Excerpt for Visions VII: Universe by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Visions VII: Universe Authors’ Distinctions

Doug C. Souza won first place in the 2016 Writers of the Future Quarterly Contest.

Jason Lairamore is a published finalist of the 2012 SQ Mag annual contest, the winner of the 2013 Planetary Stories flash fiction contest, a third-place winner of the 2015 SQ Mag annual contest, and a Writers of the Future Contest Semi-Finalist.

Margaret Karmazin’s stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review, and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award.

Jonathan Shipley is an active member of Science Fiction Writers of America and was a contribuitng author to the After Death anthology that won the 2014 Bram Stoker Award.

John M. Floyd is a three-time Derringer Award winner and an Edgar Award nominee.

Lorraine Schein’s story in this volume, "Sleeping Westward," was nominated for the 2017 Canopus Award.


Books from Lillicat Publishers

Visions Anthology Series

Visions: Leaving Earth

Visions II: Moons of Saturn

Visions III: Inside the Kuiper Belt

Visions IV: Space Between Stars

Visions V: Milky Way

Visions VI: Galaxies

Visions VII: Universe (Rogue Star Press)


Northern Futures

TreeVolution

The Future Is Short: Science Fiction in a Flash

The Future Is Short, Volume 3: Science Fiction in a Flash

Dance With Me: My Journey Through Cancer

Sunshine & Shadow: Memories from a Long Life


ROGUE STAR PRESS

The Helena Orbit

DAWN LIGHT PRESS

The Night Blooming Jasmine in Your Heart

ALTERNATE UNIVERSE PRESS

Snake in the Grass


VISIONS VII


Universe



Edited by

Carrol Fix




Rogue Star Press

At Smashwords

USA


Copyright © 2017 by Carol Goodwater


"Pseudo-Soul" Copyright © 2017 by Doug C. Souza, "Watercharmer" Copyright © 2017 by William Huggins, "Way-Way and the Unseen" Copyright © 2017 by Jason Lairamore, "Universe 289" Copyright © 2017 by W. A. Fix, "Technoserf" Copyright © 2017 by Leigh Kimmel, "Burstchasers" Copyright © 2017 by Gustavo Bondoni, "When the Hammerheads Sing" Copyright © 2017 by John A. Frochio, "The Ring" Copyright © 2017 by Margaret Karmazin, "Sleeping Westward" Copyright © 2017 by Lorraine Schein, "I, Candy" Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Shipley, "Road Trip" Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Timpf, "The Alien Way" Copyright © 2016 by Mike Adamson, "Last Girl Standing" Copyright © 2017 by Mary Madigan, "Universal Hero" Copyright © 2017 by Darrel Duckworth, "Signal" Copyright © 2017 by Neil Davies, "The Plumed Serpent" Copyright © 2017 by Elana Gomel, "My Own Private Earth" Copyright © 2017 by Lawrence Dagstine, "Travelers" Copyright © 2017 by John M. Floyd, "Universal Connection" Copyright © 2017 by S. M. Kraftchak, "First Strike" Copyright © 2017 by Robert J. Mendenhall, "Simpler Times" Copyright © 2017 by Nick Manzolillo, "Dark Reflections" Copyright © 2017 by Thomas Olbert.


Rogue Star Press
an imprint of
Lillicat Publishers
9625 Mission Gorge Road, B2-159
Santee, California, 92071
USA


Cover art: agsandrew (Shutterstock)


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in these works are solely those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.


First Print Edition: August 2017
Printed and Bound in USA


POD ISBN: 978-1-945646-28-7

EPUB ISBN: 978-1-945646-29-4

MOBI ISBN: 978-1-945646-30-0


Contents

Stepping Stones to Eternity

Introduction

Pseudo-Soul

Doug C. Souza

Watercharmer

William Huggins

Way-Way and the Unseen

Jason Lairamore

Universe 289

W. A. Fix

Burstchasers

Gustavo Bondoni

When the Hammerheads Sing

John A. Frochio

Technoserf

Leigh Kimmel

The Ring

Margaret Karmazin

Sleeping Westward

Lorraine Schein

I, Candy

Jonathan Shipley

Road Trip

Lisa Timpf

The Alien Way

Mike Adamson

Last Girl Standing

Mary Madigan

Universal Hero

Darrel Duckworth

Signal

Neil Davies

The Plumed Serpent

Elana Gomel


My Own Private Earth

Lawrence Dagstine

Travelers

John M. Floyd

Universal Connection

S.M. Kraftchak

First Strike

Robert J. Mendenhall

Simpler Times

Nick Manzolillo

Dark Reflections

Tom Olbert

About the Editor


Stepping Stones to Eternity


The Visions Series tells the story of how humanity must ultimately venture outward from our tiny home and explore the Universe.

Visions: Leaving Earth, the first volume, describes our first faltering steps to rise from Earth’s surface and build homes in space.

Visions II: Moons of Saturn confirms humankind’s success in leaving Earth and building homes in the other planetary systems circling our sun-father Sol.

Visions III: Inside the Kuiper Belt proclaims domination of all that dwells within the solar system—from our Sun to the outermost reaches of the Kuiper Belt and into the Oort Cloud.

Visions IV: Space Between Stars astounds us with the infinite possibilities of adventure and danger far from any suns or planets—in the cold, dark regions of deepest space, where dark matter and nebulas of celestial gases abide.

Visions V: Milky Way leads us to explore our own galaxy. Although vast and unreachable with current technology, the Milky Way is but a tiny point in the Universe. We must first learn about our own home galaxy before we can explore further outward to other galaxies.

Visions VI: Galaxies follows human progress into other galaxies. Humankind survives to spread across the Universe, making distant galaxies and planets into a home for a race destined to seek horizons ever more far away.

Visions VII: Universe, the final volume, opens the doors to incredible possibilities for the race called Human. We venture into realms where what seems impossible becomes fact.

Our Vision is limitless.


Introduction


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

~ William Shakespeare


This is the final anthology in the Visions Series, completing a seven-volume exploration of humankind’s passage into space, covering adventures near our home world and farther, to planets and galaxies at the beginning of our universe.

Visions VII: Universe takes us outside our current reality and into worlds where anything is possible. If we can imagine an existence in some remote time and place, where the inconceivable exists, then it is within the speculative actualities of our talented futurists.

With no limits on what science may be like in the distant future, Universe stories allow us to explore exciting options and let our thoughts roam to the unexpected domains of the previously unimagined.

Relax your preconceptions and take this journey into the future, while allowing us to stretch the boundaries of what you believe is possible. We promise, you will not be disappointed.



Carrol Fix

Editor

Lillicat Publishers

July 22, 2017



Something is wrong with Marshal Colby McEvans. He can’t shake the impending sense of doom, and the only person on his side is his dead wife. He knows the trans-luminal cruise circuit can be an easy mark, but even he is unprepared for the hijackers’ end game.



Pseudo-Soul


Doug C. Souza



My day doesn’t really get going until I hear from my dead wife.

"Fractured light thinned into wisps by superluminal speeds. Quite amazing." Susan’s voice wasn’t really there; I hadn’t heard her pleasant timbre in three decades. Her specter-voice played in my head like a muffled holo-vid.

Outside Destiny’s Shadow’s porthole window, radiant streaks of purple and orange swirled and disappeared into one another. Gazing into the abyss, I was almost absorbed by the infinite beauty of it all.

Almost.

Exactly how long does it take to brew a freagin’ cup of coffee anyway?

"Relax, enjoy the magical light show," Susan suggested.

I half-rose from my seat, about to stomp over to the corner bar, but plopped right back down.

I didn’t talk back to Susan, that would be crazy. My fingers drummed the tabletop in a steady rhythm.

"You know I’ll leave you alone if you just sit with me for a bit," Susan said.

I nodded. It was true; she did let me have the rest of the day to myself—only making the occasional one-word comment—if I sat quietly and let her talk for ten minutes uninterrupted.

The superluminal lightshow was spectacular. Ethereal colors that technically didn’t exist within the visible spectrum danced in transcendent tendrils on the other side of the palladium glass. Atomic embers said to be nothing more than shadows of neutrinos and dark matter.

Susan would have given a year’s pay to travel trans-luminal when she was alive.

The superluminal ship’s upper deck lighting was kept low, enhancing the violet view outside. The chaotic river of color was a stark reminder that an infinite emptiness beyond normal space surrounded the cruise ship. Up here, in the small, quiet, and unpopular deck; one had time to recount the numerous ways Destiny’s Shadow could fall into an eternal tailspin.

Some say you don’t exactly die, but lingered in an emptiness of consciousness between the folds of space.

"You’re in a morbid mood," Susan said, her ghostly voice a bit taunting. "Better hope that coffee gets here soon, eh?"

This was my first pleasure cruise as a Marshal of the Superluminal Transit. Mostly, I worked point-to-point transport jobs. The duration spent in superluminal space was much shorter on those. Pleasure cruises set out for weeks at a time, with few port stops.

A subtle bell-tone of f-sharp sounded over the ship’s speakers and the house lights brightened. The purple and orange tendrils in the distance vanished, replaced by black space.

"Something wicked this way comes," Susan said. "Goodbye, Colby."

An unscheduled stop. Not good.

My wrist-comm showed I still had over two minutes left in my self-imposed tribute to my dead wife. I stopped the timer at 2:15 to continue later.

I paused and listened for her voice in my head. Nope—she was gone as soon as the chime sounded. She didn’t appreciate not having my undivided attention. "Susan," I whispered. "We’ll talk later. I’ll set aside time for us. Promise."

She didn’t respond.

I closed my eyes and brought the Destiny’s Shadow’s schedule to mind. My brain landed in the top point zero one percentile for spatial imaging; with a little effort, I could see the day blocked out into hours as if a holo-sheet hovered before me.

Just as I guessed; this was an unscheduled stop. I stepped away from my table and surveyed the normal space around Destiny’s Shadow.

"Is that a broken ship?" a stocky woman with a feather-rimmed hat asked, hovering over my shoulder.

A small vessel with a section of its hull missing came into view portside. The mangled ship drifted just outside the large viewing windows.

"Ya think we’ll help ‘em?" she asked.

Most likely, we would offer help. But my primary duty was to insure the safety of everyone on board this ship. We shouldn’t offer help—not without more information.

The barista coughed behind me, "You gonna pay for that?" He had set my Andes-dark cappuccino on the table.

"No." I turned and left, heading for the bridge.

People were in different states of festivities as I walked across the lower-decks. Few stood at the windows to examine the damaged ship.

The pleasure cruise circuit has a way of bringing out unfettered joy within her customers. Part of the lure of working this gig—easy folks in easy moods.

"No passengers," a rent-a-cop said as I approached the inner corridors. To his credit, he didn’t waver as my 6-foot-4 frame towered over him. A good guy doing a good job.

I punched a few keys in my wrist-comm and flashed my holo-badge.

The rent-a-cop took too long checking it so I held my arm aloft while working the panel on the wall past his shoulder. The door hissed open and I went through.

"Should I tell them you’re coming?" he asked my back.

I waved it away. An announcement played over the intercom: a standard message to quell any fears, no reason provided. I doubted half the passengers even noticed we’d dropped out of superluminal space.

Destiny’s Shadow’s schematics came to the front of my mind, mapping a clear path to the bridge. Sixth door on the right. No panel for a passcode on this door. I found the chip-reader and pressed my wrist-comm to it. The door opened, much smoother than the outer door.

The group stopped midsentence.

Four people: Captain Phaman Argeriche, First Mate Benedict Larson, Ship’s Engineer Ramena Sahadi, and Ensign Daryl Montego at the helm.

"This is a restricted area—" First Mate Larson started.

I waved him away, crossing the cramped room in two quick strides. "Don’t bother. Read it quick," I said and flashed my credentials. All around, I could sense their apprehension.

Like me, they thought this would be an easy gig.

First Mate Larson took a step back. His gaze was as inviting as an electrified razor-wire fence. The engineer and helmsman gaped. The captain gave a curt nod. His broad silhouette leaning against the wall.

"Trans-luminal Marshal Colby McEvans," I announced. They had themselves a good gander. I continued: "You have made an unscheduled stop. This violates protocol. Specifically, statute six point one nine under regulatory guidelines."

"Oh spare us the recital." First Mate Larson about-faced, returning to a sidebar with the captain.

What was with this guy?

"Amazing," Ship’s Engineer Sahadi stepped forward and commented. "I’ve heard of you guys, but never seen one in action." Her dark eyes widened. The kid looked like she had lied about her age to land this job.

Captain Argeriche, who was unfazed by my sudden appearance, took control. "Yes, marshals only reveal themselves when they sense immediate danger to the vessel or any of her passengers. Please, Mr. McEvans, tell us what has brought you here." He was a plump man, but carried the extra girth comfortably. His face was tired, but his eyes had that sapient glow acquired by years of experience.

"It’s Marshal McEvans, sir, not mister. A common misunderstanding," I corrected him. I felt like a stylus-necked jerk doing it, but it was a common mistake. Insisting on the title helps maintain reciprocity of respect.

First Mate Larson scoffed.

I continued, "I cannot allow you to assist the crippled vessel at our portside."

"How do you know we are planning to help?" First Mate Larson asked accusingly. "Monitoring our private channels?"

"There is no other reason to stop Destiny’s Shadow mid-run," I aimed my meaning at the captain, hoping he’d step up to his role as leader.

The ship’s engineer piped in eagerly, "We’re still running preliminary scans. So far, they have come up negative for any armaments or other hostile indications."

"Nevertheless, protocol dictates that you report what you have found and then we must continue on our voyage."

"We’re wasting time," First Mate Larson said. "Thanks for your input, but you don’t run this ship, Captain Argeriche does."

"Nevertheless, you must rescind any offer for aid and move on."

First Mate Larson started to say more, but Captain Argeriche quieted him. "They sent a distress signal. Being the only superluminal ship within the vicinity, we have to look into it. Protocols changed as soon as we received that signal."

He was stretching protocol thin, but had a case.

First Mate Larson took the opportunity to gloat. "So forgive us if we don’t just leave them high and dry. Sorry we can’t just let them die, no matter how convenient it would be."

"Venturing out here was their own doing. You would not be held accountable for any result no matter how unpleasant."

"That’s pretty cold," Ship’s Engineer Sahadi muttered.

I threw my hands up. The first mate and engineer kept interrupting and Argeriche allowed it. A clear reminder this was a commercial crew unaccustomed to any form of order. A cargo-ship captain would’ve backhanded anyone who dared interrupting. A cargo-crew would also agree that we move on.

"Captain Argeriche," I tried again. "We cannot simply open our doors."

"Do you have an alternative?" he asked.

I took a moment to review possible scenarios. The helmsman busied himself by bringing up various holo-vids of the vessel while furtively glancing my way. The engineer continued brazenly looking me up and down. I imagine she’d take a skin biopsy had I allowed it.

"I have an idea," I said. "Request to board their ship and investigate. If their intentions aren’t malicious, they’ll allow it. "

His eyes wrinkled with concern. "I don’t know the condition of their ship; my crew wouldn’t be safe."

"Then let me go alone. I’m not your crew."

"How long will that take? "Captain Argeriche asked.

"An hour for a decent investigation—at the most."

"Ensign, where will that put us fuel wise? With the added deceleration, another start-up, and the delay."

Ensign Montego punched in the numbers. "He could take a day and we’d still leave reserves untapped."

"Very well. First Mate Larson, please join Marshal McEvans, but only up to the hatch."

First Mate Larson appeared ready to argue.

"Problem, Larson?"

"No sir," he answered crisply.

"Think of it as an outreach program. Maybe it will calm some of those prejudices you seem to have about our guest." The captain slumped into the nearest console chair. The dura-plastic cushion protested, but held.

"Sir, everything I know about Trans-luminal Marshal is based on fact."

"We’re wasting time," I said and left the room.

Ship’s Engineer Sahadi asked to join us and was soon at my side. She nearly ran into walls as she ogled me and tried to keep pace at the same time.

"I think someone’s developed a little crush on you," Susan’s said.

I froze. Susan speaking to me meant, she wouldn’t relent until I gave her my undivided attention.

"Can’t blame her," Susan continued. "You must remember, you’re a twenty-five-year-old body of hard muscle."

I leaned against the corridor wall and stared at my wrist-comm. 2:15 left. My finger pointed at the time, hoping Susan comprehended my meaning without me having to say it. I wondered if I should just start the time and sit quietly for the tribute.

"Don’t you dare," Susan said. "You’ve got a job to do."

I blinked at the 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

"Something wrong?" First Mate Larson asked, though his tone made it clear he didn’t care for my wellbeing one bit.

"No," I lied. "Just, uh, thinking." I strode forward, unperturbed. I quickened my pace to squelch any further inquiries, or doubt.

At my back, I heard Ship’s Engineer Sahadi explaining to First Mate Larson how my brain works different than others.

En route, we made our way through the galley. The fewer passengers seeing us huddled together the better. These people weren’t used to seeing anyone other than the service staff. The sudden appearance of the ship’s crew might rouse suspicion.

The umbilical was located near the aft-port of the ship, almost the lowest section. The flexible airlock snaked away from Destiny’s Shadow, toward the vessel.

After Sahadi handed me an earpiece, Argeriche thoroughly updated me. No medical aid required, just a simple "repair and parts" request. Sahadi plugged in commands and the umbilical locked into place with a reassuring click.

I had to shout over the hissing air as it filled the umbilical’s venting shafts. "You two wait here. I’ll return or send an all-clear!" I left them at the cruise ship’s outer hatch.

Surprisingly, First Mate Larson didn’t argue. Instead he handed me a tase-stick. "I saw you weren’t carrying!"

"Not allowed." I shook my head. The shrill venting ceased. I turned and headed down the umbilical. Destiny’s Shadow’s hatch shut behind me.

I listened for Susan. It worried me how she had spoken outside her tribute; I didn’t need the distraction right now.

Nothing but the soft hiss of recycled air.

G-force lightened as I left our ship’s grav-field and entered the crippled vessel’s. I calculated it to be about four-fifths regular pull.

The outer hatch irised open and I stepped into darkness.

Floodlights snapped on, surrounding me. I squinted and waited for the temporary blindness to end.

Five men pointed five assault rifles at me. The high-pitched whine of electrodes charging split the silence.

One of them stuck a head out into the umbilical. "They shut their hatch! Told you they would."

"Pulse-shots?" I asked, putting my hands up.

"Two of the guns are pulse-shots, yes," the centermost man answered snarkily. "Don’t be offended if we don’t tell you which two."

Grunts of approval echoed around me. The other three guns must be classic powder projectile contraptions.

It didn’t matter. I knew which two carried pulse detonators by their triangular barrels. I also knew they wouldn’t risk shooting at me with the exposed umbilical at my back. No telling what those rounds would do to the pliant material.

One of the gunners reached over and shut their hatch.

"So what’s the plan?" I asked. "I go back with the group of you in my wake? I’m a hostage even though you know they won’t negotiate?"

"Little bit of that, little bit more, but you got the idea. We ain’t too worried about the negotiating. Any marshmallow crew starts listening after a few passengers get fried."

The assault rifles wouldn’t have shown on scanners. Small arms rarely do. This group of marauders could do some real damage if allowed onto Destiny’s Shadow. Ruthlessness is technically a sound negotiating tactic. Captain Argeriche shouldn’t have stopped to help.

"I won’t allow you to board," I said.

More playful grunts. Creaks of machinery resonated throughout this small vessel. Much different than the gaiety that murmured across the decks of Destiny’s Shadow.

"You should’ve said something more dramatic like, ‘over my dead body,’" their leader sneered. They were buying time, and I didn’t know why. One of the men cocked his head. He was receiving orders via an earpiece like mine.

"That one’s different," Susan pointed out. "He’s doing something else."

"Quiet," I said, shaking my head.

"Quiet?" their leader asked. "Um, no. Now, turn around. Walk forward."

"Very well," I shrugged. "I’ll be dramatic, over my dead body." I darted forward and slapped a tranq-patch on his neck.

A pulse-shot ripped through my left shoulder as I tucked and rolled.


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