The Tanneh Death Chop - Dan's Story

By Kate Thornton

A Mare Inebrium Story

There's never really an end to a story - I mean, in real life episodes come and go, but there's always more. Even when someone dies, the story goes on. But life is full of starts, isn't it? Remember that when you finish this story.

The day it all started for me - don't ask me why I call it a "day" when everyone knows there's no such thing as night or day on a junk cargo shuttle in cold space - anyway, when it began I was on my way to Toshiba Station in Mare Nec Sector, just a quick run to Otherside from Mare Tranq. It was a lunar smuggling job, not to put too fine a point on it.

My ship, the Linda Rae, was not suitable for extended interplanetary travel, mostly on account of being an old converted passenger shuttle which had, through the years of neglect, been converting itself to a pile of rusting bolts, duct tape and spit.

The Linda Rae was half of my father's generous legacy to me, the other half being the ability to fly anything that could lift off a surface. Oh, and he taught me most of my smuggling skills, too, may he rest in peace. I know he probably wanted a boy, but one of the other things he taught me was that you make the best of what you've got. "Play the hand you're dealt, Girlie," he used to say, "and make sure you win."

Of course, I don't run the Linda Rae all by myself. I have a big handsome co-pilot, N'doro, who makes up for his dim wits with a beautiful smile and a body that can make grown women - and some men - weep. He's the perfect partner in my commercial endeavors, although when he makes me weep, it's usually just from exasperation.

Anyway, N'doro was snoring softly on the co-pilot's seat as I maneuvered the Linda Rae across the moon's rocky terrain, flying low and slow to avoid drawing any unwanted attention from the local authorities. I kept her steady, mindful of the carefully-packed shipment of contraband chocolates in the secret cargo compartment under my seat. I didn't want to jostle them around too much as they were filled with a mixture of chocolate cream and krik, a high explosive drug that was all the rage in the lunar mining settlements.

The gauges on my console were all reading "optimum" and for a second I imagined what it would be like if everything on board really did work. Then I snapped back to reality as a shock wave hit the craft and I regretted intensely that I had been foolish enough to pack explosive chocolates right under my butt. Even a social life as dead as mine doesn't deserve that kind of a boost.

N'doro's beautiful ebony features were still and relaxed as a second shock wave sent us spinning toward a big pile of dead rocks. N'doro could sleep through anything. I wrestled with the steering mechanism and the Linda Rae responded with all the grace and enthusiasm of a sullen teenager, pouting and bucking as I managed to avoid a fatal collision with the lunar surface.

It wasn't until we were even lower and slower than I thought possible that I realized the cargo had not accidentally discharged. I looked at the ancient computer screen and read it twice to make sure. The cargo had not exploded. We had been fired upon and hit.

"Hey, N'doro!" I screamed, "Wake up! Someone's shooting at us!"

His lovely dark eyes fluttered open and a look of incomprehension slowly crossed his lovely face. It crossed so slowly that it was still there when I threw him a weapon from my side locker. His reflexes were superb and he caught the Glock Stingray before he was even aware of waking up.


"I said, someone's shooting at us. Take this and go have a look."

He swung gracefully to his feet, set the Glock on "kill" and made for the aft screens. Only one of the exterior sensors was working and it just registered the dead surface of the moon.

"Don't see nuthin' Boss," N'doro called.

"Check for leaks," I shouted back. Minor leaks on the hull were self-sealing, but the glop always leaked through and smelled like the inside of an old pressure suit. Just the thought of that smell made me gag.

"Nope," N'doro shouted, "don't see nuthin'. You sure somethin' happened? I didn't feel nuthin."

I sighed. If we had been blown to smithereens, N'doro wouldn't have felt anything. Well, okay, I guess I wouldn't have either. But I knew what I had seen on the screen. I printed the sensor audit. There. There it was. Two projectiles the size of a standard credit had hit the hull of the 'Linda Rae.' They hadn't pierced the tough outer shell, but they had been flung with enough velocity to register on the nearly non-functional sensor, the velocity of a weapon.

By the time I worked this out, the lights of Toshiba Station illuminated the horizon and I went into landing mode. We were carrying a legit cargo of sex discs and junk food for the Corporation store, so we landed over on the commercial port and waited for the inspectors to come by for bribes. N'doro usually handled that part of things. He busied himself in the bribe locker, choosing carefully. Toshiban inspectors usually wanted either new sex discs or real liquor and we gave this one both.

"You guys got a couple of sore spots on your hull," he observed as he stashed the loot in his bribe bag. "You tick anybody off out there?"

I shook my head and N'doro just grinned.

"See you around," the inspector said as he pencil whipped our docking report and left without so much as a glance toward the built-up area under the Captain's chair, my chair.

N'doro saw to the maintenance and I did the post-flight checks before we stepped out of the stale recirc of the Linda Rae and into the stale recirc of Toshiba Station. I gave N'doro a twenty-four hour pass and watched him disappear toward the Corporation gambling houses. I sighed again. At least he didn't have too much to lose. I always paid him after we left a Corporation outpost.

After the robo workers off loaded our legit cargo I went in and packed up the good stuff into a soft padded bag. I planned to transport it to the usual place, same as always, where I would pick up my payment and head over to a pleasure palace for a few hours steam massage and holographic fantasy. I was already humming a nameless little tune as I slung the bag over my shoulder and gave my beloved wreck a fond backward look. My eyes widened.

I dropped the bag in surprise, then jumped out of the way as I remembered what was in it. I waited for the explosion. It didn't come - I must have packed that stuff very carefully indeed.

Only something really unusual would cause me to drop a bag full of chocolate krik.

On the hull of my ship, between the unmistakable little dents, smoke or fire or something had made another mark, a mark far more disturbing to me than the dings of a light antipersonnel weapon. Etched in the steel hull of my shuttle craft was the black mark of a Tanneh chop.

Now, there are a few scary things in the universe, not the least of which is my taste in men, but that Tanneh chop was in a completely different league.

To start with, Tanneh was a long way from the Mare Nectaris sector of the Earth's moon. It was technically out of my reach, as the Linda Rae was okay as far as, say, the mining colonies on Mars maybe. But interstellar stuff was way out of my ballpark.

Also, Tanneh was a forbidden place. Although the whole place was shrouded in fear, no one seemed to know exactly why, and that made it all the scarier. I had heard it was off limits because the atmosphere was deadly poison, the natives were extremely hostile and there were no exploitable elements to hold the Corporation's interest. Of course, these conditions had never stopped the human race before, so there had to be something else, something really creepy.

I had also heard that Tanneh inhabitants were not even vaguely humanoid, but rather ethnocentric and given to meting out instant death to traders, explorers and members of the scientific community.

They were rumored to have some elaborate social system involving tribes or something and each tribe or clan had its own signature or chop. These chops, it was said, were used to claim territory and announce imminent destruction. I had seen a few of them sketched on a dock bulletin once and I knew one when I saw one. And I was looking at one on the underbelly of my ship.

I peered more closely at the dents and wondered about the weapon used. If the intention had been to destroy my ship, which was in the slow process of destroying itself anyway, the regular little pockmarks on the hull were pitiful. But if someone had fired upon the Linda Rae merely to set a Tanneh death chop, then I was in very big trouble.

And worse, I didn't know why.

And why hadn't the Toshiban port inspector mentioned the Tanneh death chop? Okay, port inspectors were trained to close their eyes and stick out their hands, but you'd think something like that would at least rate a mention.

I was worried about leaving my death-marked ship in a public dock where a Tanneh force bomb might take out half the populated sector and earn me a personal place in local history.

But there wasn't much I could do about it, so I picked up my cargo of chocolate liqueur creams in the padded bag which I had thoughtfully labeled, "human organ donations" and caught the roller from Toshiba docks to the Inebrium.

The Inebe, as everyone called it, was the retirement brainchild of an old friend of mine. Dan Holly modeled his Toshiban bar after a fictional one he had read about in his childhood. You really have to wonder about someone whose lifelong ambition and childhood dream involved a bar, but Dan was a good guy in lots of ways and the Inebe was like a second home to me. Okay, not having a real home made the Inebe my first home, but I am too delicate and sensitive to ever admit that.

Anyway, the krik chocolates were for Dan and as soon as I got there, I set the "human organ donations" on the table next to the previous customer's nearly-empty glass and flung myself into a booth.

"Hey, Beautiful!" a cheery, if somewhat metallic, voice ground out.

Dan Holly had been a Corporation Security Services pilot in his youth. That was back when the moon was the only exploitable off-Earth entity and first contact was just a science fiction dream. An accident with a Corporation hovercraft had left him with a pair of plastic legs and a metallic edge to his voice.

The intervening years could have provided Dan with regenerated limbs made from his own genetic material and a voice as sweet as an Irish tenor's, but he refused.

"I'm used to myself like this," he claimed. But I think that in a world where even the most comprehensive medical problems could be fixed routinely, Dan liked being different.

I guess I liked it, too. The Corporation rewarded conformity, so those of us who didn't fit in too well were forced to live on the economic edge, the border between a boring and modestly successful existence and an interesting but unpredictable life. Dan and I had both chosen the latter.

Dan gave me an avuncular kiss and slid into the seat across from me. A roboserver brought me drink.

"So, Pretty Face," Dan said, "What's the haps?" His eyes shone in anticipation as he gazed fondly at me and at the pressure case on the table.

I reached over and snapped the locks on the case open. Dan lifted the hinged lid and swirling tendrils of mist fingered out over the edge of the box. Six dozen chocolates rested in their gold embossed ballotin on a bed of dry ice, just like they used to ship them in the old days. The big difference, of course, was each chocolate had been injected with a generous slug of krik.

Dan closed his eyes but kept on smiling, and placed a gold credit onto the table. "Oh, you've done it again," he said with a touch of dramatic reverence in his edgy voice.

I laughed. "Just don't eat them all at once," I said, slipping the single gold credit into a zip pocket on my jumpsuit. That single credit was worth about ten thousand ordinary credits, and it was more money than I had ever had at one time.

"You done good, Baby Girl," Dan said as the roboserver took the box of chocolates off the table and trundled away with it.

I knew my little job, dangerous as it was, wasn't going to feed hungry children or further galactic peace. But Dan's approval meant worlds to me, more than he knew. Like I said, the Inebe was a home to me and Dan was sorta like a father, only not in all ways, mind you, and we had done quite a few things that were very taboo in even the most liberal of family relationships.

I had fond memories of those time and let me tell you, plastic legs never got in my way, and that metallic voice can still make me all warm and breathless. Dan the man was definitely human in all the right places, not the least of which was his generous heart and his quick mind.

I didn't ask who the chocolates were for or what the profits - large profits - would go to, but I knew Dan. I knew, for example, that he didn't take many mind or body altering substances and anyway he was allergic to chocolate. The cargo was not for Dan's personal use.

"So, Baby Girl," Dan had called me that ever since he had first met me, and I really had been a child at the time, "what's your plan?"

Dan waited patiently as I sipped my Zombie cocktail and got my thoughts together. I wanted to tell him about the Tanneh death chop on the Linda Rae but I didn't want to put him in any danger.

"It's okay," he said, "whatever it is, it can't hurt me." Dan had lived through a lot and was one tough cookie, but he was still my best friend. On the other hand, I knew he would never forgive me if I kept something like that from him, so I told him everything.

Dan listened as I went through the whole story, starting with my cargo pick ups at Mare Tranq and ending up in the Inebe.

"And the port inspector didn't mention the chop?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"Then he either didn't see it, in which case he had his eyes closed, or maybe he didn't want to see it, in which case he's been paid not to see it."

"Why?" I asked. "Who'd want the inspector bought off?" I couldn't believe the guy hadn't noticed a thirty foot mark right between the two little dents he had taken such pains to point out.

Dan frowned and stared at the table. "Jeeze, Baby Girl, I think this whole thing is maybe my fault."

"Your fault?" I said incredulously. "How do you figure that?"

Dan sighed. "I shoulda told you all this a long time ago. Damn, we shoulda never got you in this all. But I guess I thought it would all turn out okay, you know?"

"No, I don't know, Dan," I said evenly. "Tell me what I'm in and how it could possibly be okay."

Dan sighed. He could tell I was curious, interested and about as pissed-off as the Zombie cocktail would permit.

"Okay, okay, it all really started before you were born, Baby Girl." I rolled my eyes. I don't care about the world before I was born, to be honest. And I hate those James-Michener-first-the-continents-were-formed stories, too.

"Your father and I were running cargo out of Harrison Schmidt to Sagan Colony, just a few runs on the side, you know? I had access to Corporation craft in those days and your dad had all the contacts, so we did a little business here and there."

I knew about that part of Dan's life. He and my father were best friends and it was the main reason why he became my best friend after Daddy went to that big cargo bay in the sky.

"Anyway," he continued, "we were running a little side job out to Sagan when this guy at Schmidt asks if we can take passengers. Now, getting from Schmidt to Sagan in those days was practically free, so this was a little weird. But he wanted passage with no questions asked, no Corporation paperwork, no nothing. Well, that was more or less our specialty - the no questions stuff - so he gave us a name and we took him to Sagan. A few days later, he wants to go to Mars Colony, same deal. After that, we saw him every few weeks, wanting a ride from one place to another, always using a different name and always paying up front and in cash. Over the next few months we musta taken that guy to every inhabited settlement in the system. He was nice, quiet, didn't cause any trouble and we sorta looked forward to taking him around."

Dan grinned. "Hey, the income was pretty good, and even when I couldn't get off from work, your Daddy would take him wherever he needed to go. And we always had some kind of cargo to run, so life was pretty sweet. Heck, your Daddy bought a house for that nice girl who later became your Mamma, and me, well, I started savin' for this joint. We coulda spent the next twenty years taking this guy from place to place, but it didn't work out that way."

The grin faded. "One day he showed up - we were taking some ladies from New Chicago to Mare Tranq - and said he wanted us to take him to Tanneh."

Dan paused as the roboserver brought us each another drink. I wasn't thirsty, but something told me I was going to need it. I sipped at the rim of my Zombie slowly, gingerly. I knew where a fast slug of Zombie would take me, and I wasn't ready to go there yet.

"Well, we didn't do it. It was the first time we had ever had to tell the guy no, and he was pretty disappointed. We were afraid we might not see him again and we had grown used to all that extra money, but even then there were some things we just wouldn't do."

"But we changed our minds, Baby Girl. I got some time off work, borrowed the same old interplanetary I always used, and told the guy I'd take him. Your Daddy didn't really want any part of it, but you were on the way and he figured he could use the money, so in the end he agreed to go with us."

Dan stared hard into his empty glass. "I was scared, Baby Girl. I guess I just did things back then without thinking, things I'd be too scared to do now, and I don't know what made me go through with it. I guess I didn't have anything to lose. But your Daddy, he did it for you."

I shivered. Daddy was a brave and reckless guy alright, but Tanneh was way beyond brave or reckless or even foolish. Tanneh was death.

"So we took the guy to Tanneh. The trip was pretty easy, except for when we came across a Corporation cruiser halfway there and the captain wanted to chat. We shook the cruiser and continued on into Tanneh space, and I can tell you, when I saw that whirling globe of greenish gas, I broke out in a cold sweat.

"But your Daddy was pretty cheerful, playing decks-and-ladders with our passenger and cracking a few jokes. He beat him fair and square a coupla times, too. The passenger, who said his name was Frank that trip, seemed pretty calm, so I guess I was the only one sweating it out as we entered that green atmosphere."

Dan paused and I heard the rasp of his plastic legs as he shifted in his chair a little. "Tanneh's not what you think. I was nervous, but I sure wanted to see what it was like, and Frank told us not to worry, that he was expected and that no harm would come to us. And I believed him, I really did."

"Our communications went dead as we descended into the mists and I had no idea where we were going to land. Our power blinked off and the life-support systems came on, a little rusty but still serviceable, and the ship came to rest very gently and slowly in a large plaza. I swear your Daddy was praying or something."

"Frank opened the hatches and walked right out. He said the air was safe and I ran a check with the first aid kit before we followed him out. We were right in the middle of thousands of people, all of them smiling. They looked just like regular folks, Baby Girl, not a monster or anything among them."

"Frank introduced us to the head guys and we were escorted to some kind of a palace. They treated us well, Baby Girl," Dan said wistfully, "better than we'd been treated anywhere else. We had nice rooms, hot baths and a banquet and I wondered about all those horror stories we'd always been told. Frank seemed to be a pretty high-ranking guy and everyone else was real nice, too, only I noticed that no one talked much, and only Frank spoke to us. I thought at the time that maybe they just didn't know how to speak Chinglish or something."

"Anyway, the next day Frank told us we could go home and even paid us a nice little bonus. I was delighted to know we were going to get off Tanneh without any trouble, but I didn't count on your Daddy's sense of commerce."

"Your Daddy spent quite some time talking Frank's ears off, trying to negotiate some kind of a trading treaty or something. Frank just smiled and took us back to the plaza where our ship was."

"Instead of thousands of people milling around, there was just these three old guys waiting for us. They bowed to Frank and then they spent a bunch of time just looking at him. Then the old guys looked at each other and finally bowed to Frank again. Frank turned to us and smiled."

'We will agree to only one of your requests,' he said to your Daddy. 'We will allow you one more safe trip back to Tanneh, but you must use this trip wisely. You understand why we cannot trade with your worlds.'

"Well, maybe your Daddy understood, but I sure didn't. But somehow it wasn't the right time to ask about it, and I was glad just to get back on board my ship and watch Tanneh grow small in the viewer screen as we set our course for Mare Tranq."

"It was a long ride home, several days, so I asked your Daddy about the stuff he and Frank had talked about. He seemed pretty subdued, Baby Girl, and the story he told me made my stomach tighten up."

Dan waved to the roboserver and I was afraid he might get bombed on the Zombies and pass out before he finished the story, but he seemed stone cold sober. That alone was scary.

"To start with," he continued, "Frank wasn't just some important guy on Tanneh. He was the important guy, like the king or CEO or something. And he had been all over the inhabited system with us just to see what the place was like, especially all the places inhabited by the humanoid races. He was assessing us, Baby Girl, looking to see if we were worth saving or if we could all just be exterminated and leave Tanneh alone forever."

"You see, the Tanneh like their privacy - they like it a lot. They don't talk much because they're telepathic and this telepathy lets them hear everything any humanoid is thinking, and I mean everything. Baby Girl, Frank told your Daddy the first humanoid visitors to Tanneh scared them all spitless. They heard two conflicting things from each visitor, what they were saying and what they were thinking. And those early explorers and suchlike were thinking in terms of conquering and exploiting, concepts the Tanneh had never developed. That's when the Tanneh planted some pretty gruesome horror stories in the survivors' minds and sent them back to scare off the rest of us."

They had done an excellent job, I thought. I was still scared of them.

"But Frank thought there must be some other way, some way in which minimal contact and the survival of the humanoid races could be maintained. He thought there might be a reason for human existence, maybe an evolutionary possibility down the road or something. He set out to gather information, and agreed with the Council of Elders that if he couldn't find any promising news, then the Tanneh would isolate themselves permanently from human contact. The easiest way for them to accomplish this would be total and permanent extermination of the humanoid races not native to Tanneh. We didn't know it at the time, but we had ferried Frank around from place to place on this quest, and had finally brought him home to make his decision."

I felt cold all over, and the Zombie cocktail in front of me seemed warm and friendly, even with the mist of melting ice over it. I was beyond shivering.

"When he told me all this, your Daddy was so quiet and serious that it scared me."

Quiet and serious was not exactly in his nature, as I knew quite well. I didn't know whether to believe Dan or laugh at this story, but his expression was serious.

"But Frank had been thorough. As painful as it was for him to subject himself to the telepathic sludge of the known system, he went around looking for encouraging signs. We didn't know it at the time, of course, but Frank listened to everyone and everything, and he listened to your Daddy and me thinking more than anyone else."

"Daddy never mentioned any of this to me," I pointed out. "And we talked a lot, Dan. A lot." I kept the skepticism and a little edge of anger out of my voice. I guess I didn't want to believe that Daddy could have kept something that important from me. I mean, he told me everything.

Dan started talking again as though I hadn't said a word. "Frank and the elders decided to let the humanoid races live, just not anywhere near Tanneh. They kept up the stories about death to explorers and visitors and closed themselves off from further contact."

"Wouldn't it have been easier to just kill us all and live undisturbed?" I asked. I thought about how awful it would be to have to listen to everyone's innermost thoughts - disgusting, noisy, ceaseless.

Dan nodded. "Yeah, that's what I thought, too," he agreed. "But the Tanneh didn't see it that way. Good thing for us, I guess. Anyway, I wondered why they had just decided to leave us alone, but they didn't, really. You see, Frank made a deal with your Daddy."

I felt all queasy inside, like whatever Dan was going to say, I didn't want to hear any more. I tried to get up from the table, but I was paralyzed, probably from the Zombie.

"Baby Girl," Dan smiled, "Frank liked our thoughts. I know, I know, a coupla dumb shuttle rats, what's to like? But on all those flights with us, he listened in, and I guess he figured we were like, representative of our kind. I know I was usually thinking about work or something, but your Daddy was always thinking about you. Remember, you hadn't even been born yet, but he was, well, sorta obsessed with you."

That much I knew, thought he had been dead certain I would be a boy. Oh, well, some disappointments don't really matter, and once he had gotten over it, he never once treated me any different. I smiled at his memory.

"It was your Daddy's love for you that saved us all from annihilation, not that Frank phrased it in quite that way. But Frank wanted something in return, of course." Dan took a long and final drag on his fresh drink and sat there staring into the scarred surface of the table.

"What?" I asked. "What did he want?"

Dan shifted in his seat and the squinching sound his plastic legs made as they turned in a way my real ones never could sent a little jolt through me. He didn't say anything.

"What?" I squeaked. "What is it?"

Dan toyed with his glass and spoke again in a low, crackly voice. "He promised them you."

"What? What do you mean, Dan?" My beloved, reckless, brave and it seemed incredibly stupid Daddy had promised me to the Tanneh? Huh?

"Frank was so impressed with the way your Daddy loved you - and you weren't even born yet - that he made your Daddy promise you would come back to Tanneh. They wanted to see what would inspire that kind of fierce emotion."

"We were just glad that no one was gonna get annihilated or anything, and by the time we got back we pretty much forgot about it. I mean," he amended, "we made ourselves forget about it. You weren't even born yet, for crying out loud! Anything could happen."

"Anyway, your Daddy and Mamma got married when we got back and then you were born and then we lost your Mamma in that viral plague and I guess your Daddy would have told you about it sooner or later, but he never got around to it and then one day it was too late."

"What about you, Dan?" I asked. "How come you never mentioned it? I mean, it's not like we never had any quiet moments together or anything. You mean to tell me the dreaded Tanneh agree to spare human life in exchange for me and it wasn't important enough to mention?" I was having trouble absorbing this little bit of news.

"And the Tanneh death chop on my ship, Dan, is it just a little reminder?" The mark on the Linda Rae was real, even if Dan's story was just a mixture of drink, drugs and bad memories.

Dan grinned. "You got it, kid, only it's not a death cop. There aren't any death chops, that's just some bullshit story the Tannehs made up to scare us with. The mark on your ship is just a message."

"Why do they want me?" I asked.

"Frank just wanted to meet you, I guess," Dan said. "They just wanted to see what would inspire that kind of regard. Frank thought it was the one thing that made the humanoid races worth saving, so I guess he wanted to see you in person. I guess he didn't realize that love is more common than he thought. Or maybe it isn't." Dan's face clouded over.

I thought about what being human meant, about all my trips through the black face of the system, with my human memories and human emotions right up there on top of my intellect, squeezing it and shaping it into something that maybe the Tanneh wouldn't understand. I could be the death of my kind.

Then I looked at Dan's kind face and saw the tears in his old eyes. I was glad I couldn't read thoughts like the Tanneh. It would hurt unbearably to know everything. I liked my ignorance, and I saw this whole thing as one more adventure my Daddy had left for me. Besides, there was no way out of it. I sighed and reached across the table to squeeze Dan's hand. "Hey, cheer up. If I'm not an example of irrational love, then I don't know what is. If that's all they're looking for, I guess I'll do it." My father's daughter, all the way. "Now, what about that port inspector?"

Dan laughed. "Oh, him. Well, I think the Tanneh sorta come and go sometimes, short trips that they can stand or something. Anyway, that port inspector was probably one of 'em."

"Okay, you got the route maps for that sector?" Suddenly I was full of energy and determination, or maybe just too many Zombies.

He nodded. "I knew you'd do it, Baby Girl."

I'm gonna save the rest of the story for another time, another Zombie in another bar somewhere. Let me just say for the record that I did go back to Tanneh and since we're all still here, the trip was a success. But since no one ever returns from Tanneh, I don't talk about it in public, except to a few close friends like you guys.

And remember, every time I tell you guys about some cargo I've run or some big, good-looking Corporation officer who caught my eye - okay, not just my eye - for an evening, I want you to think about what might have happened on Tanneh, in a place where everyone was as old as the hills and could hear every thought. And think about what it took to ensure your survival. Oh, and buy me a drink - it's the least you can do.

The End

Copyright © 1999 by Kate Thornton

Kate Thornton lives in Pasadena where she writes science fiction and mysteries when she is not busily engaged in other nameless pursuits. She would be delighted to hear from you at and invites you to visit her website at

Read more by Kate Thornton

Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story. Both the writer and I would love to read your feedback.

Return to the Aphelion main page.