Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Mickey A. Goes to the Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

To Make it to Hilion
by Dori Peleg

Deep Down Here
by Kathryn Michael McMahon

by Eric Del Carlo

Run Program
by D.K. Latta
and Jeffrey Blair Latta

Between Two Worlds
by Bill Suboski

Radiance in a Dark Lens
by Derrick Boden

Those Golden Years
by Chet Gottfried

Shorter Stories

Earthly Hosts
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Fried Chicken You Can’t Refuse
by Peter Wood

by Richard Wren


2075: A Day in the Life
by Curt Tigges

Forensics Under Fire
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Radiance in a Dark Lens

By Derrick Boden

SPENCER VALENCIA PRESSED HIS back against the crumbling plaster wall in the heart of Callisto’s war-torn capital. His gaze flicked across the right lens of his smart-glasses to make sure the integrated camera was still recording. He waited. Artillery rounds peppered First Avenue. Hot dust filled his lungs. Three kilometers overhead and far to the west, the dim light of artificial twilight emanated from the cavern’s ceiling, casting an orange pall across the battered rooftops of the Hot Zone. The deep thump-thump of low-flying aircraft in the distance was like the pounding heartbeat of the city itself, a city desperately clinging to life.

The gunfire gave way to a brief silence. Spencer sprang to his feet and darted across the exposed breadth of Mercer Boulevard, camera rolling. A swarm of micro-drones followed, capturing the scene in full 3D and piping it back to his camera’s lock drive in real time. First Avenue cut straight across the main artery of the battle zone, and Spencer’s sprint gave him a perfect shot of both entrenchments: the Karshan front on the east, and the Citizen’s Liberation Army dug in to the west.

The opposite wall was a dozen meters away when the deep hum of a rail gun filled the air.

Spencer dove for cover. He sailed under Callisto’s low gravity. A projectile ripped past, centimeters from his leg. Drones shattered in firework bursts. He hit the cracked sidewalk with his left shoulder—the artificial one—and rolled behind a row of collapsed town homes. Gunfire erupted from both ends of the boulevard behind him.

Spencer wiped sweat from his forehead and glanced at his forearm display. He was down three drones, but damn those shots were pretty. He tightened the straps on his armored vest, then jogged down the adjacent street away from the heart of the battle.

The once stately facades of Radiance, now blackened and gutted, crowded Spencer as he navigated the maze of winding streets. He crept down cratered alleys and past blown-out supermarkets bearing little resemblance to the postcard images that once lured tourists and prospectors alike to the underground marvel. Now, a hundred years after the terraforming project had been completed, Radiance was synonymous with the bitter bloodshed of warring factions. Its once sought after wealth of minerals and water was now all but forgotten, buried beneath dust and bodies and rubble.

The place was familiar, if nothing else. Spencer had run a half-dozen assignments in the caverns of the Jovian moon over the past years, and the story was always the same. Sabotaged water pumps, bombed mining facilities, territories drawn and redrawn. Once perfectly simulated thirty-hour days had given way to a perpetual dusk—never bright enough to feel awake, never dark enough for a good night’s sleep.

Spencer turned onto Pike Street. A large warehouse slumped halfway down the block. A crooked sign above the corrugated doors read: “The Gallery.” Layers of graffiti marred the walls. The left lens of his glasses confirmed the coordinates Frank Tobin had sent him. This was the place.

He ducked into an alley between the warehouse and an old apartment building. Halfway to the back, light spilled from a small opening. A makeshift barricade of metal sheets had been nailed over a window, but the bottom corner was already bent back. He pried the panel further open and peered inside.

The warehouse was abuzz with activity. Dozens of armed men and women milled about among a row of tables, garbed in the orange fatigues of the Citizen’s Liberation Army. Tactical maps lined the walls, and makeshift holographic equipment ran battle simulations in the far corner. Crates of heavy weaponry were stacked everywhere.

Spencer checked his right lens. Still filming. Frank’s tip was money—this was the CLA’s elusive mobile headquarters. It had been five years since the most recent truce had collapsed, and since then the CLA command unit had been the unicorn of contract journalists in these parts. He’d have to buy old Frank a beer back in Calla once he got out of this hellhole.

His smart-glasses flashed. Frank was calling. He was probably already posted up at the Last Stand, waiting to hear how the job was going.

The warehouse door burst open. Spencer blinked the call over to voicemail. Frank would have to wait.

A dozen bound men garbed in the turquoise sashes of the Karshan Resistance entered the warehouse from the far end. A contingent of CLA soldiers led them to the back wall. The rest of the CLA troops crowded around. Men jeered and spat as they pushed the Karsha into a row. The prisoners stood tall and stoic, though they snuck sidelong glances at one another, seeking comfort. Behind them, a row of deep red splatter-marks stained the wall.

Spencer’s hands were slick with sweat.

One of the CLA soldiers stepped forward. “For our people! For our Radiance!”

Men and women echoed his chant. Spencer shivered.

With the last words still hanging in the air, a staccato of gunfire erupted from the soldiers’ rifles. All twelve men dropped to the floor.

Spencer sunk to the ground beneath the window, leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes. His hands were shaking. So much blood.

Inside the warehouse, men and women cheered.


“What a shot, Spence! First round’s on me!”

Jessie slid a pint of beer down the length of the bar to Spencer. The dim overhead lighting cut shadows across the battered barstools and mildewing drapes of Calla’s Last Stand. A haze of tobacco smoke hung at eye level, clinging to Spencer’s nostrils and stinging his eyes.

“Thanks.” Spencer couldn’t muster a smile for his fellow journalist.

The vertical town of Calla bustled outside the window: layer upon layer of steel catwalks, hissing pneumatic lifts, and ramshackle businesses, all fastened to the elevator-side of the cavern. The peaceful side. People bustled about as if a war wasn’t raging twenty kilometers away. Calla, once a base camp for the colony’s first engineers, was now the only neutral territory left in Callisto—and the only way out. From Calla’s top tier, a massive elevator array connected the caverns to the surface spaceport.

“You always get the prime cuts,” Teddy said, grabbing a seat. He rested his own pint glass atop the bar. “These shots are gonna change the whole war. Where’d you get the tip?”


“Should’ve known,” Jessie said. “Old Frank’s a hound. This commission’s gonna be huge, why didn’t he take the gig himself?”

“Double-booked,” Spencer said.

“His loss.” Jessie kicked back a shot of whiskey and called for another.

Spencer’s beer tasted like ash in his mouth. The first one always did. Freda’s advice rang in his ears: have a drink and move on. The memory of Spencer’s old mentor and lover only served to darken his mood.

“You ok, buddy?” Teddy laid a pudgy hand on Spencer’s shoulder. “Post-gig downs? Pretty gruesome there.”

Spencer looked up at Teddy. The gunshots still rang in his ears. Twelve faces. Twelve fresh bloodstains on the wall.

“Yeah,” Spencer said. “Guess so.”

“Happens to us all,” Teddy said with a big smile that warmed Spencer, if just a little. “Even Spencer The Fencer Valencia.”

Spencer drained his beer. It never used to, not until Freda’s death. His artificial arm twitched at the memory.

“Hey Spence,” Jessie said. “Check it—your story already broke on The Times, front page!”

The journalists crowded around Jessie’s tablet. The headline read: “CLA War Crimes in Callisto Prompt Coalition Intervention.” Spencer’s video sprang into view. It was censored for sensitive audiences, and the clip mercifully ended before the executions. Underneath, the story detailed the Coalition’s emergency hearing, their plans for military intervention, and their decision’s strong corporate backing by Viatech Industries and a handful of lesser conglomerates.

Jessie slapped Spencer on the ass. “Great work, Spence.”

Spencer tried to smile, but it still didn’t feel right. “Thanks. Hey, can I see that?”

Jessie flipped him the tablet.

Spencer watched the media clips in silence as the others returned to conversation. The outcome was better than anyone could have hoped for. After decades of strife, the Coalition had finally agreed to intervene. It would mean more bloodshed—much more, for a while—but an end to scenes like those he’d witnessed in the warehouse. It might mean an end to the war as a whole. For a freelancer, a story rarely offered such positive results. Still, nothing could erase those twelve fresh bloodstains on the wall.

Every paycheck leaves its scars. Freda told him that the day they met, in the final hours of the First Mars War. He was young, raw, and reckless—no more than a week from his discharge at the Peace Corps. He could still smell the spice of her perfume, hear the hypnotic slurring of her consonants.

Spencer’s gaze fell on a local news story running down the sidebar of the tablet. “Journalist Found Dead in Calla.” He scrolled down to see a portrait of Frank Tobin. Shot to death and stuffed into a drainage tube.

He grabbed the bar with a shaking hand, pulled himself to his feet and stumbled toward the bathroom. Frank had been his friend for nearly a decade, since the night they both covered the Phobos Station Massacre. Countless memories of late nights at dive bars across the system flooded Spencer’s mind. They’d even run tandem on one or two gigs—

He paused. It had been Frank’s tip about the CLA headquarters. Hadn’t Frank tried to call him, while he was down in the Zone?

Spencer scanned his past calls until he found the entry. No message. Had Frank been trying to warn him about something?

He leaned against the window. Whoever killed Frank, they’d be coming for him next. Through the smoke-stained glass, a figure caught his eye. A Karshan man walked along the catwalk, complete with traditional turquoise robes and square earrings. Spotting a Karshan or CLA soldier in Calla was no rarity—the Coalition accord required the spaceport access zone to be conflict-free, and the Callisto Peace Militia enforced it fiercely. The man’s face, though, turned Spencer’s skin cold.

He tapped his forearm display, flipping through the grisly footage from earlier that day. Soon he found the timestamp he was searching for—the view of the Karshan prisoners before their execution. He zoomed in and panned across the faces, until he reached a man three from the end.

It was him.

Spencer pushed his way to the door and threw it open. Jessie was shouting at him from the bar, but he couldn’t make out the words through the blood pumping in his ears. He had watched that man die.

He ducked through the doorway and onto the catwalk. Through the gridded walkway beneath him, level after level of the ramshackle town stretched toward the cavern’s floor below. A row of storefronts clung to the rock wall in either direction. A few dozen paces away, the Karshan man was pushing past a group of transport pilots.

“Hey, you!” Spencer said. “Stop!”

The man glanced over his shoulder. He caught sight of Spencer, and his eyes widened. The man broke into a sprint down the catwalk in the other direction.

“Wait!” Spencer tore past the pilots and around a crowd of loafing construction workers. Turquoise flashed at a bend in the walkway ahead, where a lift descended to the lower levels. Pistons hissed as the lift dropped out of sight.

By the time another lift arrived, the man would be long gone. Before giving himself a chance to change his mind, Spencer gripped the safety rail of the catwalk above his head, hoisted himself over, and swung onto the outside wall of the scaffolding. Someone shouted a frantic warning from the catwalk.

He hung, dangling against the sheer edge of the town. Beneath him, lights at the base of the cavern swam a kilometer below. His palms sweated as he clutched the rail. The next catwalk was ten meters down, but he’d have to catch it at the correct angle or he’d fly straight to the cavern floor. Using his body to push himself out, he let go just as he was swinging back towards the wall.

Spencer sailed through the air. By the time he landed on the catwalk, the lift was already reaching his current level.

He darted over to the lift’s housing shaft and glanced around for something to halt the mechanism. A rusted old signpost lay propped against the wall of a laundromat—good enough. He yanked it loose and jammed it into the lift mechanism. The metal screeched, bent, and snapped; slowed enough to let him leap aboard. The lift descended.

Spencer dropped to a knee. He leaned against the railing and massaged his temples. His shuttle was scheduled to leave in just a few hours. By tomorrow, this place could be a distant memory. Never take a gig personally, Freda had said. Do the job and get out of town.

Yeah, right. He called up Chen at the off world Times branch, on his sub-dermal. The delay stilted the agent’s voice.

“Spence! Hey buddy, great work! Those shots are—”

“Chen. You’ve gotta pull the story.”

“What? Spence, is this one of your jokes—”

“Pull the story, Chen. Something’s wrong.”

Chen hesitated. “Spence, you’re crazy. I can’t pull the story, it’s already live.”

“Do it anyway! Issue an apology.”

“Easy, buddy. Slow down. What’s going on?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I know the story’s bunk.”

“Spence, listen. This had to be a tough gig for you. Those were some graphic shots. But you’ve earned yourself a fat commission, with royalties to ride out the year at least. Get yourself on the next shuttle, and we’ll talk once you get to the station.”

“Chen, you don’t get it. The story’s a fake!”

“Spence, the story’s live, it can’t be a fake. You took the shots yourself—transmitted them to us with your own signature and bio-polygraph tests. And besides, the Coalition already issued an emergency hearing. There are a half-dozen frigates on their way to Callisto right now. This was exactly what everyone needed, those shots were perfect. You’re a hero, man.”

Spencer cut the line and slammed his fist against the wall.

Over the railing, Radiance sprawled out across the cavern’s floor in the distance. To the south, a row of blackened water pumps sucked salt water from the deep seas a couple hundred kilometers below. Along the north edge, twin nuclear reactors sandwiched the atmosphere generators and heating array. Across the city, scorched neighborhoods and toppled skyscrapers filled the landscape. Thick columns of smoke trailed up toward the tireless filtration system.

The answers were down there. He didn’t dare tell Teddy or the others, or he might be reading about them in the “Times” next. He had to go back inside, and he had to go alone.

A small crowd that had stopped to watch the pursuit hung around for a few moments. As they dispersed, Spencer spotted a man in a dark suit eyeing him, right hand stuffed into his pocket. Another man, similarly dressed, stood on an adjacent catwalk.

Frank’s picture from the news flashed in his mind. Had they tracked him already? He leapt to his feet and barged through the nearest door, into a tiny cafe. The burnt-cigarette odor of Yerba mate filled the air, and third-wave tango crackled from the overhead speakers. He ducked past the hostess and out the back door.


The corner of First and Mercer was a silent wasteland. Smoke crept from collapsed buildings. The stench of burnt flesh still permeated the air, but the ever-shifting battlefront of the Hot Zone had already pressed westward.

Eyes tracked Spencer from the shadows as he walked through the intersection. He tugged his polyester jacket tighter around his armored jumpsuit, pulled down the bill of his dusty “Free Mars” hat. It was a paltry disguise, but he couldn’t risk stopping by his flat in Calla for anything better.

He ducked around blown-out personnel carriers and leapt over gaping craters in the street. Dirty faces shifted in the darkness through cracks and doorways. Whispers echoed from behind the toppled shelves of a corner store. A dry cough carried through the rubble of a pharmacy. Squatters, seeking solace from the war, and resources from what little had been left behind.

Spencer kept his camera rolling. Never stop recording, Freda had said, more times than he could count.

Soon he spotted small clusters of people out in the open. Some bore gruesome wounds. Others walked with uneven gaits. All carried signs of severe hunger and dehydration: bones and joints pressed against taut, cracked skin. They shied away from Spencer as he passed, a lifetime of fear painted on their faces.

Spencer forced himself to watch, as memories of others drifted through his mind. The terrified faces of radiation victims at the Europa Disaster. Freda had slung an arm over his shoulder that day and said: You can’t change the world, Spence, but the right picture can.

A commotion broke out up ahead. A cluster of children crowded around the entrance to a bank, shouting. He hustled closer.

They were dressed in rags, tugging and prying at a boy in the doorway. The boy was barely twelve years old and thin as a rail. His left arm was trapped at the shoulder between the reinforced bank door and the wall. Blood stained the door where the metal had dug into his skin. The other kids were pulling on his legs and body, only making matters worse. The trapped boy grimaced and squirmed.

“Need some help?” Spencer said.

The kids scattered.

“Wait! I’m not a Joe, I’m a reporter.” He spread his arms, palms up.

The children eyed him from a safe distance. The trapped boy still struggled against the door.

“Let me help,” Spencer said.

The boy looked at him through thick strands of dark, strawlike hair. His eyes were bright hazel orbs locked into a dirty, freckled face.

Spencer searched the surroundings for something to pry the door open. Scrap metal and melted plastic littered the street—nothing that could offer enough structural integrity. He rifled through his utility belt, and his hand brushed the strap of his spring baton. It was a chintzy carbon fiber number he’d picked up on Rhea Station last year from a surplus booth. But it should do the trick. He withdrew it, telescoped the shaft, then jammed it into the opening beneath the boy. He pulled hard, and the door budged.

The children rushed to his side with shouts of excitement. Grubby hands gripped the baton and pulled. The reek of their clothing flooded his nostrils as they squeezed around him. The door groaned open just enough, and the boy slipped his arm free. The baton shaft snapped at the handle with a loud crack and the door slid shut.

Spencer frowned at his broken baton and tossed it aside. The children whooped and cheered and danced about on the dusty street. One of them shouted something and pointed down the adjacent alley. They fled around the corner and out of sight.

Spencer shook his head and looked back at the bank. The boy was still there, sitting against the broad door, rubbing his shoulder. His arm was bruised and scratched, but he’d live.

“You all right, kid?”

The boy studied him, his alert gaze flicking across Spencer’s clothing.

“I’m fine. Thanks, mister. I’m Ravey.”

“Spencer.” Spencer sat down next to the boy, pulled a ration bar from his pack and handed it to him. Ravey eyed the bar for a moment before snatching it and devouring it.

“Thanks,” he said between mouthfuls.

“No sweat. How’d you get in there in the first place? That looks like an encrypted lock.”

Ravey pulled a battered tablet from his pocket. The back was held together with fraying strips of tape. A spiderweb of cracks marred the working side. The letters “RJ” were scrawled in black ink near the row of ports.

“You hacked the lock? With that antique deck? Looks like something out of a movie.”

“It’s modded. Top notch.” Ravey poked a finger at the devices hanging from Spencer’s belt. “Better than your crappy Earth tech.”

Spencer feigned offense. “Hey, that’s a Blackstar Nova Flash! Simulated daylight, or so says the hawker back on Earth.”

Ravey frowned. “It’s junk compared to my deck.”

Spencer raised his arms in surrender. “You must have some skills.”

Ravey nodded. “One day I’m gonna be a spaceship pilot.”

“Oh yeah? What’re you gonna fly?”

“Rhino Mark IV,” he said without hesitation.

“Good choice. Maybe I can help, I know a pilot or two.”

“Nah, I’ve already got a ticket off this world.”

Spencer raised an eyebrow.

Shouts echoed up the alleyway from where the other children had run.

“Ravey! Water!”

Ravey scrambled to his feet.

“Gotta run. Thanks, mister!” The boy tore off down the alley.

“You bet,” Spencer said.

A ticket off this world. Spencer shook his head. The Coalition army would be here soon, and none of this would be left standing. Those kids didn’t stand a chance. Not even little Ravey the hacker.

Spencer shook off the thought and headed down the street.

He rounded the corner to Pike Street and froze. He backpedaled behind the nearest building and peered around the corner. The warehouse was still far from abandoned. A cluster of black-clad soldiers was entering through the front door. Each had a rifle slung over their shoulder. They didn’t have any visible affiliate markings, but by the quality of their armor there was no way they were from around here. The last one to enter glanced over his shoulder before closing the door. Spencer ducked out of sight.

The soldiers had the look of private military—but which military? Conflicts across the system had a long history of private backing—regardless of strict interplanetary sanctions—but not on Callisto. Not so far, at least. And even if they were private military, what the hell were they doing in the slums when the battlefront had long since moved westward?

There was only one way to find out, and he was on his own for now. The Peace Militia wouldn’t raise a finger without some hard photographic evidence of foul play. Luckily, photographic evidence was his specialty.

Spencer glanced around the corner. The street was deserted. He darted across Pike Street, over to the warehouse, then padded down the alley to his prior viewing point. He cursed. A reinforced barrier had been riveted to the window, and there was no way he could get a glimpse of the inside.

He glanced down the length of the warehouse, but there weren’t any alternate points of entry. He crept farther down the alley, past shattered glass and rusted-out dumpsters. Cranking up the zoom on his lens optics, he scanned the structure for cracks or holes. Near the back of the building, a loose roof tile clung to the edge of the wall. A sliver of light streamed through the crack, and voices carried from inside.

Spencer grabbed a nearby dumpster and rolled it as quietly as he could, until it was beneath the loose tile. He hoisted himself onto the plastic lid. It bowed but held. He pulled himself onto the rooftop. Staying low, he pried the tile back enough to peer through.

The interior of the warehouse was in the midst of a swift deconstruction. Men and women in pristine flex-armor hauled tables across the room toward a row of air vans parked in the far service entrance. Other soldiers tore tactical maps from the walls and stuffed them into giant trash bags. Someone was blasting the back wall with a power cleaner. The bloodstains were already nearly gone. All traces of the scene that Spencer had recorded were being systematically eliminated. Who would go to all that trouble? And why had the CLA left all of their equipment to begin with? It was a mobile headquarters, and it wasn’t like their tactical equipment was suddenly obsolete. And why would they hire contractors to clean up their mess? The story was already all over “The Times,” they couldn’t deny what happened here.

Then he saw him.

The man from Calla—the man he’d seen executed just twelve hours earlier—stood beside one of the vans, still dressed in Karshan garb. He was talking to a man in a black suit with immaculate blonde hair. A group of Karshan men stood nearby, each with a familiar face. He had watched these men die.

Spencer zoomed in.

The Karshan was explaining something with frantic hand gestures. The suited man slapped the Karshan across the face. The Karshan spat out a few words and hustled off, his countrymen in tow.

The suited man pulled a tablet from his jacket and flipped through a stream of data. Spencer cranked his optical zoom to its max, but the words on the tablet were still indecipherable. The man flipped the application closed and, as he was returning the tablet to his pocket, Spencer caught a glimpse of the emblem on the login screen—the spear and eye of Viatech Industries.

Spencer bit his lip. Corporations like Viatech had been eyeing Callisto’s vast mineral deposits and water reserves for years. Since the civil war, though, those resources had been lost to the business world indefinitely. They shredded their contracts as Radiance burned. With serious sanctions preventing corporate intervention, all the major players had skipped town.

Or so everyone thought. Spencer zoomed out and scanned the warehouse. The soldiers worked with the efficiency of a corporate army. They weren’t cleaning up. They were destroying evidence.

The news feed from earlier that day had professed Viatech Industries’ public backing of the Coalition vote. Viatech was even lending military resources to the Coalition for their intervention. It looked like a PR move, but it would also put them in a perfect position to claim lost territory in Radiance after the conflict ended, especially if they’d worked out a deal with the Karsha in advance.

Spencer shook his head. This whole thing had started with a bogus tip to Frank Tobin. In order for the story to hold weight, Viatech had to ensure that the shots would pass the Interplanetary Media Association’s bio-polygraph tests. Frank must’ve stumbled across some evidence, so they whacked him. If the Karshan actor hadn’t gotten sloppy, showing his face in Calla, Spencer’s corpse would be sharing that drainage tube with poor Frank.

He panned back to the blonde man, now seated beside an uplink terminal. A chill ran down Spencer’s bionic arm. The military strikes would be swift and unrelenting, and they’d be acting on falsified evidence. Evidence that Spencer had recorded. His shots would result in full-scale war.

He glanced down at his camera’s lock drive on his belt. There might still be time. It was his shots that had started this mess. Maybe these new ones could end it. He flipped on the lock drive’s wireless transmitter and punched in the access codes for “The Times.”

The transmitter flashed an error. No signal. He’d transmitted from this very spot earlier that day—Viatech must be running a comms jammer. He needed to get to a landline. But the chances of finding one this deep in the Zone were next to nil. He had to get back to Calla.

“Hey, mister!”

Spencer glanced down. The children from the bank were halfway down the alley, rummaging through a toppled trash bin. Ravey stood nearby, looking up at Spencer.

Spencer waved him off. “Get out of here! It’s not safe.”

A blinding light flooded the city block from overhead. Engines whirred as an air van descended. Spencer shielded the light with his hand. He could make out the spear and eye logo on the underbelly of the vessel.

Spencer slid off of the roof and onto the dumpster, then leapt to the ground beside the boy. Time to take out an insurance policy.

“Ravey!” Trying to keep himself obscured from the overhead lights, he executed the security procedures to pop his lock drive. The base of the drive sprang open and Spencer pulled out the data card filled with duplicates of his latest recordings. He handed it to the boy and slapped the drive shut.

“Get this to the nearest secure uplink. The destination coordinates are self-programmed. Can you do that?”

Ravey squinted up at Spencer and nodded.

“Good. Now go!”

Ravey ran toward Pike Street. The spotlight remained fixed on Spencer. He sprinted the other way, toward the back of the alley. He turned the corner at the end and slammed headfirst into a cluster of black-armored soldiers.

“Gotcha,” one of them said. Spencer froze as a half-dozen rifles trained on his head.


“You sure made this easy for us. Thanks for that.”

Spencer looked up at the Viatech rep. His blonde hair was slicked back, framing a surgically clean-shaven face and pale blue eyes. He studied Spencer over a sharp nose. The table he sat at housed Spencer’s lock drive, some local comms gear, and a rugged terminal. A fiberoptic cable jutted out from the back of the terminal and plunged into a hole in the floor.

“Any time,” Spencer said. His arms were bound behind the folding metal chair he sat on, along the inner wall of the warehouse. The chair wasn’t much of a prison, but the row of armed guards rendered his bonds moot. They’d stripped him of everything that resembled a weapon, leaving only his utility belt, his external flash array, and some filters. His glasses lay discarded on the ground.

“I was expecting a manhunt through Calla, but you came straight to us. After we take care of a little business, we’ll send you along to catch up with your old friend Frank Tobin.”

Spencer bit back a response.

“I’ve forgotten my manners,” the man said. “I’m Rick.”

“Pleasure, Dick.”

Rick grabbed Spencer’s lock drive from the table—doubtless the only thing that had kept Spencer alive this long. It had been about ten minutes since Ravey ran off with his backup card. His only hope was that the kid was as good as he claimed. If Ravey could transmit his shots to Calla, the Peace Militia would be pounding down these doors in five minutes flat—they’d been itching for some action for years, and corporate meddling was well within their jurisdiction. Finding a stable landline in the Hot Zone was a long shot, though. He needed to buy the kid some time.

The door to the warehouse creaked open behind Spencer, and a squatter shuffled over to the table beside Rick. The squatter looked up, and a knot formed in Spencer’s gut. It was Ravey.

“About time,” Rick said. “Where have you been?”

The boy slid onto a seat and pulled himself up to the terminal.

“Sorry, boss.”

“I need a secure line to orbital HQ,” Rick said. “Also, we need to change our encryption sequences, after catching Mr. Valencia here snooping around.”

“Roger,” Ravey said.

Spencer stared, mouth agape. The bindings felt tighter against his skin. The armed soldiers seemed closer. This would be a miserable place to die.

“Sorry, mister,” Ravey said to Spencer. “Told you I have a ticket off this rock.”

Spencer looked away. What a raw deal. In this industry, you only have yourself, Freda had said.

Rick leaned back in his chair. “You two know each other? How sweet. Some of these kids are pretty smart, and completely inconspicuous.” He leaned closer until Spencer could smell his menthol breath. “And cheap. Now, on to business.”

He raised Spencer’s lock drive and smashed it against the ground. The plastic housing cracked and splintered. Spencer winced. Rick picked up the remains, pried open the housing, and withdrew a metal box the size of a deck of cards.

“The fabled black box.” Rick raised an eyebrow. “I know a thing or two about your line of work.”

“Makes one of us.”

“I have to be certain there isn’t any evidence floating around of what you witnessed here. From what I understand, it would take a fair amount of firepower to destroy this little guy. Luckily, I don’t need to waste my time with that. I’ve got you here to open it for me.”

Rick stood up and nodded to one of the guards. Firm hands grabbed Spencer’s head and forced it back. Gloved fingers pried his left eye open as Rick held up the optical scanner on the lock drive. Spencer struggled, and the guard jabbed him in the eye with his finger. Blue light swept across his vision, and the man released him. Spencer blinked away tears.

“That takes care of the biometrics,” Rick said. “Now, the passcode.”

“Go to hell. You’re going to shoot me whether I give you the passcode or not.”

“True.” Rick withdrew a slender handgun from his jacket. He aimed it at Ravey’s forehead. Ravey held his hands in front of his face, trembling.

“You’re an animal,” Spencer said.

“I’m efficient,” Rick said. “And you’re out of time.”

Rick’s hand compressed around the gun’s grip.

“Ok, ok. I’ll unlock the damned drive.”

“Good.” Rick returned the gun to his jacket. “Back to work, kid.”

Ravey scowled. When Rick had turned his attention again to the lock drive, Spencer shot Ravey the best pleading look he could muster. Ravey glanced between Spencer and Rick, his expression strained.

“The code?” Rick said.

A subtle movement flashed beneath the table. Ravey had withdrawn something from his pocket and was slipping it into a port on the computer. It was his backup data card. Now Spencer just needed to buy some time.

“I won’t ask you again,” Rick said.

Spencer read his passcode aloud. The base of the lock drive sprung open.

Rick withdrew the primary data card and crushed it between his fingers. “Excellent. Guards, kill him.”

The soldiers raised their weapons.

“There’s a duplicate,” Spencer said.

“Like hell there is,” Rick said.

“Check the drive, you’ll see the empty slot.”

Rick held a hand up to the guards. He checked the lock drive, then drew his handgun and planted the barrel against Spencer’s forehead.

“Tell me where it is or I’ll kill you.”

“A couple of blocks from here, plugged into a private uplink. It’s programmed to broadcast everything I recorded in about fifteen minutes—”


“I’ll give you the location if you let me live, and promise me safe transport off of Callisto.”

Rick studied him. After a moment, his breathing slowed and his expression relaxed.

“Deal. Now where is it?”

There was no way Rick would let him live, but it didn’t matter. Spencer just needed to hold out for a few more minutes and pray that the militia was en route.

“Corner of Pike and Fifth, in a terminal outside the Central Bank.”

Rick motioned to the guards, and a pair of them rushed out of the warehouse. Rick’s gaze fell on Ravey, as the boy was removing the data card from the terminal.

“What are you doing, boy?”

Ravey froze. “Sorry, boss. Just downloading some music—”

Rick slammed his fist against the table. Gear skittered over the edge. “I’m not paying you to waste my time. Now get me that secure connection!”

“Yes sir,” Ravey said, his hands shaking.

Spencer looked around in search of something to use as a distraction, to buy some time. He glanced at his belt, then frowned at his flash array. It wasn’t much of a weapon, but it would have to do. He twisted in his chair and stretched his arms as far as the binding would allow them. His finger grazed the edge of the flash controls. The bonds dug into his skin.

The comms gear on the table crackled. “Reporting from Pike and Fifth, sir. No sign of a terminal here.”

Rick turned to Spencer. “Nice try. Congratulations, you saved yourself five minutes of life—”

Rick froze. He glanced from Spencer to Ravey. His eyes widened. “You little bastard. Downloading music, was it?” He raised his handgun toward Ravey. “Now you’re both dead.”

Spencer’s fingers closed around the flash controls. Dialing the power up to “nova,” he squeezed his eyes shut and pressed on the trigger. A fierce light flooded the room for a fraction of a second.

Spencer blinked through a wall of white. Even with his eyes closed, he’d still blinded himself. He leapt to his feet, dragging the folding chair behind him. He dove in the direction of where Rick had been standing. The dome of his head connected with Rick somewhere around the midsection. A gunshot rang out. Hands grappled him. Both men crashed to the ground in a flailing mass of limbs.

The walls of the warehouse shook and heaved, and the front doors flew open.

“Hands up! This is the Callisto Peace Militia, we have you surrounded!”


Spencer stood on the street corner next to Teddy, rubbing his wrists where the bonds had cut bloody grooves into his skin. Soldiers led the remaining Viatech personnel into armored carriers emblazoned with the logo of the Callisto Peace Militia. Rick glowered at Spencer as he passed. Spencer shot him a wink.

“Thanks a million, Teddy,” Spencer said.

“No sweat, buddy,” Teddy said. “I’m just glad your partner here was able to get those shots to us so quickly.”

“Me too.”

“I’ll catch up with you back in Calla.” Teddy hopped into a transport.

Spencer sat down on the curb next to Ravey. The last of the transports whirred into the distance. The news would break back on Earth within the hour, and the Coalition would call off the frigates. It wouldn’t end the war on Callisto. Maybe nothing would. But it would prevent the impending genocide.

The right picture can change the world.

“Thought I was a goner there,” Spencer said.

“You asked for the nearest uplink. That was it.”

Spencer laughed, and it felt good. “I owe you my life, kid.”

“You sure do.” Ravey glanced up, his eyes bright in the perpetual twilight of Radiance. “I’ll settle for a ticket off this rock.”

Spencer grinned. “Deal." END

Derrick Boden is fifteen-year veteran web developer. He wrote his first science fiction novel when he was in the fourth grade. Since then, his fiction has appeared in “The Colored Lens,” “Saturday Night Reader,” and “Theme of Absence.”


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