THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

Murder Beneath
by Alice M. Roelke

Beyond The Flesh
by A. M. Stickel

The Case of the Spurious Spacemen
by MN Schnecke

Serial: Deuces Wild
by L. S. King

In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five

“The Engineer,” by Benjamin Schmid

May 01, 2007

Issue 21

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2 Overlord’s Lair 3 Murder Beneath, by Alice M. Roelke 4 Beyond the Flesh, by A. M. Stickel 12 Featured Artist: Benjamin Schmid 21 The Case of the Spurious Spacemen, by MN Schnecke 23 SERIAL: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five by L. S. King 33 The RGR Time Capsule 40
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: “The Engineer,” by Benjamin Schmid 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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Overlord’s Lair

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eady to take to the sea, travel beyond death, have some light-hearted fun, and get blown up? If so, you’ve come to the right place. But you might want to make sure your insurance is paid up before you begin reading this issue! Our first offering is Alice M. Roelke’s Murder Beneath People say the Delans can tell your future and never get it  wrong. But does that mean you should trust them? Beth and Willow stilled, waiting for their fellow Sea Support members to arrive and the Delans to come out. Without looking at them, one of the guards sent, [Watch out for these three. They never lie, but they never quite tell the truth. If you listen to them, it will destroy you.] Beth didn’t grace this with a reply, but Willow shot back angrily, [How can you say that? How would you know?] The spacer bowed her head slightly at Willow’s anger. [Maybe I’m wrong,] she hedged. [But my friend died because of their predictions.] [Yeah right. Get back to space, you superstitious rockhead.] Beyond the Flesh, by A.M. Stickel draws us into the near future. The Plague Wars begin with an unjustly executed convict.  His scientist sister tries to solve the puzzle of his death and  thwart the plague, but she must pay the ultimate price. The lift door opened on Dr. Zubin’s floor, disgorging the first casualties in the Plague Wars. Danny’s name died on her lips. She screamed in terror and sprinted for her lab. Shuffling after her like a sleepwalker, KDZ’s blank-eyed, drooling State’s Witness dragged Comfort’s limp form behind him by one foot. His fumbling hands had tried and failed to pry her from her hazmat suit. One instinct alone drove him: a voiceless cry began in the center of his being, craving satiation—hungry, Hungry, HUNGRY! Place your tongue firmly in your cheek for The Case of the Spurious Spacemen, by MN Schnecke. The  Red  Eye,  alter  ego  of  Henry  Deal,  detective,  faces  one  of  the  greatest  challenges  of  his  crime  fighting  career. Cows  from  space  are  kidnapping  most  of  the  gangsters  in  the  city—and  all  of  the  victims  are  insured  against alien abduction! But when the Red Eye learns that 

his archenemies, the Nose and the Leer, have escaped from  prison, things take on an even more sinister turn. “Let me get this straight,” Henry Deal said to the distraught insurance executive. “Your company is going broke because of an alien invasion? I haven’t seen anything on the news.” When he first came in and began babbling about alien cows, Deal had thought he was delusional. That is, until he saw the photographs. “But they do look like cows,” he exclaimed. “Cows in space suits.” “You’ve got it,” Mr. Anderson said. “Cows in space suits. Kidnapping people. Mostly gangsters, I might add. They’re all insured.” “Hmm,” Henry said, his mind racing. This had all the elements of a set up. But the average criminal was not that creative. There had to be a mastermind involved. We end this issue with the continuing adventures of Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, part five, by L. S. King When  we  last  left  our  heroes,  Tristan  was  trapped  in  the  self-destructing  palace  of  the  dead  Eridani  emperor.  Slap  was in the temple and the late emperor’s cousin had pulled  a needlegun on him.  Tristan hurried south as fast as he could crawl, using rocks and boulders as cover whenever possible. Even if he dared, walking was painful and slow with his leg injury. His chances of getting clean away weren’t good, but what other choice did he have? He scrambled toward a large outcropping on the side of a hill. On the far side he discovered a small niche between several boulders. Not a very good hiding place, but the best he could do. He wedged in and reached for two plasma grenades. The whine of capacitors charging made him look up. Five PB rifles stared him in the face. Think you’re ready? Then shields up, hang on (since we know bridge chairs never have seat belts), and hope the inertial dampers don’t cut out!

L. S. King

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Murder Beneath
by Alice M. Roelke
he house swayed in the tide. Bethel grabbed one of the inner-growth handholds to steady herself, careful to stifle her annoyance. She had seen young houses stunted, stiff, and unresponsive because of incompetent sendings. A manta ray flapped slowly past the thin, still-hardening window. She decided this house should have a domed window. Laying her hands against the clear membrane, she pressed outwards. Because she had spent time with the building since it was a seedling, it responded, easily molding outward under her touch. A lot of architects let houses grow untouched until they were ready to make rooms in them. You could mass produce houses that way, but it was hard to get any soul in them. That soul wasn’t just the fanciful designs, the spiraling towers and overhangs, or the work and rest areas that stayed soft and pliant, easily molding to the owner’s touch. It was the eagerness, the loving attention the house lavished on its occupants. You couldn’t hurry that. It could only come from time spent with a developing house. Of course, a certain knack at sending-communication didn’t hurt. Bethel Mackenzie, Sea Support member and part-time housemaker, grew homes for people who wanted to live near the Sea Support base. Someday, she hoped to be more well known, and sell houses to celebrities and billionaires as well. “...kenzie! Mackenzie! Get down here!” Stifling a groan, she reached for her squawking communication bubble and pulled it to her face. “Here boss. What is it?” “Get down here now Mackenzie! You’re

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holding us all up!” screamed Major Tremper. She could picture him frothing at the mouth, ready to hand out letters of reprimand. “Yes, sir, I’m coming,” she said, and twisted her bubble to silent mode, then released it. It bounced back to hover by her hip. She pushed her fingers through a soft spot in the wall, opening the door. It closed behind her as she slid into the water, releasing her breath and pulling cool seawater into her gills. The communication bubble followed by her side, blinking red as Tremper continued to hail her. Stupid, she thought, straddling her shark and sending it the silent command to return to base. A  major  should  trust  a  captain  to  return  after  one recall, not hound her while she was trying to  obey.  If  I  was  a  major... But no. Fruitless to think that. Tremper would never retire, if only to keep her from getting a promotion. She gripped the shark’s muscular sides with her bare legs. The sharp shark skin would have cut her skin, if she’d been a regular human. But, being specifically enhanced for an amphibious lifestyle, her skin wasn’t harmed by the sandpapery shark. If anything, she found shark skin convenient—easy to grip. As the shark plowed through the ocean, her communication bubble switched remotely to telepathic mode, allowing Tremper to yell at her further. [Mackenzie! I swear, if you’re ever late again] [Sir, I’m on my way. I can’t talk,] she replied, struggling to stay calm. That would have to be good enough even for him. She shut off the bubble.

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Murder Beneath, by Alice M. Roelke
She reached the base in record time, and released the shark as she shoved her fingers into the base’s pliant door and walked through. A sheen of water cascaded onto the floor as the door closed behind her. She faced the major, and saluted. “Sir.” He glared at her, surrounded by the other Sea Support, both the enhanced, scantily clad like Beth, and the normals, wearing their cumbersome skin-suits and oxy tanks. “You are a full three minutes and thirty-six seconds late. You missed the briefing, and now you’ll have to escort the aliens unprepared. Team up, go in pairs. Dismissed.” They saluted stiffly, and he returned it before pivoting on his heel, marching out. Hot and angry and still dripping, Beth ran with the others for the dolphin bay. He’d done that just to get her! He must have called the meeting purposely while she was on break, just to humiliate her. Wrathfully, she put on a burst of speed and jumped, grabbing the first grey plastic marker on the line by the dolphin room, and yanked it off. Willow, it read. She smiled wryly. Her luck had not completely left her. She held it up and Willow’s necklace-jewel glowed sympathetically red, and, on the line, so did Beth’s gray token. They were both claimed. Willow smiled, and ran over to her. Together, they jumped into the pool and snagged rides. They were the first ones out the gate, neck in neck. Willow looked over at her and grinned. They were well matched in skill, and understood one another almost without telepathy. Also, they both were quite good-looking, another product of their genetic enhancing, which could make it difficult to work with men. Far too many men tended to lose their heads working with Willow or Beth. They would get unaccountably shy, or effusive, or start pulling crazy stunts to impress

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the girls. [Tell me about the aliens,] sent Beth, feeling less irritated with the deep blue sea surrounding her again. She and Willow rode side by side, whiplash fast. [You didn’t miss anything. We’re just escorting a trio of Delans to the base.] [So? You’re almost as bad as Tremper! What are Delans?] Willow gave her a shriveling look. [Where have you been, under a reef? You’re too busy with your houses to bother with the news, right?] [Well...] [Fine, I’ll bail you out! They’re from a water world with a gravity similar to Earth’s. They have three sexes instead of two, and they only travel rarely, and in groups of three.] [Sounds pretty tame. Is it just another underwater peace treaty?] [Yeah, except apparently when they’re in their groups of three, they can see glimpses of the future. That’s why Tremper didn’t want to meet them himself. He’s scared. There are all kinds of stories of people who’ve met them and had things predicted—and then had them come true! I can’t believe you haven’t followed it.] [I’ve been busy. So they’re some kind of cosmic fortune tellers?] [You make it sound so crass! It’s not as if they charge for it. And they’ve never been wrong.] [Right. How can you tell?] Willow gave her long, blond hair a toss. [I read it.] [Well don’t believe everything you—] [I know, I know! I hope they tell us something, though. Admit it, you skeptic, you’d enjoy it too.] [Ha!] Beth gave her dolphin a speed-urging and shot ahead of Willow. It was an enhanced dolphin, of course, modified to hear telepathy better, and implanted with gills so it wouldn’t have to constantly surface for air.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Murder Beneath, by Alice M. Roelke
Dolphins were a hallowed tradition in the Sea Support, a holdover from before enhancing, back when all humans had to carry bulky oxy tanks, carefully regulate their body temperatures, and protect their fragile skin. Today, the slim and supple Beth was as strong and tireless as a shark, even if she didn’t look it. Personally, she thought modified sharks were best for Sea Support transportation. Dolphins were a lot of fun, but they didn’t always get down to business like they should. Also, dolphins needed a lot of maintenance. You had to spend a lot of time with a dolphin or it wouldn’t listen to you. And, of course, there were the practical jokes. But today their dolphins behaved, and Beth and Willow were the first ones to the dock. The dock was a water-lock device that let water-bound aliens come directly from a ship to the ocean without any dangerous air contact. Of course, even this shock would be unthinkable if the aliens didn’t spend most of the voyage to Earth adjusting to the temperature and pressure of Earth’s oceans. It was a lot of work, but it allowed for a fuller inter-social understanding, and better working relations. Of course there were tanks and water-suits, but who would want to use one of those their whole time on Earth? The dock opened and two enhanced guards came through. Bulky and rocklike, they looked less human than some aliens. They were not engineered for underwater work, so they must be holding their breath. Of course, the enhanced space-facing humans could hold their breath for several hours at a time. That and work in a vacuum. The guards positioned themselves, respectfully, one on each side of the lock, waiting for their alien charges to emerge. Beth and Willow stilled, waiting for their fellow Sea Support members to arrive and the Delans to

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come out. Without looking at them, one of the guards sent, [Watch out for these three. They never lie, but they never quite tell the truth. If you listen to them, it will destroy you.] Beth didn’t grace this with a reply, but Willow shot back angrily, [How can you say that? How would you know?!] The spacer, naturally subservient and obedient, bowed her head slightly at Willow’s anger. [Maybe I’m wrong,] she hedged. [But my friend died because of their predictions.] [Yeah right. Get back to space, you superstitious rock-head!] The spacer closed her eyes and withdrew emotionally. [You shouldn’t have done that,] sent Beth to Willow. [You know how easily you can hurt those worker-types.] [Only because they’re so stupid they have to be programmed to want to please everyone!] It wasn’t quite fair, but Beth didn’t argue. She was just glad her genes hadn’t been tinkered with to make her more agreeable or pliable. The telepathic exchange took only seconds. Now the trio of aliens started through the lock, dwarfed by the guards. Each Delan had several dozen tentacles coming down from his/her/its head, obscuring whatever body was beneath. The tentacles, suctionless and opaque, swirled and swayed. I should compare them to octopuses,  but they’re nothing like that, really. Nothing at all, thought Beth. Their delicate, impatient tentacles were nothing like an octopus’s crude limbs. The Delans’ heads seemed able to swivel any which way at all. Beth could discern no facial features on them, save three eyes per alien. They looked large and eerie—and surprisingly similar to human eyes, though lidless. The rest of the escort still had not arrived, although she could hear them drawing nearer. So

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she and Willow greeted the aliens on their own. [Welcome to Earth,] she and Willow sent, clearly and together. The Delans returned their gazes with unblinking eyes. When they sent, it was with the flavor or a wild, mind-bending alien chorus. [Greetings, Beth, captain of underwater.] The flavor of the greeting was peaceful and green, like a calm sea. Beth’s mind did a giddy turn-around. They were staring at her. Their mind-voices always twined, but one spoke uppermost each time. [Greetings, Bethel, winner of the plant-house award.] The flavor of this was like a strain of glorious music, or a carefree swim through forests of kelp. Last, the strongest mind spoke, with a kind of wild, seductive finality. [Greetings, Bethel MacKenzie, leader of the Sea Support!] Beth’s mind spun from the lyric greetings. She managed a faint reply. [I’m none of those, except the first.] All three alien minds replied, instantly and together, [But you will be.] The wild music of their minds left her reeling and stunned, submerged in glorious possibilities. [And what of me?] asked Willow, sounding jealous. [What great things will happen to me?] They replied without emotion. [Ever none, but your child shall rule worlds.] [But I have no child,] sent Willow. The Delans glided past silently, towards the other Sea Support personnel just arriving. # A stately ceremony met the Delans at the base. Water displays were set off in their honor, and famous and smooth-tongued ambassadors led them away.

The Sea Support escort, basked for a moment in glory, now hung around, ignored by all. Some roughhoused with their dolphins to burn off steam; others talked or laughed about what had happened, but none left. The awe of the aliens momentarily bound them together. Fighting off a heady dizziness, Bethel sent, quickly and only to Willow, [Let’s not tell anyone. I don’t want to be mocked if it doesn’t come true.] Willow nodded absently, her face a mask of confusion and hurt. [Why you, though? They had so much good to say for you, who scoffed at them, but I, who believed...] [Your child will rule worlds,] reminded Beth. [That’s better. It’s a kind of immortality.] [Maybe,] thought Willow. Neither of them believed it. # Bethel’s bubble buzzed as she worked on her house. She answered absently. “Mackenzie here.” “Hey Kenz! You’re in the money!” shouted Arthur Ret, a reporter she knew. “How’s that?” She dropped the bubble and it hovered by her side, spewing Arthur’s cheerful voice as she, concentrating, worked carefully on the house, forming a bed. “You’ve won the Best Housemaker award, that’s what!” Bethel gave a start, and the color drained from her face. This meant... “Kenz, did you hear me? You’ve won! Your work’s gonna triple in value overnight!” The second statement had come true. There remained only the third. Maybe it is my destiny, she thought. She shook the thought away and raised the bubble. “Thank

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you for telling me, Art.” “Can I do your bio?” “Um, sure.” As she spoke, she happened to glance down at the newly-made bed. A giant spike like a stalagmite stuck up from the middle, created by her jolt of surprise. Absently, she tried to smooth it down again, back to a useable shape. But it had already hardened beyond change. # Willow took her aside at the award presentation. “Some luck, huh?” she asked, with a halfteasing, half wary look in her eyes. “Yeah,” said Beth. “I don’t expect the other thing will happen, though.” Willow nodded, appeared satisfied. “Try to keep your cool out there tonight. I know Tremper drives you crazy, but you don’t want a crowd of potential customers to know that.” As usual, Tremper was trying to hog all Beth’s glory. The awards committee had come here so they could tour her houses. That had gone well. But holding the ceremony in one of Sea Support’s spacious conference rooms had given Tremper an excuse to orchestrate the proceedings. “Don’t worry,” said Beth. “Not even Tremper can ruin tonight.” But when she started on stage in stunning evening wear, prepared to accept her award, she found Tremper still talking, slurring his words. “...which reminds me of a little joke, gems and gents, ha ha. One time I calls them in and ‘Kenzie’s so late she misses the briefing! Isn’t that a scream?” The delegates shifted in their seats. “Ah, sir...” Karl Ing tapped Tremper on the shoulder. The genteel scientist, renowned as a

worldwide house expert, looked uncomfortable. “Just a minute, buddy. Can’t you see I’m talking?” Tremper leaned over the podium at his captive audience. “That reminds me of a little joke about ‘Kenzie.” Standing on the sidelines, trying to maintain a pleasant smile, Bethel fumed inwardly—and swore she would get even. He’s hounded me, kept back my career, made  me look bad, and now he’s ruining the one night  that  should  have  been  mine!  The  Delans  said  I  would  rule  Sea  Support—that  means  I’ll  be  promoted, maybe even replace him.  Maybe I should help things along. # She managed to get a few accolades after the rushed ceremony. While Tremper swayed by the beverage table, a few people came up and congratulated her, mentioning they would like her to shape them a house. It gave her a pleasant glow without the side effects of imbibing, so she did not bother. Besides, she would need her wits tonight. She stayed until everyone else had left, squeezing the last ounces from her award. Walking to her quarters after the party was over, Beth spotted the Delans, swimming peacefully around near the dolphin bay. Unobtrusive guards hung back. On impulse, she opened a door in the wall and slid into the sea, still in her evening dress. Gulping cool seawater through her gills, she kicked off her high-heels and swam down towards the Delans. The guards, who knew her, nodded as she passed. As the Delans turned to meet her, she sent a quick, anxious thought towards them, shielding it

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from the far-away guards. [Will I succeed?] she asked. [Will I be caught?] [You shall not fail.] Their three mental voices twined as one. [And I won’t be caught? I’ll—live out my life, without anyone ever knowing?] Now their answers were separate and distinct. [You shall not die at the hands of humans,] sent the first, in a musical, whispery mind-voice. [You shall not die at the hands of aliens,] sent the second, calm and glorious. [You shall die,] sent the third with ringing finality, [when houses walk and humans are not born with hands.] [But this means—] Bethel struggled to remain calm. Houses were plants, changeable to an extent, of course, but still grounded, still connected to the earth. And she could not image any reason that humans might be engineered without hands. In this day, how could it happen accidentally? Unless something changed drastically, Bethel Mackenzie would live forever! She wondered if some new technology, perhaps in the works now, would extend her life indefinitely. The future had never looked brighter. I  just  might live forever, she thought. [Thank you!] sent Beth. [Thank you!] She swam smiling back, but not to her quarters. She went to Tremper’s. She glimpsed him through an opaque window in his poorly-grown house. He had his own, paid for by Sea Support. He lay on a formed couch with his eyes closed. She swam up, thrust her fingers through the door, and pulled herself inside. Water fell off her in a sheet, as Tremper awoke with an interrupted

snort. Sleepily, he caught sight of her, and leered as he eyeballed her water-slicked dress. “Hey there, good-looking,” he slurred. “Come on in.” “I’d rather go out,” she said. “There’s a special place I’d like you to see.” “Well sure!” He pulled himself to unsteady feet. Was he too drunk to know it was her? Or just too drunk to care? Helping him out the door, she called her shark. It came with powerful speed. She managed to get Tremper on its back, and clung to the shark’s fin, sending the silent command. [Hang on,] she told Tremper, putting an arm around him to keep him from falling. The shark swam with economy of motions to her young house, swaying in the side. Beth looked around quickly. Not a soul in sight; the guests who had visited the house earlier were gone now. She was alone, with a compliant shark and her drunken boss. She pushed Tremper inside the house. He slumped, rubbery, to the floor, already half asleep again. She easily hefted him by his shoulders, and slammed him against the wall. He awoke with a start. “Huh?” His eyes widened. “You?” “Yes. Me.” Beth touched the wall. It was one of the most sensitive sections of the house. She had been planning to expand it into another room. Now sensing her fury and rage, it spiked outwards, hardening instantly. Through Tremper. He stared at her, eyes unseeing, mouth agape. She stared back, allowing a small, vicious smile to cross her face. Then she got to work, soothing the house, softening the unhardened edges, drawing them over him until he was cocooned in gauzy plant

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material. With another harsh thought, the cocoon blackened and hardened around him. She had made him into a decorative wall piece, like sculpted coral. # Beth formed a search party, because she was now highest ranking at the base. Everyone knew she didn’t like Tremper, but she conducted herself professionally—even when her shark mysteriously died only days later. The search continued until an oversight committee pronounced him most likely dead and launched an investigation. Beth was questioned, along with others whom he’d also mistreated. “It’s no secret I dislike Tremper,” Beth said. “But our differences were purely professional. I’d have been stupid to kill him—I’m such an obvious suspect.” She cooperated fully with the investigation, and was cleared. She handled herself admirably, and soon received her promotion. Beth now ran the base, and general consensus said she was better at it than Tremper had ever been. The investigation of Tremper’s disappearance, though still technically open, was as good as finished. Beth’s house-making business grew steadily, even though she didn’t have a lot of free time to work on it. She didn’t sell the house she’d been working on when she received the award. She chose to live there, now that she could have any quarters she wanted. Her bedroom had a lovely, sculpted coral ornamentation. Long gone, the Delans were a distant memory, except to two people. Willow had avoided Bethel since Tremper’s

disappearance. One day, Beth paid her a visit. “Come in,” said Willow, in reply to the knock on the door of her small, Sea Support-assigned quarters. She lounged on her bed on her stomach, reading, with her feet curled together in the air. She looked up, and her eyes hardened. “Not glad to see me?” said Beth, sitting carefully in a chair. “I thought you’d be happy for me. I’m up for another promotion. Do you think I’ll get it?” Willow eyed her with disgust. “You were involved, weren’t you? You decided to take the Delans’ prediction into your own hands.” “Don’t be silly,” said Beth. “The prediction came true. I’m ‘ruling’ Sea Support—here, at least, and likely to go higher. You didn’t suspect me of any cheating when I won the award, did you? Why can’t you just be happy for me?” “I’m not as stupid as the police, Beth. Don’t tell me it was coincidence, Tremper dying that night.” “No one’s proved he’s dead. Maybe he just ran off.” “I don’t believe that and neither do you.” Willow turned away. “There’s no proof,” repeated Beth in a low voice. “Not yet,” said Willow, almost in a whisper. She looked at Beth with glittering, angry eyes. Beth rose slowly. “You’re just angry because the Delans gave me better predictions. That’s not really fair, Willow.” She left quietly. Willow was getting to be a liability, just as the shark had been. Willow wasn’t going to tell anyone of her suspicions, Beth decided. She won’t  have that world-ruling child, either. If I’m going to be immortal, there’s no reason  I can’t rule worlds! She cried and cried when they found Willow’s

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body, crushed to death in a horrible kelp-harvester accident. # “Not very much left, is there?” asked Karl Ing, international house expert and cloning engineer. “Hardly worth the bother,” agreed his associate, as they picked up Willow’s remains from the Sea Support morgue. “Still, it was willed to science, and science is here.” He laughed at his own joke, and finished labeling the remains. His pen hovered over the last line. “Where to, Karl? Your ‘walking house’ project again?” Karl smoothed his moustache thoughtfully. “No, that could be a waste of well-engineered genes. Send it to my lab. There’s an experiment I’ve been meaning to try with engineered genes, and this is just the excuse for it. I’ll clone it, altering the DNA, increasing the telekinetic abilities.” The associate’s hand paused over the label again. “But you’ve already tried that, boss. They all failed.” Karl smiled thoughtfully. “Ah, yes, but I’ve been thinking. We made it too easy on our experiments. Why should they bother learning mind control when they can just manipulate things with their hands and feet?”

Alice M. Roelke
Alice Roelke is a fan of Shakespeare’s Macbeth,  which was the inspiration for this story. Her writing credits include having a story published on Gate-Way S-F Magazine in 2005, and  one on Ray Gun Revival in 2006, as well as having fiction and nonfiction pieces published in the  Young Salvationist, the Salvation Army’s youth  print magazine since the age of eighteen.

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Beyond the Flesh
by A. M. Stickel
Prelude: Hall Penitentiary, Prosperity, Nevada t’s time now. KDZ-323 had an important midnight appointment. Clad in white jumpsuit and booties, his bowed head shaven, he followed Warden Cooper and Chaplain Parks. Instead of voices, the trio’s slow footsteps said it all, whispering along the dim cellblock corridor. The red door at their final destination bore no lettering, which hardly mattered to a dyslexic convict too distracted to have decrypted it. When the red door swung open, both officials stepped aside to allow the condemned man’s solo entry. His belly growled, announcing he’d had his expectations confirmed about last meals being a myth to appease the world outside. Prosperity’s  retired  vultures  can  hardly  wait  for us cons to die. KDZ couldn’t have eaten anyway, with a swollen tongue hardly able to move behind cracked, parched lips. Twelve hours without a drop of water discouraged croaking his innocence yet again. Despite his antiseptic surroundings, a rotten stench clung to him. The prisoner looked up to find himself in a gray-walled, circular, cement chamber. Standing opposite KDZ, and protected by a level-D, reinforced hazmat suit complete with air tanks, the massive guard’s presence announced the truth: execution by vacuum. Long bled dry of youth and hope, KDZ counted his heartbeats, the end of his sentence only a few breaths away. Resigned, he sank down facing his companion, his back and buttocks against the cold cement, and wondered which Reclamation Unit had won the bid for his carcass. Since his organs would be ruined, he doubted what was left could be harvested by Medical Research. Fertilizer and Pet Food will probably divvy me  up. Precisely at midnight, an anonymous flunky activated the execution sequence. The dieing prisoner’s bloodshot gaze failed to find the spyeye documenting his demise; he merely shrugged as the last words his living ears would hear blared into the chamber from a prerecorded, synthetic source. “For crimes against society, and having refused final rites, the prisoner will presently pay the ultimate price in the presence of the designated State’s Witness.” Gotta be that bloodsucking Mel Hix. He likes  to watch. KDZ eyed the Witness’s obscuring faceplate; he’d found “M. H.” scrawled on a note under his mashed potatoes twenty-four hours earlier. Even had he been able to speak, he had nothing left to say, especially to Hix. More than ready to die, he couldn’t help recalling the final statement on the forms read to and signed by him upon his admission to Hall: Death  is  every  human’s  birthright. # Melvin Hix waited until the register on his wrist showed air pressure was back to normal before approaching KDZ’s slumped form. Confident the devices recording the execution had completed their task, Hix proceeded to earn his bonus from the Big Boss: a quick jab of the needle gun up the corpse’s right nostril, as instructed.

I

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Beyond the Flesh, by A. M. Stickel
Mission accomplished! Before exiting the execution chamber, Hix pressed the decontamination activation panel beside the red door, bathing the room in an indigo glow. He tucked the stiff under his left arm with ease, and pressed the panel again to unseal the door. Once outside, he paused to access the recessed panel beside it, and listened for the two beeps that meant complete chamber decontamination. Hix bagged the body and left it by the recycle drop-off chute for Joe Green and Greg Morales, then stepped into the suit locker to change. Thanks to Joe and Greg, Big Boss Nick Angelo’s back-up boys waiting inside, he never stepped out. Only the closest inspection would have revealed the tiny hole at the base of his skull where the pair had used Hix’s own needle gun on him...the one with traces of the unique serum meant for KDZ. They bagged his body for disposal so quickly, they never saw—or felt—the minute amount of spinal fluid on his hazmat suit as they hung it up neatly in the locker. Adagio Reclamation Technician, Comfort Switt, in full level-C hazmat gear, stood at the bottom of the ramp, prodding recycled bodies into position on the conveyor belt. She shifted her weight from leg to leg, frustrated she couldn’t scratch all the itchy places under her layers, and turned her ire on the nearest R.C., Able Vosz. “Hey, Abe, will ya getta move on? I need a pee break.” Abe made a familiar obscene gesture, which slowed his work even more. She returned the gesture with, “Oh yeah, just wait until you’re dead meat y’self, Slug Butt…” The smug grin on Abe’s face, and a nudge from behind, interrupted Comfort. She turned aside to

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find the Supe, Clay Rogers, giving her the evil eye. He motioned her out of line and nodded towards his office. “Big Boss wants t’see ya, NOW, Switt.” Her last name came out “Sweat” when he said it. Before she could protest, he took her place in line across from Abe, giving her the brief pleasure of watching Abe’s grin vanish. Comfort passed through the decontamination airlock into Clay Rogers’ office. Still in full gear, she faced the Big Boss, who was perched casually, but with surprising grace for such a large man, on the edge of Clay’s desk. The cold smile on his tan face did not reach his hazel eyes. No one ever addressed Boss Nick Angelo by name, or kept their eyes on his for too long. Comfort was no exception. “Boss?” Without warning, a holo of Comfort’s two small sons appeared between her and her summoner. They’d grown since she’d last seen them…the day she’d paid their way to a haven with a distant relative in the Safe Zone. Her heart sank. “I need a special delivery, Ms. Switt. Use the utmost discretion, succeed, and expect a nice bonus…maybe even some quality family time. Fail, and…well, need I say more?” “The assignment, Boss?” “You’re to pick up a package from Hall Penitentiary—fresh midnight meat—and keep it that way. Our turbovan’s waiting, so don’t bother to de-suit. The delivery goes to a new client, Dr. Shoshanna Zubin, head of World Robotics downtown…a party I’d like to impress favorably. Be discreet.” He motioned for her to get going, and replaced the boys’ holo with one of business charts, not even waiting for her response. Comfort nodded and left the office, wishing she hadn’t been singled out for the boss’s priority assignment. She’d end up in the Pen if she were caught. Success meant she could expect more risky duty from here on out. The thought of her

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boys’ future made her shiver; they’d likely be recruited into Angelo’s organization, if he let them live. Having signed on at International Recycling, Inc. (IRI) as single and childless, she’d abandoned the profession which had left her with sons by two different customers, twelve months apart, as well as an expensive-to-treat health problem or two related to that line of work. In a world where even the air was taxed, the tech was still paying off her illegal sterilization. While pregnancies beyond a woman’s first two were encouraged, they were never allowed to ripen. Children were not in demand, but the “products of conception” were. A woman’s mistakes could be turned into profit, promoting research to benefit people like Nick Angelo and his clients, the ones willing to pay top dollar. # Maybe  convicts  sentenced  to  the  Pen—even  this  dead  meat—are  better  off  than  me.  They  don’t have to worry where to eat, sleep, or how  they’ll pay their taxes. Guiding the turbovan along the preprogrammed route to the Pen, Comfort mulled the unfairness of the New World Order ruled by the Techno-Lords. They’d promised humanity a brighter future, but the same old games of inhumane corruption thrived. Comfort and her kind didn’t belong to the two percent who won those games. It’s  just  another  pyramid  scheme,  and  I’m  at  the bottom of the pyramid. Comfort’s thoughts were interrupted by Hall Penitentiary’s perimeter alert, followed by the auto-query, “Pickup or delivery, be prepared to show ID and submit to scan.” “Damn machines,” the tech responded under her breath, before giving her clearance code, and

driving slowly through the scan tunnel into the Pen’s subbasement. Passing through security to pick up her midnight meat, Comfort was the object of the guards’ sick jokes. “It’s a ‘hottie’—or should I say a ‘coldie’—from IRI, Joe…here to pick up her date. Nothin’ like a fresh one, eh, honey?” The tech’s credentials from the Big Boss didn’t save her from the embarrassment and discomfort of a thorough body scan. Her skin tingled and her shame burned all the way through to her soul. She wanted to cuss out her tormentors, but if she did, Nick Angelo might hear about it. Half of Nevada was on his payroll. Big Boss won’t tolerate a rude special delivery  woman in his employ, oh no, not at all… “Yeah, Greg, this gal’s definitely next-to-dead,” hollered Joe to his coworker as he eyed her scan, “ripe for a newly dead treat. Sweaty, hon, back your body wagon to the bottom of the chute. KDZ’ll be right down, wearin’ some spicy cologne just for you.” “Hey, Joe-y, I think it’s P-U Number 9…har, har.” Greg held his gray-clad sides as the rumble of the lock-docks began. Comfort backed up to the chute and pushed the control on her dash to open her van’s rear gate just as a louder rumble signaled the descent of a heavy object. The awaited item slid neatly into the padded bed of the van; the seals activated after the rear panel closed. The tech headed her vehicle for the exit tunnel, passing through yet another scan, after which a buzzer indicated she was beyond Hall’s security zone. She breathed a sigh of relief when the cab’s coordinated display changed to her new destination, the subbasement of World Robotics. Dr. Zubin, here I come, hopin’ he’s everything  you  expect,  ‘cause  I  sure  don’t  want  to  have  to 

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return  him…  Guess  there’s  no  accountin’  for  taste. # Shoshanna Zubin was among the lucky two percent of the populace who had the best the New World Order offered. Several rejuv treatments and body-recontouring insured her own mother wouldn’t have recognized her. Her name had also been reconfigured. The fifty-year-old, former public health nurse had been dumpy little Shanna once; her brains— and powerful connections—had reversed her predictable destiny. Those same brains had found a way to secure a different sort of future for her unfairly jailed younger brother Danny, aka KDZ323. Will  he  recognize  me? The doctor paced anxiously back and forth in the deserted hallway, her trim figure enhanced by the latest biohazard gear. She fingered her helmet lock, wishing she didn’t have to look at Danny’s face for the first time in years through plastic. “No, I’d better not take any chances,” she said aloud, straining her ears for the sound of the supply lift. “It won’t be long now, Danny boy. I’m going to bring you back and give you what you deserve. We’ll both watch the whole world change. Nothing’s ever going to be the same after tonight.” Dr. Zubin smiled at her reflection in the polished door panel and hugged herself. In her advanced robotics lab, a still form lay in the twilight state of near sentience, awaiting the installation of Danny’s brain and personality. Incorruptible alloys, intricate circuitry, and top-secret techno-wizardry would provide him near immortality…and ultimate triumph over the corrupt system which had condemned him to an

ignominious death. Allegro “All new test subjects to Processing.” The voice invading the curtained cubicle was synthetic and impersonal. Who am I? With a jerk, the man on the slab sat up. Everything around him wore a pink aura. His last clear recollection was watching a hazmat-suited figure approach him with a needle gun where he lay slumped against a cold cement wall. He had been looking down on this scene from somewhere near the ceiling...floating. I was dead! Maybe I still am… Before the man could speculate further, an electric spasm hit, convulsing him. His limbs went rigid, spilling him onto the padded floor until his thrashes subsided. I’m  not breathing. Although his mouth tried to call for help, no sound emerged. A hazmat-suited attendant entered the cubicle, bent down and hoisted the man over his shoulder. The pink haze pulsed around him and the lettering across his chest: Revival Unit. The man glanced at his own right wrist and made out the faint tattoo on it: KDZ-323…a prison  tag. I was a prisoner. As he began to remember more, KDZ’s awareness focused on a rumor circulated by cons like him who’d volunteered as medical test subjects to shorten their sentences. Few prisoners had believed in revival research…especially lifers and his brethren on Death Row. They  must’ve  used  a  revival  shot  on  me—a  second chance! Let’s see where this goes.

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# The revived prisoner would have been less enthusiastic had he known how avidly Angelo, ignorant of who KDZ really was, monitored his progress from a central location. The Big Boss planned to demonstrate the evidence of IRI’s unparalleled research capability to Dr. Zubin and recruit her. Why should they be rivals? After all, as a gesture of his good will, he’d sent her tonight’s other fresh corpse to play with, cleverly solving the complication of a greedy State’s Witness who might eventually blackmail him—two birds killed with one stone, as it were. # Comfort Switt backed the van toward the designated supply lift, palmed up her delivery invoice for customer verification, and entered the code noted thereon. When the lift light went green to signal its arrival, the tech offloaded her bulky package using an antigravity prod, then entered the lift to accompany her delivery to Dr. Zubin’s floor. That  thing  creeps  me  out. Comfort kept her back to the bagged body and prepared to meet her boss’s client… The lift door opened on Dr. Zubin’s floor to disgorge the first casualties in the Plague Wars. Danny’s name died on her lips at the sight of the ruined horror Hix had become. “Who are you? Stay back!” she screamed, edging away in terror and disappointment. She soon turned and sprinted for her lab, damning Angelo and IRI. Shuffling after her like a sleepwalker, blankeyed and drooling, Hix dragged Comfort’s limp form behind him by one foot. His fumbling hands had tried and failed to pry her from her hazmat suit. One instinct alone drove him: A voiceless

cry began in the center of his being, craving satiation—hungry, Hungry, HUNGRY! Once in her lab, Dr. Zubin sealed the door, stripped, lay down in the cyber-chamber, attached the leads to transfer into her synthetic creation, and activated CYBERMERGE. By the time the revived guard battered down the door with brute force, crawled in, clawed her to him like a lover, and sank his teeth into her former flesh, she was beyond it. Andante With Hall Penitentiary on lockdown, Warden Les Cooper was at his wits’ end. All supplies were being dropped by Air Delivery onto the roof of Admin. Traffic in and out of the secured zone ceased. Nearby condo-filled blocks of retirees and their caregivers were evacuated. Speculation ran wild among the inmate population, so far unaffected by the outbreak begun with the execution of KDZ-323, whose guard and State’s Witness, Melvin Hix, had disappeared. The vacuum chamber had been completely decontaminated, but no one would go near the red door. The superstitious blamed KDZ’s ghost, and kept the chaplain so close he himself verged on a breakdown. It’s no ghost.  Cooper, viewing and reviewing the recording of KDZ’s execution, tried to figure out how—and why—Hix had vanished from Hall Penitentiary, leaving behind his empty hazmat suit. Everyone who’d come in contact with the suit after the execution had taken ill, and eventually ended up trying to eat human flesh. A single bite passed the plague. But,  if  it’s  the  suit,  why  are  Greg  and  Joe, 

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who  were  stationed  in  the  subbasement,  in  the  infirmary too? Victims were kept under heavy sedation, and the hard-pressed infirmarians couldn’t pin down either the causative agent or an effective treatment…other than shooting the hungriest infected…who didn’t stay dead long. Someone brainstormed the solution of firing up an old incinerator and shoving in the worst of the lot. They didn’t scream…no, not a sound…but did  struggle  mightily  until  they’d  charred  awhile… and they stank like hell. Hall smells like a charnel  house. According to the records, at half past midnight, IRI’s regular turbovan courier—an Able Vosz— had picked up the condemned man’s carcass for recycling before prison medics began receiving plague victims. Looking there for clues was out of the question. Why was IRI in such a damned hurry? I wouldn’t  be surprised if Hix was on the take. Nick Angelo  must be at the bottom of this…and his obsession  with cheating death. Cheating death! A light went on in the warden’s weary head, and he called for the recordings of the departures and arrivals in the subbasement around the time of KDZ’s execution. Too bad Greg and Joe, who’d been on duty at the time, were in no condition to be questioned. Les Cooper asked his assistant to contact Nick Angelo immediately. # I wish I could slap that smug face. Instead of voicing his disgust, when he finally reached Nick Angelo, the warden inquired about his health first. Then he got on with the real purpose of his call. “I have a situation here at Hall, Mr. Angelo, as you may have already heard in the news, and I think

you have a solution…or at least an explanation.” “Always happy to help the law, Warden Cooper.” Angelo beamed like the shark he was. “I’m one of your biggest supporters, and really appreciate you supplying me with volunteers to test IRI’s drugs to improve the quality of life for our planet’s citizens.” “A Ms. Switt, preceding your usual courier, came by last night for a post-midnight pick-up for IRI. I’d really like to speak to her, Mr. Angelo.” “As a matter of fact, I’m trying to locate her and the van she was assigned, as well as the package she was to deliver to a very important client,” replied Angelo. “Excuse me, I have another call. I promise I’ll get right back to you, Warden. Duty calls.” While the warden waited, drumming his fingers on his desk, Nick Angelo picked up his nonvid employee hotline. “Hullo, Boss. It’s Comfort Switt. I need you to come here. You can’t imagine how scared I am right now. I have an urgent, private message from your client, Dr. Zubin, and…the van’s been hijacked. I’m sorry.” Even through the static of poor reception, the caller sounded on the verge of tears. Oh, Sweaty, once I have you again, you’ll do  more than cry. Sorry? I’ll make you sorry you were  ever born…and do it personally, not leave it up to  goons like Greg and Joe. “Don’t worry, Ms. Switt, I’m on my way, and so glad you’re not hurt. Tell me where to find you.” Angelo forced a tone of false concern into his voice and paid close attention to the tech’s directions. What the hell is she doing out at the  old Angelo foundry? Angelo punched the control to resume his conversation with the warden. “Listen, Warden Cooper, I just heard from Ms. Switt. So sit tight

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till I get to the bottom of this. I’ll be in touch with you as soon as I know anything more. Rest assured, I’m handling this personally. And I insist on paying for Hall’s emergency supplies, just in case IRI is responsible for any part of the problem, no matter how small.” A confused expression appeared on the warden’s face. Wait  a  minute,  if  IRI  started  the  plague,  why  would  Angelo  offer  to  pay  for  the  damage? He spluttered his thanks and disconnected. Then he made another call, this time to Federal Security. Let the FSA agents find out what  Boss  Angelo’s  hiding  from  me.  He followed the call with yet another plea to the CDC. The selfish  fool must’ve paid one of CDC’s higher ups to stall  the outbreak investigation. # Newly minted cyber-Zubin, seated in the turbovan, dropped her synthesized Switt voice mode. She’d had no trouble squelching the van’s IRI tracer beacon, or recovering voice data on its most recent driver. The  old  foundry  will  be  the  perfect  place  to  interrogate  the  man  who  cheated  me  and  Danny. I’ll  enjoy  watching  him  die slowly and painfully…but I’d better make sure  he’s alone. What a perfect disguise! the cyborg congratulated herself after she’d easily peeled the hazmat suit from Comfort Switt. Before using her cyborg strength and skill to stop him, the scientist had calmly observed Hix, tired of her flesh, chew on Switt. After the infected Switt awoke with the same mindless hunger, Zubin dealt with her as she had Hix. The muffled struggles of the trussed and gagged pair came from the back of the van. The sorry state of her ravaged flesh bothered the

scientist less than the fate of Danny, her only brother. She left the hidden van and walked out the big foundry door. Danny too might be another victim of revival  research gone wrong! When Angelo drove up in his own turbovan, complete with IRI logo, Zubin scanned it for other humans. Good,  no  goons! He  has  a  needle  gun,  though…and body armor. In Switt’s hazmat suit, Dr. Zubin posed as a helpless victim against the old corrugated wall of the foundry, trying by her posture alone to look unsuspecting and timid. “Comfort Switt, is that you, gal? Are you all right?” “It’s me, Boss. I’m ok.” Zubin synth-voiced tone and speech pattern perfectly. As Angelo began to bring up his needle gun, her right arm grabbed him with blinding speed. It’s not Switt! “Before I let the plague carrier you sent me eat you, tell me what you’ve done with Danny, Boss? You might know him as KDZ-323.” She nodded towards the dim interior of the foundry, where she’d parked the van and its obscenely hungry passengers. Whoa, are you onto me? Do you have Switt…or  is it Hix? That’s it! You got Hix instead of KDZ after  Hix  was  somehow  infected  with  experimental  revival serum. Were those bunglers Joe and Greg  responsible? Amidst his churning thoughts, Nick Angelo felt genuine, visceral fear. His drawn face showed he wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of intimidation. Stupid,  he silently cursed, then willed himself calm. I have one chance. “If you let your pal loose on me, Doctor, you’ll never find your Danny, and you’ll…never…stop… the plague. The death of the entire human race

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will be your fault.” “The fate of your race doesn’t matter, just Danny’s fate. I no longer belong to your race, thanks to your plague.” The cyborg tightened her grip to prove her point. “What?” Angelo began to sweat. His arm was going numb. “I can see I’ll have to show you. This is the urgent message ‘Switt’ needed to impart.” Zubin threw the large man to the ground, and pinned him effortlessly with one foot while she peeled off the hazmat suit, exposing her gleaming cyberbody. The cyborg picked up the needle gun and pointed it at the middle of Nick Angelo’s tan forehead. His shark’s eyes bulged, their pupils dilating; he ground his teeth in agony. When she pressed on his bladder, the pungent aroma of ammonia stung his nostrils; a wet stain spread at his crotch. She moved her foot lower and watched him squirm. “I take it you’ve loaded the needle with whatever brings on the plague?” Angelo gulped and nodded in confirmation. “Tell me where Danny is, or I’ll show you how well your intentions toward Ms. Switt have been anticipated.” Zubin pressed harder, making Angelo gasp and retch. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Will you let me live?” he squeaked. It’s worth  a shot. “Of course, Boss. You’re going to help me rescue Danny from your organization.” “Let’s head for Revival Research HQ, then.” A swift kick to the head, and Nick Angelo was out cold. The cyborg picked him up and carried him to the van, bound and gagged him, and strapped him in. She secured the needle gun at

her feet. The  CDC  is  going  to  need  a  pure  sample  of  whatever this is, and so will my staff. Al Fine Sis? The veneer of too many years inside himself shattered and fell away from KDZ. A robot speaking in Shanna’s voice stood over Danny, rubbing his forehead, telling him everything was going to be okay. He felt a shock like electricity, but it didn’t really hurt. It made the pink glow change. He saw all the colors of the rainbow, one by one, and then a rippling river of light. He was tired of watching people, who were like him, but not really like him, trying to hurt other people. Mom had taught him better. “I’m so sorry for what they did to you in the round room in Hall Penitentiary. It was wrong. Men who wanted to give a few rich folks a chance to live forever gave you a shot to bring you back after you died. They were wrong, Danny, just as wrong as the folks who sent you to prison for crimes you didn’t commit. I became a scientist because science was the only way to prove your innocence, and give you a second chance. I’ve done my best, and what I learned from you will help a lot of people.” Thank  you,  Sis.  Danny squeezed the robot’s hand even though he couldn’t see her anymore. He touched his ear to show her he was still listening. “Warden Cooper is holding your pardon in his hand, Danny. It’s going to be on the wall in his office for everyone to see. Reporters are here, and they’re taking a picture of the pardon, and of us. They’ll tell the whole world your story, and no one will ever be the same. We’ll all be better

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because you lived.” So  they’re  finally  letting  me  go? I’ll  never  be  KDZ-323  again? Danny squeezed the robot Shanna’s hand twice. She squeezed back twice. “Chaplain Parks is here. Take his hand. Go toward the light. I see it too. Mom’s waiting for us, little brother, with all our old friends, and some new ones too.” I  remember  the  floating  just  before  I  had  to  come back again. It felt good. Is it time? It’s time now. FINE

Anne  is  published  on  the  www  and  in  print  in  both  fiction  and  nonfiction.  She  has  been  published 45 times in DEEP MAGIC alone, and  prefers speculative fiction to mainstream. (Anne  is  also  the  Managing  Copyeditor  here  at  Ray Gun Revival  magazine,  and  the  issues  wouldn’t have the final fit and polish that they  do  without  her  tireless  efforts.    It  is  often  a  thankless  job,  and  Anne  deserves  a  galaxy  of  credit for her contributions.  Any errors are our  own.  - Ed.)

A. M. Stickel

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Featured Artist:

Benjamin Schmid

Name: Benjamin Schmid Age: 28 Hobbies: computer graphics, games, reading books, driving my bike Favorite Book / Author: Dean R. Koontz, Stephen King Favorite Artist: Sanctum Art, merchant at Content Paradise: http://www.contentparadise.com/ When did you start creating art? Since 2002 What media do you work in? Only digital Where has your work has been featured? This is my first time here, :-) Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your works? My works can be seen at Renderosity and deviantArt; Membername: Lightcaster How did you become an artist? That was back in 2002. I was impressed with the fractal generator Ultrafractal and bought it on the spot. I made the next step into the world of 3-dimensional art with the purchase of Poser 5 in December 04. Since then, I’m mainly producing collages consisting of 3D elements which are blended together in Photopaint. At the moment I’m learning to use Z-Brush. What are your current influences? At the moment I make art for the German Anarchy Online Community; therefore it’s the world of AO from which I get the most ideas right now. What inspired the art for the cover? It’s one of my recent AO artworks. The character in this picture is named “Techleet,” and he is an Engineer. The person I made this logo for wanted a non-battle scene, and a few Leets have to be there (those little fluffy beings). This is the result.

Where do you get your inspiration / what
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inspires you? I think every fantasy or sci-fi source I know influences me a bit. Sources of great influence are of course StarWars, LotR, and also the Warhammer universe. Recently I discovered the Battlelords universe which also has a rich background and many unique ideas. So my inspirational sources are full at the moment. ;-) What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? Photopaint  Z-Brush  Poser   Vue Infinite  Ultrafractal  Xenodream  Mojoworld

What tool / equipment do you wish you had? A faster computer. For rendering, your PC can never be too fast! ;-) And from all the 3D software solutions out there, Softimage’s XSI is something which interests me the most. What do you hope to accomplish with your art? As long as people like my art, and I can make them happy with it, everything is fine.

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The Case of the Spurious Spacemen
  by MN Schnecke
he gentleman from Smith and Jones Associates spoke in a low, earnest voice. You always had to do that when you were selling insurance. After all, a salesman was under a lot of pressure. And when you were selling something as unusual as UFO insurance, your degree of earnestness made a real difference. Mrs. Potter was not a science fiction fan. Though she had seen the advertisements for such movies as The  Killer  Ants and Tomato  Worms  from Hell, her reading consisted of Readers Digest and the Methodist  Ladies  Quarterly. Neither of these publications was given to articles about alien invasions, and Mr. Walters, the gentleman from Smith and Jones, had first to explain about Mars and all those other exotic places, and how somebody might live there and not be friendly. By the time he got to UFOs, he was a bit hoarse and gladly accepted a glass of lemonade from his hostess. “Oh,” she exclaimed at last. “You’re talking about those things the government is always shooting at. Like the Bermuda Triangle.” She seemed to think this was a UFO, too, and the salesman did not undeceive her. “Mrs. Potter,” he said in his lowest most earnest voice, “one of those things might land right here! Imagine waking up one morning to confront a flying saucer in the midst of your azaleas. Little green men romping among the cabbages. No pest control company would touch a mess like that!” She looked doubtful. After all, she was quite sure Bermuda was somewhere tropical, interesting, but far away. And certainly if a UFO did land

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in the garden, her grandson would come right over and cope with it. He was very capable and had once given a burglar a broken collar bone. The salesman could see he was losing ground. He swallowed his lemonade, shook his head in a doleful way, and prepared to leave her a brochure. She felt sorry for him. “You know,” she said, “those nice young men across the street might be interested. I took them some cookies when they first moved in and one of them said, ‘Fair dinkum.’ Wasn’t that a funny thing to say?” Mr. Walters sighed. “People who say ‘fair dinkum’ when you give them cookies are not necessarily good candidates for UFO insurance,” he said. “It may only indicate that they are from Australia.” “Oh, come to think of it, they are,” Mrs. Potter said. “From Australia, I mean. And that is a southern country, you know. Quite near Bermuda, I think.” “Mrs. Potter,” the salesman said, rummaging about in his briefcase. “My handbook says that, er, elderly women are the best customers for this sort of thing, not young men from Australia. It’s because old ladies are so prone to worry about things. You know, heart attacks, ingrown toenails—” A moment later the salesman found himself out on the step. He shook his head to clear it—Mrs. Potter had apparently bonked him with the lemonade pitcher—and stared at the house across the street. A young man sat on the front porch, his face hidden behind a lurid magazine.

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The Case of the Spurious Spacemen, by MN Schnecke

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you the talk of the neighborhood.  The Leer clutched at his hair and groaned. He had no friends. And the sort of girls who were impressed by aliens at the door would most likely go off with them. He tried to impart these facts # to his brother. “You what?” the Leer shouted when the “But look,” the Nose pointed out. “We don’t salesman had gone. “You bought UFO insurance? have to impress anybody but the insurance What an idiot!” company. We get kidnapped. Then we escape The Nose, so named for the remarkable, beak- and collect. Because we’re upset and all...in the like appendage that adorned his face, waved a contract, it says we collect even if we don’t get brochure in his brother’s own, equally homely killed or anything.” visage. “I got an idea! We need money and we’re The Leer looked at the paper. “Well,” he said. going to collect!” “We do need money.” “You’ve been reading too many pulp As it happened, the pair had just escaped magazines!” the Leer shouted, snatching the from prison, retrieved a small amount of stolen papers from his brother’s hand. “UFO insurance! cash from under a loose brick behind the bus Of all the bird-brained—” station, and were now running short. “But we “Look,” the Nose said, taking out the contract had no choice,” he muttered. Their future had he was using as a bookmark. “All we have to do is been bleak. After serving twenty-six consecuget kidnapped by aliens. Or have a flying saucer tive life sentences, it was also the decision of the smash up the porch or something. We’ll collect judiciary that they be deported. And the thought thousands of dollars!” of herding sheep on Uncle Benjamin’s ranch was The Leer cast his eyes skyward, pausing as he far more daunting than anything the US governalways did, to study the cracks in the ceiling while ment could possibly do to them. reflecting on the perverseness of fate which had “All right,” he said at last. “Give these people given him the Nose for a brother. “Have you con- a call. But tell them we’ll need to take pictures. It sidered,” he enquired icily, “where we will find an has to be convincing.” alien to abduct us? Should I look in the yellow The Nose went out to a pay phone, since there pages?” was none at the house. As luck would have it, the “I have a better idea,” the Nose said proudly. alien company had gone out of business. But then “I found an ad right here in this magazine, right he remembered some old cronies of his and gave between the one about mail order crystal balls them a call. and this one for growing taller without wearing “Joe’s Bar,” a familiar voice rasped. built-up shoes. Listen to this.” The Nose told Joe who he was, and was soon Amaze your friends. Impress girls. Aliens will  connected to one of the leading crime bosses of call  on  YOU.  Open  the  door  to  a  collection  of  the city who laughed delightedly at what the Nose Martians  and  Venusians. Guaranteed  to  make  had to say. Before sunset, the startled insurance

If the salesman was not mistaken, that was the latest issue of Amazing Stories. Maybe there was some hope of a sale after all. He sauntered across the street.

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salesman had sold over twenty policies, each customer referring him to the next. To his surprise, not one of them was to an old lady. “I would never have thought so many men believed in flying saucers,” he said to his wife at dinner that night. “And such characters. First was the one with a nose like a cake slice. I pegged him for a nut case from the moment I saw him.” He reached for more steak and potatoes. “But the rest all looked like gangsters!” His wife clucked sympathetically. “It just goes to show what superstitious minds criminals have. Anyway,” she added, looking on the bright side, “now we can get the roof fixed.” # The Leer was not one to let a good thing go; ideas came so seldom to him that he tended to latch onto them with the tenacity of a paranoid slug. Before he would let the Nose carry out the alien abduction plan, he began calling other insurance agents. He began to take out assorted and extraordinary policies for everything from ghostly visits to invasions of cows. “I hate the buggers,” he told a delirious agent, who felt that he had underestimated the potential paranoia of the average Australian. “Cows are the bane of my life. I will need shock treatment if I have a herd of them come into my house.” The agent pondered the absence of cows in that part of New York and had him sign on the dotted line. The Nose was dubious about the cows. “I don’t see how you can pull off this one,” he mused, moodily sloshing the thick foam of a pint of Guinness. “I mean, it better be a pretty big policy if you ruin our rugs by bringing in a load of cows.”

The Leer leered at him. “I don’t have to, you malodorous bird-brain. We’ll just construct evidence and witnesses.” Fortunately, the actual manifestations were to be provided by one of the more creative gangs who promised that some of the aliens would look like cows. However, when the Leer enquired about the possibility of kangaroos, his contact balked. “Too exotic,” he was told, and had to be content with what he had. # “Let me get this straight,” Henry Deal said to the distraught insurance executive. “You’re company is going broke because of an alien invasion? I haven’t seen anything on the news.” When he first came in and began babbling about alien cows, Deal had thought he was delusional... until he saw the photographs. “But they do look like cows,” he exclaimed. “Cows in space suits.” “You’ve got it,” Mr. Anderson said. “Cows in space suits. Kidnapping people. Mostly gangsters, I might add. They’re all insured.” “Hmm,” Henry said, his mind racing. This had all the elements of a setup. But the average criminal was not that creative. There had to be a mastermind involved. “We’re investigating claims, of course,” Anderson went on, “but they all seem bonafide. Photographs, footprints, that sort of thing. Neighbors who see strange lights flashing. Cries for help suddenly cut off.” “Right,” Henry said. “Funny the government isn’t involved.” Mr. Anderson sighed. “This is being suppressed by the city. They don’t want a panic.” “But aliens—”

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“Even aliens must come to justice,” the insurance man said primly. “We can put them in prison. Or we can warn them and send them back where they came from.” “Oh yes, I see your point.” Henry leaned back in his chair, absent-mindedly stroking the grey Persian cat he had acquired in lieu of his fee in another case. He had decided to name it “Anchovy” in honor of the main ingredient in a series of poisoned pizzas distributed by his arch enemies, the Nose and the Leer. He had solved that case, partly in his alternate identity as the Red Eye. The Nose and the Leer had been put behind bars, only to escape again. “Escape,” he muttered. “I think that may be a clue. Only those two would be crazy enough to try a scam like this.” “I beg your pardon?” “I’ll take the case,” Henry said, standing up. The cat tumbled from his lap, bringing down a few papers from the corner of the desk and, in a fit of ill temper, nearly bringing down Henry’s pants as it clawed its way up his leg. “Quite the beast,” Mr. Anderson observed. “Have you ever considered cat-scratch insurance?” “I’d be too high a risk,” Henry said glumly. He pried the animal from his flesh and tossed it into a filing cabinet. “Time for a nap, Anchovy,” he said. And time, he decided, to visit Inspector Grey. # “Aliens?” The inspector frowned. “I have had a few calls,” he admitted. “But then, we always do. You’d be surprised at the things people call about. Wombats, for instance. Or peeping toms on the 87th floor. Even stopped-up sinks. I always refer them to a plumber.”

“That’s kind of you,” Henry said. “But about the aliens. Have you had more than the usual number of calls?” “Come to think of it, we have. Just had one from a lady named Mrs. Potter. Claims her neighbors were abducted.” At this point, a young woman of determined aspect and rather abbreviated skirt stormed into the office. “There you are!” she said in a determined way. “All right, Grey, you send me on this case or I make a complaint!” Henry, who had risen politely from his seat, glanced inquiringly at the inspector. “Ms. Kendall,” the latter said glumly. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am,” Henry said. “What does the Ms. stand for?” “It means I’m a woman,” Ms. Kendall snapped. “Ah. Begging your pardon, but I would have guessed that already.” The young lady scowled at the detective. “I mean that you can’t tell if I’m married or not.” Henry tried to puzzle this out. “Does it matter?” he finally asked. “Of course not! A woman is a woman whether she is married or not.” “Then why did you bring it up?” the inspector interrupted crossly. “Nobody’s asking whether Mr. Deal is married.” Ms. Kendall looked as though the thought of anybody marrying Henry Deal was too preposterous to be an issue. “I mean,” she explained slowly as though talking to an idiot, which in fact, she was, “that you must treat me exactly as though I were a man. You must not relegate me to making coffee or—or typing or something.” Inspector Grey rolled his eyes. “I make my own coffee,” he said. “Too many people are trying to

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kill me.” He turned to Henry. “Take Ms. Kendall “They didn’t have—” along with you, Mr. Deal,” he said. “Cooperation With a moderately gallant shove, the inspector with the police and all that. Treat her like a man.” sent the lady skittering through the screen. “Best Henry, who would rather have taken Anchovy, of luck,” he called. nodded. Of course he must not let Ms. Kendall Henry took his fingers from his mouth. find out about his secret identity as the Red Eye, “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t believe I could handle but he didn’t mind having company for the pre- a non-male dominated world.” liminary investigations. He got up to hold the “Then don’t get married,” the inspector door for her. advised him. “Don’t do that!” The door was snatched from “You know,” Henry added thoughtfully, “she his hand, and he staggered backward, putting does have a point about minorities.” bruised fingers to his mouth. “What about those two Australian brothers “Now just a minute, Lady—” the Red Eye keeps putting behind bars?” the “And don’t call me that!” inspector asked. “You can’t get any more minor “Why not?” than that. Why I’ll bet there aren’t more than a “Because I know judo.” couple hundred Aussies in the whole city.” This seemed a compelling argument, and Much comforted, Deal took leave. “And they’re Henry nodded. crazy too,” he added to himself. That made them “Furthermore,” the spunky inspectoress added, double minorities. Or handicapped. “the author of this story knows very well that he’s # required to include women and minorities. If he thinks he can write just anything he pleases, he’s Mrs. Potter had made fresh lemonade since got another thought coming! I’ll complain to the the sudden exit of the insurance salesman. Henry editor!” Deal sat back, staring about her living room as Henry shook his head. “He does include he sipped the cooling beverage. “Nice place,” he women,” he protested. “Why there was Miss said. “I like those flowers. Plastic roses are my Adder, only she got killed, and Miss Arachnid who favorites.” jumped out of a cake—” The old lady beamed. “They wash well,” she “They don’t count! You have to make the agreed. “Not like real ones.” women be men!” “Well, ah, Mrs. Potter. About the alien abduc“But it’s only 1956!” tions—” There was an embarrassed flutter. “Oh dear,” “Oh it was terrible! Those two nice young men. Ms. Kendall said, wilting visibly into a Miss or Mrs. Brothers, you know. Quite ugly, but so charming. “I think I’m in the wrong story.” They were always saying the cutest things.” “Thank God,” the inspector said. “I’ll show you “Oh?” the way out of the word processor.” “Fair dinkum and ‘shut up, you nitwit.’ All in For a moment, Miss Kendall—for she was, in good fun, you know.” truth, not married—gave him a suspicious glance. Henry nodded. “And then what happened?”

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“Well, the one with the leer was chasing the and things.” other one around the house with a frying pan. Together he and Mrs. Potter crossed the street. Apparently he had burned the brussels sprouts, He had her show him where the aliens had come though why anyone would cook brussels sprouts around the house and, sure enough, he found the in a frying pan—” cloven prints of their space boots. He followed Henry sat forward. “You say one of them had this track, found where a group of aliens had a leer?” apparently congregated near a forsythia bush, “Oh yes. And the other one had a nose like a and searched further, flashing a light about, as it cake slice.” had begun to grow dark. It didn’t take Henry long to put two and two “Aha,” he exclaimed, picking up a cigarette together. The resulting figure was more then butt. “No cow smoked this!” ominous. It was downright frightening. “Go on,” Mrs. Potter examined the item. “Certainly he said. no ordinary cow,” she said hesitantly. “But these “Well, suddenly there was this light right above were space cows, you know. Who can say what the house. Green and blue flashing. And then they would have done?” these creatures came running around the corner Henry looked at her with admiration. “You’ve and grabbed both boys. It was horrible!” got a point there,” he said. “But still, I think “What sort of creatures, Mrs. Potter?” something’s fishy about this whole setup.” He The old lady shuddered. “They looked like moved further behind the house until he came cows, Mr. Deal—great blundering cows that had to an alley. There were fresh tire tracks almost on got up on their hind legs and put on space suits. the verge of the grass, and more of the strange And they carried ray guns. I could hear them footprints. He saw no sign of a flying saucer. beeping and whistling, and they flashed red and Nodding to himself, Henry escorted Mrs. blue lights.” Potter back to her own house. “I think,” he said, Henry nodded thoughtfully. “Any, er, mooing?” “we’ve seen all there is to see here.” he asked. But what he meant was that Henry Deal, Mrs. Potter shook her head. “They just detective, had seen enough. It was time for the grabbed the boys and ran back around the house. Red Eye to enter the case, and he went home By the time I called the police, everyone had dis- at once to change—first, to his costume and an appeared.” extra supply of hankies embroidered with the “Let’s go take a look,” Henry suggested. “I red eye. Then, over this, he put on a disguise. The suppose the police have been there already.” Red Eye was famous for his disguises. This time, “Oh yes. They didn’t want to come at first. They Deal got himself up as a rather seedy-looking said it was probably something I ate. But finally actor. He headed for a part of town he knew well someone came and looked around. He didn’t find and began to ask around at some of the known anything.” hangouts for crooks. “That’s because he wasn’t a detective,” Henry “Got fired,” he told a sympathetic hold-up man. explained. “He didn’t know how to look for clues “Here I was playing Hamlet and I accidentally ran

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someone through. How was I to know the sword was sharp? Here was this old guy Polonius hiding behind the curtain and I just got carried away—” “Yeah,” the hold-up man said. “Same thing happened to me once. Gun just went off accidental like.” Henry made a mental note to look for his companion’s face on a wanted poster. But now he had other business. “Know anybody who’s hiring actors?” he asked casually. “Oh sure. Guy named Bazooka Fred. Something to do with cows.” Henry thanked his contact and headed for the address he had been given. It was time for some direct action! Tearing off his disguise, he prepared to confront the crooks as the Red Eye. # Meanwhile, the Nose and the Leer were playing cards with the cows. They seemed to be a pretty jolly bunch—or herd, as the case was—and laughed uproariously while making buffalo jokes. “What did the buffalo say when his son went to college?” one cow asked the Nose as he raised him fifty cents. “I dunno.” The Nose looked at his cards and decided to fold. “Bi-son. Get it? Bye—son.” The Nose got it. He sighed. Space cows were bad enough. But these particular space cows had been drinking pretty heavily and, as the interminable night wore on, the jokes they cracked got worse and worse. “What did the mother melon say when her daughter fell in love with a honeydew?” The Nose sipped his drink, grimaced, and wished heartily for something of a higher caliber. Formaldehyde, he thought and gagged accord-

ingly. “Cantaloupe,” the cow said. “Get it, huh? Get it?” There came a chorus of joyful mooing, and the Nose buried his head in his arms. Across the table, the Leer was considering homicide—or rather beeficide—and had already taken out his gun. “Hey,” another cow mooed. “What do you hear when a king goes to the bathroom?” “Now cut that out,” the Leer said. His auntie had taught him what you could say in public, and bathroom jokes belonged in the bathroom. “A royal flush!” the cow mooed. The Nose groaned. “Why couldn’t we have done kangaroos?” he whispered. “Or little green men?” Suddenly a beautiful young heifer caught his eye. “Hello,” she mooed softly. The Nose sat up. “Er, hello,” he said. “I can see by your face that you don’t like these crude jokes any more than I do,” she went on. “Humor is passé anyway. People should take themselves more seriously.” This coming from a cow—or at least a young lady dressed as a cow from outer space—seemed a bit out of place, even to the Nose. But under the circumstances, he was not one to quibble. “You can take me seriously,” he assured her. “I think you’re cute.” The heifer drew herself up indignantly. “What a sexist thing to say!” she snapped. “You should treat me as a fellow human being—or at least remember that I am in disguise. Anyway, even a real cow would deserve more respect.” “Right,” the Nose said. “And I respect cows. And ladies who look like cows—” He stopped here, not sure how to go on. Some comment or other

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about steak sandwiches might be taken amiss. “What’s your name?” he asked at last, wondering if he dared look her up after he and the Leer had collected from the insurance company. “Ms. Kimball.” “Nice name. What does the Ms. stand for? Manuscript?” “Don’t be a smart aleck,” the heifer said. “It means—” But she never had time to tell him that it meant she was a girl. Likely his response would have been no better than Henry Deal’s. As it happened, Deal was already in their midst, scuttling across the floor to hide himself beneath the table. One of the crooks gave a grunt. “Don’t kick me!” he said to the Nose. “Keep your feet on your own side.” “I never kicked you,” the Nose protested. He drew back, closer to Ms. Kimball. “Isn’t it a shame,” she said to the Nose, “that there aren’t any more women here?” “Oh, yeah. I like women,” the Nose said. “I like lots of them.” “Pig,” the lady said. “I meant that women should take part in the action. We should be your comrades, your equals.” “Our fellow crooks?” “No,” she snapped, “women are too sensible to be crooks.” Then, realizing she had given herself away, she stood up. “Stay back,” she warned. “I know judo.” “Judy who?” the Nose had time to enquire before the Leer’s gun went off, catching the lady in the leg. She fell rather suddenly into the Nose’s lap. “Oh,” she said. “Ouch!” “Break a fingernail?” he asked, cradling her in one arm.

“I’ve been shot, you idiot!” “She’s a cop!” the Leer shouted and immediately the cows rose en masse, mooing angrily. Things would not have gone well for Ms. Kimball had not the Red Eye suddenly given the table cloth a yank, precipitating cards, glasses, and deplorable beer onto the feet of the company. He rose, still enmeshed in the tablecloth, which was of a fiery crimson hue, and lunged for the Leer. The startled crook raised his gun, thought better of it, and tripped over an empty bottle instead. He fell heavily in a puddle of spilled beer. The Nose had snatched up the lady, realizing that whatever impended, he, at least, was possessed of a hostage. “Drop that tablecloth,” he ordered, “or Ms. Kimball gets it.” “Put me down! I need a tourniquet. I’ll get gangrene!” “Too bad,” the Nose said nastily. “Ladies shouldn’t hang out with cows.” Even the Leer was taken aback at the blatant idiocy of this comment, and all the cows mooed their disapproval while edging away toward the door. As for Ms. Kimball, she aimed one stiffened hand for the Nose’s eyeballs, missed, and got her fingers jammed in his nostrils. “Yech!” she exclaimed. “Gross!” “I don’t lig it buch neither,” the Nose said, disentangling her from his person. “Ow! I’m getting a nosebleed!” “Don’t let the broad get away,” the Leer shouted, moving warily around the wriggling tablecloth. He was only just in time to grab her, shoving his still smoking gun up against one temple. Then he and his brother both turned to watch as the Red Eye emerged from the cloth. “You’ll never get away with this,” the Red

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Eye cried, hurling a beer bottle at the Leer’s gun hand. With a yowl, the Leer dropped his weapon and began dancing up and down. But his brother was not to be thwarted of his revenge. The Red Eye had done much to alter the shape of his nose, not to mention giving him many other injuries in their past encounters including a fractured skull. Lacking any other weapon, he hoisted Ms. Kimball aloft and pitched her in the Red Eye’s general direction. He made a direct hit. “Oh!” she screamed in fury and began pummeling the Red Eye with both fists. “This is no way to treat an injured person! You heartless beast!” “Use your judo on him,” the Nose shouted. “Rip his head off!” The Red Eye, who was a gentleman to the core, resisted the impulse to throw the lady back at the Nose. Instead, he gently pried her fingers from about his throat and wrapped her in the tablecloth. “Hell hath no fury,” he muttered. The Nose, who didn’t believe in hell—he wouldn’t have been a crook otherwise—had by now retrieved his brother’s gun and would have soon put an end to the Red Eye’s career if something had not latched itself onto his leg, biting and clawing with a fury even Ms. Kimball would have envied. He looked down, and that was his undoing. With a lunge, the Red Eye was upon him, tearing away the gun, wreaking further damage upon his poor nose. Suddenly, the Red Eye stopped punching the Nose and whirled about. There was the Leer coming at him with a beer glass in one hand and a bowl of chip dip in the other. The Red Eye rolled beneath these formidable weapons, leaving the Nose to the mercy of Anchovy, who

had bravely followed him to the crooks’ hideout. One well-aimed punch brought the Leer to his knees, and a couple more left him dreaming happily about little birds. The Nose, meanwhile, had crawled beneath the table, yelling things that usually get edited out of stories like this, as Anchovy loyally ripped every exposed part of his skin. Finally the cat became bored with this play and began lapping up spilled beer. “Call an ambulance,” Ms. Kimball commanded, from her seat on the floor. “Don’t just stand there gloating over your violence.” “Oh, certainly,” Henry stammered. The Red Eye didn’t like witnesses, especially ones who saw him wrapped in a tablecloth and accompanied by a crook-mauling Persian cat. “Maybe I should put on a tourniquet first,” he suggested without enthusiasm. “You should have let me use my judo,” Ms. Kimball said reproachfully as he tied on a bit of cloth. “That cat has spoiled everything.” “It’s loyal,” Henry said defensively. “But I wasn’t given a leading role in this story! I should have conducted the investigation instead of that half-baked detective. Whatever became of him, anyway?” Henry assumed a look of bland innocence. “Maybe he stopped off for a pizza,” he suggested. “Maybe he dropped out of the story entirely.” “Well, putting in some jerk in a mask and tights is not my idea of serious writing! I should have some meaningful dialogue with the criminals and then bring them to justice.” “You can have some dialogue with the Nose,” Henry said. “I think he’s still conscious.” “Make him stop shouting, then. I don’t even know what all the words mean.” Henry gave the Nose a kick. “Stop shouting,”

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he said. The Nose stopped. “Now tell the lady you’re sorry your brother shot her.” The Nose groaned. “I’m really sorry,” he muttered. “I just wish I had done it myself.” Henry kicked him again and he subsided. “We should have been part of a team,” Ms. Kimball mused, her eyes fixed on a nonexistent horizon. “Men and women working together, as equals. All different races. I should have been in charge and we should all have been using strong language, only not as creative as that. I would have been dressed in shorts and a tank top and one of you would be my ex-husband who tried to dominate me. And then I’d show him! But now it’s all spoiled, and I am definitely going to complain to the editor!” She got up and limped off the disk, searching for a way out of the editor’s computer. The Nose, who was once more giving vent to some very creative expressions, watched her go. He still thought she was cute, but only from a distance. The Red Eye shook his head. Being a man of vision, he wished her well, though it was unlikely anything she could say would move the editor to change his own part in the story. “The world of 1956,” he said, “isn’t ready for her. Maybe one day, when we have become more enlightened, we can march bravely into the future and all that.” The Nose, for his part, was not thinking about the future very much. Actually, he had passed out and was dreaming about wombats, a familiar nightmare. At least the bittersweet memory of Ms. Kimball never came back to haunt him. # The year was 2010. Soldiers were fighting des-

perately against an army of kangaroos from space. “Get ready for the final assault,” the general ordered when her attention was caught by the advent of a wounded person where no wounded person had been a few seconds before. “Captain Kimball,” the newcomer gasped, “returning from behind enemy lines.” The general signaled for a nurse, who trotted up. “She’s been shot,” he said after a brief examination. “Got a tourniquet on her leg.” He tossed his head disdainfully, jingling his earrings. “Looks like a hanky to me,” the general snapped. She peered closer. “Funny,” she muttered. “There is some device embroidered on the corner. A red eye.” But no one had time to speculate further concerning the mysterious emblem. The kangaroos were charging. “Forward for equality!” the general shouted. “Make the world safe for mediocrity!” From her comfortable position in the mud, Ms. Kimball groaned and allowed the nurse to unwrap the hanky.

MN Schnecke
MN  Schnecke  is  the  pen  name  of  the  inimitable  writing  combination  of  Colleen  Drippe’  &  Therese M. Dagenais.

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Deuces Wild
In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five
  by L. S. King
secret passages—that bolt hole was just the sort of thing he’d expected, but he hadn’t known one would save his life. Although the final explosion had partially collapsed the end of the tunnel. He had spend hours digging past the fallen rocks and sand, wondering if the passage would completely give way and bury him. He touched the back of his head. The wound had crusted over; he must have been asleep for some time. He squinted up at the sun. Perhaps a day? A distant rumbling made him push up again, looking around. The palace lay in smoking ruins—the sound wasn’t coming from it but from farther away. More rumblings, and booms—sonic grenades? What the—? More sounds began to register in his mind—drop ships and fighter craft. The shrill whine of a small ship caught his attention. A square barge with nacelles on each side flew over his head—a Type 1HA Shuttle with Confed markings. It pitched, forward engines roaring to slow for landing. A drop shuttle—holding twenty troops, if he remembered correctly. The Confederation invasion! Merde!  Tristan rolled to a more concealed position behind some rocks as the ship landed, rear bay door opening. Troops in heavy Confed-armored suits doubletimed out. The shuttle, now empty, rose. Would the invading soldiers ignore a ‘dead’ man on the ground? Tristan dare not chance it, but how could he fight heavy armor, only dressed in slave rags, and injured on top of it? No—not only rags! He still had the shock baton he’d taken from the guard, the strap around his wrist, and Recap: Slap and Tristan had contracted to upgrade  their ship. While work was underway, Slap went  missing. The Confeds had captured him to force  Tristan to help with an invasion of their galactic  neighbors, the Eridani. The Eridani kidnapped Slap from the Confeds  in  an  attempt  to lure Tristan  to rescue him.  The  bait was good, and Tristan roared off to find Slap,  accompanied  by  the  doubtfully  sane  engineer,  Carter. When  we  last  left  our  heroes,  Tristan  was  trapped in the self-destructing palace of the dead  Eridani emperor. Slap was in the temple and the  late emperor’s cousin had pulled a needlegun on  him.  and filled his nose and mouth, gagging him. Tristan spat—and again. He pushed up, blinking, confused. He shook his head and winced as pain shot through his skull. His memory returned with a rush—his leg injured by falling stone, managing to get free, hobbling through the level, trying to find Slap despite the palace self-destructing around him. Chamber after chamber of prisoners, swiping the guard’s card to free one after another while searching for the cowboy. Finding a bolt hole in a crumbled wall and, finally realizing he had no choice and no Slap, escaping. Being knocked down and almost trampled as both servants and those he freed rushed past him to get out. Tristan spat again, and rested his head on his arms. At least studying the palace architect’s design methods had shown him the man loved

S

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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the key card he’d lifted as well. But what use were they against an armored trooper? While dragging himself behind some boulders, Tristan gave the matter thought. He propped against a rock, took out the baton, and slid open the casing. Standard power pack. A small smile flicked for a second. Possible. He took the card from where it was hidden inside his waistband and pulled the metal tag free. Letting the card drop, he strained to straighten the bit of metal, ignoring the pain biting into his fingers and thumbs. He pried the pack out of the baton. The metal was too long. Wonderful. He put the thin strip of metal on a rock and used the baton to hold it. He bent the strip, turned it, and bent the other way, gashing his finger in the process. After several more folds, the metal weakened, heated, and eventually broke. He used the card to nudge the metal across the contacts and set the pack back into the slot and pushed down. The power pack was now in place, but not touching yet. Next came the tricky part. He’d only have one shot. Timing would be the key; the pack shouldn’t take long to overload—eight to ten seconds at best, and the radius of the blast would only be maybe five feet. The baton would burst like a frag grenade and have a shock-pulse of electricity besides, but a heavily armed Confed trooper would most likely only be concussed. So he needed to be close enough, fast enough, yet not be impacted himself. The sounds of running feet crunching against the gravel, sand, and stone made Tristan tense. A trooper rounded the rocks and stopped with a slight jump—likely not expecting to find anyone in this forlorn spot while sweeping the area. “You! What are you doing here?” Tristan stared up and said in Eridani, “I don’t

understand.” The trooper cussed rather unimaginatively and added in a mutter, “Stupid backwater planet.” He pointed with his particle beam rifle toward Tristan’s hands and shouted, “What...you...have... there?” Tristan didn’t react, but inside he laughed; oh,  certainly, speak slowly and loudly enough, and a  person can understand a foreign language. However, this created the perfect opportunity. Tristan pressed the power pack firmly into the baton—but it stuck. Blast it! He gestured with the baton and again answered in Eridani, “What? This?” The trooper held out his gloved hand, curling his fingers in a ‘give it to me’ gesture. Tristan gripped the baton tightly to his chest, and used the heel of his hand to smack at the pack. It clicked into place. He looked up at the soldier’s outstretched hand, got to his knees, and with feigned reluctance set the baton into it. The Confed lifted the baton, looking it over, no doubt. Through his thick gauntlets he wouldn’t feel the growing heat. Time was about out. Tristan threw himself into a backwards roll—not a moment too soon; the explosion knocked him out of the roll and onto his back. Stifling a groan, Tristan crawled as fast as he could to the downed trooper. He grabbed the PB rifle, aimed at the helmet, and fired. One Confed down, an army to go. He sighed at his own hindsight; getting the bandoliers of plasma grenades off the body was going to be a bloody process. The bandoliers appropriated, and the extra power packs for the PBR as well, he slowly returned to the boulders. He leaned against the rock, and listened for other troopers, wishing he knew what was going on. If only he hadn’t shot the trooper in the head, he could listen in with

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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the comm helmet. More hindsight. He needed to get away from this spot before the Confeds came looking for their missing buddy. And clear out of here, since they were obviously securing this area before moving on to their next target. His gaze on the downed soldier, an idea formed. He crept back toward the man and—with the greatest of care—set several plasma grenades and placed them under him. Gives new meaning  to dead man’s switch. He hurried south as fast as he could crawl, using rocks and boulders as cover whenever possible. Even if he dared, walking was painful and slow with his leg injury. His chances of getting clean away weren’t good, but what other choice did he have? An explosion ripped the air, and Tristan ground his teeth. Too soon. They’d now be looking for whoever set the booby-trap. He scrambled toward a large outcropping on the side of a hill. On the far side he discovered a small niche between several boulders. Not a very good hiding place, but the best he could do. He wedged in and reached for two plasma grenades. The whine of capacitors charging made him look up. Five PB rifles stared him in the face. The Confeds stood on or behind the rocks sheltering Tristan, their weapons trained on him. He looked into the masks of the troopers, wishing he could see their faces. He held up the plasma grenades, showing they were set; only his thumbs kept them from going off. The soldiers froze for a moment. “Back away or die,” he yelled in Eridani, hoping they were all as illiterate of the language as their late comrade; Tristan’s knowledge of imperatives was sketchy. He circled his arms wildly, to give the impression he was agitated and desperate, while

repeating the phrase. Instinct is a great thing. The troopers all reacted as he anticipated, jumping back off the rocks and running. He lifted his arms, feigning throwing the grenades, and they all dove for the ground. Now!  He lobbed the grenades as hard and long as he could—one left and one right. Holding his breath, he ducked back down between the boulders and hunkered in as tight a ball as he could— Tristan woke, blinked, and shook his head. That was a mistake; his head throbbed worse than with a hangover. The ringing in his ears didn’t help. He lifted the PB rifle and stared at the swaying, fuzzy barrel. Dare he stand? Could he stand? Slowly he rose and leaned against the rock. He couldn’t wait; more Confeds would converge soon. He stumbled from cover and swayed, assessing the damage. Two craters marred the landscape and each side of the outcropping of boulders he had hid in. The bodies had been incinerated. He squinted at a smudge at the far side of the one crater. Not quite. He picked his way over rocks and around the huge depression. The trooper must have been a runner to get so far. But not far enough. Tristan squatted by the body and pulled the helmet off. He examined it and found it in working order. With a grim smile he put it on. The helmet used an optical interface. That would take a few minutes to adjust to...there— communications. The voices all crowded upon each other and he closed his eyes to concentrate: Valkyries inbound—ETA on drop one minute All troops, evac temple perimeter Razors deployed This is Squad Theta, palace ruins west secure,  awaiting orders Sir,  we’re  encountering  resistance  south  of  spaceport market—requesting support

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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MBT  Company  45,  base  perimeter  secure— moving to support MRCV Lance one-three Shuttle Galileo inbound to sector 23 Squad Lambda encountering heavy resistance  east of palace ruins—request support Razor pilots, beginning temple bombing run This  is  AMRCV  Lance  oh-six—enemy  neutralized at sector 28 Tristan wasn’t sure if he was the ‘heavy resistance east of palace ruins,’ but wasn’t taking chances. He ran south as best as his injuries would let him. He found another outcropping and stopped to work on finding the squad frequency but could only hear the command channels. Gritting his teeth, he continued to run. # Slap didn’t wait for Abbra to finish speaking or aiming the gun. He slapped the sneering man’s arm aside with his hand and backfisted him in the face on return. The would-be new emperor’s guards burst into action, bringing up their weapons and firing at the priests, but a distant boom along with an earthquake-type rumbling stopped everyone cold. The lights and music blinked out, leaving them all in the dark. The shriek of fighters flying overhead broke the shocked silence. A wall blasted inward—shards of stone flying everywhere. Slap lost his footing and fell— # Tristan’s sight seemed to be clearing. The ringing in his ears had abated somewhat, too. His limp worsened as he struggled south through the edges of the palace rubble. He wasn’t certain his course was wise, considering the Confeds were all over the city, but staying where he was hadn’t been possible. He knew where some of the

attacks were taking place, but without knowing the location of the “sectors” the Confeds had divided the area into, he was limited. But one command he heard over the helmet’s comm system burned in his brain: All inhabitants considered hostile—neutralize Cowards! Battle armor and hi-tech weapons against skin; slaughtering civilians wantonly, giving them no chance. Moving blurs ahead coalesced into natives, armed with clubs, rocks, and even just barehanded, attacking—or attempting to attack—Confed troops. Tristan didn’t care for the Eridani government, this planet’s culture, lifestyle, or attitudes, but he had to give them points for guts, if not brains. Tristan moved a little closer, but had to be careful; if he was seen first, he’d be targeted, instead of doing the targeting. He ducked behind what was left of a stone wall and adjusted the rifle for narrow beam. Kneeling, he propped the barrel on a large hunk of rubble and sighted through the scope. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and aimed... Two troopers fell before the rest realized they were dealing with a sniper. They ran for cover or hit the ground. The locals, either not understanding or not caring, ran after them, still trying to beat them with ersatz weapons. Idiots. Tristan picked off one more. Hot rock splattered, making him duck and wince. He dove for the cover of another section of wall, rolling into a kneeling position. As he began shooting again, he wondered in passing why he didn’t feel anything. Adrenaline—I’ll rue it later. The natives picked up the PBRs from the fallen Confeds and began shooting at their enemies. The troops found themselves trapped between Tristan and their ‘hostiles,’ and soon the fight ended. Tristan rose from his hiding place, took off

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Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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the helmet, and walked with hesitation toward the Eridani. They waited, grinning. As he approached one jabbered too fast for Tristan to understand, and he shook his head. “Speak slowly, please,” he said in their tongue. “You are not Eridani?” one asked. “No. I came looking for a friend. But I think he is dead now,” Tristan said, or hoped he was saying. He wished he’d had more time to study their language. “Take all this,” he added, pointing to the dead soldiers’ gear. “All of it.” He began stripping the bodies of the bandoliers and other weapons. The men crouched to help, talking among themselves as they divided the spoils. One stood, pointed to Tristan’s helmet, and asked, “You speak the language of these barbarians, yes?” “Yes.” “Will you come with us to—” the man continued speaking, and Tristan held up his hand. “I am sorry. I only speak a little of your tongue.” “Come with us, please,” the man said then. “You can help us.” Tristan snagged a second rifle and nodded. They hadn’t gone twenty steps when a drop shuttle whined above them. They scurried into the nearby half-blasted building. The ship pitched to set down not far from their location. Tristan played with a notion for a moment, fingering a plasma grenade in the bandolier. Decision made, he pulled it out and limped into the open. Wind blasted at him as the shuttle passed right over his head, whipping sand in a fine, hot spray. He choked and blinked, covering his face with one arm. The vehicle set down fifty or sixty feet from him. As the rear bay hatch began to part, he prayed his aim was good, threw as hard as he could toward the opening, and tore back toward

the cover of the building. He dove over a low section of wall as the grenade exploded. The sound echoed, magnified, as the ship blew up. The natives cheered and ran to Tristan, picking him up. He groaned and bent over, feeling lightheaded. His right calf throbbed worse than before, and he could feel blood trickling down his face. “What is wrong?” one of them asked. “I...I think it’s because I haven’t eaten or had anything to drink in over a day. Plus I am...” What  was the word for wounded? “...hurt.” “We will take you to—” the man gibbered words unknown to Tristan. Hoping they meant a place to eat or rest, Tristan nodded, and let them support him as they went underground, into the bowels of the main part of the city. # Dust and debris settled over Slap. Hot fire lanced through gashes received from sharp edges of marble. I really don’t like this planet. A boom echoed, and more detritus fell on him. He dropped his head, not even trying to cover it with his arms. I  don’t  care  anymore.  Let  the  building  fall on me. Let it all end. Many hands grabbed his arms and torso and hauled him to his feet. Kebba stood before him, a huge wound near his temple running freely with blood. He bowed. Slap scowled. “Do you people ever stop killing yourselves?” “No, no–it is the Confederation. They are attacking. We must get you to safety.” “Why? Cuz I’m a god? Brago’s Bands, if I were a god, I’d zap ‘em all, wouldn’t I, and not have to worry about myself?” “The gods have chosen you to join them, but that doesn’t mean your body isn’t...weak. You

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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haven’t reached immortality yet.” Slap growled and rolled his eyes, but let himself be led out through a side door leading to steps. The rumbling continued, but the stairwell stayed intact. “Was the emperor immortal then?” Slap asked, as they entered an underground passage. “That happens when your body dies. You are in a...a state between the two. Do your people not teach this?” “Most of my people believe there is only one deity. Humans are just humans, not gods.” Slap paused, then added, “The Zendians believe in one god, too. They claim to see and live on both sides of the”—what was an equivalent of the Zendian word?—“curtain between the mortal and spiritual world.” “Who are the Zendians?” Kebba asked, glancing up with a frown. “Aliens who are the original inhabitants of the world I’m from. They...can do some strange things. Makes me wonder if there isn’t some truth to their claim.” Kebba grinned. “They have technology you don’t understand. I am a priest. I know. The people must see to believe, so we...” he hesitated, his face twisting in thought, probably trying to recall vocabulary in a language he wasn’t used to using much. “We...we give them something to see.” Slap shook his head and said no more. Too bad Kebba couldn’t meet a Zendian; he’d change his tune. The maze of tunnels went on. Finally they came to well-lit grotto, filled with armed men, and not all of them looked friendly. Several lifted their weapons, but Kebba and the other priests held up their arms and called out—likely passing word about Slap’s ‘god status.’ Slap was offered a seat and drink of water. The men conferred, with glances tossed Slap’s way.

More natives began crowding in the archway. New arrivals to their underground headquarters listened as Kebba and the priests talked. After awhile, Kebba approached, bowing. “They would like to know what help you will give us to throw off our enemies.” Slap’s mouth fell open. # They arrived in a cavern, well-lit and wellstocked with supplies. His companions ran in different directions, handing out the collected weapons, while two helped Tristan to a stool by a table. They set water and a plate of some sliced fried... something in front of him. He’d almost think it was plantain by taste, but this seemed more like a yam by look and size. He drank slowly and ate, relishing the strength that flowed into him. If only he could rest, but the Confeds weren’t resting, and if he planned on surviving, he needed to help these people. He put on the helmet, and listened for a while. What he heard clenched his stomach, and he broke out in a cold sweat; in a matter of hours the Confeds were going to destroy all ‘hostiles’ by dropping the horrific yrallite gas into every crevice and cavern they could find. Damn  the bastards!  Gas masks did no good; that stuff entered pores, burned skin, and caused muscles to slough off bones. Even the Eridani had signed the treaty banning its use. Only the Confeds... Tristan tore off the helmet and dropped his head into his hands. How could he stop the entire Confederation military machine?

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

Serial: Deuces Wild, In the Lap of the Gods, Part Five, by L. S. King

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

L. S. King
A science fiction fan since childhood, L.S. King  has been writing stories since her youth. Now,  with  all  but  one  of  her  children  grown,  she  is  writing  full-time.  She  has  developed  a  swordand-planet  series  tentatively  called  The Ancients.  The  first  book  is  finished,  and  she  has  completed rough drafts of several more novels  as well.  She serves on the editorial staff of The Sword Review,  is  also  their  Columns  Editor,  and  writes  a  column  for  that  magazine  entitled  “Writer’s Cramps”  as  well.  She  is  also  one    of  the  Overlords,  a  founding  editor,  here  at  Ray Gun Revival. She  began  martial  arts  training  over  thirty  years ago, and owned a karate school for a decade. When on the planet, she lives in Delaware  with  her  husband,  Steve,  and  their  youngest  child. She enjoys gardening, soap making, and  reading. She also likes Looney Tunes, the color  purple, and is a Zorro aficionado, which might  explain her love for swords and cloaks.

Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007

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Ray Gun Revival magazine

Issue 21, May 01, 2007