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THRILLING TALES FROM BEYOND THE ETHER

Checkers
by Andrew LeBlanc
Carbonville, Part One
A Jack Brand Story
by John M. Whalen
Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate
Chapter 8, Comes The Watcher
by Johne Cook
Serial: Memory Wipe
Chapter 8: The Price Paid
by Sean T. M. Stiennon

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

Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2
Overlord’s Lair 3
Checkers by Andrew LeBlanc 4
Carbonville, Part One, A Jack Brand Story, by John M. Whalen 7
Featured Artist: by Ruben C. (aka N3URON) 16
SERIAL: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Chapter 8,
Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook 18
SERIAL: Memory Wipe, Chapter 8
The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon 26
The Jolly RGR 35
Overlords (Founders / Editors): L. S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook

Venerable Staff:
A.M. Stickel - Managing Copyeditor
Paul Christian Glenn - PR, sounding board, strong right hand
L. S. King - lord high editor, proofreader, beloved nag, muse, webmistress
Johne Cook - art wrangler, desktop publishing, chief cook and bottle washer

Slushmasters (Submissions Editors): Scott M. Sandridge, John M. Whalen, David Wilhelms

Serial Authors: Sean T. M. Stiennon, Lee S. King, Paul Christian Glenn, Johne Cook

Cover Art: “Frozen Exile,”  by  Ruben C. (aka N3URON)

Without Whom... Bill Snodgrass, site host, Web-Net Solutions, admin, webmaster, database admin, men-
tor, confidante, liaison – Double-edged Publishing

Special Thanks: Ray Gun Revival logo design by Hatchbox Creative

Visit us online at http://raygunrevival.com

All content copyright 2007 by Double-edged Publishing,  
a Memphis, Tennessee-based non-profit publisher.
Rev: 20070215b

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


 Pg. 

Overlord’s Lair

I’ve been looking forward to this issue for awhile.


More on that in a bit.
the secrets of Briar Island and endanger the lives of
thousands of innocents. She has two things he does
not: a Commission parchment, and her name on the
By this time, we have gotten past Valentine’s Day
in one piece and have survived some of the coldest admissions rolls.
weather in many moons. It’s time for some hot sf, and Flynn’s not about to let a little thing like that stop
we have got some treats for you in Issue 16. him, and casts about to do what has never been done
We start with Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc, about before.
a game that is literally out of this world. If he lives that long.
Two lonely robots, a broken space station, the ruined Cooper Flynn sailed in by himself in a very nice
Earth, and a fight against boredom. little sloop. He tied up to the dock at twilight when
The commander had been teary-eyed during the the waterfront was largely deserted. I sat with one leg
confrontation, and now his eye sockets were empty— over the edge of the dock, mending a net as he tied
a dusty skeleton in a helmetless space-suit. up, apparently engrossed in my work. He stretched his
legs and cracked his neck, then he tied his long black
The maintenance bot pushed a red piece to far end hair back into a knot and went searching for food.
of the board.
He kept a very low profile, but he was a rank
King me. amateur compared to my kind, and I had no trouble
In this issue, we present the return of Jack Brand following him without being seen.
from John M. Whalen with part one of two of his latest It is one of two things I do best.
story, Carbonville.
Sean T. M. Stiennon is back with Chapter 8 of his
He nodded his green head and the two bodyguards serial novel, Memory Wipe, The Price Paid.
came back out of the jungle. The Kazuli who’d done the
talking in the elevator came up to Brand and, without After barely escaping Lashiir, Takeda Croster sets
telegraphing anything, hit him hard in the stomach. off for the remote colony world Nihil aboard a ship
Brand doubled over, and the Kazuli’s fist smashed piloted by the Rover Esheera Nii. He seeks a man called
against his cheek. He staggered back a few steps and Cramer Orano who might know more about his mys-
steadied himself. The Kazuli just stood there. terious body, who might even know what happened in
the years before Takeda’s memory.
“What was that for?” Brand asked.
Lashiir didn’t take trophies, but he did write the
“I don’t like cheap cops who think they can come name of those victims he considered worthy in a book
here into my private world and ask me to rat on people bound with nightstone with pages stretched from
I may or may not know. This is just a warning, Brand. If fanglurker tongues. He would scribe Takeda and the
you’re smart, you’ll pay attention and get out of Car- Lithrallian with his finest ink. Then he would consider
bonville. Now beat it!” where to take himself next. Perhaps Imperia, where
I often get the question “How is The Sky Pirate Tsiika might drink the blood of the most powerful
space opera?” Up to now, all I could say is that it was humans in the Empire.
swashbuckling adventure. I begin to challenge that Someday, perhaps, he might even return to the
answer with this chapter, Comes the Watcher. Stay Dark Sphere in triumph. When his book was complete
alert for the end – it’ll knock your socks off. and when he was strong enough to face the warrior
Chapter 8 of The Adventures of the Sky Pirate is told who awaited him there.
from the POV of a nameless narrator who shadows Stay tuned for the next issue for the next install-
Cooper Flynn as he arrives at the Haddirron Naval ment of the JASPER SQUAD and Deuces Wild serials.
Academy. Flynn has followed a potential spy and must
gain access to the Academy before she can give away Johne (Phy) Cook

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


"The Battle for Monday Morning," by Jordan Lapp Pg. 

Checkers
by Andrew LeBlanc

A lways Checkers, never Chess.


For the first few centuries, the older
robot paid this no mind. The game was an inex-
unlivable.
The human crew had wept, when the first
mushroom clouds erupted on the surface—both
plicable black hole in his otherwise impeccable robots remembered that much, at least. In part,
artificial intelligence, but it provided a diversion— they wept for their friends and families, dying on
and pleasant enough—from the grueling day the surface, but also, because a grim fatalism had
to day maintenance of their orbiting vessel. He swept over them: the rest of their lives would be
never won. spent up here, no solid ground to hold up their
As the counted centuries approached a mil- feet—or to be buried in. The commander had
lennium, and the days of living amongst the taken it hardest. He had grabbed the younger
breathing, moving human crew were com- robot by the seams of his chest plating, as though
pressed and recompressed to only the vaguest grabbing a man by the suit, screaming condem-
remnant of robot memory, he found the game nations of the robot’s cold reaction to destruction
almost unbearable. Every aspect of the station’s of human civilization. The younger robot held this
function had been optimized for this post-human memory—as uncompressed and un-abstracted
era: no carbon dioxide gas to scrub into clean air, as his dwindling storage array would allow. It
no more waste to recycle into food, and no more was his own private puzzle, which could never be
soft-walled artificial stimulation machine near the shared—his wireless transmitter wasn’t meant
spinning station’s weightless center—a grossly for anything as data-intensive as memory transfer,
inefficient device whose utility the robot never and he lacked the verbal grace to communicate
fully understood. The solar panels produced more it effectively; he was a general maintenance bot,
than enough energy to power two old robots with originally meant to understand and respond to
little remaining interest in activity beyond small only the simplest of voice commands.
movements of the hand—and turns of the head. The commander had been teary-eyed during
All of their time was spent on the game now. the confrontation, and now his eye sockets were
The game, and watching. empty—a dusty skeleton in a helmetless space-
The Earth below was recovering, slowly. Even suit.
without the ship’s guidance systems, their glass- The maintenance bot pushed a red piece to
lensed eyes could pull enough resolution to make the far end of the board.
out the shapes of small villages forming out of King me.
the wreckage, to whole nations, making the first The older robot placed his only captured red
steps toward establishing the roadways and infra- piece on the new king.
structure of old. He scratched his head—a useless action
But even now, nearly one thousand years beyond his control, appearing at random during
later, whole continents remained uninhabited— thought to make him more convincingly humanoid.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc Pg. 

His skull plating at the front and to the right was It must have been a very precise job. Usually,
growing thin, and showing signs of corrosion. that kind of botchwork was quickly detectable,
He had been a lab assistant—in all ways equal by companion scientists, if not the robot himself.
to the most diversely educated Master’s student, At the very least, the older robot could credit him
and with a precision of hands that no human with that. And the man was long since dead—
could match. He had been granted a vocabulary, time having taken vengeance on the lab robot’s
and repertoire of literature and arts to aid in less behalf.
practical discussion. None of this meant anything Another game? The maintenance bot now
to the maintenance bot. sounded his normal, dull self.
He slid a piece forward, and the maintenance The older bot stared at the younger.
robot took all of his remaining pieces in a single Observation? The maintenance bot was not
move. without his own unique intelligence—but it had
I no longer find this pleasurable. developed slowly, out of boredom, and he had
The air had slowly escaped the station over the yet to discover a way to communicate with it
last few decades—a sure sign of decay. Neither effectively.
had made more than passing notice of it. They They both turned. The older bot sighed, as he
had been communicating exclusively through had been programmed to do; the younger bot
wireless since the last human on board had died. made no communication, but deep within his
Apologies. The communication came through circuitry, resonated a senseless firing of hollow
in raw text—but the lab assistant bot detected thought processes, that might, if one wished to
something in this: hesitation? confusion? Maybe anthropomorphize, be called disappointment.
something perceived, but not transferred to The Earth beneath them was a dark twilight
primary consciousness. A millisecond delay in blue—barely discernable from the space around
delivery of the message, or the slightest variation it. It would be this way for hours.
of broadcast amplitude from his wireless trans- The older robot sighed once more, and turned
mitter? his gaze back to the game.
More likely, thought the robot, on reflection, The current status quo is unacceptable. Either
it is the onset of a machine madness, inevitable in you play worse, or we play something I can—like
a thinking machine as far beyond his established chess.
usage period as I. The maintenance bot made no emission of
Very likely too, someone had crippled his dialogue microwaves for several hours. Finally, it
Checkers ability some time in the past—some said
jealous student, or bitter old scientist. Memory Impossible. Cannot vary gameplay ability.
of his early years was spotty—most of it archived Insufficient memory to add new rulesets.
to single sentence, plain text summaries of whole The older bot was silent for while, the electron
days. Any one of those now frustratingly incom- switches in his metal skull crackling silently in the
plete histories might have hidden, just beneath airless room—then he said.
its impenetrable surface, an account of some My old friend… would you mind if I crippled
drunken electrical engineer, too dumb for chess, you?
cracking open his brain can, and frying just the Minutes passed. The younger robot had
right bits. parsed and interpreted the other machine’s words

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Checkers, by Andrew LeBlanc Pg. 

within seconds—but now, with his still developing time the last test was completed, and his friend
speech capabilities, was finding it terribly difficult of one thousand years remained a dull lump of
to answer the question. He knew the answer he metal and wire—he was already sure of his next
wanted to give—but was not sure whether a action.
positive or negative achieved that end. The older robot went to the command deck,
Please, he said, finally. But only to equal and began manually firing the maneuvering jets—
ability. meant to keep the ship in orbit.
Of course. Winning every game would lead to There was little fuel left. Even with the forced
an equivalent boredom. destabilization of orbit, the station’s descent took
And with that, he shut down the maintenance months. The lab assistant bot let its mind wander,
bot. The process took a total of two months. He and the time passed quickly. The once-indestruc-
cracked open the maintenance bot’s brain can, tible glass of the command deck, time worn,
jury-rigged a connection from his thinking parts shattered within two minutes of hitting atmo-
to the bots storage parts, attached appropri- sphere proper. The station began breaking apart
ate power cables, and began a long, arduous immediately thereafter. Super-heated nitrogen
search for the right nugget of information among and oxygen tore through the command deck, and
terabytes of data. In that time, he learned of his burned against the robot’s body until it glowed.
companion’s slow-developed, and never fully Key systems began failing him.
expressed consciousness. In time—he would I wonder what those fledgling human nations
teach his friend how to speak more fluently, so will make of us. Will they mistake us for fallen
they could better pass the millennia. gods, and bury us in the Earth? The thought
He found what he was looking for, too. But calmed him.
crippling his friend’s checkers-playing routines His body—exoskeleton, circuitry and all, fused
proved too confusing a task to even start. So he together: a man-shaped statue of space age
downloaded these into his own memory instead. steel.
With any luck, he could find a way to integrate
these into his own play—overwrite the damage
done to him centuries ago.
He sealed the younger bot’s chassis, and
activated it. It made no sounds, no movement. His
microwave antenna felt only dead silence from
his friend. The robot’s mind ran white-hot: back- Andrew LeBlanc
tracking through his now incomplete memory Andrew LeBlanc studied Computer Science at
of the operation, seeking out mistakes; running the University of British Columbia, and now
his mind forward along branching possibilities of works with computers full time. He dresses
resolution. poorly and doesn’t exercise much anymore.
In the end, he tried them all—or at least, those
he could remember. It took years, and in that
time, he had pulled every individual component
out of the maintenance bot and put it back again,
at least once. The realization was slow. By the

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


"The Second Ascension," by R. Cruz Pg. 

Carbonville, Part One


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

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 

“Four against one,” a voice said. “Not very fair hirsute gunman in the chest. He screamed. The
odds. Especially when the one is half-dead.” gun went off. The plasma beam blasted a hole in
Brand fought to hold on to consciousness. the dirt in front of him, as he fell to the ground.
Through the long legs of the Hansor, he could Shouting, the other three gang members raised
see the tall, blue-skinned Tarnisian swordsman their guns, but the Tarnisian was upon them like
standing at the alley entrance with the Ray-Blade a tiger. His Ray-Blade crackled and fanned the
in his hands. The Light Beam weapon shone white darkness, as he thrust, spun, and slashed amidst
in the darkness. the three adversaries. In a moment the three lay
“You’ll be all dead, if you don’t get out of here,” dead at his feet.
the Hansor said. “Scram!” Brand touched his wounded side with his left
“You talk good, Eluvian,” the Tarnisian said. hand and saw a dark stain on his fingers when he
“Do you shoot good too?” held them before his eyes. The Tarnisian picked
“Those old-fashioned weapons,” the Hansor the Min-Blade up from the dead Eluvian’s chest,
said. “They’re no good at that distance. I could put it back in its sheath, and strode over to him.
shoot you before you take a step.” “You’re hurt bad,” he said.
The Tarnisian pressed a button on the handle Brand looked up at the elongated head on the
of the Ray-Blade and it shrunk into itself and went tall figure standing over him. His face and hands
dark. He tucked it into his blouse and dropped were covered in a blue, reptilian-like skin that
his hand to his leg. Brand saw he had a narrow had a dull sheen under the moonlight. His eyes
sheath strapped to it. The Tarnisian’s hand moved were wide-space, almond shaped, and his nose
and a smaller, mini-version of the Ray-Blade came was flat, little more than two nostril holes. The
out of the holster and appeared in his hand. He Tarnisian knelt down on one knee, and helped
twirled it several times and then dropped it back Brand to his feet.
into the sheath. “I think there is a medic nearby,” he said,
“The Min-Blade,” the Tarnisian said. He cocked putting his shoulder under Brand’s arm. “Can you
his head to one side and his wide-spaced eyes walk?”
looked at the Hansor with the blank curiosity “I think so,” Brand said. His side felt like it was
of a child. Yet there was something of a twisted on fire, and he could tell he was losing blood
smile in those eyes. Something cold and deadly. rapidly.
“Wanna try me?” They walked out of the alley together. Because
“You think you can throw that thing before this of the lateness of the hour there were few people
automatic fries you like a piece of Darco-Bacon?” on the street.
The Tarnisian’s eyes grew larger as he stared “There,” the Tarnisian said, nodding to
at the Hansor. “Let’s see how fast you are,” he something up ahead. “I thought I saw a medic’s
said. sign around here.”
The Hansor looked at the human standing next Brand looked up and saw the Intergalactic Red
to him and grinned in disbelief. Then his hand Cross symbol on a sign hanging over a doorway
twitched and the plasma automatic came up. ahead. He limped toward it, holding onto the
With a motion so swift it was invisible, the Min- Tarnisian’s shoulder for support.
Blade came out of its sheath and flew in a white “What’s your name?” he asked.
blur toward the Hansor. The light-blade hit the “Galt,” the Tarnisian said.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 

“I owe you.” ribs. The skin in the area around the wound went
“Save your strength,” the alien said. “Here we icy cold, and in a moment the pain vanished. The
are.” medic passed a small hand-held flat screen over
Galt pounded loudly on the door and then him and scanned his side. “No internal organ
pressed a buzzer on the door frame. A grey-haired damage,” he said. “We’ll put you in the DNA
old man opened the door. chamber. But for that you will need to sleep.”
“We have a man hurt here,” Galt said. “All right, doctor,” Brand said. “Whatever you
The old man looked at the blood on Brand’s say.”
blue tunic. The doctor waved another instrument over
“He should be taken to the hospital,” he said, Brand’s face and a cloud of mist floated above
opening the door to let them in. his eyes. Brand started to feel drowsy immedi-
“There’s no time for that,” the Tarnisian said. ately. The old medic and the young girl pushed
“Are you a doctor? Can you help him?” the gurney over to the glass tube and slid Brand
“Bring him in,” the old man said. into it. He saw the lights winking, the electric-
He led them through a doorway into a brightly ity crackling all around him as they settled him
lit room. Brand saw cabinets stocked with medical inside the DNA chamber. He peered up through
instruments and vials of medicine, electronic the glass and saw the Tarnisian standing behind
equipment, several computer monitors, and the doctor watching him. The next instant, he
racks of test tubes. A gurney stood in the middle dropped into unconsciousness.
of the room. #
“Lay him down,” the doctor said. The doctor
walked over to a long tube made of glass and He woke up in a bed in a small fluorescent-lit
steel that jutted out horizontally from the far wall. room that had no windows. There was a night
He flicked a switch on the side of it and the tube stand next to the bed, a chair, and no other
suddenly came alive with lights and spider webs furniture. He tried to sit up, and was surprised
of electricity moving all around the inside of it. when there was very little pain—just a vague
Brand saw a young, rather pretty girl entering soreness, a stiffness, where he had been wounded.
the room. He lifted the cover off and saw that he was naked.
“Father, what is it?” She walked over to Brand He looked at the place where the Rang had hit
and examined the wound in his side. There him, and other than a slight discoloration, it was
was real concern in her dark brown eyes as she impossible to tell that the night before there had
carefully picked up scissors and cut the tunic been a deep gash at least six inches long.
away. “Amazing isn’t it, what DNA technology can
“What is this from?” she asked him. do?”
“Bad luck,” Brand said. It was the girl from the night before. A white
The old man came over. nurse’s uniform covered her nicely-shaped body.
“We’re going to have to act fast,” he said. He Brand dropped the sheet back over him and lay
had a stainless steel gun in his hand. “This will back on the pillow, as she came into the room.
numb your side.” “Here in Carbonville we have almost as many
“Go ahead,” Brand said. of the latest advances in medical technology as
The doctor pressed the gun against Brand’s they do in Tulon Central.”

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 10

“This place has changed quite a bit since I was know about a Tarnisian.”
here last,” Brand said. “And not much for the “You never know about anybody.”
better.” “I’ll let you get dressed.” She pressed a button
“We found your ID,” she said. “You’re a Tulon on the wall, and a panel slid up revealing a
Central cop.” shower. “You can clean up in there. Come out to
“Used to be. I quit the Security Force some the garden when you’re finished.”
time ago, although I do work for them occasion- #
ally.”
“You hear on Security Force business?” The grey pants and red tunic fit well. The
“No. I’m here on personal business,” Brand said. neo-ethylene heels of his knee-high Krylor boots
“I’m looking for somebody. Mind telling me who made no noise as he stepped through the patio
you are, and what happened to my clothes?” door and followed the concrete walkway through
“Oh, sorry,” the girl blushed. “I’m Jana Reynolds. the garden. He passed by large Mernian flowers,
The man who restored you is my father, Dr. Alzonor their gigantic orange petals bright as fireworks,
Reynolds. I’m his assistant. And your clothes were standing gracefully against the backdrop of the
a bloody mess. We had to burn them.” dark green leaves of the Lotus plants, and dark
Brand sat up, letting the sheet fall away from brown trunks of the Calusian palms. There was so
his broad shoulders and wide chest. much foliage he could hardly see the aluminum
“I feel pretty good. But I’ll need some new and stone walls of the tall buildings that towered
clothes, if I’m going to get up.” beyond the bamboo fence bordering the garden.
“I think we can help you.” She pulled open a Half a dozen tables were scattered around with
drawer in the night table and pulled out a pair patients seated, eating breakfast. He saw Jana
of grey pants and a red tunic. “We sent for these sitting at one of them.
this morning. They should fit.” “Have some breakfast,” Jana said.
“Mighty kind of you,” Brand said. “This is service.” He sat down.
“I’ll let you get dressed,” she said. “It will be on your bill,” she said.
“Is the Tarnisian who brought me here still He helped himself to some of the flapjacks in
around?” Brand asked. front of him.
“He left last night. Is he a friend of yours?” “Good thing I kept up that insurance when I
“Never saw him before. But he saved my life.” retired from the Security Force.”
“Curious kind of character,” the girl said. “After “You seem young to be retired,” she said.
you went to sleep in the chamber, he just left. “I left early. I don’t agree with everything
Said he had to go look for work. He just arrived in they’ve done here on Tulon. Seemed like it was
Carbonville, he said, and needs a job. Didn’t even established more to protect the oil company
wait to see how you came out. A strange thing to interests than the lives of normal citizens. I didn’t
do after bringing you here. Like he couldn’t care care for the way the original settlers were all
less if you lived or died.” shoved out into the wilderness to make room for
“Why should he?” Brand said. “He doesn’t the oil fields. But that’s another story.”
know me.” “You said you came to Carbonville looking for
“Still, you’d think he want to know, even just someone. Mind if I ask who?”
out of curiosity,” she shook her head. “You never “Seven years ago my sister was kidnapped by

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 11

some Nomads. I recently learned that the people “It’s alright,” the girl said. “Mr. Brand is affili-
who took her may have been here some time ated with the Tulon Security Force. He’s on our
ago. Might still be here. They go by the name of side.”
Wilkerson. Have you ever heard that name?” The old man stood gaping at her.
“Wilkerson? No, I’m sorry. I can’t say I have. “Silo Jarth has spies everywhere,” he said. “You
Though, God knows there are so many gangs and should be careful.”
outlaws in Carbonville, they could be here. The He looked at Brand.
place is overrun with lawlessness.” “How are you feeling, Mr. Brand?” he asked.
“I’d heard it was pretty bad,” Brand said, “I feel pretty fine,” Brand said. “You worked a
buttering a slice of toast. “Since the Tulon Central miracle as far as I’m concerned. And, Dr. Reynolds,
Government signed an agreement with the you don’t have to worry about me. Silo Jarth is
Galactic Trade Union to leave Carbonville alone, the kind of creature I’ve put away many times.”
as a free trade zone, it’s become a safe harbor for “Then you’ll help us?” Jana asked. “We need
all the riff-raff in the galaxy. The Security Force someone with your kind of experience. Jarth has
had to give up its jurisdiction over here. What some dangerous people on his payroll. I’m afraid
happened to the law in this town?” for Raymond. He could be killed so easily.”
“Scared off, bought off, killed off by Silo Jarth.” “I’m sorry,” Brand said. “I didn’t come here, to
“Silo Jarth?” clean up a town. I’m looking for the Wilkersons.
“The head man, the main crime lord in Car- And from what you told me, probably the only
bonville—he owns the town. He came from person here who might be able to tell me where
Kazuli three years ago, he and his gang of green they are is this Silo Jarth.”
lizard men. They shot it out with the other gangs “You won’t help us?”
that had already been here, and then took over, “For now, I’d just as soon keep Jarth alive and
organizing what was left of his competition into where he is.”
one large organization. The mayor, the police The girl threw her fork down on her plate
department all answer to him. Now a decent with disgust. She started to speak, but her father
person can’t live in peace in Carbonville. What silenced her with a wave of his hand.
happened to you last night is just one example. #
He assesses taxes on everyone, and, if you don’t
pay, bad things can happen. It’s not safe to walk Brand walked through the teeming midday
the streets.” streets of Carbonville, taking in the sights and
“Nobody opposes him?” Brand asked. sounds of the city. It had been ten years since
The girl looked around as if trying to be sure his last visit and the difference in the town was
no one see was spying on them. remarkable. He looked up at the glass and steel
“There are some. A vigilante movement is dome that now shielded the city from the fierce
starting. My fiancé, Raymond Targo, is organizing Tulon sun. That hadn’t been here on his last visit.
it in secret. If he has his way, Silo Jarth will be run It was an incredible engineering marvel. A dome
out of town on a pole.” of glass twenty miles in diameter, reinforced by a
“Jana! Please!” Her father came through the network of titanium beams that arched over the
patio door. “You mustn’t speak of such things length of the city. He stopped on the pavement for
with strangers.” a moment and gazed way up at the square silver

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 12

shape of a Strato Sled coming down through an who looked more like bouncers, and drifted into
opening at the top of the dome—one of the sky- the first floor gambling area. He walked past the
doors that permitted air traffic in and out of the electronic roulette wheel, where two drunken
city. Venusian dames giggled and spilled their drinks
There had to be plenty of money in Carbon- while they threw chips down on the table. He
ville to build a dome that size and air condition turned and walked along a row of busy holo-
an entire city, Brand thought. The air tem- graphic slot machine junkies, feverishly pulling
perature was a constant 72 degrees and made levers, hoping to hear the clink of silver.
walking along the sidewalk a pleasant experience. There was a lounge ahead. He pushed through
Without it, the teeming mass of people, dressed the plexiglass doors and when they shut behind
in their lightweight robes and skirts, would not him, left all the clatter of the casino on the other
stroll along the thoroughfare as comfortably as side. An earth woman sat at a synthesizer in the
they did. corner softly playing a newly rediscovered classic
He squinted at the gaudy, blazing neon all of the past, “Moon River.” A few people sat at
around, advertising the casinos, restaurants, and tables and sipped tall drinks. Brand went up to
hotels along the street. Tinny music on loud- the bar. A push-faced off-worlder with a bartend-
speakers assaulted his ears, and there were er’s apron came up to him.
barkers and venders in doorways shouting out “I don’t want anything,” Brand said.
enticements to passersby to come in and try “This isn’t a rest area,” the barkeep said.
their establishments. He looked at the chromium, Brand pulled a leather case out of his pocket
gasoline-fueled vehicles gliding along the street and flashed his Security Force badge. The Force
and wondered, with so many hydrocarbons being let him keep it even when he wasn’t on the job.
emitted into the air, what would happen if the He found it a useful calling card.
domed city’s air filtration system failed? “Silo Jarth.”
He didn’t like Carbonville. The entire place, “Security Force,” the man said, squinting at
even the air everyone breathed, seemed artificial, the tin in Brand’s hand. “That don’t cut much ice
like a big lie told in the middle of a wasteland. It around here.”
was the kind of place where desperate, lonely “Doesn’t matter,” Brand said. “I’m here on
creatures ran to so they could try and forget personal business. But if he wants to make
the short span of time allotted to them for their things hard for me I can come back with enough
puny lives. A place where they could dance, drink, Security Force agents to turn this place into a
and get stoned and not have to think about bingo parlor.”
the oblivion they were all marching toward. He The barkeep looked up from the badge and
wished he were back in the desert, where it was studied Brand’s face.
clean, quieter, and less complicated. “What’s the name?”
Brand turned off the sidewalk and walked up He went back to the end of the bar and picked
the red-carpeted steps leading into the Green up a miniphone. He didn’t say more than five
Dragon, the biggest casino-hotel in Carbon- words before two large muscle-bound Kazulis in
ville—four floors of gambling rooms, twenty business suits came up behind Brand. He turned
floors of hotel rooms, five swimming pools, and and saw the green reptilian faces looking at him
three restaurants. He walked past two doormen like a bug on a lily pad.

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Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 13

“Come this way,” one of the lizard men said. “What’s the Security Force doing sending
They flanked him on either side and they walked somebody way out here?” he asked angrily. “Are
out of the lounge together, back into the racket they crazy?”
of the casino. They turned before they got to the “They didn’t send me,” Brand answered. “I
slot machines, and walked to a lobby in the rear told your man downstairs, I’m here on personal
of the place where the elevators were. One of the business.”
elevator doors opened and they got into the car. “You got personal business with me?” The
Some tourists tried to follow them in, but one of lizard man looked him up and down. “How’s that?
the Kazulis waved a hand and the tourists backed I don’t believe we ever met.”
off. The Kazuli swiped a key card, the door shut, “We didn’t. I’m looking for someone and I’m
and the car shot upward. told you might know where he is.”
“Assume the position,” the lizard man who’d “All right,” the Kazuli gangster nodded at the
done the talking so far said. Brand placed the two bodyguards and they faded into the jungle.
palms of his hands on the elevator wall and The blonde on his left kept nibbling at his thick
leaned against it while he was frisked. lobed ear. “Have a seat.”
“Okay,” the Kazuli said, when he came up Brand sat down on a concrete bench that was
empty-handed. moist with humidity.
The door opened at the penthouse. Only it “Who is it you’re looking for? What makes you
didn’t look like a penthouse at all. It looked more think he might be in Carbonville?”
like a Kazuli rain forest. Silo Jarth had transformed “I ran into Cal Thorson a little while ago. He
the entire top floor of his hotel into a reasonable said he’d seen the man a while back. I know
facsimile of the world he’d come from. Brand Thorson used to hang out around here. The man
gawked at the tall rubber trees, the colorful I’m looking for is Jesse Wilkerson. Him and his
flowers, the giant elephant ear leaves with two brothers.”
moisture dripping off them. They stalked their The small brunette on Jarth’s other side looked
way through the jungle, past small ponds and up at Brand suddenly. She seemed to react at the
running waterfalls. Strange birds chirped, croaked, mention of Wilkerson’s name. Jarth was too busy
and cawed, and Brand saw an occasional monkey enjoying the ear lobe munch the blonde was
swinging in the overhead branches. Brand felt a giving him to notice. The brunette looked away
little sorry for the alien lizard. He must be pretty from Brand quickly.
homesick to go to this much trouble. “Cal Thorson,” Jarth said, taking a sip of his
They turned right and Brand heard water drink. “How is Thorson these days?”
splashing and girls giggling. Pushing their way “He’s dead.”
through the dense foliage, they came on a small Jarth looked at him coldly.
pond. A green lizard-man sat up to his chest in “You?”
the water holding a drink in his hand. On either “That’s right.”
side of him were two gorgeous, naked, female Jarth shrugged.
humans, hanging on him as though he were a life “He was a tough boy, but he wasn’t too
preserver. The Kazuli gangster looked up at Brand smart.”
with hardly any curiosity at all in his shiny black “What about Wilkerson?” Brand said.
eyes. “Wilkerson. Wilkerson...” Jarth said. “Yeah.

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Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 14

I remember. A couple years ago. Three loco staggered back a few steps and steadied himself.
brothers. Did some work for me. Pretty crude The Kazuli just stood there.
boys. They weren’t here long. Had to let them go. “What was that for?” Brand asked.
Couldn’t follow orders. Kind of psycho.” “I don’t like cheap cops who think they can
“How long ago?” come here into my private world and ask me
“Two years maybe.” to rat on people I may or may not know. This is
“Do you know where they are now?” just a warning, Brand. If you’re smart, you’ll pay
Jarth shook his head, his dark, glassy eyes attention and get out of Carbonville. Now beat
shining like black mirrors. “Haven’t a clue. Wish it!”
I could help you. I always like to cooperate with #
the police. Even when they got no jurisdiction
and are just here on personal business.” The two Kazuli bodyguards followed him
The brunette who’d reacted to Wilkerson’s through the casino, stood in the glass entrance
name leaned closer to Jarth and whispered lobby, and watched him walk down the street,
something in the lizard-man’s ear. Jarth frowned. making sure he didn’t try to come back. Brand
“All right,” he snapped. melted into the crowd on the sidewalk and
The girl climbed out of the pool giving Brand touched the tender spot on his cheek where the
an eyeful, and grabbed a robe lying on another lizard-man had hit him. It had been a good punch,
concrete bench. She ran off into the rain forest. and he threw it without really seeming to try. He
“Girl just can’t hold her booze,” Jarth said. wondered how it would have been if he’d been
“Weak bladder, I guess.” trying.
Brand got up from the bench. His clothes were Up ahead on the right someone was waving
wet with humidity. at him from an alley. It was the brunette from
“Sorry, I couldn’t help you,” the lizard man Jarth’s pool. She’d traded the robe for a skin-tight
said. body suit. Brand looked back the way he came.
“I am too.” He started to go. The doorway to the casino was a good distance
“What’s your hurry?” Jarth asked. “Why behind, and the two bodyguards were gone. He
not stick around. Anything you want, I got it. moved to the right, and, when he got to where
Women, booze, drugs. Hell, man, pretend you’re the girl was standing, he looked into the alley. It
on vacation. Take a break. I got a Venusian sex seemed empty. The girl faded further back into
mistress you’d love to meet. You can’t play John the alley’s interior, motioning him to come to her.
Law all the time.” She stopped next to a trash dumpster.
“No thanks,” Brand said. “I don’t think I’ve had “You’re looking for Jesse Wilkerson?” she
enough shots.” asked. Her eyes kept looking out past him to the
“Suit yourself,” Jarth said. street, to make sure no one was noticing them.
He nodded his green head and the two body- “That’s right. You know where he is?”
guards came back out of the jungle. The Kazuli “I might.”
who’d done the talking in the elevator came up “Is he here in Carbonville?”
to Brand and, without telegraphing anything, hit “Not so fast,” she said. “If you want to know,
him hard in the stomach. Brand doubled over, it’s going to cost you. I’m taking a big risk.”
and the Kazuli’s fist smashed against his cheek. He “How much?”

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Carbonville, A Jack Brand story, by John M. Whalen Pg. 15

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

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Featured Artist: Euka Pg. 16

Featured Artist:
by Ruben C. (aka N3URON)
Name: Ruben C. Also known as Neuron
Hobbies: Creating worlds. Wasting time.
Listening to music. Debating.
Favorite Book / Author: The Art of War by
Niccolo Machiavelli
What media do you work in? My artwork
is mainly digital art which is done using
Photoshop CS2.
Where should someone go if they wanted
to view / buy some of your works? You can
visit my deviantART account, located here:
http://n3ur0n.deviantart.com/
How did you become an artist? When I first
started doodling on a pad as a child.
What were your early influences? I didn’t
have many influences. I liked to draw things
that I observed around me and that I saw on
television.

What are your current influences? I


was heavily inspired by Alyn, Greg
Martin, and Dinyctis. I first saw their
work on deviantART and I said to
myself, “Man I would love to be able to
create something like that.” So I just put
that in my mind and practiced a lot to
realize it.
What inspired the art for the cover?
Nothing actually. It started just as an
experiment. I was trying some new
things and trying new techniques in

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Featured Artist: Yung-Kee Hui Pg. 17

Apophysis to get some nebulae looking fractals. I used


more realistic forms of lighting as well, and in the end
it turned out as more than an experiment, so I finalized
it and made it an official piece. I never expected that it
would become the cover of a magazine.
How would you describe your work? In my opinion, I
like to think of it as ‘Unique.’ In some shape or form.
Some people may not agree, but I could definitely say
that I try to do something that hasn’t already been done
in space art.
Where do you get your inspiration / what inspires you?
I get my inspiration from a lot of places. Sometimes it’s
just things that happen around me and I get ideas for a
new piece. Music helps me get some ideas as well.
What have been your greatest successes? How has
success impacted you / your work? I haven’t had too
much success with my art. Honestly getting the cover
of this magazine is it! I try to look at a ‘great success ‘as
something like finishing a new piece.
What are your favorite
tools / equipment for
producing your art?
I mainly use Photoshop CS2. I use Terragen, World Machine,
Geo Control, and a lot of other programs that are used
alongside Terragen. I also like to dabble with fractals once in
a while, can’t say I’m any good at that however. Sometimes
when I have some time, I will jump back to the old pad and
pencil.
What tool / equipment do you wish you had? Getting a
tablet has been something on my to-do list for a while now.
What do you hope to accomplish with your art? I want to
do be different from your average space artist. Yes, I want
to create stunning visuals and all that, but I want to bring
something different to the table. Something that hasn’t been
done yet, or hasn’t been realized.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Featured Artist: Yung-Kee Hui Pg. 18

The Adventures of the Sky Pirate


Chapter 8, Comes the Watcher
by Johne Cook

T he Haddirron Naval Academy and outlying


support community occupied an entire
peninsula two hours down the coast from
work. He stretched his legs and cracked his neck,
then he tied his long black hair back into a knot
and went searching for food.
Haddirron City. At the end of every summer, a He kept a very low profile, but he was a rank
new class of polloi came streaming in from all amateur compared to my kind, and I had no
corners of the empire to attend the premiere trouble following him without being seen.
naval academy on the planet. It is one of two things I do best.
I was sent to the Academy for entirely different #
reasons. I had to find my target. If he was the right
one, I knew what I had to do, and the results of I shadowed Flynn for two days, watching his
that decision would change the fate of this place every move. He spent most of his time walking
forever. Years of preparation would come down among the commoners, buying rounds in the
to a single moment and a single action. taverns, hanging out by the docks.
The targets of our scrutiny were, of course, There are two things one must have to be
blissfully ignorant of all of this. accepted into the Naval Academy, a parchment
A stiff tail wind propelled me east and I made with a written commission, and one’s name must
very good time, arriving a full week before the be on a list kept by the Admittance Officer, a Petty
start of the new session. Officer by the name of Baskins, whose sole quali-
I landed at the hidden grotto and got my fication for the job seemed to be a soul without
bearings. It took me a little bit to get used to my a speck of pity.
legs again. I stretched them for a few minutes My information informed me that the target,
and then stashed some effects about my person. Cooper Flynn, had neither of the required com-
With everything functioning again, I walked into ponents. Also, there was not a single recorded
the town sprawled around about the Academy. instance of variance to the published require-
I passed a polished brass lamp and looked at ments. That could mean two different things,
the distorted reflection staring back at me. I tried however. I wondered if Cooper Flynn had thought
on a smile, a scowl, and finally walked off wearing of that.
a bemused expression. Based on what I knew of my target already,
I prowled about the outskirts of the Academy I thought I had a pretty good idea what he was
orienting myself with the area for the next couple going to do; however, I was mistaken. On the third
of days until my target arrived. day, he sold his sloop outright and took a nonde-
Cooper Flynn sailed in by himself in a very script room not far from the market across the
nice little sloop. He tied up to the dock at twilight street from the side entrance to the Academy.
when the waterfront was largely deserted. I sat I puzzled over that for some time. It was noto-
with one leg over the edge of the dock mending riously difficult to win entrance to the Academy
a net as he tied up, apparently engrossed in my through legal means. I had never heard of anyone

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 19

gaining access to the Academy through more over. The keeper of the keys was a beery, bleary
clandestine means, and I have very good sources Petty Officer by the name of Baskins, chomping on
of information. Flynn either knew something a long-dead cigar. He had a list on loosely bound
I didn’t or was so confident in his own abilities parchment and a perpetual growl that rose and
that he didn’t need to keep a back-up plan. If he fell with his temper but never abated entirely.
wasn’t the very first one to gain illicit admission Flynn positioned himself by a fishmonger
into the Academy, he was stranded. close enough to hear the Petty Officer, and I
I relaxed after that. Flynn was playing right into found a place where I could watch them both
my hands. If he failed, he would take himself out undisturbed.
of the picture, and I would move on to one of the Two things became clear almost immediate-
others. However, if he succeeded, he would be ly—the Petty Officer’s word was final regarding
the one I was looking for, and I would be free to admissions to the venerable Academy, and he
make my move, ending the life he knew forever. was a racist.
He routinely said three things. He roared
#
“Commission!” to the next candidate in line, after
Admittance day dawned and Flynn was already which he was to be presented with a parchment
hidden, watching over by the tiny admissions side bearing written authorization to the Academy.
gate, and I was watching him. There’s nothing After that, he yelled “Last name!” If there was a
harder than hiding in wait on another person successful match, he would take a quill, dunk it in
who is also hiding in wait, but I am very good at a large inkwell, scratch a check next to a name on
what I do. I settled in to watch things unfold and his sheath, and finally step aside until the newly
bide my moment to decide, and to act. accepted sailor squeezed past. The last thing he
The Haddirron Naval Academy’s grand front bellowed was “Next!”
gate was built back one hundred feet from the It was the unsuccessful matches where things
shore. The ornate gate was normally open, got interesting.
affording a good view of the water from the A flaxen-haired youngling held a parchment
buildings inside. Inside the gate was a curving in a trembling hand. The Petty Officer bellowed,
commons area surrounded by outbuildings. The “No match! Repeat your last name!”
main hall had windows looking out over the “Siquor, Sir.”
water, and the buildings behind it were staggered, “I’m not a ‘sir,’ and you’re not on the list!”
climbing a gentle hill, until one came to the Admi- Baskins snatched the parchment from his hand
ralty’s offices at the top of the hill, perched there and tore the document in half without so much
like a wheelhouse overlooking a deck. as looking at it. “Get out of here and I won’t have
However, the polloi admittees didn’t come you arrested for impersonating the freshpolloi.
in through the grand front gate, they came in NEXT!”
through a humble side gate only large enough to The next candidate was six-foot-eight if he was
allow one person through at a time. an inch. He wordlessly presented his papers and
Cooper Flynn’s first attempt to gain entrance the bristling Petty Officer grabbed at the papers
to the Haddirron Naval Academy was over before and then looked up. And then up some more.
it began. “A Reachie,” he purred, his voice dripping
Flynn spent the first hour looking the situation poison.

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 20

The young giant nodded briefly. of being opposite the side gate where the polloi
“Back of the line, Reachie,” said Baskins gathered, parchments in hand, lining up for inter-
brusquely, shoving his papers into the candidate’s rogation by the acerbic Petty Officer. Flynn leaned
gut and pointing savagely to the rear. against the wall, lost in thought. He apparently
The giant carefully refolded his papers, stood came to a decision and pushed away from the
there while sliding them into a pocket inside his wall, taking another walk around the market-
coat, slowly bowed his head, and finally turned, place. When he returned to that spot, he had a
walking deliberately to the back of the line. whittling knife, a substantial piece of wood, and a
Nobody stood in his way. long piece of grass.
I’ve been to the Reach before. In the long and He sat on an empty keg with his back against
sporadic chain of islands between Haddirron and the wall, stuck the blade of grass in his mouth,
Sylva, there are inner islands, there are outer and started whittling.
islands, and then there are the reach islands Flynn watched, and listened, and whittled. As
located almost equally between the two distant the hours went by, Flynn appeared to be paying
nations. They called themselves Reachers, while even less attention to the proceedings, which I
those with less manners called them Reachies. took to mean that he was ever more vigilant.
Many considered them scum instead of welcoming Noon passed, and then mid-afternoon. For all
them as equals. of Baskins’ faults, stamina was not among them.
Despised by Sylvans, looked down on by He chewed through freshpolloi like a man on a
Haddirron, the Reachers’ only recompense was mission, and sent more than a few applicants
an intense natural beauty and the clearest water away weeping, while those he admitted celebrat-
available in the midst of the great saltwater ed with quiet exultation.
expanse between the two nations. One young tough tried to force his way into
Fiercely independent, the Reach islanders the gate. Baskins took special glee in cutting his
kowtowed to no man. I wondered what had feet out from underneath him with one sweeping
prompted one of their kind to petition for com- leg, delivering two sledgehammer shots to the
mission into the Naval Academy. jaw with his ham-like fist, and throwing him bodily
For his part, Flynn had seen enough for the back onto the cobbled street. The only thing he
moment. He turned to the fishmonger, stuck said was “Next!”
his hand in his pocket, spoke to the fishmon- #
ger for a moment, and then produced his hand,
shaking hands again with the fishmonger, leaving The admissions went smoothly for the rest of
something behind when he withdrew his hand. the afternoon. Flynn waited it out, developing a
Flynn clapped the fishmonger on the shoulder nice scattering of wood shavings on the ground
and walked away. by his keg. To the untrained eye, it looked at
The fishmonger looked in his hand and his eyes awful lot like he was taking a substantial stick and
grew wide. He looked back to Flynn. Flynn turned revealing a less substantial one, but I’ve never
as he walked and waved broadly. The fishmonger really followed the complexities of whittling, so I
raised one hand hesitantly, and then waved with couldn’t say for sure.
an almost ridiculous vigor. The late afternoon shadows crept in and
Flynn walked to the corner. It had the virtue engulfed the alley before the end of the line

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 21

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

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 22

Mr. Pitt stopped and looked over his shoulder. and then made a grand show of stepping aside to
Flynn sidestepped the reaching Baskins and allow Mr. Pitt access to the Academy.
said, “Hey, there appears to be a problem here.” I leaned forward, intent on the moment. This
He took the ripped parchment, looked at it with was it.
interest, and stepped forward to Baskins. “Petty Flynn nimbly stepped forward in front of Mr.
Officer, there has been a mistake. I think you Pitt and jingled his pouch meaningfully. “You have
should recheck your list.” room for one more name on that list, I think.”
He handed the two pieces to Baskins and Petty Officer Baskins leaned forward and said
stepped back, turning and winking quickly at confidentially, “You have another of these?”
Mr. Pitt while his back was turned to the Petty Flynn leaned forward as well. “I don’t need
Officer. another of these, and neither do you.” He
I was curious. I’ve seen many gambits at that winked.
gate, none of them successful, but this was a Baskins’ eyes flashed something fearsome and
different approach from any I had witnessed he gritted out a smile that was all edge and no
before. humor. “I think you do.” He put one beefy hand
The emotions on Baskins’ face went from on the knife sheath at his waist.
rage, to surprise, to pleasure, to shock, to base I think Mr. Pitt and I were both tensed like
animal cunning, to calculated greed. He lifted heavy wound springs.
the parchment, revealing a heavy Haddirron gold Confidentially, Flynn murmured, “I think you
laurel piece, and quickly covered it back up. should look again before somebody gets the
“You know what this is?” he asked in a curiously wrong idea.” His smile was suddenly cunning and
normal tone of voice, as if he was afraid that his black eyes blazed with a ferocious intensity.
whatever he said would turn out to be a mistake, “And why is that, pray tell?” gritted Baskins,
and desperately hoping it was not. whose smile was being stretched by the warring
To his credit, Flynn played his part perfectly. factions of stress and greed.
“No, Petty Officer, what is it?” Flynn leaned closer in and I had to act quickly
Baskins’ eyes narrowed in decision. “Did you to hear his whisper. “Because you accepted a very
say ‘Pitt,’ young master?” sizable bribe to allow a disgraced Reachie fresh-
Flynn kept smiling and carefully dug his elbow polloi into your academy, and I have witnesses.
into Pitt’s exposed back. Pitt turned his massive Many witnesses.”
chest around. He hung his arms at his side in Baskins knuckles were turning white where
the posture of a man who didn’t want to have he grasped the hilt of his knife, and he spat out
any movement be misconstrued, and therefore the single word like an oath. “Oh?”
ended up looking stiff and awkward. “Yes, Petty Flynn slid nimbly to Baskins’ side and wrapped
Officer. Pitt.” his arm around his shoulder. Flynn clapped him
Baskins seemed positively gleeful. “Well, on the back and turned to look at the fishmonger
that’s it then. This is a mistake on the official rolls. across the way.
My sincere apologies.” With that, he grabbed his I was beginning to feel the tension of being
quill, dipped it in his ink well, and wrote in the coiled to strike for so long.
name of the big young man with the funny name. The fishmonger was right there in the moment
He dropped the torn parchment on top of the pile and immediately smiled and waved enthusiasti-

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 23

cally back toward Flynn. To my eye, it seemed Mr. Pitt forward.


he’d been waiting all day for this moment. The As they passed, Baskins reached forward and
fishmonger’s joy was so contagious that the grabbed Flynn’s arm, and almost got a blade in
tentmaker next to him also started waving, as did the throat, oblivious to my screaming reflexes
the netmender next to him. A flash of something demanding the removal of this threat. Flynn
went through the market square, and we all knew was mine to deal with, and I didn’t take kindly to
this was something special, a moment frozen in amateurs.
history for those who were lucky enough to be Baskins murmured, “What’s this big galoot to
present at this odd event. you, anyway?”
Flynn looked gleefully at Baskins and slowly Mr. Pitt brushed past, breaking the hold
waved his left arm toward the square, revealing by simple incidental contact. “He’s my cousin,”
that the entire market was waving and chatter- rumbled the man mountain as he passed.
ing. Flynn shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and
Petty Officer Baskins’ knuckles were shaking, grabbed his rucksack from a bush around the
and I had a throwing knife in my right hand without corner.
thinking about it, ready to throw at the slightest The Petty Officer bit the gold laurel as Flynn
opening, when Baskins suddenly removed his passed. “Welcome to the Academy,” he said out
hand from the sheathe. loud. Then, under his breath he said, “…for as
He turned to Flynn and spoke in his sunniest long as you last.”
voice of the day. “Oh, here it is. Welcome to the I returned the knife to my sheath and melted
Academy...” into the darkness. I’d have to find another time to
Flynn beamed in victory. make my move. I was secretly exulting.
Under his breath, Baskins murmured, “You’ll He’d gained entrance. He was the one, and he
both wash out in the first week and I’ll still have a was mine to dispense.
full years’ wages. That will be the end of that.” #
“You’re probably right,” said Flynn out of the
side of his grinning mouth, quietly, waving cheer- I found a place where the wall was only twenty
fully back to the fishmonger and friends, “but at feet and scaled it easily. I silently fell in behind
least we can wash out on our own terms, and can them as they walked and talked.
say with a clear conscience that we tried our best Rather, Flynn did the talking.
at the Academy before returning home.” “That was some fast thinking back there,
“Very well,” whispered Baskins. “But I will ‘cousin,’ said Flynn. “I’m impressed.”
remember you.” Mr. Pitt looked at him out of the corner of his
“I’m counting on it,” whispered Flynn, and he eye as if to suggest he thought that sentiment
winked in a very knowing way. ought to be the other way around.
Baskins cleared his throat. “Name?” he said “I’ve never met a sailor from the Reach before.
loudly as he picked up the scroll. This is a great honor for me.”
“Cooper Flynn, two ‘n’s,” he said calmly, waving Mr. Pitt’s eyebrow twitched.

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 24

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

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Serial: The Adventures of the Sky Pirate, Comes the Watcher, by Johne Cook Pg. 25

oiled my blades. I soundlessly removed a throwing I was ready to go.


knife and measured the distance, the windage, Leaving my body in a concealed location, I
the force I would need for a clean strike. took up my wings and flew west into the prevail-
I cocked my arm and flipped the knife around ing wind.
so I was holding the blade.
The figure detached itself from the shadows
and stealthily followed. Flynn turned and stepped
around the corner. The figure started to slide
around the corner after him.
I struck. Look forward to Chapter 9 of
The blade whirred through the air. The handle
The Adventures of the Sky Pirate coming up
caught him in the temple, dropping him to the
ground, stunned. in Issue 18, March 15, 2007
I made it to his feet in three strides, sheathed
the knife, and dragged him by the heels back into
the shadows from where he had come, revealing
a doorway hidden in the vines. I stepped outside Johne Cook
and waited as Flynn retraced his steps, his head
cocked. So he had heard something, but didn’t Johne Cook is a Technical Writer and a long-time
know what. Good. A little extra caution would space opera fan.
stand him in good stead in this place.
As for Petty Officer Baskins, I had delivered Johne is an Overlord (Co-founder and Editor) of
enough of a message for our first encounter. He Ray Gun Revival magazine.
would rue his decision if there was another.
#

I was convinced that we had our man. I needed


to return to the island and make the announce-
ment, spread the word, start the planning in
earnest. We had much to do and little time to do
it.
I scaled the wall again and started walking
back to the grotto. I resisted the temptation to
rush—the Academy didn’t need any more unex-
plained rumors at my expense from this watch.
I took my time getting to the coast. Once there,
I walked briskly down the stones to the secluded
grotto.

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 Pg. 26

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

The Story so Far:


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

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Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 27

him. “Perhaps, but is excessive. I would prefer few soup on the device’s metal sides. Esheera set her
hides, horns above door, good painting maybe.” bowl in it, then clambered back up the ladder,
Takeda smiled. “She’s a Rover, not a hunter.” humming a gentle tune.
“I know.” As he left the room for the Seer’s tiny cramped
He returned to his soup, and Takeda watched galley, he realized that not once during their
him guzzle it for a moment before returning to his exchange had Zartsi even looked at Esheera. He
own bowl. The Lithrallian had a massive appetite, had just stared into his bowl, claws latched tightly
but he had been quiet for past two hours, saying around its sides.
very little and only then when Takeda prompted Takeda could only wonder if the Lithrallian
him. He hadn’t bothered to thank Esheera after feud with the Drava somehow included Vitai.
she bandaged the slash below his eye.
#
Takeda shuddered. If Esheera had come only a
few seconds later they might both be dead. The Despair had only been on three voyages
She swung down the ladder from the cockpit since its construction and consecration: first, to
now, her bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and carry Lashiir out of the Dark Sphere and onto the
beaded hair jangling. A tight smile showed on her Drava world of Calarodi; second, to carry him to
puckered mouth, overshadowed by a pig-nose one of the world’s moons, a notorious hive of
Takeda could have wedged his fist into. “We’re crime with a substantial human population where
on our way out of the system—no trouble from he had further refined his knowledge of Imperial
Orbital Security.” culture and also acquired most of his servants,
She loped over to the pot and peered in. including twin hit men named John and Thomas.
“Ah, left me some gyssi. Just enough to wet my Its third voyage had ended on the windswept
stomach, but better than nothing.” flats outside Freesail, in a tomb sliced out of a
She picked up a bowl and ladled what was left rocky escarpment, concealed from prying eyes
of the soup into it. She emptied it again in half by a heavy camouflage net, and defended by
Zartsi’s time, smacked her lips, and switched the an advanced Intelligence with full control of the
pot off. “You boys set for a while?” Despair’s weaponry.
“Yeah,” Takeda said. “Thanks.” Lashiir stepped through the opening in the
“Good, because Esh isn’t cooking again until netting and into the darkness surrounding his
we’re between stars. The Seer doesn’t fly itself, ship. The cut stone was cold beneath his talons.
particularly not in solar space.” Just enough sunlight slipped into the cavern to
“Do you need...help with anything?” show him the Despair’s sleek lines, sculpted from
She fluttered her wings flaps. “I’ll have my metal stained deepest black. It had waited here
servants do everything. There’s five or six of ‘em for years, like a scorpion in its burrow.
below, every one a strapping male who worships “Thomas,” he called. “Stay back until I call.”
the ground I spit on.” As Lashiir advanced towards his ship, he
It took Takeda a few seconds to notice her noticed something white on the deep gray stones
smile, hidden in the creased red flesh of her face. of the cave—bones, he realized, splayed out
“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’” upon the floor. Only the lower jaw remained of
“Smart boy,” she said. “Actually, you can take the skull—the rest was scorched fragments and
this pot over to the galley and wash it for me. Put ash. Some homeless being, Lashiir guessed, had
it wherever there’s space.” entered the wrong cave.
Takeda nodded and picked the pot up. Flakes Lashiir paused a meter away from the skeleton.
of red and yellow spice clung to splashes of dried He still had at least sixty centimeters before

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Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 28

entering the danger zone, but it was better to be aspect of the Despair’s status. Information
cautious. He almost thought he could hear the flowed into his head, and all at once he had a
ship breathing in the slow rhythms of hiberna- complete picture of the ship. The experience was
tion, waiting for the one who could wake her. one Lashiir couldn’t describe to anyone without
The assassin gathered a slow breath into his every verbal intricacy of Deep Clordash—there
lungs. He released it with equal languor, letting were no numbers, lines, screen data. There was
the air curl through the passages of his beak only knowledge, immediate and complete. He
and emerge as a long, low flute. The tone didn’t felt the ship’s full fuel nodes, felt its cold propul-
have to be precise, but it did have to fall within a sion systems and laser batteries. He even had an
certain narrow range. inventory of the hold’s contents: a few scattered
Success. An answering noise—equally cases of possessions and weaponry he had never
low—drifted from the Despair, and a blue light unloaded to his new home.
snapped on in the darkness. Lashiir advanced, Outside, Despair’s sensors gave him the dry
stepping over the skeleton, and grasped the knob chill of the cavern, the darkness, the sigh of the
illuminated in blue. He turned, machinery rolled, wind outside, the bones of whatever unfortunate
and the Despair’s ramped hissed open. The ship human had found his way into the ship’s hole.
remained dark. Despair remembered the chill, remembered the
He fluted again, there was another whirr of heat of energy in its weaponry, and the stench of
machinery, and then a second light turned on. the man’s flesh.
“Thomas,” Lashiir called back, “Come.” Lashiir fluted gently. His eyes remained open,
The human entered the cavern as Lashiir and he saw Thomas as a smudged reflection in
ascended the ramp. It was good to feel the cool the cockpit’s smooth metal.
metal of the Despair’s decks resonating beneath “Yes?” he asked, and realized he had forgotten
his talons once again. There was a gentle, almost to speak through his translator. “Thomas?”
inaudible music every time he touched the ship. “Is...is there anything I can do, lord?”
From the ramp three passages ran through the “Stow your gear in the second cabin. You
ship: one into the hold below, another forward will share it with John—I trust you’ll be able to
to the piloting station, and a third back to cabins, minister to him?”
a meditation chamber, and a head and galley “Yes, lord.”
designed for Clordite use. Lashiir turned towards Lashiir had spent some time deciding what
the cabin. Pale blue lights illuminated his way, but to do with John—his injuries were severe, and
deep shadows lingered in the corners. It made a it would be weeks before he could be trusted in
ship stronger to have only a minimum of light. combat. Even then, he would never be as capable
The pilot throne was among the reasons Lashiir a warrior. Lashiir had considered killing him or
would have chosen this craft over the best, fastest, simply cutting off his tongue and fingers, then
most powerful human vessel. Its metal seat and leaving him on the streets.
arms, harsh from a distance, melted around his But he had been a loyal servant for years, since
limbs, sliding over the geography of his carapace. Lashiir had found him and his twin on Calrodi’s
A special cushion waited for his head. He lowered moon. His loyalty would only increase if his life
his hood and pressed his skull back into the cool was spared, and it might even inspire him to com-
metal, which flowed around it. pensate for his mutilations.
Screens and controls flared into life around “Good. Heziah and Tsuke will occupy a second
him, showing the familiar script of Low Clordash. cabin. The others will remain undisturbed.”
He didn’t need to glance at them to know every “Yes, lord.”

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Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 29

“I require no assistance in piloting. Be silent Empire.


and disembark when I give the order.” Someday, perhaps, he might even return to
He saw the reflection bow low and barely the Dark Sphere in triumph. When his book was
heard Thomas’ footsteps going away down the complete and when he was strong enough to face
passage. the warrior who awaited him there.
From here, it would be a brief voyage to the
#
abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Freesail
where John, Heziah, and Tsuke were waiting, Five hours after leaving Freesail’s atmosphere,
along with everything Lashiir had decided to Takeda looked up from his reader to see Esheera
bring with him on his journey—weapons, food, clambering down the ladder from the cockpit.
necessities, the cushion from his shrine, locked She waved to him and smiled, then sat down on
within three strome boxes which only he could a brocaded cushion ten feet away. She produced
unlock, and whatever items from his home in the another reader from her sweater, turned it on,
Dark Sphere he could fit into Despair’s hold. and started flipping through something.
Lashiir started the ship’s engines on their Takeda returned to his own device—borrowed
warm-up cycle. By this time, the explosives he from Esheera, of course. Her books were eclectic,
had planted in his shrine should have detonated, most of them written in Vitai, but he had found
shattering the old concrete, those things he had an article on Drava traffic regulations which had
left behind, and probably a substantial bite of the been interesting enough to pass the time. Zartsi
surrounding buildings and the street. His shrine was elsewhere—probably in one of the Seer’s
had to be destroyed along with everything else. cramped hammocks, sleeping or just brooding.
For a moment, he wondered if some of Nathan “Are we out of the system?”
Clane’s men had died in the explosion. Roger’s “Mostly,” Esheera said. “I’m going to have
head should have reached Clane’s hands by now, to do some course corrections in another hour,
and Lashiir knew he would have acted quickly. make sure I calculated about a hundred different
But perhaps not—it had only been five hours things right. Let me tell you one thing, Takeda:
since Takeda Croster and the Lithrallian had left if you don’t like math, don’t get within a siistri’s
Freedan’s atmosphere, bound for Nihil. snout of any cockpits. They drilled me on the
Lashiir felt a great sense of liberation as stuff since I was old enough to focus my eyes and
the warm-up cycle continued. He had become it still confuses me.”
stagnant here, in this waste heap of the galaxy, She read for another handful of minutes, then
working for petty criminals and taking prey which looked up again, cocking her head. “Mind if I call
rarely presented any challenge or excitement. you Tak or something? Takeda’s a little awkward—
Now he had a pair of beings worth pursuing. He three syllables. Not that I should complain.”
felt the stars spreading themselves before his Tak. Only one person in his three-year life had
talons. ever called him that: Sherri, the serving girl at the
Lashiir didn’t take trophies, but he did write Silver Sun. His only friend, in some ways, until he
the name of those victims he considered worthy had met Zartsi. Now that she was called to mind,
in a book bound with nightstone with pages he realized that nearly all his memories of her
stretched from fanglurker tongues. He would were happy ones.
scribe Takeda and the Lithrallian with his finest “Uh...sure. If you want to.”
ink. Then he would consider where to take himself “Not if it bugs you or anything,” she said,
next. Perhaps Imperia, where Tsiika might drink smiling.
the blood of the most powerful humans in the “No. No, it doesn’t.”

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He didn’t remember liking it when Sherri had from any of the canned music Takeda had heard
used it, but now he felt...as if he would almost while patrolling the Silver Sun Casino.
prefer to hear it from Esheera. Like a reminder of Other notes followed, some fast, others slow.
what little past he had. Occasionally she would rap her knuckles against
“All right, Tak. Do you like music?” the instrument’s core, making a loud clanging
She had turned off her reader and hidden it sound. She incorporated it into the string melody
somewhere in the cushions surrounding her seat. at what sounded like odd moments to Takeda, but
He stared for a moment, and said, “I...don’t really he had admitted he didn’t know anything about
know anything about it. Can’t play any, if that’s music.
what you mean.” After maybe a minute of playing, Esheera
“But do you enjoy it?” began to sing in a voice that was surprisingly high
“What I’ve heard, sure.” and clear, given the gruffness of her speaking
She reached underneath another cushion and voice. It took Takeda several seconds to notice
pulled out an oblong case carved from some dark that the words were Imperish. The song was
wood. Small, flashy gems studded it in an erratic about darkness and stars, about birds singing in
pattern, colored everything from deep purple trees beneath the moonlight.
to pale red. He also saw carvings mirroring the Takeda stopped paying attention to the lyrics
patterns on the rugs around him. and lay back, simply enjoying the music. Esheera’s
Esheera deftly undid twin locks, and opened voice faltered sometimes, or she fumbled her
the case to reveal an instrument that looked like playing, but she was good enough to make the
equal parts yellowish wood and gleaming silver. experience pleasant.
She picked it up from its woven lining, her fingers She sang another song without pausing, this
slipping easily around a central shaft. A row of one in what must have been a Vitai language. It
metal wires, the longest one near the shaft, ran incorporated unusual snorts and grunts along
away from it along two jutting sweeps of silver. with high-pitched vowels, gentle hums, and harsh
“I like to play when I’m leaving on a journey. consonants. It was difficult to tell where one word
This is a wingwire—a sheedaalo in the Rover ended and another began.
tongue, but no one’s going to test you. This,” she Esheera stopped at last, rapping on the wirew-
said, tapping the instrument’s core, “is hollow, ing’s core three times. She put it back in the case
and advanced play involves snapping the wires without ceremony, spun the locks, and slid it back
against it. I’m not quite that good yet.” under its cushion.
She placed the instrument’s silver-shod heel “That was good,” Takeda said, smiling.
between her crossed legs and folded her leathery She shrugged. “Thanks. I’m just hoping it
wing-flaps around the rest of it, so that one hand roused your Lithrallian friend—I’ve got a few
held the strings close and another far out. She words for him.”
placed the instrument’s top beneath her chin. “Success, Rover,” Zartsi hissed.
“You don’t mind?” Takeda spun to the see the Lithrallian
“No. I’m curious.” crouched to one side of the ladder leading below.
“Good, because if you did mind, I’d just tell He could see white bandages through the rent in
you to shut up.” the breastplate of his leather armor. They looked
She smiled as her knobbly fingers swept across fresh.
the gleaming wires. A low note swept through “Good sleep, dear?” she said.
the lounge, with an odd metallic jangle different “Until howling woke me.”

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Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 31

She smiled. “Sleep always make you telling you my age. Human women are weird with
grumpy?” that.”
Zartsi growled wordlessly. Takeda suddenly Her bracelets jangled as she spread her arms.
felt like it would be a miracle if these two got to “My brothers were Hiirtan and Gazako, my sister
Nihil without attacking each other. Miluura. I was youngest. Gazako died of wretch-
“Or,” Esheera said, expression reverting to pox when I had five years, and Miluura when I
serious, “is it the Rover’s price I demanded from was seven, leaving only a son and daughter to my
you?” parents.
Zartsi’s head snapped up. His eyes were “I grew up aboard the Long Walker, an old
burning as they locked with Esheera’s tiny black barge that spent most its time orbiting a moon
ones, and Takeda saw his right hand caressing that the Empire has never bothered to give more
one of his ivory daggers. Esheera tensed. than a survey tag. We had some hidden hydro-
“What will do if no pay?” he hissed. Anger ponics farms on its surface, and grew more food
seemed to be garbling his Imperish. aboard the ship itself. The elders taught me the
“I’ll spend the rest of the trip cursing at songs and history of my people, our script and
you, doctoring your food, waking you up at language, how to run a ship and navigate among
strange times, and put you out the airlock if you the stars, and how to fight with everything from
complain.” knives to the hotchoker I used on your Clordite
Takeda saw a ghost of a smile on her lips, but friend.”
the expression had no warmth. Zartsi’s shoulders So she knew what Lashiir was. The fact
tensed further. surprised Takeda, but Esheera continued without
“All right, Lithrallian,” she said. “I know you pausing: “I learned the woman’s arts from my
don’t like it. But the Rover’s price needs to be mother: cooking, sewing, weaving, nursing. I also
paid by anyone who gets aboard my boat, espe- worked in the farms and harvested water from
cially ones who pay as little you did.” the moon’s ice caps. When I was fourteen, my
She held up her hands and shook her head, as father apprenticed me aboard the Shaanis, a
if clearing her thoughts. “Here: I want my price Rover merchant ship captained by Triisto Laan.
paid now. I like to know who my passengers are I worked as an engine monkey, took the burns
before we spend the trip together, not after. But and grease for the older Vitai, and ate whatever
I don’t expect anything I’m not willing to give was at the bottom of the pot. I spent five years
myself, so I’m going to tell you my story—right aboard the Shaanis, and Star Watchers know it
now. You’re going to sit through it, then you’re toughened me up. Any muscles I’ve got today I
going to tell me yours, then Tak’ll take his turn, earned then.
and then you two can eat something and sleep. “I also met a male—Jaggo Laan—and when
Deal?” my apprenticeship was over, my father gave him
Zartsi bowed his head again. When he spoke, permission to marry me. I went with him to the
his voice was so soft Takeda could barely hear the Laan homeship, bigger and newer than the Long
words. “I do as promise.” Walker, and lived with him for three years. I’ll
“Good,” Esheera said. “Then let’s get started.” spare you the details about what a man he was.”
She cleared her throat, a sound like a car A fond smile crept across her face. It faded
starting up, crossed her arms over her chest, and as she continued. “Anyway, one day he decided
started, “I was born to Eshmauk and Raidi of the he was going to go into business for himself—
Nii thirty-six Imperial years ago—no, I don’t mind become a merchant and buy a ship where we

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 32

could raise our family. He had been saving money, my husband’s family, I had enough to buy an old
and with my dowry and a gift from his parents he scow which I spent months fixing up. The Ixlu
had just enough. He left the Laan ship to visit the Seer. The name is another long story—I’ll tell it
nearest shipyard, buy a craft, and come back for sometime if you like, dears, but I’d prefer not to
me. I was...I had a little one in my belly, then, so waste more breath on it now. To wrap things up,
he didn’t want me coming.” I’ve had the Seer for ten years now. She’s been
She crossed her arms again, hard enough to through a lot of repairs—I had to tear the engine
crease the fabric of her sweater. “Three weeks apart and build it back up with mostly new parts
later, the ship came back without Jaggo. Pirates a couple years ago—but she’s still dragging me
had overtaken it—humans, I think, maybe a around. I even installed some weapons, although
Drava or two. They hadn’t been planning to kill they’re nothing too special.”
anyone—just take cargo, money, whatever they She let out whatever air remained in her lungs
could—but Jaggo...he didn’t want to come back in a long sigh. “To finish off, I’ll tell you that there
with his pockets empty. So he tried to kill ‘em. hasn’t been a single blackstar day when I haven’t
Knifed one of them through his hamstring, then thought about Jaggo. I just recently wondered
pulled his hotchoker and torched another one what he’d think about me going to Nihil. Probably
before the captain blew his chest open.” be joking about getting sand in his nose.”
Takeda didn’t think the Vitai had tear glands, She smiled again, more broadly than before,
but he could see that her wing-flaps had darkened so that Takeda could see a flash of the tiny, sharp
somewhat, and there was a slight tremor in her teeth buried deep behind her lips. He couldn’t
voice as she spoke. “The pirates put his body help but smile in return. He also felt a twinge in
out the airlock—not actually too much different his gut—if she expected that kind of narrative
than a Rover burial, but they cut him up first. The from him, she would be disappointed. He didn’t
damned pirate captain kept his ears.” have anything interesting to tell her before that
She paused for a moment, took her breath in, night at the Silver Sun when his powers had first
and said, “The child was born prematurely two manifested themselves.
weeks later. It died in my womb a few days after “Anyway,” Esheera said, “that’s pretty much it.
the news came.” I could give you a few stories about my time with
Her eyes went to the floor, staring at the the Seer, and they might be interesting enough to
carpets’ weaves. She seemed to gather strength just barely keep you awake, but I’m not going to
from the images of the lost Vitai homeworld. bother. I’ll just tell you that...ever since the news
Another deep breath, and she turned her head so came back, I’ve wanted to kill pirates. The best
that the bead-knotted strands of hair were visible. way to do that would be by joining the Imperial
“A gray bead in every strand—for mourning. Back Hunter Force, but they don’t let Vitai in there—
then every one was gray, and all my bracelets and never have, never will—so...well, I’ll probably fly
earrings were plain iron. I stayed like that for three the Seer until she breaks down, and then find
years, with my family. I almost tore my father’s another ship.”
eyes out when he suggested I find another mate. She shrugged. “It’s not too remarkable. It’s a
“Anyway, I shipped out eventually aboard a big galaxy, and I’m not the only widow in it. I just
merchant ship from another clan. Five years. I try to do what I can with my life as it is, and I
ate the worst food and saved every Silver I could hope I’ll have to chance to smoke a few pirates
out of my pay. Eventually, between that, money for Jaggo someday. Thanks for listening.”
from the Nii clan, and some more money from She smiled at Takeda, and turned an equally

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 33

warm expression to Zartsi. The Lithrallian had a long moment, wondering if they would notice
barely moved during Esheera’s narration, and his his listening underneath the ladder. Maybe he
expression still looked as if it was carved from could summon his enhanced hearing and listen
stone. His eyelids were half-hooded, but Takeda to every word from down in the hold.
couldn’t read the Lithrallian’s expression well He shook his head, disgusted with himself.
enough to tell whether he was angry or simply Eavesdropping would be a bad way to repay the
bored. being who had saved his life more than once. He
“Did you...” Takeda started, then decided moved over to the hatch leading downwards. He
against what he had been going to say and heard the mutter of Esheera’s voice above him
continued with, “You’ll have to tell me more about for a moment, and heard it fade as his shoes hit
Jaggo sometime. He sounds like a great man.” the hold’s floor.
“Thanks, Tak. I appreciate that.” If anything, the hold was more spacious than
Zartsi’s gaze had dropped to the carpeted floor. the living area above—three hammocks were
“How about it, Zartsi?” she asked. “You going to strung along one wall, one sagging from Zartsi’s
give Esh what you promised her?” recent use of it. Further back he saw crates and
His hands clenched and unclenched, slowly, boxes, some sealed, others open and full of
as if he were stretching them for combat. When what looked like junk to him. Even here, Esheera
he jerked his head up his eyes burned with fierce hadn’t let the bulkheads remain bare, although
energy. the hangings were plainer and less common.
“Yes,” he hissed. “But I promised to you—not Between them the metal was painted a dull blue
Takeda. He not hear.” color that had cracked in places.
Esheera’s smile faded to a frown. “How long Takeda hadn’t realized how tired he was until
have you two been traveling together?” he lay down in the hammock farthest from the
Takeda answered, quietly. “Just a few weeks.” hatch and felt his head sink into the pad at one
“And he hasn’t told you anything?” end of it. The cloth was soft and firm, supporting
Zartsi’s eyes gleamed menacingly, but Takeda his weight surprisingly well.
said, “Just that he used to live in the City of Golden Even his curiosity about what Zartsi was saying,
Ascension on Lithrall. That’s about it.” what he was so ashamed of that he couldn’t even
Esheera nodded and said, “As you wish, Lithral- reveal it to Takeda, didn’t keep him from falling
lian. If we go up to the bridge and you go below, asleep within a minute.
Tak, our friend shouldn’t be in any danger.” #
Zartsi stood, mutely, his head nearly brushing
against the room’s ceiling. His hands reflexively The nightmares came, as they always did
hovered near his daggers. Esheera turned away, after his powers rose to the surface. They were
rattling her beaded hair, and clambered up the more chaotic than ever, now—a kaleidoscope of
ladder to the cockpit. Zartsi followed, slowly. shadow, blood, flame, and a fierce yellow color
He gripped the rungs and pulled his feet off the that flashed across his mind in streaks.
ground. At that moment, his expression softened It ended with an image of a spinning saw,
slightly, and he made eye contact with Takeda. hovering just between his eyes. He didn’t know
“Please,” he said, “go below. You...cannot whether that was what woke him, but he rolled
hear.” out of the hammock screaming, sweat coating
Then he vanished after Esheera. Takeda started his skin, and landed on all fours on the deck.
to say something, but silenced himself. He sat for “You all right, Tak?” Esheera asked. He glanced

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Serial: Memory Wipe, The Price Paid, by Sean T. M. Stiennon Pg. 34

up to see her standing a couple feet away, arms Next month... Chapter 9: Orbit over Nothing
crossed.
He panted for breath and sat down. Sweat
dripped into his eyes. “Yeah. Just nightmares.” Sean T. M. Stiennon
She nodded. “Anything I can do to help?”
Sean is an author of fantasy and science fiction
“I...I don’t think so. How long have I been
asleep?”
novels and short stories with many publica-
“A little over an hour—just while I’ve been tions under his belt. His first short story collec-
talking to your friend. I wanted to hear your story, tion, Six with Flinteye, was recently released
but if you’re not up for it, I doubt another night from Silver Lake Publishing, and he won 2nd
will make it go stale.” place in both the 2004 SFReader.com Short
Takeda scratched his beard and tried to blink Story Contest and the Storn Cook Razor-Edged
the drowsiness out of his eyes. “Sure. I’d prefer Fiction Contest with his stories “Asp” and “The
not to...not to sleep again for a little while.” Sultan’s Well,” respectively. “The Sultan’s Well”
Esheera jerked her head upwards. “You want has been published in the anthology Sages and
to sit up above?” Swords. Sean’s short story “Flinteye’s Duel”
“No,” Takeda said. “Here is fine. Can I...can I was published in Ray Gun Revival, Issue 01.
just ask you a question?”
“Sure. Ask me two, if you like. Three if they’re Sean’s work tends to contain lots of action and
short ones,” she said, smiling.
adventure, but he often includes elements of 
“Can you tell me what Zartsi told you?”
tragedy and loss alongside roaring battles. A
She scrunched up her nostrils slightly and
shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, but he might kill
lot of his work centers around continuing char-
me if I did, and he might even have some justifi- acters, the most prominent of whom is Jalazar
cation for doing so.” Flinteye (Six with Flinteye). He also writes tales
Takeda nodded and dropped his eyes to the of Shabak of Talon Point (“Death Marks,” in is-
deck. “I just don’t understand why he couldn’t sue #9 of Amazing Journeys Magazine), Blade-
tell me. I mean, I haven’t known him for that long, master (“Asp,” 2nd place winner in the 2004
but we’ve been through a lot. He’s saved my life.” SFReader.com Contest), and others who have
She scratched her nostrils with one hand and yet to see publication.
said, “Tak, I can’t tell you what he told me, but I  
just want you to know that Zartsi respects you a Sean loves to read fantasy and science fic-
great deal. I think that’s part of why he doesn’t tion alongside some history, mysteries, and 
want you to know.” historical novels. His favorites include Declare
Takeda opened his mouth, but Esheera by Tim Powers, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn  
shushed him. “No—I’m not going to answer
trilogy by Tad Williams, Stephen Lawhead’s
questions about that. But I think you can be sure
Song of Albion trilogy, and King Solomon’s
he’s your friend.”
“That’s good to know,” Takeda said. “Now I’ll...
Mines by H. Rider Haggard. He has reviewed
tell you what I can, about myself.” books for Deep Magic: The E-zine of High Fan-
He crossed his legs, took a deep breath, and tasy and Science Fiction, and currently reviews
began his story. books at SFReader.com.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007


Jolly RGR Pg. 35
The Jolly RGR

Up next for Ray Gun Revival, Issue 17

Flinteye and the Crystal Spear


by Sean T. M. Stiennon
Jalazar Flinteye and his ‘bot partner, Axten, are hired to protect an ancient spear that
serves as both a source of power and a bone of contention among feuding warlords.

The View From the Shotglass Floor


by Michael Ehart
Everyone has at one time or another wanted a “do over”. But what if your second
chance makes things worse than they were already? Would you have enough sense to
leave bad enough alone?

Carbonville, Part Two


by John M. Whalen
Jack Brand struggles to survive among his allies, much less his enemies, in Carbonville.

Serial: Deuces Wild,


Chapter 9, “In the Lap of the Gods, Part Three”
by L. S. King
When the roof caves in, who will survive?

Featured Artist

Serial: Jasper Squad


by Paul Christian Glenn
You won’t believe what happens next.

Ray Gun Revival magazine Issue 16, Feburary 15, 2007