Black Petals Issue #82 Winter, 2018

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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Nowhere Friend-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Broken Image-Fiction by Andrew Newall
Monster-Fiction by Paloma Palacios
Salvation_Fiction by Scott Dixon, Featured Author
Scream-Fiction by Anthony ('Tony') Lukas
Surviving Montezuma-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist, Chapters 13 & 14
The Foundling-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Girl Who Isn't Talked About-Fiction by James Gallagher
Wallie's Reflection-Fiction by Janet C. Ro
Beggar's Curse-Poem by Alexis Child
Marco-Three poems from Christopher Hivner
In Line at the Terminal-Four poems by Michael Keshigian
Ghost Poets-Four Poems by Jerry McGinley
Killer Clowns-Four Cryptid Poems by Richard Stevenson

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SURVIVING MONTEZUMA, Chapters 13 & 14

 

By Kenneth J. Crist

 

A solution for invasion

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

The Glassies quickly communicated with each other, relaying information about the station and everything else they had learned. They must get away from the station and into space. The humans had a weapon that could kill all of them, a poison that they would soon deploy on the hiveships. The hives must be warned.

Not all of them were able to escape. It was to be expected that some of them would be caught and killed. But even if only one could get away...

Each of the Glassies hoped he would be the one to escape, to return to the hives, to hear the songs again and to live within the rainforest. But each knew that sacrifices must be made for the good of all, and each was prepared to go into the darkness if need be.

 

Billy accompanied Lieutenant Kinkaid to sick bay and made sure she was not injured. By the time they got there, she was protesting and trying to sit up on the gurney. After they took her inside, he paced the floor and waited for word. How long had she been in there with that...thing? What had it done to her? Whenever he closed his eyes and let his imagination go, he could feel her bones in his jaws and taste her blood.

He opened his eyes as someone yelled, “Ten—hut!” He bounded to his feet and struck a brace as General Warner strode into the sick bay.

“As you were!” the General barked. He glanced at Billy and said, “Stand easy, Gunny.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“How’s she doin’?”

“She seems to be in good shape, General. They’re saying it looks like no obvious injuries.”

“Well, that’s good, son. Outstanding. Good thing you and your squad got there when ya did. No tellin’ what that thing might have done to her...” The General let it trail off there.

“All due respect, General, but it’s time we had a talk, sir.”

“About what, Gunny?” the General’s jaw was thrust out as he studied this Gunnery Sergeant with the fake arm.

“About these implants in our heads, General. We know about ‘em and it’s time they came out, sir.”

The General studied Billy for a moment and then said, “What implants? What’re you talking about, son?”

Billy shook his head and stared at General Warner. “Won’t work, General. We’ve been thinking all this time that we were cracking up, that the stress of our time out there aboard Montezuma and aboard the Glassie hiveship had caused us to become mentally unstable. But your people knew about the implants all along. You wanted to study us, to see what would happen. Well, we’re not Guinea pigs, sir. It’s time to end this.”

“Maybe some of my doctors knew what was going on, but...”

“General, Lieutenant Kinkaid and I were above the false ceiling yesterday when you had your meeting in section two conference room. You were there, sir. We heard everything you had to say. Let’s not bullshit each other anymore, sir. These things are coming out, if we have to carve them out ourselves with a combat knife.”

The General seemed to deflate within the starched confines of his crisp uniform, then he stepped into the treatment area and spoke quietly with the doctor who was treating Marla. Soon, he stepped back out and looked Billy up and down. Then he smiled slightly, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “They’ll get you two fixed up in just a little while, Gunny. I say again, good job.”

Billy snapped to attention and rendered a salute, which the General returned as he turned and strode out of sick bay.

 

Within six hours of the escape, three Glassie warriors were back in custody under doubled guard. The station remained on alert and constant sweeps and patrols continued, as the remaining two were sought.

Billy and Marla underwent brief surgery, under local anesthetic, to remove the tiny microchip implants under their scalps. Both suffered immediate blinding headaches, were given sedatives and their conditions monitored. As they slept, the remaining Glassies stealthily boarded a shuttle craft, killing a sentry and the shuttle’s second officer, who happened to be aboard, doing paperwork. Within twenty minutes, the two Glassies had figured out enough about the controls to launch the shuttle and were quickly away, headed for deep space.

The unauthorized launch was noted by the traffic control center and, when the shuttle craft did not respond to radio inquiries, pursuit craft were launched. With their smaller bulk and larger engines, they would soon close the distance and eliminate the shuttle, or stop and board it.

 

“How the hell did they ever get into the goddamn shuttle bay area, anyway?” General Warner had Clifton Brierly, his sub-commander, at a brace before his desk. The General, pissed all over again, was chewing the stub of a cigar.

“Sir, we know they killed at least one sentry, and there are two more men unaccounted for...”

“That’s no goddamn help. We’ll probably find them dead, too. Or else they got taken as hostages. Shit! Colonel, this has been a cluster-fuck ever since it started. This morning I saw a copy of the memo you got months ago about Montezuma and about a possible nuclear detonation in space. You did nothing about it, and thereby caused that Lieutenant and Gunnery Sergeant to be stranded out there a month longer than they should have been. I’ve asked for copies of all memos and dispatches that have crossed your desk for the last six months, and I think I know what I’m gonna find. You’re duties are suspended, Colonel, until I get through evaluating your worth on this station and to this program.”

“But, sir...”

“And one more thing, Colonel. You’re a married man. Stop trying to boff the help, especially Lieutenant Kinkaid. Stick to your little clone friend or your wife. Are we clear on this?”

“Crystal, sir.”

“Dismissed.” The colonel slunk away to lick his wounds as the General’s intercom buzzed.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Interesting memo, sir; shall I bring it in?”

“Yeah, let’s see it.”

The General’s door opened and a pretty young female captain came in. Her uniform skirt was about three inches too short for regulation, but the general was a “leg man.” She bounced perkily to his desk, handed over a yellow “flimsy”, and bounced back out, fanny twitching. She smiled at the General as she reached back to close his door.

After she had gone, General Warner turned his attention to the memo. The further he read, the better he felt, as possibilities began to sink in.

 

Of the total world’s supply of the perfume Brazilian Encounter, nine barrels were safely stored in various testing labs in the United States. The stuff was being analyzed for its actual content and the former manufacturer suddenly found himself on the payroll of the Space Federation as a consultant. They needed to know exactly what was in this stuff and where each and every ingredient came from. As their investigation progressed, they began to learn of an amazing variety of flowers, oils, extracts and even insects that were used to produce the unique aroma of Brazilian Encounter. The use of a number of independent labs meant duplication of effort but also re-enforcement of results. If all of the labs involved got more or less the same results, then it could be assumed that those results were valid. Somewhere soon they would isolate the unknown factor that made the perfume so deadly to the Glassies.

 

At Mars colony, a special prosecutor was appointed to handle the one hundred fifty-four cases generated by the piracy of the Montezuma, the attempt to fence stolen government property, and the abandonment of two government employees in space. The special prosecutor quickly filed for a change of venue, an unusual move prompted by his belief that a jury picked from Mars colonists probably wouldn’t convict anyone of any crime against the Federation.

The special defense team counter-moved by filing a motion to try all cases separately. Both motions were granted in a hearing held at New Pittsburg, Mars Colony. This meant that theoretically, the cases could tie up the courts for years and many of the crew, who might be out on bond, would disappear.

The special prosecutor began interviewing defendants with an eye toward giving plea bargains for depositions. He really only wanted DeForrest and Griswold, anyway.

Meanwhile, all parts and materials from Montezuma had been inventoried and shipped to Earth, where any trials were to be held. The remains of the once-proud ship were to be “warehoused” in high Earth orbit, in case any of the parts needed to be produced for court. This probability was doubtful but the prosecution team wasn’t taking any chances.

In transit, however, there was one part that disappeared. The Montezuma’s elaborate bronze coat of arms, once proudly displayed on her bridge and lovingly polished daily by her crew, was nowhere to be found.

 

In deep space, four Federation fighter craft closed to within a thousand miles of the stolen shuttle. They called for final instructions, expecting to be given a green light to attack and destroy or at least disable the shuttle so that it could be boarded. Instead, they were instructed to follow and track the shuttle and take no further action. They were to report their position hourly.

Frustrated at being kept from the use of their weapons, the pilots grumpily settled down for a long ride. As they continued to report their positions, it soon became clear that the Glassies were headed much deeper into space than had first been thought and that the pursuing pilots would not be able to continue long enough to see where they might end up. Their fighter craft were not equipped for long-range work, lacking any provisions and toilet facilities.

As soon as the stolen shuttle craft was within radar range of Mars station, the fighters were allowed to break away and other craft were readied to intercept and shadow the shuttle to its final destination, wherever that might be. When the Glassies passed the orbit of Mars, two small, fast Magellan class escort ships took up station far enough back to hopefully remain undetected. Crewed by sixteen Marine pilots, navigators, and grunts working rotating shifts, they were the Coast Guard Cutters of deep space, able to overtake and board any conventional craft and still scoot away to safety if confronted by a hiveship.

Soon, course adjustments were observed and it became apparent that the Glassies were headed for the orbital area of Jupiter.

 

Billy Hatcher and Marla Kinkaid were busy comparing hangovers. They both felt like they had been on a week-long bender and were now paying for it. The implants had apparently caused a dependency, almost like a drug, and the removal of the devices caused symptoms almost like withdrawals. They weren’t seeing bugs coming out of the walls, but weren’t feeling very spiffy, either. They were in adjacent beds in sickbay, a wonder in itself, considering the differences in gender and rank.

“Gunny, have you considered what you might want to do if this war ever really ends and you get out of the military?” She asked the question quietly and carefully, moving her head as little as possible. It felt like it might split open like a rotten melon if she didn’t exercise enough care.

Billy slowly turned his head to look over at her. He felt equally shitty and wasn’t moving very quickly, either. “Don’t have a clue, Ell-Tee. I might not even get out. Even if we win this war, we’re always gonna need a strong military. I mean, we know there are more Glassies out there somewhere and God only knows what other life forms that might be hostile. I’ll probably stay in.”

“Then I’ll have to get out,” she whispered, so as not to be overheard, “if we really want to have this baby.”

“Yeah, they won’t let ya stay, and besides, even if you could stay in, what kinda life would that be for a kid?”

“Unless I could get a shore station somewhere...”

“Probably won’t happen, at least until the war’s over...” Billy glanced over at her. There were dark circles under her eyes and her face looked too thin. She had dropped back off to sleep and her lips were slightly parted. A wisp of hair hung down across her face. Billy thought she had never looked so beautiful or more vulnerable. He wanted to bound off his cot and take her in his arms, but protocol would not allow that. He lay back in the semi-darkness and wondered how he’d support a wife and child on Gunnery Sergeant’s pay.

 

Among the Trojan Asteroids the hiveships remained hidden. Their Queens continued to lay eggs and the young were being nourished and cared for. Now two warriors were coming to them with news of something deadly. It was too soon to know what that might be, but the leaders on the hiveships were aware that they were coming.

 

At Liberty Labs of Norfolk, Virginia, a young technician isolated yet another spore. This looked like something from a fungus and with a sigh, he dug out an identification manual.

So far, they had found spores, pollen, dander, and even parts of microscopic insects in their samples of Brazilian Encounter. One thing is for sure, he thought. If the women who wore this stuff ever knew everything that was in it, they’d surely do without.

 

The special prosecutor spent almost a month interviewing crew members from Lunar Raven and Coyote, making deals for testimony against his two primary targets, Captains DeForrest and Griswold. As more and more crew members bailed out and the number of prosecutable cases dwindled, the two captains’ futures became more and more bleak. It looked as if they would wind up being the only two prosecuted for this whole mess, so they were looking for a deal or any way to apply some leverage and save their asses.

During the same time frame, scientists at four of the nine labs isolated the same fungal spore as the lab in Norfolk. From the spores, which proved to be active, the fungus was grown on the bark of several trees known to be plentiful in Brazil. As the fungus matured and produced its own spores, samples were taken and administered to the last three Glassies, one at a time. They died as expected, and their remains were autopsied. Under microscopic analysis, the invasion of the fungus was astonishing. It appeared that the bodies of the Glassies either provided the optimum growing environment for the fungus or something in their body chemistry acted as a catalyst, causing phenomenal growth and devastating invasion of the tissues.

Of course, there had been no way to track the infection as it did its deadly work, but the scientists and doctors found evidence of fungal invasion in all systems of the Glassies’ bodies, even brain tissue. At all nine labs, emphasis was suddenly switched from investigation to controlled growth of the fungus and harvesting of its spores.

General Warner, advised of the results of this final testing phase, was well pleased. If the Glassies would just hold off for a while longer, while humans perfected a delivery system, this war could soon be over and the Glassies would never be a threat again, as long as they had their weapon.

 

In the stolen shuttle, one of the Glassies, exploring the contents of the hold in an attempt to find food, happened upon two blue barrels. He could not decipher the markings on the barrels and even if he could have read Brazilian Portuguese, they might have meant little to him. He found the seal on the bung of the barrel nearest the door and managed to get it open. He soon ascertained that the contents of the barrel were not edible and continued his search, carelessly leaving the barrel open.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

Lt. Marla Kinkaid had been reassigned from Earth Station, to be transferred to the Federation Marine Training Facility at Pensacola, Florida.

Now she sat in the outer office of a guidance counselor, waiting to discuss her pregnancy and her options.

In a few minutes, the door opened and she was called in. The counselor was a woman about her own age, and Marla soon began to relax.

“Marla,” the counselor said, “my name is Jeannie Roberts. We need to discuss your options today. We need to decide if you want to terminate your pregnancy...”

“No.”

“All right, I see you’ve already made that decision. Do we know who the father is?”

“Yes.”

“And who might that be?”

“The man I was marooned with on Montezuma, Gunnery Sergeant Billy Hatcher.”

“Oh...you’re the one...”

“Yeah. And while I was out there, my implant ran out.”

“Have you discussed this with the Sergeant?”

“Yes. He wants the baby too. So I guess it’s bye-bye Marine Corps, huh?”

“On the contrary, Lieutenant. It’s become quite common for women to stay in and still raise kids, and you’re much too valuable to the Corps to just release. Of course, it’s your choice, but...”

“No, I’d like to stay, if a place can be found where I can still make a contribution and raise a child at the same time.”

“I’ll have to look into what’s available, Marla, but I’d say that there’s probably a teaching slot open somewhere that you could fill.”

“I think I’d like that.”

“Okay,” the counselor said, rising from her seat, indicating that the interview was over, “we’ll see what we can do.” She held out her hand. “In any case, good luck, Lieutenant.”

Marla took her hand and thanked her and left, feeling better than she had in a long time. The Corps actually felt she was too valuable to boot out!

Gunnery Sergeant Billy Hatcher was a different problem. They didn’t want to kick him out, either, and in spite of the fact that he’d knocked up an officer, the Corps wanted to avoid a court martial. Hell, ninety-nine percent of the men who reviewed his case knew they would have done the same thing under similar circumstances, and many would have needed less provocation than being stranded in space with Lieutenant Kinkaid to want to jump her.

In the end, they promoted him. Billy was called to a brief ceremony in General Warner’s office and handed a set of Warrant Officer’s bars and a Distinguished Flying Cross. He learned that Marla had also been awarded the DFC and would probably be made a Captain in the next promotional cycle. Billy was billeted aboard Tripoli, Marla’s old ship and the sister to Montezuma. It was inbound for re-supply and would dock in a few days. He was to be a troop deployment supervisor. That was a fancy way of saying he would oversee a squadron of drop ships and contend with all the headaches attached thereto.

Billy was now allowed into Officer’s Country, and he and Marla spent as much time together as they could, prior to her leaving. She had received orders for Marine Flight Training at Pensacola, to be a navigation instructor. They had just two days from the time they received orders until she would depart on an Earth-bound shuttle.

They were both excited about their new assignments, but were at the same time dreading the time when they would have to be apart.

 

The two Magellan-class escorts continued to track and follow the stolen shuttle from Earth Station. They were rapidly approaching the orbit of Jupiter and, more precisely, the area of the Trojan asteroids. They were expecting a course change at any time, as the speed of the shuttle was near a hundred thousand miles per hour. To enter an area of asteroids at any speed above a crawl was dangerous, and to fly through a known asteroid field at the speed they were going would be suicide. If something didn’t change soon, the escort vessels would be forced to break away, just to save themselves.

 

 

Aboard the stolen shuttle, the two Glassies had been dead for six days. Their remains were covered thickly by a grayish fungus that was rapidly dissolving all but their exoskeletons. One had died seated at the controls, the other still in the hold. The interior of the shuttle reeked of Brazilian Encounter. There was no one to maneuver the shuttle or to decrease its speed. It was for all intents an abandoned vessel, a missile, hurtling through space, taking a cargo of exotic perfume into the mix-master of unpredictable tumbling rocks that were the Trojan Asteroids.

 

Within the hiveships, life went on: Queens laid eggs, broods were fed, and the intelligent plants kept their commanders informed of their situation relative to patrols and other threats from outside their world of rainforest trees.

The plants were the first to note that there were no longer any thoughts or feelings from the two warriors who were coming to report to them. They had felt ill, then there had been nothing. Something was wrong there, even alarming, but the plants had not yet grasped the situation with enough clarity to advise the commanders.

 

The Marine Commander of one of the two escort ships called for instructions. The stolen shuttle still had not slowed or changed course and would soon enter the asteroid fields. He was advised to change course and avoid the asteroids, and to observe and report. If the shuttle somehow made it through, he could resume the chase.

 

Billy and Marla said good-bye at the embarkation area of Section 1. Her few possessions were already aboard and, even though both knew they might never see each other again, they chose to ignore that and look to the optimistic side. Modern communications being what they were, he could call her and see her face at anytime from anywhere in the solar system, allowing of course for the time delay as one ranged farther from Earth.

They didn’t speak of death or war in their last few moments before her shuttle departed, but chose instead to talk about their life together when the war was over.

At last it was time, and Billy held her very close and told her again how much he cared for her, then stepped back and rendered a correct salute. She returned it, as one officer to another, then turned quickly and ascended the boarding tube. Billy cleared the embarkation area with the rest of the station personnel, then watched as the dock was depressurized and the shuttle launched, then was quickly lost to sight, swallowed by the vastness of space.

The Tripoli would be in berth in just six hours, so Billy wouldn’t have much time to miss Marla before he had to think about his own assignment. Timmy the cat, on the other hand, had all the time in the world to miss her, and mooned about for several days before taking up residence with the aerobics instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Jan Whitmore.

 

At a point in space 483 million miles from the sun, the stolen shuttle at last met its end as Marines from the Magellan class escorts watched. It sped into the asteroid fields and was seen on their scopes to disappear, putting off an energy cloud that quickly dissipated into the vacuum. They reported its demise to Mars station and, after the twenty-minute communications delay, were told to return to station. They did not see what the stolen shuttle hit, for there were targets too numerous to try and track it to its collision point and see which asteroid got in its way.

Aboard the hiveships there was confusion and fear as the realization dawned that something had struck and wiped out one of their number. The plants told the commanders of a great explosion in space nearby, but could shed little light on the reason for it. Soon, shuttles were launched to search and report on the situation.

 

“Tension on deck!”

Someone called the squad bay to attention as Warrant Officer Billy Hatcher walked in. He damn near “snapped to” himself, before he realized it was done out of respect for his own rank. This would take some getting used to.

“As you were!” he called with a touch of self-consciousness.

A young Gunnery Sergeant approached and struck a brace, rendering a salute that Billy acknowledged with one of his own.

“Sir, welcome to Rawdon’s Rangers! I’m Gunny Pete Davies, sir, your exec!”

“Rawdon’s Rangers?”

“Yes, sir. Lieutenant Merrill Rawdon was our last commander, sir. He got transferred, sir, promoted, that is. It’s your command, sir, so we can change the name if you like.”

“We’ll leave it stand for now, Gunny. Please assemble the men in the squad bay.”

“Full gear, sir?”

“No, Gunny. I don’t care if they’re in their skivvies. I just want to introduce myself.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” The Gunny sprinted away, hollering up the troops to assemble.

In minutes, five hundred sixty men and women were assembled in the vast squad bay, at attention by their racks. Billy stalked the length of the squad bay looking them over. He saw orderliness and orneriness, pugnaciousness and pride. He saw young men and women from all races and areas of Earth and the colonies. He saw that at least fifty of his troops were clones, all of them from the same stock and identical in appearance except for their facial tattoos. They had been bred especially for their size and strength and tended to be serious fighters, though, in some cases, not as bright as others from a mixed gene pool.

Soon he called out, “Break ranks and assemble here!”

There was a rumble as they tumbled and scrambled to get down front where they could hear. When all was again silent, he looked about at a sea of expectant faces. Then he began.

“I hear you’re a hell of a crew!”

There was a roar of approval.

“I hear you’re just about the best there is!”

Another roar and some laughter.

“I hear you’re almost as mean as those fuckers off the Chesty Puller!”

Now the roar took on a more menacing tone, and he held up his hand for silence.

“I’m just messin’ with ya, guys, seein’ where your loyalty lies. If you never learn anything else, learn this: There is no reason for Tripoli to be second best at anything. Do you read me?”

This time the roar of approval was thunderous. At the far end of the squad bay, a young ensign poked his head in the door apprehensively, saw what was going on, and quickly withdrew.

“All right, you have all done a tremendous job and you get ten days shore leave. Those of you who don’t wind up in the brig… (There were hoots and nudges) will be shipping out with me when you get back. We will have a new weapon to use against the Glassies. I can’t say more than that, but you might want to start thinking about what you want to do after the war is over. We’re gonna take it to ‘em and, hopefully, it will soon be done with.”

There were yells and cheers, then again silence as Billy held up his hand.

“I have a reputation of being a tough bastard. I’m also a fair bastard, and I love a good fight. Go have fun and I’ll see you all in ten days. First shuttle leaves in forty minutes. Dismissed!”

As Billy left the squad bay, his Gunny walked along with him and showed him to his quarters. When Billy looked it over he saw that his space bag was already there and a new combat suit was in the large corner locker, his name and new rank already printed on it.

“Anything else, sir?”

“No, I’ll be fine, Gunny, thanks.”

“How about Hatcher’s Hellions, sir?”

“Not bad, Gunny. But let’s see what the men come up with.”

 

Billy walked the decks of Tripoli after the troops had left, finding few if any personnel to talk with. He inspected the huge drop-ship launch bays and walked through the ships themselves, poking his head in places that he knew to be problem areas from his last berth on Montezuma. He looked at engine maintenance logs and cleanliness of the pilot’s compartments. He checked control surfaces and intakes on the atmosphere engines and puttered around for several hours before he was satisfied that his equipment was up to snuff, trusting the men and women were as good. If they weren’t, they’d get a dose of whatever it took to make them the best. Even though the war might be nearing an end, the last thing Billy wanted was to lose more people because of a false sense of security.

 

At a military proving ground in the Nevada desert on Earth, testing was underway on a delivery system that would penetrate the hull of a Glassie hiveship and explode inside with just enough force to contaminate the atmosphere inside with the spores of the Brazilian fungus. If that much could be accomplished, even with just one missile, in four to five days a hiveship could be out of commission and ready to be boarded. The biggest danger was in getting close enough to the hiveships, and their deadly array of laser weapons, to deploy the missiles. Many lives would still be lost to end this war.

 

Marla Kinkaid settled quickly into her routine at Pensacola. She was teaching the best and brightest of the math “whiz kids” to be navigators or, more correctly, astrogators. With modern computer systems, math skills would seem redundant and unnecessary, but Marla had proven by her own experience that this was not so. Were it not for her own math skills and knowledge of trajectories and orbits, she and Billy would have stood no chance of survival aboard Montezuma.

Since the school was so busy and housing was at a premium, she was given a housing allowance and rented an apartment off-base. For transportation, she picked up an old two-seat electric car. It was junky and full of rattles, but had a good motor and fuel cells. The top no longer functioned, so she kept a tarp with her to tie over the seats whenever it looked like rain. She was catching up on her reading, shopping for baby things and, when she had time, there was always the beach. For the time being, she wasn’t missing space at all.

 

In the Trojan asteroids, the Glassies found and combed through the wreckage of the hiveship that had been hit by the stolen shuttle. The ruination had been near total and little was found that could be useful. In the process, several became contaminated with and carried the fungus back aboard at least two other ships, unaware that they were taking death with them. In a few hours the aliens began to sicken and send a distress call, clueless that, if their calls were answered, it could lead to annihilation of their fleet without the need of any Marine even firing a shot.

 

To Be Continued

 

 

Kenneth Crist, blkptls@cox.net, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote the SF serial (starting in BP #76)  SURVIVING MONTEZUMA  (+  BP #78’s “Those Other Guys,” “The Big Well” & “Virtuality” for BP #75, “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73, “The Weeping Man” for BP #72, “Pebbles” for BP #71, “The Diner” for BP #67, “New Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50, the novelette Joshua) and has edited BP for many years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow Mama, he also has four chapbooks currently for sale in Kindle format on Amazon.com, Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.

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