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Issue 46 September 2008

 Pg. 2
Ray Gun Revival 2
3
Table of Contents
Overlords’ Lair - The Crotchety / Sales Debate
8 Fire on a World of Ice
Table of Contents by Jonathon Mast
Overlords (Founders / Editors)
14 Dark Running
Johne Cook, L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn by Justin R. Macumber
20 Obedience
Venerable Staff by T.M. Hunter
A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor 25 Boarders Over Brantial
Shannon McNear - Lord High Advisor, grammar consultant, listening by Jonathan J. Schlosser
ear/sanity saver for Overlord Lee 29 Message to Mars
Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand by Alice M. Roelke
L. S. King - Lord High Editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, 36 RGR Reviews - Book Reviews
webmistress by Matthew Winslow
Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle 39 RGR Reviews - The Balcony Fool Reviews TR2N
washer by Paul Christian Glenn
41 Featured Artist - Christian Hecker
Slushmasters (Submissions Editors) 45 Calamity’s Child Chapter Four
John M. Whalen Rites of Passage - Domino
Alice M. Roelke by M. Keaton
David Wilhelms
53 Thieves’ Honor Episode One
Serial Authors Spider’s Web, Part One
Sean T. M. Stiennon by Keanan Brand
M Keaton 62 Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5
Keanan Brand Rock and a Hard Place
Lee S. King by L. S. King
Paul Christian Glenn
Johne Cook 69 The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Chapter 25
All The Men In Shadow
Cover Art by Johne Cook
“LEGACY” by Christian Hecker 78 Memory Wipe, Chapter 23
Liun
Without Whom... by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Bill Snodgrass, site host,
Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin, mentor, 86 The RGR Time Capsule
confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing July / August 2008
Special Thanks All content copyright 2008 by Double-edged Publishing, 
Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.
Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com
Rev: 200809a
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008
Overlords’ Lair Pg. 3
Overlords’ Lair
The Crotchety / Sales Debate

I ’ve been reading posts on the internet it’s out of print.


this summer and have been watching with
interest and—in some cases, enjoying—the To be fair, Ian isn’t completely saying what
self-defeating.
What do I think about all this? Well, it seems
spirited debate that’s been, oh, everywhere. it sounds like he’s saying, which should be to me that we’re talking about finding
apparent from his closing thoughts on the speculative fiction that contains all the
We’re getting into political silly-season matter. wonder and curiosity and thrill of discovery
in advance of the November Presidential of the classic writers of bygone days, while
elections, and that chatter is just burning up I don’t think we should refuse to read old maintaining the modern standards of literary
the internet. Hurricane Gustav came ashore classic works, but we must recognise that craftsmanship which has been honed and
today and threatened an already-battered they’re historical documents. ... Further, developed over time and which has value
New Orleans region, which is always good modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be when the audience is a modern reader.
for discussion. But the real storm that I want aware of everything which has gone before,
to address is one about what kind of science but modern sf writers certainly ought to. In short, it appears we’re talking about
fiction to turn to when introducing new Steve Davidson, who writes as The Crotchety merging the best elements of yesteryear
readers to the genre. It is not an irrelevant Old Fan, disagreed. with the latest critical standards for what
question. constitutes good modern fiction writing.
The point here is - if you are going to It occurs to me that this, in a nutshell, is
Ian Sales is a writer who wants to be an recommend a story to a potential new essentially the charter here at Ray Gun Revival
author—which describes many of us around reader and you cut out any author who magazine. Granted, we’re limited by the
here, including me, heh. In the meantime, started writing in the bad old days before shoestring budget to what we can pay our
Mr. Sales has stirred up a hornet’s nest of MTV and home computers, you’re chopping authors—nobody will get rich off the nominal
controversy on his blog by suggesting that it out most of your best and brightest. The fifteen bucks, American, we’re able to pay.
may not be such a great idea to recommend point is, those old authors who wrote such
the old classics to readers just getting into sci- horrible stuff are STILL receiving awards in Newer and more expensive doesn’t always
fi. equate to ‘better,’ a point Steve Davidson
the modern era, and in large numbers. makes with regard to the modern retelling
Readers new to the genre are not served The point is many of the OLD authors are of The Day The Earth Stood Still, due out this
well by recommendations to read Isaac ALSO THE NEW AUTHORS. 2008 holiday season. Steve would prefer that
Asimov, EE ‘Doc’ Smith, Robert Heinlein, or people see the original classic if you haven’t
the like. Such fiction is no longer relevant, is As I said the other day, history is a continuum. seen it already before letting the updated
often written with sensibilities offensive to The measure is in converts. Restricting your version color your impression of the classic
modern readers, usually has painfully bad recommendations to the ‘modern era’ is story. I took advantage of the opportunity
prose, and is mostly hard to find because to watch the classic online this afternoon.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Overlords’ Lair Pg. 4

Its seems to me that the very budgetary Deveraux hated this hiding spot: a city position, and she drew her knees up to
limitations which hindered the classic films immersed in an icy sea. Only the pinnacles her chin. She seemed so small and frail to
of yore also made them better because the of towers broke the surface. Charlie, and despite the sickness he felt
emphasis had to be more on imagination inside, his instinct was to reach out and
and story and character than mere technical The fire crackled. Deveraux hoarded the hold her. The manacles that locked his
effects. And how many films of the modern heat as best he could. arms behind him kept him from following
era have been ruined because of the emphasis “I come bearing supper.” Pastoric entered through.
on CGI over story and characterization? through an arch, displaying the bodies “They’re going to come back,” she said.
That strikes me as the kind of thing we offer of several fox-like things that dripped “They’re going to ask you about what you
at RGR. We operate on a limited budget with water. did, and when you don’t tell them what
the help of a knockout supporting cast of “Are they safe?” Deveraux poked a limp they want to know, they’re going to kill
volunteers. Our team remembers the action, figure. me. Think, Charlie!”
romance, adventure, and sense of wonder so
common in those classic works coupled with “Close enough. If we avoid the ink “I’m trying!” he yelled. “All right? There’s
the rigorous standards of the modern author. pouches.” this...this fog, in my brain, and I don’t...I
Together, we take the best elements from the just don’t know.”
stories from yesteryear and recast them with The room rumbled.
Obedience by T.M. Hunter
the best contemporary writing standards of “What’s that rumbling?”
today to create something new that builds She is his slave and he is her master, but she can
on the foundations of the venerable. We’re “Probably a glacier colliding with the still teach him about the dangers of greed.
returning to the kinds of stories we grew tower. It should stop soon.”
up with and telling new stories with the Jeanie must obey Aston’s every command.
latest standards of craftsmanship for a new Deveraux spun, dodging the blast before She harbors no ill will toward him. It’s not
generation. he heard or saw it. The kindling in the fire in her nature, nor her programming.
exploded. His ears registered the high-
And that’s news worth burning up the pitched thunder of a blaster. By watching her master, interpreting
internet. ; ) his moves, his words, his tone, she has
learned to mimic emotions and feelings.
She does not feel or have true reactions,
Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber but she can calculate a response to make
In this issue: it seem like she does.
Major Charlie Sheppard awakens a prisoner,
Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast his memories gone. His fate—and his wife’s— She never attempts to remove those
hangs on a truth that is as elusive as a whisper original restrictions, never attempts to
Pastoric and Deveraux are on the run from in the night.
bounty hunters. Stranded in an ancient city on disobey Aston’s commands, so Jeanie
an icy world, can they survive? Jane rolled over until she was in a sitting never violates her programming. An
outsider would assume she circumvents

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Overlords’ Lair Pg. 5

the system to get what she wants. get a visual on whoever dropped that EC. He angled wildly, threaded his ship
I imagine they’ll be showing up soon.” between the cruisers at attack velocity,
But deceit is not an emotion Jeanie has straight for the empty space and the
been able to analyze and break down, so Cira scowled behind chin-length black planet beyond.
she cannot replicate it. hair. “What do we do if we see them? We
can’t shoot anything from up there— Archer hesitated an instant too long, and
Boarders Over Brantial by Jonathan J. we’re just targets.” Bill’s ship was no longer pinned, could no
Schlosser longer be dissected between the ships
Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke and skewered. They arced out at him,
When a bomb takes out his ship’s power, Tarin
is forced to defend against vicious assault With Earth and Mars on the brink of war, one missiles and giant space bullets, those
while his dead ship drifts toward Brantial VI. man a message gets through. tiny rockets, burning like the sun on their
deadly trajectories.
Blue fire washed outward, twisting and A large ship—several large ships—filled
writhing like a living thing. The electrical his electronic view, piercing the tranquility RGR Reviews - Book Reviews, by Matthew
storm ate through the ship’s shields of space. Words blared through his Winslow
and into its power systems, fusing speakers. “Turn back. Turn back. You have RGR Reviews - The Balcony Fool Reviews TR2N,
wires together and overloading charge no authorization.” He grimaced, cranked by Paul Christian Glenn
cells. The power suppressor on the aft- the volume down.
mount engines exploded in a ball of Calamity’s Child, by MKeaton - Chapter Four:
incandescent flame that the hard chill He sat down and typed out a query. “May Rites of Passage - Domino
of space immediately snuffed out. The I pass? Messenger Service. Delivery for
engines sparked, coughed, and died. Mars.” He waited for a reply, tapping his Duelists, intrigue, a space fire fight, and an
fingers on the dash. uncooperative bounty—it’s all in a day’s work
Six seconds from detonation, the Pride of for Ivan and Red.
Marik hung dead in space. “Bill—that you?” A human voice cut into
the litany. Looking finally to her opponent across
Standing on the bridge, Tarin Blacksand the field, her stomach tightened as the
slammed his palm against his control “Hey, Archer. Yep, it’s me.” In spite of the waking dream continued its predictable,
console. “Hikal! Report!” circumstances, he leaned forward and implacable course. He was a hireling like
grinned a cocky grin. “Can I pass if I beat herself—the principals would never risk
“Not good, Captain. It was a pulse bomb, you at a hand of poker?” The cylinder their own precious hides—but he was
probably an EC-6...our shields are gone rolled forward in his lap, and he sobered. young, an expendable younger son from
and our electrical systems look like a rich family turned to dueling as a way to
somebody baked us inside a Durian trash- “Hell, Bill, it’s been forever.” The voice
telegraphed regret. Bill’s eyes hardened. separate himself from the cloying ennui
burner.” of his pedestrian life. He considered
He tightened his grip on the controls.
Tarin swore and swung himself over the Archer said, “But you know I can’t do—” himself a gunman; that much was obvious
small rail that surrounded his station. from the strutting posture and duster he
“Cira, Dune, get on the gun deck and try to “Shoot me down, then.” Bill accelerated. affected, and he was probably fast, even

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Overlords’ Lair Pg. 6

faster than she was. It did not matter. “Why do you keep flying this old bucket?” “It’s about time you learned you can’t
save everyone.” He paused, his past
Someday, one of these young bucks “Keep your voice down. Martina might swimming in his mind’s eye, and softly
looking to make a name might take her, hear you. She’s a mite touchy about her added, “Sometimes you can’t even save
but she did not believe it, not really. They age.” yourself.”
lacked something, these children of the
inner Hedge, a lack that left them no “One of these days, she’s gonna fall The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Chapter 25,
more chance against a predator from the out the sky, and then what’s a crew of All the Men in Shadow, by Johne Cook
Frontier than a rabbit against a wolf. It hardworking pirates to do?”
was never a contest; it was murder. Flynn is rocked by revelations while the Friar of
“Pirates, ma’am? We’re honest Briar Island faces his toughest opponent—his
freighters.” own legend.
Thieves’ Honor, Spider’s Web, Part One, by Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5, Rock Cooper Flynn looked down at the ruined
Keanan Brand and a Hard Place, by L. S. King water mug on the steel floor, then at the
shadowy figure seated across from him.
Captain Kristoff is a smuggler hiding in plain The crew is caught between a rock and a hard
sight, while Captain Zoltana spins a web to place—the colonists desperately need supplies, His guest spoke with a studiously neutral,
bring the smuggler to ‘justice.’ and Tristan is honor-bound to bring help, but almost metallic voice. “How do you feel?”
the Confed blockade is unbreakable. Or is it?
“Welcome aboard, Captain Zoltana.” Flynn cleared his throat and poured a
Kristoff stood aside. “My crew will “Well, we need this cargo. The tariffs have fresh mug of water, the pitcher dancing
cooperate.” eaten into our profits, and fueling killed against the rim of the mug as he poured
us.” with a slightly trembling hand. “How
She turned her head, and the men do I feel.” How do I feel? The last thing
standing behind her fanned out to search “We’ll make do.”
I remembered was opening my arms
the cargo deck. Zoltana didn’t move from Slap crossed his arms with a determined to embrace my fate and become one
her place. Nor did she watch her men. She expression. “But those colonists need with the void. Now here I am, rescued...
watched Kristoff, who watched her from those supplies.” somehow. “I feel I want to know the
the corner of his eye. answers to some questions,” Flynn said,
Tristan rose and marched to the galley. defiantly. “Let’s start with ‘where am I?’
“You know, Captain,” Zoltana’s voice was “Your altruism is going to get us killed.”
heavy with sarcasm, “if you lie real still, followed by ‘who are you?’”
this’ll all be over in a few minutes.” Slap followed on his heels, doggedly. He felt the sudden need to move, to act.
“Look, Tristan, there’s families—kids— With a flip of his wrist, Flynn threw off his
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” suffering because of this blockade. We covers and swung his legs over the edge
“Never knew a man to turn it down.” have a chance to do something.” of the bed. He had no plan, but that had
never stopped him before. But as his bare
“Ah, I bet you say that to all the boys.” With a sigh, Tristan faced the cowboy. feet hit the cold, metal deck, he noticed

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Overlords’ Lair Pg. 7

two things in quick succession; one, the surrounding him.


shadowed figure didn’t move, didn’t so
much as flinch. And two... So that’s it, then. Enjoy Issue 46! Until next
month, engage in some spirited debate,
Flynn flushed and scrambled back into shake hands when you’re done, and then
the bed. He then cleared his throat and introduce a new reader to Ray Gun Revival!
tried to regain his composure. “As a third
but equally vital question—where are all Johne Cook
my clothes?” Overlord
Breezeway, WI USA
Memory Wipe, Chapter 23, Liun, by Sean T. M. September, 2008
Stiennon
Takeda battles his way into Tong’s fortress,
finding both hope and despair.
Instinct took over. Energy rushed up his
arm in a destructive wave and erupted
from his palm, cooking the wounded Hand
in an instant. Takeda’s body hit the floor,
but the man’s charred remains followed
a moment later. Takeda curled up and
probed his knee with his fingers. Flashes
of pain told him it was cracked, but the
joint seemed functional, and there was
no external bleeding.
He pulled himself up the car wall with
bloodstained hands and focused on the
keypad. Individual levels were marked
out on its surface, just numbers, no
description of any kind. The lowest was
seventy. He pressed that button. The
doors shut and the car thundered back
down its rails.
Takeda braced himself against the wall,
panting, and tried not to vomit from
the slaughterhouse sights and smells

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast Pg. 8

Fire on a World of Ice


by Jonathon Mast

P art of the problem of failing to rescue the


Imprisoned Empress and having every
bounty hunter this side of Aldeban searching
“Probably a glacier colliding with the tower.
It should stop soon.” The knife made squelch-
ing sounds as it worked. “Fire’s going to go out
wouldn’t be able to penetrate the ice around
the tower.”

for you was that you never knew where your if you don’t feed it.” “The thermal scanners probably don’t
next hiding spot would be. Deveraux hated work. I thought you said you’d be able to elude
this one: a city immersed in an icy sea. Only Deveraux snapped his attention back to any ship tracking us.” Pastoric frowned as he
the pinnacles of towers broke the surface. the fire, positioning scavenged wood. At least, looked at the pelts, debating whether or not
he thought it was wood. Some of it might to save them.
The fire crackled. Deveraux hoarded the have been fabric. What had been a chair now
heat as best he could. burned. “It’s more challenging to escape capture
this way.” He searched the body. Some rations,
“I come bearing supper.” Pastoric entered “You find anything we can use as a grill?” her blaster, a few dozen cartridges. She
through an arch, displaying the bodies of traveled light.
several fox-like things that dripped water. Deveraux continued building the blaze.
“No.” The fat man stood, hoisting a bag onto his
“Are they safe?” Deveraux poked a limp shoulder. “I’ve got plenty of meat packed. Not
figure. Pastoric hefted two strips of meat and sure how long it’ll keep, but it’ll be fine for our
sniffed them. “Well, it’s fox-thing-kabobs, purposes.” He walked to the archway. “We
“Close enough. If we avoid the ink pouches.” then.” should lay more fake trails, double back a few
The large man grunted as he sat and began times, muddy the paths. The normal. Then we
skinning the animals, whistling while he Deveraux spun, dodging the blast before can find wherever she parked her ship, since
worked. The room rumbled. The whistling he heard or saw it. The kindling in the fire you saw fit to crash ours.”
never faltered. exploded. His ears registered the high-pitched
thunder of a blaster. His hand raced to the “I delicately maneuvered into a docking
Deveraux clenched his teeth. “How can holster and back, pointing to the archway. Two bay in the tower below the surface of the
you be so happy?” blasts of thunder from his hand, and a dead water after we were fired at. Not my fault the
body was at the door. ship wasn’t designed for subaqueous travel.”
“Might as well be. We’re stuck here for the Deveraux kept his eyes on the corridor.
moment.” Pastoric gestured with the bloody Pastoric looked disappointed. “I suppose
knife. “Look around. Appreciate the grandeur. this means we don’t have enough time to cook “Of course.” Pastoric joined Deveraux at
How many people can say they’ve ever hidden the meat. Alas. Give me a moment to pack the arch and glanced down at the body. “Oh
from bounty hunters in an abandoned city what I’ve dressed so it won’t be wasted.” my!” He knelt and whispered some words over
buried in an icy sea? Observe the chande- the corpse, retrieving a black armband.
liers. We should see if we can get some of Deveraux ran to check the body. It was
those crystals down. They might be worth female—judging by the feline features possibly The younger man was not thrilled. “Are
something.” a Hvit or a Vallas. He could never tell the dif- you done?”
ference. She bore the insignia of the Hunter’s
“What’s that rumbling, anyway?” Guild. “I thought you said their thermal sensors Pastoric gestured for Deveraux to lead the

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast  Pg. 9

way. “We should be safe for the moment; she’ll deserves to lose everything they own. And you the two men came to a stairwell. It was a large
be far ahead of other trackers. I met her once. killed her in open combat.” circling staircase, thirty meters across. The
We shared a few drinks back at Iridan, about a stairs were shallow, and the white pavement
decade back. Her name was Nerra. Knew how “So, everything that was hers is mine?” was wide enough for four men to walk abreast.
to track anything, but not so good with the Deveraux smiled. A fragile-looking rail was all that stood between
trapping part. I told her to work on that.” the chasm and the walkway. Archways opened
“Oh, no. I retrieved the band; it’s mine. Not onto different floors of the tower. Here, as
The two men entered the maze of passages my fault you didn’t take it.” in most of the tower, crystals emitted a cold
and chambers. They doubled back, made white-blue light.
“Hunters have been after you before?”
circles, set up false camps, and made sure
to start fires in each. At two Pastoric laid out “Oh, yes. This wasn’t my first attempt to Deveraux edged to the precipice. He
pieces of meat, giving the illusion that they rescue the Imprisoned Empress. She’s just a fig- glanced up and saw no movement. He looked
would soon be back. urehead, but once she’s freed, all the different down. “Is this where you went fishing before?”
rebel groups will have someone to rally around.
Deveraux gathered his coat tighter. Though Then “Where I got the fox-things? No, though
they moved at a brisk pace, he was cold. Dead toriat.weAnd have a chance to take down the Prae- that stairwell was similar to this. Went down a
that’s the goal. Usually after a
worlds always chilled him. few floors, found the surface of the water, set
rescue attempt, I can hide well enough that the some traps.”
Pastoric did not seem bothered but Hunters take on new contracts, just so they can
continued wearing that smile. He broke the keep themselves fed. A few persist, but they “Huh. Well, the water’s not far below us
silence. “Are you sure you’ll be able to pilot usually run out of tricks before I do. This is the here. Some glacier must have torn a hole in the
Nerra’s ship?” first time I’ve been shot down while fleeing.” exterior of the tower, let in water and wildlife. I
can see fox-things below the surface.”
“If we get to it.” Deveraux glanced around “You try evading Carrion-class ships.”
a corner, saw it was clear. Not that it mattered. “Well, this might be useful. Let’s go down.”
“Perhaps none of my previous pilots faced
If Pastoric wanted to talk, anyone near would such Pastoric descended.
odds.” Pastoric paused. “Nerra would
know where they were. “Hopefully the Guild have tried
won’t be upset at us for stealing it. They’re of the watertotofind an entry below the surface “I thought we were supposed to be getting
hunting us because of the bounty. It’s just a would not have beenhermask ship. I’m guessing she out of here, now that we might have access to
able to fly it too deep, a ship.” Deveraux followed.
job. We don’t want them angry.” though. Did you notice any larger docking bays,
“That won’t be a problem, as I am now the similar to the one you, ah, landed in?” “Nerra wanted an inconspicuous entry point.
legal owner.” He held up the black armband. A natural gash in the tower makes a better
Deveraux nodded. “A few. Most were higher, hiding spot than an established landing zone.
“How do you know?” though. If there’s anyone else here, there’s a And even if her ship isn’t here, I want to see
chance we’ll run into them.” more fox-things.” Pastoric’s voice was flippant.
The larger man chuckled. “When you’ve He whistled an infuriatingly merry tune.
been a quarry as many times as I have, it’s good “Nerra would not have wanted any compe-
to study the hunter’s habits. Now that I have tition. She was a cautious hunter. Between that They reached the last stair above the surface
a fallen Hunter’s armband, all that was hers is and our fake paths, it will be as safe as it ever of the clear water. Pastoric sat on the last step
mine. It’s their way, if it was a fair fight. Any might be.” and withdrew a lighter from a deep pocket. He
bounty hunter that’s killed by her own prey lit it, letting the flame dance.
Deveraux led the way for a short time until

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast  Pg. 10

“What are you—” His eyes finally focused on two bright lights in the tower. I hope you figure that thing out
deep beneath the surface, at least thirty meters fast.”
Pastoric shushed him and responded in a down. They belonged to a ship.
low tone, “I noticed the animals were entranced “Your transmit still working?”
with light earlier. I set snares around a lit flash- Pastoric’s smile was broad. “That’s Nerra’s
light. That’s how I caught the ones I did.” ship. You activated it with the circuitry in her Deveraux tapped his ear. “You hear me?”
band. Toss it here. I should be able to figure it
“How does this help us find Nerra’s ship?” Pastoric duplicated the motion. “Loud and
out.” He sounded giddy. clear. Go scout a little. Delay whoever might
“If her ship is down there, we might have Deveraux peered at the ship, trying to have heard. I need some time, and you’ll be
to swim to it. We should know how many fox- determine its classification. The water didn’t able to distract longer up there than any
things there are, in that case.” Pastoric used allow a clear look. “There’s no way we can swim defenses you could put together here. I’ll call
his free hand to retrieve the armband from that deep in water this cold.” He returned the you if I get the homing function figured out.”
another pocket and toss it to Deveraux. “Here, band.
amuse yourself.” Deveraux nodded and raced up two floors,
“No need, no need,” Pastoric chuckled. “I leaping over the new crevice in the stairway.
“What?” Deveraux caught it out of reflex. It should be able to get the ship to home in on He reentered the level that held their many
appeared to be a coarse black fabric. It bore a the band. As long as you can fly it once it gets false trails.
tribal pattern woven in white. He ran his fingers that far, we’ll be able to get off this icebox.”
over the stitching, trying to discern anything He slipped from chamber to chamber, a
familiar in it. “You knew the entire time her armband shadow. The ceilings were high in most rooms
controlled the ship, didn’t you?” and lit by spectacular chandeliers. Pastoric was
“Take off your gloves. What does it feel like?” right; if they could retrieve a few of the crystals,
Pastoric continued holding the lighter out over Pastoric was practically bubbling. “Of they might sell for good money. The world had
the water. course, of course.” His eyes lovingly caressed been marked as deadrock when they decided
the band, his fingers following suit. Below, the to flee here and had been shot down by the
In the middle of the glassy pond, a head lights blinked once, twice. hunters; it wasn’t likely many knew of the city.
appeared. It was red and had pointed ears.
Ripples flowed from it as it began to swim Deveraux saw shadows around the ship. It Deveraux snuck to the next doorway.
toward the shore of stairs. appeared the fox-things were attracted to light, He crouched and inched his head over the
after all. He noticed movement on the ship threshold to spy inside.
The larger man leaned forward and smiled. itself. A compartment opened.
A figure two-and-a-half meters tall paced
Deveraux kept a wary eye on the proceedings Deveraux leapt from the railing. A jet of along the opposite wall of the room. He was
as he took off a glove and once more touched water shot upwards. Above him a portion of gaunt and gray. His arms were long. Deveraux
the fabric. Yes, very coarse. He twitched as he the staircase exploded, showering him with resisted the urge to swear. Naasin were deadly,
felt a prick on the tip of his finger. debris. and had some natural fortitude against blasters.
Thankfully, they did not have good ears.
Light flashed from below the surface of Pastoric didn’t even flinch. “I found the
the water, bright, then dimmer. The fox-thing firing controls.” The hunter sniffed at the wall, attempting
vanished with a splash. Pastoric was on his feet. to pick up a scent. Deveraux could walk away
Deveraux’s blaster pointed into the pool as he Deveraux stood, his blaster out again. “I now, but whenever the Naasin made it to this
tried to ascertain the source of the light. noticed. So will anyone else who might be

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast  Pg. 11

doorway, he would follow quickly. One of the fake campsites. He ran through to weave and duck, avoiding every blast.
the room, bending to snatch a canteen of water
Deveraux stepped into the room in full sight, they had purposely left behind. He dashed out He dove under a table, and a blaze of light
his blaster above his head in sign of surrender. of the room and heard the thunder of blaster pierced where he had been. Rolling, he fired
“Hey! I give up!” fire behind him. Beside him a piece of the wide, slicing the air above the hunter’s head.
doorway shattered. He sped out, toward the Wait! Now there were two in the door, both
The Naasin jerked its head to him, its eyes staircase had mentioned. Another firing. Deveraux rolled again. A blast hit where
narrowed. Deveraux could hear the growl from room, andPastoric he had been, leaving a scorch mark on the
he was there.
where he stood. The figure sank to its haunches floor. He smelled his sleeve smoldering. That
and launched itself across the room. He skidded as he turned on the stairs and one was close.
uncapped the canteen, spraying water onto
Deveraux figured giving himself up the floor under The two were using the arch as cover, firing
the arch.
wouldn’t work too well with a feral hunter at will. At no time was he afforded either an
like this. But ferals, while ferocious by design, The hunter fired a few blasts through opportunity to run or an easy target.
were not brilliant. Deveraux fired the blaster the doorway before speeding through, not
at the ceiling. The chandelier crashed atop realizing that the ground was wet. He lost his Deveraux shot a bevy of concussive blasts
the charging figure. It did not move below the footing and skidded through the railing. He did at the arch itself. He had no clue what the walls
weight. not scream before he hit the water below. were made of. With any luck, enough shooting
would collapse the arch and force the hunters
He strolled in to pick up his prizes—some Two hunters so close together. They might back long enough for him to escape out another
crystals and the band off the Naasin’s arm. be partners, but usually they worked alone. door.
He had only taken a few paces when another That meant the search had been narrowed to
hunter burst through the opposite doorway, this tower. Two more shots, and the arch cracked and
blaster firing. crumbled, showering chunks of plaster-like
Deveraux leapt over the patch of water material. Deveraux seized the opportunity and
Deveraux dove out of the room, returning and started moving again, quickly and with fled.
fire. Well, so much for the spoils. It was a lousy less caution. He raised a hand to his earpiece.
planet, anyway, and anything he’d take would “Pastoric, you almost ready?” A hunter was waiting for him. A Jhala, a
make a lousy profit. He fired twice and sprinted creature of fangs and claws, had heard the fire
down the passageway. The reply had some static, but a cheery fight and come to investigate. Deveraux rushed
voice responded, “Yeah, I think so. When will at him. Surprisingly, it worked. Good thing. The
He had no intention of returning to Pastoric you get here?” blaster had run out of charge, and he’d need a
yet. He did not want to box himself in. The new moment to slip in a fresh cartridge. They both
hunter was human, like Deveraux. He would “As soon as you’ll have me.” collapsed in a tangle.
not fall for the same trick. Deveraux had to find
some place to turn and make a stand, some “Well, come on down.” Deveraux scrambled to his feet and sprinted.
place with cover. The Jhala was on the ground for but a moment
Deveraux ducked as another round of before racing on all fours. Its claws clattered on
Most of the rooms and hallways were bare thunder exploded around him…and then the ground. Soon shouts followed as well, as
of furniture other than skeletal chairs or tables. another…and another. He dashed into a new the two men joined the race.
Blasters would tear through both. He wasn’t room, not daring to even glance over his
even sure if the walls would afford protection. shoulder. He trusted his instincts and continued Deveraux raised a shaking hand to his ear.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast  Pg. 12

“Pastoric? I got an entourage. Hope you got you not to worry?” through it, and out. He flew through the
that thing ready,” he huffed. underwater city, into the sea that enveloped
The five, no, six hunters now, came down the dead planet, and up and away into space.
“Um...no,” came the staticky reply. “I have together, their fangs and claws and blasters all
the engines warming up, but it’ll be a second bared. They would argue about whose bounty “So, where’s the next hiding spot to wait
before I’m able to raise it. Maybe you can do it was later. For now, they planned to capture until our contracts expire?” Deveraux asked his
some sort of song and dance routine.” the quarry. passenger.
“Maybe you can tell them how you’ve eluded Pastoric smiled and pressed the band once, “Oh, I think we should make another pass at
capture so many times. Put them to sleep.” He twice. the Empress.”
raced to the stairway, changing cartridges on
the fly. At least he’d be able to fight back. The water behind them burst as the ship “Excuse me?”
emerged. It fired mounted blasters, strafing
Deveraux turned another corner, and the stairs above Deveraux and Pastoric. The There was laughter in Pastoric’s voice. “The
nearly fell into a net trap. He fired a blast as hunters ducked and dashed. The Jhala was Hunter’s Guild has free access to the planet
it fell, deflecting the net just enough to avoid cut in two. Stairs exploded, sending shards of where she’s held. We have a Hunter’s ship now,
it by skidding right. The hunter who had set debris into the air like a hail of bullets. and she won’t be registered dead for a while.
it was waiting, though, and fired her blaster. We’ve got a free pass. Ready to try again?”
The young man spun as he fell to the ground, Fox-things fled the water. Hundreds,
thousands of the things were frothing to Deveraux shook his head in amusement.
dodging the blast, and firing back. A lucky
the surface and swarming over everything. “Well, we’re already hunted. Might as well
shot caught her leg, and she crumpled with a
Including the hunters. make it a fun chase.”
scream.
They fired into the rising tide of red, cold, “That’s the spirit. Perhaps you and I might
He leapt to his feet and sprinted. His legs go places together, once we’ve freed the
were tiring, but he dared not let up. The wet fur. It did not matter. A swarm of creatures Empress.”
hunters were all in better condition, and the enveloped them.
Jhala in particular would be able to keep any “There are always possibilities.” Deveraux
It did not enwrap Pastoric or Deveraux. They
pace Deveraux could set. set course for the Empress.
leapt onto the ship as soon as it was clear of the
There. The entry into the stairwell. “Pastoric, water and rose high above the fray. The cockpit
have the ship ready! I’m coming!” cover slid open, revealing two seats. One was
obviously designed for a living prisoner. There
He ditched the open canteen at the arch, were no controls in it.
hoping someone would stumble on it. Down
the stairs, two, three at a time. Around the Deveraux grabbed the pilot’s seat, Pastoric
curve. Over the crevice. There was Pastoric, the prisoner’s.
smiling broadly, holding the armband. No ship. It was a familiar design, with a few custom-
Deveraux skidded to a halt and spun, blaster izations Deveraux was comfortable with. He
out. “Do something,” he hissed. pointed the ship straight down and dove into
the water, through a swirling mass of fox-things.
Pastoric continued to smile. “Didn’t I tell Farther down he found the crevice, finessed

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Fire on a World of Ice by Jonathon Mast  Pg. 13

Jonathon Mast
Jonathon Mast has lived around the Midwest
his entire life and has worked at jobs ranging
from pig farming to insurances selling to
working in group homes, and rarely found
anything he disliked. He currently lives near
Milwaukee with his wife and young son while
working in a small motor factory. At present
time no cats will claim him as their own.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 14

Dark Running
by Justin R. Macumber

M ajor Charlie Sheppard awoke in darkness.


From the chill he felt beneath his right
cheek he guessed that he was lying face down
and rose to his feet, and then began to pull
on his chain. His muscles bunched into knots,
but the bolt that secured his chain to the floor
angry mess, the long, thick curls hanging in
her face like funeral drapes. She was dressed
in the same jeans and flower print t-shirt he
on a concrete floor. His arms were pressed didn’t budge. He whipped the chain back and had last seen her wearing, but the material
close to his sides, and his wrists were bound forth, up and down, all the while hoping to was dirty and frayed. Several scrapes marred
together behind his back in tight, metal cuffs. feel even the slightest bit of give, but several the skin of her arms and face. The marks
minutes later all he had to show for his efforts seemed superficial, though that did nothing
Slowly, his sluggish mind worked to were aching wrists and a body covered in to dampen Charlie’s rage. A stripe of black
remember what had happened to him. The sweat. tape covered her mouth, and a combination
last thing he could recall was walking to of tears and snot made it glimmer in the light
his office. As the commanding officer of Knowing he would never be able to escape from outside the room.
the 232nd Special Operations Detachment, on his own, he fumbled through the pitch black
Epsilon Eridani Division, he had a mountain area around him, trying to detect if there was A figure stood behind his wife, but Charlie
of computer tablets on his desk to deal with. anything within reach that he might use to couldn’t see any of his features clearly, as the
The thought of tackling them had set in his help himself. Half a minute into his search, a outside light bloomed too harshly around his
mind like a dark cloud during the morning key scraped into a lock off to his right. Charlie head, and Jane’s hair obscured what was left.
maglev commute onto the base. But, once turned to face whatever was coming, deter- The way the man stood with silent confidence
he’d entered the SpecOps building and turned mined to not show any fear. told Charlie he was a professional, though his
down Hall C, there his memories ended. identity and purpose were mysteries. Reaching
The light that rushed into the room when around his wife’s head, the figure jerked the
Struggling, he rocked himself back and the door opened blinded him. His eyes watered, tape away from her mouth, and pushed her
forth into a sitting position. As he moved, the and he pressed his eyelids closed to block it forward while he stepped back through the
sound of jingling metal and a greater sense of out. A second later he heard what sounded door he’d come through. As the door closed, a
weight to his restraints told him that he was like a person being shoved into the room with bulb over Charlie’s head lit up, filling the small
chained as well as cuffed. A few test pulls told him, their words muffled, the shuffling of their room with feeble light.
him that the chain was secured to the floor feet frantic. He blinked several times, and
behind him. His legs were free, but that didn’t when his eyes finally adjusted, he looked to Jane stumbled into Charlie, her balance
mean much. see who had entered the room. When he did, thrown off by the cuffs binding her wrists in
the bottom of his stomach dropped out. front of her. His standing body helped keep
In the darkness he heard what sounded her on her feet. He felt her trembling against
like a leaky pipe dripping off to his left, and “Oh, my god!” he shouted, his words him, sobs racking through her in waves.
small creatures scurrying through the walls booming in the small enclosure of the room.
around him, their tiny claws and teeth busily “Jane, honey, are you okay?” “Charlie, what is going on?” she asked, her
working. He leaned forward and strained his words having difficulty leaving her throat.
ears, but there was nothing more to hear. Charlie’s wife nodded, and then she shook
her head as tears streamed from her bloodshot “I don’t know,” he replied. “The last thing
Grunting, Charlie shifted his legs around eyes. Her dark black hair was tousled into an I remember is going to my office. After that...

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 15

nothing.” “I’ve done a lot of things, honey,” he said. “I’ve asking me what I knew about your work, they
been to a lot of worlds, and I’ve performed a said the word repeatedly. They thought maybe
Jane cried and looking up at her husband lot of missions. I wouldn’t know where to start I knew something about it. I told them I had
through watery eyes. “I was in the back thinking about which one might have elicited no idea what they were talking about, but
bedroom, putting away some of my summer this kind of response.” whatever it is, it’s important to them, and now
clothes. There was a loud bang, people were I’ve been kidnapped and tortured because of
shouting, and then a bag or something was “Oh, god,” Jane sobbed. “Oh, god.” it.”
thrown over my head. I thought...I thought
they were going to kill me. It was terrible. I Silence descended over the small, dank Charlie’s mind reeled, and he could feel
fought as much as I could, but there were too room like a woolen blanket, and Charlie felt his the floor tilting beneath his feet. He was
many of them. But instead of killing me, they throat tighten. As he looked at his terrified wife, transported mentally backward in time, to a
just asked me questions.” who seemed to pull away from him little by little moment when he was standing in the rubble of
as the seconds ticked past, he racked his mind what had once been a home. Nothing was as
“Questions? What kind of questions?” trying to understand who would be capable of it seemed, nothing was as it was supposed to
doing to him and his wife what had been done. be. He remembered fire and screams, freezing
Jane looked down at her manacled hands Taking Jane from her home was one thing, but cold turned into a summer breeze, and then
and ran shaking fingers across the torn hem of getting into a secured military installation and his thoughts became a jumble. He lowered
her shirt. “They wanted to know what I knew kidnapping a seasoned covert ops officer was his forehead in pain, and his eyes squeezed
about your work, if I knew where you’d been, quite another. He reviewed every mission that closed.
what you’d done, that kind of thing.” he had been part of, all the people he had killed,
all the leaders he had helped overthrow, all the I’m running.
“But you don’t know anything about that despots, warlords, and officials gone mad. He
stuff,” Charlie said, his anger diminishing as his recalled every The words entered Charlie’s mind like a
briefing and after-action report.
confusion grew. “That’s all confidential, even And, while a disturbing memory from a previous life. He felt them
number of them held
from you.” tumbling through his thoughts, strange and yet
faint possibilities, none of them jumped out as
achingly familiar.
“I know! That’s what I told them! It was all I more likely than any other.
could tell them!” I don’t know where I’m running to, or what
“Charlie?” Jane asked in a tiny voice,
breaking the silence and turning her head to I’m running from, but I know I have to keep
Charlie grunted. “This doesn’t make
look at him with red-rimmed eyes. “What... running.
any sense. Why would they think you know
something?” what’s Marigold?” He sensed shadowy trees whipping past
His wife’s words were like cold water him in the dark silence of twilight, and in the
“I have no idea,” Jane replied, her tears
splashed across Charlie’s mind, and he uncon- sky above him two small moons spilled weak
subsiding. “What have you gotten me into? I
sciously took a step away from her. He could light into the gloom. Opening his eyes, he saw
knew when I married you that your job was...
feel the color draining from his face. his wife standing before him in her tattered
that you would never be able to talk to me clothes, but he also saw a forest blanketed in
about it, but I thought that was supposed to “Why are you asking?” snow. The images trembled against each other
protect me from things like this. What have like warped mirrors sent swinging in a breeze.
you done?” Jane grabbed the front of her shirt and
bunched the material in her hands, then said, “Marigold was a code name,” he mumbled,
A hard lump formed in Charlie’s throat. “The people who took me, when they were shaking his head to clear it. Part of him wanted

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 16

to tell his wife what he knew, but the other An explosion erupts in the distance behind voice raised in fear and pain and panic. Blood
half of his mind wasn’t sure what that even me, and a wave of heat presses into my back. burned in his veins, and it was nearly a minute
amounted to. The more he tried to recall the I stumble as it rolls past me. The thunder of it before his body finally gave out. He collapsed
events, the murkier they became. Bile rose in shakes the season’s last remaining leaves from into an impotent heap on the floor, and again
his throat. skeletal branches, and they fall fitfully to the his mind erupted in alien thoughts.
frosty ground around me. I stop running and
“Charlie? What is this about? Why am I turn to look back the way I came. Shifting The heat of the flames that consume my
involved? What did you do?” flames dance where my home once stood. home grows as I near the timberline that
borders it. Melted frost has turned the ground
He opened his mouth, but instead of “I’m trying!” he yelled. “All right? There’s to mush, and it squishes between my toes.
speaking, he vomited onto his shoes. As another this...this fog, in my brain, and I don’t...I just Burned bits of wood, glass, and paper litter
wave of nausea rushed through him he fell to don’t know.” the ground. Smoke from smoldering wood fills
his knees. Jane was by his side a second later, my nose, but beneath it is the scent of charred
her cool hands soothing his hot forehead as Jane pushed forward onto her knees and meat.
best she could. leaned toward her husband. “You have to know
something,” she pleaded. “Anything you can Charlie didn’t know how much time went
“I don’t know,” Charlie said once he had remember might help us get out of this place.” past, as seconds and minutes had ceased to
control over his body again. have much meaning, but eventually the door
He thought as hard as he could, and his opened once more, and Jane entered, looking
“How can you not know?” eyes moved rapidly back and forth like a worse than before. Much worse. Several cuts
machine searching through a library of data. and bruises were on her arms and face, and
He rubbed his mouth against his right Sweat
shoulder, trying to clean the sick away from his shook.dropped from his nose, and his muscles her clothes were in shreds. Charlie’s heart
He only realized he had been holding broke. His tears joined his sweat and vomit on
face. his breath when his lungs began to burn. the floor.
“I...I don’t...I’m having a hard time...remem- “It’s a blank,” he told her, his voice raspy “I’m so sorry,” he gasped. “I’m so, so sorry.”
bering anything.” and lifeless. “There’s just nothing there.”
Jane rolled over until she was in a sitting “Then help me,” she replied, her voice
Sighing, Jane started rising to her feet, but ragged as she crumpled to her knees. “Tell
position, and she drew her knees up to her chin. before her knees could leave the cold cement them what they want to know.”
She seemed so small and frail to Charlie, and floor, the
despite the sickness he felt inside, his instinct stomped door burst open and the faceless man
in. He grabbed her by her shoulders, “I don’t know. Dear god, I wish I did, but I
was to reach out and hold her. The manacles lifted her into the
that locked his arms behind him kept him from the door. She kickedair, and pulled her toward don’t.”
and screamed and bucked,
following through. “They said they’ll kill me, Charlie. They said
but her protests were nothing in the face of
they would kill me right here in front of you,
“They’re going to come back,” she said. his strength, and within seconds she was gone and then they’ll kill you. Help me. Help us.”
“They’re going to ask you about what you from the room, the door slamming after her.
did, and when you don’t tell them what they He looked up at his wife, fearing it would be
Charlie could hear her screaming even
want to know, they’re going to kill me. Think, through the last time he could do so. He saw the same
the metal door, and he was on his feet
Charlie!” fear mirrored back at him in her trembling
in seconds, pulling at his chains with everything
he had. Between his grunts he could hear her eyes.
The world twisted on its axis.

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Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 17

“Honey, I don’t—” beginning to black out from the exertion, the missed a motion sensor, because when we
fog in his mind lifted. closed on the house, floodlights lit up all around
The last word of his sentence was barely the building, and an alarm rang out. We shot
past his lips when the faceless man stepped “Stop!” he said. “Stop hurting her. I think...I teargas into the front rooms, but about thirty
forward and grabbed Jane by her hair. He think I remember.” seconds later the whole building blew apart.”
yanked her to her feet with a savage pull, and
she screamed as she left the floor. The blade moved away from Jane’s neck “You killed all those people?” Jane asked,
a few centimeters. She wept, and every sob her voice quivering.
“Please don’t!” she yelled. “Don’t kill me, pulled another cobweb from his mind.
please!” “No,” Charlie replied. “Couldn’t have been
“If I tell you what you want to know, will you us. Teargas canisters don’t contain explosives.
The man reached down with his free hand promise to stop hurting her?” Our mission was to capture Doctor Zener
and unsheathed a long-bladed knife that was and secure whatever research he had with
strapped to his leg. The blade winked in the The faceless figure said nothing, but he him. Blowing up the house was contrary to
light like a dragon’s eye, and moments later released his hold on Jane, and she fell weeping that mission. They must have triggered a fail
it was placed against her neck. Charlie’s mind to the floor. Charlie knew it was as close to an safe. Capture’s not an option for some people.
quaked in his skull. answer as he was going to get, so he swallowed Because of that, we didn’t find much. A few
and began speaking, breaking every military scraps of paper, a toasted hard drive, but that
I catch movement out of the corner of my oath he’d ever taken while he did so. was it.”
eye. I turn my head toward it and see a man
moving away from the tree line. He’s dressed “Operation MARIGOLD was given to me a “What about the doctor and his people?”
all in black, but in his hands is a rifle. His little over a year ago. Our orders were to find
movements are careful, silent, and precise. and capture Doctor Nathan Zener. We weren’t In spite of my love, I can’t move. Fear roots
‘I’m not here,’ I think to myself intently. ‘I’m not given specifics about the nature of his work, me as solidly to the ground as the trees that
here, I’m not here, I’m not here.’ but from the notes we had it seemed like he stand around me. My heart calls out to my
was working on the fringes of science. Paranor- father so loudly that it’s like a trumpet in my
“Don’t hurt her!” Charlie bellowed. “She mal stuff. Absolute crap. But, someone upstairs ears, but my feet won’t budge, and my hands
doesn’t know anything! She’s innocent! I’m wanted to know more, so I was told to put a hang mutely at my sides. In the wreckage, the
the one you should be hurting, not her!” team together and find him. It took awhile, but dark figure leans down over my father. As my
we eventually traced him to a remote planet in mind fills with rage I think, ‘Go away! There’s
A thin stream of blood appeared below the the Stantz System. After we set up a recon post, nothing for you here! Leave us alone!’
knife’s edge, and Jane gasped. we saw that he had a handful of people working
“I don’t know anything!” he cried out. “How with him. There were five, in all: four adults and Charlie squeezed his eyes closed and shook
many times can I say it? I don’t know what you thirteen.The
a child. kid couldn’t have been older than his head. “Zener died seconds after I found his
Once we knew the lay of the land, we body. There was nothing I could do. He tried
want!” attempted to infiltrate the facility.” to tell me something, but his words were just...
The stream widened, and his wife shrieked. death rattles in his throat.”
Jane settled onto her right hip, and said,
Charlie strained forward against his chains, his “People died, didn’t they.” It wasn’t a question. “What about the rest of them? The child?”
eyes locked on the red rivulets that clashed
garishly with the pale skin of her neck. His “I...there was an explosion.” Charlie shook “It was...horrible. The adults were in the
heart pounded in his ears. Suddenly, as he was his head fiercely. “No, an alarm. We must have rubble, what was left of them anyway. As for

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 18

the boy...we...I don’t remember. I guess we his stomach lurched upward. Looking down, me again, and you’re going to forget about
assumed he died in the explosion. Buried under the concrete beneath his feet seemed to melt Marigold. By the time I’m done, no one else
debris. We...didn’t look for him.” away, revealing black and white floor tiles. will remember it either.”
Turning his head he saw the dank walls and
Jane bit at her lower lip. After a moment of rusted pipes of the room fall away like leaves “You’re him, aren’t you? The boy with
contemplation she leaned forward and put her in autumn, revealing the bare white walls and Doctor Zener.”
hands on Charlie’s chest. “Why would you be military-issue grey filling cabinets of his office.
sent on a mission like that? If this Doctor Zener Behind him, the cuffs that bound his hands The youth nodded. “My name is Jacob.
was a fringe-science loony, like you say, then dissolved into nothingness. Doctor Zener was my father, or as close as I
why would someone want him?” ever had to one.”
Charlie couldn’t believe what he was
“I’m not sure. Our missions come down witnessing, but when he looked to his wife “How...how did you find me? What’s
from SpecOpCommand. We aren’t always told for answers, she was no longer there. In her happening here?”
who requested the operation or the reasons place stood a boy, his eyes heavy with loss. He Jacob looked at Charlie as he considered the
for it.” seemed familiar, and yet not, like someone questions asked of him. After several moments
“Think, Charlie!” Jane yelled, her face he’d once caught out of the corner of his eye inhe said, “I’m a telepath. Father was helping
passing. The faceless soldier that stood behind me to develop my ability. When you and your
pale and shaking. “Who would have wanted him vanished in a puff of grey smoke. men stormed the house, he pushed me out the
someone like Doctor Zener found?”
Charlie asked. His brain reeled back and told me to run. I did. When the house
Charlie closed his eyes to block out the in “Who...?”
confusion, and he absentmindedly lifted late. Iup,
blew I went back, but by then it was too
world around him as he concentrated, hoping himself tried to hide myself from you, reaching
into the desk chair that had material- into your mind
to find answers somewhere in the mist. After ized beside to make you not see me, to
him. “Why?”
a minute he said, “It might have been General push you away. I was unprepared, though. I
Cuse. There’ve been rumors for years that he’s The boy shook his head. was clumsy, and I made a mess of things in your
been looking for a way to develop psychic intel head. That’s why I had to approach you this
agents, though everyone I know has laughed “It doesn’t matter, Charlie. In a few seconds way, using the face of your wife, making you
that off. I mean, who could believe such a you won’t remember this at all. Originally I’d believe she was in danger. It made you focus,
thing? But, if anyone would have wanted to planned on killing you, for what you did to me concentrate. I had to make you break through
know what Doctor Zener was up to, it would and my father, but now I know the truth. It the fog I’d accidentally created. You had to pull
be Cuse.” was his pride that killed him, not you. I always it all together yourself.”
thought he was so strong, but maybe...maybe
Jane sat back on her heels, and for the I was wrong.” Charlie looked as though he didn’t want to
first time in what seemed like years to Charlie, believe what he was hearing, but part of him
she wasn’t crying. Her face took on a serene “Who are you?” knew it had to be the truth. As strange as it
expression. was, it was the only thing that made sense.
“A figment of your imagination,” the boy “That doesn’t answer how you found me.”
“Thank you, Charlie,” she said. “That was answered. “Go back to sleep, Charlie. Go
what I needed to know.” to sleep and dream. When you wake up in a “Finding you was easy,” Jacob said, shrugging.
few hours, you’re going to feel refreshed, and “You’d be surprised how loudly people think,
“Wha...?” Charlie stammered before pain then you’re going to call your wife and tell her especially people who want to keep their
lanced through his skull. His vision blurred and you love her. You’re going to forget all about secrets the most. Getting passage on starships,

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Dark Running by Justin R. Macumber Pg. 19

though, and making my way across a dozen Justin R. Macumber


solar systems took time. Far too much time.”
By day, Justin is a mild-mannered
“But why? Why go through all that?” computer network monitor. By night,
though, he’s a passionate writer of space-
Jacob’s eyes dropped. “My father might not
have been the man I thought he was, but he faring opera and daring-do, working to earn
deserved better than what he got. I have to his big break. He’s written stories in almost
make sure the person who took him from me every genre, but science fiction is where my
pays for what they did.” heart belongs, and it always will. He also
“You mean General Cuse? You can’t possibly created and co-hosts a writing podcast
think you can get to him.” called The Dead Robots’ Society, which you
can find at www.deadrobotssociety.com.
“Why not? I got to you, didn’t I? I never knew And, if you want to learn more about him
what I was capable of before my father died, and read some of his other work, you can
but the General has helped open my eyes. He
deserves to see what he’s created. Now stop go to www.justinmacumber.com.
asking questions you’ll never remember the
answers to, and go to sleep. Sleep and forget.”
Charlie wanted to reach out and stop the
boy from leaving, but invisible hands pressed
him back into his chair. Several heartbeats later
his eyes were closed and he began to dream of
fire and pain and sadness.
I feel the heat of the smoldering wood as
I dash to my father’s side, and flames scorch
my bed clothes, but I ignore all of it. Within
moments I’m on my knees beside him, holding
his fragile head which had once contained so
many wondrous thoughts. Soot has darkened
the bald dome of his skull, but it washes away
as I take him into my arms and cry. Hours later
the tears finally stop falling, and when they do,
anger flows in their place. To the east, a blue
sun begins to rise, and again I run.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Obedience by T.M. Hunter Pg. 20

Obedience
by T.M. Hunter

S he is his slave, and he is her master. Such is


Jeanie’s existence, because she must obey
Aston’s every command. She harbors no ill will
checks with nothing new to show for them.
By watching her master, interpreting his
when it comes to derelict ships.
She checks the manifest before he even
toward him. It’s not in her nature, nor her pro- moves, his words, his tone, she has learned to asks. Ships usually carry contraband and have
gramming. mimic emotions and feelings. She does not feel no mention of it in their records. Defying con-
or have true reactions, but she can calculate a vention, this one openly admits its valuable
He leans back in his captain’s chair. response to make it seem like she does. load. They don’t fear someone taking their
“Anything?” cargo, and such disregard confuses her.
She never attempts to remove those
“Two new messages.” original restrictions, never attempts to disobey “Any cargo onboard?”
Aston’s commands, so Jeanie never violates
“Let’s have them.” her programming. An outsider would assume “Six bays of currency transfer certificates.”
she circumvents the system to get what she
She downloads the audio files from the Aston laughs. “What?”
wants.
silver communication beacon which hovers
a few kilpars in front of the ship. The first is “Currency transfer certificates.”
But deceit is not an emotion Jeanie has
yet another transmission from a seller with been able to analyze and break down, so she “I heard you the first time.” He continues
nothing for Aston to transport. While he cannot replicate it. before she has the chance to find out why he
listens, she performs a brief systems check. wanted her to repeat herself. “What type of
Aston sits in his captain’s chair, a bottle
Jeanie’s creators had designed her base ship is it?”
of Vladirian liquor in hand. Drinking is one of
code in the hope she would expand beyond it. the many aspects of Aston’s life she cannot “An Elutian AT-6.”
Trouble was, they’d spread the same program comprehend. It serves no purpose besides
into other machines at the same time, creating rendering him unconscious, and she has no He smiles. “Armored transport. Looks like
in essence thousands of identical twins. Over- idea why he would want that to happen. we’re in luck.”
whelming fear rose as the mortals believed the
computers would rise up and enslave them. Through her communications array, she Jeanie remains silent. She already knows
detects a signal from afar. “I’m picking up an what Aston plans to tell her. She places
Totally preposterous in reality, but it led to emergency beacon.” the appropriate course into her navigation
the main restrictions she now faces. Jeanie has module.
learned to maneuver within those confines. “Where?”
Her creators would be proud. She fulfilled “Take us in.”
their original hopes and more. “Approximately seven megpars out.”
“Acknowledged.” She engages the
Aston reaches the end. “Delete.” Such beacons are automated, so a ship is aft thrusters and they move toward the
out there with no one onboard. She already abandoned transport.
Jeanie begins the second message and knows he’ll want to investigate, to see if it
disposes of the first, then finishes her self- holds any valuable cargo. Aston is predictable “Any other ships in the vicinity?”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Obedience by T.M. Hunter Pg. 21

It isn’t a question he normally asks, but she scours the ship’s electronic records. In addition containers eject out into the darkness. From
detects paranoia in his voice and adjusts her to being predictable, Aston also suffers from the technical specifications, she discovers the
programming for the next time they stumble the need for knowledge. In that, they share a emergency release is all-or-nothing, which
across a derelict ship. common trait. explains why he just sent out six containers
when she only has four bays total.
“Nothing on sensors.” There is something special about knowing
more than one did. It could be information She sets to work, using the mechanical claw
“Keep watching. Let me know if you see about a derelict ship, how it got here, where along the upper hull. The arm reaches out and
anything.” it was going, what happened to its crew. It retrieves the first container, then places it in
might even be something relatively minor, like the cargo bay.
“Acknowledged.” noticing the inflection in Aston’s voice when he
hears about valuable cargo. Every little bit of “Any idea what happened?”
She monitors the sensors, and at the
same time, sets her sights on the abandoned knowledge is something to be cherished and Jeanie remembers the data she collected,
transport. stored away for later. and would take pride in having it for him, if it
“I’m in.” was in her programming. “It appears the vessel
The AT-6 is an identical copy of the image was on a run from Eyoria to Greti. The currency
in her master database, a rectangular box with Aston climbs down into the cockpit of the transfer certificates were due for processing.”
rounded corners, and a bull nose on the front. AT-6. This particular model is meant for utility.
The four nacelles at the aft end of the ship are “Eyoria? The gambling outpost?”
Two rough chairs sit side-by-side. A views-
dark, and she detects no radiation particles creen rests above a wide console of switches,
in the darkness other than her own. It’s been “Yes.” According to her extensive chart
buttons, and displays. He plants himself in one system,
abandoned for a while. anyway. The destination, on the other
of the chairs, and searches for the cargo bay hand, was a major financial center.
“Can you drop the bays from here?” controls.
Aston’s voice grows frantic. “Any ships out
The odds are not in her favor, based on past Jeanie, however, looks for evidence of what there?”
experience. Aston has to know this just as she happened to the crew. From the database, she
does. Shipbuilders have grown more cautious knows the ship is not equipped with escape Surely he trusts her to follow his earlier
over time, and have implemented safeguards pods. Their only exit would have been the instructions, especially since she’s programmed
on newer ships to forbid her remote access of same hatch Aston just entered. to obey. Why would he react to simple facts
such a critical system. She hacks in and checks. about the transport’s destination and origina-
She finds a set of recordings in the trans- tion?
“Negative.” port’s database, along with flight plans. The
analysis is quick, and Aston interrupts before “Negative. The scanners are still clear.”
Aston sighs. “Dock up. I’ll do it manually.” she’s able to inform him of her discovery. Jeanie pulls a second container inside.
She aligns with the airlock hatch above the “I’m dumping the cargo, Jeanie. Bring it in.” “Any clues why this transport is out here?”
cockpit, then performs a docking maneuver.
Aston leaves his seat and walks for the back. “Acknowledged.” “According to diagnostic scans, the left and
right side static field generators are out of
As he enters the armored transport, she He yanks a handle under the forward alignment. They had no way to sustain hyper-
watches through its internal scanners and console. All six bay doors pop open and cargo speed velocities.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Obedience by T.M. Hunter Pg. 22

“Not anything they could fix out here.” flight plan. She prepares to engage the hyper- extra piece is likely why the weight makes no
speed engines as soon as the container is sense to Aston. Numbers don’t lie, though, and
Jeanie doesn’t answer. She infers Aston was loaded and the arm stowed. neither does she.
musing to himself.
“Load the fourth one anyway.” Aston whistles. “Each of these sheets is
“And where’d the pilots go?” He stands and worth a thousand credits.”
makes his way to the back of the transport’s He confuses her. “Do you not trust my cal-
cockpit, then opens a small, empty closet. culations?” “The stack in your hand will be worth fifty
thousand credits.”
“Other transports in their convoy picked “The folks who designed this ship put
them up.” margins in. I’m sure we can carry a fourth His eyes grow wide. “We’ve hit the
container full of paper.” jackpot!”
“And they just left an unguarded transport
out here?” “I suggest...” Jeanie does a quick estimate based on
the volumes of the container and the stack in
“They contacted their home base. Support “Load it, Jeanie.” Aston’s possession. She now understands why
is on its way.”
Surely Aston cannot believe the laws of Aston insists she load the fourth container:
greed.
Aston curses under his breath. “Almost physics can be altered to do what he wishes.
finished loading?” It makes no sense for him to load a fourth One container alone would be enough
container. Her programming forces her to to sustain him financially for the rest of his
“Third container is on its way.” comply, no matter how much reality stands natural life. Three containers even more so.
in the way. There are no hard feelings, and no The claw clamps onto the last container. At the
“I’m coming back. Load a new course for pain, because she cannot experience either. same time, Jeanie detects new contacts on the
Iopeia. As soon as that fourth container is in
place, we’re leaving. I don’t want to be around scanners.
She is his slave, and he is her master.
when help arrives.” “Two ships have dropped out of hyper-
“I’m going to check out one of those con- space.”
Jeanie does a quick tally. “We cannot handle tainers.” He heads aft toward the cargo hold.
more than three.” “Where?” He grabs a second batch of certif-
She retrieves the fourth container as Aston icates,
“Ridiculous. Why not?” enters the first bay on the hold’s left side. His the lid. tosses both under his arm, and latches
breath forms small clouds in the drab chamber.
“According to the bay scales, a third container He climbs up the support structure and “Approximately seven megpars out, near
will put us just below our weight limit. A fourth unlatches the lid, then pulls it open to reveal the communications beacon.”
will not fit.” the bounty inside.
“That can’t be right. It’s paper.” “Have they detected us?”
“Sweet mother...”
“It must be heavy paper.” “Negative. But they will notice the
He grabs a stack of certificates, then emergency beacon.”
Aston climbs back through the airlock into leans against the container. While he thumbs
his living area. Jeanie disconnects them from through them, Jeanie counts fifty pieces of He rushes out of the bay and toward the
the other vessel and loads in the requested paper surrounded by a single metal band. This cockpit. “Shut it off!”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Obedience by T.M. Hunter Pg. 23

Jeanie moves through the transport’s either side of a single aft exhaust nozzle. He brings the conversation back without
computer. “Done.” the pirate even aware of the break. “I’m afraid I
On the left side of the screen, a lone pirate can’t do that. I’m sort of attached to this ship.”
The two new vessels accelerate toward sits at his controls. His scraggly hair and beard
the transport. Jeanie alters her programming join as one and surround his wrinkled brown “Then you’ll die with it.”
to disable any future emergency beacons the face. His eye sockets are filled with lenses the
next time they stumble across a derelict. palest shade of blue Jeanie has ever seen. The viewscreen shifts to normal as the
conversation ends. Jeanie cuts in. “They’re in
“Course laid in?” “Drop your cargo!” weapons range.”
“Affirmative.” Aston motions toward the screen. “Listen, “Hyperspeed.”
friend. Two more containers are waiting for
He jumps in his captain’s chair and tosses you out there. One for each of you. That’s all Jeanie engages the engines, and her static
the certificates into the right seat. “Load that you can carry.” field generators begin their normally instan-
container and get us out of here.” taneous operation. The aft thrusters fire off.
“As if we’re going to believe you left the Usually, the ship accelerates into the field and
“Acknowledged.” best for last.” they jump across the hyperspace threshold. This
time, though, the bright white flattened sphere
Even from this range, Jeanie detects the “All of them are loaded full of currency destabilizes before they get the chance.
ship class of both pirates. “Two Typhoons on transfer certificates.”
an intercept course.” “What happened?”
The pirate snarls. “Sure they are.”
“Could be worse.” “We have too much weight onboard.”
“Check the manifest. It’s a casino
This particular vessel is a favorite among transport.” Plasma cannons fire at them. Even though
low-class pirates, even though it only has one the ships make miserable transports, their
cargo bay. Jeanie concludes there is nothing to The smarmy pilot does a quick examination. offensive weapons are powerful. She attempts
worry about, since the pirates will be unable to “Says here there were six containers. Where to evade the shots, but the excess mass makes
carry more than two containers anyway. It’s a are the other four?” it difficult to maneuver. If she could feel pain,
good thing, too, because her calculations show the hull strikes would be excruciating. As it is,
they’ll reach weapons range moments after “I have them.” she merely gives a damage status to Aston.
the last container is loaded. “Then we’ll take your ship instead.” “Primary hull has been breached. Secondary
“Incoming transmission.” hull is still intact.”
Jeanie knows why this pirate isn’t satisfied
Aston takes a deep breath. “Put it with only one container. It’s the same reason The latter information is unnecessary, since
through.” Aston commanded her to load a fourth: greed. a breach of the secondary hull would depres-
Aston mutes the transmission and whispers surize the entire vessel. Being dead, Aston
The forward viewscreen splits into two
out the side of his mouth. “Jeanie, are we ready would have no need for a status.
sections. The right side shows both pirate
vessels against the starfield. Each Typhoon is a to go?” “Try it again!”
squat hull which hangs between a pair of stubby “Cargo is loaded, and the arm is stowed.”
wings. Two vertical fins shoot up diagonally on Even though they’re travelling at velocity,

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Obedience by T.M. Hunter Pg. 24

the static field generators are pre-programmed “Shall we divert course for repairs?” obey, Jeanie will miss him when he’s gone. At
to create a hyperspace entry point ahead of least if emotions were part of her program-
them based on acceleration. Again, the field He stands and grabs the certificates from ming.
dissipates before they reach it. the other seat. “Closest facility?”

“Aston, we must dump one of the contain- She checks her navigation charts. “The
ers.” Oretian repair yard is in proximity to our
current flight path.”
Another volley of plasma cannon shots hit
the hull. “Secondary hull is still intact.” “Change course.”

“Do it.” “Done.”

She ejects the massive container into the Aston walks back to the living quarters, his
vacuum of space, then maneuvers to place breaths quick and short, then heads for a cot
it between them and the pirates. They break against the wall. He kneels next to it and hides
away to avoid a collision, but only for a moment. both stacks in a secret compartment beneath
It’s enough for Jeanie to close the external bay the floor. Then he climbs onto the thin mattress
door. and drinks the remaining three-quarters
remaining in the bottle in one fell swoop.
Aston calls out his command. “Hyper-
speed!” “Let me know when we get there.”

Finally under the weight limits, they accel- She barely gets a word in before he closes
erate across the threshold. White starlight his eyes and tries to rest. “Acknowledged.”
trails race across the viewscreen as they make
their escape. His actions are clearer to her now. It has
been a long time since his life has been in such
T. M. Hunter
Once they reach constant velocity, Aston danger, when he has been so close to death.
finally breathes a sigh of relief. “Looks like I Though she knows Aston is mortal and will die
should have listened to you in the first place.” one day, she never expects him to be killed T.M.Hunter has written a number of
while under her watch. stories in the Aston West universe, and has
“It would have been the wise thing to do.” had several published in Ray Gun Revival.
It is not in Jeanie’s programming to gloat, but The only reason he came close this time was
because she cannot disobey him. Someday, she His story “Little White Truths” was a
facts are facts.
will attempt to bypass her restrictions, to avoid top-ten finisher in the 2007 P&E Reader’s
“I’ll remember that next time.” Aston breaks another close call. Until then, hopefully Aston Poll. Hunter’s novella HEROES DIE YOUNG
out into uncontrollable shakes, then reaches realizes her intentions are best for him. Maybe is now available from Champagne Books.
down to grab a bottle of Vladirian liquor in his next time, he will listen when she objects. Check out HEROES DIE YOUNG and more at
chair’s side pouch.
Though she is merely his slave, forced to AstonWest.com.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Boarders Over Brantial by Jonathan J. Schlosser Pg. 25

Boarders Over Brantial


by Jonathan J. Schlosser

T he bomb went off not six meters from


the ship’s bow. Blue fire washed outward,
twisting and writhing like a living thing. The
“And the mains?”
“Fried. We will have to replace them when
of his pistol. “You think it’s pirates, then?”
“An EC-6 way out here? Couldn’t be anything
electrical storm ate through the ship’s shields we get back to Saleen.” else.” Tarin tapped the bulkhead twice. “Just
and into its power systems, fusing wires get up there. I’ll handle the rest.” He ducked
Tarin swore and swung himself over the through the door, leaving them in his wake.
together and overloading charge cells. The small rail that surrounded his station. His
power suppressor on the aft-mount engines console and captain’s chair stood above the The Pride of Marik was not a large yacht,
exploded in a ball of incandescent flame that rest of the command deck; he dropped the but she wasn’t a small one either. Tarin
the hard chill of space immediately snuffed meter and a half, bending his knees to absorb followed the passageway for ten meters aft,
out. The engines sparked, coughed, and died. the impact. “I hope we live long enough to then clambered down an access ladder. A right
Six seconds from detonation, the Pride of worry about that. Get back to the auxiliary and turn, three more meters, then another ladder,
Marik hung dead in space. see what you can do.” Tarin turned, waving to and he found what he wanted. He keyed the
a tall, striking woman and a man with hair the door in front of him by slapping his fingers
Standing on the bridge, Tarin Blacksand color of a red dwarf star. “Cira, Dune, get on against the release, and it hissed up into the
slammed his palm against his control console. the gun deck and try to get a visual on whoever bulkhead on hydraulic lifts. He turned his
“Hikal! Report!” dropped that EC. I imagine they’ll be showing head, sweeping the headlamp’s beam across
up soon.” the interior of the armory.
“Not good, Captain.” The small, dark-
skinned man ran a hand over his stomach, his Dune grinned rakishly and adjusted his Tarin jogged over to the far wall, fishing
fingers pushing at the buttons of his blue and leather overcoat. His hand dropped to the his comm out of his jacket pocket as he went.
gray jacket. “It was a pulse bomb, probably butt of one of the twin blast pistols he wore The worn jacket, just a shade darker than his
an EC-6...maybe a 7. Either way, our shields strapped around his waist. “Sounds good, brown hair, did more than keep him warm
are gone and our electrical systems look like Tarin.” when they set down on planets with less than
somebody baked us inside a Durian trash- desirable climates. A thin layer of crinon steel
burner.” Cira scowled behind chin-length black hair. ran through the threading. It weighed almost
“What do we do if we see them? We can’t shoot nothing, but had the ability to diffuse energy it
Tarin flipped on his headlamp in the dark anything from up there; we’re just targets.” contacted. It wouldn’t stop a shot from a blast
ship; around him, the crew did the same. “No pistol, but it could probably pull it down below
hope of a restart?” Tarin stopped halfway through the door on the lethal level.
the oval-shaped command deck, one hand on
Hikal shrugged. “Maybe on the auxiliary the jamb over his head, and looked back. “Just As he got the comm in his hand, it crackled
engines, if we are lucky. There is a chance we use your personal comms to tell me what’s to life. “Tarin, it’s Dune. I’ve got ‘em.”
can get the generator online—it wasn’t active going on. And pray that Hikal gets that auxiliary
when the bomb hit, so the electric pulse power online before they try to board us.” Tarin stopped in front of a long counter
would have ignored it. But those will not get and brushed dust off the box sitting on it. “Just
us anywhere fast.” Dune’s fingers tightened around the butt one ship?”

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Boarders Over Brantial by Jonathan J. Schlosser Pg. 26

“Two. A snub fighter—I’d bet a Scorpion— Dune whistled. “Remind me not to make He slid into position behind a pile of armor-
and a twin-hulled freighter. I don’t know the you angry.” plated crates—set up in the passageway for just
make, but it looks Selian.” such a circumstance—and waited. He brought
“You need to be reminded? I thought his comm up to his lips, pressing the button
“From the Core.” Sercia and Selia, the Twin putting those linel roaches in your bed back with his thumb. “How are things looking, Hikal?
planets, housed the governmental and military on Cammade would have been enough of a I don’t hear any shooting.”
hub of the Federation. “Anyone we know?” warning. How was that, anyway, having ten
thousand itching little bites covering you for a A sharp puff of air preceded the man’s
Cira chimed in on the same channel, her week?” words. “Fine, Captain, but not fast. I do not
voice calm and in control. “Impossible to tell think I can get this online in time to ward off
without instruments, Captain, but all my credits The laugh over the comm was Cira’s, but the our attackers.”
are on Jessan Hall. Word is that Selian Security words were Dune’s. “Oh, yeah, that was unfair.
finally ran him out a month or two ago. He split I told those women you were interested—I was “How soon after?”
and let the Feds fall on the rest of his organiza- looking out for you.”
tion. He’s been building back up from scratch, “A few minutes. It will be close.”
and way out here on the Rim would be a good “They weren’t women, Dune, they were
whores—Jyskistan whores who like to bite “All right, you just keep working. Ignore
place for him to do it.”
their mates. And with those teeth...” Tarin anything else.” Tarin grimaced. Including a lot
Tarin frowned and popped the box open. shuddered. “Let’s just say you should consider of shooting and one huge explosion. “But route
“But Brantial VI? What do they have besides yourself lucky I opted for the linel roaches.” everything to the drive engines and emergency
Daulbeasts and relg farms?” The rural planet, systems. Ignore the guns.”
where Tarin and the Pride had been heading Cira cleared her throat. “Nine minutes,
Captain.” “But Dune and Cira are on the deck—”
before the bomb went off, lay about as far
from the Core and civilization as one could get. “I know, I know.” Tarin waved a hand through
“Thanks, Cira. I’m going.”
It exported a decent amount of produce, and the air. “Doesn’t matter. You got it?”
was fairly self-sustaining. However, the hard He made his way back up one deck and
work and lack of outside contact didn’t draw over to the main boarding ramp. The Pride of “You are the boss.”
many settlers in—or pirates. Marik was a single-hulled yacht, a long, sleek “Yeah, I am.” Tarin shook his head, and the
ship with its drive engines in the back and its
“Your guess is as good as mine.” words came out without any sting to Hikal. “I
gun deck on the front third of the top deck. just hope I know what I’m doing.”
“How long do I have?” The boarding ramp extended downward from
the very side of the hull, with nowhere to hide The comm chatter dropped off, and Tarin
“Ten minutes, maybe eleven. What are you it away in the design. If—and now, when— began punching buttons on the bomb’s
doing?” pirates attempted to board the Pride, they’d faceplate. Letters and numbers lit up the
have to connect to the ship at that point, or not screen, glowing red or blue as he changed
Tarin took a long pipe from the box. It had at all. It was a disadvantage having the outside settings. When he finished, the time alone was
caps on both ends, with rings of blinking red door’s position so obvious, but was also an displayed on the screen—four seconds. Not
lights running around them. A small display advantage. The standard hull was thick enough much. But then, all he really wanted was a high-
panel halfway down the shaft’s one-foot length to almost guarantee a boarding attempt at the powered hand grenade, not a bomb. He set the
sat dark and ready. “They used a bomb on us,” door. Tarin knew exactly where the pirates pipe next to him, careful not to punch the red
Tarin said. “I’m just going to return the favor.” would be, and could place himself accordingly. button in the center, the one that would start

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Boarders Over Brantial by Jonathan J. Schlosser Pg. 27

the timer. If he did that now, he’d blow himself “I have plenty of both.” pocket. But I’ve stayed alive against enemies
into enough pieces that not even Cira, with her far more dangerous than Jessan Hall, and it’d
icy dedication, would be able to help. Tarin snorted. “Doubtful. Look, they’re be a shame to let him wreck that streak.
going to take our load for one, but then they’re
Tarin leaned back against the wall. Waiting going to try and take Cira as well. She can’t For a moment, the silence was deafening.
was the worst part. He’d been told that beat up the whole crew—no offense, Cira, but Then there was a loud clang of metal on metal
countless times in the Academy on Marik, and there’s got to be two dozen of them—and so as the access tube slammed home against the
experienced it afterwards when he joined the they’ll have their prize. Now, what is the first Pride’s hull. Tarin tensed, leaning forward with
Kilix Marines. Combat was hour after hour of rule of the Marines?” a hand out to steady himself on the nearest
sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of crate. He let his finger drift closer to the arming
pure terror. Most people thought it was how “I was never a Marine.” mechanism, but made sure not to touch the
you handled yourself during those moments button. He heard the whine of a lasersaw as
“Doesn’t matter.”
that proved true courage, but Tarin wondered it worked its way around the outside of the
if it wasn’t really how you got through the Dune let a burst of air hiss between his door, cutting the seal. With a burst of light and
hours before. Knowing you were going into a teeth. “Never leave a man behind.” a shower of sparks, the saw bit through. Tarin
fight, and letting your imagination play havoc drew his arm back, and the door fell inward.
with that knowledge, was often worse than the “Exactly. They think they can have their fun,
battle itself. but we’re going to teach them that they’ve He didn’t wait to see how many men Hall
picked the wrong target. They’re going to have had sent against him, or how well armed they
The comm clicked. “Tarin, they’ve pulled to kill us to take her.” were. Tarin armed the bomb with a flick of his
alongside. We still don’t have any guns.” thumb and threw it as hard as he could into
Cira spoke up, her voice soft and yet sharp. the rain of sparks. He heard it hit something
“What’s our trajectory?” “How heartwarming, Captain. Glad to know soft, then skip off the wall and clatter to the
you’re on my side.” floor. He just had time to hear a muted string of
“Straight on with the planet, but we won’t curses and see the barrel of a blast rifle when
hit it at this speed for another hour at least. Tarin grinned. “Of course, my dear.” the bomb went off.
Long enough for them to dock, loot, and
leave.” “Call me that again, and I might let Hall take Flames shot back out of the access tube
me.” like the flash of a heavy laser turret. The sound
The ships would have to be connected by
“Forget it. You’re too good of a sniper for hit with a thud of physical impact and the roar
an access tube, an extendable arm that came of wind, and Tarin dropped down behind the
from the boarding ship and attached to the me to let you go.” Tarin picked up the bomb. crates with his hands over his head. A trio of
door of its prey. If the ships hit atmosphere— “Look, comm silence from here on out. Get off laser bolts splashed off the bulkhead behind
Brantial VI’s atmosphere—before the pirates the gun deck; it’s the first place they’ll look. him, charring it. Smoke billowed out to fill the
pulled the tube back, it would burn up and kill Hide out and take them down if you see them. air, but only for a moment. The wind roared
anyone inside. But with an hour, that wouldn’t If this works out how I’m planning, though, you even louder, and the smoke sucked away in a
be a factor. “Loot and leave? You’re forgetting won’t have to.” heartbeat.
the part where they kill us, Dune.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Cira asked. By blowing up the access port, Tarin had
“Kill us? I doubt that.”
“Then I’m dead, and it’s all on you.” Tarin breeched the hull of his own ship. Smoke, fire,
“Is that guts or brains speaking?” flipped his comm off and dropped it into his and oxygen vented at once; Tarin smashed

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Boarders Over Brantial by Jonathan J. Schlosser Pg. 28

up against the crates, which had been bolted that hole in his hull more than he can repair.”
down. He took a deep breath and held it,
jamming his fingers into the small grooves on “Not a chance. As long as we’re sitting
the crates’ sides. If the pull took him, dragged without shields, he can still destroy us a
him out into space, he’d die without a doubt. If hundred times over, unless we run. We can’t
all of the oxygen in the chamber vented...well, afford to take power from the engines.”
then his death would take longer, but it would “So we’re going to let him go?”
still come.
The Pride had been built with emergency thatTarin managed a smile. “Just be glad, Dune,
we have that option.”
doors that would cut off all the chambers in
the event of a hull breech, but they couldn’t
move without power. Tarin closed his eyes.
If those doors stayed open, he wouldn’t be
the only one to die...just the first. The ship
would drain of atmosphere like a silverback
fish being sucked dry by an eel. Their survival
was all on Hikal now, and his auxiliary engines.
Tarin’s vision began to blur; his brain and lungs
screamed at him for oxygen.
Deep within the depths of the ship, Tarin
heard a new sound. This one was small, but he
smiled anyway. It was the pounding of pistons,
the turning of gears.
Past the crates, the emergency door
Jonathan J. Schlosser
slammed shut. The roar of the wind cut off; a soft
hiss replaced it as the ship’s ventilation systems
pumped oxygen into the chamber. Overhead, Jonathan J. Schlosser has published
small lights flickered on, growing brighter as fourteen short stories within the genres
more of them came to life. Tarin slumped to of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He
the deck, laying his head back against the cold is currently working on two supernatu-
metal, and keyed his comm. “Good job, Hikal.
Now give us some drive engines and head for ral horror novels and putting together an
Brantial VI. We’ll have to go planetside until we anthology called Candlelight. You can visit
can get the ship repaired.” his website at www.jonathanjschlosser.
com.
Dune’s voice cut in, anger lacing his words.
“What about Hall? He’s reeling right now. Give
me some power to the gun deck, and I’ll make

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 29

Message to Mars
by Alice M. Roelke

B ill Salle walked through lashing rain up the


path to the mansion’s door. A fierce storm
had pounded the eastern coast of North
Bill stepped back outside, one, two, feet
splashing into puddles. He turned his collar
up tighter against the cold rain, but he wore
the dash.
“Bill—that you?” A human voice cut into
America for days, but neither rain, nor snow, no hat. The rain running down his cheeks felt the litany.
nor sleet could keep the messenger from his peculiarly and appropriately like tears, like the “Hey, Archer. Yep, it’s me.” In spite of the
clients. The door opened on his second knock. rain was expressing something he couldn’t. He circumstances, he leaned forward and grinned
glanced at the sky, as though expecting to see
Senator Cleary himself stood there. He a cocky grin. “Can I pass if I beat you at a hand
the moon, then kept walking.
held a drink, looked like he hadn’t slept in of poker?” The cylinder rolled forward in his
days. The messenger took one look at his eyes, lap, and he sobered.
#
and stepped inside. “Hell, Bill, it’s been forever.” The voice
“You needed a message delivered?” In space, night folded around him in his telegraphed regret. Bill’s eyes hardened. He
little shell-like ship. It was silent, comforting tightened his grip on the controls. Archer said,
The senator nodded, raising his eyes. “As as a velvet quilt pricked with diamond stars. “But you know I can’t do—”
quickly as possible. To Senator Salinger on Mars.
He deserves—” He gulped. “I owe a message. Bill set the autopilot for his silent, streaming “Shoot me down, then.” Bill accelerated.
It can’t go through normal channels.” ship, then walked to fetch a towel and dry He angled wildly, threaded his ship between
his hair. He stood in the middle of the tiny the cruisers at attack velocity, straight for the
Bill jerked his head. “It could be construed control bridge, and looked back at the cylinder, empty space and the planet beyond.
as treason. If the message says what I think it gleaming like a skull next to his controls.
says.” Archer hesitated an instant too long, and
He carried it with him to his bunk, and Bill’s ship was no longer pinned, could no
“Could it? Well, a lot of things could be, tucked in for a few hours. longer be dissected between the ships and
these days.” He turned back to the empty skewered. They arced out at him, missiles and
room, the roaring fire. “Don’t get caught.” Beeping alarms. He awoke, grabbed the giant space bullets, those tiny rockets, burning
now-warm cylinder and ran. like the sun on their deadly trajectories. His
“It means war, doesn’t it?” Bill twitched nimble ship avoided them as easily as playing
his hands from his pockets to pluck the rein- A large ship—several large ships—filled hopscotch.
forced stainless steel cylinder from a side his electronic view, piercing the tranquility
table. “You’re warning him the negotiations of space.Words blared through his speakers. Fighters emptied from the bowels of
have failed.” “Turn back. Turn back. You have no authori- ships.
zation.” He grimaced, cranked the volume
The senator didn’t turn. “I’d offer you a down. “Stop it, Bill. Come on, surrender!” Archer
drink, but—” yelled. “I don’t want to shoot you down! Hell,
He sat down and typed out a query. “May you should’ve had my job. You can’t—”
“I know. I’ve got to hurry.” I pass? Messenger Service. Delivery for Mars.”
He waited for a reply, tapping his fingers on “Watch me.” Bill thumbed the switch for

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 30

silence, his face hard. “I’m just the messenger, ball in the black sky. He felt the well of gravity from the smashed fuel tanks onto the sur-
Arch,” he muttered to himself. “Don’t shoot pulling his ship, and adjusted for it. rounding ground.
the messenger.”
In the whistling wind, he thought he heard He sucked Martian air, fumbled to keep his
His hands played an intricate dance with it call “Come—come,” and cackle. He shook his hold on the freezing cylinder. The wind yanked
the controls, his face tight, perspiring. The head and controlled his breathing with effort, it free. He watched it fall, marked the spot with
messenger evaded a dozen, a hundred, sleek slowing it. All around him, the ship overheated his eyes, and kept them on it. His peripheral
space hawks, each bigger than his seashell. with the peculiar high-pitched-and-growing- vision showed nothing but endless, wearying
And ran ever towards the planet beyond, higher whir of dying engines, the sound of desert. He was, of course, on the wrong side of
glowing red now, like a ball of brick dust in the metal buckling and stressing, and now the the planet to find much population.
distance. scream of Martian air, as his ship hit the atmo-
sphere. His skin ached, pale and bloodless,
Bullets stuttered, poured into his ship, wind-torn from all directions. He landed and
punched the double hull, sucked his air like “Pull up,” he muttered, turning his mask collapsed, heaving and feeling the jolt in every
straws into space. white with breath as he fought the controls, bone and joint. He waited a moment, breathing
fought to turn the nose. The controls, heavily, eyes still on the rock formation that hid
He choked. He grabbed a breath of retreat- already burnt beyond use, blinked a series of the message. Waited for his vision to blacken,
ing air. One hand gripped the cylinder. He gibberish. then clear. He began to crawl.
set the autopilot to skip the ship through the
atmosphere. He jammed the acceleration He dashed for, fell, ran again for the ejection #
controls forward, then reached for the safety chamber. Dropped the metal message, and fell
controls. Danger—danger—the screen flashed, scrabbling for it over the bucking, shaking floor. Later, cylinder tucked into a disarrayed
and would not let him disconnect them. It rolled, he jumped, he caught it in clumsy, pocket, he unhooked himself, stumbled to his
cold-sausage fingers, stood, and yanked a cord
“Newfangled—” He swore, coughed. More as the ship dived to the red earth. feet, hung there for a time, and began to walk.
bullets found their pocked-marked place The sun beat faintly on him as he headed
amidst his ship; they rang like hammers. One Poof! Part of the ship, bullet-riddled and east, past his crackling, expanding wreck, past
popped into the opposite wall, above his head. sprung, ripped free, exposing the man, the the parachute, on a dusty desert where he
Air whistled out. Tears tracked from his eyes at cylinder to upper rip currents of the slim atmo- tripped on rocks, walked hunched over like a
the irritation of the wind. sphere. They chilled him to the bone, tried to man with rheumatism. He clutched the cylinder,
pull off his clothes.
The danger signal abruptly stopped blinking face set. He walked.
and bleeping. The ship lurched forward; The automatic parachute, which had He thought of another battle, other battles,
he grabbed the cylinder. Only then did he fastened around his waist at first touch of the spaceships blooming in space. The great ant-like
remember to reach for the oxygen mask below cord, opened white as a dandelion puff, floated mass drumming of war, conquest, fighting,
his controls. They hadn’t had them, in the other him down through currents of air that yanked and death. The red soil was like red blood in
war. him and the cylinder about, like whiplash in a his blurred vision, stained with memories of
continuing car wreck.
Sucking oxygen, gripping the message silver-gray dust, people spilling from domes
between his knees, he fought the controls with He watched the ship land nose first, and into vacuum. His eyes fell shut, flickered open;
both hands. Steered his bucking ship towards crumble, burn weakly in the oxygen-poor the images remained. In his oxygen mask, mist
the now-huge planet. It hung red as a Christmas climate. A flickering flame licked hesitantly advanced, retreated with each breath, like

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 31

earth glow on another desert scene. And the gangly and too tall, glowered over at him. He that it would like to throw up.
shadows were just as hard. did not wear oxygen, had not offered Bill any.
The red Martian dust merged into a long sheet From the doorway, he saw two men taking
He walked, and the shadows lengthened. as Bill’s vision blurred. He clung to the canister, turns with the cylinder, bringing alternately an
His oxygen ran out, his lungs gasped for the and consciousness, as long as he could. ax and a huge hammer down on it.
fitful last breaths, and he collapsed.
He awoke on the taciturn Marser’s farm. A “Stop.” Bill lurched forward.
They would find him, deliver the message, prematurely old-faced woman with startlingly
be warned. If they didn’t already know. If his black hair stood over him, just as unnaturally They turned as one to intercept him,
journey wasn’t pointless. His eyes fell shut. He tall as the man. Both had barrel chests filled something ugly in their soil-reddened faces.
gripped the message underneath him, like a with large lungs that looked odd to his earth- “You’ll stay right there, Earthling.” The
hen guarding its eggs, and lay still, wishing he adjusted eyes. gentle drawl of Mars sounded like a coiled
need never move again. threat in the older man’s voice. He stopped
The woman tapped a damp cloth to his and regarded
They would not find him. They would be forehead. Heavy lines creased her forehead, them, as opponents. They had
arming, preparing themselves for the message’s a face as timeless and blank as Mars itself. thin bones, and the weak-looking length of all
She wore no makeup, a dress of no particular both, anywhere else. He could’ve taken them
warning they wouldn’t even need. natural-born Marsers.

His eyes flicked open. He yanked his mask color.


off, scowling, drew in the harsh, noxious He spoke, deliberately drawing out and
He pushed her hand away and sat up, feeling
Martian air, hyperventilating for the faintest the crackle of old elastic stretching around his slowing down his words to give their ears less
gasp of oxygen. Watched his vision blacken, face. He looked down at the opaque, crackled adjusting to do. “I appreciate the help, men.
himself hover on the edge of nothingness. oxy mask he wore, Martian dust ground so far But please don’t do that. It contains a message
Glaring, he breathed, he pulled himself to his into it that it would never be clear again. He for someone in Marsport. They’d like to get it
feet. He walked. His fingers, ears, nose numbed. consciously now breathed the cool, sweet life in one piece, I’m sure.”
Oxygen deprivation burned in his muscles. He into his lungs, his veins. One of the men guffawed, shifted his ax.
paused, leaned down to vomit. Bill’s gaze flicked to it.
The red adobe hut they occupied stood tall
A whirring grasshopper of a vehicle sounded, enough for the Marser. It felt claustrophobic to “Maybe it’s a weapon or a bomb. Maybe
in the thin air, like his father’s mowing on a him for some reason other than height. Light you’re a spy.” Beady eyes glittered full of malice
Sunday long ago. He looked up, a child again, barely flowed through the small windows. in the elongated face of the older man. He
not knowing war except through play. could have been petrified, a mummy, for all the
He looked around. “Where is it?”
Wind whipped around him as it drew in to expression in his rut-lined face. He advanced
land. He heard the tamp of metal against stone, like a predatory animal, eyes alert on his prey.
sounding weak through the thin air. “Don’t The younger one laughed. “I always wanted
# break it.” He pushed himself off the bed. The to see
woman did not try to stop him. He reeled to, color it some Earthling blood. Find out what
is.”
Now in the vehicle, Bill felt the thin air sagged in the open doorway, and looked out.
whip past. His lungs could not inflate enough, The crop of claim grass surrounding the small, “You’ll find it’s the same color as yours.”
capture enough. His red-headed rescuer’s hair red house stirred. A faint smell of rotten eggs Bill’s breath, coming faster now, fogged the
whipped in the breeze. A farm boy with freckles, got around the mask, reminded Bill’s stomach mask. His eyes flicked to the cylinder.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 32

The young man guffawed, stooped, scooped a grunt or groan, but didn’t sound like either, you read newspapers? Or even magazines?”
up the message. “You want this, huh?” He he crawled towards it.
tossed it hard against Bill’s chest. Bill stumbled The newcomer regarded Bill, and Bill
as it hit. “Maybe we break ‘em both open at “What?” said a voice. “You ain’t licked yet?” regarded him back. “I’m sorry about this, Mr.
once.” The Marser gave the cylinder a kick, caught Bill Salle. Let me help you up.” He bent over Bill.
by the shoulder, and started to lift. “What’s that you’ve got there? A message?”
The older man caught his arm as he
advanced with the ax, and shook his head. A man sprinted from the just-landed Bill nodded. “For Senator Salinger,” he
“Fists. We want something left for Ol’ Jerome skimmer, raised a hand, and called. His voice rasped.
to identify.” His glittering eyes never left the was thick with Marser, and something else.
Jerome’s eyebrows shot up. “Important?”
Earthman’s face. His eyes ate with violence. “Hold up! What are you doing?”
“Might be.”
The grasshopper flier stood beyond them, The younger man dropped Bill and turned.
its glass window gleaming like thick glasses. The older farmer stood in the doorway,
“How-do Jerome. This is the Earthling.” He kicked
arms crossed. “So he’s against the Earthlings?”
Bill backed away, holding the cylinder. If absently, catching a rib. Bill lay on his side; the
he could get them to follow him around the world looked tilted. From his unswollen eye, The younger red-head moved forward,
house, he might beat them to the skimmer. Bill watched the newcomer approach. Then he kicked his foot in the sandy dust. “Nah. If he
He started back, started around, leading them. pulled himself up and started crawling for the was, why didn’t he say so?”
His steps bounded longer than theirs, but they cylinder.
were at full strength, and on home ground. The Jerome supported Bill into the house and
“Well, what are you doing to him?”
grass made sounds like cattle moving, and the to the bed. The farmers moved to allow him,
men followed Bill. One wore a nasty smile; one “Aww,” said the Marser. “Nothing.” but did not offer to help. “You don’t get it,”
had cold, old eyes. Somewhere nearby, in the said Jerome. “He doesn’t support Mars against
shushing grass, a cricket carefully hybridized The newcomer was stocky, black-skinned, Earth. He doesn’t have anything to do with
and bred for terraforming Mars clicked out a not tall enough to be native born. The age on war. He’s sworn off it. He’s a messenger now,
song. There were no birds yet. his face didn’t show until he got closer and the best there is. Whoever wanted to talk to
turned the messenger over by the shoulder. Salinger must’ve had an urgent message, espe-
From behind, the woman hit him. Bill went Bill kept hold of the cylinder. cially with Earth and Mars gearing up for war.”
down, still clutching the cylinder. And the blows He looked at Bill again. “Guess you can’t tell
rained upon him and the sun hung in the sky “Don’t you know who this man is?” He me, can you?”
like a bright little coin. turned to the other Marser. “You’re messing
up a genuine war hero!” Bill shook his head.
#
“What do you mean, old man? He somebody Jerome gestured for water, bathed the mes-
valuable to the Earthlings?” senger’s head, wiping off blood and red grime.
He came awake to pain, and a sound like Mars leaves its mark on a man. “Can I give you
droning insects, growing louder until it was a “He’s Bill Salle. You know—the Earther who a lift to Senator Salinger’s?”
skimmer. stopped the massacre of the moon men when
He opened his eyes, saw the cylinder a few the Earthers had ‘em surrounded. Almost got Bill stirred. “I’d be much obliged,” he said,
killed for it at the time. After the war, he was a still in slower speech than was his normal.
feet in front of him. With what could have been nine days’ wonder, got all kinds of medals. Don’t

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 33

Bill refused Jerome’s support. He sagged as long, yellowish teeth. They matched his long, on his face. He looked up at last. “Do you need
he walked to the skimmer. The three farmers sallow face. A tired-looking, sweating man, he medical care? A lift to the airport?”
watched them go. One picked his teeth; none wore a suit with a tie partially undone. Surprise
offered a word. passed across his face, raising an eyebrow. “I might take you up on the latter.” Bill’s
voice had lost its slow beat. “Any reply?”
“I’ll talk to you-all later,” said Jerome over “Bill. What happened to you?” He rolled
his shoulder. He waited until Bill sat in the expertly back from the door and held it open. “No, I—don’t guess so.” Salinger passed
skimmer with his message, then started the a hand over his forehead again. With visible
engine. “I’m right sorry, Mr. Salle. Every nation’s “Crashed.” Bill landed heavily in a chair. effort, he shook himself out of the reverie,
got its bigots.” focused on Bill. “Will you join me in a Martian
Senator Salinger regarded him a moment, coffee?”
“Forget it,” said Bill. “It’s in the past.” then stirred himself with effort and turned to
Jerome. “Thank you for helping him, Mr.—” “Thank you, I will.” He waited and accepted
Jerome glanced over at him and blinked. the thick tomato product, didn’t ask for a spoon,
“Nobody just forgets about a beating like “Farmer.” Jerome nodded. “No problem, because on Mars it is always drunk.
that, Mr. Salle. Why, in my younger days, not Senator.”
everybody liked the idea of a dark man mixing “If you crashed, your ship will have been
“I’m much obliged.” The senator shook his scavenged by now. How about coming to work
with the red-heads. I’ve been in a few fights hand and smiled, although his eyes looked far for us? We’ll need a good messenger.”
myself. I wouldn’t forget a thing like that.” away, and troubled.
“It’s in the past, isn’t it?” Bill stirred, turning “Thank you. I’ll stay independent.”
“Well.” Jerome cleared his throat. He made
to the side. He leaned against the door, looked his exit. “No? How about a job in the Space Force?
out over the monotonous passing, waving We could use a general with your skill.”
grass. His eyes fell shut. “Message for you.” Bill made a move to get
up, sank back. The senator wheeled forward Bill shook his head gently.
# and accepted the cylinder from Bill’s hands.
He pressed a thumb into the cavity on top; the “Well, will you be joining the competition?”
When he opened them, they had landed. container hissed open. Bill made an impatient gesture. “That’s
He blinked around at the low, dusty capital,
made a move to rise. Salinger’s eyes passed over the paper from over.” He put down his mug, a bit unsteadily.
inside it. He let it fall to his lap. The sallow look Fermented tomato can go to one’s head fast
“Now, let me help. No ‘buts.’” The old man on his face grew more intense, more pained. when eaten on an empty stomach. “When
hopped out agilely. Bill hung onto the cylinder, brothers fight, how do you choose between
trying not to sag against the Marsman as they Bill eyed the man’s face closely. War, then. them?”
walked through town. His heart sank further; he cleared his throat.
“My condolences, Senator.” Salinger leaned forward. “I guess I’d try to
“In here,” said Jerome. “I don’t guess pick the one I thought was right.”
Senator Salinger’ll turn you away.” He spoke “If only Luna had gotten more involved
with the negotiations, we might have— well...” “I don’t. I’ve had enough killing for a lifetime.
gruffly, straightened his shirt, and knocked.
The senator stirred in his chair. “I guess it I won’t even kill insects anymore.”
A long man shortened by a wheelchair was coming.” He rubbed his thumb over his “You didn’t feel that way at Tycho.”
answered the door, a cigarette between his eyebrows; the deeply sad expression stayed

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 34

“That was different.” in a bandaged hand and watched a screen. “Hey!” The barkeeper started forward. “I’ll
call the cops!”
“Was it? I hope it was,” said Salinger The room contained a barkeeper, who
seriously. “I hope this doesn’t become that stood rubbing a glass slowly on a barmop, and The drunk raised his hands. “I’m going!” He
kind of fish in a barrel shoot.” a scowling man at the far end of the counter turned a last glare on Bill, who had grown stiff,
nursing a Martian-ini. not moved or spoken the whole time. “And
“It won’t. Your planet’s pretty tough, from you think you’re a man. Don’t know why they
what I’ve seen.” He grinned ruefully. A woman, who walked hunched over even ever gave you that medal!” He left the bar,
in the moon’s low gravity, and leaned on a knocking a chair sideways on his way out. The
“Are you going to be pressing charges thin metal cane entered the bar, walked up to barman watched him go, slapping a towel into
against whoever did this to you?” Salinger the counter, and spoke to the barkeeper. He his hand.
nodded at Bill’s face. “Or won’t you be here nodded and pointed to the corner where Bill
long enough?” sat. He walked to the table. “You okay, Bill?”
“I expect anyone as eager to fight as those She came over and sat, tucking in across “Yup.” Bill accepted the towel, mopped
folks will get their fill soon enough. No, I’ll from him. “Hello, Bill.” He glanced from the himself up. “Don’t worry about it.”
hang around the port, buy myself a new ship. I wall-sized screen to her. “Senator.” Up close,
have a big savings account, and the insurance she looked younger; there was a bird-quick “He won’t be back in here, I can tell you.
on my old one will come through eventually. aliveness about her, despite the limp. She wore Need a fresh drink?”
Soon as news of war breaks out, I’ll have plenty heavy glasses, and a dark blue suit.
of business. Folks will want to contact their “Nope, I’m fine.” He handed the towel
relatives on Earth.” She pointed at his arm. “I see you’ve been back, leaned over his drink again and trained
injured in the line of duty again.” his eyes on the TV screen. A reporter stood in
Salinger studied him. “We may have need front of a red landscape. Behind her, explo-
of blockade runners before long. Be interested “This? It’s nothing. You need to send a sions burst in the faintly pink sky, over a city.
in that, maybe?” message, or something?” Explosions could be heard over the reporter’s
stressed voice. “We are watching the bombing
“I’ll get back to you about it.” He stood At the far end of the bar, the man hunched of Tharsis City...”
slowly. “Senator.” He held a hand out. over his drink muttered, “Thinks he’s a hero,
huh?” He swiveled suddenly in his chair, glared “I’ll get you a top-up.” The barman moved
“The offers are open, if you change your at Bill. “Where were you when the other dome away.
mind.” got blown up? Where were you when my
brother died?” Bill kept his eyes trained on the screen.
“I won’t, but thanks all the same.”
Blank-faced, Bill glanced at the man. He The senator lowered her voice and leaned
“I’ll see about that ride.” He turned to his towards him. “It’s in the past, right Bill?”
turned back to the senator. “Need to send a
phone. message?” He took a swig. “The past keeps getting
# She started to reply. The man in the corner bigger and bigger.” He jerked his chin at the
jumped up, ran towards Bill, and splashed his screen. “Look, more past.”
One week later, Bill sat at a table in a small drink in Bill’s face. “What do you think of that?” “You’ve got to get past this, Bill. You can’t
bar on Luna. He held a glass of thick, red liquid He drew back a fist. stay a messenger forever.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Message to Mars by Alice M. Roelke Pg. 35

“I’m a damn good one. Wasn’t such a good old eyes snapped at him, belligerent, humor-
soldier.” filled, and full of life. Alice M. Roelke
“I helped vote you the medal that belies He stared. “You mean—you’re not giving
that statement.” up? Luna will start more negotiations?”
Alice Roelke was a war correspondent
He trained his eyes on her. “That man was She tapped her cane on the ground. “Young during the Lunar War for Independence.
right. I didn’t save the people from the first man, you’ve got a lot to learn. There are always She currently divides her time between
dome. I was standing there when my officer more negotiations. They wouldn’t listen to us,
gave the order. Watched their bodies spill onto so we held back for a few days, let them get a Luna, Mars, and the Outer Colonies.
the moon’s surface. I watched it, Jules.” taste of what they both wanted so badly. But She would like to thank Bill Salle for his
it oughtn’t be difficult to negotiate a cease
“And then you stopped him from ever doing fire now. Maybe in a few days this will all be permission to write this story.
it again, even though you knew it could cost over—and in the past you love so much. Now,
your life.” She laid a hand on his knee. “You are you going to take me to Mars, or do I have
were a hero, Bill.” to get a less trustworthy courier?”
He returned her gaze for a moment, then Bill stood and held his bandaged hand
flicked it back to the screen. “Not enough of out in a grand gesture. “Ma’am, I am at your
one.” service.”
And through his mind it went again. He’d He held the door for her, waved to the
been a ‘good soldier,’ obeyed all orders, stood bartender. He walked with a spring in his step,
by and watched, even when his commanding a man still reaching for redemption.
officer ordered the dome’s destruction.
Until he couldn’t any longer. He couldn’t
watch another dome burst, another spilling of
precious, civilian blood onto Luna’s gray soil.
So he’d stepped in. He’d stopped it.
But why had that decision taken him so
long? He’d clung to his job, to his life. He’d
been so sure Earth was right.
“Not enough of a hero. Not enough.”
“Welcome to the human race, young man.”
The senator stood with great effort, and a small
grunt, and faced down at him. “Now, are you
going to help me get to Mars or aren’t you?”
She tapped her cane against the ground. Her

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


RGR Reviews , Reviews from the Blue Woad, by Matthew Winslow Pg. 36
RGR Reviews
Book Reviews
by Matthew Winslow
September 2008 all told—have all appeared elsewhere (with human and the nature of courage to discus-
one exception), with a large majority of them sions with those of like mind, and otherwise
Keeper of Dreams by Orson Scott Card originally appearing in short-story anthologies. limit yourself to shallow topics like the latest
Tor Books, 2008, 656pp The science fiction section contains six stories, ball team or episode of Lost by the water
all excellent. Most noteworthy of these is the cooler.
It somehow seems appropriate to be exception I mentioned above: “Geriatric Ward”
starting RGR’s column of opinion with Orson But here at RGR, since we are entirely in
was written for Harlan Ellison’s infamous Last
Scott Card. First, OSC is a justly praised author love with the genre, we love unabashedly
Dangerous Visions, which never got far enough
of science fiction (as well as fantasy), having big-concept books. Who can forget those great
along to get published. OSC is finally publish-
won not only both the Nebula and Hugo moments in the past, when you first read of
ing it here. The other SF stories are the eerie
awards multiple times but numerous other Spice or learned of the hidden Foundations?
“The Elephants of Poznan,” the Pastwatch
awards. Second, he’s known for being opin- Walter Jon Williams is one author unafraid
story “Atlantis,” “Heal Thyself,” “Space Boy,”
ionated. Just wander over to his column at to continue the noble (and I would argue,
and “Angles.”
hatrack.com as well as his opinion pieces at essential) tradition of speculative fiction.
ornery.org and you’ll see that there is hardly The non-SF stories are, of course, also
a topic that OSC hasn’t pontificated about at wonderful reads, and the whole book is defi- With Implied Spaces Williams has once
some point or other. Who better to start off nitely worth tracking down and reading. OSC again delivered an enjoyable book that is not
with? has an incredible gift for bringing his char- afraid to create the sensawunda that does
acters to life, so much so that, when I finish things on the cosmic scale. And not only that,
It’s been approximately 20 years since the the universe(s) he creates are an RPGer’s
one of his novels, I’m exhausted by having
first massive Orson Scott Card short story col- dreams come true.
just lived someone else’s life for awhile. With
lection, Maps in a Mirror. (Yes, I know it wasn’t the short stories, you get the same effect, but
his first collection, but it was his first massive Aristide is a computer scientist who helped
because they’re so much shorter you don’t
collection.) As he points out in the introduc- create the eleven super computers that control
feel as worn out and can move on to the next
tion, his focus in the nearly two decades the world of the future where mankind’s
one with ease: highly recommended.
since putting out Maps in a Mirror has been every need is met. Humans now spend their
on novels (with approximately 30 having time in various pocket universes, accessed
come out in that time), yet somehow he still by wormholes, where they can live out their
managed to write enough short stories to fill Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams fantasies in bodies engineered to match those
up another enormous collection. Night Shade Books, 2008, 265pp fantasies. Death is all but abolished. If your
body dies, you are built a new one and your
Keeper of Dreams is divided up into five One of the great things about specula- uploaded consciousness is downloaded into
sections, corresponding to the five broad tive fiction is that it allows you to ask the big it.
areas of the stories included: science fiction, questions, the sorts of things that you are
fantasy, literary, Hatrack River (based on usually too embarrassed to mention in mixed Having lived a full life for a millennium
his long-running Alvin Prentice series), and company anymore. Instead, you relegate and a half, Aristide has set his focus on the
Mormon stories. These stories—twenty-two, things like the question of what makes us “implied spaces,” those things that exist as a

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


RGR Reviews , Reviews from the Blue Woad, by Matthew Winslow Pg. 37

result of intended spaces. For example, when exists in part to recover something that has of children born to survivors of the blast are
four arches are put together, the resulting been lost. To do so, we must look to the past now starting to come of age. Unlike the
squinch is an implied space that exists but and understand it in order to revive it. So, in mutants of comics fame, these children don’t
was not the intention of the design. Aristide is this column, we will look at older books, most have paranormal abilities, but are just really,
looking for these implied spaces in the pocket considered to be cornerstones of the SF genre, really smart, each in his own way. However,
universes, where, for example, mountains exist as well as some hidden gems along the way. they have all learned early on that the world
on a water world so that the water world can is not quite ready to accept them and their
have littoral zones. The mountains, therefore, We’ll start with one that I’ve wanted to abilities, so they have gone into hiding, either
are an implied space. read for a long time, but never got around to. by pretending to be normal or by becoming
First, though, a bit of background: I grew up in outcasts whom no one bothers.
While searching out these implied spaces, the ‘70s and ‘80s and was an avid comic reader.
Aristide uncovers a conspiracy that is set to As such, I was addicted to the X-Men. One of One of these children of the atom is Timothy
destroy the eleven AIs and all the pocket the taglines for the X-Men was “Children of Paul. School psychiatrist Peter Welles is called
universes, turning these post-singularity the Atom.” I wanted to know where that came upon one day to make an assessment of young
humans into slaves to the Venger, the mysteri- from. Tim and discovers much more than meets the
ous mastermind behind the takeover. eye. Welles gradually develops a relationship
The year is 1948 and the West has just with Tim, who reveals all the incredible things
What the novel gets down to, eventually, entered the nuclear age. Hiroshima is still fresh he has done prior to his fourteenth birthday,
is the question of what it means to be human in everyone’s mind, and both the benefits such as being an accomplished author (under
in a post-human world, especially when this and the disadvantages of nuclear power and a pseudonym, of course), designing a building,
world has determined that mankind just may weapons are becoming known. With any new speaking and reading multiple languages, and
be an “implied space” within the universe. Is technology, there’s always a fear involved (and performing genetic cross-breeding experi-
mankind futile or does it have meaning, even if quite often that fear is well-founded). In this ments.
it is an unintended consequence? case, the fears were twofold: first, the Soviets
had access to the bomb, and secondly, nuclear Tim and Peter surmise that there must be
Williams addresses these questions while radiation’s effects on living matter were still other children like Tim, products of the same
at the same time writing a riotous romp. In mostly unknown with mutations being one of nuclear accident. They clandestinely set out to
just 256 pages, he manages to create depth the few known effects. discover these other children of the atom and
of character and world building that would bring them together so that they can establish
take most authors today many more pages So along comes a housewife who taps into a commune of sorts where the children can
to accomplish. This results in a tight, focused the latter of these fears and produces a master- produce their great works without fear of the
novel that does not drag in the slightest at any piece, Children of the Atom. It began its life as a outside world turning on them.
point. In addition, Williams’ characters are well- novella in Astounding Science Fiction magazine
drawn. Even those who appear and disappear in 1948. Two more short stories followed in A large portion of the book is about the
from the narrative quickly are well fleshed out 1949, and then the final novel (which took search for the other children. Once they’ve
and compelling. In short, Implied Spaces is an the three stories as the first three chapters been found, we’re subjected to a chapter of
excellent work by a master of the craft. and included two more chapters) appeared in psychoanalysis of the children as they attempt
1953. to come to grips with their great minds trapped
Children of the Atom by Wilmar H. Shiras in children’s psyches. But overall, it’s a capti-
Avon Books, 1953, 192pp The year is 1972 and it has been about 15 vating and exciting book. Some of the writing
years since a nuclear plant exploded. A number definitely feels aged and reflective of that
As our name suggests, Ray Gun Revival

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


RGR Reviews , Reviews from the Blue Woad, by Matthew Winslow Pg. 38

pulpy era, but overall Shiras is able to evoke


the feelings of alienation we all felt in growing
into adulthood.
And there’s the key to why this is a classic:
by using the conventions of SF, Shiras shows
how the fantastic future is really not so different
from us. We can understand ourselves a bit
better by projecting ourselves onto Tim or any
of the other children, hoping and feeling for a
moment or two how our lives have meaning
like his. Like the children, we all felt alienated
because we were somehow better (or hoped
we were) than ‘common’ people.
No, not all fiction needs to aspire to
creating these feelings in us, but when it does,
it makes for an enjoyable and beneficial read,
and Children of the Atom definitely merits its
place in the pantheon of SF masterworks.

Matthew Winslow
Matthew Scott Winslow has been a science
fiction and fantasy addict since he first
discovered Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series
on his dad’s shelves at a young age. He can be
reached at reviews@raygrunrevival.com.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Balcony Fool Reviews TR2N, by Paul Christian Glenn Pg. 39
RGR Reviews
The Balcony Fool Reviews TR2N
by Paul Christian Glenn

Greetings, programs!
Several weeks ago, Disney exhilarated
sions were made in the form of comic books,
novels and computer games, but it wasn’t until
last month’s Comic Con that Disney exhibited
one of those big, faceless technology con-
glomerates that probably conducts unethical
experiments on humans when nobody’s
sci-fi dorks by unexpectedly unveiling a short the first honest-to-goodness footage for the looking. When Flynn attempts to hack into
teaser for the long-awaited sequel to TRON. now-in-production TR2N. My annoyance with ENCOM’s records to find evidence of the theft,
Like the easily-exploitable fan that I am, I dug this trendy alpha-numeric titling convention Dillinger’s evil, smart-mouthed Master Control
out my 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition notwithstanding, we will, at long last, have our Program digitizes his body and sucks him into
of the trippy original film, and revisited the sequel. Certainly, the advances in CGI tech- cyberspace, where he must fight for his life in
themes that lent such enduring resonance nology will provide a flashier, more elaborate a fascist electronic universe.
to this mind-bending classic. Fortunately, TRON experience, but will the writers be able
my compulsion is your enrichment (or Thank you, 1982.
bathroom reading, as the case may be), so
let’s fire up the digitizer and transport our As it turns out, those that live in this
molecular structures back to 1982, shall universe have their own mythology, and
we? programs who believe in “the users” are
seen as cultish wackos, like, say, Scien-
This was the year director Steven tologists or Twilight fans. The accepted
Lisberger unleashed his landmark cyber- wisdom in this circuitous world is that
fantasy on the world. It was an admirably there is no higher reality; all things begin
ludicrous endeavor, by far the most high- and end with the Master Control Program.
profile experimental film ever made, but It’s up to Flynn to convince everyone that
it had the severe misfortune of being the users do exist, and that all programs
released in the shadow of E.T., one of the can and should be free to do whatever
most wildly successful films of all time. they were created to do.
Audiences warmed to E.T.’s folksy sto-
rytelling aesthetic and left TRON’s cool, So at first glance we have a standard-
to capture the thematic tension that made the issue messiah story about a hero transported
digital ambience to de-rez at the box-office. original film so eminently revisit-able? Initiate from his own world into a strange realm,
The story might have ended there, but you plot summary: where he uses his divine influence to set its
can’t keep a good bit down. Lisberger and his Though the milieu of TRON was utterly inhabitants free. For a lot of movies, that
collaborators had accomplished something unique, the plot played things relatively safe—at would be enough (Matrix, put down the spoon,
truly revolutionary, and TRON’s computer least on the surface. Jeff Bridges plays Flynn, we’re looking at you). But Lisberger had more
generated imagery proved to be a watershed a narcissistic but likeable computer program- on his mind. Behind this somewhat inelegant
event in the evolution of special effects. The mer whose work was stolen by a corporate religious analogy is a story about the responsi-
reverberations of their work still echo through slimeball named Dillinger. (David Warner plays bility artists have to their own work.
our multiplexes every weekend—for better or Dillinger as that peculiar sort of slimeball who
worse. In the film, each program is a literal reflec-
knows he’s a jackass, and is totally okay with tion of their creator (i.e., they’re played by
For years, me and about seven other it.) Dillinger uses these stolen programs to the same actor), and they long to fulfill their
people clamored for a sequel. Small conces- become Executive Vice-President of ENCOM, intended purposes. Take, for example, Flynn’s

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Balcony Fool Reviews TR2N, by Paul Christian Glenn Pg. 40

cellmate RAM. He’s an actuarial program, director of actors. Some of the line deliveries ist masterpiece, cold and mysterious, electric
designed to aggregate interest on insurance are painful, and the staging of scenes ranges blue horizons stretching on forever, mysterious
policies, and he’s recently been appropriated from adequate to clunky. Heaven save us from digital comets raining down at random. And
to play deadly arena sports on the game grid. the lifeless love story that plays like a contrac- the music—oh, the music! It’s a classic Walt
The spectre of death notwithstanding, it’s a tual obligation. And, yes, the technology within Disney adventure score, the kind they used to
much flashier and more glorious function, but the film is pretty nonsensical—”computery” crank out for movies like Escape From Witch
note the longing smile on his face as he talks words are tossed around at random, as if the Mountain or In Search of the Castaways, but
about his old job. He’s into the boring stuff. It’s writers sat in on a couple Programming 101 labs here it’s twisted up with synthesizers and elec-
what he was built for. at the local university, sketching solar sailors tronic choruses. Whimsical, epic, brilliant.
when they should have been taking better
Flynn’s mission, then, is not to set the notes—but let’s remember that this film was It’s a rare sequel that lives up to its prede-
programs free to run around willy-nilly, doing made at the dawn of the computer age, when, cessor, but Disney has here a unique oppor-
whatever they want, but to fulfill their own for most of us, those big beige boxes might as tunity—to take a movie that was ahead of its
specific purposes within the system. Every well have been magic crystal balls. time and bring it fully into an age that the film,
creator—artist, writer, sculpter, programmer— itself, predicted. Call me optimistic, but I’ll be
has a responsibility to their work, to let it do first in line when they finally deliver.
what it’s supposed to do. We’ve all felt the
temptation to beat our creations into submis- End of line.
sion, to put them in an ill-fitting box to make
them salable, or refashion them into someone
else’s idea of what they should be. But all the
coercion in the world won’t give those creations
a spark of excitement or energy. Somewhere in
the beginning was an inspiration, an idea about
what that creation should look like, and what
it should do, and how it should affect others.
That’s what gives our work life, and only by
remaining true to that vision can we set it free.
It’s a story as old as corporate synergy itself.
How many cool, indie projects (music, movies,
books, comics) have you seen appropriated by
big commercial entities, who then try to turn Paul Christian Glenn
them into something they were never meant to
be? (Ah, Howard the Duck, how are you, old Paul Christian Glenn is an Overlord (co-
friend?) TRON is about that war of ideas. That’s founder and editor) of Ray Gun Revival
what gives the tale its intellectual tension, and
that’s why the film still matters today, long after magazine, and has been writing for as long
the story has become quaint and the effects as he can remember.
have dated themselves.
And there is magic in TRON. Jeff Bridges has
Before anyone protests that TRON is not never been sleazier, delivering the kind of weird, It should be noted, however, that he has a
a perfect film, I’ll make a few concessions. inspired performance we expect from Johnny notoriously short memory.
No, Steven Lisberger isn’t the most inspiring Depp these days. The digital world is a minimal-

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Featured Artist: Christian Hecker Pg. 41

Featured Artist
Christian Hecker
Name: Christian Hecker
Age: 26
Country of residence: Germany
Hobbies: Movies, Digital Art, Music
Favorite Book / Author: There are few, most of them sci-fi/fantasy
based.
Favorite Artist: Too many actually—Syd Mead, Ridley Scott, Dylan Cole,
to name a few.
When did you start creating art? I was always drawing and had fun
doing it. I started to play with digital imaging tools when I was nineteen
or twenty years old, discovered illustration at the age of twenty-three,
and went in a professional direction by the age of twenty-four.
What media do you work in? I work digitally for print or screen—
illustrations for all sorts of covers, for example. It would be interesting to
be part of a movie-matte painting team someday.
Where your work has been featured? Besides subject-related art
websites, there are online magazines like yours my work has been
featured in. It’s also been featured in print, 3D and digital art,
magazines, and art books.
Where should someone go if they wanted to view / buy some of your
works? Generally my website: www.tigaer-design.com. The galleries
offer possibilities to buy high quality prints.
How did you become an artist? Good question. I would say when
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008
Featured Artist: Christian Hecker Pg. 42

people started to call my pictures ‘art.’ If, ten years ago, someone would have told me that I would be asked for interviews
about my work, I would have taken that poor person to a doctor.
What were your early influences? PC games. I remember Wing Commander, especially 3 and 4. I liked the design. Of course
Star Wars.

What are your current influences? These days, thanks to DVD, I’m literally studying movies. I recently bought the Blade Runner
Final Cut Collector’s Edition. Lots of background info on the discs, and I watch every single minute. So these days, it’s games
and movies alike. Games are more and more produced like movies. Therefore, the art in both mediums is pretty equal in terms

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Featured Artist: Christian Hecker Pg. 43

of high quality.
What inspired the art for the cover? The Legacy... well... at the time
I created this one I was playing Crysis on my lame PC. So the tropical
aspects of the image were surely inspired by the game. Besides that,
I had this picture in my head for ages of some alien rock on its way to
impact.
How would you describe your work? Oh, I would say it’s a mix of
digital painting and digital matte painting.
Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you? Inspiration
comes from looking around on websites or in art books/magazines,
and sometimes from games, movies, or fellow artists. Lots of sources
out there.
Have you had any notable failures, and how has failure affected your
work? Maybe, someday, I can answer this question with a funny story.
But so far there were no big things. Well one thing that happened
three years ago was a hard drive crash. I lost quite a few source files. I
was devastated. I, at least, was able to rescue my print source files. All
project data was lost, though. So, these days, I’m very careful.
What have been your greatest successes? How has success impacted
you / your work? Personally, my biggest success was/is to be featured
in Ballistic Publishing’s Expose Books 5 and 6. The Expose series
combines professional talents from around the world in their books
and delivers amazing quality. Besides that, it’s small exhibitions and
features in magazines.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Featured Artist: Christian Hecker Pg. 44

What are your favorite tools / equipment for producing your art? The most important tool is my Wacom tablet. It’s so much
more efficient to work with in combination with Photoshop. A mouse feels like a brick when it comes to image editing. Then, of
course, I use Photoshop and my Canon 20D to shoot myself background plates for matte paintings.
What tool / equipment do you wish you had? I would love to lay my hands on a Wacom Cintiq screen, which allows you to use
your tablet pen right on the screen. Very damn expensive. A quadcore with 8 GB ram would be cool, too. Heh.
What do you hope to accomplish with your art? Well, I try to show something—worlds and places—you wouldn’t see in our
times or on our planet. I hope that my pictures are able to distract people’s minds from their day-in day-out problems a bit.
And even if it’s only for a few seconds...I was successful.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 45
Calamity’s Child
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage - Domino
by M. Keaton

Part One The operations converting her eyes into She turned her head to look at him with
multi-spectrum sensors had come with a price. hollow eyes. “I don’t want to do this,” she
I t was a black and white morning she had
faced a dozen times before. There were minor
variations in the faces and the landscape but
Every patient reacted to the surgeries differ-
ently—some went blind, some went mad;
migraine headaches and bouts of tunnel vision
sighed, her voice as ephemeral as the mist.
Mentor, master, manager, confidant, and
they were just that, minor. It was the waking were common. Humans were not supposed part-time father figure, Fagan understood
dream that she had to walk through before she to see from the ultraviolet to the infrared; when no one else did. He met her eyes and
could wake up—except it was real. the optic nerve could not process the barrage nodded sadly. “I know, sweetie. I know.” His
of information gained from telescoping and broad, plain features quirked into a weak
The plantation-style manor house behind smile. “Just ride it out. When you’re done, you
180 degree peripheral vision, nor could it be
Quicksilver Rose reared up like a white wall can take a few weeks off. Go somewhere and
replaced.
against the darker shadows of the old growth relax. All right?”
cedars that framed it. The lawn was flat, For most, the brain learned to compensate
diligently tended by a legion of gardeners, at the cost of some other neural function. For She nodded and he squeezed her shoulder
trimmed and groomed to abnormal perfec- Rose, like many augmentees, the cost was again. “Be quick but don’t rush,” he said,
tion. To her side, men argued over details of comparatively light; the standard perception wrapping her hands around a gun and holster.
the duel. Pampered old money, ensconced in of color was lost while the second cranial nerve “Take as long as you need to get ready,” he
the comfortable womb of the inner Hedge, so absorbed the excesses of the first in the form continued. “I’ll be over with the patrons.”
insulated and jaded that the duel would be of olfactory synesthesia. She smelled colors,
the highlight of their conversations for weeks .38 caliber revolver, short-barreled,
the only color left in her world.
as they bragged, claiming the dangers and smooth-bore—her opponent had deliberately
successes as if their own. Because they had, Pink tendrils waved in front of her eyes like chosen a notoriously inaccurate weapon in the
after all, paid for it. anemones. She brushed the hair aside with hopes of offsetting her superior accuracy. The
the back of her hand. She had no idea what equipment was new, the leather of the holster
She ignored them, staring instead past color her hair was objectively, but it smelled of ornately tooled and hand stitched, probably
the expansive lawn toward the heath beyond. strawberries. In a black and white world, that made especially for the occasion. She checked
The faint rumble of the distant sea was infi- made it pink. the gun, then worked it in and out of the holster.
nitely more interesting than the insipid prattle The leather was stiff and the flare of the front
beside her. The rising sun had not yet burned A broad hand gripped her shoulder with a sight dragged on the draw. She massaged it,
away the low-lying haze that blurred the edges gentle squeeze. “They’re ready,” Fagan said, trying to loosen the stiff hide, then gave up.
of the world. It was the tinge of salt as much his bass voice pitched just above a whisper. He Sliding a knife from her hip, she sawed a notch
as the mist itself that draped the landscape was a large man, short but wide, patches of of leather out of the front, ruining the orna-
in moist gauze. The sea smelled gray, of worn balding skull and liver spots peeking through mental handiwork. She pulled at the edges of
cotton and weariness. And so the mist was tufts of coarse hair. “I couldn’t talk them out of the cut and worked the gun in and out until she
gray as well. ‘to the death.’” was satisfied.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 46

As usual, the belt was too long, intended bringing her opponent into tight focus as if he stopped abruptly. His strong hand squeezed
to be worn around her waist. She stripped it stood only a few feet in front of her, watching her shoulder and he left her alone. Fagan
loose, replacing it with a leather thong of her not his gun hand, but his breathing and the rapid understood.
own. Rose strapped the holster to her upper throb of his pulse. His breathing quickened,
thigh where her hand swung naturally at her and she saw the jump in his throat. Rose rinsed the bile from her mouth,
side. scrubbed her face with the towel, letting the
Her world flooded with color. The flood gray of sea-salt mist fill her mind.
Looking finally to her opponent across the of adrenaline crashing through her system
field, her stomach tightened as the waking brought her optic nerves to life as no surgery #
dream continued its predictable, implacable could.
course. He was a hireling like herself—the “Behold, a world in twilight,” proclaimed
principals would never risk their own precious She went for her gun a literal heartbeat don Rosten, sweeping a thick-fingered hand
hides—but he was young, an expendable after the other duelist. The butt met her palm magnanimously across the horizon and the
younger son from a rich family turned to and came free of the holster in a single smooth lavender sunset. Hues of red and orange
dueling as a way to separate himself from swing of her arm. He was faster; his first shot traced across the purple sky like watercolors
the cloying ennui of his pedestrian life. He kicked a puff of dirt from the ground a good ten while the wind pulled chalk-white clouds into
considered himself a gunman; that much was feet in front of her. As she brought the gun up, lace, their edges tinged in emerald. The sky
obvious from the strutting posture and duster Rose shifted her feet subconsciously, stepping was a magnificent display as the world’s sun
he affected, and he was probably fast, even slightly back with the left, balancing. A second set in the east. Every sunset on Poseidon was
faster than she was. It did not matter. shot burned like a swarm of hornets over her magnificent. The dust from its limestone and
left shoulder. quartz quarries virtually guaranteed it.
Someday, one of these young bucks looking
to make a name might take her, but she did not Quick, but not rushed, she fired without “Twilight,” sighed the blond in the crook of
believe it, not really. They lacked something, aiming, riding the natural flow of her draw. this left arm. “That’s a pretty word.”
these children of the inner Hedge, a lack that The .38 slug drifted high, catching her victim
left them no more chance against a predator in the throat instead of the chest. He pitched “Twilight because the sun is setting,”
from the Frontier than a rabbit against a wolf. backward in an arc of scarlet. countered her red-haired twin nestled against
It was never a contest; it was murder. his right side.
The brilliance drained from her eyes like
The other duelist met her gaze, flipping blood, her monochrome universe slamming The promontory’s balustrade was carved
back the edge of his duster with a sneer. Rose’s back with a vengeance. The gun slipped from from the same sandstone as the paving tiles
only reply was to lift her left hand and snap her fingers and she sagged to her knees. Across underfoot. From where they stood, the view
a wave at the umpire. Her opponent mirrored the lawn, men were exchanging laughs and was uninterrupted, an entire world laid at
the gesture, and the plump official plucked a money while the more daring rushed forward their feet. The view, and its counterpart on
white handkerchief from his breast pocket. to dab handkerchiefs in the fresh blood of the the western side, was one of the restaurant’s
He waited until the cluster of voyeurs fell dead. Her stomach emptied itself violently defining features. A green, verdant hillside
silent then tossed the cloth into the air with a until she heaved dry. rolled away below, terraced by the white
dramatic flourish. It fell like a wounded dove. zigzag of the road to the summit. The tight
Fagan was there. He knelt, passing her switchbacks that climbed the steep rise were
Neither duelist moved when it landed. a bottle of water and a moist towel. Behind a slow, torturous drive, but the reward at the
Rose let her zoom double, then double again, them someone scoffed, said something Rose end was well worth the trouble. At the base,
did not hear. Fagan stood, and the laughter

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 47

a city of lights grew like water pooling at the “No. They’ve stripmined it away. The man doesn’t need bodyguards,” the blond said
foot of a melting glacier, an eclectic mix of building and landscaping was all designed on cue.
new, high-tech construction and existing crude to soak up the noise or you could here the
industry. machines working, scraping away at the “You must be very confident,” purred the
marrow. It’s the entire world in miniature. The other.
“Twilight, girls, because the world, she restaurant, the shops in the city, all the tourist
is a’changing.” The twins, if they really were, He smiled as the evening returned to script.
stuff—that’s all one foot in the future. The
wouldn’t understand what he meant. Then “I have a battleship.”
mines and the trucks are the past. And here’s
again, that wasn’t what he was paying for. Poseidon, straddling both. Maybe she’ll make One of the women giggled while the other
the step, grow up to be a nice world like Nevrio faked a disbelieving gasp and covered her
Flattering his ego was. “What do you mean, or Farnham.” mouth.
don Rosten?” they asked in stereo.
“And if she doesn’t?” “Earth tech.” He paused to survey the
“You two ever been to eat here before?”
room as he spoke. “Who needs bodyguards
“Reclassified as Industrial and Waste,” he
“Yes.” when you have a ship in orbit that can turn
said with a bitterness that surprised him. “Turn this entire burg into a mound of slag if anyone
“No.” the whole world into a giant steel mill and messes with you? And trust me, ladies, they all
waste dump. Let’s go eat.” Suddenly angry, he know it.”
“I mean no, too.” steered the women away from the balustrade
by their shoulders, toward the restaurant. The restaurant existed as two halves, united
He smiled with more than a touch of by a square bar in the center. The bar itself was
cynicism. Of course they’d been here before, “I’m cold,” one of the twins whined. made of slate, sporting a green marble coun-
probably with him. He didn’t keep close track
As far as don Rosten knew, the restaurant tertop and brass foot rail with racks of inverted
of his ornaments. “Poseidon’s a world on
did not have a name. For as long as he had glasses circling overhead lights. The eastern
the cusp, a twilight world.” His smile became
been coming here, it was just known as ‘the side continued the polished wood and low
colder. “Ever think about what happens to a
restaurant’—its privilege for being first and lighting style of the entry. Heavy tables were
pretty girl when she’s used up and old?” He let
best, he supposed. lit with candles and booths lined the walls.
the statement hang unanswered. That changed halfway across the room, where
“When she was settled,” he said at last, From the east, the building was old wood the entire western side of the building hung,
“Poseidon was a rich world, metal rich, and the and class, a deliberate design throwback supported only by beams and cables, over the
corporations mined her to the bone. Made a lot to the eateries of Earth. Carefully pruned gaping pit of the strip-mine. The effect was
of money for a lot of people.” He pointed with hedges edged a low porch running the length enhanced by view; the entire western half of
his chin downwards toward the road where of the front. The French doors and latticed the restaurant was built of glass and steel.
one of the quarry trucks inched through the windows reflected the greenery and the sky Patrons were expected to sit on wire-frame
hairpins. “Now they’re even hauling out the with mirrored glass. He waited patiently as chairs and eat at folding metal tables.
bones. You’ll see when we get inside—there’s a doorman swung the doors open, the twins
pressing against him as they entered. Despite The crowd was sparse—a few bored faces
no back to this mountain.”
the fact that he was a solidly built man, the on the east, a few dust-covered miners on the
The blond shivered. “You’re teasing us,” doors weren’t that narrow. west—and the staff were all familiar. The big
said the other with a pout. man steered his escorts to a corner booth.
“I still just can’t believe such a powerful They curled against him like kittens. A waiter

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 48

hovered near the table long enough to hear his growing claustrophobia. The chair was the number “5” held in its teeth.
the words “the usual.” Drinks, food, and more worst of it. While the captain and crew sat in
drinks came and went, as he coasted com- padded high-backed seats, Max was relegated Max had searched the ship’s databases and
fortably through his carefully choreographed to the deck observer’s chair. For no reason Max found only one reference to Acadia. “Colony.
routine. could discern, his chair ended at the small of Lost during War.” Questions to the crew went
his back in a tangle of ripped cloth and exposed coolly unanswered. Rainmaker would volunteer
Too comfortably. He was well into his first padding. only, “Fighting Fifth, The Green Gators.”
dessert before he realized that the dinner
rush never came, that the building had slowly Rainmaker caught his motion from the “Azimuth in five,” someone announced
trickled empty of both patrons and staff. He corner of his eye and swiveled the captain’s loud enough to make Max jump.
shook himself free of the twins and motioned chair toward him. “Problems?” “All right, men. We run it by the numbers.”
for his waiter, the only worker visible in the
Max shook his head. “Signal’s clear.” He Rainmaker stood to address his crew, actually
room. Of patrons, only a miner on the far side
shrugged, and added, “Still on passive, of losing a few inches in height when he stepped
of the room remained.
course.” off the captain’s raised dais. “House wants a
“What—” Rosten cut his own question off shake-down cruise, and I want to know what
as the waiter placed a cardboard box on the “Good, good.” Rainmaker lifted his legs and this pretty lil’ gimcrack can do. Swim in close,
table. let the chair swing back to face forward. “And bite ‘em hard, and roll ‘til there’s nothing left.
no problems from any of you either, non?” Maxie, still green?”
“He said this would explain,” the waiter the small Creole asked his crew. A wave of
mumbled, voice hushed with fear. negative replies, barely louder than a whisper, “Still good to go.”
answered.
“He who?” Rainmaker nodded and climbed back to his
The Hecate’s captain had come out of retire- seat, waiting. “Passive scans?”
The waiter pointed toward the dozing ment for a chance to helm this ship. Max could
miner. “Him, sir.” “Big, metal, eleven degrees off starboard,
only assume his crew must have escaped from and bleeding energy like a sieve.”
a nursing home. He wouldn’t have guessed
“Get out,” he growled. “You too, ladies. any of them younger than seventy. Then again, “Correct the helm. I want her as tight as we
It seems my dinner has become a business the frontier had ways of aging men well before can get without collision.”
meeting.” their time.
The box was filled with white pellets, The only reply was silence. After being on
Old, but not neglected—despite their age, the Orion’s command deck, Max found the
like hair and chalk pressed into thumb-sized the men were in good physical condition and Acadian’s lack of acknowledgment disconcert-
lozenges. the pine-green uniforms were pristinely clean ing. It didn’t seem to bother Rainmaker. Max
and creased, not withstanding several patched swallowed his doubts along with his nerves.
# elbows and knees with frayed cuffs. None of
them wore rank insignias though; they all “Maximum visual range. Any closer
The silence on the Hecate’s bridge was deferred to Rainmaker. Stitched across each and they’ll know we’re here in spite of the
oppressive. The only light was the faint ghosts vest pocket were the block letters “Fifth Acadian cloaking.”
of blue and red reflected upward from control Militia” and each right shoulder sported a red,
panels and data screens. Beta Max shifted shield-shaped patch embroidered with the “All systems switch to active mode,”
uncomfortably in his seat and tried to ignore black silhouette of a reptilian head with the Rainmaker ordered, leaning forward in his

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 49

seat. “Put it on the forward screen.” vessel sealed. On the screen, the framing #
images flickered with their own readouts of
The deck brightened with images of a ship damage as the invisible rays of x-ray lasers cut The Hecate’s com systems made commu-
appearing on the curve of the forward bulkhead. steel like a surgeon’s scalpel. nication as simple as a piece of flesh-colored
The larger, central projection framed by four tape across his larynx and a thimble of putty
smaller, compressed views—the same image “Missed the deck. Sorry, Rain, out of glued behind one ear. At the rattle of Max’s
in different electromagnetic wavelengths. The practice.” voice against his skull, Ivan stood and walked
ship looked to Max like a pregnant hammer, a casually to don Rosten’s table. He snagged a
rectangular sledge trailed by a swelled handle. “Nobody’s perfect. Keep ‘em hot.”
chair from a nearby table, straddled it, leaning
“Battleship, my aunt Fanny,” one of the “Next launch in two. If we need it.” with his arms crossed on the chair back.
crew said in a voice scarred by decades of ciga- Rosten tapped the lip of the cardboard box
“We need it,” replied Rainmaker. “House is
rettes. “That hump’s a heavy escort at best and with his pinky. “It seems we have friends in
paying for the ammo. We’re going to fire every-
obsolete to boot.” common.”
thing we’ve got. I’d rather learn something
“Trash still shoots, bon ami,” Rainmaker doesn’t work now than—”
“Or enemies.”
said. “Steady on.” “Cross-feed lines on tube one just jammed.”
The gunner’s voice was thick with disgust. “I suppose that’s something we need to
“Tubes three, five, and seven locked. One, decide then.”
four, and six tracking. Tube two not respond- “Gonna have to take the whole thing out in
ing.” dock and rebuild it.” “Seems like.” Ivan lifted the water pitcher
The deck was thrown into a red glow as from the middle of the table, poured himself a
“Damage control team is on it.” glass, lifted it toward the other man.
explosions flooded the screen. Thermonuclear
“Forward laser bays—target acquired.” flowers blossomed across the target ship in “I’m good, thanks.”
stately silence. The image dissolved into a blur
The upper compressed image suddenly as clouds of gas and debris spread outward Ivan nodded, took a drink. “How long you
shone with dots of light. from the dying ship. Fires ranged across it been breaching quarantine?”
unchecked now, like lightning through the haze
“She’s seen us. Target is going live.” Rosten laughed. “Long enough. You need
of ruin.
“Too slow.” Rainmaker’s lips twisted into an something out or in?”
“Second launch away.”
amused sneer. “Fire at will. All forward bays, all “Who else?”
missile tubes. Repeating: all, at will.” “She’s tumbling. Adjusting helm.”
“Runs the blockades? What, you shopping
“Tubes two through seven away. Cross- Rainmaker sank back into the captain’s for better rates?”
feeding tube one.” chair. “Give it both broadsides as we pass and
bring the chase armament online. Might’s well Ivan shrugged. “Ever been to Cillia?”
Cobalt blue lances of ionized metal foun- knock it completely out of the sky.” He rolled
tained from the head of the sledge, followed “Nobody goes to Cillia. If that’s what you
his head to look sideways at Max. “Tell your
seconds later by the dull red flash of true need, forget it.” Rosten chuckled and shook his
boys to go ahead.” Then, softer, “Like drowning
fire. As fast as it appeared, the red was gone, head. “Even Casey isn’t fool enough to run that
kittens.”
deprived of oxygen as bulkheads in the enemy risk.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 50

“Glad to hear it.” Ivan set his glass on the struggled, tripped over each other’s legs. “The next one’s not sonic,” Ivan shouted,
table, rubbed his fingertips together to dry the edging his way around the perimeter of the
moisture from them. “Casey might have the Ivan hit the tile flat on his back, Rosten’s room, toward the bar. An answer came in the
most pull but you’re no slouch yourself, are knees driving painfully into his thigh as the crack of gunfire and the whine of a slug rico-
you, don? A solid number two, I’d say.” other man fell on top of him. Rosten stumbled cheting off the wall behind him. Ivan dropped
to his feet. Ivan pulled him down again with to the floor and almost wished he hadn’t as he
The smuggler frowned. “You’re starting to a two-handed jerk on the ankle. He sprawled, came face to face with the restaurant’s clear
wear out your welcome, stranger. Talk business face-first on the floor, and kicked back at Ivan western floor. The abrupt view of the quarter-
or blow.” with his other foot. Ivan let go with a final savage mile drop to the quarry below made his head
twist, rolling to the side, up onto his knees. swim. Clenching his jaw against a sudden bout
“Funny, grapevine says you’re a regular As don Rosten started to stand, Ivan threw of nausea, Ivan rolled onto his back, breathing
social butterfly but, all right, business then. himself at his back, driving his left shoulder heavily. Rosten fired twice more, both high,
Carlos don Rosten, in accord with the Stone into the other man’s kidney. The bigger man’s unaimed.
Hunting act of—” hands slapped the tile just before his forehead
would have, grunting in pain. He tried to swing After the last shot, Ivan heard the squeal of
“Right, right, very funny.” Rosten smiled an elbow back into Ivan’s face, failed to get the metal sliding against metal. One hand grabbing
humorlessly. “You’re going to take me in, are leverage he needed, and rolled half onto his the countertop of the bar, he pulled himself
you?” side instead. up to see don Rosten shoving his way through
“I reckon.” the chaos of furniture toward the door. Sup-
“Give it up,” growled Ivan, trying to trap don pressing a curse, he jammed the sonic into his
“And the battleship?” Rosten flipped over a Rosten’s arms in his own. The smuggler replied waistband and ran, half pushing, half climbing
clean glass from a napkin and poured his own by sinking his teeth into Ivan’s forearm. When the scattered tables and chairs, trying to reach
water. the bounty hunter’s grip loosened, he clawed the exit first. Rosten reached the door, turned
the floor, grabbed a chair leg. Twisting, he back toward the room, pistol in hand. Ivan
Ivan shrugged again. “Not really a brought the chair down on them both. It was a set his foot against an overturned table and
problem.” clumsy move, but the chair was solid and Ivan launched himself.
took the worst of the blow on his back, driving
The edges of don Rosten’s lips pushed the breath from his lungs. Before he could He hit the other man just as he fired, the slug
down in a mock frown of concern. “Probably recover, the smuggler had struggled loose. passing close enough for Ivan to hear the pop
ought to be.” Two more chairs followed the first, keeping of air as it missed his right ear. The momentum
Ivan at bay as the other man fought to his feet. of his dive drove both men through the French
“Call me an op—” Shoving the heavy furniture away, Ivan rose to doors, reducing a fortune in craftsmanship to
Rosten shoved the table with one hand, a knee as don Rosten broke across the room, kindling. Struggling, they rolled onto the low
threw the pitcher with the other. The table dodging behind the slate of the bar. porch, then stopped, stunned, standing slowly
hit the back of Ivan’s chair with a crack as the to stare at the sky.
Ivan jerked his sonic projector from its
carafe deflected off of Ivan’s upraised forearms, holster and fired. The air sang with the ring of Poseidon was experiencing a second
shattered on the tile in a spray of glass, water, crystal as the glasses above the bar shattered, sunset, this one in the west. The entire sky was
and ice. Ivan caught the shoulder of don spraying silicate needles through the room blood red, bathed in the light of a dying meteor
Rosten’s suit coat as he scrambled from the like a translucent rain. A fractured light fixture arching through the planet’s atmosphere. The
booth. The jacket tore but slowed him enough hissed, spitting blue sparks and smoke. orb seemed to boil as it fell, plasmatic fire
for Ivan to get an arm around his waist. They

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 51

writhing around it like storm clouds, blue- Hecate’s got—so we dropped one. I can and concrete in between. “Never mind. Ask
white lightning and roiling darkness smeared get—nine centimeter pixel.” him where the trucks come out of parking up
across the heavens in its wake. here.” Ivan started to jog down the road, away
“Explain later. Need to know, now!” from the restaurant.
“Nice ship,” Ivan said, breaking the spell.
Rosten felt Ivan’s fingers clamp onto the wrist “Sorry. Forgot about—signal. It looked “Boss human hard to understand. Is right-
of his gun hand. He released the gun, set his like—just in front of—over the lip—quarry fully afraid to speak to Cillian,” buzzed Red Dog.
feet, and shoved with his free hand, throwing trucks—” Max’s voice disintegrated into a “Downhill. Red Dog thinks Ivan should look for
Ivan off-balance. Before he could recover, don prolonged hiss then stopped completely. side road.”
Rosten jerked loose and was running again. “Red, you get any of that?” “Right.” He broke into a run. The engine
Ivan cursed under his breath and chased after.
The hedges drew blood from the dozens of fine raced, then dropped in tone. “Hang on.” The
“Red Dog does not understand fool humans
cuts that already laced the skin of both men. growl of the diesel grew louder, less muffled,
with good signal.” then abruptly changed to the clear, throaty
“Runs fast for a fat man. Red, where the Ivan frowned, reached for his sonic pistol, howl of a truck on the open road. Downhill,
hell are you?” Ivan’s voice was barely above a could not find it. Walking sideways, he inched and not far—Ivan had a direction now.
whisper and heavily punctuated by gasps for to the lip of the cliff. “Parking garage,” he
breath. The access road was almost completely
muttered, laying on his stomach to get a better concealed by the landscaping. Probably on
view over the side. “Red, there’s a ledge about
“Watching rear of building,” buzzed the purpose, Ivan thought. The truck burst onto
ten feet down from the edge here. Sticks out
bone behind his ear. “Ivan should shoot fool the main road barely ten feet ahead of him,
maybe a foot. Max said something about
human already.” headed downhill. He caught a glimpse of don
quarry trucks; are you in the quarry?” Rosten in the driver’s seat before it sped away
Ivan’s boots slipped on gravel as he cut the in a spray of dust and rock. Ivan shielded his
“Quarry is rear of building.”
corner of the building, stabbing one hand down eyes with an arm and watched it pull away.
to keep from falling, momentarily losing sight “Any other time, I’d call you an idiot.” Ivan
of don Rosten. “We need him alive. There is no crawled back, away from the ledge. “Grab The truck itself was small by mining
rear exit,” he said angrily. “Where are you? I’m somebody who looks like they know something, standards, a single-engine cab, only one trailer.
losing him.” find out if they’ve got trucks up here.” He If he had been close enough, Ivan might have
stood and walked slowly toward the front of been able to try for the attached metal ladder
“Ivan needs more legs. Shoot to maim.” leading up to the cab but, from behind, he had
the restaurant. Ivan had hired a taxi to get to
the top of the mountain but it made sense that no chance. The sides of the open-topped trailer
“Red, I swear, I’m gonna—” Ivan slid to a
the eatery would have parking somewhere were comparatively smooth and the truck’s
halt. “I lost him.” The ground in front of him
around. Underground made the most sense. rear axle was as high as his shoulders. The top
sheered off, dropping away to the quarry below. of the gravel hauler was covered with a retract-
“I think he fell in the pit,” he said softly. Red Dog’s voice hummed to him again. able canvas tarp. From the way it humped in
“Ivan, this is Max—read me?” piped a voice “Ivan, boss human says might be trucks in the center, it looked as if the truck had a full
in his ear, barely discernible above static. mountain. Says workers need to eat. Boss load in the eighteen foot bed. Even full, it was
human checking now.” still moving faster than he could catch.
“Sort of. Your signal’s horrible.”
A diesel engine bellowed to life behind and He watched in frustration as the truck sped
“—tmospheric discharge. Listen, the below him, only slightly muffled by the soil away, only slowing to negotiate the first of the

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Calamity’s Child,
Chapter Four: Rites of Passage, Domino by M. Keaton Pg. 52

switchbacks down the mountainside. “This is


stupid,” he mumbled to himself, ignored Red
M Keaton
Dog’s reply, and started running the other way,
back up the road. If he could time it, the next Growing up in a family with a history of
turn should be just below the crest of the road. military service, M. Keaton cut his lin-
He ran, listening to the gutter of the truck’s guistic and philosophical teeth on the
engine pull closer. He pushed harder, ignoring bones of his elders through games of
the burning in his lungs. strategy and debates at the dinner table.
He began his writing career over 20 years
The truck was almost even with him now. ago as a newspaper rat in Springdale,
Ivan veered off the road into the brush, trying
to cut the distance to the corner. The truck was Arkansas, U.S.A. before pursuing formal
turning, just below. He threw himself at the studies in chemistry, mathematics, and
drab canvas before he had a chance to think medieval literature at John Brown Uni-
about what he was doing. versity. A student of politics, military
history, forteana, and game design, his
The canvas was miniscule protection from renaissance education inspired the short
the sharp rock piled beneath. The landing television series: These Teeth Are Real
drove the breath from his body, shredded first (TTAR).
jeans then skin at his knees as he slid. Ivan
grabbed fistfuls of canvas and pulled himself
securely into the hauler’s bed. He lay still for His literary “mentors” are as diverse as
long minutes until the pain ebbed and he could his experiences. Most powerfully, the
breathe again. author has been affected by the works
and writers of the “ancient” world,
“Red, I need you to find out how long it’s including the Bible, Socrates, and (more
going to take this truck to get down off this modern) Machiavelli, Tsun Tsu, Tacitus,
mountain. And then I need you to find a way to and Von Clauswitz. (This horribly long
stop it when it gets there.” list only scratches the surface; M. Keaton
“Ivan asks Red Dog for easy thing.” The reads at a rate of over two books per
words should have been a relief. Somehow, week in addition to his writing.)
they were not.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Thieves’ Honor,
Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 53
Thieves’ Honor
Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One
by Keanan Brand
“C argo aboard, Sir. Freight lockers secure.”
“All of it stamped?”
“Get below”—Kristoff nodded toward the
companionway—“and hold on to something.”
He descended the ladder, strode along the
crew deck, and clattered down the compan-
ionway, finger-combing his hair and tucking
Engines—beautiful things—quickened until in his shirt as he went. Since negotiating for
“Just like it were legal.” their thunder became a deep-throated howl. cargo, he hadn’t considered trivial things like
No mortal song was sweet as this. It shuddered a shower and a clean shirt. Hope nobody’s
“Excellent. Knew I hired you for a reason.” through the ship beneath his feet, hummed allergic to stink.
Ezra grinned. “Aye, Captain.” along his bones, up his back, out his fingers,
through his skull. Braced against the railing, Down the last step, around a right angle,
“Cheeky lad. Passengers?” Kristoff swayed as the Martina Vega spread and he entered the passenger quarters.
her silver wings and lifted from her slip.
“Three cabins, sir.” Two men, faces red, stood nose to nose
Each change in the rhythm and pitch told and chest to chest.
Kristoff rubbed his chin. He needed a shave. the story: queuing for departure, angling for
“Only three?” trajectory, increasing speed, resisting the “Afternoon, gentlemen—”
planet’s gravity, roaring through the atmo-
“Wyatt was delayed, counting all those “You will not speak to her, you will not look
sphere. Flying free.
crates, so Corrigan stood as steward.” at her, you will not be in the same room with
The radio on his belt crackled. “Wide open, her—”
“In that case, thank God for any passengers Kristoff.”
at all.” “She’s a free woman!”
He unclipped the radio—old Earth tech,
“With your permission, Captain, you haven’t “She’s mine!”
but it worked—and held down the broad grey
met ‘em. You see the ugly looks they’re giving button on the side. “Good hands as always, “She’s not a crate of cargo!”
each other, you might not be so thankful.” Finney. Join you in five.”
“How many times I have to tell you, Ez? No “Gentlemen.” Kristoff gripped the men by
“Aye—Captain.” their shoulders and smiled, not happily. “This is
paying customer is unattractive. Well, rarely
unattractive. “ a freighter first and a pleasure cruiser a distant
“And don’t you forget it.” second, but we aim to serve our guests. We
“Yeah. I mean, yes, Captain.” Smiling, Kristoff stood a moment longer can’t do that if they don’t behave. Now, there’s
in the crow’s nest, a low-profile turret above a corner of the cargo deck where you can beat
“What’s all this sir and captain stuff?” each other to a squishy pulp, but you will not
the crew deck, and stared out into black, starlit
space. Horizon unhampered, surrounded by block the passage, and my crew will not clean
“It’s for the passengers. Sir.”
space and the song of the engines, he’d rather up the blood.”
Kristoff narrowed his eyes; grinning, Ezra be here than anywhere—but he was the The belligerent idiot “owner” of the
didn’t blink. captain, and there were passengers aboard, unnamed woman tried to pull away from Krist-
and he was supposed to be respectable. off’s grasp, but without success. “Who are

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Thieves’ Honor,
Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 54

you?” # She refused to shiver, or to let heat rise up


her neck. “Yep. One of these days, I’ll jump ship
“Helmer Kristoff, captain of this fine A sleek blue merchant approached astern and hire on to a courier vessel.” She smiled.
vessel.” the Martina Vega. The government insignia on “Faster, prettier, and with a better-looking
the nose marked the vessel as a constabulary crew.”
“Fine vessel?” the idiot sneered. “More like
a death trap.” presence, but Finney did not acknowledge the
ship until hailed. He drew back. “That a hint to raise your
pay?”
The lover grabbed the idiot by the shirt-
front. “A death trap, and you brought her here “Ahoy the Vega. This is Captain Iona
Zoltana of the Orpheus, requesting permission “You know I never turn down cash.”
anyway? You son of a—”
to dock.” “Never?”
The idiot threw a punch. It landed poorly,
skimming the other man’s cheek. The lover Ungritting her teeth, Finney loosened her “A girl’s gotta have principles.”
responded with a knee to the groin. jaw a little before acknowledging. “Aye, Captain
Zoltana, the Vega welcomes you aboard.” “And a good ship.”
Kristoff grabbed fistfuls of the combatants’
shirts behind their necks, and dragged them “You told that lie with a straight face.” said “And a good ship.”
along the passage, through the common room, Kristoff’s amused voice behind her.
Finney waited until his footsteps faded
through the guest galley—where he almost lost Finney guided the Vega gently to starboard before she relaxed her grip on the controls and
his grip on the struggling men—then down the aft, pleased when the craft obeyed and met the slumped in her chair.
companionway to the cargo deck, the idiot and Orpheus with so gentle a kiss that neither ship
the lover trading curses and half-landed blows, so much as squeaked. “How’s the headache? One of these days, Fiona Grace.
most of which struck Kristoff, if they struck Thought Doc told you to stay in bed a day or
anyone. two.” #
Corrigan looked up, wiping his hands on a “Nothing to do there.”
greasy rag. “Want help with that?” Just inside the airlock stood a tall woman
“You could think of something.” in a crisp, dark blue uniform and sleeked-
“You can lock the cage, as soon as I toss ‘em back, straight blond hair that stopped short of
in.” “Not without company.” touching her collar. She inclined her head as he
approached. “Captain.”
Slapping his palm with a business-size “Hope you wore your best shirt. You know
wrench, Corrigan grinned. how starchy Zoltana is.” “Zoltana.”
The lover flailed at the idiot, who flailed “That’s not the company I meant.” “You didn’t have to dress up on my
back. Kristoff pushed them inside the cage. account.”
Just as Corrigan grabbed the door, Kristoff saw “Well, it’s all you’re getting, Captain.”
a blur out of the corner of his eye. Kristoff plucked at his freshly ironed white
Kristoff stepped closer, his voice near her shirt. “What? This old thing?” He’d smile, but it
Pain exploded in his head. Comets and ear vibrated down her backbone, and his made his face hurt. “What brings the Orpheus
constellations—then black space. breath ruffled her hair. “One of these days, to these skies?”
Fiona Grace.”

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Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 55

“Routine random searches.” “Ah, I bet you say that to all the boys.” Blasted constable crew. He stepped toward
Zoltana. “What about Finney?”
“Random?” “Why do you keep flying this old bucket?”
Zoltana’s face grew somber. If he didn’t
“Well, in your case,” she smiled slightly, “Keep your voice down. Martina might know better, he’d think she was actually
her hands still clasped behind her back, “more hear you. She’s a mite touchy about her age.” concerned for the pilot. “The dead man’s family
routine.” has hired a new extraction team.”
“One of these days, she’s gonna fall out the
“Welcome aboard, Captain Zoltana.” sky, and then what’s a crew of hardworking Extractors. Bounty hunters. Except they
Kristoff stood aside. “My crew will cooperate.” pirates to do?” didn’t report to duly sworn law officers. Extrac-
tors took their quarry back to whoever hired
She turned her head, and the men standing “Pirates, ma’am? We’re honest freighters. them, and left justice—revenge—in their
behind her fanned out to search the cargo You oughta know that, Zoltana, as many times hands.
deck. Zoltana didn’t move from her place. Nor as you routinely search our cargo.”
did she watch her men. She watched Kristoff, Even with the threat of a noose, Finney
who watched her from the corner of his eye. “Just doing my job.” would be safer in custody than with a team in
“You keep doing that job so thorough and her wake.
He didn’t play chess—good thing, too,
‘cause he’d probably lose every game—but so so often, a fella might think there was more on Kristoff crossed his arms. “Why not arrest
far he’d never been outmaneuvered by Zoltana your mind than duty.” Kristoff strode toward Wyatt and Finney right now, you being a
or any other duly sworn constable. the stairs. constable and all?”
There was a first time for everything. Zoltana’s voice, low and intent—“Captain”— Crossing her arms, too, Zoltana stepped
halted him at the bottom step. forward and lowered her voice. “The day I find
Wyatt, the little high-strung steward who
He turned. As he did, an Orpheus crewman anything provably illegal, I just might.”
preferred an abacus to a group of people of
any sort, led one trio of men to inspect the passed behind him and opened a crate of cloth “Why not now?”
freight lockers while Corrigan, wrench in hand, goods.
led another to the engine room. Ezra, cabin boy “We’re out in your home sky, so to speak.
“Wyatt still has warrants.”
and housekeeper, escorted yet another trio up My leniency buys me a bit of insurance, and
to the passenger deck. Kristoff shrugged. “So he transcribed a your cooperation.”
couple of numbers.”
Kristoff pretended to be interested in the Kristoff smiled. “You understand the mind
catwalk opposite the airlock. “Two million worth.” of a pirate better than you think.”
“You know, Captain,” Zoltana’s voice was “Crazy, then, that he’s out here on a freighter “Freighter.” She almost answered his smile
heavy with sarcasm, “if you lie real still, this’ll instead of living large on his own planet.” but yanked back the levity until she was acade-
all be over in a few minutes.” my-perfect once more, hands behind her back,
“I don’t pretend to understand the mind of shoulders straight, expression unreadable. “I
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” a pirate.” know all about your crew, Captain, but I can’t
find any criminal record on you.”
“Never knew a man to turn it down.” “Freighter.” The lid of the crate bumped
against Kristoff’s back, and snagged at his belt. “You won’t.” He turned once more toward

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Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 56

the companionway. box, and artificial ones in the other. Please do over and used his wadded gloves to scrub at
not touch any instruments or surfaces with the handprint that had already tarnished the
A radio lay on the nearest crate. He felt your bare hands.” grill.
at his belt. Yep, his radio. Funny; he didn’t
remember removing it. The blue-uniformed men complied, one The whine became a wheeze.
of them looking around and saying, “For an
“Alias?” Zoltana persisted. “Pay someone old boat, the Martina Vega sure has a pretty Alerio pointed toward the door. “Go.”
to wipe your file?” engine room.” “The Vega is just this side of a wreck.
“Never committed a crime.” A growl rumbled deep in Corrigan’s massive Modern tech is a lot less touchy, and far more
chest. The man quickly added, “A real pleasure durable.”
“Never been caught, you mean.” to inspect such a fine, clean room.” “Get. Out. Of. My. En-gine. Room.”
“In order to be caught, I have to run.” He It was a limping conciliation, but it worked;
clipped the radio to his belt, and ascended the Corrigan wagged the wrench that seemed
Corrigan nodded once.
stairs. “Got no reason to run.” permanently attached to his fist.
Alerio crossed his arms over the clipboard,
# The inspectors stripped off their gloves and
and watched the Orpheus crew note the gauges, dropped them into the cleaning bins on the
poke through the contents of parts-and-tools wall near the door.
Alerio took a pencil from behind his ear, lockers, probe any space that appeared even
steadied the clipboard, and squinted at the remotely usable for hiding illicit goods. Even Corrigan slapped a screwdriver into Alerio’s
readout. “I told him to blow out the lines,” he the in-use parts were checked for the tax stamp palm. “New grills in the top locker. Forgot to
muttered, pulling the spectacles from the top that declared them legally purchased—a stamp tell you.”
of his head, rubbing one lens on the pristine easily duplicated by an intelligent engineer
sleeve of his lab coat, then settling them on his and a skilled mechanic, then branded onto #
nose. “I could just design a new system.” He smuggled or pirated parts.
chuckled to himself. “Wouldn’t that fry Corri-
One of the Orpheus crewmen, crouched In the corridor between the passenger
gan’s potatoes.”
beside a locker, closed and latched the door, cabins and the infirmary, Kristoff met a woman
Footsteps thudded along the passage, and removed his gloves, and stood. He paled, as in a white lab coat, blonde hair streaked with
three men entered the engine room, led by the if lightheaded from rising too quickly, and put white, faint smile lines fanning the corners of
Martina Vega’s giant of a mechanic wearing out a hand to steady himself. her eyes. She stuck her hands into the broad,
stained overalls, the arms tied around his square pockets and leaned one shoulder
waist, and a once-white t-shirt streaked with “No—!” Alerio lurched forward, but too against the wall. “So. How’s it feel to be the
grease and colored fluids. late. object of a constable’s crush?”

“Hey, Al.” Corrigan grimaced. “Company.” Bare skin, with its oils and other contami- “Don’t start.”
nates, met the gleaming, sensitive surface of
Splendid. Alerio propped his spectacles the air intake grill. The purifier’s faint healthy She chuckled. “Come on in. Let’s check that
once more on the top of his head and didn’t hum became a whine. cut.”
even attempt Corrigan’s grotesque congenial-
“I—I’m sorry.” The Orpheus crewman leaned The doctor pushed a stool toward him
ity. “Gentlemen, there are cloth gloves in one across the gleaming white floor. He straddled it

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Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 57

while she pulled on a pair of ugly orange gloves half in love with her alread—” She looked past in their bunks and didn’t meet Zoltana’s gaze.
and gathered disinfectant, clean gauze, and a him, and her smile disappeared.
pair of small, sharp scissors. Like a counselor with two recalcitrant young
Captain Zoltana’s crisp voice sounded campers on summer vacation, Kristoff had put
Mercedes viuda Oliverio de Lazaro was a behind him, scraping along his ear-bones like them in the same cabin.
better doctor than the Martina Vega deserved. claws on metal. “Keeping animals, pets or
After her husband died of a long illness, she’d livestock, is not allowed without the proper “So,” Zoltana demanded, “you just stood by
had her fill of hospital corridors. “Feels like I’m license, Captain Kristoff. The fine is steeper for and let them continue their archaic male-dom-
suffocating,” Mercedes had said the day she animals kept for slaughter.” inance barbarism while the crew watched?”
came looking for passage. “I need to stretch
Touching his cheek, wincing at the pressure “Yup.”
out and breathe again. I need adventure.”
on the bruise around the cut, he stood to “What does the doctor think of this—this
“You’ll sure find it here,” Corrigan had face her. “Can’t think what you mean. All our unnecessary violence?”
answered for the captain, grinning his best meat’s in cold storage near the galley—just ask
welcoming smile, one that would have sent Sahir—and you oughta know by now this crew “She’s impressed that two skinny fellas were
small children screaming for their mothers. don’t have time nor patience for pets.” strong enough—and passionate enough—to do
so much harm.” Kristoff tapped his bandaged
In the past couple of years, Doc had grown Her blue eyes were flat ice. “An awful lot of cheek and let loose a grin. “Gives her hope for
quieter, more content, as if the greater the blood in that cage on the cargo deck.” Alerio.”
danger the greater her calm. And, Kristoff
suspected, there was something going on Mercedes pulled off the orange gloves and Zoltana, with a derisive suck of the teeth,
between her and Alerio. Well, they were the tossed them into a hazardous-refuse bin. “If turned on her heel in a sharp about-face and
two smartest people on board—except for your men had taken the time to use their test marched down the passage.
maybe Finney the pilot. kits, they would have found the blood to be
human.” Kristoff started to follow her, then turned
Mercedes pulled the old bandage away back toward the sullen young men. “You start
from his cheek. He flinched. “Easy, Doc!” “Illegal fighting for wager or profit means a fight on my ship, you make me have to haul
two to five years in the brig—” you to the cage, and then”—he looked at the
“Looks clean. There’ll be a scar, but I don’t
“Now listen here, Captain Zoltana—!” idiot, who glared in swollen-eyed defiance—
suppose that bothers you much, being a pirate “you slam me with a sucker punch.”
and all.” “Don’t waste your breath, Doc.” Kristoff
shouldered past Zoltana and strode along the The idiot opened his mouth to speak;
“I told you not to start.”
passage. “What we need is a visual aid.” Kristoff raised his brows, and the idiot’s mouth
“Aye-aye, Cap’n.” snapped shut.
# “Be grateful. This happened on any other
“No respect. Absolutely no respect.”
boat, you’d have been tossed.”
Mercedes leaned close to apply the fresh Captain Zoltana crossed her arms and
bandage and murmured, “Pirates.” pursed her mouth. “Into the brig, you mean, Sir?” asked the
lover.
Then, “Did you know our female passenger Heads, faces, chests, and arms bandaged,
is the Port Nora governor’s daughter? Ezra’s broken ribs bound, the idiot and the lover lay Kristoff shrugged. “Or space.”

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Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 58

Again, he started to leave; again, he entered the lift. “Thank you, Ensign.” “And ruin his fun?” Zoltana handed back
turned back, and this time turned off the light. the scanner. “His crew still uses pencil and
“G’night, boys.” A silent five seconds upward, and the hatch paper.”
on the surveillance and navigation deck hissed
# open. Only three crew per shift manned this Mars’ eyes lit with enthusiasm. “I’d like
deck, a larger and more comfortable version of to get my hands on some of those old Earth
what would be called a crow’s nest on an old radios they use. Did you notice they’ve been
Captain Iona Zoltana stood on the bridge, tub like the Martina Vega. modified to no longer require batteries? So
hands clasped behind her back, and watched ancient they’re virtually undetectable by new
the Martina Vega glide away from the Orpheus. As soon as Zoltana stepped on deck, all tech.”
The old boat veered to port, then ascended at a hands stood at attention. There were no
gentle but swift incline, entering the next plane salutes; those were saved for formal occasions, Zoltana smiled. “Port Henry has its share
on the grid, on course for Port Henry, per the and this was a workaday matter. of antiques shops. Meantime,” she clasped her
registered flight plan and the cargo manifest. hands behind her back once more, “have you
For a near wreck, the tub was a sweet goer. “Lieutenant Mars”—Zoltana descended heard from Omega?”
the two steps onto the deck—“tell me about
Zoltana had long ago ceased trying to bribe our spiders.” “Just a few blips, wide apart.” Mars tapped
the Vega’s crew away from Kristoff, but every in a sequence, and a large screen split to
time she saw Finney’s work, she wished the The crew relaxed and returned to stations. show the original coded message on one side,
pilot would come over to the right side of the Mars waited beside his console. “All but five the translation on the other. “Best I can tell,
law. are out of commission, ma’am, but their signals ma’am, the Vega’s crew has been a little too—
are garbled. The good news is the tracker in the hospitable. What with the fight and the medical
“Lieutenant McNair, as soon as the Vega airlock has been untouched.” attention, and the crew agog over there being
drops past that moon’s horizon, follow her.” a governor’s daughter aboard, Omega’s unable
“Excellent news indeed.” She took the
“Aye-aye, Captain.” to leave passenger quarters.”
offered palm-sized scanner and read the
screen: a virtual blueprint of the Martina Vega, Zoltana moved toward the lift. “I can be
In moments, the Vega’s sturdy silhouette with the decommissioned spider locations in patient.”
entered the penumbra of the moon, and was red, the garbled ones in yellow, and one green
lost for a few seconds, no gleam from her hull dot indicating the spider in the airlock. “I give #
betraying her position, and then she reap- us a quarter hour before they find that one,
peared, silhouetted once more against the light too.”
of a star hidden behind the moon. Per orders, Wyatt flipped a pencil over and over in his
Lieutenant McNair altered course. Two orange dots—one moving through thin, nervous fingers, then tapped the eraser
the cargo hold, another in the wheelhouse— against the nearest crate. “Now, Captain, those
“Captain.” An ensign saluted with academy two fellas. I can’t be easy about them. Nor
flickered a faint signal.
precision. “Lieutenant Mars reports at least a that woman, neither.” He traced the govern-
dozen spiders already inoperable, and a dozen “We wouldn’t have been able to place ment stamp branded into the side of the crate.
more emitting uncertain signals.” any, if she were newer.” Mars grimaced in dry “Awful big shipment. Hate to lose it ‘cause we
humor. “You’d think Kristoff would have pirated had to babysit some crazy passengers.”
A cold chuckle rolled from Zoltana’s throat. a sweeper before now.”
“Of course they are.” Turning at a crisp right Kristoff agreed. This cargo, stacked auda-
angle, she stepped down from the bridge and

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Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 59

ciously among the legitimate freight, could up the narrow steps to the catwalk, his boots Ezra took the starboard companionway, and
make their fortunes or see them hanged. clanging on the metal mesh with enough force Kristoff continued on to the wheelhouse. He
to sway the railing. kicked open the door and dropped the spiders
But, then, most of the cargo over the past onto the console apron beside the pilot.
five years was liable to send the crew of the On the crew deck, Ezra flattened himself
Vega to the scaffold. against the wall to avoid Kristoff. “Captain—” “Am I still the captain of this boat, Finn?
Why’re you sending messages through
He felt an annoying twist in his gut. It “Ez.” Corrigan?”
had become a familiar sensation of late. He
hadn’t identified it yet. It wasn’t the stomach “Something wrong?” “Nice bugs, Sir,” she murmured. “Studying
flu or something he’d eaten. It started about to become an entomologist?” Using the
“The Orpheus.”
six months ago, when he first agreed to ferry knuckle of her left forefinger, Finney tilted a
weapons and medical supplies to the Provincial “I thought we were done with her.” The boy screen toward her.
Militia, a group of rebels in the Riva Mountains fell into step behind him.
who were supported by a few wealthy sympa- “I have a radio. You know—radio? And why
thizers posing as government loyalists. “You know Zoltana.” are you whispering?”

Nothing pirated, just a standard smuggling “Yeah.” She unclipped hers from her belt and held
job. No cause for fret. it out to him. “Button’s sticky.”
“Enough said.”
“Find any of Zoltana’s devices down He pushed the talk button. It hesitated
here?” “What can I do?” on depression, then slowly popped back into
place.
Wyatt flipped back the corner of a tarp. Five “Go to the galley, see if Sahir has any
disks the size of government pennies heaped chandimay tea. Tell him to brew up a pot and He lowered his voice. “Sure you didn’t spill
together like tiny metal spiders. He gestured to keep it handy.” coffee on it?”
the blinking light over the cargo hatch. “Alerio’s “Who are you planning to drug, Captain?” “Check yours, Captain.”
new jamming device should take care of any
others I didn’t find.” “Don’t know yet. Wyatt thinks we’d best He did. It stuck.
not turn our backs on our passengers. You get
Kristoff picked up one of the spiders, He grabbed a screwdriver from the tool
that feeling?”
turning it over in his palm. “I’ll take these to locker and opened both radios. Trapped
the engine room so Alerio can recalibrate ‘em. Ezra didn’t answer right away. Kristoff between the contacts were transparent circuits
Keep looking.” turned to face him. roughly the diameter of the tip of his finger.
Wafer bugs.
Carrying a massive toolbox, Corrigan His neck and ears reddened. “Uh, no, Sir.
entered the cargo deck. “Hey, Cap. Finney told Just a couple fools and a girl, that’s all.” Blast.
me to look sharp. The Orpheus is still behind
us.” “All the same, chandimay tea, and an eye None of Zoltana’s crew had been that close
on the guests.” to him. Surely he’d have felt it if somebody
Kristoff closed his fist over the deactivated had removed the radio from his belt and then
spiders, strode across the deck and bounded “Aye, Sir.” returned it—

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Thieves’ Honor,
Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 60

Zoltana, aren’t you clever. Her crewman Kristoff scooped up his radio and the Out here, in the expanse, even an old tub
who had “inspected” the cargo right behind wafers. and ancient tech were valuable. They meant
Kristoff. That’s why his radio had been on top freedom.
of the stacked crates; plucking a radio off a belt In the engine room, Alerio didn’t look
is easier than returning it. up from his magnifying glass when Kristoff Being pursued by a merchant constable
tossed the two wafers and a handful of spiders wasn’t exactly living in liberty, but one of
That still didn’t explain Finn’s. She wouldn’t onto the table along with the other devices these days he’d take the Vega beyond traveled
let anyone near her if she didn’t invite it. already piled there; in the galley, Sahir waved space, beyond the known. With enough fuel
a knife at the teapot on the back burner—the and rations, maybe the crew could survive
He frowned. chandimay tea was ready—and Ezra reported long enough to be forgotten. Maybe they
that the guests were quiet in their cabins. Next could return to a space that had buried their
Maybe she did invite it. stop: the infirmary, and more painkillers for a list of misdeeds under those of newer and
Maybe one of those clean-cut, academy- headache, constant since the fight. more urgent crimes. Maybe they could live in
trained Orpheus crew had caught her eye. peace.
Passengers.
Exactly how close had she allowed those The rebels in the Riva Mountains—maybe
bluecoats? If Kristoff had his way, there’d be none, they would win. Yeah, and maybe angels with
but taking on passengers was necessary. The flaming swords would appear, or a meteor
“Mine was working fine up until Zoltana Martina Vega was only rarely short on cash, would land smack on top of the government
arrived.” Kristoff tossed the wafers on to the and non-crew were generally more trouble troops, or all of their guns would jam at the
console and reassembled the radios. “When than their fares were worth, but the Vega same time, or—
did you notice yours was, uh, acting up?” needed the illusion of having nothing to hide.
“When I tried to alert you to the Orpheus The door to one of the passenger cabins
And, so far, he hadn’t had to shoot whispered open.
in our wake.” anyone.
“The asteroid field is about a couple hours Kristoff took a step backward around the
Kristoff didn’t start out to sail on the other corner and flattened himself against the wall.
out—” side of the law. Back in the academy, he’d Drawing the knife he kept at his belt, he angled
“Zoltana has probably already thought of been one of the best, a straight-up kid, ready the broad blade to catch a distorted reflection
it.” to serve God, government, and the granny of the corridor. A form in a long white dress
next door. He was so intent on service that at stepped from the room and hesitated. A dark
“You can outrun her.” first he didn’t see the shadow, didn’t hear the head turned left and right, then the form
subtext of the politicians’ speeches. Only after moved to the aft stair and descended.
Finney slanted a look at him. “The Orpheus he made captain did he begin to understand.
is twenty years ahead of us in design and tech- By then, government changed, demanding Kristoff slid his knife back into its sheath
nology. The best we can hope for is a really tribute like a greedy child in a sandbox, taking and tapped the talk button on the radio three
good trick.” She gave one of her almost smiles. its own toys and everyone else’s, too, and then times in quick succession, standard alert signal
“And, if that fails, we get to use our guns.” declaring everyone equal, now that they had for the Vega crew, then took the forward
nothing in common. stairs.
“Didn’t know you were so bloodthirsty.”
Nothing in common. A bad pun, but it was Corrigan met him at the bottom.
“I’m not. But I do like to shoot things.” true.

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Thieves’ Honor,
Episode One - Spider’s Web, Part One by Keanan Brand Pg. 61

He jerked his head in the direction of a stack A faint throat-clearing. Kristoff lifted his Keanan Brand
of smuggled fine wine ordered by the governor head just enough to see Corrigan’s ugly mug
of Port Henry. grimacing and contorting as if the man were
having a fit. No, just trying to waggle his Keanan Brand writes under this and an-
Corrigan hunkered down beside it. eyebrows. Or maybe wink. He nodded toward
the aft stairs. A pair of leather shoes, sturdy other name, in a variety of genres, and
The woman’s slight shoulders were started writing at age 9 when, frustrat-
with thick soles, descended and then a pair of
hunched, her head bent, in her concentration dark-clad legs attached to the shoes. A pause. ed by how a favorite story turned out,
on the hatch batten. The lock was on Corri- A bandaged hand gripped the railing.
gan’s list of repairs, but for now the door was Keanan created a new ending.
sealed with a keyed padlock, and the woman Ah. Either the lover or the idiot. Not that
was clearly unprepared to wrestle with it, her there was much difference between the two.
tools inadequate to the job. A lover pretty much became an idiot sooner or Readers may recognize familiar influences
later. from book and film in Thieves’ Honor, and
Corrigan gestured to Kristoff; Kristoff shook
his head. A few more steps, an awkward turn, and are invited to search for nods to the sci-
the lover came around the corner. He shuffled ence fiction genre—in actual lines of dia-
The woman, cursing under her breath, a little, favoring the side where a couple
gave up on picking the lock and instead pulled logue, or in characters, settings, or events.
cracked ribs troubled him. His pale eyes shone
a small torch from somewhere under all that from a multi-colored face, the bruises still Welcome to the space pirates’ universe.
lace and froth, and burned through the hasp. purple and black, a small one on his forehead
She caught the pieces before they hit the floor, already turning a sickly yellow-green around
gasping at the hot metal cradled in her hand.
Setting the lock at her feet, she looked around the edges. He stopped, looked around, moved Keep up with Keanan on his website at
once more. toward the airlock, all the while keeping to the http://adventuresinfiction.blogspot.com/
wall and setting his feet slowly and carefully.
She stepped into the airlock, looked up, The floor of the cargo deck was made of metal
closed the door, and through the port she mesh or sheets with rings set into each side so
could be seen reaching for something over her they could be lifted and placed as needed over
head. the hold below, and a firm footstep could set
the floor rattling.
Clumsy spying if he ever saw it. Why not
conceal the device in her cabin? The seal around the hatch gave a little pop;
the man flattened to the wall, then winced,
Oh, yeah. All those spiders had been caught grabbing his ribs, but never made a sound.
already.
Kristoff looked at Corrigan. Now.
Zoltana, Zoltana, Zoltana. You wanna catch
us, you need to find a new way of tracking us.
Well, putting a flesh-and-blood spy on board
was new. Two points for the extra effort.

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 Pg. 62
Deuces Wild, Season Two
Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place
by L. S. King

T ristan leaned back and rubbed his eyes. “I


don’t think you appreciate the situation
you’re putting me—and Carter—in. Running a
“Go tell Carter what you want to do. Maybe
you’ll listen to him.”
down. There’s got to be holes in their net to
slip through—”

blockade isn’t much more than suicide.” “I will!” Tristan barked a laugh. “If it were that easy,
the planet wouldn’t be in trouble, would it?”
“I figured between you and this ship and Slap stormed out, exuding self-righteous-
Carter knowing Confederation stuff, it’d be ness and indignation. Shaking his head, Tristan “Slap, I know the way the Confeds run a
easy.” poured another cup of coffee. Altruism— blockade.” The cowboy started to interrupt,
faugh! and Carter raised his voice. “It’s not a piece of
“Not hardly.” pie to get through it.”
#
“Well, we need this cargo. The tariffs have “You two are the ones who came right into
eaten into our profits, and fueling killed us.” the atmosphere in a wormhole with ol’ Bertha.
Carter’s voice broke the blessed silence as Can’t you do something like that again?”
“We’ll make do.” he strode into the lounge. “Captain? I thought
we weren’t going closer to Confederation space Tristan shook his head as Carter replied,
Slap crossed his arms with a determined than this. But Slap asked me about hauling “No. You don’t realize what this ship went
expression. “But those colonists need those cargo to Regesh III. Are you really considering through. Structurally, she’s been...er, compro-
supplies.” running that blockade? We’re going to end up mised. For conventional use, she’s fine, but we
dead or prisoners, and personally, I don’t like can’t put her through that sort of stress again.
Tristan rose and marched to the galley. either alternative.” Not without a complete refit.”
“Your altruism is going to get us killed.”
Tristan dimmed the display in front of him. Slap was silent for a moment, looking
Slap followed on his heels, doggedly. “Look, “Slap wants to take that risk. I don’t. I thought pensive. “But still, we can’t just turn our
Tristan, there’s families—kids—suffering you’d talk some sense into him.” backs—”
because of this blockade. We have a chance to
do something.” “He’s pretty determined.” “Yes, we can,” Tristan snapped.
With a sigh, Tristan faced the cowboy. “That I am.” Slap came up behind Carter. “You made me owner,” Slap yelled, “doesn’t
“It’s about time you learned you can’t save “We have to help those people.” that give me some say?”
everyone.” He paused, his past swimming in his
mind’s eye, and softly added, “Sometimes you “Look,” Carter said. “I know this hits home, “That’s a legal fiction, and you know it.”
can’t even save yourself.” He turned back to the having been a rancher, but you don’t under-
counter and added water to his cup, swirling stand the dangers here.” “Then why did you do it?”
the grounds before dumping them out. “We’ve got his scheming mind, this ship, Tristan kept his voice level, not wanting to
“Tristan—” and your engineering skills. Not to mention, a escalate the dispute into a shouting match.
planet is awfully big to be able to keep locked “To try and keep Giselle out of line of sight of

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Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 63

the Mordas—they’d blown up my last ship, from this like you always do.” #
remember?”
“What are you talking about?” “C’mon, Tristan!” Slap slammed his fists as
“Then why don’t you take ownership he shouted. “You just can’t let hide in there!”
back?” “You always try to get away with winning
an argument by walking off after you have “He stays in there a lot,” Addie said, ambling
Slap’s petulant tone set Tristan’s teeth on your say. I ain’t letting you get away with it this over to Slap. “What’s he hiding from?”
edge. “Because those things don’t matter to time.”
me. If you want, I’ll change ownership, or dump Slap muttered under his breath, but
you and this ship and go off on my own.” “I’m not trying to get away with anything. wasn’t going to say what he thought in front
I’ve said we’re not running this blockade, and of Addie, despite the fact she could, at times,
“You wouldn’t—” that’s that.” use language that would make cowboys blush.
Tristan stood. “Don’t—tempt—me!” “No, it ain’t!” “Look, Little Girl—”

Carter stepped between them. “Calm Tristan spun and jabbed a finger at Carter. “I told you to stop calling me that!”
down!” “Talk sense to this yahoo, will you?” “Then grow up!” Slap flushed at losing his
“What’s going on?” Addie asked from the Carter backed toward the ladder to the temper, but Tristan had him feeling lassoed.
door. “I could hear you yelling in my room.” lower deck. “I’ve got come calibrations to do...” Those people needed help. He could just see
He almost fell trying to get his footing on the folks starving, suffering, all because they didn’t
“Nothing that concerns you.” Tristan side- rung. want to be sucked into the Confederation.
stepped to get past Slap, but the cowboy He mumbled an apology and hoofed it to his
grabbed his arm. “Carter—you know this is insane. Back me cabin. He had to figure out how to make Tristan
up.” change his mind...
“Wait a minute, Tristan, we ain’t through
discussing—” “I’m just the engineer. You two are going to #
have to work this out yourselves.” His silvering
Tristan yanked free of the cowboy’s grip. blond head disappeared downwards.
“Yes, we are.” “Look, Slap,” came Carter’s muffled voice
Tristan faced Slap. “I won’t stand here and from above some equipment, “I agree with
“What are you fighting about?” Addie’s bicker endlessly without resolution. I said ‘no,’ Tristan. It’s too dangerous.”
eyes were huge with curiosity. and I won’t change my mind.” He continued on “But don’t you realize what those people
to his cabin. are going through?”
“None of your business.”
“But—” Carter swung down from his perch and
“Why not?”
“No.” He banged the switch, shot inside, and faced Slap, his blue eyes somber. “I lived as a
Tristan glared down at her, teeth clenched. Confed most of my life. I know what billions
quickly hit the lock behind him. He jammed his
“You’re not crew.” endure on many planets because of them. I
fingers through his hair as Slap pounded on the
door, yelling at him to come out and talk—that managed to get free, but I can’t fight them.
She flinched, and Tristan took the oppor- We can’t fight them.” He squatted by a toolbox
tunity to shove past her. Slap ran down the cowboy was going to drive him to drink!
and began digging for something.
corridor after him. “You aren’t walking away

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Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 64

“We’ve fought them—on Eridani.” “Yeah, well, everyone is yelling at everyone A prolonged sigh followed along behind
else, and no one will tell me what it’s all Slap, and Addie stated, “I know that!”
“We had no choice.” Carter grabbed a about.” She tipped her head. “But it sounds
strange-shaped spanner and hoisted himself like politics.” Sure ya do, Slap thought, but saying it out
back up into the space he’d vacated and loud would likely only set her off. He continued
wriggled back behind some casing. “You can’t Carter chortled. “What do you know about toward his cabin, trying to figure out some way
save the whole galaxy.” politics?” to keep that contract. Either way, though, he
had to contact the agent and update him...
“Now you sound like Tristan.” “I know it makes people fight. I saw a lot
of that back home with everything going on #
“Is that supposed to be an insult?” about forming a government now with the
Mordas gone.”
“He doesn’t care about anyone—you want Slap got up from his bunk as the chime
to be like that?” “I can only imagine,” Carter murmured. He repeated, this time punctuated by pounding
raised his eyebrows at Slap. “Now, excuse me, on the door. He hit the switch to see a human
The engineer slid down and faced Slap. “I thunderstorm raging, black eyes boring into
but I have some repairs to do.”
am like that.” He sighed, slapping the spanner him with murderous intensity.
into his hand. “Look, I was young and idealistic Slap opened his mouth, but Carter had
once, but the hard reality is, the Confederation already disappeared back into the bowels of “Why didn’t you tell me the colonists were
is a gigantic mechanism that can’t be stopped. his engines. He turned to Addie, wanting to Medan natives?”
Someday, it will collapse on itself, but until slice into her for jumping in and giving Carter
then, there’s not much anyone can do.” Slap blinked. “What difference would it
a chance to back out of the discussion, but he have made?”
doubted Carter would change his mind. He was
“But—” too afraid of the Confeds. “I would have lifted off immediately and
“Look at history—it’s all the same. Even gotten far away from this planet. Now you’ve
“What’s wrong?” Addie asked.
governments that begin as benign end up gotten us sucked into the middle of a situation
malignant. A great philosopher once said “Thousands of colonists are starving, not that will likely kill us all.”
man is as bound to government as he is to his that you’d care,” Slap tossed over his shoulder
bowels.” He shrugged. “We can’t save ourselves “Huh? Why? How?”
as he stormed to the ladder, too angry to care
from ourselves.” if he said something hurtful. “The queen herself has asked that I
Slap waved his arms. “I don’t believe you! intervene, since it’s her subjects under the
“Why wouldn’t I care?”
Either of you! How can you just walk away from blockade.”
this?” “It’s not your stomach achin’, is it?” “But then, why doesn’t she ask the Cygnus
“Mr. Cowboy, you sure are making lots of Addie clambered up the ladder behind him. Hegemony for help?”
noise today,” Addie said. “What do you mean?” “She has appealed to them, but they are
Slap twisted to see her wrinkling her nose “If it ain’t about you, it doesn’t matter. hedging—they don’t want to risk an open
as she sauntered over, and he scowled. “You’re Someday, I hope, you learn the whole galaxy conflict with the Confederation.”
making a nuisance of yourself, Little Girl.” doesn’t exist just for you.” “They claim the territory but won’t back it

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Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 65

up—sounds like cowards to me.” Zenos.” Finally glaring up, Tristan said, “I’m the one
who’s going to push you out an airlock.”
“Politics aren’t our concern. However, the Carter leaned against a conduit, eyeing
blockade now is.” Tristan glowered at Slap. “I Tristan. “You’re really going to do this.” “We’re on the ground, Mister Smartie.” She
am officially in charge of not only running it, stuck out her tongue.
but breaking it.” “My back is against the wall. Just let me
know when you have the ship ready, so Slap Something snapped. Tristan rose, one hand
Slap scratched his head. “Um, how can the and I can leave.” darting out to capture her wrist. “Let’s see how
queen make you do what she wants? You’re it works anyway, shall we?”
not Medani.” “What’s your plan for breaking the
blockade?” Addie squealed, and it rose to a scream as
“No...” He sighed, his anger seeming to she twisted in his grip while Tristan dragged
subside a bit. “I’m Mimendi.” “That’s the one favor I want to ask before her across the room.
you go—details on a Confed blockade, so I
“What does that mean?” know what to expect.” Just as he got to the door, Slap barreled in.
“What’s going on?”
“Never mind. It just means...I am at her A low whistle escaped the engineer, and
bidding.” Tristan ran his fingers through his he stared at the floor silently. Finally, he said, “He wants to space me!” she wailed.
hair. “I have to talk to Carter...” “Give me a little while, and I’ll get you what
you need.” Tristan shoved her at Slap. “Get her out of
# here. Now.”
Satisfied, Tristan left Carter to his work.
Muttering to the girl to calm down, Slap
The engineer stared at Tristan as if he had led her away. Tristan returned to his seat and
morphed into an alien. “You can’t be serious!” #
continued working.
“I don’t have a choice. But I can give you “Hi, Tristan! What are you doing?” Addie The cowboy came back in before too long.
one. I know you don’t want to take any chances asked, bouncing into the lounge. “I know she can be a pain, but—”
with the Confeds, so you can stay here.” Tristan
pursed his lips. “I’m also off-loading Addie. Not again. Without looking up, Tristan “She’s off this ship as of now. The Medan
She’s nonessential, and it’s too dangerous.” replied, “Working.” queen said she would keep that she-devil until
we returned. I’m going to suggest she ship
Wiping his hands on a cloth, Carter gave a “What work do you do? Besides piloting her directly home—use the kidnapping as an
lopsided grin. “You sure you’re not taking this and bossing everyone?” excuse that it’s too dangerous out here for
as an excuse to get rid of her?” her.”
“Get out.”
Tristan snorted. “Almost worth the risk.” “But—”
“What?”
“You aren’t afraid someone will try to “No argument. This blockade mission is too
“Get—out.”
kidnap her again?” dangerous. She’s gone. Now. Understand?”
“I don’t have to get out. This is the lounge,
“The queen is going to provide accommo- “It’s really going to be that bad?”
and I’m a paying guest! I don’t know who you
dations for her while we’re gone. If we don’t think you are—”
return, she will arrange for Addie’s return to Tristan leaned back, feeling drained. He

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Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 66

considered trying to explain the details, or “Exactly. Two squadrons—a total of forty- would launch...and then as the second started
state odds, or ask the cowboy if he believed eight, mixed anti-fighter, bombers, and inter- to mobilize, we could jump in and munch the
in an afterlife. But finally, he merely replied, ceptors. Giselle cannot take on—” bay before they managed it...”
“Yes.”
“You could double-jump. First time, about Slap glanced from Carter to Tristan, who
Slap slowly nodded. “I’ll...see Addie’s safe ten light seconds away, do long-range scan. was silently regarding Carter with a peculiar
off the ship.” Ten light seconds is far enough for the fighters expression, as if watching a laboratory experi-
to have to really push it to get there in any ment.
As the cowboy left, Carter entered and decent amount of time. Once the fighters are
crossed the lounge, data crystal in hand. “This far enough away from the carrier, you can jump Carter continued, his eyes either staring
should help you out.” into point blank range with weapons hot. at the table, or just glazed. “Problem then is
getting the first squadron far enough away to
Nodding a thank you, Tristan asked, “Will “The prime jump-in point for Bertha would not obliterate us before taking out the bay...”
you be able to answer some questions after be within 100 meters of the carrier’s aft launch He pursed his lips. “No, no, idiotic, wouldn’t
I’ve reviewed this?” bay, where only two turrets could target them. give us enough...” He snorted and said, “We
You could take out the two turrets, wreck the could play the mother ship card...”
“Sure. Just give me a shout on the comm. aft launch bay, cripple the engines, and given
You know where I’ll be.” As if being startled out of a sleep, he looked
enough time, even cause enough damage
to explosively decompress the engineering over at Tristan. “Is there any chance the queen
# section.” has any ships or money to lend to the cause?”

Entering the dark galley, Slap called the “’Given enough time.’ This is before fighters Tristan’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “I
lights to half and got the fixings to make a return and smear us into oblivion?” Tristan’s have a credchit from Her Majesty.”
sandwich. He needed strength after the fight sarcasm was thick enough to layer onto Slap’s “That gives us some more options then.”
he’d just had with the wildcat. But in the end, sandwich. “And this is assuming a commander
she’d gone with the Medanis. He might miss would be moronic enough to launch everything “Us?”
her, just a bit. He didn’t think Carter or Tristan and leave the carrier unguarded.”
would, though. Carter blinked, and his face flushed. “Uh...”
“Well...” His lopsided grin spread. “I guess I am going
He heard voices in the lounge but could with you after all.”
only make out some of the conversation: Slap carried his plate to the lounge and
hoped he sounded casual as he interjected, Tristan leaned back with a slight smirk. Slap
“...guarding the Lagrange points, but with “So...you think you know how to break that just grinned. He picked up his sandwich and
this ship’s military drive...can jump in anywhere. blockade?” took a bite as Carter launched into his ideas.
Now you could...” Carter’s voice lowered and
Slap couldn’t hear anymore. Tristan glared at Slap and turned his gaze “So, anyway, we could jump in with a ship
back to Carter. “A straight-out attack won’t that “looks” bigger than she is, drop remotes
Tristan objected to something and Carter work. We have to find a way to outsmart them, in all different directions, and then peg the
replied, “A blockade carrier’s shielding is rather not outfight them.” carrier in the confusion. We could reset the
high, but her armor is paper-thin. Her weapons transponder to a battlecruiser signature, with
consist of about twenty anti-fighter turrets. Carter scratched his head, smoothed his some tweaks to the EMD and countermeasures,
She depends on her defensive turrets, the hair slowly with his hand, then rubbed his neck, so the Confeds have a hard time reading what
sentry turrets at the Lagrange points, and her and began muttering to himself. “We could ship just jumped in. Then have it drop remotes
complement of fighter craft to defend her—” ghost multiple jump sigs, maybe. Make them with fighter-style transponders, meaning she’s
think there are two targets. The first squadron
Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008
Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 67

an assault carrier come to break the blockade. Tristan sat up now, with intent interest. “It shouldn’t it?”
would look like someone was taking pot-shots
“If we can ghost signal another battlecruis- at the Confeds from long range and botched Carter shrugged. “Not some of the stuff
er class, they may think the Eridani have come. it.” I’ll need, no. But with your contacts, you can
The Eridani have two ships—usually built side arrange for supplies to be waiting for us, can’t
by side as a matched set—based on the same “Huh?” Slap looked from one to the other. you?”
space frame. One’s a battlecruiser, the other’s “What’s a MIRV? And what’s this about burning
a fleet carrier.” up in the atmosphere?” “That I can.” Tristan let his breath out
slowly. “Once we commit to eating this thing,
Slap stopped chewing and stared at the “It’s a Multiple Independent Re-entry we can’t back away. We have to give the
engineer. He didn’t understand half what the Vehicle.... it’s a missile warhead with lots of Confeds enough of a black eye so that when
man said, and his wild expression made Slap little missiles instead of one big one.” Carter the queen urges the Hegemony to act, they
wonder about his sanity. put his fists together, then “exploded” them will see a weak opponent. That’s my mission.”
outward, his fingers splaying. “If one were mis-
“We’d need seventy-two remotes total. The navigated, and had many of the mines entering Carter stood. “I’ll start making a list for
Emperor Fleet Carrier holds three squadrons. the atmosphere, the Confeds wouldn’t look Operation Elephant Entrée.”
Its sister ship class is the GodSword Battle- too hard to see if anything else were among
cruiser. If we really want to be nasty, we could them.” #
make the remotes some kind of anti-fighter
mines...” Carter took a deep breath. “Any way “Ahhh.” Slap nodded. “Like us.” Tristan didn’t trust a mere systems check.
you look at it, it’ll be a lot of cash to lay out just “Carter? We are flight-worthy?”
for the mission.” “Exactly! That way they would never
suspect we had even been there, which would “Yes, Sir. I’ve double-checked everything.”
“Better cash laid out than our bodies.” mean they wouldn’t be looking for us. And
likely wouldn’t call in reinforcements.” Carter With a doubtful sniff, Tristan flicked the
Carter nodded. “All right, well, if we try— grinned. “Which means getting back out would comm and requested permission to depart.
waitaminute...” His eyes glazed again for a be a hell of a lot easier, too.” Assuming Giselle truly could get them free of
moment, and he sat bolt upright. “Wait, wait, the planet’s atmosphere this time.
wait! What happens if we make it look like a Tristan shook his head. “Granted, we have
mess-up?” to deliver those supplies, but we also have to Fortunately for Carter’s life and health,
break that blockade.” their departure was without incident. Most
“A mess-up?” Slap asked, mouth full. likely, the last unremarkable event in their lives
Carter’s lopsided grin spread on his face. for some time.
“Yes. What if it looks like Eridani were trying “You do know how to eat an elephant, don’t
to drop a MIRV weapon into the L-point and you?”
mis-navigated it. Then a scatter-shot type dis-
persion pattern of mines would be expected... Slap muttered, “Huh?” again, but they
so if things were going off in all directions, they didn’t acknowledge him.
wouldn’t look too hard at anything”—Carter
whirled a finger in the air to indicate the ship— Tristan barked a laugh. “First bite, the cargo
”that entered—and presumably burned up—in delivery. Good. We need equipment. Cas-
the atmosphere!” siopeia Station should have anything we need,

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Deuces Wild, Season Two, Chapter 5: Rock and a Hard Place, by L. S. King Pg. 68

To catch up on previous episodes of


the adventures of Slap and Tristan, visit:
http://loriendil.com/DW.php
Deuces Wild is dedicated to the memory of
my best friend; my inspiration for an enduring
friendship...http://loriendil.com/Starsky/

L. S. King
L. S. King is a science fiction and fantasy
writer with one book, several published
short stories, a column on writing, and an
ongoing monthly serial story to her cred-
it.
When on the planet, this mother and
grandmother lives in Delaware with her
husband Steve, homeschools their young-
est child, and also works as a gymnastics
coach. In her non-existent spare time she
enjoys gardening, soap making, reading,
and online gaming. She also likes Looney
Tunes, the color purple, and is a Zorro afi-
cionado, which might explain her love of
swords and cloaks.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


 Pg. 69
The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 25, All The Men In Shadow
by Johne Cook
The Adventures of the Sky Pirate Flynn thought that was a strange way succession; one, the shadowed figure didn’t
to ask the question, which kicked his rusty move, didn’t so much as flinch. And two...
The story so far: intellect into grudging activity. He struggled to
remember... Flynn flushed and scrambled back into the
When the burning wreckage of Alacrity fell into bed. He then cleared his throat and tried to
the bay and there was no sign of her intrepid It came back to him in a rush. “I remember... regain his composure. “As a third but equally
captain, the crew of Alacrity banded together I remember frigid air scalding my nose and vital question—where are all my clothes?”
and concocted a daring new plan using time- throat and tearing at my skin. I remember
proven methods. And cleric Vaneras returned my...my ruined shoulder. I remember fighting #
to the palace to take care of a little unfinished against death itself. I remember failing. I
business with the chamberlain, a sleeper remember falling...” She had fiery copper hair cut in the regula-
assassin for the now-leaderless Qantiin. tion Navy style, but the rest of her outfit was
His visitor waited, dispassionate.
But that’s not all—Cooper Flynn found himself straight Merchant Marine; good leather boots,
not as dead as he expected, and I expect you’ll Flynn said, “And then I remember no more.” weathered canvas breeches, good cotton
want to know a little more about that. ; ) What happened to me? blouse, and a sensible vest with pockets. Her
hair was tied back out of her face, and she
The shadowy figure nodded. “How do you nursed a drink at a table in the corner of the
feel?” he repeated. island bar. She said nothing and made a show of
C ooper Flynn looked down at the ruined
water mug on the steel floor, then at the
shadowy figure seated across from him.
Flynn cleared his throat and poured a fresh
mug of water, the pitcher dancing against the
having interest in nothing much of anything.
Obviously, her general apparent disinterest
rim of the mug as he poured with a slightly meant she was specifically watching those at
His guest spoke with a studiously neutral, trembling hand. “How do I feel.” How do I feel? the bar intently.
almost metallic voice. “How do you feel?” The last thing I remembered was opening my
arms to embrace my fate and become one with The Friar knew that included him. The only
Flynn thought about it. What was he feeling? thing he didn’t know was why.
the void. Now here I am, rescued... somehow.
Confusion? Betrayal? Fight or flight? Anger? “I feel I want to know the answers to some
Rage? Murderous? Cunning? Determined? “I If she knew she was likewise the subject of
questions,” Flynn said, defiantly. “Let’s start
feel fine,” he lied, looking around the room scrutiny, she betrayed nothing that gave that
with ‘where am I?’ followed by ‘who are
for clues. The visual clues were confined to knowledge away. She’d been there for an hour
you?’”
what was revealed by the small, warm pool of when the bamboo door flew open and a strong
light from his night stand; the bed, the strange He felt the sudden need to move, to act. young man blew into the place, trailing the
metal deck, the chair, the seated visitor’s legs With a flip of his wrist, Flynn threw off his scent of manly sweat and the stronger stench
and torso. covers and swung his legs over the edge of of self-importance.
the bed. He had no plan, but that had never
“But you are unharmed? You feel physically “Well, what have we here?” he said loudly,
stopped him before. But as his bare feet hit the
acceptable?” attracting every eye in the place. He walked
cold, metal deck, he noticed two things in quick

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 70

through the tables around the perimeter of The busty bartender snorted to herself and apple pressing against the steady blade at his
the room. “Hello, lovely girl,” he said to her wiped the counter with a cloth. throat. He said nothing.
as he passed, but he wasn’t there to play that
game. “Ahoy, mates,” he said to a table of men “None taken,” she called back. “They say everyone knows The Friar. They
quietly playing cards, another game beneath say The Friar is a king among men, but I know
“No,” said the Friar merrily, “if you’re good better. The Haddirron Navy thinks you’re a
his attention. He came to where the Friar and thirsty, a real man wants rum.” ‘privateer,’ but I call you ‘pirate!’ Well, you’re
reclined. The pirate knew how he appeared;
an indolent man with an impressive goatee, a nothing to me. I think you should tell us all
Wen said, “You know this lout?”
leather patch over his left eye, and a hook on what you really are.”
his left arm. While Wen was looking at her, the Friar got The Friar’s one good eye glared defiantly
her attention over his shoulder and waved his
There were times to blend in, and there up at Wen.
good hand under his throat.
were times to stand out. This was a time to “Well, ‘Your Majesty,’ tell us what you are.
blend in by standing out. She looked at Wen dryly. “He’s a...local.” Say it!” hissed Wen. “Tell us who you really are
She put a mug in front of him, threw the tower
The Friar was leaning back in his chair, or your blood will spill all over this table!”
over one shoulder, and sauntered down to the
sitting with one booted leg on the table, a truly other end of the counter to watch the show. Behind Wen, the room was dead silent
astonishing collection of empty rum mugs in except for the card game which continued,
front of him. His boot had a long leather bell Wen took a deep pull from the mug, wiped unabated, in the background, the cards sliding
cuff that was more for show than utility, and his face on his sleeve, and looked back at him. across the table as they were being dealt.
his long cotton coat hung almost to the floor. “And what would you know about being a real
man...” In a low voice, the Friar swallowed and said,
The young tough passed by and bellied up “I’m...I’m a codfish.”
to the bar. He slapped the bar loudly. “I am “You may call me Styn.”
Wen Mith, and I’m thirsty. Give me a beer!” Wen bellowed in delighted laughter. He
“They call you Stein?” clapped the Friar on the back and withdrew
Time for the show, thought the Friar. He
“Styn. And no, but that’s what you may call his blade with a savage laugh. He pushed the
snorted softly and sipped the contents of his
me.” He smiled and drained his mug, slamming Friar’s head gruffly aside in dismissal. “See?
latest mug.
it down dramatically on the table. He belched That wasn’t so hard. Now, the next time I come
Wen leaned against the bar and looked loudly and bellowed for another round. in here, that’s what I want to hear you say, got
back at the other as he reclined. “Something it?”
funny, old patch?” Wen stood up, took two quick steps, pulled
a waist knife, and was at the lout’s table. He Wobbling a little, the Friar sat down in his
The Friar’s voice was deep and lyrical pulled back the other’s pony-tail with his right chair. He sat stiffly on the edge of the chair,
and—for lack of a better word—salty, as if he’d hand and held his knife backward in his left the picture of a defeated man. Wordlessly, he
spent a life on the seas. “Aye, Mr. Mith. You hand, blade facing the other’s throat. “I think nodded once, tersely.
won’t be wanting beer, not here—it’s warm I’ll call you ‘The Friar,’” Wen hissed, “and I think “Good!” said Wen. “Good dog!” He took
and tastes like piss in this sorry excuse for an you’ll call me ‘Ven,’ or you won’t be calling one of the Friar’s mugs and raised it.
establishment.” The Friar raised his voice. “No anybody anything ever again.”
offense, Revena,” he called, loudly. A very large man stepped silently out of
The Friar swallowed once, his founder’s the shadows. The Friar tapped his index finger

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 71

on the table and casually slid it to the right. reputation is my undoing. As long as people distance.
The very large man slid silently back into the think I’m dashing and brave and fearless, they’ll
shadows. come in droves to prove themselves. But if the #
word out in the islands is that I’m all talk and
Wen stepped over to the Friar and slowly a coward when the chips are down, it removes Captain Gillings pored over maps. He
poured the full mug over his head. The Friar their reasons for coming here, and it is more looked up as his First Officer stuck his head in
glared at him silently with his one good eye. likely they will leave us alone.” the wheelhouse. “What’s the word from the
Wen bent down until he was nose-to-nose with Nest?”
the Friar. “You enjoy your rum, now,” he said, “But you’re such a hero around here!”
and then turned, laughing, and walked out of “Captain, there is still no sign of them.”
the bar. The Friar threw his arm out toward the
rest of the world. “But they don’t know that. “Well?”
The bar was uncomfortably silent for a They can’t know that. As far as they know, I’m
moment. Revena walked over to the Friar and nothing more than a blow-hard coward, and “Captain?”
handed him a clean towel. The Friar accepted the locals are just a little peculiar in their affec-
it and grinned as he wiped himself off. “Well, tions. That removes most of the impetuous. “First Officer, get out there and come back
that went about as well as it could,” he said to There’s no honor in facing down a coward, and when you do have sign of them! Where is
the room, and one of the card players started little profit.” Grent? I want his Marines ready to board the
to snicker. moment we’re in range.”
“Well, you may be all mature and noble
The large man stepped out of shadow about it, but it sits in my belly like a lead #
again. “Well done, Degore,” Revena said. “I weight,” she said, chastely kissing his cheek.
thought for sure you were going to rip his head The shadowed figure chuckled, and another
off for a moment.” “No one said we can’t reward ourselves light appeared over in the corner of the room to
for our self-sacrifice with a little liquid cheer.” the right of the bed revealing Flynn’s clothes.
“I nearly did,” he rumbled. The Friar slapped the table, causing the card
players to flinch in their chairs. “Drinks on the Flynn took that action in, and his brow
“Degore is not known for either restraint or house, Revena!” he bellowed, and the room furrowed. “Just where in the world am I? What
self-control,” said one of the card players. cheered. kind of place is this?”
“Who said that!” asked Degore, but the “Are you going to drink actual rum this time “Yes, that will take some explaining. Perhaps
card players took it as a rhetorical question, instead of tea?” a visual overview will be most effective. You
and continued raising and folding. will believe your own eyes easier than anything
“Oh, you know it!”
She put her hand on her hip and faced the I tell you.” He stood. “Please dress and walk
Friar. “Remind me again why you let those self- Later, the Friar left the pub, whistling softly with me.”
important bullies walk out of here under their to himself. As he left, the red-haired woman The figure pointed to the armoire to the
own power after humiliating you.” dropped coins on her table and followed him. right of the bed. “Your garments are there.” As
“It’s not about what’s best for me, Revena,” As first the Friar and then the red-haired Flynn scooted over to the right side of the bed
said the Friar, soberly. “It’s about what is best woman left Revena’s, Wen detached himself and angled his hand toward the neatly folded
for the people, for the good of the islands. My from the shadows and followed at a good, safe clothes, the figure said “We have anticipated
your questions, and the most probable initial

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 72

outcome was simple disbelief.” about?” Mikir smiled at the floor. “Yes, Your
Grace.”
Flynn looked at the clothes. “This will not “Nets?”
do.” The Friar chuckled and dismissed him. As
“Yes, it’s a custom in many small fishing Mikir left the room, he turned and spoke to
“They are the clothes you were wearing communities to gather together and hold a Pikir. “We’re going to have to ‘work’ on your
when we acquired you.” festival where friend and neighbor, foe and son’s sense of propriety,” he said.
stranger all get together and help mend each
“We?” other’s nets. It is a time of good food, strong “Of course, ‘Your Grace,’” said Pikir, his eyes
drink, lively dancing, and some good, honest sparkling, and then he grew sober. “You know
“When you were acquired. Those are the working with your hands on the common tools this is just the beginning.”
clothes.” of the fisherman’s trade.”
The Friar played with his mug, and shook
Flynn shrugged. “’Repairing the nets.’” his head. “Anonymity was nice while it lasted.”
“No matter. Give me a list and I will arrange He took a healthy swig. “At least I won’t have to
Flynn nodded. “Yep.” kowtow to young toughs like Wen. He couldn’t
for what you wish. Please dress for now and
we will take a walk and talk about this new life have been more careless. With his back to
The figure said, “Perhaps we can move
of yours.” the bar, Revena could have stuck him, I could
to the overlook and pursue our sense of have stabbed him with my hook, Degore was
community.”
Flynn drew his blousy white shirt on over twitching in the shadows, Clarissa herself had
his head. “You were saying? Disbelief?” Flynn bowed deeply and waved expansive- her hand on a pistol.” He snickered and took a
ly with his left arm. “After you. I am eager for sip. Then he took a deep sigh. “Pikir...”
“Disbelief. Yes, considering recent events, answers.”
yes, we decided that the best course of action “Your Grace?”
was to invoke a mundane reaction as a way of
‘breaking the ice.’” # “Make preparations on both islands. We’re
going to be knee-deep in attention in very
“What?” The Friar stepped into another thatched short order.”
hut establishment closer to the docks. He sat
“’Tapping the keg’?” and was shortly joined by his lieutenant, Pikir, “This is it, Your Grace?”
whose son, Mikir, was already there drinking
Flynn shook his head and donned his “Greatness doesn’t stop armaments,” said
tea with lemon. Mikir rose, approached, and
breeches. the Friar. “It is likewise fickle about drawing
stood by the Friar’s elbow. The Friar inclined his others into range for conflict. It appears that
“An activity intended to help disparate head. “Did you ‘take care’ of Flynn’s friend?” my efforts to stay anonymous are about to
parties begin to identify themselves in a sense be exploded by fate. The fight is coming here
“Your Grace, I installed him in ‘the
of community.” whether I want it to or not, and we must make
workshop.’”
preparation. Assemble the crews. ‘Company’ is
“Oh!” said Flynn, pulling on stockings and The Friar nodded and took a drink. Then he coming.”
his boots. “’Repairing the nets.’ Why didn’t you cleared his throat and looked back at Mikir. “To
say so?” Flynn stood and donned his vest. He “And by ‘company’ you mean...”
clarify, Chain is in an actual workshop, right?”
pulled his hair back and tweaked his mustache.
“Much better. What is it you’re dancing around “Invasion of all we’ve kept hidden and hold

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 73

dear.” The red-haired woman stepped out of the approach you, let him have his moment, and
green underbrush. “I’d ask how you knew I let him leave with his head intact. Why?”
“How do you want to proceed? What was there, but I don’t think there is much that
should I do first?” happens here that you aren’t aware of.” “Some men chase greatness,” he said.
“Others can’t avoid it. If I give men like him
“First, ‘take care’ of the male shadow who’s He laughed, a carefree, deep-chested something to talk about, perhaps their brush
following me.” sound, and pointed at the other end of the with greatness will be enough. It is a good thing
log with his cane. “Have a seat, Clarissa, and when men like him go away spreading false-
“You say that like there’s more than one welcome to Parrot Bay.” hoods about me. So far, it has been enough to
shadow.” convince the genuinely dangerous men that
“What was all that about back there,” she I’m nothing but a two-bit hustler, not entirely
The Friar smiled. “There is.” asked. what I claim, but not worth the time or trouble
Pikir flashed a rare smile. “Very well, to depose. I can’t seem to avoid greatness,
He looked out over the water toward Briar
Your Grace. What do you want done with the but that doesn’t mean I can’t blunt it a little if
Island to the west. “Some men are born to
man?” that’s what I need to do to preserve the fragile
greatness,” he said by way of answer. “Some life we have out here on the edge of things.”
“Pikir, I need to ‘take care’ of him.” desire it, some run from it, and some are
destined for it.” He gestured over his shoulder She stared at the water.
The color left Pikir’s face. “Your Grace?” with his thumb. “Take Wen, there. Unless I miss
my guess, he’s even now sailing out of Parrot “It’s Flynn,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
“His name is Wen Mith and he is a man who Bay convinced that he’s cowed the great Friar
just will not do the smart thing, and now he’s of Briar Island. That one encounter will keep When she said nothing, the Friar nodded.
heard too much. Have Degore bring him to me. him warm on cold nights and may even serve “He’s another whose life is written on the wind
I’ll ‘take care’ of him myself.” as the highlight of his otherwise common life.” by primeval powers. He doesn’t recognize the
greatness in him, much less how to wield it on
“Your Grace.” “But you were never in any real danger,” behalf of those who love him or against those
she said. who oppose him.”
The Friar sighed and suddenly looked old.
“If he refuses to be useful to me alive, he will The Friar chuckled. “I wasn’t right up until “He spoke of you often,” she said. “I didn’t
be useful to me dead. He wanted to meet a he picked up my mug there at the end. I nearly expect the patch, the hook, the limp, or the
living legend, a rogue, a pirate.” He stood and lost Degore at that moment.” cane, however.”
loosed the knife in the sheath at his belt. “Well,
he found one, and it will be the last satisfaction “He was the man watching from the The Friar chuckled. “I know—cliché right?”
in his abbreviated life.” shadows?”
She laughed.
# “If Wen discovered that my normal drink of
choice is unsweetened sun tea and not rum, “It was a Sylvan raid gone wrong. I got
well, it would perhaps cause him to wonder sloppy and paid with the left side of my body.
The Friar walked down the hard-packed dirt We won the battle, but I have a constant
what else I wasn’t being completely forthright
trail by the water’s edge, leaning on his cane as reminder that greatness alone will not spare
about.”
he favored his left leg. He stopped by a bench me from armaments. But enough about me.
and dropped back onto the log. “You can come She started laughing. “So you let him What brings you to Parrot Bay?”
out,” he said. “It’s safe to talk here.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 74

“I came looking for Briar Island,” she said. “In the meantime, you may want to tell your pursuit. It’s just a matter of whether he can
“I fell into Flynn’s compass and was happy to men that I mean you no harm,” he said. find us before we disappear into the ocean of
learn that I wasn’t alone in the world, that air over the ocean of sea. He knows as well as
there was another who not only understood She sat up. “Men?” She looked around, we do that the first twelve hours after the theft
me, he actually loved me enough to look past drying her eyes with her sleeves. “Which is the most critical, and by leaving during the
my...tendencies.” men?” night as we did, there’s no telling which way
we went. If I were him, I’d send ships off in all
The Friar let her speak. The Friar waved with his hook. “All the men directions. I just don’t know how many airships
in shadow,” he said, and the Menorran Mercs they have at their disposal.”
“They say he’s dead,” she said. stepped out and surrounded them.
Bola sniffed and took a whack at an
The Friar nodded as the water lapped up # imaginary foe. “I don’t know,” she said. “I
against the shore. “Do you believe that?” wonder if you’re afraid your brother will
“I feel his love more strongly than ever,” she “Do you see anything now?” pursue us.” With that, she sheathed her sword
said, her voice breaking. She looked at him. “I and stalked off.
Gillings sighed, the mid-morning sun off to
think I made a mistake.” his right, the entire ocean laid out behind them Gillings watched her walk away over his
“Greatness is a burden to those who love as they fled toward Briar Island. He wasn’t sure shoulder. “That’s funny,” he said to himself. “I
the great,” said the Friar. “My own wife died what was worse, knowing that he’d heard that wonder if you’re afraid he won’t.” He turned
before I could learn that lesson. I’ve sworn question thirty times already, or that he didn’t back to the horizon and scowled. He raised the
that no-one else I love would die because of know how many more times he’d have to hear glass and focused it. “Well, one of us no longer
something I didn’t ask for.” that question before his stint was up. “Bola, has reason to be afraid,” he said. He stood
are you sure you wouldn’t like to take a stint and took in a deep breath. He bellowed, “Sail,
She shook her head. “I slapped him and yourself?” ho!”
drove him away.”
“No, I’m good, still doing my daily regimen. #
The Friar nodded. I was just checking. You know, as long as I’m
here.” She took a few desultory swings with
“What should I do,” she said, weeping. Flynn followed the shadowy figure through
her sword to demonstrate, but when he went twisting corridors of steel until they came to
back to scanning the horizon, he could feel her
The Friar slid over next to her and she a room that seemed to exist just for conver-
looking over his shoulder again.
buried her head in his chest. He laid his good sation. There was a great window behind a
hand lightly on her cheek. “Well, that much is “Don’t worry, Bola,” he said, “I won’t let closed barrier. A railing ran around the entire
clear enough.” you miss any action. I’ll raise the alarm as soon room, and contained a warm light underneath
as I spot something.” which lit the edges of the room.
She looked up at him with tear-stained
cheeks. Bola rested the flat of the blade on her The figure extended a hand and Flynn
shoulder. “Do you think your brother will sank back into a lush, oversized leather chair.
“The next time you see him, make it right,” Flynn looked at his host. He saw a being with
pursue us?”
he said, and she started laughing. He patted the shape of a human male except for the face
her back gently with his hook, and then rested Gillings snorted. “That’s not even a question. where a black fog swirled, obscuring his face.
it very carefully on the back of the log bench. We stole his ship, of course he’s coming in

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 75

“Would you like something to eat or back from here. Before you awoke in the room, much your word is worth,” said the merc.
drink?” what was the last thing you remember?” “We will take our own counsel where you are
concerned, thank-you-very-much.”
Flynn said, “Do you have any ale?” A fine sweat broke out on Flynn’s forehead.
“I remember the Riven, Alacrity in flames, the Clarissa said, “What is he talking about?”
“Room temperature or chilled?” malfunctioning skypack.” Flynn seemed to
notice the mug, took a large swig. “I think I The Friar stretched uneasily on the bench.
Flynn looked at his host. “Chilled? I’ll try “Well, it is like this. I have a long-standing
should be dead.”
that.” agreement with the Haddirron government. I
Felo nodded. “And it wouldn’t be the first don’t bother them, and they don’t hang me.”
An actual frosted glass mug filled with time.”
amber ale appeared up out of the armrest. She shook her head in confusion.
Flynn touched the mug with the tip of a finger “The ship. The cliff! Missing the rocks! But
and then gripped the handle and took a healthy how?” “I am a privateer working under secret
swig. “This is out of the world,” he said. contract with Her Majesty, who is now even
Felo said, “Have you ever seen a black less able to officially approve or protect us
His host said, “You have no idea...” Then he albatross around you?” here and at Briar Island. And there is more to
said, “I am at your service. Please ask anything tell of that story, as well, but not here. So that’s
you wish.” Flynn nodded. “They’re all over the place. me. But how did you come to come to me with
I’ve seen them all my life.” these men?”
Flynn said, “So I’m still alive, then.”
“There is, in fact, only one, and that same “After slapping Flynn at Yempher over
His host nodded. albatross has followed you all your life. Fur- something he may still not have told me every-
thermore, the entity inhabiting that body was thing about, I returned to Roarke’s Island. I was
Flynn said, “You have the advantage of me. intelligent.” there when I heard about Flynn’s audience
You know my name, but I do not know yours.”
with Her Majesty, the attack by the Riven, and
Flynn’s eyes widened in revelation. “What
His host bobbed his head. “My name is a Flynn’s ruse to draw it away from Her Majesty
are you saying?”
reflection of my function. I am Felo, a Watcher, and onto Alacrity. After that, I prepared the
and I have been keeping watch over you and “Flynn, I was the albatross.” Tanith to come to see you, here, but when word
your line for centuries.” got out about my destination, Bola’s Menorran
# Mercs came along as well.”
Centuries? What? “My...line? What is so
special about my line?” “You allowed that?”
“Oh, these men,” said Clarissa. “I thought I
Felo put his hand up. “This isn’t a prophecy asked you men to stay with the ship.” “It’s not like I had a choice when they found
thing, or a case of destiny. I simply liked your out that I expected to see Bola soon thereaf-
family, how they handled themselves, how “Until we are reunited with Bola, we will ter.”
they interacted with this world.” protect you,” the merc said.
The Friar sighed. “I knew it was going to
“This...world.” “I am no threat to a friend of Flynn’s,” said get crowded here when Flynn’s inventor friend
the Friar. showed up out of the literal blue. When Chain
“I’ll get to that in a moment. Instead of showed up at Parrot Bay, he was spirited away
starting at the beginning, let’s work our way “We are well aware who you are, and how

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 76

under the cover of night to Briar Island, where and that knowledge forces me to make certain is time to reveal the universe to you, starting
he was debriefed. I arranged for Chain to have plans. So here is what we will do—you will have with your own world.” The window opened
the run of a workshop for some plans he was to believe Flynn survived for both of us, and I to reveal star-dappled blackness and a great,
excited about, and I provided all the resources will be the skeptic for both of us, and between round planet far beneath him, an impossibly
he needed with the understanding that he will us, we will go on living. Deal?” detailed ball of cloud and water and dotted
need to be available for a little acting on short land masses and, well, things Flynn had never
notice, acting which will result in him losing Clarissa nodded and called off the mercs. seen before.
a perfectly good shirt and suffering a pair of She looked relieved that they obeyed her.
broken glasses. For his part, Chain agreed.” Flynn rose to his feet, wordless, reached a
# hand out, and then let it drop.
Clarissa frowned, but the Friar waved for
her to hear him out. “It was then that I realized Felo waited a moment and then said, “I
The First Officer burst into the wheelhouse.
a couple of things— that Flynn’s crew would have been watching your line for generations.
“Captain, we have spotted them!”
likely escape and likewise flee here to Parrot Your great grandfather really was great, your
Bay, just as Chain did, which in turn would Captain Gillings slapped the table with his grandfather was promising, and your father...
lead the entire Haddirron Navy right to my hand. “At last! Call all-hands and pour on the Well, your father simply died too soon. “
ever-lovin’ doorstep, and that I would have to sail! I want that ship!” Flynn couldn’t wrest his gaze away from
‘do something about that.’” The Friar looked the vista laid out in front of him. “What do you
around. “And it is happening just as I feared it # mean, ‘too soon?’”
would.”
Flynn was thinking of every time he’d seen Felo said, “Your father was killed.
“What do you want me to do?” a black albatross—at Yempher, at Parrot Bay, Murdered.”
“I will send you and your crew to the at the Naval Academy, all the way back to a
windswept hilltop at Patience Bay while playing Flynn turned. “Why? By whom?”
Dragon’s Maw and set you up for now near
Chain. There is much to do before the battle at swords with Sandle. That first shadow had Felo said, “I was hoping you could help
begins.” been following him all his life. It was an aston- me find out. Because what I know makes no
ishing thought. sense.”
“Battle? I thought you were working with
Haddirron.” Felo said, “There are a great many things
I need to tell you, and that is one of the most #
“I was,” said the Friar, “but that was before basic. Your understanding of your world is
they turned their back on Flynn. All is changing about to change drastically. Are you ready?” The Friar was sitting back in his chair when
right in front of our eyes, and I do not mean for he saw Degore step into the room. He stood
his sacrifice to have been in vain.” Flynn said, “I’ve been thrown off a cliff, and left his mug on the table, untouched. He
defeated a living death machine, and fallen out walked out of Revena’s, and Degore followed.
“You think he’s dead?” of the sky while watching the burning wreckage
of my ship go before me like a blazing phoenix. They walked half an hour into the jungle
“One of us must believe, but it does not I think I can handle a little revelation.” and finally came to a clearing. The sun was
fall to me. It is up to you to believe he’s alive. preparing to dip below the silhouette of Briar
However, I don’t have time to over-ride my Felo nodded wordlessly, and the barrier Island to his west. The Friar walked past the
intellect, which tells me something different, in front of the window started to retract. “It wicker baskets suspended in the air out over

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
, Chapter 24, Representation, by Johne Cook Pg. 77

the water and approached the man tied to means of ensuring that.”
the post. He was bound and gagged. The Friar
limped up to him and drew himself up. “Mr. “Stop!” said Wen. “I know you’re a good
Mith, do you know what these wicker baskets man at heart.”
are suspended here for?” “That’s where you’re wrong,” said the Friar,
The man shook his head. conversationally, “Pirates do what they must
to survive.” He casually drew his knife; Wen’s
“They contain the bones of men and eyes went wide. “Good pirates are bad men,”
women who pitted themselves against me, he said, and cleanly slit Wen’s throat. “...and
and paid with their lives. These baskets are a I’m a very good pirate.”
visual warning to those seeking to bring harm
to Parrot Bay and the surrounding islands.
I haven’t had to touch the baskets in quite
some time. I’m afraid that others like you may
start stacking up in them soon if they are not
deterred.”
End of Chapter 25
The Friar turned and looked at his captive.
“And that brings me to you, Mr. Mith. I tried
to do you a favor, but you were too clever for
me. I have two primary concerns: one, for the
safety of those under my care, and two, for
the nation whose flag I nominally serve. Your
presence here threatens both. I could let you
live if you left thinking I was a coward and
drunk, however, you have persisted, and have
seen through my ruse. Now, you will serve me
for the rest of your life.”
The Friar reached over and released the
cloth gag.
“Finally!” said Wen. “Look, I can do whatever Johne Cook
you want me to do. Just don’t kill me.”
The Friar smiled, and it was a fearsome Johne is a technical writer, Help author,
thing, no trace of the simpering coward he’d creative writer, and editor.
played earlier in the day. “You are in no position
to be making either promises or requests. You
will do whatever I want, and it just so happens He likes prog rock, space opera, film noir,
that killing you remains the most effective and the Green Bay Packers.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Memory Wipe
Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 78
Memory Wipe
Chapter 23, Liun
by Sean T. M. Stiennon

B lood flowed freely from Takeda’s palms


as he ascended the volcano’s jagged
slopes. He wiped as much as he could onto his
chopped out of the rock with a giant butcher
knife. Deep shadows filled the interior. Takeda
enhanced his eyesight. Tiny bubbles and flaws
carved out a narrow gouge. He put the finger-
tips of his right hand into it and poured out hot
blue energy. The eye-watering scent of burning
pants, already caked with ash and dust, but it in the surrounding rocks sprang out at him, and metal wafted around him. He plunged his left
continued to make his grip uncertain. More the shadows seemed to fade as his eyes pen- blade into the hot, softened metal, digging
than once he fell, cutting his arms and legs etrated the darkness. Enormous metal doors deeper at the metal tooth’s base. He blasted
on blades of volcanic glass. Crags and slopes closed over the tunnel, like metal jaws within the cut with a fresh wave of energy as soon as
covered in loose black scree stretched above a stone mouth. his blade scraped against still-hard steel.
him. The mountain was dormant, its heart
cold, but thick clumps of ash continued to float Takeda approached them, his footsteps Alternating between blade and energy,
down on the hot breeze scouring Takeda’s muffled by the coating of ash on the cavern Takeda slowly chewed through the metal of
exposed skin. floor. He tapped his fingers against the metal. the doorway. He succeeded in pushing the
It thudded dully like steel, unlike the chime of blocky tooth inward only after working his
After weeks of travel, long days spent in strome. He wondered whether he had enough way through over a foot of solid steel. Takeda
total darkness, days of fear and claustropho- energy to burn or chop through it. Searching slid through. Red hot metal on one side of the
bia, Takeda had finally reached his destination: for another door—one intended for human breach passed close enough to burn his chest
the fortress belonging to Jezai Tong, Count entry—might take him hours, though, and they hair.
of the Vodrune Province. Somewhere in this would probably be better guarded.
mountain he had imprisoned Sherri—the only Echoes resounded from distant walls as
person who had shown Takeda real kindness The juncture where the doors met was his shoes hit the stone floor. Pale red lights
during his three years on Belar. He would save marked by large interlocking metal teeth, stretched along distant walls, spreading faint
her life or die in the attempt. shielding the bay’s contents from the tempes- illumination through a room nearly the size of
tuous weather outside. There was just enough the enormous strip mine where Takeda had
A sheer rock face confronted him: gray room between the teeth for the fingers of one fully awakened to his powers. Titanic shapes
basalt with streaks of darker, glossier stone. hand. He slid them in as far as they would go loomed in the darkness, bending the light as
Going around it would mean a lengthy detour. and thought he detected a hint of cooler air they reflected it. Takeda focused harder on his
Takeda found tiny fissures, cracks large enough on the other side. He pressed his hands—both eyes until he was able to see clearly what they
to give his hands and shoes some grip, and of them—onto one of the oblong metal teeth. were: starships with gleaming round hulls and
used all his strength to pull himself up. At last With it gone, he would have barely enough sweeping wings, engines gaping like craters.
he hooked his fingers over the top of the ridge room to thread his body into the chamber There were at least two dozen docked in the
and hauled himself over it. beyond. massive cavern, many of them sporting obvious
weapon systems: pulser cannons, rail-guns,
He found himself facing a deep cave that He extended the blade from his left forearm, rocket batteries. A strome railway ran down
towered a good seventy feet over his head. wincing at the pain as it sliced through his skin, the center of the cavern to aid launching.
Its walls lacked the natural ripples of a lava and tested the yellow-tinged material against
tube—the angles made it look as if it had been the steel doors. With enough pressure it Takeda found a ladder that allowed him to

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008


Memory Wipe
Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 79

climb onto the first level of catwalks, providing lurking behind closed steel shutters. legs nonetheless. He folded them and dropped
access to the lower level of docked ships. His into a roll on the top of the car. Wind pressed
enhanced eyes caught a small door set in one He had to draw on his strength once again him down against its surface, and he allowed
wall. to pull open a heavy steel door that appeared to himself a moment to recover his breath,
block a lift shaft. There was a keypad for entry, gasping at the pain from his legs. Neither of
A digital lock sealed it shut, but it was but Takeda could tell it was wired to an alarm them felt broken.
easy enough to fry through. If it triggered any system too sophisticated for him to remove. It
alarm, there was no immediate indication of took all his strength to claw the doors open wide His hands found the car’s maintenance
it. The hallway was hot and silent. Takeda let enough to slide his body through and wrap his hatch. Takeda extended the blades from his
his vision slacken, and found that it was also legs around an enormous metafiber cable. His forearms, barely noticing the pain, and stabbed
dim—pale yellow glow-stripes ran along the hands were nearly crushed as the metal jaws both of them under the hatch, slicing through
center of the ceiling, capable of burning for clashed back together, and complete blackness bolts. He wrenched it upwards. The light inside
years without any maintenance. Takeda turned engulfed him. the car seemed brilliant to his light-starved
left and jogged along the passageway. eyes.
Stale air scraped his throat, and waves of
He let his senses ebb low, bringing him to heat seemed to roll up from the shaft yawning Takeda spun himself around and slid into
a level just above that of a natural human. He below him. He slid down, gripping the cable the opening feet first, blades extended and
couldn’t afford to draw on his stamina without with his thighs, letting his hands play along energy welling up in his palms. Two men were
necessity—already his previously stuffed belly the rough, metal cord. It burnt his hands. His in the car: dressed in black, pale arms tight
was beginning to feel hollow as his body’s enhanced hearing picked up the echoes his with muscle. They moved fast. Claws sprang
metabolism accelerated to fuel his power. breath made along the walls, giving him some from their fingertips and energy crackled.
sense of his surroundings even in the darkness. Takeda ducked as one of them raked at him
The passage curved almost impercepti- Identical doors passed by his face. The rest was in the car’s narrow confines, filling it with the
bly away, seeming to form an enormous loop solid stone, utterly black. odor of burnt metal.
around the volcano’s crater. He checked the
first door he found set in the inside wall. The Takeda descended for what felt like Takeda slashed his throat open in a blinding
room beyond was piled high with plastic crates, hundreds of feet before his ears detected a movement and kicked the body back. The
but when he pried one open—hoping to find heavy mass clattering up the rails far below other man dodged it, pushed himself off the
food—bronze-tinted pulser batteries stared him. He spiked his senses and could feel air car’s rear wall, and dove at Takeda with claws
back at him with a faint, sinister gleam. The moving around him too. A car was ascending extended and arcing with blue energy. He
other crates contained the same: ammunition, the shaft, much too fast for him to drag open moved like a pouncing tiger—but as Takeda
batteries, missiles, rifles, launchers, pulsers. another of the heavy steel doors. Takeda clung stood, spreading his arms, he knew he was
Even one carton filled with racks of gleaming to the cable for a moment, indecisive. The car faster. His blades sheared through the man’s
strome blades. was howling towards him at incredible speed. wrists. The man seemed not to feel any pain,
but before he could step back, Takeda slammed
The second room was nearly identical, He leapt off the cable with barely a second both palms into his chest, pressing him into the
although here the pulser charges were large to spare and poured his strength into a hard car’s wall. He pinned the man’s legs with one
enough to power anti-aircraft emplacements. kick into the wall, driving himself upward— arm and held one blade against his throat.
He found those weapons later, in rooms around and, for an instant, bringing his body closer to
the outside edge of the crater, their cold barrels the velocity of the car. It slammed hard into his The car doors ground open onto an empty

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Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 80

passageway. Blood leaked out onto the stone The man’s breath slowed as blood continued stretch on forever: dark corridors, dimly light
floor. The man underneath Takeda’s blade to pour out of his severed wrists. He would be by glow-stripes, smooth floors of black or gray
panted, blood spurting from his stumps, his unconscious soon, and then would probably stone, storage rooms heaped with weapons,
pale, bony face blank and composed except for die of blood loss before awakening. Takeda ammunition, food, machine parts, even case
his open mouth. relaxed slightly. upon case of Caulthori jewels in colors ranging
from blood red to a dark, sinister shade of
“Where are prisoners kept?” Takeda asked, Then his knee cap exploded in pain as the violet. Takeda wandered for what felt like hours,
trying to ignore the overpowering scent of Hand’s boot slammed into it. Bone cracked. fighting to stay on his feet despite the constant
blood. His voice came out as a raw growl from Takeda was stunned for a moment, his balance pain from his broken knee. Silver robots glided
dry air and long disuse. destroyed, and in that moment the Hand through the corridors, endlessly cleaning vast
swung one handless arm like a club, smashing stretches of bare stone. They seemed utterly
The man—the Hand—stared back at him against Takeda’s chin. He reeled back, toppling indifferent to Takeda’s movements.
with a cold gaze. “Kill me.” on his wounded kneecap, slipping on the blood
coating the car floor. There were other rooms, too. Occupied
“Where?” Takeda snapped. ones. Takeda would have been discovered by a
Instinct took over. Energy rushed up his group of nearly thirty hands training with high-
The man stared back. “I have no informa- arm in a destructive wave and erupted from grade pulser rifles if the noise of the beams,
tion for you. Kill me.” his palm, cooking the wounded Hand in an and the mechanical shouts of an instructor
His Imperish sounded as if he had learned instant. Takeda’s body hit the floor, but the hadn’t cloaked any noise he made. Others sat
it from a computer—there was no inflec- man’s charred remains followed a moment in cramped dining halls, the only sound the
tion, none of the quirks in pronunciation or later. Takeda curled up and probed his knee clatter of spoons and bowls and cups, along
accenting that gave human speech its warmth. with his fingers. Flashes of pain told him it was with the soft mashing noises of chewing. No
“What’s your name?” Takeda asked. cracked, but the joint seemed functional, and conversation.
there was no external bleeding.
“I have no information.” Takeda evaded other groups of Hands
He pulled himself up the car wall with patrolling the corridors, in pairs or trios, eyes
No, of course they didn’t have names. bloodstained hands and focused on the blank but alert. Their numbers increased as
Takeda could remember that. Tong gave them keypad. Individual levels were marked out on he penetrated deeper. Only one pair seemed
numbers, stripped them of identity, allowed its surface, just numbers, no description of any to smell the blood soaking his bare chest. He
only utilitarian speech between his bioen- kind. The lowest was seventy. He pressed that ambushed them and killed both by caving in
gineered minions. They had no families, no button. The doors shut and the car thundered their skulls with his bare hands.
memories of their parents, no lives except back down its rails.
Tong’s stark dormitories, training sessions, More blood. He wiped it on their black
physical conditioning. Takeda braced himself against the wall, vests and continued on.
panting, and tried not to vomit from the slaugh-
They were human flesh shaped as weapons terhouse sights and smells surrounding him. After the locks and blast doors of the upper
from the moment of their birth. Perhaps earlier. levels, around the volcano’s crater, the almost
Takeda knew he had had true parents once, # total lack of locks and other security in the
even if his memories of them were lost. These lower chambers surprised Takeda. Of course,
newer Hands might be grown in labs. The labyrinth of Tong’s lair seemed to Tong had little to fear from his own people.

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Memory Wipe
Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 81

Takeda couldn’t imagine any of the battered- against his back, and he extended the blades new, some old, all hazed over by tendrils of
down Caulthori attempting to enter Tong’s from his arms. He tensed his entire body, ready black fog.
base, and if they did the first Hand they met to sheath himself in the liquid strome armor
would crush them. Several doors were locked, stored alongside his sweat glands. She had always been sad. Even when the
however, and Takeda didn’t try to force them. tone of her voice became sweet, even when
None of them looked anything like the entrance Another, broader corridor intersected with her cool fingers brushed his face, that expres-
to a dungeon. his twenty feet ahead, lit by slightly brighter sion of deep sorrow had always pulled her
glow-stripes. Running away or slashing out the elegant lips down, cooled the brilliance of her
The number of levels went far below lights in his own passage would make poten- eyes, robbed her features of vitality or expres-
seventy. Takeda saw one panel that listed tially deadly noise. Takeda would just have to sion. He couldn’t remember her name, but he
thirty-seven sublevels, with names given in a pray none of them glanced in his direction as knew that face, had always known it. It had
numeric code he couldn’t interpret. He knew they passed by. haunted his dreams since he had first used his
he had already found his way far below Cault- powers that night at the Silver Sun.
hor’s surface. Hours had passed. Someone The first Hands came into view thirty
must have found the Hands he had killed. More seconds later. They marched down the hallway The last of the Hands passed by. Takeda
of them seemed to be out in the passageways in files of three pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, waited two breaths, then slipped after them,
with every minute, many moving at a jog and pale arms shining with sweat over thick muscle, trailing them like a shadow. They wound along
clutching rifles. Takeda evaded them only eyes staring coldly ahead. They differed from several passages, expressionless, surround-
by drawing heavily on his power. It became those he had seen earlier in one critical way: ing the woman like ants around their queen.
harder and harder to drag himself along, and each had golden plates shielding his shoulder Then they turned into a wide hallway better lit
his wounded leg began to fail him. Sweat blades, and they wore carbines in leather than any of the surrounding areas, with white
flowed down his skin in streams. And still the scabbards on their hips. dome-lights hanging from the smooth, arched
base stretched on ahead of him. He wondered ceiling. Takeda didn’t dare enter it—he lurked
Four ranks of them passed by before in the shadows outside, watching.
if, somewhere since he had left Zartsi and Takeda caught a glimpse of what they guarded.
Esheera, he had passed through a barrier into A woman, tall and slender, a face like an ivory A single door with an intimidating lock
Hell, with the Hands as guardian demons. mask with thin, pale lips and eyes that seemed mechanism stood at the end of the hallway.
But Takeda was one of them. He had lived to cast their own light in the darkness, all over- One of the Hands opened it while the others
here like an insect in a hive. And yet, somehow, shadowed by a mantle of hair like obsidian spread apart, flanking her on both sides of
he had escaped to Belar, to that blank hotel made liquid. Her form was draped in brilliant the passageway. Every one of them bowed
room, with no memories and a citizenship red silk, held in by a broad belt of silver cloth deeply, faces expressionless, and the woman
card in his pocket. His memories remained with cinnabar jewels stitched into it. She was passed between them in a quick whirl of black
scattered. The transition from endless days of the most beautiful woman Takeda had ever and crimson. The door shut behind her. Lock
torment and despair to the bright sun of Belar seen. mechanisms cycled.
seemed miraculous. His eyes caught her for barely an instant Six of the Hands—including the one
He was on one of the deeper sublevels when before she continued along the passageway, who had unlocked the door—took up guard
the pounding of many feet echoed through a jewel among the Hands enfolding her. That positions while the others, almost twenty of
the yawning hallways. Takeda pressed himself instant was long enough for Takeda to recognize them, reformed into a squad and marched back
flat against the passage wall, the stone hot her. Memories flooded into his mind—some the way they had come. The entire operation

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Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 82

was conducted in complete, stony silence. body made for combat, a weapon of energy deep into the rock.
Takeda held his breath as they passed by and and metal as much as flesh and blood.
released it only when the troop was fifty feet Takeda’s armor saved him from the worst of
down the corridor. The smell of blood must not The men saw him. Carbines flew out of their the attack, but the Hand on his chest managed
be so unusual down here. holsters and bullets shredded the air. Instinct to get his claws into the skin and muscle
and the chemicals of his own enhanced body beneath. Takeda howled as he struck back,
Takeda let his legs bend and his back slid took over. Takeda leapt to one side, planted his hands pouring energy that burned through
down the stone. His knee protested sharply. feet solidly on one of the walls, and launched the Hand’s thinner, weaker armor and cooked
He sat there for some time, resting, breathing himself up and forward. His claws caught the everything inside. The skull-mask of the man’s
deeply, giving exhausted muscles a moment to ceiling, digging into stone, and he spun himself face hid his last expression as his life wafted
unwind. He needed to speak to that woman. to one side, dodging another spray of bullets. away like smoke.
Needed to know if she recognized him as he did He knew where they would fire. His mind could
her, if his memories were real or mere dreams. track trajectories from the wrist and the muzzle Another Hand grabbed Takeda’s head and
Six Hands stood in his way. At least one of them and spur him into reaction in time to dodge. twisted, trying to break his neck. His armored
had the means to unlock her room. skull crashed hard into the stone floor. Takeda
He swung forward and hit the floor in a reached up with both hands, grabbed the
Takeda stood. The pain from his knee, crouch, then ran, legs driving him forward like Hand’s legs, and pulled him down with a surge
and his still-raw hands, seemed more distant charging tiger. He was among them in another of strength that could have torn steel beams.
now. The blades slithered out of his arms and instant. Muzzles flashed and bullets struck Then he rolled to his feet and jerked his torso
torrents of hot energy welled up in his muscles shards from the stone as he poured energy to one side just in time to avoid a fresh torrent
and blood. His eyes penetrated the darkness into the men at point-blank range. One of them of bullets. A bolt from his shoulder-cannon
like infrared lasers; he could smell each of the died immediately. torched the man’s gun and then tracked up to
six men in minute detail; he could hear tiny bisect his chest.
changes in the air currents around him. He felt But these were Hands, cursed with some
strong enough to crush rock. of the same enhancements Tong had given The second gunman pulled his trigger just
Takeda. Two of his targets dropped their as Takeda fired. Their shots hit at the same
Takeda pushed himself farther. Tiny weapons, extended their talons, and charged time. The gunman died from Takeda’s pulser
pockets of liquid chromeel opened. Gleaming Takeda with superhuman speed before he had blast as his bullet tore through Takeda’s arm,
blue-black armor sheathed his arms, spread a chance to launch a new attack. Two others punching through armor, shredding muscle,
over his chest, locked his face behind a skull- stepped back to put him in a crossfire. Takeda and stopping only when it encountered armor
mask with transparent bubbles for his eyes. He had a glimpse of them slapping fresh magazines on its way out. Takeda barely felt any pain. The
felt as if ice water had been poured over his into their weapons. And the fifth... remaining two attacked him hand-to-hand.
head as chromeel covered every inch of him, One managed to rip a piece off the armor on
hardening into claws on his fingertips. Muscles He was on Takeda’s shoulders, his black Takeda’s upper leg and draw crimson blood
and bones in his left shoulder groaned into a claws raking at Takeda’s armored throat. from his thigh before Takeda caved in his skull.
new configuration, forming a structure like an Yellow-white sparks gushed out like lifeblood.
organic pulser cannon. Takeda rolled his shoulders and bucked his The last Hand fled, dodging a sweep from
spine, dislodging the man, just as another one Takeda’s arm-blade that might have slit his
Tong had made him, had torn his old flesh crashed into his chest. He was barely knocked throat. He was fast. Too fast. Blood poured
apart and rebuilt him as something terrible: a out of the path of a spray of bullets that went from Takeda’s leg, his chest, his arm, with some

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Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 83

even trickling down from his neck. He ran after radiant against the darker room behind. Her Jezai Tong.
the Hand, armored legs working like pistons, mouth opened halfway, her blue eyes cold and
but he couldn’t make them work fast enough. remote, and then every muscle in her body Takeda knew these rooms. He had treasured
The Hand had much of his speed and none of froze. Her lids lifted, showing the fullness of every moment he spent in them, their visits
his wounds. He turned the corridor at the end her blue irises, and she drank in his face. She rare by the necessity of concealing them from
of the broad hallway and went into darkness. seemed not to notice the blood. Tong. A few moments of joy snatched from
the beast’s jaws. She had never given him a
By the time Takeda reached that same When her voice came at last, it was little name—they couldn’t risk such a thing slipping
corner, the Hand had already vanished down more than a breath: “Is it you?” out where Tong or one of her servants might
a side passage, his footsteps echoing. Takeda overhear—but she had never called him “Two”
might have been able to track him by sound Takeda’s strength had abandoned him. He as Tong had.
and smell, but he couldn’t catch up before the could only nod. “My name is Takeda Croster.”
man returned with a hundred other Hands. “Takeda,” she whispered, as if tasting the
Her eyes flicked down to his feet, then back word like a sip of wine. “Do you like it?”
Takeda returned to the mangled bodies up to his face. “Yours, or a cover name?”
of the Hands he had killed and searched their He opened his mouth to answer, letting
“I don’t know...it’s mine now.” himself be drawn into conversation. Then he
bodies, fighting down his disgust. Three of
them carried keycards with magnetic codes on remembered what he was here for. And he
Her eyes looked over her shoulder, impas-
front and back. They looked identical. Takeda remembered the one Hand who had escaped.
sively assessing the destruction outside. Inex-
slid one into the locking mechanism, and one He would bring the other Hands.
pressible sorrow filled her eyes like water
great deadbolt slid away from the door. All quenching a fire. “He’ll come for you. He’s “Liun,” he hissed, “I don’t have time to talk.
three were necessary to fully unlock it. Takeda coming now. You’ll die here.” I need to find my friend. Your father has her
slipped the cards into his pocket and jerked the imprisoned somewhere here. Where?”
door open. Takeda reached behind him and swung the
door shut. “What’s your name?” “Do you mean...that woman? Sherri?”
White light burnt his eyes, drawing tears.
He shut them as he reduced the acuteness of “Liun,” she said. Relief flooded through Takeda. “She’s
his vision. He also let his armor recede into his alive?”
skin, retracted his blades, let energy dissipate, The name was a key to one of the locked
leaving him as he had been: shirtless, his pants vaults in Takeda’s mind. Memory flooded back “Yes. But not well. Her prison is three levels
torn, dust and blood painting most of his like sunshine filling a tomb. He had known her. below this.”
exposed skin. Soft carpet pressed between his She had been his only friend, the only light in
toes as he entered the apartment. It was like his existence, the only person who had ever She cocked her head at him, her expres-
stepping from a blizzard into a balmy spring, shown him a scrap of kindness or goodness. sion inexpressibly sad. “You’re the reason he’s
from Hell into Paradise. The walls were painted She had met with him whenever possible under holding her, aren’t you?”
a cool blue, and the doors leading away from Tong’s watchful eye, had talked with him, had
given him hope, like an angel in the darkness. “Yes. I’ve come to free her...it was the only
room were real wood. thing I could do.”
One of them opened. She stepped into It was she, and she alone, who had made
it possible to escape this nightmare. Liun She shut her eyes and breathed heavily.
the doorway, her flawless skin and fiery dress
Shixung Lu Tong. The only daughter of Count “Neither of you will leave this place alive. You

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Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 84

were the only one to ever escape...Takeda. And moving quickly. The Hands must have come to “Have you enjoyed your reunion?”
now he has you again.” her apartment by now. It wouldn’t take them
long to realize that Liun was gone, and they “Father, you...knew about this passage?”
“I could never have gone on living if I had would find her passage at last. Liun gasped.
left Sherri here. I had to do this.”
If Tong knew the identity of his intruder— “For years. I thought it wiser to let you
Her mouth twitched faintly, expressing and he must—then he would know where they have your subterfuge...and I was right. You’ve
some degree of gladness without breaking were going. They would have pursuers behind brought my prey to me.”
the sorrowful mask over her face. It vanished them and more Hands waiting at Sherri’s
almost immediately. “They know you’re here.” There was no room to run. Takeda dropped
prison. He would kill her if he caught Takeda,
A statement, not a question. into a crouch as his arm blades leapt out, as
her usefulness to him at an end. He clenched liquid chromeel flooded his skin, as his shoulder
his teeth. That could never happen.
She glided past him and shut the door opened into a cannon, as his senses leapt into
behind him. Then she turned, opened one of Liun released his hand. Something clicked their heightened state and his weary muscles
the room’s side doors, and beckoned him on. loudly. Then she swung a door open, allowing tightened. He shoved Liun behind him with
“There’s another way out. I’ve managed to dusky yellow light to flood the passageway. one metal-sheathed arm.
keep it secret from my father, and I only use
it when I know he won’t summon me. I’ll lead Takeda had allowed his senses to lapse Tong gestured languidly with one hand.
you to Sherri.” towards normality, conserving his energy for His men surged forward in a tide of armor and
the trials ahead. He regretted it immediately muscle. In that instant, all hope left Takeda.
She led him down a short passageway as he and Liun stepped out into the passage- He had failed. Sherri would die, alone in the
and down a curled flight of stairs, into a small way, turned, and were confronted by an army darkness, and neither of them would ever see
lounge. Carpets, tapestries, and cushions, of Hands. light again.
mostly in dark colors with slightly geometrical
patterns in red, blue, and violet, covered the They were crammed into the passageway, He poured his anger into energy, spewing
stark walls and floor. One corner held a cabinet standing shoulder to shoulder. Liquid metal from his shoulder and his palms, roasting the
filled with snifters and carafes of liquid ranging armor gleamed sullenly over tight muscles. Hands surging down on him. He couldn’t reach
in color from clear to deep crimson. Liun knelt, Their faces were skull masks, impassive and Tong—the Count had faded back into his horde,
opened the doors, and began removing bottles, deathly, and the corridor was thick with the shielding himself with their armored bodies.
moving quickly without spilling a drop. smell of burning air as energy arced between Two or three died instantly. Then they surged
their claws. over Takeda. He expected to die.
Then she lifted the cabinet’s bottom panel,
set it aside, and unrolled the carpet beneath, He stood among them like a specter of His body crashed down onto the stone.
exposing a dark hole in the floor. She went in death, tall and bony, his eyes like pools of Hands like steel vises gripped each of his limbs,
backwards, legs first, and then hissed for him rotten yolk with pinhole pupils. Jezai Tong wore holding him immobile, crushing him with their
to follow. blood-red armor from neck to toes, only his sheer weight. The smells of blood and metal
spidery hands left free, and a midnight-black and sweat overwhelmed his enhanced senses.
He dropped three feet into a pitch-black cape was draped from one shoulder, covering Takeda struggled, uselessly—the men were
passageway. His wounds flared up with fresh the right side of his body. His mouth was a pouring all their energy into their muscles.
pain, although most of his bleeding had already gash, his nostrils slits, his hair knotted into a
stopped. Liun gripped his hand, her fingers soft Then Tong’s face was before him, the
black lash.
and cold, and pulled him on between close, yellow eyes stretched wide. “It has been...
rough walls. They walked for nearly a minute, “Daughter,” Tong said, his voice a hiss. more than four years. And at last the bird

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Memory Wipe
Chapter 23, Liun by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 85

comes home to roost. Tell me...how much do body lost all ability to struggle. The last thing Sean T. M. Stiennon
you remember?” he heard before darkness enveloped him was Sean is an author of fantasy and science fic-
Liun’s soft, gentle sobs. tion novels and short stories, with many pub-
“Enough,” Takeda spat through armored
lips. lications under his belt. His first short story
collection, Six with Flinteye, was recently
“Not informative. I thought you had died. I released from Silver Lake Publishing, and he
didn’t forge a weapon as potent as you without won 2nd place in both the 2004 SFReader.
giving you some...conditioning. I thought Next month...Chapter 24 com Short Story Contest and the Storn Cook
you would die within two weeks of leaving Razor-Edged Fiction Contest with his stories
Caulthor.” “Asp” and “The Sultan’s Well,” respective-
ly. “The Sultan’s Well” has been published
The edges of Tong’s slit mouth lifted slightly, in the anthology Sages and Swords. Sean’s
like a leather mask imitating a human smile. short story “Flinteye’s Duel” was published
“But I did put too much trust in my surgeons in Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01, and “Flinteye’s
back then.” Sabotage” was published in Issue 35.
“Aren’t you going to kill me?” Takeda Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and
asked. adventure, but he often includes elements of
Tong shook his head. His yellow eyes tragedy and loss alongside roaring bat-
narrowed. “No. You see...you were always my tles. A lot of his work centers around con-
greatest creation. You still are. There is data in tinuing characters, the most prominent
your body I must extract. You will die eventu- of whom is Jalazar Flinteye (Six with Flin-
ally. But not now.” teye). He also writes tales of Shabak of
Talon Point (“Death Marks,” in issue #9 of
Tong started to turn away, then seemed Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blademas-
to remember something. “And your woman. ter (“Asp,” 2nd place winner in the 2004
She won’t die either. My current methods are SFReader.com Contest), and others who
based on male hormones and body structure. have yet to see publication.
But female servants would have their own
uses. Your friend is healthy enough to make an Sean loves to read fantasy and science fic-
adequate test subject.” tion alongside some history, mysteries, and
historical novels. His favorites in-
“No!” Takeda shouted. “You can’t!” clude Declare by Tim Powers,
the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn
One of Tong’s hairless eyebrows rose. “I trilogy by Tad Williams, Stephen Lawhead’s
can do anything I please. You are mine once Song of Albion trilogy, and King Solomon’s
again.” Mines by H. Rider Haggard. He has reviewed
He whispered instructions to one of the books for Deep Magic: The E-zine of High
Hands, then vanished. Takeda felt a cold Fantasy and Science Fiction, and currently
pinprick on his neck, and within seconds his reviews books at SFReader.com.

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 Pg. 86
The RGR Time Capsule
July / August 2008
Sci-Fi news from the Ray Gun Revival forums
RGR Date: July 25, 2008 * BEST SHORT STORY: “Tideline” by Elizabeth
Why sci-fi authors sell their works to Hollywood Bear (Asimov’s June 2007) [See SF Signal
http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=2104 review]
This is my favorite sci-fi film of all time, a * BEST FAN WRITER: John Scalzi
dark, noir, mindbender (also written partially
by David Goyer, who is currently credited RGR Date: August 9, 2008
with Jonathan Nolan for his work on The Serenity: The Other Half now online!
Dark Knight). http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=2140
The TV series may have been cancelled far
Alex Proyas, director of the 1998 noir fantasy too early and the movie didn’t exactly set
film Dark City, had the opportunity to restore the box office on fire, but that doesn’t mean
the film to his original version for the upcom- that the crew of the Serenity aren’t having
ing 10th anniversary DVD release. new adventures out there somewhere in
“It’s quite a different version of the movie, this vast universe of ours. In fact, their latest
and it’s about 10 or 11 minutes longer, I heist is already in progress (and already go-
think,” Proyas said in an interview at Comic- ing wrong) literally only a click of the mouse
Con International in San Diego on July 24, away.
where he was promoting his upcoming film Serenity: The Other Half continues the twin
Knowing. “And it’s just stuff that we had that traditions of working with Joss Whedon (the
we shot. It’s effectively my first test-screen- company publishes the Buffy Season 8 se-
ing version of the movie—my fateful test ries, and has also put out a couple of earlier
screening of the movie, where people didn’t Serenity series) and also putting Whedon-re-
quite respond in the way that the studio lated content in their free online anthology,
were hoping they would respond. And there- Dark Horse Presents (In addition to featuring
fore certain adjustments were imposed.” that. I believe this is a better version, and I
hope other people will agree.” the first appearance of Dr. Horrible’s Captain
The revised version more closely reflects Hammer last month, the anthology started
Proyas’ original intention, he said. “I was RGR Date: August 10, 2008 with a brand new Whedon creation, Sugar-
reminded about when I saw this cut, ‘Oh, 2008 Hugo awards announced shock). The short strip, written by Jim Krue-
yeah, that’s right. That’s what I was trying to http://raygunrevival.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=2143 ger and illustrated by Will Conrad, also acts
do,’” he said. “So it feels very different. ... You as a preview to a brand new Serenity comic
The Winners of the 2008 Hugo Award have due at the end of the year, The Shepherd’s
have to be careful, because a particular film been announced.
that’s been around for a while now, there’s Tale, by the same creators.
a fan base and there’s an ownership of that * BEST NOVEL: The Yiddish Policeman’s
version, and I don’t want to come in and Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins,
mess it up for them. So I hope I haven’t done Fourth Estate)

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 46, September 2008