity.” “Miss you too,” she said, voice muffled. After the screen went black she added in a tiny voice, “Love you.” “He loves you too,” rumbled Pharaoh from the doorway. “He is just too stupid to say it.” Kylee was out of the chair like a shot, arms straight at her sides, hands balled into fists. “You were spying!” she snapped indignantly. Pharaoh shook his head. “Scouting. I have lived with Martha for nearly thirty years,” he explained. “I learned long ago, when entering the presence of a potentially upset female, scout first.” He took a deep breath and continued, cutting her off just as she was about to speak. “And you are upset. Care to tell me?” She closed her mouth, opened it, closed it again angrily, stamped her foot instead. “You didn’t spy on that part too?” she asked. Pharaoh refused to rise to her bait, waiting silently, watching her with calm features. “He’s going to be late,” she said, relenting. “He’s got to help Rose. But that’s a good thing. Really.” Pharaoh hooked his thumbs into his belt and stepped into the room. “You say that to convince yourself, not me.” “It is a good thing,” she said stubbornly. Pharaoh did not answer, stepped past her to turn off the power to the viewscreen. “Made up your mind yet?” she asked in a lighter tone, changing the subject. “About what?” “Taking me to the veldt.”

Pg. 53

Pharaoh shook his head. “Still thinking,” he said, distracted by his own thoughts. Kylee let out a banshee’s shriek and stomped from the room, leaving the confused hunter behind. # Investigations only came in two flavors: shoe leather and library. Most cases on the Frontier were leather, a lot of travel, a lot of talking and knocking on doors. Most crime was simple and the criminals simpler. Everyone lied, but sooner or later the lies stopped matching and you knew your perpetrator. Once you knew who did it, you backtracked to find enough evidence to make it stick. Sometimes you did not even need that; a guilty man tended to be quick for his gun. Library cases were spent sifting through piles of data looking for a needle in a haystack, details, and trickery. Graves liked the simplicity, the clean lines of black and white. It was why, unlike men like Lumley who were just biding their time and padding their resume until they could leap at a promotion back to ‘civilization,’ he had asked to be transferred away from the Hedge and out to the edge. He liked being the face on the end of the long, extended arm of the law, and he found he was good at it. The Earth Security agent sat up from his overstuffed sofa, struggling to his feet. He was not going to get to sleep tonight; too much going on in his brain. His apartment would be considered palatial by Earth standards—bedroom, living room, kitchen, bath—but he still spent most nights sleeping on the couch. Sleep was about all he did in the apartment. He was

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
rarely home; when he was, he was in no mood to stay in. An unintended consequence was that the apartment was permanently dark; it never seemed worth the trouble to get a light fixed when it went out. He stumbled through the gloom, heading toward the kitchen. Casey frustrated him. The case was an aberration for the Frontier, a library case with the culprit noticeably absent. There was not even a question about guilt. Children playing in the street could tell you that Casey was the biggest smuggler on the Frontier, his reputation as a “boss” was almost as well established. Lumley might say he was obsessive about the man, but the simple fact of the Frontier was that there were not that many players in the game. No, the problem was in the evidence. Casey worked through middle men; that was not that unusual, but he had the power to keep them loyal through either fear or greed and he had the influence to insure that, even when they took the fall covering for him, they landed lightly with a judicial slap on the wrist. Cut-out men, pyramid structure, blind drops, and a tight core of bosses—Casey’s network was nearly uncrackable and his people would not roll over. That left the paper trail, and finding detailed written records on the Frontier was as unlikely as a snowball fight in Hell. Graves wiped the worst of the grime out of a plastic cup, stared into a bare refrigerator, and wondered why he had given up drinking. He settled for tap water that tasted like sulfur. The data he and Steponovich had stolen from Kor, Casey’s accountant, was his first break in months. Finally, he had paper in the library. Circumstantial yes, but enough to get a warrant to bring Casey in. Or it should have been. The other thing that made Casey different from other Frontier cases was that the man himself was not only an Earth citizen but a highly active political animal. On the Frontier, the man himself was a bit of a mystery, rarely seen, residence unknown. It was easier to find him in the Inner Hedge. In the Hedge he was a noble citizen, activist, political patron of several influential senators. A kingmaker whose unsavory connection to man’s expansionism could be ignored. To Graves, it was just a higher level of corruption, but to the higherups in Earth Security it was business-as-usual, a hot potato to be handled carefully and avoided when possible. This extra layer of insulation from the law that applied to the common man meant Graves would have to prove a watertight case before he could even get a warrant— in a setting where that kind of textbook case simply did not exist. He would probably have a better chance of catching Casey violating some arcane political regulation than booking him for one of the truly heinous crimes he was responsible for. Graves vented his frustration on a chair, sending it toppling over with a kick, threw the cup back into the sink. The folders sitting on the kitchen table mocked him, another library case interrupting what little he could accomplish. Despite Lumley’s teasing, he did prefer hard copy, and he kept his own databases, separate from the ErSec mainframes. Partially because of the ‘unofficial’ information he shared with people like Beta Max and did not feel Earth needed to be privy to, but mostly because he had seen data move or vanish too often. Even worse, it was all too easy for that

Pg. 54
data to magically change during the investigation if certain people got wind of the direction an investigation was headed. Besides, the hard copies tended to have extra information, things that the data entry people had considered too trivial to be worth entering into the system, things that an investigator might not find so trivial. He groaned, lifting the chair from the floor and sitting at the table. Might as well work if he could not sleep. Everybody lies, even on paper. Library cases; interviews with somebody else’s questions. He already had an overview of the Hecate’s recovery, courtesy of his call to Max earlier in the day. House had opted to leave the Eaters out of the official salvage report; Graves could not say that he blamed him for that, it was the kind of information that caused more problems than it solved. He was curious to see what else had been left out. Ten minutes and one file later, Graves was comfortable that, except for the Eaters, the official report matched the information Max had given him. That put him back to the question of how a functional ship came to be derelict. The four-year-old naval incident report was next. Light cruiser lost with all hands aboard in transit from Fargone to Nevrio. Search and rescue efforts unsuccessful. Graves paused. Max had said the Hecate had not been hard to find. On the other hand, they had found the ship drifting and out of line with its original flight plan. The navy would have sent out scouts scanning for lifeboat signals, probably would not have looked further if

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
they did not find any. He flagged the page and moved on. A footnote on the hardcopy report caught his attention. Multiple copies of the S&R report had been distributed in response to insurance claims. He did not have copies of the insurance forms, but a check with the main database told him that not all had come from naval families. At least three were filed by contract firms on behalf of the families. The Hecate had been short staffed, using temporary crewmen to fill out a skeleton crew. It was the kind of detail that made a library case. Like origami, you had to fold a lot of paper to bring it together, but it was all about knowing where to fold. Graves returned to the living room for a notepad, humming to himself. He came up for air a few hours before dawn, decided it was early enough for coffee, settled for the hot black syrup left over in the pot diluted with tap water. The Hecate’s fate was sealed by a Senate appropriations bill on Earth. Declared obsolete and with funding for its replacement secured just days before, the ship had been on its way to mothballs when it was lost. A pair of officers and a few dozen contract hands were the only crew, more than enough for what was essentially a glorified parking job. It was the kind of situation that made it easy for a ship to disappear and even easier for it to be overlooked. Before the Eaters figured into the equation, someone had set the stage for a near-bloodless mutiny. There was a certain elegance in the simplicity of the theft, and an irony considering the size and visibility. Graves puzzled over that. The only reason to hijack the Hecate was to use it. Even then, the chances of reprisal were high. The technology aboard was too easily traced to fence, and the ship itself would stand out like a sore thumb. So whoever wanted to use it needed a shipyard to hide it in and a use that never touched a public port. Or a salvage claim, he thought, but the timing put House outside of his range of feasible suspects. Whoever it was, they would need a sizable infrastructure and a lot of money. All of which pointed toward smuggling. Smuggling to quarantine worlds specifically, considering the ship’s stealth capabilities. Graves wondered if maybe he really was obsessing but, how many people had that kind of operation, let alone one with the size necessary to justify the costs and risks? He was back to Edgar Casey. He knuckled his eyes and stood, beginning to gather the files back together. The office would be open soon, easier to work there. “Let’s run with the idea,” he said aloud. “Casey wants the Hecate to run blockades. How does he get it? How many people would it take to steal a ship?” He ducked into the bathroom, splashed water on his face. “Not many,” he told his reflection in the mirror. “Get your own crew hired on through the contract firms. Get somebody in the navy to tell you when the ship is rotated out and someone else to make sure no one digs too deeply.” He stuffed the folders into a pair of briefcases, headed for the door, stopped. It was not right. A leak in the navy would not be able to give Casey enough of a heads-up to get his hijack crew in place. No, it would have to be someone who knew which ships were under

Pg. 55
consideration in advance. That meant friends in high places. Or just one friend who knew which way the votes would go. By the time he reached the office, Graves had figured out a way to test his theory. By the time Lumley arrived, he knew. The Hecate was the only salvage claim, but it was the third stealth cruiser to be “lost with all hands aboard” on its way to long-term storage. There were no further reports, presumably because of no alien interference. The Eaters on the Hecate made more sense now if the ship the Hecate had exchanged cargo with had come from a quarantined world. The other two ships, Artemis and Nemesis, were off the charts even faster than the Hecate. In the case of the Nemesis, the ship was on its final transit when the funding vote was being taken—in committee. Funding for the stealth program was classified as too vital to Earth’s security to be voted on by the full Senate. Graves did not complain; it narrowed his suspect list considerably. Three of the seven senators on the Stealth Arms committee also listed sevenfigure donations from one “E. Casey” in their public financial documents. It was enough for Graves. Corruption did not need to be complex. Crime was simple, and everyone lies. He tapped his teeth with the tip of his stylus, watching Lumley putter back and forth out of his office, deep in thought. If Casey had insulation, the Senate were darn near airtight. He needed a paper trail and a heavy one. Of course, that Casey kept his hands clean did not mean a senator would. If anything, the power might make him careless; it would be a

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
simple thing to extend a bit of pressure here and there to defer questioning eyes. Sooner or later, that bit of pressure would be heavy enough to cross a line, enough for Graves to apply a bit of pressure of his own. On the Frontier, Casey’s men might not turn on him, but Graves was hard pressed to imagine a senator doing otherwise. “I told you,” Lumley said from his door, waving a piece of paper. He leaned against the wall, reading, “’Person or Persons from your office are compelled to testify before a Select Committee of the Senate investigating matters pertaining to the security of the Earth and her protectorates including...’ blather, blather, blather, and the Hecate is issue seventeen on the agenda.” Graves gave an exaggerated nod and waved Lumley away. The other man shrugged and returned to his office. If there was a trail, it would be in one of the senator’s databases, not something he could subpoena, and it would be protected and encrypted. That would be a problem. His own software was years ahead of anything else on the Frontier and a senator’s would be years ahead of his. It was not even a matter of skill or talent, just raw technological power would put the data out of reach. So, how to get it? He would need a specialist, and from someone not intimidated by the Senate. The Navy was his best bet. ErSec and ErDef did not exactly get along; he had precious few contacts there, none that met his requirements. He needed someone who specialized in communications, probably in coordinating fleet maneuvers over a large range, where a lot of C3 experience would put them in constant contact with the best technology they had. A satisfied smile crept onto his face while he was distracted. When Earth tech failed, use Frontier tech. He did know someone with just the experience he was describing, someone who owed him a favor. “Hey Lumley! I’m going to need passage for three to go talk to your committee!” He tapped buttons on his desk. “I need a pair of encrypted channels. The Orion and Selous. Let me know when either is ready.” # Pharaoh felt more like he was dragging than walking. It had been a long, hot day in the shop, and all he wanted was a shower, a place to sit, and a cold drink, not necessarily in that order. As he entered the lodge through the kitchen, he laced his hands together and swung his arms overhead, cracking the tight muscles of his shoulders. Still, it was a good tired, he thought, stepping to the utility tub by the door—the kind of physical weariness that came from hard work and accomplishment. The twins joined him at the tub, just as tired and filthy. They had spent the day converting a spare axle into an extra trailer for one of the jeeps. “Do not wipe dirty hands on towels,” Martha snapped, catching sight of them invading her territory. “Never do, Ma,” Pharaoh lied. “Where’s Kylee?” His wife froze. “Kylee not with you?” He did not bother to answer, broke into a jog, headed deeper into the lodge.

Pg. 56
“I’ll check the outbuildings,” John offered. James went to check the guns. Pharaoh sprinted through the great room, up the stairs, inspected Kylee’s empty bedroom. He checked the other rooms in a run, ducking in and out of the library and offices. Martha met him in the dining room, and he answered her unspoken question with a shake of his head. John entered, panting. “Nothing,” he said, hands on his knees. “The .700 double-H is missing,” James’ voice preceded him into the room. John gave a low whistle. “The Nitro Express? That’s a big gun. What the heck’s she need something that big for?” “Langer,” Pharaoh growled. “Get the jeep.” “And go where?” demanded Martha. “She’s right, Pop,” John said. “There’s langer all over the place. But hold up a minute. Langer are the only big things around, and they won’t mess with you if you stay out of their way and don’t provoke them. Kylee’s not stupid, and she’s familiar with the turf. If she went out on her own, she knows how to handle herself.” Pharaoh remembered the girl’s morning outburst and cursed himself for not paying closer attention, feeling a sick burning in the pit of his stomach. “We’ve got to find her.” “Use the tracking chip,” James said excitedly. “In the gun.” He sprinted for the armory, the others close behind. As a safety precaution, all the heavy guns had a tracking chip imbedded in the stock. Pharaoh used it primarily to find lost clients.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
James threw himself into a rolling chair, splayed his fingers across a console’s keyboard. “There!” He tapped the monitor with a fingernail. “Watering hole,” Pharaoh agreed. “Let’s go.” He glanced at John. “You drive.” “Want me to unhook the chopper?” James asked. Pharaoh shook his head. “If she is hunting, we do not want to spook her. Or her prey.” He pulled down a pair of .50 caliber rifles, one for himself, one for John. James wrestled the micro-howitzer onto his back, looping the harness over his shoulder. John met them outside, motor running. James followed the micro-howitzer into the back; Pharaoh took shotgun. He turned at a shout from Martha, caught the tangle of headsets she thrust at him. The road was rough; the ride got rougher as John left the road without slowing. Pharaoh bounced in his seat, pulled apart the headsets, passed one back to James, put another into John’s outstretched hand. “Both hands on the wheel,” he suggested, pulling on the last set. “Turn here.” John twisted the wheel and the jeep pitched up, slammed back down with a squeal of springs. “I think I chipped a tooth,” James complained. “What’s the plan?” “Don’t have one,” Pharaoh replied. “Get close, go in on foot. You go upstream with the micro-howitzer, John goes below, I’ll take the middle. Let us hope she is with the gun.” “And hasn’t done anything stupid,” John added. Pharaoh did not answer. He already knew what Kylee was doing; he just hoped he was wrong. He pointed out another turn, grabbed the dash to keep from being thrown out. The trail ended in a wall of jungle. The jeep slid to a stop. Pharaoh leapt out before it came to a halt, stumbled, fell to his knees. He stood, helped James into the micro-howitzer’s harness while John rechecked the action of the two rifles. “Give me about fifty feet on the flanks,” he ordered. John threw him a rifle and the twins plunged into the undergrowth. He forced himself to count to sixty, giving them a head start. He was alone now, in his element, stalking into the bush. Easier than stalking. Because he knew what she was doing, he knew where she would be. And because he had seen the twin pseudo-heads bobbing above the trees, he knew he would be too late to stop her. He had done it himself, and survived to nurse a broken leg. With luck, she might get off as lucky but he doubted it; she lacked his years of experience, was too prone to let anger cloud her judgment. James would be to his right, near the short waterfall that fed into the muddy pool. It was a good position to give suppression fire if she was not too close. She would need to be close. On the lower side, John would be effectively out of position to be much immediate help, but he needed to be sure someone was in position to get help if Kylee failed. If he failed. Pharaoh’s goal was to work his way into

Pg. 57
position for an overshot, trying to get the same shooting angle as Kylee would have positioned herself for, but from further away. The watering hole was little more than a broad mud puddle, a depression on the gently sloping hillside. Spreading out in curling eddies before continuing down the hill, it was the only place where the water slowed enough for many of the jungle residents to drink, including the langer. Their continued attendance kept the silt shores clear of vegetation and worked to gradually expand the pool. Catching sight of the clearing, Pharaoh moved forward in a crouch, dropping to his belly as he got closer. Sweat stung his eyes, and saw-toothed leaf edges cut at this face and arms. “I’m here,” James said through the headsets. He sounded out of breath. “I don’t see her.” Pharaoh shifted the rifle to his shoulder, scanned the edges of the clearing through the scope. “The side nearest me,” he said softly. “Underneath the purple bush with the spiked flowers. Looks like she dug in and pulled the cloak over herself.” “I see the cloak,” John noted. “Why can’t we just yell for her to come out?” The impatience of youth, he thought. “Watch the other side. It should be here any second.” “What should?” From his position, John was last to see it. James cursed loudly over the link. “She’s trying to solo a langer!”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
The langer pushed into the clearing with a grim strength, blue-green shell floating on a sea of rippling red muscle, claws upright, breaking through the brush like a wedge. Age was hard to estimate; a langer’s size was primarily determined by the amount of food it consumed. Pharaoh guessed this one to be young adult, just over twenty feet across, the shell relatively flat, not yet mounded upward. Easily big enough to crush the girl directly across from it. The slopes surrounding the pool made the langer’s likely entry point easy to determine. Little more than the width of the pool, less then thirty feet, separated Kylee from the creature, Pharaoh a good thirty feet beyond that and uphill. “She’s too close,” James warned. “I can’t—” “Don’t. Move.” Each word was a sentence, precision hammers. Pharaoh nestled the rifle stock against his cheek, the scope seeking. The langer approached the pool timidly, like a child dipping a toe in an icy sea. Smart move, putting the pool between herself and the langer, Pharaoh thought to himself. If langer feared anything, it was water. The beast shifted from side to side at the edge of the pool, packing the mud underneath itself firmer. Pharaoh focused the scope on the space between shell and claws, the closest thing a langer had to a soft spot. No good. He was too far uphill, shooting down. He cautiously worked his way forward. Finally settled, the langer spread its claws and shifted, canting its shell down in the front, toward the water. It was the most vulnerable the creatures ever were, the opening in the front of the shell expanded to its largest. With agonizing slowness, it extended its drinking tube. The tube was exactly that, a long cylinder of muscle stiffened with cartilage rings, the expandable drinking straw of a creature driven instinctively to avoid water. Pharaoh had studied the anatomy, even done his own dissections. The langer was not a complex organism; the drinking tube was the most complicated musculature the beast employed. A single knot of ganglia rested directly behind it, the other vital organs clustered around. It was the closest thing the langer had to a true brain. He checked the sight again; still too high. “Distract it?” John’s voice whispered in his ear. “No.” Langer might fear water but they lived by instinct, stimulus, and response. It was more likely to go forward than back. He continued crawling forward with his elbows, slower now, careful to keep the noise to a minimum, moving in short, small bursts, letting the sound merge with the natural rustle and creak of the jungle. Go slowly, he reminded himself. Langer rarely stop to drink. When they do, you have plenty of time. Kylee should know that too. Still not low enough. He saw the glint of metal, willed the girl to be still, to wait just a bit longer. He would have had better luck willing the stream to stop flowing. The .700 bellowed like the elephant gun it was, and Pharaoh’s mind raced through a dozen paths. Swamped in the echoes of thunder, the

Pg. 58
smack of bullet into flesh, the high-pitched yelp of the shooter. He might reach her if he ran. Kylee would nurse a bruise for weeks if her shoulder was not broken, if she lived through the next few minutes. The twins were on a hair-trigger; if he jumped, they would shoot. The theory was sound, if she had made the shot. The shot he had been trying to get in position to make. He had to believe she was sure before she pulled the trigger. The only way to control the situation was to not move, to trust the girl. A shot straight up the langer drinking tube shattered the ganglia cluster. Hydrostatic shock did the rest, reducing the surrounding organs to jelly. From there, the damage from the bullet spreading, mushrooming, ricocheting around inside the bulletproof shell, that was all bonus. The creature was already dead. What Kylee had not realized—what he had not realized until he tried it—was that dead did not mean not moving. The death throes of that much muscle took minutes, with the shooter only feet away. The langer jerked back, the skirt of muscles beneath it clenching, sending it momentarily airborne by almost a yard before it crashed back into the mud. Its shell slammed to the side, gouging a ditch in the bank. “James! John! Stay still!” Pharaoh shouted into his headset. Scrambling to his feet, he tossed the rifle to the side, ran forward,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
shouting for Kylee. The ghillie cloak flipped aside. The girl moved gingerly, favoring her shoulder, ignoring the chaos only feet away. Mud sprayed in a wave as the langer spun completely around, the edge of its shell still deep in the ground. Its claws seemed locked open and it began to piston its arms up and down, slapping the muck of the pool then snapping up to strike against its shell with a crack like breaking wood. Pharaoh stumbled over a root, closed the distance to the girl. Kylee stood, turning to watch the langer as it started forward, thrashing across the shallow pool. The convulsing langer reached Kylee’s side of the pool just as Pharaoh swept the girl into his arms, pulling her backward, rolling under the brush behind them, laying atop her hoping to cushion the crushing weight bearing down on them. The weight did not come. Twin explosions hammered at his ears and Pharaoh lifted his head in time to see the langer rear into the sky, its shell almost vertical, two great holes torn in the flesh of the underbelly as if the ground itself had punched into it. The creature stood in the air like a coin rolling on its side, then, with impossible slowness, fell back. Pharaoh ducked his head as a wave of watery mud swept over them. “I had it covered,” complained a muffled voice from beneath him. In a daze, Pharaoh released her and stood, pulling Kylee to her feet as well. “Land mines,” she explained, holding the .700 by its barrel, leaning against it like a crutch. “That weird guy thought of it. You remember, the one who just wanted to look at the langer all day and not hunt.” “Hoffield,” Pharaoh said distantly then, gathering himself, “You okay?” “That gun kicks!” John’s voice came over the headset. “We’re fine. How’re you two?” He was interrupted by James excited yell. “I cannot believe what I just saw! That was amazing!” Pharaoh squeezed his eyes shut, discovered a pounding headache behind them. “We are well, considering.” He paused for breath. “John, take your brother and go back to the lodge. Let Martha know we are all right, then bring back the new trailer. And one of the power winches, for the shell.” He pulled off the headset before the boys could protest and half-sat, half-fell to the ground. “Are you trying to kill me?” he asked, looking up at Kylee. A parade of emotions flickered across her face. In the end, guilt triumphed. “Sorry,” she muttered, sinking to the mud next to him. “I had to do it. I had to prove I could do it.” He reached for the anger to lecture her and found only dull weariness. “Why?” he asked, already sure he knew the answer. “’Cause,” Kylee sulked, then brightened, looking at the still twitching corpse. “And I did it, too!” “You did,” Pharaoh said in a sigh. “And did it change anything?” “Yeah, maybe. I mean, it was just something I had to do. For myself, you know?”

Pg. 59
“You could have told me instead of scaring us all to death.” She frowned. “You would’ve tried to stop me. You all think I’m just this little kid, and that I can’t do anything. Like I can’t pull my own weight. I just get passed around while you avoid me and go off and do what you really want to.” “Is that what you really think?” he asked mildly. “Yeah. Duh.” She rolled her eyes to emphasize her sarcasm. “Why else do you want to leave me with Martha and go off to the veldt? And Ivan just jumps at any excuse to stay away. I mean, if I’m that much of a burden, why bother? I can take care of myself. Nobody has to be my babysitter.” “Ah, Calamity, whatever will we do with you?” he asked. With the adrenaline rush fading, exhaustion sat heavily on his shoulders. “You do know that there are a lot of things you do not know, don’t you?” “Then teach me,” she snapped. “Is that not what I have been doing? Why you are here?” Pharaoh sighed. “Do you know why they call my brother Crazy Ivan?” “No. And I bet you won’t tell me either. He’s always saying ‘if somebody wants you to know something, they’ll tell you themselves.’” She took a deep breath. “And he never talks about anything, especially himself.” “My brother should talk more. Privacy is good, but he uses it as an excuse to hide.” “So why do they call him Crazy Ivan?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton
He did not answer her directly. “It is hard for a man to be afraid all the time, like an injured animal unable to eat because once it was caught in a trap. Fear is good. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Without it, we would do foolish things like try to kill langers alone.” He paused to acknowledge Kylee’s indignant snort. “We learn fear from pain, to avoid pain. Sometimes we learn to fear the wrong things. That is the bad side of fear, Child. When it steals joy.” She gave him a confused look and Pharaoh suppressed a laugh. “Ivan is afraid of you, Child. We are all, I think.” “What?” The question came out as a squeak. “What’d I do?” He smiled and shook his head. “You are you.” He stopped, wiped the grit and sweat from his face, let his eyes focus on the past. “I have known Ivan all my life, as he has me. We were children together then adults. Playmates and then business partners. Right here on Selous. We built a house for Ivan in the veldt. A house big enough for a wife and a daughter.” “Ivan was married?” Kylee crossed her legs and leaned forward, elbows on knees. “To the daughter of a client, no less. Nimrod was furious, said it was scandalous, but Old Peter just laughed at him and gave them his blessings. The client did not seem to mind either.” He shook his head, amused by the memory. “Old Peter was what we always called Ivan’s father. I never knew if it was his real name or just a handle,” he added after a bit. “He died a few months after they were married, just before I stole Martha and married her. Nimrod went a year after. They were rough years. Lots of change, but we were happy I think.” “Why don’t you guys ever talk about this stuff?” she asked when he fell silent. “This is neat. Family stuff. It’s good. Important.” He gave her a sad smile. “Why don’t you talk about your family?” She looked away and did not answer. Pharaoh waited a few moments before continuing. “His daughter was beautiful, not like my boys. Catharine was a princess and a tomboy at the same time. Queen of the jungle and the Queen in her castle. He loved Alexia but Cat was his world. We used to sit around the fire at night and joke about which of the twins would marry her.” There was a crack in his voice as he pressed on. “He used to sing to them at night. God, that man had a voice...” His voice faltered at the end and he sat in silence. Kylee waited, afraid to look in case he was crying. “There was an illness. They got sick. They died,” he said in a rush, then, in a more even tone, “Ivan went crazy then, reckless to the point of suicidal. That is when he became a bounty hunter. The more dangerous the bounty, the better. I tried to help but he needed something more. He wanted revenge. He met Red Dog and, in a strange kind of way, I think that saved him. You would not think it but Red is very careful, deliberate. He taught Ivan to hunt in a different way. Eventually, Ivan...settled. But I do not think he is healed.” He put a finger to Kylee’s chin, turned her face until she stared in his eyes. “That is why you frighten him. All he can see is the fear of losing you, of going back to being Crazy Ivan. He is trying, Kylee, but he does not know what to do or how to do it.” They looked at each other silently until she nodded in understanding.

Pg. 60
“You said he wanted revenge,” she said softly. “Revenge for what?” It was Pharaoh’s turn to look away. When he answered, it was in the breathy rasp of an old man. “Killing his family.” He clambered to his feet with painful slowness, resumed speaking with his eyes distant, watching the horizon. “When Alexia and Cat fell ill—the disease was nothing new, the cure, not complex. It had already hit several worlds. The Kwakiutl already had a medical shipment en route, had already agreed to share with us if we fell ill. They need not have died.” He filled his lungs with air, releasing it slowly with a noise like deflating bellows. “The shipment was lost, raided by pirates. The Kwakiutl bought the medicines on the black market from a smuggler but the delay... Afterwards, Ivan traced the serial numbers on the crates. He was crazy then, obsessive about every detail. The numbers on the crates the Kwakiutl bought were the same numbers assigned to the original shipment.” “The smuggler was Casey?” Kylee guessed. “It was the beginning of a war,” Pharaoh replied, stretching down a hand. “The boys should be back soon.” Kylee let herself be pulled to her feet by her good arm. “I’m not just a replacement for them, am I?” she asked, subdued. Pharaoh put an arm around her neck. “No more than we are just a replacement for your parents.” He was surprised when she buried her head in his chest and cried.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Calamity’s Child Chapter Five: ROP: Skip a Rope by M. Keaton

Pg. 61

M Keaton
Growing up in a family with a history of military service, M. Keaton cut his linguistic and philosophical teeth on the bones of his elders through games of strategy and debates at the dinner table. He began his writing career over 20 years ago as a newspaper rat in Springdale, Arkansas, U.S.A. before pursuing formal studies in chemistry, mathematics, and medieval literature at John Brown University. A student of politics, military history, forteana, and game design, his renaissance education inspired the short television series: These Teeth Are Real (TTAR). His literary “mentors” are as diverse as his experiences. Most powerfully, the author has been affected by the works and writers of the “ancient” world, including the Bible, Socrates, and (more modern) Machiavelli, Tsun Tsu, Tacitus, and Von Clauswitz. (This horribly long list only scratches the surface; M. Keaton reads at a rate of over two books per week in addition to his writing.)

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor
Previously, on Thieves’ Honor: Aboard the Orpheus

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand

Pg. 62

Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves

by Keanan Brand

Aboard the Martina Vega “Thought you’d like to see this.” Kristoff squinted open his eyes. A telescreen floated in front of him, and showed Marty and gang gagged, hands and feet bound. Kristoff choked out a laugh. “Poetic, don’t you think?” The telescreen moved, and Carson Quinn came into view, a wide bandage around his head, and one side of his face bruised and cut, as if it had been smashed with a gloved fist or the butt of a gun. “How are you feeling?” “Like a trading caravan parked on my chest.” “I think the only reason Doc patched you up is the fact that Alerio wasn’t hurt. If he had been, you’d probably still be bleeding all over my bar.” “Yeah. Sorry about that, kid.”

to the proper authorities.” Kristoff, what did you do now? “Captain Quinn, do any of those pirates belong to the freighter Martina Vega? We’re showing her coordinates are just past your position and headed toward Port Henry.” The battered young man on the screen hesitated. “Best see for yourself, ma’am.” Zoltana boarded a shuttle with three of her crew and sailed to the Katy Joy. Aboard the yacht, she glanced around at damaged woodwork, destroyed furniture, bloodstains on walls and floors. “What were they after?” “The ship itself”—Captain Carson Quinn punched his fist through a cavernous hole in a seat cushion, raising a cloud of disintegrated stuffing—”but they didn’t seem bent on keeping it pretty. We’re returning to Port Henry for repairs.” “A lot of gunfire. Any hull breaches?” “Some sort of miracle, ma’am. We don’t have any hull patching material in our stores, but we will certainly be purchasing some back in port.” Miracle—or blind chance. What was that old saying? God takes care of fools and little children. Zoltana rubbed the toe of her boot along a deep gouge in the telk wood flooring. From the looks of things, He certainly had His hands full.

Zoltana walked across the pit and looked out the forward port. Mars followed, but only to the middle of the pit, his face a half-mask reflected in the thick glass. “Criminals or political offenders are often watched by agents who become organic parts of their lives. They don’t know some of their friends are government spies, or even that metal snakes are wound around their brain stems. But the government workers—they know. They cannot be employed until they are implanted. And to those IntuiCom are added kill circuits. If a worker is kidnapped or bribed or careless with classified information, the kill code is transmitted. Death is immediate.” “Ma’am, how do you know this?” There were only so many secrets one should tell, even to a trusted crewman. Zoltana turned, and leaned her back against the cool curve of glass. “Someone on the Vega crew knows something potentially dangerous to the government. Someone else aboard the Vega is a watcher.” The lieutenant’s brows drew together. “But, ma’am, why send a watcher? Why not just put the implanted person in prison instead of letting them fly with a crew of suspected pirates?” “Excellent question.”

“Captain Iona Zoltana of the merchant constable Orpheus.” “Go ahead, captain.” “Your ship raised an emergency hail?” “Aye, ma’am. We have a gang of pirates tied up in our hold. Thought we’d hand them over

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
Quinn gestured aft. “The pirates are in the hold.” Shoulders drawn up, arms tight at her sides to keep her uniform from brushing the walls, Zoltana followed him down a narrow passage that stank of sweat and blood. “How did your crew subdue them?” “We didn’t.” He unlocked a hatch and held open the door for her to enter first with her crewmen. They descended steep stairs into the hold. In a corner huddled the prisoners, bandage, tattered, and unhappy. Zoltana turned to Quinn. “These men are not from the Martina Vega.” “No, ma’am.” She waited, looking at him. “The leader is named Marty, ma’am. You know him?” She approached the scowling group of gagged pirates, and squatted in front of a bulky man with a shaggy beard. He made noises that might have been curses, and shifted his shoulders forward, as if to grab her, but his hands were bound behind him. Without turning her gaze from the pirate, Zoltana said, “Captain Quinn, we will need a copy of all your security logs—visual and otherwise—and statements from your crew. May we use your common room?” “Aye, ma’am, if you don’t mind the upholstery and the bloodstains.” She did mind, but it couldn’t be helped. Zoltana stood and gestured to her men, who hauled three pirates to their feet, then she strode toward the hatch. “Does your crew bear arms, captain?” He grinned—”Now we do”—and patted the gun under his arm. “Excellent. We’ll need four men to help escort the prisoners to the Orpheus.” One foot on the bottom rung of the stair, she looked over her shoulder. “Captain Quinn, did the Vega crew board this vessel?” After a moment, the young man nodded. Her shoulders slumped. “What did they steal?” # The silver oblong slid home with a soft snick, and the lock engaged. Across one screen splayed an array of green graduated lines and rectangles. Alerio stepped back from the pilot’s console. Standing behind her chair, Finney rested her forearms on the back and leaned forward, studying the screen. “A targeting system? Why does a yacht need a targeting system? I didn’t notice any guns. I don’t suppose you tucked any cannon into your pockets when you were thieving that little scrap of metal?” “One thing at a time.” “Ungrateful wretch. I save your life, and you can’t even steal a proper weapon.” Finney smiled. “So. What else you got?”

Pg. 63

Alerio patted his lab coat and produced from various concealed pockets two self-regulating valves for the water-reclamation system, a program strip labeled “fuel management,” three carlinnian spheres to use as ball bearings, a fountain pen— Finney snagged it as it rolled off the console, and she held it up, raising her eyebrows. Alerio shrugged. “It’s a reproduction of an antique, but the nib is old. It’s still valuable.” “For the metal, maybe.” She handed back the pen. “Any other gizmos?” He dug in his starboard pocket. “This.” Finney took the pewter-colored cylinder about the shape and length of her little finger. “Where’d you find it?” “Quinn’s cabin.” Alerio shook his head. “Boy’s got more grooming gadgets than any woman I ever knew.” Finney tossed the cylinder into the air and caught it in her fist. “Well, now he has one less.” She tucked the piece into her pocket. “Hey, do me a favor, Alerio. Don’t tell Kristoff about this, okay?” “Can’t imagine he’d be much interested in a hairdryer element.” “He’s not much interested in a comb.” Finney looked up at the targeting system on the screen. “There’s a scrap yard just outside Port Henry. Bet we can find some light cannon real cheap.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
Alerio’s brow wrinkled, his eyes narrowed, as he contemplated the air overhead. “There are a couple of welded-over windows in the hold. It’d be the work of a couple hours to make hinged gun ports out of them, if I had the proper materials.” “Perfect.” “Perfect? Must be talking about me.” Grinning, Kristoff entered the wheelhouse— pale, breathless, and barely upright. A thick bandage misshaped the left side of his chest. Finney swiveled her chair and sat, her shoulders stiff. She half-listened to Alerio explain the targeting system to the captain, who collapsed into his chair nearby, breath rapid and shallow. Idiot. Not even six hours since Kristoff was shot, the bullet skimming past his heart and out his back, but here he was, acting indestructible. She altered coordinates, preparing for the last few hours before reaching planetary atmosphere and entering the skies over the great desert southwest of Port Henry, which sprawled on the edge of a vast inland sea. “Finn.” She studied the chart, made another course adjustment. “Finn.” “Aye—captain?” Kristoff whistled, the sound cut short by lack of wind. “I say something you don’t like, Finn?” “Not since yesterday.” “Good.” His chuckle ended in a cough. “For a second there, I thought you were angry.” Elementary, my insane Watson. “Alerio and I should have told someone we were leaving the ship.” “Yeah. You should have.” Finney turned. “Doc know you’re here?” Kristoff know—” grinned. “What she doesn’t

Pg. 64
Corrigan stomped along the passage. “You can lock me up later, captain.” # Finney closed her eyes, forced her muscles to relax. She conjured an image of her favorite place on Prospero: a certain resort in Port Henry where she could rent a bungalow with a garden and a fountain, and a hammock strung between palm trees. She could almost feel the breeze, smell the salt air— “Ah-ha!” Finney’s eyelids snapped open. Dressed in rich red, Rebeka Bat’Alon entered, enveloped in an eye-watering fragrance that probably cost an honest man’s yearly wage. Finney clenched her teeth, unclenched them, forced out a breath. “No passengers in the wheelhouse.” Rebeka sat in the captain’s chair and spun around a couple times before facing forward. “Amazing view.” Finney’s shoulders tensed even more, and the back of her neck tightened. “You need something?” Rebeka twiddled with one lock of her long black hair. “What does your grandfather the admiral think of your profession?” “He doesn’t.” Finney flipped a few switches not wired to any controls. If she looked busy enough, maybe that annoying human fly in ribbons and lace would buzz away to pester

“—won’t hurt the rest of us,” Corrigan’s voice rumbled at the doorway. “I’ve come to take you back, captain.” “I’m injured, not incapacitated, and I’m still the captain of this ship. This is my chair in my wheelhouse, and I will stay as long as I wish.” The words might have carried more weight if there had been more breath behind them. “All the same, cap”—Corrigan’s heavy tread thudded across the floor—”don’t make me knock you out.” “I’d like to see you try.” “Some other time.” “Just ‘cause I’m one-handed doesn’t mean I can’t whup you.” The big mechanic didn’t wait for Kristoff to demonstrate; he hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him to the hatchway. “Put me down, Cor. Cor. Cor! This is insubordination.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
someone else. No such luck. “What about the rest of your family?” “They don’t, either.” “Must be difficult, separated like that from your kin.” Finney drew a deep breath. “I reckon you know a little about that, seeing as you’re on this ship.” “The last I heard, my father has not replied to Captain Kristoff’s messages. He doesn’t stoop to corresponding with pirates.” “Must be a mighty warm blanket, the way you wrap yourself up in all that self-righteousness.” “At least I have a moral compass.” “Yeah. That’s why you stayed when I told you passengers aren’t allowed in the wheelhouse.” “You didn’t stop me.” Finney turned and looked her square in the eyes. “You really want me to get out of this chair?” Some of the belligerence went out of Rebeka’s face. She stood. “My father won’t answer the captain’s scheme, and he will take me back.” Finney just looked at her. Rebeka’s voice was small but stubborn. “You don’t know my father.” “I know he’s canny. Any sign he can’t trust a body, that person never does business with him again. He puts the word out to his cronies, and they don’t do business, either.” “If that’s so, why is this crew risking his anger by blackmailing him and marrying me off to a stevedore?” “Hm. Thought that was your idea.” Rebeka crossed her arms. “I’m not much interested in Jink Turner just now.” “I really don’t care what you’re interested in, Miss Bat’Alon. I’m just telling the truth.” “You’re a pirate. Why should I trust you?” Finney shrugged and turned back to the console. There was nothing to do. There’d be plenty to keep her occupied once the Martina Vega neared the planet; meantime, all she could do was wait. She stared hard at the screens above the console. Rebeka didn’t leave. Fine. Finney sighed. If I must. “You never crossed your daddy like this before.” She leaned back in her chair, stretched her legs out, crossed her boots, clasped her hands across her abdomen. “Governor Bat’Alon is a ruthless man. He won’t buy the notion you set sail on the Martina Vega in order to catch us and save his reputation. All he’ll see is your secrecy. The fact that you tried to turn spy is enough to cut you off.” Rebeka’s voice was quiet, curious. “How so?”

Pg. 65
“You’re not the properly behaved daughter anymore.” Finney looked up at her. “Now he knows you might turn on him.” # Ezra navigated the companionway by feeling his way down, toe of his shoe tapping the next step then full foot finding a purchase, repeating the process for the next step, a tower of clean sheets and towels wobbling in his arms. A snort from somewhere beyond the stack. “Housekeeper.” “Out of the way, Turner.” “I see the way you look at Rebeka.” “I don’t.” Ezra turned sideways and edged past Turner. “Yeah. I noticed that.” Turner shuffled after him. “The way you don’t look at her. The way she stares at you.” Ezra kicked a cabin door open with his heel then propped it open with an elbow. “I’m busy.” Turner knocked the neat stack from Ezra’s hands. Towels and sheets flapped open, flying down the passage like strange white birds. Fists clenched, Ezra swung around but stopped short of ramming Turner’s bruised jaw. “Be grateful you already have a couple broken ribs.” Jink Turner sneered. “Thought you were a pirate, cabin boy.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
Footsteps, light and swift, approached from the upper deck and descended the stair. Rebeka stepped into view, her glossy black hair hanging over one shoulder. Grabbing a couple deep breaths, Ezra uncurled his fists. Turner stepped back to the opposite wall. She didn’t seem to see them. Expression stiff, chin up, trailing a dizzying fragrance behind her, Rebeka trampled the scattered linens, entered her cabin, and shut the door with a firm click. Turner kicked the wall then limped toward the galley. Muttering, Ezra picked up the sheets and towels, wadded them into a cumbersome ball, and stalked off to wash them. Again. # Weak as water. Kristoff grunted. Corrigan deposited him on the infirmary cot just as Doc rounded the corner. Kristoff closed his eyes. Maybe she’d let him be. She didn’t say a word. She clattered and clanged and shuffled until he finally cracked open an eyelid. Kristoff grit his teeth as she pulled off the bandage tape none too gently, and peeled away layers of soaked gauze that covered the hole in his chest. “Doc, something on your mind?” “What makes you say that?” “Oh,” he managed when he could breathe again, “just a gut feeling.” He didn’t look down. He wasn’t inclined to contemplate his mortality. Mercedes slapped a fresh bandage into place, and Kristoff clamped his mouth shut. Blast, but she was worse than Finney. What was it about women, scolding a man with silence so loud it hurt his ears? “Hey, Doc...” after the sharp shock of pain had hunkered down to a nasty general throb. “Alerio’s okay. I’m alive. The Vega’s unharmed. What’s the problem?” Mercedes’ gaze was cold. “If you have to ask, there’s no point in talking about it.” So. This is a logical conversation. “Can I at least have my radio?” She shoved it into his hand then jabbed a needle into his arm. He gasped, curses clogging his throat. Doc made a little sound of satisfaction, pulled the needle free, and set about straightening the infirmary: tossing soiled bandages, putting instruments into the sanitizer, wiping surfaces clean. After Mercedes left—locking the door behind her—Kristoff tapped the talk button a couple of times on Finney’s frequency. “Aye, captain?” His tongue felt thick. “Anybody ‘round?” “Just got rid of the female passenger. You can speak freely, captain.” Yeah, if he could just push the words past his teeth. “Zoltana said. New estrac—new extrashen team.”

Pg. 66
Hum-ditty-hum. The ceiling looked all swimmy and bright. “When did she tell you? Did she say where they were?” Ooh. Look at that. “Captain? What about the extraction team?” Finney’s voice sounded too tense. She should come down here and look at the lights. She’d feel better. “Do they know where I am?” He muttered something into his radio then realized his hand was empty. The radio lay on the sheet. Funny. “Captain? Captain!” Sight blurring, Kristoff hummed to the music of the dancing ceiling dots. # The visual security logs of the yacht Katy Joy displayed a firefight in cramped quarters: muzzle flashes, blood sprays, falling bodies. “And yet no broken ports or hull breaches. Amazing.” Zoltana’s hands clenched tight behind her back. “Captain Kristoff’s condition?” “Critical but alive.” Quinn stood too quickly and winced, touching his bandaged head. “His doctor is optimistic, but I tell you true, ma’am, he should be dead.” Her fingers eased. “If Death were a trader, Kristoff would negotiate. Or rob him blind.” Then, to her lieutenant seated at the console, “Mars, send a copy of all pertinent logs to the Orpheus, and append a commenda-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
tion concerning the aid provided by the crew of the Martina Vega.” She walked a circuit around the common room, studying again the destruction. “You have yet to render a list of missing items, Captain Quinn.” The young man shrugged. “Who’s to say what was taken by Marty’s gang and what might have disappeared with the Vega? There isn’t much a private yacht can provide a freighter, and all major parts appear to be present and intact.” “All major parts.” Quinn’s mouth twitched—”What are you saying, ma’am?”—but his smile quelled under Zoltana’s steady look. He reached up and shoved a stray bit of gauze back under the bandage. “I offered Kristoff payment for his help.” “The man is a pirate, not a mercenary.” “Money is money, ma’am.” Zoltana halted in front of the forward port. Stared into the cold eyes of her reflection. “Kristoff and crew scavenge, smuggle, and steal. This little boat operates on tech even more up-to-date than that on the Orpheus. There is plenty here to tempt a nimblefingered engineer like Alerio DiGianni. Fuel regulation. Air exchange. Sewage conversion. Light controls. Water reclamation. Anything updated, new, or practical is fair game. Kristoff’s people never take anything frivolous.” Carson Quinn tilted his chin. “Your pardon, ma’am, but if he’s the criminal you describe, why is he still flying?” “There is a difference between knowledge and evidence.” She met his gaze in the reflection. “What is of more interest at the moment is why Captain Helmer Kristoff, honorably discharged from the military and a decorated war veteran, has been an outlaw these few years—and why he risked his life for you?” # Finney folded a soft cloth over her rifle, packed the gun among the garments in her duffle, then slid a cleaned and oiled handgun into the holster on her hip. She tucked some folding money into the pocket she’d sewn inside her vest, and headed down the companionway toward the guest quarters—Please, God, as she passed Rebeka Bat’Alon’s cabin, let our next run be boring—then down a back stair to the cargo deck. Wyatt hoisted a barrel into the air above the deck and secured the pulley rope around a cleat on a girder. Corrigan disappeared down the gangway with two crates stacked on top of one another—show off—and Ezra sweated over a collection of small but weighty metal boxes about the size of ammunition lockers. Looking naked without his lab coat, his shirtsleeves rolled above his elbows, Alerio helped Ezra pile the boxes onto a dolly then steadied the load while the younger man wheeled it down the ramp. Even Sahir helped with the cargo. He set aside towel and apron then wound a startling green bandana around his head to catch the considerable sweat pouring down his red face.

Pg. 67
Finney tucked her duffle into a corner near the cage, grabbed a handful of the recalibrated spiders, and dropped one into each crate headed for the governor or his associates. The captain had asked for a diversion, something to keep Captain Zoltana occupied while the crew of the Martina Vega went about doing pirate-y things; turning government-issued tracking devices back on the government’s officials was as good a tactic as any. Zoltana would have some explaining to do. One spider teetered on the edge of an open case. A tip of Finney’s finger, and the metal disk would fall. Did the bounty hunters follow the Vega to Port Henry? Despite many disguises, she was not a difficult ship to find; paint and decals could not hide Martina’s old-fashioned shape. Ship’s shape. Ship-shape. Finney smiled grimly. She herself stood out like a candle in a dark window, with her red hair and her height. If the extraction team saw Finney, they might follow her back to the Martina Vega. Back to everyone else on the ship. Extractors weren’t fastidious about whom they killed, so long as they finished the job. If she stayed aboard, surrounded by Martina’s solid and familiar hull, there’d be no risk of being seen. Unseen meant uncaptured. Right? But the extraction team might not even be

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
on Prospero. If she cowered in her cabin, she’d miss the fountain and the hammock under the palm trees. That’d be a downright shame. Her finger hovered over the spider. Exactly how much was the bounty on her head? If she called in all the debts owed by crewmates and card players, scraped together all the money she’d stashed in the cubbyhole behind the paint-by-numbers beach scene over the sink and in the fake Alcott among the real books on the shelf by her bunk, maybe she could divert the bounty hunters’ attention— No. She had two good guns, plenty of ammunition, and a day’s worth of shore leave. Fear was never a good reason to go broke. Finney tipped the spider into the case. # Ezra crossed his arms over the dolly grip and rested, watching a horse-drawn cart loaded with weapons and dry goods leave the dock, headed to a miscellany market near the waterfront, a façade for an arm of the underground that supplied the rebels. If stopped by Port Henry constabulary, the carter had only to show a copy of the goodas-the-real-thing manifest listing the goods as procured by Captain Kristoff in Gildtertown. So far, none of Wyatt’s forged documents had raised any eyebrows. “Anything I can do?” Gleason Holmes, hands still bandaged, gestured with one mummified paw at the dwindling piles of cargo. “Passengers don’t handle freight.” Ezra straightened, tilting the dolly then pulling it behind him up the ramp. “But they do mop floors?” Holmes followed him. “These blisters aren’t so bad that I can’t use my arms. The more I do, the faster I earn my passage home.” Rich parents but broke himself, at least he didn’t sport the arrogant attitude he wore when he first boarded ship. Nothing like an empty wallet to steal a man’s pride and make hard work look almighty attractive. “All right, but if anything happens to the cargo—” “It’ll come out of my earnings.” Holmes looked around. “What next?” “See all these boxes marked with the Quantum Industries logo? They go to the lorry, the one with the guard in the passenger seat and the black dog in the back.” Ezra grabbed one end of a crate, Holmes the other, and they loaded the dolly. “Dang heavy. What’s Quantum Industries? What’s in the boxes?” Ezra shook his head. It’s not that he didn’t know the answers; he didn’t feel inclined to give them. As cabin boy, he saw who kept a tidy berth and who preferred clutter, who’d had a bad dream again and tossed sheets to the floor,

Pg. 68
and who had not slept in a bunk for a couple of days. He knew the crew’s individual menus, quirks, laundry preferences. He listened. He kept secrets. The smuggling and piracy by the Vega crew were wrong, but he owed Captain Kristoff his life. The passenger so willingly helping with the cargo could ask all the questions he wanted. Ezra would not reveal a thing. # “She cah eave. Ah nee haw.” She can’t leave. I need her. Wait a minute. That wasn’t supposed to be out loud. “Hoo law is she beh gaw?” How long has she been gone? His blasted mouth wouldn’t work. Kristoff pounded the cot with his fist, frowned up at Sahir, and tried again. “Whaw did she go?” Sahir shrugged. “Finney goes where she wants.” “NO. Whay?” “Why?” Kristoff nodded. “Shore leave.” “Whah?” “You give us leave when we rescue you.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
Oh, yeah. That. “Then whay you hee?” Sahir lifted one hand, palm up, and tilted his head. “Where to go?” He smiled, and his dour visage became the mischievous face of a large child. “We steal wheelchair and go to game.” What game? Sahir disappeared. Where was Finney? Why didn’t that blasted woman listen? There was a team— A rolling clank, a few snicks and clatters, and Sahir stood up again in Kristoff’s peripheral vision. “We go now.” The cook slid his ham-hock arms under Kristoff’s shoulders and pulled him to the side of the cot then into the reclined wheelchair, Sahir’s big belly bumping Kristoff in the head, bouncing it forward like a kid’s playground ball. Sahir needed to get out of the kitchen more often. Too bad there weren’t any cannon for him to fuss over. “Where’s everyone?” Sahir buckled a pair of straps over Kristoff’s chest, criss-cross, then pushed the chair out of the infirmary. “Doc is walking with Alerio—” Is that what they call it now? “—passengers gone, Ezra and rich kid go to city, Wyatt and Corrigan go to bar. Just you and me, captain.” “Who’s watchin’ Martina?” “She is.” Oh, yeah. Another bit of altered tech, some of the loot from the same ghost ship that brought them telescreens and Ezra. Alerio had turned a standard biological surveillance-andalarm system into a false heat signature array, making the Martina Vega appear occupied even when none of the crew were aboard. And, just because it was so retro that no one would probably even consider it a possibility, he hooked the security system to the power core. If anyone attempted to steal the ship, her hull would send a targeted pulse strong enough to throw the thief several yards, where he’d probably land unconscious if not deceased. Martina could look after herself. Still, logy as he was, Kristoff wasn’t too keen on leaving the cot, let alone his ship. He touched the thick bandage. “I’ve been shot.” “Many times.” The chair rumbled along the passage. “I, too, in war. “ “And drugged.” “Not enough in war.” “Aye, gunny, you can say that again.” “Why say it again?” Kristoff smiled. Perhaps. He intended to smile, but wasn’t sure if his face responded. “Forget about it.” The airlock opened, and the gangway descended. “Where’s this game we’re sneaking off to see?” “Behind Jay Milligan’s.” Dramatic pause then the dull clinking of marbles rolling against one another in a mesh bag. “Big Bryson Fry is playing.”

Pg. 69

“Why didn’t you say so sooner?” Kristoff waved a hand. “Hurry up. Gotta redeem my good name.” Sahir’s fat chuckle shuddered through the frame of the wheelchair. “And I want my money back.” # Finny dropped her duffel on the floor, unlaced her boots and stepped out of them, stripped off her socks, and slid open the broad glass door leading to her own private garden. There were the palm trees, the hammock, the fountain—and, beyond the short stone wall, an expanse of white beach and blue waves. She pulled a battered, old paperback from her bag and walked barefoot down a curving sandy path lined with stunted, ornamental fruit trees as high as her knees. Bandana and braids gone, her hair hung loose down her back, and a breeze combed salty fingers through the long, red strands. Finney stood a moment looking out to sea then eased herself into the hammock, opened the taped-together book, read the first page. She woke as the sun sank behind the distant Riva Mountains. The book lay facedown across her midriff, and one arm, hanging over the edge of the hammock at an awkward angle, was going numb. Finn, you know better. Not out here. She rolled off the hammock, the book sliding to the ground and landing with a soft plop. Without appearing to do so, Finney observed

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Thieves’ Honor, Episode Four: The Game - Opening Moves by Keanan Brand
the adjacent bungalows and gardens. She adjusted her vest, checked her gun. Squatting to pick up the book, she looked around at the undergrowth. All clear. She stood and returned to her room. of adventure, and that she just didn’t understand. Not one to run from trouble, at least she didn’t go looking for it.

Pg. 70

Keanan Brand

All clear there, too. After a long, hot shower and a change of clothes, she slid her feet into a pair of soft leather shoes, gathered her hair into a loose twist and stuck a couple of pencils through it to keep it up, pulled some bills from her vest pocket and tucked them into her gunbelt, buckled it around her hips, and left the bungalow.

as well as dinner cruises on the Gonzalo Sea. No sailing for her, thank you. Finney throve in space, but water? Her grandfather had taught her to swim, and to swim well, but there was something about boats that made her palms sweat. She sauntered along the broad, columned promenade, and watched the people gathering for meals or drinks, laughing, talking, pairing off. She’d always visited this place alone. Small as the crew was, and as much as Finney enjoyed flying, the Vega’s hull sometimes seemed to shrink around her until she couldn’t breathe.

Keanan Brand used to play marbles with his brother and some of the neighborhood kids in rural Oregon, and became Finney stopped in front of a shop window, a fair hand at the game, carrying around taking advantage of the reflection to take a look his own mesh bag with a population that around. Nobody seemed interested in her. fluctuated depending on the results of the She looked beyond the reflection to the game. Anybody else remember steelies? The resort boasted restaurants and shops, display behind it. Nice. Cat’s eyes? Tiger stripes?
Then what was she doing here, out in the open, alone, almost asking for the bounty hunters to find her? A man stepped into view, smiled, and gestured at the display, a question in his eyes. Finney looked again at the wares. Elegant. Probably felt as good as they looked—but there was no reason to buy one. Too expensive, anyway. She lifted a hand, shook her head, and strolled to where a circle of torches lit an outdoor stage filled with dancers and musicians, rhythms filling the night and begging Finney’s feet to dance. “Why, there you are, darlin’!” Muscular arms wrapped around her, trapping her arms at her sides. “Missed you at dinner. All better now?” The sharp prick of a needle, and the flickering torches faded to black.

FYI: Extra points to the readers who catch the Veggie Tales references in this episode. Keep up with Keanan on his website at
http://adventuresinfiction.blogspot.com/

When she saw Kristoff, blood-soaked, sprawled on the common room floor of the Katy Joy but still trying to fight, that same breathlessness gripped her like an invisible fist. The captain had no problem thieving or looting, nor did he shrink from killing any man who needed it—neither did Finney, thus the bounty on her head—but Kristoff sought out danger for danger’s sake, like a boy in search

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Memory Wipe

Pg. 71

Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Part Two message with one hand: “Boarding attack very dangerous. Ship in danger. Tong’s soldiers bioenhanced. Use point-to-point communications if possible.” Simple. Insignificant. With Zartsi dead, it seemed like nothing. # Despair’s weapons—four X-ray lasers powerful enough to reduce solid strome to plasma—engulfed yet another Imperial fighter. Lashiir experienced a wash of satisfaction, as if Despair had consumed pilot and ship like a bird in its nest, satisfying some lifeless hunger. These were the best craft human military technology could produce, but to place Despair against them was like opposing a hovertank with an animal-drawn chariot. Liquid metal engulfed Lashiir’s limbs and skull in a cool, solid embrace, and his thoughts blended with those of the ship. He paid no attention to the screens and displays projected in Low Clordash. He saw as Despair saw, felt the heat of its lasers, sensed the presence of heat and light and human ships, felt the cold churn of energy in its silent engines. Lashiir and his ship united to form one predator. He had watched with satisfaction as one of the Lithrallian frigates had vanished in a firestorm generated by its own plasma engines. He had joined the attack, making surgical strikes at the ship’s hull while Caulthori capital craft hammered away with their pulsers and torpedo arrays. His stings had weakened armor, opened gaps, and allowed torpedoes to break into the ship’s vulnerable interior. But it was this he enjoyed—matching the power of Despair against Imperial pilots, releasing precise bursts of X-ray energy, feeling the heat and light of their deaths. He could almost hear them scream. A new scrap of information penetrated Despair’s systems, and the ship passed it on to Lashiir. His feed from the Caulthor planetary defenses had registered something: a group of heavy landers attempting to enter the atmosphere near the planet’s south pole. Near Tong’s base. They appeared to be having some success destroying defense satellites and dodging automatic torpedo launches. Lashiir could access little information about the ships at this distance. He knew that Imperial marines preferred to make landings only with heavy orbital support, and so Imperial landers tended to be designed for speed and stealth rather than firepower. Not so for Lithrallians. Their military transports were like small blastboats, sheathed in eleven layers of armor and equipped with formidable weaponry. Lithrallian ships were approaching Caulthor. Lashiir made his decision in an instant. Despair’s thirst had been quenched, for the moment, but Tsiika...it had been too long since she had tasted the life-blood of Lithrallians. Not since

E

sheera found herself in her cradle chair once again, half out of her vac-suit, flying with all the life of a factory assemblage unit. She pulled the Prize into a gut-twisting corkscrew, throwing off a Caulthori ship that had been buzzing after her like a corpse fly. Then she sought to align her comm dish with the Shinotsubasa’s receivers. Zartsi was dead. When Takeda had vanished into Jezai Tong’s mouth, Esheera had been a little surprised at how much it grieved her, at how much Takeda had become like her son in the few months they had spent together. It didn’t surprise her with Zartsi. He had trusted her with his greatest secret, his greatest shame, had fought with her, had accompanied her into the Suto enclave knowing both of them might die. They had even worked side-by-side on the Prize. He had become something approaching family. All gone in a flash of light and fire. Esheera acknowledged the galactic implications vaguely—the death of a Prince-Heir would send tectonic waves through the Kingdom, and the Serpent King might feel the Empire had sacrificed his son. Those thoughts were distant echoes, nothing more. A faint buzz told her that she had successfully established contact. She pulled out a tiny Imperish keyboard and tapped out a

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
an assassination he had preformed for Nathan Clane over two years ago. Lashiir redirected his ship, ordering Despair to carry him back towards Caulthor. # Marine Sergeant Emmel always savored the first moments before a fight, whether it was a training exercise or a forced boarding of a pirate gunboat. There was the smell of his own sweat, the warm cocoon of his uniform, the tank-like visor of his blast helmet, the deadly weight of an assault rifle weighed down by a three-hundred round clip and a cluster of seven Tormenter needle grenades. His suit was vacuum sealed, his boots clamped to the deck by a strong magnetic charge, as he watched the bulkhead just a dozen meters away begin to glow red. “Grenades first,” he spoke into his comm, his voice a low purr. “Then a good wave of united fire. Clog up their entryway with a few bodies. Once there’s blood in the air, Dax and Chou—you men advance, while we contain them, and see if you can get a couple grenades inside their ship. We’ll mop up whoever’s left and get repairmen down here for the breach.” The entry point was on the outside bulkhead of a crew lounge about twenty square meters in size, its chairs and tables upholstered in what struck Emmel as an unusually feminine shade of pale red. He had often wondered what engineer’s girlfriend had been given the honor of decorating Shinotsubasa’s rec areas. In any case, it wasn’t an place he would mind seeing torn up. Vacuum doors had already sealed it off from inhabited portions of the ship. He and his men were safely behind a portable barricade, rifles peering out of loopholes in the strome plates, waiting patiently for the shooting to start. It happened suddenly. The bulkhead went from cherry red to pale orange to dusky yellow in under a minute, and then burst inwards with a spray of half-molten strome and steel. Emmel felt his body dragged forward as air began to rush out of the lounge, escaping into vacuum and dragging a couple half-eaten snack bars and old bottles with it. The mouth of a combat lander broke through the opening, like a snake nosing in the belly of a larger animal it had poisoned. “Fire!” Emmel barked, squeezing off a grenade, then launching another as soon as he felt it roll down into the firing chamber. His men did likewise with a split-second’s delay. The Tormentor grenades burst about a second after leaving the barrel, their payloads directed forward by momentum: a spray of titanium needles about as thick as blades of grass, gushing out in a silver torrent. They were designed to clear corridors and shred armor and makeshift barricades, losing none of their power in vacuum. Escaping air pulled them towards their target. Emmel didn’t wait to see what effect they had. He squeezed his primary trigger, his rifle spraying compacted lead bullets at the rate of twenty rounds per second. Hearing wasn’t much use in the torrent of escaping air, but a series of metallic chimes made it into his helmet. He looked. They had been firing into a black metal bulkhead, and had succeeded in doing

Pg. 72
no more then flaying an inch or two of strome off it. A snakelike weapon extended from just above the opening. “Down!” he shouted into his comm as a torrent of burning gas poured into the room, burning hot in the little air remaining. It splashed against their barricade, and Emmel felt heat through his helmet. Fairly standard procedure for boarding actions: bring along something to clear the area of entry. He wouldn’t have expected flame. It would be useless once full vacuum set in. Then they came out of the fire: figures in black suits that shed flame like water shed oil. Emmel had an instant to see them—they were fast, as if they had been launched out of transport like torpedoes. Screams flowed from his earpiece as his men began to die. He swung his rifle around, trying to get a clear shot... Then his right arm exploded, and he screamed himself. Wounded. No, not wounded—his arm was gone, severed at the shoulder by a high-velocity round, and his life-blood was rushing into vacuum like water squeezed from a drink bladder. He was the last of his squad. The others were dead, their uniformed bodies shredded, torn, burnt—in no more than a second or two. Instinct kicked in, and Emmel struggled to raise his rifle with just his left arm, fire into the rear of the black-suited man slapping a detonator against the vacuum door down the hallway. The last thing Emmel saw was a fist, looming close to his visor for a split second before it crushed his skull.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
# Acceleration pressed Zartsi’s spine against the cushioned back of his crash seat as another explosion caught the transport, sending it lurching in a new and unpleasant direction. He cradled his weapon with both hands: a Lithrallian longrifle, lethally accurate with bullets capable of punching through an inch of strome armor with enough force left over to kill whoever was waiting on the other side. He whispered three prayers to the Lord of Light: that the souls of his warriors aboard the Ressiset be spared the Sorrowful Night, that the Red Greaves with him would reach the surface of Caulthor alive, and that once there, he might, at last, be granted atonement for his murder. Zartsi’s white sword was buckled onto his left thigh, his daggers—the weapon of his murder—fitted into scabbards slung over his shoulders. He had exchanged his Prince-Heir’s armor for a combat suit nearly identical to those around him, scales of gray leather overlapping on his chest, greaves and armguards of red lacquer covering his shins and forearms. Only the gold rings dangling from his shoulders marked his rank. A sharp impact shook Zartsi’s entire body down to the bones, and he felt suddenly dizzy. Had the ship’s engines been torn out by the Caulthori defenses, leaving the ship to crash and explode on the desert floor? Zartsi knew other transports had already been lost to defensive satellites and the anti-air cannons studding Tong’s volcano fortress. “We’ve landed,” the pilot hissed, just as the unit captain—a short, wiry warrior whose jaw looked as if it had been broken several times in his youth—unbuckled himself and bounded over to the unloading door. His eyes flicked to Zartsi, awaiting orders. “Deploy,” Zartsi hissed, undoing his own buckle, mentally thanking the Lord of Light for seeing them safely this far. He would protect himself from here. “Destroy immediate threats and enter the compound by any means possible. Regroup once within cover.” Forty Red Greaves bounded out of their crash seats, rifles clutched in clawed hands, swords slapping against their bare thighs. One out of every ten had a launcher braced across both shoulders like an ancient carrying pole. The door hissed open. The captain and three warriors bounded out in a tight crouch, tails whipping the air as their blood heated for combat. Zartsi followed them a moment later, longrifle lifted to fire. These were the best warriors trained in the kingdom, second only to the Serpent Guard that watched over Zartsi’s father. He would be damned to eternal night before he would watch them die while he hung back, a coward as well as a murderer. They emerged into the darkness of a Caulthor night. The air was warm, but not scorching. Stars in a thousand subtle shades were scattered across a sky that was beginning to pale from black to deepest blue. A faint glow had begun to spread from a point on the western horizon, like fire just bursting into life, its center a pale rose color. Zartsi flicked a finger up to activate his infrared eyepiece, and with it he saw that they had landed just below the volcano’s crater, on a ledge of black rock dusted with ash that compacted like sand as he placed his boots on it.

Pg. 73
Crimson light streaked across the sky as the base’s defenses continued to fire at the Lithrallian transports still in the air. Zartsi’s warriors spread out, emptying the transport in the space of a few seconds, each Lithrallian taking his established placed in the unit as a whole. Forty pairs of eyes scanned the tangle of black volcanic stone, worn into twisted shapes by years of hot wind. Zartsi’s infrared eyepiece allowed him to see through the predawn darkness. He caught a flash of heat in movement off to his left, pivoted on his heels, and aligned his barrel between two of his Red Greaves for a split second before squeezing off a shot. The bullet screamed through the warm air. The wet smack of it striking a skull reached Zartsi’s ears, and a warm body fell lifeless to the rocks. There were others—perhaps seven or eight, bounding over the rocks and ducking in and out of cover. A pulser beam split the air and blasted open one Lithrallian’s chest before the warrior had time to squeeze off a shot. The others spread out, dropping into fire positions, while three took up shielding positions in front of Zartsi and others scanned the surrounding rocks for other Caulthori defenders. Zartsi fired again, heard his bullet carom off stone. The Red Greaves raked lines of bullets back and forth across the stones, creating an orderly web of death that would have decimated ordinary humans. Tong’s enhanced soldiers ducked in and out of cover, and their pulsers struck like lightning bolts—precise and deadly. Zartsi aimed and fired once, twice, again, and again, until his clip was empty. He managed to take off an arm. That wouldn’t stop the warrior.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
A grenade rolled onto the stone, its progress slowed by thick ash. Zartsi was the first to see it. He was also the first to dive for it, shoving aside two warriors in his path, scooping it up in one taloned hand, and hurling it back towards the Caulthori. It burst halfway along its arc. Zartsi threw an arm up to cover his eyes as stinging white light pierced them. Tears flooded over his lids, blinding him. He scraped at his eyes furiously, snarling, and heard warriors die around him. Zartsi heard a pair of heavy feet hit once in front of him. He ducked instantly and felt wind and heat pass over his head. He blindly smashed forward with one elbow and felt it strike a rock-hard chest. Zartsi had learned speed all his life—from his father, from his Lithrallian swordmasters, but most of all from the skitters of Belar. He straightened his legs and bounded back with every ounce of that speed. Only the ash saved his life—it allowed him to slide just out of the Caulthori’s reach. He felt a blast of heat on his chest. His swordmasters had also emphasized zassak-hiis—the art of first blow. Zartsi released his rifle and his muscles twisted as they had a thousand times in his youth, and his sword whipped out of its scabbard. Blood cut a hot line across his face. He reversed his blade and cut again, feeling it slice through flesh and bone. Zartsi succeeded at last in wiping the tears out of his eyes. His infrared eyepiece showed him the Caulthori warrior whose ribcage he had split open. He dropped into a crouch, but his warriors were alive and the Caulthori attackers were dead. Perhaps five or six of the Red Greaves had died with them, blood and ash combined in a sticky death-mud. There would be time for prayers later. Zartsi sheathed his sword and picked up his rifle as the warriors re-grouped. “Skirmish line,” he said. “Keep eyes open and watch the rocks. Roar when you find an entrance.” The warriors moved to followed his command. Zartsi flicked his attention to his rifle for a moment, running his hands over it to make sure ash and blood hadn’t jammed its action. Half his force died in that moment. One instant they lived, hearts pounding, chests heaving with excited breath, and the next nothing remained of them but organic ash and a scent of super-heated meat. Horror twisted Zartsi’s guts like an iron hook. The stone where they had stood glowed with white heat. Horror turned to rage as a shadow passed across the stars overhead, a bird of prey twisted together from plates of black metal. It flew silently, leaving no sign but a smearing of light in the wake of its cold engines. Lashiir. Zartsi slapped his rifle’s stock against his shoulder and sighted along the barrel. He pulled the trigger again and again as the nightmare ship executed a smooth roll and reversed course, arcing back towards him. Zartsi clawed another clip out of his belt and slammed it into place. One of his warriors tackled him, throwing

Pg. 74
him hard against the sharp rocks. Only his armor saved him from being impaled on a spur of volcanic glass. His gun clattered down a tail-length away. The warrior who had pushed him aside vanished in an X-ray laser Zartsi’s eyes couldn’t register. The unit captain, a few meters behind him, had a bite of flesh instantly burnt out of his left side. He screamed and died slowly. Zartsi roared and reached for his rifle. He pushed himself off the rocks, felt volcanic glass slice narrow gashes on his palms. The smells of incinerated flesh and heated rock were enough to make him retch. He coughed, ejecting yellow-white fluid, and shut his nostrils against it. He straightened to see Lashiir’s ship hovering five meters in front of him. Stars and pre-dawn light made swirls of dark color in its mirrored black hull, and weapons like openmouthed serpents targeted him from its barbed wings. He raised his rifle to his shoulder. Something hissed, and a ramp lowered from the black ship’s belly like a jaw opening, spilling pale blue light onto the bloody ash. Claws clicked on metal, and a shadow wrapped in a robe of purest black cloth glided into sight. He stopped at the end of the ramp, poised several meters above the ground, gazing down at Zartsi. A dagger-shaped beak and eyes like orbs of black glass were faintly visible beneath his hood. Zartsi aimed his rifle. “No, Lithrallian, I think not,” Lashiir said, his voice toneless and metallic through the voicebox implanted in his throat. He held up a clenched fist. “Drop your rifle, or I will give you to Despair.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“Better to die a warrior,” Zartsi hissed back, his finger tightening on the trigger. He would put his one shot straight between the Clordite’s eyes and into the rotten brain behind them. “You misunderstand.” Lashiir’s other hand went up and gripped the haft protruding above his left shoulder. His arm snapped down, drawing a heavy, curved blade whose profile was visible as a hole in the colors behind it. “Your friend interrupted us on Nihil. I think it is fate that we have met again.” Zartsi knew it might be a ploy to make him drop his rifle before Lashiir triggered the ship’s lasers. Everything he knew of the Clordite told him otherwise. There was no reason for Lashiir to expose himself if his offer was false. Zartsi hurled his rifle away and heard it clatter on the rocks. Then he drew his blade. The rose-glow of dawn found a small hold in its polished ivory surface. Air fluted through tiny holes in Lashiir’s beak. “Good,” his translator croaked. He leapt off the ramp, rolled on ash and hot stone, and came up running, blade whipping out in a disemboweling cut. Zartsi bounded to meet him. He swung his blade point downwards, and black metal met white ivory in the space between them, filling the still dawn air with a clash that echoed from every sheer facet of obsidian and basalt. Zartsi bounded backwards. Lashiir pressed his attack. The ship Despair hovered above them, a silent spectator to a duel that could end only with death. # No volcano on Caulthor burned hotter than the fire in Jezai Tong’s yellowed eyes, barely visible through narrow slashes in his strome mask. His fist rose. Wicked spikes of reddened metal rose from his knuckles and lances of hot energy leapt from point to point. Tong’s arm twisted mid-blow, bringing his fist down to drive up under Takeda’s sternum. The motion would have been a blur, a flash of forceful movement, to any normal human. Only Takeda’s superhuman senses allowed him to see the punch coming, to see Tong’s fist change trajectory, and to dodge away. Tong’s knuckles clipped his ribs, tearing away thin strips of semi-solid metal. Takeda felt energy scorch his flesh. He was clear before the finshaped blade on Tong’s forearm could open his lung. Takeda kicked off the smooth, black floor, sliding forward, and threw an open-handed blow at Tong’s exposed cheek. His palm smoldered with a patina of blue energy. Tong twisted with impossible speed, locking his forearm with Takeda’s and forcing the attack away. He twisted his hips in an instant-long preparation for another blow. Takeda dropped, letting his knees curl and ducking his armor body beneath Tong’s swing. He slammed one foot and both hands down, bracing himself on stone while driving his other leg up into Tong’s belly. Strome-shod heel pressed against Tong’s armor with all of Takeda’s enhanced strength behind it. Tong’s last attack had unbalanced him, and Takeda’s kick lifted him into the air. The count smashed into one of the pillars of black stone ringing the room. Cracks spread like fault-lines from the point of impact. Takeda charged, pressing his advantage. Fear and uncertainty had been burned away by Caulthor’s deserts and sliced out by Tong’s dissectors. What remained was harder and

Pg. 75
colder than strome, a core of strength like a second skeleton. Takeda had only one name for it. Anger. Tong pulled himself up, and his shoulders opened—both of them—onto pools of liquid fire. They spat beams like pulser shots, but somehow ragged, with the sharp edges of lightning. Takeda kicked off the floor, sending himself into a leap that became a flip ten feet above the floor. He heard air sizzle, felt heat blast his armored skin. He landed in a roll, came up, and spread both hands. Energy ripped out from his palms in two lances of blue light. Tong broke away, leaping to one side, and Takeda’s force blasted apart the pillar behind him. Shards of reddened stone skipped and clattered on the floor or rebounded from Takeda’s carapace. They didn’t harm him, but they broke his attention for a moment, and Tong used that moment to renew his attack. He burst from the heat like a shell launched from a cannon, running low against the floor, claws scraping the black stone. He hit Takeda low, snaking his arms around Takeda’s armored stomach and gripping him tight. Takeda flexed his arms, throwing off Tong’s hands before he could cook his way through Takeda’s carapace, but Tong’s back opened and his jets deployed. Suddenly Takeda was off the floor, rising with Tong towards the vaulted ceiling. He kicked his metal-taloned legs into Tong’s thighs, belly, chest, raking at his light over-armor and scraping the strome carapace beneath. His arms were locked in contest with Tong’s, holding the Count’s hands away from his body. Their eyes locked in a silent struggle. Takeda’s consciousness seemed to explode into a chaos of black smudges and white bolts as Tong slammed him into the ceiling with force that would have collapsed the spine of an

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
unaltered man. Takeda’s artificially thickened skull and reinforced bones saved his life, but he could feel his armor cracking, feel blood trickling along the hard lines of his strome mask. He fell between Tong’s arms, gravity pulling him down like a lead weight sinking in water. Rock dust and shards of black stone rained around him. He couldn’t think, could barely move, the pain was so intense, as if his skull had been driven down into his ribcage. He hit the floor like a meteor crashing down. Takeda screamed as the shock of impact ran through his armor and bones. Fissures cracked open in his strome covering, exposing raw, red flesh beneath. His blood was trickling out like whites from a broken egg. His throat was pained with screaming and he barely heard the sound. Tong landed, his weight shaking the floor. “Two,” his dry voice hissed, “do you know what death is?” Takeda coughed up blood mixed with a yellow fluid he had never seen before. He moved his arms in a twitch, trying to rise, to twist his head to look at Tong. The Count went on, “Death is a machine ceasing to function. A gear having its teeth filed off. An engine exhausting its fuel.” He stepped closer, talons clicking on the floor. “You were a beautiful machine. You were the first one to survive, after myself. Still perhaps the strongest, after all the care I poured into you. But even the best machines cannot endure forever. Not when they malfunction.” Takeda struggled to rise, fighting against agony in every muscle. Something in his brain must be broken. Perhaps his spine was shattered, leaving him paralyzed, helpless against the death looming over him. But no. He forced himself up at last, bending at the waist, his arms levering his armored body up. Tong’s hand clutched his skull, sticking in the warm blood covering his face, and smashed him back down. Takeda screamed. “You malfunctioned four years ago, Two. You stole a ship, escaped, and survived the poisons your action triggered in your brain with no more injury than memory loss. But now, at last...I retire you.” His talons tightened, claws digging into Takeda’s cracked armor. Then he straightened his arm, smashing Takeda’s skull into the stone with the strength of a pile driver. The world exploded in red and white fire. Takeda felt his body spasm fruitlessly against Tong’s brutal strength. He could feel death lurking just an instant away. Sherri’s face hung frozen amid the storm of red agony, her golden hair dyed with blue streaks, her smile brighter than moonlight. He had come for her. Liun’s face joined hers, hair like a night sky and eyes like pools of clear water. Two women he had fought for. Had loved. It wasn’t enough. His strength was gone, his power exhausted, and now he would die. # “Concentrate all firepower on the landers,”

Pg. 76
Esheera broadcasted, hoping her signal got through to the Endless Dawn’s comm package. “They contain bio-enhanced troops. Risk is critical.” At least six or seven armored landers had managed to disgorge troops into the Shinotsubasa. Judging from the battlecruiser’s sudden drop in firing activity, Tong’s troops had successfully penetrated the ship’s weapons decks and were probably fighting for the bridge and engine decks even as she watched. “Suggest dispatch counter-boarding forces to Shinotsubasa,” Esheera added, broadcasting towards the Endless Dawn. She waited in suspense for three long breaths. Her communications system hadn’t been reliable to start with, and her on-the-spot modifications were just as likely to explode in her face as actually transmit a broadcast through the jamming field. If this didn’t work... she might as well crash the Prize into one of the transports and do some good with her death. Three clicks emerged from her speaker: a universal acknowledgment signal. Someone had heard her. That was all she could hope for. She fired her engines, searching her functioning sensor read-outs as well as her canopy visuals for ships under threat. The two Burning Light frigates still surviving were under heavy attack, with three large cruisers and several smaller ships drawing their attention away from the transports latching onto their underbellies or rapidly approaching. But she didn’t know more than a few phrases of Lithrallic, nor did she know if her comm package was even compatible with theirs. Nothing she could do.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
So she fired her remaining engines fullblast for the nearest Imperial cruiser. A pair of Caulthori fighters rushed past, raking space around her with spikes of red energy. She twisted away, awkwardly, crippled by her missing thrusters, but they moved on to seek more threatening prey in place of a crippled Rover ship. Esheera probably wouldn’t be in range for at least a minute longer, but she began broadcasting, rotating her sensor dish to point in the cruiser’s general direction. She crossed through a small blast boat’s line of fire. A snaptwist, executed within a split-second’s notice, saved her from being caught in a column of pulser energy. The Canghi and Caulthori fleets were closely enmeshed, like two gutter-cats with their jaws locked onto each other’s throats and their claws buried in each others’ bellies. Cruisers on both sides had been destroyed, and the Endless Dawn was bleeding white atmosphere from numerous spots where her hull had been blasted open. Hours of skirmishing had thinned out fighter wings, making them more cautious in their engagements, preferring to swarm around already-wounded ships or hang back to defend their carriers. Esheera was a fleck of foam among colliding waves, one spark of a raging blaze. But she did what she could, and as she watched her sensors, she thought she saw a heavy burst of pulser energy from the Endless Light’s batteries blast a transport into molten metal and cables. Perhaps her efforts weren’t in vain. Three clicks echoed on her speaker from the Imperial cruiser. She smiled with satisfaction. Perhaps not so insignificant after all. # Lashiir’s arms were thin, even spidery, sheathed in plates of onyx-colored chitin that bristled with points and barbs. Those bony limbs belied muscles strong enough to nearly knock Zartsi off his feet every time he parried a slash from Lashiir’s heavy blade. The Clordite’s face showed no expression that he could read. The silence was broken only by the peals of dark metal smashing against ivory and by the distant roar of engines as other Lithrallian transports descended to various pointed on and around the volcano. None of them approached close enough to interrupt the duel. Zartsi knocked the Clordite’s blade high with a one-handed parry as he drew one of his daggers with the other hand. He stepped inside the Clordite’s defense and stabbed at his neck. Lashiir fell back, disengaging his blade and nearly disarming Zartsi with a powerful wrist motion. Zartsi’s dagger missed his throat by a hair. Lashiir leapt back, feet skidding on sand. His talon twisted around his black sword’s grip, and as Zartsi watched the blade began to vibrate, its outline blurring as if the sword were no more than concentrated mist. Lashiir spun the sword in his hand, circling towards Zartsi’s left. Whatever sound it made was inaudible to Lithrallian ears. Zartsi lunged, sword stretched out along a line extending from his jaw, dagger tucked back against his ribs. Lashiir swung—not at his body, but at his extended sword. He would try to beat it aside, opening Zartsi’s defense.

Pg. 77
Instead, Lashiir engaged his blade with Zartsi’s, pressing metal against ivory. Zartsi’s arm vibrated, his very bone quivering, as he twisted his wrist, attempting to fully trap Lashiir’s sword. He pivoted, advancing his left hip, and looped his dagger up towards the Clordite’s abdomen. Lashiir’s wrist rotated a full circle, disengaging his blade, and he cross-stepped away from Zartsi’s dagger. “Impressive,” the Clordite said, voice rendered flat by his translation-implant. “Everything that has been said about Lithrallian blades seems true.” Zartsi crossed his blades in the Folded Pincer stance and bounded forward, slashing up at Lashiir’s throat. The Clordite slapped his sword away, pirouetted away from Zartsi’s dagger, and swung down at his extended wrist. Zartsi whipped it back just in time to catch the blow on his blade, and his bones shook from the black sword’s vibration. Lashiir pressed his attack. The sagging, empty sleeves of his robe made it difficult to follow his movements, and his sword seemed to strike from three directions at once. Zartsi turned himself so that his back was towards the volcano’s caldera, giving himself a slight advantage of height, but every ounce of his skill was engaged simply with parrying and dodging Lashiir’s assault. “Does every one of you carry such weapons?” Lashiir asked, each syllable accented by a fresh strike. “No,” Zartsi growled back. He caught the black sword above his head on crossed blades,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
holding it trapped for an instant while he swung his clawed foot in a kick at Lashiir’s abdomen. The Clordite faded out of reach like a shadow on the wind. Zartsi dropped his sword parallel to his left side to deflect the Clordite’s next attack, then riposted weakly. Pain flared in a line across his chest, and he glanced down to see blood staining his armor. When had Lashiir cut him? How deep? “Only the nobles, then. Perhaps only the royal family.” The Clordite’s strength, and the humming vibration of his blade, were rapidly leeching away Zartsi’s strength. Each parry became more difficult, his reactions more sluggish. He regretting placing his back to the high ground. Lashiir drove him up it, forcing him to defend himself while slashing his heels and legs open on the edged rocks behind him. The light of dawn was growing on the distant horizon. Zartsi doubted he would live to see the sun. The Clordite’s voice was a flat monotone, although the air whistling in and out of his beak showed his exertion. “This also explains your attire, your circlet, the warriors guarding you. You are their prince. I can feel it in your sword, and you have pride in your eyes. To take your skull is an honor.” “Not much of prince,” Zartsi growled. “I let you kill them.” “As you say. But you will soon have your chance to apologize.” Lashiir pressed harder, forcing Zartsi uphill. The Lithrallian stumbled on a rock and blocked an overhand cut from the black sword while on his knees. He surged up with a burst of energy, but somehow felt a fresh ribbon of blood push out from his shoulder. Lashiir had no more than clipped him, but the wound felt deep, and veins of cold fire ran up his left arm. “Is this truly all you have to offer me?” Lashiir intoned. “I had hoped for more from you, Zartsi Hsik Hsonra.” The Clordite whipped his entire body forward in a thrust, his robes blasting a gust of ash into Zartsi’s face. Zartsi staggered back, executed a clumsy parry, and riposted towards the Clordite’s abdomen. Lashiir leapt aside with flash of energy, ash and black robe swirling around him like a tempest of shadows. Zartsi knew that he deserved death. He had murdered his brother for the sake of jealously, had wet his hands in his clutchmate’s heart blood. His crime was different from the Clordite’s murders only in quantity. But to deserve death was not a mandate to accept it. Zartsi found himself perched on the edge of the volcano’s caldera, his feet rooted on a slab of basalt, blood trickling down his scales from three wounds. Dark slopes fell away on either side. Lashiir faced him, on even ground now, and swirls of pale gray ash danced around them in a hot wind. Every muscle in Zartsi’s body burned with exhaustion. But if it was his fate to die here, he would die fighting for redemption. Zartsi attacked with all the fury he contained. He poured out his rage at himself, his hatred for the Clordite, his love for Takeda and Esheera into his arms, and he charged Lashiir in a whirlwind of white ivory, dagger and sword moving in a frenzy of

Pg. 78
slash and thrust. A harsh, buzzing music echoed in the hot air as Lashiir parried. The sound of Lashiir’s fluted laughter was loud enough to reach Zartsi’s ears. “Now I am satisfied,” his voice box intoned. Their blades made harsh music against each other, tolling like bells with every strike. Zartsi could feel his sword’s ivory tang quivering with each clash against the Clordite blade. His chest heaved and his scales itched with his own blood. The ash was hot beneath his feet as he leapt and slid across it. His arms went numb. Lashiir fought in silence now, his beak half open in an expression that could have been exhaustion or ecstasy. Zartsi’s dagger flew out of his hand, and his left arm exploded in a fountain of blood. Lashiir’s sword barely brushed it, and yet the limb was slashed to the bone. Zartsi screamed, felt his knees buckle, and dropped to the ash before the Clordite. His strength was gone, his atonement unfinished, and darkness would embrace him forever. # A full second passed, and Takeda was still alive. Another second passed before he realized that Tong’s hand had released his skull. Smoldering agony lingered in every bone and muscle. Crimson light flooded his eyes, and he lay in a sticky halo of his own blood. This was no afterlife. He heard Tong hiss. He heard a discharge of sizzling energy. And he heard a woman scream.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Takeda lurched to his feet, drawing on every scrap of energy remaining to him. He rose just in time to catch a limp body as it flew into his arms, dressed in the black vest and loose pants of Tong’s hands. A woman. Takeda stared at her face, pale skin with eyes that had flushed crimson with swollen blood vessels. Her scalp had been shaved down to the roots and livid red scars were visible across her skull. The fuzz growing in looked white. Even semi-conscious her bare limbs were hard with knotted muscles. More than scars there. She had open wounds that seeped dark red blood and other fluids— white, gray, deep yellow. Horror crawled over him as he began to trace familiar lines in her jaw and forehead, see the once-bright blue irises now trapped in seas of red. He knew this woman. Many of his fondest memories from his three short years of peace centered around her, her smile, her laugh, the sound of her voice. The woman cradled in his arms, her flesh limp against his armored skin, was Sherri. He bounded back, taking her with him, as Tong brought an open talon down on the spot where he had been standing. He curled his body around Sherri’s, his armored skin shielding her from flecks of hot stone. “What have you done to her?” he roared. “I told you,” Tong hissed, as crimson lightning poured from his open shoulders. “Experimentation on a female body. Females are capable of so much. Their tolerance for pain is greater.” Takeda quick-stepped to one side, dodging the lightning as it traced a smoldering line on the broken floor. He noticed a long crack across the armor of Tong’s chest that hadn’t been there before, slowly pumping blood that ran down and dripped between the Count’s legs. Sherri had saved his life. Whatever Tong had done to her in the last several days, it had enhanced her strength, given her enough force to knock the Count off him and give him a second or two to recover. Even after all she had been through, all she had suffered...she had been willing to lay down her life for his sake. The pain was still there, insistent and allembracing, but it was easier to ignore now. Another feeling had seized him—one he had little experience with, but still felt deeply familiar. Pure, unbridled rage. He bounded away from Tong, aiding his leap with a blast from the jets on his back. He twisted in mid-air and felt the front of his body blasted by heat from another lance of crimson fire. He hit the curved wall of the throne room, kicked off it, and came down behind a still-intact pillar. He gently let Sherri’s mutilated body slide out of his arms. Takeda left her resting with her back against the column, her chest rising and falling with ragged breath. Then he leapt out and charged straight towards Jezai Tong. Stone dust flew in a black wake as his armored claws scraped it up from the floor. Tong’s shoulders opened, cinnabar fire rushed out. Takeda leapt into the air. Tong fired again, trying to strike him down, but Takeda fired his jets and twisted around the lance of flame, at the same time driving himself towards Tong like a harpoon. He hit the Count low, and his arms snaking under Tong’s shoulders. Takeda was exhausted. A skullcap of blood

Pg. 79
sent wet tendrils down his neck and along his shoulders. His spine flared with every twist, and the joints in his arms felt as if they were restrained by bolts of hot metal. But rage was his fuel, and Tong had made his body strong. Strong enough to heave the Count’s heavilyarmored frame into the air. Tong slashed at him with ultra-hard talons, peeling away strips of armor and skin. Takeda released him thirty feet above the floor, hurling him against the opposite wall. Tong fired his jets and unleashed a fresh blast of power. It hit Takeda in the chest. The smell of his own steaming flesh overwhelmed his nostrils. The force of the shot launched him backwards, and he slammed into a pillar, screaming as his organic jets were smashed against unyielding rock. Tong flew towards him with a hiss like a striking serpent. Takeda braced his legs against the pillar and leapt to meet him. The two met in a hot clash of electric blue and smoldering red fire, flashing metal, blood that steamed as it spattered onto the floor. Takeda hacked at Tong’s neck with the blades on his arms while Tong’s talons raked and blasted his chest, stomach, face. He shut his eyes to protect them and fought blindly, like some mindless golem wrought from metal and fire. Suddenly Tong dropped slightly, and his claws seized a rent in Takeda’s left leg. The Count flared his jets and pulled his body downward, applying tearing force to Takeda’s leg as he did. Fire flared from his fingertips. Takeda twisted his body, trying to reach Tong, but the Count used quick bursts to stay out of his reach while sawing through the flesh binding leg to thigh.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
It tore away in the Count’s hands, and Takeda screamed. Tong was below him, releasing his severed limb with a triumphant smile barely visible beneath his cracked mask. Takeda turned his body, his stump pouring blood, and drove himself downward with all the energy he could summon. He smashed onto Tong in a halo of electric blue fire. Smoke rose around them. Takeda drove Tong down onto the raised black throne at the very center of the echoing chamber. His enhanced hearing registered the sound of bone cracking and breaking. Tong’s spine was arched over the sheer, rectangular back of his own throne, pinned beneath Takeda’s weight. A long crack ran down the center of his mask, exposing raw flesh and bone beneath. “Two,” he hissed, blood spurting through his mask. “You are my weapon. My machine. You were made to kill.” “I know. I was made to kill you.” Takeda raised his fist and slammed it into Tong’s open mouth. Teeth broke and blood spattered. From his fingers Takeda channeled all his remaining energy into a final burst of burning energy. Electric blue light reflected from every surface in the chamber. Yellow eyes bulged and greasy smoke rose as Tong burned from the inside out, cooked inside the cracked remains of his armor. His body collapsed in the languor of death and slid down the back of his blood-slicked throne. # Zartsi watched Lashiir’s sword rise. The Clordite gave no cry of triumph, but there was passion in his eyes—the passion of a killer thirsty death. Those eyes contained everything Zartsi had struggled against. Everything that had once consumed him. Bloodlust and darkness. His sword still filled his right hand: the finest ivory of Lithrall, harder than strome, a substance requiring a master craftsman simply to shape it. He swung it like a pick, point aimed up at Lashiir’s face, the final blow of a dying warrior. The ivory tip hit Lashiir’s vibrating sword as it descended towards Zartsi’s skull. The sword screeched like a dying raptor as its black metal met ivory. The black sword shattered. Shards of metal sang in the dawn air, still humming with residual vibrations. Lashiir’s eyes seemed to expand in their recessed sockets, and his beak slowly stretched open in a silent cry of sympathetic agony. Shock at seeing his sword broken paralyzed him. Zartsi dropped his sword between Lashiir’s legs and rose, slashing through robes, chitin, and Clordite flesh as his unfolding knees and straightened right arm drew the sword from Lashiir’s crotch up to his throat. Sparks flew as he cut open the Clordite’s voice box. He jerked his sword out, spattering his face with dark blood, and whipped it around. He sliced Lashiir’s head from his shoulders in one smooth cut. Dark blood sprayed in a fountain and the head thudded in ash, beak pointed up at the gradually lightening sky.

Pg. 80
Zartsi fell to his knees, exhaling, his blood trickling down the stone around him. # The Shinotsubasa looked as if it were covered in a layer of barnacles. Counter-boarding transports, stuffed with Imperial marines from the Endless Dawn and two other ships, had latched onto the hull among the earlier Caulthori landers, and inside the ship fierce combat was raging between Imperial marines and Tong’s biologically enhanced soldiers. The Endless Dawn had succeeded in sending pointto-point signals to its fighter squadrons, and they had returned to aid in taking down the attacking landers. A few had still managed to make contact, but even Tong’s men could be defeated by prepared defenders. The battle had dragged on for some time, however, when Esheera saw the largest ship in the Caulthori fleet—a behemoth that looked as if three or four cruisers had been molded together in its creation—erupted in a series of spectacular explosions that built to a crescendo as the engine block itself went up in a white nuclear flash. Esheera turned her eyes away, wiping tears out of them. The fighting would drag on for hours, perhaps days—Esheera doubted the Caulthori forces would offer surrender. Still, as her eyes swept her sensor read-outs and her canopy, and as she watched blocks of red-hot metal break away from the dying ship, she knew that the battle was won. #

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Takeda crawled cross the floor, its oncepristine black floor cracked, scorched, and painted with smears of half-dried blood. His armor melted away, fading into skin that was torn, burnt, and scraped raw. Blood trickled in a steady flow from the stump of his missing leg. His body recovered well. It would be some time yet before he blacked out from blood loss. But his strength left him. He had forced his body past even its considerable limits, and now even breathing seemed almost too much. He gripped a gaping crack in the floor and dragged himself forward another couple of feet. He could see Sherri’s chest rising and falling. She was alive, too. It seemed to take him hours to reach her, and he left a smeared trail of blood on the floor as he passed. He reached for her, gripped her arm. His hand clumsily smeared blood on her face as he croaked her name. “Sherri,” he said, again, heaving himself a little closer. She was horrendously wounded...whether from Tong’s experiments or from her attack on him was hard to tell. Her eyes opened to slits, showing reddened whites through sweat-caked lashes. Her mouth moved, lips coming together to form a “T”, but no sound came out. A tear washed a warm track down Takeda’s cheek. She was dying. He wouldn’t live much longer afterwards. At that moment he heard heavy feet pounding the hallway outside and cascading into the throne room. Tong’s Hands were coming for him at last. He was grateful—they would mercifully shorten his suffering. He pulled himself closer to Sherri and waited for the killing blow. He might have fallen into unconsciousness, but an interminable time later, his eyes snapped open to see a face bending over him. Not a human face: extended muzzle, dusky green scales, pointed teeth barely visible through leathery lips...a Lithrallian, he realized. Zartsi? No, Zartsi’s eyes were piercing blue. This one had pale brown irises. The Lithrallian spoke, voice painfully loud, words a series of hisses and occasional harsh consonants. Takeda rotated his eyes over the Lithrallian’s shoulder to see three others standing over him, watching him, clutching rifles. They were armored in gray leather augmented with vambraces and greaves of some shiny red material. Did any of them speak Imperish? Likely not. Only diplomats, nobles, merchants, nobles, and exiles would have any reason to learn human languages. Or maybe he was only hallucinating. There was no way a group of Lithrallian warriors could be here, on Caulthor, in the heart of Jezai Tong’s fortress. Liun...hadn’t she mentioned that a fleet was attacking Caulthor? Had the attackers hired Lithrallian mercenaries? Too many questions. Too little information, and no energy whatsoever. Takeda let his body go limp as his mind sank at last into blackness. # Nearly eighteen hours had passed since Esheera had finally clambered out of her sweatstained pilot’s cradle aboard the Vulture’s Prize. She had spent most of them sleeping, eating, and taking a tragically brief shower in a military-style refresher that wasn’t much larger than her cockpit. She still felt exhausted as she

Pg. 81
sat on a hard plastic seat bolted into the wall in a tiny corridor with unpainted walls. A Rover her age didn’t come through a battle between fleets, evade death a dozen times, and re-rig her comm dish in the middle of a dogfight without losing some energy. The door to her right opened, and a tall figure hobbled through, wrapped and rewrapped in fresh bandages with his arm immobilized in a splint. Zartsi. Esheera had learned of his survival several hours ago, but hadn’t even had a glimpse of him since. She smiled and felt tears in her eyes. “I’d hug you,” she said, “but I don’t think you’d appreciate it.” The Lithrallian cringed slightly. “You would send me back to surgeons,” he hissed. “And have to face bodyguards.” “I’ll save it for when those gashes are closed, then. You want the seat?” Zartsi rattled his head back and forth slightly, careful not to jar his neck. “No...but hold this.” He extended his right arm, which had been cradling a large box shaped from red-tinted wood with gold caps on the corners. Esheera took it with both hands. It weighed easily twenty pounds. “Do I know what this is?” she asked, feeling slightly unsettled. “Soon you will see,” Zartsi breathed, using his now-freed right arm to prop himself up against the bulkhead. His chest heaved as if he was struggling for breath. Esheera couldn’t

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
help feeling some motherly concern. “Speaking of bodyguards...why aren’t they pinning you down in bed right now?” “Outside. I persuaded them. This is important visit.” The door on Esheera’s left slid open, and a young med-tech in a fresh white uniform stepped through. He slid to one side of the corridor, leaving enough space for Esheera and Zartsi slip by. “The patient is awake,” he said, voice soft. “Please don’t tax him. He’s lost so much blood I’m honestly surprised he didn’t die hours ago.” Zartsi pushed off the wall, and he hobbled after Esheera as they both entered the medical ward—one of the small sick bays aboard the Endless Dawn, with forty beds, every one of which was now filled with marines, technicians, weapons operators, and fighter pilots who had been wounded during the battle. Severity ranged from minor concussions and fractures to a man whose legs had been crushed to pulp and another whose entire chest was a blackened crater. Esheera led Zartsi through the ward and into a small alcove in back, separated from the other patients by a heavy plastic curtain. Zartsi had needed to pull rank to get Takeda even that much privacy. They found him stretched out beneath a thin, gauzy blanket, his face invisible beneath a mask of sterile gray bandages. The blanket sagged down where his left leg should have been, outlining the stump of his truncated thigh. Five separate IVs ran into his arms and remaining leg. But he was alive, breathing, his deep brown eyes visible through a slit in the bandages. Esheera felt a deep glow flare up in her heart. “Tak,” she whispered. “Can you talk?” She had to bend close to hear his muffled: “A little. Is it...true that you brought this fleet?” She laughed. “That was mostly Zartsi. I just served as chauffeur.” Takeda’s eyes rolled towards Zartsi. “It’s true?” Zartsi nodded. “I am Prince-Heir of Lithral Kingdom, and always have been.” “You should have told me earlier.” “I did not wish...I was in exile, and I didn’t want you to know why. You would not have believed me anyway.” Esheera couldn’t tell through the bandages, but Takeda looked like he was smiling. “Probably not. Belar doesn’t get many foreign princes.” Takeda shut his eyes, and for a moment Esheera thought he would sleep again. He continued speaking, however. “You heard that I killed Tong?” “Heard from my Red Greaves,” Zartsi hissed. “You should thank Traszhi and Petiss— they gave you field aid, carried you to surface, and loaded you aboard transport.” “What do things look like now?” Zartsi shrugged. “Chaotic. It is not easy to secure entire planet, and there are many Hands. Fighting continues at Tong’s fortress and several other locations. Some ships fled system, some self-destructed or tried to ram ours. Men didn’t seem to know what to do with Tong dead.”

Pg. 82

Esheera touched Takeda’s shoulder gently. “Did you find your friend?” “I did...where is she?” “My warriors took her as well,” Zartsi said. “She is being healed.” Again, that twitch of the bandages hinting at a pained smile. “Thank you.” Zartsi shook his head. “No thanks. You killed Tong and cut heart out of enemy. My warriors...have not died for nothing.” “You’re commanding them...” Takeda said. “Does that mean...you’re taking up your rank again?” Zartsi reached for the box in Esheera’s arms, and she handed it over, glad to be rid of it. She was beginning to suspect what it contained. Zartsi braced it against his shoulder, gripping the bottom half with his uninjured right arm, and unlatched it with his jaw. He flipped the box open. The interior was padded with deep red velvet. For a moment, Esheera mistook its contents for a large, oddly rounded shard of obsidian. Then she looked closer. Esheera had seen Lashiir only once, during their fight against the Walking Evils in Nihil’s iron mines. She had gotten a good enough look to recognize Zartsi’s prize as the Clordite’s severed head. Dark blood stained the velvet and sightless, glossy eyes stared out from armored sockets. A curved, knife-edged beak riddled with airholes took up most of the box’s interior. Zartsi bent down and presented it to

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Takeda. Esheera saw the hint of a triumphant smile on in his lips and flared nostrils. “This is what I will present to my father. This, with what I have done for you and for Empire, will be price of brother’s life. It is all I can offer.” Takeda stared at the severed head. “Is ‘congratulations’ the right thing to say?” Zartsi’s jaw opened in a sudden grin, displaying sharp teeth. “It is good enough.” Takeda half-shut his eyes, and his bandaged chest rose and fell with a heavy breath. “Thank you, both of you. For everything you’ve done. I’d be...dead long ago without you.” “Most welcome,” Zartsi said. “I couldn’t have done anything else, Tak,” Esheera said, softly. She bent down over him and gently touched her snout against his forehead. The bandages smelled of disinfectant and, faintly, of blood. Then, she said, “You should rest now. When you recover, I’ll twist Zartsi’s arm and have him pull enough cash out of his royal coffers for a night or two’s worth of drinks, and we’ll talk.” “I’ll look forward to it,” Takeda whispered. He shut his eyes, and this time they stayed closed as he slipped into sleep. Esheera held the curtain open for Zartsi, and they left together, him still clutching his box with its gory trophy. The medical officer didn’t seem to know whether to bow, salute, or wave as they left the ward. “I take it you’ll be returning to Lithral soon?” Esheera asked, when they had re-entered the white-lit corridors of Endless Dawn’s lower decks. “I will take some time to recover. I do not want to appear before my father...like this.” Esheera laughed softly. “You should probably go back to bed now. I don’t want to be your cause-of-death.” She turned towards a lift-shaft, to make her way towards the bunk she had been assigned. Zartsi called after her. “Esheera!” She turned. It was the first time she could remember that he had actually called her by name. “What?” He blinked slowly. “What will you do, now?” She smiled. “Good question. The Prize is in bad shape—if I had flown her for much longer, something in the engine would have slipped out of place, and the whole thing would have exploded. So I guess I’ll take a solid three months and see if I can hammer her into something really worth flying. After that...I can’t exactly go back to my clan, flying a Suto ship.” She leaned against the bulkhead, tapping the metal gently with her fingers. “I guess I’ll do what I was doing when I met you and Tak. Travel. Make whatever money I can off small shipments and passenger fares. It’s not a bad life, and it lets me fly where I like.” Zartsi blinked again and cocked his head, as if considering something. She waited patiently through a long moment of silence. “Humans do not like Rovers,” he said, a statement.

Pg. 83
She shrugged, jangling earrings and beads. “True, a lot of them don’t. But there are exceptions, and it’s nothing I haven’t grown up with.” “There is...another option. You could come with me.” It took her a moment to process that before she could respond. “And do what?” “Be my personal pilot. You would fly best ships in kingdom, have access to parts, have whatever pay you asked. You would not have to fly Suto ship.” Esheera ran one hand through her braids, rattling the beads knotted into them, and ransacked her mind for a good reason why she should turn down his offer. Even if she did manage to find another ship, the Nii wouldn’t forgive her quickly for deal pact with the Suto. And after the last few months, as chaotic and nearly lethal as they had been...living alone again, with no real companion except her ship, wasn’t honestly the most appealing prospect. And, in her heart, Esheera didn’t think it was what Jaggo would have wanted. “I don’t speak Lithrallic,” was the best objection she found. Zartsi laughed softly. “You would pick up quickly.” “Imperish-speaking tutor?” “As many as you wish.” Esheera smiled and dipped her head in a slow nod. “I don’t see how I can refuse. I’ll just

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
have to get used to those faces of yours.” Zartsi shook his muzzle self-consciously. “What is wrong with face?” “Never mind. Get some rest, Zartsi.” When she lay down to sleep on a hard military-issue cot that night, Esheera realized that, for the first time since she had lost the Ixlu Seer, she was truly happy. # Takeda floated slowly out of a sleep as dark and dreamless as the depths of an ocean. Instead of sunlight, he found only pain on the surface—burning aches that no painkiller could fully tame. The room was dim, lit a few pale-blue light panels. The medical ward was on night-cycle. Takeda glanced up at his IVs. They had been changed recently, and continued to pump blood, water, and nutrition into his ravaged veins. There was nothing he could do to speed his recovery except lie here and wait until a medical officer came to check on him, perhaps give him a fresh injection of sleep drugs. Then he noticed a dark figure sitting by his head. The blue lights faintly illuminated a mist of white hair clinging to her scalp, and her torso was white with bandages—but she was, apparently, strong enough to sit. She moved slightly. “You awake...Tak?” Takeda stared at her for a moment before his lips could shape her name. “Sherri?” “Yeah. It’s me. How are you feeling?” “Not that good.” She laughed softly. “Me neither. Looks like I’m better off then you, then.” She stared at him for a long moment, as if drinking in his bandaged face. “You killed him?” Takeda nodded very slightly, careful not to move his spine much. Sherri shut her eyes. “He’s part of the reason I’m here now. I had... nightmares. Bad ones. The med officer said I might as well move around, since sleep wasn’t doing me any good.” “How long did he have you?” “You know, I can’t answer that at all. Too long. Much too long. I still...have trouble thinking about it.” Takeda wished his bandage cocoon would allow him to reach for her hand. “You’re free now,” he said. “And he’s dead.” She smiled weakly. “Thank you.” “You’re the one who saved my life. He would have killed me if you hadn’t come when you did.” “He did give me...some enhancements. Just my muscles and speed, I think—I don’t have your armor or weapons. I guess that’s my consolation prize. What kind of...how hurt are you, exactly?” “Well, my skull will have permanent cracks, and the med staff says I’m on bed rest for at least a month. I don’t think all of my armor survived that battle intact—it’ll have patches if I ever use it again. I’m honestly glad.”

Pg. 84
They dropped into a long, peaceful silence interrupted only by the sounds of their breathing. Takeda rolled his eyes to stare into hers. The blood had drained out of them, leaving them pale in the blue light. His eyes had adjusted enough to see the pale scars on her face, including a prominent mark on her forehead. “Is Liun alive?” Takeda breathed, at last. Sherri nodded. “They’re holding her as a political hostage. I think it’s mostly an excuse to protect her, though—they’re not sure what the Hands would do to her with Tong dead.” “She didn’t lead them.” “No. If they try to blame her for anything that bastard did, I’ll make sure they know how wrong they are. She helped me when I was... down there.” Sherri smiled. “Actually, I heard a rumor that they’re going to install her as the new Countess Caulthor, as a step towards rebuilding the planet. Lords knows there’s a lot of work to do on that hell.” Takeda’s mind traveled back to the long days of waiting in a dark apartment in one of Caulthor’s dome cities, hoping desperately that the Hands didn’t find him. He hoped David was alive, that Tong hadn’t been able to trace Takeda back to him. The man deserved a good life. Takeda would have to visit him, someday. But not for some time. Takeda knew, deep down, that he never wanted to see Caulthor again. The world held too many horrifying memories, too many half-waking nightmares that still lurked in the darkest crannies of his mind. To him it would always be Tong’s domain, a world of fire and shadows.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

Memory Wipe Chapter 24, Memory Reborn, Part Two by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“Any idea what you’re going to do now?” Sherri asked, softly. “I don’t know, exactly...I don’t even know if they’ll let me go.” “What do you mean?” “I’m a living weapon, one of Tong’s Hands—for all they know I could have dormant programming to assassinate the Count. And there’s still an order for my arrest on charges of cop-killing.” “Vass is dead, isn’t he? That’ll never stand up.” “Vass doesn’t matter. The charge is out there.” She shrugged, then winced, then smiled. “Hey, look at it this way: you’re friends with the future Serpent King. I’m sure he could flex a little muscle for your sake.” Takeda smiled weakly beneath his bandages. “Maybe.” “Out of curiosity, Tak...if that charge does get pulled...would you ever consider coming back to Belar?” Takeda looked into her eyes again. Despite her scars, despite her half-grown, snow-white hair...Sherri was still beautiful. As beautiful as she had always been. She had always been a good friend to him in his three years on Belar. Had she ever wanted to be something more? “All my happiest memories on Belar,” he whispered. “Memories of you.” She looked surprised, eyes opening slightly. Takeda was tired and in pain, and this night felt more like a dream than reality. But now, he knew what he wanted, and he continued: “Sherri...will you marry me? Come back to Belar with me?” “Marry you...now?” “When we’ve both recovered.” Her mouth opened wide in a bright grin. “Well, good. Tying the knot now wouldn’t be much fun.” “You mean...” “Yes, Tak. Absolutely yes.” She bent down suddenly, holding her sides with her hands, and pressed her lips onto his eyes, one after the other—the only parts of him that were exposed. Her lips were dry but warm. “Let’s make some good memories together, Takeda Croster.” She remained sitting there, watching him with love glowing in her eyes, as Takeda drifted into sleep with a smile on his face. The nightmares were behind him at last, and a lifetime of happiness had begun to rise over the horizon. He intended to enjoy every moment of it.

Pg. 85

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

Sean T. M. Stiennon

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008

The RGR Time Capsule
Sci-Fi news from the Ray Gun Revival forums
RGR Date: November 18, 2008
Readers Happier Than Couch Potatoes

Pg. 86

November 2008

Roy Batty “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=2392 Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the People who watch a lot of TV aren’t as happy Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be as people who read. lost in time... like tears in rain. Time... to die.” Roy Batty “The pattern for daily TV use is particularly dramatic, with ‘not happy’ people estimating http://www.empireonline.com/100-greatestover 30 percent more TV hours per day than movie-characters/default.asp?c=79 ‘very happy’ people,” the study says. “Television viewing is a pleasurable enough activity with no lasting benefit, and it pushes aside time spent in other activities -- ones that might be less immediately pleasurable, but that would provide long-term benefits in one’s condition. In other words, TV does cause people to be less happy.” The study, published in the December issue of Social Indicators Research, analyzed data from thousands of people who recorded their daily activities in diaries over the course of several decades. Researchers found that activities such as sex, reading and socializing correlated with the highest levels of overall happiness. Watching TV, on the other hand, was the only activity that had a direct correlation with unhappiness.

Boba Fett Finest Hour: Tracking Han Solo to Bespin, by hiding in the garbage. Sneaky bastard. http://www.empireonline.com/100-greatestmovie-characters/default.asp?c=54 Luke Skywalker Why He’s On The List: Mark Hamill gets a bad rap, and it’s undeserved. OK, so when we first meet Luke Skywalker, he’s a whiny little bitch, but as the series progresses and Luke flirts with the Dark Side, Hamill - face and soul ravaged by a car crash - injects just the right amount of gravitas to make the arc believable. Much more so than Hayden Christensen’s attempt at the same with Anakin, anyway. http://www.empireonline.com/100-greatest-movie-characters/default.asp?c=51 Mal Reynolds Why He’s On The List: Poor box-office aside, there’s no taking away from the fact that Mal is one of the best characters in recent sci-fi. It’s largely thanks to Fillion’s solid grasp of the role, playing the ship’s captain as an imperfect leader who’s frequently bested in verbal sparring by his shipmates, but who is unquestionably the top dog among them. Like a Han Solo for the new age, we hope he’ll be given more chances for adventure. Finest Hour: Making time for banter with Inara even while springing the Operative’s trap.

RGR Date: November 21, 2008
List of 100 Greatest Movie Characters
http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic. php?t=2399

http://www.empireonline.com/100-greatestmovie-characters/default.asp?c=86

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 49, December 2008