"TwikType" by Eric Seaholm

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Tzykkaar's Gambit
by Ian Fulton Roberts


Under the drowsy eye of a xenon orb, I thumbed through my gear. Seven full cartridges of helium-argon fusion cells jutted this way and that way in the palm of one hand, and the strap of my KV1 plazzburner swung wildly in the other. Sure, there was enough time for this exercise, I muttered to myself, as I rooted around in my satchel, counting out five M1 bio-threaders, the crystal casings reflecting the concave silhouette of my companion. But I gave her no second thought. Hardened and heavy-handed, I continued my work at a frantic pace. I rummaged through my sack and winced at my wounds, and I wondered why I should play that one dumb fool who, deceived in the shadows, would trade lifespark with a clinically dead Yhuldjind mobster.

I eyed the xenon orb silently ahead of us and watched it drift, pouring bone-gray light into the darkness of the liftway shaft and swiping the walls with a muddy silver brush. I continued to slither forward, and under my elbows, below the grating, I looked down upon the cocoon transporter workers, their onyx pressure suits and platinum masks glinting as they fisted fuel lines and hauled gear to calibrate the cocoon transporters.  

I shouldered my way over the grating and clenched my KV1 tighter and kept my focus on N'Brhaalyaa. Now that the first fingers of the fumes gripped my nostrils, I knew that the waiting and the crawling would end and I would soon find the fetus that the mobsters had stolen.

N'Brhaalyaa turned towards me and gripped my shoulder and stabbed her JX5 at a splintered tract looming in the distance of the liftway. She scrambled forward, panting and stretching and elbowing her way through the abandoned shaft, and she wriggled ahead of me quickly, her gear squeaking along the grate on the floor.

N'Brhaalyaa. A woman too tall and thin for my taste: cinnamon-brown eyes pooling in an oval face webbed with waist-length copper braids. Watching her crawl ahead of me, I thought that she could have managed to be a stunning beauty in most systems, though her waist was too narrow and her lips too generous.

The passageway narrowed and I could no longer move my shoulders and my lungs were ready to explode. I was tired of the crawling and the squirming in the shadows of the liftway shaft and I wanted to feel firm ground beneath my feet. Sure, we could have crept through the corridors below to find the cocoon transporter chamber and make our way to Tau Ceti Arcstation Majoris and find the fetus, but there was a full-scale hunt for us now.

My legs cramped and my shoulders twitched and I kept muttering to myself: "Keep crawling."

The walls and the floors trembled and shook, and I fought the urge to think aloud: "What if this abandoned liftway shaft was still active, and what if a full lift of passengers was zipping toward us from the darkness behind us." It was then that I stopped crawling and rolled upright and looked behind us.

A speck of light clawed its way toward us, and I saw N'Brhaalyaa slamming the butt of her JX5s with fury at the grating beneath her.   

I looked into the chamber beneath us and a worker dropped the fuel line and pointed at us.

Again I eyed the passageway behind us, and the light was now a cone and the walls shuddered and a full-toned drone roared into a scream.

I scrambled towards N'Brhaalyaa and slammed my KV1 against the grating, and I leveled the nozzle and let loose a full plazzstream.

The grating splintered and fractured.

The roar of an approaching liftway tube cut off all sound and I could not hear the clatter of N'Brhaalyaa triggering round after round of plazzfire at the grating until it collapsed.

N'Brhaalyaa dropped through the grating and kept a grip on the ledge to secure herself.

I followed her motions.

We swung from the ledge and fat-fingered fumes forked up my nostrils and I covered my mouth and nose. Zanthyte fuel lines, their couplers shattered and their coolant coils oxidized to rust, laced the floor and crisscrossed over fueling cocoon transporters. The leaking fuel vapors condensed and fog grew around us and I could no longer see the floor.

Plazzfire erupted from the corner of the room and impaled the workers and burned the fuel lines.

Slow-moving shadows grew along the walls.

Three fat figures strode out of the vapors.

They wore camouflage pressure suits of midnight blue and black, and their bronze Yhuldjind mob badges shimmered as they methodically turned to expose LC8 triple-trap plazzburners -- these were the new Nhemmru-Nhemmian models with the triple-sync laser sightings that lanced out blue spikes from gold-plated nozzles that hissed.  They combed the platform, slowly sweeping leftward, now swinging rightward.

The mobster at the fore locked his sightings on us hanging from the grating.  
A high-pitched ping rang out, and I knew we had been spotted.

N'Brhaalyaa's JX5s spat and clattered and flashed into the fog.

Three loud groans boomed.

We dropped from the grating, fell on their bodies, quickly taking their masks and gathering their gear and taking a healthy gulp of oxygen.

N'Brhaalyaa removed a holopad from the mobsters waist.

"Here! This is the quickest route-the best way that I remember," she whispered, panting and forking her fingers to narrow the dotted course within the holo to three hexagonal chambers linked by two snaking corridors.

"It looks like another cocoon transporter route." I fingered the holo and drew a diagonal arrow to the ring of transporters from the central hub. "There's no exit -- I don't see any entrance to the last chamber -- where's the --?"  

She closed the holopad and stabbed a cold eye at me. "That's what you bought when you hired me for this job, isn't it? I know these routes better than --"

We scrambled past the fallen mobsters, past the fueling cocoon transporters, into the snaking corridor.

We ran down the corridor and neared the portal.

N'Brhaalyaa fingered the sensors and the portal shimmered and we entered the chamber.

A cold hand gripped my throat and I could feel fingers clamping down on my windpipe so tightly that the fingernails were biting into my flesh.

"I've been waiting for you -- get in," belched a baritone voice, motioning to a fueled cocoon transporter.  

N'Brhaalyaa strode towards him and grabbed his arm. "Xherexx, meet our employer -- Tzykkaar. Now it's time to see if that shaman kept his end of the bargain."

He loosened his grip on my throat and eyed me.

He wore a cowl of Erdott cloth, scarlet metallic cloth, which covered his mouth and nose, leaving exposed scarlet sigils over festering wounds under his eyes. His arms were wrapped in Erdott bandages and I knew that he was an off-world refugee afflicted with the Nhemmru-Nhemmian plague.

"Don't worry, I'm not contagious, like the others," he croaked to me.  

Then N'Brhaalyaa barked at him in Nhemmru-Nhemmian tongue, and he quickly thumbed the sensors and opened the portal to the cocoon transporter.  

We entered the cocoon and I could feel the tentacles wrap my shoulders and waist, and I watched Xherexx man the controls and N'Brhaalyaa check the coordinates for Tau Ceti Arcstation 17. From there, our journey was in the hands of the shaman. He would provide the liftway pass and cocoon transporter to Arcstation Majoris and I could claim the fetus of my unborn child.

A tremor erupted and my lungs collapsed and the firm hand of the cocoon launching slammed into my chest.

My view of metal and flames gave way to midnight blue and a sea of shimmering platforms and spires and latticed chambers where cocoons zipped this way and that way.

N'Brhaalyaa fisted the plasma turret and scanned for threatening cocoons.

Xherexx nudged the throttle to full and the drive system started to buzz.

And that was when I looked into the rear scopes and eyed the approaching cocoons.

There was one at first, but two more cocoons quickly filled out the formation. They dove in hard and fast and I fought to grip the rear turret.

The drive system sputtered and we were losing speed.

I wrestled the sightings and locked onto one of the approaching craft and let loose a full stream that torched the side of a spire and missed the first craft.

The enemy cocoons broke formation and two craft shot starboard and the other rolled to port.

N'Brhaalyaa kept swinging in her tentacled harness and slammed the console and kicked the turret until she triggered a triple stream that hammered the hull of the craft to port and it erupted in a fireball.

The debris clipped the belly of our cocoon and the drive system was flaming and smoke filled the cockpit.

Two steady plazzstreams ruptured the passenger's side.

And N'Brhaalyaa was gone.

I tapped the tentacles and felt them loosen around me and I climbed forward to peer below, only to see N'Brhaalyaa gripping the belly of the craft as it roared steadily towards a burning spire.

Somehow, she had unlocked the plazzburner from the turret and she was screaming and clinging to the cocoon with her fingers while triggering the plazzburner with her free hand.

An arc of magenta fire swirled from her burner and netted the craft to starboard.  

Our cocoon twisted, and I reached out into the flaming womb of the passenger's seat and gripped N'Brhaalyaa's arm and pulled her inside.

Xherexx struggled with the steering column and fought the throttle for more power, but the cocoon was in a tailspin.

He stabbed a finger at a jade corridor within an approaching spire. "Your Destination -- Arcstation 17."

The drive system sputtered and recovered, and the flames died and the craft slowly leveled.

N'Brhaalyaa fingered the console of the cocoon and a misty beam spurted from the belly of the cocoon and locked onto the jade corridor in the distant spire. She clung to the gaping hole in the cocoon and roared into the howling wind, "We'll have to mag-stream from here."
To slide within a magnetic corridor at a speed faster than sound was not something I had done before. So I had second thoughts, until I eyed the flames spurting again in the rear of our cocoon.

Plazzfire lanced out from the enemy cocoon and speared beneath us.

Xherexx pulled the steering column to his chest and our cocoon went into a ninety degree spiral.

He eyed me and gripped my shoulder and said, "You'll have to go now. I don't think I can evade him much longer."

"What will happen to you?" I asked, watching N'Brhaalyaa gather her gear and stare into the misty beam of light.  

"I've never lost a dogfight. Now go -- go now." He slapped me forward and I hurtled into the beam, with N'Brhaalyaa grabbing my leg. 

I looked back to see the third cocoon change direction and swoop down upon us with its side turrets thundering plazzfire at the beam.

I felt like an arrow in flight, my throat tightened and I forced down the air in my lungs and my arms were pinned to my sides. Light flickered and danced in my eyes and I knew I was in motion because the landscape was a streaming blur.  

N'Brhaalyaa swept past me and splayed both hands out before her and the mist vanished.

I suddenly found myself floating towards the landing platform marked, "Arcstation 17."  

And a plazzstream from the enemy cocoon knifed through my arm.


N'Brhaalyaa finished sealing my wound with the synthetic skin, and I was slowly regaining consciousness.   I looked at my surroundings and eyed the flickering grid that read: "Arcstation 17." I realized that my journey was almost complete.  

The landing strip was abandoned. A network of ladders and catwalks rimmed the perimeter.

I followed N'Brhaalyaa and climbed to the first catwalk and motioned towards the flickering lights in the chamber ahead.

Clear zanthyte glass parted with a hydraulic hiss.


I stepped into the chamber and stumbled over something thick and stiff.

I set a xenon orb adrift to cast light at my feet and I eyed the floor.

Onyx plexicrete, charred metal, an arm.

It was then that I saw him -- the corpse -- an old Yhuldjind male, our lifespark shaman whose last day had come. And gone. Looking at him from where I crouched, there was nothing to distinguish a living or dead Yhuldjind male from a human, except that, here and there, the flesh bore a slightly bold translucent glow. There, by the throat, exposing thorax and jugular. And here, by the shoulders, showing muscle and bone. Yes, they had once been human, before they had become genome mobsters, before they had found lifespark in young souls. They had learned to postpone death, like a conflicting appointment. And, in some cases, they had learned how to live after being pronounced clinically dead -- something to do with the use of the plutonium isotope 102. To trade a fetus from the womb born under the right stars, only to gain another human life beyond the void -- who could do that? No, I had no pity for this Yhuldjind lifespark shaman, as I eyed the tendrils of smoke snaking from his chest. As I have said, he had died too soon, and now the odds were stacked against me. So, I was filled with sorrow, knowing that I still needed him to save my unborn child.

Keep in mind: I never liked to gamble; and I never liked the chilling thought of facing the unknown. Though disaster had crept up on us so swiftly. The wrong man had died too soon and there was no chance of reviving him. And, now, my whole left arm was plazz-burned numb. So, I was stifling my tears and I was re-checking my plazzburner and I was thinking of the old, old, saying: "Dead men tell no lies."

"Give me those sparkling things before someone gets smoked!" she snapped, breaking my thoughts as she fisted through the shadows for the casings in my hand. "Tzykkaar, give them to me."

I shouldered N'Brhaalyaa away with my "good" arm, and she continued to shuffle about in the shadows and finger into the pockets of the corpse.

"Tzykkaar, you don't know how to arm those things," she said, tugging at the vest on the corpse.

I ignored her, and she fished in another pocket.

N'Brhaalyaa searched the corpse with a cold hand. I reminded myself that she was a lifespark stalker, that a life full of plazzfire and death did not bother her. She had chosen a life among the Yhuldjind mobsters, a conscious choice she had made during the last Great Blue Genome War. She had been scarred where none could plainly see, a wound that only I could sense as she slapped the barrel of her JX5 and quickly chambered a fresh round. To be a lifespark stalker among the Yhuldjind mob had meant a life of running and gunning in the pursuit of lifespark -- that elusive spark of life beyond the void. And it also meant that she could triple-tap her JX5 much faster than she looked. But now she was for hire, and she was not cheap. I had paid a binary star's ransom for her skill.

The corridor shuddered and an explosion ruptured the landing platform.  

Five Yhuldjind mobsters emerged from a wrecked cocoon. They webbed the platform with plazzfire.  

I followed N'Brhaalyaa and clambered up the ladder and found the exit sealed by slits of glass.

She drew the butt of her JX5s to the slits of glass overhead and  hammered at the glass until it showered around us. We gripped our gear and climbed up to the next platform, hunkering down to draw breath and fill our lungs.

Picture if you will the place: the main corridor of Tau-Ceti Arcstation 17. Gunmetal gray; flexcrete-glass mixed with Nhemmru-Nhemmian steel salt and peppered the ground. A blacked-out gremmyte cocoon, the plazz-burned grave of some dumb mobster's last flight, squatted on its belly, its accordion nose thumbed upward to the sky. And I could tell from where I crouched, that had the poor mobster taken a left around the hologlyph billboard and had then banked right around the now-leveled liftway workstation, he could have had a chance to avoid his fate. But this was not my affair now, with a hologlyph billboard at our backs showing bright-eyed lovers launching from Arcstation 17, changing transport at Arcstation Majoris to a mating spot -- one of those glitzy, yellow-sun, beach worlds where people outnumbered the sand.

Why were these holo figures smiling? I had no time to dream their dream, and I was annoyed, hearing the hologlyph billboard pop in gray blurs and crackle in the darkness. But, the advertisement depicted how things were -- couples mating, a pregnancy. Though they left out the part about the Yhuldjind mob shamans who came in the night. That was what most who mated forgot -- unless, of course, a meeting was arranged with the shaman and the relevant parties.

Voices boomed from the platform above us, saying: "Vrommey, did you see the mid-standard-hour news holos?" A baritone voice answering: "Unlike you, I work for a livin', so I can't afford the luxury." Then there was laughter. The baritone voice asking: "What did it say?" The alto voice replying: "Get this -- some plazz-brained terraformer's junior medic, some old Yhuldjind shaman, and some renegade lifespark stalker are teaming up to wage war with the whole Yhuldjind mob. The baritone replying: "No." The alto responding "Yes." And then there was more laughter and small talk of a wager and a loud: "Take-off -- I know if I win you'll never pay."

I peered into the dancing liftway beacons ahead of us, squinting at the flash of crimson glyphs along the honeycombed network of crystalline pipes that, there and there, shuttled cocoon transporters into orbit.

The air above us droned. We waved the xenon orb off and hunkered down.

The ground shuddered and zanthyte fumes gnawed at me.

N'Brhaalyaa reached for me and shouted, "Get down!"

A cocoon transporter thundered out from the darkness and roared onto the landing corridor.

Camouflaged men dashed towards the workers with LV8s leveled. I could see one question the worker named Vrommey, gripping him by the chest until a voice boomed from the cocoon, "Take his thoughts." I watched the Yhuldjind mobster grip Vrommey's forehead and flash a splayed hand over Vrommey's face.

A sorrowful howl cried out and I could feel my skin crawl and my nerves numb.

And all this made the trembling worse. But who wouldn't tremble at the notion of bartering with a ruthless, dead demigod? And this was no light feat, since he had been clinically dead for more than a standard equinox. I was about to barter with a dead mobster who knew all there was to know about Reimannian geometry and quantum tunneling, and I knew that the odds were against me. After all, I was not a mobster -- and I definitely was not a genius. I was a junior medic, but I was very good at playing Red Quantum Chess. But what did I know about fighting Yhuldjind mobsters? So, I kept checking my gear, counting every piece of hardware that I thought would make my opponent think twice.

I followed N'Brhaalyaa, running down the snaking corridor, taking the route I had doubted in the holopad.

We hurdled debris and climbed over wrecked cocoons and decaying bodies.

I could see the portal to the cocoon transporters to Arcstation Majoris, the portal that I didn't see in the holopad. I was thinking that she was right, that we were indeed on course.

N'Brhaalyaa drew the liftway crystal that she had recovered from the dead shaman. She inserted it into the portal and the corridor blazed in amber light and the walls parted to reveal a honeycombed chamber of decaying bodies and human bones.  

N'Brhaalyaa ran towards a gold-plated skull in the center of the chamber and reached into the eye socket to draw forth a platinum chain of sigils. "This is what he used to revive the fetus."

"You know enough of the dead shaman's craft to revive the fetus when the time comes?" I asked.

"But I've never trained with live lifespark and I don't know all the signs" she snapped.

And I bit my fist.

What else could I have done? There I was -- my best move had been played, sacrificed for a dead third-rate Yhuldjind shaman and a second-rate lifespark stalker, only to find myself stranded on Arcstation 17. What chance did I have, now, to win?

The thought that the dead Yhuldjind shaman was key to the fate of my unborn child made everything worse. How could I use reason?

Then she spoke quickly and said something about only knowing how to revive recently departed souls, and she said words about smelling the scent of sulfur fingers scratching pine if all was done correctly. And I remembered that she kept calling it: "The old scratch of sulfur and pine."

In my fury, I would not listen to her words. So, I slapped the chamber of the plazzburner , adjusted the strap around my neck, and leveled the barrel for anything that moved.  I muttered to myself: "..." And, it was definitely something that I knew the dead shaman would have said.

Plazzfire lanced out from the darkness and a fireball erupted and swelled towards us.

I hunkered down and felt the flames engulf us and I thought I would die.

A charred cocoon with a sputtering drive system thundered overhead.

It was Xherexx.

A halo from overhead pooled on the ground. The floor groaned. A sun-drenched portal opened within from the cocoon above us, and a voice belched, "Get in."

A pinpoint of light flared to the floor, and we ascended into the portal of the cocoon.


I entered the cockpit and Xherexx pointed towards a small object looming in the face of the Tau Ceti sun.  

The scent of dead wood oozed in the chamber.

Something hideous emerged from the void.

Imagine, if you will, stripped of flesh and bone, a monstrous human hand: its veins and arteries encased in glass; its lymph nodes crowned with mushrooming halos; its nerve fibers spider-webbing in crimson sparks. And picture luminous blue cocoons moving here and there within its palm. To see this splayed hand reaching way out over the darkness, orbiting the Tau Ceti sun, made me wonder on the mystery of space. I was hungry and I was tired and this vision was a nightmare. And I was trembling again.

I could feel our cocoon begin to creep into a crawl. When I looked astern, I saw the bold glow of blue on blue approaching from the darkness.

The air hissed louder and the chamber droned and a blond halo widened around us.

Our cocoon touched down and I exchanged a grip of the right shoulder with Xherexx.

N'Brhaalyaa barked in Nhemmru-Nhemmian tones to Xherexx and he buckled over and grunted into laughter.  Then the portal opened and we exited the cocoon.

But why was there no light? I wondered.  Sure, there were pinpoints of light winking on and off, tourists flashing hologlyph portraits. Why it was so dim I did not know. So I lit the orb to view the second cocoon within the dark landing platform.

Light blazed and another cocoon roared onto the platform.

It was marked as a tourist cocoon, but the portal shimmered violently from gold to scarlet and I knew that this was something other than what it appeared to be.

The portal opened.

And that was when the carnage began.

Four Yhuldjind thugs, tracheal tubes protruding from their necks, burst forth running and gunning with magneto-pulse lasers, peppering the periphery with purple plazzfire. And these were the death squad goons, and I knew this because their movements were too quick to comprehend.

Now, things were moving too fast for me to see: Mobster plazzfire hemming me up against the cocoon, the screams of fleeing travelers, N'Brhaalyaa striding and bolting into the crowd, while forking bright plazzfire from the hip.

I rolled to the ground.

Two mobsters went for N'Brhaalyaa. They were huge thugs, but they moved too quickly for their size. They moved in unison and they fisted their triple-traps from the chest. Flames fingered the walls scarlet around her and the rounds from her JX5 sparked off the floor, missing its mark.

She tripped over a fallen tourist and stumble to her knees.

I streaked towards her.

She thumbed her anti-grav boots, her heels glowing green. A quick tuck, a tight wrap of her arms, and  she somersaulted upward into a tight spiral, her JX5 stitching the platform red.

Two Yhuldjind mobsters were moving toward her. Now elbowing screaming off-world tourists to their left, now shouldering their triple-trap burners, then spitting a wide arc of ice-blue fire.

Tourists scurried this way and that way for shelter. And when I eyed N'Brhaalyaa again she had landed and was dashing towards them, double-tapping two JX5's from her hip.

I saw her plazzstream strike home, spearing light through two mobsters in one flash.

Plazzfire blazed and crossed and torched up the platform. There were tourists scrambling into the narrow crimson cone of the klaxon holo.

Then I heard a synthesized feminine voice drone: "Warning. Warning. This is an authorized Yhuldjind mob raid. Do not be alarmed. Do not be alarmed. But...watch your six. And definitely, definitely seek cover within the safety zones. Thank you."

And then the frenzy began (oh, you should have seen it). Wealthy off-worlders blazed amber hadron plasma shields like a day when hail falls on 70 Virginis B and pummeled innocent bystanders on their way to the safety zones.

But where was N'Brhaalyaa? I wondered, as I dove for cover. After all, as I have said, I was no mobster -- and I had paid her well.

Ah, but I had been spotted, two fat fingers pointing at me with smoking triple-traps.

Fumbling with my shoulder strap, I leveled my KV1.

The two mobsters took aim at me.

Then that dead cold-blue spark flared in my eyes.

A woman stumbled, made me lose my balance, and knocked the KV1 from my hands.

Plazzfire torched the ground around me.

Now I was struggling, trying to get up out from the crop of the twisting limbs and bodies. And, suddenly I eyed my KV1 on the floor.

I gripped it, set my scope red to wreak maximum carnage. And I set my sights on the mobster who was now spitting triple-round bursts of plazzfire into the crowd.

But I was no mobster, and I could not aim well. So, I triple-triggered a steady stream.

I watched plazzfire slash forth, snake to the spot where he stood, and punch a skull-sized hole through his chest.

But one mobster had avoided my blast, and five more Yhuldjind mobsters were stepping out from concealed cocoons to join in the raid.

Yes, now there were six.

I darted from the crowd, running to a corridor.

White plazzstreams threaded toward me from the darkness. Now fragmenting off a wall. Then searing on the floor. Now snaking to my chest.

I fisted a bio-threader.

Oh, but don't ask for me to describe to you the cool comfort that this gave me. To look at the faces go limp in the room, to look at ruby red light flare within the casings in a full-blooded hue, to know that there could be order in chaos, even if my heartbeat drummed otherwise, all of it still haunts me to this day. What other choices did I have? I had nothing to lose and I couldn't wait for miracles.

So, I ignited them.

Now, I was hearing no sounds from the room.

A shrill sound shrieked through my mind. My pulse drummed to a stuttered halt within my ears. And I was thinking sorrowful thoughts: "Oh, what have I done," and, "I didn't need to do that." And I could see two Yhuldjind mobsters etched in bold, red shadows, mouths frozen in ugly swollen holes that made no noise and jaundiced eyes growing too huge to be forgotten. And I was saying to myself: "This is a dream," and, "I must be imagining this." And I was thinking, or at least I believed that I was thinking, that if I blinked then this would all go away.

So I closed my eyes.

I felt my skin burn with the type of heat that gnaws and claws. I heard the room roar and boom and yawn into silence.

And when I opened my eyes, the two Yhuldjind mobsters threaded into the wall like candle wax.

Though, I felt nothingness now, that joyous burst of bold weightlessness I had felt when I was boy of three years, when I first leapt into zero-gravity space. Oh, but I could see things, too: the bronze hand of the sun fingering its way into arcstation Majoris, poking the eyes of the mobster-physicist Urnoqq Cain T as he laughed and stepped into his armored cocoon and sped away.

And after that sight, nothing else seemed to matter to me.

Though, there were thoughts, somewhere in the back of my mind, shouting out of from the darkness, thoughts of visions and memories and dreams. I saw former, old gambits that I had played over the standard years. The quark knight takes techniquark pawn (an old favorite of mine), with techniquark pawn taking quark knight. I thought about lifespark and plutonium 102. And I thought about the prospect of life beyond the void. Though, somehow in my thoughts I knew I was dreaming my last dream -- the sublime blue-green sea that lulls the mind to rest. There was no sound, no sight, and I certainly felt no pain.

But I did smell something.

I smelled, what N'Brhaalyaa had called, the "old scratch" of sulfur and pine on my chest.

And, in N'Brhaalyaa's arm, I heard a baby crying.

Story © 2002 by Ian Fulton Roberts IambicVoiceInInk@aol.com

Illustration © 2002 by Eric Seaholm eric@seaholm.com

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