THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

“Tulon Station” by John M. Whalen “Stealing the Rose” by Ian Stewart The Adventures of the Sky Pirate: “The Friar of Briar Island,” Part 01 by Johne Cook Memory Wipe Chapter Three: “To the Stars” by Sean T. M. Stiennon

“Blue Cluster: Frozen Worlds,”  by  René Mulder

Issue 06 September 15, 2006

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Table of Contents
Overlord’s Lair: Firefly and the Art of Theme, by Johne Cook and Paul Christian Glenn 3 Tulon Station, by John M. Whalen 4 Stealing the Rose, by Ian Stewart 11 Featured Artist: Rene’ Mulder 21 The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, The Friar of Briar Island, Part 1, by Johne Cook 24 Memory Wipe Chapter Three: To the Stars, by Sean T. M. Stiennon 33 The Jolly RGR 49

Overlords (Founders and Editors): L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Ray Gun Radio: Taylor Kent - founder, director, and producer, all things audio John “JesusGeek” Wilkerson - RGR Disinformation Specialist Venerable Staff: A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand, newshound L. S. King - copyeditor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, editorials, chief, cook, and bottle washer Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Taylor Kent, Scott M. Sandridge, David Wilhelms Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Cover Art: “Blue Cluster: Frozen Worlds,” by René Mulder Without Whom... Bill Snodgrass, site host, Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin, mentor, confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing Special Thanks: Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com All content copyright 2006 by Double-edged Publishing, a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.

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Overlord’s Lair:
Firefly and the Art of Theme, by Johne Cook and Paul Christian Glenn
Paola Corso writes about the art of integrating theme and story in the August issue of The Writer magazine: “it’s not the who, what, where, and when, but the why that gives meaning and elevates your writing to a thematic level…finding the significance behind what happens in a story will give it dimension and resonance.” The Overlords have been thinking a lot about the role of theme in new space opera, and Joss Whedon and Firefly are never far from our collective attention. This Editorial plays with the idea of ‘theme’ and the Firefly TV series. What follows are thoughts plucked from all three of us, and the particularly brilliant bits are as likely as not from Overlord FireflyFellow, a film director in his own right. One of the things Joss does so well is marry themes to characters. In an ensemble situation, you’ve got any number of themes to play with, but they all function to support the overall theme of the series. Joss is a bit sneaky, and just writing that statement is, itself, an understatement. With Joss, you don’t realize that he’s had a theme working until later when you can’t get something or other out of your head. For instance, we’ve never thought about a show after watching it as much as we have Firefly. It’s one of the reasons we keep going back. There’s always something waiting for us, something new to chew on. Also, that’s an interesting quandary for some of us, as we tend to write from themes, rather than looking for them after the fact. Usually any given story idea begins with a theme, not a character, event, location or whatever. It’s fascinating to observe that Joss went home and wrote the lyrics to his theme song first, before writing the pilot, before anything else. Think about it—he got his inspiration for the rest of the Ray Gun Revival series from his theme song. It’s right there, not after-the-fact, written by a studio musician, but something deliberate, written first by the creator. So with that setup, the Overlords were musing one day and started to try to determine some of the obvious themes for the various episodes. It’s worth noting that we didn’t agree on all of these, and that we are admitting up front that there are many more that we haven’t thought of or embraced yet. We thought it would be an interesting exercise to go through and try to sum up the one-word theme for each episode. For example, ‘Ariel’ could be well be ‘loyalty.’ Without further ado, here’s one stab at the thematic elements of Joss Whedon’s Firefly TV episodes: 01 Serenity (Pilot) – family 02 The Train Job - integrity 03 Bushwhacked – what does it mean to be human (expository) 04 Shindig – being out of place 05 Safe – sacrifice 06 Our Mrs. Reynolds – lust 07 Jaynestown – glory 08 Out of Gas – love of others 09 Ariel – betrayal 10 War Stories – trust 11 Trash – greed 12 The Message – justice 13 Heart of Gold – the danger of love 14 Objects in Space – revelation We have much more to say on this topic, but those musings won’t fit in this editorial, so I’ll publish those thoughts separately in the forums for you to chew on. Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen

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Tulon Station
by John M. Whalen
ome on, they “Cminds,” thebeforesaid. change their man The woman looked up at him and then at her Tulon captors. The man had put a laser-sighted electron rifle, three thermo blankets, six pairs of Krylor boots, and a case of Thompson Synthwhiskey down on the table. He was a tall man, lean and hard-looking, dressed in a blue tunic, dark grey pants, and knee-high Krylor boots. An electro-pistol was strapped to his leg in a Velcro holster. The Tulons, six of them, dirty, smelling of foul living, and dressed in their customary desert garb, stood nodding their heads, thinking what a good deal they had made. She got up from the floor where they had kept her chained to the wall. The man took her by the arm and led her out of the hut into the hot desert sunlight. They walked to his Hover-Jeep. He let her open her own door and got in behind the wheel. The leader of the Tulons and one of his men came out of the hut and stood there looking at them, as he started the vehicle. She was afraid, the way they looked at her. She felt the Jeep lift up and then they were moving. She could not take her eyes off the rear view mirror on her door. She watched the Tulons recede in the distance, praying they did not get into their hover vehicles and come after them. After what she’d endured the last two weeks, she could not face that again. Finally satisfied they were not in pursuit, she let out a sigh and sat back in the seat. She looked over at the man who had bartered for her. “Thank you for getting me out of there,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” the man said, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “Who are you?” “Brand, ma’am,” he answered. “How did you find me?” “I heard the Tulons had a woman captive,” he said. “They’re usually willing to give up a captive, even a female, in exchange for things they really need.” She smiled ruefully. “I guess a woman’s life isn’t worth very much on this planet,” she said. “No, ma’am,” he said. “Nobody’s life is worth much here. This is an oil-rich planet

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"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen
that made the most of the Earth’s dependency on fossil fuels. The oil companies sent exploitation teams and made this one of the richest planets in the galaxy. But when Earth converted to Digital Atomic power, this place went bust. Nobody needed oil anymore. The oil companies went bankrupt and left Tulon high and dry. The Tulons were left to try and exist anyway they can.” She looked at him carefully. “You almost sound sorry for them.” “They’re victims as much as anybody else. It’s the big corporations that are to blame. First it was the oil companies, now it’s the Digital Atomic conglomerates. Everyone’s at their mercy now.” “Well, I’m sure that at least one of those conglomerates, as you call them, will make your rescue of me well worth your while. As Senior Vice President of their interplanetary development division, I’m sure Virtual Fuel must have posted a substantial reward for my return.” “Could be, ma’am.” “You don’t know?” she asked. “There isn’t much in the way of communication out here,” Brand said. “Then how did you know I’d been kidnapped?” “Like I said, I’d heard they’d taken an earth woman captive. I didn’t know it was you.”

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“And you risked your life without knowing anything about me?” “I know what the Tulons do to their female captives,” he said. “For a couple of weeks they would have kept you alive for their own satisfaction, but eventually, being short of food, they’d have killed you. I couldn’t let that happen to any earth woman.” “I see,” she said. “Then I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Myra Steele. My father is Jessup Steele, CEO of Virtual Fuel. I was on a transporter on the way back to earth. I was here closing down the last fuel development site Virtual bought out from Trans-Exxon last year. The transporter crashed. I was the only one who survived. Those savages found me wandering in the desert. I tried to tell them who I was, and that they could collect handsomely if they contacted my father. They just laughed. They have no phones, no radios. They said they didn’t care about money. They treated me like a slave. They—” She suddenly was unable to talk, as the memory of the last two weeks flooded over her. “Best not to talk about it,” Brand said. “Where are we going?” she asked, after she’d pulled herself together. “There’s a relay station not too far away,” he said. “We can stop there. I brought along a change of clothes for you. You can get cleaned

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up. Then it’s a long trip out of the desert to the Transport Center. You can catch another ship back to Earth.”
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stainless steel pot. “You can wash in this,” he said, pouring water from the ten-gallon can. “I’ve got food in the Jeep. I’ll bring it.” A half hour later, she sat at one of the tables, drinking water from a cup and chewing on the Synth-Steak bar Brand had given her. She was dressed in the clothes he brought, which, amazingly, fit her perfectly. “How’d you know my size?” she asked. “Didn’t,” he replied. “Just lucky.” She looked over at him, as he sipped water from the tin cup he held in his gnarled hand. She judged he was in his late thirties. But something about him made him seem much older. His face was lined and creased, and there were flecks of grey in his dark brown hair. “Where are you from, Mr. Brand?” she asked. “Back on Earth, originally from Utah,” he said. “I came here as a kid in the big oil boom. Worked for Trans-Exxon.” “Rigger?” “Little bit of everything.” “When was the last time you were home?” “Never went back,” he said. “Been here twenty years.” “Where do you live?” she asked. “Anywhere I can,” he said. “You can call me a desert rat.”

“Tulon Station,” Brand said. She looked through the Hover-Jeep’s dirty windshield and saw a small, silver, domeshaped building ahead that looked totally abandoned. Brand pulled up in front of it and cut the power. The Jeep sank down on the sand and they got out. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, and temperature was close to one hundred Fahrenheit. Brand opened the trunk and lifted out a canvas sack. He tossed it to her. “There’s a fresh tunic, pants, and some sandals,” he said. “You can go in there and change. There won’t be any water, but I brought this.” He lifted a ten-gallon can out of the back of the vehicle. He carried it to the station. He pushed the stainless steel door open, and saw a scorpio-pede skitter out into the sand on its hundred legs. The place was a mess inside. It had once been a café, where oil workers stopped on their way to and from drilling sites. But now all the windows were gone, the tables were overturned, broken dishes lay shattered on the lunch counter. Brand went back into the kitchen and came out carrying a

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"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen
“Must be a harsh existence.” “Harsh,” he said, “but clean. A lot cleaner than life back on earth. And despite what you might think, a lot more peaceful.” “But surely you must miss civilization,” she said. “What could possibly keep you here?” Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of roaring engines outside. Brand got out of his chair and she followed him to one of the windows. She saw three land rovers. Unlike Brand’s Hover-Jeep, these were old fashioned four wheelers with combustion engines. But like the Hover-Jeep they ran on gas and oil. On Tulon gas was free and there was plenty of it. Three men got out of rovers. They were big men, with electro pistols strapped to their legs. They wore denim pants, Krylor boots. Two wore tank tops and one wore no shirt at all. All three had scarves tied around their foreheads, Apache style. “Who are they?” she asked. “Trouble,” Brand said. The door opened and the men came into the station. The man with no shirt came in first. He was bald, muscular, and had bright blue eyes. The other two followed him, and all three stopped when they saw her and Brand standing there. The man with no shirt looked Brand up and down. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “Brand. I

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thought that was your Hover-Jeep out there. Fancy running into you. Fancy.” “Hello, Dancer,” Brand said. “I might have known it would be you.” Dancer looked at her now, his eyes devouring her inch by inch. When his eyes finally got to her face, he grinned. “Ms. Steele,” he said. He looked back at Brand. “Should have known you’d beat me to her.” He looked back at the men behind him. “Boys, meet Jack Brand,” he said. “Every body just calls him Brand. We go back a long ways. Don’t we, old buddy?” “That’s right,” Brand said. “But I don’t recall that we were ever buddies.” “I guess that’s true enough,” Dancer said. “Matter of fact, you were the one mainly responsible for that time I spent in Tulon Prison.” He turned to the men with him. “See, Brand here worked for Trans-Exxon security,” he said. “Seems somebody made off with a payroll, and ol’ Brand arrested me for it. But I told ‘em I never had nothin’ to do with that robbery.” “You were found guilty.” “They never found no money. If I did that job, what I do with the money?” “There was evidence. Your fingerprints.

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"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen
And the bullet from your gun matched the one found in the payroll guard.” Dancer grinned. “Fancy that,” he said. “Well, what’s the use goin’ over all that after all this time? The main thing is that now you got a chance to make it up to me, Brand. A chance to wipe the slate clean.” “How’s that?” Brand asked. “Simple,” Dancer said. “Just hand her over to us and let us take her in for the reward Virtual Fuel is offering. You do that I might let you walk out of here.” “Just like that.” “They’re offering a sizeable amount for this woman,” Dancer said. He started to move to the side and the men behind him spread out on his right and left. “A million Euro-Creds. Seems her old man owns the outfit. He’s so worried about her, price is no object.” “A million, huh?” Brand said. “That’s right. Funny thing. It’s dead or alive. Seems as if her old man is so upset, he just won’t feel right again until she’s either back safe, or he has proof that she’s no longer alive. Kind of foolish of him, if you ask me. But that’s the way it is.” “I’ll give you one chance, to turn around and get out of here, while you still can,” Brand said. “Don’t make me have to kill you.” Dancer grinned.

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“Fancy that, boys,” he said. “Outnumbered three to one, and he figures he can take all three of us. Fancy.” Myra Steele could stand it no longer. “What’s wrong with you men?” she screamed. “Are you all crazy? Are you such greedy pigs that you’ll kill each other just so you don’t have to share the money? Stop it. If it’s the money you’re worried about, I can guarantee that my father will pay double what he’s offered, if I ask him to. This isn’t necessary.” Brand moved away from her, keeping his eyes on the three men. He stepped sideways until his back was to the lunch counter and the three bounty hunters stood facing him with the windows at their backs. “Three million,” Myra said. “Four million. A million for each of you. Just don’t do this.” “Hear that, Brand?” Dancer said. “Four million Euro-Creds. Ain’t that somethin’?” “It’s not too late, Dancer,” Brand said. “Just take your boys and leave.” “Not likely,” Dancer said. “We’ve got things to settle.” As if he’d given some unseen signal, all three men suddenly reached for their electro pistols. But before any of them could even get the weapons clear of the holsters, three blue rays zapped from the muzzle of Brand’s pistol. Three loud reports sounded as the rays burnt

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"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen
large black holes in their chests and they flew back against the wall. They lay unmoving on the floor, smoke rising from their bodies. Brand stood crouched, the Teflon-coated plastic gun in his hand. Satisfied they were no longer a danger, he holstered the weapon and looked over at her. She glared at him in contempt, as he went over to the fallen men. Dancer was still alive. Brand lifted him up. Dancer’s blue eyes looked up at him almost with amusement in them. “Four million,” he said. “Fancy—” Brand let him down. “Are you happy now, Mr. Brand?” Myra said. “Now you don’t have to worry about not getting your full share of the reward. It’s all yours. You’ve been lying to me all along, haven’t you? You didn’t tell me you were a security agent for Trans-Exxon. You acted like you didn’t know about the reward my father posted. You made me believe you were some kind of hermit who’d turned his back on Earth to live clean in the desert. But it was all lies, wasn’t it? You just proved that you’re no better than anybody else. All you want is money.” Brand stood up. If her little tirade bothered him, he didn’t show it. “We’ve four hours of daylight left,” he said. “We can make it to the Transport Center before dark. We better be on our way.”
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They rode in silence the next four hours, as the Hover-Jeep raced over the desert. And as twilight spread its purple and orange light across the sky, she saw the lights and towers of the Transportation Center. Brand looked over at her. “For what it’s worth,” he said. “I didn’t know about the reward. I didn’t tell you I’d worked in security for Trans-Exxon because I didn’t think it was important. And the reason I killed those three wasn’t money. Dancer wanted to settle an old score. Even if I’d turned you over to them, they’d have tried to kill me anyway. And if they’d succeeded, they would have had to kill you, as a witness to murder. Your father made a mistake making that reward dead or alive. They wouldn’t have had anything to lose if they killed you.” She didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t sure she believed everything he’d just told her. Brand docked the Hover-Jeep and she got out. They were greeted by a Customs officer. “Brand,” the officer said. “How have you been, old man?” “Sam, this is Myra Steel,” Brand said. “I believe her father is looking for her.” A half hour later, she stepped out of the Customs official’s office, a thin strip of plastic

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"Tulon Station," by John M. Whalen
in her hand. She expected to see Brand sitting where she’d left him, in one of the waiting room chairs. She wanted to fling in his face the check her father had statted her. But he wasn’t in the waiting room. She turned to the Customs Official. “Where did he go?” she asked. “Brand?” he said. “Probably back out on the desert. He doesn’t like it where it’s too civilized.” “But what about his money? He killed three men to get it.” “Money doesn’t mean much to Brand,” the official said. “Not much use for it out there.” “I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did he do it then? Why does he stay out there?” “He’s still looking for her,” the official said. “Who?” “His sister. She worked at Trans-Exxon Security too. She got taken one day about ten years ago. The Tulons. There’s thousands of them out there. Different gangs, families. Some a lot worse than the ones that took you. Whenever he hears about a woman being held by one of those gangs, he rides out to see if it’s her.” She stood there in stunned silence. “After all this time, though,” the official said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to find her. But still, he keeps looking.” She ran over to a window and looked

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out at the dark desert beyond the Transport Center. A half moon revealed the distant mountains and the long stretch of barren sand that stretched endlessly to the horizon. She thought she saw the tiny sparkling light of his Hover-Jeep making its way in the dark.

John M. Whalen’s stories have appeared in the  Flashing Swords E-zine, pulpanddagger.com, and Universe Pathways  magazine.    Contact  the author here.

John M. Whalen

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"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart

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Stealing the Rose
by Ian Stewart

nearly ran into an imposing figure with a granite jaw and expressionless grey eyes. Seeing that I was trying play it cool, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Well, if it isn’t the new Security guy,” I said cheerfully, and then smiled to show that I meant nothing by it. My cheesy grin bounced off his stony silence and evaporated, and I knew in that moment that we were in Big Trouble. The waves of displeasure radiating away from him were strangely palpable. He’d obviously heard this one before. He spoke in a deep, flinty voice. “I’m not a Security ‘guy,’ I am Dock Officer Qarl Tammeson, and today I’m keeping the dock area in order.” He looked me in the eye. “What are you doing?” And then, after measuring me quickly up and down, he grudgingly added “…Sir.” Security guards have no sense of humor, I observed to the voice in my head. Shari responded in kind. I  wouldn’t  let  him hear you call him a ‘guard’ if I were you.  Officers aren’t especially known for their levity  on-duty. ‘Tammeson,’ he said?

I

was zipping up my Captain’s tunic as I walked briskly around the corner and

I nodded as if in agreement, sending a different message to each of them. The strange thing was that I had the distinct impression that he wasn’t buying it for a minute, and told myself that I was imagining things. In classical paintings, the ‘nimbus’ was a radiant light that appeared as a halo over the head of a saint or sacred person. In modern military equipment parlance, the Nimbus was a Black Ops thought communication tool that had only been successfully tested between members of the opposite gender, and was exclusively issued to lovers because of the intense connection between people. The size of a grain of rice, the Nimbus was injected under the skin and started transmitting as soon as it reached body temperature, which is to say, almost immediately. In practical use, the Nimbus made for some interesting exchanges. For instance, it’s hard to describe the sensation of a whistle in your head, such as the one I was ‘hearing.’ Humorless  is  right, she said, especially if you’re  former  Special  Forces,  and  that’s  just  what’s on the record. There’s a four year gap  here  that  suggests  something  even  more 

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"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
secretive.  You  might  want  to  give  this  one  a  wide berth, she said. I got that last part by myself, thanks, I thought wryly, but it didn’t really translate, thus reinforcing the old adage—there’s no laughter in space. “I’m preparing to head out. We’ll be out of here shortly,” I said, and then realized that I’d said ‘we.’ It was his turn to nod. “Which is your ship?” “The Summer Rose of Amistastia. We call her the Rose for short, and she’s the best ship this side of the galactic tail.” It was the sort of thing a fly-boy Captain might say, just the right touch of breezy arrogance. More to the point, it was not the sort of thing a thief would say. Retired thief, she thought at me, and I thought of how we acquired the thoughttech, and smiled despite myself. He looked at me expressionlessly, then consulted his sleeve. “The Rose is helmed by M. T. Anson,” he said, and looked at the ‘Anson’ emblazed on the uniform I’d taken from the man now stashed in the closet around the corner. “Captain Anson?” he said, and it was a statement more than a question, almost as if we both knew it wasn’t true. I smiled and bowed, perhaps deeper than I should have, but he had this coming.

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I may have been acting the part of Anson, but my role as the Captain was genuine, if not, strictly speaking, ‘legitimate.’ Now, please, I thought. You can just make  it  if  you  hurry. She didn’t respond, which either meant that she was on her way, or already captured. I was hoping for the former. We were risking enough as it was. Which reminded me… I wagged one lazy index finger in his direction. “You’re just the man I wanted to see, Officer. I have it on good authority that an attempt will be made today to steal the Rose.” He stared at me. I’d have loved to know what was going on behind those calculating eyes. He spoke slowly, almost coyly, in the fashion of law enforcement types everywhere, allowing one just enough rope to hang themselves. “I haven’t heard anything. How reliable is this tip?” I looked at him with all earnestness and said, “Ours is very expensive information, and I’m quite sure it is correct—someone will try to steal this ship within the next twelve hours, and I intend to make sure we lift off without incident.” All that was true enough, but not remotely the way I made it sound. At that moment, a lithe young woman rounded the corner on the run. I said, “Excuse

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me,” to Tammeson and backhanded her as she passed me, lifting her up off her feet and slamming her against the cold steel corridor wall. I turned back to speak to him but a rowdy buzz had started and my words caught in my throat as I heard her crumple to the floor. An activated sonic baton emits a signature sound and leaves an indelible memory. On the one hand, I was very pleased that he didn’t nail me with his baton then and there. On the other, the active baton was pointed right at me. “Put that away,” I snapped. “She’s my vassal.” He met my eyes and any rapport we’d developed before, however sketchy, was long gone. He glared at me for a good, long moment and then deactivated his baton. I realized I’d been holding my breath. I tried not to make a big deal about that and strode forward to stand over the woman. “You’re late,” I snapped. “You were told to prepare for lift-off. This will cost me money, and it will cost you, later tonight!” She whimpered and averted her eyes, a dribble of blood leaking down from the right side of her lip. “On your feet!” I barked, hiding behind my bravado. She shot a pleading look at Tammeson,

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but if my imagination was to be trusted, his gaze was squarely on me and his furious stare could have drilled holes in the back of my head. I heard an explosive sound and I didn’t quite jump, but it was just Tammeson reholstering his baton. It was the first sign of overt emotion from him, and I figured that was a Very Bad Thing. I’d underestimated him, however. “I’ll return shortly,” he said in a steely clipped tone, and abruptly stalked off down the corridor, the de-activated baton thwapping against his leg as he walked. He turned a corner and his footsteps echoed off down the corridor. I rushed to her and dropped down on one knee. I tenderly took her hand and helped her up. “Poured it on a bit thick, don’t you think?” I said brushing her hair back from her face, anxiously searching her face. “Are you hurt?” My voice was full of jovial bluster to cover the anxiety parked like a brick in the back of my throat. My gal is decisive; I’ll give her that. She kissed me firmly to put my fears to rest, however, it was real blood that I tasted on my tongue. I guessed it was from hitting the wall, because I’d barely touched her. She was way ahead of me, as usual. Her eyes sparkled and her voice was playful when she replied. “It takes more than a pulled slap

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and a staged body slam to get the better of me.” I smiled, hoping I was convincing. She was no better a liar than I was, especially in Nimbus-link. Shari thought all this was quite fun, while I was feeling like I’d just invited the eternal enmity of one who could make life very difficult for both of us, for all of us. I very badly wanted to never see him again. At least one of us was having a good time. Shari saw me thinking and grinned impishly. It was strange how she knew my mind so well even when we weren’t physically together, but that’s one characteristic of the Nimbus— actual proximity had nothing on the intimacy of the mind link. Something shimmered in my vision. “It’s  not a danger,” the Training Officer had said to her, “it’s a feature.” I shook my head to shake off the osmosismemory. It was strange ‘remembering’ memories that belonged to someone else. I wondered which of my past memories haunted her, and decided that I didn’t want to know. “If you’ll get the rest of the supplies loaded on board, I’ll arrange the launch codes with the Dock Authority,” I said. “With any luck, we’ll be underway before Mr. Dock Officer Security Guy Tammeson shows up again.” She grinned. “The sooner we’re gone, the better,” she said.

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“This was supposed to be the easy part!” I replied. She nodded, winked, and strode back toward the ship, working it just a little, knowing the effect she had on me. In Nimbuslink, there’s nothing to hide when nothing is hidden. I could spend the rest of my life watching her walk around with the beguiling swagger of a free woman. I had actually turned away when I sensed alarm. I whirled and saw her jump back from a box and stare. I was already running when I saw the stranger appear to her right. I was yelling when I saw him step forward and strike her, driving her back. The blow knocked me out of my sprint in sympathetic response. As I struggled to keep my feet, I saw/felt Shari trip backwards over a crate, fall hard to the cold steel floor, and was still, and I felt her pain as I staggered toward her. I was so focused on her that by the time I sensed something to my right and skidded to a stop, it was too late. I felt the cold industrial plastic muzzle of a blaster roughly scrape my temple. “No sudden moves, you,” said a voice unknown to me. “Hands behind your neck!” “What’s going on?” I grated, slowly complying.

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“We’re stealing your ship, Captain,” he said, and I had just enough time to stop and appreciate the irony before something kicked like a mule and my day turned into night.
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cations back home, and no one was the wiser. The Golden Age was a cruel façade covering the greatest across-the-board destruction of human rights in history. People became the new cash crop, and pirate outfits sprang into business stealing ships, kidnapping people, and hiring them off as brute laborers doing the massive and menial work of creating the new colonies, building the new space stations, settling the new planets. This ship must have seemed like a prime target. The Rose already contained ten thousand sleeping citizens from all walks of life, waiting for the moment of their awakening in a galaxy of great promise, not knowing that some hundreds of them had already been awakened and pressed into service as slave labor in preparation for shipment to yet another new colony. It was chillingly simple, and the men that held us up had the same idea as others before them. I muttered an unmentionable word under my breath, feeling my arms tied behind my back. He had a pinched, rodent-like face and a weird accent. “Now-now, Captain, you’re hardly one to sit in judgment. We know that you’re in the same boat as we are, making money off a ‘captive audience’.“ He snickered,

Slavers. The very word made my stomach roil. When humankind finally leapt into space for parts unknown, there was a great optimism about what we could do, about the potential to reap vast personal fortunes from fast, cheap space travel and uncharted planets. We had the technology, we had the resources, we had the motivation—it looked like a new Golden Age. But as fast as computers became, reliable metal laborers were still far more expensive than the human variety, and it soon became clear than any prosperous venture would require some degree of sheer grunt labor, and lots of it until we could build and ship appropriate machinery to help do the heavy lifting. The good news is that there were billions of such willing to take the gamble on space life, and corporations willing to ship them there. The bad news is that the corporations got richer if they didn’t pay them. Those who controlled the space liners and the comm-sats and channels carefully regulated all communi-

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
plainly mimicking somebody else’s cleverness. “This time, you’re going to ride in back with the rest instead of up front with us.” “Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said evenly, my heart sinking. I fought to keep the despair from my face. He came forward and got in my face. “That there is what you call ‘irony’,” he said. You have no idea, I thought. Ugh, she sent, and I could almost taste the blood from the left side of her mouth. My heart surged when I realized she was conscious. I also felt the strange urge to pee. Stay down, I sent, but I knew that was pointless, a symbolic gesture at best. I knew my girl. My captor grabbed my jaw and roughly examined both sides of my face. Then, over his shoulder, “This one’s a bit banged up but otherwise salable. Check on the woman.” I heard footsteps, then “Hey, she’s OOF—” and I felt the ghost impact with my foot and travel up my leg. It wasn’t hard to know what she’d done. Thanks,  Shari,  but  please  find  someplace  to  hide—you’ve  just  become  a  target. It’s bad enough to feel helpless by myself. Now I was feeling helpless from both of us. I had to do something. I sprang to my feet, or started to, but the ties around my ankles tripped me before I got

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going and the ties around my wrists behind my back kept me from putting my arms out. As a result, I lurched up and pitched forward, and then I caught the deck with my face.
#

The words corresponded to the pounding in my head, Jack. Jack! JACK! The thought was somehow so oppressive that I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t breathe. Your pain! I can’t… Oh, yeah, I had to be broadcasting my pain all over the place. I didn’t blame her for cutting the connection, even while knowing what it cost her to do so. The Nimbus is no respecter of niceties. Clearly, saving her myself wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to do something else. But what else could I do? However, even while I should have been thinking about alternatives, something else was niggling around the edge of my awareness, and then I had it. Despite the pain in my face and the blood in my mouth, something else was wrong. I could detect a Nimbus connection even though she’d turned hers off. So that was the question; if she had deactivated her Nimbus, who was it that was walking up the hallway? And as a follow-up question, who else around here had an active Nimbus connection that I

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
could possibly hone in on? My eyes flickered open and I set the mystery of the Nimbus aside for the moment and concentrated on more pressing issues, like how to breathe with Rat-face’s bony knee digging painfully into my chest. “Where’d she go?” he yelled over the din of the conveyor belts that were somehow running. I’d missed then being activated, somehow. “There’s six of us and two of you, and your time is running out. Tell me what I want to know right now.” I looked him in his beady little eye and got the message; tell him what I knew or I’d never draw a full breath again. It wasn’t so much a thought as a realization; the entire left side of my face hurt, my nose was aggrieved, there was blood in my mouth, my lungs were already starting to tingle, and my chest hurt where he leaned on it with his knee. Despite all that, I realized that I’d rather die than sell her out, and rested content with that determination. Especially since I had no idea where she’d slipped off to. My vision was starting to go and my thoughts got all mixed up and fuguey, like when I’m just starting to slip into a dreamstate when I’m not fully awake, not fully asleep.

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And that’s when the collection of niggling clues rolling around in the back of my head came together and I finally realized that I knew what it was: Black ops, his own Nimbus, watching me instead of her, waves of displeasure, not being fooled... Oh my deity, how could I have been so blind? My eyes left Rat-face and I looked past him although I knew the answer even before I saw Tammeson come into my field of vision. It occurred to me that he was onto me, and now I was onto him, but he wasn’t onto me being onto him. It also occurred to me that I was beyond lightheaded by this point. I’d never heard of successful Nimbus connections within gender, much less between total strangers, and yet... I tried to focus my eyes and looked past Rat-face’s knee, and there he was, quietly taking it all in. Dock Officer Tammeson was squatting behind a crate and he was looking right at me with a clinical dispassion, apparently none the worse for the mental wear. He nodded, once. My hunch was correct. Now what? Six, I thought. He continued to look at me, waiting. So much for that. I closed my eyes. They were closing anyway. Six! I thought. SIX!

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
His eyes snapped wide open and his fingers shot out, five on the left hand, the index on the right. I sensed this through Nimbus feedback instead of seeing it. He nodded once and rose to his feet. He loosed his baton from his hip, slipped the loop over his right hand, and spun it briefly with his left hand to take up some of the slack. Then he walked into the room and stepped into the light. He radiated calm, which, under the circumstance, was the polar opposite of ‘safety.’ He tapped Rat-face lightly on the shoulder with the sonic baton. My persecutor twisted around to look and got a full dose of noise upside his head. It snapped his head around and he crumpled back and fell in a heap behind me, his energy weapon falling toward the deck. Rolling forward with a dexterity known to wall-ball players, Tammeson snapped the pistol out of thin air and then bounced nimbly to the balls of his feet. I took a great rasping breath and my eyes snapped open. Tammeson did that twice more, walking up to a slaver, tapping them on the shoulder, and then putting them down with his baton. That left three more. I’d gotten my breath back enough to sit up. Officer Tammeson returned to me long enough to loose my wrists and ankles. I was grateful for that, but he wasn’t done.

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Looking down at me, he deactivated his baton and extended his left hand and pulled me to my feet, pressing a pistol into my hand. I noted that it was set to a stun setting. He split his fingers into a V and pointed at his eyes. Watch  me. Yeah, I got that. He didn’t seem surprised. He took the one on the left, and I took the one on the right. I waited until Tammeson started his swing and then took my guy with a snap shot to the back of the neck. However, as our two went down, the final one got away. I started to go after him but Tammeson waved me off and let him run. “He’s not going anywhere,” he said, and I believed him. Five minutes later, the Rose was back under our control, and Shari joined us from over by the conveyor belt that she’d started while I was out, and we arrived at the moment I’d been secretly dreading. I hoped to Sanctuary that I wasn’t broadcasting that all over the dock.
#

He said “Well, ‘Captain Anson,’ we’ve successfully avoided one theft...” “Well done, Officer,” I said, and then carefully raised my hands as he turned and trained his weapon on us. He came over to retrieve his stunner and I saw him look at my

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
wrist as he took it out of my hand, and I hoped my sleeve was covering the tattoo. “Therefore,” he said, “that just leaves the original plot to deal with.” I looked at Shari and wondered if she was able to read my mind without using the Nimbus. Her crestfallen expression was clear enough without it. “The real Captain Anson is actually the man who brought me here,” Tammeson said, “…but there’s no way you could have known that. Nor could you have known that the Security Officers have their schedules switched at random to avoid little payoffs like this one. My predecessor will be removed, of course. I suspect he’ll be allowed to keep his thirty pieces of silver but will be sent packing on the next ship out of here. “Which brings me to you two. Yes, I was eavesdropping on your Nimbus,” he said, and that gave me the opening I’d been looking for. “We know you’re ex-Floda Squad,” I said, “but that’s not all, is it? There’s more that’s not on the record.” He looked at me without replying. I took that to as a ‘yes.’ I continued. “I’m betting that the Military had the Nimbus developers put in some kind of ‘backdoor’ functionality that nobody else knows about it.” He smiled for the first time, but it was a fleeting thing. He changed the subject.

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“You said you knew there was going to be an attempt to steal the Rose today, but you weren’t counting on there being two groups vying for the same vessel at the same time. I’ll give you this much—you were right about an attempt on the ship. Taking your statement at face value, after leaving you earlier, I went and found their ship and impounded it—it’s not going anywhere.” That made sense to me. It explained where he’d gone earlier, and why Tammeson didn’t chase the one remaining slaver just now— there was nowhere left to run. The remaining slaver was trapped here just as thoroughly as the sleepers he sought to enslave. Tammeson continued. “What you didn’t tell me was that you were the group who were going to steal the Rose, and why. That’s why I came back, to put things in order.” The way he said that sent shivers down my spine. Shari held me tight and looked up at me with brimming eyes, but didn’t send to me. “Good girl,” I thought to myself. I would miss her. I was thinking along these lines when he spoke again, and I almost missed it. “In my line of work, I know what the tattoo on one’s wrist means, the brand of an enslaved person.” I said nothing. He continued. “You know, I wasn’t planning on leaving the kind of ‘work’

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

"Stealing the Rose," by Ian Stewart
I was doing, but I received word from Terra that my youngest brother was coming to see me on his way to Florimel Five, and I discovered that I was looking forward to seeing him on his way through.” He looked at me with those deep, expressionless eyes. “I received word later that his ship had been stolen in transit. It’s likely that instead of the freedom of the colonies, he’s discovered the slavery of the very corporations that ultimately paid my wage.” I blinked. This wasn’t going the way I’d feared. I discovered that I was starting to hope again. Tammeson continued. “I resigned and spent four years tracking down lead after lead until all my leads and all my savings dried up. I had to find someplace central, so I came here as a last resort and took a job for an arguably shady employer where I stood the best chance of uncovering certain jobs. Like this one.” That made sense to me. This was a remote but crucial way station to the stars, and he was perfectly positioned to get news of his brother if such were remotely possible. I knew, as he did, that it was the longest of long shots. I also knew the lengths that desperate people would go to win freedom for themselves or those they loved. Tammeson turned away from me,

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thinking. “The real Captain Anson earned a reputation as a cruel opportunist. Perhaps his reputation will fare better after today,” he said. Then, turning and measuring me with his eyes, he nodded his head to himself and abruptly said, “Well, I’m going to go see to the escaped slaver.” He looked me square in the eye. “I expect that you’ll be here when I return.” Then he spun on his heel and strode off, his military boots click-clicking down the cold steel hall. It took me a moment to realize what he had said, and more to the point, what he hadn’t. I slowly dropped my arms, took Shari’s hand, and started running to the Rose. That’s when we heard it. It’s hard to describe the sensation of a whistle in your head, but we both sensed it at the same time, and smiled. Somewhere, Dock Officer Tammeson was whistling.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart claims to be a missionary on furlough from Mongolia,  with a life-long love of space opera.   Husband of one, father of two, friend to  many, Ian is truly a man of imagination.   This is the first story to bear his name.

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

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Featured Artist
René Mulder
Name: René Mulder a.k.a. Ray Falling Age: 21 Hobbies: Writing, drawing (both digital and traditional,) video games, photography Favorite Book / Author: To be honest I don’t read a lot, but the books I have read and remember enjoying are: Starwars Episode 1, and part 2 and 3 of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Favorite Artist: That’s a tough one; there are many artists online on deviantart.com whose works I enjoy. I would not know who to pick as my true favourite. I do tend to appreciate artists who take less original subjects and turn them into something so unique and new and personal you’d wish you came up with that yourself. When did you start creating art? I would think as a kid. I have always been very creative. At a young age I drew my first 3D cars and trains on paper. If I would be caught not paying attention, it would be because I was drawing. What media do you work in? For my sci-fi work it’s Photoshop all the way, the digital media. I do still draw my characters and vehicles on paper using my good ol’ fineliners. Eventually I hope to extend to using a tablet and draw my designs in Photoshop as well. Where your work has been featured? My work can only be found on my deviantart account. I am fairly unknown as a sci-fi artist, mostly because my main subject is, in fact, sky photography. It is very hard to get noticed for something when you made a name for yourself for a complete different type of art. I am proud to say actually that Ray Gun Revival magazine is the first to feature my work. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? My work can be viewed in my gallery at http://rayfalling.deviantart.com/gallery/. That link takes you to my Prints. I do not have any sci-fi work available for sale at the moment; however, I can tell you that I am going to work on making many of my spacerelated works available very soon. New works can be Ray Gun Revival Issue 06, September 15, 2006

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expected soon too. I do take requests, so people could ask me for specific pieces and I can get right on it. How did you become an artist? I don’t actually consider myself an artist per se, but my dream started around when I was 10. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, sky photography turned from random interest into almost an obsession two years ago. I started digital sci-fi works last year after spending some time on deviantart.com What were your early influences? Videogames and possibly cartoons. What were your current influences? Dreams, my mad imagination, and videogames. What inspired the art for the cover? I am working on a project called “Dragonstorm.” As a kid, I got this idea for a character. I made that into a videogame idea. I started making comics. As I grew older, the character evolved, it grew over time and changed until it was reborn into this new, epic sci-fi story sometime the last three years. It’s always on my mind like an obsession; it is my life’s work. At some point I found my skills to draw comics to be lacking. Just recently I’ve started thinking and decided to turn it into a novel—best choice I ever made. The story has been in my head for many many years, but the worlds, the creatures the scenes, everything needed to take visual shape. So I started making a guide where I would talk about every possible detail I need to know in order to start writing a novel (after all, a writer needs to be descriptive, too). I started with the history, the background story, then I created the planets that appear in the “project Dragonstorm” galaxy. I had done several space scenes before, but not of the quality I could be happy with. But this new guide inspired me to make specific art depicting the scenes and worlds the characters of the story come across. This particular piece is more or less a mood board, to give me inspiration and a good image of what the galaxy would look like. It is part of a series, all of which can be found in my gallery on deviantart. My favourite is this piece called Eclipse Cluster: Inner region How would you describe your work? I like to say unique, colourful, fantastical, not necessarily the best out there, but I fully support my style and choice of medium. The thing with art that has been done before is, it is necessary to look at others before you start yourself. For me it is important to eventually take a different turn and create your own style and technique. There are gorgeous space works out there but I often see the same things, using the same techniques, same composition, same tutorials used. My work is just starting to blossom really; I have the ideas, some skills and a lot of resources.

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

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Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? My greatest inspiration is the sky. I am a great fan of sunsets and clouds and the sun, I’m sensitive to atmospheric changes and the feeling they give is truly inspirational. All I have to do is close my eyes and all these ideas rush through my head. Dreams have also inspired me in the past. Many of the things I do are project Dragonstorm-related, so obviously a lot is inspired by the story I already have in my head. New ideas often come from walking around my room thinking, almost acting/playing the scenes. Videogames helped me a lot too, I’m trying to take existing concepts and turning them into something unique. What have been your greatest successes? I’m still a small time “artist.” At first it was more or less for fun. Being on deviantart.com has helped me grow a lot and pretty soon I’m going to have to start thinking about the next step to take for my art. I’m really just starting to gain momentum so success has yet to come. Some have already been well-received by the online public, but everything is relative. Have you have any notable failures, and how has that affected your work? Well, in a way maybe. I was in my 3rd year of Graphics Design/Multimedia school, but I had to take a break from that due to personal reasons. At first it really damaged the way I see my work; a lot of times I feel insecure about my artwork, not so much my personal work but also that I had to make for this school. It turned me into my own worst critic and so anything I’d create would just not be good enough for me. The past years I’ve been less of a critic and I’m starting to be fully supportive of what I do; even if it’s not the best, it’s still what I do and what I love. So in that way, something bad turned into something good as well. What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? I am truly a great fan of regular grey pencil and fineliners. Also, I started out digital drawing on MS Paint. I had many good years with that, but then I switched to Photoshop, which proved to be amazing. What tool / equipment do you wish you had? I’d like a tablet so I can do my drawings digital too, rather than having to scan everything I do on paper. Also, this way I can practice my digital paintings which is something I really want to learn. What do you hope to accomplish with your art? I don’t know for sure yet. I guess what’s important to me now is developing a good level of skill and technique so I can create high quality art. I need to build a good portfolio if I want to apply for video game design schools. I’d like to be recognized for my work, but I do think I have a long way to go first. What I’d love the most is to be able to visualize every aspect of my “project Dragonstorm” and making that into a successful novel/game/movie. Ray Gun Revival Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island", by Johne Cook

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
The Friar of Briar Island, Part 1 by Johne Cook
The story so far... Cooper  Flynn  uncovered  and  defeated  a  Qantiin assassin on the island of Patience Bay, Flynn fled in the teeth of a storm to put some  distance  between  himself  and  the  assassins’  guild that now has a life-long contract on his  head, and has spent two years on the run out  on  the open ocean, living  off his  inheritance  and  his  wits.    Now  seventeen,  Flynn  finds  himself floating through life.  All that is about  to change... There’s nothing like dozing on the deck of a small boat in big water. Cooper Flynn was enjoying the privilege of youth, literally floating along in his life, when he sensed a distant thump, more of a concussion than anything. He was just beginning to wonder what that could be when water erupted with a thunderclap in a 20-foot geyser off his starboard bow. His eyes snapped open and he sat up and looked around, trying frantically to get his bearings, suddenly feeling very foolish. He was assailed by multiple waves of shocking information. To begin with, instead of wide-open waters, there were tall green
Ray Gun Revival

islands and some jagged reefs coming up quickly in front of The Lone Wolf. He looked behind him and the news was even worse large warship entirely too close for comfort. Not only that, the ship was flying the signature green flag of the Sylvan Navy. Flynn’s fleeting good humor vanished entirely, engulfed by cold dread. It was said that Haddirron sailors caught by Sylvans became slaves, keeping their thumbs but losing their toes. He had no intention of being someone’s captive without his full array of digits. There were too many decisions to make and no time to work through it all. Think. He noticed that the warship wasn’t alone and appeared to be riding herd on three docile merchantmen. Hmmm...  He had the beginnings of an idea and turned around to see where he was going. He was coming right up on the entry to the Volcanal and realized that he was going to have to make a choice almost immediately—heave to port and go up the straits, or veer to starboard and get out of the shipping lanes and off the beaten lanes into Cyl-knows how many little islands.
Issue 06, September 15, 2006

but  not  before  losing  his  best  friend,  Sandle.  back there. Instead of being alone, he saw a  

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
Flynn grinned, released the leather strap from the rudder, and steered The Lone Wolf  hard to starboard, heading toward a couple of specks in the distance, avoiding the tricky reefs off the Volcanal. As he made his break, the warship fired one last cannon ball but they were well away by now and Flynn breathed a sigh of relief as the Sylvan man o’ war slid back astern and continued escorting its charges up the narrow straits. Flynn picked an island at random and made port later that afternoon at the tiny island of Parrot Bay, closest of two islands south of the Volcanal. Flynn intended to take it slow, sensing that he had been on his own long enough to warrant caution as he went about picking up the trail of his friend’s killer. As they say, “Good intentions and two coins will buy you a mug of rum.”
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on metal poles suspended over a businesslike little fire. He stopped and dug out a coin for a flaky pastry topped with candied fruit while eyeing the meat for later. The dripping juices flaring up in the flames below made his mouth water. He saw a pocket of boys surrounding something on the ground, shouting and yelling and laughing. He walked over to check it out, perhaps a little wistful that his own childhood had been...different. ‘Laugh,’ goes the saying, ‘and the world laughs with you,’ and Flynn had a smile growing on his face as he looked in on what they were playing with. His smile vanished when he saw the slowboy on the ground, and the blood. The rage, so carefully damped, flared up anew in his black eyes.
#

His pulse quickened, Flynn looked around and noticed a number of people watching the scene: a preoccupied shop owner wiping her hands on a towel, an indolent ship’s captain with his feet up on a small table, and a small cleric standing in the doorway of a thatch chapel with his arms crossed behind his back. Her  only  interest  is  that  the  mob  doesn’t  approach her holdings and knock anything over.  The  seaman  is  watching  the  fight  like  some kind of personal floor show for his entertainment,  but  there’s  something  else  there  that I can’t put my finger on. What is the holy 
Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Flynn tied the The  Lone  Wolf at a slip, stretched, shouldered his rucksack, and followed his nose toward the scent of meat roasting on a spit somewhere inland, staggering just a little as he re-acquired his land-legs. Ah,  Civilization, thought Flynn as he looked around at the humble little village with its jumbled fishing nets, oars, and thatch huts. Such as it is, he amended. His nose lured him to a small market that had open stalls and locals selling fish, pastries and breads, fresh fruits, and various meats
Ray Gun Revival

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
man waiting for? Well, I guess that makes me  the savior. Sandle would be amused. Flynn re-adjusted his rucksack and strode forward into the scrum. “Pardon me,” he said pleasantly, shouldering his way through the boys, “...excuse me, pardon me.” The boys fell silent as he insinuated himself into their midst until he stood over the figure on the ground with oddly slanting eyes. If the slowboy’s face had been flattened by birth and not by mean-spirited locals, it was clear that it was not for the lack of trying. A young man with blonde hair and a black attitude had the slowboy’s shirt in his left hand and was standing over him with a clenched fist. The slowboy was whimpering and trying to cover his face behind his arms, tears mixing on his cheek with snot, mixing with blood. “You don’t belong here among your betters!” shouted the bully. Flynn walked up next to the young tough, made a clucking sound, and bent down. He laid his hand gently on the forearm holding the slowboy’s shirt, and sure enough, the offender released his hold. “Up you go,” he said to the slowboy, not unkindly, and took hold of the slowboy’s nearest arm. He leaned in and, with a practiced motion, pulled the slowboy to his feet. “Here we go,” he said. Flynn smoothed the slowboy’s shirt, cast a fraternal arm around his shoulders, and started to walk him
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back through the silenced crowd. The boys were stunned at first, then a voice from the back of the throng said, “What’s he doing, Wrebi?” The blonde-haired tough guy clamped his hand on Flynn’s shoulder. “Where do you...” Flynn stopped. “Do you want to keep that hand, friend?” he said quietly. Wrebi’s hand lifted as if of its own volition. Flynn nodded to him, flashed a brilliant smile, and they pressed forward again. Flynn didn’t have to see it to know what was happening; Wrebi’s face was clouding over as he realized that he’d just been out-maneuvered a second time in as many minutes. His next move would be more overt, and when the hand clamped down on Flynn’s shoulder to yank him firmly back, Flynn was ready. “You can’t just—” Wrebi began. Flynn rolled with the movement and whirled around. Instead of fighting the inertia, he leaned into it and bricked Wrebi under the chin with his rucksack, snapping Wrebi’s head up and back, and lifting Wrebi up off his feet, knocking him flat onto his back in a cloud of dust. Things got very quiet. Flynn stood over him. “You were saying, bubby?” “Oh, ha ha ha! Bravo!” bellowed the captain breezily from his chair, and clapped a couple of times before picking up his glass and topping it off from his bottle. Flynn’s eyes flitted from the captain back to Wrebi.
Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
The latter stirred from his place on the ground and sat up. Then, very clearly, he said, “Ow.” The crowd remained silent as he sat there and gingerly dabbed his bleeding nose. Wrebi moved his jaw from side to side and flexed it once or twice. Then he looked right at Flynn and spoke in a strangely conversational voice. “You know, if I don’t get the slowboy today, the monster will tonight.” One black eyebrow arched, and Flynn said, “Monster.” His tone was deadpan skeptical. The captain laughed heartily. “The monster of Briar Island,” he shouted, pointing with a bottle of rum at the next island to the west, just visible on the horizon. “Ask anybody,” said Wrebi. “Your friend’s hours are numbered.” “The hours are numbered for every man,” said the cleric, striding forward. “Your hours would be better spent elsewhere, today,” he said in a low voice to the group, and made a small gesture of dismissal with his hand. The throng of boys dispersed without argument. Flynn stood there with his arm around the slowboy’s shoulder and watched the scattering with a curious eye. The Archbishop himself should have this much sway over his  local wastrels, thought Flynn. The cleric walked to stand over Wrebi. “Perhaps you should go help your father,” he said quietly. Wrebi’s eyes smoldered, but he stood up immediately without any back-talk. He swatted his pants legs to knock off the dust,
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turned his back, and walked away without a backward glance. Flynn found all that very strange. He put his arm around the slowboy’s shoulder. “Alright, my friend, let’s go get you cleaned up.” The slowboy stopped and grabbed Flynn’s with a surprisingly strong grip. “Thank-you,” he said in a voice that was permanently muffled. Flynn was touched. Ah,  civilization,  he thought.
#

Flynn found an open-air café; and sat his slowboy down at one of the outside tables. “How are you?” Flynn asked. The slowboy nodded blearily, the trickle of fluids from his nose starting to dry. Flynn gently put a finger under the slowboy’s chin and raised it until he looked Flynn in the eye. “I’m Cooper Flynn,” he said, “and if anyone gives you trouble and I’m around, I’ll help you. Do you understand? As long as I’m around, you’re safe.” After a moment, the slowboy nodded again. “Cooperflynn,” he said thickly. Flynn heard the crunching of gravel behind him. He turned in his chair and watched the wiry little cleric approach. Flynn’s expression was guarded. “I’m Cleric Hoster,” he said by way of introduction. “I admire what you did back there.” Flynn nodded. He gestured toward a chair, but the cleric held up a hand. “I can’t stay
Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
long. Are you here with family or a ship?” Flynn shook his head. “I’m here by myself, making my way around the islands on a bit of a sail-around.” “Aren’t you a bit young for that?” Flynn shrugged. “I’m seventeen and have been doing this for a couple of years already as I seek to make my way in this world.” “You certainly seem capable. I assume you have some method of self-defense?” Flynn’s right eyebrow rose, and then he nodded again. “I have a sword,” he admitted, starting to clean the slowboy’s face with a table rag. The cleric smiled to disarm the sting of his question. “Do you know which end to use?” Flynn grinned. “I trained with Master Artus Thannon over in Patience Bay.” The cleric’s eyes narrowed and then he smiled in approval. “You’re a fair distance from home. I am familiar with Master Thannon. He is a legendary swordsman.” This was a good time for prudence, thought Flynn. “Was,” said Flynn. “I killed him with my bare hands for running through a friend of mine.” Sorry, Sandle. I know you’d want me to keep my head down. I’ll never find your attackers if I don’t start giving them a target to shoot for again. “What? Thannon is dead?” Flynn pantomimed a bow from where he sat. “He killed a great man. There is always a cost for murder, and he paid with his reputaRay Gun Revival

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tion, and with his life.” The cleric just shook his head, not following. “Master Thannon killed Tuy Meklanek, and paid for his evil with his own life.” “You bested Thannon with a sword?!” Flynn snorted gently. “With my bare hands. He had a rather...elevated opinion of himself at the time, and that was his weakness. I knew Master Thannon relatively well. He was my mentor with a blade, my weapons instructor, but that was a ruse. He was a covert member of the Qantiin.” “The Qantiin!” The cleric took an involuntary step back, sketching the sacred four-sign over his chest. There was a brief silence as the cleric gathered his thoughts. “You should beware,” he said. “They do not forget, and they do not suffer killers to live.” “A strange policy for an Assassins Guild,” observed Flynn, grinning. “I will keep my eyes open.” “Pray Cyl that will be enough,” said the cleric. Flynn waved his hand. “I leave that to your kind,” he said. “I’m not sure what I believe anymore.” After a moment, the cleric nodded in silent agreement. “Where were you planning on taking him,” he said, gesturing toward the slowboy. Flynn shrugged. “I hadn’t gotten that far,” he said. “Leave him with me,” said the cleric. “In
Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
the meantime, have you eaten?” Flynn shook his head. “I know just the place.” They both stood and Cleric Hoster made to leave, but Flynn remained where he was. The cleric looked back to see Flynn helping the slowboy to his feet. For his part, Flynn noted that the cleric hadn’t given the slowboy a second glance.
#

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do me the honor of introducing me to young Master Flynn here?” She grinned. “Certainly, ‘your grace’.” She looked at Flynn and said, “May I introduce the Friar of Briar Island” and then winked and returned to the bar. The captain bowed with an elaborate flourish. The Friar tossed a large, tri-cornered hat on the table. “Have you had a taste yet today?” Flynn shrugged and said, “A taste of what?” The captain laughed, pulled up a chair, waved for Revena, and sprawled in his chair. She arrived with a dark bottle, uncapped it, and waved the neck under his nose. He winked and she left it along with a couple of pewter mugs. He poured a good bit into each and pushed one across, then held up his mug toward Flynn. Flynn leaned forward and stage-whispered, “I don’t know what you’re doing.” The Friar slapped the table, laughing, then leaned forward himself. “Take up your mug and we tap them together. It’s like shaking hands without the sweaty grip.” Flynn grabbed his mug and held it up, then gingerly touched mugs with the Friar, who looked at him. “You’ve got too much moxy to lead with that,” he said. “Toast it like you mean it!” and thrust his mug out more vigorously. Flynn got a glint in his eye and followed suit, and nearly got a shirtful of success.

Cleric Hoster took Flynn to a nearby public house, showed him to a table, then excused himself and carefully guided the slowboy through a door in back. He returned a moment later and nodded. “You should try the fish and bread here, they’re quite good,” he said, and winked, then excused himself and left. Flynn ordered and was looking around the place, taking in the breezes coming through the windows, when the captain who had been seated at the outdoor café walked in and spotted Flynn sitting by himself. Flynn watched him strut over with a bit of a swagger, hardly weaving at all. “There you are!” the captain bellowed. “Have you got a name?” Flynn looked around to see that he was being addressed. “I’m Cooper Flynn.” The captain flagged down the spirits-tender, a local woman with breeches and braids and a rag tied at her waist. “Revena, would you
Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
The Friar bellowed in laughter. “That’s more like it, lad! You’ll do!” Cleaning his arms with the rag, Flynn looked at his companion. He was swarthy, had a gold tooth, mustache, and goatee, and had his hair tied back in a nape-knot at the base of his neck in the current style. Flynn sized up the man. “I take it you’re from a different order than Cleric Hoster?” The Friar squirted his rum onto the dirt floor and then started slapping the table, howling. With an effort, he regained control, leaned forward, and said, simply, “Yes.” His voice cracked as he said it, and he started laughing again. When his laughter died down, the Friar said, “My title is, what is the word, ‘ironic’.” Flynn politely raised an eyebrow, receiving a chuckle in return. “A friar is one who depends on alms, charitable gifts, for his livelihood of service. I, also, depend on the ‘gifts of others’ for my welfare. In fact, I relieve Sylvan ships of their burden as they pass through our straits, making it harder for them to re-provision Sylvan military ports of call as they press their claim of sovereignty over these islands.” Flynn leaned forward, eyes sparkling. “You’re a pirate?!” The Friar slammed his mug on the wood tabletop, sloshing out more of the foaming brew. “A licensed privateer, I’ll have you

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know!” the Friar roared. “I work for the Queen of Haddirron!” and then inclined his head in mock bow and leaned back with a magnanimous smile. Flynn wondered if the Friar worked for anybody but himself. Thus engrossed, he took his first sip from his mug and nearly spit it out. Wiping his mouth with his shirtsleeve, he said, “What is this we’re drinking? And as a followup question, how much does it cost?” The Friar leaned forward and said “It’s fermented molasses and sugar, and we make it with whatever else we have around; banana, coconut, palu-fruit. A steely-eyed bargain at two coppers per mug.” The Friar raised his mug in honor of itself. “It is the elixir of choice among respectable scoundrels. We call it ‘rum’.” Flynn nodded, filing away the ‘we’ reference, noting that the Friar was also part of a rum-making concern in addition to his other ventures. Flynn began to get the feeling that the Friar had fingers in any number of local ‘industries.’ While kicking these thoughts over, he produced his money sack from his rucksack, pulling out four coppers and pushing the bag off to the side of the table before taking another draft. The Friar made a show of not staring at the bag and Flynn pretended not to notice. “Ah, rum,” said Flynn, and the Friar grinned widely and called for another round.

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
#

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pouch to his belt. He got Flynn’s arm over his neck and effortlessly stood and half-carried, half-dragged Flynn out the door, tossing a “G’night, Revena!” over his shoulder as they pushed through the door. The street outside was lit by a row of lanterns and an intermittent moon. He carried Flynn through the center of the street, nodding to people and proclaiming loud greetings along the way. He reached the turn going down to the dock and stepped aside into the underbrush, coming to a large palm tree. “Psst,” he said. “Took you long enough,” said a voice from the darkness. “This had better be very, very good.” “Oh, I think you’ll find this entirely worth your while,” said the Friar, and reached to his belt, retrieving Flynn’s pouch. “I promised to get this one back to his boat. Of course, if his pouch goes missing somewhere between here and there, we can’t be held responsible for the actions of the sinister element around these parts.” He stuck out the pouch. Wrebi stood forward to accept the pouch. “I’ll see he gets what’s coming to him,” he said. The moon briefly lit the Friar’s face and then went back behind a cloud, and he was reclaimed by the darkness.

Flynn lost track of time as they drank, told stories, ate local fare, and generally carried on. He hadn’t realized how insulated he’d become while out sailing around. Their table became an instant hot spot and people that he didn’t know faded in and out of the picture in a delightful haze of social approval. He hadn’t felt that accepted, part of a group, since Sandle was alive. Flynn started talking about his friend and by the time he was done, there wasn’t a dry eye—or mug—in the place. At one point, Flynn blearily tried to leave and return to his boat, but the Friar was having none of it, and promised that he’d get Flynn back safely. Flynn lost track of consciousness after that and the impromptu crowd dispersed by some unspoken agreement. The Friar poked him in the shoulder but Flynn was busy snoring. Revena stopped by the table. “Do you need any help to take him back to his boat?” “This stripling? I could carry his entire family on my back,” he boasted, and then grinned widely. “If he still had one,” she reminded him, then winked to show she didn’t mean any slight. “That girl’s too observant by half,” muttered the Friar, his attention drawn again to Flynn’s pouch. He looked around the now empty pub and took out a collection of coins and dumped them on the table, then he attached the
Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "The Friar of Briar Island," by Johne Cook
To be continued in Part Two of The Friar of Briar Island.

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Johne Cook
A technical writer / help author by day and  creative writer / editor by night, Johne likes to  write almost as much as he likes to read.  This  heritage of reading was a gift from his dad,  who had a truly impressive library of space  opera and golden age sci-fi paperbacks. Johne is an Overlord—a founding editor—of Ray Gun Revival. A lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, Johne really  isn’t a masochist.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Pg. 

Memory Wipe
Chapter Three: To the Stars      by Sean T. M. Stiennon
before, and he is haunted by nightmares that  The story so far: Three years ago, Takeda Croster woke up in the city of Greendome on  the colony world of Belar with no memories, no connections, and no possessions aside from the clothes he was wearing and an Imperial citizenship card with his name on it.    He  worked  at  the  Silver  Sun  casino,  ignored  by  most,  until  one  night  when  he  began  to  manifest  superhuman  powers  in  a  fight  against  two  corrupt  cops:  enhanced  senses,  great  strength,  lightning-fast  reactions.    He  seriously injured both cops.  Strange dreams  and a feeling of great exhaustion followed the  encounter. Now,  fleeing  the  corrupt  police  force  headed by Captain Brian Vass, Takeda makes his  way  through  the  jungles  of  Belar  to  the  planet’s  only  spaceport,  hoping  to  escape  Vass by fleeing to the stars. With him is Zartsi,  a  mysterious  Lithrallian  hunter  who  saved  him from being killed by a fearsome skitter and subsequently offered his companionship.  Zartsi seems to be a good being, but Takeda  has  never  had  to  trust  anyone  but  himself  make him wake up, screaming and racked by  terrible pains...
#

The spaceport lay in a shallow valley in the jungle, spread out perhaps a mile away from Takeda and Zartsi as they crouched in the branches of a tree. The port’s central feature was a large customs office with enormous concrete walls and windows that gleamed bright in Belar’s sun. Wide stretches of blacktop spread out behind it, speckled with the sleek shapes of waiting Company ships. The rail line ended at a loading platform on the east side of the blacktop, and Takeda could see a large ship there, being loaded up with the goods from a train that had arrived during the night. The other buildings of the spaceport rose up beyond the blacktop—houses for the port’s residents and staff, bars, motels, and brothels for visiting crews, a cluster of lumber mills, and a police barracks. The cops here were independent from those in Greendome, but Takeda knew that their captain was weak. He

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
operated under Brian Vass’ hegemony. Vass preferred to stay in wealthier Greendome, but his control wasn’t limited to the one city. “How are we going to get money for a berth?” he whispered. “Merchant will buy skitter venom and bones. If not enough, we’ll sell pistol, and I have few other things.” Takeda frowned. “Won’t it be suspicious to sell off a police model?” Zartsi smiled, showing his pointed teeth. “Are ways to unload it.” “I didn’t realize Belar had an underworld.” “No. Just men who don’t tell cops everything.” Takeda sighed. “All right. Next problem: I’m going to look suspicious in this uniform.” He glanced down at the Silver Sun uniform he had worn for the past six days. Berry juices, dirt, grease, blood, and sap had turned it from black to a splotched muddy color, and several long rips had been torn in the fabric. His leg was healing well, but the cloth around the wound was shredded and stiff with dry blood. “You wear cloak,” said Zartsi. “I will not look stranger without.” “All right. But if there’s any money left over, we’ll buy me a new set of clothes.” “Agreed.”

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Zartsi slithered down the tree trunk, and Takeda followed. He hadn’t felt his enhanced abilities since the night when the skitter attacked him, but his natural strength had increased a little from his time in the jungle, and the descent didn’t give him much trouble. They jogged beneath the trees side-byside. Zartsi’s rifle slapped against his back, and Takeda glanced at it, still amazed by how crude it was: the magazine held five bullets— which Zartsi seemed to make himself using raw materials—and the barrel was simply a rod of hollow steel with the grooves hand etched. The Lithrallian claimed it was more accurate than factory produced weapons, and Takeda had seen him make impressive shots. He had offered Takeda his other weapon—a battered old pistol with a ten-round magazine and a sawed-off barrel. Takeda had refused, however, because the weapon’s barrel length and the caliber—and design—of its bullets made it illegal under Imperial law. He didn’t want to increase his chances of being picked up by the first cop he met, here or on some world halfway across the galaxy.
#

The two of them emerged from the jungle and strode across a hundred meters of cleared

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
ground. A chain-link fence surrounded the town. It was electrified at night, to discourage skitters and other beasts, but in daylight the only real defenses were small watchposts on each of the gates, almost exactly the same as those in Greendome. Takeda wore Zartsi’s thick cloak, and the Lithrallian wore a suit of reddish-brown leather armor—apparently, he had made it himself from various kills. His ivory daggers were sheathed on his thighs and the illegal pistol was in a holster at the small of his back, concealed by his pack and the rifle he wore over it. “How’s it going, Zart?” one of the guards called as they approached. The man was seated in a sunchair propped against one side of the concrete watchpost, hands folded over his belly. A can of some drink rested on the ground at his side. “Good. Skitter parts to sell,” Zartsi said. He spoke as if he had heard the question a hundred times from the same guard. “Ah. Not the shell?” the man asked, taking a gulp from his can. “I didn’t want to carry shell.” The man smiled. “I see. Just the venom sacs?” “And other things.” “You’ll get plenty of cash for those.” Zartsi nodded slightly. “So I hope.”

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The man turned his languid gaze to Takeda. “And who’s this, wearing your cloak?” Takeda’s heart nearly stopped for a moment, but the Lithrallian answered without a pause. “Man asked me to escort him from Greendome to port. He leaves planet and wished to experience jungle last time.” “Ah. Haven’t gotten lice from that, have you, bud?” the guard asked, chuckling. Takeda opened his mouth and started to answer, then realized that the guard wasn’t interested. His attention went back to Zartsi. “Zart, usually I let you get in without any trouble, but I’m not so sure this time. This guest is suspicious.” Takeda began to hear the guard’s heartbeat as a faint pulsation, and see tiny beetles in the cracks of the watchpost’s wall. His abilities were returning as he sensed danger. He was halfway to drawing his pistol when Zartsi answered, “How much do you want?” The guard looked Takeda up and down appraisingly, then said, “Thirty silvers. Got that much on you, lizard?” Zartsi dug for a moment in a pocket beneath his armor and pulled out a small hide sack that jingled when he shook it. “Thirtyfive,” he hissed. “Buy bottle of perfume. Your stench needs it.” The guard laughed deep in his belly as he reached up to take the sack. “All right, Zart.

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Sure. Go on in, and good luck with the sale. Let me know how it goes, eh?” Zartsi turned away and strode through the open gate. Takeda followed, keeping his eyes on the ground. It had been easy—too easy, he thought. “Do you always pay your way past the guards?” he asked the Lithrallian. Zartsi shrugged, rattling the rifle on his back. “I pay them little money, they don’t report me. I don’t need much—I hunt some food, gather more. Just bullets and such.” Takeda crossed his arms over his chest. He had seen plenty of corruption from Vass’ force—extortion, blackmail, taking bribes to get past various legalities and strings of red tape. He had always hated the cops in Greendome for those reasons and others. Now Takeda saw the Lithrallian trafficking in such corruption himself. Zartsi noticed the pensive expression on his face, and said, “You’re displeased?” “It doesn’t seem right.” “I am here illegally. I would like to keep money, but I pay or get arrested.” “Why are you here, anyway?” Takeda asked, as they walked past the shacks on the fringes of the town. “Aren’t there better worlds for a Lithrallian?” All traces of a smile vanished from Zartsi’s face, and he rubbed his headridge with one

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hand. He stared at the air ahead of him, seeming to see nothing. “I have reasons. Belar is new world—small Company, not many people, only few settlements. Perhaps good place to slip through cracks.” Something tugged at Takeda, telling him not to ask anything more, but he ignored it and continued, “Then why leave now, with me?” Zartsi turned to look at him now, and this time there was a glint of anger in the Lithrallian’s fierce eyes. “You are fugitive, Takeda. Do not ask questions unless you want questions.” Questions. Takeda had a thousand questions, for Zartsi, for himself, for whoever in the galaxy knew what had happened in the twenty-odd years he couldn’t remember. But, for now, he stayed silent. He had been in the Lithrallian’s company for a few days, and had come to like him, but he didn’t know his companion well, and—in many ways—still feared him. Right now, he was half afraid that this hunter would turn him in to the cops for a few Silvers to compensate for the bribe. Provoking Zartsi certainly wouldn’t do him any favors. The dirt path became blacktop, and a battered old truck rumbled past them, throwing up swirls of red dust. The buildings here were made from lightly-colored concrete,

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
and many had small gardens planted around and behind them, green with plants brought in from off-world. A few men and women lounged in the shade, but most were out working, either at the spaceport itself or out in the jungle. “Where are you planning to sell this venom of yours?” Takeda asked. “Here,” said Zartsi, pointing to a singlestory building. Odors of alcohol and smoke wafted from the open doorway, and a name was stenciled in black paint on the concrete wall: The Red Leaf. “A bar?” “Where else?” Zartsi asked, striding towards the doorway. Takeda followed, somewhat reluctantly. Since being hired at the Silver Sun, he had always done his drinking in the casino’s clean, well-lit bars. This was a dark watering hole which served cheap beer and whiskey to freighter crews who couldn’t afford anything better. Zartsi led him past tables crowded with sweaty men whose arms bulged with muscles built up from years of hard work. A handful of pretty waitresses wandered around, serving drinks and plates of greasy food. They took a table in one corner, far from the bar. “Now wait,” Zartsi said. “Bouncer saw me come in. He will bring Reedis.” The Lithrallian signaled to one of the wait-

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resses, paid her a couple Silvers, and soon two plastic mugs filled with watery brown beer arrived at their table. Zartsi took a long pull from his, grimaced, and said, “No flavor. No sting. It would need many hours to get drunk.” Takeda took a sip himself, swallowed, and agreed with his companion. He felt too tense, though, and a little alcohol might help him relax enough not to look suspicious. He sipped it slowly while looking around the room, watching for any man paying too much attention to them. Vass had almost certainly sent a bulletin here, and on a small colony planet like this, criminals weren’t allowed to go free for long. What if one of these spacers recognized him? Thankfully, they were focused on their drinks and their games of dice and cards. When a pale man with long black hair sat down at their table, Zartsi greeted him with, “You have money, Reedis?” “Not so fast, lizard. Let me see it first.” Zartsi reached back into his pack, dug for a moment, and then pulled out a sealed steel bottle. He handed it to Reedis, then swung the pack off his shoulders and dug deeper into it, producing a few sets of skitter talons, strung on leather thongs, and the jeweled lenses of the creature’s eyes. There were a few other things Takeda couldn’t identify, and two more

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
bottles. Reedis examined the first bottle, sniffed it, and nodded. “You got a male in heat. Good venom. And those eyejewels look nice. What do you want for it?” “Cash. Three hundred Silvers.” The man smiled coldly. “Nothing else?” Zartsi hesitated for a moment, and Takeda saw his tongue flick out and moisten his lips. The Lithrallian shook his head. “Nothing else.” “Too bad. I’m not sure I can afford three hundred Silvers. Here, how about this: I’ll take the venom for a hundred, and you can find another buyer for the rest.” “No,” Zartsi said, shaking his head. “You buy all or buy nothing.” Takeda kept sipping his beer while the two haggled. The alcohol wasn’t doing anything for his tension—in fact, it was increasing with every minute he spent sitting in the hard plastic booth, his mouth burning with the beer’s sour aftertaste. He had spent all three years of his remembered life on Belar, but now he just wanted to leave it behind as quickly as possible. They finally agreed on 275 Silvers. Reedis counted out the Silvers, and Zartsi stowed them in a pocket beneath his armor. “Nice doing business with you,” Reedis said, getting to his feet.

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He reached into a pocket of his trousers and pulled out a slim bottle filled with some deep red liquid that smoldered in the tavern’s faint light. “Take this as a bonus,” he said, tossing it to Zartsi, who caught it adeptly. “Drink to my health.” He swept up the assorted skitter parts, then vanished into the smoky haze of the tavern. As soon as he had left, Zartsi set down the bottle and shoved it away angrily. Then he drained his beer and said, “We’ll have to settle for cheapest berths we find,” he said. “I had to pay large bribe, and I don’t think it would be safe to unload pistol.” Not bad news. Takeda didn’t like the thought of being unarmed. “Do we have enough for clothes?” “Yes, if cheap. But we should hurry. From talk around us, couple freighters depart in hour.” Takeda couldn’t help but be impressed. Zartsi had managed to carry on his bartering and listen to the murmured conversations around him at the same time. Takeda hadn’t bothered. If his enhanced hearing had come to him, it would have been easy, but he had no control over his abilities—he didn’t even know if they would ever manifest again. As Zartsi started to stand, Takeda glanced over to the door. He blinked once and felt his jaw tighten as Captain Brian Vass walked into

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
the room, his uniform and pale face as tidy as they always were. Three of his thugs trailed him, flaunting their guns. Takeda felt his abilities begin to fill him—a sense of smell that allowed him to distinguish between the bar’s many odors, sight that showed him the muscles moving beneath Vass’ neatly pressed uniform. Vass’ eyes flicked back and forth across the room. “Out the door,” Takeda whispered. “But don’t move too fast.” Zartsi obeyed immediately. He reached over and picked up Takeda’s mug as he stood, then drained it in one gulp and set it down on the table with natural firmness. Takeda followed his lead, yawning, and the two began to move towards the door. Individual motes of dust were visible in the sunlight, and Takeda’s ears heard Vass speaking to the barkeep, “Four drinks—whatever’s best. On the house.” Zartsi led the way out into the golden sunlight of the early afternoon. Takeda could smell the dust, feel tiny fluctuations in the heat caused by wind. Once they were out the door, he broke into a jog, and Zartsi followed. “Still want clothes?” the Lithrallian asked. “No. The sooner we’re on a ship on fulldrive away from Belar, the better.” “Agreed.”

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A policeman stepped out a building ahead of them, probably a brothel, judging from the lacy red drapes over its windows. He heard the sound of their boots and glanced in their direction. For a moment, he narrowed his eyes intently, and then recognition showed on his face. “Croster!” Takeda and the cop went for their pistols at the same moment. Takeda was faster, despite the thick cloak he wore, and his pistol was out and aimed before the cop had dragged his out of its holster. Even he was too late. Takeda stopped himself just in time to avoid shooting Zartsi as the Lithrallian slammed his fist into the cop’s face. Bone cracked, and the man staggered back, his nose broken and pouring blood. Zartsi stepped forward and swung his fists in a quick one-two combination, pounding the cop’s gut. All his breath whooshed out his mouth, and a sweep from Zartsi’s leg easily knocked him down. The man coughed, and blood flecked the dust. Takeda holstered his pistol, feeling his senses fade once again, but Zartsi did just the opposite: he reached down, drew one of his daggers, and laid it against the cop’s throat. “Wait!” Takeda hissed. Harsh blue eyes looked up at him. “Takeda, do you swear accusation is unjust?” “Yes.”

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Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“Then it is just for man to die.” Before Takeda could object further, Zartsi slashed his blade across the cop’s throat, opening it from end to end. The move was so fast the white ivory was barely soiled. Zartsi wiped it off before re-sheathing it. Takeda felt sick as he stared down at the corpse. “You didn’t have to do that.” “This is safest,” the Lithrallian said. “Now help hide corpse.” Numbly, Takeda reached down, picked the cop up by his ankles, and lifted. Dead weight dragged on his arms—his enhanced strength wasn’t coming to him. Blood spattered out onto the dust. A dozen men must have seen the killing and were now running to warn Vass. Zartsi’s murder hadn’t done them any good. They carried the body into the alleyway to one side of the brothel and dumped it behind a garbage can. “You think anyone saw us?” Takeda asked. “If they did, all more reason to hurry,” Zartsi hissed. “But first, take clothes off man—shirt and jacket.” Takeda shivered with disgust. The man’s collar was soaked in blood from his throat, and it felt so wrong, so wretched, to take the clothes off a corpse, particularly one he had seen killed. Like robbing a fresh grave. Zartsi waited for a moment, then shook his

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head in disgust. “Here. I butcher many kills.” The Lithrallian efficiently tore all police insignia off the jacket, removed it from the man’s shoulders, and tossed it to Takeda. The pants and belt followed. Just touching them revolted Takeda, but he knew what necessity demanded. He swallowed his disgust and stuffed the clothes on over his old, torn casino uniform, trying not to look at the stripped corpse. Zartsi handed him the cop’s pistol and three clips of ammunition. They moved away at a run, and Takeda tried to force down the sickness that knotted his gut.
#

The man behind the port control desk crossed his arms over the chest of his blue uniform and lifted one eyebrow. “I should call the police right now, guys. The Lithrallian shouldn’t even be in this star system.” The room was small, with bare concrete walls decorated by posters of luxurious resorts from across the galaxy. It was lit only by sunlight pouring through the windows. Two other men were pretending to work on their screens while they gave their attention to Takeda and Zartsi. “I have money, and I have Imperial citizenship,” Takeda said. “I already told you that this Lithrallian is under my protection—and we’re

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
trying to get off the planet, not onto it.” “I understand, sir,” the man said, running a hand through his long hair. “But I don’t plan on violating Imperial law for anybody’s convenience.” Takeda glanced at Zartsi, hoping for advice, but the Lithrallian’s eyes were fixed on the floor. He had decided in advance that it would be best not to talk—it would just irritate the officers to have an illegal arguing with them. Takeda sighed. “Let me ask you this: what good will it do you to arrest him? It’ll just mean trouble for you and your office, particularly if the Navy orders an investigation.” “That’s what I’m paid for, sir.” The man started to reach for his comm receiver, and Takeda felt a surge of panic. What if they arrested Zartsi? He wouldn’t be able to do anything for his friend, and two possibilities would be left: either Vass would catch him, or he would flee into the jungle, going far beyond any human settlement, and live a lonely life as a hermit. Neither option looked good. He reached out and grabbed the officer’s wrist. “Wait,” he said. “Think about it. The Lithrallian and I can prove that in the past few years several men have seen him—done business with him, in fact—and never turned him in. If Imperial colonial law is followed to the letter, that might mean investigations

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throughout the port and Greendome. There’s even a chance the Navy might decide the Company can’t enforce law on its colonies and establish a Belar garrison.” The officer hesitated, his eyes flicking between his battered comm unit and Zartsi. Takeda realized that he was thinking of the reward he might get for turning Zartsi in, with potential for a promotion. “They don’t like Lithrallians,” Takeda said. The office pursed his lips and nodded. “All right. Just get the damn lizard off, okay?” “That’s what I was planning.” “Give me your card.” Takeda slipped his citizenship card out of his pocket. The blue rectangle glittered in the sunlight, showing his name and ID code laserimprinted on the plastic. The officer took it, slipped it into his computer, and punched a few keys. Takeda heard Zartsi exhale in relief, and the other officers went back to their work, apparently satisfied with their co-worker’s decision. Then the officer froze, with his finger poised over the eject key on his console. He stared at his screen, eyes widening slightly, and glanced up at Takeda. For a moment, his mouth opened as if he were about to speak, then his gaze flicked up at Zartsi, seeming to notice the Lithrallian’s weapons for the first time. He ejected the card and handed it

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
back to Takeda with a hand that shook just slightly. “Area Six. The Brass Shield is scheduled to launch in fifty-three minutes,” he said. “Can I ask you to wait here until it departs?” Strange—a minute before, he wouldn’t have phrased that as a request, and his body language was suddenly deferential rather than challenging. “Brass Shield? That’s not a Company ship, is it?” Takeda asked. “No. It’s a private freighter, registered to Captain Shane O’Donnell.” For the first time, Zartsi spoke. “Private? You sell berths on his boat?” “Captain O’Donnell has an agreement with the Company. You’ll deliver payment straight to him—one cabin or two, depending on what you can afford. The accommodations will be comfortable, and food is included in the berth price.” The officer spoke quickly, as if in a hurry to answer every possible question. One of the others had noticed it too—he looked over and said, “Something wrong, Rafe?” “No,” the officer shot back, forcing a smile. “No. But Captain O’Donnell prefers to be undistracted prepping his boat...it would be best if you gentlemen would wait for another half-hour—there’s a room for you. I can have someone bring you water, if you like.”

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Takeda felt Zartsi’s hot breath in his ear as the Lithrallian whispered, “No. Captain Vass has tagged card. He tries to get you out long enough to make call.” The officer hadn’t run a full background check, had he? Just a quick scan to verify citizenship—that was standard for interplanetary transit. Perhaps Takeda’s blank profile had unnerved him, but Takeda had modified his profile to include his residence and occupation at the Silver Sun. Vass didn’t have the power to tag a profile’s surface information... or did he? “I’d rather go out to the ship now. I’d like to meet the captain.” “Yes, sir. Have a good trip. Do you have any baggage we can help you with?” “No.” They turned and left the room, waking down a short hallway that led to the landing field. Takeda’s senses had begun to elevate slightly, and he heard the click as the man activated his comm system. “What now?” he hissed to Zartsi. “Should we have stopped him?” “No,” the Lithrallian hissed. “We should plan early departure.” They emerged into the golden sunlight of the afternoon—Takeda could feel the heat of

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
the blacktop through the soles of his shoes. Far across the landing pad he could see the gleaming shapes of the train station and the massive freighter being loaded from it. A couple smaller craft were taking on cargo from a small fleet of trucks: lumber, hides, and other jungle products. “Area Six is that way,” Zartsi said, pointing to the north, where Takeda could see a single ship over a hundred meters away. “Run. Time for stealth is over.” Takeda glanced back at the port control building apprehensively. They didn’t have long before Vass arrived—it wouldn’t take him more than a minute or two to drive there from the bar where they had evaded him. If he had any kind of heavy weapons, Takeda doubted even his augmented reflexes, senses, and strength would save him. Zartsi broke into a sprint, his feet barely touching the ground as he swung his legs out in powerful strides. It took all of Takeda’s energy just to stay a couple feet behind him, and he knew he couldn’t keep the pace up for long. He glanced back over his shoulder, losing another few feet, and thought he saw a dust cloud in the town—Vass’ truck? Before, Takeda’s abilities had come to him without his control, at times when his life was in clear danger. But there was no sign of them now, and he needed them as much as

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ever. He needed the strength to keep up with Zartsi and escape Vass. Takeda tried to focus his mind, reaching into his brain and searching for whatever had triggered his abilities. He began to smell the blacktop as if it were coated with perfume, and feel slight variations in its heat. Suddenly he could hear Zartsi’s heart working like a refinery furnace, driving him forward. Then he realized that he was closing the gap between himself and Zartsi, and his borrowed cloak flew straight out behind him. His stride chewed up the ground, and every time his boots hit the blacktop, the next step became easier. Takeda matched Zartsi, running side-by-side with him, then began to pass him. He distinctly heard the rumble of Vass’ truck behind. Only moments before he spotted them—but the Brass Shield was close now, only a few dozen meters away. The ship was a fairly standard private freighter—long and low, with a slightly elevated bridge up front and a rectangular engine array in back, measuring about thirty meters from nose to tail. The cargo compartments took up most of the space between the two, with living quarters occupying a strip along the ship’s upper half. The boxy craft was painted a muddy red color, with brass studs added for show at regular intervals. A crew of men in sweaty coveralls was loading it now,

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
hauling crates off a flatbed truck and heaving them into an open compartment. Expecting to be shot in the back at any moment, Takeda ran up to the person who seemed to be directing the operation, a tall man with a cloud of thick, orange hair on his head and a beard to match it. Takeda could see tiny flecks of dust in his beard, and could hear his breath wheezing slightly, as if something in Belar’s atmosphere irritated his lungs. “Captain O’Donnell?” he asked. The man turned. “That’s me. Why?” “We’re your passengers.” The captain glanced down at the screen of his pad and tapped something. “Takeda Croster and companion?” “That’s right.” O’Donnel glanced at Zartsi. “A Lithrallian? You checked him through the port control office?” “Yes. It’s fine.” “All right. Just sit tight, lads, while we get this stuff loaded up, and then I’ll show you your cabins. We’ll be out of here in an hour or so, right?” Hundreds of meters behind, Takeda’s heard Vass’ voice shout, “Croster!” He whipped his head around to see the police truck start away from the office, heard its engine purring. Suddenly, Takeda knew exactly what Zartsi had meant by an “early departure.” “No,” he said. “We’re leaving now.”

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O’Donnell lifted one eyebrow. “Lad, if that’s the way you’re planning to talk, I can tell you right now this ain’t your ship.” Takeda allowed his instincts to guide him. Before O’Donnell could react, he whipped out the fully loaded police pistol he had collected earlier and aimed the barrel straight at the man’s mouth. “We leave now.” The captain’s face flushed deep red. “What are you trying to do?” he growled. “This is my ship, lad, and you’ve just sunk any chance of getting on it.” Takeda hesitated for a moment. His crimes were already serious enough to get him the death penalty on any Imperial world—killing several cops while resisting arrest and stealing a police vehicle. But hijacking a private freighter would insure that he was tagged for arrest by the Imperial Police, with notices distributed to affiliated police forces on a hundred worlds, and his citizenship would be tagged as well. Any time he used the card he would risk arrest. He would be a fugitive on any world in the Empire and its allies, including the Drava Alliance, and several small human protectorates. He snapped his gun down, fired a bullet into the blacktop between O’Donnell’s feet, and brought it back to point between the captain’s eyes, all in the blink of an eye.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“Now,” he said. He heard Zartsi’s rifle crack once, twice, and then heard a shriek of metal grating against the blacktop. Takeda took a step back from O’Donnell, putting some distance between himself and the big captain, and glanced back to see Vass’ truck halfway across the field with its front wheels shot out from underneath it. Takeda suddenly believed everything Zartsi had said about his custom-built rifle. One of O’Donnell’s men tried to pull a gun, but Takeda saw the movement as if it were in slow-motion. His finger pulled back the trigger of his pistol, sending a single bullet screeching through the air to crash through the barrel of the man’s cheaply made revolver. The man dropped the broken weapon back into his pocket, eyes widening in shock. “I’ll shoot you next,” Takeda said, hearing his own voice tremble almost imperceptibly. He couldn’t let himself think. He could only act. O’Donnell looked like he wanted to pull Takeda’s spine out through his mouth, but he nodded slowly. “Seems I don’t have much choice. Almost done loading anyway.” He turned back to his men. “All right, lads. Leave the cargo and rev her up for launch.” They all stared at Takeda with a hot anger that frightened him, but they didn’t hesitate when their captain gave an order. Men holding

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plastic shipping crates and bundles of furs ran up the loading ramp, and O’Donnell turned abruptly to follow them, seeming to have forgotten Takeda for the moment. A red lance sizzled through the warm air centimeters from Takeda’s ribs—a pulser shot. Vass and five other men were coming towards him, guns firing, and bullets spanged off the blacktop. Takeda leapt away, dodging behind the freighter’s stocky landing gear just in time to avoid a second and third pulser bolt. Zartsi scrambled backwards in a low crouch, his rifle held in one hand and braced against his armpit while he pressed the scope against his left eye socket. His dull white fangs showed as his lips curled back in a snarl, and he pulled the trigger back. A cop’s head erupted in red—not Vass. Then the Lithrallian rolled up to his feet, fired two more bullets from the hip, emptying his magazine, and bolted for the loading ramp, which was just beginning to rise. Takeda ran after him just as a pulser bolt melted through the landing gear. He scrambled up onto the rising ramp just behind Zartsi. They rolled down into the ship’s dark interior, hitting a warm metal deck. Takeda snapped his pistol up to a firing position just as O’Donnell’s pistol was halfway out of its holster. The big captain dropped it back and, to Takeda’s surprise, smiled broadly.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“You are good, lad. Cops mad at you?” “Just get us in air,” Zartsi hissed. Takeda heard the snap-click of him reloading his rifle’s magazine. “We’re warming up. Don’t get trigger happy.” O’Donnell sat down on a crate in front of them and crossed his arms across his chest as he leaned back against some plastic sacks. The cargo bay was lit only by dim gray lights from overhead. “It would make me a lot less inclined to try and kill you first chance I find if you have enough money to pay me for passage.” Zartsi reached into a pocket of his armor and held up a bag. “Two hundred Silvers.” “Not bad. About makes up for the cargo I left behind.” O’Donnell took the sack from Zartsi, weighed it, and ran a hand through his mane of red hair. He narrowed his eyes, and stared up at the ceiling for a moment, thinking. Takeda kept his pistol trained and listened for any other crewmen. He could feel his abilities beginning to ebb, but now he found that, when he concentrated, he could keep them from leaving him—just as he had summoned them only a minute or two earlier, running across the blacktop. O’Donnell nodded to himself. “All right. I’m pissed off that we can’t come back to Belar

Pg. 6
after this, but I never liked the cops here. We should have lift-off in thirty seconds—engines were pre-warmed. I’ll take this, and if you don’t give me any more trouble, my crew and I won’t risk our necks tackling you or report you to the cops until we arrive. Deal?” “Deal,” Zartsi hissed. “All right, then, lads. I’ll be up in the bridge, getting us into the black, so why don’t you two just sit yourselves down here?” O’Donnell left the cargo bay then, hands stuck in the pockets of his overalls. Takeda could hear Vass screaming outside, demanding that the Brass Shield open to him. He shivered. What had he gotten himself into? Then, before he could have another thought, he felt his stomach lurch as the Brass Shield lifted off the ground.
#

Brian Vass’ men rarely heard him swear even mildly, which made it all the more shocking to them when he snarled out a series of curses that would have peeled the armor off a dreadnaught. The hot odor of scorched blacktop brushed at his nostrils as he watched the freighter rise into the blue sky, turn on its jets, and rocket off into the upper atmosphere. He could have done some damage to the lightly armored ship with his pulser, but it would still get away, and it wasn’t worth the

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon
wasted ammo. He wanted to catch Croster alive, anyway, and see the look in his eyes as Vass burnt him down to ash. Another one of his men had been shot, and a second one was missing—Vass had a strong suspicion that, if he looked, he’d find the man with a bullet through his head, or maybe a knife in his chest, or even just a broken neck or a smashed skull. And this Lithrallian Croster had shown up with...Vass had heard a few things about some hunter who lived in the jungles and sold hardto-find trophies to the colonies. He had never assigned the rumors any importance—he couldn’t gain anything by stomping around the jungle looking for one illegal. But now, it seemed that he had somehow joined up with Croster and helped him get off-planet. “What now, Captain?” one of his men asked. Vass exhaled slowly, holstering his pulser. The freighter was no more than a speck of red light in the sky overhead, now, and still shrinking. “First,” he hissed, “I’m going to arrest that customs officer for aiding and abetting a dangerous illegal. Then...” He clenched the rubber grip of his pulser. “Then I’m going to go after him. I can find out where that freighter was heading, and I’ll follow him until I catch up with him and kill the bastard.”

Pg. 
“What about Greendome?” the man asked. Greendome. Yes. Extraordinarily affluent for a colony city, but still nothing compared to the cities of Imperial worlds. There were pretty girls there, but not like the beauties of worlds like Hyderra and Yamang. Vass knew he was good at what he did, and with the capture of a dangerous criminal like Croster as his starting point, he might well be able to build a career for himself in the wider galaxy. His experience would probably get him an officer’s commission in the Imperial Police, and from there, his career could go as high as System Commissioner...he was still young. Croster would die first—Vass couldn’t let him get away so easily, after humiliating him and killing so many of his officers. And then... the possibilities were endless. He could always come back to Greendome, but recently he had begun to think that bigger things awaited him. “Wherever you go, Croster,” he whispered to himself, “I’ll track you down. And then I’ll kill you.”

Next month...Chapter 4: “Dark Streets”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon

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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. To  contact  the  author,  send  an  e-mail  to  flinteye@gmail.com.  The  author  is  always  happy to receive reader feedback.

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

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

Serial: "To the Stars," by Sean T. M. Stiennon

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The Jolly RGR
Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 07

Overlord’s Lair Editorial Fiction: Kiss Me Now, Kill Me Later by John M Whalen Jack Brand drops into the Tulon jungle in search of his ex-partner, Frank Cassidy.  Cassidy robbed a bank and crashed his Air-Ski in the middle of nowhere. When a  wild adventuress joins the hunt, Brand finds the trail leading to Cassidy takes some  unexpected turns. Fiction: Chances by David Siegel Bernstein
My name is Descartes Aliquot.  I am a government Artificial Intelligence.  It doesn’t matter  which human government made me -- there is only one now, the Galactic Union.  The GU’s  influence stretches across all the human colonies in the Milky Way.  I helped to create it.   But there were others out there.  Not human.  Not us.
ctly what he appears to be.” ‐

Deuces Wild, Part Four Exclusive Serial by L. S. King
Slap and Tristan go their separate ways, and each finds trouble in “Knight Errant.”   by S

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Ray Gun Revival

Issue 06, September 15, 2006

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