MONTEZUMA, Chapters 3 & 4
By Kenneth James
Crist, BP Editor
Once again Billy took
a tour of the Montezuma,
but this time much more slowly. He waited until the banging started because it
seemed there were periods of time, maybe hours long, when the sound was absent.
When it started, he sealed up his suit and depressurized his room. He began yet
another methodical exploration of the ship; he would move a few yards and place
his helmet against a bulkhead and listen for the sounds, able to tell if he was
going in the right direction by their volume. He made a number of false starts
and spent several hours trying to track down the source, finding himself at
last on an upper deck, not far from the bridge. When he would place his helmet
against the structure of the vessel, the sound seemed to be reverberating from
everywhere, no matter which way he moved.
He began a methodical
examination of every space he could get into, opening hatches and using his
suit lights. He had covered almost all of the compartments on this deck, which
was officers’ country, when he found a door he was unable to open. It was
either jammed by warpage and damage or there was pressure on it from inside. He
placed his helmet against it and heard the ringing of hammer blows very
clearly. When it paused, he hammered on the door with a closed, gauntleted
fist, repeating the pattern. It returned immediately, sounding somehow more
frantic. There was someone else alive!
there was a face at the small thick window set in the upper half of the door.
She looked out at him, her expression dazed, as if she wasn’t sure he was real.
She was trying to talk to him and Billy put his helmet against the door.
Faintly, he heard her voice, saying, “Can you help me?”
Billy looked at
her through the glass and held up his only hand, making the “can do” or “Okay”
She was talking
again, yelling, it appeared and he put his helmet against the door. “I have no
suit! No suit!”
Billy moved in
front of the glass, nodding, bobbing up and down to indicate that he
understood, then held up one finger in a “wait one minute” gesture. He left her
and headed down three decks to get her a space suit.
Someone alive! He
believe it. He wondered who she was and how she came to be trapped in the only
pressurized compartment aboard, with no suit.
In a few minutes
he was back. He got to the door before it dawned on him that dumping the
pressure in her compartment in order to get the suit inside would kill her:
Catch 22. But when she saw the suit, she didn’t hesitate but immediately
cracked the door’s valve and began bleeding off the air. He watched through the
glass as she scurried across the compartment and went through another airtight
door and closed it. Now he understood. She had two rooms and was using this one
as an airlock.
He grabbed the
handle on the door, leaned against it, and soon, when the inside pressure
dropped to near zero, it opened. He stepped in and closed the outer door and
the bleeder valve. She was watching him and, as soon as she saw him close the
valve, opened the one in the second door. Billy thought quickly about what this
would mean from a pressure standpoint. If the other room, the one she was in,
was no larger than this one, the pressure in the two would drop drastically,
probably to less than a fourth of an atmosphere. That was dangerous and she
could well be injured or even die if she wasn’t into the suit quickly enough.
His own air tanks were getting pretty low but he didn’t hesitate. He reached
behind and under his own tanks and deliberately opened his dump valve, adding
the air in his suit system to the room air. In about two minutes, the door
swung open and she came out. Billy had a quick impression of a spill of
honey-blonde hair and a lithe body before she was jamming herself into the
suit. As soon as she was in, he closed his dump valve. His low air warning was
bonging now and the soft feminine voice was telling him he would soon die.
He cut on his
radio, motioning her to do the same.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
she said, her breathing elevated by her exertions.
“I’ll need to go
top off my suit. My low air warning is on.”
“I’ll go with you.
I need to assess the damage to the ship.”
“I can handle that
for you. It’s a total loss.”
“Just me and you,
so far. And I didn’t know about you until just a while ago.”
“Roger that. Let’s
“Okay. What should
I be calling you?”
“I’m Marla Kinkaid,
and you can call me Lieutenant, Gunny.”
“Were you one of
the pilots, ma’am?”
Billy thought, that means she has a minimum of combat training and probably
no experience beyond her computers and charts.
“You seem to have
gotten yourself an injury there, Gunny.” They were almost down to the area
where the suits were and Billy’s air was getting foul.
“Yes, ma’am, and
would you believe, I don’t even know how it happened?”
“Things got pretty
confused there for a while,” she said. “I bet it makes it a little difficult to
handle much of anything in zero-g. Have you been able to dress it or treat it
“No, ma’am. I was
going to get around to that as soon as I figured out how to get some heat and
power to my closet.”
“You’re living in
“Yeah, Roger that.
It used to be quartermaster’s storage and I had to patch it up, but it holds
air. I’ve been heating it with a torch.”
electricity in the inside room. It isn’t much but I’ve been running a heater.”
Maybe we can figure out how to heat up the reactor just a little more, so I can
run one, too.”
He was trying to
hook up a transfer hose now, and she quickly bent to help him. Soon, his air
tanks were refilling and it began to freshen up inside his suit.
“I think we’d
better stick together,” Marla said. “Go get whatever you think we need and
bring it up to my place. We can watch out for and help each other. Maybe if we
put our heads together, we can figure a way out of this mess.”
“Whatever you say,
ma’am. I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re the senior officer. You’re in
“Yeah, Gunny. I
noticed.” She didn’t sound very happy about it either, at least not to Billy.
“I’d say that the
first thing we need to do is get our priorities sorted out,” Marla said.
“I agree,” Billy
answered. What else could he say? She was right. They were in her room, having
finished bringing in everything that they deemed to be needed from his closet.
They had pressurized the room and heated it to the point where it was
comfortable and they had climbed out of their space suits. They were seated
cross-legged on the wall (floor) and getting acquainted while they made plans.
foremost is, of course, survival.” she said, “If we don’t survive, all else is
“That’s not a
priority, really. That’s the goal. That and to get rescued.”
She looked at him
sharply from under her bangs. She had a slight upturn to her nose and a
spattering of freckles. Then she said, “You’re right, Gunny.”
food, water, and warmth. That’s a start, but we’ll need to take inventory, just
to see how long we can last and if we’ll need to ration.”
“Good. We can
start on that right away. What’s next?” Since he was on a roll, she decided to
let him go with it.
propulsion systems and see if any of the engines can be made to fire. Check
fuel status to see what’s left.”
“Okay. Are we
“Ell-Tee, we’ve got
to go somewhere. We can’t just sit out here and die.”
“We could send
radio signals on the guard channel...”
“No. I mean, no,
ma’am. The Glassies monitor guard channel and they’d be delighted to come
finish us off. Or worse, take us alive.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard
horrible things about what they do with live humans.”
“They’re not just
stories, Ell-Tee. I know guys that have seen it.”
“But our people
might find us first.”
“Our own people might
think it was a trick of some kind and, even if they believed our messages, I
doubt that they would mount a mission just to save two of us. Anyway, do you
want to take the chance?”
got a point there, Gunny.”
“I think we’re on
our own, Ell-Tee.” For the third time, Billy had used the diminutive for
Lieutenant and Marla called him on it.
“I think we can
drop the references to rank. What’s your first name?”
“Let’s just go
with names for now. At least until we get back to civilization. It’s easier.”
Billy offered his hand and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
They shook hands
and her look was very direct, her eyes very blue, her grip quite firm. Their
handshake lasted just a second or two too long, then she abruptly pulled away.
“We’ll have to do
something about treating your wound. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s
already starting to ripen, a little.”
noticed. Since you’re going to have to do most of it, I guess whenever you’re
“I’m as ready as I’m
They had raided
what was left of the sickbay and found antibiotics, dressings, artificial skin,
some sutures and a laser scalpel.
readying equipment and supplies and asked, “Do you want morphine? I can probably
give you enough to knock you out.”
“I wouldn’t mind a
little, but I have a high pain threshold and I don’t want to be completely out.”
“It’s gonna hurt
like a bitch, Billy. I’m gonna have to reduce that stump back an inch to get
above the infection and clean it up, then suture the artificial skin over it,
and pack and dress it.”
“Sounds like you
know what you’re doing.”
“I was an
assistant medical officer on the Tripoli on my first hitch. I was also a
navigator. I didn’t like working meds that much.”
“Well, it already
hurts like a bitch, so let’s just get it done.”
Marla prepared a
hypodermic and gave Billy enough morphine to make him sleepy, then, as it took
effect, she set to work. Soon the small compartment was filled with the gagging
stench of burnt and rotted flesh. Billy passed out in spite of himself. When he
woke up, the arm was an inch shorter and a clean dressing was taped in place.
Marla was sitting in the corner, her head resting on drawn-up knees, arms
wrapped tightly around her legs. When Billy spoke, her head came up and he
could see she had been crying.
“That was the worst.”
“Wasn’t real good
from this end, either.”
“I bled off air
and refilled twice, to let the smell out.”
“I didn’t want to
waste the air but…”
“Didn’t want to
waste the food?”
“You’re a bit of a
smartass sometimes, Gunny.”
when I’m done up on morphine.”
“Get some rest,
Marine. We’ll talk later.”
She was one of
those last-word females, Billy thought, as he drifted off again.
Billy came back to
pain as strong as any he had ever felt. The nerves in his stump were screaming
and he had been locked in a nightmare, with animals chewing on him. He had
sweated gallons and it seemed that the tiny room was too warm. Marla was there,
ready to give him more medication as he needed it and wipe his fevered brow.
When he was able
to take food, she fed him and kept him drinking fluids. After the first
twenty-four hours his fever lessened and the pain began to diminish. While
Billy was recovering, she had lots of time to think about their situation and
how she had ever come to be here.
years old, she had been born to a mother who loved men and had been married
five times by the time Marla escaped to college. The last two stepdads had both
tried to molest her, the first guy just being the “touchy-feely” type, who
couldn’t keep his hands off her as she was developing into a young woman. The
last guy was more serious and had actually tried some moves on her that could
have earned him prison time. Marla broke his nose for him and fled the home,
landing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She worked full time and went to college for
two years, then heard about the Officers’ Training Program in the Marines. She
checked it out and signed up.
It had sounded
like the adventurous, dangerous kind of life she craved. She was getting bored
with school, anyway. But boot camp had been a rude awakening for her. The first
thing they did to women in the corps was give them a four-year birth control
implant, so there was no way they could conceive.
The military had
become completely co-ed, with no separate barracks, showers, or any other
facilities. The women trained with the men and got just as tough and mean as
the guys. It was a matter of survival. If they couldn’t handle men, how could
they fight the Glassies?
Many of the women
and men she trained with were pairing off constantly; various relationships
might last a few days or weeks, then break up. Homosexual relationships were
common and largely ignored, except in rape cases. Marla chose to avoid
entanglements while she trained, concentrating on what would keep her alive.
Her high test
scores had gotten her a berth as a navigator, in a Marine Corps where women
were fighting as grunts, right alongside the men; in that respect, she had
lucked out. Her college time got her a commission as an ensign and a first
assignment aboard Tripoli, another carrier/invasion craft of the same
class as the Montezuma.
There, she’d had
an affair with a medical officer, who’d taught her everything she needed to
become his assistant. Serving double duty kept her burning the candle at both
ends and she ate it up. The Corps was the most challenging thing she had ever
been involved with, a place where she could hold her own against anyone and
make it strictly on her own merits. Her maturity and independence had cost her,
though, the loss of her innocence and more feminine ways.
After her first
cruise, she was supposed to be assigned “shore” duty for a year, but her double
specialty had gotten her another berth, this time on the Monty.
At the time the
Glassies had sprung this latest attack, she had been sleeping in her quarters,
exhausted from twenty hours of continuous duty, and hadn’t even heard the
battle stations announcement. Until the ship was being slammed around and
people were dying, she didn’t even know anything was going on.
Once she realized
they were under attack, she had bailed out of her bunk and hurriedly dressed in
preparation for suiting up. When she went to the door, she was unable to pull
it open and realized that the ship had been holed, but she was lucky enough to
be in an airtight space. At the time, she didn’t realize it was the only such
place aboard. She waited for rescue teams to come through the wreck but, when
no one came, she began to get panicky. The air in her rooms was becoming stale
and lack of oxygen would soon kill her. She had started hammering on pipes and
had all but given up hope when Gunny Hatcher had found her.
woman, Marla was not afraid of much of anything. But dying in space in the
wreck of the Montezuma and perhaps drifting unfound for eternity scared
the shit out of her. Now she was dependent, to a certain extent, on this
one-armed Gunnery Sergeant. She was pretty sure she could nurse him through his
fever and keep him from dying, but wasn’t as sure that he was smart enough to
get them out of trouble. She might have to be the brains in their little team
and let him be the brawn.
She took a moist
cloth and wiped his face, checked his pulse, and gave him another injection of
antibiotics. She looked at his dark, craggy features and thought about how his
dark eyes flashed. It could have been worse, she decided. At least he was a
The wrecked MONTEZUMA
continued to drift sunward. If left unchecked, it would slowly begin to
accelerate, almost imperceptibly at first, then more noticeably as time went
on. Eventually, in thirty or forty years, it would develop a fairly good speed,
just before it dropped into the sun.
In a pair of small
rooms aboard, Gunny Hatcher mended, his needs tended to by Lieutenant Kinkaid.
Periodically, she would go out to forage, bringing needed food, water, air, and
medical supplies back to their tiny environment. At the end of a week, Gunny
Hatcher was ready to venture out with her. She had procured another battle suit
for him, after removing its previous dead occupant and cleaning it as best she
could. Billy’s own suit would no longer serve his needs, as the left arm could
not be made airtight any longer and they had no facilities to repair it.
Marla had decided
that their first order of business was to inventory their supplies. She didn’t
like surprises, and finding out they had just used up the last tank of air or
gallon of water was the stuff her nightmares were made of.
In a few hours of
organized effort, they found that they could live for many months, maybe even a
year, on what was left aboard. They wouldn’t be comfortable and the food would
be monotonous, but they would live.
They tried playing
with the power plant next and found that any upward adjustment in output
wattage resulted in the plant trying to overheat. They were stuck with only
enough juice for a heater and a light bulb.
Marla dragged out
an old-fashioned star chart and a sextant and used a lot of math over a period
of forty-eight hours to try and determine their position and speed. She knew
that they were still near the Earth’s orbit but that the planet was drawing
steadily away from them. If they could hold out for a year, waiting for the
planet to come to them, they would need only a minor change in speed and
direction to be in the right position to intercept the orbit. If they could wait a
year... In the end,
she told Billy that the tumbling of the vessel would have to be corrected using
the steering rockets before she could get even halfway accurate readings.
their options and found that neither of them wanted to risk sitting for a year.
What if the supplies ran out? What if the Glassies came back? What if one of
them became really sick? They had already dealt with one medical situation, but
what if something happened to Marla? Billy wasn’t trained in the medical field.
They began to look at the Montezuma’s engines and steering rockets, to
see what might be made operational.
It took Billy and
Marla about six hours to determine that Montezuma had two steering
rockets on its nose that might still function, provided they could find a way
to control them, and only one on the stern. It also had one main engine that
appeared intact. Whether it could be made functional would depend on their
ingenuity in getting some kind of controls rigged. The control center on the bridge
was a mess, though parts of it were still intact, and it lacked any kind of
electrical power. Minimum power would have to be switched from the area of
their makeshift quarters to the area of the bridge, whenever it was determined
that it was safe to do so. It would do them no good to send power to it now and
risk having everything that was still there burn up if something was wrong.
They would have to take the bridge apart and look at miles of wiring and
cables, just to be able to get one computer on line so that they could use it
to determine battle damage. Then they might still have to repair or replace
everything from the bridge to the one good engine and steering rockets, adding
in whatever was missing. Once they were reasonably sure everything was in
readiness, they could switch on power and give it a try.
They put in a
minimum of eight hours a day of exhausting work and went to their quarters to
eat and sleep. There was absolutely no privacy of any kind, even for toilet
functions, which were accomplished with the use of an emergency zero-g chemical
unit. Their quarters soon took on an unbelievable ripeness from the odors of
food, the toilet and their own unwashed bodies. They were unwilling, at this
point, to waste water on bathing that might later be needed to keep them alive.
What little time
they had not taken up with working and sleeping became a time that they used at
first to get better acquainted, then it became a time of boredom. After a week,
they began trying to entertain each other; for several days they ran through
every dirty limerick and bawdy story they had ever heard. On one occasion, Gunny
Hatcher had kept Lieutenant Kinkaid laughing for so long with blonde jokes,
Polack jokes, and elephant jokes, that her ribs had been sore the next day.
After a mere fifty
or so hours of work, they reached a point where they felt ready to switch power
to the bridge and try to light up one of the computers. Billy went to the
appropriate electrical panel and threw the lever on a huge breaker and waited
for Marla to call on his suit radio.
“I’ve got power,” her
voice came through faintly. Billy crossed his fingers as best he could on his
“No sparks or
anything.” He started breathing again.
up. You might as well come up here.” Billy thought of all the hundreds of
splices they’d already made, borrowing wire wherever he could get it. Now the
work would really begin.
On the bridge, the
command console was all but missing. The helmsmen’s chairs, with their deep
pads and restraint systems were gone. In their place was a hole eighteen feet
in diameter that allowed Billy to look down through five decks and out into a
giddy view of stars wheeling past.
He and Marla had
hooked everything into one computer and one screen was lit up when he got
there. Marla was at the keyboard, sorting her way through programs she was only
basically familiar with and systems checks that were all Greek to her. This was
more Billy’s field than hers, as he was a pilot, though not trained for
anything like this. He watched over her shoulder as she worked at the keyboard
while holding onto the remains of the console so she wouldn’t float off.
Status=Coolant system dysfunction.
through 6=no response, engine 7=available, engine 8=no response.
pods #1=available, #2 through 4=no response, #5=available, #6 through 8=no
#4=available, all others=no response.
Officer of the
Officer of the
“Looks like there’s
a lot we don’t know,” Billy said with a tired smile.
“Yeah, but we got
an engine and three steering rockets.”
“If they’ll work.”
“Right, if they’ll
“So, if we can get
this hulk stabilized, can you really tell where we’re at?”
Gunny. And I can tell which way to go to get us home, too, but first we’ve
gotta stop this damn tumbling.”
“Can you do that
this is the only place I can do it from. I’ll have to give the
individual steering rockets short bursts, then wait each time to see if we’ve
slowed or sped up the tumble or become more unstable.”
“Okay, well, let’s
get on with it. I mean, I think we should get started, Ma’am.”
should do this, Gunny; you’re the pilot.”
“No, that’s okay,
Lieutenant, I’m more of a stick and rudder man, myself. You’re doing fine,
there. Just go ahead.”
Marla tapped some
keys and brought up one of the nose steering rockets and called for a one-second
burst. There was a vague, far-off vibration they could barely feel, but no
apparent change of status.
“I think it’s
gonna take a lot more than that,” Billy said. “You got a lotta mass here,
tumbling at a pretty good rate. It’ll take a lotta energy to see any results.”
“Okay. Here goes.”
With the longer
burn, the tumble appeared to slow slightly but they couldn’t be sure. Twice
more and it became apparent that the ship was becoming more stable. Within two
hours of patient work at the computer, using both fore and aft steering
rockets, Marla had delicately bumped them into a stable attitude where
everything appeared still. Now there would be no centrifugal forces at all
anywhere on the ship. They would truly be weightless. They shut down the
computer and shunted the electrical power back to their quarters, then went
back there and Marla got out the sextant and took some sightings on known
stars. She would do the same in twelve hours and again in twenty-four. From the
readings she would determine their speed and get a rough idea of their
direction of travel.
slowly toward the sun, Gunny,” Marla said.
“That’s not good,
not that bad, either. If we want to cross the solar system and take the
shortest approach to Earth, we’ll need to go fairly close to the sun.”
“But, too close...”
“Yeah, too close
and we’re dead.”
“Can you get us
close enough, without cooking us?”
that’s not our immediate problem.”
“Okay, what’s our
immediate problem?” Billy liked her like this, when she was working on a
problem. She would get this little crease in her forehead. He was already
thinking of it as her “I want to solve this” line. It was not quite a frown but
problem is that the ship is turned the wrong way. We’re tail-first to our
direction of travel. If we lit the engine now, we’d stop, then start going the
“So we’ve gotta turn
this big sumbitch around?”
“Yep. Gotta flip
it a hundred-eighty degrees and get the nose on a certain star, then light the
engine and watch for course deviation.”
“Why would it
deviate?” Her frown line was showing again, as she thought about the problem
and how to get across to him what he needed to know.
“Well, see, the
engine that we still have is not centered back there. Normally, there’s an
array of eight engines and they all fire together, with equal thrust, giving an
even push, more or less. But the engine that’s left is one of the outer ones in
the cluster and it’s intentionally angled slightly from the centerline of the
ship. When all the engines are burning, this actually helps give stability. But
with only one, it’s gonna push slightly off center; so we will have to
counteract with the steering rockets, otherwise we’ll get ourselves going
sideways or as a worst-case scenario, we might pinwheel and just put ourselves
into a spin. See?”
“So you think the
steering rockets will be up to that?”
“I don’t know,
Billy. We’ll have to try it and find out. If not, we may have to induce a
“Wait, you mean
spin the ship around its own axis like a bullet?”
That way, even though the main engine is angled slightly, with the spin, we
stay on course while we burn the engine. We’d just have a slight wobble…and
some manufactured gravity, too.”
“So what do we do
“Well, it’s back
to the keyboard and flip this mother over. That should keep me occupied for an
hour or so. You go switch the power up to the bridge and I’ll get started.”
Once again, Gunny
Hatcher watched the stars wheel by, as the Montezuma turned slowly and
ponderously over. At about the halfway point, Marla fired another steering
rocket to begin slowing the intentional spin she had imparted. The timing
needed to be precise. The computer could take care of the burn-time, making
sure the second burn was the same as the first, but the timing was all up to
her. She did admirably well, Billy thought, only needing some minimal juggling
there at the end, to get the stability right. At last, she pronounced them
ready to try the main engine.
“You might want to
grab onto something, Gunny. I don’t expect the acceleration to be startling but
I don’t know what direction we may go, since it’s off center.”
Billy grabbed onto
the remains of a girder and watched her code in settings, calling up the main
engine and giving a burn command. Nothing happened.
She tried again.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. It
says the engine is available, but it’s not responding. Now it’s quizzing me for
a password. Aw, shit!”
“Well, how the
hell we ever gonna figure out a password? I mean, there’s no codebooks and I
wouldn’t have a clue...” Gunny Hatcher was hearing something unbelievable in
her voice. It sounded almost like tough little Lieutenant Kinkaid was on the
verge of crying.
Settle down, girl. We just gotta think for a minute. They put a password into
the main engine program for a reason. What would that reason be?”
to keep anyone unauthorized from messing with the engines.”
“Right. And it
would have to be something simple.”
“Why do you say
battle conditions, you can’t have your helmsman forgetting the password.”
“Makes sense. So
what? We just sit here and try passwords until we luck out?
“Got any other
brilliant ideas, Marla?”
“Not really,” she
said with a sigh and she started typing.
It was just over
an hour and hundreds of tries later, when Gunny Hatcher said, “Try mother may
it…with a question mark and without.”
Marla typed it in.
Nothing. Again, a different way. Nothing. Then, she stopped and thought for a
moment, then typed again. From the frame of the Montezuma came a deep
shuddering, and they both felt a slight acceleration.
Gunny was almost
speechless with emotion when Marla stood up and turned to him. They hugged each
other clumsily in their suits and Billy said, “What did you put in?”
“Yeah. Just that
“So now what?”
“Gotta go get my
sextant and shoot some stars, so I can see if we deviate and how much.”
canned air in Billy’s suit seemed fresher and the pain from his stump was
almost gone. At last, they were under way. An abandoned hulk no more, the Montezuma
was once again a ship under power. Blasted and burned-out, it had somehow taken
on life again. To Billy a new element had been added to the mix of his emotions:
Griswold, master of the deep-space salvage vessel Lunar Raven, was
pissed. After the space battle, when so many ships had come limping home, the
word had gone out that the Montezuma was lost. He had readied a crew and
set out within the hour from Luna to be first on the scene. In spite of the
danger of attack by Glassie raiders, salvage was a profitable business and the Raven,
independently owned and operated, could make a man rich beyond his wildest
dreams by recovering the remains of a vessel like the Montezuma and
bringing her to dry-dock. The deep-space salvage rules were the same out here
as they once were on the high seas of the home planet. Anything abandoned in
deep space became fair game and belonged rightfully to whoever invested the
time and money to recover it.
They had come
across millions of miles of space, armed with the exact coordinates of the
battle and a vessel equipped with the magnetic grapples and remote arms to
salvage virtually anything. In her cavernous inner spaces, Raven could
hold millions of tons of metal and other salvage and, to be sure, on their
arrival they had found a debris field to work that spread for hundreds of
miles. But they didn’t find the mother lode. Montezuma was gone!
In her place they
found an energy signature, perhaps only hours old, that told the tale. Somehow,
probably through some battle-induced malfunction, her engines had fired, and
now she was lost. She would continue until her fuel was exhausted, then cruise
on inertia until she came under the influence of a gravitational field
somewhere and eventually crashed into a sun or a black hole. They could clean
up the debris field and even recover some bodies, but the trip would probably
be a loss from an economic standpoint.
Kenneth Crist, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote
the SF serial (starting in BP #76 with chapters 1 & 2) SURVIVING MONTEZUMA (+ “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