THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

Conversion by Shaun Farrell M. Deirdra by Richard S. Levine The Price of Conquest by Mik Wilkens Exclusive Serial Deuces Wild: “In the Lap of the Gods” - Part One by L. S. King

Issue 13 January 01, 2007
“EMAN,”  by  Bassem Hassan

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2 Overlord’s Lair: It’s 2007 - Strap in and hang on! 3 Conversion, by Shaun Farrell 4 M. Deirdra, by Richard S. Levine 14 Featured Artist: Bassem Hassan 17 The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens 20 Serial: Deuces Wild - “In the Lap of the Gods” - Part One by L. S. King 49 The Jolly RGR 55
Overlords (Founders / Editors): L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Venerable Staff: A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand L. S. King - lord high editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Scott M. Sandridge, John M. Whalen, David Wilhelms Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Cover Art: “EMAN,” by Bassem Hassan 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 2007 by Double-edged Publishing,   a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.

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Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

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Overlord’s Lair:
It’s 2007 - Strap in and hang on!
ay Gun Revival went live in July of 2006. Six months and twelve biweekly issues have passed and Ray Gun Revival continues to grow and thrive. The Overlords Lee (Loriendil) King, Paul Christian (Fireflyfellow) Glenn, and myself thank each of you for visiting Ray Gun Revival, downloading the e-zine, and taking part in the fun on the forums. Despite being a paying market, RGR will continue to be available as a free download for this coming year (donations cheerfully welcome to support our authors). We provide this out of our own pockets because we, like you, believe in space opera and golden age sci-fi / adventure fiction. As Overlords, we are committed to the resurgence of quality space opera authors and stories. This issue features a story by Shaun Farrell entitled Conversion. It is a ripping good story, a cautionary tale, and starts Issue 13 off with a bang: When  nanotechnology  changes  humanity  and  eliminates free will, a small group of people on a distant colony  world fight to escape the pervasive NET. Our second story, M.  Deidre, by Richard S. Levine, is more of a flash sci-fi piece than we normally accept, but the slushmasters and editors liked it so well that we couldn’t resist picking it up to share with you: We  all  know  how  deadly  hurricanes  can  be.    What  would you do if you knew you could turn one away? We were looking for something special to grace the

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cover of the first issue of 2007, and Bassem Hassan’s “EMAN” is not only a great piece, it is also the result of a collaboration and was created in honor of a special person. Click on over to the Featured Artist interview for the most touching story we’ve featured yet! And that brings us to The  Price  of  Conquest, by Mik Wilkens. This is the longest work we’ve ever published at RGR, however, this is one of those works that starts fast and never lets up. Smart, challenging, and gripping, this story features a plucky heroine and a ship with something of an attitude: Freedom  is  all  Kressa  Bryant  has  ever  wanted.  When  she’s  given  her  own  starship,  it  seems  the  answer  to  all  her  dreams.  But  the  ship  has  a  mind  of  its  own  and  comes  with  a  price  she  may  not  be  able  to pay. Due to the size of Issue 13, look for Paul Christian Glenn’s popular JASPER SQUAD serial in Issue 14, so stay tuned for that. Wrapping things up is Overlord Loriendil’s stunning Deuces Wild installment, the first of a multi-part mini-arc, “In the Lap of the Gods,” in which one of the intrepid adventurers is kidnapped and the other comes to grips with his feelings on the matter (or would, if he had any). Stay with us as we venture into this new year—we have a lot planned for the year and with your continued encouragement and readership, will be shooting ever higher. Strap in and hang on! Issue 13 launches right now! Johne (Phy) Cook

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

"The Battle for Monday Morning," by Jordan Lapp

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Conversion
by Shaun Farrell
hey’re here, aren’t they? Aren’t they? Hush. I already know. I can feel them. The music, the music!” Flapper stumbled away, leaving Gen to huddle over his hand-held computer interface. Flapper’s right hand shook uncontrollably, like it always did, his arm tucked into his side. “Yes,” Gen replied, feeling nauseous. He rubbed his leathery face. “They’re here.” Flapper danced, left shoulder tilted to the floor, right leg kicking sideways. To Gen, the youth looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, except uglier. “I knew it!” Flapper exclaimed. “Maybe my nans are working again! I can hear the network. The voices.” He fell to the floor, lifting his arms in exaltation, drinking the wireless energy beaming around him. Then he stopped and looked at Gen in concern. “Are they going to kill you?” Gen grunted. He saved his work on the computer and resisted the temptation to throw it against the wall. For twenty years he had sought a way to infiltrate NET, to break their seemingly impenetrable control. But their firewalls were too advanced, and by now they were so complex he hardly understood what he was looking at. There was always a backdoor, and he better find it in the next few hours or he’d be converted himself. Unless he forced NET to kill him. Which suited him just fine. Better than conversion. “Are they going to kill you, Gen? Are they?” Flapper stood at Gen’s side now, eyes strangely focused and sincere. They had grown to like each

“T

other over the years. Weird. “They’ll try,” Gen said, softly. “What will you do?” Gen sighed and turned back to his computer. Captain Tuck should just about be ready with his traps. Gen would have to finish his work from within the underground facility. “I’m going to kill them back.” # “How about you give us some of those guns,” Dixon said. Tuck looked over his shoulder at the ex-criminal. No, Tuck reminded himself, still a criminal. Just beyond the short reach of the law. For now. “Is that a joke?” Tuck asked. His low voice was faint but managed to carry inside the vast underground chamber. He had just finished setting the primary trap for the NET soldiers. This was the most logical entry point into the warehouse, and he had rigged it with enough explosives to demolish a small house. He gazed over Dixon’s shoulder. Lynda huddled against the wall, shushing her baby girl. The baby cried softly, as if she understood the need for stealth but couldn’t control her fear. “When have you known me to joke, Captain America?” Dixon asked. His ivory skin gleamed under a thick layer of sweat and grease. Green eyes peered out from shaggy eyebrows with feline malice. The eyebrows looked huge under his bald head.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
Dixon swaggered a few steps forward. “Come on, you can’t hold them off by yourself.” Tuck aimed a pistol at Dixon’s face. “Why don’t you stay where you are? No one touches my guns.” Dixon hesitated, then slapped his thighs with clenched fists. “Why the hell not? If something happens to you the rest of us are screwed!” “Not my problem. I need them.” Tuck had five guns on him altogether. Two pistols on either leg, a spitfire—a gun so small he could barely hold it—wrapped around his ankle, and two L-20 rifles strapped to his back. They fired a pea-sized round capable of splitting a man in two. Dixon started to stay something else, but threw his arms up in disgust. “Fine.” He turned, muttering under his breath. “Come all the way to this damn planet just to have those NET bastards chase me down anyway. Now, Captain Superman here—will you shut that kid up!” Lynda hugged her daughter even more tightly to her breast. “She’s scared. She knows something bad is happening, and you’re not helping!” “Whatever.” Dixon spat on the floor as he walked away. Chloe, Lynda’s daughter, continued to cry. # “They’re here, they’re here!” Flapper announced as he and Gen rejoined the others. “What about the virus?” Lynda asked Gen. The ex-computer expert shook his head, his hand still punching commands into his small computer. He remembered when this stuff used to be easy. That seemed like another lifetime. “Oh, sure,” Dixon said, leaning against the wall. “You’re smart enough to help create the little bastards, but you can’t stop them. Figures.”

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“I had nothing to do with nanotech,” Gen growled, a warning in his voice. Dixon responded to perceived challenges like a rabid dog inhaling bloody meat. He pushed off from the wall with the heel of his foot, muscles in his thick arms twitching. “I think you’re lying,” he whispered with a smile. “I think you helped NET infest the nations of earth, but when they turned on you, you ran away like the little coward you are. You booked passage on a ship and fled as far as you could. And here you are, one of the last clean humans in the universe, facing your own creation.” Gen’s face turned a deep shade of red. Blue veins throbbed in his temples. “That’s enough,” Tuck said. “We need to get deeper underground. Their troop landers will be here any minute. We need to—” “Son of a—” Gen swung at Dixon, but the bigger, stronger man easily blocked it. He returned the blow, splitting Gen’s cheek open with callused knuckles. The world blacked out for a minute, and when Gen came to he saw Tuck pointing a gun at Dixon’s head, both men yelling obscenities. Flapper jumped around like a monkey, grabbing his head with both hands, screaming that he could no longer hear the music. The buzz was gone. (Of course, Gen knew Flapper hadn’t heard it before. The nans in the boy’s body were completely dead, making it impossible for him to interface their network.) Chloe screamed at the top of her baby lungs, and Lynda wept, begging Tuck and Dixon to be quiet. Humanity’s last children, Gen thought. The final non-trans, and perhaps the last pure vestiges of Earth’s greatest species.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
They didn’t stand a chance. # Besides storing food and supplies for the 300 colonists, which only accounted for a few, relatively small rooms, the underground structure processed the water gathered from Columbus’ moon. Columbus itself was practically desert. The snowy poles could provide them water, but the snow was so full of toxins that the energy to purify it outweighed the expenditure needed to travel to the moon and back. Ice mining in a vacuum was dangerous, but Dixon didn’t mind. This was freedom, even if the elements threatened to kill you at any given moment. He had been here for two years, and while he couldn’t say he had made any true friends, he had found peace. Until now. He finished packing the duffle bags with food stuffs. Tempted to take the food and hide on his own just to spite Captain America for ordering him around, Dixon grumbled as he rejoined the group. This food would keep them full for at least two months. With luck, NET wouldn’t be able to locate them deep within the warehouse. NET would wait around for awhile, but after sixty days of silence they’d classify Columbus as neutralized and move on, leaving the desert world to burn in its sun forever. At least that’s what they hoped. He knew better. NET was relentless. Tuck knew better, as well, or he wouldn’t waste his time setting traps. While Dixon cleaned out the food closet, Tuck, Gen and Flapper had vandalized everything in sight. All the spacecraft were gone, and while other colonists had fled for the dunes and caves, Tuck wanted to give the appearance that all of them had escaped. But not before wrecking the

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place. It was consistent with human behavior, Tuck had said. When humans couldn’t have something, they would rather destroy it than allow enemies to utilize that resource. Whatever. Dixon thought the Commando Extraordinaire just wanted to shoot something. “Did you get the food?” Gen asked. “What do you think?” Dixon replied, dropping the bags on the floor. “Pick those up,” Tuck ordered. “We’re done here. Time to get deeper underground.” A thud echoed from above. They all looked at the ceiling, hearts racing. Tuck cocked one of his L-20s, aimed it upward. Silence. “They couldn’t have landed already, could they?” Lynda asked. Chloe, for the moment, had fallen asleep in her arms. The little girl’s fingers gripped a lock of Lynda’s hair. “Impossible,” Gen muttered. He pulled his computer from his pocket and switched on the screen. Accessing the facility’s security systems, he brought up a view from the roof cameras. A metallic cylinder walked across the roof on matching, polymer legs. It seemed to glide, its round body swiveling from side to side. Gen recognized it, though the design had changed drastically over the last few years. It looked alive. And it looked hungry. “It’s a transponder,” Gen said. “They’re going to infect our system with nans.” “Can’t they do that from space?” Lynda asked. “I made sure the firewall was up,” Gen said. “I didn’t realize they could land these things on a planet now. We only have a minute or two before all the computers are out of our control.” “Oh, well that’s just—” Dixon began.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
Gen cut him off. “Luckily, none of the doors or lights down here are automated. It’s old fashioned as can be. We did that on purpose, just in case.” “Just in case?” Dixon sneered. Then his voice deepened into a growl. “You’ve known this day was coming all along.” “I suspected,” Gen admitted. “But things have changed so much, I’m not sure that any precautions can help. If I can just get through their firewall. . .” “Come on,” Tuck said. “Let’s get moving. I think our window is even shorter.” Gen shut off the image and disconnected his computer from the colony network. His unit would continue to function uninfected. For now. As they jogged toward a staircase, he glanced at Flapper and wondered if the boy would cause a bigger problem then he was worth. He was acting much calmer than usual. Gen would keep an eye on him. # Lynda tripped as she scurried down the dimly lit passageway and nearly fell on her baby. She managed to twist into the wall and keep her balance. Nobody else noticed. She was the last in a fleeting procession venturing down dark passages as most of the lights were non-functional. The rest of her group was too focused on their impending destruction to care if she couldn’t keep up. An explosion had rocked the facility a few minutes ago. Tuck’s trap. NET was coming for them. Chloe stirred, awakened by the stumble. She sighed and blinked tired eyes. “Hi, baby girl,” Lynda whispered. She tried to keep her heart rate down. Chloe was quite sus-

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ceptible to her mother’s emotions, and a fussy baby was the last thing they needed. Two years had passed since Lynda fled Earth. NET had nearly converted every nation on the globe. She had heard rumors that doctors were injecting newborns at birth. Not even wiping them off first. The nanotech engineered transhuman era had truly begun, and Lynda wanted no part of it. It was sin. It was evil. She wouldn’t allow those beasts to steal her baby’s soul. Finding a ship to take her away hadn’t been easy. Booking off-world passage required years of sifting through yellow tape, acquiring insurance, submitting to dozens of medical exams. And what did the doctors do in those exams? “Not you, baby girl,” Lynda said, kissing Chloe on the head. Chloe smiled, still groggy. A tear spilled down Lynda’s cheek at the sight. They would never take her baby. They would never destroy what made her so special. When the time came, Lynda knew what she had to do. # They finally rested at a cross-section of halls, taking refuge in an abandoned storage room. The water aqueducts spanned all above them. Several feet of concrete and millions of gallons of water would make it very difficult to locate them with sensors. Of course, Tuck thought, that also makes it a likely hiding place. If I were them, I’d look here first. But that was fine with Tuck. He was tired of running. He was tired of hearing how superior a man became with nans pumping his blood. Most of all, he was tired of missing his wife. “Only takes one bullet to kill a NET. Doesn’t

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
sound so advanced to me.” “What?” Gen asked. “Nothin.” A single light bulb hung from the center of the storage room, spilling dim light that didn’t reach the far corners. Storage crates made of mesh plastic were stacked near the north wall. Dust covered the floor. Grains of sand had slowly filtered through a crack in the roof. Tuck kicked at the dirt, enjoying the smell. It made him feel alive. He marched across the room to the door. Activating the laser sight on the old L-20, he gazed down the narrow scope into the dark hall. He could kill their troops from here. He had the advantage as long as he didn’t run out of bullets. But the bodies would pile very high before that happened. Very high, indeed. # “What’s his problem?” Dixon asked. He crouched next to Gen against the back wall. Flapper danced in a circle directly under the light bulb. He tapped his forehead with a knuckle and murmured under his breath. Lynda sang to Chloe somewhere in the darkness. Gen looked at Flapper. “He used to be NET. The nans caught some kind of virus and screwed him up before they winked out. I’ve been. . . studying him, hoping to learn how his firewall failed.” “Not him,” Dixon said. He pointed at Tuck. “Him. Marine Boy.” “Oh.” Gen blushed. He was grateful for the darkness. “He was an American soldier. Some

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terrorists caught him and tortured him for years. Locked him up in a closet for weeks at time so he was practically bathing in his own wastes. By the time he was released, most of the U.S. was pro-nan. His wife had been injected and was an important asset to NET. We all know what NET programming does to a personality.” “Yeah. Wipes it dry.” Gen looked at his computer and continued to punch in commands. “Must be nice to have dirt on everyone,” Dixon muttered. “That was my job. Know who’s coming, who’s going. Keep people safe.” Dixon just snorted. “Nanotechnology isn’t the real problem,” Gen said, trying to sound casual. Dixon nearly growled. “Could have fooled me.” “It’s the programming,” Gen insisted. “It’s NET, the single most corrupt institution the planet has ever known, hiding behind a fake religion to justify its actions.” Gen realized he was nearly yelling. Dixon grabbed Gen by the collar and pulled him off the ground. The computer slipped from Gen’s grasp, rattled on the floor. “You should probably shut your mouth, old man, and get back to work,” Dixon spit out between clenched teeth. Gen gasped, embarrassed at being manhandled with such ease. “I’m not old!” Dixon stopped, blinked. His eyes widened, and he seemed to really see Gen for the first time. Very slowly, he set Gen down. “Just do your thing.” Dixon spun and stormed out of the room. He bumped Tuck on the way, ignored the Captain’s protests.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
“What was that all about?” Lynda asked. Gen shook his head. # “Music, music, music, music.” Flapper rocked on the floor, knees tucked into his chest. Gen watched, wishing he could help the young man. He still didn’t understand why Flapper had been warped so badly. It was more than nanfailure, Gen was sure of that. But what? He turned back to his computer, studying the data. Flapper was a goner, just like the rest of them. “Do you hear that?” Lynda asked. Chloe stirred in her mother’s arms. “No,” Gen said. “What?” “Footsteps from above,” Tuck replied. He stared down the hallway over the scope of his gun, relaxed and still. “They’ll be here in a few minutes.” Dixon suddenly rushed back into the room from the hall, chest heaving. “NET! They’re here.” “We can hear them,” Tuck said. He rose, casually turning the L-20 toward Dixon. “So, Dixs, where have you been?” Dixon paused in the middle of wiping sweat from his forehead. “What are you talking about? I’ve been sitting out there thinking about my death, that’s where I’ve been.” Tuck cocked his head. “Really, because I’ve been right by this door, just waiting for something to shoot at. I didn’t see you in the hall.” “It was dark! What, are you Nocturnal Boy, too?” He paused, looked at the gun. “Why don’t you put that down before you piss me off.” Lynda stepped out of the darkness and joined Flapper, who had gone still under the light bulb. “What are you saying, Tuck?” she asked.

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“Doesn’t anyone else find it interesting that the moment we hear the troops coming, Dixon reappears after being gone an hour?” “Hold on a sec, Tuck,” Gen said. “Dixon hates NET as much as any of us. He—” Tuck smiled. “Oh, I know he hates NET with a passion. That’s the only reason I’ve let him live. But you know what I think? I think there’s something he hates even worse than NET or nans or being displaced on this rock.” Dixon fumed. His hands, balled into fists, pushed into his thighs so hard his legs were going numb. “Alright,” Dixon yelled. “Let’s hear it!” “Keep your voice down!” Lynda said. “Why?” Dixon said. “If he’s right, they already know where we are. Besides—ah, did you hear that? They’re getting closer. They’re right on top of us! Any second now they’ll rush around that corner and fill our heads with little machines that will make our brains shrivel up and shut off, and then you know what happens! You know what happens THEN?” Tuck cocked the rifle, brought it up to his shoulder. “Shut your mouth.” “Why should I?” Dixon said. “You don’t trust anyone. Either you kill me, or they do. Either way, I’m dead.” “Tuck,” Gen started. “Shut up, Gen. Get back to work.” “Yes, work on the music, the music,” Flapper said. “You are close to the music.” They all paused, the tension in the room coming to a sudden halt. “I am?” Gen asked. “How can you. . .” his voice trailed off. He held up his computer and pressed a command.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
Flapper’s back arched. His eyes rolled back into his head. Then he shook it off and started rocking on the floor. “What was that?” Tuck asked. “The nans, the ones inside of him, must still be alive somehow. They reacted to my transmission. I think—” Gen turned away, hands typing rapidly. “I think you can put the piece down now, soldier boy,” Dixon said. “How about I keep it where it is, just for fun?” Synchronized footsteps filled the hallway. In the midst of their argument, they hadn’t heard the NET soldiers. Tuck and Dixon looked down the hall in unison, their eyes widening. A dozen soldiers stood out there, with more in the stairwell behind them, no doubt. “I knew it,” Tuck whispered, face twisting into a scowl. “You betrayed us!” Tuck began to re-aim the L-20 at Dixon. Simultaneously, Dixon jutted forward and reached for Tuck’s leg. With his other hand he deflected the rifle toward the ceiling. Tuck tried to sidestep, but Dixon was too fast. In that moment Tuck realized his feelings of control had been an illusion. Dixon could have done this whenever he wanted. Before Tuck could regain his bearings, Dixon had relieved the Captain of a pistol and darted down the hallway. “He’s joining NET!” Tuck yelled, scrambling for the door. Then gunshots echoed around him. And screams. Dixon’s screams. He was charging the enemy soldiers, gun spitting fire, lungs releasing the last breath of a man embracing his fate. “No,” Tuck whispered. “It can’t be.” The troops responded in unison, their minds

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joined through NET. They unleashed hell into the hallway. Dixon was chopped to pieces, but he seemed to continue forward anyway, as if the sheer force of his hatred could hold his flesh together. His gun fired again and again. Two men collapsed under the barrage of his attack, but that was all Dixon could manage. He fell, dead before he hit the floor. # “Dixon!” Tuck’s throat was instantly dry, adrenaline zapping his mouth of moisture, replacing it with salt. He screamed and took aim with his L20. Barely able to control the gun with his shaky arms, he leaned around the doorframe and fired. NET responded with typical effectiveness, aiming their fire at Tuck’s side of the door. With nans guiding their eyes and fingers, the NET soldiers demonstrated considerable skill. Tuck continually turned back into the room, the metal doorframe disintegrating around him. At one point he dove across the entry to the other side. Miraculously, only one enemy projectile grazed his leg. Once the shooting began, Gen, Flapper, and Lynda ran to the opposite side of the room. Debris and bullets rattled all over the place, but they found somewhat suitable shelter in the far corner behind the empty storage crates. Flapper yelled and tried to run into the hall. He wanted to rejoin his brothers, and he slapped at Gen when the older man held him back. “They don’t want you anymore,” Gen screamed, feeling the futility of the situation overtake him. He should let Flapper run into the sea of bullets. He would die instantly, but at least he would die believing NET had come for him. “I know, I know,” Flapper returned, still struggling.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
A growl of agony slipped from Tuck’s lips. They could hear him clearly over the constant barrage. He must be hit. Gen looked around the crates. Sure enough, Tuck huddled against the wall, tried to tie off a bleeding arm. His shooting arm. Time was up. Flapper saw it, too. “Here,” he said. Without waiting for Gen’s approval, he snatched the computer from Gen’s grasp. Gen lunged for it like he would a lifeline at sea. That interface was his last connection with humanity, his last reminder of what he once was, and the only hope to have a life ever again. Flapper punched Gen in the face with surprising strength. They stared into each other’s eyes, the sound of violence around them deafening. “We’re the only friends you have!” Gen yelled, betrayal turning to anger. Yes, he had initially brought Flapper to Columbus because he wanted to study him, but things had changed since then. They were the closest remnants of family either would ever know. Or so Gen had believed. “I know,” Flapper replied, his face still, his right arm steady, his eyes confident. Gen froze. He had never seen Flapper like this. He looked NET. His eyes seemed to flicker silver, as if swarming with nans. “I can hear the music, Gen. It sounds sick.” Gen shook his head. “That’s impossible. The nans inside you are dead!” Flapper turned to Lynda. “I’m sorry about your baby.” Without giving an explanation, he turned to the computer and began to type one handed. He moved with unnatural speed, as if he was intimately familiar with the interface. “Hey!” Gen reached for the computer. Flapper kicked him.

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Chloe screamed, and Lynda hugged the child so tight the baby couldn’t breathe. Tuck’s war-cry began again, his rifle spitting death into the darkness. Flapper handed the computer back to Gen. His right hand seemed to shrivel, then shake, and he hid it against his side. Bending at the waist, his knees began flexing. “Push initiate!” Flapper said. “What did you do?” Gen asked. He didn’t recognize the code filling the screen. “Push it!” Tears began streaming down Flapper’s face. Mucus leaked from his nose. Knowing he had no other option, Gen pushed the button and transmitted Flapper’s program. The world suddenly turned silent. Tuck fired a few more rounds before he realized the enemy was no longer firing back. Flapper went rigid as steel, his face placid. He fell backward into the mesh crates, spilled them across the floor. “What the hell?” Tuck muttered. Realization dawned in Gen’s mind, and he rushed to join the Captain at the door. The NET soldiers had collapsed just as Flapper had. “What happened?” Tuck asked. Gen looked at his computer. Flapper had jacked the interface into NET’s network. He studied the signals coming from the nans. He could still detect an energy signature, but it was faint. “He reformatted them,” Gen whispered. “What?” Tuck asked, now on his feet. Sweat and blood covered his body. He had been hit several times. “Flapper. He must have remembered some kind of. . . access code, or something. He refor-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell
matted them. Amazing!” “What does that mean?” Tuck asked. “I haven’t the faintest idea.” “No! NO!” Then Gen realized how deep the silence in the room had truly been. Chloe was no longer crying. He rushed back around the crates, Tuck stumbling after him. Lynda had placed Chloe on the ground. Her hands hovered over the child, shaking. “Lynda?” Gen asked. “She’s dead. My baby girl is dead!” Sobs racked her as she lay down next to her child. Gen knelt, put his hand on Chloe’s chest. There was a gentle heartbeat there. Life still held on. Flapper must have known. That was why he apologized. It took several minutes for Gen to calm Lynda enough to talk with her. “She’s not dead,” he finally said. “She was NET. The nans have reset.” He wiped wetness from her face. “How is that p-possible?” she finally asked. “She wasn’t b-born on Earth.” “I don’t know. But somehow NET infected her.” “I don’t mean to break up our moment of rest,” Tuck said, “but eventually they’ll wake up, right? If they’re just reformatting—” “Then once the basic programs initialize, they should wake, yes,” Gen said. Tuck pointed at Gen’s computer. “What’s the range on that thing? Did it reach their spaceship?” Gen considered it. “Probably.” He swallowed, clearly in pain. “Alright, pick up your kid. Gen, grab twitchy.” “His name is Flapper,” Gen protested.

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“Whatever,” Tuck said. “Come on, we’ll take the landing shuttle to the ship, blow the rest of them out an airlock, pick up the colonists in the desert, and get the hell out of here.” He limped for the door. “Where will we go?” Lynda asked, gently scooping Chloe into her arms. “Don’t ask me,” Tuck replied, vanishing out the door. Gen put the computer in his pants pocket. Flapper didn’t even weigh a hundred pounds, and Gen lifted him with fair ease. He wondered what the boy would be like when he woke. Would he be his old self or a NET agent? And what about Chloe? She must have been infected in the womb, yet she acted like any normal child. What was NET up to? Dixon’s blood covered the floor in the hall, his body in pieces. He had given himself for the group. Gen wished he had known the man better, had tried to understand what had happened to him. It was too late for that. It was too late for a lot of things. But maybe they could start over someplace else. He walked past the sleeping soldiers. They seemed to stare at him, and he imagined that he could see programs coming online through their vacant eyes. Realizing he was getting behind, he rushed to catch up with the others.

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Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Conversion, by Shaun Farrell

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Shaun Farrell
Shaun  Farrell  is  a  speculative  fiction  author  and  the  host  of  the  Adventures  in  Scifi   Publishing  podcast,  a  show  that  explores  the  publishing  industry  by  interviewing  industry  experts,  bestselling  authors,  and  new  writers.  To learn more about Shaun and his work, visit    www.shaunfarrell.com.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

"The Second Ascension," by R. Cruz

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M. Deirdra
by Richard S. Levine
“The Newer Orleans area.” A heavily populated modern city wasn’t what Who ever conquered it? In every  fight it has  I wanted to hear. the  last  and  bitterest  blow.  Run  tilting  at  it,  A break in the clouds revealed a churning, and  you  but  run  through  it.  Ha!  A  coward  green gulf with clipped whitecaps and spray that wind  that  strikes  stark  naked  men,  but  will  looked like shattered glass. The plane shook in every direction. not stand to receive a single blow. Even Ahab  I said, “Toby, take over until we reach the eye. is  a  braver  thing—a  nobler  thing  than  that.”  Get dad back on the comm.” Soon I heard my dad’s deep voice. “Michelle, – Herman Melville, Moby Dick you’re late.” “We’re almost there.” elow me, huge gray clouds circled counThe Massive shuddered. Sunlight and blue sky terclockwise and glowed as bolts of filtered through the eye of the storm. lightning struck the Gulf of Mexico. Over the roar I shouted, “I see you!” of my scowplane I heard, “Quad II here. Massive, Dad replied, “About time.” where are you?” I could see dad’s plane and two others of our I said, “On my way, Dad.” team near the middle of the eye. A towering white “Hey, Captain Bahar to you. We’re in M. wall of clouds encircled us. I said, “Toby, give me Deidra’s eye, and we’ve got to move this thing back the controls.” somewhere safe. Get here quick. Quad II out.” As all four planes traveled in a circular path The Massive was a fine scowplane, named in the center of M. Deidra’s eye, Toby ordered to honor the M designation for hurricanes with our target guidance mirror into position. I saw winds greater than 250 miles per hour. It had been the other planes tilt their mirrors in a kind of syntwenty years since the last category M storm. My chronized dance. We waited for the microwave heart raced. transmissions from space. The flight computer spoke. “Captain Bahar. # This area of the storm will be violent.” I replied, “Thank you, Toby. Call me Michelle.” Then, at dusk, light flashed all around us. I took the Massive down into the clouds. Rain Toby reported first. “Masing has begun.” smacked the windows. Thunder echoed off our Dad said, “Quad II here. Nice job. Stay in hull. I could feel my heart pounding as I headed formation.” towards Deidra’s eye. I asked, “Captain Bahar, where are we going Toby reported, “Winds at 250 miles per hour.” to give M. Deidra her funeral?” I asked, “Where’s Deidra headed?” “Our orders are to bury her to the northeast

“...’tis  a  noble  and  heroic  thing,  the  wind! 

B

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

M. Deirdra, by Richard S. Levine
of Ciudad Victoria. The U.S. pays Mexico a lot of money to scuttle hurricanes there.” “Do you think we can turn an M hurricane?” I knew it was a sensitive question. The comm squawked as Toby changed to a private frequency. Dad replied, “You’re talking about M. Frances, aren’t you? That was my mistake, not the Quad I. We’ll turn M. Deidra.” His voice sounded grim. “But what if we can’t?” “That’s crap. Quad II out.” The Massive’s windows were fogging. I looked down at the colors where the maser fire blasted the Gulf waters into steam. A dropsonde from the Quad II parachuted towards the Gulf. I didn’t see the changes in the weather data we were hoping for; M. Deidra had not turned. I put Toby back in control of the Massive, and I closed my eyes to nap. # A Mexican official spoke on the comm. My father answered. “Captain Bahar, is there any change?” “We’ll know in a few minutes.” “Give us a call as soon as you know.” “Will do. Quad II, out.” Dad loved to fly and could turn hurricanes like herding cows in a cattle drive, but he wasn’t comfortable dealing with people. Especially after Mom died. I heard, “Michelle, are you there?” I replied, “Dad?” “There’s been no change to M. Deidra’s path.” “Then Newer Orleans will have to evacuate.” “I can’t let that happen.” His tone was confident, but I’m sure he wasn’t. “What do you mean?” “I was so…so sure of our technology. I told your mother that M. Frances wasn’t coming to

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Pensacola. She felt safe. She didn’t even evacuate when I told her to.” I could feel his guilt. “Dad, you couldn’t have known that you couldn’t turn a category M storm.” “You’re wrong. I could have made it turn. I just need a much larger heat source.” He sounded angry. I said, “Dad, you’re worrying me.” “Damn it, Michelle. I mean to stop M. Deidra. Quad II, out.” I watched the Quad II and our other two planes drop from formation. They disappeared into the steam from the Gulf. I cried, “Toby!” He didn’t answer. I was locked out of the controls. As I heard the mirror above refocus the satellite beam, the Massive headed on its own towards M. Deidra’s towering white wall. The Massive closed on the clouds. I felt helpless. I remember entering the white wall just before hearing the explosion. Then the clouds turned the color of fire. The Massive was pushed forward and then downward. The wings glistened and flickered in the light of the flames. Then the wind and rain put out the fire. Toby’s lockout released. He said, “Our engines have shut down. Prepare for jettison.” Everything happened so fast. I replied, “Toby, thank you.” # M. Deidra should have killed me that night. Yet, the next day I was sitting in the floating sealed compartment of the Massive’s inflatable. The sounds of M. Deidra had moved on, and I opened the compartment to reveal a blue sky. There was a radio in my emergency kit. I called for assistance. I smiled when they told me that M. Deidra

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

M. Deirdra, by Richard S. Levine
had turned and headed east-north-east of Ciudad Victoria. I knew that over fifty years ago the area’s coast had been cleared of people and buildings, and M. Deidra would expire over empty beaches and the Sierra Madre Mountains. I thought of my father and our team. Tears filled my eyes. And me. What about me? I still turn hurricanes for a living. I guess I always will.

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Richard S. Levine
Richard  S.  Levine  began  his  working  life  as  a  video  game  designer  and  developer.    Several  of  his  science  fiction  short  stories  have  appeared  in  The Martian Wave  and  The Fifth Di.  With his wife Carrie, he lives happily  on  the  beach  in  Florida  and  writes.    Now,  if  only  the  hurricanes  would  go  away.    To  learn  more  about  Mr.  Levine’s  writings  and  his  classic video game, Microsurgeon, please visit    http://web.tampabay.rr.com/rlevine6/.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Featured Artist: Euka

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Featured Artist:
Bassem Hassan
Name: Bassem Hassan Age: 30 Hobbies: Roller blading, cycling, swimming, fishing, boating, and most of all designing! Favorite Book / Author: IT by Stephen King, and anything by Khalil Jebron. Favorite Artist: I have three; the first being Greg Martin, the second, Dylan Cole, and finally, my good friend Chris, http://dilekt.deviantart.com/ When did you start creating art? I started creating art a little over four years ago. What media do you work in? I use many applications, but the ones that I use the most are Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Cinema 4D (my favorite), and Terragen. Where your work has been featured? Ive received a couple of Daily Deviations over at http://www.deviantart.com. Most of my works are actually printed stuff and Illustrator stuff I do for work, which can be found at most David Jones Stores all around Australia. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? My work is mainly featured over at deviantART and my page can be found here: http://dv81.deviantart.com/ How did you become an artist? Funnily enough, whilst doodling around in Photoshop, I came across a couple of filters which assisted me in manipulating an old family photo. I took off from there. Strangely enough, at that time I had completed a degree in software engineering, and I’ve never looked back. I still do code, but my heart is in art! What were your early influences? My early influence would have to be my twin brother who saw I had some hidden talent and insisted I keep going , and here I am today doing what I love best!
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Featured Artist: Bassem Hassan

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What are your current influences? My most influential person now would be Mum and how she inspires me to do better than last time! And of course Greg Martin, and Dylan Cole, and above all my friend Chris! What inspired the art for the cover? A girl by the name of Eman (a disabled family friend of mine) someone as I once wrote “...is on the path to paradise”. She is a very special person loved by many and frowned by none. Her heart and courage to live in this world is unmatched, her family... well I would need a book to describe their love for her and their devotion to make her stay on earth a pleasant and peaceful one. Also, my friend Chris, his work can be found at http://dilekt.deviantart.com, another great inspiration of mine also helped collaborate on this piece. You should check out his stuff—he is truly an amazing artist and friend! How would you describe your work? I draw with passion and with love, so if I was to name it I would call it “EMOTIONS.” Every piece I do, there is always a story behind it as some sort of catalyst which inspired me to do it in the first place. My work is mainly built around the cosmos, as I am infatuated with space; nowadays I find myself doing more and more 3D, but only to assist with my future space scenes. Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? The heavens and the earth, family, friends, mother nature, movies, other artists; there is so much to say and so little time to say it in. I would have to say that anything is a potential for inspiration, but what I draw is ONLY an emotion, so that I leave people with something to think about since I like to share something of mine with them. Have you had any notable failures, and how has failure affected your work? As I began to draw, I many times found myself thumping my head on the desk questioning my own abilities, but it’s those times I cherish the most! I would learn to pick myself up and try again or even try harder! My own flaws were my best strengths in becoming a better artist, so I say to others out there the belief in ones self is one of the most powerful weapons one can acquire; if you find yourself stuck, or not performing like you imagine, indulge yourself in this moment. This is the point of vulnerability and the part where you need to dig deep and find yourself again!

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Featured Artist: Bassem Hassan
What have been your greatest successes? How has success impacted you / your work? My greatest success, well, would be just to become an artist. Winning my daily deviations on deviantART was great, but becoming an artist was greater, and helps my way of life in how I see things in the real world. Even my career is based around what I love most ! So that would be the greatest success from all this! What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? The mouse. What tool / equipment do you wish you had? What else? Wacom Intuous 3. ; ) What do you hope to accomplish with your art? A lot of smiling faces—if my art makes someone smile, then that is more important to me than anything anyone can ever give me: to see someone happy, well, you can’t put a price on that!

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Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Featured Artist: Bassem Hassan

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The Price of Conquest
  by Mik Wilkens

ressa Bryant wandered aimlessly through north San Francisco’s dark streets, the pitifully small pack that contained everything she owned slung over one shoulder. Around her, the cool night air hummed with the passage of ground, air, and space traffic to the south. Local bars throbbed with music and raucous conversation. The crumbling buildings shuddered as a starship landed at one of the nearby ports. Several meters behind Kressa, two men shadowed her path. She frowned. Were they following her? Easy enough to determine. She turned left at the next corner and ducked into a narrow alley partway down the block. The reek of urine and rotting debris assaulted her; the alley’s high walls gathered the city sounds and muffled them to a dull roar. Kressa shut out the distant sounds and tuned her senses closer, back the way she’d come. The quiet mumble of a conversation drifted over the background noise, accompanied by a pair of unhurried footsteps. The men moved closer, paused, and crossed the intersection where she had turned the corner. Their footfalls receded, and she relaxed. A rustle from behind whirled her around. She dropped into a fighting stance and whipped her knife from its boot-top sheath. Something groaned, low and pain-filled, and a weak male voice called, “Boy? Boy, can you...?” The voice trailed off with a moan. Kressa stared into the darkness, black eyes wide to gather light. It did not surprise her to be Ray Gun Revival magazine

K

mistaken for a boy. She wore her black hair short and her clothing loose in an attempt to hide the fact that she was a nineteen-year-old girl graced— or, in her opinion, cursed—with the genetically perfected looks of the United Galaxy’s elite. “Who’s there?” she called. Another groan drifted from deep in the alley. The agonized sound tightened her gut. Something moved in the pile of discarded boxes and rubbish that clogged the narrow passage. She gripped her knife tighter and crept forward, eyes straining in the dark. Low clouds reflected the light from the ports and the brightly lit south city in a dim glow, faintly illuminating the debris. A bloody arm and hand jutted from the trash. Kressa tightened her jaw and continued forward, knife held close, ready to use. A battered body sprawled on the rubbish, feverish eyes gazing up from a pallid face. The hand groped for a clear spot on the alley floor and levered the body into a half-sitting position. The motion sent a sour odor drifting from the litter. Kressa wrinkled her nose at the stench. “You...do me a favor?” the man asked. Kressa noted his once fine clothing, now ruined by deep, bloody wounds; the bits of expensive jewelry that adorned ear, throat, and wrist; the pain-clouded features of a face that had never been handsome and was now a pale mask of approaching death. “What’s in it for me?” she asked. The man smiled, a grimace of lips pinched tight Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
in pain. He raised an unsteady hand and gestured at himself. “Take what you want. I...won’t be needing it.” “Yeah. All right.” She bent closer, cast a wary look over her shoulder, and turned back to the man. “Who did this to you?” “You—know the ports?” She nodded. “I grew up around here.” He reached toward a pocket on the front of his jacket, and then abandoned the attempt with a moan. He motioned toward it with his chin. Cautious, Kressa removed a keycard from the pocket. “My ship—the Conquest,” the man said, each word a struggle. “She’s at...Rostenport, hanger three. Find a pilot. Take the ship to Varen, on Arecia...” He drew a ragged breath and pushed himself up straighter against the garbage. “Tell them Cam...Cameron Thorne. My name. Tell them what happened.” “Tell who?” Kressa sensed how little time the man had left, while another part of her chattered on about what he’d said. A ship? It must be a one-man vessel, but what type? A small yacht? A courier? Or—dare she hope—a freighter? “Thorne, tell me what happened.” “Go to—Cartun-al Tavern, in Varen. Talk to... B’Okhaim.” “Okay. What happened?” “Code,” Thorne said, his voice barely discernible over the echo of sounds in the alley. She leaned closer. “What code?” “To get in. Panel under scanner. Remember. Six six nine oh three five...seven two.” She repeated the number. “Good. Now—” Harsh, wet coughs wracked his

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body. He rolled onto his side, choking up blood, then lay still for a long time. At last, he spoke again. “Tell Connie she’s been a hell of a companion...” He remained quiet for so long Kressa thought he was dead, but then his hand twitched, waving her closer. She knelt beside him. “Thorne?” “Tell Teresa...my daughter. Tell her Daddy’ll be home to take her to the—Carver Day parade.” His eyes rolled to focus blearily on Kressa. “Tell her?” “Yeah, sure,” she said, convinced Thorne was completely delirious. “Sure, I’ll tell her.” She made the promise to a dead man. # Seated at the bar in a noisy north-city tavern, Kressa stared at the keycard Thorne had given her. Rostenport, hanger three. Should she use the card to try to get a look at the ship, or should she sell the card and the information Thorne had given her to another pilot? “Want something to drink, miss?” She looked up into the bright blue eyes of the ruddy-faced bartender and set the keycard on the moisture-ringed surface before her. “I’ll take a C ‘n’ K.” The tender prepared her order and placed the glass beside the card. She paid for it with Thorne’s money, took a sip, and gazed around the room. Three years ago, in this San Francisco tavern, she had met Tempo, captain of the freighter Darsan. Less than three hours ago, she had left him. On his request. Her thrice-damned looks had caused one too many conflicts among his allmale crew. Departing the Darsan had left her with nowhere to go and nothing to do. She looked at

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
the card again. Rostenport. Thorne’s ship. Mine now? She took a deep breath. The smells of sweat, alcohol, and the sweet-spicy smoke of liftsticks filled the air. The strident blare of music and laughter, the squawk of voices, and the clink and rattle of glassware dinned in the crowded room. From the far end of the bar, a lone woman watched her. Based on her heavily made-up looks, Kressa guessed the woman was nearing the end of her prime; she did not need to guess her profession. The woman’s flashy, revealing costume, bright body paint and glo-tats, and provocative stance advertised her availability to anyone who could afford her. She was what Tempo would call a “cold glove.” Kressa looked away. Was the glove a glimpse of her future? Would she end up as nothing more than a temporary bit of amusement for whoever had the credits to pay for a few minutes of her time? Never. True, she had used her looks to catch Tempo’s eye, and she’d spent most nights in his bed, but that had been a means to an end, one they both enjoyed. In her three years on board the Darsan she had learned the life of a free trader, the tricks of the business, how and where to pilot a freighter for the most profit. Plus she possessed a base of the finest education available—attained through her childhood at the local United Galaxy Patrol Academy—and the skills and knowledge gained during the years she lived on the streets after running away from the Academy. She sighed. If only she could find someone who could see past her looks to her abilities. She gave the keycard a final long look. Rostenport. My own ship. No Academy instruc-

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tors to obey, no gang prime to follow, no captain  to take orders from. Freedom. She slammed down the rest of her drink, scooped up the card and her pack, and left the bar. # Rostenport was a rundown private facility located several blocks north of the alley where Cameron Thorne died, close to the narrow strip of no-man’s-land that separated modern-day San Francisco from the earthquake-shattered ruins of the old city—the gang-ruled Territories where Kressa had grown up. She reached the port’s small terminal building, glanced through the open doorway, and froze. Two white-uniformed United Galaxy Patrol soldiers were moving toward the counter from the door to the landing pad and hangars. They scowled at the man behind the counter—which wasn’t unusual for Pattys—but the way their hands rested not-so-casually on the pulse guns at their sides suggested something was afoot. The tight-lipped frown on the man behind the counter supported that conjecture. Kressa backed away from the door and leaned against the outer wall to listen. “Find what you were looking for, Commander?” one of the men asked, presumably the civilian behind the counter. “Not yet, but we weren’t able to get much of a look at that crate in number three. It’s got some kind of defense system. Who does it belong to?” Kressa frowned. Number  three? Why would the Pattys want to search Thorne’s ship? For that matter, why were they searching all the ships, as the commander’s words suggested? “That’s Captain Thorne’s vessel,” the civilian

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
said. “Whatever you’re looking for, it can’t have anything to do with Thorne. He’s—” “We’ll be the judge of that,” the commander said. “Where’s Thorne now?” “Don’t know, sir. I haven’t seen him since... yesterday, I think.” “Is there cargo on board?” “Could be. There was some activity near the hangar last night. A few groundcars and such. I didn’t pay much attention.” “All right. Wait here.” Several seconds passed during which the hiss of a whispered conversation drifted from inside the building. Kressa assumed the Patrolmen had left the counter to discuss their next move; she used the time to consider hers. Common sense suggested that if Pattys were involved she should forget Cameron Thorne, forget his ship, get the hell out of there, and never look back. Yet, if she abandoned this now she feared she would spend the rest of her life wondering what might have happened if she stayed with it. She settled on a compromise. If the Patrolmen left the port, she would make one attempt to get to the hangar. If successful, she would take it from there. If not, she would sell the hangar key and information. “Let me tell you what you’re going to do for us, Foster,” the Patrol commander’s words drew Kressa’s attention back to the terminal building. “We’ve got a couple more ports to search, then we’ll stop back here. If Thorne gets back before we do, give us a call and keep him here. And remember, we’ve got enough on you to close this place down a dozen times over, so no tricks, right?” “Yes, sir.” The man sounded as if he spoke through clenched teeth.

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Two pairs of footsteps started for the entrance. Kressa ducked around the corner of the building and melted into the shadows under the high port fence. The soldiers’ bootsteps clopped away. Kressa counted slowly to thirty, made her way back to the terminal entrance, and peered inside, studying the distance to the opening onto the landing pad. Confidence will get you anywhere. She took a deep breath, let it slide out, then drew herself up, slung her pack over her shoulder, and strode through the doorway. The man behind the counter glanced up. She tossed him a casual wave and kept walking, eyes straight ahead. Nearly there. The man released a bored grunt, the cool night air hit her face, and she was through. Easy. She darted into the darkness at the edge of the pad and made her way along the port fence to the hangar marked with a glowing numeral three, opened the service door with Thorne’s card, and stepped inside. The door closed and the lights in the hangar came up, momentarily dazzling her night vision, then she grinned. The Conquest was a freighter. But her elation lasted only as long as it took for her eyes to adjust to the light and get a perspective on the ship. She had assumed Thorne’s ship would be a one-man vessel, otherwise his crew could take it to Arecia for him, but a ship the size of the Conquest required a crew of at least four. How had Thorne expected a single pilot to fly a fouron freighter? And where was his crew? Had the same people who took down Thorne killed them

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
as well? Suddenly this was looking a lot more dangerous than she originally thought. Yet, she was here now; at least she could have a look around. She walked toward the freighter, wary of any defensive equipment. Nothing happened. She approached the port side of the vessel, climbed the boarding ramp to the closed airlock door, and let her pack slide to the landing. What had Thorne said about the code to get in? Panel under scanner. There was a printlock to the right of the door. The milky glass of its scanplate glowed dimly in the bright hangar, but Kressa saw nothing under the plate except smooth, steel-gray hull. Maybe a door covered the panel. She bent for a closer look. Nothing. Just unmarred hull. A finger-wide margin of dull silver material surrounded the edge of the scanplate. She squatted before it. A narrow groove separated the margin from the Conquest’s darker exterior. Drawing her knife, she stuck the tip of the blade into the crack on the right side of the scanner, slid it down the side and across the bottom. Halfway along the bottom edge, she met an obstruction. She pressed the knife tip against the blockage. The obstacle gave way and the bottom edge of the scanplate popped outward. She swung the plate up on hinges mounted along its top, revealing a numbered keypad. Smiling, she sheathed her knife, entered the code, and clicked the scanplate back into place. The airlock door hummed open. Kressa retrieved her pack and stepped into the lock. The outer door sealed behind her. She sucked in a nervous breath and tried to ignore the sudden sensation of being trapped.

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After a moment the inner door opened and she looked into the ship. The airlock formed one end of a dim-lit corridor. The hallway ran for about ten meters before turning right, toward the rear of the vessel. Four closed doors were situated along the corridor: one just beyond the lock to her right, two evenly spaced along the left wall, and one at the far end. She stepped into the hallway. “Halt,” a female voice said. Kressa froze. A recording? “Identify yourself,” the voice said. Kressa scanned the corridor again, but saw no one. The voice must be a message programmed to play when someone entered the ship without taking a particular action; a minor thing Thorne forgot to mention. She took another step forward. “Halt. Where is Cameron Thorne?” An anti-personnel turret dropped from the ceiling halfway down the corridor, the barrel pointed directly at Kressa. She took a startled step backward. The gun followed her movement. “Identify yourself,” the voice said. “Kressa Bryant. Who are you?” “Where is Thorne?” Kressa eased to one side. The turret tracked her. “Move again and I will fire. Where is Thorne?” “Dead.” A long silence followed. “Tell me what happened.” Kressa related the story of her encounter with Thorne. She paused once when she realized she had no idea who she was speaking to, but the voice bade her continue and the threat of the

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Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
overhead turret convinced her it would be in her best interest to obey. “Thorne instructed you to travel to Arecia?” the voice asked after Kressa completed her story. “Yes.” She thought it best not to mention that she had no intention of taking the ship anywhere near Arecia until she found out what the Pattys wanted. Another long pause ensued. “Enter the door to your right.” The barrier slid aside and Kressa peered into a large, indirectly lit recreation room with several vid outlets, a bar, plush furnishings, and a small dining area. She whistled. From what she knew about freighters like the Conquest, most of their interior living space was dedicated to sleeping quarters and a small galley. This single chamber must have been converted from the majority of the quarters. And Thorne had all but given her the ship. She stepped into the room, grinning. A turret centered on the ceiling took up the duty of tracking her movements, and her grin disappeared. “Sit at the table,” the voice said. Kressa walked toward the dining area on the far left side of the room, an uncomfortable tension tightening her shoulders. She passed the open door of the galley and glanced inside. Traders were not known for their discriminating taste in food, most of them being content with whatever issued from the galley’s food processor, yet the Conquest’s galley held a complete kitchen, not just a simple processing unit. The Conquest was one hell of a ship. Her ship now if not for that damned voice. And the guns. “Sit,” the voice said.

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Kressa scowled but obeyed. “Who the hell are you?” “I am a Thompson-Krell Mark Five ship’s computer. Registration number 20458KD83-38F. ACC-AI revision 08935R installed on standard date SY 4533-09.06. Hol-OS modifications made SY 4533-12.02. Mol and quantum memory modified SY 4534-02.05. Additional AI algorithms installed...” There was another fifteen seconds of the same, little of which Kressa understood. At last the computer concluded, “You may refer to me as Connie.” Kressa stifled a laugh. So this was the mysterious Connie whose company Thorne had enjoyed. “Okay, Connie, so you’re a fancy computer. Is that how Thorne piloted a four-on without a crew?” “Correct.” “And you’ll obey me now?” “No.” Kressa frowned. “What do you mean, no?” Silence. “Connie?” Kressa said. “Waiting.” “Did you hear me?” “Yes,” the computer answered. Kressa stared at the barrel of the overhead turret. There must be some way to convince the computer— She rolled her eyes. One need not convince a computer of anything. Computers simply followed programmed orders. Clearly, Thorne had given the Conquest’s computer orders to obey only him, but he must have an override, some password or phrase that told the computer to obey the person giving it. Yet, other than the airlock code, nothing Thorne had said could be construed as a password. Unless... She thought hard. Unless

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
Thorne’s final ramblings hadn’t been as delirious as she thought. What had he said? Something about his daughter... “Connie?” “Waiting.” “Thorne had a daughter, right? Named Teresa?” “Correct.” “He wanted to tell her— Uh...” She thought back to the last moments of her encounter with Cameron Thorne. “He wanted to tell her he’d be back to take Teresa to the Carver Day parade.” “Command acknowledged. Voice pattern imprint recognition program activated. Awaiting input of additional operator identity.” Kressa smiled. # “Connie, we could be in trouble,” Kressa said after supplying the information that made her the ship’s operator. The ship’s operator. She grinned at the thought, and forced herself back to business. “There were two Patrolmen in the terminal when I got here.” “They wanted to search the ship,” Connie said. “I warned them away.” “What kind of cargo are you carrying?” Kressa asked. “Assorted Terran spices and liquors, cloth, gems, small electronic specialty items, trinkets. A cargo manifest is available if you—” “No, that’s fine.” It sounded like Thorne planned for a trip through the colony worlds. So why did he want her to take the ship to Arecia, and why did the Patrol want to search it? “Was Thorne in trouble with the Patrol?”

Pg. 2
“Thorne’s record contains several shipping violations.” “What kinds of violations?” “Concealment to avoid tariffs, transportation of animals considered harmful to indigenous life forms, transportation of unapproved items.” “That’s all?” She doubted any free trader alive hadn’t broken at least one of those rules. “Was anyone else after him, someone who might try to kill him?” “Unknown.” “So what do we do now?” she asked, and then started to laugh when she realized she had just asked a computer for an opinion. But she swallowed the laugh when Connie answered. “We should leave immediately.” “Why not let the Pattys do their search? If there’s nothing wrong with the cargo...?” “That is not advisable,” the computer said. “Why?” “The Patrol is not likely to allow you to pilot the ship by yourself.” “Why not?” Kressa asked. “Are you licensed?” “Well...no, but I know what I’m doing.” “The Patrol will not allow you to pilot the ship without a license and proper documentation.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right, but couldn’t we just tell them the pilot will be back soon?” “They will want to speak with him when he returns.” Kressa sighed. This was the first time she’d been argued into a corner by a computer. Come to think of it, this was the first time she’d carried on a prolonged conversation with a computer. As far as she knew, computers capable of intel-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
ligent, meaningful discussions with humans hadn’t existed since the fall of the Alliance left the United Galaxy’s Patrol admirals in charge of most of the known worlds. She’d always figured the Pattys didn’t like machines that were smarter than them. “If we call for departure clearance,” she said, “the port controller is just going to make us wait for the Pattys to get back.” “Then we must lift off without clearance.” Kressa’s eyes widened at the suggestion. “Have you done that sort of thing before?” “Yes.” “You’re one hell of a computer.” “Thank you.” # The Conquest’s bridge was a three-by-fourmeter chamber perched atop the vessel’s living area. Kressa stood at the top of the ramp that led to the room and studied the separate stations, each with its own set of controls. “Are you sure you and Thorne flew this ship alone?” “I can handle approximately eighty percent of the responsibilities of the missing crew,” Connie said. “I will let you know when I need assistance. As you learn the ship’s systems, I will allow you to do more.” “How benevolent of you.” Kressa stood still for another moment, listening to the quiet hum of the ship’s drive coming on line, then she started to prowl through the room, examining the various boards and controls. In addition to her internal defense system, the Conquest possessed an impressive array of offensive batteries. “You know, Connie, I don’t remember seeing this many guns on the ship’s exterior.”

Pg. 27
“Many of the weapon emplacements have internal storage compartments to prevent damage when not in use.” And to hide them from prying eyes. “Preparing for liftoff,” the computer said. “Please take a seat.” Kressa settled into the pilot’s chair and watched the half dozen screens above the control boards. On the main screen, an expanding sliver of dim clouds pinkly underlit by city lights appeared as the overhead hangar doors opened. The ship hovered just below them. A series of dull thuds reverberated through the freighter as the landing gear retracted and locked into place. An instant later, the Conquest shot skyward. Swirling clouds momentarily obscured the screen, and then the bright constellations of Terra’s night sky blazed from the viewer. “Unidentified freighter, this is San Francisco control,” a harsh, authoritative voice said over the comm. “You are not cleared for departure. Please respond.” Unidentified freighter? “Connie, did you turn off the ID beacon?” “Yes.” Kressa smirked. “That’s not going to do any good. They’ll figure out who we are as soon as they track back to where we lifted—” The comm crackled on again. “Freighter Wincarnis, you are to return immediately. Please respond.” “You were registered at the port as Wincarnis?” Kressa asked “Correct.” The freighter did a sudden roll to starboard and lights streaked by on one of the screens. “What in hell was that?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“An incoming vessel,” Connie said. “A little warning next time would be—” “Freighter Wincarnis,” the voice on the comm said. “Come in, Wincarnis, or we will fire.” “Damn!” Kressa dove for the weapons board. “Excellent response time,” the computer said. Kressa bit back an angry retort. Heart pounding, she scanned the controls, trying to make sense of them. A light on the board started to blink. “What’s that?” she asked. “The pursuit indicator.” Pursuit...? She swallowed hard and looked at the screens, but saw only stars ahead and the lighted spider-web clusters of cities falling away beneath them. “I don’t see any pursuit.” “With luck, you never will.” Kressa returned her attention to the barely familiar array of controls before her. “What’s following us?” “Configurations indicate a light cruiser and a destroyer.” She glanced up again, limbs zinging with adrenaline. “Warships? Just because we didn’t ask for clearance, they’re coming after us with warships?” “The Patrol wanted to talk to Cameron Thorne,” the computer said, as if that explained everything. “I know that, but why?” “Presumably to search the ship.” “Connie, what aren’t you telling me?” “It would require years to impart to you all of the information to which I have access but have not told you.”

Pg. 2
Kressa scowled and studied the weapons board again. Slowly the controls began to make sense. They were not very different from the Darsan’s, there were just a whole lot more of them. She activated the guns and experimented with the sensitivity of the controls and targeting systems. “Connie, give me a report.” “We are clearing the atmosphere. Setting course perpendicular to the system plane. Pursuing vessels will be in firing range in one minute, twenty-eight seconds. There is also a chance the Patrol will have vessels within range to intercept us outside the atmosphere.” “How much of a chance?” “Impossible to compute.” “Want to make a guess?” Kressa asked. “No.” “Be sure to tell me if you detect any. And let me know if I do anything wrong.” “Of course.” Kressa studied the screens in a vain attempt to locate the pursuing ships before Terra’s swiftly diminishing globe. “Pursuing vessels will be in firing range in thirty seconds,” Connie said. Kressa licked dry lips and turned her attention to the sensor readouts, waiting for them to pick up a target for her guns. “Fifteen seconds,” Connie said. “Computing jump to Arecian system.” “No! Not Arecia. Try—” She thought fast. “Try Maetar.” The Patrol vessels began to fire. Following her instincts, her experience on board the Darsan, and an occasional suggestion

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
from Connie, Kressa held the Patrol vessels back far enough to prevent them from getting in a damaging shot. The freighter picked up speed as she flew farther out of Terra’s gravity well. Soon, they’d pulled far ahead of the cruiser. Damn, the Conquest was fast! The destroyer was barely keeping up with her. Then Kressa scored a solid hit on the vessel and it, too, fell behind. A moment later sensors picked up two more destroyers and another cruiser, closing fast from three directions. “Connie...” “Activating transdrive field generator.” The familiar gentle tingle of a transpace field shivered across Kressa’s skin, but then the field began to shudder—no doubt from the proximity of Terra’s gravity well—and Kressa’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. She swallowed hard and waited, impatient, while the field strengthened. The three Patrol vessels converged on the Conquest, drawing ever closer to effective firing range—theirs and hers. “Field levels approaching nominal,” Connie said. Kressa targeted the closest destroyer and glanced at the field-strength indicator. Almost  there. She looked at the Patrol vessels. Close now. “Field strength in range.” Kressa leaped to the pilot’s station and slapped the transdrive controls without taking the time to consider their proximity to a planet and how it would affect their entrance into transpace. Once her stomach and head recovered enough for her to consider anything, she was glad she hadn’t eaten for several hours. #

Pg. 2
After recuperating from the stomachwrenching effects of a transpace jump too close to a planet and ordering Connie to never do anything so stupid again, Kressa called up the Conquest’s course on the nav console and compared it to the freighter’s starcharts. “Connie, you figured our jump wrong. We’re not headed anywhere near Maetar.” “We are going to Arecia.” “Not on these coordinates. And I thought I told you I wanted to go to Maetar.” “You did.” “Then why are we headed for deep space?” Kressa asked. “That is the course I set.” “Why?” “To prevent the Patrol from determining our destination based on our initial jump.” “Oh. All right.” It was a common enough trick, but one that worked. “Did Thorne teach you that?” “Yes.” “So what happens next?” “In six hours, nine minutes we will emerge from transpace and set a course for Arecia.” “No! We’re not going to Arecia.” The computer didn’t answer. “Connie?” “Waiting.” “I said we’re not going to Arecia.” Kressa forced her voice to remain calm. Silence. “Dammit, you’re supposed to obey me. Why aren’t we going to Maetar?” “Previous orders request a course for Arecia.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“What orders?” Kressa asked. “Orders from Cameron Thorne.” Kressa fought to control her rising frustration. “Thorne’s dead, Connie. You obey me now.” “Yes, I do.” “Then get us back into normal space and set a course for Maetar.” “No.” Kressa clenched her fists and counted slowly to ten. Obviously she couldn’t win by arguing with the computer, so why not try reasoning with it? “All right,” she said in a steady voice, “let me get this straight. You have orders from Thorne to go to Arecia, but I am your operator, right?” “Correct. Kressa Bryant is an authorized operator.” “An operator? Who else is an operator?” “Juric Azano and Cameron Thorne are authorized operators.” Juric  Azano? Who the hell was he? She’d worry about it later. “So you have three authorized operators, and you have to obey all three of them.” “Correct.” “What if they give conflicting orders?” “I will request clarification from the initiating operators.” “And if one of those operators isn’t available, what then?” Kressa asked. “I will carry out all orders to the best of my abilities, unless I determine doing so will cause damage to the ship.” “What if I told you that taking the Conquest to Arecia will cause damage?” “There is no evidence to support such a conjecture.” “But the Patrol is after us.”

Pg. 30

“The Patrol is after a vessel called Wincarnis, they do not know where we are headed, and Arecia is a Free World.” “A Free World? So what?” “The United Galaxy Patrol does not have jurisdiction on Free Worlds.” Kressa scoffed. “When has that ever stopped them? Hell, the United Galaxy has enough firepower to take over most of the Free Worlds if they really wanted to.” “It is not lack of desire that prevents the United Galaxy from taking over the Free Worlds.” “You don’t think so?” Kressa asked, marveling at the fact that she was discussing interplanetary politics with a computer. “What is it then?” “The reasons are varied, but the primary causes are the need for the United Galaxy to use its Patrol forces to keep its own worlds in line, the infighting among the ruling admirals, and the opposition of the Free World Guard.” Kressa had heard stories about the Guard, a quasi-military force that had begun to appear on several of the Free Worlds a decade or so ago. Still... “I don’t know, Connie, you sound like you’re just repeating something Thorne told you about his view of the way things are, or how he’d like them to be.” “On the contrary. My statements are backed by historical fact and analysis of—” “Never mind. I’m sure you know what you’re talking about, but what we were talking about is you taking the ship to Arecia. You’re going to do that no matter what I say, aren’t you?” “Correct.” Kressa sighed, knowing she was beat. For now.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“Do you have any idea what Thorne intended to do on Arecia?” “Cameron Thorne intended to deliver cargo.” “What cargo?” Kressa tried to think of anything Connie had mentioned that would be a worthwhile trade item on Arecia. “Give me a manifest.” A datacard popped from a slot at the pilot’s station. Kressa took the card, located a handheld reader, and headed for the bay. # Kressa ran a hand through her hair, lips set in a firm line. She had checked and rechecked every shipping crate in the bay and compared their contents to the cargo manifest. Everything appeared in perfect order, except nothing would be profitable on Arecia. Maybe Thorne had other cargo stashed away, illegal goods not listed on the manifest; goods the Patrol might be interested in. She began to search the ship, starting with the two doors that opened into the ship’s bow from the entry corridor. Behind them were two small cargo areas designed for goods that required the more stable heat, gravity, and pressure of the freighter’s living area. One contained a sophisticated med-unit, and Kressa wondered if Thorne would have lived had he reached it. The door at the corridor’s bend opened into a large, cluttered bedroom that must have been Thorne’s. Kressa made a brief examination of the chamber and adjoining washroom, but found little of interest except a small cabinet with an assortment of weapons and several datacards that contained the shipping documents for this and previous runs. “Connie, where did Thorne hide cargo he didn’t want the inspectors to find?” She poked her head

Pg. 31
into a control-system access hatch near the bay entrance and gazed down the dark, dusty crawl space. No one had been in there for some time. “Connie, answer me,” she said after giving the computer more than enough time to formulate a reply. “I know he had a place. All free traders do.” “There are two compartments in the cargo bay airlock just beyond the ramp to the control room.” Right behind her. She examined the airlock wall. “I don’t see anything. Can you open them?” The smooth wall façade rolled upward, revealing two meter-square hatches. The doors irised open with a quiet hiss, and Kressa peered into the large compartments. Both were empty. “All right, Connie, close the doors.” She stifled a yawn. “When will we re-enter normal space?” “Two hours, forty-two minutes.” “You’re still determined to go to Arecia?” “Yes.” “All right. I’m going to try to get some sleep. Wake me up when we come out of transpace, and try to find some reason why we shouldn’t go to Arecia.” The computer didn’t answer. Kressa returned to Thorne’s room—her room now, she thought with a smile—stripped, washed, and climbed into the big comfortable bed. She expected to fall asleep the instant her head touched the pillow, but there was too much on her mind. She struggled to think it all through. The Conquest had left Terra without the Patrol knowing her real identity. They couldn’t track her transpace jump, so they wouldn’t know to look for her on Arecia. So maybe Kressa need not worry about the Patrol, after all. Maybe Thorne

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens

Pg. 32

had simply crossed the wrong people or gotten She fussed with food for a few moments. involved with the underground forces that were “Who is Juric Azano?” beginning to emerge on United Galaxy worlds— “Juric Azano is an authorized operator.” forces supposedly backed by the Free World “Yeah, I know that. Tell me about him.” Guard. Maybe that was why the Patrol wanted to “Juric Azano was a Sundaran native. He was talk to him. A lot of maybes, but certainly not as bad as things could have been. Besides, Connie the original owner of the Conquest.” was going to take the ship to Arecia no matter “He made all the modifications to the ship? what she said. That must have cost a fortune.” Looked at that way, it should be safe enough to “The original estimate was twenty-five million follow Thorne’s instructions and talk to B’Okhaim credits.” in Varen. Perhaps he would be able to give her Kressa choked on the bit of food she was some idea of what Thorne had done to get the test-tasting. “He spent twenty-five million on Pattys after him. After that, she would be careful a modified  freighter? Why didn’t he just buy a to avoid it. yacht?” “All right, Connie,” she said, “we’ll go to Arecia. “Who looks twice at a freighter?” Connie said Don’t bother waking me for the jump.” in an unusually casual tone that made Kressa “Acknowledged.” Did she detect a hint of suspect the computer was quoting something triumph in the computer’s voice? “Sleep well.” it had once heard Azano say. It continued in its normal timbre, “The final cost of the completed # vessel was twenty-eight million, two hundred Kressa woke up famished. She rolled out of forty-three thousand, thirty-nine credits.” bed, called for the lights, and padded across the Kressa gazed around in wonder. She was room to the closet. After a short search she found aboard a ship worth nearly thirty million credits! a thin blue robe. She shrugged into it and headed “Where did Azano get that much money?” for the galley. “Inheritance, and wise investing.” Again, the Hidden amongst the modern appliances, computer sounded as if it were quoting. she discovered an old, extremely basic food “He must have been an interesting fellow. Have processor designed to output small, supposedly you been with—that is, a part of the Conquest nutrient-rich cakes. She dialed for three of the hard, tasteless biscuits and used them to take the since the beginning?” edge off her hunger while she prepared a proper “My hardware and basic operating systems meal. were installed as part of the original plans.” “Connie, what’s our ETA for Arecia?” “When was that? Approximately.” “Sixty-six hours, seven minutes.” “How long did I sleep?” she asked, and then added, “Approximately.” “Seven hours.” “Original power-up occurred twenty-five years ago. Over the next fourteen years, Azano made considerable modifications to my behavior and personality algorithms.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“Where did Azano get the original program? I’ve never heard of a system like yours.” “The system was designed at the request of Admiral Bertrom Gellig. It was based on research prototypes created near the end of the Alliance. Gellig came into possession of the plans after the Alliance War and ordered the development of a computer to supply opinions regarding specific inputs and scenarios, primarily historical and political.” “That’s pretty much what you do, right?” Kressa asked. “Correct.” “So, why aren’t there more computers like you?” “Apparently Admiral Gellig did not like the opinions offered by my predecessor and ordered the original designs destroyed. A copy of the system specifications was retained illegally and Azano was able to buy them.” “What did your predecessor tell the admiral to get him so upset?” Kressa asked. “Based on the data and political trends of the time, it must have informed Gellig of the eventual conquest of the United Galaxy by the Free Worlds.” Kressa started to laugh. # Two days into the transpace journey to Arecia, Kressa was lounging in the Conquest’s rec room, working her way through a bottle of sweet wine from Thorne’s well-stocked rec room bar, when a realization struck. Here she was, eating Thorne’s food, drinking his liquor, sleeping in his bed, and she knew nothing about him. “Connie, tell me about Thorne.”

Pg. 33
“Cameron Thorne was a native of Arkana.” “The farming colony?” “Correct.” “How did he get the Conquest?” “Thorne was Juric Azano’s partner.” “Partner in what?” Kressa asked. “Azano’s travels.” “What happened to Azano?” “He was killed during the Arkana rebellion.” Kressa set aside her drink and tried to recall anything she had heard about an uprising on Arkana. “When was that?” “Five years ago. Approximately.” She smiled. Clearly, Connie had started to adapt her behavior to her newest operator by— Kressa’s brow furrowed. When had she begun to think of the computer as a her? No matter. She returned her attention to the conversation. “Five years ago, huh? That was when the United Galaxy tried to take over some of the Free Worlds, right? I didn’t realize Arkana was a Free World.” “Arkana was not, but the Arkanans supported them.” “Why was Azano there? How did he die?” “Azano and Thorne went to Arkana for the Carver Day celebration. Azano was killed attempting to help Thorne rescue his family during the Patrol raid.” “Then Thorne really does have a daughter,” Kressa said. “Thorne had one daughter, Teresa, and two sons, Hal and Darris.” “What happened to them?” “Cameron Thorne’s family was killed during

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
the Patrol attack.” # Kressa had first visited Varen, Arecia’s famous pleasure city, about a year earlier when she accompanied the crew of the Darsan on a brief recreation stop after a particularly profitable run. Her memories of the city consisted of a jumble of lights, sounds, and buildings, and the joyful abandon of people taking advantage of the myriad entertainments Varen offered. She remembered nothing at all about the spaceport. Now the Conquest swept in over that port, revealing a vast field laid out across the semi-arid landscape south of the city. Ships of every size and type, from small yachts to huge passenger liners, formed neat rows on the sunlit landing pad. Buildings dotted the edge of the field: terminals, tram stops, hangars, and warehouses. North of the huge pad, the city of Varen sprawled in a colorful patchwork, crisscrossed by an orderly network of roads and tramways. “Conquest CXJ-14217, you are cleared for landing,” one of the port’s traffic controllers said over the comm. “Guidance beacon lock-on 367D. Welcome to Varen.” “Acknowledged, control.” Kressa directed the freighter’s approach from the pilot’s station on the bridge. “Lock-on established. Starting descent. Conquest out. Connie, take us in.” She watched the main screen as the Conquest followed the invisible beacon toward her assigned docking site. Moments later, the ship touched down and Connie directed Kressa through the freighter’s shutdown and postflight procedures. “There are two figures approaching the ship,” Connie said as Kressa ran the last of the diagnostics. She pursed her lips. “Let me see them.”

Pg. 3
The image on the main viewer switched to show two men moving toward the Conquest at a fast walk. They wore the uniforms of port officials, and Kressa relaxed slightly. Probably  just  cargo  inspectors. “Connie, open the freight doors. I’ll meet them in the bay.” As Kressa entered the cargo area through the internal lock, the two men climbed the ramp formed by the lowered freight doors. The man on the left, a chisel-featured, darkcomplexioned fellow with the tawny eyes common to many Arecians, looked at Kressa with a knitted brow and a hint of a frown. “Where’s your captain, miss?” Kressa stopped a few meters from the men and leaned on one of the shipping crates. “He’s not available. How can I help you?” “Registry says you’re carrying,” said the Arecian’s partner, a short, brawny man of mixed ancestry. “We have to check the cargo.” Kressa nodded and gave the men a charming smile. “I’ve got the docs right here.” She held out the datacard. “I’m sure you’ll find everything in order.” The Arecian took the card, inserted it into a reader slung from his belt, and glanced through the files. After a moment he unclipped the reader and passed it to his partner. “Check these for me, Tad.” He looked at Kressa as Tad moved off to begin matching cargo to manifest. “You’ve come from Terra?” “Yes, sir. San Francisco.” “And you picked up the cargo there?” “Yes, sir. It’s all on the card.” “Uh-huh.” He glanced to where Tad was conducting a surprisingly superficial check of the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
cargo, and then looked at Kressa again. “You’re sure there’s no way we can see the captain?” She shook her head. “Sorry.” He dragged a hand across his chin. “Maybe we’ll stop by later.” He glanced at his partner. “How’s it looking, Tad?” “Everything checks out.” Tad returned the datacard to Kressa and the reader to his partner. “I’m ready to go.” “Is there something you wanted to see the captain about?” Kressa asked, hoping to get some hint about what was going on. “Just tell him Lanar came by,” the Arecian said. The two men turned and started down the ramp, but halted halfway to the pad. “Can I help you?” Lanar said to someone below him, a menacing edge darkening his voice. A flutter of alarm momentarily froze Kressa’s breath, and she rushed forward. Two men stood at the base of the ramp, Patrolissue pulse guns drawn and leveled at the inspectors. One of the newcomers pulled something from a pocket and flashed it at Lanar. A Patty ID. Kressa swallowed hard and backed toward the open door into the freighter’s living area. “Connie,” she whispered, “there are Pattys here. Why didn’t you tell me someone was coming?” “I am not to reveal my existence or capabilities in the presence of strangers.” The computer’s voice was quiet, barely discernible over the sounds from the port. “Those are standing orders from Juric Azano. Also, there are too many—” Connie’s voice cut off as the two plain-clothed Patrolmen stepped up the ramp. One of the men snapped his gaze into the bay and gestured to his comrade.

Pg. 3

The second Patrolman started forward, his gun trained on Kressa. “Wait right there.” Kressa froze, heart pounding, her limbs suddenly cold. She stared at the gun. “We’ve already inspected the vessel,” Lanar said to the Patrolman on the ramp. “Everything’s clear.” “I’d like to inspect it again.” Kressa tore her eyes from the gun. Lanar shook his head. “This is a free port; you have no jurisdiction here. I can’t authorize—” “Maybe this will help with authorization.” A dozen armed men stepped onto the ramp. They wore civilian clothing, but their weapons and the way they interacted with one another identified them as Patrol soldiers. Kressa swallowed hard. Was this what Connie was referring to when she said there were too  many? The Patrolman with Lanar gave him a gloating smile and gestured to two of the newcomers. “Escort the inspectors to my car. Hold them there until we’re finished.” The two soldiers led the port officials away. The leader motioned for his men to follow him, and climbed the ramp. He stopped in front of Kressa and looked her over with an appraising eye. “You the crew’s glove?” Her face burned. “No.” He gave her another long look. “Right.” He snatched the datacard she held and passed it to one of his men. “Check this, and get that sensing equipment in here.” He beckoned to another soldier. “Lieutenant, take your people inside and round up the crew.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“Aye, sir.” The lieutenant called three men to him and started toward the closed door into the ship. Closed? Kressa looked again. The door had been open a moment earlier. Clearly, Connie had taken it upon herself to close it. And now she took it upon herself to defend it as well. The bay’s overhead turret swung to bear on the four men. “Halt!” the computer said in a toneless mechanical voice that bore no resemblance to the way she normally spoke. The soldiers froze. “Your friends trying to be funny?” the leader asked Kressa. She shook her head and fought to control her racing heart. “They must not think too much of you. Think they’ll put away the gun and open that door if I turn Perst here loose on you?” He gestured to the man guarding her. Kressa shot an anxious look at Perst, caught his eager grin, and returned her gaze to the Patrol leader. “There’s no one on board.” “Oh? We’ve been watching this ship since it landed. We didn’t see anyone leave. Are you saying the crew just vanished?” Kressa bit her lip. They would find out soon enough on their own. “I am the crew.” “You fly this big old ship all by yourself?” he asked with an overplayed look of amazement. She nodded. His expression turned mean. “Then who’s playing the games with the gun?” “It’s an automatic defense system.” “Yeah? Shut it off.”

Pg. 3
Kressa considered the consequences of disobeying. If she resisted, it would give the Patrol something to hold her on, then they would bring in equipment to overcome Connie’s defenses. She preferred to keep her name off any Patty records and keep both computer and ship in one piece. Besides, she had searched the freighter thoroughly enough to know the soldiers would find nothing incriminating on board. Once they assured themselves of that, they would leave her alone and go on about their business. I hope. “Connie, let them in.” The turret retracted and the door opened. “Perst, keep an eye on wonder-pilot here,” the leader said. “I want to talk with her later.” He moved off to speak with a pair of soldiers manhandling a heavy piece of sensing equipment around the bay. For several long minutes, Kressa stood under Perst’s alert gaze as the others swarmed through the bay, opening shipping crates and prying into corners. “Captain! I’ve got something here.” The call came from one of the men operating the sensor machine. He pointed to the doors that formed the boarding ramp. “The readings are coming from there, sir. Strong, too. I’m picking up several hundred energy signatures.” “There must be a panel there,” the leader said, his voice rising with anticipation. “Get it open.” Four men carrying magnetic releasers and prying tools hurried forward and began loosening the thick metal plates that covered the inner surface of the bay doors. Kressa watched in dubious wonder as the soldiers dragged the heavy plates aside, revealing hidden compartments. Half of the compartments were empty, but the others held dozens of narrow plasteel shipping crates, each about a meter long.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
Why hadn’t Connie told her about this? Didn’t the computer know of the compartments, or did she have orders not to reveal their whereabouts? The latter conclusion seemed infinitely more probable, and Kressa damned Cameron Thorne for getting her into this. “Let’s see what we’ve got here,” the leader said. Two soldiers brought one of the crates up the ramp and set it on the bay floor. The others gathered round. The leader gave Kressa a quick glance and signaled for the removal of the lid. Inside, nestled barrel-to-stock in protective padding, lay two shiny new energy rifles. Kressa’s mouth fell open. The leader looked at her with a triumphant grin. “So our pretty little pilot is a gunrunner.” He gestured to Perst, his expression suddenly angry. “Get her out of here!” # Kressa had never felt so alone, so hurt, or so convinced she was going to die. If the drugs she’d received during the last interrogation session didn’t kill her, she knew the Patrol eventually would. They believed she was a gunrunner, and considering the evidence they had, she couldn’t blame them, which left her with only one option—escape. Unfortunately, simply remaining conscious was becoming an all-encompassing struggle as the newest round of drugs took hold of her mind and body. She lay on the floor of a small, bare room where her captors had dumped her after their last round of questioning. She tried to think back beyond that, to figure out how much time had passed since the Patrolmen had taken her from

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the Conquest and driven her to this nondescript building deep in the city. At times it seemed like less than a day, yet at other moments she felt certain a week or more had passed. She moved her eyes and tried to focus on the tiny window high up on the door of her cell. She failed. Everything was a drug-shrouded blur. Even her thoughts fuzzed in and out, fading from sharp clarity to muzzled incoherence. She began to prefer the painless lapses of... Incoherence. How long until her captors decided the new drugs had taken effect? The thought rolled lazily through her mind as another lucid moment came around to slam home the reality of her situation. How long before they dragged her back to the Other Room and began pounding her with questions again? Maybe this time they would realize she was telling the truth. Or maybe she should make up a more credible lie so they would leave her alone or put her out of her misery. Maybe— Her thoughts went away again and she... dreamed? She hoped it was only a dream. She sat in the Other Room. Tight straps across her wrists, ankles, and chest held her in the hard metal chair. In front of her stood the stone-faced soldier who could do such agonizing things with a touch, or a slap, or the cold sting of a drug pad. Or was it simply the drugs heightening her sensitivity to such excruciating levels that the brush of air against her naked skin made her want to scream? And why didn’t they believe her? She couldn’t lie to them even if she wanted to. The drugs made sure of that. Yet they asked her the same questions, over and over, never satisfied. Who? Kressa Bryant. Where? Terra.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
What? Guns...  But  I  don’t  know  how.  I  don’t  know who. She didn’t have the answers they wanted. I don’t know. I don’t know... Then the bare room with its tiny window on a door that seemed a million blurring light years away snapped into place around her and she hurt. Everywhere, she hurt. I want to die. “Not yet,” said a voice. Dark figures moved before her. They emerged from a door that should not be there. One figure stood at the real door, the one with the window; two others waited by the smaller unreal one, and two hovered before her. A hand reached toward her. Please. Don’t touch me. It held something near her face. She smelled pungent spice, chemicals. The hand touched her, inflicting pain, blackness, and she screamed in absolute silence. # “I’ve neutralized most of the effects of the sensory enhancers, Colonel.” The words drifted through Kressa’s consciousness, running and tumbling together while at the same time seeming to last an eternity between syllables. She grasped for the meanings of the sounds; finally made sense of each word except the last. Colonel? The Patrol didn’t use that rank. Who—? Someone else spoke from a short distance away, the words too quiet to make out. “It shouldn’t matter,” the first voice answered. “There are plenty of other drugs left in her system to keep her honest.”

Pg. 3

“Just so long as she lives long enough to answer my questions,” the second voice said, closer now. “No problem there, sir. She’s in fine shape considering what she’s been through.” Kressa forced her eyes open. She sat in a padded wooden chair, wrists bound behind her, a blanket tucked around her naked form. The dizzying effects of the interrogation drugs whirled through her head, like the comfortable buzz of a good strong drink, but most of the pain was gone. The chamber she was in looked like the bedroom of a hotel suite, complete with a large bed, a desk, an armoire, and a small washroom. A man squatted before her, tawny eyes studying her, a slight frown on his lips. For a moment she thought he might be the Arecian inspector from the port, but he was lighter-skinned, with auburn hair and smooth, handsome features. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties. A second, younger man stood beside him, drug pad in hand, a medkit open on the nearby desk. A third man and a woman guarded the door; another man stood behind her chair. All five wore plain clothing. She recalled her last memories from inside her cell. Had these people rescued her, or was this some Patty trick, a ruse to get her to talk? If that were true, why was she tied? The man before her straightened. “What’s your name?” “Kressa Bryant. Who—?” “Where’s Cameron Thorne?” She searched his eyes. How did he know about Thorne? He watched her for a moment, expressionless,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
then reached past the younger man, removed a scalpel from the medkit, and brought the blade toward Kressa’s face. She gasped and tried to draw away. The sudden movement caused her head to spin, and she struggled to force away the gray that edged her vision. The Arecian gave her a long look, eyes narrowed, the blade held steady before him. “Where’s Cameron Thorne?” The answer formed unbidden in her head as the interrogation drugs overcame her will. “T—Terra.” She drew a deep breath and wrested control away from the drugs. “Who are you?” “A friend of Captain Thorne.” He lowered the scalpel. Kressa met his eyes. Could he be telling the truth? “Where’s Thorne?” he asked again. The drugs pushed Kressa to answer. She fought them, failed. “Thorne’s dead. I—” The man behind her grabbed a handful of hair and jerked her head back. “You murdering bitch! Why—?” “Hold it, Trin,” the Arecian said. “Let her finish.” “But, Colonel, she killed Captain Thorne and—” The colonel’s eyes met Trin’s, one brow arched. He released his hold. “Colonel, I don’t think—” “Trin, she came in the Conquest. Even if she did manage to win her way into Cameron’s heart—or even just his bed—and then took him out, how could she have gotten control of Connie?”

Pg. 3
Kressa’s gaze snapped to the colonel. He knew about Connie. That said a lot about the truth of his words. Or maybe she’d told the Patrol about the computer and they were using the knowledge against her. “Who are you, Bryant?” the colonel asked. “What were you to Cam—to Captain Thorne?” “I...hardly knew him. I found him in an alley on Terra. He was hurt bad. He said to get his ship to Arecia, to Varen. He—” A spasm wracked her body. Pain burst in her belly, shot up her spine, and exploded just behind her eyes. She tried to speak, but managed only a gasp. Through a blur of pain-clouded vision, she saw the colonel pass the scalpel to the younger man and give him a worried glance. “It’s the drugs, sir.” The medic’s voice seemed to come from some great distance through the ache in her head, and she struggled to concentrate on the words. “They’re beginning to wear off. It’s not going to be easy on her.” “Is there anything you can do to help?” the colonel asked. “I could give her a sedative, but there’s no telling what it might do. With all the chemicals she’s got in her now, another tranq could as easily kill her as knock her out.” Kressa tried to speak, desperate to tell the young medic to risk a tranquilizer, but she could no longer control her tongue. Her vision blurred and she found herself in the Other Room, the handsome Arecian colonel replaced by the stonefaced Patrolman. He gazed deep into her eyes and reached a hand toward her face. She tried to pull away, too aware of the pain in his touch. “Please. Don’t touch me.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“It’s all right, Bryant. We won’t hurt you.” He knelt before her and looked up into her face. “I won’t hurt you.” He glanced behind the chair. “Untie her, Trin.” # Kressa awoke expecting to hear the thrum of the Conquest’s systems and feel the skin-tickling sensation of the transdrive field. She’d had a terrible nightmare about guns, Patrolmen, and a mysterious colonel, and needed the reassuring sounds and sensations. But they weren’t there. “Connie...?” She opened her eyes. It wasn’t a nightmare after all. She lay in the hotel bed, the colonel seated in a chair beside her. He smiled as her eyes met his. “Good morning. How are you feeling?” She studied him for a long moment before concluding that not even the Patrol would resort to a charade this elaborate to get information from her. “Alive,” she answered finally. A dull ache filled her body and limbs, but no other evidence of her ordeal remained. “Maybe even better than that.” “Calin may be young,” the colonel said, “but he’s a hell of a medic. I’ll thank him for you.” Kressa gave him a weak smile. “Why do your men call you Colonel? Are you in some kind of army?” He chuckled. “Yeah, some kind.” She continued to watch him, determined to get more of an answer. “We’re with the Guard,” he said. “Those guns the Pattys found on the Conquest were for you?” “They were. Cameron ran a lot of things like that for us. He was good at it.” “Not good enough.” He frowned. “Someone sold him out.” “How did you know him?”

Pg. 0

“Our fathers did business together when we were boys. They brought us with them whenever they had a meeting. I suppose they hoped we’d absorb some of their business sense, but we were always too busy getting into trouble.” He gave a reminiscent smile. “I lost touch with Cam after my father and I had a—falling out. Then one day Cam showed up with this crazy old guy and his ship. Said he’d learned enough about business to realize the only kind he wanted to be in was free trade. Not that I think he and Juric did a hell of a lot of trading. They were having too much fun traveling around, spreading Juric’s treasonous message.” “What do you mean by treasonous?” The colonel smiled. “Oh, Juric had these wonderful, wild ideas about a free galaxy. He came from a long line of highly successful businessmen, but he didn’t like the way the profits went to only a small percentage of the people. He wasn’t exactly a revolutionary—he didn’t travel around fomenting rebellions or anything like that. He just happened to have different ideas than the establishment, and the money to get those ideas listened to.” Kressa recalled what Connie had told her about Azano’s death. “It cost him his life, didn’t it?” The colonel’s brow creased. “What do you mean?” “He was killed during the Patrol attack on Arkana. They wouldn’t have attacked if Arkana hadn’t been backing the Free Worlds. Don’t you think Azano’s words had something to do with

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
that?” “How do you know so much about him?” “Records on board the Conquest.” The colonel’s expression relaxed. “Juric only told people what they already knew. The discontent existed long before he came around. And even if it was partially his fault, I think he believed his life was a small price to pay for what he was working toward.” “Conquest of the United Galaxy?” She purposefully used Connie’s terminology. The colonel studied her for a moment. “Something like that.” Kressa shifted position on the bed. Had Cameron Thorne shared his partner’s opinion of the value of his life, or his family’s? “Don’t you agree with what the Free Worlds are trying to do?” the colonel asked. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t like the Patrol, that’s for sure, but what’d the Free Worlds ever do for me?” He sneered and leaned back in his chair, arms crossed before him. “Living up to your heritage, huh?” “What do you mean?” Kressa asked, troubled by his abrupt change of attitude. “You aristocrats never were much for looking beyond the ends of your own noses,” he said, his voice filled with contempt. “As long as life’s good for you, it must be good for the rest of the galaxy, right? And don’t ever stop to wonder where that good life is coming from or who might be suffering to keep you comfortable and fed and surrounded by luxury.” “What?” Kressa sprang up in the bed, then snatched the covers around herself when she realized she wasn’t wearing anything. “What are you talking about?”

Pg. 1

The colonel continued his angry, low-voiced tirade, seemingly oblivious to her state of undress. “Don’t you realize what it takes to support the billions of people on the United Galaxy’s worlds— worlds too overcrowded to support themselves? Who do you think grows your food and makes your clothes and keeps you neck-deep in luxury items? Who—?” “Don’t!” Kressa took a firm grip on her anger. “That’s not me you’re talking about, Colonel. I grew up on the streets, and I had to find my own food and clothes.” She met his suddenly confounded gaze and held up her left hand, the inside of her wrist turned toward him to reveal the pattern of thin white scars burned there by a cutting laser—the mark of the Wolfpack, the gang she grew up in. “I pay my way.” The colonel stared at her wrist, clearly unsure what to make of the mark. He glanced away, ran a hand through his hair, and sat forward in his chair. “I’m sorry.” His eyes searched hers. “I thought... I mean, the way you look...” He shook his head. “I guess I was wrong.” “Guess you were.” She took a deep breath and forced away the last of her anger. “So, what happens now? Am I free to go?” “Go where?” “Back to the Conquest. Off Arecia. As far as I can get.” “That may be a little difficult. The Patrol’s watching the Conquest, and you’re supposed to be dead.” She looked at him askance. “According to who?” “The local authorities, the media. The Patrol. We put the word out this morning that we found your body in the city. We’re hoping the Patrol will

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
think you escaped on your own and got yourself killed. That way they won’t be looking for you or thinking anyone knows where they are.” “How did you know they had me?” “The inspectors at the port. They sent someone to follow the Patrolmen and then called us. We put together a team as quickly as possible to rescue you.” Kressa scowled. “You mean to find out what happened to your friend.” The colonel frowned. “Look, Bryant, we did what we could with the information we had. We didn’t know who you were or what happened to Cam. Once we’re done with our operation here, we’ll turn you loose.” “What’s your operation here?” “I can’t tell you that.” She rolled her eyes. “Fine. What about the Conquest? I brought her here like Thorne asked.” “We haven’t got a lot of extra money floating around—Cam always did his runs for free—but we can probably scrape together some kind of finder’s fee for your troubles.” “I don’t want money. I want the Conquest.” “That’s one hell of a request,” he said. “Do you have any idea what a ship like that is worth?” “Twenty-eight million credits.” “That much?” he asked, clearly taken aback. Kressa nodded. “But she won’t do you any good. I’m the only one alive who can fly her.” She met his eyes, her expression firm. “I want that ship.” The colonel watched her for a moment, eyes narrowed, before he rose to his feet and glared down at her. “I’m not interested in what you want, Bryant. I appreciate what you did for Cam, but you should be happy we got you away from the

Pg. 2
Patrol. Now, I have work to do. We can discuss what you want another time.” Turning on his heel, he swept from the room and slammed the door behind him. # Kressa remained in the bed for several minutes after the colonel left, seething. How dare he accuse her of being a United Galaxy aristocrat, of living off other people’s misery? He had no idea who she was, and no appreciation for what she’d done for him and the Guard. She’d brought him his guns, hadn’t she? And come damn close to being executed as a gunrunner for her trouble. Sure, he’d rescued her from the Pattys, but he did that with no interest in her personal welfare. He only wanted to know what happened to Thorne. And just what did he think he could do with the Conquest? He’d admitted the Guard had no extra money, yet it would cost hundreds of thousands of credits to refit the ship with systems anyone could use. Thinking of the Conquest without Connie sent a chill down Kressa’s spine. She would order Connie to add one of the Guard soldiers to her list of authorized operators before she let anyone go in and disconnect (kill?) her. But first she would try to get the ship back for herself. The muffled sound of one of the hotel suite’s doors opening drew her attention. She pulled a blanket from the bed, wrapped it around herself, and crept to the bedroom door. Only an unintelligible mumble of voices made it through the barrier. She listened for several minutes, straining to make sense of the conversation, but it was no use. Probably just the Guard soldiers working out the details of their “operation.” She began a careful inspection of the bed-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
chamber and washroom, hoping to find a way out. Fifteen minutes later, she abandoned the search. The room was an inner chamber with no windows and only two doors—one to the washroom and one to the main room of the suite. She found no vent, pipe, or delivery chute large enough for her to crawl through. And even if she had located a way out, she would need to be truly desperate to use it, for she found no clothing either. Escaping into the streets of Varen dressed only in a blanket did not sound appealing. Not until she ran out of other options, anyway. She stifled a yawn and returned to the bed to consider those options. The sound of the bedroom door opening awoke her sometime later. She kept her eyes closed and her breathing slow and regular as someone crept up beside the bed. Her visitor remained for a moment, then turned and started out of the room. She cracked her eyelids. It was the young medic, Calin. He switched off the lights and exited the room, leaving the door open a few centimeters. It showed only a narrow strip of dim gray, and Kressa realized it must be night. Wrapping the blanket around herself, she tiptoed to the door and peered through the opening. At first she thought there was no one in the dark room, but by leaning hard against the wall and craning her neck she could just see Calin seated at a window. The lights of the city illuminated his features as he studied the scene beyond. A gun belt hung from the back of his chair, a pulse gun resting in the holster. Kressa smiled and stepped out of the bedroom, letting the blanket she wore over her shoulders fall open. Calin glanced back, his eyes widening. “B—

Pg. 3
Bryant.” He switched on a light and gave her a professionally appraising look. “How do you feel?” She smiled enticingly. Calin’s role as a medic would have left her body no secret to him, but there was a tremendous difference between seeing a young woman in bed as a patient and seeing her up and moving, using her body for what it was intended. She halted beside him and pulled the blanket around herself. Best not carry it too far lest he suspect she was up to something. All she wanted to achieve was a little distraction; she trusted she had done that already. “I’m all right.” She put a hint of weariness and lingering pain in her voice. “But I have a headache. Do you have something for it?” “Uh...yeah.” He crossed the room to where his medkit sat on the floor. Kressa slipped his gun from its holster. Too  easy. “Besides the headache, how—?” Calin froze for an instant when he saw his patient holding a gun on him, then he grabbed something from the medkit, rolled to the side, came up on one knee, and fired the needler he now held. Kressa whipped the blanket from around her body and flung it forward to intercept the needler dart, then she swung the gun she held and pulled the trigger. The needler exploded in Calin’s grasp. He jerked his hand up to examine his burnt fingers, then looked at Kressa standing stark naked across the room, the gun pointed down at him. His expression held a mixture of outrage and cautious respect. “Take off your clothes,” Kressa said. He stared at her, his mouth working silently. “Do it!” She thrust the gun at him. “Or this

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
time I’ll burn more than your fingers.” He hesitated an instant longer and then, still on his knees, he began to remove his shirt. “Where’s the colonel and the rest of your friends?” Kressa asked as he laid aside the shirt and sat down to take off his boots. He gestured toward the window behind Kressa. “Taking back our guns.” She resisted the urge to follow his gesture. “When will they be back?” “Anytime now.” He stood to unfasten his pants. “Liar,” Kressa said, hoping he was. “They just left,” she guessed. He shrugged, giving her no clue how good her guess was. “Why are you here?” she asked. He frowned. “To keep an eye on you.” She knew that wasn’t a lie. “Well, you can tell the colonel you gave it a hell of an effort.” He glared and stepped out of his pants. “That’s enough,” she said. “Sit down there.” She gestured to an overstuffed chair across the room, and went to the medkit. Keeping the gun trained on Calin, she examined the kit’s contents, removed a sedative drug pad, and tossed it to him. “Use it.” He checked the label on the package and peeled away the protective covering. With a despondent glance in her direction he pressed the pad to the inside of his elbow. In seconds he lost consciousness. Kressa gave him another dose of the sedative from a second pad, donned his discarded shirt and pants, and draped his gun belt bandoleerstyle across her chest. She considered putting on his boots as well, but she would be much more

Pg. 
nimble without them. Slipping the gun into her makeshift shoulder holster, she located a short leather jacket in a closet and put it on to hide the weapon. A long, empty hallway stretched beyond the suite’s front door. She peered down it and stepped through the doorway to freedom. # Kressa left the hotel through a side door. Once away from the building, she traversed several alleys and merged with one of Varen’s omnipresent streams of pedestrian traffic. Among the dozens of styles of offworld dress, no one gave her dark, ill-fitting clothing and bare feet a second glance. She weaved through the crowds, relieving passersby of a credit here, a credit there, until she had enough to pay for tram fare to the spaceport. She debarked at the terminal closest to where she’d docked the Conquest and hurried out onto the landing pad. Following a circuitous route intended to conceal her final destination from watching eyes, she reached a point close enough to the rear of the Conquest to determine that a nearby groundcar held two watchful men, presumably the Patrolmen the colonel had mentioned. Pulling back from the landing gear of the small passenger liner behind which she hid, she mapped out a route that would bring her in near the front of the Conquest while hopefully keeping her hidden from the Pattys in the car. She concealed her approach using the patterns of dark shadow and bright light created by the spaceport beacons. After several minutes, she reached the starboard set of the Conquest’s forward landing gear. She clung to the heavy structure, willing her heart to slow its nervous pounding, and started

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Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
to climb. Working by touch, she located foot and hand holds among the complex series of struts and bars. In less than a minute she sat tucked up inside the total darkness of the gear housing, the odors of grease, ship exhaust, and scorched metal filling her nose and mouth. She took a deep breath, barely able to believe she’d made it this far. “Connie,” she called, “it’s Kressa.” She kept her voice low. “I’m in the starboard nose-gear housing. Open the maintenance hatch.” A dull clump shook the air above her. She reached into the darkness over her head, found the hatch, and pushed. The door moved and she followed it up into the body of the freighter. She sealed the hatch, made her way through the dusty, dim-lit maintenance crawlway, and headed straight for the galley, eager for something to eat. “Connie, how are you?” “I am completely operational.” “What did the Patrolmen do while they were in here?” She grabbed three biscuits from the food processor and hurried toward the control room. “They searched for crew members. I recorded their conversations and movement. Shall I play the recording?” “Not right now.” Kressa munched on one of the biscuits as she entered the bridge and began to preflight the ship. “Why didn’t you tell me about the storage areas in the bay doors? And the guns?” “Previous orders requested censorship of all information pertaining to additional cargo and location.” “Thorne’s orders?” she asked around a mouthful of dry protein and other nutrients. “Yes.”

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Kressa took several minutes to complete the preflight tests, and took a seat in the pilot’s chair. “Let’s get out of here. Think you can blast us out like you did on Terra?” “Yes. However, without the cover of a hangar the port officials will detect the engines coming on line and may question our failure to call for clearance.” “That’s a chance we’ll have to take. At least there aren’t any Patty warships around to get after us. Power up.” The throb of the freighter’s engines began to pulse through the ship. “Freighter Conquest, this is Varen control,” a friendly voice said over the comm. “Come in, please.” Kressa ignored the call and switched on the main viewscreen to see how the two Patrolmen would react when the supposedly unmanned ship started to lift off. “Freighter CXJ-14217, Conquest, come in, please,” the voice said again, less friendly this time and tinged with concern. “This is Varen control. Please reply, Conquest.” The Patrolmen leaped from their car, brandishing their pulse guns as if they could use them to prevent the freighter from taking off. Kressa chuckled at their antics. “Conquest, this is Varen control!” The voice held a threatening edge. “We have orders to keep you on the ground.” Orders? From whom? The Patrol? No, it must be the Guard. She scoffed. Fine, Colonel, let’s see  you try to stop me. The ship began to lift off. “Conquest, set down immediately or we will

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
fire,” the voice on the comm said. “This is your only warning.” “We have been targeted,” Connie said. Kressa’s brow furrowed in bewilderment. “Targeted? By what? The port doesn’t have any weapons, does it?” “No, but a nearby commercial freighter has all available batteries trained on us.” Kressa fought to control rising desperation. A  commercial  freighter?  How—? She scanned the viewers and located the ship. It bore the insignia of an Arecian shipping company. Clearly, the colonel had anticipated she might try something and arranged for a way to stop her. She snarled. “Set us back down, Connie. Engines off.” # For a long time after the sound of the Conquest’s engines faded, Kressa sat in the pilot’s chair, thinking, planning, turning ideas and scenarios over in her head as she struggled to come up with some way out of her predicament. Finally she gave up. Short of abandoning the freighter, she could think of nothing that would get her out of this mess. By now she probably wouldn’t even be allowed to leave. She had watched on the freighter’s viewscreens as a half dozen port security men led the two Patrol soldiers away. Doubtless others were waiting out there to take her into custody if she left the ship. Connie would be able to verify that suspicion if she asked, but she didn’t ask. She could always just hole up in the Conquest, at least until someone arrived with something to get past Connie’s defenses. That didn’t sound very appealing, however, and she feared it would only make her final punishment that much worse.

Pg. 
What was the penalty for stealing a starship anyway? Yet had she actually stolen the Conquest? Maybe Thorne hadn’t come right out and said she could keep the vessel, but he had given her what she needed to control it. That must be worth something. But what court would listen to a nineteen-year-old girl trying to lay claim to a ship as magnificent as the Conquest? Maybe she could contact Tempo and have him testify on her behalf, to let her accusers know she could operate and maintain the vessel. Maybe then they would listen to her. Except the colonel would never allow her to appear in any court to plead her case. “There is a single figure approaching the ship,” Connie said. Kressa looked up slowly. The colonel was moving toward the Conquest, keeping to a bright splash of light cast by one of the port beacons. He wore a gun belt, but the holster was empty. In his right hand he carried a squarish piece of equipment about the size of a small carry-all. “Connie, what’s that he’s got?” “The object appears to be a high-energy laser cutter.” Did he intend to cut through the hull to gain access to the ship? She thought fast. Spaceport control had warned her against use of any of the ship’s weapons, yet she couldn’t just let the colonel walk up and cut his way into the ship. “Connie, do you have external speakers?” “Yes.” “Turn them on.” She switched on the comm. “Colonel, stop where you are.” He glanced at the freighter and kept walking.

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The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
“Open the airlock.” “Go to hell.” “Look, Bryant, I don’t want to cut up Cam’s ship, but I will if you don’t let me in.” Kressa seethed. There had to be some way to stop him. She thought hard. “Connie, open the main airlock and extend the ramp.” She dashed out of the control room. She was waiting in the entrance corridor, one shoulder resting against the wall inside the inner airlock door, when the colonel arrived. He set the laser cutter on the floor. “I thought I said we’d talk about this later.” “It’s later,” Kressa said, “and the only thing I have to say to you is get off my ship. Go back to your friends and tell them to let the Conquest leave.” She gave him a menacing look. “Or the Guard is going to be minus one colonel.” “Don’t be a fool.” He grabbed for her. Kressa danced back a step. “Connie, stop him!” “Negative.” “What?” She ducked as the colonel lunged for her again, a hint of a smile on his lips. “Voice and visual imprints identify Colonel Halav Kamick. Designation: ally. Previous orders request—” “Shut up!” Kressa whipped out the gun she’d taken from Calin and turned it on the colonel. He stopped in mid-lunge, his smile fading. He raised his eyes to look deep into hers. She swallowed hard, shocked by the emotion in his gaze. No one had ever looked at her with so much—understanding? But her aim did not waver. “You didn’t shoot Calin,” he said. “You’re no killer, Bryant. And I still want to talk.”

Pg. 7

She stared at him, her thoughts rolling around in a confused tumble. She held the gun at arm’s length, level with his chest. She thought about backing away, but did not. She thought about pulling the trigger, but could not. You’re no killer. “You’ve got a chance here,” the colonel said. “Don’t throw it away.” “What chance?” She tried to put emotion behind her words, but they came out flat, desperate. “Connie may not be willing to shoot me,” he said, “but she won’t obey me either. You, on the other hand...” He searched her eyes. “The Guard needs the ship, you control it. Maybe we can make a deal.” A deal? Maybe she could keep the Conquest after all. But what price would he demand? And what price was she willing to pay? She continued to watch him, silent, the gun held before her, her finger tight on the trigger. “You told me you pay your way, Bryant. Are you willing to do that now?” The gun wavered in her grasp, and she forced her hand to hold steady. “How?” He laughed. “Besides your ability to control the Conquest, there’s the fact you were resourceful enough to get away from us, and get past the Patrol and onto the ship. That’s a hell of a recommendation as far as I’m concerned. The Guard needs people like you.” Kressa said nothing, trying to absorb the meaning of his words. He had every ability—and probably every right—to take the ship by force,

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

The Price of Conquest, by Mik Wilkens
yet he was offering her a place in his organization instead. And he wanted her for her abilities, not her looks. “Look, Bryant, all I’m asking is that you give me and my people a chance to show you what we’re doing. You just might find it’s what you’ve been fighting for all along.” She started to tell him she’d never fought for anything, but then she realized she had been fighting all of her life. Fighting for the freedom to live and do as she wanted. It was why she ran away from the Academy, why she left the Wolfpack and hooked up with Tempo. It was why she wanted the Conquest. The Guard fought for freedom, too, only on a much grander scale. Maybe working with them wouldn’t be so bad. At least she could give it a try; that was all the colonel was asking. And she’d get to keep the Conquest. That didn’t sound like too high of a price to pay.

Pg.  Mik  participates  in  Renaissance  Faires  throughout  the  southwest  United  States,  promoting  adoption  of  retired  racing  Greyhounds  with  Greyhounds  of  Fairhaven,  a  non-profit  organization  she  founded several years ago. She also enjoys  mastering  fantasy  role-playing  games,  a  dangerous  habit  she  picked  up  when  Dungeon  and  Dragons  was  first  released  in  1976.  Mik  lives  in  Scottsdale,  Arizona,  with her husband, five retired racing Greyhounds,  and  a  three-legged  demon  in  a  cat suit.

Mik Wilkens
Mik  Wilkens  has  done  many  things  in  her  life—all  of  them  creative.  She’s  been  an  illustrator,  trophy  designer,  graphic  artist, programmer, multimedia developer,  and webmaster. She is a huge fan of space  opera  but  can  never  get  enough  to  read,  so decided to try writing some of her own.  To  date,  she  has  written  several  novels  and novellas (SF and fantasy), and even a  couple of short stories.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

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Deuces Wild “In the Lap of the Gods” - Part One 
  by L. S. King
“Didn’t mean I liked it.” Slap peered at the chrono and scowled. “It ain’t morning either.” “It is planetside. We need to get moving.” “Sadist,” mumbled the cowboy. # Slap glanced up at the tall, grey buildings looming menacingly over them. He shivered. This planet, what little he’d been on it anyway, had frosty, metallic-tang air, and little greenery. A  Dusty planet, and a cold one at that. He hunched inside the just-bought jacket, hands stuffed in his pockets. His nose felt icy and began to run. He sniffed. Tristan opened a door, and Slap stepped inside behind him. He was never let out without a leash. A loyal dog following its master. “What am I even doing here?” Slap asked in a plaintive whisper. He looked around the huge metal-walled warehouse. One of many in this part of the port city. It wasn’t much warmer inside. Tristan didn’t answer. With a sigh, Slap trailed his friend as he headed for a small office to one side. An older man with a slight stoop to his shoulders looked up from his desk. Curiosity lit his round face. “May I help you?” “I hope so,” Tristan said. “Name’s Philips.” The man held out his hand. “Howard Kane.” Tristan shook his hand. “I need some equipment for my ship. A Bussard collector, for starters.” Ah, Slap thought, then  he’s  going  to  keep  ol’  Bertha for awhile. He said he’d install a hydrogen  Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Caution: some colorful language wo chimes and no answer. Tristan weighed Slap’s privacy against his last memory of Slap not answering. If the cowboy’d had another nightmare of his family being killed in front of his eyes, what might he do? Surely he wouldn’t do something stupidly fatal? Tristan stared at the door, licking his lips. Surely not. He overrode the lock. A twisted shape lay before him, tangled in a blanket. One bare arm and shoulder hung off the bunk, and one leg. A mass of dark, tight curls nested on the pillow, and from under it came muffled snores. Tristan sighed quietly in relief. He took a deep breath and loudly called, “Slap!” The snoring shifted tone, into a soft buzz. He called again. “Snrt?” The head lifted, eyes still shut. “Wht?” The body began to move, and Slap flopped onto the deck with a loud whuff! He groaned and scratched his head, one eye blearily opening. “What is’t?” “Morning.” “Mornings,” Slap said through a yawn, “come too early in the day.” Tristan suppressed a smile. “This from a rancher who had to rise at dawn every day?” Ray Gun Revival magazine

T

Serial: Deuces Wild, "In the Lap of the Gods," Part One, by L. S. King
scoop if he were going to keep her. Did that mean he was truly going to keep Slap around too? He realized he still tensed up when they landed on a planet or stopped at a station, wondering if he was going to be left behind. “Hm,” Kane said, “we can help you out with that. What sort of ship?” “Canary class freighter with a custom refit.” Kane’s eyebrows rose. “An old Canary? Well, I’d need the specs on her.” Tristan handed him a data crystal. “Take a look.” The man pulled up the specs on his desk screen and his eyes widened. He whistled through his teeth as he read, muttering to himself. “Two Type II assault turrets with twin plasma cannons... twin capacitor jump drive...Mark I matter/anti reaction assembly and 906 terajoule power grid?” He gazed at Tristan and, with a very dry look, said, “This isn’t a Canary. She might look like a Canary... but I don’t know that I’d even call this a refit. This ship has the armor, power, and weaponry to rip apart a Light Patrol with a few salvoes or shred a wing of fighters within seconds.” If  only  you  knew.  Slap kept his face straight, but the image of the turrets demolishing the launch bay of the freebooters’ Quick Strike Frigate burned joyously in his mind. Kane shook his head. “Why didn’t you have the Bussard installed when you refitted her?” “I didn’t. I recently inherited her.” Slap didn’t even blink at the smooth lie. Well, was it a lie? Could you call it stealing when the owner was a gangster and dead to boot? “I see.” Kane’s face seemed thoughtful. Too thoughtful, Slap mused, and shook himself mentally. He was getting paranoid, hanging around Tristan. “Well, I have Bussards in stock. My crews are a bit overworked, however. We can’t start until...” He looked at his screen, and scrolled a new readRay Gun Revival magazine

Pg. 0

out to the surface. He blinked. “Is three days all right?” Tristan shook his head. “I’ve already made arrangements for cargo. But that’s not all I wanted, so if you can’t do the Bussard on a tighter timetable, I doubt you could handle a particle beam installation.” Kane’s expression grew intense. “You want to add to the armament?” You  betcha,  Slap wanted to add, but stayed silent. Tristan shrugged. Kane scratched his head and smoothed his thinning dark hair. “We could do it—all of it, but the time...” He squinted at Tristan. “I could have crews on overtime, but it would add to your bill.” “How much?” “Twenty percent over total cost.” Slap inhaled sharply, but Tristan barely hesitated. “That’s acceptable. Can you have the ship ready in four days?” Kane hissed through his teeth. “Let me talk to Carter. He’s supervisor of all weaponry installation. He’ll want to see the ship first.” He rose with a smile and left the office. “He seemed awfully curious about things,” Slap whispered. “Later.” Tristan fingered the edge of the desk absently. Slap ambled to the wall and looked over the hanging blueprints, trying not to yawn. The day might be half over planetside, but by ship’s time he should just be waking up. Kane soon returned. “He says he can be at your ship by fifteen hundred.” “Good. We’re dock pad NE fifty-three.” The two men nodded at each other, and Slap followed Tristan out, pulling up the collar of the jacket. “Well,” Slap asked as they walked along the Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, "In the Lap of the Gods," Part One, by L. S. King
street, “think you can trust him?” “I picked him for his reputation. Any fallout from his ‘curiosity’ would happen after the job’s done, and we won’t be staying around.” “That’s good. Where next? To the ship? Any chance you’ll let me look around a bit on my own?” He knew the answer, but had to ask. “We’re still too close to the Confeds. It’s too risky.” Slap sighed in defeat. An apologetic look crossed Tristan’s face. He added, “I thought we’d stop and eat before returning to Giselle.” Slap perked up. “Sounds good!” # “Oh yeah, I can have you hooked up in no time, Captain” Carter said, wiping his hands on a rag as he sauntered across the cargo bay to Tristan. A gangly blond with a prominent Adam’s apple, his weathered face wore a constant grin. Slap leaned against the wall, arms crossed, playing—what? Bodyguard? Not that Tristan needed one, but with their sizes, it made a reasonable assumption, especially since he usually had Slap follow him around and never introduced him. “Which system do you suggest?” Tristan asked. “That’s a piece of pie. The TLACorp Mark III.” Tristan’s eyebrows rose. “That’s a bit on the heavy side.” Carter nodded. “I’d agree, but this baby”—his hand slapped against a bulkhead affectionately— “can handle it with the antimatter reactor.” His grin widened. “She’s sweet! If I wanted to ship out, I’d ask if you were looking for crew.” “You weren’t born here,” Slap said. It wasn’t a question. Carter shook his head, still smiling. “Nope. I’ve Ray Gun Revival magazine

Pg. 1

traveled all over, tried lots of things. Learned lots of skills. Rolling stone, that’s what I am.” He tipped his head. “You a Separatist? Three Systems?” Slap nodded. How did he know? Carter snapped his fingers with a laugh. “I can call ‘em.” Tristan cleared his throat. “Back to the Mark III. You really think this ship should have that rather than the Mark II?” “Oh, yes, sir! See, it has its own built-in spectrograph scanner and battle computer and does the frequency control automatically without the ship’s MBC and spectrograph being involved. The smaller ones more often require a tie in, and you don’t want that.” Slap had been with Tristan long enough to know the subtle changes on his face. He was playing this guy to see if he was on the level. His voice maintained a neutral, almost questioning, tone. “I don’t?” Carter shook his head, his eyes narrowing knowingly. “No, sir. It’d mean letting outsiders— meaning me—diddle in your computers. With all you have here, you don’t want that.” “And what do I have here?” Tristan asked, his voice lower and sharper than usual. Slap winced. Carter’s smile took on an edge and he seemed less buffoon-ish. “I don’t know exactly, but I wish I did.” His voice was quieter, less manic. “This gal’s rough exterior hides an inner beauty. And I bet your cargo runs aren’t run-of-the-mill. Boring can be good, but sometimes a guy likes to see things stirred up.” He frowned down at the deck for a moment, but when he raised his head, the grin was back. “Anyway, I’ll get to work on this. And bust the boys along on the collector too. Boss said you had a tight timetable.” He nodded, his Adam’s apple bobbing, and almost skipped to the cargo hatch. Slap scratched his cheek, waiting until the Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, "In the Lap of the Gods," Part One, by L. S. King
engineer had left. “Whaddaya make of him?” Tristan shook his head. “I’m not sure.” # Slap shrugged on his jacket and checked for Tristan; his friend was immersed checking something or other on the bridge. One more day and they’d be gone. This might his last chance. He grinned and strode down the cargo hatch. Squinting and holding a hand up against the sun, Slap peered up at the crew on the hull. Carter waved a spanner in greeting, and bent back over his equipment. “Hey, Carter,” Slap called. “Can you let Tristan know I went out for supplies? I shouldn’t be gone long.” “Sure thing.” Slap walked off, chuckling to himself. Finally, he was alone. Not feeling like a kid needing supervision. He’d shown he could take care of himself in a fight. Now he’d show Tristan he could do something as simple as shop for groceries. # Tristan checked all the cabins and the galley. No Slap. He descended to the hold. The collector crew worked diligently, finalizing the installation, but no Slap. He descended the ramp and glanced up at Carter and his men. The engineer, grinning as always, called down, “Captain? Your buddy said to tell you he was going for supplies.” Tristan’s insides froze, and his brain buzzed into overtime. “When did he leave?” Carter squinted in thought and scratched his head. “Oh, about half hour or so ago. I guess. Maybe longer.” Tristan nodded and strode toward the gate, cursing silently. Like most port cities, this one had an open air market just past the gate. Spacers would pay premium prices for fresh foods. Many also had Ray Gun Revival magazine

Pg. 2

local commodities available, with, of course, the customary dockside prices. Tristan wove through the market, peering inside and behind the stalls as well as over them. One of the vendors scowled at him while blowing on his hands to keep them warm. Tristan kept going, pushing past people. If only the galoot had replaced his hat as well his knife. But the curly, almost kinky, mass of dark hair rising almost a head above all others wasn’t easy to miss either. Yet he didn’t see it anywhere. No Slap. His guts churned as he continued searching. Damnation, why did the boy have to disobey? He knew dangerous people were after them. How could he take such a chance? After a time, he slowed, thinking. Adrenaline was a great ally at times, but not when one needed to step back and use the brain. To find Slap, he needed to know who had him. Was it someone after Slap, or trying to get to Tristan through him? The answer could give him direction. Could the Mordas have come after Slap already? Or were the Eridani the culprits? Or was it someone after Tristan? The Eridani and the Mordas were also hunting him, not to mention the Confeds dogging his heels, but it might be any of several of Tristan’s old enemies, even—heaven forbid—Dray. To ask for help galled him, but he needed back up, to watch the ships, for movement in the city... But he took a chance. The very men he would hire might be working for those who took Slap. He didn’t have much hope, but he’d pull together whatever resources he could. He pressed through to the city. # “A bigger reward if he’s returned to you alive?” asked one of the men by the wall, his eyes alight. Tristan let his gaze burn into the man. He Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, "In the Lap of the Gods," Part One, by L. S. King
hunched his shoulders and looked away. He glanced around the large, well-lit room, making sure he had the attention of every one of the men present, as well as their employer, seated comfortably behind a large desk. Truss controlled quite a few legitimate concerns. And a few illegitimate ones besides. “No. No attempts. He could be harmed. Retrieval is my concern. Just the location.” “And if we find nothing?” asked Truss.

Pg. 3

Tristan considered his money situation. Upping the ante would likely work, but he was stretching his finances already. He sighed. This was like tap dancing on a tight rope. “I don’t know who has him. If I knew, I might have an idea where to look. And this is wasting time. A ship might have already taken off with him aboard, or he might be dumped in a river or trash pile by now.” “For what reason? Who is after him? And you?” Tristan shook his head and walked to the door. It slid open and he turned. “The offer stands, if any of your associates wishes to show personal initiative.” He left quickly. Walking through the streets, something felt wrong. He doubled back, checking to see if he were being followed. Nothing. The back of his neck prickled, the Not Right feeling increasing. A drizzle started as dusk fell and the dank, oily odor of this ‘Dusty’ city increased. Slap and his people had a point. Regardless of plans to create an aesthetic display, industrialization unchecked inevitably provided a polluted view and environment. Tristan had seen planets that moderated industrialization, and kept themselves from sliding into an abysmal defilement of their world, but the moment the corporations got a toehold, the cause was lost. He shook off his train of thought—no doubt Slap’s influence—and concentrated on his surroundings. As he neared the port, the streets grew narrower and dingier. Detritus littered the street. Now he had to be extra alert. Silence grew, except for the sound of light rain spattering. A shadow moved ahead, and Tristan readied himself. The silhouette of a man stepped into the street, hands away from his sides. He stepped forward and light fell across his face. Steel Eyes. Part of Tristan felt relieved. Chances were Slap Issue 13, January 01, 2007

“No results, no reward.”
Truss tapped the smooth top of his desk. “Who is he to you to post such a...generous amount for him?” “Curiosity is a consideration?” “Knowing who I’m dealing with is always a consideration.” “I would think,” Tristan said, letting his eyes bore into the man, “that considering your...profession, you would understand the importance anonymity would play in some of your more delicate business transactions.” Truss leaned forward, lip curled. “In your case, I think knowing is an important consideration.” Gah! He hated having to play this game. Some of his enemies would make any local underworld organization quake with fear, and close doors to him. Or worse, make them think of bounty hunter fees. Meeting Truss’s eyes, he said evenly, “Money usually speaks for itself.” Truss settled back in his chair with a contemplative look. “But...you won’t say who has your friend. I don’t want to bring negative attention to myself or my associates.” “I’m not asking for direct involvement. Only information. And you’re not the only ones who will be given this opportunity.” Truss’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. “I still think I need answers.” Ray Gun Revival magazine

Serial: Deuces Wild, "In the Lap of the Gods," Part One, by L. S. King
was safe. Merely being held to blackmail Tristan into helping the Confeds in whatever scheme they kept hounding him about. But something was wrong. Steel Eyes had been beaten. He sported a black eye, his nose looked broken, his jaw swollen, lips split, and blood stained his shirt. “We need your help.” “So you keep saying.” Tristan walked a few steps closer. “But kidnapping Slap to try to force me—” “We don’t have him anymore.” Tristan stopped, staring at Steel Eyes, fear rising from his stomach and threatening to choke him. “Explain.” Steel Eyes licked his lips and winced. “We took him, like you said, to get you to help us. But now, the enemy has him. Our enemy. And yours. The Eridani.” The fear rose, blinding Tristan with red rage. His hand shot out and seized Steel Eyes by the throat. “You bastards! You—” He choked, words inadequate to describe them or his feelings. Steel Eyes used a pressure point to release Tristan’s choke hold.

Pg. 

Stay tuned as Deuces Wild continues next month with part two of: “In the Lap of the Gods” To catch up on previous episodes of the adventures of Slap and Tristan, visit:
http://loriendil.com/DW.php

L. S. King
A science fiction fan since childhood, L.S. King  has been writing stories since her youth. Now,  with  all  but  one  of  her  children  grown,  she  is  writing  full-time.  She  has  developed  a  swordand-planet  series  tentatively  called  The Ancients.  The  first  book  is  finished,  and  she  has  completed rough drafts of several more novels  as well. 

“We’ll help you get him back, if you’ll help us.”

She serves on the editorial staff of The Sword Review,  is  also  their  Columns  Editor,  and  writes  a  column  for  that  magazine  entitled  Tristan struck twice swiftly, to the solar plexus “Writer’s Cramps”  as  well.  She  is  also  one  then the throat. of  the  Overlords,  a  founding  editor,  here  at    Steel Eyes dropped to his knees and croaked, Ray Gun Revival. She  began  martial  arts  training  over  thirty  years ago, and owned a karate school for a decade. When on the planet, she lives in Delaware  with  her  husband,  Steve,  and  their  youngest  child. She enjoys gardening, soap making, and  reading. She also likes Looney Tunes, the color  purple, and is a Zorro aficionado, which might  explain her love for swords and cloaks.

His mind whirling with plots, schemes, counterplots, Tristan spat, “I’ll make you pay tenfold for every injury inflicted on that kid. You’ll wish the Eridani had grabbed you rather than leave you to me.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

Jolly RGR

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The Jolly RGR
Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 14

Mystery Short Story by Who Knows? Maybe You! If you have a space opera / golden age sci-fi story, send it in!   Serial: JASPER SQUAD, Part Four by Paul Christian Glenn Even I have no idea what’s coming - you won’t want to miss what happens next! Featured Artist Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate The Scourge of the Volcanal by Johne Cook Cooper Flynn discovers a spy onboard the Venture.  And it’s a ‘she.’  And they fight  some Sylvan raiders and stuff. Serial: Memory Wipe by Sean T. M. Stiennon Chapter 7 of the increasingly amazing serial from Sean T. M. Stiennon.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 13, January 01, 2007

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