THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

Far From the Fields by Michael Merriam Winners of the Ray Gun Radio Space Battle Flash Fiction Contest: Fireships by John D. Popham Flight of the Medic by S. E. Markey The Glass People by Paul R. McNamee ...In the Waste Howling Wilderness... by John M. Whalen Exclusive Serial: Deuces Wild, “Steel Trap” by L. S. King

“The Distance,”  by  Tom Roberts

Issue 09 November 01, 2006

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2 Far From the Fields, by Michael Merriam 3 9 11 13

The Glass People, by Paul R. McNamee 3rd place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest Flight of the Medic, by S. E. Markey 2nd place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest Fireships, by John D. Popham 1st place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest . . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . ., by John M. Whalen A Jack Brand story 15 Featured Artist: Tom Roberts 25 Serial: Deuces Wild: “Steel Trap” by L. S. King 26 The Jolly RGR 34
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 - lord high editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer

Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Taylor Kent, Scott M. Sandridge, David Wilhelms, John M. Whalen Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Cover Art: “The Distance,” by Tom Roberts Without Whom... Bill Snodgrass, site host, Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin, mentor, confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing Special Thanks: Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com All content copyright 2006 by Double-edged Publishing,   a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.

Rev: 20061101c

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam

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Far From the Fields
by Michael Merriam
ir, Theodore’s in this mess because he’s “And how long before we can expect help?” an idiot. You should just leave him to die “Skimmers are on the way from the three of stupidity.” nearest survey posts.” Robert Wilson settled into the surface rover’s Wilson gave the swirling snow outside his control seat. “I can’t. The company would frown windshield a calculating look. “Twelve to fourteen if I let one of its big brains disappear.” hours, then.” Karen strapped him in and gave him a worried “Robert, I want you to stay in radio contact at  look. She ran a nervous hand through her short all times.” hair. “Company policy says you’re not supposed Wilson smiled at his mechanic’s words. They to go out alone in anything less than a skimmer.” had worked together now for nearly ten years, “I won’t leave him out there. He’s crew, and I surveyed a half-dozen planets as a team: he won’t let him die out there if I can help it.” knew the more worried Karen became, the more “I understand.” She gave his seat restraints formally she behaved. “Who’s in charge here, another sharp tug, pulling them tight. She secured anyway?” his receiver on his head. Satisfied, she stepped Karen terse voice came over the headset. through the hatch and prepared to close it. “But “You are, sir, or else this fool mission wouldn’t be sir, the idiot wandered off on his own without any happening.” authorization, knowing that a storm was coming,” “I could have ordered you to come with me.” she said, closing his hatch with an unnecessary “Policy says someone has to stay on-station.” slam. Wilson had traveled barely a hundred yards Robert pushed the ignition button. The big before the gale-force wind started shaking and exploration vehicle’s engine roared to life. The buffeting the rover hard enough to make steering rover shuddered, trembling like an eager thor- a struggle. The machine was being pushed oughbred at the starting gate. sideways on its tracks. He kept one eye on his Karen’s voice spoke in his ear. “Apollo’s Green compass and positioning display, aiming for Station Twelve to Rover Two-Three, do you where he suspected his wayward archaeologist copy?” would be. “The signal’s good. Open the door.” Eight miles from the station, near a dry Wilson waited patiently for the large garage riverbed, lay the reason they were stationed on doors to open. Once he found himself faced with Apollo’s Green: a ruined village of the planet’s the raging storm and gathering gloom outside the extinct inhabitants. The people of this region had station, he turned on the rover’s forward lamps carved dwellings out of the natural caves along and engaged the transmission. The rover rolled the river, using stone-age technology before a slowly into the blizzard. series of planet-wide volcanic eruptions, followed Karen’s voice crackled in his ear. “Winds are closely by a comet strike, had rendered the world from the north-northwest, ninety kilometers an unlivable. hour gusting to one hundred and ten. Outside air Theodore Ellsworth was a forward archaeolotemperature is negative twenty-three.” gist for Draegior Terraforming. He would examine “Another beautiful summer evening on Apollo’s a possible site with an escort team and make a Green. How long since Teddy’s last signal?” recommendation whether or not to send out a “Three hours ago. He reported everything fine full excavation crew. and he was nearing the ruins. I’ve tried to raise In the case of the nearby ruins, the company him, but all I get is silence.” had deemed them “of insignificant archeologi-

“S

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam
cal value,” despite Ellsworth’s recommendation. They canceled all further field expeditions and planned to transfer Theodore to a new planet. The entire team would be leaving when the terraforming crew arrived to take over the station. Wilson understood why Ellsworth had taken off with the buggy: he was trying to find something that would make the company reconsider its schedule, an artifact that would keep these longdead people from being forgotten by history and swallowed up by progress. Wilson sympathized with Teddy, but wished he would leave the ghosts of Apollo’s Green in peace. “Talk to me, sir,” Karen’s voice commanded. “Sorry, it’s just taking all my attention to keep moving in a straight line.” “According to satellite, the storm’s about to intensify. I recommend you turn back.” “Recommendation noted. Do me a favor: stop telling me how much worse it’s going to get. Have you tried contacting Teddy again?” “I just did. Nothing.” Her voice paused. “He’s probably frozen to death by now.” “Karen—” Wilson put a warning tone in his voice as he corrected his course. “Sorry. I could read you the news feed or something as long as you grunt occasionally to let me know you’re alive.” “Read me the box scores for the Earthside teams.” “Just the Earthside teams?” Karen asked. “They’re the only teams that matter.” “Terrancentric?” “Just read.” The rover moved slowly through the deep snow, too slowly for Wilson’s taste, but he could ill afford to be impatient with so little visibility. He settled into a rhythm of correcting his course, accelerating and decelerating as the thickness of falling snow outside his windshield allowed. Karen brought him up to date on sports news, her voice in his ear a familiar counterpoint to the howling winds outside and the strained whine of his engine. Wilson thought about how long it had been since he had seen Earth. He had been in space for too many decades, seen far too many races wiped out by nature, then swept under the rug by the relentless press of human colonization, first as a young lieutenant, then as a transport pilot and

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field administrator for Draegior. Wilson knew Teddy had been confused by his recent actions. Teddy had come to him, asking to be driven out to the ruins in the rover despite the company’s orders. The archeologist had been shocked when Wilson, for the first time in the three years they had worked together, refused his request. Wilson had told Teddy the weather was too dangerous, knowing full well it was a lie. The rover could sustain them in hostile conditions for a week if necessary. He did not see the wheel sticking up out of the snow until he was upon it. Wilson braked and turned, hoping to avoid whatever obstacle the little two-man buggy had encountered while not running the machine over. He backed the rover up, lining the front of his vehicle up with the lone wheel. “I’ve found Teddy’s buggy. There’s one wheel sticking up out of the snow, like it tipped over. I’m going out there.” Wilson unstrapped himself from the chair, his heavily-gloved fingers fumbling with the snaps. He decided to take a shovel and extra canister of oxygen from the tool locker. He spent a minute securing his helmet in place. Satisfied that his suit was sealed properly, he slung the extra oxygen over his shoulder, picked up his shovel, and opened the cargo door. The blast of wind pushed him back into the rover. He steadied himself against the gale and took a step outside. He turned on the light on top of his helmet. The beam did little to cut through the swirling white, but it did give him close-up illumination. Wilson struggled through the waist deep snow to the front of the rover. He pulled a length of cabling loose from the forward winch, hooked it onto his suit, and turned toward the wheel sticking up from the snow. The wind knocked him down twice. At one point he lost sight of the buggy tire, though it was only a few feet in front of him. The blowing snow was piling up around him, slowing his movements. Every few minutes Karen would call to him, and he would give her a terse, monosyllabic reply. His hair was plastered to his forehead and his breathing became labored as he struggled forward, sweating inside the suit. At last he came to the disabled vehicle. His gloved hands wielded the shovel awkwardly as he dug down, looking for a place to hook the

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam
cable to the buggy. At last he found the front of the small vehicle. He secured the cable to the buggy, then reached out and followed the cable back to the rover, moving through the blizzard along his secured line. “All right,” he whispered to himself once he was back at the rover. The winds had died down suddenly, which was a blessing, allowing him to see his work. He shifted the control lever on the winch. The winch growled, protesting against the abuse. The front of the buggy slid forward, its nose and other front wheel coming into view, then stopped. The rover’s winch hissed, grumbled, and strained, but the buggy refused to break free. Wilson studied the buggy. He could not see the hatch. He considered taking the shovel and digging the hatch out, but the vehicle was resting on a steep incline. It would be hard to dig out, and then he would be faced with trying to extract Teddy from the vehicle while wearing his clumsy suit. “Sir? How are you doing?” Karen’s worried voice asked. “He’s stuck good. I’m going to try and pull him out with the rover.” Wilson locked the winch and climbed back inside the rover. He left his helmet on, knowing he would need to return outside once he had pulled the buggy free. He shifted the transmission into reverse and leaned on the accelerator. The rover coughed and shook, then wound up, straining against the force trapping the buggy. Wilson gave the machine more fuel. The rear of the rover slid left then caught traction. The buggy moved forward a few inches. Wilson swore and worked the steering, trying to keep the tracks turning at the same rate. The rover straightened out and retreated another three feet, pulling the buggy along with it. Wilson pressed on the accelerator, asking the engine for more power. The buggy broke free from its restraints, lurching forward and landing on its over-sized wheels. Wilson tried to power down, but the rover slid again, this time turning right. He heard a sharp cracking noise, and the rover rolled backward and down, settling with its nose in the air, caught in the same predicament as the buggy had been. The engine rumbled and coughed to a halt. “Damn!”

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“What happened? Robert, are you all right?” Wilson forced himself to stay calm. “The ground under me caved in. The rover’s trapped.” “Sir, do you still have power?” Wilson pushed the ignition button. The engine turned, sputtered, then stilled. He tried it again, nothing. “I have battery power.” “The batteries should be good for ten hours if you seal off everything but the cockpit and do nothing but run the heat, air recycler, and radio. You should shut everything down and sit tight.” “I need to go get Teddy.” “If I’m reading the imaging right, you’ve got about ten more minutes of relatively clear weather, then it’s all going to fall apart. Stay in the vehicle.” “I’ll be buried under the snow.” “We’ll find you.” “The buggy’s free. I’ll try and drive it back.” “Sir, the batteries on the buggy are probably dead.” “I’ll take one from the rover.” “Robert, those things weight almost a hundred pounds each!” Wilson had already left his seat, moving to the back of the rover. A few minute’s work and he had one of the batteries free from its connection. He stuffed the necessary tools into the pockets on his suit. Robert fashioned a cargo net into a makeshift bag for the battery and his extra oxygen tank. He hefted the whole mess up and climbed to the front hatch of the rover. The wind outside was vicious, blowing, swirling. It tore at him, trying to dislodge him as he slowly climbed the outside of the disabled machine. He reached the ground in front of the nose of his vehicle and fumbled about, searching for the cable running from the winch to the buggy. He finally found it, buried under several inches of snow. He took a firm hold on the cable and started forward, dragging his load behind him. Karen’s voice called to him, growing more faint and frantic by the minute. Wilson tried to reply, but she was not hearing him. He felt his suit cooling on the inside. He suspected the suit’s power supply was beginning to fail under the harsh conditions. He reached the buggy. Wilson unhooked the cable from the smaller vehicle, then felt his way around to the back of it, where the battery

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Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam
compartment was located. He hoped that the accident had not damaged the machine too badly. He found the latch and fought with the crumpled body work for several minutes before managing to open the compartment. He took the tools from his pockets and, working as quickly as the bulky gear would allow, changed the batteries. Once finished, he climbed to the hatch on top of the buggy. It was jammed, and only after several minutes of pounding it with the bottom of his spare oxygen tank was he able to break it loose. At last he climbed inside, his arms and shoulders shaking from exertion. Theodore Ellsworth was strapped to the pilot’s chair, dressed in his own environmental suit. Wilson checked the controls on Teddy’s suit. The suit’s power was drained, but Teddy was still alive, though unconscious and almost out of oxygen. Teddy had turned his air flow down to the bare minimum to make it last. Wilson plugged the spare oxygen tank into Teddy’s suit and opened up the flow. At least Teddy would not asphyxiate anytime soon. He moved the archaeologist from the pilot chair, laying him on the rubber-coated floor. Wilson saw the sample bag, filled to bursting, lying on the floor next to the pilot’s chair. He licked lips gone dry as he bent over and lifted the bag into the chair where he could examine it more closely. He took a series of short, quick breaths, steeled himself, and opened the bag. For a moment he considered flinging the entire thing out the hatch, sure that the deepening snow would cover the bag and its contents quickly. He hefted the bag and set it back on the floor near Teddy. It would not matter if he threw it out; Teddy knew the truth now and would tell everyone what he had found. Wilson settled in the pilot’s chair and flipped the power switch. The buggy’s lights came on, and its little electrical engine spun up with a beelike drone. He plugged the buggy’s communication unit into his suit. “Karen, can you hear me?” Karen Montgomery’s relieved voice of came to his ear. “I can hear you! How’s Theodore?” “He’s alive, but in a bad way.” “What’s your situation?” “The buggy started. I’ve got a working compass and radio, that’s it. The positioning display, oxygen recycler, and internal heat are out. Its oxygen

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tanks are empty. My suit’s batteries are running down, so it’s going to get pretty cold in here in a few minutes. Teddy’s suit batteries are dead. I’ve got him on the only oxygen tank I brought. I’m going to have to find you the hard way.” Robert engaged the engine of the buggy and, checking the compass for direction, started toward where he hoped the station was. “Any news on your end?” “I’ve turned on all the lights outside, so look for the white glow on the horizon.” Robert scanned the area as he drove the buggy forward. “I don’t see it, but everything’s just a sheet of white against the darkness out there.” “Keep your eyes open,” she replied. “Robert, there’s something else you should know.” “More good news, I take it?” “The rescue skimmers turned back because of the storm. We’re on our own until the weather clears. You should do everything you can to conserve battery, including using the radio less.” “I thought you wanted constant radio contact.” “I’ll make an exception.” Wilson peered into the night, searching for some sign of the station. He kept the buggy’s speed down, only allowing the machine to roll along at a crawl because of the ominous vibrations coming from the undercarriage. He hoped the wheels stayed on the buggy. Wilson checked his compass again. He turned the buggy back to the right, certain the winds had blown the light vehicle off course. He scanned the world outside his windshield: nothing, no reassuring glow of the stations lights, just darkness and sweeping snow. He fought down the panic rising in his chest. He knew to panic was to die. He rolled along for several more minutes, the buggy’s steering trembling under his hand, whether from the violence of the storm or damage to the drive train he did not know. He gave his control console a glance. The battery was discharging faster than normal. At this rate it would be dead in less than half an hour. “Karen?” “Go ahead.” “I’m running out of power.” “Is there anything else you can shut down?” “Just the transmitter.” There was a moment of hesitation, and then Karen’s voice came back to him. “You should

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam
conserve power, sir.” Wilson gripped the steering tightly as a burst of wind rocked the buggy, threatening to tip the entire vehicle. “It doesn’t matter. I’m lost. I can’t see the station’s lights, the wind’s blowing me all over the place. I’m not turning off the radio.” Wilson licked dry, cold lips. “I’m not going die out here in the silence.” Crackling filled his ears for a few moments, and he wondered if the signal had been lost. “Karen? Can you hear me?” “You’re not going to die, Robert,” her staticbroken voice said. Wilson turned the buggy more to the left, instinct telling him that was were the station lay. “Look, there’s something I need to get off my chest.” “Deathbed confession, sir?” “Something like that.” “The recorder is running.” Karen’s voice had a hollow, distant sound, as if she was far away from the microphone. Wilson checked his failing battery. He supposed the signal must be fading. Faint lights shone in the distance. Robert parked the buggy and cut his lights. Even if the glow ahead was the station, he was too far away to reach it. He needed to use his last bit of power to confess the truth. “That’s fine, let the recorder run.” Wilson paused, considering his next words carefully. “This is not the first time I’ve visited Apollo’s Green. The first time I was here, it was still inhabited.” “Sir?” Karen’s voice sounded clear in his headset, stronger, he suspect, because the battery only needed to power the radio. “I was a junior officer in the North American Alliance Fleet in those days.” There was a long pause from Karen, then her voice whispered in his ear. “The North American Alliance collapsed almost forty years ago. I had no idea you were so old.” Wilson chuckled despite his circumstances. “Yes, I’m old. Don’t interrupt me, my mind wanders.” “If you say so, sir.” “You have to understand, I didn’t grasp what we were doing, not at first. I was just a year out of the Academy, assigned to a cruiser scouting out worlds fit for colonization or terraforming. If I had

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it to do over, I’d like to think I’d make a different choice, but I was too young and inexperienced at the time.” Robert took a shaking breath and plunged ahead. “We found the barest remnant of an early Stone Age culture on Apollo’s Green, as well as a few struggling plants and animals. They were all failing, and in another twenty or so years would have died out on their own. But the Alliance was deep into its treasury, funding terraforming projects and fighting its shadow war with the Sino-Russo Confederation, and Apollo’s Green was rich with natural resources. They couldn’t wait for those last remains of a fading people to die out naturally. The decision was made to get rid of them and go ahead with terraforming and mining.” “The Nairobi Protocols—” “Weren’t in effect yet. Those came afterward and wouldn’t have mattered in any case. The Alliance government meant to keep their act of genocide a secret from the civilian population.” “Sir, sir, maybe you should stop talking now.” Karen’s voice was tight and strained. Robert Wilson swallowed. His air was almost gone, his breath coming in gasps as he felt the darkness closing on him. He needed to make peace. Wilson wheezed. He considered opening the buggy’s top hatch before his oxygen ran out. He and Teddy would freeze to death quickly, but that seemed a mercy for Teddy, to allow death to claim him while still unconscious. Wilson unhooked his restraints with fumbling fingers as he finished his tale. “We killed them, Karen. Just bombed their little villages and burned every living thing away. We killed the whole planet so we could rebuild it in our image. The terraforming crews were all military then, so they followed orders.” “Robert, I should remind you—” “That this is all being recorded, yes.” Wilson closed his eyes and leaned back into the pilot’s chair. He was too exhausted to reach the hatch. “When the captain gave the command I hesitated, but then I followed my orders.” “Robert—” “I killed them, Karen. I pushed the button and they died. The Alliance kept it secret, swept it under the rug. When my cruiser returned to Mars Station Four after the mission, I jumped ship. I took a job as a freighter pilot. I never returned to

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"Far From The Fields," by Michael Merriam
Earth, I just couldn’t. When Mars and the outer colonies revolted six months later, the Alliance was forced to abandon Apollo’s Green.” Wilson opened his eyes and took a last look at Apollo’s Green. Wilson sighed in relief. It was done. The truth was told. “Karen, there’s a thing I’ll need you to do.” “Of course, sir.” “I want to be cremated and my ashes returned to Earth. I want you to promise to take me home.” A painful brightness filled his vision, a horrible roaring sounded in his ears. He took a gasping breath, then another, and another. He closed his eyes against the blinding light and tried for a fourth breath. The crushing darkness took him. # Wilson opened his gummy eyes. He blinked them clear and licked his dry lips. “Welcome back.” Karen Montgomery leaned over his bed, her face pale and filled with open concern. “How—” Robert croaked out. “I was pretty clear that you weren’t going to die out there.” “You came and got us? I thought policy required you to stay on station?” “Yes sir, it does. Policy also requires the rovers be taken out for regular field tests. Rover TwoFive was overdue for a check-out run.” Wilson nodded and sat up. “How’s Teddy?” “Theodore’s fine. He’s suffering dehydration, pneumonia, a raging fever, and various other ills, but he’ll live until relief gets here tomorrow.” Karen paused and handed him a glass of water. “I found something interesting in Theodore’s suit.” “Really?” Wilson said after taking a deep drink. “You know what the Venus of Willendorf is?” Karen asked, holding her hand out. He nodded to her. She smiled and opened her hand. “Look at this.” The small statuette was carved out of the native rock. She sat cross-legged, her large belly and heavy breasts sagging to her lap. “I wonder if this will force the company to bring in a full excavation team?” Wilson said. Karen shrugged. “I don’t know. Robert, about the recorders—”

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“It’s okay,” he told her. He supposed there would be an inquiry, possibly criminal charges. He suspected that, even if government did not prosecute him, he would never be able to work in space again. It did not matter. The truth, even after all these years, was the important thing. “It’s okay,” Wilson whispered again. “It’s time to set things right. It’s time to go home.”

Michael Merriam has sold fantasy and science  fiction  stories  and  poetry  to  a  variety  of  magazines,  including  Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine,  Beyond Centauri,  Deep Magic,  Fictitious Force,  and  The Shantytown Anomaly.    He  is  also  a  two-time  semi-finalist  in  the  L. Ron Hubbard Writers of The Future Contest.    Michael  participates  in  the  Online Writers Workshop and is an assistant organizer  of  the  Twin Cities Speculative Fiction Writers Network.    He  lives  in  Minneapolis,Minnesota  with  his  wife  and  cat.  Visit  his  homepage  at    http://home.mn.rr.com/mmerriam/

Michael Merriam

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"The Glass People," by Paul R. McNamee

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The Glass People
  by Paul R. McNamee    3rd place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest
he black vacuum of space flashed bright white as a missile exploded starboard of the Midnight Sun. “Subspace drive!” hollered Padraig Slate. The tawny, stocky man held a rail for support and ran a worried hand through his close-cut curly, brown hair. “Not available,” commented his pilot, Malloc. The dwarfish cyborg’s mechanical hand blurred across the controls. “Missile’s E.M.P. is overloading everything.” Slate groaned—so did the spacecraft as it banked into a hard turn. “You know, Malloc, we’re not smuggling grain. Even if they don’t hit us, we could lose a very large payday!” “The artifacts are well packed.” “The artifacts are more fragile than a Condronium mummy!” “If you’d pay the Krina tariffs...” “Funny thing about that, Malloc. I don’t have the money until after I’ve brought the goods over. And no one wants to front the job in case I blow it.” “We’re being pursed by a Krina medium class patrol ship.” The cybernetic half of Malloc’s brain interfaced directly with the ship. Schematics appeared in the corner of the viewscreen. “She’ll only have three missiles at most. Probably only one, and they already used it.” An explosion rocked the craft. “They have plenty of rockets, though.” Malloc’s tone was almost apologetic. “That’s good news?” Slate wondered. “Rockets are not guided—with our speed and maneuverability, we stand a chance.” “Do they have beam weapons?” “Yes. Harder to avoid,” the dwarfish cyborg admitted. “Accurate aiming system.” The Midnight  Sun shook hard from a direct hit. “Where?” Slate asked. Malloc gritted his teeth. “Cargo hold—rocket.

T

Blast door shuttered.” Slate dashed from the bridge. He could add nothing to Malloc’s effort. The cyborg could fly and operate the meager weapons—the Midnight  Sun was a runner ship, lightly armed and lightly armored. Evasive maneuvers and tremors jostled Slate every step of the way to the cargo hold. The door slid open and he sighed in relief when he did not look upon a complete disaster. Only one crate had slipped it’s moorings and crashed to the deck. Three neatly padded oblong shapes were scattered on the floor. Apprehensively, he picked up one of the bundles. He did not feel broken glass. His eyes went wide when he felt the slightest, dampened vibration through his clutched hand and he heard muffled singing. Fascinated, Slate stood unyielding against the yawing of the embattled ship. He removed the padding and stared at the glass figurine. Long, but narrow enough to be held in one hand, its shallow curved lines represented a three-limbed alien race long since lost to the aeons. On the floor, the two other figurines joined the chorus, amplified in harmonic frequency by their unwrapped brethren. The close impact of a rocket broke Slate’s concentration. He dashed to the wall communicator, and pressed the button. “Malloc, get me two minutes!” Slate pulled out an anti-grav sled and tore apart the other crates. Hurriedly, he unpacked the figurines and stood them on the floating platform—its gyroscopic elements keeping it level. Seven glass figurines glowed and sang with voices of crystalline vibration. Their vibrations moved them about like living chessmen. They arranged themselves in a six-pointed star, with the tallest, seventh figurine occupying the center. The formation complete, the choir precipitated to a whining crescendo of harmonious notes.

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"The Glass People," by Paul R. McNamee
Clamping his hands over his ears, Slate stumbled out of the cargo hold. “I thought you were dead!” For a rare moment, Malloc showed surprise when Slate returned to the bridge. “Why?” “They must have hit us with some new energy beam,” Malloc told him. “The cargo hold, its warping or imploding or...or... I don’t know what!” Slate accessed the image from the camera in the cargo hold. Enraptured, Malloc’s cyborg eye recorded the scene. The glass figurines radiated patterns of colored light from within their crystal bodies as complex as the music they sang. “Eject the blast door—open the hold!” Malloc hesitated. “Do it!” Slate said. “The galaxy is full of treasure.” Malloc pressed a sequence on a keypad. They watched the sled evacuate into space. The figurines stayed in place upon the sled, counterbalanced by their own vibrations. The patrol ship approached directly over the priceless artifacts, intent on its helpless prey. Rockets and energy weapons trained on the battered runner. A rip tore through the fabric of space where the precious figurines floated. The maw swallowed the patrol ship and space repaired itself, all in the blink of an eye. The priceless figurines had disappeared with the patrol ship. “Dimension jump,” Malloc said quietly. Slate nodded. “Where?” “Anywhere away from us is fine by me,” Slate said coldly. The patrol ship could have gone anywhere. He had no knowledge of how the people who crafted the figurines judged spatial coordinates. “Why didn’t they do anything before?” “Must have been the explosions—set off the first and caused a chain reaction. If we hadn’t been so careful when we excavated the site, we might have been clued in earlier with a single tap on the crystal,” Slate said. “Amazing, they knew about dimensional travel with no sign of space faring in their culture.” “Why go through space when you can jump?” Malloc said. Subspace travel had long been established—a

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shortcut that still required traversal through space from point to point. Dimensional jumping— actually moving from one point to another in an instant—was still only a theory. “How did you know?” Malloc asked Slate. “I recognized the sound of a dimension drive,” Slate said. “Where would you have heard such a thing?” Malloc’s encyclopedic brain quivered in anticipation of new knowledge. “We need to limp this ship into safe harbor for repairs,” Slate said, ignoring Malloc’s pleading gaze. Slate held many secrets—he did not yield them freely. Malloc resigned himself to his frustration. “Stama 4,” the cyborg suggested. “You’re not well-known there.” The Midnight  Sun turned sluggishly into her new course.

Paul R. McNamee
One day Paul R. McNamee fell into the Robert  E. Howard collection, Eons of the Night, and  he  is  still  there—roaming  around  the  worlds  of dark fantasy, sword-and-sorcery and horror  (plus  sword-and-planet,  space  opera,  and  all  points in-between)—both as a reader and as  a writer.  In addition, he is a book reviewer for  Sword & Sorcery. His  first  official  publication  was  for  The Sword Review, with  the story, “Queen of the  Sepulcher,”  as  a  Bonus  Feature  in  November  2005. Paul  is  a  lifelong  resident  of  Massachusetts,  USA.    He  is  married  to  a  lovely  lady  named  Linda,  and  his  day  job  involves  computer  software.   You  can  find  some  of  his  earlier  work  at  his  website, http://writer.paulmcnamee.net. 

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"The Glass People," by Paul R. McNamee

Pg. 11

Flight of the Medic
  by S. E. Markey    2nd place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest
Note -- language warning ilas could sense the guns firing at his small ship before they actually did. He could anticipate the burst of light from the warship’s guns. Not one strike against him. It was supernatural. On the radar screen there was a line of white dots, enemy ships, and a scattering of blinking red dots. He rotated the radar screen by dragging his finger across it, and the view changed. He couldn’t imagine working with the one-plane radars that the starships had used until a few years ago. 3D was much more appropriate in space. Stop it. Concentrate. You’ll get yourself killed.  Dodge left, left again, down.  Miss, miss, miss; still untouched. He swooped under the ships and no one followed. There were too many of his own warships shooting at the enemy for them to pursue. Silas slowed as he approached one of the small red dots on the radar, an escape pod from one of his warships. He slowed just enough so the pod wouldn’t be smashed apart when the magnets on the belly of the ship caught it. Steady. Slower. There was a loud bang as the pod connected. He kicked on the fusion thrusters and burned toward the next light. He checked the radar screen, and watched as the red light from the pod he had just rescued faded as the pilot killed his emergency beacon. Two more pick-ups and it was back to the space station, back to the orbiting castle. Hover and drop, then back to the battle. He reached out and changed the radar’s view, as if wiping dust from the screen, and dropped 90 degrees relative to his previous direction. He flew toward the next pod, outrunning a trio of ships behind him, and trying to arrive before a squadron of five ships coming in from the side reached the drifting pod. I’ve got the speed, the best line. It’ll be close,  but this one’s mine.  He reached over, keeping his hand poised above the reverse thrust button. The two lines of ships were closing. He moved the radar; the three ships were riding the same line, the others were coming from the right, toward him at a 45 degree angle. He changed his line, dropping lower to avoid the shots from the ships behind him, just as three streaks of light passed overhead, and out to empty space. Their weapons had an impressive range. They shouldn’t have been able to reach that far. Crazy bastards, trying to take Earth. He changed his line every few seconds now that their long ranges could reach his ship. He kept his movements random and frequent. Almost, almost. Change the line. Drop. Up, up.  Steady.  Right before reaching the pod he slapped the reverse thrust and killed the engines. There was a noise as the pod attached itself to the ship’s belly. Three pods. Room for one more. Gotta escape  first. It happened all in one beautiful motion; the instant after the pod connected, Silas pulled hard on the stick, raising the nose to point straight up. The ships behind him were firing more often now, and a few of the shots hit his ship. They did little damage at that distance, sacrificing reach for power. The others though, coming down on him, were close, but hadn’t aimed yet. He knew they were waiting for a sure kill. Kill a medic; take out the pilots he’s rescued as well. Never happen.  With the nose pointing straight up, he released his hold on the reverse thrust, and fired the fusion thrusters of all three engines, shooting straight up like one of the old shuttles that launched from inside atmo. There was no chance those ships would catch him. It was a clean escape, though the pilots below him, sitting in the awkward positions

S

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

"Flight of the Medic," by S. E. Markey
aboard their pods stuck against his ship, probably wanted to kill him for flying like that. Plenty of time for killing me after they thank  me for saving their lives.  The last pod he would save before returning to the castle was nearby and drifting well away from the concentration of ships that made up the main battle. He cut the fusion thrust and two of the engines, pulling out of the launch and cutting a straight line toward the pod. A brilliant flash pulled his attention from the radar. He shielded his eyes against the light that came from the heart of the main battle, but there were too many ships to tell which side had initiated it. Silas felt something intangible, like a premonition of activity, and looked at his radar to see a white dot remaining stationary near the red one he’d locked on to. That’s the trick of radar, why 2D doesn’t work. He rotated the view until the motion of the white dot changed and made sense. It wasn’t sitting still; it was coming in straight down, dropping in on the pod, much closer than he was. Too late. Silas watched as three quick streaks of light shot from the enemy’s ship, which could now be seen through the window. “No,” he said, speaking against the obvious, the inevitable. Against fate. He looked down at the screen, because he couldn’t bear to see it in real life. The enemy ship pulled back to avoid the debris from the explosion. The little red light winked out. Gone forever. The pain of that loss hit him hard. There was death all around, in every bright flash, in every strike, every collision. He could ignore those casualties, but this was a life stolen from him when it was his to save. From the moment of locking on, when he chose that point of light, it was his. He felt every pain when a life was taken right before he could save it. He felt the loss, the grief. He felt the amazing potential, and the tragedy of an ending. He had been touched by death. It was supernatural.

Pg. 1

S. E. Markey
Sean  E.  Markey  is  a  student  at  Flagler  College  in  Florida,  and  is  majoring  in    Elementary Education. 

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Fireships, by John D. Popham

Pg. 1

Fireships
  by John D. Popham    1st place, Ray Gun Radio space battle flash fiction contest

esterday we were six. Now we are four: Sung, Ali, Johnny and me riding in close and tight. Our fireships burn bright, turn fast, as we cut the vector, dump velocity and kick the drives back in again. Even in the gel-tanks we feel it—feel the hard Gs that would turn us, unprotected, into bug-squish. To our nadir, explosions erupt—bright and orange in the deep vacuum, striking out at the spot we would have been in without the turn. The fireships jink, red lights across the board as we ride the shockwave, run before it, letting it boost our V and hide our engine signatures from the Bits. “Wicked,” breathes Sung. He’s excited. Aroused. He loves the game, loves speed of hot ships, the release of the kill. He’s a fear junkie. We all are. It’s a condition of employment. We dance at the raggedy edge of oblivion, and sooner or later, the dark claims you. No ‘if’ about it—only ‘when’, only ‘how’. That’s the game: to make the dance beautiful—to make your death, when it comes, an exquisite thing. The shockwave passes us and we run silent for a while, playing hide and seek with the silicon ghost that’s out in the deep, trying to kill us. It’s playing the quiet game too. We’re all on passive sensors, sweeping the dark, listening for it. We wait for it to make a mistake, to give itself away. It waits for us to do the same. We play this game all the time and the Bit usually wins. We’re human. We’re impatient and riding a high. It’s cold—its heuristic routines working out the relentless calculus of our deaths. The formation’s tight enough that we can see each other. Too close—not regulation. We could be taken out in one salvo, and the console jockeys get buggy about that. But it

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hides how many we are. A Bit can’t calculate the odds if it doesn’t have all the numbers. You have to keep the numbers from them. As much as you can. Once a Bit has all the numbers, it can calculate your death to a hundred decimal places. Dance over. Sensors pop a ping at the five o’clock off our port side. It doesn’t repeat. Maybe something. Maybe a glitch. Maybe a trap. Ali hand signals tally-ho. No radio, nothing to give us away. Johnny waves it off. Sung signals go. My call now. I say yes, we go. I say no, we stay dark. I don’t like it. Smells bad. Only a Bit with a loose wire loses this game. I shake it off. I say no. Sung repeats the “go” sign, along with a second one that calls me coward, weenie, wuss, and other less polite things. I shake him off again. I love the speed, love the dance, and my mind runs as hot as anybody’s. But, most of all, I love the kill. I truly do. And I don’t think there’s a loose wire out there—just a Bit trying out a new subroutine. And I’m going to paint a marker for the motherless thing’s death on the side of my ship. I shake Sung off again. Sung brakes hard, flips, and his engines flare—drops out of formation and drives his fireship toward the source of the ping. The world comes apart. Sung goes live— weapons hot and his active sensors reaching out ahead of him, searching for his target. Nothing. No target. He cuts his vector, hard and tight. The fireship’s engines kick in as the first salvo blossoms close by. We lose him as the shockwave scrambles the sensors, but we know where the Bit is. It’s gone active, targeting Sung. A second salvo erupts where Sung might be. The Bit’s blinded by the

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Fireships, by John D. Popham
shockwave too and is firing blind. Can’t see Sung. Can’t decide whether it got him and is playing the odds. Can’t see us either. We break loose of the formation, light the fires and go in hot. I cut high, Ali and Johnny from the right. My targeting picks up the Bit as it lays another shot at Sung. Then I see its engines show heat as it swings its active scan toward Ali and Johnny. It doesn’t see me. Not even when I cut loose three shots of my own. Not even when it dies. That alter-day I paint the kill on my fireship. Sung is gone—broke up in the Bit’s first shot. Now we are three. But, dear God, we can dance.

Pg. 1

John D. Popham
John Popham is a freelance writer living in  Washington, DC.  His short story, “Dusk” is  published in the current issue of th Story Review. His story “Plainsong” is forthcoming  in  the  Winter  issue  of  Noneuclidean Cafe. He is a recipient of the Mark Time Award for best science fiction audio for the radio  drama “Primitive James.”

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen

Pg. 1

. . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .
  by John M. Whalen  A Jack Brand story
Part One rand cut the ignition. The motor whirred to a stop and sand billowed under the HoverJeep as it sunk down on the ground. He climbed out of the vehicle, his eyes shielded from the glare of the desert by the wide brim of his hat. He walked toward the Strato-Van parked about twenty yards ahead, next to a grouping of large boulders. The van appeared to be abandoned, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He pulled the Electro-Pistol from the holster Velcroed to his leg and with a flick of his thumb set the charge to “full.” Something moved under the vehicle. “Come out of there,” Brand ordered. “You’ve got three seconds.” “All right, all right,” a voice said. “Don’t shoot.” A tall, thin man with sandy hair, a long face, and watery blue eyes crawled out from under the vehicle. He was dressed in prison grey. Mingo. “Hands on your head,” Brand ordered. “Where are the other two?” Mingo shrugged and grinned. “Don’t know, Brand,” he said. “Took off somewhere. Don’t know where. You gonna take me back?” Brand pulled a white plastic strip from a pouch in his belt. “Behind your back.” Mingo turned, swung his hands around behind his back and Brand held the plastic strip against the side of his wrists. It seemed to come alive and wrapped itself around the fugitive’s wrists, then congealed again into a pair of hard plastic cuffs. “Down on your knees.” He pushed him down by a shoulder, and looked warily at the big rocks on the other side of the van. “Thorson! Jackson!” he yelled. “Come out. You wouldn’t try to walk from here. There’s nothing for fifty miles.” There was the crunch of sand under a boot

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and a medium-sized man with dark brown hair stepped around the side of one of the boulders. Cal Thorson. “You’re right, Brand,” he said, a hard glint shining in his yellow-green eyes. “But then everybody’s got to be right sometime.” “Hands over your head.” He moved toward Thorson. There was a scuffling sound above. He looked up too late. A body flew down from the top of the boulder. The impact knocked him off his feet. He landed on his back, and through a cloud of dust and sand saw a black man sitting on his chest. The man had ten fingers wrapped around the wrist of his gun hand. He slammed it down hard on the hot sand. Jackson. Brand reached up and grabbed a handful of Jackson’s face and tried to pry him off. The heel of Thorson’s boot thunked against the side of his head. Brand saw stars and involuntarily squeezed the trigger of the Beretta. A blue blast of electricity shot past Thorson and hit one of the boulders. Pain shot up Brand’s arm as Jackson twisted his wrist hard. He dropped the gun in the sand. Thorson picked it up. “Don’t move,” Thorson said. “Or I’ll kill you.” # He sat with his back resting against the side of one of the limestone boulders. Jackson and Mingo leaned on the fenders of the Hover-Jeep, looking down at him. Jackson had the AR-225 Plasma Beam rifle that Brand kept in the jeep. Cal Thorson stood in front of them with the ElectroPistol on his leg. They had helped themselves to the water and rations Brand carried in the jeep. Temporarily satisfied, they turned their attention back to him. “Guess you’re wondering why I haven’t killed you yet,” Thorson said. He looked over at his companions. “This here’s Jack Brand, boys. He used to be with the Tulon Security Force.” He looked

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
back at Brand. “How come you’re still doing their dirty work for them?” “I take an occasional contract job, if it interests me. When I heard you busted out I took a real interest.” Thorson looked over at Mingo and Jackson and laughed. “Three years ago he sent me up for a killing over at the Pinkney Oil Processing Plant,” he said. “Twenty years hard labor.” “Should have been the death penalty,” Brand said. “Yeah, you’d have liked that better,” Thorson said. “But they don’t have the death penalty on Tulon. Not enough people here. They need every man they got, even the convicts, to work in their lousy oil fields.” He looked at Brand for a moment, the finger of his right hand rubbing the side of his nose. “I served three years of that sentence,” Thorson said. “And every day of those three years in this miserable heat, all I did was think about you and what I’d do to you if I ever got out and caught up with you. I never thought it would happen. Maybe I need to have more faith.” “Will you finish with him, man?” It was Jackson. “We gotta get a move on.” “In a minute,” Thorson said with some irritation. “I just want to tell Brand something first before I kill him.” He stepped a little closer, but not too close. “That Strato-Van we took out of the prison yard ran out of gas,” Thorson continued. “We didn’t have no time for a fill up. But I see you got plenty in that Hover-Jeep of yours. Water and food too. There’s a settlement West of here. We were heading for it when we ran dry. It’s a religious community. They call it New Eden. They ain’t even got guns there. It’ll be easy pickings.” “They got women there, Thorson?” Mingo asked. “What do you think?” ”I think we’re gonna have some fun,” Jackson said with a wide grin. “Reckon so,” Thorson said. “We’ll gear up there for the long haul over the mountains. I hear there’s places there with green grass and fresh cool water. That’s where we’ll be, Brand. Sorry you can’t come along.” “That’s the way you like your victims, isn’t it, Thorson?” Brand said. “Nice and defenseless.”

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“Don’t matter much,” Thorson said. “I can kill an armed man easy as one that’s unarmed. Like you, for instance.” He grinned maliciously and turned to the other two. “All right,” he said. “Let’s get out of here. Mingo, you drive. Jackson, get in back.” The two convicts climbed into the vehicle. Thorson turned to face Brand again and pulled the pistol from its holster. “One more thing, Brand,” he said, the grin widening to reveal yellow teeth. “Something I want you to know before you die. About your sister.” Brand’s eyes narrowed and his body tensed. “Yeah,” Thorson said. “I know the story. How she was a member of your squad in the glory days of the Tulon Security Force, and how you got jumped by the Wilkerson gang. They killed everybody but you and took your sister with them. And you’ve spent the last seven years trying to find her. “I knew Jesse Wilkerson, Brand. Ran into him one day about four, five years ago. Never mind where. She was with him. Good lookin’ woman. He had a rope around her neck and he led her around like a dog. Terrible way to treat a woman. I saw him beat her and rub her face in the dirt, just for the hell of it. And I’ll tell you something else. Your sister was loving every minute of it. She just couldn’t get enough of old Jesse.” Brand got to his feet, his hands closed into two fists, his face tight. “I hear she’s still lovin’ it,” Thorson said. “You know where they are?” Brand asked. “Could be. But it won’t do you no good, even if I tell you,” Thorson said. “You’re gonna be dead. Unless maybe you think you can take this pistol away from me, before I can pull the trigger.” Brand looked down the muzzle of the gun as Thorson stood there with a twisted grin on his face. Brand knew the man meant to kill him. There wasn’t a chance he could close the distance between them before he pulled the trigger. But he had an edge Thorson didn’t know about. At that close range it might not be enough. But he had to try for it. “What’s the matter, Brand?” Thorson said. “No guts?” Brand dove at him. The Electro-Pistol jumped and a bright blue wave of light crackled through

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
the air, hitting Brand in the solar plexus. A black circle the size of a saucer appeared in the center of Brand’s tunic, and his body crumpled. The world went black and he fell in a heap, smoke rising from his body. “So long, Brand,” Thorson said and climbed into the passenger side of the Hover-Jeep. He nodded at Mingo. “Let’s go.” # Brand woke up, his abdomen on fire, his ribs aching horribly. He rolled over on his side and looked down the front of his tunic at the burn hole the pistol had made. Grunting in pain he stripped the tunic off. The gun blast had burnt through most of the Krylor vest he was wearing underneath. There was only a thin layer of plastic left covering his skin and it was badly charred. He took off the vest and carefully peeled the plastic from his skin. When it was removed, he could see the damage had all been limited to the epidermis. The vest hadn’t been enough of an edge for him to jump Thorson, but he realized if he hadn’t put it on before setting out, he’d have been dead for sure. He put the tunic back on carefully and stood up. How long he’d been out he wasn’t sure. His Jeep was gone, along with his water, his weapons, his desert rations, and his first aid kit. If he was going anywhere, it would be on foot. He knew the settlement Thorson mentioned. It was a community founded over 150 years ago by one of the original settlers who’d fled Earth during the Terror Wars. Brand guessed it was at least fifty miles away. He didn’t know if he could walk that far without water. But he’d have to try. He hoped Thorson would still be there. His mouth was dry and he tasted salt when he licked his lips. The temperature was around 120 degrees. It wouldn’t take long for dehydration to set in. He knew that if you lost more than 18 percent of the water in your body you died. He looked skyward. Five Skavs already were circling around high above him. He started walking. # He’d been walking several hours when he heard a low moaning sound like the wail of some ancient goddess not far behind him. He looked back over his shoulder. An ominous-looking dark

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wall of swirling sand was coming his way. Sand storm! He looked around for shelter. There was an outcropping of boulders ahead. He ran for them. The wind picked up. The moan rose to a dry shriek and sand stung his skin. He moved around the twenty-foot high outcropping, looking for a space to crawl into. At the top, several of the rocks leaned together forming a small cave. The wind rose to a deafening howl that seemed to shake the sky. He jumped, grabbed a handhold, and pulled himself up. He scrambled over the top and crawled into the cave-like space, hoping there were no animals or poisonous insects lurking there. There was barely room for his long frame, but it seemed unoccupied by any other life forms. He took off his hat and rolled over on his back. The wind tore at the mouth of the cave with a loud scream. Sand pelted the rocks with the force of a hailstorm. He hoped his shelter was high enough off the ground. Too many had died in Tulon sand storms when they’d taken refuge at ground level and been buried alive. There was nothing to do now but wait. He was losing precious time. But he reckoned the storm would slow Thorson and his friends down too. In fact, they could have more serious problems. The Hover-Jeep did not travel well in these conditions. If they didn’t stop moving but tried to keep going, they could ruin the vehicle. He hoped so. He’d catch up with them. All in due time, he said to himself. All in due time. He lay there quietly in the narrow darkness and thought about what Thorson had said. His jaw tightened as he remembered the convict’s words.  Had a rope around her neck and led her around  like a dog. Terrible way to treat a woman. Terry! How could he have let such a thing happen to his kid sister? It was his fault. He was responsible. There was no escaping that fact. He never should have let her come with him to Tulon. Should never have let her join the Security Force. But when the Terror War ended, and Brand got out of the Rangers, the Government of the Northern Hemisphere, as it was now called, began colonizing other planets. Oil had been found on Tulon, and the oil companies and the provisional government needed recruits to build a Security Force to protect the oil fields and the oil workers. Brand’s experience as an Army Ranger made him highly qualified for that kind of work. Terry said

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
she was damned if she’d stay home while he went out exploring new worlds. Their parents had been killed in the Great Salt Lake chemical attack, and were buried with a thousand others in the mass grave out in the Bonneville Salt Flats, where they used to ride their horses as kids. There was nothing left of the lives they knew growing up as children on their ranch fifty miles from Salt Lake. He agreed to take her with him. The wind howled all around and Brand felt as though the rocks that sheltered him were beginning to press in on him. He was sweating and his chest felt tight. The storm outside seemed to be sucking air out of the cave. His mind went back to that day seven years ago when they went after the Wilkerson Gang. Jesse Wilkerson was a huge brute of a man with a shaved head, huge belly, and an arm as big as a side of beef. They had robbed a Trans-Exxon field office. Brand and his posse tracked them to Alma Mesa. There hadn’t been a day since that Brand didn’t think about it. Didn’t remember how he’d led the posse into a trap—a mistake that a man of his experience should never have made. Three killed, him wounded, and his sister kidnapped. The walls of his shelter closed in on him even tighter, as the wind whined and whistled around the confining rocks. The temperature inside the cave had risen considerably. Now, after seven years, he had a fresh lead. Thorson. He’d catch up with him. And then he’d find Wilkerson and Terry. All in due time, he told himself. A blast of sand lashed against the mouth of the cave, and the rocks themselves seemed to shudder. All in due time. # The storm lasted until late afternoon. When it was over, Brand wriggled on his back toward the entrance and kicked away the sand that halfcovered the opening. He slid out feet first and stood on top of the rock he’d first climbed up on. The sand was piled higher around the outcropping than it had been, but the harsh, unfriendly landscape stretched out to the horizon much the same as it had before. In the East the orange and purple shades of evening were beginning to color the sky. He jumped down to the desert floor and

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started walking again. When night came, the three moons of Tulon rose. Scorpio-pedes, giant lizards and snakes, their tongues flicking the air, skittered out from caves and under rocks and tried to sting or bite him. In the distance he heard the wailing cry of Jack-eynas baying at the moons. If a pack of those beasts ever got his scent, he knew he would be finished. He wanted to lie down in the dark and sleep, but he knew if he did, he’d never get up again. He kept on walking. The sun rose slowly—a big orange disc that portended more heat. Brand’s legs were stiffening from dehydration. His tongue was swollen and he felt as if he was gulping sandpaper with every swallow. He stopped and surveyed the horizon. In the far distance he saw the blue outline of a mountain range low on the horizon. Or was it a mirage? He walked toward it. Noon. The world shimmered in heat waves. He looked up at the cobalt sky and the Skavs were still there, circling patiently. His face was blistered, his lips cracked. Everything seemed to be disappearing into a white haze. There was no vegetation. No plant life where he might find moisture. It was so much like the Salt Flats back home. In other deserts, you could find vegetation, like cacti and cut into them and squeeze out a few drops of water. But on the salt flats, if you didn’t have water with you, you’d never make it back. And it was the same here. Nothing but hot sand and rock. He fell down, his strength gone. He couldn’t move. He had to get up, he told himself. He had to make it to New Eden. He had to find Thorson. He lifted his head from the sand and through blurry eyes thought he saw something moving. Two hazy figures on horseback. He recognized them as they came into focus as his sister and himself as kids. She rode the chestnut mare, and he the Sorrell, the way they always did. “Terry!” He watched as the two figures on horseback rode by. He wanted to call to them. He wanted to tell Terry he was sorry. But they rode past without seeing him. He raised a hand futilely, as they rode away from him and disappeared behind the crest of a dune. “Get up,” he told himself. “Can’t lie here. Got to go on.” He pulled himself to his feet and started

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
walking again. One foot in front of the other. In the direction that the two riders had taken. # Night fell again and the moons of Tulon seemed even bigger than the night before. Brand’s thirst was unendurable. The howls of the Jack-eynas seemed louder, closer. Their cries sent a shiver down his spine. And then it happened. He saw the yellow eyes glinting in the darkness. Heard the low deep growl. The Jack-eyna stood only several feet away, its feet dug straight down in the sand, head tucked back inside its neck, black lips pulled back tight, exposing long white fangs. Foam dripped from the animal’s jaws, and Brand realized it must be sick. That would explain why it was out here alone. Jack-eynas normally travel in packs, but when one becomes sick, he is usually ostracized by his fellows and sent out to wander and die alone. The thing sprang and knocked Brand on his back. Brand held the beast’s slavering jaws away from his throat with two hands. The creature shrieked and growled in rabid rage. Brand managed to keep the fur-covered fury from tearing his throat out, but he could feel the claws of its hind feet trying to tear out his abdomen. He felt something hard under his back. With one hand holding the animal by the fur on its throat, he reached under his back. Desperate fingers clutched the rock he’d fallen on. He rolled over on top of the Jack-eyna and raised the rock up over his head. He smashed it down on the animal’s skull with all the strength he had left. The animal yelped in pain. Again the rock came down. Again and again, until the animal lay silent and still, its head a bloody mass of pulp and bone. Panting for breath, Brand rolled away from the animal. He struggled to his feet and stood there for a moment, swaying like a tree. He took several steps and then the three moons of Tulon swirled in a crazy dance and he collapsed to the ground unconscious. # When he awoke, he believed it was for the last time. How long he’d been lying there bleeding, exhausted, and parched, he couldn’t tell. But he was certain his life was ending. He knew it because he heard church music. He’d never been

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a religious man and he wondered why at the last few minutes of his life he would hear the sound of an organ and a small choir singing “Nearer My God to Thee.” But that was exactly what he heard. He lay there with his face in the sand and listened to the hymn coming to him on the cool desert wind that ruffled his thick hair. The sound of the music seemed to increase and diminish with the strength of the breeze. Then he realized it was not a hallucination, he really did hear music. New Eden! He raised his head. The music came from the other side of the sand dune he was lying on. He got to his feet and staggered feebly toward the crest of the dune, every inch of his body racked with pain. He made it to the top of the dune and lights swam before his eyes. There were several buildings that looked like houses. There were others that seemed nothing more than shacks. But there was one larger building with lights shining in the windows. It was from that building that the music came. There was a porch in front with several steps going down to the street. At the apex of the roof was a wooden cross that shone white in the moonlight. The music ended with a long, low chord on the organ and the chorus singing, “Amen.” Brand staggered down the hill and saw people coming down the front steps of the church. He started toward them. A woman screamed in fright. The churchgoers stood and watched in silence as he lumbered closer. But half way to them, he dropped to his knees. “Thomas, go to him,” a woman said. “Someone is in need of help.” Brand fell into a pool of darkness and heard nothing more. Part Two He opened his eyes. Sunlight filtered through gauzy curtains hanging on a window. He was in bed in a small, but comfortably furnished room with walls painted a cheerful yellow. A sharp pain flared under his ribs, when he tried to sit up. Lifting the blanket, he saw that he was wearing a nightgown. He touched the places where the Plasma rifle had burned him and the Jack-eyna

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
had clawed him, and felt the bandage and dressing someone had put on them. Then he remembered how he’d gotten here and his heart raced, his head throbbing. Thorson, Mingo, and Jackson! He jumped up. Dizziness and nausea flooded over him. He must have made a noise, because the bedroom door opened. “Don’t try to get up.” A woman came into the room. She was blonde, brown-eyed, and had a kind, but somewhat worn-looking face. “You must get back in bed. You’re in no condition.” She stood next to the bed looking to Brand like something out of an old story book. She wore a long gingham dress with white ruffles at the sleeve. Black leather shoes poked out from the hem of the dress, and her blond hair was rolled up in a tight bun, tied with a black ribbon. She went to a small table next to the bed and poured water from a pitcher into a wooden cup. She gave him the cup and looked at him with deep concern. “Drink this slowly,” she said. Brand took the cup and took a sip through cracked lips. “You’re badly dehydrated, Mr. Brand.” He looked up at her surprised. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “I took the liberty of looking at your identification papers. I saw your badge.” “How long was I out?” “Not long. Last night and most of the morning. It’s almost noon now.” “Any other strangers been here?” “No one. You’re the first person from the outside world who’s been here in some time.” “Who’s in charge?” “My husband, the Reverend Thomas Freemont,” she said. “My name is Sarah Freemont.” Brand’s head began to throb and he narrowed his eyes against the pain. “Where is your husband? I’ve got to talk to him.” “He’s . . . not here,” the woman said. “Where is he?” “The cemetery.” Brand saw his boots standing in front of a trunk next to the wall. On top of the trunk were a shirt and pants and his hat. “I need to get dressed.” “But you can’t—” He threw the covers aside and got up shakily. He took a few steps toward the trunk and grabbed

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up the clothing—black pants and red shirt, the old fashioned kind with buttons down the front instead of the modern day pullover tunic. Despite the woman’s objections, Brand started putting the clothes on. She left the room and shut the door to give him privacy. He dressed, stepped into his boots, put on his hat, and then opened the door. He walked into a living room, Spartan in decor—a couch, several chairs. The woman started toward him. “Thomas is not himself right now,” she said. “What do you mean?” “He’s at our daughter’s grave, Mr. Brand.” Her voice cracked. “Jennie died last week. Stung by a Scorpio-pede. She was only four years old. There wasn’t time to send for a doctor. Out here we’re too far away. All Thomas could do was pray. Thomas prayed so hard for her to live. And when life left her, he died too, inside. He’s not the same man. Everyday since we laid her in the ground, he just stands there by her grave for hours. He won’t speak. He won’t eat. His soul is lost in despair, Mr. Brand. We’re all waiting for him to come back to us. I think if something doesn’t happen soon, he’ll lose his mind.” # The bright light out on the street hurt Brand’s eyes. A few of the people of New Eden walked about. They all wore the same simple dress, he noticed. The women in long dresses, the men in coveralls and shirt. As he walked, Brand saw several other small houses like the one he had just left along the street and some shacks made of wood or tin. There was a small general store, and a blacksmith’s. Several lean-tos and tents were scattered around between the houses. A tumbleweed rolled past him and a dust devil swirled in the middle of the street. It was a burnt-out looking place that had once seen better days. He could see the cemetery behind the church on the Western side of the settlement. He circled around the church and saw a man standing at the far end of the graveyard—a silhouette standing against the backdrop of the desert that ran clear out to the blue distant mountains. As he got closer, Brand saw a tall, thin man with a dark brown beard. A black coat hung from his slumped shoulders and he held a black hat in his hands. His head was bowed and he stood in

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
front of a small stone marker that jutted out of a mound of freshly dug earth. “Reverend Freemont?” Brand said, taking off his hat. The reverend looked up at the distant mountains, as if he hadn’t heard him. “My name’s Brand—” “Yes, Mr. Brand, I know,” the reverend said. “I don’t like disturbing you,” Brand said. “Your wife told me what happened. I’m sorry. But it’s urgent.” “I didn’t think you walked all the way across the desert without some reason.” “Reverend, there are three men on their way here. Three killers who broke out of prison. They’re armed and dangerous. It’s just luck they haven’t gotten here already. They must have had trouble in the sand storm yesterday. But they’ll be here soon enough. They have to stop here for supplies before going over those mountains. Are there any weapons here in New Eden?” “Weapons?” the reverend asked with surprise. “There are no weapons here.” “Then I’ll have to ask you to get your people off the street,” Brand said. “Get them in their houses and tell them to arm themselves with whatever they can find. Axes, pitchforks, kitchen knives.” “They wouldn’t know what to do with them,” the reverend said. He turned and looked at Brand. “They’ve been taught not to believe in violence for any reason.” “Then at least get them in their houses. If you don’t, this place will turn into a slaughterhouse.” The reverend didn’t say anything right away. He turned away from Brand again and gazed at the blue mountains once more. He pointed to them. “You see that tall peak with the snow on it, Mr. Brand?” he asked. He spoke slowly, dispassionately, as if nothing Brand had said had made any impact on him. “My great-great-great-grandfather Jonah Freemont named it Mt. Ararat when he came here 150 years ago. He said the name was fitting. On Earth Mt. Ararat was the final landing place of Noah’s Ark. Just as Noah was set down on a mountain when he fled the Great Flood, so our ancestors landed here, fleeing the flood of iniquity back on Earth. It was a good place, he thought. In this barren land, the snow on the mountain sent water down to grow crops. This valley is hidden from the outside world by

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the sand dunes on one side and the mountains on the other. It was a place of hope.” “Reverend, there’s no—” “There was a time when there were a thousand people in this congregation, Mr. Brand. A thousand believers. Do you know how many are here now? Thirty. New Eden is on its way to becoming a ghost town. For a hundred fifty years we kept to ourselves, closing our eyes to what was happening in the outside world. We believed in peace and love, that the meek shall inherit the earth. We believed, while all around us the planet was crumbling. The corporations came and raped Tulon for its oil. They pushed the original settlers into the wilderness where they had to live like animals. The Tulon Nomads rose up on their dune buggies, killing, stealing, and worse. Tulon has become more evil than Earth during the worst period of the Terror War. “My people asked me to explain how this could happen. They expected me to give them answers. I told them that somehow it was all part of a Divine Plan. But even I didn’t believe it. They could sense that. I never really had the faith that my father and his father before him and all the others had. The people started to wander away. I was losing them. Some went to live in the labor camps and villages. Some have even gone back Earth. Only a handful remain here now. A handful still struggling to believe.” He looked down at the small headstone marking the freshly dug grave. “It must have been punishment for my lack of faith,” he said. “She was only four years old, Mr. Brand. The joy of our life. As she lay delirious with fever I prayed. I pleaded for her life. I promised I would build New Eden back up and make it like it was before. If only she lived. But she didn’t survive.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. Reverend Thomas Freemont looked at Brand, and his dark brown eyes were as empty and bleak as the landscape around him. “He took her. Don’t you see? If I had been stronger. Been more like my father and his father before him, New Eden would have continued to thrive and she would still be with us. Now there’s nothing left. It’s all gone. All of it. And I’m responsible. You say men are coming to destroy New Eden? It’s already been destroyed. I destroyed it. So let them come. The exterminating angels. Let

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
them burn New Eden to the ground. Perhaps out of the ashes something better will come.” “What about your people?” “Tell them to leave before it’s too late.” “You won’t even try to save this place?” Brand asked in astonishment. “I’m not New Eden’s savior, Mr. Brand. I’m its destroyer.” The reverend started to walk away but Brand grabbed his arm. “You blame yourself for what’s happened here,” he said. “You say you feel responsible. Guilty. Maybe that’s something we have in common, Reverend. I bear a responsibility too. I lost a sister seven years ago. She was kidnapped by Nomads because of my negligence. But one of the men coming here knows where she is. I mean to take him. I’m full of guilt too. But there’s a difference between you and me. For seven years I’ve never given up the hope that someday I’d find my sister and punish the man who abducted her. That hope is the only thing that keeps me alive. I’ll never stop looking. But you’ve given up hope. Why?” “I’ve explained my reasons.” “I’m not a religious man, Reverend,” Brand said. “I don’t know the first thing about it. But one thing I do know: without hope you can’t go on living. I look at New Eden and I see a town that was built on hope. It’s probably the last place of its kind on this hell-hole of a planet. If it goes, there won’t be anything like it left. Doesn’t that make it something worth fighting for?” “I can’t fight anymore,” the reverend said. “I don’t have the heart.” He looked at Brand and the law man could see the utter desolation and wild despair in the man’s eyes. The reverend moved away from the small grave and stepped over the low fence surrounding the cemetery. Brand watched as he walked off into the desert. He knew there wasn’t any point in trying to stop him. # They came at sundown. The Hover-Jeep slid in quietly from the wilderness and stopped at the beginning of the deserted street. The orange sun was setting behind the church at the other end. The long shadow of the cross on the top of the roof fell down the length of the street. Thorson

Pg. 

stepped on it as he climbed out of the vehicle, a red rage lighting the corners of his yellow-green eyes. “Where is everybody?” Jackson asked. He came up next to Thorson, the AR-225 resting on his shoulder. “Where’s the women, Thorson?” Mingo asked. “I don’t see no women.” “Shut up,” Thorson said. “I’ve had most enough of you. Hadn’t been for you driving us into that ravine in that sandstorm, we’d have been here a day ago. You’re lucky I didn’t kill you back there. If it hadn’t been for Jackson, we never would have gotten this jeep running again.” Mingo shrugged but didn’t say anything. Thorson looked up and down the street. “Looks like the good people of New Eden want to play hide and seek,” he said. “Jackson take that rifle and go into some of these houses and drag ‘em out onto the street. Mingo, go with him and set fire to a few of these shacks, so they’ll know we mean business.” Jackson ran to the door of the first house and smashed it in with the rifle butt. Mingo ran in behind him. There were screams and yelling and soon a man and woman and three small children came out of the house at gunpoint. Orange flames licked the curtains hanging in the front window. Jackson and Mingo went on to the next house. Thorson walked up the street to the church, as people came filing out their front doors. He climbed up the church steps and stood on the porch looking down at the chaos in the street. A bell hung in a wooden frame by the front door. He pulled the bell rope. “Come on out, people,” Thorson said, clanging the bell loudly. “Come on. We want to talk to you.” The people gathered in a small crowd at the foot of the church steps. In the background smoke billowed into the street from the buildings that had been set ablaze. Jackson and Mingo jumped up the steps and stood on either side of him. “Listen up,” Thorson said. “First of all, you see that man there holding that rifle? He’s not a very nice man. He could kill any one of you without batting an eyelash. If I said the word, he’d pull the trigger in a heartbeat. Now I know this is supposed to be a place where people don’t believe in carrying guns. But if anyone has one, I want you to tell me and bring it to me right now.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
“ “We have no guns,” a voice in the back of the crowd said. The crowd opened and a tall thin man in a black coat and hat came forward. “Who are you?” Thorson asked. “I’m the Reverend Thomas Freemont, pastor of New Eden. It’s against our beliefs to bear firearms.” Sarah Freemont came up next to him and stood by his side. Her eyes searched his face for a sign of what he intended to do. He looked at her and gave her a reassuring smile. “Well, pastor, that’s good,” Thorson laughed. “Too bad more people don’t think like you do.” “We offer you no harm,” Reverend Freemont said. “You’re welcome to whatever we have. We’ll give you food, drink, shelter for the night. We offer these things in the spirit of brotherhood. We only ask that you lay down your guns and share the Creator’s bounty with us in peace.” Thorson’s lips twisted in a crooked smile. “Well, Reverend,” he said. “That’s a mighty fine idea, but there’s them’s that would just love us to put our guns down so they could come and take us back to jail. I don’t think we can do that.” “Do you think your guns will save you?” “Let’s say when push comes to shove, I’d rather have a gun than not.” “When the hour of judgment is upon you, what then? What use will your gun be?” “Reverend, you can stop with the sermons,” Thorson said. He came down the church steps, one step at a time, stopped several feet away from him, and unholstered the Beretta. “Seems like you don’t have much respect for guns,” he said. “Nor for the men that hold them.” Thorson’s face tightened. He pointed the muzzle of the Electro-Pistol at the reverend. “That right?” he asked. “Maybe I need to teach you to have some respect. How’d that be?” “It is written,” the reverend said. ‘For a righteous man falls seven times and rises again.’” Thorson’s lips stretched in a wide grin as he stared at the clergyman with amusement. He squeezed the trigger and blue light quivered through the air. The reverend fell to the ground, a black hole smoking in his left shoulder. “Thomas!” Sarah Freemont cried.

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“You gonna rise again, Reverend?” Thorson said. “Or maybe now you’re wishin’ you had a gun of your own?” The reverend got up again slowly. “‘As saith the proverb from the ancients,” he said, “wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.’” “That tears it,” Thorson said. He aimed the pistol at the reverend’s head. The church door burst open behind him with a bang. Thorson spun around. “Brand!” # Brand came through the church doorway, and strode up behind Jackson. Jackson turned, carbine in his grip. Brand grabbed the barrel and stock of the carbine, put a foot up in the middle of Jackson’s stomach, and kicked him off the church steps. Down in the street, Thorson raised the pistol and squeezed off a round. The blue ray missed Brand’s head by an inch. Brand fired the AR-225 from the hip. A shaft of purple light struck Thorson in the chest and he fell to his knees. Brand heard Mingo running at him. He turned and swung the carbine, smashing the stock into the side of Mingo’s head. The sandy-haired man fell on the porch and lay still. Brand looked down at Thorson. The man was on his knees, looking up at him in disbelief. The pistol fell from his fingers and he toppled over into the dust. Jackson started to get up. “Don’t even think about it,” Brand said. He went down the steps. He had some lengths of rope in his back pocket. “Boy, take this,” he said to a young man in the crowd, and handed the assault rifle to him. The boy looked over at Reverend Thomas. “It’s all right,” he said. The boy took the carbine and held it on Jackson while Brand tied his hands. When he was finished, he went over to Thorson. The dying man lay on his back, his dark eyes shining in the light of the triple moons of Tulon. “Brand, how the hell?” he asked. “You should make sure a man’s dead when you kill him,” Brand said.

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

". . . In The Waste Howling Wilderness . . .," by John M. Whalen
“Next time I will.” “You don’t have much time left,” Brand said. “There’s something I’ve got to know. What you told me about my sister and Jesse Wilkerson. Where was it that you saw them?” A sudden grin twisted on the Thorson’s face, and he chuckled. “Where was it?” Brand asked through gritted teeth. “Where’s Wilkerson now? Where’s my sister?” “Guess you would like to know, wouldn’t you?” Thorson said. His cruel smile in his eyes faded and he fell back on the street. # Mingo crouched in the rear hatch, and Jackson sat in the passenger seat of the Hover-Jeep, their hands bound behind them. Brand put a ten gallon container of water in the back next to Mingo. “Sure you got enough fuel, Mr. Brand?” Reverend Thomas asked. He had one arm in a sling. His wife stood next to him. “Should be enough to get to the next relay station. I can fuel up there.” “I wish you God-speed,” the reverend said . “And thank you, Mr. Brand. For everything you did.” “I couldn’t have done it without you,” Brand said. “Mind telling me what made you come back and face up to Thorson that way? Without a gun?” The reverend looked out across the desert at Mt. Ararat. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I walked out there yesterday, thinking about what you said. That a man can’t live without hope. It’s true. Yesterday, I didn’t want to live. I walked so far, I couldn’t see New Eden anymore, and I remembered what you said about it being the last place of its kind on Tulon. I looked around and all I could see was the dry, lifeless wilderness. I don’t know... I felt small. Alone. The sun and the desert seemed so big. I remembered Jennie and how I thought she died as punishment for my failure. And suddenly I realized how arrogant that notion was. Who was I—this little speck on the landscape—to be singled out for special punishment? And what kind of Creator would be so cruel? And I realized, He wasn’t punishing me. I was punishing myself.”

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His smoke-colored eyes moved away from the mountain and looked at Brand. “We all punish ourselves needlessly for things we have no control over,” he said. “All of us.” Brand nodded. “Maybe so, Reverend,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry that man died without telling you where your sister is.” “I’ve got some ideas. I know some of the places Thorson used to hang out. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Goodbye, Reverend. I’ve got a feeling New Eden will be all right now.” They shook hands. “I hope you find her,” the reverend said. “All in good time, Reverend. All in good time.” Rev. Thomas Freemont and his wife watched as the Hover-Jeep’s engine whirred to life and the vehicle lifted off the ground. They saw it glide across the sand and head north. “‘He found him in a desert land,’” the reverend said half to himself, half to his wife, “‘and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.’” They watched the jeep until they could see it no more.

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

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Featured Artist: Euka

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Featured Artist:
Tom Roberts
Name: Tom Roberts Age: 23 Hobbies: art; music; films Favorite Book / Author: Hitchhiker’s Guide to  the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams What media do you work in? Mostly digital Where your work has been featured? Only on deviantART Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? deviantART Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? I’m inspired by other people’s achievements Have you have any notable failures, and how has that affected your work? Lots of attempts have turned out less than desireable, but this is just part of the learning curve What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? PhotoShop and Terragen What tool / equipment do you wish you had? A Wacom tablet

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King

Pg. 

Deuces Wild: “Steel Trap” 
  by L. S. King

ristan tapped off the comm and left the bridge, satisfied to find buyers for both their official and unofficial cargoes. He’d had to leave Perseus Station in a hurry, but their next stop had been uneventful and, now that he had buyers lined up, successful. In Confederation space, smuggled goods brought great prices due to the embargoes against all but governmentsanctioned suppliers. This stop at Tania should be lucrative. He frowned at a muffled pounding and walked toward its source—Slap’s quarters. After receiving no answer to his chime, Tristan overrode the lock. The door slid open to reveal his tall companion, tears streaming down his face, pounding the bulkhead over and over with one fist, then the other. Sweat tightened his dark, curly hair into tiny ringlets. Red splattered and smeared on the metal wall. Tristan watched, leaning against the doorframe, arms folded. Slap’s blows slowed, and finally he stopped, his shoulders slumped, his breathing heavy rasps. Without turning, he muttered, “What’re you looking at?” “You tell me.” Slap squeezed his eyes shut. Through clenched teeth he hissed, “I see them die every day. Every night. My beautiful Shallah.” He inhaled raggedly. “My baby, my son, Evan. And Ol’ Pa. Dead. All dead. Burned. Murdered.” Tristan lifted his head slightly, frowning. “You had said the Mordas killed your family. I thought you meant your parents, siblings.” A sob shook Slap and he gulped, stiffening his shoulders. An admirable effort at control. The cowboy shook his head. “Naw. My folks died when I was younger. It was only Ol’ Pa, Shallah, the baby, and me on the ranch when the Mordas came.” His lip curled. “They even killed Ol’ Pa. The Zendians weren’t happy over that. They said their god would send an avenging angel to stop the evil. That’s why they sent me to the city. I was supposed to hook up with the angel.” Slap’s eyes Ray Gun Revival

T

cut to Tristan, the blue almost glowing from the water in them. “Instead I found you.” He stopped and broke into a low chuckle. “I don’t think you qualify as an angel, but you did stop the evil. Blew ‘em all to dust. The dirt-sucking lizards.” He continued to laugh, a low, malevolent sound. “Go back.” Tristan rubbed his forehead, trying to make sense of Slap’s ramblings. “Why were the Zendians upset over Ol’ Pa’s death? Who was he to you?” “He was a Zendian. I’d helped him when I was small. I found him hurt. It’s not often the Zendians have anything to do with humans, but after that Ol’ Pa became my friend. He said we were brothers, best translation from their language anyway. After my Ma died, he came and stayed with me. Trying to help me run the ranch—which was funny sometimes cuz he wouldn’t have anything to do with any electronic machinery, no Zendian will—and just...being there so I wasn’t alone.” Tristan stared at the cowboy. Finally he pushed up from the doorjamb. “Wrap up your hands and come down to the cargo bay.” # Wiping his sweaty face on a towel, Tristan watched Slap chin himself on the pipe. Why was he doing this for Slap? Not because he cared, certainly. But listening to a man smash his fists into the bulkheads would get on his nerves. Better this way. The cowboy had been working out steadily for over an hour. His arms trembled as he pulled himself up again. He held himself face level to the metal bar, teeth bared with effort, and dropped to the deck. Tristan tossed him a towel. Slap took it without a word. After drying and pulling his shirt back on, he nodded upward. “Where’d you get that pipe, and those rings hanging there?” Tristan shrugged. “If I keep this thing for long, I’ll get mats and more equipment. Plenty of room. I can even get weights or a punching bag if you’d like.” Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King
“Yeah.” Slap looked around. “I’ve been bored to tears the last few days. Not much to do aboard ol’ Bertha.” “Her name is Giselle.” “And the next time we get in a scrape, you’ll change it again. I’ll just call her Bertha.” Tristan didn’t deign to respond but changed the subject. “If you want something to do, I can show you various jobs around the ship.” “Maybe later. Right now, I’m hungry.” Things were back to normal. For now.

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Tristan eyed the cowboy as he followed him back to the ship. What had he done to deserve having his pleasant solitude disrupted—much less by someone with such wounds? #

The steely-eyed Confed Sec operative would expect Tristan to make contact at first opportunity. So Tristan stayed aboard ship. He owed those people no loyalty or consideration. He wasn’t a citizen of the Confederation, and didn’t care what their secret security’s schemes were. # He played checkers with Slap, and was “So you gonna dump me now that we’re on a surprised—the kid had a sharp mind. planet again?” Kid. Was he? At times he seemed so young, Tristan blinked in the sunlight as he walked despite his size. But he had been married, owned down the ramp. “No. It would be in your best a ranch. A man then. Young, but—a man. interest to stay with me for the time being.” “How old are you?” Tristan barely kept his face “Oh, would it? How nice of you.” from registering shock at asking the question. Tristan took a deep breath. Emperor Vasso What had made him inquire? He prided himself knew by now Slap had been the one to rescue his on his lack of interest in any person. People were sister. As a reward, that madman would likely kill annoyances to be tolerated or ignored, or marks the cowboy in capricious amusement. “I mean it. to exploit. Nothing more. Stick close to me. And watch your back.” Slap didn’t glance up as he studied the board. Slap snorted but followed as Tristan left the “Nineteen.” spaceport and headed into the city. A kid. A man. A tall ox with a heart that had Selling their freight and arranging for a new seen more grief than he should have had to legitimate cargo took very little time. Tristan endure. Fate, or perhaps some Zendian god of hoped he could make other, more profitable irony, had saddled Tristan with this burden. But dealings on the side, but that would have to wait he owed Slap; the cowboy had stepped in, risked for a time when Slap wasn’t tagging along. his life for Tristan. Tristan knew betrayal, and They walked through a market, Slap purchas- expected nothing less from others, but could not ing fresh vegetables and fruit. Tristan trailed as make himself betray such a sacrifice. He couldn’t the cowboy exclaimed over various types of leave Slap until he knew the ki—man would be produce and grumbled at the high prices. This  safe. is a Confederation planet, boy, get used to being  Slap jumped Tristan’s king and looked up with robbed. a grin. A movement between stalls caught Tristan’s Rubbing his chin with a mixture of quiet astonattention. A pair of steel grey eyes glinted and ishment and chagrin, Tristan met his opponent’s disappeared from the top of potato crates. Oh,  gaze with narrowed eyes. “Ever hear of a game no. Not again! called ‘chess’?” Tristan watched Slap shopping as if he hadn’t Slap shook his head. seen that execrable watcher. He would have Tristan smiled. to meet with him later, if only to find out what # Confed Sec wanted now. “Hey, broccoli!” Slap picked up a large bundle The ops man browsed booth to booth, glancing of green florets. “D’you like this stuff, Tristan?” over silks, jewelry, baked goods, but his gaze “Do you know how to cook all these fresh darted about the crowd. Tristan’s lips twitched vegetables you’re buying, or are we to eat them up and he sidled between stalls until he came raw?” “I ain’t no Shallah, but I can cook.” Slap frowned, around behind his target, who was pretending to local ceramic and dropped the broccoli. His shoulders hunched. examinenot interestedartwork. “I’m in another job,” Tristan “Let’s get back to Bertha.” murmured, picking up a decorative pot from the Ray Gun Revival Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King
table. The man didn’t jump. “We just want information.” “I’m not inclined to give any.” “We understand you were recently on Zenos at just the time their local underworld was thrown into turmoil by the death of their kingpin, Lyssel. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?” “No.” Tristan turned the pot over in his hands, tracing the intricate designs. The Three Systems weren’t neighbors of the Confederation. Why the interest? It couldn’t be due to trade routes, or plans of Confederation so-called ‘expansion’ known anywhere else as conquest; the Xanthus Commonwealth lay in between the two. Had Lyssel been dealing across Confed borders, perhaps? Or was Tristan the connection? “Even though it appears your ship was blown up at his orders?” “Was it?” “And who is this bumpkin with you?” This required more privacy. Tristan put the pot down with a nod to the vendor, and strode off. He wound through streets until he found a small alley. There he waited, leaning against the wall. Steel Eyes soon came around the corner and jerked to a halt. “We need your help.” “Sorry. I’m not available. And not for sale.” “You were the last time.” “We merely had a common goal. Getting paid to do what I would have done anyway was ironically pleasant. Is that prostitution or expedience?” Steel Eyes’ lips thinned for a moment. “You were on Perseus Station about a week ago. Did you have a meeting with Emperor Vasso Istvan?” Panic gripped Tristan’s heart, squeezing it in a vice. What the—? Perseus Station wasn’t in the Confederation either; it was within Xanthus. What were these serpentine idiots up to? In an even tone, he said, “I didn’t know the Emperor ever left Eridani. That would seem to be a nightmare for his security.” Jaw muscles twitched as Steel Eyes glared at him. “Let’s go back to the hayseed traveling with you. Who is he?” “He is none of your business. Neither am I.” “My superiors need your cooperation. We are ready to deal.” “Not interested.” Tristan pushed up from the wall. “Don’t you even want to know our offer?” In lieu of an answer, Tristan walked away. “We’re willing to do an identity search,” the Ray Gun Revival

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man hissed. Tristan turned. “I know who I am. Who I was born is of no consequence to me.” He spun and left before any more conversation could be thrust upon him. His mind raced as he returned to the ship. Blast Confed Sec! Had he merely stumbled across two concerns of theirs with both the Mordas and Vasso, or were they studying him? They knew something if they had found out about his searches for his heritage in his younger days. And why the curiosity in Slap? If Confed Sec knew about Tristan’s enforced visit to the Eridani emperor, how much did Vasso Istvan know about both him and Slap? His neck tingled in expectation of danger. He wished he hadn’t promised to take the cowboy on a local tour before they left Tania. # “Y’know.” The cowboy’s eyes were wide as he took in the low, rambling buildings with brightly colored canopies and tree-lined streets beyond the spaceport marketplace. “I haven’t seen one alien since we left the space port.” Tristan gave a small, brittle smile as he glanced up at Slap. “This is a Confederation planet. You won’t. They don’t like aliens here, and don’t allow them on-world except at the ports.” Slap had seemed to understand his basic warning before, but now, in the sunshine, amid shoppers, families walking together, he gawked, seemingly unaware. “But laying aside that detail, most port cities are the same.” “This place doesn’t look nothing like Zenos’ port. At least, not Zanti City, where we met.” “I’m not talking about climates or architecture, or the races of beings one might encounter. Port cities attract certain types of unsavory characters and illegal dealings.” “Like smuggling, you mean?” Tristan nodded as they side-stepped two women hurrying toward a shopkeeper’s door. “For one. The trappings might vary, but the foundations are always the same. I keep telling you to be on guard.” Slap nodded, but didn’t seem to take it to heart. He sniffed with obvious appreciation, his body half turned as they passed a bakery. Tristan stifled a sigh. “You really need—” Tingling paralysis halted his words and steps. Buzzing filled his head. A  stunner! The ground rose up to meet his face before all went black. # Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King
Muscles trembled and ached. His head thudded. Nausea passed through him in waves, making him swallow convulsively. Brago’s bands, what happened? Slap opened his eyes and blinked twice before realizing the room wasn’t sideways; he was. The side of his face pressed against a cold floor. His hands were tied behind him, the bindings cutting into his wrists. Tristan lay across from him, eyes shut, a slightly glowing net wrapped around his torso. Where were they? From the metallic, slightly oily smell, he’d guess a ship. And from the narrowness he could see, they’d probably been dumped in a hallway. Boots appeared near his face. “That’s the one he wants all right. Keep that energy-mesh on him—he’s a slippery one.” “We got him easily enough,” a second voice said with sneering disagreement. “Don’t underestimate him. I won’t rest easy till he’s off our hands and we’ve got the reward.” “What about this other one?” A boot prodded Slap’s forehead. “There’s no reward on him. Shall I kill him?” “When we could make a side profit? Look at his size! Sell him to a press gang. There has to be freebooters in port. Now help me get this one locked up. Then you can get rid of the big one.” Several men lifted Tristan. Footsteps faded away. Slap struggled against his bonds and a hand grabbed him by his hair. “He’s awake.” Laughter. A foot nudged against his ankles. “You’re going on a trip, boy. A real luxury cruise.” Fury rose in Slap. He swung his legs and contacted flesh. A yell and thump. He lifted his head to see his victim scrambling against the bulkhead, holding a hand to his bloody nose. Hands grabbed Slap’s shoulders from above his head. He sat up and twisted. A body flew over him and flipped, landing on his back. Slap shoulder-dropped onto the man’s chest. The other man leaned against the bulkhead, one hand still on his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers. He dropped his hand to his holster. Slap scrambled to his feet and dove at his captor. They crashed to the deck—the man softening his own landing, but Slap still struggled to get his breath. His cushion wasn’t so lucky; he was out cold. “Good for you, lizard,” he muttered. He rolled off the body and managed to get to his feet again. His first victim lay unmoving, gasping shallowly. He bet he broke the man’s ribs and sternum, and Ray Gun Revival

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despite everything, he winced in sympathy. He’d been kicked by a horse once and suffered broken ribs. It’d been agony. He’d been unable to move or breathe without it feeling like knives were driven into his chest. He strained his arms, but couldn’t loosen the bonds. He eyed the corridor. Not far down to his left a hatch promised a way out. They’d likely been brought aboard and dumped unceremoniously until the captain, or whoever, had checked them over. So—that was the way out. But he needed cover, and a knife. His knife! He could feel the sheath on his back, but he’d bet it was empty. No way to tell with his hands tied—Brago’s Bands, how was he going to get untied? He looked down at the gasping man with what he hoped was a convincing snarl. “You gotta choice. You untie me or I stomp you.” The man’s mouth worked like a fish out of water, and he lifted a hand. Hoping he wasn’t going to be stabbed in the back, Slap knelt next to the man. Fingers fumbled at his bonds and as he felt the cords slacken, he strained and pulled his arms free. Blood welled from gashes the cords had made in his wrists. He rubbed the circulation into his hands as he stood. “Thanks,” he said to the downed man. “Maybe when we’re through with you, we won’t sell you to the freebooters.” Empty bluster, but perhaps because of Tristan’s reputation he was at least half-believed; the man on the deck turned pale. Slap remembered his sheath and felt for his blade. As he thought, gone. “Who’s got my knife?” he asked himself aloud. “Braddon,” whispered the man on the deck. Slap grinned and bent over, taking the man’s stunner. “Amazing how a little pain can make you rethink your position, huh?” He stepped to the unconscious one and relieved him of his stunner as well, tucking it in his waistband. “These’ll do instead of my knife for now.” He looked down the corridor, then back down at his ersatz helper. “How many men are on your ship?” “Twenty one.” “You two down, that’s nineteen to one.” If the man were telling the truth. Slap would soon find out. “I wonder what Tristan would say to these odds?” Without a further glance down, he muttered to the man, “Wish me luck.” This ship was larger than ol’ Bertha, and who knew what doors led where. Hefting the stunner and starting down the hall, Slap wondered where Tristan was locked up. Two men came out of a door ahead of him and Slap shot them. One fell immediately, the other staggered against a bulkhead, Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King

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his hand fumbling at the gauss gun holster on his I’ll use them if I have to. Let me go, I’ve got no back. Slap fired again and snorted at the heavy part in this.” thud. “Sack o’ potatoes. Seventeen.” “You’d just walk out when we killed your The first man wore a stunner. Slap tucked it in friend?” his belt. Slap swallowed taking the gauss gun—a Slap eyed Tristan prying the stunner’s case nasty weapon. He gazed about. Where might open as he answered, “He wasn’t no friend, just they have Tristan? He opened the door the two someone I hitched a ride with. ‘Smatter of fact, had exited. Tristan! Blind luck! with him dead, I can take his ship. I figure you’ve His dark companion leaned upright against the done me a favor.” bulkhead, awake, dark eyes glaring. The energySilence for a moment. Tristan was still diddling mesh hissed, almost a sizzling sound. It must be with the stunner, his slender fingers working set to max. quickly, face intent. “What are you doing here?” Tristan asked. Then, from the hall, “And if we don’t want to “Looking for you, what else? How do I get this let you go?” thing off you?” “Well, I figure being dead now is only hurryin’ “The controls are on a belt.” what I’d get in a press gang. And I reckon with “Gotcha. I’ll check the two guys who just left this gauss gun, I’d take a few of you with me, here.” Slap peeked around the doorway and anyway. So what’s say? You get your reward, I just dragged one, then the other, into the room. He inherited a ship. Call it square.” found a small box with several switches on it and Tristan looked up, his voice low, urgent. “When yanked it off the belt. He thumbed a switch and I say ‘now,’ you rush with me, cover our backs the hissing stopped. —stun anything moving.” Tristan tossed the thing off with a look of “Thing is,” the voice called, “how do we trust disdain and rose. “What are you doing here?” he each other?” repeated. He took the gauss gun from Slap. Tristan gestured as if tossing the stunner out Slap scowled. “If it slipped your mind, we were the door, and winked. both stunned and brought here.” Slap grinned. “For starters, how about if I Tristan narrowed his eyes. “I meant, why did throw my stunners out to you?” you come looking for me. No time now. Let’s go.” “Sounds fine.” He started through the door and jumped back—a From an angle, Tristan lobbed the stunner to blinding flare hit the left side of the doorframe. the right, the direction the particle beam had The entire edge of the jamb twisted in glowing come from. Shouts of alarm—a burst of light. ruins—the door within the scorched bulkhead “Now!” Tristan hissed. ruined. Tristan muttered a sharp word in his Slap almost tripped charging out the door, native tongue. one hand on Tristan’s back, spraying stunner fire “PBG?” Slap hissed, fear rising through his behind them. Bodies fell, and he turned to see gut. where they were going just as Tristan skidded Tristan eyed the damage and shoved backwards and pushed against him. “Back! Back!” into Slap. “Or rifle. Get back.” Slap needed no urging—he could hear “You’re trapped in there,” a voice called. “It footsteps running their way from beyond the doesn’t matter to us if you give up or not. We get curve in the corridor. He trampled over bodies our reward dead or alive.” and felt a pull on his arm. Slap’s gaze darted around the room—no other “Up!” doors. He grabbed Tristan’s arm. “What do we do He saw the stairs and leaped up the steps, his now?” breath ragged with panic. Behind, below, he heard Tristan jerked free, lips thinned into a line. a scream. He jumped up to the deck, belatedly His gaze went to Slap’s waist and he snatched checking for people. Tristan surged up to join one of the stunners from him. “Play them,” he him, eyes darting about. He waved a command whispered. “Stall. Tell them the PB got me and to follow with the gauss gun and sprinted to their you’ll give yourself up, but only if they let you go right. Slap stayed on his heels. free.” Tristan pulled up by a door. “Get ready to Slap licked his lips, a feeling of certainty, of stun.” trust in Tristan welling up in him. “You got your Before Slap could nod, the door slid open, reward then,” he shouted. “The particle beam and he peppered the room—the bridge from the got him. But I have stunners and a gauss gun, and look of it—with stun bursts. Two men slumped in Ray Gun Revival Issue 09, November 01, 2006

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chairs. Slap pushed up from the bulkhead. “Overkill, but effective,” Tristan said, as he A deafening flash—shock knocked him back locked the door, glancing around. against a console, his neck and spine recoiling like “What do we do now?” a whip. He blinked, unable to see, his body tingling Tristan went to a small cabinet embedded in with electricity, his back screaming with pain, his the bulkhead and pulled out several tools. With ears ringing. What?  What?  An  explosion?  He one hand, Tristan hauled a body out of a chair tried to straighten and fell to the floor. Smoke and and let it flop to the deck. Falling into the seat, he burnt-metal tang invaded his nostrils, choking him. began working on the console’s cover. Crawl.  Move. His hand bumped into something Slap leaned back against the bulkhead on the and he grabbed, felt. An arm. He squeezed his other side of the room. The better to keep an eye eyes shut and opened them. Things seemed furry on Tristan, the unconscious men, and the door. and like negative images but he saw Tristan, face “What are you doing?” pale, eyes closed, bloody. No! “Taking advantage of opportunity and Hands jerked him to his feet. With a roar, Slap buggering their ship.” swung fists, connecting with flesh. Three men, “Do we have time for this?” two down. The third he grabbed by the throat and “You have any place to go?” crushed until he felt soft tissue and cartilage give “Yeah. Away from here.” Slap put his hand before throwing him against the far bulkhead. up to push back his hat and realized it was gone. The ship fell silent except for Slap’s gasping Great. He ruffled his curly hair instead. “Prefer- breaths. He looked down at Tristan and knelt by ably alive.” him. Blood poured from a wound in his chest. “This won’t take long. You have a few moments Fingers felt for a pulse at his throat. Weak, but to catch your breath before we make a run for it.” there. Brago’s Bands, Tristan, don’t die on me! He Slap jerked a thumb at the door. “Just don’t pressed his hands against the wound, trying to forget there’s eighteen guys standing between us staunch the flow of blood. and a way out.” Footsteps thudded in the corridor. Slap “Most are piled up on the deck. Just wait.” fumbled on the floor with one hand for a weapon, Wait. Right. Like Slap had a choice. He twirled any weapon. He snatched up a stunner but before the stunner then stiffened. “Hey, one of them has he could aim it, the first of two men skidded to my knife!” a halt and called, “Don’t shoot! We’re here to “If you want to go out there and ask kindly for help.” its return,” Tristan said, head bent to his work, Slap didn’t lower the stunner. He looked over “be my guest.” the two intruders. They weren’t dressed like the “But—” mercenaries. No space vests, and their dark blue “They took my whole bloody vest.” His voice clothes had straight lines, the jacket a high collar. sounded bitter. Slap could understand why. They had a military air about them. “Prove it.” Tristan’s vest had lots of little secrets and unusual The man nodded toward Tristan. “He’s hurt. devices hidden in it. “We can replace whatever We’ll take him to a hospital.” we’ve lost, but not our lives.” Slap looked down at the bloody, still figure Slap leaned against the bulkhead. Tristan was and licked his lips; his worry for Tristan battling right. But still, it burned. That had been a good with his fear to trust. He looked up and nodded. knife. “Help him. Don’t let him die.” “So what are you doing, anyway?” # “Let’s just say I’m increasing the odds that they won’t get this ship off planet any time soon.” His Sharp pain. He gasped and the pain spiked into lips spread in a grim smile. “Just in case we don’t searing hotness. He experimented with shallow escape, they can’t either.” breaths...relief. A hazy, dark cloud seemed to Tristan set the cover in place, and swiveled to envelop his mind. Various astringent odors access the communications console. He studied permeated cool, dry air. A monitor softly beeped something for a bit and seemed to be nosing in body responses, heart rate, breathing...he was in files. a hospital or medical facility. His throat felt raw. Finally he stood. He returned the tools to the He opened his eyes. White ceiling tiles. Motion kit in the wall and turned. “Get ready!” Lifting the drew his attention to the right. The tall form had gauss gun, he walked toward the door. Ray Gun Revival Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King

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been lounging in a chair, but now sat up. Curly first set in front of him. The café boasted foods hair disheveled, eyes sunken. from many planets, each dish with a strange name, Slap stood with a worried look and approached and expensive to boot. Tristan’s choice from the whispering, “How ya feeling?” menu had been a mystery to Slap. He didn’t know Tristan tried to speak but his dry mouth and what hobbits were; Tristan said the name was a throat fought him. He swallowed, licked his lips, reference to some classic literature from ancient and swallowed again. “What happened?” His Earth. Whatever the source, the dish had lots of voice came out a hoarse croak. mushrooms. “A piece of metal tore into your chest. You Tristan sipped his tea, his gaze, as usual, darting almost died. But these Confederate guys”—Slap around, always alert. waved a hand across the room—“showed up and The meal had been quiet, but now, with Tristan brought you here.” seeming a little more relaxed, perhaps Slap could Tristan turned his head to the left. Steel Eyes ask a few questions. He finished chewing and and another man, stockier and older. Great. swallowed. “So who hired those mercenaries?” “We saved your life,” Steel Eyes said. “You owe “I’m not sure and I loathe leaving without us.” knowing, but those men are all in Confed’s custody. “I didn’t ask for your help.” They have refused to talk, which has our erstwhile “He did.” Steel Eyes nodded at Slap. benefactors pulling their hair out.” Tristan’s teeth “He doesn’t speak for me, and he can’t make flashed in a grin. He took another drink of his tea. deals for me.” “It can’t be Istvan. He’d want me alive, and be “He asked us to save your life. We figured it after you too. These fellows weren’t interested would be worth something to you.” in you. And Dray wants me dead. I don’t think the “You figured wrong.” Mordas have gotten their feet under them yet to “Now look—” come after us, and again, they’d want us both.” “Enough,” a new voice said from beyond the Slap tapped the table lightly with his knuckles. foot of the bed. “He’s still far from recovered.” “Istvan? Why would the Emperor be after you or “We need answers,” Steel Eyes’ partner said. me? You returned his sister to him.” “My patient needs rest. Now get out of here.” “A quirk of his.” The two men hesitated, then left. A stern man Slap gritted his teeth. “Could you chew it fine, of slight build walked up and peered at Tristan. please?” “A little worse for wear after your adventure, but With a shrug, Tristan put down his teacup. you should be up and around in a day or two.” He “More often than not, his rewards are painful. gazed up at Slap. “Now that you know he’ll be And fatal.” fine, why not go get some rest yourself? At the Slap grimaced as he pulled out Tristan’s rate you’re going, you’ll end up a patient too.” meaning. “That’s crazy!” Slap frowned, shaking his head. “So is he. The best thing that could happen to “Don’t argue or I will throw you out. Now, go!” Eridani would be for the royal palace to be blown Grumbling, Slap complied, with one last up with him and all his family inside.” troubled look before heading out the door. Slap thought of the girl, the princess, blown Tristan let himself fall back down into forgetful to bits, and pushed aside the image. “Who is this sleep. Dray you mentioned?” “Someone to avoid.” # He banged his fist on the table. “Why can’t you give me straight answers?” Slap took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh Tristan looked off, as if seeing something far breeze of the open-air café. Now that Tristan away. “He’s someone I used to...know. He taught was released, they’d be heading back into space me a few him. too soon, he was sure. Ol’ Bertha seemed to get He wasn’tskills and felt that obligated me tobeen appreciative when I left and has smaller and smaller each day he was confined to for me.” her. Well, at least it made him appreciate being looking know...” Slap whirled his glass in the water “You on a planet. ring. “You have He swirled the last bit of meat in the spicy saying things. Of the most...understated way of saying nothing.” He sighed. “So green sauce and shoved it in his mouth. Good how many people want you dead—or alive?” stuff. He hadn’t thought so when the plate was “Unknown.” Tristan’s dark eyes bored into his. Ray Gun Revival Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Serial: Deuces Wild, "Steel Trap," by L. S. King

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“Unfortunately, some of them are now aware of L. S. King you. I thought keeping you with me for a while would guarantee your safety from the Mordas. It A  science  fiction  fan  since  childhood  —  readwas a mistake.” Slap dropped his gaze to the table. Here  it  ing Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Dick, Bradley, Pohl,  comes. He’s dumping me. Vonnegut, Anthony and many others – L.S. King  “Now answer me a question.” has been writing stories since her youth. Now,  “Yeah?” Slap mumbled, wishing he could pretend he didn’t mind being chucked like an old with  all  but  one  of  her  children  grown,  she  is  pair of boots. writing  full-time.  For  the  last  four  years,  she  “Why did you come back for me?” has worked on developing a sword-and-planet  Slap squinted over at Tristan. “Huh?” series tentatively called The Ancients. The first  “You broke free. Why didn’t you just leave while you could?” book is finished, and she has completed a rough  “Without you? Are you crazy?” draft of several more novels as well.  “I wonder sometimes. But why? And why did you ask the Confeds to save my life?” Tristan’s eyes probed his for answers. She serves on the editorial staff of The Sword Did he honestly not get it? Slap turned his Review,  is  also  their  Columns  Editor,  and  hands palm up. “You’re my friend.” Tristan’s expression froze for a moment. He writes  a  column  for  that  magazine  entitled  took another sip of his tea, looking very thought- “Writer’s Cramps”  as  well.  She  is  also  one  ful. After a silence he said, “I’ve paid the medical of  the  Overlords,  a  founding  editor,  here  at    bills—we owe the Confeds nothing. I’d like to get off this planet before they get more insistent that Ray Gun Revival. I help them.” Slap grinned. “So where’re we going next?” She  began  martial  arts  training  over  thirty  “Out of Confederation space,” said Tristan, his voice flat. “I was thinking of going to the Cygnus years  ago,  and  owned  a  karate  school  for  a  Hegemony or perhaps to the Aquila Freehold. decade. A mother and grandmother who lives  You might get a landstake on one of the Aquila in Delaware with her husband, Steve, and their  worlds.” He lifted his cup in a throwaway gesture. youngest child, she also enjoys gardening, soap  “That’s what they call a homestead.” With a wrinkle of his nose, Slap said, “I knew making,  and  reading.  She  has  homeschooled  that. But...naw. I don’t want a homestead.” her  children  for  over  fifteen  years,  and  mainTristan sat back, his brow rising. Slap suppressed a smile. It wasn’t often he tains  two  homeschooling  websites.  She  also  could get a reaction out of his friend. He liked the likes  Looney  Tunes,  the  color  purple,  and  is  a  feeling. “A strange place, all alone?” He shook his Zorro aficionado, which might explain her love  head. “No. I’ll stick with you.” Tristan’s expression grew slightly dyspeptic, of swords and cloaks. but he nodded. “Wise. For now.” “Sure is.” Slap paused for a second. “You need a bodyguard.”

...stay tuned as Deuces Wild continues next month... To catch up on previous episodes of the adventures of Slap and Tristan, visit:

http://loriendil.com/DW.htm

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006

Jolly RGR

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The Jolly RGR
Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 10

Overlord’s Lair Editorial The Battle for Monday Morning by Jordan Lapp Mitchell Clark loved the peace and quiet of his personal space station.  When Captain  Jenna Weiss opens the airlock door and disturbs the fragile ecosystem he’s created, he  finds himself confronted with the possibility that he might have to sacrifice the life of  his best friend for a stranger. The Second Ascension by Ricky Cruz When civilized man began exploring and colonizing foreign parts of the Earth, he also  brought his religion with him to the barbaric natives he found.  Will the same occur  in the far, far future as Man spreads out into the universe?  How will he react to an  alien religion just as powerful as his own? Featured Artist Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate: The Friar of Briar Island, Part 3 by Johne Cook The Cleric is dead and the Friar has stolen his slowboy, his boat, and his trust. Cooper  Flynn doesn’t know whom or what to trust anymore, but he does know that he’ll find  the answer on forbidden Briar Island. Serial: Memory Wipe, Chapter 5: Lashiir Exclusive Serial by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Ray Gun Revival

Issue 09, November 01, 2006