Vintage Treasures: Science Fiction of the 30’s edited by Damon Knight

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction of the 30s-smallWindy City Pulp and Paper is a fabulous convention and, as its name implies, it’s focused mostly on vintage magazines and paperbacks. Wandering the vast Dealer’s Room is like stepping into a Cave of Wonders for fans of pulp science fiction and fantasy.

But it’s also a den of surprises and a pleasant one awaited me while browsing a table piled high with pulps and digest magazines. A hand-written sign proclaimed all items were “3 For $10,” so I decided to spend a few minutes exploring the heaped stacks. Buried under a loose pile of Science Fiction Quarterly magazines and Amazing Stories, I found a lone hardcover volume: Damon Knight’s pulp anthology Science Fiction of the 30’s, in much better shape than my tattered copy.

Well, that was certainly worth $3.33. It didn’t take much effort to find two other worthy treasures (a July 1948 Fantastic Novels pulp with a classic Lawrence cover and the January 1956 issue of The Original Science Fiction Stories with a James Blish cover story, which looked like it had just come off the magazine rack.) I plunked down my ten bucks and fled before the vendor changed his mind.

Science Fiction of the 30’s was one of two great pulp anthologies I read over thirty years ago — the other being of course Isaac Asimov’s marvelous Before the Golden Age. Those books, together with Jacques Sadoul’s art book 2000 A.D. Illustrations From the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps, ignited a love of pulp fiction in me as a young teen that never died.

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I’ll Look Down and Whisper “No”: “Before Watchmen”

Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Watchmen 1Last Wednesday, DC Comics announced a new publishing venture: “Before Watchmen,” a set of related miniseries that would act as a prologue to the best-selling and critically acclaimed Watchmen graphic novel. The news was met with a considerably mixed reaction. Alan Moore, writer and primary creator of Watchmen, has spoken out against the project. Personally, I’m not going to buy any of DC’s new series, and I want to explain why.

First, some more details. From The Beat website, a list of titles and creators:

Rorschach (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
Minutemen (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Comedian (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
Dr. Manhattan (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
Nite Owl (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
Ozymandias (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
Silk Spectre (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

“Before Watchmen” starts sometime this summer, with one comic to be released per week. Each book will have a two-page back-up feature, “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” written by Wein, who edited the original Watchmen, with art by John Higgins, who coloured the series. An epilogue featuring a number of writers and artists will wrap up the event.

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Review: Kobo eReader Touch

Sunday, September 25th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

koboThis may be going a bit far afield, but since most Black Gate readers are, well, readers, I suspect it will be of interest to many here.

While I am a big advocate of eReaders and digital books, I have avoided eReading devices in the past because they haven’t offered any significant upgrade over reading on my smartphone, at least not without imposing significant costs.

I started with reading .pdb books on various Palm Treos, then enjoyed a significant graphical upgrade to reading .epub books on an Android phone. This works quite well and I still do the vast majority of my reading that way since whether I am out and about or at home, my phone is always handy.

And, since it emits light, it permits reading in the dark, which is an advantage for anyone who customarily goes to sleep later than the bed’s other occupant.

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Hi-Tech Lo-Tech: Alphasmart NEO

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

My MVP Award for Writing in 2008 goes to a miniature machine that has made this year one of the most productive of my life:

The Alphasmart NEO

Behold a piece of technology that uses all the miniaturization and power-saving abilities available today to make what is essentially the typewriter of the new era. The Alphasmart NEO writes. And that’s about it. It weighs as much as a 8” x 10” spiral notebook. It runs for seven hundred hours in three AA batteries. It’s a work of genius—I feel like an old west gunslinger when armed with the NEO. Anyplace I go, I can quick-draw and write. Have NEO—Will Travel reads my card. I am absolutely in love with it.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: An Excerpt from The MechMen of Canis-9

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

By Joe Bonadonna


This is an excerpt from The MechMen of Canis-9 by Joe Bonadonna. It is presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Joe Bonadonna, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 by Joe Bonadonna.

This time out, Sergeants Seamus O’Hara, Claudia Akira, Fernando Cortez and a platoon of Marines are deployed to Canis-9 — Devoora, the Ocean Planet. Their mission: find seven indestructible robot warriors hidden there for seventy years. Most of the platoon survives a crash-landing but are left stranded in a hostile environment of deadly sea predators. Rescued by native Tulavi islanders, the Marines get caught up in a war between this mysterious, maritime civilization and another indigenous race, the Malvarians, who hunt and harvest the eggs of the giant kaizsu — the Sea Dragons sacred to the Tulavi. As the Marines set out to complete their mission they discover a secret known only by the Tulavi: the endangered kaizsu are the key to Devoora’s ecosystem and the future of all life on the planet.


The MechMen of Canis-9 wrap

The MechMen of Canis-9
A Three Against The Stars Adventure

Prologue
Viluvia: A.D. 2174

Viluvia was a dry, barren piece of real estate. A desert planet in a galaxy at the ass-end of the universe, its indigenous population consisted of reptiles, insects and birds. It was one of only three planets where tesla could be found, an ore used for power cells and energy weapons. Omegan-Terran intelligence warned of the presence of Drakonian warships in that sector of Known Space, so the United Space Marine Corps had been sent in to evacuate the miners and their families before the Draks dropped in to destroy the mines and cut off all escape.

But the Marines had been betrayed and the Draks arrived earlier than expected.

Gunnery Sergeant Claudia Akira realized that fact the moment she spotted the Drakonian D-13s streaking across the gray, early-morning sky. The mechanized drones resembled monstrous winged tortoises, blasting away at the recently evacuated buildings of the Bell-Ahava Mining Combine, torching and reducing them to ash and cinder.

“Trench warfare? For God’s sake, this is the twenty-second century!” griped Corporal Rosie Chen. She knelt behind the earthen rampart of a dry river bed, gripping her M-16 laser rifle and waiting for the word to rock and roll.

Private Betty “Laser” Fraser’s smooth, ebony skin glistened with sweat. The Ethiopian from Florida, also sporting an M-16, hunkered down in the arroyo next to Akira. “And it’s so yiffing hot! Don’t you think it’s too yiffing hot, Sarge?”

“And it’s gonna get hotter, too,” said tall and lanky Private Tommy Barnes.

Akira checked her Edison machine gun, making sure her clip of electrified quartz bullets was fully charged. To her left, Master Sergeant O’Hara and half of Company E’s battalion were positioned along the curving line of the gully. To her right, Gunnery Sergeant Cortez and the rest of the battalion knelt armed and ready to take on whatever the Draks were going to throw at them. Both commanding officers had already been killed and the Marines forced to retreat. Now they huddled in the riverbed, waiting their turn to be pulled out of Viluvia.

Searchlights from the drones scanned the terrain as explosions rocked the planet to its molten core. Fireballs lit the sky with a brilliant display of color that far surpassed any July 4th celebration Akira had ever seen. Glass and plasteel melted as buildings were incinerated and the Drakonian D-13s commanded the sky, slowly moving forward.

The battle drones cruised closer to the Marines’ position, their tazer cannons blasting everything except mining equipment, processing plant and the huge, deep quarries out of which the tesla was dug. The Marines had nowhere to run and no better cover than the arroyo; behind them stretched endless kilometers of barren plains. If the Comanche AEV warships didn’t arrive soon, the Devil Dogs of Company E would be blown to Kingdom Come.

Cortez signaled Akira by hand: Hold your fire until O’Hara gives the word.

Akira signed back: Roger that.

Glancing to her left, she heard O’Hara give the signal in a voice louder than the roar of an Antares frost giant: “Light ’em up, you Lazarushian lasernecks!”

The big Irishman’s Primo-2000 barked a half-dozen times, shooting incendiary shells bursting against the hull of one drone. A nanosecond later, the entrenched Marines opened fire. Crimson laser beams, yellow tracers from machine gun fire and violet rays from blasters shredded the dawn with streaks of hot, bright color.

“Where the hell is our ride home?” shouted Betty, her M-16 firing red bolts of energy at the enemy targets almost directly overhead now.

“Whoever planned this party forgot the cake,” said Rosie, spraying the drones with electric rounds from her Edison machine gun.

Akira chewed her bottom lip and fired her Edison. Whether they were extracted in time or left to die… either way, Viluvia was a lost cause.

Hatches in the bellies of the D-13s slid open and from inside the drones came a HALO-drop of hundreds of Drakonian Storm Troopers wearing jet packs.

“Damn! They pulled a Trojan Horse on us,” said Akira, her Eddy gun spitting a storm of electrified bullets that ripped into the enemy descending from the sky.

The Marines maintained a steady barrage as the Draks swooped down on them. Scores of lizardmen were fried, blown to pieces or shot full of laser and bullet holes. But hundreds more followed, landing safely to attack the entrenched battalion of Marines. Why the drones didn’t just wipe them all off the face of the planet was the question, and Akira could think of only one answer: slave labor. The Draks hadn’t come to destroy the mines, they came to seize and take control of them. The Drakonian Hegemony was developing tesla weapons of its own.

“Here they come!” Cortez shouted.

The dawn erupted in unholy chaos as the Drakonian Storm Troopers charged, their tazerguns burning Marines left and right. Starheads by the score died in an inferno of sizzling green tracers and scorching bolts of blue energy.

Then from out of the sky soared a squadron of seven Comanche AEVs, the Marine warships’ laser cannons blasting away at the D-13 drones. The sound of it all was music to Akira’s ears. Viluvia may be lost, but chances were good the Devil Dogs would be limping home to Camp Corregidor, if any of them survived long enough to make it back to Rhajnara.

A pair of Comanche All Environment Vessels landed on the ridge behind Company E while three others took on the Drak battle drones in ship-to-ship combat. Two others attacked the Drakonian soldiers charging toward the riverbed. One Comanche warship exploded into atoms. Another vessel burst into flames, crashing and burning on the plain below.

The drones were almost at twelve o’clock now and more HALO Storm Troopers dropped to the riverbed to take on the embattled Marines.

Rising to her feet and firing her Eddy, Akira shouted, “Fall back!” And then she felt the agony of an energy beam from a Drakonian tazergun ripping into her belly. “Makki!” she cried, calling out for her beloved friend and corpsman. But Makki Doon had been killed in battle two years earlier, fighting to save his planet from the Khandra Regime.

The last thing Akira remembered before darkness claimed her was Corporal Nick Falco rushing to catch her as she fell. “I got you, Sarge!”

Three Against the Stars-small

Chapter 1

Proud to Claim the Title

Almost two years had passed since the defeat on Viluvia, but for Gunnery Sergeant Claudia Akira the memory of that bitter defeat pained her even more than the wound she received. She slipped a hand under her T-shirt, rubbed her scarred belly and stared at her husband as if he had lost his mind. “You want me to do what?”

“I want you to recuse yourself from this upcoming assignment,” said journalist and novelist Cooper Preston.

“You’ve been watching too many ancient television shows about lawyers, Coop. You really expect me to ask permission to stand down from this mission?”

“Yes.”

“A Marine does not ask to be recused from anything.”

“Not even for a personal, family crisis?”

“I don’t see this as a crisis. Why do you see this as a crisis?”

“Because I think we should see another specialist.”

With a frustrated exhalation of breath, Akira walked over to the picture window of their San Francisco condo on the ninth floor of the Terran Empire Tower. She gazed at Ghirardelli Square, far below. The sun had already burned away the morning fog and it promised to be a lovely day. Fortunately she would soon be taking an aircab to the San Diego Spaceport; she didn’t want to rehash this old argument, not here and especially not now.

“Are you ignoring me, Claudia?”

After a moment, she turned to face her husband again. “No, I read you loud and clear. You never approved of me being a Marine.”

“True,” Preston admitted. “But you wouldn’t marry me if I had asked you to choose between me and the Corps. So I caved and didn’t press the issue any further. I didn’t even say a word when you insisted on keeping your maiden name, instead of taking my surname.”

“I’m an orphan, Coop. My name is all I remember of my parents. So what’s your point?”

He frowned at her, but didn’t raise his voice. “The point is… I did give in, and you promised to retire once we had children. We’ve been married almost three years and I don’t see any children.”

“And you blame me for that?”

“No, I blame the Corps.”

Akira folded her arms across her breasts. “That’s absurd and you know it.”

“Is it? You didn’t get those wounds working in some office.”

“Do you think I like these ugly scars that all the cosmetic surgery in the world can’t hide? Do you think I’m happy that not even one doctor we’ve seen gave me the slightest hope that the internal damage can be fixed? The Corps has the best physicians on the planet, Coop, and they couldn’t help. Even the Omegans and all their advanced science and medicine can’t help me.”

“So we just give up without a fight?”

“Discretion is the better part of valor. I know when and where to pick my battles… and this is one I can’t win.” Akira took a breath and wiped tears from her eyes. “Face it, Coop. I have. I can’t have children.”

“But we have to keep trying. One more doctor, please.”

“Why can’t you be happy with adoption? I promised myself long ago that no matter how many children I might have, I’d still want to adopt.”

After the Viluvian Withdrawal, where she received the abdominal wound that caused irreparable damage, Akira had to accept the fact that bearing a child was not going to happen. She had resigned herself to that fact as she had resigned herself to the very real possibility that someday she might end up as one more name on the casualty list: KIA.

Preston walked over to the bar, pulled out a bottle of Jameson’s and poured three fingers’ worth into a glass. He slugged half of it down and set the glass on the bar.

“I’m not against adoption and you know that,” he told her, this time in a voice a few decibels higher. “I’ll be happy to adopt as many kids as we can afford, but after we’ve had one or two of our own.”

“Look, Coop. I’m tired and I have to prepare for this mission. Can we talk about this when I get back? I promise to see this specialist when I do.”

If you get back, you mean. It’s always the mission. And the Corps always comes first.” He tossed back the remainder of his Irish whiskey and slammed the glass down on the bar.

Akira stared at him but refused to let her Sicilian temper win out over her Bushido discipline of harmony, peace and balance. She didn’t need this right now, didn’t want this. She was anxious about the upcoming, top-secret mission.

“I’m sorry you feel this way, Coop.”

She walked into their bedroom and started packing her ditty bag. Tomorrow a commercial starliner would transport her to the Shandru Galaxy. There she’d rejoin her squad aboard the Omegan starship Raptor, currently in orbit around Rhajnara.


Master Sergeant Seamus O’Hara brandished his fencing foil and grinned wickedly. “On guard, ya swine!”

“I see that you have been practicing,” Gunnery Sergeant Fernando Cortez said in his Spanish-laced voice. He caressed his thin mustache with the tip of a finger and bowed flamboyantly to his opponent as their swords crossed and locked at the hilts.

O’Hara grinned and scratched the bush he called his mustache. “It don’t take much practice to go beating the likes of you, bucko.”

“Prepare to have the hot air expelled from the blubber that is your belly.”

“That’ll be the bloody damned day!”

Cortez danced backwards and segued gracefully into a renewed assault against O’Hara. The sound of their dueling swords was music to the Spaniard’s ears.

Cheers, whistles and catcalls rang from the small group of Marines hanging out in the gymnasium aboard the Raptor. Sitting with their backs against a bulkhead wall were Nick Falco, Rosie Chen, Tommy Barnes and Betty “Laser” Fraser. They were among the handful of Devil Dogs who had survived the bloody rout on Viluvia.

“Ten to one on the big Irishman,” said Falco.

“C’mon, you starhead,” said Rosie, running fingers through her high-and-tight red hair. “Cortez is the one teaching O’Hara how to use a sword. The big oaf couldn’t dance his way out of a high school prom. Look at how clumsy he is.”

“But he can fight, Rosie. O’Hara can fight.”

“Are you space happy or something, Falco?” asked Barnes. “I’ll take that bet and amp it up twenty to one.”

“I’m gonna dig taking your credits, Nicky,” said Betty. The young black woman looked splendid in her blonde, Mohawk buzz cut.

Falco rubbed his hands together and laughed. “Suckers!”

Cortez moved with all the grace of a ballet dancer. O’Hara lumbered about, as agile as a drunken ape. Then the big Irishman lunged. Cortez deftly parried the stroke. The Spaniard’s blade swung up and around and darted in, straight for O’Hara’s heart. With a laugh, O’Hara stepped aside in a move that belied his massive girth, and his foil crashed down on Cortez’s blade. But Cortez quickly pirouetted and with a leisurely flick of the wrist disarmed the Irishman. O’Hara’s sword flew from his hand and Cortez snatched it out of the air by its hilt.

“You cannot best me, my fine lard-ass friend,” he joked. “You have not enough schooling in this fine art of the duel.”

O’Hara growled and rolled up his sleeves, exposing his natural-looking, cybernetic left arm. “Watch yourself, boyo. I may have a trick or two up my sleeve.”

“The only tricks you carry are the deck of cards that is marked and the dice which are loaded.” Cortez tossed O’Hara’s sword back to him. “Nice catch.” He saluted his opponent and launched an assault that forced the Irishman to give ground and remain on the defensive.

O’Hara’s épée flashed left and right as he struggled to parry every bite of the Spaniard’s blade. “Weren’t you supposed to yell ‘on guard’ or some nonsense like that?”

“My apologies. ¡En guardia!

Back and forth they danced, their foils singing a duet of cold steel. Although O’Hara topped Cortez in height, weight and sheer muscle, he couldn’t untangle himself from the web spun by the Spaniard’s deft blade. Cortez, the more experienced swordsman, circled around his big opponent, the edge of his foil clashing against O’Hara’s. To his credit, and to the credit of his opponent’s teaching skills, the Irishman parried every tempo patinando. Still, he couldn’t break Cortez’s dazzling assault, disarm him and score the winning point.

Persistent and as tenacious as a Drakonian crocogator, Cortez drove O’Hara back across the deck, his sword hammering away at the Irishman’s weapon. No matter how tired his arm grew, no matter how it ached or how much time it would take, the Spaniard would not cease until he claimed victory over O’Hara. It was a simple matter of pride and honor.

When Cortez again locked blades with O’Hara and they stood almost nose-to-nose, he said, “You have learned your lessons well, my friend. But you still have so very much more to learn, I am afraid.”

“Think again, Spanish!”

This time, instead of shoving Cortez away from him, O’Hara did a thing that caught the Spaniard totally by surprise: he hit him, square on the jaw. Cortez dropped to the deck as if someone had whacked him across the back of the knees with the butt of a laser rifle. To his credit, he did not let go of his sword.

Falco clapped his hands. “What did I tell you lasernecks?” he said to his companions. “Now put up and shut up.”

“Damn you and that Irishman,” said Barnes. “Never counted on him cheating like that.”

“We should know better,” said Rosie. “O’Hara plays by no one’s rules but his own.”

The two Marines reached into their camo shirt pockets, pulled out small plastic tokens of government scrip and started counting.

“Wait, it ain’t over yet,” said Betty.

O’Hara lent Cortez a hand and pulled him to his feet. At the same time, the fingers of the Irishman’s prosthetic left hand tapped his palm: a panel in his forearm slid open and a small knife glided into his hand. “You forgot about this little trick, too.”

“Usted es un hombre sin honor,” said Cortez. “You played false with me!”

“Are you saying I cheated?”

“Yes! You did not fight with fairness.”

“Listen to me, you space gaucho. My dear old mum once said that the only fair fight is the one where you get your ass kicked. And let that be a lesson to ya.”

Cortez blinked several times, his temper near the boiling point. “O’Hara, you are a man without honor!”

“Stow it, Fernando.” O’Hara flashed perfectly straight, white teeth. “You already said that in Spanish.” He hooked a foot behind Cortez’s left heel and gave him a shove.

Cortez stumbled backwards and hit the deck again.

A rush of air sounded as the main hatch slid open.

“Officers on deck!” shouted Falco. He, Barnes, Rosie and Betty jumped to their feet and came to attention.

A woman’s stern voice called out: “Sergeant Seamus Aloysius Patrick O’Hara!”

O’Hara spun around and Cortez rose quickly to his feet as Colonel Stella Dakota, Major Steve Helm and Sergeant Major Mary Margaret Kathleen O’Hara marched into the gymnasium.

“Mum?” O’Hara gasped in surprise.


With her ditty bag slung over one shoulder, Akira strolled down the passageway toward the cabin assigned to her aboard the Raptor. But she hardly took notice of anyone she saw. Her mind was preoccupied with her troubled marriage.

After the Marines’ ignominious defeat on Viluvia, Akira spent months undergoing a number of surgical procedures, followed by a long period of recuperation. When she was back on her feet again, she and Preston returned to the more domestic side of married life. At first, their marriage was on solid ground, with Preston apparently resigned to the fact that the Corps was Akira’s life and her fellow Marines her extended family. But then the question of having children became an issue.

When Preston was told that Akira could never conceive a child, he said he was okay with the idea of adoption. Yet she knew he hoped that medical technology would be able to heal her and put things right again. Even though she had lost all hope, she had agreed to undergo a battery of tests, and they spent a small fortune on doctors and specialists. All for naught: there was nothing anyone could do.

By the second year of their marriage this had become a sore point in their relationship and life turned from bitter-sweet to sour. Preston, like all his favorite legendary writers, found comfort in the bottle and in the arms of another woman. Akira had long suspected her husband’s infidelity and when she caught him with his lover in their apartment she nearly beat the woman to a pulp before starting in on him. A neighbor called the police, who arrived in time to stop Akira from breaking her husband’s neck. It was one of the few times in her adult life that Akira lost her temper, and it took all of their personal connections to arrange an out-of-court settlement with Preston’s mistress. His promise not to stray again brought an uneasy truce to their marriage. But it was never again the same.

It was a shame that her goodbye with Preston had been a quick embrace and a cold kiss on the cheek. This might very well be the mission from which she did not return.

She was about to enter her cabin when Falco turned into the passageway and walked up to her, wearing that charming smile on his handsome Italian face.

“Been wondering when you’d get here,” he said. “What’s buzzing at your hive?”

Akira couldn’t help laughing at Falco’s archaic expressions. He was the only one who shared her fondness for the pop culture of 20th century United States. They also shared a more intimate history, one that went back to their wild and reckless days in boot camp. Falco held an almost irresistible attraction for her, what with his boyish charm and likeable cockiness, his good looks, sense of humor and baby-blue eyes. While she had often entertained the idea of hooking up with him again, especially in the last few months as her marriage spiraled out of control, she had yet to act on her impulse. Yet.

“Same old drill,” she replied.

He eye-balled her up and down, smiling all the time. “You look great, Gunny. You gonna hang with us tonight? First round’s on me.”

“Yeah, I’ll be along soon. Just want to get settled first.”

Falco brushed some imaginary lint from Akira’s shoulder. “Want me to wait for you?”

His blue eyes held hers like a magnet attracts iron. It was a minor skirmish for her to tear her eyes away from him. “No, I’ll meet up with you there later. Tell Sergeants Nit and Wit they still owe me fifty each.”

“They had a good work out today with the swords.”

“Don’t tell me. O’Hara cheated.”

“In grand style, too. It was a beautiful thing to see.” Falco’s laugh always put Akira in a better mood. “I still don’t get why we’ve been told to get up to speed on non-conventional weapons. Where’re we going, back in time to the days of old when knights were bold?”

“With the Corps, you never know.” Akira shrugged. She was already proficient with the Japanese katana and was champion of the Corps’ fencing team. “Whatever this is all about, we were chosen because we have some proficiency with archaic weapons.”

“Yeah, Cortez has been teaching us how to use a sword, and we’re all pretty good with a bow and arrow. Except for O’Hara.”

“What’s he good at?”

“His fists and that knife he keeps inside his prosthetic arm. But all he needs are his scowl and his voice. Those would make the Devil soil his skivvies.”

“Amen, brother.” Akira punched him in the shoulder. “So what’s the scuttlebutt on this new mission?”

“I don’t even think the top brass know what in Sam Hill it’s all about. It’s an Omegan thing, and you know how anal they can be.” Falco shrugged. “All I’ve been able to find out is that we’re gonna get dumped on some backwater planet called Devoora.”

Mad Shadows Mad Shadows II-small

Chapter 2

Terror from the Sky

Laser-hot blasts of green venom spat from the jaws of nearly two dozen winged skydrax, turning the branches and bioluminescent, turquoise leaves of the towering ulanthra trees into raging infernos of death and destruction. Black, acrid smoke stained the morning sky.

The herds of krita arthropods had already climbed the massive trunks of the trees and were feeding on the palm-like fronds when the flying, reptilian monsters swooped down out of the clouds like the harbingers of World’s End. Hot venom that exploded into streams of fiery death when exposed to air licked the branches of the trees, burning the krita while they fed. Shrill whistles of fear and agony ripped through the morning sky as hundreds of the crustacean-like cattle toppled from the lofty heights of those arboreal pillars and fell to the ground far below.

As the flames crawled along the trunks of the ulanthra trees rising to a height of two-hundred times that of an average man, families rushed screaming from their burning homes and workshops. Flaming branches and leaves fell upon them, crushing them and setting fire to rosegrass, plumflowers and skyberry bushes. The bodies of dead and dying krita crashed and burned among the Singers waiting to sing them down from the morning feed. Farmlands, crops and other livestock were already wrapped in flames as the Herders on their striped, long-necked mounts led the surviving krita beyond that vast, smoldering forest. Men, women and children died shrieking in horror as they tried desperately to escape the blazing conflagration that swept through their village and across the island of Bhacoba.


She was no one’s child. She was everyone’s child. Moonchild, the villagers called her, because she was often ‘mooning about,’ staring long into the night at Gamenai and Azaurus, the Sibling Moons of Devoora. She always seemed to be on watch, searching the skies. When asked what she watched for, she would say that she was waiting for people from beyond the stars.

In appearance, she was only ten or twelve Standard Earth Years in age. She had dark amber skin, saffron-colored eyes and long hair bearing natural streaks of red and black. Her ears were small and gracefully pointed, and she had the webbed fingers and toes common to all the Tulavi islanders.

She was an orphan and her name was Zherisa Nadiri.

Zherisa had been watching over a group of younger children chasing surfspiders across the golden sands of the beach when the skydrax dropped down from the clouds. Within moments the leafy tops of the ulanthra trees erupted in fiery explosions and the great forest quickly became a raging inferno of horror and death.

Shrill cries and ear-piercing shrieks of agony ripped through the morning air as the krita burned. Hundreds of the crustaceous creatures, no taller than three feet but nearly old enough to join the pods of adults living in the sea, fell and died that day. Far too few made it safely to the ground without suffering injury. Fiery venom now rained down upon the homes of the Singers and Herders who cared for the krita and lived at the edge of the great ulanthra forest. Black smoke rose to stain the fierce, cobalt sky. Entire families were reduced to ash at the moment of flashpoint. Many died screaming as they rushed from their homes, their bodies wrapped in green fire. Few escaped with their lives.

“Zherry!” one little girl cried out.

“Run, Shanda! Everyone run to me!” Zherisa called to the girl and the other children who screamed and cried as terror struck from the sky.

The children ran to her as the Fishermen and their families fled their stilt-homes and houseboats to escape the voracious flames crawling toward the harbor and the fleet of fishing boats. Zherisa watched in horror as her people perished in the raging holocaust. The sight of hundreds of krita swathed in flames, crashing and burning as they toppled from the trees frightened and sickened her. But she never lost her presence of mind.

“Come on, boys and girls!” she yelled to the dozen children who were in her care. “Move your feet. We must reach the boats!”

Lined up along the stretch of beach were outriggers, longboats, barges, dhows and other boats belonging to the villagers.

Seven skydrax veered away from the main body of flying reptiles and began to unleash fiery destruction on the harbor. Giant, winged serpents with the legs and talons of a bird of prey, the dragons spat explosive venom from their long, saurian jaws. Astride each skydrax rode a warrior encased in a suit of golden armor.

Gathering the children to her and leading them to one of the boats, Zherisa watched the seven skydrax land, watched the metallic knights climb down from their saddles. She noticed that each warrior carried a short lance with a flexible tube that was connected to a small box harnessed to their backs.

Now the Guardians, the Tulavi warriors sworn to protect the villagers and their herds of krita, charged across the beach. They wore simple leggings, tunics and boots of green leather. Racing forward, they attacked the skydrax and their riders with swords and battleaxes, bows and tridents. Archers took careful aim and tried to bring down the other wyvern circling the sky and spitting liquid fire from their sharp-toothed jaws.

“Quick, Zherry!” said a female Guardian named Tuzsa Ludeen. “Get the children into the boats. It’s too late to send for help.”

“We’re leaving?”

“Yes, we must flee. Our forest is destroyed. Now do your job!”

With that, Tuzsa raced ahead to catch up to the other Guardians.

Before the Guardians were within striking distance of their foes, the knights in gold armor aimed their lances and shot arrows of lightning from the tips of the weapons.

Zherisa and the other children screamed as sizzling-hot bolts tore into the bodies of the Guardians, scorching and frying them. The Guardians wailed in ghastly torment as so many of them died before they had a chance to retreat.

Terrified, Zherisa looked around. Her lovely island home of Bhacoba had been destroyed. Never again would songs be sung and the herds of krita climb the big trees, for the fire-spitting beasts from beyond the clouds had brought with them death and devastation.

Then she noticed many skydrax flying away with living krita clenched in their talons.

“Get into the boats, now!” Tuzsa yelled. Only she and a handful of Guardians had survived the charge against the warriors from beyond the sky.

Wondering where the rest of the Guardians were, Zherisa felt someone grab her from behind, lift her up and set her down inside one of the boats. She turned quickly and gazed into a pair of blue eyes uncommon among the people of Devoora.

“Quit mooning about,” said the man.

Scores of men, women and children now ran toward the boats. The surviving Guardians, Singers and Herders led a small herd of krita safely into the sea.

“But where can we go?” she asked.

“Into the west. Now don’t look back, child. Never look back. Always set your gaze on the road ahead.”

A skydrax roared, pounced and seized the blue-eyed man in its talons.

“Solis!” Zherisa yelled when the black-winged monster carried him off into the sky.

She wept as she and the surviving villagers crowded into the boats that had not been ravaged by fire. They took to the sea with their small herd of krita swimming beside them, guided by the songs of the Singers. Westward they fled across the vast expanse of the Tinturo Sea to seek shelter among the other islands of the Tulavar Archipelago.

 

Chapter 3

Mission to a Forbidden Planet

Although the briefing room aboard the Raptor was spacious and comfortable, Cortez still found it too close and confining. Even though it was neat and tidy, the way he liked things to be, what he didn’t like was how cold it was. The Omegans were fond of low temperatures.

Por favor, raise the heat!

He was seated in a plasticene chair in the back row, with Akira sitting between him and O’Hara. In the center of the room sat Barnes, Falco, Rosie and Betty. Sitting with them were two privates new to the squad: Carter and Rypel, plus Doc Gordon, the corpsman who had replaced the beloved Makki Doon. There was also a pair of Imperial Fleet sky-jockeys in gray uniforms: a captain and lieutenant. They were seated at a long table at the front of the room with Colonel Dakota and Major Helm, who both wore their dress blues. There were two Ornitori of the Omegan Federation present, as well, descendants of avian progenitors. One was a female of a proto-eagle clutch, whom Cortez knew to be Imra Saun, Wing Commander of the Omegan Fleet stationed in that sector of Known Space; she looked regal in her bright red uniform. The other was also a female, but of a proto-falcon clutch. Cortez had never seen her before.

Also sitting at the table was Sergeant Major Mary Margaret Kathleen O’Hara. She was there as Marine Corps liaison to the Omegan Federation.

Against the bulkhead wall behind them hung a large, blank Tri-D video screen.

Cortez could never figure out why he was so uncomfortable during briefings; perhaps it had something to do with his childhood, sitting in a classroom and fearing that he’d be called on and not having studied his lessons the night before. He didn’t realize his left leg was bouncing up and down until Akira placed a hand on his knee and smiled reassuringly. O’Hara scowled at him. Cortez flipped him off and stared straight ahead.

Colonel Dakota rapped three times on the table to get everyone’s attention and then adjusted her eye patch; Cortez suspected she really had a cybernetic-eye hiding under that black patch. “Listen up, lasernecks,” she said. “I know you’re all chomping at the bit to find out the destination of your mission. So pay attention!”

On the blackness of the view screen behind her, huge red letters faded into view:

 

Canis-9

Classification: H

Status: Closed to all exploration, colonization and exploitation.

Omegan Federation Mandate: XL5-1701.

 

As the words faded, the video screen came to life with images of an Earthlike planet, predominately ocean, with numerous islands, two polar ice caps and few continents.

“We’re going boots on the ground to a Closed Planet?” asked O’Hara. His mother stunned him with a scolding look. “Begging the Colonel’s pardon,” he added.

“That’s why you’re here,” Dakota replied.

“Why is it a Closed Planet, Colonel?” asked Barnes.

“That’s classified information.”

“In other words,” said Betty, “it’s on a need to know basis.”

Colonel Dakota nodded. “Correct. You’ll be briefed on what you need to know in order to survive and complete your mission.” She looked around the room. “Anyone else have anything to say?”

“A beautiful planet, Colonel,” said Akira. “The islands remind me of the Pacific Rim.”

“Every rose has its thorns, Sergeant. This planet has many.” Dakota turned to Cortez. “Don’t you have anything to say?”

Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Cortez shook his head. “Not as yet, mi Coronel.”

She frowned. “Are you feeling all right, Sergeant?”

“I am in the most excellent of health, thank you.”

“Then let’s proceed.” Dakota introduced the Omegan sitting next to her. “This is Professor Thaleez Jem, Chief Xenobiologist for the Omegan Ministry of Planetary Exploration. She’s going to further your education.” She bowed and winked to Jem. “They’re all yours, Professor, and may your gods help you.”

Professor Jem rose from her seat, fiddled with the cuffs of her green suit, thanked Colonel Dakota in perfect English and got right down to business. “Your destination is called Devoora by its two indigenous populations, and as you can see, it is ninety percent water.”

Cortez listened attentively. O’Hara, on the other hand, kept dozing off. Akira had to jab him with an elbow in order to keep him awake.

The Omegan Xenobiologist conducted an informal lecture, pausing from time to time to answer questions about Devoora. The Tulavar Archipelago, she explained, consisted of thousands of islands spread across the Tinturo Sea, west of the Great Aetherian Reef. Many of these islands were mere specks of real estate, while others were large enough to sustain a sizable population. The major landmass, east of the reef, was roughly the size of Europe.

It was called Malvaria.

“The Devoorans are humanoid and could almost pass as Earthlings,” said Professor Jem. “The Malvarians inhabit the eastern mainland, while the Tulavi dwell upon the islands of the Tulavar Archipelago. Although divided by vast distances of ocean, culture and certain physical differences, the languages of the two races are very similar. This lends credence to our theory that eons past, Devoora consisted of one massive supercontinent and the two races share a common ancestral type. It is interesting to note that there are no blue eyes among either race.”

“As beautiful as the planet looks in these images, don’t be deceived by appearances,” said Dakota. “Devoora can be a very hostile and deadly environment.”

On the view screen behind her, the images dissolved into underwater film footage of a diver wearing the scuba gear of PEP (Planetary Exploration Project) and wielding oceanographic surveillance equipment. Behind him, a large bed of seaweed began to undulate with the undersea current. As the diver adjusted his equipment, the seaweed disassembled into a school of eel-like creatures that engulfed him in a mass attack.

“Madre de Dios!” said Cortez.

The diver thrashed about as his body became a churning stew. By the time two other divers came to his rescue all that was left of the first diver was a shredded wet suit.

“While land animals will not present much of a danger, the seas are filled with predators no human has ever encountered: staceaqui or shellsnakes, laguiara or mersharks, and this particularly nasty individual,” said Professor Jem.

The video images dissolved into one of a laboratory. Four Omegan scientists stood around a metal table upon which laid a dead life form resembling an unholy hybrid of a barracuda and a panther. It had two hind legs and a pair of arm-like fins ending in webbed claws.

“The natives call this specimen a punthera, which roughly translates as pantherhead,” said Jem. “It is capable of walking on land for short periods of time.”

“Are they carnivorous?” asked Cortez.

One of the Omegan scientists on screen used a laser scalpel to make an incision in the belly of the pantherhead. Humanoid body parts, partially digested, spilled out and tumbled to the deck of the ship. The image then froze.

“Does that answer your question?”

“What a bloody mess,” O’Hara said.

“On this planet, we will not be on top of the food chain,” said Cortez.

“Space that chatter!” O’Hara’s mother yelled at them.

If they had been turtles, O’Hara and Cortez would have crawled back inside their shells.

“What else can you tell us about Devoora’s indigenous population, Professor Jem?” asked Akira, smiling at the chastised O’Hara and Cortez.

“Glad you asked, Sergeant.” Jem cleared her throat. “The Tulavi islanders have a society and industry that closely parallels the natives of your Pacific Rim, circa sixteenth century. They are a maritime culture and have developed an alloy called kharo, which is very similar to steel.”

More images flowed on the screen, showing Tulavi islanders with their colorful hair and webbed fingers, at sea on their fishing boats, harvesting crops and herding large, crustaceous animals toward a forest of trees as tall as any skyscraper Cortez had ever seen.

“If you please, Professor, what are the names of those creatures?” he asked.

“They are called krita, Sergeant,” Jem replied. “They feed off the leaves of the ulanthra trees you see on screen.”

“How do they get up that high?”

“They climb.”

“What do you know about the people who inhabit the eastern mainland, Professor… these Malvarians?” asked Akira.

“The Malvarians possess a level of technology quite similar to that of Earth’s eighteenth century, although they have no firearms or other such weapons, due to the fact that gunpowder or other explosive substances have yet to be invented. That’s about all we know.”

“I know that non-interference with any indigenous species is the primary interstellar law, Professor,” said Falco. “But what if contact with the native population is unavoidable? How do we deal with the language problem?”

“While hypno-sleep therapy will assist in your learning the language, you will each have a new Omegan Language Decoder implanted in your brain. You’ll be able to speak and understand the Devooran language as if you had been born on the planet.”

What? Not again?” Barnes moaned.

“Oh, my aching head,” Rosie groaned.

Although the Marines bitched and griped, they were old hands at this. It was all part and parcel of being a member of the Marine Expeditionary Force. Cortez had undergone so many brain and subcutaneous implants that he felt like a cyborg.

The Old Gizmo, as the Marines fondly called the Omegan Language Decoder, was a universal translator developed by the Omegans, and only they knew how it worked. Much like the mitochondrial genetic markers each member of the team had already been implanted with, the Old Gizmo was another bit of super-secret Omegan technology. Both devices would continue to function and transmit data until removed or the death of the “host body” shut them down.

“Now, if I may proceed,” said Professor Jem. “The Malvarians are great shipbuilders and seafarers.” The screen went dark for a moment, and then new images faded in. Under a white-hot sun and a clear blue sky, a vessel similar to the whaling ships of Earth’s 18th century came into view. It had no sails or oars, yet it cruised gracefully over the calm surface of an indigo sea. “This is the Tinturo Sea,” Jem continued, “and that is a Malvarian vessel. We have yet to determine what source of power these ships use.”

Major Steve Helm spoke up for the first time in his lilting, West African accent. “Perhaps they’re using steam engines, Professor.”

“Very possible,” she said. “There is steam being expelled from metal chimneys or stove pipes rising from the ship’s deck.”

The on-screen image dissolved like a scene change in a motion picture as a new scene faded in. Cortez and the other Marines were shown footage of the vast Tinturo Sea, stretching far and wide, with no land masses in sight. Planet Devoora’s great sea churned as a huge leviathan breached the surface. The creature resembled a manta ray, save that it had a cranial horn, four pectoral fins and the mandibles of a crustacean, rather than cephalic fins. It had red markings across its head and back.

“What is it that magnificent creature?” asked Cortez.

That is one of the kaizsu, the great sea dragons of Devoora,” Jem told him. “Adult kaizsu are the largest creatures on Devoora, larger than even Earth’s blue whale.”

Chapter 4

The Mastermind of Malvaria

 The Watercat slid gracefully through the sapphire waves of the Tinturo Sea. Ominous storm clouds rolled across the sky, moving eastward while the sun burned away the ghosts of morning mist. Large skree birds resembling winged reptiles with jaws like serrated sword blades screeched and sailed across the horizon. The shining hump and dorsal fin of a massive kaizsu sliced through the waves as water spouted from spiracle gills behind each of its emerald eyes.

Trivus Harn stood on the foredeck of the Watercat, hands gripping the starboard rail, his silver eyes scanning the sky. He was a tall man, well over six feet, but there was an emaciated look about him. His frail body and skeletal limbs were encased in a golden suit of lightweight, charomian armor; his face was pale, his cheeks sunken in. Behind him, a young bosun stood holding a pipe carved of kaizsu bone.

“Is it him, Seahand Mokor?” Harn called to the helmsman.

“No, m’lord. This one has a silver hump. A lone female,” the Seahand called back. “But she’s a big one, by the Abyss!”

“Don’t lose sight of her.”

“That I won’t, sir.” Mokor shifted a lever and the Watercat increased her speed.

In the distance, black against the sky, flew a drove of komodra: twenty and two of the creatures the Tulavi called skydrax, now winging their way toward the great hunting ship.

“The riders return!” Mokor yelled.

“I can see that,” said Harn, squinting in the sunlight. “Keep pace with the beast. I want her harpooned and harvested before this day is done.”

“Aye, m’lord.”

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin-small The Power of the Sapphire Wand-small

The Creepy Hollow Adventures, co-written with Erika M. Szabo

Trivus Harn continued to watch the sky as the komodra and their riders drew closer.

The Watercat was wide of beam, with a high bow and a sharp prow sloping forward like a curved dagger. Standing aft were two round houses, the smaller sitting atop the larger. Set upon the top of the upper house was a castle-like tower capped with a crow’s nest; on either side of the superstructure stood a tall, metal smokestack. In the center of the main deck was the hatch leading below. Though guided by helm and tiller, the Watercat had no masts, no oars and flew no canvas. Powered by trivium crystals, her rudder and massive propeller were controlled by levers at the helm. The Watercat was the flagship of Harn’s private armada.

When the komodra dropped close enough to the main deck of the Watercat, sailors rushed to take possession of the krita and the islanders captured during the previous raid.

A spasm of pain twisted Harn’s gut. His poorly-mended bones were pricked by needles of ice. He almost doubled over in agony but held himself proud and erect in front of his men. When he snapped his fingers, the bosun handed him both his pipe and a small pouch. From the pouch Harn took a few pinches of crushed hemp leaves and filled the bowl. The sailor scraped a stick match along the rail and lit the pipe for him. The first inhalation made Harn cough, as it always did. But the smoke filled his lungs and within moments his pain subsided.

While the scent of pipe smoke sweetened the air, Harn’s crew took the prisoners and the krita below. Part bird and part reptile, the komodra were as large as draft horses, with scaly hides and a crest of feathers sprouting from the tops of their skulls and down to the base of their long, serpent-like necks. They possessed huge black, leathery wings, two legs with the talons of a vulture, and jaws like those of some monstrous lizard. When they were done with their tasks, the komodra and their armored knights took to the sky again, flying southward. Only one settled on deck, however, its rider dismounting and tossing the reins to a sailor.

Harn watched the knight approach, envying the man his youth and health and strength. The rider removed his metal helmet and rubbed a hand over his short-cropped, silver-black hair.

“Hail, Master Harn!” he said in a gravelly voice, striking his breastplate three times with his left fist.

“Congratulations on another successful raid, Skylord Khax,” said Harn.

Khax bowed his head. He was shorter than Harn, but his suit of gold, charomian armor gave him the appearance of a much bigger man. His copper-colored eyes reflected the sun’s light. “Thank you, my lord. Luckily we caught the islanders by surprise and gave them no chance to mount a real defense. We lost only one man.”

Harn allowed himself a rare smile. “The islanders fled their homes?”

“Yes, my lord. We burned their villages and their sacred trees, and killed many. Others took to their boats and sailed westward. We didn’t pursue those that fled, as per your orders.”

Puffing on his pipe, Harn drew in a deep lungful of smoke and exhaled slowly. “Very good, but we still have much to do before we’re ready to attack their main islands.”

“I’ll train more riders as fast as Doctor Botara can breed more komodra.”

“Excellent! There’s a lot riding on the hump of the good doctor.” Harn thought it ironic that Doctor Botara had a humped back much like the kaizsu they hunted. “I often shudder at the thought that my future is in the hands of that madman.”

“Mad or not, there’s no denying that Botara is a true wizard.”

“Indeed he is, Skylord.”

The population of Malvaria was constantly growing, placing greater demands on their natural resources. Trivus Harn’s mission in life was to provide his people with new sources of food and power, and thus increase his own wealth and influence. The trivium crystal, named in honor of him, was only the beginning. Son of a rich merchant, Harn also sought to gain fame and power by conquering the islands of the Tulavar Archipelago and enslaving the Tulavi, a race of Devoorans his own people had only recently discovered.

So far, all that was known about the Tulavi was that they shared a special bond with the kaizsu, the great sea dragons whose flesh provided oil for the lamps of Malvaria and the machines of war and industry. What sort of bond this was, no one knew. But Harn had no doubt that Doctor Botara would unravel that mystery. The old hunchbacked wizard had invented the trivium crystal and had fashioned the charomian armor from a metal alloy he perfected. He had also created the komodra by crossbreeding fire-spitting desert worms with the flying raptors that inhabited a volcanic island in the southern Sea of Chelawaza.

There was a more personal agenda to Harn’s crusade, as well: the killing of one particular kaizsu, the largest ever encountered in the Tinturo Sea.

“Is there anything else to report, Skylord?”

“One thing, Master Harn,” said Khax. “One of the men we captured on the island of Bhacoba. He is not like any Tulavi I have ever seen.”

“In what way?”

“He does not have webbed fingers, sir. And his eyes are as blue as the sky.”

Harn had seen too many unusual things in his life to be surprised by something like this, though he did find it quite interesting. The existence of the Tulavi had not even been known a century ago. “Perhaps there is a second or even a third race we have yet to encounter?”

Khax pondered this for a few moments. “Or is it possible that this man could be another mutant, as Doctor Botara believes the Tulavi to be?”

“Do you accept Doctor Botara’s theory that in the distant past our people and the Tulavi were of the same race?”

“I accept the possibility of it, my lord.” Khax shrugged his armor-clad shoulders. “How else can we account for our two languages having so many words in common?”

“Yes, yes… it lends credence to his notion that the Tulavi islands were once part of Malvaria, until some natural disaster ages ago caused the continent to break apart.”

“A puzzle, to be sure, my lord.

Harn glanced at the sea and saw with pleasure that the Watercat was still keeping pace with the female kaizsu. “You may return to the Sea Witch and tell Sealord Boro I look forward to our meeting at the next rendezvous point.”

“Aye, Master Harn.” Skylord Khax saluted and bowed.

With that, he turned and strode across the deck to where the sailor still held the reins of his komodra. Mounting into the saddle, Khax tugged on the reins. The great beast flapped its wings and lifted off. It took to the sky in a heartbeat and veered to the south, returning to the main body of the armada.

Harn tapped the dying embers from his pipe on the rail and handed it back to the young bosun. Then he returned his attention to the sea while his hunters gathered their weapons, lowered the longboats and made ready to hunt the great sea dragon.

The small cephalic horn and silver dorsal fin of the female kaizsu cut through the waves and dipped below the surface of the vast indigo sea. The blue-black flukes of her long, serpentine tail moved gracefully from side to side, steering her through the cold, dark waters.

Three longboats powered by trivium crystals and manned by helmsman, pilot and seven hunters followed in the wake of the great sea dragon. When the kaizsu breached again like some monstrous devil rising from the deeps of a watery netherworld, the hunters let fly their harpoons, piercing the back and heaving sides of the sea beast. Black blood sprayed the air and stained the surface of the sea. Thick ropes attached to the harpoons were stretched taut. The hunters held to their stations as the longboats were jerked forward and pulled across the bosom of the sea in a Luvanin Sleigh Ride, named in honor of their major seaport.

Harn clutched the foredeck as if it were his only anchor to life. Cold, stinging brine and salt air lashed his long, bony face, and he loved every moment of it. The thrill of the hunt and the smell of the sea exhilarated him.

The kaizsu turned and twisted in the water as she tugged the longboats farther out to sea and away from the Watercat. The hunters were tossed about from side to side but managed to hang on and keep the boats from capsizing. Three more harpoons struck the sea dragon.

“This one’s mighty big, Master Harn!” Seahand Mokor yelled. “She’ll fill a dozen barrels with oil and yield a harvest of at least that many eggs, if I know m’business.”

“Then don’t let her get away,” Harn said.

The Seahand adjusted the skinning knife tucked in his belt and patted the harpoon cannon fastened to the railing next to him. “I won’t lose her, Master Harn. We’ll have the cow butchered and boiled before nightfall!”

Once again Harn felt the surge in power as the Watercat increased her speed, dancing on the sea like a haroom girl. He glanced at the main deck where his crew stood ready with their ropes and grappling hooks, cranes and winches and various cutting tools. Three additional longboats now clipped through the waves to assist the others.

The kaizsu continued gliding through the sea with no indication that she was going to dive, although she appeared to be slowing down. The second trio of longboats drew close enough for three men to cast their lances, striking the broad back of the sea dragon. More black blood exploded from her wounds. Wailing like a Malvarian banshee, the kaizsu bucked and rocked back and forth in her wrath and agony. She suddenly leapt into the air, her long, barbed tail whipping about and her pectoral fins lashing the air before her massive body arched and dived. Into the sea she crashed and under she went, dragging the first three longboats down with her.

Silence fell over the Tinturo Sea.

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” Harn cursed, pounding the rail with one bony hand. “Seahand Mokor, move into position. Now! I want that beast spouting black blood and rolling over dead in the water when next she shows her hump!”

“Aye, Master!”

The Watercat veered hard to starboard and slid in close to the remaining boats.

“Ready your harpoons, men!” Mokor shouted.

“And ready yours, Seahand!” Harn yelled.

“She breaches!”

A moment later, the sea began to churn as the kaizsu emerged from the belly of the deep like some behemoth of ancient times. Half her body lifted from the water before she slammed down in a thunderous crash of waves. She moved quickly through the water, her fins propelling her forward with a speed the Watercat and the longboats were hard-pressed to follow. Still attached to the harpoons protruding from the body of the sea dragon, the ropes were pulled taut, dragging along the broken remains of three empty longboats.

The harpooners in the other boats took aim and let fly their irons. The kaizsu writhed and twisted when the harpoons struck her back and sides. Murky blood spouted like a geyser. Guide ropes were pulled taut and the longboats dragged along in a second sea chase. Another trio of boats was launched from the Watercat and quickly picked up enough speed to draw close to the right side of the beast. Harpooners on those boats cast their lances: two struck the sea dragon’s back and one pinned itself to the base of her tail. The boats were jerked and pulled along, their crews clinging to their stations.

“Don’t let her dive again, Seahand!” shouted Harn. “Fire your cannon!”

“I’m taking aim now, sir!”

“Fire, damn you! Fire!

Mokor fired the harpoon cannon and the sound of it reverberated across the wide Tinturo Sea. The harpoon shot from the mouth of the cannon with a great whoosh and sped toward its target. A moment later its barbed tip struck the kaizsu and buried itself deep in the hump between the creature’s head and dorsal fin. The great beast shrilled and arched her back, and began pounding and whipping the sea with her fins in a frenzy of pain. Her tail whipped about as she slid through the water, pulling the three longboats behind. Finally, she began to tire and slow down, her fins and tail beating the waves with less and less force. Soon the kaizsu grew too weak to fight back and she ceased to struggle. The spiracle gill slits on either side of her emerald eyes shot dark blood high into the air. She sang a final note of lamentation, rolled over and lay still in the water, floating there like flotsam made of flesh and blood and bone.

“Proceed with the rendering and harvest all you can, Mokor,” Harn ordered.

“Aye, m’lord.”

Time slowed to a crawl on the cobalt waters of the Tinturo Sea.

The crews of the surviving longboats motored in, towing the carcass of the female kaizsu toward the Watercat. Seahand Mokor ordered two of his lads to operate the winch attached to his harpoon cannon, reeling in the thick rope that was tied to the iron embedded in the hump of the sea dragon. Black blood stained the waters of the sea, attracting octocrabs that rose to the surface to feast on the dark nectar of the kaizsu. Finally, the carcass was drawn up along the starboard side of the Watercat, and the flensers and harvesters leapt on top of the kaizsu’s exposed, white belly. They set to work with their mincing knives and blubber hooks.

Seahand Mokor cracked his knuckles as he approached Harn. “The boys will soon have her carved and ready to stew, m’lord.”

“Excellent, Mokor,” said Harn. “This will be the last time we render a kaizsu for oil, food and bones. From now on we hunt only females, and only for their eggs.”

“Begging your pardon, m’lord, but what shall we do with the carcasses?”

“Leave them for the pantherheads.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Mokor started to turn away, but paused. “What about him, sir?”

Harn felt his heart beat faster. “Always keep a sharp eye out for Torka Glim, Seahand.”


This is an excerpt from Joe Bonadonna’s The MechMen of Canis-9

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Joe BonadonnaJoe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published four books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books; and Mad Shadows II — Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, published in trade paperback and digital formats in January 2017.

His first sword and soul story, “The Blood of the Lion,” appeared in GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear, from by MVmedia.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine.

Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

Click on the photo for a large version.

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Seleno, the Electric Dog

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

1916-03 Popular Science Monthly 16 John Hays Hammond electric dog

The 20th century is one long run of wonder elements. Radium dominated the early years, when the magic of X-rays – seeing through solid objects! – created a worldwide sensation. Uranium and atomic power followed after World War II and then it was silicon’s time as driver of the computer age.

Forgotten today is that selenium once stood as high as these three, especially in the years around World War I. Headlines called it the “Mystery Metal” and the “Magic Eye,” that it would “Revolutionize Aerial Warfare” and “Make Blind See” and maybe even be a “Cancer Cure.” Selenium had the property of transforming electromagnetic radiation – visible light, in this case – into electricity, almost as much a miracle as penetrating hands to see the bones underneath.

“Selenium is also used in the observation of the transit of Venus and eclipses of the sun, to light and extinguish buoys automatically, to guide, and explode torpedoes, for measuring X-rays, and in the glass industry,” explained a 1913 Harper’s Weekly article that was widely reprinted in newspapers.

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A Robot Has No Soul

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

1929-10-22 New York Daily News AFM Robot as Entertainer 39 cropped

Probably the quickest and most thorough technological disruption in history was the introduction of sound to movies. A novelty when a few short scenes were included in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, sound had almost completely taken over the industry by 1930 despite the at times desperate battle against the cost of changing by both movie studios and theater owners.

The havoc wreaked over Hollywood is the stuff of a thousand books. Performers, especially those dozens of stars who migrated from Europe to share in the movie boom of the 1920s, saw their careers disappear because of their accents or some other failing in their speaking voices. Writers who until that time could make do with plot outlines lost their jobs to stage writers accustomed to creating atmosphere from pure dialog. Cameramen found their expressively mobile cameras confined to soundproof booths whose heat could make them faint if a take too took long. Practically every craft got turned upside down and shaken hard – just as America started sinking into the Great Depression.

One allied but non-Hollywood aspect of the business got hurt worst of all, an entire profession wiped out in a matter of months. Who got the blame? Robots.

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Birthday Reviews: Stephen Robinett’s “A Penny’s Worth”

Friday, July 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Cover by Vincent di Fate

Stephen Robinett was born on July 13, 1941 and died on February 16, 2004.

Until 1975, Robinette published using the name Tak Hallus. Although he has mostly used his own name since then, in 1976, he published the novel Mindwipe! using the pseudonym Steve Hahn.

“A Penny’s Worth” appeared in the March 1976 issue of Analog, edited by Ben Bova. It was the story’s only appearance.

Robinett created the lawyer Harry Penny for the story “A Penny’s Worth,” and Penny finds himself hired by a graduate student, Marshal Pierce, to defend Pierce against assault and battery charges. Although Pierce claims no recollection of assaulting Dr. Charles Morrow, there are two witnesses, Morrow’s wife and a neighbor, who saw the attack. The story follows Penny as he interviews witnesses and others with ties to Pierce and Morrow, to figure out what happened. The story is engaging, although the solution is telegraphed rather early on.

While Morrow and Pierce don’t know each other, there are several links between the two. Pierce worked as a graduate student for Ray Winslow, Morrow’s former, and now dead, partner. At one time Harry dated Nora, who went on to marry Winslow before leaving him for Morrow. Vernon Vernon, Pierce’s boss who fired him for stealing something after Winslow died, although Pierce claims he had Winslow’s permission to take it, also has ties to Morrow. What is clear to the reader from early on is that the medication Winslow had Pierce take somehow makes Pierce seek out Morrow to get vengeance for what Morrow did to Winslow.

Sometimes, however, plot isn’t the most important thing and so knowing the solution, rather than spoiling the story, provides a sense of foreshadowing. What caused the attack in this case is less important than Penny’s way of finding out what the reader has already figured out. His interviews with Nora, Morrow, and Vernon and his instructions to Pierce to help the boy avoid prison time for assault or worse, are the keys to the story and make it a very entertaining piece of fiction. Penny and his world seem as if they were developed to be an ongoing series, and Robinett would return to the character the following year in the novella “The Man Responsible.”

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Goth Chick News: Two Shots of Fireball, Some Blankets and a Candle; or Our Road Trip to the 2018 Halloween and Attractions Show

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

2018 Halloween and Attractions Show Goth Chick 1

Normally, our annual road trip to cover the first trade show of the year is not only something we look forward to (for the obvious reasons), but also a chance to get our first whiff of spring.

The TransWorld Halloween and Attractions Show has been the premier, international event for the haunt industry for the last 30 years, boasting over 300 vendors catering to the industry’s professionals. We discovered it 16 years ago when it used to make its home here in Chicago until it relocated to St. Louis. And though the location makes for a long day, we can usually count on St. Louis to be in the 50’s as opposed to Chicago which is usually getting its final blast of winter right around the March showtime.

Except for this year.

Last weekend the weather forecast was calling for an all-day winter storm to cut a 100-mile swath straight across central Illinois and pushing freezing temperatures (and freezing rain) all the way south to our destination – meaning we were facing a thoroughly crappy commute both ways. With Black Gate photog Chris Z at the wheel of his ridiculously huge, military-grade Jeep, my primary worries included a 5-hour one-way trip turning into 7-plus hours or sliding into a ditch in the middle of nowhere and having to wait hours to be rescued (most of central Illinois IS technically the middle of nowhere).

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Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco introductory panel

 

Robot families are rare, especially metal ones. They’re rare even on the planet Meco, where little Cam is the only boy around. Cam has a father, and an uncle, and a grandfather. Good thing a female nurse is introduced in one episode or I’d have my doubts about the robot reproductive process.

“Axel and Cam on the Planet Meco” (Axle is Cam’s father) ran in about the last place you’d ever think to find a robot strip: Popeye Comics. The strip ran as a backup in #26-32, October-December 1953 to January-March 1955. Those were the heady years of stuff once reserved for pulp magazines slopping over into every crevice of popular culture.  Popeye was hired to pilot a rocket ship to the moon in a 1949 issue and Sherman, from the backup strip Axle & Cam replaced, took a ride in his father’s flying car in 1952.

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