(A Langford Joh Story)
by William Alan Rieser
This is kind of like one of those space opera telecasts that I generally despise, except that the story is personally very real to me. I can't help it if it reminds people of the Maltese Falcon or one of those other tabloid fictions because it really happened. You see, I had a partner too, like Sam Malone. When something bad happened to him, it was up to me to do something about it because no one else cared. If that makes you think of Humphry Bogart, it's just too bad because that's the way it was. No excuses on my part. I have to remember it every day, even now when they've got me in the retirement home back on Earth.
Peyt and I -- Jason Redbird is my name -- had a bond that went beyond the ties of normal men, probably because we had been through so much together. As youthful neighbors, we shared the same things that all boys do with their friends, but even then we were a little closer than most. We became part of each other early on when we discovered that we not only had similar ideas but eerily parallel home experiences. Both of our fathers thought of themselves as failures and were abusive, resulting in timid and wayward mothers. We played a game back then, comparing our bruises to see who sported the most gruesome scars. We even cried and laughed the same way. A lot of people thought of us as twins, though Peyt was a Japanese-Brit and I was an equally impossible Hungarian-Algonquin, growing up together in suburban Winetka after the Muslim War changed the face of America.
Long before we joined the air jockeys, we had a pact for sharing everything that came our way. We never focused on endings because we were too full of life. Grim happenings were not part of our make-up, but it was comforting to know that whatever happened in the future to one of us, the other would be there to see it through. So many people don't have that, and it made us strong. In fact, throughout our partnership, regardless of some temporary separations, we were always there for each other through thick and thin, like it says in the book. We were a marriage, you see, but not a sexual one. Together, we made a rather formidable complementary pair. Singly, neither of us ever amounted to much.
Peyt was a mechanical genius, one of those people who mysteriously find ways to fix incredibly broken, complex mechanisms or make the most obtuse gadget work. I am a computer hack, the kind that can find back doors and the secrets of encrypted codes. Somewhere in the middle of our military training, our natural gifts were recognized and exploited. At first, they tried to separate us, because they didn't comprehend how much better we worked as a team. That, in itself, is a long story, but suffice it to say that we managed to prove we should be together, and the powers-that-be eventually agreed. From the air jockeys, we were lured into the cosmos and became voiders, what used to be called astronauts in the days before alien life was confirmed. Earth contributed us voiders to the Confederation's need for veteran space jockeys.
At first, we endured stints with colonization efforts and specialized military excursions. Our successes and expertise brought us to the attention of the WEALS, an organization of galaxy troubleshooters, sponsored by some of the wealthiest and most sophisticated scientific organizations available on Earth at that time. After our first mission, a positive experience rescuing a charter party from an oxygen leak on Vega, we were called into the Commissioner's office and "volunteered" for a more difficult assignment.
"You are familiar with the Arrow Probe?" asked Commissioner Hurley.
"We know Commander Martin's team," I replied. "Greg told us that the Probe had the best of almost everything in the way of weapons and investigative devices. He's a friend."
"Did he confide his destination, in spite of my strict rules against doing so?"
"Certainly not, sir," said Peyt. "Martin is an old-timer like us. He would never disobey a direct order."
"Bullshit," said Hurley realistically. "Part of survival in this business is camaraderie. I'd be shocked to learn that he didn't mention something to you guys, especially if he considered you his friends."
"Well," I admitted, "at the going-away party, he did sort of indicate something about the 4th Quadrant, but he was drunk and very non-specific. Nothing actionable on your part, sir."
"The 4th Quadrant? I think even I would have been more forthcoming than that. If I was going where he went, I'd want my peers to know about it."
He was one of us, you see, a voider no longer permitted the void because of his bad leg. I could see the frustration in his eyes, being on the periphery of the adventure he coveted so much but was forced to sacrifice in order to ride a desk of authority. We decided to be silent. Hurley was not the most personable of our superiors, and we were flabbergasted that he would make an admission like that to underlings. I noticed the lines of worry around his lids and made some unvoiced speculations. Peyt nudged me, suspecting that something really unusual was about to occur. He was right.
"What do you know about the 4th Quadrant, gentlemen?"
"The Ophir System is there, supposedly undergoing a civil war," answered Peyt.
"Anything else?" demanded Hurley.
"The signal from the Dragon Nebula," I added. "Probably the worst place in the universe. Trying to pilot a craft in there is suicide, like navigating jelly filled with mines. No one knows if the signal is an SOS or a warning to stay away. Don't tell me you sent Martin out there?"
Hurley turned red with embarrassment. It wasn't that he was angry with us, just the position he had been put in by others. "Not because of the damned message," he shouted with obvious turmoil. "Because the damn thing just stopped, that's why. We had to investigate, just to make sure nothing dangerous was unleashed. Besides, I have my orders."
"And Martin? What did he have to say?" asked Peyt, as angry as I at this news.
"We lost contact yesterday. I'm ordering you two to find out why," he said. "You'll take a Needle, which ought to give you every possible advantage. You'll be able to burn your way through that jiggling crap and detect objects in your path."
That was about the only thing he could have said to prevent us from punching him in the face. Martin was a compadre, sharing everything including women, booze, and laughs on our rare shore leaves. He was also one of the few people who thoroughly
understood the relationship between Peyt and myself with approval. Some people thought we were queer for each other. If anything had happened to Martin, we were honor-bound to do something about it. The fact that Hurley was giving us a Needle, the most advanced craft in the WEAL armada, was both fortunate and significant. Its armament could take out a planet at need. Peyt and I both knew that Hurley's hands were tied, that he had been compelled to look at the Dragon by higher-ups and that he was forced to use veterans like us to find out what was happening.
"We'll go," I said, spitting some bile in Hurley's wastepaper basket to let him know what I thought of his candy-ass decision. "But only if you tell us who the fool was that made you send Martin."
It was the same thing as saying that Hurley had no real power, that we knew he was being manipulated by fools, or worse. Peyt once discovered that Martin had an enemy in the hierarchy at WEAL, but we could never unearth the man's name. Now Hurley proved the accuracy of that reasoning with his eyebrows. He took a moment to decide whether or not he was throwing away his future. Then his courage surfaced along with his loathing of one particular individual, showing he was still one of us.
"Wayne Lipscomb," he said with distaste.
"That's enough for our purposes," said Peyt as we made ready to go. Lipscomb, in our opinion, was a political parasite that didn't belong in an organization like WEAL. Everybody knew that it was his money and government contacts that gave him influence, not his brains. Also, Lipscomb once tried to cast blame on me for an error that he caused by his own negligence. I had to stop Peyt from going after the guy at that time. We avoided him whenever possible.
"We won't give you away," I added, though Hurley clearly observed my frown and knew that if we returned, there would be hell to pay.
When we got back to the barracks, we were in for a surprise. Two heavily armed guards accosted us and forced us into a waiting vehicle. Inside, we were met by a very important man, Ambassador Langford Joh. He didn't waste any words.
"Tell me," he asked, "what do you two know about Wayne Lipscomb."
Both of us were rather stunned by that, but we couldn't help but like and admire the man. Unfortunately, neither of us knew much more than our personal dislike of Lipscomb.
"Definitely a slime, sir," I blurted out. "If it's evidence you want, we can't help you."
"We'd be happy to assist if we could," added Peyt.
The Ambassador then told us he was investigating Lipscomb's activities and cautioned us that this matter was confidential. We were not to confide it to anyone. Then he handed us two miniature devices.
"Long-range transmitter-recorders," he explained. "Send me anything you find that might incriminate Lipscomb. He's got to be stopped."
"These are not Confederation technology," I noted.
"Engage the green button and point it toward the Manic system. I will receive it."
"Why us? Why now when we're going to the Dragon?"
"My son spoke highly of you two. Lipscomb sponsored the Dragon Probe."
He wouldn't tell us any more and left us to wonder who his son might be. We were brought back to the barracks where we made our preparations, this time with an expanded agenda.
* * *
Penetrating the Dragon with the Needle was a relatively smooth operation, though unlike anything else we had done. Most navigation consoles couldn't operate inside its bizarre matrix of gases, liquids, and gelatin storms or sustain any kind of defensive
shields. The Needle overcame earlier technologies by relying on human engrams and the very latest synapse software to control its mechanisms. We could tap into those controls directly with magnetic telepathy helmets. Thus Peyt and I were among the first to experience the nebula's uniqueness, though we were well aware that Greg Martin and the eight members of his team were trapped somewhere in its dense morass, hopefully alive.
Once we were in about 1,000 miles, I energized the life-form display, a console designed to track known DNA-based organisms. A single blinking light revealed itself to me, indicating a human form approximately 1,000 miles directly ahead of us.
"Watcha got, Jase?" asked Peyt.
"Straight ahead about 1K. Surrounded by metal. Maybe we've got a live one. I sure hope so in this soup."
When we were close enough to zoom, the object revealed itself to be one of the Aegis Probe's escape shuttles, its progress stifled by a jelly-cloud. We read an oxygen-gravity envelope inside, but were unable to establish any sort of communication. Peyt decided to go himself, since I was superior at the synapse controls and he was more coordinated about EVAs. Blasting through that quivering cloud externally with a heat gun was slow, tedious work. I made sure he tested the com-link before exiting the Needle. The next I heard from him was from inside the shuttle.
"It's Greg, Jase. He's dead. Mummified or maybe aged by something weird. There's a yellow chemical in here, floating around. He's got white hair and wrinkles and all. I'm going to bring him back so we can take him home. We're gonna stick this up Lipscomb's ass. Nothing can justify this."
"I'm with you, buddy. Run your hand scanner in there. I'm picking up that unusual chemistry in the atmosphere."
"Not getting a thing. Scanner doesn't function in this yellow shit. I think Greg spoke something in his journal, but I can't work it in this atmosphere. I'll bring it back. You'd better do a perimeter check, just in case whatever caused this is still around."
"Is Greg suited?"
"Don't scrape against anything. Whatever affected him might still be operating. You can't afford any kind of rip in your suit, no matter how small."
That part of our investigation went relatively smoothly. Peyt got back to the Needle with Greg's corpse and we put him in a storage container. Then we examined the aural journal together, which defined the rest of the problem for us.
"If you are hearing this, I am dead. Before going on, even if you are inside your star craft, you need to suit up and protect yourselves as long as you are within the nebula."
Peyt, having just taken his bulky EVA coverings off, was reluctant to put them on again, but I convinced him otherwise.
"He wouldn't be saying it without a reason, Peyt," I said, keying the journal again. "Greg knew what he was doing."
Greg Martin's voice came through clearly enough. He was a pro and didn't let his anguish reveal itself, not even to us who knew better.
"Once we penetrated the Dragon and compensated for its strange effects, we localized on what we first thought was a small moon. It turned out to be an asteroid-sized station, completely metallized. Almost immediately, Zhen, my archaeologist and best linguist, got very sick. It took about an hour for him to die. All we could do was stare when the fluids disappeared out of his body and he wound up looking mummified, like a raisin or dried prune, the Boris Karloff Effect, we called it. But I couldn't wait to find out why. Me, Stevens, and Camp went to the station while the others tried to figure out Zhen.
"It was the source of the signal, all right. Camp, probably the best communications man in WEAL, was amazed at the alien technology. The antenna was so different, he couldn't believe what it told him. These aliens not only broadcast their warning with every known frequency, but had optical, tactile, and olfactory transmissions too, as well as a few sensory devices that were beyond our understanding. The point is, they were at least equivalent to humans and possibly more advanced. Then I found a recording
device and Stevens cleaned it up. There were a dozen little cylinders nearby, optical imaging devices, and we were able to make five of them work, enough to tell us pictorially what we are facing. The language is impossible, so names are meaningless except for their prisoner. They called it the Wanak, but we don't know what that signified.
"These aliens built the station as a jail, an enclosure to house the Wanak, an undying creature they considered extremely dangerous. I suspect that the entire nebula is an extension of the station, that its fields hold the creature in from breaking out into the void. As near as we can figure out, it is circular, about a foot or two in diameter and filled with thousands of 'spokes' around a central viewing gland. One cylinder shows the aliens withering before this creature and I wondered if that was a clue.
"Camp found the switch that turned off the signal. It had been subjected to an unusual aging effect and reduced to dust, along with parts of the antenna. We came to the conclusion that it had been done recently, that the creature must have broken out of its prison, surviving its captors to destroy their machine. Then I got an emergency call from Aegis. Two more crew-members had died like Zhen while we were at the station, Carla and Willoughby.
"Before going back, Stevens played the last cylinder that functioned. It revealed that the beast is invisible and can penetrate most substances molecularly. They did not explain how they managed to contain it. But they did show that it could be seen with what looks like an interference filter, what we call infra-blue.
"When we got back to Aegis, we knew that the creature was aboard, though we couldn't build a filter in time to be of use. One by one, my mates were taken the same as the others until only I am left. It was probably foolish to abandon the Probe in this shuttle, because it can get to me whenever it chooses. But, I couldn't do this log, surrounded by my dead crew ... and remain sane. I programmed the Probe for a black hole, so don't bother searching. Lipscomb can stick the cost ... never mind. Tell Claire that I loved her, that she was the only one. Tell that to Beverly and Charlene also. I am feeling weaker. It is almost as though ...."
That was the end of Greg's voice, probably the moment of his demise as the creature sucked the life out of his body. Peyt and I glanced at the storage capsule with respect, honoring our fallen friend, silently thanking him for his effort.
"We can arrange our face-plates into an infra-blue configuration," I said.
"That ought to make the little bastard visible," replied Peyt, "if it's here."
We went about making the change, all the time thinking about ways to challenge the creature. I knew that, in spite of its deadly effect, it was essentially a primitive form, but one that supposedly defeated the plans of a highly sophisticated alien species. They couldn't or wouldn't kill the beast, that was certain. I wondered if they really attempted to destroy it or wanted to preserve its uniqueness. That question will never be answered and I thought I'd probably never learn how the beast escaped its cage.
Be that as it may, we scoured the Needle for its presence and came up with nothing. It was not aboard, assuming our filters were working as promised. I thought to change our alarm system so that anything that tried to enter our hull would be detected on a
micro-molecular level. Then, on a whim, I changed even that so that pico-material would be sensed.
"You realize that either we find it, or vice versa," said Peyt. "We'll have to make the scanners infra-blue."
"Why? What if Greg was right and the nebula also contains the thing? What's to stop us from leaving if it can't follow? Just because we can burn our way through this mess doesn't mean that it can."
"What if he was wrong? It broke out of the station. Maybe it can break out of the nebula. Can we take that chance? Or maybe, it could hide on the ship while we transport it back to Earth."
"I guess you're right, but what do we do with it if we do find it?"
"That's the big question," replied Peyt. "We'll have to experiment on the beast. Heck, we've got just about every kind of offensive weapon they could dream up."
"I suppose. I'll change the scanners. You handle all the other lenses."
We were in for the duration. There is no way we could afford to take the chance that this beast might escape the nebula. I wish we knew for certain what contained it within the perimeter of the Dragon, but it's too late to speculate now. The other thing that bothered me was reproduction. What if the creature could propagate itself? Did it leave thousands of spores or eggs in the jail with hereditary instructions? I scanned for the station and found that we were nearby.
We had to orbit the prison seven times before we discovered the spot where it burst out. I had thought it might be a big, gaping hole, but it wasn't, just a meter-sized, circular gap, just big enough for the beast as described. I probed inside that hole using the life scanner.
"Nothing DNA-based, Peyt, but look at those pulsing little sacs on the walls. Could those be eggs?"
"Take off the filter. If they become invisible, we'll know for sure."
I did that. Sure enough, we couldn't see them at all. They were beast babies, about a thousand little Wanaks, like we feared. Then I saw something else that didn't make much sense. The hole was not an implosion. The Wanak didn't burst out of that cage from inside because the metal flash went inward. Something or someone blew that hole open on purpose from the outside. Peyt concurred with my reasoning, though we never got around to discussing what that meant.
"I think this is serious enough to risk anti-matter charges, but we'll have to be at the rim of the nebula when we set it off," I suggested. "Set the charges for eighteen minutes."
"Can do. But I hate losing that station. WEAL would go nuts if we could salvage it, considering the technology. I know, not with those eggs aboard. I'm on it."
That's the best thing about us, me and Peyt. We never had to waste much time convincing the other of anything, we thought so much alike. That is why we made such a great team and succeeded where so many others failed. We planted the charges using robotic arms because EVAs were now considered too risky if the creature was nearby. Eighteen minutes later, we were at the Dragon Nebula's perimeter, where we rigged the ship to sustain a massive explosion. When the shaking was over, I examined the rim carefully, to see if I could determine what could possibly prevent that beast from getting past its defenses. We certainly had no trouble getting through from the outside. It was then that we realized our mistake.
"Damn," said Peyt and I simultaneously, both seeing it immediately.
The nebula disseminated as we watched. It had been created and sustained by the station, so naturally it couldn't remain without its support.
"We've really done it this time," I gasped. "It's loose."
"No. We did the right thing. There was nothing to prevent the little ones from getting out if we hadn't blown them to smithereens. We'll just have to scan for mommy. Somebody didn't give us much of a choice."
Peyt had a way of simplifying impossible tasks, the same way he looked at broken machines. I had a different thought, that mommy might object to what we had done and come looking for us. Wouldn't anybody? I saw it neglecting its new freedom in preference for vengeance, even at the expense of its own liberty and survival. Those are supposed to be Earth expressions, but I had a feeling they were more universal than people wanted to believe, especially with a primitive life form.
"You know, we can't really leave this area," said Peyt logically. "We don't know whether it can trace our engine path back to home."
"Don't worry. It won't forget us. If it's anywhere around, it will make its presence felt soon."
My words were prophetic because the scanner revealed something small and round streaking in our direction from the other side of what had been the nebula. It was the creature and its spokes were bristling with what I took for anger. Without the gel of the nebula, there was nothing to hamper its natural speed. We didn't have time to think about who or what caused this fiasco to happen. I suppose anak had a fairly high estimate of its own abilities, considering the things it had accomplished. Peyt felt certain of its murderous intent.
"The switch!" he yelled suddenly. "It aged the damn switch until it crumbled to dust. What if it does that to the Needle?"
"It ain't big enough to do that to a mechanism this size," I offered. "The switch was small, I'm sure."
"The charges were small. Look what they did to the station, to the nebula."
"Yeah, but this is an animal, an organism, and a tiny one to boot."
"Doesn't matter now. It's here. Size is not a factor. This guy is bad news."
He was right, of course. The matter was moot because it circled our craft like a carnivore, deciding how best to decimate its prey. I doubt if the beast had ever been successfully opposed by anything, other than those jailers. To our surprise, when it tried diving through the hull at midship, it was repelled. I came to the conclusion that I had inadvertently reproduced the very substance in the nebula's rim by programming our detection sensors in the pico range. Only, instead of trying to bust out of a prison, it was trying to break into one. For an hour of fruitless, headstrong attacks by our uncommon enemy, we were at a stalemate.
"You know," said Peyt, reflecting on the possibilities. "If it does manage to get in here, the only thing we know will work is anti-matter, blowing up the ship."
"Let's not get hasty. There's got to be something else. Based on what I'm seeing, if we move, it will follow us."
"True. It's determined to make us pay."
"We could lead it into a sun," I continued.
"It can't be that stupid. It will wait until we come out the other side."
"Maybe a dimensional warp or a black hole."
"Very risky. There's too much we don't know."
"What then?" I asked with frustration.
"We haven't fired any weapons at it. I suggest we explore the arsenal."
He was being logical and reasonable, as usual. We tried just about everything available to us, from the latest platinum lasers to the most formidable and deadly gases. Nothing worked, not even the electrical nets or the Einstein energy bolts. Our entire assault array only served to make the Wanak angrier and more determined to end our existence. So much for the effectiveness of WEAL armaments in space. Then it found an exhaust port, one that could not be shielded with pico-sensors, and entered
the Needle's aft. We were not ready for that.
The only weapons we could use inside the craft were low-energy kasers, bad enough for humans, but useless on this creature. I racked my brains, unwilling to accept the death that would inevitably follow once the Wanak found a way to penetrate our suits with its chemicals.
"Maybe the answer is to pico-spread the beam," offered Peyt, unwittingly zeroing in on the one thing that had stopped the beast thus far. "What the hell, the sensors did the job, didn't they?"
"That must be it!" I cried in agreement, frantically reprogramming both our guns. It was not a moment too soon because our infra-blue lenses revealed its presence when it came through the walls and into our control cabin.
It was then that I endured the saddest moment of my miserable life. Peyt, in turning rapidly to face the creature with his kaser firing, ripped a hole in the knee section of his suit on the corner of the console. At the same exact time, the beast released a stream of yellow particles from its central mass in Peyt's direction. Those chemicals could not fail to penetrate my friend's last defense, in spite of the fact that the gun worked brilliantly.
It was shocked by the nature of the pico-energy and quickly paralyzed. It became more corporeal in falling to the floor of our cabin, rolling helplessly into Peyt's boots. It pulsed for a minute and ceased, ironically mummifying before our astonished eyes. We had done what those aliens could not or would not do, ending the horror once and for all. Its central mass putrified and collapsed before our eyes. Only then did we pause to consider our predicament.
There was nothing to be done because the chemicals had already been absorbed by Peyt's bloodstream. The survival manual said, "Forget it, he's dead!" We cried like infantile children. He made me take various oaths and promise to do a whole bunch of things after he died. I complied, but the tears have never really stopped since that moment. He went quietly and bravely, like Greg. For my part, I bagged the creature, placed Peyt in a storage container, keyed the controls for home, and wrote my report. I also keyed the Ambassador's transmitter and recorded my impressions of how that hole had been blown open by an external force, giving voice to a specific vitriolic suspicion.
* * *
"Commissioner Hurley," said Wayne Lipscomb across his huge desk at WEAL headquarters, surrounded by the media and virtually every dignitary of the establishment. "After reading Jason Redbird's report, I can only commend his actions and the foresight you took in sending him to solve this dilemma. Were it not for this voider's ingenuity, and that of his deceased partner, Peyton Isachii, we would at this moment be faced with a catastrophe. I am therefore conferring on both men, the Medal of Action, our highest praise, and awarding Greg Martin a Bravery ribbon. Where is Redbird, by the way?"
"Indisposed, sir," answered Hurley. "Grieving, I believe. We did lose eight other men."
"Yes, of course, but they did not contribute to the demise of the alien, did they? In any case, I want to see Redbird in this office no later than tomorrow. That will be all, gentlemen. Dismissed."
People filed out of Lipscomb's large office, the last person closing the door behind him with a look of contempt on his face. Lipscomb sat alone at his desk, smiling like a fiend while glancing into a digital mirror to inspect his hair. He started talking to a private file, describing his cleverness in blasting a hole in the alien jail by long-range decimation beam. He bragged about how this would force Hurley into a new, extremely profitable weapons program, one that he would sponsor. He even chuckled about "poor bastards" that had to die in order for him to succeed in his scheme. That is when I opened the closet and came out bearing Peyt's lifeless body with the corpse of the Wanak in a sealed pouch on my belt.
"What is the meaning of this?" shouted Lipscomb, taken by surprise.
I didn't think words would be appropriate at that immediate juncture. The paralysis gun was more than sufficient to convey my meaning. I believe Wayne did manage to comprehend what was happening, though the look on his face did not exactly express approval. He could hear me well enough, once he was helpless.
"Why Wayne," I said, rather tongue-in-cheek. "You love ceremonies. How could I deny you the one that would be the most important to us? I promised Peyt a Viking funeral. You know, the one where you put a dog by the hero's feet and surround him with the bodies of his vanquished foes. I thought you would enjoy actively participating in the festivities."
I made sure that Peyt covered Lipscomb's prone body, that every last iota of flesh would provide fuel for the cold-fire. I then placed the remains of the Wanak directly beneath Peyt's feet, the way he would want it. Lipscomb's tear-ducts were the only organs that functioned properly during the rite. When I ignited the human-alien pyre, I sang one of Peyt's favorite songs, one that he liked to remember for Rose, a girl that he once loved in the distant past. She had died in a car accident. He never forgot her and I thought he would enjoy this last tribute. It was called, "La vie en Rose." I don't imagine that Lipscomb appreciated the gesture at all.
The cold fire is much quicker than normal flames and the ashes were easier to accumulate and bag. I snuck out of the WEAL ministry and made my way to the funeral parlor where Hurley and others were waiting. The ashes went in a steel vase, shaped in the form of the Needle. There was a brief ceremony. Hurley patted me on the shoulder before leaving, shedding some real tears.
As for me, I spent the week consoling Greg's mom, along with Claire, Beverly, Charlene, and a few others he forgot to mention. I know Hurley did the same for Greg's crew. Neither of us bothered with Wayne's family and managed to produced puzzled frowns when authorities questioned us about his whereabouts. When I was asked about the alien's corpse, I just shrugged and walked away. In any case, when a guy's partner is taken out, he's got to do something about it, especially with a prearranged pact like Peyt and I had.
* * *
The Ambassador contacted me privately to express his condolences and thank me for the transmission. He seemed to know what I had done.
"If you hadn't taken him out, I was prepared to do it the hard way, politically," he said. "Lipscomb was a disease."
"Peyt and I didn't blink, sir. By the way, just who is your son? We couldn't figure it out."
"You knew him as Captain Iron Feather on Luna."
Then it came back to me, an incident in Luna City. Peyt and I assisted the young Captain in exposing some ID chip smugglers and later drank ourselves into a stupor, celebrating the event. He too was a voider and damned good company. So is his father, and the whole complex wheel makes sense to me now.
Just to make it official and bring matters to an end, I carved Peyt's name into a boulder on the outskirts of Winetka. Some day, not too far from now, I hope to add mine next to his. The future can puzzle it out. Voiders forever.
Story © 2003 by William Alan Rieser firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration © 2003 by ehrad email@example.com
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