By Gregory Purvis

Version 1.0

The spilled-ink of space ran through the void as if over a dirty window looking into some other place. It was sprinkled in distant, unfamiliar stars with a blue-gray gas giant in the foreground, the system’s massive sun leaking around the huge planet like a halo. Purple bursts of rocket gas ignited from the rear of a small skiff moving to cut off their quarry, using the gravity from their launch to save fuel.

The skiff slowed and came about, aiming two long stainless steel pylons at the larger twin-engine spacecraft. The pylons were electrical weapons; capable of releasing bolts of energy around 800,000 degrees—hot enough to melt four inches of armored hull. The second pylon, firing a millisecond later, would breach the inner hull and probably vaporize much of the interior. If you were made of carbon, like the crew was, the guns would boil whatever was liquid (most of you) away, and then turn you back to what you had started out as. On the positive side, it was too quick to hurt.

The Twin Sisters was a hand-built ship. Many fighter-skiffs misjudged hand-built ships pieced together from older craft: invariably a fatal mistake. For registration purposes, the Twin Sisters was a Class IV Gemini mated with a de-commissioned military air tank. The better part of her hull was taken from a twin-engine Gemini scout. The engines had been enlarged to Class IV, and re-mounted on a larger frame to incorporate an old air tank between them. The Sisters also held four small, Kali model drones, two on each side of the air tank’s chassis. Each drone was mounted in a gravity box so that they could be controlled from the ship, or dropped to swarm independently, like angry wasps, around the ship’s antagonists.

There was twin habitation modules originally designed as one fuselage for a long distance gel-ship. These had been cut in half with a laser and mounted one module to a side; each had been plated with ceramic armor. One module still retained its automated medical system and gel chambers—ten chambers that could evacuate two of the sealed pods at a time from repurposed dorsal torpedo launchers. Once launched, a sleeping crewmate was at the mercy of the drug filled oxygen-rich gel and long range radio transponders, but it beat the alternative: space was a big, mostly empty place.

The other module had been largely stripped down, providing working and recreational living space for a crew that spent a lot of time travelling between large space stations, orbital labs, and the massive military ships evacuated after being breached during combat in the last Far War.

These craft had floated, derelict and haunted by the scars of war, only to be—years after their final battle—taken over, patched up, the hull re-sealed and the ship held in-place with solar sails attached to anchor pinions. They had been gradually enlarged: ships would dock and then their docking rings would be welded shut; habitation modules or satellites were bought from scrappers and added wherever space could be found for them. As long as their positioning and rotation had been calculated correctly, the sails pulled in and converted enough solar power to run the craft and even store their excess. Now these old ships were so-called “ring moons”: anchored around some large planet, where they used barges outfitted with tow lines, magnetic rockets, and gravity pliers to haul back to their “moon” any meteorite or floating chunk of rock with enough valuable mineral deposits or seams of precious metals. Whether the civilians living aboard were pirates or just a scrapper colony depended largely on the amount of law present, whether it was respected, and if the workers were content to scrap instead of steal. Sometimes you would run across one of the so-called “black clinics”, where experiments forbidden on Earth or in Terran-controlled zones were carried out by pharmaceutical corporations. The only spacers who dealt with them were slavers—pirates who breached a passing ship to harvest the people as well as the cargo that might be aboard.

Sometimes the Sisters would travel through a worm, and time did weird things inside those things. For this reason, the crew would climb into the gel pods as if they were making a long point-to-point trip, depending on bots to keep up the ship, make repairs, and wake them at a set time if the medical computer failed to.

The only crew member that had ever gone through a worm awake was their own Captain Jack Jill, an androgyne that preferred to periodically switch sexual appearances (and the order s/he used first and last names) rather than keep the similarities androgyne’s normally shared. Captain Jack Jill had brewed up a glass of ayahuasca-laced green tea right before they requested the Federal Aerospace Spatial Transponder (FAST if you liked mil-spec acronyms) near Jupiter to open a worm to a moon called Carthage. The worm had opened, oscillating as it spun through its hole in the dimensional fabric of the void. When the computer had made its calculations and the right frequency was reached—indicating the worm was now open on the far side of its hole—the ship slipped through and the Captain had never been right in the head since.

Now s/he sat in a gel command couch, watching the little wedge-shaped craft turn.

[UNIDENTIFIED CLASS II ARMED SKIFF—WEAPONS SYSTEMS LOCKED AND CHARGING], Sister 1 announced. The two exits and the emergency crawlspace under the floor sealed and the six open chambers circling the central work space of the module flooded with gel, spiked with combat drugs. The crew inhaled deeply when they heard the gel alarm and tendrils of the substance entered their mouths and nostrils, quickly filling their lungs.

The skiff had by now read the life forms aboard, scanned their armor, and noticed the two rail guns loaded with 12-ounce nickel slugs mounted on independent rings circling the large central orbital platform of the air tank. Both of the guns were pointed at the skiff.

[INCOMING MESSAGE FROM SKIFF, SCANS READ THREE LIFE FORMS. INFO-LINK SQUIRT DECODED: CRAFT REGISTRY 303-4a—APPARENTLY A LOCAL REGISTRATION. NO SUCH CODE ON FILE WITH UTSCR. WOULD YOU LIKE THE CRAFT DETAILS AND ARMAMENT, CAPTAIN?], Sister 2 chimed in, the AI’s voice slightly more chirpy than its counterpart. Neither AI was aware that a few lines of code—hidden from their access—actually split the ship’s single AI into two separate personalities.

“What’s to know?” the Captain laughed. “They want to make sure we’re not an easy target or an easy threat, or they’d have fired those ‘lectrics by now. Their station must be either poor or crafty, or they’d have another four of those things all around us.

“They gotta know their only hope is surrounding us.” Captain Jack Jill laughed, floating up from where the couch had been with a kick through the gel to get a closer view on the screen.

“Read me their message. If it’s in Russian or something, go ahead and translate it into Mercantile English.”


“Okay folks,” the Captain said cheerfully. “Everyone gelled-up will stay put. If you are in Module 1, you get to go have a look-see. What we want to know is if they have medicine. Specifically Arizona Flu vaccine and antibiotics, but we also might want to get some gel. We can use gel to synthesize some shit, but nothing as complex as a biophage or a vaccine. And because I’m a cautious sort I just wasted a bunch, so a canister would be nice. The satellite labs orbiting Luna need the vaccine and no lab on Earth will give them a drop, seeing as how Earth is eat-up with the flu.

“We can probably charge ten times the market. We also need parts. Chinese moon like this, they import a lot of Korean stuff, so anything we are low on grab if you can grab cheap. We still have that large meteor with all that platinum in it, if currency is too hard for them to turn around. Oh, steal what you can. We’re a long way from home.”

Everyone in Module 1 took in the Captain’s speech without comment. They had not started off as pirates. They were armed couriers. But then their Captain had gone through a worm high on psychedelic drugs. No one knew what they were now, and the places s/he chose to stop weren’t places anyone wanted to jump ship.

The flight computer—moving them smoothly on airskates—docked next to a large shuttle with an Australian cybernetics company logo painted on the side. The airskates turned sideways and fixed onto the docking ring. Locking down, there was a long hiss and the ship stopped movement.


“Okay, folks,” the Captain announced, scrambling his commands with old, hard to locate software. “This could be a trap, or just…well, it’s probably a trap. Take ceramic pistols. Or print an automatic quick, if you can keep the scanner from picking it up. Print a list of what we need on a sheet of plastic next to the printer doing the autos. Hide them, and if security finds them tell them our translation software goes in and out. That we thought they might be pirates of the ho, ho, ho and a bottle ‘o rum variety.”

Four people zipped themselves into armored jumpsuits with the Republic of Texas flag on the breast. Their passports and ID hung from a bright red cord from around their necks, and the weapons were hidden in two pieces designed to look like helmet attachment software. They had only time to print two automatics, so one of the four courier-cum-pirates—a big guy called Little Joe—wore a helmet and hid the pieces in the helmet attachment and an oxygen canister. Allergies, was his excuse.

Two armed men stood waiting behind an armored hard-point. Both wore jumpsuits as well, with an unfamiliar flag. One of the men was African, with rows of ridged tribal scars across his face. The other was Chinese, his Mandarin commands translated through an old language system, the speaker mounted right in front of a slot for the grubby plastic passport cartridges.

The four crew members approached in a group, stopping short when the African raised a rifle with a cluster of thin, round muzzles.

“One at the time, please, honored guests.”

Little Joe smiled. “Captain JJ Gipson Haynes sends his regards. I’m Lieutenant Joseph Little.”

He held up his passport: a black cartridge about the size of a pack of medicinal cigarettes.


Cybernetic Eating Habits of a Poor Reporter

(NOTE: Sometimes I write things and forget I wrote them. Usually, with good reason. Here’s an example.)

Typical freelance journalist—at least, one living on the cusp of the communal cup that was the U.S. dole, filled with whatever sketchy dross…whatever watered-down witches brew… you might expect to find at the bottom of such a public assistance barrel at the end of a long reign of conservative Republican plutocracy. He was a diabetic from a long line of poor Irish Methodist diabetics, which was slightly funny (or not) when you paid attention to his one decorative vice: collecting soda pop memorabilia from the turn-of-the-20th century sugar-syrup and soda water gluttony…when a hundred brands proclaimed their prohibitionist Puritanism with the rise of the soft(er) drink, just as the medicine shows were drying up thanks to the Pure Food and Drug Act curtailing the magic of enough heroin, cocaine, and laudanum to raise the Titanic on good cheer alone.

The bottlers went from Doctor Pinkman’s Powerful Powder to Pepsi Cola, and those heavy old dope bottles lined wooden shelves, with Gibson Girl soda trays and framed adverts from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He pulled a box of frozen Argentinean line-caught Tilapia filets, bought with a Food Stamp debit card thanks to the kind words of a French-Canadian doctor, whose son’s indiscretions with a local transgendered prostitute and crystal meth cook had been creatively edited from a Page 2 Police Blotter filler. (The Power of the Press)

The frozen machine-prepped squares of fish went into the oven. He waved the box over the oven’s scanner, and it adjusted the temperature and timer, and added another box to his shopping list, downloading a USDA/Food Stamp Coupon for $1.00 and entering his name in a contest which offered as the grand prize a Virtual Reality “Be An Alaskan Snow Crab Fisherman” give-away.

The hologram on the box downplayed the Argentinean Sea Lab where the “fish” had been “caught”…instead: there was a bearded Yankee wearing a yellow slicker, at the wooden wheel of a barely-suggested fishing vessel circa 1875. The fisherman winked at him. If you winked back he would pull up an animated USDA Eat More Protein! display.  Instead, he pulled the tab that deconstructed the box, and began the auto recycling program, folded the box in half and pitched it into the Pig. The Pig oinked! a thank-you.

He took a bottle of expensive Saucier Works sauce. The kind that was like wine: you were supposed to add a thimble-full of Balsamic Vinegar, and it would distill something exotic that got better with each month you let it cook-down in the fridge. Except he had forgot to feed it the vinegar, so it was now mostly just expensive ketchup, which was okay, too.

When he was a kid, his mother would take him to Cap’n Jacks and he would get Fish Sticks and dip them in that sweet ketchup that you squirted out of the Pirate by mashing down on his head.  His mother always said that was disgusting, because the menu said the REAL Cap’n Jacks was a pirate who used to cut people’s heads off with his cutlass.

It had been his favorite restaurant.

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