THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

by Andrew LeBlanc

Checkers

Carbonville, Part One
A Jack Brand Story
by John M. Whalen

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 8, Comes The Watcher
by Johne Cook

Serial: Memory Wipe
Chapter 8: The Price Paid
by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Issue 16 February 15, 2007
“Frozen Exile,” by N3URON

Pg. 2

Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2 Overlord’s Lair 3 Checkers by Andrew LeBlanc 4 Carbonville, Part One, A Jack Brand Story, by John M. Whalen Featured Artist: by Ruben C. (aka N3URON) 16 SERIAL: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Chapter 8, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook 18 SERIAL: Memory Wipe, Chapter 8 The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon 26 The Jolly RGR 35
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: “Frozen Exile,” by Ruben C. (aka N3URON) 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 16, Feburary 15, 2007

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Overlord’s Lair
’ve been looking forward to this issue for awhile. More on that in a bit. By this time, we have gotten past Valentine’s Day in one piece and have survived some of the coldest weather in many moons. It’s time for some hot sf, and we have got some treats for you in Issue 16. We start with Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc, about a game that is literally out of this world. Two lonely robots, a broken space station, the ruined  Earth, and a fight against boredom. The commander had been teary-eyed during the confrontation, and now his eye sockets were empty— a dusty skeleton in a helmetless space-suit. The maintenance bot pushed a red piece to far end of the board. King me. In this issue, we present the return of Jack Brand from John M. Whalen with part one of two of his latest story, Carbonville. He nodded his green head and the two bodyguards came back out of the jungle. The Kazuli who’d done the talking in the elevator came up to Brand and, without telegraphing anything, hit him hard in the stomach. Brand doubled over, and the Kazuli’s fist smashed against his cheek. He staggered back a few steps and steadied himself. The Kazuli just stood there. “What was that for?” Brand asked. “I don’t like cheap cops who think they can come here into my private world and ask me to rat on people I may or may not know. This is just a warning, Brand. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention and get out of Carbonville. Now beat it!” I often get the question “How is The  Sky  Pirate  space opera?” Up to now, all I could say is that it was swashbuckling adventure. I begin to challenge that answer with this chapter, Comes the Watcher. Stay alert for the end – it’ll knock your socks off. Chapter 8 of The Adventures of the Sky Pirate is told from the POV of a nameless narrator who shadows Cooper Flynn as he arrives at the Haddirron Naval Academy. Flynn has followed a potential spy and must gain access to the Academy before she can give away

I

the secrets of Briar Island and endanger the lives of thousands of innocents. She has two things he does not: a Commission parchment, and her name on the admissions rolls. Flynn’s not about to let a little thing like that stop him, and casts about to do what has never been done before. If he lives that long. Cooper Flynn sailed in by himself in a very nice little sloop. He tied up to the dock at twilight when the waterfront was largely deserted. I sat with one leg over the edge of the dock, mending a net as he tied up, apparently engrossed in my work. He stretched his legs and cracked his neck, then he tied his long black hair back into a knot and went searching for food. He kept a very low profile, but he was a rank amateur compared to my kind, and I had no trouble following him without being seen. It is one of two things I do best. Sean T. M. Stiennon is back with Chapter 8 of his serial novel, Memory Wipe, The Price Paid. After  barely  escaping  Lashiir,  Takeda  Croster  sets  off  for  the  remote  colony  world  Nihil  aboard  a  ship  piloted by the Rover Esheera Nii. He seeks a man called  Cramer Orano who might know more about his mysterious body, who might even know what happened in  the years before Takeda’s memory. Lashiir didn’t take trophies, but he did write the name of those victims he considered worthy in a book bound with nightstone with pages stretched from fanglurker tongues. He would scribe Takeda and the Lithrallian with his finest ink. Then he would consider where to take himself next. Perhaps Imperia, where Tsiika might drink the blood of the most powerful humans in the Empire. Someday, perhaps, he might even return to the Dark Sphere in triumph. When his book was complete and when he was strong enough to face the warrior who awaited him there. Stay tuned for the next issue for the next installment of the JASPER SQUAD and Deuces Wild serials.

Johne (Phy) Cook Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Ray Gun Revival magazine

"The Battle for Monday Morning," by Jordan Lapp

Pg. 

Checkers
by Andrew LeBlanc
lways Checkers, never Chess. For the first few centuries, the older robot paid this no mind. The game was an inexplicable black hole in his otherwise impeccable artificial intelligence, but it provided a diversion— and pleasant enough—from the grueling day to day maintenance of their orbiting vessel. He never won. As the counted centuries approached a millennium, and the days of living amongst the breathing, moving human crew were compressed and recompressed to only the vaguest remnant of robot memory, he found the game almost unbearable. Every aspect of the station’s function had been optimized for this post-human era: no carbon dioxide gas to scrub into clean air, no more waste to recycle into food, and no more soft-walled artificial stimulation machine near the spinning station’s weightless center—a grossly inefficient device whose utility the robot never fully understood. The solar panels produced more than enough energy to power two old robots with little remaining interest in activity beyond small movements of the hand—and turns of the head. All of their time was spent on the game now. The game, and watching. The Earth below was recovering, slowly. Even without the ship’s guidance systems, their glasslensed eyes could pull enough resolution to make out the shapes of small villages forming out of the wreckage, to whole nations, making the first steps toward establishing the roadways and infrastructure of old. But even now, nearly one thousand years later, whole continents remained uninhabited—

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unlivable. The human crew had wept, when the first mushroom clouds erupted on the surface—both robots remembered that much, at least. In part, they wept for their friends and families, dying on the surface, but also, because a grim fatalism had swept over them: the rest of their lives would be spent up here, no solid ground to hold up their feet—or to be buried in. The commander had taken it hardest. He had grabbed the younger robot by the seams of his chest plating, as though grabbing a man by the suit, screaming condemnations of the robot’s cold reaction to destruction of human civilization. The younger robot held this memory—as uncompressed and un-abstracted as his dwindling storage array would allow. It was his own private puzzle, which could never be shared—his wireless transmitter wasn’t meant for anything as data-intensive as memory transfer, and he lacked the verbal grace to communicate it effectively; he was a general maintenance bot, originally meant to understand and respond to only the simplest of voice commands. The commander had been teary-eyed during the confrontation, and now his eye sockets were empty—a dusty skeleton in a helmetless spacesuit. The maintenance bot pushed a red piece to the far end of the board. King me.  The older robot placed his only captured red piece on the new king. He scratched his head—a useless action beyond his control, appearing at random during thought to make him more convincingly humanoid.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc
His skull plating at the front and to the right was growing thin, and showing signs of corrosion. He had been a lab assistant—in all ways equal to the most diversely educated Master’s student, and with a precision of hands that no human could match. He had been granted a vocabulary, and repertoire of literature and arts to aid in less practical discussion. None of this meant anything to the maintenance bot. He slid a piece forward, and the maintenance robot took all of his remaining pieces in a single move. I no longer find this pleasurable. The air had slowly escaped the station over the last few decades—a sure sign of decay. Neither had made more than passing notice of it. They had been communicating exclusively through wireless since the last human on board had died. Apologies. The communication came through in raw text—but the lab assistant bot detected something in this: hesitation? confusion? Maybe something perceived, but not transferred to primary consciousness. A millisecond delay in delivery of the message, or the slightest variation of broadcast amplitude from his wireless transmitter? More likely, thought the robot, on reflection, it is the onset of a machine madness, inevitable in  a thinking machine as far beyond his established  usage period as I. Very likely too, someone had crippled his Checkers ability some time in the past—some jealous student, or bitter old scientist. Memory of his early years was spotty—most of it archived to single sentence, plain text summaries of whole days. Any one of those now frustratingly incomplete histories might have hidden, just beneath its impenetrable surface, an account of some drunken electrical engineer, too dumb for chess, cracking open his brain can, and frying just the right bits.

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It must have been a very precise job. Usually, that kind of botchwork was quickly detectable, by companion scientists, if not the robot himself. At the very least, the older robot could credit him with that. And the man was long since dead— time having taken vengeance on the lab robot’s behalf. Another  game?  The maintenance bot now sounded his normal, dull self. The older bot stared at the younger. Observation?  The maintenance bot was not without his own unique intelligence—but it had developed slowly, out of boredom, and he had yet to discover a way to communicate with it effectively. They both turned. The older bot sighed, as he had been programmed to do; the younger bot made no communication, but deep within his circuitry, resonated a senseless firing of hollow thought processes, that might, if one wished to anthropomorphize, be called disappointment. The Earth beneath them was a dark twilight blue—barely discernable from the space around it. It would be this way for hours. The older robot sighed once more, and turned his gaze back to the game. The current status quo is unacceptable. Either  you play worse, or we play something I can—like  chess. The maintenance bot made no emission of dialogue microwaves for several hours. Finally, it said Impossible. Cannot  vary  gameplay  ability.  Insufficient memory to add new rulesets. The older bot was silent for while, the electron switches in his metal skull crackling silently in the airless room—then he said. My  old  friend…  would  you  mind  if  I  crippled  you? Minutes passed. The younger robot had parsed and interpreted the other machine’s words

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc
within seconds—but now, with his still developing speech capabilities, was finding it terribly difficult to answer the question. He knew the answer he wanted to give—but was not sure whether a positive or negative achieved that end. Please, he said, finally. But  only  to  equal  ability. Of course. Winning every game would lead to  an equivalent boredom. And with that, he shut down the maintenance bot. The process took a total of two months. He cracked open the maintenance bot’s brain can, jury-rigged a connection from his thinking parts to the bots storage parts, attached appropriate power cables, and began a long, arduous search for the right nugget of information among terabytes of data. In that time, he learned of his companion’s slow-developed, and never fully expressed consciousness. In time—he would teach his friend how to speak more fluently, so they could better pass the millennia. He found what he was looking for, too. But crippling his friend’s checkers-playing routines proved too confusing a task to even start. So he downloaded these into his own memory instead. With any luck, he could find a way to integrate these into his own play—overwrite the damage done to him centuries ago. He sealed the younger bot’s chassis, and activated it. It made no sounds, no movement. His microwave antenna felt only dead silence from his friend. The robot’s mind ran white-hot: backtracking through his now incomplete memory of the operation, seeking out mistakes; running his mind forward along branching possibilities of resolution. In the end, he tried them all—or at least, those he could remember. It took years, and in that time, he had pulled every individual component out of the maintenance bot and put it back again, at least once. The realization was slow. By the

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time the last test was completed, and his friend of one thousand years remained a dull lump of metal and wire—he was already sure of his next action. The older robot went to the command deck, and began manually firing the maneuvering jets— meant to keep the ship in orbit. There was little fuel left. Even with the forced destabilization of orbit, the station’s descent took months. The lab assistant bot let its mind wander, and the time passed quickly. The once-indestructible glass of the command deck, time worn, shattered within two minutes of hitting atmosphere proper. The station began breaking apart immediately thereafter. Super-heated nitrogen and oxygen tore through the command deck, and burned against the robot’s body until it glowed. Key systems began failing him. I wonder what those fledgling human nations  will  make  of  us.  Will  they  mistake  us  for  fallen  gods,  and  bury  us  in  the  Earth?  The thought calmed him. His body—exoskeleton, circuitry and all, fused together: a man-shaped statue of space age steel.

Andrew LeBlanc studied Computer Science at  the  University  of  British  Columbia,  and  now  works  with  computers  full  time.    He  dresses  poorly and doesn’t exercise much anymore. 

Andrew LeBlanc

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

"The Second Ascension," by R. Cruz

Pg. 7

Carbonville, Part One
A Jack Brand Story
by John M. Whalen
A knife flashed in the Tulon moonlight. Brand caught the slimy wrist of the hand that wielded it, twisting it hard. He heard bone and tendon snap and a weird, alien cry as the knife dropped. A fist came out of the alley darkness and smashed hard against his jaw. He rocked back a step, and saw a wooden club swinging toward his head from the other side. He ducked under it, stepped in fast, backing up a hard left to the attacker’s midsection. The man grunted. The club dropped to the ground and Brand swung a right to the chin. The club wielder fell backwards, landing in a tangle of legs. How many legs, Brand couldn’t tell. At least a dozen or more—human and non-human. The gang that had attacked him as he cut through the alley behind the Red Dwarf Saloon had come out of nowhere. At least three were human and the rest were all alien scum that had floated into Carbonville from various places. They must have been waiting for him. He’d recognized the face of one of them as a man who had been sitting in the saloon earlier. His eyes had fairly gleamed at the sight of the gold piece Brand had taken out of his pocket when he paid for his drink. That man now lay unconscious on the alley floor, along with two others. The slimy-skinned Gorog with the broken wrist knelt by them. But there were still five left—two human and three alien— all very conscious and all very determined to kill him and take his money. When they’d jumped him, one of them had yanked his Beretta Electro-Pistol out of its holster and jammed it into his back. Brand had spun and the gun fell somewhere in the darkness of the alley. Now he was weaponless, and while the fight had raged, he at least had a chance. But now, seeing three of their number down, the attackers were no longer in a mood to waste time. They drew their own weapons. “Hands in the air, earth-dog,” the short, green Eluvian holding a Ray-O-Rang said. A shaggy, redcoated Hansor stood next to him with a plasma automatic in one hand. One flick of the Eluvian’s wrist, Brand knew, and the Rang would sail out at him, decapitate him, and fly back to its user—all in the blink of an eye. “If you had just handed over your money,” the Eluvian said in a mock-sad tone, “But you wanted to make a fight of it.” Brand’s eyes swept the alley floor and he saw his Beretta lying in the dark shadow by the wall. The Eluvian lifted the Rang. “Now you’re going to die.” Brand dove for the Beretta. There was a flash of light and Brand felt as though his side exploded. He grabbed the pistol and fired. Blue light lit up the alley as the wave of electricity from his gun hit the Eluvian’s head with a blinding flash. The Eluvian stood headless for a second before his body staggered back and fell to the ground. The Hansor and the others raised their weapons. The pain in Brand’s side made him dizzy, and the shadowy figures before him seemed to swim before his eyes. “So long, human-scum,” the Hansor said. Brand heard a sound behind them. It was a sound he hadn’t heard in a long time—the buzzing, crackle of a Ray-Blade. His attackers turned. “What do you want, Tarnisian?” the Hansor said. “Get out of here.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
“Four against one,” a voice said. “Not very fair odds. Especially when the one is half-dead.” Brand fought to hold on to consciousness. Through the long legs of the Hansor, he could see the tall, blue-skinned Tarnisian swordsman standing at the alley entrance with the Ray-Blade in his hands. The Light Beam weapon shone white in the darkness. “You’ll be all dead, if you don’t get out of here,” the Hansor said. “Scram!” “You talk good, Eluvian,” the Tarnisian said. “Do you shoot good too?” “Those old-fashioned weapons,” the Hansor said. “They’re no good at that distance. I could shoot you before you take a step.” The Tarnisian pressed a button on the handle of the Ray-Blade and it shrunk into itself and went dark. He tucked it into his blouse and dropped his hand to his leg. Brand saw he had a narrow sheath strapped to it. The Tarnisian’s hand moved and a smaller, mini-version of the Ray-Blade came out of the holster and appeared in his hand. He twirled it several times and then dropped it back into the sheath. “The Min-Blade,” the Tarnisian said. He cocked his head to one side and his wide-spaced eyes looked at the Hansor with the blank curiosity of a child. Yet there was something of a twisted smile in those eyes. Something cold and deadly. “Wanna try me?” “You think you can throw that thing before this automatic fries you like a piece of Darco-Bacon?” The Tarnisian’s eyes grew larger as he stared at the Hansor. “Let’s see how fast you are,” he said. The Hansor looked at the human standing next to him and grinned in disbelief. Then his hand twitched and the plasma automatic came up. With a motion so swift it was invisible, the MinBlade came out of its sheath and flew in a white blur toward the Hansor. The light-blade hit the

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hirsute gunman in the chest. He screamed. The gun went off. The plasma beam blasted a hole in the dirt in front of him, as he fell to the ground. Shouting, the other three gang members raised their guns, but the Tarnisian was upon them like a tiger. His Ray-Blade crackled and fanned the darkness, as he thrust, spun, and slashed amidst the three adversaries. In a moment the three lay dead at his feet. Brand touched his wounded side with his left hand and saw a dark stain on his fingers when he held them before his eyes. The Tarnisian picked the Min-Blade up from the dead Eluvian’s chest, put it back in its sheath, and strode over to him. “You’re hurt bad,” he said. Brand looked up at the elongated head on the tall figure standing over him. His face and hands were covered in a blue, reptilian-like skin that had a dull sheen under the moonlight. His eyes were wide-space, almond shaped, and his nose was flat, little more than two nostril holes. The Tarnisian knelt down on one knee, and helped Brand to his feet. “I think there is a medic nearby,” he said, putting his shoulder under Brand’s arm. “Can you walk?” “I think so,” Brand said. His side felt like it was on fire, and he could tell he was losing blood rapidly. They walked out of the alley together. Because of the lateness of the hour there were few people on the street. “There,” the Tarnisian said, nodding to something up ahead. “I thought I saw a medic’s sign around here.” Brand looked up and saw the Intergalactic Red Cross symbol on a sign hanging over a doorway ahead. He limped toward it, holding onto the Tarnisian’s shoulder for support. “What’s your name?” he asked. “Galt,” the Tarnisian said.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
“I owe you.” “Save your strength,” the alien said. “Here we are.” Galt pounded loudly on the door and then pressed a buzzer on the door frame. A grey-haired old man opened the door. “We have a man hurt here,” Galt said. The old man looked at the blood on Brand’s blue tunic. “He should be taken to the hospital,” he said, opening the door to let them in. “There’s no time for that,” the Tarnisian said. “Are you a doctor? Can you help him?” “Bring him in,” the old man said. He led them through a doorway into a brightly lit room. Brand saw cabinets stocked with medical instruments and vials of medicine, electronic equipment, several computer monitors, and racks of test tubes. A gurney stood in the middle of the room. “Lay him down,” the doctor said. The doctor walked over to a long tube made of glass and steel that jutted out horizontally from the far wall. He flicked a switch on the side of it and the tube suddenly came alive with lights and spider webs of electricity moving all around the inside of it. Brand saw a young, rather pretty girl entering the room. “Father, what is it?” She walked over to Brand and examined the wound in his side. There was real concern in her dark brown eyes as she carefully picked up scissors and cut the tunic away. “What is this from?” she asked him. “Bad luck,” Brand said. The old man came over. “We’re going to have to act fast,” he said. He had a stainless steel gun in his hand. “This will numb your side.” “Go ahead,” Brand said. The doctor pressed the gun against Brand’s

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ribs. The skin in the area around the wound went icy cold, and in a moment the pain vanished. The medic passed a small hand-held flat screen over him and scanned his side. “No internal organ damage,” he said. “We’ll put you in the DNA chamber. But for that you will need to sleep.” “All right, doctor,” Brand said. “Whatever you say.” The doctor waved another instrument over Brand’s face and a cloud of mist floated above his eyes. Brand started to feel drowsy immediately. The old medic and the young girl pushed the gurney over to the glass tube and slid Brand into it. He saw the lights winking, the electricity crackling all around him as they settled him inside the DNA chamber. He peered up through the glass and saw the Tarnisian standing behind the doctor watching him. The next instant, he dropped into unconsciousness. # He woke up in a bed in a small fluorescent-lit room that had no windows. There was a night stand next to the bed, a chair, and no other furniture. He tried to sit up, and was surprised when there was very little pain—just a vague soreness, a stiffness, where he had been wounded. He lifted the cover off and saw that he was naked. He looked at the place where the Rang had hit him, and other than a slight discoloration, it was impossible to tell that the night before there had been a deep gash at least six inches long. “Amazing isn’t it, what DNA technology can do?” It was the girl from the night before. A white nurse’s uniform covered her nicely-shaped body. Brand dropped the sheet back over him and lay back on the pillow, as she came into the room. “Here in Carbonville we have almost as many of the latest advances in medical technology as they do in Tulon Central.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
“This place has changed quite a bit since I was here last,” Brand said. “And not much for the better.” “We found your ID,” she said. “You’re a Tulon Central cop.” “Used to be. I quit the Security Force some time ago, although I do work for them occasionally.” “You hear on Security Force business?” “No. I’m here on personal business,” Brand said. “I’m looking for somebody. Mind telling me who you are, and what happened to my clothes?” “Oh, sorry,” the girl blushed. “I’m Jana Reynolds. The man who restored you is my father, Dr. Alzonor Reynolds. I’m his assistant. And your clothes were a bloody mess. We had to burn them.” Brand sat up, letting the sheet fall away from his broad shoulders and wide chest. “I feel pretty good. But I’ll need some new clothes, if I’m going to get up.” “I think we can help you.” She pulled open a drawer in the night table and pulled out a pair of grey pants and a red tunic. “We sent for these this morning. They should fit.” “Mighty kind of you,” Brand said. “I’ll let you get dressed,” she said. “Is the Tarnisian who brought me here still around?” Brand asked. “He left last night. Is he a friend of yours?” “Never saw him before. But he saved my life.” “Curious kind of character,” the girl said. “After you went to sleep in the chamber, he just left. Said he had to go look for work. He just arrived in Carbonville, he said, and needs a job. Didn’t even wait to see how you came out. A strange thing to do after bringing you here. Like he couldn’t care less if you lived or died.” “Why should he?” Brand said. “He doesn’t know me.” “Still, you’d think he want to know, even just out of curiosity,” she shook her head. “You never

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know about a Tarnisian.” “You never know about anybody.” “I’ll let you get dressed.” She pressed a button on the wall, and a panel slid up revealing a shower. “You can clean up in there. Come out to the garden when you’re finished.” # The grey pants and red tunic fit well. The neo-ethylene heels of his knee-high Krylor boots made no noise as he stepped through the patio door and followed the concrete walkway through the garden. He passed by large Mernian flowers, their gigantic orange petals bright as fireworks, standing gracefully against the backdrop of the dark green leaves of the Lotus plants, and dark brown trunks of the Calusian palms. There was so much foliage he could hardly see the aluminum and stone walls of the tall buildings that towered beyond the bamboo fence bordering the garden. Half a dozen tables were scattered around with patients seated, eating breakfast. He saw Jana sitting at one of them. “Have some breakfast,” Jana said. “This is service.” He sat down. “It will be on your bill,” she said. He helped himself to some of the flapjacks in front of him. “Good thing I kept up that insurance when I retired from the Security Force.” “You seem young to be retired,” she said. “I left early. I don’t agree with everything they’ve done here on Tulon. Seemed like it was established more to protect the oil company interests than the lives of normal citizens. I didn’t care for the way the original settlers were all shoved out into the wilderness to make room for the oil fields. But that’s another story.” “You said you came to Carbonville looking for someone. Mind if I ask who?” “Seven years ago my sister was kidnapped by

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
some Nomads. I recently learned that the people who took her may have been here some time ago. Might still be here. They go by the name of Wilkerson. Have you ever heard that name?” “Wilkerson? No, I’m sorry. I can’t say I have. Though, God knows there are so many gangs and outlaws in Carbonville, they could be here. The place is overrun with lawlessness.” “I’d heard it was pretty bad,” Brand said, buttering a slice of toast. “Since the Tulon Central Government signed an agreement with the Galactic Trade Union to leave Carbonville alone, as a free trade zone, it’s become a safe harbor for all the riff-raff in the galaxy. The Security Force had to give up its jurisdiction over here. What happened to the law in this town?” “Scared off, bought off, killed off by Silo Jarth.” “Silo Jarth?” “The head man, the main crime lord in Carbonville—he owns the town. He came from Kazuli three years ago, he and his gang of green lizard men. They shot it out with the other gangs that had already been here, and then took over, organizing what was left of his competition into one large organization. The mayor, the police department all answer to him. Now a decent person can’t live in peace in Carbonville. What happened to you last night is just one example. He assesses taxes on everyone, and, if you don’t pay, bad things can happen. It’s not safe to walk the streets.” “Nobody opposes him?” Brand asked. The girl looked around as if trying to be sure no one see was spying on them. “There are some. A vigilante movement is starting. My fiancé, Raymond Targo, is organizing it in secret. If he has his way, Silo Jarth will be run out of town on a pole.” “Jana! Please!” Her father came through the patio door. “You mustn’t speak of such things with strangers.”

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“It’s alright,” the girl said. “Mr. Brand is affiliated with the Tulon Security Force. He’s on our side.” The old man stood gaping at her. “Silo Jarth has spies everywhere,” he said. “You should be careful.” He looked at Brand. “How are you feeling, Mr. Brand?” he asked. “I feel pretty fine,” Brand said. “You worked a miracle as far as I’m concerned. And, Dr. Reynolds, you don’t have to worry about me. Silo Jarth is the kind of creature I’ve put away many times.” “Then you’ll help us?” Jana asked. “We need someone with your kind of experience. Jarth has some dangerous people on his payroll. I’m afraid for Raymond. He could be killed so easily.” “I’m sorry,” Brand said. “I didn’t come here, to clean up a town. I’m looking for the Wilkersons. And from what you told me, probably the only person here who might be able to tell me where they are is this Silo Jarth.” “You won’t help us?” “For now, I’d just as soon keep Jarth alive and where he is.” The girl threw her fork down on her plate with disgust. She started to speak, but her father silenced her with a wave of his hand. # Brand walked through the teeming midday streets of Carbonville, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. It had been ten years since his last visit and the difference in the town was remarkable. He looked up at the glass and steel dome that now shielded the city from the fierce Tulon sun. That hadn’t been here on his last visit. It was an incredible engineering marvel. A dome of glass twenty miles in diameter, reinforced by a network of titanium beams that arched over the length of the city. He stopped on the pavement for a moment and gazed way up at the square silver

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
shape of a Strato Sled coming down through an opening at the top of the dome—one of the skydoors that permitted air traffic in and out of the city. There had to be plenty of money in Carbonville to build a dome that size and air condition an entire city, Brand thought. The air temperature was a constant 72 degrees and made walking along the sidewalk a pleasant experience. Without it, the teeming mass of people, dressed in their lightweight robes and skirts, would not stroll along the thoroughfare as comfortably as they did. He squinted at the gaudy, blazing neon all around, advertising the casinos, restaurants, and hotels along the street. Tinny music on loudspeakers assaulted his ears, and there were barkers and venders in doorways shouting out enticements to passersby to come in and try their establishments. He looked at the chromium, gasoline-fueled vehicles gliding along the street and wondered, with so many hydrocarbons being emitted into the air, what would happen if the domed city’s air filtration system failed? He didn’t like Carbonville. The entire place, even the air everyone breathed, seemed artificial, like a big lie told in the middle of a wasteland. It was the kind of place where desperate, lonely creatures ran to so they could try and forget the short span of time allotted to them for their puny lives. A place where they could dance, drink, and get stoned and not have to think about the oblivion they were all marching toward. He wished he were back in the desert, where it was clean, quieter, and less complicated. Brand turned off the sidewalk and walked up the red-carpeted steps leading into the Green Dragon, the biggest casino-hotel in Carbonville—four floors of gambling rooms, twenty floors of hotel rooms, five swimming pools, and three restaurants. He walked past two doormen

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who looked more like bouncers, and drifted into the first floor gambling area. He walked past the electronic roulette wheel, where two drunken Venusian dames giggled and spilled their drinks while they threw chips down on the table. He turned and walked along a row of busy holographic slot machine junkies, feverishly pulling levers, hoping to hear the clink of silver. There was a lounge ahead. He pushed through the plexiglass doors and when they shut behind him, left all the clatter of the casino on the other side. An earth woman sat at a synthesizer in the corner softly playing a newly rediscovered classic of the past, “Moon River.” A few people sat at tables and sipped tall drinks. Brand went up to the bar. A push-faced off-worlder with a bartender’s apron came up to him. “I don’t want anything,” Brand said. “This isn’t a rest area,” the barkeep said. Brand pulled a leather case out of his pocket and flashed his Security Force badge. The Force let him keep it even when he wasn’t on the job. He found it a useful calling card. “Silo Jarth.” “Security Force,” the man said, squinting at the tin in Brand’s hand. “That don’t cut much ice around here.” “Doesn’t matter,” Brand said. “I’m here on personal business. But if he wants to make things hard for me I can come back with enough Security Force agents to turn this place into a bingo parlor.” The barkeep looked up from the badge and studied Brand’s face. “What’s the name?” He went back to the end of the bar and picked up a miniphone. He didn’t say more than five words before two large muscle-bound Kazulis in business suits came up behind Brand. He turned and saw the green reptilian faces looking at him like a bug on a lily pad.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
“Come this way,” one of the lizard men said. They flanked him on either side and they walked out of the lounge together, back into the racket of the casino. They turned before they got to the slot machines, and walked to a lobby in the rear of the place where the elevators were. One of the elevator doors opened and they got into the car. Some tourists tried to follow them in, but one of the Kazulis waved a hand and the tourists backed off. The Kazuli swiped a key card, the door shut, and the car shot upward. “Assume the position,” the lizard man who’d done the talking so far said. Brand placed the palms of his hands on the elevator wall and leaned against it while he was frisked. “Okay,” the Kazuli said, when he came up empty-handed. The door opened at the penthouse. Only it didn’t look like a penthouse at all. It looked more like a Kazuli rain forest. Silo Jarth had transformed the entire top floor of his hotel into a reasonable facsimile of the world he’d come from. Brand gawked at the tall rubber trees, the colorful flowers, the giant elephant ear leaves with moisture dripping off them. They stalked their way through the jungle, past small ponds and running waterfalls. Strange birds chirped, croaked, and cawed, and Brand saw an occasional monkey swinging in the overhead branches. Brand felt a little sorry for the alien lizard. He must be pretty homesick to go to this much trouble. They turned right and Brand heard water splashing and girls giggling. Pushing their way through the dense foliage, they came on a small pond. A green lizard-man sat up to his chest in the water holding a drink in his hand. On either side of him were two gorgeous, naked, female humans, hanging on him as though he were a life preserver. The Kazuli gangster looked up at Brand with hardly any curiosity at all in his shiny black eyes.

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“What’s the Security Force doing sending somebody way out here?” he asked angrily. “Are they crazy?” “They didn’t send me,” Brand answered. “I told your man downstairs, I’m here on personal business.” “You got personal business with me?” The lizard man looked him up and down. “How’s that? I don’t believe we ever met.” “We didn’t. I’m looking for someone and I’m told you might know where he is.” “All right,” the Kazuli gangster nodded at the two bodyguards and they faded into the jungle. The blonde on his left kept nibbling at his thick lobed ear. “Have a seat.” Brand sat down on a concrete bench that was moist with humidity. “Who is it you’re looking for? What makes you think he might be in Carbonville?” “I ran into Cal Thorson a little while ago. He said he’d seen the man a while back. I know Thorson used to hang out around here. The man I’m looking for is Jesse Wilkerson. Him and his two brothers.” The small brunette on Jarth’s other side looked up at Brand suddenly. She seemed to react at the mention of Wilkerson’s name. Jarth was too busy enjoying the ear lobe munch the blonde was giving him to notice. The brunette looked away from Brand quickly. “Cal Thorson,” Jarth said, taking a sip of his drink. “How is Thorson these days?” “He’s dead.” Jarth looked at him coldly. “You?” “That’s right.” Jarth shrugged. “He was a tough boy, but he wasn’t too smart.” “What about Wilkerson?” Brand said. “Wilkerson. Wilkerson...” Jarth said. “Yeah.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
I remember. A couple years ago. Three loco brothers. Did some work for me. Pretty crude boys. They weren’t here long. Had to let them go. Couldn’t follow orders. Kind of psycho.” “How long ago?” “Two years maybe.” “Do you know where they are now?” Jarth shook his head, his dark, glassy eyes shining like black mirrors. “Haven’t a clue. Wish I could help you. I always like to cooperate with the police. Even when they got no jurisdiction and are just here on personal business.” The brunette who’d reacted to Wilkerson’s name leaned closer to Jarth and whispered something in the lizard-man’s ear. Jarth frowned. “All right,” he snapped. The girl climbed out of the pool giving Brand an eyeful, and grabbed a robe lying on another concrete bench. She ran off into the rain forest. “Girl just can’t hold her booze,” Jarth said. “Weak bladder, I guess.” Brand got up from the bench. His clothes were wet with humidity. “Sorry, I couldn’t help you,” the lizard man said. “I am too.” He started to go. “What’s your hurry?” Jarth asked. “Why not stick around. Anything you want, I got it. Women, booze, drugs. Hell, man, pretend you’re on vacation. Take a break. I got a Venusian sex mistress you’d love to meet. You can’t play John Law all the time.” “No thanks,” Brand said. “I don’t think I’ve had enough shots.” “Suit yourself,” Jarth said. He nodded his green head and the two bodyguards came back out of the jungle. The Kazuli who’d done the talking in the elevator came up to Brand and, without telegraphing anything, hit him hard in the stomach. Brand doubled over, and the Kazuli’s fist smashed against his cheek. He

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staggered back a few steps and steadied himself. The Kazuli just stood there. “What was that for?” Brand asked. “I don’t like cheap cops who think they can come here into my private world and ask me to rat on people I may or may not know. This is just a warning, Brand. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention and get out of Carbonville. Now beat it!” # The two Kazuli bodyguards followed him through the casino, stood in the glass entrance lobby, and watched him walk down the street, making sure he didn’t try to come back. Brand melted into the crowd on the sidewalk and touched the tender spot on his cheek where the lizard-man had hit him. It had been a good punch, and he threw it without really seeming to try. He wondered how it would have been if he’d been trying. Up ahead on the right someone was waving at him from an alley. It was the brunette from Jarth’s pool. She’d traded the robe for a skin-tight body suit. Brand looked back the way he came. The doorway to the casino was a good distance behind, and the two bodyguards were gone. He moved to the right, and, when he got to where the girl was standing, he looked into the alley. It seemed empty. The girl faded further back into the alley’s interior, motioning him to come to her. She stopped next to a trash dumpster. “You’re looking for Jesse Wilkerson?” she asked. Her eyes kept looking out past him to the street, to make sure no one was noticing them. “That’s right. You know where he is?” “I might.” “Is he here in Carbonville?” “Not so fast,” she said. “If you want to know, it’s going to cost you. I’m taking a big risk.” “How much?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen
“A thousand. Tulon gold not creds.” “How do I know your information is good?” “It’s good. Believe me. And I’m the only one knows where he is. Even Jarth doesn’t know. A friend of mine spotted him and told me.” “What’s your name? Why are you so willing to reveal Wilkerson’s whereabouts?” The girl lifted the hair from the back of her neck and turned her head away. Brand saw a long jagged scar that ran from ear to ear across her neck. “My name’s Sari,” she said, letting the hair fall back. “He did that to me, that filthy pig. Jarth gave me to him for a party one night. He got stoned on Synth-Coke and mescaline. He likes to play with knives. He started cutting on me. Said he was going to take my scalp off. Somehow I got loose of him, got hold of a lamp, and smashed it on his head. I got away. I should have killed him.” A shudder ran through Brand. Terry! His sister. In the hands of a monster like that! His stomach tied itself into a knot. Don’t think about it, he told himself. Don’t imagine it. As it had almost every day for seven years, the dark taste of guilt ran up his throat and made him want to vomit. If only he hadn’t been careless that day out at Alma Mesa. He’d led his posse into an ambush, and the Wilkersons killed three, wounded him, and took his sister. Don’t think about it, he repeated to himself. “All right,” he said. “But I’ll have to get your money. I don’t carry that much around.” “Fine. Meet me tonight. Do you know where The Frosted Monkey is?” “I’ll find it.” “It’s a club. There’s always lots of people there. I want lots of people around me when we meet.” “All right.” “Around eleven. The place is usually packed by then. Just walk in. I’ll find you.” The girl turned and ran to the rear of the alley. Brand watched her turn at a corner and disappear.

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He wondered if she were telling the truth, or if Jarth had sent her to set up a trap. There was only one way to find out.

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

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Featured Artist: Euka

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Featured Artist:
by Ruben C. (aka N3URON)
Name: Ruben C. Also known as Neuron Hobbies: Creating worlds. Wasting time. Listening to music. Debating. Favorite Book / Author: The Art of War by Niccolo Machiavelli What media do you work in? My artwork is mainly digital art which is done using Photoshop CS2. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? You can visit my deviantART account, located here:
http://nur0n.deviantart.com/

How did you become an artist? When I first started doodling on a pad as a child. What were your early influences? I didn’t have many influences. I liked to draw things that I observed around me and that I saw on television. What are your current influences? I was heavily inspired by Alyn, Greg Martin, and Dinyctis. I first saw their work on deviantART and I said to myself, “Man I would love to be able to create something like that.” So I just put that in my mind and practiced a lot to realize it. What inspired the art for the cover? Nothing actually. It started just as an experiment. I was trying some new things and trying new techniques in
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Featured Artist: Yung-Kee Hui

Pg. 17 Apophysis to get some nebulae looking fractals. I used more realistic forms of lighting as well, and in the end it turned out as more than an experiment, so I finalized it and made it an official piece. I never expected that it would become the cover of a magazine. How would you describe your work? In my opinion, I like to think of it as ‘Unique.’ In some shape or form. Some people may not agree, but I could definitely say that I try to do something that hasn’t already been done in space art. Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? I get my inspiration from a lot of places. Sometimes it’s just things that happen around me and I get ideas for a new piece. Music helps me get some ideas as well. What have been your greatest successes? How has success impacted you / your work? I haven’t had too much success with my art. Honestly getting the cover of this magazine is it! I try to look at a ‘great success ‘as something like finishing a new piece.

What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? I mainly use Photoshop CS2. I use Terragen, World Machine, Geo Control, and a lot of other programs that are used alongside Terragen. I also like to dabble with fractals once in a while, can’t say I’m any good at that however. Sometimes when I have some time, I will jump back to the old pad and pencil. What tool / equipment do you wish you had? Getting a tablet has been something on my to-do list for a while now. What do you hope to accomplish with your art? I want to do be different from your average space artist. Yes, I want to create stunning visuals and all that, but I want to bring something different to the table. Something that hasn’t been done yet, or hasn’t been realized.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Featured Artist: Yung-Kee Hui

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 8, Comes the Watcher
  by Johne Cook
he Haddirron Naval Academy and outlying support community occupied an entire peninsula two hours down the coast from Haddirron City. At the end of every summer, a new class of polloi came streaming in from all corners of the empire to attend the premiere naval academy on the planet. I was sent to the Academy for entirely different reasons. I had to find my target. If he was the right one, I knew what I had to do, and the results of that decision would change the fate of this place forever. Years of preparation would come down to a single moment and a single action. The targets of our scrutiny were, of course, blissfully ignorant of all of this. A stiff tail wind propelled me east and I made very good time, arriving a full week before the start of the new session. I landed at the hidden grotto and got my bearings. It took me a little bit to get used to my legs again. I stretched them for a few minutes and then stashed some effects about my person. With everything functioning again, I walked into the town sprawled around about the Academy. I passed a polished brass lamp and looked at the distorted reflection staring back at me. I tried on a smile, a scowl, and finally walked off wearing a bemused expression. I prowled about the outskirts of the Academy orienting myself with the area for the next couple of days until my target arrived. Cooper Flynn sailed in by himself in a very nice little sloop. He tied up to the dock at twilight when the waterfront was largely deserted. I sat with one leg over the edge of the dock mending a net as he tied up, apparently engrossed in my Ray Gun Revival magazine

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work. He stretched his legs and cracked his neck, then he tied his long black hair back into a knot and went searching for food. He kept a very low profile, but he was a rank amateur compared to my kind, and I had no trouble following him without being seen. It is one of two things I do best. # I shadowed Flynn for two days, watching his every move. He spent most of his time walking among the commoners, buying rounds in the taverns, hanging out by the docks. There are two things one must have to be accepted into the Naval Academy, a parchment with a written commission, and one’s name must be on a list kept by the Admittance Officer, a Petty Officer by the name of Baskins, whose sole qualification for the job seemed to be a soul without a speck of pity. My information informed me that the target, Cooper Flynn, had neither of the required components. Also, there was not a single recorded instance of variance to the published requirements. That could mean two different things, however. I wondered if Cooper Flynn had thought of that. Based on what I knew of my target already, I thought I had a pretty good idea what he was going to do; however, I was mistaken. On the third day, he sold his sloop outright and took a nondescript room not far from the market across the street from the side entrance to the Academy. I puzzled over that for some time. It was notoriously difficult to win entrance to the Academy through legal means. I had never heard of anyone Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook
gaining access to the Academy through more clandestine means, and I have very good sources of information. Flynn either knew something I didn’t or was so confident in his own abilities that he didn’t need to keep a back-up plan. If he wasn’t the very first one to gain illicit admission into the Academy, he was stranded. I relaxed after that. Flynn was playing right into my hands. If he failed, he would take himself out of the picture, and I would move on to one of the others. However, if he succeeded, he would be the one I was looking for, and I would be free to make my move, ending the life he knew forever. # Admittance day dawned and Flynn was already hidden, watching over by the tiny admissions side gate, and I was watching him. There’s nothing harder than hiding in wait on another person who is also hiding in wait, but I am very good at what I do. I settled in to watch things unfold and bide my moment to decide, and to act. The Haddirron Naval Academy’s grand front gate was built back one hundred feet from the shore. The ornate gate was normally open, affording a good view of the water from the buildings inside. Inside the gate was a curving commons area surrounded by outbuildings. The main hall had windows looking out over the water, and the buildings behind it were staggered, climbing a gentle hill, until one came to the Admiralty’s offices at the top of the hill, perched there like a wheelhouse overlooking a deck. However, the polloi admittees didn’t come in through the grand front gate, they came in through a humble side gate only large enough to allow one person through at a time. Cooper Flynn’s first attempt to gain entrance to the Haddirron Naval Academy was over before it began. Flynn spent the first hour looking the situation

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over. The keeper of the keys was a beery, bleary Petty Officer by the name of Baskins, chomping on a long-dead cigar. He had a list on loosely bound parchment and a perpetual growl that rose and fell with his temper but never abated entirely. Flynn positioned himself by a fishmonger close enough to hear the Petty Officer, and I found a place where I could watch them both undisturbed. Two things became clear almost immediately—the Petty Officer’s word was final regarding admissions to the venerable Academy, and he was a racist. He routinely said three things. He roared “Commission!” to the next candidate in line, after which he was to be presented with a parchment bearing written authorization to the Academy. After that, he yelled “Last name!” If there was a successful match, he would take a quill, dunk it in a large inkwell, scratch a check next to a name on his sheath, and finally step aside until the newly accepted sailor squeezed past. The last thing he bellowed was “Next!” It was the unsuccessful matches where things got interesting. A flaxen-haired youngling held a parchment in a trembling hand. The Petty Officer bellowed, “No match! Repeat your last name!” “Siquor, Sir.” “I’m not a ‘sir,’ and you’re not on the list!” Baskins snatched the parchment from his hand and tore the document in half without so much as looking at it. “Get out of here and I won’t have you arrested for impersonating the freshpolloi. NEXT!” The next candidate was six-foot-eight if he was an inch. He wordlessly presented his papers and the bristling Petty Officer grabbed at the papers and then looked up. And then up some more. “A Reachie,” he purred, his voice dripping poison.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook
The young giant nodded briefly. “Back of the line, Reachie,” said Baskins brusquely, shoving his papers into the candidate’s gut and pointing savagely to the rear. The giant carefully refolded his papers, stood there while sliding them into a pocket inside his coat, slowly bowed his head, and finally turned, walking deliberately to the back of the line. Nobody stood in his way. I’ve been to the Reach before. In the long and sporadic chain of islands between Haddirron and Sylva, there are inner islands, there are outer islands, and then there are the reach islands located almost equally between the two distant nations. They called themselves Reachers, while those with less manners called them Reachies. Many considered them scum instead of welcoming them as equals. Despised by Sylvans, looked down on by Haddirron, the Reachers’ only recompense was an intense natural beauty and the clearest water available in the midst of the great saltwater expanse between the two nations. Fiercely independent, the Reach islanders kowtowed to no man. I wondered what had prompted one of their kind to petition for commission into the Naval Academy. For his part, Flynn had seen enough for the moment. He turned to the fishmonger, stuck his hand in his pocket, spoke to the fishmonger for a moment, and then produced his hand, shaking hands again with the fishmonger, leaving something behind when he withdrew his hand. Flynn clapped the fishmonger on the shoulder and walked away. The fishmonger looked in his hand and his eyes grew wide. He looked back to Flynn. Flynn turned as he walked and waved broadly. The fishmonger raised one hand hesitantly, and then waved with an almost ridiculous vigor. Flynn walked to the corner. It had the virtue

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of being opposite the side gate where the polloi gathered, parchments in hand, lining up for interrogation by the acerbic Petty Officer. Flynn leaned against the wall, lost in thought. He apparently came to a decision and pushed away from the wall, taking another walk around the marketplace. When he returned to that spot, he had a whittling knife, a substantial piece of wood, and a long piece of grass. He sat on an empty keg with his back against the wall, stuck the blade of grass in his mouth, and started whittling. Flynn watched, and listened, and whittled. As the hours went by, Flynn appeared to be paying even less attention to the proceedings, which I took to mean that he was ever more vigilant. Noon passed, and then mid-afternoon. For all of Baskins’ faults, stamina was not among them. He chewed through freshpolloi like a man on a mission, and sent more than a few applicants away weeping, while those he admitted celebrated with quiet exultation. One young tough tried to force his way into the gate. Baskins took special glee in cutting his feet out from underneath him with one sweeping leg, delivering two sledgehammer shots to the jaw with his ham-like fist, and throwing him bodily back onto the cobbled street. The only thing he said was “Next!” # The admissions went smoothly for the rest of the afternoon. Flynn waited it out, developing a nice scattering of wood shavings on the ground by his keg. To the untrained eye, it looked at awful lot like he was taking a substantial stick and revealing a less substantial one, but I’ve never really followed the complexities of whittling, so I couldn’t say for sure. The late afternoon shadows crept in and engulfed the alley before the end of the line

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook

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crept up to Petty Officer Baskins. There were ten tall Academy wall. freshpolloi, then five, and then two. Flynn took The vendors stopped to take in the scene. his knife, drove it into the top of the keg, stuck Flynn moved the toothpick in his mouth from one the remaining sliver of wood into his mouth like a side to the other with a practiced flick. toothpick, and hopped down to lean against the Baskins’ laughter finally ran down. “Well, Mr. wall, waiting. Pitt, the day the Academy lets in a Reachie on my It wouldn’t be long now. It looked like he watch is the day I wear a skirt. Petition denied.” wanted to be able to move quickly if need-be. I Holding the parchment up in front of Pitt’s face, loosened my weapons and stood ready myself. he brutally tore the commission in two and threw Petty Officer Baskins passed the second-to- the halves back roughly against Pitt’s chest. last applicant without looking at parchment or Pitt’s nostrils flared and his jaw clenched list and then stepped forward, arms crossed. in the most fearsome degree but he kept his “So, Mr. Reachie, we meet again. I rather hands where they were. The segments hit and thought you might have turned tail and run back fell to Pitt’s feet while he remained studiously at to Sylva.” attention. That was a blatant falsehood and everyone It was not hard to see that he was at the knew it, but the big young candidate held his ragged edge of his self-control. temper. “No, Mr. Baskins,” rumbled the young Petty Officer Baskins took up his parchment giant slowly in a voice so low as to almost not be list and make a great show of striking through the heard. last unchecked name on the list. He then stood “Very well, Reachie. Commission!” there with a defiant grin, arms crossed and chin His charge produced the parchment from out. his shirt, stood up straight with eyes front, and Many careers had been broken on that chin handed over the document. that day before they even started. It appeared Mr. Baskins took a look at it and his eyes widened Pitt would be the last. at something thereon. I leaned forward on the balls of my feet, ready “Name!” he barked. to move fast if need-be. “Pitt.” The moment of truth was at hand. Baskins broke out in the first and only grin of I was moving as Flynn pushed off from the wall. the day. However, it was more feral and mean I slid into position behind a stall and brought my than humorous. right hand to lay across my chest, closer to reach “Full name, Mr. Pitt.” the different weapons I kept in sheathes behind Pitt looked like he’d bitten something foul. He my neck, as Flynn trotted cheerfully up to the swallowed once with great effort. His eyes flicked conflict of wills which seemed frozen in tableau. down at the document in Baskins’ hand and then Mr. Pitt turned to go, leaving the torn document he returned to eyes-front, saying nothing during on the cobbles as Flynn trotted up. that exercise. “Ho! There you are, Cuz!” said Flynn gleefully. Baskins looked smug. “If that’s your name, I “I made it just in time! Hey, you dropped this...” don’t blame you for not wanting to say it, lad.” He quickly bent and scooped up the parchment, He laughed long and loud, his boorish, braying dancing out of the way as Baskins lurched forward laughter echoing off the close buildings and the to intercept.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook
Mr. Pitt stopped and looked over his shoulder. Flynn sidestepped the reaching Baskins and said, “Hey, there appears to be a problem here.” He took the ripped parchment, looked at it with interest, and stepped forward to Baskins. “Petty Officer, there has been a mistake. I think you should recheck your list.” He handed the two pieces to Baskins and stepped back, turning and winking quickly at Mr. Pitt while his back was turned to the Petty Officer. I was curious. I’ve seen many gambits at that gate, none of them successful, but this was a different approach from any I had witnessed before. The emotions on Baskins’ face went from rage, to surprise, to pleasure, to shock, to base animal cunning, to calculated greed. He lifted the parchment, revealing a heavy Haddirron gold laurel piece, and quickly covered it back up. “You know what this is?” he asked in a curiously normal tone of voice, as if he was afraid that whatever he said would turn out to be a mistake, and desperately hoping it was not. To his credit, Flynn played his part perfectly. “No, Petty Officer, what is it?” Baskins’ eyes narrowed in decision. “Did you say ‘Pitt,’ young master?” Flynn kept smiling and carefully dug his elbow into Pitt’s exposed back. Pitt turned his massive chest around. He hung his arms at his side in the posture of a man who didn’t want to have any movement be misconstrued, and therefore ended up looking stiff and awkward. “Yes, Petty Officer. Pitt.” Baskins seemed positively gleeful. “Well, that’s it then. This is a mistake on the official rolls. My sincere apologies.” With that, he grabbed his quill, dipped it in his ink well, and wrote in the name of the big young man with the funny name. He dropped the torn parchment on top of the pile

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and then made a grand show of stepping aside to allow Mr. Pitt access to the Academy. I leaned forward, intent on the moment. This was it. Flynn nimbly stepped forward in front of Mr. Pitt and jingled his pouch meaningfully. “You have room for one more name on that list, I think.” Petty Officer Baskins leaned forward and said confidentially, “You have another of these?” Flynn leaned forward as well. “I don’t need another of these, and neither do you.” He winked. Baskins’ eyes flashed something fearsome and he gritted out a smile that was all edge and no humor. “I think you do.” He put one beefy hand on the knife sheath at his waist. I think Mr. Pitt and I were both tensed like heavy wound springs. Confidentially, Flynn murmured, “I think you should look again before somebody gets the wrong idea.” His smile was suddenly cunning and his black eyes blazed with a ferocious intensity. “And why is that, pray tell?” gritted Baskins, whose smile was being stretched by the warring factions of stress and greed. Flynn leaned closer in and I had to act quickly to hear his whisper. “Because you accepted a very sizable bribe to allow a disgraced Reachie freshpolloi into your academy, and I have witnesses. Many witnesses.” Baskins knuckles were turning white where he grasped the hilt of his knife, and he spat out the single word like an oath. “Oh?” Flynn slid nimbly to Baskins’ side and wrapped his arm around his shoulder. Flynn clapped him on the back and turned to look at the fishmonger across the way. I was beginning to feel the tension of being coiled to strike for so long. The fishmonger was right there in the moment and immediately smiled and waved enthusiasti-

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook

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cally back toward Flynn. To my eye, it seemed he’d been waiting all day for this moment. The fishmonger’s joy was so contagious that the tentmaker next to him also started waving, as did the netmender next to him. A flash of something went through the market square, and we all knew this was something special, a moment frozen in history for those who were lucky enough to be present at this odd event. Flynn looked gleefully at Baskins and slowly waved his left arm toward the square, revealing that the entire market was waving and chattering. Petty Officer Baskins’ knuckles were shaking, and I had a throwing knife in my right hand without thinking about it, ready to throw at the slightest opening, when Baskins suddenly removed his hand from the sheathe. He turned to Flynn and spoke in his sunniest voice of the day. “Oh, here it is. Welcome to the Academy...” Flynn beamed in victory. Under his breath, Baskins murmured, “You’ll both wash out in the first week and I’ll still have a full years’ wages. That will be the end of that.” “You’re probably right,” said Flynn out of the side of his grinning mouth, quietly, waving cheerfully back to the fishmonger and friends, “but at least we can wash out on our own terms, and can say with a clear conscience that we tried our best at the Academy before returning home.” “Very well,” whispered Baskins. “But I will remember you.” “I’m counting on it,” whispered Flynn, and he winked in a very knowing way. Baskins cleared his throat. “Name?” he said loudly as he picked up the scroll. “Cooper Flynn, two ‘n’s,” he said calmly, waving

Mr. Pitt forward. As they passed, Baskins reached forward and grabbed Flynn’s arm, and almost got a blade in the throat, oblivious to my screaming reflexes demanding the removal of this threat. Flynn was mine to deal with, and I didn’t take kindly to amateurs. Baskins murmured, “What’s this big galoot to you, anyway?” Mr. Pitt brushed past, breaking the hold by simple incidental contact. “He’s my cousin,” rumbled the man mountain as he passed. Flynn shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and grabbed his rucksack from a bush around the corner. The Petty Officer bit the gold laurel as Flynn passed. “Welcome to the Academy,” he said out loud. Then, under his breath he said, “…for as long as you last.” I returned the knife to my sheath and melted into the darkness. I’d have to find another time to make my move. I was secretly exulting. He’d gained entrance. He was the one, and he was mine to dispense. # I found a place where the wall was only twenty feet and scaled it easily. I silently fell in behind them as they walked and talked. Rather, Flynn did the talking. “That was some fast thinking back there, ‘cousin,’ said Flynn. “I’m impressed.” Mr. Pitt looked at him out of the corner of his eye as if to suggest he thought that sentiment ought to be the other way around. “I’ve never met a sailor from the Reach before. This is a great honor for me.” Mr. Pitt’s eyebrow twitched.

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook

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Flynn babbled on. “If there’s ever anything I found my opportunity not half an hour later I can do to thank you, let me know. I’m in your outside the women’s barracks. There was a vinedebt.” covered lattice over the path leading behind the Mr. Pitt stopped and stared at him, his look barracks and extending along the wall. A female inscrutable. Flynn bounded back to his side, took plebe walked back toward the barracks, when his arm, and steered him forward to the freshie a figure stepped out of the shadows. I felt my barracks. opportunity was close-at-hand, and loosened As they approached the front, Flynn said, “Let my weapons for quick access. I can be very quick me take this one–I insist.” when I need to be. He stepped forward and sketched a casual “Well, Darden, what a coincidence. Welcome naval salute at the dorm keeper seated at a desk to the Academy. I wasn’t aware you’d be following just inside the open half circle entrance. “Plebes me here,” he said with a casual salute. Flynn and Pitt reporting for rooming assignments, Former First Mate Walenda Darden stopped we’re not on the list, Petty Officer Baskins will dead in her tracks. We knew who she was, of vouch for our commissions, no—don’t bother course. Considering her mission, it would mean to get up. Mr. Pitt will take our belongings to one thing if she recognized him, and another if the assigned place and I’ll be back as soon as I she pretended that she didn’t. check in. Pleased to meet you, looking forward to “Cooper Flynn?! What are you doing here?” knowing you better, it’s great to be bunking in the she snapped, and that answered one question as ole…”—he looked at the sign over the entrance— far as I was concerned. I backed off and enjoyed “…Captain Jake.” the show. He danced back and nudged Mr. Pitt toward Flynn smiled expansively. “Why, the same as the entrance, handing him his rucksack. Then he you,” he said. He sketched a jaunty salute and leaned forward and stage-whispered “Oh, and sauntered off, whistling off-key. watch out for this one—talked my ear off on the Her eyes narrowed and she gritted her teeth. way here.” He winked and clapped Mr. Pitt on the “I highly doubt that,” she muttered, and then back and pantomimed shooting a flint pistol at the scurried back to the barracks. dorm keeper. He stuffed his hands in his pockets I was torn on whom to follow, but she wasn’t and sauntered off into the night, whistling. my primary concern, so I followed Flynn. The dorm keeper looked up at Mr. Pitt from As it happens, I made the right choice because his parchment. “Is he always like that?” the opportunity I’d been waiting for presented Mr. Pitt looked wistfully after Flynn and then itself almost immediately. returned his attention to the keeper. He shrugged Flynn sidled up to the end of the path where and stooped to enter the barracks. the trail took a sharp left-hand turn back into the The dorm keeper snickered once and returned Academy proper. He stopped and started feeling to his paperwork. the wall there as if he was looking for something, his back to the path. # I kept to the shadows and was glad that I had

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook

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oiled my blades. I soundlessly removed a throwing knife and measured the distance, the windage, the force I would need for a clean strike. I cocked my arm and flipped the knife around so I was holding the blade. The figure detached itself from the shadows and stealthily followed. Flynn turned and stepped around the corner. The figure started to slide around the corner after him. I struck. The blade whirred through the air. The handle caught him in the temple, dropping him to the ground, stunned. I made it to his feet in three strides, sheathed the knife, and dragged him by the heels back into the shadows from where he had come, revealing a doorway hidden in the vines. I stepped outside and waited as Flynn retraced his steps, his head cocked. So he had heard something, but didn’t know what. Good. A little extra caution would stand him in good stead in this place. As for Petty Officer Baskins, I had delivered enough of a message for our first encounter. He would rue his decision if there was another. # I was convinced that we had our man. I needed to return to the island and make the announcement, spread the word, start the planning in earnest. We had much to do and little time to do it. I scaled the wall again and started walking back to the grotto. I resisted the temptation to rush—the Academy didn’t need any more unexplained rumors at my expense from this watch. I took my time getting to the coast. Once there, I walked briskly down the stones to the secluded grotto.

I was ready to go. Leaving my body in a concealed location, I took up my wings and flew west into the prevailing wind.

Look forward to Chapter 9 of The Adventures of the Sky Pirate coming up in Issue 18, March 15, 2007

Johne Cook
Johne Cook is a Technical Writer and a long-time  space opera fan. Johne is an Overlord (Co-founder and Editor) of  Ray Gun Revival magazine.

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Memory Wipe
Chapter 8: The Price Paid
by Sean T. M. Stiennon
The Story so Far:  Three years ago, Takeda Croster woke up in the city  of  Greendome  on  the  colony  world  of  Belar  with  no  memories,  no  connections,  and  no  possessions  aside  from  the  clothes  he  was  wearing  and  an  Imperial  citizenship  card  with  his  name  on  it.  He  worked  at  the Silver Sun casino, ignored by most, until one night  when he began to manifest superhuman powers in a  fight against two corrupt cops: enhanced senses, great  strength, lightning-fast reactions. He seriously injured  both  cops.  Strange  dreams  and  a  feeling  of  great  exhaustion followed the encounter. Now, Takeda has left Belar, fleeing from the corrupt  police official Captain Brian Vass. His only companion  is  a  mysterious  Lithrallian  hunter  named  Zartsi  who  saved his life in the jungles. Together, the two of them  hijacked a ship and landed on the planet Freedan, in a  rainy industrial city called Freesail. In Freesail, Takeda acquired powerful new enemies:  Nathan  Clane,  head  of  the  city’s  largest  gang,  and  Lashiir, a mysterious assassin from a species virtually  unknown in the Empire. He also learned that his powers  seemingly arise from a mysterious set of organs, vessels,  glands, and bone structures apparently unique to his  body. Now,  barely  escaping  Lashiir,  he  sets  off  for  the  remote  colony  world  Nihil  aboard  a  ship  piloted  by  the Rover Esheera Nii. He seeks a man called Cramer  Orano  ,who  might  know  more  about  his  mysterious  body,  who  might  even  know  what  happened  in  the  years before Takeda’s memory... akeda sank back into the embroidered cushions of a chair shaped like an inverted turtle’s shell. The thing sagged underneath his weight, and he thought he could hear its legs creaking, but Esheera hadn’t commented on his sitting in it. The rest of the room’s furniture didn’t look much sturdier. He lifted the plastic bowl to his lips and tilted it gently, letting a gulp of thick soup flow into his mouth. The spices bit his tongue and gums, but once their heat had faded a little, the liquid just tasted bitter and somewhat sour. He gulped it down and took another sip. At least it was hot and filling—and fresh. No more of Zartsi’s canned fish. The Ixlu Seer’s living space consisted primarily of this one room, a lounge about twenty by fifteen feet. Brightly colored carpets covered the floor and walls—Takeda hadn’t yet seen a glimpse of bulkhead anywhere in the ship. The designs on them could have interested him for hours: beasts with sweeping wings and bulbous gas pouches, soaring through surreal cloudscapes and perching on mountains as thin as needles. He saw smaller figures, too, and could only guess that they were Vitai. Some of them rode the beasts. Even the fluorescent bulb on the ceiling was covered with a globe of painted glass, tinting its light red, pale blue, and warm yellow. Zartsi sat cross-legged on the floor and slurped his soup, eying the room with suspicion. “Is starship or redweed den?” he hissed. Takeda shrugged. “It’s better than bare strome.” Zartsi drained his bowl and ladled out another helping from the heated pot sitting in front of Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

T

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
him. “Perhaps, but is excessive. I would prefer few hides, horns above door, good painting maybe.” Takeda smiled. “She’s a Rover, not a hunter.” “I know.” He returned to his soup, and Takeda watched him guzzle it for a moment before returning to his own bowl. The Lithrallian had a massive appetite, but he had been quiet for past two hours, saying very little and only then when Takeda prompted him. He hadn’t bothered to thank Esheera after she bandaged the slash below his eye. Takeda shuddered. If Esheera had come only a few seconds later they might both be dead. She swung down the ladder from the cockpit now, her bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and beaded hair jangling. A tight smile showed on her puckered mouth, overshadowed by a pig-nose Takeda could have wedged his fist into. “We’re on our way out of the system—no trouble from Orbital Security.” She loped over to the pot and peered in. “Ah, left me some gyssi. Just enough to wet my stomach, but better than nothing.” She picked up a bowl and ladled what was left of the soup into it. She emptied it again in half Zartsi’s time, smacked her lips, and switched the pot off. “You boys set for a while?” “Yeah,” Takeda said. “Thanks.” “Good, because Esh isn’t cooking again until we’re between stars. The Seer doesn’t fly itself, particularly not in solar space.” “Do you need...help with anything?” She fluttered her wings flaps. “I’ll have my servants do everything. There’s five or six of ‘em below, every one a strapping male who worships the ground I spit on.” It took Takeda a few seconds to notice her smile, hidden in the creased red flesh of her face. “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’” “Smart boy,” she said. “Actually, you can take this pot over to the galley and wash it for me. Put it wherever there’s space.” Takeda nodded and picked the pot up. Flakes of red and yellow spice clung to splashes of dried Ray Gun Revival magazine

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soup on the device’s metal sides. Esheera set her bowl in it, then clambered back up the ladder, humming a gentle tune. As he left the room for the Seer’s tiny cramped galley, he realized that not once during their exchange had Zartsi even looked at Esheera. He had just stared into his bowl, claws latched tightly around its sides. Takeda could only wonder if the Lithrallian feud with the Drava somehow included Vitai. # The Despair had only been on three voyages since its construction and consecration: first, to carry Lashiir out of the Dark Sphere and onto the Drava world of Calarodi; second, to carry him to one of the world’s moons, a notorious hive of crime with a substantial human population where he had further refined his knowledge of Imperial culture and also acquired most of his servants, including twin hit men named John and Thomas. Its third voyage had ended on the windswept flats outside Freesail, in a tomb sliced out of a rocky escarpment, concealed from prying eyes by a heavy camouflage net, and defended by an advanced Intelligence with full control of the Despair’s weaponry. Lashiir stepped through the opening in the netting and into the darkness surrounding his ship. The cut stone was cold beneath his talons. Just enough sunlight slipped into the cavern to show him the Despair’s sleek lines, sculpted from metal stained deepest black. It had waited here for years, like a scorpion in its burrow. “Thomas,” he called. “Stay back until I call.” As Lashiir advanced towards his ship, he noticed something white on the deep gray stones of the cave—bones, he realized, splayed out upon the floor. Only the lower jaw remained of the skull—the rest was scorched fragments and ash. Some homeless being, Lashiir guessed, had entered the wrong cave. Lashiir paused a meter away from the skeleton. He still had at least sixty centimeters before Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
entering the danger zone, but it was better to be cautious. He almost thought he could hear the ship breathing in the slow rhythms of hibernation, waiting for the one who could wake her. The assassin gathered a slow breath into his lungs. He released it with equal languor, letting the air curl through the passages of his beak and emerge as a long, low flute. The tone didn’t have to be precise, but it did have to fall within a certain narrow range. Success. An answering noise—equally low—drifted from the Despair, and a blue light snapped on in the darkness. Lashiir advanced, stepping over the skeleton, and grasped the knob illuminated in blue. He turned, machinery rolled, and the Despair’s ramped hissed open. The ship remained dark. He fluted again, there was another whirr of machinery, and then a second light turned on. “Thomas,” Lashiir called back, “Come.” The human entered the cavern as Lashiir ascended the ramp. It was good to feel the cool metal of the Despair’s decks resonating beneath his talons once again. There was a gentle, almost inaudible music every time he touched the ship. From the ramp three passages ran through the ship: one into the hold below, another forward to the piloting station, and a third back to cabins, a meditation chamber, and a head and galley designed for Clordite use. Lashiir turned towards the cabin. Pale blue lights illuminated his way, but deep shadows lingered in the corners. It made a ship stronger to have only a minimum of light. The pilot throne was among the reasons Lashiir would have chosen this craft over the best, fastest, most powerful human vessel. Its metal seat and arms, harsh from a distance, melted around his limbs, sliding over the geography of his carapace. A special cushion waited for his head. He lowered his hood and pressed his skull back into the cool metal, which flowed around it. Screens and controls flared into life around him, showing the familiar script of Low Clordash. He didn’t need to glance at them to know every Ray Gun Revival magazine

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aspect of the Despair’s status. Information flowed into his head, and all at once he had a complete picture of the ship. The experience was one Lashiir couldn’t describe to anyone without every verbal intricacy of Deep Clordash—there were no numbers, lines, screen data. There was only knowledge, immediate and complete. He felt the ship’s full fuel nodes, felt its cold propulsion systems and laser batteries. He even had an inventory of the hold’s contents: a few scattered cases of possessions and weaponry he had never unloaded to his new home. Outside, Despair’s sensors gave him the dry chill of the cavern, the darkness, the sigh of the wind outside, the bones of whatever unfortunate human had found his way into the ship’s hole. Despair remembered the chill, remembered the heat of energy in its weaponry, and the stench of the man’s flesh. Lashiir fluted gently. His eyes remained open, and he saw Thomas as a smudged reflection in the cockpit’s smooth metal. “Yes?” he asked, and realized he had forgotten to speak through his translator. “Thomas?” “Is...is there anything I can do, lord?” “Stow your gear in the second cabin. You will share it with John—I trust you’ll be able to minister to him?” “Yes, lord.” Lashiir had spent some time deciding what to do with John—his injuries were severe, and it would be weeks before he could be trusted in combat. Even then, he would never be as capable a warrior. Lashiir had considered killing him or simply cutting off his tongue and fingers, then leaving him on the streets. But he had been a loyal servant for years, since Lashiir had found him and his twin on Calrodi’s moon. His loyalty would only increase if his life was spared, and it might even inspire him to compensate for his mutilations. “Good. Heziah and Tsuke will occupy a second cabin. The others will remain undisturbed.” “Yes, lord.” Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
“I require no assistance in piloting. Be silent and disembark when I give the order.” He saw the reflection bow low and barely heard Thomas’ footsteps going away down the passage. From here, it would be a brief voyage to the abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Freesail where John, Heziah, and Tsuke were waiting, along with everything Lashiir had decided to bring with him on his journey—weapons, food, necessities, the cushion from his shrine, locked within three strome boxes which only he could unlock, and whatever items from his home in the Dark Sphere he could fit into Despair’s hold. Lashiir started the ship’s engines on their warm-up cycle. By this time, the explosives he had planted in his shrine should have detonated, shattering the old concrete, those things he had left behind, and probably a substantial bite of the surrounding buildings and the street. His shrine had to be destroyed along with everything else. For a moment, he wondered if some of Nathan Clane’s men had died in the explosion. Roger’s head should have reached Clane’s hands by now, and Lashiir knew he would have acted quickly. But perhaps not—it had only been five hours since Takeda Croster and the Lithrallian had left Freedan’s atmosphere, bound for Nihil. Lashiir felt a great sense of liberation as the warm-up cycle continued. He had become stagnant here, in this waste heap of the galaxy, working for petty criminals and taking prey which rarely presented any challenge or excitement. Now he had a pair of beings worth pursuing. He felt the stars spreading themselves before his talons. Lashiir didn’t take trophies, but he did write the name of those victims he considered worthy in a book bound with nightstone with pages stretched from fanglurker tongues. He would scribe Takeda and the Lithrallian with his finest ink. Then he would consider where to take himself next. Perhaps Imperia, where Tsiika might drink the blood of the most powerful humans in the Ray Gun Revival magazine

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Empire. Someday, perhaps, he might even return to the Dark Sphere in triumph. When his book was complete and when he was strong enough to face the warrior who awaited him there. # Five hours after leaving Freesail’s atmosphere, Takeda looked up from his reader to see Esheera clambering down the ladder from the cockpit. She waved to him and smiled, then sat down on a brocaded cushion ten feet away. She produced another reader from her sweater, turned it on, and started flipping through something. Takeda returned to his own device—borrowed from Esheera, of course. Her books were eclectic, most of them written in Vitai, but he had found an article on Drava traffic regulations which had been interesting enough to pass the time. Zartsi was elsewhere—probably in one of the Seer’s cramped hammocks, sleeping or just brooding. “Are we out of the system?” “Mostly,” Esheera said. “I’m going to have to do some course corrections in another hour, make sure I calculated about a hundred different things right. Let me tell you one thing, Takeda: if you don’t like math, don’t get within a siistri’s snout of any cockpits. They drilled me on the stuff since I was old enough to focus my eyes and it still confuses me.” She read for another handful of minutes, then looked up again, cocking her head. “Mind if I call you Tak or something? Takeda’s a little awkward— three syllables. Not that I should complain.” Tak. Only one person in his three-year life had ever called him that: Sherri, the serving girl at the Silver Sun. His only friend, in some ways, until he had met Zartsi. Now that she was called to mind, he realized that nearly all his memories of her were happy ones. “Uh...sure. If you want to.” “Not if it bugs you or anything,” she said, smiling. “No. No, it doesn’t.” Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
He didn’t remember liking it when Sherri had used it, but now he felt...as if he would almost prefer to hear it from Esheera. Like a reminder of what little past he had. “All right, Tak. Do you like music?” She had turned off her reader and hidden it somewhere in the cushions surrounding her seat. He stared for a moment, and said, “I...don’t really know anything about it. Can’t play any, if that’s what you mean.” “But do you enjoy it?” “What I’ve heard, sure.” She reached underneath another cushion and pulled out an oblong case carved from some dark wood. Small, flashy gems studded it in an erratic pattern, colored everything from deep purple to pale red. He also saw carvings mirroring the patterns on the rugs around him. Esheera deftly undid twin locks, and opened the case to reveal an instrument that looked like equal parts yellowish wood and gleaming silver. She picked it up from its woven lining, her fingers slipping easily around a central shaft. A row of metal wires, the longest one near the shaft, ran away from it along two jutting sweeps of silver. “I like to play when I’m leaving on a journey. This is a wingwire—a sheedaalo in the Rover tongue, but no one’s going to test you. This,” she said, tapping the instrument’s core, “is hollow, and advanced play involves snapping the wires against it. I’m not quite that good yet.” She placed the instrument’s silver-shod heel between her crossed legs and folded her leathery wing-flaps around the rest of it, so that one hand held the strings close and another far out. She placed the instrument’s top beneath her chin. “You don’t mind?” “No. I’m curious.” “Good, because if you did mind, I’d just tell you to shut up.” She smiled as her knobbly fingers swept across the gleaming wires. A low note swept through the lounge, with an odd metallic jangle different Ray Gun Revival magazine

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from any of the canned music Takeda had heard while patrolling the Silver Sun Casino. Other notes followed, some fast, others slow. Occasionally she would rap her knuckles against the instrument’s core, making a loud clanging sound. She incorporated it into the string melody at what sounded like odd moments to Takeda, but he had admitted he didn’t know anything about music. After maybe a minute of playing, Esheera began to sing in a voice that was surprisingly high and clear, given the gruffness of her speaking voice. It took Takeda several seconds to notice that the words were Imperish. The song was about darkness and stars, about birds singing in trees beneath the moonlight. Takeda stopped paying attention to the lyrics and lay back, simply enjoying the music. Esheera’s voice faltered sometimes, or she fumbled her playing, but she was good enough to make the experience pleasant. She sang another song without pausing, this one in what must have been a Vitai language. It incorporated unusual snorts and grunts along with high-pitched vowels, gentle hums, and harsh consonants. It was difficult to tell where one word ended and another began. Esheera stopped at last, rapping on the wirewing’s core three times. She put it back in the case without ceremony, spun the locks, and slid it back under its cushion. “That was good,” Takeda said, smiling. She shrugged. “Thanks. I’m just hoping it roused your Lithrallian friend—I’ve got a few words for him.” “Success, Rover,” Zartsi hissed. Takeda spun to the see the Lithrallian crouched to one side of the ladder leading below. He could see white bandages through the rent in the breastplate of his leather armor. They looked fresh. “Good sleep, dear?” she said. “Until howling woke me.” Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
She smiled. “Sleep always make you grumpy?” Zartsi growled wordlessly. Takeda suddenly felt like it would be a miracle if these two got to Nihil without attacking each other. “Or,” Esheera said, expression reverting to serious, “is it the Rover’s price I demanded from you?” Zartsi’s head snapped up. His eyes were burning as they locked with Esheera’s tiny black ones, and Takeda saw his right hand caressing one of his ivory daggers. Esheera tensed. “What will do if no pay?” he hissed. Anger seemed to be garbling his Imperish. “I’ll spend the rest of the trip cursing at you, doctoring your food, waking you up at strange times, and put you out the airlock if you complain.” Takeda saw a ghost of a smile on her lips, but the expression had no warmth. Zartsi’s shoulders tensed further. “All right, Lithrallian,” she said. “I know you don’t like it. But the Rover’s price needs to be paid by anyone who gets aboard my boat, especially ones who pay as little you did.” She held up her hands and shook her head, as if clearing her thoughts. “Here: I want my price paid now. I like to know who my passengers are before we spend the trip together, not after. But I don’t expect anything I’m not willing to give myself, so I’m going to tell you my story—right now. You’re going to sit through it, then you’re going to tell me yours, then Tak’ll take his turn, and then you two can eat something and sleep. Deal?” Zartsi bowed his head again. When he spoke, his voice was so soft Takeda could barely hear the words. “I do as promise.” “Good,” Esheera said. “Then let’s get started.” She cleared her throat, a sound like a car starting up, crossed her arms over her chest, and started, “I was born to Eshmauk and Raidi of the Nii thirty-six Imperial years ago—no, I don’t mind Ray Gun Revival magazine

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telling you my age. Human women are weird with that.” Her bracelets jangled as she spread her arms. “My brothers were Hiirtan and Gazako, my sister Miluura. I was youngest. Gazako died of wretchpox when I had five years, and Miluura when I was seven, leaving only a son and daughter to my parents. “I grew up aboard the Long  Walker, an old barge that spent most its time orbiting a moon that the Empire has never bothered to give more than a survey tag. We had some hidden hydroponics farms on its surface, and grew more food aboard the ship itself. The elders taught me the songs and history of my people, our script and language, how to run a ship and navigate among the stars, and how to fight with everything from knives to the hotchoker I used on your Clordite friend.” So she knew what Lashiir was. The fact surprised Takeda, but Esheera continued without pausing: “I learned the woman’s arts from my mother: cooking, sewing, weaving, nursing. I also worked in the farms and harvested water from the moon’s ice caps. When I was fourteen, my father apprenticed me aboard the Shaanis, a Rover merchant ship captained by Triisto Laan. I worked as an engine monkey, took the burns and grease for the older Vitai, and ate whatever was at the bottom of the pot. I spent five years aboard the Shaanis, and Star Watchers know it toughened me up. Any muscles I’ve got today I earned then. “I also met a male—Jaggo Laan—and when my apprenticeship was over, my father gave him permission to marry me. I went with him to the Laan homeship, bigger and newer than the Long  Walker, and lived with him for three years. I’ll spare you the details about what a man he was.” A fond smile crept across her face. It faded as she continued. “Anyway, one day he decided he was going to go into business for himself— become a merchant and buy a ship where we Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
could raise our family. He had been saving money, and with my dowry and a gift from his parents he had just enough. He left the Laan ship to visit the nearest shipyard, buy a craft, and come back for me. I was...I had a little one in my belly, then, so he didn’t want me coming.” She crossed her arms again, hard enough to crease the fabric of her sweater. “Three weeks later, the ship came back without Jaggo. Pirates had overtaken it—humans, I think, maybe a Drava or two. They hadn’t been planning to kill anyone—just take cargo, money, whatever they could—but Jaggo...he didn’t want to come back with his pockets empty. So he tried to kill ‘em. Knifed one of them through his hamstring, then pulled his hotchoker and torched another one before the captain blew his chest open.” Takeda didn’t think the Vitai had tear glands, but he could see that her wing-flaps had darkened somewhat, and there was a slight tremor in her voice as she spoke. “The pirates put his body out the airlock—not actually too much different than a Rover burial, but they cut him up first. The damned pirate captain kept his ears.” She paused for a moment, took her breath in, and said, “The child was born prematurely two weeks later. It died in my womb a few days after the news came.” Her eyes went to the floor, staring at the carpets’ weaves. She seemed to gather strength from the images of the lost Vitai homeworld. Another deep breath, and she turned her head so that the bead-knotted strands of hair were visible. “A gray bead in every strand—for mourning. Back then every one was gray, and all my bracelets and earrings were plain iron. I stayed like that for three years, with my family. I almost tore my father’s eyes out when he suggested I find another mate. “Anyway, I shipped out eventually aboard a merchant ship from another clan. Five years. I ate the worst food and saved every Silver I could out of my pay. Eventually, between that, money from the Nii clan, and some more money from Ray Gun Revival magazine

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my husband’s family, I had enough to buy an old scow which I spent months fixing up. The Ixlu  Seer. The name is another long story—I’ll tell it sometime if you like, dears, but I’d prefer not to waste more breath on it now. To wrap things up, I’ve had the Seer for ten years now. She’s been through a lot of repairs—I had to tear the engine apart and build it back up with mostly new parts a couple years ago—but she’s still dragging me around. I even installed some weapons, although they’re nothing too special.” She let out whatever air remained in her lungs in a long sigh. “To finish off, I’ll tell you that there hasn’t been a single blackstar day when I haven’t thought about Jaggo. I just recently wondered what he’d think about me going to Nihil. Probably be joking about getting sand in his nose.” She smiled again, more broadly than before, so that Takeda could see a flash of the tiny, sharp teeth buried deep behind her lips. He couldn’t help but smile in return. He also felt a twinge in his gut—if she expected that kind of narrative from him, she would be disappointed. He didn’t have anything interesting to tell her before that night at the Silver Sun when his powers had first manifested themselves. “Anyway,” Esheera said, “that’s pretty much it. I could give you a few stories about my time with the Seer, and they might be interesting enough to just barely keep you awake, but I’m not going to bother. I’ll just tell you that...ever since the news came back, I’ve wanted to kill pirates. The best way to do that would be by joining the Imperial Hunter Force, but they don’t let Vitai in there— never have, never will—so...well, I’ll probably fly the Seer until she breaks down, and then find another ship.” She shrugged. “It’s not too remarkable. It’s a big galaxy, and I’m not the only widow in it. I just try to do what I can with my life as it is, and I hope I’ll have to chance to smoke a few pirates for Jaggo someday. Thanks for listening.” She smiled at Takeda, and turned an equally Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
warm expression to Zartsi. The Lithrallian had barely moved during Esheera’s narration, and his expression still looked as if it was carved from stone. His eyelids were half-hooded, but Takeda couldn’t read the Lithrallian’s expression well enough to tell whether he was angry or simply bored. “Did you...” Takeda started, then decided against what he had been going to say and continued with, “You’ll have to tell me more about Jaggo sometime. He sounds like a great man.” “Thanks, Tak. I appreciate that.” Zartsi’s gaze had dropped to the carpeted floor. “How about it, Zartsi?” she asked. “You going to give Esh what you promised her?” His hands clenched and unclenched, slowly, as if he were stretching them for combat. When he jerked his head up his eyes burned with fierce energy. “Yes,” he hissed. “But I promised to you—not Takeda. He not hear.” Esheera’s smile faded to a frown. “How long have you two been traveling together?” Takeda answered, quietly. “Just a few weeks.” “And he hasn’t told you anything?” Zartsi’s eyes gleamed menacingly, but Takeda said, “Just that he used to live in the City of Golden Ascension on Lithrall. That’s about it.” Esheera nodded and said, “As you wish, Lithrallian. If we go up to the bridge and you go below, Tak, our friend shouldn’t be in any danger.” Zartsi stood, mutely, his head nearly brushing against the room’s ceiling. His hands reflexively hovered near his daggers. Esheera turned away, rattling her beaded hair, and clambered up the ladder to the cockpit. Zartsi followed, slowly. He gripped the rungs and pulled his feet off the ground. At that moment, his expression softened slightly, and he made eye contact with Takeda. “Please,” he said, “go below. You...cannot hear.” Then he vanished after Esheera. Takeda started to say something, but silenced himself. He sat for Ray Gun Revival magazine

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a long moment, wondering if they would notice his listening underneath the ladder. Maybe he could summon his enhanced hearing and listen to every word from down in the hold. He shook his head, disgusted with himself. Eavesdropping would be a bad way to repay the being who had saved his life more than once. He moved over to the hatch leading downwards. He heard the mutter of Esheera’s voice above him for a moment, and heard it fade as his shoes hit the hold’s floor. If anything, the hold was more spacious than the living area above—three hammocks were strung along one wall, one sagging from Zartsi’s recent use of it. Further back he saw crates and boxes, some sealed, others open and full of what looked like junk to him. Even here, Esheera hadn’t let the bulkheads remain bare, although the hangings were plainer and less common. Between them the metal was painted a dull blue color that had cracked in places. Takeda hadn’t realized how tired he was until he lay down in the hammock farthest from the hatch and felt his head sink into the pad at one end of it. The cloth was soft and firm, supporting his weight surprisingly well. Even his curiosity about what Zartsi was saying, what he was so ashamed of that he couldn’t even reveal it to Takeda, didn’t keep him from falling asleep within a minute. # The nightmares came, as they always did after his powers rose to the surface. They were more chaotic than ever, now—a kaleidoscope of shadow, blood, flame, and a fierce yellow color that flashed across his mind in streaks. It ended with an image of a spinning saw, hovering just between his eyes. He didn’t know whether that was what woke him, but he rolled out of the hammock screaming, sweat coating his skin, and landed on all fours on the deck. “You all right, Tak?” Esheera asked. He glanced Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
up to see her standing a couple feet away, arms crossed. He panted for breath and sat down. Sweat dripped into his eyes. “Yeah. Just nightmares.” She nodded. “Anything I can do to help?” “I...I don’t think so. How long have I been asleep?” “A little over an hour—just while I’ve been talking to your friend. I wanted to hear your story, but if you’re not up for it, I doubt another night will make it go stale.” Takeda scratched his beard and tried to blink the drowsiness out of his eyes. “Sure. I’d prefer not to...not to sleep again for a little while.” Esheera jerked her head upwards. “You want to sit up above?” “No,” Takeda said. “Here is fine. Can I...can I just ask you a question?” “Sure. Ask me two, if you like. Three if they’re short ones,” she said, smiling. “Can you tell me what Zartsi told you?” She scrunched up her nostrils slightly and shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, but he might kill me if I did, and he might even have some justification for doing so.” Takeda nodded and dropped his eyes to the deck. “I just don’t understand why he couldn’t tell me. I mean, I haven’t known him for that long, but we’ve been through a lot. He’s saved my life.” She scratched her nostrils with one hand and said, “Tak, I can’t tell you what he told me, but I just want you to know that Zartsi respects you a great deal. I think that’s part of why he doesn’t want you to know.” Takeda opened his mouth, but Esheera shushed him. “No—I’m not going to answer questions about that. But I think you can be sure he’s your friend.” “That’s good to know,” Takeda said. “Now I’ll... tell you what I can, about myself.” He crossed his legs, took a deep breath, and began his story.

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Next month... Chapter 9: Orbit over Nothing

Sean T. M. Stiennon
Sean is an author of fantasy and science fiction  novels  and  short  stories  with  many  publications under his belt. His first short story collection,  Six with Flinteye,  was  recently  released  from  Silver  Lake  Publishing,  and  he  won  2nd  place  in  both  the  2004  SFReader.com  Short  Story Contest and the Storn Cook Razor-Edged  Fiction Contest with his stories “Asp” and “The Sultan’s Well,” respectively. “The Sultan’s Well”  has been published in the anthology Sages and Swords.  Sean’s  short  story  “Flinteye’s Duel”  was published in Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01. Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and  adventure,  but  he  often  includes  elements  of    tragedy  and  loss  alongside  roaring  battles.  A  lot of his work centers around continuing characters, the most prominent of whom is Jalazar  Flinteye (Six with Flinteye). He also writes tales  of Shabak of Talon Point (“Death Marks,” in issue #9 of Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blademaster  (“Asp,”  2nd  place  winner  in  the  200 SFReader.com Contest), and others who have  yet to see publication.   Sean  loves  to  read  fantasy  and  science  fiction  alongside  some  history,  mysteries,  and    historical novels. His favorites include Declare by Tim Powers, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn   trilogy  by  Tad  Williams,  Stephen  Lawhead’s  Song of Albion trilogy,  and  King Solomon’s Mines  by  H.  Rider  Haggard.  He  has  reviewed  books for Deep Magic: The E-zine of High Fantasy and Science Fiction, and currently reviews  books at SFReader.com.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

Jolly RGR

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The Jolly RGR
Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 17

Flinteye and the Crystal Spear by Sean T. M. Stiennon Jalazar Flinteye and his ‘bot partner, Axten, are hired to protect an ancient spear that  serves as both a source of power and a bone of contention among feuding warlords.  The View From the Shotglass Floor by Michael Ehart Everyone has at one time or another wanted a “do over”. But what if your second  chance makes things worse than they were already? Would you have enough sense to  leave bad enough alone? Carbonville, Part Two by John M. Whalen Jack Brand struggles to survive among his allies, much less his enemies, in Carbonville. Serial: Deuces Wild, Chapter 9, “In the Lap of the Gods, Part Three” by L. S. King When the roof caves in, who will survive? Featured Artist Serial: Jasper Squad by Paul Christian Glenn You won’t believe what happens next.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007

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