THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

Final Exam

by Edward McKeown

Serial: JASPER SQUAD
Chapter 6, Choices
by Paul Christian Glenn

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 10, Cliffhanger
by Johne Cook

Serial: Memory Wipe
Chapter 10: Descent
by Sean T. M. Stiennon

Issue 20
“Dark City,” by Shkumbin Ferizi

April 15, 2007

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2 Overlord’s Lair 3 Final Exam, by Edward McKeown 5 SERIAL: JASPER SQUAD Episode Six, Choices, by Paul Christian Glenn 17 Featured Artist: Shkumbin Ferizi 22 SERIAL: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate Chapter 10, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook 24 SERIAL: Memory Wipe Chapter 10, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon 38 The Jolly RGR 48
Overlords (Founders / Editors): L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Venerable Staff: A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor Shannon McNear - lord high advisor, grammar consultant, listening ear/sanity saver for overlord Lee Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand L. S. King - lord high editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Scott M. Sandridge, John M. Whalen, David Wilhelms, Shari L. Armstrong, Jack Willard Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook Cover Art: “Dark City,” by Shkumbin Ferizi 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

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Overlord’s Lair
have to start off this issue with a moment of sorrowful silence in memory of the author Kurt Vonnegut. His passing has ripped a hole in the fabric of the SF space-time continuum, and in my heart. He greatly impacted me as a reader and writer. Good-bye Kilgore Trout. Good-bye Blue Monday. So it goes. Issue 20 of Ray Gun Revival gives us a wide variety of stories. We begin with a wonderful throw-back to the old black-and-white films of the ‘50s with “Final Exam” by Edward McKeown. New Mexico desert, 1950s: boy meets monster in a  battle to save earth. “Hotkas,” I called. He came up to the force curtain. “It’s not an accurate test,” I said. “Tell me why,” Hotkas said, in his oddly patient ‘teacher’ manner. “An animal in the jungle knows his predators. Would it be a fair test to you if an invisible monster dropped from overhead and ripped your throat out? You took us unaware. You won’t be able to do so in the future.” Hotkas looked up at the ceiling, then back at me. “Sound logic, John,” he said. “What do you propose?” I almost froze then. I was talking with the saurian as if we were pals. As if I hadn’t watched him tear a human being into bite-size pieces only minutes ago. Jasper Squad by Paul Christian Glenn continues with episode six: “Choices.” The crew of the Jasper are on the run from their own government, but they Ray Gun Revival magazine

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don’t know why. Can these people all really trust each other with their lives? The crew of the Jasper are on the run from their  own government, and they don’t know why. But can  these people really trust each other with their lives? “Is that it, then?” Spill asked. “You don’t trust me anymore, so you’re going to sell out the squad? Throw your career—hell, your life—away? Just like that?” To his relief, she stopped. She stood motionless, silhouetted at the fore of the alleyway. Spill sensed that this was his moment, and he took a step toward her. “Don’t do it, Janet,” he said softly. “We can beat this, I know it.” He waited for a long moment until she finally turned to face him. “I want to know if you’re hiding something,” she said. Spill felt a tightness in his chest, and his face burned with shame, but he stood his ground. Suddenly, the words he had spoken in his mind a thousand times were coming out of his mouth, and it felt like a ton of concrete was lifting from his shoulders. “I’m dirty,” he said quietly. “I’ve been doubledealing with shafty, little shock outfits for… god… twenty years and more.” Johne Cook’s the Adventures of the Sky Pirate, continues with “Cliffhanger.” And, hm, how do I describe this? Starts and ends by a cliff, has espionage, counter-espionage, a love triangle, honor, betrayal, and the birth of an entirely new scientific

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principle that will shake the foundations of an entire planet (if Flynn survives that long). Pitt slapped his leg with the note in celebration, and sat on his pallet, carefully smoothing the note. He read and re-read it until thirty minutes before the meeting. He went down to the communal baths and washed up, changed into his best shirt, and polished his boots as well he could. He slicked back his hair, plucked a flower from the garden, and walked over to the lover’s alcove. Flynn may have commanded the attention of any woman on campus, but Deena—she belonged to him. Pitt arrived early and hid back in a shadowed corner behind a boulder that lovers sometimes sat on to gaze into each others’ eyes and other things. His eagerness was enhanced as he saw Deena Prentiss arrive and look about her in expectation. Pitt savored the moment, not quite believing his sudden change of fortune, and was preparing to rise and go to her from his hidden location when Flynn, of all people, rushed into the alcove. Pitt’s face fell in abject disbelief. Sean T. M. Stiennon’s Memory Wipe: “Descent” opens with Takeda and his companions arriving in orbit around Nihil only to find that someone else is there ahead of them—the alien assassin Lashiir, out for their blood. Esheera shook her mane of lank hair. “Look, sport, I don’t know anything about what kind of ships Clordites fly. For all I know they open portals to the Lightless Heat and use ‘em to teleport between stars. And I’m not to proud to admit that the Seer’s not the fastest ship in the black.” “What’s his vector?” Takeda asked. “He was orbiting near the upper pole. Coming straight for us now.” “Is there anything you can do?” “I’m going to try to lose him,” she hissed. “But it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen fast. His ship can accelerate faster than mine and can probably maneuver five times as fast....He’s firing,” she said, then spat a series of curses in a language Takeda had never heard. “What weapons?” “X-ray lasers, from the data I’m getting,” she said. “You two are lucky. Death’ll be instantaneous, and you won’t see it coming even if I’m facing right towards him.” “Fortunate,” Zartsi hissed. So—dodge the space monkeys, grab a zlati ale, and get ready for some ripping good adventure!

L. S. King

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

"The Battle for Monday Morning," by Jordan Lapp

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Final Exam
by Edward McKeown
he bomb flared. Its light sped out at 186,000 miles per second; a thunderous roar crawled behind at the speed of sound. The wind swelled, and the ground heaved and bucked. “Woo-hoo!” Todd yelled. “It’s a big one!” I shouted. “The Atomic Cannon is cool.” Todd grinned. “Too bad Truman didn’t use it on the North Koreans.” I nodded. Dad’s brother had just come back from flying F-80s in Korea. He’d wanted to Abomb the whole place. We peered out the slits of the old bunker we’d discovered while sneaking around the atomic proving grounds outside of Los Alamos. The bunker and crumbling labyrinth beyond became the private clubhouse of our group of friends, kids of the eggheads who worked at the labs. We didn’t mix that much with the townies, even though we all attended Los Alamos High. Grit and debris joined the wind, making us duck till the worst passed. Then we popped back up to the slits, watching as the wind shredded the mushroom cloud. We studied the smoke trails through Army binoculars for a while. Todd sat back and yawned. Like me, he was caked with dust, except where his dark goggles had protected his face: a raccoon in reverse. “So,” he said, “you want to shoot some rabbits and eat out here?” “Nah,” I replied. “Rabbits won’t stop running for two days. Besides I don’t feel like dressing them out, and you do a lousy job.” “Then let’s explore up toward Calderon’s,” Todd said. “Maybe we’ll find that canyon. We can

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leave the rifles here. Too darn hot to tote them if we aren’t going to hunt.” “Okay, get a flashlight out of the locker,” I said. We wrapped our rifles in their bags and locked them in the old footlocker we’d salvaged from the bunker complex. Our dads were always lugging stuff home from the base, and we’d become expert scroungers, loading the clubhouse with old ammo boxes, C-rations, walkie-talkies and other goodies. Sometimes we brought black powder and fireworks out there to blow stuff up, just like our parents. Becky, our group tomboy, had found forty rounds of .50 caliber ammo and planned to do some real damage with those. I’d liberated some metal fence spikes the Army left unattended. I’d thought about bracing some of the collapsing tunnels around our bunker with them but hadn’t gotten around to it. As usual, we covered our tracks and piled sage back up in front of the bunker door. With our fortress secured, we struck out for Calderon’s Cave, careful to stay off the ridges where scientists and the Army might spot us. For all that, we made good time. We hiked down Creager’s Draw with the sun beating down on our dust-covered bodies and clothes. Our metal canteens bumped on our butts as we struggled over the rough ground. I carried the map and radium compass. Todd was great at blowing things up, but maps confused him. “Wow,” Todd said, wiping his brow. “I thought it was closer.” I pointed down the arroyo to our left. “Is that it?” “Looks like it.”

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Final Exam, by Edward McKeown
We headed for the spacious cave. Rumor said it was more of a tunnel leading to a hidden box canyon. We went in about thirty feet and sat down in the tunnel’s coolness. The cave yawned back out of sight. Its roof disappeared in the dark over our heads. I took a few sips of warm, metallic-tasting water from my canteen. I knew I’d need the rest for the long walk home. “Greetings,” said a voice from behind us. Todd jumped and yelled. I ducked behind a rock. Then I looked at Todd, and he, at me. We both had short crew cuts, the only thing that kept our hair from standing on end. Todd’s flashlight snapped on, and I added the beam of my own. Nothing. “Don’t be afraid,” the voice came again. “Who are you?” I said, standing and thinking about running. “Where are you?” “You may call me Hotkas, and I am close by.” “Whaddya want?” Todd yelled from behind a boulder. “I’m an explorer,” said the unseen Hotkas. “He might be a Red spy,” Todd whispered. “I’m not a Red spy. I’m not even of your world.” “A spaceman...” I said, awed. “Off a flying saucer,” Todd finished. “Yes. I am from space. But I’m not a man. My appearance may frighten you, so I chose to make myself known in this way.” “We’re not scared,” I said, though my heart beat a tattoo in my chest. “Then come through the cave into the canyon beyond,” Hotkas said. “I’ll reward you if you help me.” Todd stared at me. I just couldn’t see backing down in front of him; I was the child of a scientist. Side-by-side we inched down the cave. I wished for my 30/30 or even Todd’s lousy .22. We rounded the curve into daylight. Cautiously,

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we peeked out the cave exit into the high-walled canyon. A saucer lay there. Just like the ones on comic book covers, a silver disk as wide as a B-29’s wings and about three stories tall. “Wow,” Todd said. We crept out of the cave, our fear displaced by wonder. The ship rested on the ground, its seamless hull glinting brilliantly. “Where are you?” I called. “Behind you,” the voice said. We spun on our heels, saw Hotkas, and screamed. We’d have run—except it was between the cave entrance and us. Hotkas looked like a cross between a crocodile and a nightmare. Six legs held its twenty-foot long body off the ground, a tail stuck out rigidly behind it. Its chest reared up, and two arms hung from its shoulders. The crocodile head held huge yellow eyes. Fabric covered parts of Hotkas, and a purple, jewel-like device hung under its neck. “Don’t be frightened,” Hotkas said. Its voice was a dull rumble rendered by some mechanical device into plain, unaccented English. The alien’s eyes locked on mine, cold and reptilian, yet lit with intelligence. Hotkas crawled over slowly and settled near us. “I’ve come to your world from our outpost on Proxima Centauri,” Hotkas said. “We’re surveying worlds and species in your system. I want to learn about humans. Tell me your names.” We traded introductions and gradually calmed down. “Come,” it said. We turned and saw an opening had appeared in the ship’s gleaming side. “What should we do?” Todd whispered. “If it wanted to harm us,” I said with a confidence I didn’t feel, “it could tear us to pieces with ease. I think we should go in.” Hotkas looked at me. “Excellent reasoning. In any event, I intend you no harm.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Final Exam, by Edward McKeown
We followed him into the saucer to confront bewildering batteries of lights, machines, and corridors built on Hotkas’ scale. For all the ship’s size, we saw no other aliens. Hotkas strode onto a large metallic plate on the floor. It lifted smoothly to another deck. Todd and I clutched at each other. Hotkas’ bright yellow eyes focused on me. “Afraid, John?” I let go of Todd. “Not of an elevator. I was startled. Ours are usually enclosed.” “Your kind fear heights?” “We fly, and we climb mountains, too,” I said. “Yes.” We stepped off the plate onto a deck filled with black and silver machines. A large glass dome stood in the middle of the space. Hotkas gestured for us to stand there. I felt like a monkey trying to comprehend an atom-lab. Hotkas aimed various machines at us; neither of us felt anything when he did so. Finally, I turned to Hotkas, who fiddled with yet another machine. Its claw-like hands worked with surprising delicacy. “Why did you land here, Hotkas?” It looked down at me, and I had the oddest feeling that I saw approval in those big, yellow eyes. “I came down in the desert because I feared that if I landed in town, I’d provoke an attack. Your authorities might panic.” “Yeah,” I said. “Especially here, near the atomic proving sites. They would have sicced the Army on you in a heartbeat.” “After I finish my tests,” Hotkas continued, “I’ll reveal myself to the authorities through you children. You’ll act as emissaries and bring me into contact with your leaders. Meanwhile, I’ll prepare to meet other children.” “You’ll scare them like you did us,” Todd said. “Watch,” Hotkas said. It went into a machine at the back of the room. Lights flashed and machinery hummed, and a boy

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appeared in front of us. He looked like a peculiar fusion of Todd and me, but his eyes remained yellow. Even his clothes appeared to be a combination of what Todd and I wore. “How did you do that?” Todd said. “Matter transformation,” Hotkas said in a boy’s voice. “You’re so small,” I marveled. “Yeah,” Todd said, scratching his head. “Where did the rest of you go?” “Tell me,” Hotkas turned to face Todd. Todd shrugged helplessly. Hotkas turned to me. “Tell me.” I thought furiously, determined not to let him believe earth people were stupid barbarians. I might be only a high school sophomore but my dad was a major scientist. “Clearly, the machine turned you into energy. Then back into matter, but you’re smaller now. How much do you weigh?” Hotkas stared at me, deadpan. “One hundred twenty-five pounds.” “So,” I continued slowly, “since matter and energy can’t be destroyed, the rest of you must still be in the machine, held as energy until it remakes your full size body.” Hotkas seemed incapable of facial expression, but he nodded. “Yes, John, an excellent display of logic and intelligence.” “Thanks,” I stammered. “What’s that thing you’re wearing?” Todd pointed at the jewel-like device Hotkas-boy still wore around his neck. “Observant,” Hotkas said. “It is a recording device given to all scouts. All that I see or hear is recorded. It can’t be erased, altered, or turned off. It broadcasts periodically to our base.” “Keeps you honest, huh?” Todd observed. “Tell me where to meet you in the morning,” Hotkas said. We drew maps on Hotkas’ machine with his help and showed him where to meet us in the

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morning outside Los Alamos High. “Meanwhile, you must remain silent about me,” Hotkas warned. “Do not tell even your parents until I have paved the way for a safe contact. If a military aircraft or troop formation heads in my direction, it could be unfortunate for all concerned. I will defend myself.” Hotkas escorted us back to Calderon’s. “Remember,” he said. “Tell no one of my presence, or you risk a terrible conflict between our species.” “They’d just lock us away in the loony bin if we told them we’d met an alien,” Todd said. Todd and I made our way home in a daze. He stayed over with me, and we had dinner at my house. Dad was working late at the lab, and Mom had a card party. Todd and I talked well into the morning hours before falling asleep. We wanted to tell Becky, Ty, and Henri, but there was no way they would believe us without meeting Hotkas. When Mom woke me in the morning, it all seemed like a dream. I thought about talking to her or Dad, but Hotkas’ warning stopped me. I could see my Dad giving me that disappointed look. “Son, where’s the evidence? What sort of science is this?” Todd went home to change. I wolfed breakfast and ran out. Mom didn’t seem to notice anything odd. I met Todd at his house, and we hotfooted it to school. I found Becky, Ty, and Henri at our usual spot by a cottonwood tree. Not far away stood Hotkas in his boy form. He was real. We hadn’t imagined him. I spotted Todd coming the other way. He nodded and went to get Hotkas. I walked toward the others. Ty leaned his beanpole form against a fence. With his pale skin and light sandy hair, he made an odd contrast with Henri, a stocky half-Mexican.

Both their dads worked in the Labs. Becky Lane stood next to them, almost as lean and angular as Ty, with a snub nose, blue eyes, and blond hair perpetually tied in a ponytail. Becky’s mom died when she was four and she grew up half-wild on her father’s ranch. I could out-shoot Becky but only by standing on the ground; no one could outshoot her from horseback. She was the only girl to get away with wearing slacks to school. She didn’t own dresses or skirts. “Hey, Johnny,” Becky waved. “Who’s the new kid?” “He’s…” I paused, dumbfounded. “He’s from out of town.” Before I could blather on, Hotkas-boy came up, following Todd. “Hey guys,” Todd said. “Meet Hotkas.” “Hotkas,” Ty snorted. “What the heck kind of a name is that?” “Foreign,” Hotkas replied. His face was so calm and still as to look a bit unreal. The yellow irises made it worse. “I came from far away. To learn about your school.” “Foreign?” Becky studied Hotkas. “That’s funny. You look enough like Johnny here to be his cousin, except for your tiger-eyes. For that matter, he looks a bit like you too, Todd. Golly, I sure can’t place your accent.” “Oh-oh,” Henri said. “Trouble, twelve o’clock high.” I turned and saw the usual source of the warning: jock heads, four football players from the Hilltoppers, wearing green and gold jackets, and led by their goon quarterback, Lou Grober. “Well, well,” Grober said. “If it isn’t the egghead squad.” “Buzz off,” Becky said over her shoulder. She could. She was a girl. Grober wouldn’t hit her.

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Grober ignored her. “Hey, new kid. You don’t want to hang around with these losers unless you’re one yourself.” Hotkas turned to look at them. “Large fighting males,” he observed. “Yeah, that’s right,” Gerald said. He was Grober’s lead flunky. I hoped they’d eventually wind up sharing a prison cell. “We’re fighters, Yellow-eyes. We kicked your buddies’ butts for them.” “Ooohh, what big men,” Becky laughed, “You’ve been left back so often you’ll be able to vote in high school.” “Shut up, you—” Gerald spat out a word I never thought I would hear anyone say to a girl. “Hey! Watch your mouth,” I said, shocked out of caution by the cuss word. Grober smiled. “You want to rumble? Four of us...four of you.” The other football goons spread out to face us. “Five,” Becky snapped, stepping next to Todd and me. “Are you going to fight, John?” Hotkas asked. “What’s it to you?” Grober said. “You want some of this action?” “I’m merely here to observe,” Hotkas replied “I think he’s yellow,” Gerald sneered, “like his eyes.” Grober moved toward me. Hotkas stood in his way, and Grober shoved him. Or tried to. Hotkas’ arms blurred. He slammed Grober, throwing him back ten feet. The other goons gaped at Hotkas, and then at Grober, who sat, groaning on the grass. They seemed undecided about rushing Hotkas. We eggheads fanned out on either side of our new friend. The jocks fell back on Grober, helping him up as he glared daggers at us. “Later for you, eggheads.

And I’m going to remember you, yellow-eyes.” The goons walked off, their leader cussing and sucking wind. “They ruined my observations,” Hotkas said. “I wanted to observe your fighting skills.” “You wouldn’t have been impressed,” I said ruefully. “John, you do need to impress me.” The way he said it sent a chill through me. We spent the rest of the day showing Hotkas around Los Alamos High. Becky clearly realized something was wrong with him. Ty and Henri just thought he was weird. We saw some of the football team shadowing us and decided to vamoose right after class. “Where are we going?” Henri huffed as we fled the campus grounds into the desert. “Hotkas has something to show you,” I said. We finally made it to Calderon’s Cave. Becky, Ty, and Henri’s reactions were everything I hoped for when they saw the ship and figured out what Hotkas was. Shadows had begun to fill the box canyon, and the saucer seemed even more mysterious in the failing light. “Follow me,” Hotkas said. Reassured by Todd and me, the others trooped into the saucer and Hotkas began to do his tests. Only about five minutes into it, a red light and a chime demanded Hotkas’ attention. “It seems that we’ve been pursued,” Hotkas said. He flipped a dial, and a screen snapped on; we saw Grober and his three buddies entering Calderon’s Cave. “They want to get even,” Becky grinned. “Boy, do they have a surprise coming.” “Yes,” Hotkas said, “a surprise.” He looked at me, and I knew something was wrong. Hotkas’ hand touched another control. Suddenly I felt

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woozy, and everything went black. I came to in a larger space in Hotkas’ ship than I’d seen before. Around me lay both my friends and Grober’s goons, blinking and sitting up. Hotkas, still a boy, stood on the other side of the room, just outside the entranceway. Gerald got up and took two steps toward Hotkas before running into something that flared and pitched him on his butt. “Idiot,” I snapped. “Did you think you could tackle him?” “It was quite stupid, John,” Hotkas nodded. “You wouldn’t have done that.” “I don’t feel that smart,” I said standing. “I thought you were our friend.” “Now you do disappoint me, John. I land without permission in your country, hide among you, near your nuclear weapons testing facility. I’m an intelligent carnivore. We don’t have friends. “My people are evaluating your people as both opponents and as a food source. Now that I have a large enough sample, I can proceed to do the real tests. I must classify your species.” “It’s going to eat us,” Gerald croaked. “Eventually,” Hotkas agreed. “Now, I must return to my true shape and size. I’ve been in this puny body too long.” He turned and walked out of sight. “What are we going to do?” Todd asked. Like me, I could see he blamed himself for our predicament. “What do you mean?” Grober said, eyes wide. “You’ve seen this ship, his powers. They can move from star to star. We don’t stand a chance against them.” “So,” Becky challenged, “you’re just going to give up?” “I’m going to stay alive.”

Hotkas hove back into view, and even Becky screamed, dashing for the back of the room. He looked even bigger than before. “When I drop the force shield,” he said. “Do not give me trouble. I need to select one of you for a test subject.” “Still trying to classify us?” I asked. Hotkas looked at me. “No. The detail work remains, but your performance to this point has already classified you.” I looked up at the saurian. He stared back with cold, yellow eyes. They were empty of hate. Of  course, I thought, I don’t hate cows or chickens. I  just eat them. “So.” I said, “what are you going to class us as?” “You are Tien-shri-ja,” he said. “The most common variety of food. It translates as ‘the meat that fights poorly.’ “Do you wish to select one of your own to go first?” Hotkas asked. “Or shall I?” Grober looked up at the crocodilian monster. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe we can make a deal. If you guys are moving in here, you’ll need help. Locals to supply you with information. Loyal subjects—” “So,” Hotkas rumbled, “you’d turn on your own kind? Work for my people?” “Yes,” Grober said, his face strained and white. Disgust filled me. I’d been afraid of this piece of human garbage? “Well, John?” Hotkas asked. “What do you say? Will you secure your life by working for my people? I shall guarantee no harm will ever befall you. I’ll even spare two of your friends, though I must use the others.” I could see Ty, Henri, Todd, and especially Becky looking at me. This is it, I realized: Custer’s Last Stand, the Alamo, Wake Island. I looked up at

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Hotkas and felt sick. “Go to hell,” I croaked out. I hoped it wasn’t going to hurt. I didn’t want to scream in front of Becky. “Another good answer, John,” Hotkas said. He turned toward Grober. Oh, God, I thought, seeing the shift in the powerful carnivore’s body. “Who,” Hotkas growled, “is so weak that he would be served by such as you?” Grober saw it coming; his mouth hung open but no sound came from it. Hotkas lunged, jaws and claws meeting in Grober’s body. Grober managed to shriek once. We all screamed, sobbed, and begged for God to make it stop. He didn’t. Grober didn’t die quickly enough. No matter how I had hated him, I didn’t want to see him die that way. I turned away and jammed my hands into my ears trying to block out the horrible, wet, crunching sounds behind me. Most of the kids lay on the floor, unconscious or whimpering hysterically. Not Becky, she glared at Hotkas with a hate that should have torn him limb from limb. I knelt down and threw up. It was over. I heard Hotkas walking away, doubtless to dispose of what was left of Grober. I felt a small, hard hand on my shoulder. “Get up, John.” “It’s no use,” I whimpered. Becky shook me. “John, you’ve got to get hold of yourself. He’s interested in you, seems to respect you. We’ve got to use that.” “How?” Todd said. “He’s too big, too strong.” “So were cave bears, dire wolves, and sabertooth tigers,” Becky said. “We took them. We have to take him.” I looked up into her clear blue eyes. With a

shock I realized Becky was serious. She wasn’t beaten. Afraid—yes, beaten—no. “You think we can?” Todd said, visibly firming. I felt heart flow back into me and got off the floor. “He’s too big for us to overcome,” she said, “even if we all rushed him. So we have to out-think him. Tell me what you know about Hotkas.” “He said he came from Proxima—” “No,” she interrupted. “About him. How does he think? He’s an intelligent carnivore. What motivates him?” “I dunno,” I said. “He seems interested in everything competitive that we do,” Todd whispered. “Like a teacher from hell. He seems to want John to pass his tests. Can we use that?” “Maybe we can talk him into one last test,” Becky said. “Us versus him.” I glanced around. Henri had fainted. Gerald sat on the floor, eyes vacant, drooling. Even Ty and the other football guys were out of it. No, not a mass fight. I touched Becky’s shoulder. “Thanks,” I said, looking at her and maybe actually seeing her for the first time. “I think I know what to do.” Hotkas returned. Those kids who were conscious pressed back against the wall. Only Todd, Becky, and I didn’t fall back. “Hotkas,” I called. He came up to the force curtain. “It’s not an accurate test,” I said. “Tell me why,” Hotkas said, in his oddly patient ‘teacher’ manner. “An animal in the jungle knows his predators. Would it be a fair test to you if an invisible monster dropped from overhead and ripped your throat out? You took us unaware. You won’t be able to

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Final Exam, by Edward McKeown

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do so in the future.” Hotkas looked up at the ceiling, and back at me. “Sound logic, John,” he said. “What do you propose?” I almost froze then. I was talking with the saurian as if we were pals. As if I hadn’t watched him tear a human being into bite-size pieces only minutes ago. “Todd, Becky, and I against you,” I managed. “We get a half-hour head start, before you come after us.” “You’d simply run for your military,” Hotkas said, “across a distance you can’t cross before I catch up to you. It will be merely tedious.” I looked up into those inhuman eyes. “We,” I said, my voice ragged with anger, “are not ‘meat that fights poorly.’ You come after us, Hotkas, you’re gonna die.” I don’t think Hotkas had a sense of humor. Yet, somehow, I again drew the impression that I’d both amused and pleased the alien. “Very well, John,” Hotkas said. “You shall have your test. I commend both your intelligence and fighting spirit. I’ll be sure to kill you quickly.” “Thanks,” I said, mouth dry. “You three come forward,” he said. Hotkas waved a taloned hand and the force barrier let us through. He held out a red bracelet with a jewellike device on it. “Take it,” he ordered when I hesitated to come close. I recognized it as a recording device like the one Hotkas had worn in his boy-form. “It will record everything we see and say. I can’t use it to track you. Put it on your wrist.” Reluctantly, I slipped the device on over my hand. It resized itself to fit me. Hotkas glared down at us. “Now run.” We fled right by him, inhaling the alien’s dry,

spicy scent. “Your half hour,” Hotkas called, “begins when you leave the cave.” We sped from the ship, and raced through Calderon’s. When we came out, I cut right and Becky and Todd followed. “Where are we going?” Becky yelled. “He’s a carnivore, right?” I called back, amazed at how calm and cool my mind had become. “We’re prey. He expects us to act that way. Run away or hide. We’re going to do just what he wants...” I gestured to the bracelet on my arm. Maybe Hotkas was telling the truth about not spying on us and maybe not. We were going to start fighting smart. Becky and Todd nodded, understanding in their eyes. We headed toward town for a mile, cut back through a draw and onto the ridge of rocks where we would leave no prints, and headed into the desert, back to our clubhouse. I realized we must have been unconscious for hours in Hotkas’ ship as the sun was climbing toward noon. Our parents must be looking for us by now. I looked up into the blazing arch of the sky. No airplanes searched for us. We were on our own. We finally reached the clubhouse and pulled the sage and cover from the door, slipping into the cool dark of our bunker. Todd ran to where we’d left our guns, and Becky got water out of the cistern we’d rigged in the back. I ignored my thirst and grubbed about until I found what we needed most: paper and pencil. “Safe,” Todd sighed, clutching his .22 rifle. I turned and made a furious slashing gesture across my throat. I pulled up my pad and pencil and gestured at the 30.30 and .22. Toys, I wrote.

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Final Exam, by Edward McKeown

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Becky nodded, her face grim. Plan? she scratched in the dirt. Get.50  caliber  ammo.  All  black  powder, I wrote. I pointed to a large metal fire pail that had been left in the bunker. I pointed at Todd. Blasting caps? I wrote. He nodded vigorously. Wire and batteries too. He mimed a walkie-talkie. If Hotkas could read lips he could read my pad. I let it go. I’d forgotten about the walkie-talkies; pity they weren’t long-ranged enough to call for help. Need  200  foot  long  rig  for  detonation, I wrote. I wrenched open the inner door of the bunker. It led to a tunnel partly collapsed and badly shored up by us. Inside I found what I was looking for, sheet metal and two dozen metal fence spikes. I grabbed the flashlight and, leaving the others to their preparations, set out down the tunnel. If only we had the time. I scrambled over partially collapsed sections until I reached a blocked area. I turned back and brought up some sheet metal to fashion a scoop. I cursed myself for not leaving a real shovel in the hideout. As I scooped frantically, I checked the time by the glimmer of my radium watch. How much time had my feint toward town bought us? A sound behind made me whirl, spike in hand. “Becky,” I breathed, before remembering Hotkas’ sensor. Of course, the monster could never fit in the tunnel. She carried the large pail and dragged wire behind her. From the amount of dirt in her hair, she must have had a bad time coming down the passage. We cleared enough of the collapse to make it to the section beyond. The tunnel turned upward and daylight drifted down through its partly collapsed roof. I picked

my spot, and began spreading the sheet metal on the floor, gesturing at Becky to get more. I took the pail of black powder, dug it into the dirt, and surrounded it with more sheet metal forming a cone, narrow at the base, pointing upward. I noted with approval that Becky had put the bullet tops from the .50 ammo in with the black powder. I kept the wire and blasting caps well clear of everything. Todd and I had almost blown ourselves up by being sloppy with caps. Todd trailed Becky, bringing up the last of the sheet metal and the spikes. He’d found more black powder and the rounds from Henri’s old 12 gauge. They went into the fire bucket at the bottom of the cone. Then I carefully put the spikes in the cone as Todd and Becky used dirt and rocks to keep the cone upright. Finally, very carefully, Todd wired up the blasting cap and we retreated to the main bunker. Todd grabbed my pad as soon as we got there and scribbled, How do we get him over it? I looked at them, made a running man out of my two fingers and hand, and gestured at myself. Todd gulped but Becky shook her head vigorously and pointed at herself. “Like hell,” I said before I could catch myself. She snatched the pad from my hands and wrote. He respects you. He doesn’t respect me any  more than a hunter respects a doe. I’m just meat  and he won’t be wary of me. He’ll run straight at  me. I shook my head. Too dangerous, I mimed. Becky looked me in the eye. “I’m right, and you know it,” she whispered. I looked at Todd. He looked at the floor. Becky’s eyes didn’t leave mine. I never did win any arguments with Becky. I took the pad and wrote in big letters, MUST 

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Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Final Exam, by Edward McKeown

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PROMISE. Run for town if mine doesn’t work. We  hold him with guns. Don’t look back. Don’t stop. She nodded. I made her place her hand over her heart and nod again. Becky got up to go outside. I grabbed her in a hug. She hugged me back, punched me in the ribs, and went out. Todd handed me the loaded .30.30 but left out his hand. I shook it hard, reluctant to let go. We stepped up to the bunker slits, the same ones through which we’d watched Atomic Annie only two days ago. Becky wiped up our tracks with sagebrush and built herself a blind of loose brush near the mine, burying herself in the sand. We didn’t have long to wait. “What are you up to, John?”  Hotkas asked. I froze until I realized the voice emanated from the device on my arm. Todd stared at me, his eyes wide with terror. “I expected you to run for the town,” Hotkas continued, “seeking the protection of your own army. You started that way, but circled back instead, heading into the desert. A wonderful stratagem; I wasted an hour heading toward town and back. Meanwhile the sun has burned off much of your scent. Unfortunately for you, I can sight-track and you left prints in the soft sand between the stones you tried to stay on.” I kept my thoughts to myself. Hotkas said the wrist-recorder couldn’t track us through the machine; I didn’t believe it. “Your cleverness pleases me,” Hotkas said. “There is little honor in finding more Tien-shri-ja; the galaxy is full of it.” “There,” I pointed as Hotkas crested the ridge. A large pistol rode between Hotkas’ front and rear legs, tied down in its holster. Well, I thought, he  promised a fair fight. With those teeth and claws, 

he probably doesn’t need a weapon. “Ah,” Hotkas said through the bracelet. “Small bits of human-made debris, bones of small animals and indications of fires. You have a den here. John, you disappoint me. I smell your scent. Underground perhaps?” Hotkas moved forward confidently on his four lower limbs, his immense weight pressing on the sand beneath him. I could see his head traverse over his chest as he looked for us. A scream rent the air. Becky burst from cover forty yards ahead of him. Hotkas, every instinct triggered by the sight of fleeing prey, charged. On his second stride the earth below him sagged, and then exploded. Sand fountained and spikes of flying metal impaled the alien’s body. Small metal chunks blew clear through him. Hotkas crashed to the ground, blood splashing out on the sand. “Well done, John,” I heard him whisper over the bracelet. “Got him!” Todd screamed. We raced out of the bunker, rifles ready. Now came the hard part. Hotkas stirred feebly. I sighted my rifle between his eyes just as he opened them. “Don’t move... ” I shrilled. And then, roughening my voice, “Freeze or die.” Hotkas’ breath came like a bellows. The fence rails skewered through him as if he were a pincushion, some projecting right through the twenty-foot saurian. Hotkas focused one huge, yellow eye on me. “I have a deal, Monster,” I said. “What?” he asked. The translated voice couldn’t show pain but the body convulsed in spasms. I hoped Hotkas was in agony. “I could shoot you,” I said. “Then get you hung

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Final Exam, by Edward McKeown
and dressed and feed a piece of you to every leader of earth. Do you hear me? We could eat you.” For the first time I saw emotion in Hotkas’ eyes. I was threatening something more than death. Utter disgrace. I had been promoted from food to an enemy. I was worth hating now. “What’s at the top of the food chain?” I asked “Dredja,” Hotkas said, “self-meat. For when we consume one of our own kind.” That won’t work, I thought. “And below that?” “Troka-ja, the meat that we eat last.” “That’s how you’re going to classify my species,” I said, triumph singing through my veins. “Meat that’s just too tough if there’s other prey. The meat you eat last. You swear to do that, and I’ll let you live.” Hotkas stared back at me. “What prevents me from lying to you now and classing you as what I want later?” I leaned in close. “You told us that everything you do and say down here is recorded. You can’t even erase it. Your people will know what happened here. Either we are that meat, or you’re weak and unfit. What would your fate be when they review your tapes and learn you were beaten by Tien-shri-ja? “And,” I continued, “we are that tough and that smart. We’re just kids, and we beat you. We talked you into chasing your food, giving up all your advantages, and then we beat you.” “I agree to your terms,” Hotkas said. “You will be reclassified.” “Release the kids on your ship. Then call it here if you can. Tell one of the kids to come here so we know you let the others go.” Hotkas did it. I don’t know how. The silver saucer showed up only a minute later. It settled a hundred yards away with a whine of whatever it used for an engine. The breeze it kicked up chilled me. I realized my shirt was soaked with sweat.

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A panel opened in the saucer; Henri and Ty piled out. “You got him!” they jumped up and down. “Yep,” Todd answered, posing with his rifle on his hip. “The jocks ran for home as soon as the force screen came down,” Ty said. “The voice said you wanted someone to come, so I stayed.” “Me, too,” Henri added. Todd covered me as I worked the alien’s pistol out of its holster. I aimed Hotkas’ pistol, struggling with the weight of it. “Get off our planet, Monster.” Hotkas huffed and groaned, fighting to stay erect. The monster staggered toward the ship, trailing blood. We all kept Hotkas in our sights as he crawled into the ship. Seconds later, the saucer whooshed skyward in a way no Air Force jet could match. The weapon in my hands began to whine. I realized what Hotkas was up to. “Throw it over the cliff!” Todd yelled. I ran and flung the weapon. We all sprinted for the bunker and piled in. Becky landed on top of us and dropped the cover. The explosion wasn’t up to atomic standards, but whatever powered that gun was fearsome. The ground quaked. As the dust settled, we climbed out, hooting, hollering, and thumbing our noses at Hotkas. Becky gave all of us kisses.

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Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Final Exam, by Edward McKeown

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  http://www.sfwa.org/members/mckeown/ I  have  enjoyed  a  life-long  love  affair  with  science  fiction.    I  seek  to  write  believable  people in extraordinary situations, balancing  romance,  humor,  adventure  and  reasonable  extrapolations  of  science  in  stories  that  I  believe  people  will  want  to  return  to  again  and again.  Whether its in the short stories of  my “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess series”  or  in  the  the  novel  “Was Once A Hero”  an  updating of the classic “Planet” tale, in which  a crew of unlikely companions find themselves  facing  unknown  dangers  while  exploring  an  alien  world,  my  intent  is  to  give  the  reader  the sort of page turning, involving adventure  that  Andre  Norton  wrote  and  leaven  it  with  the emotional complexity and ambiguity that  CJ Cherryh brings to the field. While  the  experiences  of  the  SF  universe  are  out  of  reach  of  those  unable  to  pay  for  a Russian rocket ride, I use experiences from  my background to try for an underlying verity  in  my  characters.  I’ve  parachuted,  flown  in  gliders,  hang  gliders,  and  strapped  to  the  floor  of  military  helicopters.  I’ve  been  rated  as  an  expert  shot  and  carry  a  black  belt  in  the  martial  arts.  I’ve  been  paralyzed  by  fear,  exhilarated  by  love,  and  walked  into  fights—  both literal and metaphorical—that I knew I  could not win. I have the great good fortune to be married  to the talented artist Schelly Keefer.

Edward McKeown

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

"The Second Ascension," by R. Cruz

Pg. 17

JASPER SQUAD:
Episode Six: Choices
aptain Spill held Lieutenant Melendez by both arms and tried to keep his voice from creating a scene in the middle of the busy street. “Janet,” he breathed, “Listen to me. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but every GPF envoy we’ve encountered since that warrant was issued has tried to put us down. Not apprehend us for questioning, not override our ship for remote piloting—they’ve tried to put us down. Somebody at the GPF has it in for us, and you’re not going to be able to strike a plea bargain this time. I don’t know what this is about any more than you do, but I do know that turning yourself in is a very, very bad idea.” “Don’t you?” she asked. Spill blinked at her. “What?” “You said you don’t know what this is all about,” she replied. “Are you sure about that?” Spill looked around, then gently pulled Melendez from the middle of the street and into the shadow of a nearby alley. Nobody was listening, he was sure, but it was instinct. Melendez didn’t resist. When they were safely away from strangers’ ears, he let go of her arms and stepped back. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “Captain,” she said, staring straight at him, “there’s talk in the department that your hands are dirty.” Spill burned with indignity. “I have been a GPF Captain in good standing for more than thirty years—” “Spare me the self-righteous speech,” she interrupted. “I’m not the only one who suspects. I never had a problem serving under you because

C

by Paul Christian Glenn
I knew that even if you had a little sticky money in your pocket, you were a good cop. But lately things have been different.” Spill had an argument ready, but that statement stopped him short. “What do you mean?” “I saw what happened back on Candlevar,” said Melendez, pressing. “You were going to leave Stamp for dead. If I hadn’t insisted, he’d be buried under ten tons of quor like his two buddies.” “Is that what this is about?” asked Spill. “That’s not being a good cop,” she said, ignoring him. “I should have known that sooner or later your side business would interfere with your professional duty, but I didn’t think it would be so ugly.” Spill felt his temper rising now, and he stepped close to Melendez. “That guy is a law-flaunting killer who’s only out for himself,” he muttered. “So was I, Captain,” said Melendez. “If I had met you in those tunnels ten years ago, would you have left me for dead?” Spill wasn’t about to back down now. “Maybe I would have,” he said flatly. Melendez stared at him for a minute. “Then you lost your way a lot sooner than I thought,” she said. With that, she pushed past him and walked back toward the thronging street. Spill turned and called after her. “Is that it, then?” he asked. “You don’t trust me anymore, so you’re going to sell out the squad? Throw your career—hell, your life—away? Just like that?” To his relief, she stopped. She stood motionless, silhouetted at the fore of the alleyway. Spill sensed that this was his moment, and he took a step toward her. “Don’t do it, Janet,” he said

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Serial: JASPER SQUAD, Choices, by Paul Christian Glenn

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softly. “We can beat this, I know it.” The guy was threatening me. If we hauled him in, He waited for a long moment until she finally he was going to give me up. I’m not even sure turned to face him. what he knows, but I… dammit, I’ve got a family. “I want to know if you’re hiding something,” The thought of what might happen to them if I she said. went down… I panicked.” Spill felt a tightness in his chest, and his face She didn’t relent. “Have you done it before?” burned with shame, but he stood his ground. He shook his head, keeping his eyes locked on Suddenly, the words he had spoken in his mind hers. a thousand times were coming out of his mouth, Melendez stepped forward again, and put two and it felt like a ton of concrete was lifting from fingers against his chest. “If we do this,” she said, his shoulders. “We’re doing it right. We’re doing it by the book. “I’m dirty,” he said quietly. “I’ve been double- When our names are cleared, I want to be able to dealing with shafty little shock outfits for… god… speak the truth in its entirety.” twenty years and more. “ “I understand,” he said. “You want a clean conShe didn’t move, and he spat out a self-depre- science.” cating laugh. “I guess I’m not as slick as I wanted Melendez dropped her hand and sighed. to believe,” he said. “I never meant to… “ “Captain,” she said, “I’ll never have a clean conHe let that thought dissipate. He wasn’t going science.” With that, she turned and walked back to try to justify it now. There was no point. toward the street. Melendez took three steps toward him, and They shuffled back to the bar without the sunlight lit up the edges of her frame like an speaking. As they entered, Melendez approached angel of judgment. He noticed for the first time the bartender and muttered some words of that her hands were shaking, and he wondered apology for her earlier outburst. Spill watched whether it was fear or wrath. the exchange and locked eyes with the bartender, “Fair enough,” she said. “Now tell me this: do nodding his reassurance that everything was you know why the force is after us?” going to be quiet from this point forward. He put his hands out in a subconscious act They climbed the stairs at the back of the bar of supplication. It hadn’t occurred to him to and found their room at the end of a long hallway. beg, but he realized now how much he needed The door was locked. her strength if he was ever going to reclaim his He knocked twice, and a second later, Stamp life from this mess. As much as he resented her opened the door. In his hand was an iron bar he strict adherence to regulations and form, she was must have yanked from the bathroom wall. “What a strong officer, and the only good person on the happened?” he asked. squad he could rely on. “I swear,” he said. “I’m “Everything’s fine,” said Spill, pushing forward not the cause of this.” into the room. Melendez followed, then he She studied his face, and he couldn’t tell if she turned and locked the door. was buying it or not, but he didn’t know how to The room was small and sparsely furnished make it sound more true. His dirty secret was out, with two double beds and a round wooden and there was nothing more to hide. table, where Jackaby and Rey sat, their shooters “And Stamp?” she asked. anxiously clasped. There was one window on the Spill just shook his head. “I was scared, Janet. far wall, and a broadcast box balanced precari-

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Serial: JASPER SQUAD, Choices, by Paul Christian Glenn
ously on a chest of drawers that had seen better days. “All right,” said Spill, “It’s time to sit down and figure this thing out. I see no reason to sweeten the story—we’re in trouble, here, and if we’re going to get out of it, I need to know everyone is on board for whatever lies ahead.” He looked at Rey and Jackaby, the two cadets. “We may be wanted, but at the moment we are still a GPF squad, and regulation service is still expected. Is that understood?” The cadets nodded. “Stamp, you’re still a worthless lowlife who has no vote in what we do or where we go. Understood?” “Aye, aye, Captain,” said Stamp with a sickeningly ingratiating smile. “Good,” said Spill. “Our first order of business is to get away from this city. The GPF knows we’ve landed at Drinias Pel, they just don’t know where. It won’t take long for them to find the Jasper and lock her down, which means we need to figure out where we’re going and get back in the air as quickly as possible. Rey, you’re still monitoring the communications in and out of the port?” “Yes, Sir,” she replied, “but it’s possible they’ve set up a temporary wavelength we haven’t found yet.” “Understood,” said Spill. “Keep looking for it, and let me know if you hear anything unusual. Stamp, you said you know people here?” “Nobody you’ll like,” said Stamp, “but they might be willing to help us get out quietly.” Spill pulled the com from his belt and tossed it to Stamp. “Talk to them,” he said, then turned to Melendez. “Lieutenant, would you mind monitoring that conversation?” “Yes, Sir.” “And take that bar away from him, would you?” added Stamp. Finally, there was something else that

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needed to be addressed, something that had been gnawing at the back of his mind since they escaped from Wroume. “Jackaby,” he said, “step out into the hall with me.” Jackaby looked at him for a moment, then seemed to collect himself. He stood and followed Spill out into the hall. When the door had been secured behind them, Spill looked at the cadet, watching his face for any sign of nervousness. “Cadet,” began Spill, “I’m wondering how those raiders managed to find us so quickly. Nobody at the GPF knew we had landed in the Wroume system, let alone on the planet itself, yet just minutes after we departed, they materialized right behind us. Any ideas?” Jackaby returned Spill’s look with a steady gaze. “No, Sir,” he said. Spill nodded and put his hand on Jackaby’s shoulder. “It occurs to me that, while we were trapped in Cuttery’s hole, the only person with access to a com was, well, you, son.” Jackaby nodded noncommittally. “I also know that your father happens to be a high and mighty muckity-muck on the force. I’m wondering if maybe you thought you could get out of this pickle by making a call to dear old dad.” “No, Sir,” said Jackaby again, then offered, “It’s possible that Cuttery called the force, isn’t it? Looking for a reward?” Spill nodded, then smiled. “Anything’s possible, Cadet, which is why I haven’t knocked you upside your head yet. But I can’t imagine a man in Cuttery’s position calling any more attention to himself than necessary. Him running that dirty little shock post, it seems to me like he wouldn’t want any more GPF visitors than absolutely necessary. Can you imagine him calling the force—especially when there wasn’t any reward offered in the warrant? Can you?”

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Serial: JASPER SQUAD, Choices, by Paul Christian Glenn
Jackaby shrugged, and this time Spill detected a bit of defiance in his manner. “Guess not, Sir.” “Yeah,” said Spill, “me either. So you understand why I might be feeling a bit wary of you at the moment.” “Captain,” said Jackaby, “I want to get out of this and go home. That’s all.” “We all do,” said Spill. “And the only way we’re all going to get out of this is if we stick together and keep no secrets. Is that clear?” Jackaby looked down at his boots, then back up at Spill, his eyes blazing. “What’s clear to me, Captain, is that you’ve somehow managed to put the lives of this squad in extreme danger, and if you’ll allow me to speak freely, I don’t have any faith in your ability to get us out of it.” “Go on,” said Spill, his voice icy. “Now’s the time to say whatever’s on your mind.” “Very well,” said Jackaby. “I’ve got a career to think of. A good career as an officer, not as some thick shooterhead who lives by the skin of his neck… Sir. And right now my loyalty to you is dictated by my desire to maintain a clean record. In the unlikely chance that you get us out of this mess, I don’t want my insubordination on your report.” “Fair enough,” replied Spill, remembering Melendez’ words to him. “I appreciate your straightforward manner, and I’ll take your words into account. But I want you to know something. As a cadet, you’re a part of my squad, and your well-being is my responsibility. I may not like you, kid, but I’m not going to let any harm come to you if I can help it.” Jackaby looked down. “Yes, Sir,” he muttered. “Now that we’re on the same wavelength, I hope you’ll understand that I don’t want to see you on a com unless I’ve given the order.” The door behind them opened, and Melendez stuck her head out. “We’ve got good news and bad news.”

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“Well, there’s a change for the better,” said Spill. “Stamp’s man says he’s heard some things,” said Melendez. “Might be able to lead us to someone who knows what’s going on.” “The bad news?” asked Spill. “Rey’s found a temp wave. The chatter’s unclear, but it sounds like the force knows where we are.” “So your little scene downstairs didn’t go unnoticed after all,” said Spill. Melendez let the hint of a grin cross her face. “Sorry, Sir.” “No time for that now,” said Stamp, pushing the door open and stepping back into the room. “Stamp, where’s your contact?” “Not far,” said Stamp, “but if we’re being hunted, I want my bar back.” Spill sighed, then glanced at Melendez. She nodded and tossed the crude weapon back to the company convict. Stamp caught the bar and gave it an unseemly kiss. Spill pointed at him. “You stay between me and the Lieutenant,” he said. Stamp saluted with his bar, and Spill turned to Jackaby. “This is where we put our feelings aside, Cadet,” he whispered. With that, he stepped out into the hall and listened for any commotion downstairs. It was quiet. He stepped back into the room, gently closed the door and locked it. “They’re here,” he said. “Somebody break that window.”

NEXT EPISODE: Sleeping With the Enemy

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: JASPER SQUAD, Choices, by Paul Christian Glenn

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Paul Christian Glenn
Paul  Christian  Glenn  is  an  Overlord    (Co-founder and Editor) of Ray Gun Revival  magazine, and has been writing for as long  as he can remember.  It should be noted, however, that he has a  notoriously short memory.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Featured Artist: Euka

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Featured Artist:
Shkumbin Ferizi
Name: Shkumbin Ferizi Age: 21 Hobbies: listening to music, doing 3D, playing tennis When did you start creating art? Well, I was always keen on doing artwork. Since I was a kid, I always loved to draw and paint. I remember when a friend and I discovered that we could actually draw on the PC, it was like seven or eight years ago, in Corel Photopaint. We were just so impressed, and we were competing against each other and stuff, then it kind of always stayed in my heart. At first I thought I was gonna study for IT, like a system engineer, and I actually did earn the MCSE degree from Microsoft when I was in my country in Kosova. But then I happened to move to UK, and I enrolled in a web design course in a college here and am enjoying it a lot. I will keep learning and working as a designer as my main profession. What media do you work in? I am working as a web designer, making flash websites, and sometimes I do freelance 3D work as well. Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? They can take a look at my 3D animated flash website: www. digitmotion.com, which I built with my friend Tony Harris, an amazing artist from the UK who I worked and work with in many projects.

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Featured Artist: Shkumbin Ferizi

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What are your current influences? My current influences would be mostly cool movies, games and, of course, nature. Oh, and my girlfriend’s chicken salad, ha ha. I think those things fill me up with ideas and inspiration all the time. What inspired the art for the cover? Star Wars III, I would say. Amazing 3D work in that movie and a lot of action and energy. What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? I use many programs, Photoshop, of course, and I love doing motion graphics using After Effects. I like Particle Illusion a lot, I love Flash, but on the other hand, 3D Max is the main tool for all my 3D works.

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Issue 20, April 15, 2007

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The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 10, Cliffhanger
  by Johne Cook
Day One drew a knife from a sheath, the blade making a “I’ve been looking forward to this year ever swoosh as it exited the leather, and she buried since I discovered that meddling Cooper Flynn the point into the base of a tree with a solid thunk. was spying on me last year,” said Walenda Darden, “That’d be a pity,” she said, “because he really is looking out over the craggy cliff facing east. The easy to look at.” late afternoon shadows left enough light to see “Don’t be silly,” said Darden. “The redhead the trail but obscured their faces from casual wants him for herself.” discovery. “MkDougal? I was talking to her at the gate “Cooper Flynn? He’s such an engaging fellow,” and she didn’t mention anything about a beau.” said Darden’s friend. Darden snorted. “I didn’t say she knew about “Hm? Oh, yes, he is that, but it’s a front. He’s a it yet.” snake and he’s up to something. I just don’t know They shared a good laugh about that as they what.” wandered off down toward the Academy into the “It sounds like you really hate him.” gathering twilight. Darden picked a stone and threw it out and Five minutes later, a hand groped up over the watched it disappear into the shadow cast by the edge of the cliff, caught the root of a tree, and a cliff, hearing rather than seeing the end of the shadowed figure rolled nimbly over. He carefully long fall down to the surf far below. “Hate? No, I stood and beat his clothes to knock off the dust. don’t hate him. I just don’t like him nosing around “Interesting,” he said, his twinkling eyes darker all the time. I have no idea how he does it. He has than the deepening twilight. He carefully followed marks that are as high as anybody here, and yet them down toward the Academy. I have this sense he’s always around no matter Five minutes later, a shadow detached itself where I turn or what I do. I feel like I’m always from the tree used as target practice and silently watched, and yet I can never quite put my finger followed them all into the darkness. on where or how.” She plopped down on a large rock and hugged her knees to her chest, the sort of thing a much younger girl might do. “For all I Day Two know, he could be listening to this conversation The following morning, Chain unlocked the right now.” hidden rear door of the warehouse, stepped Her friend laughed. “Your imagination is inside, relocked it, and pushed some empty crates getting the better of you.” She sat next to Darden, in front of the opening. their shoulders touching. “Besides,” she said, “if He walked to the workbench running along I thought he was a genuine threat, I’d make sure the north wall, cleared a large area, and set his something unpleasant happened to him.” She pack down, the sunlight streaming in from the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
east windows lighting up the work area like a localized Jacob’s Ladder. He took off his right shoe, withdrew a scrap of parchment, and smoothed it out. His guard dog padded over. Chain looked at her and rubbed idly under her muzzle. Her tail wagged lazily. “Ready to make history?” She stretched her front legs with a bored doggy groan and padded off again. Chain grinned softly. “Yes,” he agreed. “One way or the other.” He opened up the pack and started to lay out various rocks and minerals. He adjusted his small, round spectacles, compared notes with the parchment, and got to work. # Flynn leaned back against the gently curving corridor wall, legs spread out for support and arms crossed in front of him, idly watching a classroom door to his right. His lazy gaze flitted briefly back toward the chattering of feminine voices coming down the curving hallway from his left before returning to the classroom door to his right. The approaching chattering became recognizable as conversation. “And then she rescinded my grade and made me re-do the assignment! I didn’t cheat from him—he cheated from me. I ended up doing the same work twice! If anybody needed to do the work twice, it should be him...” The speaker tripped over Flynn’s foot, squeaked prettily, and stumbled right in front of him. Flynn experienced the sudden impact more as an assault of sweet female scents than an actual physical collision. He quickly reached out and caught a vivacious redhead with his right arm, keeping her from falling forward on her face. Her momentum pressed her breasts briefly but firmly against his outstretched arm. He quickly stepped forward and put his left hand on her hip. She twisted as she fell with the movement

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so she ended up swept off her feet facing him, completely held from falling in Flynn’s arms. She looked up at his face, a mere six inches between them. “Oh, my!” she breathed, and her voice was instant music to his ears. “I’ve got you,” he said softly, his black eyes sparkling with humor and an unspoken shared secret. He held the pose for the barest moment, drinking in the wonder of her green eyes, her brilliant copper hair, her flushed cheeks. He regained control of his senses and stepped back, pulling her gently to her feet. He disentangled his arms and stepped firmly back, bumping into the redhead’s friend and tripping himself just a little. He grabbed her right arm briefly for balance and regained his stance and his self-control. He stepped back and bowed deeply to them both. Flynn grinned. “It is my very great honor to meet you. I’m Cooper Flynn.” Her friend was speechless, but the redhead stomped her foot. “I know who you are!” she snapped, a trifle breathlessly. She blew a wayward strand of copper hair out of her face in frustration. Flynn said, “May I at least have the honor of your name?” “I shall give you my name, but that is all you shall have from me!” This pronouncement bounced off Flynn’s force of personality and fell weakly to the floor. Still grinning, he cocked his head and raised his stunning black eyebrows; his shining black eyes radiated equal parts edgy humor, roguish confidence, and a warmly bawdy sexuality. Smiling broadly at Flynn, her friend surreptitiously elbowed the redhead and cleared her throat. The redhead blinked and came to her senses, recognizing the play was hers. “Hm? Oh. Yes. My

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

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name. Clarissa MkDougal. I am Clarissa MkDougal.” Flynn said, “I suppose a guy as big as you She winced at the repetition and charged onward. couldn’t be separated from his lunch by a pack of “And this is Selti Dormand.” wild dogs!” Selti curtsied slightly, winning an exaggerated Pitt thought about it, and nodded once with gallant bow from Flynn. what might have been the fleeting ghost of a Clarissa stomped her foot. “Our transaction smile. Then Pitt actually spoke. “I heard a rumor.” here is complete! Good day, Ven!” She whirled, Flynn grew serious. “What did you hear?” grabbed her friend by the wrist, and stormed off “A Sylvan spy may be on the campus.” down the corridor, pulling a hesitant Selti along Flynn relaxed. “Interesting. We know how behind her. hard it is to get into this place.” Pitt shook his Flynn leaned back against the wall, smiling head slightly as if to say, “That’s not it.” Flynn widely, cupping his hands in front of him with thought and snapped his fingers as the answer apparent delight. “You can say that again,” he came to him. “Of course! This rumor will result said to himself. He opened his hands and revealed in tightened patrols even if they only suspect a a simple gold chain bracelet. He turned it inside Sylvan spy of being in the academy. That’s good out and tsked. “If only that were true.” to keep in mind.” Suddenly thoughtful, he pocketed the chain, Pitt had a ghost of smile again. Flynn said, abandoned his stakeout, and strode steadily back “Look, there’s Deena!” and trotted off, and Pitt’s up the curving hall in the direction whence they faint smile was instantly replaced by fleeting had come. longing before he regained control of his expression. That notwithstanding, he strode along # behind Flynn looking for all the world like a man Pitt was in their tiny room when Flynn returned. who wanted to run, but wouldn’t stoop to that Their second year at the Academy was progress- kind of extravagant display. ing normally, if by ‘normal’ one meant that Pitt # attended morning classes that Flynn expertly ditched, they both attended hands-on sailing Night slipped in like a thief and Chain was exercises after lunch, and Flynn read Pitt’s texts just getting into a good channel—insights were out loud to the two of them immediately after coming fast. dinner. Following that, it was Flynn’s practice to He rose, stretched, and crossed to a heavy steal out into the night for points unknown. Pitt wood post upon which an enamel cylinder with never asked what he did, and Flynn never volun- a wood knob on top was mounted to the side. teered. He twisted the knob and a cheerful orange light On this particular morning, Flynn bobbed his briefly filled the room. However, two hollow pops head out toward the hallway. “Are you up for lunch sounded almost immediately. before we go out on the water this afternoon?” Chain snorted, turned the knob back off, lit a Pitt nodded and rose from his pallet, squeezing punk stick from a coal brazier he kept for just that through the narrow arched doorway to the purpose, and retrieved new glass globes from a hallway. They walked together down the corridor large straw-filled crate stashed in a corner. He where workmen were running bare copper wire replaced the globes and turned the knob again, a and installing glass globes. tad gingerly this time, and the globes clawed back

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
to life. They waned and brightened ever so slightly in a pleasing random pattern, but otherwise lit his shop enough to work. He cleaned the glass shards from the floor and went back to work, whistling a tuneless ditty. Hours passed. The formula seemed straightforward enough, but every time Chain ground the minerals, created the liquid solution, and applied it to his test stick, the wood kept falling to the floor, decidedly not displaying any sort of special properties other than arousing the attention of his drowsing guard dog. Chain kept at it, trying different methods, permutations, ratios. The relentless determination that kept him as a relative loner was, in this case, his greatest strength, and he put it to good use. Night passed without a breakthrough, the stick falling to the floor time after time until even his trusty canine companion stopped looking up. Day Three Flynn and Pitt sat at breakfast sharing their customary silence. It was not unusual for Flynn to point out something or other, but he held his own counsel on this particular morning. Pitt looked up and gestured across the room with a piece of bacon. “Somebody’s got eyes for you.” Flynn followed his gesture and dropped his gaze back to his plate, smiling under his breath. “Ha. That’s Clarissa MkDougal. We ran into each other yesterday in the curved hall by the classrooms.” “You’ve had your eye on that one?” Flynn shrugged. “She’s a looker, that’s for sure. I was sure she didn’t know who I was. I was wrong. Turns out, it wasn’t that she didn’t know me, it was that she didn’t like me.” Pitt grunted. “Did you fluster her?” “Oh, yes. She fell for me, of course—she just doesn’t know it yet.”

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A large shadow fell over their table and the normal background chatter died like the calm before a storm. Sergeant Crawse stood and barked, “Cadets, brace!” Flynn and Pitt sprang to attention, their wood bench sliding out behind them in their vigor. An imposing figure strode in front of them wearing the unmistakable uniform of the Academy commodore, sixty-four bits of ribbon and medal affixed to his coat. “Cadets, at ease,” he said in his deep, gravelly voice. They came out of their brace and he gestured toward the table. “Please, resume your meal.” They retrieved their bench and sat down. The commodore sported a thick beard streaked through with grey and white, matched by trimmed, greying hair which set off piercing, brilliant blue eyes. Sergeant Crawse spoke from the commodore’s elbow. “Commodore Dondely, these are cadets Flynn and Pitt, respectively.” The commodore sized them up with an eye that had much experience at sizing up horseflesh. “Pitt? From the Reach?” Pitt nodded his head once, impassive but privately impressed. “And Cadet Flynn. You are an interesting fellow. I understand you have acquired a copy of the Jodkins!” Flynn was astonished. He stammered, “Why, yes, Commodore. I have in my possession his unabridged Treatise  on  the  Ethereal  Reality written in his own hand.” The commodore nodded once, his eyes sparkling, his bobbing beard at once fearsome and comical. “We must compare notes on his theology sometime, the sooner the better. Come around my office later and we’ll compare notes, what say?” Flynn nodded quickly, adroitly, too clever to allow his suddenly raging suspicion to reach his

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
eyes. The great man rapped the table with implacable knuckles, winked, and left the Mess Hall. Crawse turned to hide his amusement, and Flynn and Pitt’s eyes met, Pitt’s oddly reappraising, Flynn’s utterly baffled. “Jodkins?” muttered Pitt. “You don’t know who that is, nor that I possess what is a one-of-a-kind volume,” stated Flynn, dully. Pitt nodded. “There’s a very good reason for that—nobody knows I have that work, except…” The sun dawned in Flynn’s eyes in that moment. He stood bolt upright, clapped Pitt hard on the shoulder, winced, and nearly ran off. “I must go,” he breathed, his expression changing from confusion to full alarm. Flynn fled the mess hall, his legendary composure in tatters. Pitt sat surveying the ruins of their meal. A private smile flickered out over his face. He pulled Flynn’s plate over. “Well, now,” he said to himself, and he ate Flynn’s bacon. # The shadow stepped into the light and was seen as a custodian. Sometimes, the best way to hide is in plain sight, and nobody notices service folk, or at least Walenda Darden didn’t as she strode past thinking her labyrinthine thoughts. The watcher emptied his dustpan, put the broom back in the closet, and followed at a distance, now wearing the garb of a courier. He never once blinked. # Chain sprawled forward in his chair with the side of his face on the workbench, snoring softly, drooling slightly. Rocksie slowly made a circuit around the inside of the warehouse and finally curled up into a ball in a patch of sunlight. #

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Flynn stood outside the commodore’s office, squared his shoulders, and knocked twice on the doorjamb. The gravelly bass rumbled out of the office: “Come!” Flynn entered and carefully closed the door behind him. The commodore didn’t just sit at a desk; he filled the office with his larger-than-life reputation and his gruff charisma. Flynn noticed things as his eyes made their first casual sweep of the room: he had windows everywhere extending ceiling to floor, an expensive effect that let in a great deal of light, but which also gave him a view of the entire Commons area, and, indeed, the entire main grounds of the Academy, his office perched, as it was, at the top front of the office complex overlooking the grounds. The commodore’s chair had a cunning metal swivel that allowed him to turn around and take in the matchless view. Now, however, the commodore’s famous blue eyes were focused entirely on Flynn. The commodore rose, clapped Flynn on the shoulder from across the desk, and gestured toward a chair. “Please, sit. Welcome to the top of the world. One can see nearly everything from here.” Flynn’s black eyes were clear but guarded. He presented a picture of a bright young man not used to being on the defensive. He leaned forward restlessly in his chair. “It would seem one can see all the way to Patience Bay, Commodore.” Commodore Dondely chuckled. “I thought that might get your attention. Our mutual friend sends his greetings.” Flynn was, uncharacteristically, speechless. “I suppose you have questions.” “Yes, Ven, many.” “For instance, how do I know the Abbot, how does the Abbott know of your presence here, and

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are you currently in trouble?” Flynn winced and squirmed lithely in his chair. “The view from here is truly as expansive as you claim,” he observed ruefully. The commodore lifted a gentle hand and pushed slightly in Flynn’s direction. “Quiet your fears. You’re not in trouble with me. Yet.” Flynn’s expression did not ease noticeably. “In all truth, I owe you an apology and an explanation. I received, last year, an appeal for commission of a certain ‘Ploy, but was not able to match up the commission request with an application, and I thought nothing more of it. Such things happen often enough. But your name came before me again recently from an, ah, unusual source, and it rang a gong. It took some digging, but I believe I have solved at least one minor mystery. However, it has opened up a far greater one.” Flynn was too afraid to even sweat. “Oh?” he said, his voice trembling on the verge of cracking, his mouth dry. “Yes. As you were not afforded a commission, I’m curious how you managed to secure a position here at our venerable academy.” Flynn clasped his hands and unconsciously started compressing them together, an unconscious nervous habit. “Well, Ven… That is…” The commodore’s voice became very quiet, almost personal. “You can tell me, Son. It was Baskins’ racism, wasn’t it?” Flynn cleared his throat, or tried to. “Ah, well, that was the opening…that is, yes, Ven…” Dondely smote the desk and Flynn jumped in his seat, his hands flying to grasp the arm rails. “I knew it!” boomed the commodore, and he laughed long and hard. “You are a clever one, aren’t you, Mister Flynn?”

Flynn leaned back in his chair. “Not clever enough, Commodore,” he said wryly. “Apparently.” “Others have tried—and failed—to break out of the Academy, but you are the first to break in, and it wasn’t even necessary due to an Administrative error, by which I mean I dropped the sail. That notwithstanding, you gained apparently tacitly legitimate entry anyway.” Dondely leaned forward, his beard tickling his desk. “How did you do it?” “I saw my opening with my Reacher friend, Mr. Pitt. I sold my boat, an ornate and lively craft, and invested the money in gaining entry. Baskins’ hatred for men from the Reach worked to my favor.” He told the entire story with flair and candor, the commodore asking pointed questions to fill the gaps. “So I know the ‘how,’ now, but not the ‘why.’” Flynn fixed the commodore with a searching look. “Commodore, I was sent as an emissary from a Crown-approved third party to keep tabs on a suspected spy to ensure the continued anonymity of a critical operation.” The commodore sat back in his chair and stroked his beard. “And have you been successful thus far in your watch?” Flynn nodded gravely. “I have been able to monitor the situation without compromising my role here.” “I see. As you are keeping your ear to the ground, are you willing to keep your ear open for any threat to the Academy as well as your, uh, third party?” “Yes, Commodore. I examine all information that comes to me, even if it doesn’t directly affect my own watch.” The commodore nodded. “Very well,” he

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
said. “Carry on.” He rose and Flynn followed suit. “Perhaps we can meet again to actually discuss the Jodkins, eh?” Flynn smiled, nodded, braced, spun, and left. His legs carried him a safe distance away outside before he tossed his breakfast. # Later that afternoon, Deena Prentiss approached Pitt and laid her delicate hand on his forearm. “Hello Pitt. Have you seen Flynn?” Pitt swallowed and nodded toward the Commons, his eyes gleaming. She turned away, had a thought, and turned back to him again. “Do you even have a first name?” She laughed at her own joke, patted his arm genially, raised her eyebrows in appreciation, and walked on, unaware of what her gait did to him. “Yes,” he managed, but she was long gone, making a spear-line straight for Cooper Flynn. He watched her all the way over to his roommate before averting his eyes, his jaw pulsing as he unconsciously gritted his teeth. Walking past a spade, he grabbed the wood handle with both hands at both ends and bent the wood. His gigantic muscles bulged, and he snapped the handle like a toothpick. He came to himself with one half of the handle in each of his hands. Flushing suddenly, he gathered the two halves into one hand and laid them conscientiously together on the ground. He rose, dusted his hands, and strode off. Minutes later, a shadow fell over the shattered tool. Walenda Darden nudged the broken implement with her toe and smiled to herself, her thoughts as shaded as the splintered remains of the spade. # Dinner that night was a strained affair. Flynn

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and Pitt didn’t always engage in much small talk anyway, but the silence took on a different dimension, both hiding things, neither owning up to feeling the barrier suddenly there for the first time. After the meal, they adjourned to their room, where Flynn read the day’s pages aloud from Pitt’s textbooks. His normal reading voice was engaging but his tone this night was deadpan and listless, his attention clearly elsewhere. After an hour, Flynn begged off and left the room, and Pitt went out to walk around inside the grounds wall. Pitt felt better, physically, after his walk, but had come to no helpful new conclusions. But Pitt’s fortunes changed radically for the better when he lay down on his pallet and put his hand under his pillow. He felt something and smelled something different. Hidden under his pillow was a folded scented parchment. He withdrew it and opened it with fumbling fingers to read a single cursive message written in a feminine hand: Wait for me in the bushes by the  lovers’ alcove – midnight – DP. Pitt slapped his leg with the note in celebration, and sat on his pallet, carefully smoothing the it. He read and re-read it until thirty minutes before the meeting. He went down to the communal baths and washed up, changed into his best shirt, and polished his boots as well he could. He slicked back his hair, plucked a flower from the garden, and walked over to the lovers’ alcove. Flynn may have commanded the attention of any woman on campus, but Deena—she belonged to him. Pitt arrived early and hid back in a shadowed corner behind a boulder where lovers sometimes sat to gaze into each other’s eyes and so forth. Pitt’s eagerness was enhanced as he saw Deena Prentiss arrive and look about her in expectation. He savored the moment, not quite believing

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
his sudden change of fortune. He started to rise to go to her from his hidden location when Flynn, of all people, rushed into the alcove. Pitt’s face fell in abject disbelief, not believing what he was seeing. Deena rushed to Flynn and they spoke in hushed tones. Pitt couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. Deena gestured and flailed her hands prettily, in obvious high emotion, but Flynn remained impassive. And then he produced the jewelry. Flynn reached into his sash at his waist and pulled out a gold chain. Pitt braced himself with one hand on the back of the boulder, mouthing ‘No! No!’ Flynn presented the bracelet to Deena. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she slowly reached for it as one might a treasure, hesitant, unsure it was real. Stricken by the tableau, Pitt unwittingly crushed the flower in his great right hand. Pitt came from a fishing family, and from his vantage, Flynn played her like a fish, waiting for Deena to come close and drawing the bracelet back, speaking to her the entire time. She placed her hand on his arm, replying. Then Deena extended her arm and he placed the chain around her wrist. Snaring her for himself, or so it appeared. Pitt watched helplessly from the shadows as they concluded their conversation. Then, inexplicably, they parted, still furtive, fooling everyone, or so they thought. # But they fooled no one, least of all those assembled. Walenda Darden watched from her elevated hidden vantage, taking in the entire scene with glittering eyes. She wasn’t sure who was more distressed by the unfolding events, the gallantly distressed Pitt to her left, or the strangely

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stricken Clarissa MkDougal to her right. Darden watched the various parties furtively quit the alcove, each unseen by the other. She sat back, put her scented parchment away in its oilskin pouch, and smiled the feral smile of a wolf. “This fall to me, Cooper Flynn, you viper,” she whispered. “This fall to me!” # Day Four Sergeant Crawse turned the light globes on the corridor and banged a tin cup against the wall to rouse Flynn and Pitt. The light of dawn was just beginning to push back the night. Something was amiss. “What is it,” Flynn growled, his voice rough and uncultured from too little sleep. “The commodore has called an emergency assembly. Rouse yourselves and assemble on the Commons immediately.” Flynn and Pitt shot each other a dread look, tucking their shirts in as they followed the sergeant. The commodore and his guard were on the west side of the Commons facing east. The cadets streamed in and started forming up to listen to the announcement. The great old man of the Academy looked as if he hadn’t slept at all, and his mood was grim. Dondely stood with his hands behind him, the meager sunlight reflecting off the medals on his chest. A bagpipe played a mournful dirge as the cadets filed in and lined up. The commodore nodded once and the pipes ceased. Snare drums on both sides of the impromptu stage rang out four sharp strokes in rapid order—rat-tat-tat-tat, the sound echoing off the buildings surrounding the Commons like gunshot reports. It was the first time the entire Academy had

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
been together in Flynn’s tenure there. It was a small but impressive sight, four hundred of the best and brightest on the field, the staff on one side, the local garrison arrayed on the other. The commodore had a voice that could be powerfully intimate in the confines of an office, or clearly heard across a battlefield at full volume. He used it to great effect now. He spoke without preamble. “There is a traitor among our midst, a Sylvan spy.” A mood rippled throughout the audience, although nobody spoke or moved. The shared revelation was all the more impressive for its collective lack of disciplined response from those assembled. Dondely nodded to the scroll bearer. “Read the names,” he commanded. An earnest young man stepped forward. He read the names in a clear, albeit nervous, voice. “Cadets Flynn, MkDougal, and Dormand: come hereto forth and be measured!” Flynn and Pitt looked at each other, both grim. Flynn stepped out of formation and marched crisply to the front. Clarissa MkDougal caught Flynn’s eye as he passed in front of her. She could have burned holes in his back with her furious gaze as he turned to climb the steps. Clarissa and Selti fell in and followed after Flynn. The three of them formed up, braced, and stood at attention in front of the entire Academy. With a start, Pitt noticed Deena Prentiss break formation and mount the stage, standing by at the commodore’s right hand, her demeanor calm and businesslike. Commodore Dondely spoke to those assembled. “I shall now expose the traitor. Deena Prentiss, step forth!” She stepped forward one pace. “Show me what you showed me in earlier this night.” She raised her hand and displayed the golden chain to those assembled. Flynn was expression-

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less. Pitt resisted the urge to grind his teeth. Beside them, Selti Dormand blanched, but it was Clarissa MkDougal who gasped. “How did you come by the chain?” Deena Prentiss spoke out in a clear voice. “It was given to me last night by Cadet Cooper Flynn.” She turned and handed it to the commodore, and resumed her place at his right hand. “Cadet Flynn, step forth!” Flynn broke rank and stepped forward one pace. He saluted and stood at attention. “Cadet Flynn, is that your chain?” “No, Commodore.” “Where did you acquire it?” Clarissa made to speak, but Selti surreptitiously cleared her throat. Clarissa spoke up anyway. “Commodore! That man is a thief! I was there.” Commodore Dondely turned and addressed her. “Cadet MkDougal. Does the chain belong to you?” “No, Commodore. It belongs to my friend, Selti.” Selti had a hollow look in her eyes. “Cadet Dormand is that true?” Selti remained at attention. She said nothing. Commodore Dondely said “Sergeant Crawse. Expose her wrist.” He stepped forward and approached her. “Extend your left wrist.” Slowly, she extended her left wrist. It was unadorned. “Extend your right wrist.” She extended her right wrist. It displayed a line of white, untanned skin where a bracelet had rested until recently. The commodore said, “Place the bracelet on her wrist.” He handed the bracelet to Sergeant Crawse, who placed the bracelet on Selti’s exposed right wrist. It was a perfect match.

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
“See?!” exulted Clarissa. “Flynn stole the bracelet from Selti.” She shot him a glare. “And that’s not all he stole,” she said through gritted teeth. Pitt, standing at attention, was thinking the same thing for a different reason. The commodore spoke, and his question echoed around the Commons. “Cadet Selti Dormand—is that your bracelet?” She didn’t utter a word. The commodore spoke again. “Cadet Selti Dormand—is that your bracelet?” She remained mute, eyes-front, her eyes dead. Commodore Dondely addressed the assembly, “This is the gold chain used as the unique identifier of the Sylvan spy network.” There was a collective gasp, despite military self-control. The commodore spoke above the ripple. “Selti Dormand, I take your silence as corroboration. Captain of the Guard, seize her!” The Captain stepped forward, clapped her in irons, and led her away, still eyes-front. The commodore looked weary, but finished his duty. “Assemble the gallows! Reconvene the assembly at four bells anti-meridian.” Sergeant Crawse dismissed the assembly. Clarissa turned to Flynn, her red hair swinging around, her eyes burning. “How could you? She is my friend!” She slapped Flynn’s face twice in rapid succession, a forehand and a backhand. Flynn met her raging eyes and said, softly, “She is a traitor.” He mock-bowed to her, an ironic gesture, and walked off the stage. Pitt remained where he was, thinking. In the milling crowd, Walenda Darden was not amused. Something was up. She had to do something quickly. She fought her way through the dispersing cadets, found Pitt, and touched his arm, stopping him in his tracks. “You don’t know me,” she said, “but I know

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you, and I know Cooper Flynn. He set up Selti Dormand for execution, and the next one he’ll set up to cover his traitor’s tracks is Deena Prentiss. She’s my sister, although Flynn will certainly deny that. I’m afraid for her. Somebody has to stop him, and I can’t do it alone. Will you help me?” Pitt’s expression clouded over. “What is he hiding?” “Has Flynn ever once told you where he came from before he came here? I wager he hasn’t. He can’t!” “I don’t understand.” “There is a Sylvan spy on the grounds, but it isn’t Selti.” “But why would he set up Deena?” Darden said, “I think he’s trying to get rid of the Sylvan chain and draw attention away from himself. I think he’s trying to use his charm to implicate another innocent and buy himself more time. But we won’t let that happen.” Darden pulled his face down and kissed Pitt on the cheek. “Will we?” Pitt clenched his massive right hand into a fist. “Not while I’m still here.” Darden flashed a convincingly grateful smile toward Pitt and melted away into the crowd. Pitt stood there and glowered as the flow of cadets flowed around him, all sharp edges and mass, like an immovable rock shrugging off the incoming tide. # The day passed as an interminable eternity, and a somber mood gripped the cadets. Selti Dormand was a genial, well-liked young woman. The time came, and the cadets gathered back together. Selti’s wrists were tied behind her. The commodore asked if she had any final words. Selti looked out over those assembled. Her gaze found Walenda Darden in the crowd. Darden shook her head almost imperceptibly. Selti looked

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
at the commodore. “There is nothing more I can say. Those assembled have already judged me in their hearts.” She lifted her head. “Do what you will, and may Cyl have mercy on your souls.” The sergeant in charge of the gallows placed a black hood over her head and the noose over the hood. She was blessed by Cyl’s chaplain cleric, and then the time came. The commodore’s voice rang out. “Selti Dormand. In light of ongoing hostilities between the nations of Haddirron and Sylva, I sentence you to death as a spy with designs of espionage against the Crown.” He stepped back and nodded at the sergeant. The sergeant’s arm rose. Selti started to weep. His arm drove downward. The floor fell away. Her cries was cut off in a high, feminine, gargling rasp. Clarissa screamed and wept, falling to her knees as Selti Dormand’s body swung on the rope, her heels shuddering. Pitt’s eyes welled up with tears of grief and determination. Flynn stood still, eyes-front, his fathomless black eyes expressionless. # It was business as usual in Chain’s workshop. After trying everything he could think of, he took a break down at the local pub, eating bread and meat he didn’t taste, and washing it down with ale he didn’t remember drinking. He then closed the door to the late afternoon heat and started back at the beginning. As the shadows lengthened, Chain turned on the lights (because he could), and another globe popped. Curiously, a sputtering filament continued to burn, its light garish in the converted warehouseturned-workshop. On a whim, Chain took up his experimental stick and tapped the filament with

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the end of the stick. A flash sparked and the lights flashed as the filament flamed out. Chain looked, puzzled, at the stick in his hand, still smoking from the display. He took a deep breath and steadied himself, held the stick out at arms’ length, and opened his hand. The stick fell to the floor again as it had hundreds of times already. Nothing. Chain reared back his head and roared his frustration. Bending, he scooped up the stick, stalked to the door facing the bay, and furiously flung the stick out over the water, whip-whipwhip. He watched it go, and turned to re-enter the warehouse, still fuming. Something occurred to him before he reached the open door. There was no splash. Comprehension dawned on his face and Chain whirled around, scarcely believing what his mind was already suggesting. The stick floated six inches above the water, still turning lazily on its axis. “Yes!” he bellowed, “yes!” He snapped his finger, dashed to the door, and whistled. “C’mer, Rocksie. Come here, my good dog.” She rose from the floor and padded over, tail wagging slightly. Chain loved her up good and turned and showed her the tiny harbor in front of them. “Rocksie, you see that stick? Go get it, girl! Fetch that stick!” he said. If ever a dog looked happy, it was that dog at that moment. Taking a running leap, Rocksie launched herself strongly out into the water while Chain stood there, hands on knees, still not believing his eyes. # Flynn was ushered into the commodore’s

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
office. The commodore stood facing the Commons grounds, his arms clasped behind his back. “This is the first hanging at the Academy in a long time, the first time during my administration here. It is a difficult thing.” He turned and gestured for Flynn to take a seat. “But you did the right thing. I don’t expect second year cadets to have the sort of information system you appear to have. You’ll have to tell me how you accomplish that sometime.” Flynn sat back in the chair and asked, “How is Deena taking it?” The commodore’s eyes narrowed. Flynn said, “When I stumbled on the Sylvan spy and wanted to send that information up the line without betraying myself, I received word through the grapevine that Deena Prentiss was the person to handle that. I wondered how a simple Physician Candidate could have such access to the very seat of power here, and then it all became clear while we were standing on the platform this morning.” The commodore’s eyes glinted a steely grey. “Go on,” he said. “Deena Prentiss is your daughter, isn’t she, Commodore Dondely?” The commodore’s expression went from flinty to amused despite himself. “How did you know?” Flint tented his fingers. “It wasn’t anything she said, or any sort of privilege. In fact, it was the opposite. However, as I introduced myself and started to reveal my interest in her as a conduit for passing along a very sensitive piece of information that could undo me and bring about a premature end to my time here, I encountered a resolute force of personality unlike any I had met to date. And then I had my audience with you, Ven, and something started to click in the back of my head. I didn’t put it together until this morning, and then the realization hit me like a harpoon. After that, well, it was so obvious that

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it’s a wonder that nobody has put the relationship together sooner.” The commodore drummed his fingers on his desk. “Deena is my only child, and she does things her own way. She wanted to prevent any whisper of nepotism, and insisted on taking her mother’s name when she applied. She has made her own way, and takes great pride in her accomplishments. I take great pride as well, but from a distance.” Flynn nodded in understanding. “Well, I have a friend who is interested in her if he could only get his bearings.” “Oh? Who?” “Mr. Pitt, my roommate.” “Ah. Well, silent waters run deep. He might be the one man who could handle her.” Flynn smiled. “So with your permission, I’d like to resume my role as a ‘second year cadet.’ May I do that?” The commodore waved his hand. “If you continue to keep the Academy’s best interests at hand, you have, as you may have guessed, full sway from me. I won’t get in your way. If you happen to discover anything further, my door is always open.” Flynn stood and saluted. “Thank you, Commodore.” He turned to go. “Cadet Flynn?” “Ven?” “Are you off to your quarters to get some welldeserved rest after all this?” Flynn shook his head regretfully. “Unless I miss my guess, I will be spending the next couple of hours cliffside.” The commodore made to speak but thought better of it. “Keep a solid grip, son.” Flynn grinned, turned, and left. # PItt returned to his rooms after the hanging.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
He sat restlessly on the edge of his bed. His gaze strayed to Flynn’s trunk. He rose, unlatched, and opened the lid. The parchment with the black blot was tacked inside the lid. Pitt grunted, leaned forward, and tore the parchment free. He squeezed through the doorway and stormed down the corridor. # It was twilight, and Walenda Darden was again at the cliffside with her compatriot. “This has been a busy few days.” “But not unproductive. Despite some absolutely stunning turns of event, I succeeded in starting things in motion that will restore the balance of power here.” “Can you be no clearer?” Darden shook her head. “I feel secure nowhere anymore, not even here. I fear I have wakened a sleeping giant, and I’m not precisely sure where that will lead, or who it will smite. But I have a good idea.” They both laughed and hugged before they split up and left. A hand groped up over the edge of the cliff, feeling about for the root of the tree. A massive shadow fell over the hand and a beefy hand grasped the exposed wrist. Pitt stood and effortlessly pulled Flynn up and over the cliff, setting him lightly on his feet. “Pitt! Thanks, my friend,” Flynn said, dusting off his trousers. He stood up and smiled wearily. “I’ll never get used to…” Pitt leaned forward with both palms out and, with one convulsive motion, darted forward and pushed Flynn by his shoulders up and out over the cliff. Flynn bounced out into the air as it fired from a canyon and fell, head over heels. His fall was arrested by Pitt, who, standing straight, held

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Flynn at arm’s length over the edge of the cliff by his right ankle. “You have some explaining to do,” rumbled Pitt softly, a strange catch in his throat. “I no longer know or trust you. You have already cost one good woman her life today, and you will not endanger another.” Flynn, breathless, yelled “What?!” He sounded strangled, struggling upside down as he was. “I saw you give the bracelet to Deena Prentiss,” said Pitt. “I don’t know where you really got it, but I think you know more about this than you’re telling. I’m going to ask you just once—what is Deena Prentiss to you?” “What? Deena?” “Yes, Deena Prentiss. What is she to you?” “What do you mean?” “I know what she means to her sister. She means the world. And she means the world to me!” Flynn frowned, a comical sight upside down. “Sister? She has no sister!” Pitt said, “She said you’d say that. What do you know about Deena?” Flynn gritted his teeth. “I…can’t tell you.” Pitt sighed regretfully. “Wrong answer.” He loosened his grip and Flynn slipped enough to yelp. “She’s nothing to me,” Flynn yelled, “but I can’t reveal what our relationship is—I’m sorry, believe me. I promised.” “Like you promised Selti Dormand? You set Selti up, and I have reason to believe you’ll set up Deena next.” “Pitt! I have no idea what you’re talking about! Put me down!” Pitt shook his great head sadly. “You have so many secrets, my ‘friend.’ You are so many different people that I don’t know which one of you is genuine anymore.” “I will tell you anything I am able,” said Flynn,

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Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Cliffhanger, by Johne Cook
his voice sounding strange, the blood rushing to his head, “…but I must keep my secrets to myself. You’ll understand in time! I promise! Now let me go, and I’ll buy you an ale.” Pitt shook his head. “But I don’t understand right now, and now is all the time you have.” He shook Flynn by the ankle to amplify his point. “But I’m your friend! Why are you doing this?” “You were my friend. Now you’re a murderer by proxy, you viper.” Flynn looked like he’d been struck. “Who have you been talking to?” he asked, swinging gently at the end of Pitt’s outstretched right arm. Pitt ignored the question. He pulled the parchment with the black blot from the folds of his shirt with his left hand and showed it to Flynn. “When you received this death threat, I thought you were the victim. Now, I wonder if somebody didn’t know something we didn’t know. The more I know of you, the less interested I am in your continued existence here. It’s not safe for those I love.” “Love?!” Flynn started snickering. The more he thought about it, the more his amusement gained strength and volume until he was full-out roaring. Pitt was unmoved except for a slight tremble in his right arm. Flynn’s laughter wore down. He wiped tears away. “I’m sorry,” he said, still on the verge of cracking up again. “Pitt, I made that blot and staged it in the room myself.” Very quietly, Pitt said, “What?” Flynn nodded. “That’s why I made such a big deal about the size of the room the first time we went there together. I had to convince you that I’d never seen the room before, much less visited it before. I’m really dizzy. Will you let me go, please?” Pitt repositioned his feet to give him a little better leverage for his awkward hold. “Why?” Flynn sighed. “You know I’m not at the

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Academy to learn—although I do that just by being here, by reading from your texts. What you don’t know is that I’m at the Academy to keep tabs on a suspected spy, and to prevent that agent from betraying the secret existence of a place that means a great deal to me. I knew that I would I need the freedom to come and go at will. Planting the blot myself created immediate sympathy with the staff here for what would normally be interpreted as strange or eccentric behavior. Making myself a ‘victim’ of an openended death threat gave me a blank check among official public opinion, a form of Administrative favor that I have used to good effect to protect the Academy from a genuine traitor.” Pitt considered this with all due gravity, thinking about what Deena had done, what Darden had said. “I’m done with your lies,” he said. “You have already engineered the public death of an innocent woman, and I am now convinced that Deena is next,” he said. “What you did with the black blot is funny, but the joke is on you.” Pitt crumpled the parchment and bounced it off Flynn’s chest with his left hand. “Somebody does want you dead after all. I just never imagined that person would be me.” And then Pitt opened his steely right hand, and Flynn fell screaming into the darkness.

Look forward to Chapter 11 of The Adventures of the Sky Pirate coming up in Issue 20, May 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.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

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Memory Wipe
Chapter 10: Descent
by Sean T. M. Stiennon
he 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  travels  with  the  Lithrallian  hunter Zartsi, who saved his life after he fled into  the jungles of Belar, and the Vitai Rover Esheera  Nii, who granted them passage for nothing more  than a little money and their life stories. Now, Takeda hopes to find answers about his  past from a man named Cramer Orano, currently  living  on  the  colony  world  Nihil.  They  arrive  in  orbit  only  to  find  that  someone  else  is  there  ahead of them—the alien assassin Lashiir, out for  their blood... During the voyage, Takeda had learned that stars were always colder in vacuum. They lost the gentle twinkle miles of atmosphere gave, becoming as hard as flecks of steel studding the sky. Now, those stars—and the barren globe of Nihil—might be the last things he ever saw. “You have slow ship, Rover,” Zartsi hissed. “What makes you say that?” Esheera countered, her voice deceptively calm as she reached for her controls. Her expression remained fixed.

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“How long since ship arrived? Can you see entry trace?” “After a couple hours, trace tracking takes more sensor power than the Seer’s got. That’s for police and military ships, not Rovers.” Zartsi grunted. “He has been here for long, I guess. Long enough for effective cloak.” She shook her mane of lank hair. “Look, sport, I don’t know anything about what kind of ships Clordites fly. For all I know they open portals to the Lightless Heat and use ‘em to teleport between stars. And I’m not to proud to admit that the Seer’s not the fastest ship in the black.” She jerked hard on a lever, and somewhere below and behind them the hum of the ship’s engines rose sharply in tempo. Zartsi started to say something else, but Esheera snapped, “Right now I want you to stop bitching unless you want your scaly butt pan-fried.” “What’s his vector?” Takeda asked. “He was orbiting near the upper pole. Coming straight for us now.” Takeda scanned the planet and the sweep of stars above it. His eyes were as good as they came, but he couldn’t see a hint of engine flare and wasn’t even sure if it was possible to see one at this distance. A thought flashed through his mind. Maybe this was a set-up. Maybe Esheera had somehow contacted the assassin and was going to turn them over to him. Sell them out. It wasn’t impossible—communications could be sent out of hyperspace, and it was possible that she knew how to contact Lashiir. He shook the thought away with disgust.

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Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Esheera had saved them once. And nothing in the two week voyage had given Takeda any reason to think she was anything but a friend. A friend who might now share their grave. “Is there anything you can do?” Anger laced Esheera’s voice. He couldn’t tell whether it was directed at him or the stars outside. “Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on what he’s got loaded out there, whether he’s going to kill us fast or gloat first, whether he blinded himself on the way over...” She tapered off into a throaty snarl unlike anything Takeda had heard from her. Takeda could see her nostrils clenching into slits and her ears curling downwards and flushing a darker shade of red. “I’m going to try to lose him,” she hissed. “But it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen fast. His ship can accelerate faster than mine and can probably maneuver five times as fast.” Esheera slapped a button on the board, and flickering holograms snapped into life above her left hand as it hung poised over a red lever. A grainy red sphere represented Nihil. The ship— Lashiir’s ship—was a fleck of bright yellow, and the Seer showed in blue. “Does ship have weapons?” Zartsi asked. Esheera jerked the red lever back. Takeda heard loud snaps and clunks that seemed to come from behind the bulkheads, and the engine roared like a fire doused in alcohol. He reeled forward despite the ship’s force dampeners and caught himself half on Esheera’s seat, half on an empty spot of the control board. “No,” she hissed. “You think this is some kind of blast boat? Getting a weapons license for a starship costs a hell of a lot more money than I’ve ever had.” “Then nothing keeps us alive.” “Nothing except my flying. Two crash seats against the wall there—I suggest you boys strap

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down. Unless you prefer to die on your feet.” Takeda turned slightly. He saw where a lightly padded seat folded out from the wall—much like the one he had used back aboard the Brass Shield, when it had made its entry into Freedan’s atmosphere. He unlatched it, sat on a slightly concave cushion that had obviously been designed with a much smaller Vitai in mind, and fasted buckles across his waist and chest. His arms remained free. Zartsi did the same. The straps pressed hard against his leather breastplate. Takeda watched as he put his hands on the leather-wrapped grips of his ivory blades. “Stay quiet,” Esheera hissed, “and say a prayer that I live to smoke some pirates yet.” # Locked in the Despair’s pilot throne, Lashiir was one mind and being with his ship. It lacked intelligence—Lashiir didn’t delude himself otherwise—but the machine’s computers nonetheless had deep complexity to them, one which even Lashiir’s mind couldn’t fathom. Despair had a cold understanding of its own, one which took the dictates of his mind and translated them into the language of machines. Through Despair’s eyes he saw the Rover ship as if it hovered in his palm. It was a crude vessel— efficient and functional, but with no elegance or artistry. A shipwright of the Dark Sphere would have laughed at it. Lashiir never laughed. The Despair fed him data on the ship—its speed and rate of acceleration, size and mass, and mapped out key points—engines, cockpit, no weapons detected. All of Despair’s weapons were charged, awaiting Lashiir’s command. With a thought or a twitch of his hand he could destroy them, perhaps even at this range. But he waited as the ship’s cold engines drove it closer. It was a small point, but he wanted to

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Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
be certain they saw him, knew the name of their killer. It would be better to have the pilot’s name as well. But that wouldn’t be possible. # Takeda watched, helpless, as Esheera’s hands whipped across the complex control panel that formed a semi-circle around her chair, extended to panels above her head, and even seemed to incorporate controls on the shaft of her chair itself. Her eyes flitted between a dozen displays and her hands moved faster than he could follow. The view outside the canopy was a chaos of whirling stars. The canopy darkened when Esheera whipped the ship around towards Nihil’s sun, but blood red light filled the cockpit nonetheless. The sun yawed out of view once again, and Nihil rose. It was as if the Seer had become the center around which the system pivoted. “Are we even moving towards the planet?” Takeda whispered. Zartsi nodded. “She moves chaotically to confuse targeting computers, piloting AI, whatever else. General trajectory is still towards planet, but she hides. Vitai call ‘Whip Dance.’” Takeda glanced at the holographic display. The yellow flare of Lashiir’s ship had come roughly level with the orbital plane, apparently behind them. Takeda had only minimal knowledge of the astronomical distances and trajectories involved. Still speaking softly, he said, “This is going to make it difficult for him to shoot us?” Zartsi nodded. “Even powerful weapons strike small area. Unless firing from close, is impossible to hit without computer assistance. Computers need data and patterns. Rover tries to clear mind of patterns, fly without. Ships designed for it.” A sudden jerk threw him against his straps, compressing his ribs, and he groaned. Distantly he realized he could smell Esheera keenly, from her hair to her wing-flaps, that every one of

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Zartsi’s scales was eerily distinct. But his powers were useless. “How do you know all that?” Zartsi grimaced slightly. “I...studied Rovers, once.” Out the cockpit, Takeda noticed that Nihil had grown dramatically. Esheera’s flying seemed to be doing its job. “He’s firing,” she said, then spat a series of curses in a language Takeda had never heard. “What weapons?” “X-ray lasers, from the data I’m getting,” she said. “You two are lucky. Death’ll be instantaneous, and you won’t see it coming even if I’m facing right towards him.” “Fortunate,” Zartsi hissed. # The Despair provided Lashiir with information on the ship’s interior as well. He saw Heziah and Tsuke in their cabin, held against their beds by straps which had been meant for Shadowfolk. Even when they believed their master wasn’t watching, their faces were masks. And John, despite all his injuries, showed no more than a subtle wince when Despair’s maneuvers crushed him against his cot. But that occupied only a corner of the assassin’s mind. The rest was with the Despair. Four batteries of lasers were installed on the ship’s sleek exterior, weapons crafted and consecrated by the best shipwrights in all of black space. Lashiir felt every one as if it was an extension of his body. It had been long—years—since he had flown, and longer still since he had used weapons. His skill came back to him rapidly. He saw the cold stars as if gazing from their barrels and at the same time saw the Vitai ship in all its detail. She was skilled. Her flight path wove such an erratic course that even Despair’s computers had difficulty making any predictions about it. Lashiir worked with what his ship gave him and fired his

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weapons in a regular sequence, lancing space Esheera cursed loudly in her own language. around the Rover. He expanded the sweep of the “Torpedoes. Lovely,” she added in Imperish. lasers as much as possible. She hammered keys on a small six-by two pad It would have been satisfying to see the on her left side while her right hand executed Lithrallian’s eyes again, to meet him with Tsiika another maneuver that swirled the contents of in hand, and for a moment Lashiir was tempted Takeda’s stomach. to target the Rover’s engines and nothing more— “Another ship has entered the system,” she disable the ship, then board and finish them. But said. “Broadcasting free merchant ID, but I’ve he had dismissed that idea long ago while he had never seen anyone running cargo in a Hellraiser.” steered Despair through the void between stars. # This prey had eluded him for too long. And this battle was not without challenge. The bridge of the Black  Dog struck Vass as She was a truly skilled pilot, and the countermea- being a strange imitation of those on larger batsures her ship was putting out further confused tleships—it had a captain’s seat raised above pilot Despair’s computers. and co-pilot stations, with controls on the arms The planet—called Nihil by humans—grew in which accessed various functions throughout the Despair’s vision as he pursued the Rover down ship. into its gravity well. Two of Clane’s men were at the consoles as the Black Dog approached Nihil’s day side, decel# erating gradually. Both of them destroyed any Esheera never blinked, at least not as far military illusion created by the bridge’s layout and as Takeda could see. Her eyes were constantly Vass’ crisp suit—leather jackets and ragged pants moving, sweeping over her controls, and they with guns stuck through the waistbands were the rarely seemed to be looking at the same spot her order of the day. One man had long, greasy hair hands were working. Her experience with the stained with splotches of purple, the other had ship showed in every movement—she knew the shaved his off and tattooed a skull on his scalp. controls like Takeda knew the Imperish alphabet. Nine hours after receiving orders from Clane, Little had changed in the holographic targeter. Vass had departed Freedan aboard the Black  The Seer crept closer and closer to the planet, Dog, a Hellraiser-class assault vehicle which had which grew larger every time it rose into view emerged from a munitions plant on Ulster five until it filled the canopy. Takeda still couldn’t see years ago and had somehow trickled down to any sign of Lashiir, either his ship or the weapons Clane’s organization. The crime lord had been able it was firing. to quickly cobble together a crew of seventeen “Probably a thousand Silvers poured into beings: thirteen humans, three Drava, and one countermeasures over the years,” Esheera spat at tattooed Lithrallian. Jiza obeyed Vass grudgingly, the canopy, “and now they’re not doing a damn but a second beating in the Black Dog’s hold two thing.” days after departure had cowed him and deprived She maneuvered around into a corkscrew that him of a handful of fangs. broke off suddenly into a descending spiral. The He stood at Vass’ shoulder now. His vest had sun flashed into Takeda’s vision once more, and been replaced with a combat harness that left for an instant he thought he saw the crimson light most of his chest bare and supported two pistols reflect on something in the blackness of space. and three visible knives. Tattoos covered his torso,

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Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
continuing the red and violet knots on his arms and neck. The rest of the crew was largely drawn from Clane’s membership, along with a few “independent contractors,” as Clane called them, who had been willing to take a job on short notice. Most had been skeptical of Vass’ leadership, but some trusted Jiza enough to be cowed by his broken fangs. Vass had brought the others into line with similarly violent methods. “Captain,” said the long-haired pilot, Gather, “I’m reading two ships in Nihil orbit.” “Classes?” “Neither one registers in the database, and they’re not broadcasting ID.” “Trajectory?” “One’s heading down, erratic course. The other one...my data’s not very good this far out, but it’s chasing.” “Bring us in. Henshi, power-up all weapons.” “Got it.” Jiza hissed softly. “Good timing. If one is Croster we’re golden.” “True,” Vass answered, “but I’m more concerned about the other ship. Answer a question for me: if the pursued ship is Croster’s, whose is the other one?” “Don’t know. Orbital security?” “I doubt it. Even if Nihil had such a thing, they wouldn’t have any reason to attack a lone Rover ship.” Jiza cracked his knuckles loudly. “Hey, Gather, you got any ID on those ships? Class, size?” “No class match,” the man replied. “Our data’s still fuzzy, though.” Vass nodded. “Lashiir,” he said. “Your boss’s assassin.” He tapped his fingers on the cool metal of his seat’s arms. The chair, silly as it was, gave him a heady sensation of control. He looked up at the Lithrallian. “Jiza,” he said. “Your boss would appreciate Lashiir’s death, wouldn’t he?”

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“He’d gold-plate your ass.” Vass smiled. “Not quite what I was hoping for, but I get the point. Move us in.” As the Black  Dog surged forward, Clane hit a switch on the arm of his chair and spoke into a small intercom unit. “Attention all,” he said, keeping his voice crisp. “Strap yourselves down somewhere and stay there until I give further orders. We’re going to do some hunting.” # Lashiir felt a cold anger growing in his heart. He worked the Despair’s weapons at a steady pace, filling space with X-ray energy. He opened his mind to take in every morsel of information the ship fed him, from all its hundreds of sensors and scanners, and synthesize it—with help from the ship’s computers—into an overall picture of space and his prey within it. He used it to target his shots, trying to second-guess the Rover’s flight. But none of his four laser arrays had yet scored a hit. Every second brought him closer. He could see the painted designs on the ship’s sides through Despair’s eyes. But still the Rover outflew his attack. He triggered a barrage of six torpedoes from the rack on the ship’s underbelly. Despair carried only sixteen—torpedoes were considered crude and inelegant by his people. They accelerated away from his ship, hunting the distinctive signature of the Rover’s engine. She deployed countermeasures almost instantly. A flurry of small boxes spat from a hatch that ground open on her ship’s belly, and Despair’s sensors read the scrambling signals they put out to confuse the torpedoes’ intelligence. Lashiir raked them with his lasers, causing most to erupt in bursts of quickly-extinguished fire. The shrapnel would still cause problems for his torpedoes. Then he saw the Rover swing her ship up and

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Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
around in yet another maneuver, but this time he knew where she would come out. It was simple— far simpler than her flying had been. And this time Lashiir’s synthesis of information and intuition was enough. He triggered his laser arrays. Four beams lanced out into darkness. The Rover’s maneuver didn’t end precisely as Lashiir predicted, but he had been accurate enough. He saw every detail as two beams ripped through the ship’s engines. Flecks of molten metal and scraps of twisted strome flew away from a globe of white fire that would have seared Lashiir’s naked eyes. He felt a hint of satisfaction. The cockpit remained. Lashiir aimed his lasers carefully—the ship was still moving forward at its former velocity. Then Despair screamed as weapons’ fire raked its flank. # Takeda’s breath came in gulps, and every heave of his chest sent fresh jolts of pain through the ribs where they had been crushed against the shock straps. Painfully acute sensation poured across him—smells of burning metal and hot sweat, a thousand little details from around the cockpit that no ordinary eyes could have seen, a hundred sounds from the blasted Seer. He could taste minuscule tendrils of smoke. Takeda looked at Zartsi. The Lithrallian’s eyes were shut, his arms crossed over his leather breastplate. His tail twitched slowly as he mumbled something under his breath. Takeda could hear just enough to confirm that it wasn’t Imperish. A prayer to the gods of the Glorious Mountain, he guessed. Most people in Greendome had been Christians of some stripe, church-going or not, but Takeda had never been religious. He didn’t know how to pray. He could only fight to block out a whirlwind of sensations and wordlessly beg God

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to take care of things when death came at last. He had thought he would be dead by now, when the shock of the exploding engines ripped through the ship. But vacuum doors had slammed shut, and Esheera hadn’t even glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes remained locked on the canopy, her hands—both shaking—danced over the controls. Some of her maneuvering jets remained operational. And, from what he could see on the holographic display, three torpedoes were still tracking the Seer. Nihil filled the canopy as Esheera charged down onto it. # Brian Vass watched on his tactical display as beams from the Black Dog’s three pulser cannons raked the assassin’s ship. The cannons were the best available to a rich man willing to plunge into the black market, with a beam thickness of over twenty centimeters and power cells capable of sustaining a three-second burst before recharge, programmed to track the target’s trajectory and acceleration. The hull remained intact. Vass narrowed his eyes. “Damage to the target?” he snapped. “Hull shows some damage, but she’s not venting,” Gather shouted back. “Can’t tell you anything about weapons or engines. Thing hardly looks like it has an engine.” “Henshi, torpedoes?” “Still approaching.” “Time until pulser recharge?” “Seven seconds.” “When charged, try to get a lock for a focused shot.” Vass tried not to show any of his anger on his face. How had a hit-man for hire been able to afford a ship with enough armor to take negligible damage from pulsers? That would take layers of strome alloyed with sorvite. Only the Imperial military and—maybe—some of the

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
most powerful pirates and gangsters in the galaxy could field that kind of equipment. “He’s coming about, Captain,” Gather said. “Orders?” “Evasive maneuvers! Henshi, empty our rack when he’s settled his vector.” “Aye, Captain.” Vass glanced down at his display, currently showing a close-up of the ship compiled from visual and sensor data. The ship was midnight black against the distant stars, with two sweeping claws stretching ahead of an angular body. The only engine flare it showed was a faint distortion of light behind it. Vass fastened crash straps across his chest, wondering if he hadn’t just made a huge mistake. # The Ixlu Seer’s descent into Nihil’s atmosphere passed in a blur of heat, pain, and overwhelming sensation. Takeda felt himself slammed again and again into his straps and back into his seat. Pain seemed to rack his entire body. His arms twisted in their sockets. Zartsi spoke louder, filling the cockpit with chanted words in his native tongue that rivaled the harsh song Esheera was singing and the howl of tortured metal. A halo of flame wrapped the ship. Takeda saw stars dim and vanish into deep, deep blue at the bottom of the canopy. The torpedoes detonated. Takeda saw scraps of metal incinerate in their descent—from the Seer or torpedoes he couldn’t tell. A sweep of desolate ground rose to meet them, filling the canopy. Barren mountains, barren flats, barren oceans of grainy sand—all seen through a haze of flame. Esheera’s hands worked. The ship turned upwards slightly, coming in at a gentler angle. Esheera shouted something. Smell, sight, and sound overwhelmed him, torturing him even when he shut his eyes and

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tried to cover his ears. He tried to make it go away. He had summoned and banished his senses at will before—but not now. Even when they were useless, painful, he could do nothing. He screamed. At some point, when the canopy showed searing blue sky and dust and an empty stretch of nothing still far below, he blacked out. # Of all the torpedoes out of the salvo only a single one struck the black ship’s underbelly, tearing away shreds of its armor but leaving its hull intact. An instant later, Henshi shouted, “Hit to starboard wing! Big chunk of it’s gone.” “Pulser still there?” “No. No, I don’t think so, or if it is, all the power cells are wasted.” Vass cursed again, watched the black ship in his display. Fast, better armored than the best ships in the Imperial military, and equipped with ruthlessly accurate and powerful weaponry. Vass could understand better now why Clane had hired this Lashiir in the first place—and why he now wanted the assassin dead. “Can we take him?” Jiza asked, still standing by Vass’ shoulder. “Strap down, you idiot!” Vass barked. “And shut your hole!” Gather pulled the Black  Dog up into a tight loop that leveled out early and transformed into a downward spiral. Henshi triggered the two remained pulsers, firing them from swivel mounts. Vass watched one beam score the assassin’s ship while the other lanced off into space. Scraps of metal sprayed into the vacuum, but still no breach, nothing substantial. “Hit to the cargo bays!” Henshi shouted. “Doors sealed, but we lost everything in two and four.” Vass had to restrain himself from smashing his display in the hope that it would sympathetically shatter Lashiir’s ship. When he spoke, he

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
fought to keep his voice level. “Henshi,” he said, “give him everything we have. Torpedoes, sensor scramblers, and everything the pulsers can put out. Heck, even the chain guns. Once you’ve got him distracted, drop the Grinder. Gather, when that’s down, get us to Nihil. I don’t care how you do it.” “We’re running?” Jiza growled. “Better than getting sawed apart by X-rays and frozen in vacuum,” Vass spat back. # Takeda woke up with his mouth full of warm, salty blood. He spat it out weakly and felt it pour across his vest, shirt, and pants. The taste filled his mouth, but it wasn’t any stronger than normal. He licked his teeth and opened his eyes. His straps still held him back into the crash seat. He lifted his arms weakly to unfasten them, ignoring the aches that raced through his muscles. Gravity almost made him collapse facefirst onto the floor. He gripped the sides of the seat, clenching bloody teeth against the pain, and held himself until his legs remembered how to support him. Dull light tinged with red poured through the canopy, which had spider-web cracks running through it and a major fissure through the middle. Takeda had to look for several seconds before he realized Esheera wasn’t in her chair. He glanced over at Zartsi. The Lithrallian’s bright blue eyes opened slowly. Blood trickled from one socket. He coughed, a long, racking sound, and said, “You live, Takeda.” Takeda swallowed twice—painfully—before he found a voice to answer with. “Yeah. How bad you hurt?” Speaking of hurt—he realized that he had bitten his tongue open. Zartsi unfastened his straps and winced. “Nothing broken, but one eye is red.” He gently rubbed his eyes with one knuckle and then looked at the blotch of bright red on it.

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He fingered the eyeball itself, clenching his teeth. More blood poured out. He felt his eye white carefully, stretching his eyelid open. “Shallow cut,” he hissed, shuddering with pain as his hand dropped. “I won’t lose eye.” Takeda nodded. His head hurt too. “At least... we’re alive.” Zartsi smiled. “Sometimes I wish would not wake up.” He braced his arms against his seat and heaved himself to his feet. He teetered for a moment, wavering between toppling forward or backward, then stood firm, using his arms and tail to aid balance. “Body still works,” he growled. “Pain will fade.” He turned and offered a hand to Takeda. He took it and allowed Zartsi to pull him up. His legs ached as much as anything, but they supported him. Droplets of blood from his mouth spattered his shoes. The vacuum door separating the cockpit from the rest of the ship had re-opened. They descended the ladder rung by rung, grunting with pain. Most of what had been in the lounge had been sucked out by a ragged breach in the rear wall. Even the woven carpets from the floor were gone. Takeda didn’t have enough energy to be saddened. He stumbled onto the next ladder, just behind Zartsi. Only when his shoes clanged on the floor of the hold did he realize how hot he was. Sweat had begun to appear on his hands. He hadn’t felt like this since his trek through the jungles of Belar. The heat seemed to flow from the bulkheads of the ship. Everything had been sucked out of the hold except what was stored in the lockers fastened onto the bulkhead. A gaping hole opened in the ship’s aft section. Takeda walked through it, staring at the nightmarish landscape spreading before him. A dry, hot wind blasted him as he stepped out into the red sunlight of Nihil. A trench six feet

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon
deep, gouged out of the baked ground by the Seer’s landing, stretched out before him as far as he could see. A flat plain of barren tan stretched out to either side—not sand, just hard soil. The dryness and wind had smoothed away all irregularities. Takeda looked up to see the red sun almost precisely overhead. The sky around it was dark blue. “Good. You’re strong enough to walk,” Esheera said. “Kind stars know you’ll need to do plenty of it.” She crouched on the hump of baked soil dug up by the Seer’s landing. Her fingers opened, releasing a handful of dust, as she stared off into the desert. Takeda saw blood running from a wound on her shoulder. “We should...get that bandaged,” he said. She shrugged. “Yeah, we’ve got time for that. It’s not going to matter too much if we get started an hour or two late. It’s not like we have much to pack up or anything.” Takeda blinked. His eyes watered in the sunlight. “What do you mean?” “What I mean,” she said, a hint of anger creeping into her voice, “is that the blasted hulk behind you will never feel vacuum again. We’re grounded, Tak.” Takeda turned around. The Seer had stopped a few feet away from a heap of rusted brown boulders, the first in a chain of gradually steeper and higher mounds that eventually become towering mountains sculpted into spear points by wind and grit. The peaks were at least hundreds of feet high. He turned to look back out at the open desert. The horizon was a featureless line. Takeda shuddered involuntarily despite the heat. “How far from Hope’s End?” Zartsi asked. Esheera pointed. “My best guess is we’re over a hundred and fifty miles southwest. Nothing but desert in between. Hell, nothing but desert any way you walk.” She shrugged softly. Another spurt of blood poured from her shoulder. “It’s funny, you know. Ray Gun Revival magazine

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When I was tiny they told us a Rover should be ready to leave everything behind and move on without looking back—when humans shoved us out, when ships or farms broke down, when wars passed through. But they never told me how hard it is to lose...everything. My carpets are lost to the black now.” Takeda took two painful steps towards her. “What do we do?” “What I said. We walk. I’ve got emergency food and water stowed behind some of the bulkheads. We load up with as much as we can carry and start hoofing it. If we survive, fair enough. If we don’t, none of us will have anything left to worry about, and I’ll be with Jaggo again.” Takeda could only stare at the desolation, feeling pain shoot through his chest every time he breathed. Sweat had already begun to wet his skin. “And,” Esheera said, “we’ve still got your weapons. They’re in the vacuum lockers.” Zartsi made a hissing noise that sounded almost happy. Takeda turned to him. The Lithrallian was smiling even as another drop of blood rolled down from his eye. “Perhaps I will hunt yet,” he said.

Next month... Chapter 11: The Waste

Issue 20, April 15, 2007

Serial: Memory Wipe, Descent, by Sean T. M. Stiennon

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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  fic  tion  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 20, April 15, 2007

Jolly RGR

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The Jolly RGR
Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 21

Two Short stories by Not Yet Sure Your story could be here. Serial: Deuces Wild, Chapter 11, “In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five” by L. S. King Further adventures of Slap and Tristan Featured Artist

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 20, April 15, 2007