< Six Lights Off Green Scar
Six Lights Off Green Scar

by

Gareth Lyn Powell




Roulette ships were dangerous and sexy. They were small and fast and tough; their hulls were a mixture of smart carbon filament and black tungsten alloy coated in a heat-resistant diamond sheath. They looked a bit like flint arrowheads. The media called them roulette ships because the men and women who left in them seldom returned. Those who did became instant celebrities.

A motley collection of thrill-seekers and rich kids, they launched themselves into the fiery wormhole network without specifying a destination, allowing the jump gates to shunt them down random pathways. On average, only one in ten returned, but they brought with them wild tales of bizarre planetary systems, of gas giants skimming the surfaces of swollen stars, and drifting alien hulks in unnamed asteroid belts. Some discovered habitable planets, or rich mineral deposits; their telemetry data alone was priceless. But the risks were huge; roulette pilots gambled with their lives, and no one knew for sure what became of those that lost, although there were ugly rumors of ghost ships, of murder and cannibalism, and individuals dying lonely, lingering deaths in distant star systems.

Some of those lucky enough to find their way home tended to cluster on worlds close to the edge of familiar space, where you could stand under the clear night sky and see the unexplored frontier stretching out before you. Pik Station was one such world. Unlike a lot of unspoiled border worlds, it was a dirty little moon covered in abandoned warehouses and leaky chemical plants; it was the sort of polluted wasteland a man might end up in at the end of a failed career. Its star was a yellow orange G5 nearly a hundred light years the wrong side of Earth. The air by the spaceport smelled of burning plastic. The low buildings and frosty silos were crusted with solar collectors and power generators. Frostbitten port workers and tired service staff shambled through the narrow industrial streets looking for somewhere warm to spend the night, and drifters and unemployed ice miners stood at windy intersections in flapping coats, waiting for the right deal, the big score.

Sal Dervish moved among them, caught in the ebb and flow of their skinny bodies on the cold evening street. His breath came in ragged clouds as he walked and his insulated boots crunched solidly on the icy ground. Beneath a heavy coat, he wore a set of stained fatigues and a pair of leather boots. In a special pocket, he carried a crossbow pistol. It bumped solidly against his hip, making him feel like a gunslinger. The glyphs on his shoulder identified him as the master of the Wildcat. She was an old roulette ship, currently occupying a storage bay in the port. Her paintwork had been scorched in the searing heat of the wormhole network and bleached by the light of a dozen distant suns.

The bar he was looking for lay at the end of an irregular row of spherical descent modules. The modules were relics left over from the first expeditions to land here. Their fusion piles had powered the colony's first, faltering steps; their cargo holds had provided shelter during the early blizzards that threatened to wipe everything else away. He reached out and patted the nearest with a gloved hand, as if acknowledging an old friend. Beneath the graffiti and frost on its rusty flank, he could make out the faded flags and insignia of countries and organizations that no longer existed: NASA, ESA, USA.

Ahead, he could hear old music from a café blowing up the street. He shivered as he recognized the tune; it was a kind of broken down glacial blues, all steel guitars and smoky, mournful sax. It made him think of Kate, and their last days together.

He closed that thought down fast. It had been almost two years since that last, disastrous voyage, and he was still trying hard to forget.

The bar, when he reached it, was a low, scrappy affair, built of packing crates and corrugated iron. It was the kind of place where the disillusioned and the stranded came to drink. Whenever a shuttle lifted from the port, the walls and windows shook.

As he opened the door, a woman detached herself from the counter and came over. From the way she moved, it looked like she'd been there a while.

"Captain Dervish?" She had a reedy local accent and wore a smart green parka with the hood thrown back.

Sal squinted. "Are you Christofoli?"

She took his elbow and guided him to a table near the fireplace where two glasses and a bottle of local rot had been laid out.

"Call me Nicola," she said. She poured drinks and handed him one. As he sipped it, he studied her. She had hair the color of copper, pulled back into a loose ponytail. There were frostbite scars on her fingers and her face had been tanned by sun and wind. When she spoke, it was from the side of her mouth.

"Thank you for coming," she said, "I know you're a busy man."

Sal put down his glass. "How do you want to do this?"

She looked at him from beneath her long lashes.

"Take a seat," she said.

When they were settled, she activated her recorder and leant across the filmy table.

"So. Let's start at the beginning."

"The beginning?" Sal scratched his nose.

###

Where do things begin?

They were trolling six lights off Green Scar when they found the derelict ship.

"It looked like hell," Sal said. "Like something from a sewer."

Christofoli nodded, her attention was focused on the recorder, making sure the sound levels were right.

"And this was a random jump?"

"Yeah." He took the bottle and filled his glass. "Our fourth in a row; we were going for the record."

"So what happened?"

"What happened?" He puffed his cheeks out; even now, he could feel the adrenaline tingling in his blood, the breath catching in his throat.

"That ship was alien, like nothing we'd ever seen. Kate reckoned it'd make us rich."

Christofoli consulted her notebook. "She was the first aboard?"

He nodded. "She went over with Petrov. They wanted to take some pictures, collect some samples, the usual sort of thing."

"And something attacked them?"

He pushed back on his stool. "They started screaming," he said. "There was something in there, it was taking them apart."

Christofoli sat back and flicked a hand. It was an impatient gesture; he could see she was already familiar with this part of the story.

"And so you turned tail and ran?"

###

When the screams came over the link, Sal panicked. He'd heard too many stories, lost too many comrades. Almost by reflex, he spun the Wildcat and blasted for the wormhole gate. As he left, his fusion exhaust burned across the alien ship.

The screams stopped, abruptly
.

###

"I understand you have a reputation around the port," Christofoli said.

Sal shrugged; it was mostly useless chatter. Some of the other roulette pilots thought he'd murdered his crew, or abandoned them somewhere. Others thought he'd made up the whole story because he couldn't face the shattering, fiery ride through another wormhole, because he'd lost his nerve. He'd been trading on his past glories for so long now that there was barely anything left; the money from the early years was gone; he spent most evenings in a different bar, most nights with one pale groupie or another. He kept the Wildcat in storage, which cost a lot of money, but he had nowhere else to live. Inside, she'd become cluttered and messy; half her systems needed an urgent overhaul. He owed the port authority a lot of money for the space she took up.

"On the return journey, I was alone for twelve weeks in an empty ship," he said quietly. "I nearly didn't make it." By the time he reached civilization, he'd only been holding onto his sanity by his fingernails.

Christofoli tilted her head and gave him a smile full of unexpected warmth.

"So, how would you like a chance to prove those bastards wrong?" she said.

###

Random jumping was an extreme sport. It went back to the early days of interstellar travel, when humanity first attempted to access the network of wormhole gates believed to have been left behind by a mysterious and long-dead race of alien builders. The gates allowed any craft with interplanetary capability to cross interstellar distances. The only difference between the roulette ships and those early pioneers was that the roulette pilots chose not to specify a destination; in order to throw themselves toward a random destination, they turned off the guidance software that had taken scientists a century to perfect.

At first, it was the excitement of the unknown, the rush of the wormhole ride. Later, the corporations moved in. They sponsored pilots to buy faster and better ships, poured money on anyone who discovered a habitable world or juicy asteroid belt. Those who brought back valuable scientific data or the coordinates of a useful system were guaranteed to make money. The newscasts wanted to interview them, the entertainment channels wanted to fictionalize their lives, and the celebrity circuit wanted their presence at every party or premiere from Centauri to New Port, from Silversands to Inakpa.

Those who came back alone and gibbering were a PR disaster, a failed investment.

Sal knew people who'd failed to return. Occasionally, their ships were found. Some had run afoul of lost human colonies or stranded expeditions, others had emerged too close to flaring stars, or were lost altogether as they gambled everything on the next random jump into the unknown. Sometimes, late at night, when he stood before the mirror in his cabin, his legs prickling with the cold, the screams of his crew echoing in his mind, he wished the same had happened to him. Here he was, the stranded mariner. If he'd failed to return from that last, terrible voyage, they'd probably have built a statue to him. As it was, they looked sideways at him, suspicion in every eye.

"I didn't want to leave them to die," he said, "I panicked; I had to get away."

Although the alien ship had been built to withstand the blast furnace temperatures of the wormhole network, its hatches had been left open. If they'd been shut, Kate and Petrov would've had a chance. As it was, their agonized cries were cut dead, their bodies incinerated by the Wildcat's exhaust as it poured in, scouring the corridors. He closed his eyes, clenched his fists.

"They were dying," he said. "There was something in there with them, something horrible."

Christofoli reached into her jacket and pulled out a pack of sticks.

"Do you mind?" She screwed one into her pursed lips and, sensing her saliva, it ignited. The spicy smell of the smoke, blue and twisting about her, made his stomach tighten. He shook his head, wiped a hand across his forehead.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

He straightened, took a deep breath.

"So, what do you want?" he asked.

She looked him in the eye, her gaze long and cool, like the snow outside.

"Money's no object," she said. "I've got backing from one of the major networks."

"For what? My life story?"

She smiled and shook her head.

"I already know a lot about you, Sal," she said. "I know half the people around here think you're a coward, and the other half think you're a murderer. I know you live in your ship because you've nowhere else to go and that you spend every evening drinking and wake every night in a cold sweat."

He turned away but she reached over and touched his wrist. Her fingertips were cold and rough, like frost.

"But you used to be a big star, back in the day. People want to find out what happened to you, how you ended up in this desolate wasteland."

"I don't know," he scratched his head. Despite the money she was paying him, he was beginning to wish he'd never agreed to meet her.

"I'm offering you a way out," she said, "a way to reclaim your reputation."

"I don't care about my reputation."

Christofoli withdrew her hand. She let the stick fall to the floor and ground it out with the heel of her boot.

"You cared about Kate, didn't you?"

###

Kate Schnitzler came aboard at Strauli; she was an engineer. She had hair the colour of sunlight and she made a point of brushing her teeth every evening, no matter how tired or drunk or lazy she felt. She liked the smell of engine grease and she liked to have her back stroked after sex. When not sharing his cabin, she slept in the cargo bay, curled in an old inflatable life raft from the ship's emergency locker. The orange distress beacon threw moving shadows across the walls.

"When you're running from something, you can't trust a soul," she once said. "Not friends or family they know who you are, where you go, what you do. To get away, you've got to change, got to do something unexpected."

It took him a month to get up the courage to ask her what she was running from. They were welding a buckled hull plate at the time. She pushed up her black goggles and fixed him with her sad eyes.

"We're all running from something, Sal."

###

He dropped his gaze.

"You know I did."

"Then come with me," Christofoli urged. "I'm going in search of your derelict, and I want you to come along. I want to get your reactions, see the thing through your eyes; it'll be great."

He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. "You're crazy."

She tapped a painted fingernail on the plastic casing of her recorder.

"I told you; I've got network backing. It could be a great story, Sal."

He stood. The legs of his stool scraped loudly on the concrete floor. Around the bar, several heads turned his way; the locals could sense a fight brewing.

"I've spent the last two years trying to forget," he said.

Christofoli leaned back, arms folded.

"And has it worked?"

###

Outside, the street was dark, lit only by the reflection of the port lights on the ragged low clouds above. A few stars showed in the gaps but he ignored them; they no longer held the fascination they once had; they'd become cold, distant, untouchable things that reminded him only of his own mortality. The wind, whipping in from the glacier, felt like a razor. He pulled his coat shut and hurried back toward the port; all he wanted now was to curl up in his bunk and pull a blanket over his head.

"Dervish!"

The voice came from behind. He stopped and turned slowly. Two men blocked the narrow street. Both wore identical black coats and mirrored snow goggles. Their throats were scratchy with a foreign accent; their coats bulged with concealed holsters.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?" asked the thin one. They led him to an old rover parked behind a run down betting shop. It was an old tracked vehicle, its paint scoured by years of wind and ice and neglect. They ran a metal detector over him, opened a hatch and pushed him in.

The interior was cramped and oily; most of the available space was filled with inflated drinking water sacks and boxes of ammunition and survival gear. A young man sat in a padded chair, his cowboy boots resting on a crate of emergency flares. Beneath warm clothes, his skin was the colour of blown sand and his muscles looked lean and hard. When he took off his goggles, his eyes were bright and cruel.

"Where is she, Dervish?"

Sal let his eyes slide to the hatch, where the two men who'd grabbed him stood guard. No exit there.

He took a breath, straightened his collar, and then met the other man's stare.

"You must be Dieter."

###

"It's my brother," Kate said.

They were seated around the table in the
Wildcat's galley.

"What about him?" Sal thumbed through the cards in his hand. He had six suns and a diamond.

"That's who I'm running from." She tossed a couple of chips into the center of the table. Beside her, Petrov studied his own cards and frowned.

"It's not my night, I think."

He reached for the rot bottle and refilled his glass. Sal ignored him.

"Your brother?"

"My twin brother, Dieter."

She pushed a hand back through her hair and dropped her cards. "I fold."

"Me too." Sal took the bottle from Petrov and made sure her glass was full.

They were fifteen days out from Tiers Cross, headed for Blackwater with a cargo of agricultural machinery. Another few trips, and he hoped they'd have enough money to finance a random expedition.

"So, what did he do?"

"Dieter?" She shrugged. "It's not so much what he did, as what he does."

"And that is what?" Petrov asked, sweeping his winnings into his lap.

Kate looked away.

"He hurts people," she said.

###

"Where is she?"

"You know where she is." Sal sank back against the rover's armored bulkhead. "The question is, what are you going to do about it?"

Dieter pretended to examine his fingernails, projecting boredom.

"I want her back."

He let the words hang in the air for a moment, and then glanced sideways to see Sal's reaction.

Sal swallowed hard; he'd heard a lot of bad things about Dieter Schnitzler. The man had links with some of the larger criminal cartels; he'd been involved in everything from an attempted coup on Strauli to selling knock-off symbiotech packages out of a suitcase on the streets of Halfway. As Sal watched, he pulled a hunting knife from his boot and hefted it in one hand, as if judging its weight.

"Where is she?" he repeated.

Sal shrugged: what could he say? It was no secret that Kate was dead, yet Dieter seemed unable to understand.

The younger man's boots dropped to the metal deck and he reached out with the knife. His lips were drawn back over his clenched teeth.

"I'm getting impatient," he said.

Sal felt a reassuring weight against his hip. He cocked his head at the hatch.

"Your monkeys out there didn't bother with a physical search." He reached into his coat and pulled out the crossbow pistol with a shaking hand. The handle and bolt were made of cultured human bone, the rest of tailored sinew and cartilage. There were five bolts in the magazine, one in the chamber.

Dieter stiffened and opened his mouth, but Sal put a finger to his lips.

"Everyone knows you're a coward. You don't have the guts," Dieter hissed.

Sal shrugged. "Maybe."

He edged toward the dashboard, keeping the pistol trained. Dieter rose slowly and followed him, the knife unwavering.

"If it's any consolation," Sal said, "I didn't mean to kill her."

Schnitzler narrowed his eyes.

"She's not dead. I would know."

"Really?" Sal groped for the handle that would release the driver's hatch.

"She was my twin sister."

"Yeah." Sal waved the crossbow. "She told me."

###

"He has this idea," Kate said. "He thinks we're linked by some mystical telepathic force."

"And you don't?"

They were in the Star Chamber now. It was the spherical control room at the ship's heart; the only illumination came from the glow of the instrument panels and the stars projected on the walls. Through the open door, they could hear Petrov snoring in the galley.

"It's bullshit." She flopped down in the pilot's couch, one knee drawn up, her arms folded across her chest. "We're not even identical."

Sal leaned forward and kissed her shoulder.

"So why did you run?"

She looked down at the deck.

"I ran because he wanted me to do a job for him."

"What sort of job?"

She bit her lip. "You know I told you he was into organ smuggling? One of his clients needed to get off world in a hurry. Dieter asked me to help smuggle the guy's brain out on an outbound ship."

"His brain?" Sal wrinkled his nose.

"The authorities were after him. Dieter said they could grow him a new body when they got where they were going."

"Sounds gruesome. But how did he expect to get the brain past the luggage scanners? Whatever you hid it in, it would have been picked up."

Kate drew both knees up to her chin and hugged them.

"He wanted me to pretend I was pregnant," she said, her voice shaky, "and to have this guy's brain hidden inside me, hooked up to an adapted placenta."

"And you said no."

"Of course I said no!"

She let her head fall forward onto her knees. When she spoke again, her voice was muffled.

"He said he was going to sedate me and do it anyway."

"Do you think he would have done?"

She looked up, hair forward over her face, and nodded.

"I think he's capable of just about anything."

###

As Sal dropped through the driver's hatch, Schnitzler's thrown knife caught him in the side. He shouted with pain and surprise and stumbled into the dirty snow. He scrambled to his feet in fear, and lurched off up the alley clutching the wound. Behind him, he could hear Schnitzler calling for his men. The crossbow in his hand looked impressive at close range, but in a firefight it was next to useless. Its accuracy was a joke and its range a tragedy; strictly a novelty item. When he reached the end of the alley, he dropped it into a dumpster.

He was on Main Street now. Suddenly he was part of a crowd. He pushed his way though, panting painfully in the thin air. Dieter's men appeared at the entrance to the alley, but he ducked into a side street before they saw him. He gave his coat to an old woman begging for change at the entrance to the main port, hoping she wouldn't see the blood. He gave his sweater to a young homeless guy by a fast food stand. By the time he reached the main pilot's concourse, he'd shed anything that might be recognisable.

When he reached the Wildcat's berth, Christofoli was waiting for him, her arms folded.

"The answer's still no," he snapped.

She nodded and stood aside. As he passed, he thought her eyes flashed, but whether it was with amusement or irritation, he couldn't say.

###

As the Wildcat closed in on the wormhole gate, an alarm sounded on the bridge. Electromagnetic pulses were bouncing off the hull; something on the alien ship had survived, and was trying to track him.

For a wild moment he thought it might be Kate, attempting to signal him, but then he remembered the way her screams had been suddenly cut and knew she was dead. No, whatever it was that was trying to lock onto him now had to be something alien, something that had endured both the searing heat of his exhaust and the biting cold of empty space.

He closed his eyes and screamed.

###

Laurel-Ann was still in his cabin. He'd rather hoped she might have got bored and left.

"Where ya bin, Sal?" She smoothed down her vinyl skirt with pale fingers. The overhead lights glittered off her lip-gloss. He pushed past her and primed the ship's defensive array. There were messages waiting for him from the port authority; they were getting impatient for the overdue storage fees and they were threatening to impound his ship. He ignored them and staggered back down to his cabin. Once there, he stripped off his shirt and slapped a symbiotech patch over the wound in his side. There was quite a lot of blood but the knife hadn't gone deep. He had a nasty gash but his thick coat must have soaked up the main force of the throw, preventing more serious injury. He showered and slipped into a polyester robe.

There were still a few bottles of rot in the hold. He took one to his bunk. When Laurel-Ann joined him, he ignored her. His side hurt and he kept thinking of Kate and Dieter and the trouble he was in.

"Just leave me alone," he said.

She didn't understand.

"What's the matter, baby? Have I done something wrong?"

Her voice was thin and scared. He rolled over and pointed at the hatch.

"Get lost."

Her face fell, crashing from worry to hurt disbelief. For a moment, he thought he caught a glimpse of the naked young farm girl cowering behind the make-up and breast implants. She sniffed wetly, adjusted her skirt, and gathered her few belongings into a holdall. He closed his eyes and heard her heels click across the deck. She paused at the hatch. Then she was gone.

###

"Nothing in the main corridor," Petrov reported.

Sal didn't bother to reply; his attention was taken up with the thermal imaging scan, which produced a ghostly image of the two figures in the narrow corridor.

"Nothing but this crap," Kate mumbled, eyeing the slimy, dripping walls with distaste.

She moved like a dancer, lightly on the balls of her feet. The slug thrower in her right hand wavered back and forth with the sweep of her gaze.

Sal could feel the tension in his back and forearms; his were fists clenching and unclenching. He tried to relax, but he'd heard the stories, same as everyone else.

"There's no such thing as a ghost ship," he muttered.

"I hear you, my friend." On the monitor, Petrov was already chipping away at the walls with a chisel.

"Hey, careful," Kate growled. She had a touch of flu and her voice sounded deeper and sexier than he was used to. For half a second, he forgot she was three kilometers away, in the belly of a strange and dangerous alien derelict.

"I love you," he said.

###

He woke with a shout. It was past midnight; the lights on the Wildcat were deep brown and his pulse raced. He felt sick.

He slid down to the end of the bunk and opened his footlocker. Near the bottom, among the books and papers, he found his only picture of her. He pulled it out with trembling hands, smoothing down the creased edges. It was a printout captured from a security camera. He'd found it amongst her stuff. It showed her laughing, her head thrown back. The line of her throat was white against the red silk strap of her dress. She held an empty wineglass carelessly in one hand, a bottle in the other. She had confetti in her hair.

He sat on the edge of his bunk and held it to his forehead. Tears filled his eyes, tears of anger and guilt and fear, tears of pain, and frustration.

Kate was dead; the port authority was going to take his ship; Dieter was going to kill him; and there was no one he could turn to, no one who cared. He'd squandered away the dregs of his reputation, wasted what little respect he'd been given.

One of Laurel-Ann's pink bauble earrings lay on the deck. He kicked it away savagely. The truth of it was, he had been too afraid to fly. These last two years, he'd sat here watching his ship fall apart around him because he couldn't face the thought of another random jump. He was burned out by guilt and fear, and he knew it; and that knowledge now drove him as he raged around the ship, pounding the bulkheads with his fists, kicking and slapping the doors and consoles until his hands and feet bled.

After an immeasurable time, he collapsed, panting, into the pilot's chair. The picture of Kate was torn; there were pieces missing. He caught sight of his reflection in the console screens; he looked old and beaten and ashamed.

Everything that was wrong in his life, all the guilt and self-loathing, had its root in that one moment of freezing panic, that instant when running seemed preferable to facing the horror that confronted his friends.

I need to go back, he realized. Everything here was so screwed up; going back to face his fears seemed like the only rational thing to do. He couldn't go on living this way, carrying this burden of grief and remorse. He needed a way to make amends, to atone for his cowardice. He had to go back and do what he should've done in the first place.

He sat up straight and wiped his eyes. He felt cold and calm and suddenly determined. He was going to take Christofoli up on her offer. He had to face whatever was on that ship, whatever attacked Kate and Petrov and, if he didn't survive, it would make things right, it would be a redemption.

He called her and she answered on the third ring.

"I'm in," he said.

###

Two days later, the Wildcat blasted into the cold grey sky above Pik Station. Once above the clouds, she turned as if questing after a scent. Sal, in the Star Chamber at her heart, watched as navigation solutions popped up around him. Their flashing yellow overlays marked potential destinations within range. Beside each, known system parameters and market information scrolled upward. He paused, taking in the sweep of possibilities. We could get here in a matter of hours, the Wildcat seemed to be saying. Or here. Or even here.

He smiled and shook his head.

"You know where we're going," he muttered. Six lights off Green Scar.

He engaged her fusion motors, requesting a burn that would send them falling toward the wormhole gate. As the thrust built up, it felt like an eagerness fluttering in his stomach.

In the chair beside him, Christofoli looked up from her notes.

"Are you ready?"

He hitched a grin at her, trying to look more confident that he felt. "Ready as we'll ever be."

###

It was waiting for them. Christofoli's cameras barely had time to rise through the cooling heat shield before the barrage began.

The alien ship tried everything from straightforward nuclear bombardment to sophisticated visual and audio hacks. In the Star Chamber, Sal rode the worst of the turbulence. Beside him, Christofoli looked sick.

"Glad you came?" he muttered.

He transferred control of the ship to the AI, letting the synthetic systems handle the required evasive maneuvers. Apparent gravity shifted precipitously around them as the Wildcat's thrusters fired.

There was a flash.

"What was that?" Christofoli asked, eyes closed. There was strain in her voice.

Sal pulled up a damage menu. "Nuclear blast; we've lost the cameras on the port side."

"Shit."

She looked bad. Despite everything, he'd never had the impression that she believed his story.

When she reopened her eyes, she'd regained her professionalism.

"Can you bring us around, get the starboard cameras on the derelict?"

Sal shrugged. "Sure. We're spinning anyway."

He linked in with the ship's AI, reviewing its current evasion options. It seemed to be handling itself fairly well, given the limited menu of responses that they'd allowed it.

The alien ship was black against the stars; he had to infer its shape from memory.

There'd never been a ship like it, not even during the mad days of the Diaspora, when the major corporate players shunted overloaded and jury-rigged interplanetary transports through interstellar gates as fast as they could, desperate to claim as many worlds and extra-solar resources as possible.

Off to one side, the blue sun of Green Scar burned against the wash of the Milky Way. Another flock of missiles rose from the derelict.

"I just keep thinking too much," he said, feeling a sudden urge to confess.

Christofoli squinted at him, her expression composed of equal parts fear and exasperation. "What?"

"I just keep thinking too much, and it's driving me fucking nuts."

His hand stabbed out, disabling the AI. On the screen, the missiles dived toward them.

Christofoli was shouting but he tuned her out. He centered the Wildcat's nose on the alien ship and engaged a maximum fusion burn.

For half a second, in the roar of the exhaust, he thought he heard Kate's voice. Only this time, she wasn't screaming. This time, she was calling him home.

THE END



Bio: The modest and prolific Mr. Powell says only that 'Aphelion kindly included one of my short stories AND one of my poems in their 'Best of 2004' selections. My blog (http://www.garethlynpowell.blogspot.com) contains full details of my other publications. I typed this story with a broken finger. And it hurt.'

E-mail: garethlpowell@btinternet.com

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