Issue XIV -- Editor's Choice


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Read about the contributors to issue fourteen and see excerpts from each article or story.  

Issue XIV Contents

The Word of Ghair -- Cherith Baldry

The Wind at Carthage -- Mark Tiedemann

Profits -- Terry Bramlett

Wings, Waivers and Wild, Warm Weather -- Greg Beatty

The Breath of the Gods -- Scott W. Carter

Twenty Two Centimeters -- Gregory Benford

Krasnaya Luna -- Paul Marlowe

Surely The Clouds Would Come -- Robin Jensen

By and By -- Jerry Goodz


The Word of Ghair © 2004 Cherith Baldry

Selling my soul was easy. No fire and brimstone. No Mephistopheles grinning over my shoulder. Not even blood to sign the contract. And no mounds of gold and pearls, no naked succubae as my reward – nothing but a credit slip and a ticket to Perel on a Company starship. It was all so simple that I never really noticed the moment when my soul slipped away from me.

On the journey out to Perel I had plenty of time to think over the transaction. I’d been in the Company Chairman’s office, valeting his air conditioning unit – the kind of stupid, mindless job that didn’t stop me listening to the two men on the other side of the room.

The Chairman had hauled up some sweating minion to explain why the project to open up Perel was going so badly.

“That world has everything,” he snapped. “Mineral deposits, good agricultural soil, mountains and beaches just crying out for tourism… It’s a goldmine. So what the hell is going wrong?”

“The locals don’t want us, sir,” the minion explained. “They’re perfectly polite, they listen to everything we tell them, but they’re not interested. And you know the law won’t let us move in without local consent.”

The Chairman snorted. “Bribe them.”

“We’ve tried that, sir.” The minion slicked back his hair with a hand that I swear was shaking. “It doesn’t work. We haven’t got anything they want.”

“Threats, then,” the Chairman snarled, frustrated. “Blackmail. Flog a few. We – ”

The minion coughed. “That would be … inadvisable, sir. The success of the project depends on a good working relationship.”

“Damn it, man, soon there won’t be a project. Time is money, and we can’t keep our teams there indefinitely.”

A fuming silence descended.

“Tell them God wants them to do it.”

I hadn’t realized I was going to speak until the words were out. The minion whirled, and both men stared at me as if the water cooler had stood up and addressed them. I swallowed; was I suicidal or something?

“But we can’t…” the minion protested feebly. “All our researches … the people of Perel have no god.”

I shrugged. “Then give them one.”


The day after the conversation in the Chairman’s office I found myself on board a starship. I had a contract to cover the time I would spend on Perel, with the promise of a permanent position if I was successful. More money than I had ever seen in my life before, and on top of that the security and status that comes with being a Company man. I was tired of bumming around the galaxy, taking whatever stupid job was on offer, pretending superiority to settled earthsuckers. With any luck, this would be my last journey.

Perel is a distant world, at the end of a flight path through four or five wormholes. I had time on the journey to get used to the translation implant, to learn what I could about my destination, and to manufacture a god.

There was one large continent in the northern hemisphere, and a scatter of islands in the southern. The bulk of the population was in the north, a mixture of nomadic tribes and settled villagers beginning to develop agriculture. I played scenes from a holocube and saw what the Company Chairman meant: it was a beautiful world, ripe for development.

The question I had to answer was what kind of god would appeal to these primitive folk. I thought of a pantheon like the Ancient Greeks', but it was too complicated. I hadn't the time. One god, I decided, and when I discovered the Perelians set great store by hospitality, I made him a traveler -- a neat explanation if anyone asked why this god had never paid any attention to their world before. I dreamed up a few symbols and ceremonies, and set the computer to produce random combinations of letters until it came up with one I liked. Ghair. The god's name was Ghair the Traveler, and by the time my starship made orbit around Perel I was all ready to begin my great work of evangelism.

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The Wind at Carthage  © 2004 Mark Tiedemann

Paris Ambejack maneuvered his ship, Skamander, into orbit above the lush green world and released a shower of small probes. Wispy clouds formed in tiny spirals all through the atmosphere. He punched up a topographic display, which modified itself as data from the probes came in. The surface seemed pocked uniformly, like the depressions in a golf ball. As he watched, the monitor sketched in lakes in the bowl of each depression. And at the locus of each set of four, towers.

Paris shifted uncomfortably in his couch. Those towers had brought him here – or, rather, brought the team of investigators that had commissioned him for the run.

Remembering them then he touched a contact on the console.

“Telemetry coming in,” he said. “I’m sending through the feed for you.”

“Thank you, Shipmaster,” Moira Armagh replied.

“Interesting world you found.”

“You’re welcome to join our discussions.”

The invitation had been made half a dozen times during the run. Paris had refused them all. He usually resisted mixing with passengers, content to remain in the command section, check on their requirements from time to time. Aloof and professional, he liked to think. He wondered if Moira understood, that it had nothing to do with her. In fact, he told himself, she was the reason he had taken the commission, because of who they had been with each other once.

He would have to shuttle them down, though. No excuse not to join them, at least make motions toward sociability.

“When I finish the initial safety surveys,” he said. “Then I’ll be down.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Moira said.


He entered the common room in the midst of a debate. Moira sat at one end of the broad table, reclining leisurely, one arm thrown up and draped over the back of her chair. Saunders leaned intently on the edge of the table, his big hands shaped in upturned claws while he tried to drive a point home.

“ – that doesn’t explain their uniformity,” he said. His face seemed too thin for his otherwise muscular body. “What could drive that kind of induction?”

“If we’ve got a variable star,” Moira said, “then we could be seeing the results of rapid cycles of glaciation.”

“We haven’t seen evidence that this star is a variable,” Saunders said.  “Not to that degree.”

“Depends on its cycle, doesn’t it?” Krueger, across from Saunders, asked quietly. “We have records on it going back at most two hundred and fifty years. Some variables have cycles longer than that. Moira’s right, a cycle of freeze thaw, freeze thaw covering a few millennia instead of tens of thousands of years might account for it. Cryostatic induction. No time for weathering to erode the features.”

“And the towers?” Saunders demanded.

Tara Price leaned into the argument from where she sat between Saunders and Moira. “Possibly the same process. I’ve worked out a model that has warm air caught in the floes funneling through the ice cover and permitting displacement by rock and soil pushed up through the resulting chimney. Sort of like a volcano. Differences in temperature combined with pressure could drive it.”

Saunders looked at her incredulously. “So uniformly?”

“I don’t understand your problem, Jack,” Moira said. “We’ve seen naturally occurring features with symmetry and regularity before.”

“But not covering a whole planetary surface.”

Tara frowned. “They aren’t everywhere...”

“A dozen or so empty segments out of the thousands everywhere?” Saunders said derisively. “Too few to convince me the rest are natural.”

Moira leaned forward, smiling. “Nor have we ever seen artifacts covering a whole surface. Not even on Earth. Construction fails to achieve that kind of uniformity over simple continental areas.”

Krueger smiled playfully. “I suppose that depends on how you interpret certain sites – natural or artificial.” He glanced at Saunders. “Would it make you feel better if these were artifacts?”

Saunders sighed and pushed himself back in his chair as if physically leaving the debate.

“The only way we’re going to find out is to look at one,” Price said reasonably.

Paris smiled and stepped forward. “And you get a chance to do that tomorrow.”

Everyone looked up at him. Moira smiled slightly.

“The probes cleared the atmosphere for our lungs, the soil for our feet, and the fauna will not eat us,” he said. “Standard prophylactic measures will be maintained and return to Skamander will require decontamination. But we may descend tomorrow at eight hundred shiptime.” He grinned at Krueger. “Then we’ll see if these are canals or canali, eh?”

Saunders reddened slightly while Krueger chuckled.

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Profits © 2004 Terry Bramlett

Seventy-nine percent of all ConMine scouts signed a second ten-year contract. The thought depressed Myrle Tannon, though scouting for mining opportunities through the galaxy was the only life she had known for the last ten years. She stared at the goggles and VR suit, knowing she should be using the psyche programs. Myrle sighed, grateful when the ship bounced out of the hop.

“Hop completed, Tannon.”

“Deason,” she said, activating the computer personality beyond the alarm features. “ETA for the system?”

“Two hours before scanning range,” Deason said. The voice touched on tenor, being somewhat male in tone. Myrle kept it close to her own vocal range. At one time, she thought Deason sounded like her father. “In twelve hours we will be in the star’s habitable zone. Shall I prepare the cryonics lab?”

Myrle smiled. The royalties from the mining discoveries fueled her retirement, but the plant and animal specimens paid for the luxuries. ConMine took thirty percent of the sales, but they did provide the ship and supplies. Of course, ConMine didn’t oversee every transaction. Deason reprogrammed with ease.

She thought about her contract. College had been out of the question, but her scores were too high for the ConMine reps to ignore. After passing the psyche tests, she went through two years of training before beginning her ten-year contract. Though the computers would do the majority of the work, a human had to know how to deactivate the computer and fly the ship home if problems arose. Sometimes, Myrle thought of herself as a redundant system for ConMines.

“Tannon? What about the cryonics laboratory?”

“Yeah, Deason. Get it ready and the pod.”

“As you wish, Tannon.”

Ten years in space with no company, but a few psyche programs and a computer drove many of the ConMine scouts beyond rational thought. Myrle planned her time alone, while the ship made the hops necessary to fulfill her contract. A communications degree through the computer kept her busy the first few years. But on these last few hops, she sensed her loneliness. Four years ago, royalties from her mining discoveries reached one hundred thousand credits per year. At what point do I have enough profits? The answer eluded her.

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Wings, Waivers and Wild, Warm Weather © 2004 Greg Beatty

You’d think that everything would have changed when the human race grew wings, but you’d be wrong.

Oh sure, some things changed on the morning of August 26th, when the human race woke to find their beds full of wings. A lot of things changed, actually. The Los Angeles freeways became a gigantic parking lot as the world’s largest traffic jam became the world’s largest feathered exaltation, with everyone abandoning their cars in a matter of seconds. Across North America , a host of teenage football players found that instead of slamming into the blocking sled, they were gliding over it – over the sled, the field, and the coach, arching through the heavy air with a sensitivity they hadn’t known they possessed, and liking way the air caressed their flesh. In Europe, on the Cote d’Azur , guardians of exclusive beaches had squawking fits when the proletariat and the paparazzi swooped over barriers erected to keep them out, and worse, when the wings of the beautiful people were no more glorious than the wings of the uplifted poor, who had more reason to soar.

Yes, a lot changed, but a lot stayed the same. People still ate, slept, and dreamt. People still walked, though walking was optional now.  People still talked to make sense of things, and most of that talk was still gossip. And I was still the same, too.

When I was young my friends were runners. I joined the cross country team to be with them, and discovered that I had no foot speed at all. I trained hard, running daily until I could run six, ten, twelve miles easily, but no matter what I did, I still ran at the same glacial pace, my body plodding even as my mind sprinted ahead of the pack.

Alas, the same was true now that I had wings. I loved feeling my primaries catch a breeze, and flapping my wings was a genuine and literal rush. As my recent glide along the winding Ohio at a mile and a half up had shown, I had endurance to burn. I also had control, grace, and an apparently innate lack of speed.

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The Breath of the Gods © 2004 Scott W. Carter

The city looked like an angel. As he guided his ship down through the dark skies of Vagal Rone, it was the first thing Commander Richard Hagel thought when he saw the flames that engulfed the city. The High Ones Coliseum, now totally ablaze, was the hallo. The city-long aqueducts were shaped like slender wings. The twin domes of the Ascender’s Chambers looked like breasts. And the rest of the various buildings within the aqueducts formed a womanly body. It was such a remarkable and obvious image that Richard wondered why it took a raging inferno to get him to see it, especially after making the trip dozens of times.

And then, of course, he realized: He couldn’t see an angel, but he could see a burning angel just fine. Julie wouldn’t have been surprised at the irony of this – at least the old Julie wouldn’t have been.

“How long until the asteroid hits?” he asked the ship.

“Twenty seven minutes,” the ship answered.

Richard grimaced and set his stopwatch. The good news was that he knew exactly where she would be, where everyone who was left on Vagal Rone would be: in the coliseum. But there would be thousands of people there, and there was no telling if he would be able to find her.

He landed just outside the city –as close as he dared put his ship to the fires – and ran to the back of the ship. He jumped in his three-wheeled buggy and buzzed down the landing ramp before it even touched the ground, landing with a jolt and tearing off over the dunes toward the city. 

He didn’t even bother turning on his headlamps; the fires were so bright it was almost like day.


When he met Julie for the first time, Richard was recently divorced, still simmering at being dumped for a miner who smelled of cheap beer and spoke in monosyllabic grunts. He asked for Vagal Rone because it was the most distant assignment available. The Rones, as they were commonly called, were mostly made up of followers of the Order of Ascension, and abstinence was one of their pillars. It was fine by him. He didn’t even want to think about other women.

Yet when Julie barged into his office five days after his ship touched down, he was surprised at how instantly he was attracted to her. She wasn’t part of the Order, as she was wearing a simple floral dress instead of the traditional brown fri’loch robe, but he would have known she was an off-worlder just by her eyes:  there was a burning intensity in them that was never present in the ever-vacant expressions worn by members of the Order.

It only took a few seconds before he realized why the intensity was there.

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Twenty Two Centimeters © 2004 Abbenford Associates

The Counter Universe was dim. The Counter Earth below them had a gray grandeur – lightly banded in pale pewter and salmon red, save where the shrunken Moon cast its huge gloomy shadow. Here the Moon clung close to the Counter-Earth, in a universe chilling toward absolute zero.

Julie peered out at a universe cooling into extinction. Below their orbit hung the curve of Counter-Earth, its night side lit by the pale Counter-Moon. Both these were lesser echoes of the ‘real’ Earth-Moon system, a universe away – or twenty-two centimeters, whichever came first.

Massive ice sheets spread like pearly blankets from both poles. Ridges ribbed the frozen methane ranges. The equatorial land was a flinty, scarred ribbon of ribbed black rock, hemmed in by the oppressive ice. The planet turned almost imperceptibly, a major ridgeline coming slowly into view at the dawn line.

Julie sighed and brought their craft lower. Al sat silent beside her. Yet they both knew that all of Earthside – the real Earth, she still thought – listened and watched through their minicams.

“The focal point is coming into sunlight ‘bout now,” Al reported.

“Let’s go get it,” she whispered. This gloomy universe felt somber, awesome.

They curved toward the dawn line. Data hummed in their board displays, spatters of light reporting on the gravitational pulses that twisted space here.

They had already found the four orbiting gravitational wave radiators, just as predicted by the science guys. Now for the nexus of those four, down on the surface. The focal point, the coordinator of the grav wave transmissions that had summoned them here.

And just maybe, to find whatever made the focal point. Somewhere near the dawn line.

They came arcing over the Counter night. A darkness deeper than she had ever seen crept across Counter. Night here, without the shrunken Moon’s glow, had no planets dotting the sky, only the distant sharp stars. At the terminator, shadows stretched, jagged black profiles of the ridgelines torn by pressure from the ice. The warming had somehow shoved fresh peaks into the gathering atmosphere, ragged and sharp. Since there was atmosphere thicker and denser than anybody had expected the stars were not unwinking points; they flickered and glittered as on crisp nights at high altitudes on Earth. Near the magnetic poles, she watched swirling blue auroral glows cloak the plains where fogs rose even at night.

A cold dark world a universe away from sunny Earth, through a higher dimension ...

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Krasnaya Luna © 2004 Paul Marlowe

Only three days out from Earth and  time had already grown alien for him, simply one more number to be tallied and communicated by machine. The break had begun back in the departure lounge of Baikonur Cosmodrome, when Zoë’s vid-mail arrived.

God knows I’ve tried to understand you, Rodion,” she offered in self-defense.

He was Rodion to her now, just Rodion Kovalev like he was on his driver’s license. Not Rodya any more. Now only his mother would be so familiar. The techs at the launch pad had got the impression Rodion was pale with terror, but it was Zoë’s message that had bled him white. She was moving out. After nearly three years. He was unambitious – going nowhere, she said. If only he could have told her where he was really going; but he couldn’t tell anyone, not until it was a done deal. By then it would be too late for them to patch things up. Hell, it was too late already.

But time was out of joint from more than just Rodion’s break-up. He was on the flight deck of the little module carrying him to the Moon, the cratered gray land rolling away beneath. Facing aft with the engines turned forward for the final burn, it was like riding a caboose through the heavens with the world forever receding, a photo-negative of black skies and shining soil.

Ever since they’d met in ‘23, Zoë had spared no effort to charm and wheedle him up the hierarchy at the Union Bureau of Foreign Affairs in Brussels , without any great success. The limiting factor in Rodion’s career was not so much class, education, or lack of influence, as the fact that he was simply too satisfied with where he was. Why the Bureau chose him as their envoy to the Moon was anybody’s guess. Rodion might have said it was his reputation as a fan-boy of anything spacey, but that would have been too sensible an explanation for the bureaucracy. To be charitable though, they had their hands full with the current international crisis, which was arguably more important than this curious side-show on the Moon.

With all three Powers vying in the Central Asian ‘Stans for the dregs of Earth’s oil, no-one had been able to say where the tension might lead, nor whether the Free Trade Coalition would really fire on a manned vessel. But the FTC had downed a few Union satellites already. It was enough to give a civil servant more pressing duties to attend to. Apart from any reluctance on the part of his superiors, Rodion was young, fit, and Russian, which in this case was a point in his favor. Obviously the assignment was none of Zoë’s doing. She had no idea. No-one in the public did.

The autopilot fired two control jets to spin the module upside down and again stop it there. Rodion laughed a little hysterically at the topsy-turvy sight of the Moon overhead, for he had gotten no sleep since leaving Earth, and had been too excited on the night before launch to get any rest then either. To make matters worse, the spin popped open a locker behind him, and he knew with a sense of dread that the thump that followed was caused by the pilot’s body, spilling out of the locker and drifting into the opposite wall.

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Surely The Clouds Would Come © 2004 Robin Jensen

Mountain rain hissed along the meadow’s edge, its aurora-like waves touching down in stinging, staccato, icy curtains over the blue-green grass, slapping, slashing my face.

 A cloud approaches.

Pushed by the beating of Dragon wings.

Somewhere else.

A grayed and swollen purple fills the cloud’s belly, thinned and burning to orange as its arms touch both mountain and water. Pink duels yellow in the arms above. Below hang long hairs, A-te showing favor, streaking through the black with gold and pure white.

The cloud casts down its darkness, the shadow of the valley trees falls greener. The sharpness of the mountain blurs as the gray finds me high on the slopes. It covers me, but I will not night-dig my seeing arm into the ice. I will turn and look at it.


As soon as I can move again. I will write in the ice.


Mian mas remains my name.

One of my talking arms is no good. It does not hurt, but will not move, as if it is forever under clouds. I can still find strong purchase on the steep flat ice with my other four arms. The glace talons have gotten bigger, catching more of A-te’s light, melting the ice quickly to sink my grip in deep and true. The wind rocks my bad arm; gusty days toss it back and forth, making the talon tap nonsense on the ice. But I will not fall.

It happened so long ago, I cannot quite remember. A cloudless day and I had not yet mastered the elegantly timed turn of the arm. I faced all five of my wrists to A-te at the same time and the talons all melted out.

Mian mas almost fell from heaven.

Mother masta-te caught me in time, digging her talon in deep to hold me. But it burned something and now that talking arm hangs limp. When I move across the ice it drags with a brittle scraping, a sound that does not belong with the masta-te on the Steeps of Heaven.


And worse. I could not pray with them. I could talk with anyone one by one, me with my one good talking arm and them with either of theirs. But when they prayed together, all by all, I could not join that way. The leader, Wichuk masta-te, would tap his superior talons on the ice, calling all to Circle as was his right. Talking arm was linked to talking arm on either side so the prayers passed through everyone.


I tried to understand.

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By and By © 2004 Jerry Goodz

Somi eyed the selections at the automated bar on Moon Launch Pad Two. She felt someone behind her and gripped the pistol at her waist. The person took the stool next to hers.

“You’ve been gone awhile,” he said. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“My card is in the slot, but I can’t figure out what to drink.” Somi had hoped to run into Rod. He was in her thoughts of late. Their separate careers made it difficult to maintain a friendship and mutual attraction. Somi smiled. “How have you fared of late?”

“Same old Spatial Police stuff. A little pirate tracking, a little bail-out of some ship in trouble. I’ve missed you. Where did Dako have you this time?”

“The Jupiter system heading up an exploratory team. Hauled the geologists back to Earth and picked up a work team for here. Next stop Mars.”

“Did you accomplish anything?”

“Enough to make the old man rich … or should I say richer. While everyone was all over Io and Europa we found pay dirt on Ganymede. Elements and minerals new and old.”

Rod rubbed his chin. He was tall, gray-eyed, craggy-faced, and the black SP jumper fit him well. “If Dako’s so well off why doesn’t he get some new ships? Damn if we spend more time hauling in his hulks then chasing law breakers.

“One of these days I’m going to take SP’s request move topside and go after that old man. As much as I prefer patrolling he makes a senior officer’s promotion to a desk feel good.”

 She stiffened. The pain hadn’t eased. Her sister, Dena, had crashed on Mars and died while Somi had been away. Dena was too good a pilot to have erred. Dako’s damn vessel must’ve been at fault. Now, except for her sister’s two children, she had no meaningful family. Somi disliked her brother-in-law, Weldon, and an aunt and uncle in the asteroid belt were mere shadows in her memory.

I owe the old man much and yet hate him wholeheartedly for his part in Dena’s death.

Dako cried when he told her what had happened and that the fleet would be updated in her sister’s memory. Sure. Somi wasn’t going to hold her breath. As for the kids, they and Weldon were off Earth still in mourning. She didn’t press Dako for she knew he’d not give her anything concrete. Wherever they were she’d find them.

She stood and eyed Rod. As much as Somi liked being with him, the time wasn’t right for the next step. Not until things were straight in her mind. “Got to move out. Let’s plan something next time I’m lunar bound.” Somi patted his shoulder.

“Something more intimate. I’ll hold you to that,” he said to her retreating back.

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