banner art above by Charles Carter

Monday, July 20, 2009


by John Shirley

Just as that thought came to him, the walls changed shape. The floor rollicked, so that Jann instinctively flailed for support and Moss went down on his hands and knees to keep from falling on his face as their confines shifted; the walls rippled and seemed to inhale, to draw back; the oblong room became even more elliptical, stretched out longer.

Some sub-warden had noted the end of an isolation schedule in the cell, had told the computer to adjust the room: the Russian's time in isolation was up, and the section of wall that had enfolded him now drew apart and flattened out, the rest of the room changing shape to allow for another prisoner, so that they would have the regulation square-yardage.

The walls and floor and settled in place, as if they'd always been in this new shape, and Jann, still sitting, turned to see Ivan. He was a stocky muscular man, his arms covered in faded blue tattoos of flaming skulls and exploding starcraft and guns with tongues. He had high cheekbones, dark eyes, brutal dark-red lips; the hair on his big head just a field of gray stubble that matched the growth on his heavy jaw. Ivan stretched and spread his arms out wide, spun around a few times. A smell was liberated, and the giant recoiled.

"Faugh!" Derv growled. "Ivan, soon the showers will come on--and you will go in first!"

"Ha! I smell like a sweet little flower compared to how you would come out of isolation, you great beast! A hole in the wall for waste, in clutching, and nothing more! I could not even stretch out, but only squat to sleep! Now this--this hellhole-- feels like luxury!"

Perhaps because a man had been set free from clutching, the shower came on, then, chemically treated water shushing down from the ceiling over the hole in the floor, and Ivan jumped in without taking off his coveralls, luxuriating.

The others took their showers, one by one, stripping for it, but Jann was not interested.

Ivan threw himself down, wet and fully dressed, on the floor before Jann, and began to do pushups, his head turned to evaluate the newcomer. "So! A DemiLord, you said! Well now you are what the Stumper joked himself to be--a Dirt Lord! Only you have not even dirt!"

He seemed to think this enormously amusing and had to hold off on his push ups till he was done laughing.

"I have no wish to be clutched," Jann said. "Things are bad enough. So I will not knock your teeth down your throat, though it might perhaps make me feel better to do so. I will fight you--any of you--only in self defense."

Ivan chuckled and resumed his push ups. "I am not trying to provoke a fight." Ivan spoke between grunts as he pumped his body up and down on his arms. "You boy...are just....a lot of's easy to make such...boasts...of what you might do..."

Perhaps trying to avert conflict, the Centauran broke in with, "Well DemiLord, tell us your story, then. We all must share our stories."

Jann shook his head. "I want no conversation. I just want to think about what I did, and come to terms with it. And then prepare for death. They'll execute me for sure. I'd appreciate it if you left me to do that."

"See here, boy, you may as well come clean," Moss said, stepping out of the shower and into a jet of drying air. "You may be here months--I've heard of people being lost in the Kastillian prison system for years. Eventually we'll know everything about you. We'll know what your favorite breakfast food was and what perfume your girl favored and certainly how you feel about onanism."

Jann sighed. "The Kastillians landed on our property without permission and shot one of my behemoths and stole some stock belonging to…a neighbor. I stupidly tried to confront them. One of their officers seemed ready to shoot me. I killed him, and I ran--I had to kill several others, before it was done. They..." He had to get control of his voice again before he could say it. "They burned down my family's manor. They killed my best mentor, and...they killed my mother. I killed some more of them and was struck down...I woke up here. Now. You have it--I acted against the advice of someone who knew better, and I called death down upon my family and those near to me. That is more than enough."

The giant sighed deeply, the sound resonant with sympathy.

But Ivan snorted derisively. "That is nothing like enough!" He stretched out on the floor, his hands behind his head. "Tell us in detail! Tell us all! How did this great friend of yours die?"

Jann only shook his head. He could not speak of it any more without weeping and he did not wish to weep in front of these men. It was unwise to seem weak in a prison.

Beyond that, he felt that if once he started talking about it, truly re-living it, the reality would eat through him like a corrosion, and he would crumble inside. He would go mad.

"Let the half-lord alone," said Moss, thoughtfully. "The boy must process these things as he can. He has lost his family, Ivan."

Ivan grunted. "And what have I lost? Only my wife and my children! We were on Taurus, in the Mesonos Nebula, Mr. DemiLord--we had come in search of a life away from the crowded welfare domes of St Petersburg. I was to be a Crescentium miner, operating the great mining machines. And then the Kastillians came and said it was their planet, they had claimed it, and we were all interlopers, and their slaves...We resisted and my family was killed and I had the bad luck to survive..."

"I told you, you were a fool to settle on a disputed planet," Moss said.

"Do you think the InterWorld Mining company told us it was disputed you bastard of a Stumper? No! They said they owned the planet! I suppose the reekers hoped to get away with a great load of Crescentium before the Kastillians caught them. InterWorld will feel my vengeance too, I assure you, once I have done with the Kastillians!"

"What is this Crescentium anyway?" asked Jann, leaning back and closing his eyes. He didn't really care--he thought he should make himself say something, from time to time, so the others would not feel they must provoke him into speaking. Conversation could be maddening, in prison, he was to learn, but at times it also kept them sane.

"Why," said Moss, "it's the stuff of interstellar drives--it's how you drive a starcraft without mind quanta. The metal is found in the stone in crescent shape pieces shaped like an early moon."

Jann remembered, then: Subjected to certain frequencies of light, crescentium released quantum-jump energy--the first Crescentium was discovered on one of the moons of Saturn.

"But it's expensive," Moss went on. "Much cheaper to use the quantum mindstuff of slaves..."

Derv waved a dismissive hand. "Earth has pressed for an agreement to use only Crescentium--as the Earthmen use, as we use--but the Kastillians sneer at the expense. 'Criminals must be used for something--why execute them and waste the energy'?"

The prisoners talked on and on. Jann groaned inwardly. Would they never shut up?

He got up, went to the nearest wall--though they were on a space station, the smooth dull-white wall melding cornerlessly with the floor could not be called a bulkhead--and lay down, with his back to the others, and closed his eyes. After a time, he dozed.

He was distantly aware, a little later, that food emerged from a slot in the wall--the door the guards had thrust him through had vanished. He shook his head when the others asked him if he wanted to eat, and they gave his share to Derv. The big Centauran was perpetually hungry.

Hazily, Jann wondered if they gave Derv the extra because they were afraid of his great size. But something about the offhanded ease with which it was done made him feel that it was something else: comradeship. Even a sort of gruff kindness.

After a time the others quieted down, with the only sound coming from Ivan, as he sang softly to himself, some ancient song in Russian.

By and by the light cycled down into near-darkness, signaling time to sleep.

Jann was afraid to sleep. But sleep took him eventually, and subjected him to exactly the dreams he most dreaded.


Jann was wakened when the light cycled up again. He ate a little of the salty mash that constituted breakfast and they each took turns using the hole in the floor, while the others kept their backs turned.

About an hour after breakfast, they had a break in the monotony. There was an instructional hologram, projected from the red crystal node, followed by "refreshment imagery".

The instructional hologram featured supremely depressing material on how to work the absorption panels on a slave-driven starcraft. The ‘refreshment imagery’ was provided once a week to prevent psychosis from a lack of stimulation. The imagery consisted of various planets seen from space, the occasional flower, landscapes and seascapes: postcard material, all quite colorful and unthreatening. Twenty-two slides would project for ten seconds apiece, and then repeat, for half an hour. Jann watched them with a vague interest, for the first twenty slides--but the twenty-first showed the rolling landscape of southern Paradine Prime, and the image went through him like a crossbow bolt. He turned to look at a blank wall instead.

He asked no questions of the others, but couldn't help but listen to them talk. As time passed--Jann spending most of it either exercising, or lying with his face turned toward the wall--he gleaned bits and pieces of their stories till eventually a rough picture of Derv and Moss's "crimes" and captures emerged.

Derv's story was much like Jann's. He had been riding a klemth, an elephantine creature with a cluster of eyes and no visible ears, across the icy steppes of Alpha Centauri's only habitable planet. He'd been on his way to the yearly convocation between alien natives and the human-descended Centaurans like himself. He had come across a Kastillian flyer, the two Kaswills in the process of stripping Puhrum gland from a klemth. The gland is prized by the Kastillians for its supposed enhancements of masculine sexual energy, but the animal is endangered and thus protected by game wardens--and Derv had been a game warden. "You are poachers," Derv told them. "You will come to headquarters and you will pay a fine and your weapons will be confiscated. Then the judge will probably set you free with a warning."

"How can we go there," said one of the Kastillians, "if we cannot find the headquarters?"

"I will take you there!"

"And how can you do that--when you will be either dead or on a slave galley, for your impudence in attacking us?"

"I have not attacked you!"

"You were about to, in the enforcement of your ludicrous poaching law!" Said the Kastillian grinning--and he shot Derv with an energy bolt that would have killed a Terran. Like Jann, Derv had come to himself in the healing chambers aboard the space station. He had left behind no wife or children, but he was fearful for his parents, who relied on him to take care of them in their dotage.

"Should I once more lay my hands on a weapon, never again will I let a Kastillian fire first," said Derv. And he said it more than once in Jann's hearing.

Moss had been the navigator of a freighter that usually plied his home solar system at sub-light speeds. Now and then, when they got an order from someone willing to pay for the Crescentium it took to make the trip, the freighter jumped to the quantum plane and popped back into space in other star-systems. Somehow, despite the usual preliminary check with mass-sensors, they'd come out close to a Kastillian cruiser, the freighter's unexpected gravitational pocket causing the cruiser to spin so that some of its aft mechanisms were torn free in the g-surge. Or so the Kastillians claimed. Certainly some debris floated near their spinning cruiser--which quickly righted and opened a retaliatory fire on the freighter, crippling it--and killing most of the crew. A platoon of Kaswills seemed disappointed when they boarded the freighter and found only Moss left alive.

"Why you fool, it's obvious," said Ivan, "they were aiming to cripple but not kill--for they were after slaves all along. They used your supposed offense as an excuse. What are the odds you'd nearly collide with another ship coming back into space, in all those billions of miles of emptiness in any star system, eh?"

"You needn't tell me that, you Russian pick-swinger! I'm a navigator! The Kaswillss knew that freighters emerged at those coordinates--they watched from till they saw the corona of arrival, and rocketed close so they could play at being damaged! Spinning their ship, jettisoning a lot of junk--all a boldfaced deception! And my Sworn Brethren were on that ship, who were closer to me than family--dead, all of them!"

It occurred to Jann, listening to these melancholy tales, that he too had been set up, in some way. And who knew what other Paradinians had been taken prisoner from Grelle Manor?

Hadn't Vonn hinted that the Kastillians might have been up to something of the sort? And Jann had not listened...

What passed for days in the prison ship slowly rolled by, Jann saying as little as possible. But inwardly he was going over all that had happened, again and again.

It was the Kastillians, he decided. He had been set up. He constructed a reality that he could live with. And the foundation of it was simple and direct:

He was not to blame!

And if they gave him even the slightest, faintest chance...he would take his revenge once, twice, thrice--a thousand times over.

Click Here for Part 10 of SKY PIRATES,
by John Shirley

No comments:

Post a Comment

Archive of Stories
and Authors

Sean Padlo's

Sean Padlo's

Sean Padlo's exact whereabouts
are never able to be fully
pinned down, but what we
do know about him is laced
with the echoes of legend.
He's already been known
to haunt certain areas of
the landscape, a trick said
to only be possible by being
able to manipulate it from
the future. His presence
among the rest of us here
at the freezine sends shivers
of fear deep in our solar plexus.

Konstantine Paradias & Edward

Konstantine Paradias's

Konstantine Paradias is a writer by
choice. At the moment, he's published
over 100 stories in English, Japanese,
Romanian, German, Dutch and
Portuguese and has worked in a free-
lancing capacity for videogames, screen-
plays and anthologies. People tell him
he's got a writing problem but he can,
like, quit whenever he wants, man.
His work has been nominated
for a Pushcart Prize.

Edward Morris's

Edward Morris's

Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for
the Pushcart Prize in literature, has
also been nominated for the 2009
Rhysling Award and the 2005 British
Science Fiction Association Award.
His short stories have been published
over a hundred and twenty times in
four languages, most recently at
PerhihelionSF, the Red Penny Papers'
SUPERPOW! anthology, and The
Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. He lives
and works in Portland as a writer,
editor, spoken word MC and bouncer,
and is also a regular guest author at
the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

Tim Fezz's

Tim Fezz's

Tim Fezz hails out of the shattered
streets of Philly destroying the air-
waves and people's minds in the
underground with his band OLD
FEZZIWIG. He's been known to
dip his razor quill into his own
blood and pen a twisted tale
every now and again. We are
delighted to have him onboard
the FREEZINE and we hope
you are, too.

Daniel E. Lambert's

Daniel E. Lambert teaches English
at California State University, Los
Angeles and East Los Angeles College.
He also teaches online Literature
courses for Colorado Technical
University. His writing appears
in Silver Apples, Easy Reader,
Other Worlds, Wrapped in Plastic
and The Daily Breeze. His work
also appears in the anthologies
When Words Collide, Flash It,
Daily Flash 2012, Daily Frights
2012, An Island of Egrets and
Timeless Voices. His collection
of poetry and prose, Love and
Other Diversions, is available
through Amazon. He lives in
Southern California with his
wife, poet and author Anhthao Bui.


Phoenix has enjoyed writing since he
was a little kid. He finds much import-
ance and truth in creative expression.
Phoenix has written over sixty books,
and has published everything from
novels, to poetry and philosophy.
He hopes to inspire people with his
writing and to ask difficult questions
about our world and the universe.
Phoenix lives in Salt Lake City, Utah,
where he spends much of his time
reading books on science, philosophy,
and literature. He spends a good deal
of his free time writing and working
on new books. The Freezine of Fant-
asy and Science Fiction welcomes him
and his unique, intense vision.
Discover Phoenix's books at his author
page on Amazon. Also check out his blog.

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee. He has been
a Romantic poet for as long as any-
one can remember, specializing in
the composition of spectral balladry,
utilizing to great effect a traditional
poetic form that taps into the haunted
undercurrents of folklore seldom found
in other forms of writing.
His poetry has appeared on the pages
of such publications as SPECTRAL
CTHULHU, and a poem of his,
"The Rime of the Eldritch Mariner,"
won the Rhysling Award for long-form
poetry. His collection of weird balladry
and Jack tales, THE LAY OF OLD HEX,
was published by Hippocampus Press in 2017.

David Agranoff's

David Agranoff's

David Agranoff is the author of the
following books: Ring of Fire (Eraserhead
Press, 2018), Flesh Trade (co-written
w/Edward Morris; published by Create-
Space, 2017), Punk Rock Ghost Story
(Deadite Press, 2016), Amazing Punk
Stories (Eraserhead Press, 2016),
Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich (Eraserhead
Press, 2014), Hunting the Moon Tribe
(Eraserhead Press, 2011), The Vegan
Revolution...with Zombies (Eraserhead
Press, 2010), and Screams from a Dying
World (Afterbirth Books, 2009).
David is a hardcore vegan and tireless
environmentalist. His contributions to
the punk horror scene and the planet in
general have already established him
as a bright new writer and activist to
watch out for. The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance.

Sanford Meschkow's

Sanford Meschkow is a retired former
NYer who married a Philly suburban
Main Line girl. Sanford has been pub-
lished in a 1970s issue of AMAZING.
We welcome him here on the FREE-
ZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking currently
resides in the high desert of Phoenix,
Arizona where he enjoys campy horror
movies within the comfort of an Insane
Asylum. Search for his science fiction
stories at The Intestinal Fortitude in
the Flesheater's World section.
The Memory Sector is his first
appearance in the Freezine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Owen R. Powell's

Little is known of the mysterious
Owen R. Powell (oftentimes referred
to as Orp online). That is because he
usually keeps moving. The story
Noetic Vacations marks his first
appearance in the Freezine.

Gene Stewart
(writing as Art Wester)

Gene Stewart's

Gene Stewart is a writer and artist.
He currently lives in the Midwest
American Wilderness where he is
researching tales of mystical realism,
writing ficta mystica, and exploring
the dark by casting a little light into
the shadows. Follow this link to his
website where there are many samples
of his writing and much else; come

Daniel José Older's

Daniel José Older's

Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
Audio Anthology, The Tide Pool, and
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.
When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found here.

Paul Stuart's

Paul Stuart is the author of numerous
biographical blurbs written in the third
person. His previously published fiction
appears in The Vault of Punk Horror and
His non-fiction financial pieces can be found
in a shiny, west-coast magazine that features
pictures of expensive homes, as well as images
of women in casual poses and their accessories.
Consider writing him at,
if you'd like some thing from his garage. In fall
2010, look for Grade 12 Trigonometry and
Pre-Calculus -With Zombies.

Rain Grave's

Rain Graves is an award winning
author of horror, science fiction and
poetry. She is best known for the 2002
Poetry Collection, The Gossamer Eye
(along with Mark McLaughlin and
David Niall Wilson). Her most
recent book, Barfodder: Poetry
Written in Dark Bars and Questionable
Cafes, has been hailed by Publisher's
Weekly as "Bukowski meets Lovecraft..."
in January of 2009. She lives and
writes in San Francisco, performing
spoken word at events around the
country. 877-DRK-POEM -

Icy Sedgwick's

Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth

BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and

G. Alden Davis's

G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.
He's also the best friend I ever had. He
was taken away from us last year on Jan
25 and I'll never be able to understand why.
Together we were a fantastic duo, the
legendary Grub Bros. Our secret base
exists on a cross-hatched nexus between
the Year of the Dragon and Dark City.
Somewhere along the tectonic fault
lines of our electromagnetic gathering,
shades of us peel off from the coruscating
pillars and are dropped back into the mix.
The phrase "rest in peace" just bugs me.
I'd rather think that Greg Grub's inimitable
spirit somehow continues evolving along
another manifestation of light itself, a
purple shift shall we say into another
phase of our expanding universe. I
ask myself, is it wishful thinking?
Will we really shed our human skin
like a discarded chrysalis and emerge
shimmering on another wavelength
altogether--or even manifest right
here among the rest without their
even beginning to suspect it? Well
people do believe in ghosts, but I
myself have long been suspicious
there can only be one single ghost
and that's all the stars in the universe
shrinking away into a withering heart
glittering and winking at us like
lost diamonds still echoing all their
sad and lonely songs fallen on deaf
eyes and ears blind to their colorful
emanations. My grub brother always
knew better than what the limits
of this old world taught him. We
explored past the outer peripheries
of our comfort zones to awaken
the terror in our minds and keep
us on our toes deep in the forest
in the middle of the night. The owls
led our way and the wilderness
transformed into a sanctuary.
The adventures we shared together
will always remain tattooed on
the pages of my skin. They tell a
story that we began together and
which continues being woven to
this very day. It's the same old
story about how we all were in
this together and how each and
every one of us is also going away
someday and though it will be the far-
thest we can manage to tell our own
tale we may rest assured it will be
continued like one of the old pulp
serials by all our friends which survive
us and manage to continue
the saga whispering in the wind.

Shae Sveniker's

Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.

Nigel Strange's

Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.

J.R. Torina's

J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.

K.B. Updike, Jr's

K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free:
(We are not certain if K.B. Updike, Jr.
has lost his Virginian virginity yet.)