Baked Mac and Cheese



1 box of elbow macaroni

4 tablespoons of flour

2 cups of milk

½ lb gouda shredded

½ lb gruyere shredded

½ lb extra sharp cheddar shredded

1 egg

1 stick of unsalted butter

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon granulated onion

1 teaspoon ground mustard

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg



1 cup panko crumbs



Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit


  1. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil, add some salt and olive oil, box of elbow macaroni, cook stirring every so often for 8 minutes, drain it and set aside

  2. In a large nonstick heavy saucepan over medium high heat melt half the butter until it bubbles, add the flour, stir the roux constantly, cooking until it turns a light brown color

  3. Add the milk to the roux stirring, bring to a simmer, reduce heat slightly, add granulated garlic, granulated onion, mustard and nutmeg, stir until it thickens

  4. Add in the shredded cheese folding in so that it melts, stir in the egg, add some salt and pepper, remove from heat

  5. Melt the rest of the butter and toss the panko crumbs with it, add some more salt and pepper

  6. Add the macaroni to an ungreased 8”x8” glass baking dish, fold in the cheese mixture, top evenly with the panko mixture

  7. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, remove and let stand for 15 minutes, serve


Pork Shoulder Chili


2 lbs Pork Shoulder cut into ~1 inch chunks

6 cups roasted tomato, onion, and garlic puree

2 jars of roasted red peppers ( 4-5 peppers ) chopped

1 large onion chopped

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

2-3 heaping tablespoons chili powder

1-2 heaping tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon celery seed

2 oz of baker’s chocolate

1-2 teaspoon aleppo pepper

2 heaping tablespoons of dried sweet basil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 cans of small red beans, rinsed


Ingredients for hot sauce

6 jalapeno peppers

3 poblano peppers (fresh)

2 heads of garlic

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

2 tablespoons of cider vinegar

Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.


  1. Season Pork Shoulder with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and then dredge in the flour.

  2. Melt the butter on medium high heat in a large dutch oven and brown the pork on all sides until nicely brown, 6-8 minutes.

  3. Add the onions and roasted red peppers and saute, scraping the bottom and sides for 5 minutes.

  4. Add the tomato puree, chili powder, cumin, celery seed, aleppo pepper, ground coriander, basil, cider vinegar and baker’s chocolate

  5. Turn up the heat to high and bring to a simmer stirring.

  6. Once it reaches a simmer, remove from heat, cover and put in the 300 degree oven for one hour

  7. After one hour add beans, stir and return for another hour.

  8. Check that Pork is falling apart tender and then serve with Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce Instructions

  1. Stem, halve, remove seeds and ribs from the peppers.

  2. Arrange skin side up on a baking sheet

  3. Cut the bottom off of each head of garlic and place skin side up on baking sheet

  4. Drizzle peppers and garlic with olive oil

  5. Roast at 300 degrees for one hour

  6. Put peppers in food processor

  7. Squeeze out roasted garlic into food processor

  8. Add tomato paste, cider and salt and any olive oil from baking sheet ( if none add two tablespoons of olive oil)

  9. Puree for two minutes

  10. Serve with Pork Shoulder Chili

Roasted Tomato Puree with Garlic and Onion

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Core 8-10 medium-large tomatoes and place skin side up on a baking sheet

Peel and halve two medium/large onions on sheet

Cut the bottom off of two or three heads of garlic and place on sheet

Drizzle all with olive oil

Cook for 50-60 minutes at 400 degrees

Let all cool for 15-20 minutes

Place tomatoes, and onions in food processor, pull the skins off of the tomatoes and discard

Squeeze the roasted garlic into the food processor

Puree for two minutes

Use immediately in a sauce or freeze for later use


By James Goodwin

This story was inspired by some genealogical research I have been doing. Reading newspaper reports, letters and personal documents made the people vivid and real to me. If you haven’t read any of the other stories, Enjay (New Jersey) is the name of a mining planet and The Hole is the nickname for the subterranean city of Paramus. The Company is the giant space conglomerate that founded Enjay and then divested it when it wasn’t profitable enough. 

John Dermody sat at the dirty kitchen table in the quarters on level two where he’d grown up, his blue Deputy’s jumpsuit a stark contrast to the miner’s work clothes of everyone else in the room. He was tall and slender, with dark hair like his late mother. Across from him sat his father William, still wearing his miner’s overalls even though he hadn’t been down a mine in twenty years. Behind William stood Michael, his younger brother, blond and fair, wearing clean new overalls of a geologist who had never gone into a mine. Standing across the room scowling was his brother William, the eldest, a younger duplicate of his father, head shaved clean, in the beat up overalls of a mine shift manager. His face was creased and marked by working in an aging atmosphere suit for ten hours a day down a dangerous mine for twenty five years. The other man in the room sat beside his father, he was Marty Riley, a small dark fidgety man with the mannerisms of a rat. He was the miners’ “lawyer” who, not an actual lawyer, took care of things like wills for them.

William Sr. was approaching eighty years old, he was bent from age and too much manual labor. His face was a permanent scowl, lined and scarred from a harsh life. He’d been on Enjay working in The Hole since he was seventeen. When he started, The Company was still running The Hole, and he’d been lured there with an offer of a share in the Loughrea Mine. He’d married Katherine Jordan after his new prosperity and they raised eight children. He’d kept buying options in the mine his whole career and his sons John and William had followed him down the mine. His son Laurence was the first one to find a way off world, followed by his daughters Ellen, Honoria, Delia and Catherine. They managed to escape Enjay and the sad ends it put most men and women to. William Sr. spat when he said their names, if he mentioned them at all. His wife Katherine had a breakdown ten years ago and had killed herself by jumping into a mass air shaft and falling thousands of feet to the bottom of The Hole. Filthy and cluttered, his quarters hadn’t been cleaned properly in a decade. Michael, the youngest was the apple of William Sr’s eye, his new hope born after his other children had disappointed him. Michael had never actually gone down into the mine, he’d managed to sample online geology schools flunking and transferring until he patched together a barely credible degree. His father had used his seniority, belligerence, and cronies to get him an office job at the mine. Michael’s actual occupation was junkie and party boy, even now he swayed gently behind his father, a slightly unfocused expression on his unmarked face. 

William Sr. spoke “Read the fucking thing Marty, so we can get this done with.” Marty shifted uncomfortably in his seat, shooting a look at William Jr. and then he read “I William Dermody being of sound mind and body, do make the following bequests upon my death: To my son John I give a sum of five credits. To my son William I give a sum of one hundred credits to reimburse him for mining equipment he purchased for me. To my son Michael I give all my shares in Loughrea Mine and all remaining property and assets.” John saw his brother William tensing as Marty was reading and he jumped to his feet and placed himself between his father and William bringing William up short as he lunged. “What the fuck! What did I ever do to you old man that you fuck me over now?” William shouted. “You never did what I asked, you always had your way, your own ideas! Well fuck you now! My son Michael is the new man of the house and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it!” William Sr. roared, spit flying from his lips. “And as for you John, you’ve got your precious Deputy’s pension to take care of you, so you’ll be just fine won’t you ?” he said sarcastically, punctuating his words by spitting on the filthy floor at John’s feet.

William Sr. grabbed the paper, scrawled his signature in the middle of the page, and then scowling at Marty said “Fucking witness it.” and Marty signed and dated the paper. William Jr. shoved John aside and stormed out of the room. Michael had barely reacted, he just smiled a bit. John said “Dad, you’ve always been a miserable fucker, but begrudging your own blood... especially William who worked like a dog in that fucking mine… What a disgusting legacy, I’m glad Ma isn’t here to see this shit.” With the mention of his wife William Sr. rose suddenly from his chair, but immediately gasped and clutched himself and sank back breathing heavily. John shook his head and left his father’s quarters.

John went to the lifts at the end of the tunnel on level two where his father’s quarters were. He pressed the down button, he knew where his brother was headed and he wanted to try to help calm him down. As the lift descended towards the eighth level, the location of the nastier drinking establishments in The Hole, he thought about his own parting of ways from his father. It had happened fifteen years ago, he’d been working in the mine for five years at that point. He sucked as a miner, the instincts weren’t there, he’d been nearly killed a couple of times, the other miners hated being on his crew. He knew at the time it was just a matter of time before he got himself and perhaps some of them killed or injured. The recruiting push by the Deputies seemed like the answer, and Sheriff Ditson seemed like a good man who didn’t seem to care he was a miner or Irish or a Dermody. When he told his father about joining the Deputies his father had punched him in the face with no warning, no words, knocking him to the ground. William Sr. was still strong as an ox then, and he had stood over his son, shaking with rage. He said “You do this boy, and you are dead to me. Join the fucking company’s gang of thugs! Are you out of your mind?” John had tried to speak and tell his father they weren’t like that anymore, but William Sr. just came after him swinging and he fled.

The door opened on the eighth floor and he walked down the graffitied hallway until he reached “Rock’s” which was a mining gallery converted into a drinking establishment. He walked in and scanned the smoke filled room for his brother. He caught sight of him across the room, recognizing his shaved head and his broad tattooed shoulders visible now that he’d taken off his work jacket and sat at the bar in his t-shirt and overalls. A woman in a suit was resting her hand on the back of his neck, leaning in, speaking into his ear. She glanced his way as if she could feel him looking. It was Bridget Leetch, head of the geology department at the Loughrea Mine. She said something to William and he turned to look too, his face still showing his rage. She turned and headed for one of the other doors. John walked over to his brother.

“What’s Bridget doing in a place like this ?” John asked. “She’s a friend, we’ve been working together for a long time. She was telling me, what you’re probably going to tell me. That killing that old fucker won’t fix anything.” Bill replied. His voice was so cold saying the words that John shuddered. “Look, Bill, he’s a broken old man and he’s flailing around to take out his anger and disappointment on everyone in range. The truth is those shares aren’t worth shit, and he’s handing Michael a big pile of nothing.” His brother sneered, and took a drink of vodka from his glass. “Yeah, I know. I just wish I hadn’t listened to him, have those years back, got off this rock. I wish a lot of things…” His voice trailed off. John ordered a drink and sat down next to his brother and put his hand on his shoulder. They drank in silence for a while and then by some unspoken agreement they decided it was time to go, they embraced briefly, and left in different directions.

A few weeks later John had just returned from a reconnaissance patrol in the wasteland when he got a call from Sheriff Ditson. “John, I have some bad news. Your father was found dead yesterday morning in his quarters. His friend Paulie found him when he brought his meals for the day. He was sitting at the table, he’d had a heart attack sometime the night before. We tried to get you, but there was too much radiation interference yesterday. We haven’t told any of your family, we figured you would want to handle it.” John processed the news, he couldn’t find a word for how he felt. “Thanks for letting me know boss, I’ll let the rest of the family know.” Sheriff Ditson said “My condolences John, feel free to take a couple of days to get things arranged, I’ll get someone to cover for you.” John said “Thanks sir, I appreciate it.” He composed a brief message to his off world siblings on his portable com unit, as he sent it he doubted they would come back for the services. He checked the time, his brother William would be down the mine now, it wouldn’t be good to tell him until he got off his shift. He decided to go find Michael, he should be at his desk in the mine offices on level thirty. 

When the lift doors opened on level thirty, you would have thought you were entering the lobby of some sky scraper on a sunny blue skied earth like planet. It was all an illusion produced by imaging panels lining the lobby walls and ceiling, but it was convincing, so much so it gave him vertigo every time he came down here. He walked to the reception desk and asked for a pass to visit Michael in the Loughrea Mine’s labs, he showed his identification, said it was urgent family business. The receptionist called the mine labs main number and spoke with them briefly. She hung up and said “Michael didn’t come in this morning, he called in sick last night, he said he was going to stay in his quarters.” John sighed, and thanked her and headed to the twenty-second level where Michael lived. As he was leaving, he saw Bridget Leetch looking at him through the glass walls of the lab office.

He reached Michael’s quarters on the twenty-second level, a trendy level with many fancy quarters, his was done up in an industrial style, the door was an old mine bulkhead door. The irony was not lost on John. He rang the bell and waited. Nobody came to the door. Several more tries and he was getting pissed off. He called Seath Holman in the central Sheriff’s office. “Hey Seath, I know we’re not supposed to do it for personal stuff, but could you look in my brother’s quarters and see if he’s in there? I need to talk to him.” Seath hesitated and then said “Sure, I guess this qualifies for an exception, sorry for your loss by the way.” John waited while Seath enabled surveillance inside the quarters. She came back almost immediately, her voice tight “John, I’m going to pop the door, he’s in there, but he’s laying on the bathroom floor not moving looks like he’s vomited. There’s nobody else in there.” The door popped open and John rushed inside and through the stylized mine workroom interior to the steel and stone clad bathroom. His brother was sprawled naked on the floor in a pool of puke. John felt his neck and detected a weak pulse. Michael’s breathing was either stopped or seriously impeded. He did everything he’d been trained to do to clear his brother’s airway and to get him breathing normally again. A few moments later the MEDEVAC robots arrived and he had to step back as they inserted breathing tubes and attached sensors and picked Michael up to transport him.

Three hours later John was standing next to Michael’s hospital bed, looking at his brother at the center of a mass of wires and tubes. His chest rose and fell, but it probably wouldn’t if they turned off the machines. His brother William came into the room, still in his work clothes straight from his shift. He looked at Michael and then at John and said “What the hell happened ?” John said “From the surveillance that we have, he was down on eight in a party room with a bunch of girls until about midnight. I can see him taking all kinds of shit and drinking all kinds of shit, hard to tell exactly what. He comes home with a girl around four in the morning, they fuck for a while, she leaves. He watches TV, goes to bed and sleeps for a while. About an hour before I found him he sat straight up in bed obviously in distress, runs to the bathroom, pukes for a while and then finally collapses. He was down for about twenty minutes before I found him…” John paused “The doctors say his brain might not have been getting enough oxygen during that time, probably not, so if he wakes up, he’s likely going to have brain damage. They can’t say how bad.” William walked over and took his younger brother’s hand in his. He squeezed his hand, and he started crying, saying “Why, why did you have to fuck around with all these drugs? Why take that risk for a rush and some pussy ?” He collapsed to his knees, his head resting on the edge of the bed, his back heaving with sobs.

The funeral for his father was the next day, it was a sparsely attended event, William Sr. had been a difficult man to be any type of friend or kin to. John was there in his best formal uniform, William in his only suit, people filed through. A sequence of faces and words that didn’t register. Then towards the end, Bridget Leetch came in, she went to William and embraced him and stroked his face, speaking softly to him. She turned to John and offered him her hand “I’m so sorry for your loss John, and for the trouble with Michael.” He took her soft, perfectly manicured hand and he realized she and his brother were in a relationship. As he looked into her eyes, he had an awful feeling that something wasn’t right about her. It wasn’t a miner feeling, or a brother feeling, it was a cop feeling. She went to the casket and knelt down. “How long have you guys been together Bill ?” he asked. His brother tensed and then shrugged, “We keep it quiet, the mine management doesn’t like fraternizing across roles, but it’s been weeks now. We met on an ore regrading project and just hit it off. We’re thinking of getting hitched when I retire next year.” John said “Congratulations, I’m happy for you.” He looked at Bridget getting up from beside the casket, he couldn’t shake the bad cop feelings. 

Later that day, John knocked on Sheriff Ditson’s office door in the central Sheriff’s office. Ditson said “Come in.” then “Hey John, what can I do for  you ?” John hesitated, then he said “I think something is going on with my brother Michael’s ‘accident.’ I have a bad feeling it wasn’t an accident.” The Sheriff looked puzzled saying “But I think we have full surveillance of that night, we know what happened ?” John said “I think we didn’t go back far enough in his day, I think we only looked at what we needed to see to fit the ‘junkie O.D.’s and kills himself’ narrative.” Ditson said “Why do you think there is some other cause ?” John said “I think it involves my father’s death, shares in the mine that Michael would inherit, and somebody close to my brother Bill. Bill’s been seeing Bridget Leetch head of the mine lab, since around the time my father made a will. I found out at the wake that they’re planning to marry. Bridget would know if my father’s mine shares were worth anything different for some reason.” The Sheriff stood up and said “We can find out that answer pretty fast, I know Michael Loughlin, the President of Lochrea Mine, he’d know if there were any developments like that. But I’d assume he’d have told the shareholders if there were. Let's go talk to him, if something is going on we can pick up Bridget as well.” He strapped on his blaster, and they left for the mine offices.

A short time later they were in Loughlin’s opulent office with it’s simulated view of trees and mountains out the window. It was snowing today. Sheriff Ditson explained what they were interested in, and before he’d even finished Loughlin raised his hand and said “Sheriff, I can tell you right now that there has been a development with the mine. I’m excited about it! There was a regrading effort a while ago and in the process of doing the analysis we found significant amounts of a rare earth they’ve started using in hyperdrives. We never looked for it before so it wasn’t one of the things we extract for. Turns out we’ve got a significant amount, and even better our spoil heap is filled with it. Our value has gone up so much that we have just signed a deal with The Company to be reacquired at a significant premium.” He smiled and looked back and forth between them. “We sent an information packet to all the shareholders just yesterday, it’s not a secret.” John and the Sheriff looked at each other and John asked “Who sent out the information packet ?” Loughlin said “The labs division sent them out, Bridget and her team have been working on the data for the valuations since the find.”

The two officers walked down the aisles of lab tables and cubicles towards Bridget’s office, as they approached they saw that her desk was vacant. Sheriff Ditson called Deputy Holman at the central office, and asked for a location on Bridget Leetch. After a short pause, Seath replied “She’s not in The Hole, she exited to the surface in a mine hauler about ten minutes ago. I assume she’s going to the Loughrea Mine location.” Ditson said “We’re going to go out to the mine, please start reviewing the whole day before Michael Dermody’s O.D. and pull out any interactions with Bridget. I want to know if she could have drugged him.” Seath said “I’m on it.” 
A short time later John and the Sheriff were in atmosphere suits in a Sheriff’s department transport vehicle rolling over the mine roads towards the Loughrea Mine. As they arrived at the mine they saw people spilling out of the mine entrance, running. Miners were usually deliberate in their movements, a wrong move could kill you numerous ways. Running was not good. They intercepted a miner and made him stop, pressing their helmets against his to speak. “What is happening, why are you running ?” the man struggled with them and said “Let me go dammit! Bill Dermody has gone nuts and he’s going to blow up the whole fucking mine, which we’re standing on top of, we need to get at least a half a mile away from here to be safe!” He wrenched himself loose and ran away down the mining road.

Sheriff Ditson and John shoved their way past the last of the fleeing miners and descended into the mine, John knew what level his brother was working on so they headed there. As they reached the fresh gallery where the most recent mining had been going on, they saw a body sprawled against one wall. It was smaller than any miner, and the suit was newer and cleaner than any miner, it was Bridget. She was sitting against the rough wall, her helmet was filled with blood so that her face was half obscured, the back of the helmet was transfixed by a piece of reinforcing steel that stuck out of the wall. She was dead. They heard the sound of drilling nearby, and they walked around the gallery to where the main ore extraction shaft came down. There was Bill, identifiable by his name stenciled on his atmosphere suit’s back and the large shamrock emblazoned on his helmet. There was a whole explosives locker next to him, the door wrenched off with a loader or something. He was wiring and shoving indiscriminate amounts of explosives into drill holes as fast as his skilled hands could go.

John stepped forward and yelled “Bill, stop! Stop! Put down the explosives!” His brother turned to look and his eyes were wild with rage, tears streaming down his face. “No John! I need to kill this fucking mine, it killed my mother, my father, my brother, me…” John said “Michael’s not dead, you’re not dead, we don’t know what’s going to happen... “ Bill waved his hand angrily yelling “He’s a fucking vegetable, because of me, because of this mine… she thought I’d be happy, to be fucking rich… with my little brother brain dead hooked up to a fucking machine…” with a wracking sob he turned and grabbed another bundle of explosives and started wiring it. He’d worked in the dark and in every conceivable unpleasant condition that the mine could generate, so his hands did the work even though his tears blinded him. While Bill was focused on John, Sheriff Ditson moved to where the detonation board was located, he saw that Bill was wiring the explosives in series to a live board. One mistake and they would be killed in the blast, and because of the location, buried under a half a mile of planet as the mine pancaked down. He yanked first one and then the other blast wire out of the detonation board. He signaled to John, and they both grabbed Bill from behind and pinned him struggling to the ground. John put detention clamps on his brother and paralyzed him.

Because the mine had been reacquired by The Company, it was considered their jurisdiction during the incident. So Bill finally finally made it off planet to be tried at a Company facility, and then locked up for life in a Company prison.  A converted mine.  Michael never woke up and he was disconnected from life support, he passed away in a matter of hours. Seath had found surveillance footage earlier in the day of Michael’s O.D. of Bridget and Michael snorting lines of a white powder in her office, celebrating the report. She’d prepared the lines from two different containers. Bridget had learned of William Sr’s will and his death from Paulie via her cronies in the mine. John Dermody inherited his father’s shares in the Loughrea Mine, a considerable sum. He split it up evenly between him and his off world siblings. He gave his share to an organization that tried to help miners with substance abuse problems. He went back to work at the Sheriff’s office, after all he had to earn his pension.














By James Goodwin

This story came to me when I was thinking about how the Sheriff’s would punish people on Enjay. The Hole is not that different from a prison, and sending them off world would be just what people would want and too expensive in any case. So the idea of camping came to me as a cost effective solution short of just executing people.

A kind of autopilot guided Charlie Ross’ erratic steps through the twisting hallways of level one of The Hole, an enclosed city protruding from the side of a giant open pit mine on the planet Enjay. It had to be autopilot because Charlie was so drunk he would probably fail the “What is your name?” part of the sobriety test. This wasn’t unusual, he had been pretty solidly drunk whenever he wasn’t working for the last five years. His Sheriff’s Deputy blue coveralls were filthy and had holes from stabbings and some from blaster bolts. He was comfortable in them though so he let them be, and fuck anyone else. He still lived on level one, the oldest and some would say the nastiest level of The Hole. Closest to the surface the temperature was all over the place, and it was so old many of the corridors were just sprayed polymer and concrete over rock. It had some perks, many of the living quarters there were larger than anywhere else because they were actually converted mining galleries from the first mining operation.

Charlie turned the corner where his quarters were, dragging his shoulder along the wall until his course corrected and he aimed for the door. He mindlessly palmed the lock and it opened and he veered into the large irregular chamber where he slept off his binges. Like any good habitual drunk he’d arranged the mattress that he slept on so that it was pretty much where he usually passed out upon making the journey back from the still rooms on level eight. And so it was now that he keeled over onto the mattress only bouncing his head off the floor a little on account of being a slightly off track when he started to fall. Charlie wasn’t a big man, he was about 5’ 11” and a wiry 150 lbs, but he was tough and wrinkled and dark as the root of an ancient tree. His long grey beard was streaked with tobacco juice stains from a pretty much continuous chew habit. Now he lay there snoring, dead to the world.

The mattress was the center of a circular cluster of empty bottles, clothes, food containers and other assorted debris. Outside that circle however was an apartment, dusty but organized, with evidence of a couple living there. There were pictures of a smiling clean shaven Charlie with a red haired woman slightly taller than him, always gazing at him like he was a holy man. If you looked down on the scene from above it seemed like current day Charlie had tunneled into this apartment and decided to be a squatter in the livingroom. As the night wore on, the dreams started to claw their way past the liquor and Charlie would yell “Winifred!” or “No!” or “Please!” and then sleep garbled gibberish. Finally, in the early morning, or what the city’s programming simulated as a morning, he lurched up from the mattress, rushed to the bathroom, the only other part of the apartment apparently in use, and threw up.

Charlie got himself together, shaking a bit from the paroxysm of vomiting and stripped off his clothes and took a shower. He steadily reduced the temperature of the shower, numbing himself and driving off the remaining intoxication. He pulled some shorts and a t-shirt out of the mostly clean pile, put them on followed by his jumpsuit, gun belt and boots. He was working today, so he’d need coffee and actual food so he left his quarters and headed for the greasy spoon that was two hallways over. He always caused a slight ripple when he went into the place, it was frequented by people who were technically criminals. However in The Hole there weren’t technically any laws, just a sort of balance. He sat at the counter and Drew the owner came over and poured him some coffee and then gestured to the cook to make the usual. Charlie didn’t have to speak in this joint. The ripple in the room died away, Charlie wasn’t after anyone. He drank his coffee and scanned the messages on his communications device, nothing of interest. Which sucked. It meant a whole day trying to dodge his thoughts and his memories and the images from his dreams. He drank his coffee and ate his eggs, pseudo-bacon, and fake-potatoes.

After breakfast he boarded a lift down to the twentieth level where the Sheriff’s command center was. He was away in his thoughts and hadn’t yet consumed enough coffee, this is why it didn’t strike him as odd that the lift was empty except for him. By the time it started to occur to him, the doors opened on level twelve and two men with knives leapt through the opening and onto him. He was fast and he’d drawn his blaster, but one of the men’s knives transfixed his gun hand wrist and his blaster dropped to the floor as his hand involuntarily opened. He screamed with pain reaching with his other hand for his blade, but the other guy clamped an immobility cuff onto his wrist and that took out that whole side of his body. He fell under their combined weight and they pummeled him until he blacked out.

Charlie woke up feeling beat up and sick for the second time that day and the bad feeling he usually had about not recognizing where he was didn’t go away this time. He was laying on his side in immobility cuffs, his blaster, knife, gun belt were gone. He was in a nondescript living quarters someplace in the teens, hard to tell because they all looked the same down there. He realized that there was someone behind him, silently watching him. He painfully jerked his shoulders around to get a look. He recognized the man, in his late twenties, sandy hair, nose broken and healed a few times, one cheek bone a little more pronounced than the other, ears that looked like growths rather than normal ears. Jonnie Crispe was a bare knuckle fighter, a pretty successful one, meaning he wasn’t dead yet. “The fuck you doing Jonnie Crispe? Sheriff’s going to turn you inside out…” Crispe didn’t let him finish, and prodded him with a stick which turned out to be a shock baton. Charlie convulsed and nearly bit his tongue off. 

“Hey Charlie, no need to fill me in on the consequences of my actions. I’m not planning on hanging around after we’re done. I was going to move on anyway but I wanted to take care of this before I went, or actually on the way.” Charlie was still paralyzed by the shock and could only spit and cough in response. “You probably didn’t know that Bill Mansel was my dad, not many people did, we didn’t spend a lot of time together since he was a busy smuggler. In any case, he was, and I loved my dad.” Charlie’s eyes bulged and he managed to stutter “I tried to give Bill a chance, he was smuggling in counterfeit drugs, killing people, he wouldn't stop! Anyone else would have…” Jonnie shocked him again, Charlie’s head slammed back into the floor a trickle of blood flowed from his nose and ears. “What you did was send him ‘camping’. You boys think it’s funny to call putting a man in a survival tent in the middle of nowhere for a week with no suit and barely enough O2 and food and water to survive ‘camping’. About a 50/50 shot at survival as it turns out, most folks here only have cursory outside survival training. I was told that camping referred to a leisure activity that people did with their kids in the old days, a tent out in the forest whatever that is.” His eyes welled up “Painful irony for me.”

“So, perhaps by now you’ll have figured out where this is going…” Charlie tried to bring himself to his feet, but Jonnie shocked him until he fell unconscious. The men worked quickly to put Charlie into an emergency atmosphere protection bag, used to rescue people who were injured outside. They looked at Jonnie and he said “Ok, when I trigger the electro-magnetic pulse we’re going to winch down lift shaft number five all the way to the bottom and go out the mine tractor exit. Suit up, the shielding on the suits will keep them working through the EMP.” He went over to a box under the sink and pulled it away to reveal a spiral device with glowing super capacitor that had been quietly building up charge for six months, so slow none of the security systems detected it. Once they had their suits on, he pressed the black button on the top of the device and there was a brilliant flash which fortunately their suit’s sun shield blocked or they’d have been blinded permanently. Everything around them shut down, air, light, monitors, door locks. They picked Charlie up in the bag and left.

Outside the tractor entrance they carried Charlie to a ravine where Crispe had hidden horses for them. Horses were four legged walking robots that were used for transportation on the surface. They were better than wheeled vehicles because they were able to clamber over the cracked and broken surface with ease. They threw Charlie over the back of one of them, activating the O2 in the bag and seeing him gasp and then mounted up and started riding out into the giant wasteland that was the bottom of the Paramus mine. The total area was about a thousand square miles, give or take. The land was cross hatched with mining roads but there was nothing out there except for mining waste and the deep dark holes of abandoned shafts. They rode for several hours before Charlie started to come around.

Charlie knew where he was and why, and for some reason it really didn’t bother him too much. He hung over the horse, his wrist was throbbing as were the injuries from the shocks and beating. He looked around but from the angle he was at, all he could see was the back legs of the horse and the road surface, not very helpful. ‘Hey Winifred, Looks like this is it, I’m just about done, maybe if the religious fuckers are right I’ll get to see you again, that’d be cool. But more likely it’s just going to suck for a while and then it’ll be lights out. Easier than you had it.’ he thought. He tried to think about the happy times. He’d married Winifred Hastings after meeting her at the Lawman’s Ball fundraising dance when he was a rookie. They’d latched onto each other like it was just the obvious thing to do. They were very different people, she was a Phd. geologist, scholarly, well read, driven and intellectual. He was a cop, he came from a cop family, he loved being a cop, he loved his fellow deputies almost as much as he loved her. They turned out to share a lot of interests in between and were a great complement for each other.

The next thing he knew, Charlie was being thrown violently down off the horse, landing on the ground in the atmosphere bag, which he hoped didn’t rip. Crispe got down from his horse and came over and pressed his helmet against the window in the front of the bag so Charlie could hear him. “I don’t know how long these survival bags are supposed to be good for. My dad was supposed to have enough in his shelter for a week and then they’d come back retrieve him. He lost his mind from the stress around the third day and tried to run back to The Hole without a suit. The atmosphere stopped his running after about a half a mile and then killed him by burning his lungs out in about an hour. So, if you can keep it together you’ve got the better option of just suffocating.” He stood up, mounted his horse and all of them rode off out of Charlie’s field of vision.

As Charlie lay there looking up at the sky, the two suns marching along in their daily path he couldn’t help but think about when everything went bad. He’d come home one morning after an all night shift and found Winifred still home, sitting at the table, drinking bourbon. She looked at him her eyes red from crying and said “I had my physical last night at the end of my shift, I’ve got Tarbell’s syndrome.” Charlie had heard of Tarbell’s syndrome, a few people in The Hole had been diagnosed with it. He knew that it meant certain death with no hope of a cure. He knelt in front of her and hugged her to him and and wept. The progress of the disease was relentless and excruciatingly slow, she had digestive problems, liver problems, kidney problems. All the doctors could do was try and manage the symptoms and the pain. This went on for two hard years. One evening he came home and she was asleep. He took off his blaster and put it on the night table. He turned around to take off his coveralls and he heard her yell from behind him “Who the fuck are you ? Why are you in my bedroom? If you move I’m going to shoot you!” He turned to look and saw she’d grabbed his blaster right before she pulled the trigger in panic without aiming. The bolt went through the back of his leg. He managed to disarm her and restrain her. He showed her pictures of them together, he told her who he was, told her about her disease. She wept with frustration, he wept with horror and loss. She was hospitalized for a few days, but then she became catatonic and remained that way until she died a month later. His life had been a tunnel of work and drunkenness since then. He’d been half hoping that someone would finally take him out for a long time.

Both of the suns had set and the brief night on Enjay had come, the stars were very pretty, the tiny moons sped across the sky. It was sorta peaceful, and Charlie was feeling light headed. It was either from lack of oxygen because the survival bag had been depleted already, or from the blood loss from the stab wound in his wrist. Charlie smiled, and tears streamed down his face. “Winifred, I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, I would have given anything, done anything…” his voice trailed away. Just then a light shone down through the window of the survival bag and Tom Ditson’s helmet came into view as he pressed it to the glass. “Who are you talking to Charlie?” Ditson asked. “Winifred, Tom I was talking to Winifred…” Charlie said. Sheriff Tom Ditson nodded and then connected another O2 tank to the survival bag. He said “We were on to Jonnie as soon as your blaster left your possession and your location sensor said you were horizontal and not in a place for that. The EMP slowed us down a bit, the office is shielded so all our stuff stayed up. However, we had to use the emergency mechanical lift to get out. That thing is really slow. Seath is managing the restarts on all the other levels. Fortunately people in The Hole are so used to shit breaking all the time, there really isn’t any panic. Anyway, sorry it took so long, we’ve got you.” He and Deputy Longley hauled Charlie up onto the back of a horse and headed back to The Hole.

A few days later Charlie was back at work in the Sheriff’s office and Sheriff Ditson called him into his office. “They got Jonnie Crispe and the other two over at The Stink, they’ve been dealt with.” Charlie looked pained and started to say something but Ditson cut him off “This isn’t about you and them Charlie, it isn’t about his daddy, it’s that we’re the only law here at all and we can’t have anyone in any of the cities getting the idea it’s ok to come after us.” Charlie nodded. Ditson looked at him and squinted, “Is that a new coverall Charlie ?” Charlie spit tobacco juice into Ditson’s waste basket, an action that Ditson had repeatedly tried to discourage in the past. “So what if it is? You trying to sexually harass me now Ditson?” Sheriff Ditson smiled, “Get the fuck out of here Charlie… go do some lawman shit.”







By James Goodwin

This story got started because I was tired of summer and was impatient for fall to come. Also, in my previous story “Cowboys” Seath didn’t have much of a role, it just worked out that way, so I started with her in this one.

Seath Holman sat straight up in her cot, suddenly awake, her blaster in her hand, her dark hair plastered to the side of her face by sweat, not at all sure what had awakened her. Her quarters were one room away from the sheriff's office monitoring center, she was never far from the pulse of life in Paramus ( AKA The Hole) on planet Enjay. After establishing that there was no threat in her quarters, she got up from her bunk, dragged her hair back into a ponytail, laced on her boots and put on her gun belt over her shorts and tank top and holstered her blaster. Normally she’d be wearing the blue coveralls of a Deputy Sheriff, but it was “Summer” in the Hole, an ironic reference to seasons on a planet that really only had one season, shitty. Summer in the Hole was actually the six to eight weeks a year that each of the secondary air processing systems was taken offline to be rebuilt in sequence. If they weren’t rebuilt every year a failure at the wrong time in the planet’s orbit would cook them all. Temperatures would go up an average of twenty degrees at peak when the two suns were shining on the face of The Hole that showed out of the side of the mostly defunct open pit mine it was named for.

Seath left her quarters and headed down the hallway towards the monitoring center passing a few similarly atired colleagues and grabbing an iced coffee from the break room on the way. In the monitoring center she dropped into the seat next to her boss Tom Ditson. He looked away from the monitors, surprised to see her. “What’s up Seath ?” he asked. “I don’t know, but something kicked me awake and I almost blastered my quarters, so I figured I’d have a look…” she said. Ditson knew that Seath’s intuition about the city and it’s inhabitants was finely tuned and very accurate so he just pushed the control panel over to her and leaned back. Seath’s fingers flowed over the control panel, bringing up dozens of displays spreading themselves across the enormous display surface. Soon she started to eliminate displays and combine others, working so fast Tom had no idea what she was reacting to in order to decide which ones were significant.

“I’ve got an idea.“ she said, pulling two cross sections of different levels in The Hole together in the center of the display area. She pointed at the temperature readouts. “Look at level nine, it is almost a degree higher in temperature than level eight and level seven.” Sheriff Ditson shrugged and and said “So what, there are temperature fluctuations all the time?” Seath brought up a historical graph of the temperature over the last few days and said “This isn’t a fluctuation, it’s been trending up for several hours, and that should be impossible, all of the levels should have equalized and absorbed any fluctuation in minutes.” Ditson’s eyes widened in recognition, and he said “The Crazy 8’s are at it again… fuck…” She zoomed in on a section of quarters on the eighth level and then overrode the privacy lockouts and looked inside. In most rooms families were asleep, in a couple of rooms illegal and officially ignored drinking clubs were supplying the hard core drinkers with their cheap product, and then there were four rooms in a group that remained black. “Super, I’m going to have to go down there.” Seath said, looking back in the footage to when the surveillance had been blocked, only few hours ago, that was why the alarms hadn’t triggered yet.

Tom Ditson stood up from the console and said, “Yes, but you should take Charlie with you. If he’s sober enough.” Seath frowned and said “I’d rather take Mark, Charlie would certainly get to the bottom of this fast, but then we’d have another problem that might take weeks to settle out. I think Mark can restrain himself from putting holes in everyone he meets.” Ditson nodded, “OK, but remember Mark’s new and he doesn’t know the Crazy 8’s and the Niners like you and Charlie do, so keep an eye on him” Seath paged Mark Longley and while she waited she reviewed the last few hours of surveillance from levels eight and nine. 

Longley arrived a few minutes later and she and the Sheriff brought him up to speed. Then Seath said, “There are some interesting things in recorded surveillance, I’ve been looking in particular at the mass air returns on level eight, check this out.” She showed them a video of a man with a bald head tattooed with a large eight ball with a face and a screaming mouth full of teeth walking past the mass air return. The man passed it once then a second time in the same hour and then the third time he gave a jerk as he went by, a blur of something flying up into the air return was briefly visible but mostly blocked from surveillance by his large tattooed body. Mark said “What was that ? Did he throw something into the mass air return ? Why didn’t it just fall back out ?” Ditson scowled and said “It was an emergency atmosphere seal, it looks like a grenade, you arm it and then there’s a delay so you can toss it into a hallway or a room and it explodes deploying a fast hardening polymer shield that seals against atmosphere.” Seath continued “They’re in emergency kits all over the city, supposedly tamper proof and alarmed, apparently not.”

Longley looked back and forth between Seath and Ditson in mild confusion “Ok, so I get it that the Crazy 8’s and the Niners are rival gangs, and that they hate each other, but why would the 8’s do something that they know will imbalance the air system and hurt them too ?” Tom Ditson sighed and said, “Because this isn’t about the gangs, it's about something else, the 8’s want us to focus on this because it affects the whole city while they do whatever it is they’re doing. You two need to go up there and figure out what it is and shut it down. I’ll see if I can keep a lid on the Niners.” Seath and Mark went into the next room and started putting on their body armour and their blues, they were going to roast especially on the upper levels, but being cool wasn’t worth having no protection at all from knives and blaster bolts.

Soon, the two Deputies were sweating profusely as their lift rose from level twenty up to the lower numbered levels closer to the surface. The lower numbered levels were the oldest ones, built during the boom times of the mine, thrown together rapidly, without safety and comfort in mind. The communities there were the descendants of those original mine workers, used to hard work, hard drinking and sudden death. Now that the mining operation had shrunk to a precision operation extracting only very expensive, very rare elements from The Hole, a new economy had sprung up to support the unemployed miners. Most of them couldn’t leave, they didn’t have the money to pay for a jump ship, and they were too old and beaten for the company to bother with moving them. So they turned to gambling, whoring, bare knuckle fights, and drugs for their amusement and employment. None of these things was strictly illegal in The Hole, but excessive violence or acts endangering public health and safety in their pursuit was kept under control by the Sheriff and his Deputies.

“I was born on seven, not much better a place than eight or nine. My parents sold clothes made from recycled material, they were good at staying out of the way of the gangs. They managed to make enough money to keep me from having to become a sex worker like most girls on seven.” Seath said “I grew up around the Crazy 8’s and Niners and they didn’t like it much when I joined the Sheriff’s department. I always wondered if they had something to do with my husband’s killing.” Mark couldn’t think of what to say in response to this, so he just nodded. The doors of the lift opened on level eight and a wave of humid air smelling of human funk, drug smoke, and things best not discussed rushed over Mark and Seath. Mark almost gagged as he tried to draw a breath in the heavy air. Seath scanned the entryway before stepping off the lift, she beckoned for Mark to follow her as she headed down a wide corridor whose walls were emblazoned with screaming 8 balls. People glared at them as the passed, most of them partially clothed displaying their gang ink, selling things out of the doors to their quarters. Seath led the way towards the rooms that she’d seen blacked out, stepping over drugged out people laying against the walls and dodging naked children that pelted after each other fighting and playing in the hallway.

The Deputies’ communication units chimed and Mark said “Go ahead command center.” Tom Ditson responded “I had a word with the Markus the leader of the Niners. He had already noticed the rise in temperature and had sent someone to talk to the 8’s about it. They beat up his messenger and sent him back, so now Markus is thinking of sending a larger group with a different mission. I told him that the 8’s were trying to provoke him and that I didn’t know why yet. I asked him to give us a day to get to the bottom of this. He said he’d give us four hours, which he really isn’t giving us, his head tactical guy is on his way back from Newark and won’t be back for four hours.” Seath said “Understood, we’ll try and get this over with quick, we don’t want to be in the crossfire if they come down here.” Ditson continued “Another thing, the computer has been looking at the temperature increase, according to its simulation just blocking the air returns doesn’t explain it. Something on eight is generating a bunch of heat, and the source seems to be close to the blacked out rooms you found.” Seath and Mark looked at each other, Seath said “Acknowledged, we’re almost there, I’ll leave comms open.”

They reached the block they were looking for and noticed that unlike the blocks around it all of the doors on both branching hallways were closed. People across from them, upon noticing the Deputies, pulled their wares inside their quarters and closed their doors as well. “I don’t like that at all.” said Mark, flipping off the safety on his blaster and making sure it was free in it’s holster. Seath yelled “Ok you fucking gang bangers, if you think I’m going to kick in your door so you can blow me the fuck up with some booby trap you are out of your fucking minds!” Her voice rang down the silent hallways, and then she yelled “Here’s how it’s going to go, you are going to open up your doors nice and slow and come out here to answer my questions!” She pulled out a remote console, “If you do not come out here, I’m going to retreat to a safe distance and then I will fill those four rooms completely with sewage. I will begin counting down!” She backed out of the junction of hallways shouting “5”...”4”...”3”...”2”... and the door nearest the junction on the right side opened and a man stepped out.

“Hey shitbag!” Seath said, “Shouldn’t you be more polite? They came out...” Mark whispered, both Seath and Shitbag looked amused, “His name is Shitbag, his momma calls him that… I’ve known him for 20 years, isn’t that right Shitbag?” “Heh, heh, heh yep that’s right Deputy, my momma had a sense of humor she did.” Shitbag said through some of the worst teeth Mark had ever seen, his face was tattooed to look like the the screaming 8 ball and his mouth was a pretty good rendering of the scary teeth on the logo. “What do you deputies want ?” Seath put away the remote console and rested her hand on her blaster. “Surveillance is blind in these four units, that’s not allowed, we need it back on, and I need to see what’s going on in there.” Shitbag did something with his mouth that Mark decided to interpret as smiling “Sure thing deputy, come right in, I’ll show you around…” Seath drew her blaster and it’s targeting laser painted a red dot on Shitbag’s forehead right on the number eight. “No thanks, you have them open all the doors come out here with their hands where I can see them and stand facing the wall and then we’ll take a peek.”

Shitbag nodded and then he waved his left hand, Mark’s blaster was out now as well, but almost at the same time the doors had opened and a dozen 8’s spilled out and were now pointing their blasters at the deputies. “I’m sorry, we require privacy, so you two should go back where you came from, unless you want to get your ink and join us?” Shitbag said, and then made noises that were probably laughing. Seath said “OK, have it your way…” but instead of backing away, she stepped forward and shot Shitbag in the forehead, there was a rattle of triggers being pulled, but no blaster fire tore Seath to pieces. “All of you get on the floor, now, anyone hesitates I will put you down!” they all hit the deck assuming the approved position. Mark’s gun hand was trembling slightly, and once he’d composed himself he said “Why aren’t we dead ?” Seath leaned in and whispered in his ear “We intercept all of the blasters that get into this place and we make sure they all have a remote deactivate, that was what I was doing with the control pad. Be careful, can’t remote deactivate a machete.”

They put demobilization cuffs on the gang members in the hallway keeping watch on the open doors while they did it. Detention robots tracked to the cuffs came and removed the criminals and Shitbag’s cuffed corpse. Then they went in the nearest unit, Seath first, followed by Mark. The unit wasn’t set up as a living space anymore, it was filled with the heavy boxes that ore was shipped out of the mine in. Mark examined the box nearest him checking it with a scanner for explosives and trigger circuitry, the scan was clean so he lifted the top of the box. A gentle red glow emanated from the box and their radiation detector alarms went off, Mark dropped the lid and the alarms shut off. He looked at the reading and then at Seath “Whatever it is, that stuff is extremely hot, we’re probably going to need decontamination when we get out of here.” Seath said “There’s no radioactive ore on this planet, if there were the company would be here mining it” Mark replied “Well, we’ve found our heat source, this stuff is still reacting. Let's check the other units.”

Two of the other units were exactly the same, filled with ore boxes. It turned out that the 8’s had cut through the walls of the units, connecting them and the final room which was different. It had a big tunnel going out the back, the cut away wall section was propped next to it, to allow it to be plugged up again. The other openings were the same way. As they entered the room, an ore box hauler could be seen coming down the tunnel, they ducked behind an ore box and watched as the driver connected the hauler to another ore box and turned around in the cab of the hauler and drove back into the tunnel. “What the fuck is going on ?” Mark hissed, “They’re taking the ore into a tunnel ? I’m no miner but that seems like the wrong way.” Seath grinned and said “We need to wait for them to get done with their work.” She led him to a closet that was too small for an ore box and they pulled the door mostly closed. They watched the ore haulers clear out the rooms and then the drivers came out of the tunnel and levered the wall section back into place and sprayed a masking sealant over it hiding the seam. They did the same for the openings between the rooms. Then they pulled out a black market control pad and turned the surveillance back on and left.

Seath and Mark emerged from their closet and crossed to where the tunnel opening had been. Seath pulled a prybar out of her belt and levered the wall section back out and they shoved it aside together. They turned on the flashlights mounted on their blasters and headed into the tunnel. After about 100 meters the tunnel opened into a huge gallery, the walls were rough but covered with wire mesh and concrete, anchor bolts protruded everywhere. Their atmosphere warning started to chime, the air in this space was mixed with the planet’s atmosphere. It wouldn’t kill them right away, but more than a few hours and they’d be in serious trouble. 

Seath went over to where there was a huge stack of ore containers and she rubbed the label on one of the containers so she could read it and it came off in her hand revealing another label. “It’s not an ore container, it’s a waste container and this is radioactive waste from someone’s illegal reactor. People needing power for unsanctioned businesses often use dirty reactors, but then they have a problem of an ever growing radioactive signature pointing right at them for any patrolling company cruiser to see. These knuckleheads have gone into business storing radioactive waste in the construction space around the enclosed city that they live in.” Mark shook his head “That is the fucking stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But wait, how are they getting the stuff in here to start with? Only company ships come here, we get manifests from all of them.” Mark’s face showed dawning realization as he continued answering his own question “Empties, we don’t weigh the empties coming back from the processing plant.” Seath nodded, she’d gotten there a while ago. “And the cleaning and repair plant for empties is on the eighth level, so people moving empties around on this level isn’t strange at all.”

Just then there was a loud rumbling noise and a shockwave pushing a wall of dust threw them both to the ground. Once the dust settled a bit, they could see that the tunnel they had come in was gone. Seath tried to contact the Sheriff on her communications unit, but it wasn’t working in this space so close to a big pile of nuclear waste. She said “Don’t worry, Tom’s been watching us since they put the surveillance back on, he knows where we are, he’ll get us out.” Mark looked at the huge gallery they were in and it felt very small all of a sudden. They got as far from the stack of waste boxes as they could and sat down against the wall. After an hour or so, they heard a noise from above them and they saw a big plate in the top of the gallery slide away with a grinding noise. Charlie, unmistakeable in his nasty blueish coveralls in a harness descended from the opening on a cable. “Hey fuckwits, I got sent to get you out of here!” he yelled.

After more abuse, he put the harness on each of them in turn and winched them out of the pit and then himself. He used a rusty old lever mechanism to shove the plate back into place. “What is this place ?” Mark asked looking around at the dusty lockers and showers. “It’s the main entrance for the workers who built the city, there used to be an elevator that went down to the bottom of that gallery, they removed it a long time ago.” Charlie growled, “Tom’s rounding up the rest of the 8’s idiot leadership and he’s alerted the company assholes to trace the loads back and close down the source. If you two kids are ok, our next task is to reopen the bulk air returns and then we have to guard a bunch of ore haulers so they can take this shit out of there and ship it to a proper fucking disposal site.”

Later that night they were all in a bar back in their own domain on level twenty. Tom said “Bullet Head, the 8’s warlord, was under the mistaken impression that a) the waste was inert, wrong it was still reacting and generating a lot of heat, so that would have created a nice little nuclear pile and b) that the back wall of The Hole was shielded from radiation just like the front, wrong again, the company was too cheap to shield the back of the city as the rock behind it is plenty of protection from the Sun's radiation. So If we’d missed this little operation for any longer, it would have irradiated several levels of the city and then melted down and probably opened up the whole side of city making it uninhabitable. We’ve put in scales and radiation scanners in the empties return bay to prevent this stupid idea from reoccurring. ” He paused raising his glass of bourbon “Here’s to Seath and her weird senses!” Everyone drank to that. Seath said “Actually I don’t think it’s that weird, I realized that what woke me up was the backdraft caused by closing up the bulk air returns.” Everyone looked around the table and nervous laughter broke out, then another round was ordered and they got back to bitching about the heat.







By James Goodwin

This story just came from the first line which, for years, came to me every time I would think about writing a short story. Apparently this is what comes after that line...

The three men sat on their horses atop the towering mesa, looking out over the huge empty valley. Empty except for the thin column of dust trailing behind tiny figures in the distance, moving towards them. The oldest man in the group, slightly stooped with age, sighed and said “Well, they’re coming, just like I said…” he spat into the scupper that ringed the inside of his helmet, a red noxious mixture of tobacco juice, phlegm, and blood “...this is going to fucking suck.” He turned to look at the young man beside him, a tall thin guy, with a relatively new atmosphere suit, helmet still shiny and not hardly pockmarked, unlike his own. The young guy looked at him nervously, shifting in the saddle of his horse. “Horse” was local slang for the all-terrain walking robots that they rode on, the atmosphere on the planet would burn the lungs out of a horse and it’s rider in a matter of hours. “Enjay” was the name of the planet derived from the name assigned to it by a humorist in the first wave of settlers, short for “New Jersey.” In fact the mesa that they were atop was the opening of a giant open pit mine, now abandoned, the city of Paramus was dug into its wall below them, safe from the scouring storms and blasting solar radiation. Nobody called the city by its name they just called it “The Dry Hole” or just “The Hole.”

The third man looked at the old guy and the kid and shook his head, he was wearing a weathered  helmet that one could just distinguish a star pattern inside a circle on the back and the letters “SHER” and “DITSON.” He said “I’d rather deal with them before they get to the city, last time they made a mess and lots of civilians got caught up in it and hurt.” The older guy whose damaged and heavily modified helmet was labeled “ROSS” said “Jesus Christ Tom, what the fuck are we going to do with them out in the wasteland, they fucking live there, they’re armed to the teeth and you’ve got an old man and a fucking infant on your side…” he jerked his thumb at the kid who’s helmet plainly read “LONGLEY.” Mark Longley shot him an irritated look. He’d been taking crap from Charlie Ross for weeks now since he’d arrived to be the newest deputy working in The Hole. He wondered what he’d done in his life to merit this kind of punishment.

Sheriff Thomas Ditson looked up to the sky as if an answer was going to be written there, he didn’t see one, instead he noted that the second sun was rising. The radiation meters on their horses started to ping quietly. Without speaking they all grabbed the handles that protruded from the backs of the horses, kicked them into motion and turned towards the descending ramp that led into the city and its radiation shielding, their suits provided protection, but nobody put them to the test unessesarily.

A short time later the three of them attired in matching jumpsuits colored “I’m a cop blue” cinched at the waist with a belt holding blaster/stun gun, cuffs, first aid kit, radio, and extra power modules walked into the Sheriff’s Office on the middle level of The Hole. Charlie’s jumpsuit looked like it had never been cleaned, it had spatters of his and other’s blood, maybe other fluids, and a couple of holes where blaster bolts had burned their way through it and him. People had tried mentioning that he should wash or better yet burn the uniform, on good days they were answered with a “fuck yourself” on bad days with gunfire. In the office was the other deputy, Seath Holman a short dark haired woman wearing the same jumpsuit and equipment. Seath looked up from her desk and saw all she needed to know in their faces, she muttered “Fuck me…” under her breath.

Everyone got to work packing gear for the trek across the plains to meet the cowboys. They were called cowboys because they were herders, of people, not cows. They would come to a city and abduct people and transport them to other cities and sell them to employers who needed workers. It wasn’t strictly illegal on Enjay, because they weren’t enslaved, they just had to raise enough money to afford to get back home, so they had to work. It was just the most aggressive sort of recruiting… The problems came because inevitably people resisted being “recruited” and violence ensued. Seath said “I suppose I’m left policing the entire goddamn city again…” Tom flinched like something had hit him in the back… “I’m afraid so, you’re the best qualified with all of the comms equipment and you have the contacts on the company ships to call in reinforcements…” his voice petered out at that point seeing the fury in Seath’s face… “I hope they get here, I will absolutely fuck them up if they do…” she said, and returned to packing.

Tom Ditson was a tall thin man in his forties, he had short grey hair and usually a day or so of stubble, and intense brown eyes that conveyed his authority. He’d been Sheriff in The Hole for 15 years, he was a deputy for 10 more when his father Hugh Ditson was Sheriff. Originally the position was appointed by the company that had colonized Enjay for the purpose of extracting the rare earths. Once the yield of the mines dropped below their goal the company backed away. After that the role became hereditary, most of the inhabitants of the planet had fled democracy and didn’t think much of government and laws in general. The Sheriff and his deputies provided both policing and adjudication of conflicts of all kinds that hadn’t already been sorted out some other way, mainly trying to avoid escalations that would impact orderly business continuing. 

Ditson left the others to their work and walked into the control center where a wall of monitors showed a constantly changing array of views of the city, the computer chose what to show based on sophisticated pattern recognition. He zoomed in on a few interesting views, checking to see if they needed attention, this was normally Seath’s job, she was incredibly skilled with the system as well as being a savant at recognizing situations that were going to escalate. This was how a small force of four people were able to keep a lid on a city of more than 50,000 inhabitants. Nothing interesting was going on but he continued to poke around, looking for some of the people he had known to work with the cowboys in previous years, steering them to skilled workers they had bounty for. He wanted some clue as to where in the city they were planning to enter, and who they were after in case things got back to The Hole.

He found one of them, Elizabeth Sparrow, packing outdoor gear, just like his deputies, including an extra long range blaster. He told the computer to track her and her known associates. Given her location down on Level 1, South East, Block 23 he was able to have the computer identify the likely targets and start tracking them. She was probably going out to meet the cowboys so following her would be a good way to ambush them. It occurred to Ditson that she wasn’t trying too hard to avoid surveillance that everyone knew was there, so he had the computer start looking for someone on the cowboy watch list that it couldn’t locate. It turned up Ebenezer Thompson who had disappeared from surveillance two days ago, in Level 1, North West, Block 101. Ebenezer was the cousin of the cowboy’s leader, Roy Thompson, he’d been jailed after the cowboy’s last trip to The Hole for beating one of the resisters to death. Looking through his quarters it became clear that the only outdoor gear in there was old and worn out, he was probably already outside. The Sheriff set the computer to scanning all the exit footage from the last three days to look for people meeting Ebenezer’s form factor and gait leaving, it’d take a few hours. He also sent a requisition to the satellite network for updates on the approaching cowboys and to try to find someone exiting the North West side of the city matching Thompson’s description.

Mark Longley was cleaning and running diagnostics on his favorite gun, a long range blaster that was built to be able to hit a target the size of a grapefruit  four kilometers away, while hiding it’s own energy signature. The sensors and display were super high resolution and Longley’s scores in sniper school were extremely high. It wasn’t punishment that had gotten him to The Hole, it was Sheriff Ditson’s request for the best sniper in the company’s most recent graduating class in the security division. Ditson had been required to pay the company for the recruit since they no longer funded any services on Enjay, it wasn’t hard to drum up the funds from the city’s employers. For his own part Longley was young, but he’d already done a tour for the company performing ILR (Intelligent Life Removal) missions on other planets the company wanted to mine, so he knew for sure he’d seen and done a few things that Charlie had never imagined. He knew he had to take his lumps here until he earned his place, but he hoped this mission would be a big step forward.

Charlie Ross was in his 70’s, he limped from a blaster wound that had removed part of his leg muscle, he hunched a bit from a slash from a blade. His beard was grey and splotched with tobacco stains, his gums were bleeding from decades of too much radiation, his liver was enlarged from many years of drinking. His eyes used to be blue, now they were more dominantly yellow and bloodshot. The only thing in perfect condition on Charlie was his blaster and his blade, both more than 25 years old, both looked like they’d been manufactured yesterday. He hummed tunelessly as he put his gear together for the mission, pausing to spit tobacco juice from his wad into a can nearby. Charlie had a fatalistic view of the job, he figured he’d already lived too long, so this was all extra time. He didn’t hold back with his opinion or his blaster fire, and there were very few people in The Hole that weren’t afraid of him. He did hate going out of the city into the wasteland, he had done it a lot when he was younger and he had developed a loathing for the pocked terrain filled with structurally unsound mining tunnels, multi-legged scorpion like bugs with worse stings, searing radiation, and chemical dust storms. “Motherfuckers…” he growled as he put a molecular fine edge on his knife.

Seath Holman tried hard to not be downwind of Charlie, as she put the Sheriff’s kit together for him. She’d been working in the office for 20 years since her husband the prior deputy had been killed by a tweaked up miner with a laser torch. In those years she’d developed an intimate knowledge of who was who and what they were up to in The Hole. She’d also had plenty of field work in those years including getting the opportunity to put a number of blaster holes in the miner that’d killed her husband. She didn’t like the cowboys at all, in no small part because they liked to take women of all professions and sell them as sex workers in the other cities. Part of the reason the Sheriff didn’t want her to come on the mission was that he needed to try and dissuade the cowboys from their mission and not create a reason for the cities that hired them to send a strike team with the next bunch. He knew that Seath would castrate the whole bunch of them without any talking at all. She grinned as she put some HE grenades into his pack along side the non-lethal stun grenades, of course the Sheriff would look at a grenade before he used it.

The next morning they all met at the stable where the horses were refueled and the reagents that converted the atmosphere into breathable air were replenished in their suit packs. Everyone looked a bit under the weather, Charlie possibly the worst of the bunch. They grimly loaded the equipment onto the horses and suited up, testing the life support and shielding systems one last time before they left. Overnight the computer had figured out where Ebenezer had exited the city and the satellites had located him, several miles out on an intercept course with the cowboys. Ms. Sparrow had also left the city, officially bound for Newark aka The Stink. They kept a track on her with the satellites. They headed out on Ebenezer’s trail, their horses bounding over the broken terrain while keeping them relatively stable on their backs. The pinging of the radiation meters was continuous.

The good news for them was that their horses were much faster than the ones allowed to civilians, even with the illegal mods that most people applied, so they gained steadily on Ebenezer. The bad news was the satellite reports that Sparrow had turned in their direction and was headed to intercept. After they had been riding for several hours the Sheriff pulled along side Longley and leaned over pressing his helmet against Longley’s for several minutes having a private conversation. Charlie grumbled openly on the comm channel, “You fuckers dating now you gotta cuddle out here on the fucking trail ?” Ditson broke away and said “Don’’t be jealous Charlie, I love you too.” Charlie spat saying “Great! I feel so good now, cocksuckers!” 

A few more hours passed and as the second sun was setting they overtook Ebenezer. He was stopping to set up a shelter and rest for the night. They were in a good position, behind a huge mining waste pile where he couldn’t detect them. They waited for Ebenezer to inflate his shelter and anchor it to the rock and crawl inside, then they approached him from three sides. Ebenezer awoke from his brief sleep to Charlie straddling him and suddenly grasping his long beard and jerking his head back to press his blade to Ebenezer’s throat. “Hey fuckwit…” Charlie snarled “You give me any trouble I will decapitate you.” Ebenezer knew better than to resist and instead went limp and said “What is the problem Charlie, can’t a guy travel without interference anymore?” Charlie laughed “Gimme a break Eb, we know that Roy’s coming, and we know you’re going to meet him to tell him where to find the people he’s contracted to fetch. So quit fucking around and tell me everything you know about what he’s doing and I won’t start skinning you face first!” He shaved a thin layer of skin off of Ebenezer’s nose with his blade for emphasis. 

Ditson and Longley stood outside the shelter monitoring Sparrow’s approach on satellite, “He’s not going to kill him before we get any information is he?” Longley asked glancing at the shelter “Nope, Charlie knows what he has to do, it’ll be fine…” Ditson said as a loud scream emanated from the plastic and foil tent. A few minutes later Charlie emerged, his atmosphere suit sprayed with blood, he didn’t bother to close the airlock on the tent. He said “They’re coming for senior geo-engineers, no women, no grunts, special mission for The Stink, they had a mine accident killed all of their senior guys. They don’t have the cash to get anyone to come to The Stink, so they’re looking at our guys.” Ditson looked at his shoes, he didn’t have the money to get multiple senior geo-engineers either, best he could do now is redirect them to another city. He looked at the tent, “Ebenezer has been a pain it the ass too long, I took preventative measures…” Charlie said heading towards his horse.

They rode onward getting closer to Roy Thompson’s group coming towards them through the night. Just before first sunrise they pitched a camp and slept for a couple of hours. After they’d eaten some rations and popped a couple of stims, they packed up and continued. Sparrow was now only a few miles off their track and they would encounter Thompson in a matter of hours. It was at that point that Charlie turned to check their six and he realized that Longley was gone, his horse was trundling along but he was gone, gun, pack and all. Charlie realized he had no idea when he’d left. He saw Tom looking at him and the empty horse and realized he shouldn’t ask. They came upon the cowboys in the open, and rode up to them. “Hey Roy…” the Sheriff said “Hey Tom…” Thompson said, his hand resting on his blaster. “Look Roy, I can’t have you making a mess in The Hole again. I’m here to try and see if you can go to The Gulch or The Pit and leave us alone, I can pay…” Thompson waved his hand “I don’t have time, The Stink is down, not operating, The Hole is closest, best I can do is leave you one guy to get by.” The Sheriff raised both his hands “I can give you 100,000 units to just turn aside…” Thompson drew his blaster pointing it at Ditson “Why do you have your hands in the air ?” he said as a blaster bolt went right through Ditson’s right hand. Everyone freaked out, Ditson clutched his wounded hand under his arm, plugging smoking hole in his suit, reaching for a sealant tube on his belt to close it up and also stop any bleeding. A few seconds later they heard a woman scream on the common comm channel. Three of Thomson’s men dropped from their horses, smoking holes in their heads. “Turn aside, take the money Roy…” Ditson gasped against the pain. By now Charlie had drawn and was pointing his gun at others in Thompson’s band. 

Charlie and Tom rode back towards the city, the satellites confirmed that Roy was headed towards The Pit, 100,000 credits richer and a few guys short. They came upon Mark sitting on a rock with his gun, his suit had an arc of blood across it. Charlie dismounted and helped him stow his stuff on the horse and get aboard. Charlie grunted “Ok, so you’re good for something… fucker.” 




Never Go Back

Never Go Back
by James Goodwin

This story was inspired by "The Man Who Sold The Moon" by Robert Heinlein and news stories about Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos ventures in space exploration. The question in my mind was "Yes they're smart, but are they sane?"

Garrett Raine sat at his keyboard in his cubicle in a giant building in a suburb of Boston filled with floors of identical cubicles. He was tall and thin and bald, he had minimalist wire rimmed glasses that sat on his narrow angular nose. Garrett was a lot smarter than the other people in all of other cubicles; in fact he was one of the smartest people on the planet. The huge company he worked for had collected him when he was a teenager, already done with school and way beyond his professors. The huge company had also wasted his time for 20 years, paying him large sums of money, starting and then canceling his brilliant projects, always with a pat on the head saying “It’s just too far ahead of the market.” He had stopped trying somewhere along the way and now just made elaborate PowerPoint presentations for executives to use in duping their corporate clients into ever larger, and more lucrative, enterprise licensing contracts with a pile of consulting hours.

Two years ago Garrett had stopped sleeping. Actually, he had an idea that made him stop sleeping. Since then he had focused all of his time on carrying out this idea. He never went on vacation, he’d long since alienated his family, he had no friends, his apartment was the cheapest he could find. The most expensive furnishings were the computers. The not-sleeping only had one downside. Every few months he’d have a psychotic break and wake up in his apartment broken objects all around, dangerous for the computers. So, he analyzed the schedules and precursor signs for the breaks and built a room to have them in. Problem solved.

Today was an important moment for the idea, he was going to take the first outward step. He pressed send on his resignation email to the fourth boss he’d never met, this one in Raleigh, NC. He logged out. He walked out of the building to his car. He drove home to his apartment, sat down at his computer and continued his work. He never got the calls from HR asking for an exit interview or from his boss who read the email 3 days later. He’d given them a fake telephone number. He did get their letters at his post office box, and after noting that they were going to stop paying him, he threw them away.

A year to the day after his resignation, a year of working around the clock, and burning a lot of CPU cycles in various cloud platforms in the most cost efficient way possible, he was ready for the next outward step. He called up an executive at the huge company. The executive was having a hard time placing him, then Garrett explained what he wanted to show them, then the executive remembered why they’d recruited Garrett. An appointment was made, experts called, financing discussed, because if he had what he said he had, then they wanted it.

Garrett went to their offices dressed in his usual outfit, a black T-shirt -- This one with a picture of a cute bunny pulling a pin from a hand grenade-- jeans and Merrell hiking shoes. He sat down in the conference room with the suits and a few actual mathematicians and engineers, identified by their lack of suits. He opened his laptop, hooked into their projector and began. 

“Simply put, I’ve figured out the holy grail of simulation problems, I can forecast accurate business results for any business a year in advance in about two days compute time. And by accurate I mean, date, time, cash flow, revenue, profit, the whole thing. It even deals with probable new products, marketing and arbitrage options, the works.” He then showed them five case studies where he had used the model to predict the performance of different companies of different sizes, in different businesses and in different places in their development. He had contracted with a third party to make the results double blind. He’d had no access to the execution of the model, and no knowledge of its outcome.

Garrett let them ponder this as he looked around the room, gauging their reactions. The executive was about to speak, and Garrett beat him to it. “I’ve done the math.” he said, “This system is potentially worth trillions. But, I have a one time deal for you all; because I am working on something even more important, and I need a large amount of cash immediately. I will sell this implementation, and all of the theoretical work, all of the patent rights to your company for ten billion dollars, today.” 

The executive sputtered, the finance guys started typing and calculating, and there was a general buzz around the table. “You have to decide in this meeting, in this room, today, or I walk and talk to your largest competitor.” The executive’s face was bright red, not used to making decisions without the firewall of lots of people between him and it. He glared at Garrett, then he motioned the finance guys and the math guys across the room for a whispered conversation.

On the drive home, Garrett’s hands and arms started to shake, he could feel the leading edge of a break coming. He focused on the next steps, of course they had paid, he had what he needed, and he was going to Texas for the next phase. He got home, to his apartment door, he could barely get the key in the lock, he could feel the psychosis welling up inside him. He entered and locked the door, he ran to the safe room shedding his keys, glasses and his clothes. He locked the door and set the automatic timer that would let him out in 24 hours. A few seconds later he was screaming, a swirl of horror in his mind, slamming his body into the padded walls. In a while he collapsed to the floor and the visions turned to nightmares as he passed out.

Two days later he was standing next to Route 55 in Texas, North of Uvalde, surrounded by many many miles of blazing hot scrub land. Scrub land he now owned, 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, as close as he could get and keep to his schedule. He turned towards the circle of work trucks that were arranged off the highway, each of the men the general contractor for a different part of the project. He shook their hands and then he went over the plan again with them. 

“We’re going to build a very large solar farm here, it will generate a huge amount of electricity. We are also going to build a pipeline, I’ve bought the right of way, it will bring sea water here from the Gulf. We’re going to crack the water and capture hydrogen and hydrocarbon-based fuels, and we’re going to liquify it and store it. This will become a production and distribution center for a hydrogen fuel cell franchise that I am building across the country.” 

One of the men raised his hand “What are you going to do with the hydrocarbon-based fuels ? Won’t that compete with your fuel cells ?” Garrett looked at him and said “I’m going to use them in another project I have planned. I’ll need all that I can generate.”

Within two years, due to his almost prescient business planning (powered by Garrett’s own simulation software), and a cunning acquisition of every failing car dealership and gas station he could lay hands on, G-Corp’s fuel cells were powering cars, trucks, houses and businesses across the country. It had been such a lightning strike of expansion, involving subsidizing car companies to accelerate their fuel cell car production plans, greasing the EPA to approve devices faster, and buying as many small and medium politicians as needed, that the old energy companies had barely begun to react. Garrett’s ten billion investment was now generating hundreds of billions in cash flow, of which only a precisely limited amount was going back into the business.

Billions were flowing out, to a subsidiary, G-Space, which, unlike the other billionaire space companies was not building spacecraft. It was instead buying up land, seemingly worthless land, up the sides of mountains along the equator. His teams were already digging massive underground tunnels leading to the mountains, and a track that ascended their side stopping part of the way up. The local people thought it was madness, but the money was good. G-Space had also bought a patent and a design for a failed scramjet, essentially an air breathing jet/rocket hybrid. This design had failed during early testing, it was inexpensive to build compared to other scramjets, it produced the required thrust, but they couldn’t manage to not melt and consume the engine after the thrust phase. Other space agencies wanted reuseable engines, G-Space had a different idea.

Governments had noticed G-Corp and G-Space and deduced what the tunnels and tracks were for. They weren’t completely happy. For this reason Garrett now lived at a mobile address, an apartment inside a non-descript container ship, which rarely came into port and which spent most of it’s time somewhere along the equator in international waters. He used various means to do all of his business indirectly, and now there were redundancies to secure against interference from the outside. He’d also found it quite easy to hire his own military scale forces to protect his sites, even in Texas. 

At this moment, he was actually headed to a site, in the Republic of Congo for a test of the launch vehicle that he had aboard his container ship. The tunnel and ramp at the Bouloukombo site was near completion and the railgun installed. It would throw the launch vehicle out of the tunnel and up the ramp on the side of the mountain fast enough that the scramjet would be able to blast it out of the atmosphere and set it on it’s trajectory. That was the theory, if it worked it would be the cheapest way to throw mass towards his objective, Mars. And it had to be cheap, he wanted to throw a lot of mass at Mars.

A few days later Garrett was in Bouloukombo, he was wearing another black t-shirt with an image of a car crash in white with “ctrl-z” next to it. He was in the bunker that housed the control center of the railgun, he was looking at the launch vehicle which looked like a huge dart, laying on it’s side on the railgun track. They had modified the original “failed” scramjet engine so that not only would it burn up near the end of the run, it’s mass would add some thrust as it burned away. They had also been able to simplify it and reduce the cost of the materials since it didn’t need to be reused. If this worked, he had a converted car factory that would be retooled to mass produce them. The dart contained a test payload that was basically a huge block of frozen carbon dioxide. It had only minimal guidance capability, it could be steered onto a trajectory away from Earth and then it was essentially going to crash on Mars.

The countdown to launch was ticking away by seconds, the huge superconducting capacitors that would deliver their energy in one violent burst to the railgun were fully charged. Everything was correct, and due to the simplicity of the system, there was very little to go wrong. Garrett watched impassively as the count reached zero and there was a loud snap and the dart was gone. It had accelerated so fast it was already out of the tunnel and as they could see on the monitors, the scramjet had come on as planned, and it arced up and out of the atmosphere as the bright light of the burning scramjet went out. A couple of course corrections and it was on a trajectory for intercept with Mars. At its velocity, it would be crashing into Mars in 180 days.

The launch crew around Garrett were jumping up and down, someone even grabbed him and hugged him. He didn’t respond. He was almost in the grip of a break, he strode out of the room and to the suite that he’d had built into every one of these launch sites. Two days later he stood outside the padded room looking at the bloody tooth he was holding in his hand. Apparently, he’d removed it with his fingers. He’d have to arrange for some restraints now. 

As the other sites came online and the round the clock launches of payloads full of volatile hydrocarbons flew from the earth. They formed a chain of synthetic meteors heading to Mars. The world press screamed about destroying Mars, environmental corruption, loss of scientific evidence, piracy… Garrett had to laugh, he was creating New Mars, in a few years it would have an atmosphere and it would warm up enough that water would run there again. Countries tried to attack some of the sites, and to seize some of his facilities. They were very well defended, and Garrett sent a discrete anonymous note to them saying “All of my payloads are currently heading to Mars to terraform it, if you insist on interfering with me I can drop them on your cities as well, at the speed they are going when they hit they’ll knock down everything and then a huge fireball will burn what’s left to a crisp.” The interference stopped after about a week.

Three years later, they started launching the biological payloads. Designed to crash more gently, they would thaw and seed the planet with organisms. Mars had already changed, it had warmed up enough that the poles had thawed, there was a dense atmosphere that was a little off kilter for human breathing, but just right for lots of microbes and even plants. They had also started launching parts for an enormous ship into earth orbit, along with the fuel it would need to push itself to Mars. Garrett had started another subsidiary G-Trans which quietly and very selectively recruited people for a one-way trip to Mars. G-Trans screened them, trained them, and had begun scheduling them.

Most of the railguns accelerated their payloads too rapidly to be used with human passengers, but two of them had been built extra-long and with a reasonable curve, so that while they’d take a lot of G’s, the soft humans wouldn’t die. The robots had completed most of the high level construction on the space station and the Mars ship, so they started launching humans and supplies up to finish the space station and the ship. And some people so they could continue training to be in one of the first groups to land on Mars. These first groups would have it the hardest, they had to establish the living environments, collect the supplies that had been dropped, figure out how to get some kind of agriculture started, and not die from all the things on New Mars that might kill them.

After his most recent break, Garrett felt different, when he stood up from the released restraints, he had the urge to write something down. He almost wrote it without actually knowing what he was going to write, still naked, in his office a pile of sticky notes the only thing he could find to write on. He read back the notes: “1. No religion 2. No government 3. No going back.” What was he supposed to do with that? An alert sound rang from his tablet, and he glanced down at it, it said “Meet to discuss screening criteria for colonists.” Oh. Within two weeks the washout rate for G-Trans had leapt from 60 percent to 80 percent, and many were being crossed off right at the background check.

In a year the first ship with colonists rendezvoused with the landing ships already in orbit around Mars and they began descending to the surface. There were several terrible accidents, some diseases that wiped out whole groups, some interactions with the atmosphere that caused inflammation and madness, but enough survived to get the first big enclosure built. Everyone had at least three jobs, decisions were made by expert groups at all levels, teams were given guidelines and could improvise as needed. Function was beauty, and beauty was function. They managed to start growing non-poisonous plants outside. Every so often someone would get some friends together to read from the Bible or the Koran or other sacred texts. They’d be found out and the official account was that they were “Sent back.” In reality, they were killed and their bodies turned into fertilizer. In the core teams who carried out these actions, closest to Garrett himself, focus on the mission and loyalty to Garrett were more important than individual lives.

A couple of years later, Garrett was aboard a colony ship, heading to Mars, he would finally see the world that he’d built. He had often thought that now certainly he should be able to sleep, but it just seemed like he’d forgotten how. It had turned into a positive in any case, many of his best ideas seemed to be waiting for him when he emerged from a break. This was the last colony ship they were going to send, he had all the people who would ever qualify. Now they just needed to look forward, onward, not back, no going back. 

When he landed on New Mars, and walked outside in his protective suit with it’s atmosphere transformer and radiation shielding, he saw all of the plants and animals, now native to Mars after some genetic modifications, and the strange purple color of the sky with it’s bizarrely shaped clouds and he wept. He ran forward and clawed the facemask off of the suit, gasping in the strange and acidic air, burning his eyes and his lungs. They chased him down and saved him from dying. He came out of the break a few days later, longer than usual. He called the core teams experts to him, he told them what had to be done.

Over the next few years they built bigger enclosed cities, expanding their farming and livestock, and further improved the atmosphere. The population was growing steadily. Most people were in agriculture or some form of engineering or science. They were all working on the next big leap. Garrett led a project which was building launch facilities around New Mars’ equator, up the sides of large mountains, some people said a lot more launch facilities than were needed. It was about 20 years since they’d first landed, and Garrett woke up from a break, or at least he thought he might have, he had just entered codes to launch vehicles from all of the sites. He thought, that seems excessive for a test, they’re just filled with rock. Then he looked at where they were going, a crash landing on Earth. No going back. He turned the launch key.





The Flood

The inspiration for this story was the thought of what it must be like to be actually contacted by God and what an overwhelming experience that must be. I grew up Catholic and am now an atheist, I don't mean to imply that this is what happened to Noah, it's just a fantasy about what could have happened.

The Flood

By James Goodwin

Noah awakened his mouth tasting like a barnyard. Then his eyes creaked open and he understood why, he was lying face down in the hut where the animals were kept. Dim light filtered through the cracks in the crude structure illuminating the goats that were ignoring him. He tried lifting his head off the floor and the searing pain of his hangover reminded him why he was sleeping with the goats. Brushing straw and goat droppings off his face he collected himself into first a kneeling position and then grabbing a goat by the head for support, he lurched to his feet. He doubled over again clutching the goat for support and very nearly puking all over it.

After the wave of pain and nausea passed, he shambled towards the door of the hut covering his eyes against the mid morning sun. Looking tentatively from behind shading fingers he didn’t see any family in the yard. This was good; he could maybe clean himself before the inevitable interrogation by his wife. Those always went better when he wasn’t covered in shit. Setting a course for the water trough on the side of the yard, he lurched into motion, his feet still not really obeying him very well. He had to correct his motion a few times before finally reaching his goal and plunging his head into the water.

The cold water, darkness, and muffling of sound was extremely good. Noah would have stayed there for a good long time if he wouldn’t drown. Extracting his head from the water with a gasp, he was about to scrub some especially crusty shit off of his forehead when it happened again.

“NOAH, I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, I HAVE CHOSEN YOU ABOVE ALL MEN TO BE MY AGENT AMONG MANKIND!” boomed a voice that emanated from the center of a ball of blinding light directly in front of Noah. He dropped to his knees, his arms wrapped around his head. An involuntary cry of pain was his only vocalization. Noah collected himself; this wasn’t the first time. Nothing was as bad as the first time. It had taken weeks to return to some form of sanity after that. Usually the wine helped numb his panic attacks, but at the moment this hangover was making it worse.

“Lord, I am your servant, though I am undeserving. Command me!” he shouted, clutching his head again. He’d tried saying other things and asking questions before. That resulted in even brighter and more painful light, and a voice so loud his nose and ears bled. So now he had a standard response that seemed to avoid punishment.


Noah cowered, and the only thought that ran through his head was what the fuck? what the fuck? what the fuck?


Noah wanted to point out that he was a farmer and goat herder and not a fucking ship builder. He’d only seen the tiny crude one-man skiffs that the fishermen used on the lake nearby. He knew better, and he replied “Lord, your unworthy servant will execute your will!”

There was at that point a loud explosion and the light flared to an unbearable brightness that he could see through his closed eyes and encircling arms. The explosion was strangely cold though and with no concussion. Noah passed out in the middle of the farm yard. Next to him was a smoking glassy imprint in ground that formed a diagram and pictorial instructions for the construction of a large ship.

Far above the earth, in an orbit always hidden just behind the moon was a spaceship built of spheres connected by tubes and girders. In the space ship two tall grey humanoid aliens bent double laughing their asses off.

“…Francine you knocked him out again...this never gets old. But, really, if he loses his mind again we’ll miss the deadline.”  the alien named Rakesh said. It wasn’t his/her/it’s real name, and neither was Francine the name of the other alien, these were just what they called each other now. They had been on so many of these monitoring missions, orbited so many worlds, spun out thousands of years together, bored to death. So, they chose names that made them laugh. In the Worlds Monitoring Service you really needed to amuse yourself.

“Rakesh, he’s such a fucking drunk that he’s likely to fail in any case, so other than making the report to the WMS a little tricky, there is no downside to having some fun.” Francine walked across to a bank of monitors and readouts that showed real time information about Earth. She pointed at the glowing red region under the sea floor of what someday would be called the Pacific. “When this build-up of pressure gets released in an enormous eruption, there is going to be an extinction-level event that is going to wipe out pretty much every bit of life down there bigger than a microbe. It’ll be millions of years before anything close to the humans will emerge again if they do at all, not to mention all of the nicer animals. So we’ve got about this summer to salvage these creatures or they’re all done.”

“Fine, but what’s the deal with the boat? The creatures aren’t going to fit, and even if he could stuff them all in there they’d last about 10 seconds in the Tsunami/Earthquake/Fire Storm/Ash Cloud/Poison Gas Wave that is going to come. Is this just some sick joke? It’s messed up even for you.” Rakesh said.

“The boat is just a cover for the real solution. Take a look at this:” Francine activated a 3D visualization pod and a large machine appeared. “This is a DNA and micro-biome extractor and packager factory. In a matter of days it can take the entire flora and fauna of a planet and reduce it to millions of crystal fibers encapsulating their essence in perfect format for cloning.”

Rakesh made a face that for his people was one of mild revulsion. “So, you’re going to essentially set this guy up to puree every living thing on this planet? Including his family?”

Francine smiled her pointed razor sharp teeth gleaming. “Yup, pretty fucking cool huh? We package them up, wait until the event passes and we can even safely accelerate the cleanup. Then we just drop a cloning factory down there insert the rods and boom… the whole thing is back in business.”

“You’ve cleared this with WMS headquarters right? I mean, this seems like a huge violation of the non-intervention clause of the WMS protocols. Not that I really read it that closely.” Rakesh spun the machine image around looking for WMS brand markings.

“Of course I did. You think even I have the energy credits to fabricate something like this? Here’s the response. “ Francine handed Rakesh the flexible reader. “They love the fucking humans. Say they’re unique across the monitoring network and that we need to preserve them. The rest of the creatures just come along for the ride. And we’re not going to process all of them, just Noah’s family and actually we’re going to just freeze Noah.”

“Freeze him? What have you got against this guy?” Rakesh shook his head in wonderment.

“Nothing. We need someone to help the clones acculturate when we spit them out. This is why we’re going to the trouble of giving him a story. It’s the only way to really control humans. Tell them to do things for rational reasons; no way. Give them a story to believe in, they’ll bend over backwards.” Francine zoomed in on Noah again. “He’s coming around…”

Noah sat up suddenly, profoundly glad the screaming ball of light was gone. He was amazed by the huge diagram now rendered in new glassy stone in his farm yard, and by sight of his wife and sons kneeling in front of it apparently praying.

Naamah, Noah’s wife, looked up from her prayer first, her weathered face still reflecting the beautiful young girl he’d married. Her eyes however reflected the terror of a woman now confronting something beyond her experience. She said, “Noah, you’re alive, I was sure the Lord had killed you for your sinful drunkenness.” Great, I’m part of a damn miracle and I get the lecture anyway Noah thought. “Yes Naamah, my love, the Lord has preserved me because he’s given us a sacred mission, this miraculous image--” he gestured to the diagram “--tells us to create a great boat. I will need all of your help to do this.” He looked at his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. They raised their heads from prayer and were now regarding him with exactly the same look as when he asked them to lend a hand on his farm.

His sons looked at each other, and then Shem spoke. It was always Shem, the other two always deferred to their youngest brother, which was not really the worst idea since he was the smartest one by far. Noah found it annoying as a father to have to collectively bargain with his sons. Shem said “This is indeed a miracle. Praise the Lord! But, looking at this image and what I think are its instructions, it will take us years to build this even if we work every night after tending our farms. It’s huge, the forest is not close by and there are only four of us to labor on it. And if I understand the sequence of moons across the bottom there we’re supposed to do this before the end of summer. We don’t even have the tools shown in this image! How are we supposed to do this?” The two older brothers mumbled, pointed and generally approved Shem’s statement.

Fortunately Noah knew the answer even before they had asked. “First, we won’t be tending our farms. This is the only thing we will be doing during all of our waking hours. Second, the Lord will provide, you must trust in Him completely.” Shem looked like he was going to speak again, but Noah continued. “We will take what stores we have and move into the forest to the north, by the time we get there, I know we will have tools. And as we work, we will find that our stores cannot be exhausted. I know it to be true, I have performed other works for the Lord and he has always provided.” Shem’s mouth closed, and Noah could see that he was examining his father, weighing his former opinion of a drunk and a failure against a new one of a prophet of the lord.

They agreed to begin their trek the next day. They could gather their meagre stores and belongings in a few hours. The sons departed to their own farms, to tell their wives Sed, Nael, and Ada about the mission and their journey. As Noah finished washing and dressing himself in a clean shift provided by his wife, he could hear the arguments echoing across their valley from a distance. He smiled and started packing the farm sledge with baskets of grain and dried fruits and vegetables. He only had one ass to drag it, so very little else could come with them. With that thought he heaved the largest of his wine bladders onto the sledge.

Francine’s pointed teeth ripped the head off a squirming rabbit, sending it skull and all to the rows of grinding shearing teeth lining her throat. The transporter was very helpful for acquiring fresh food from earth, and it was just barely within the letter of the guidelines to eat the animals after cataloging them. Rakesh didn’t like exotic food, so he just popped some ration cubes into his mouth and chewed them with markedly less gusto. Francine gestured with the rabbit carcass and said “The Lord will provide… the son of a bitch is starting to take us for granted! What happened to ‘The Lord helps those that help themselves?’  He’s conveniently forgotten that little lesson.”

Rakesh flushed the masticated ration cubes down his throat with some water and said “His son isn’t wrong. They aren’t blacksmiths, so we’re going to have to ‘miracle’ those tools to their campsite. We’re also going to have to move the diagram, unless you expect them to commute four miles overland to check the design drawings.”

“They could LEARN to be blacksmiths. And MAKE some damn paper to write down the diagram. Do we have to give them every damn thing?” Francine sputtered around the torso of a rabbit she was crunching through.

Rakesh dodged some gobbets of flesh and blood spatter. “I wish you’d eat that stuff in your quarters. It’s not pretty. Anyway, I’ll program the fabricator and I’ll transfer the diagram. You don’t have to do anything; it’ll be better anyway because the family won’t question him again after another ‘miracle.’”

Several weeks into building the Ark, the family had fallen into a rhythm of work. It started before sun up for the women, cooking gruel, eggs, and meat for the men. Then, binding their tortured hands, Ham and Japheth would set off to fell trees and drag them to the building site. Shem and Noah would shape the logs into timbers and use the winches and cranes they had discovered at the site to swing them into place and then to fasten them with pegs. Ada and Nael were both great at making pegs and spent the day churning out piles of them. Naamah and Sed worked to prepare the midday and evening meals from the inexhaustible baskets of food the lord provided. In the evening, when it was too dark to work, they shoveled food into their mouths and then fell onto pallets in their crude shelters and slept. Already the ribs and spine of the boat were in place and the bracing along with about a third of the the hull covering, right on schedule.

People who lived nearby sometimes crept up, not too close, to the site to observe them. Occasionally, one would scream something about demons and throw rocks. Until now they just ran off afterwards. But now, a group of five men walked all the way up to the work site. Ham immediately went out to meet them, his felling axe in his hand. Noah, seeing where things were headed walked quickly out and put his hand on Ham’s large forearm. He said “Hello, neighbors. Can I offer you some drink or food?” The apparent leader of the group an elder named Seth, stepped forward and spoke. “Noah, what are you and your family doing here? Many people have come to me full of fear and talk of demons, but I’ve said Noah is a farmer, a family man, maybe a little bit of a drunk, but never anything to do with demons. What this is about?”

“Well Seth, here it is: God spoke to me. He said that he’s going to destroy everything and everyone in a flood because he’s angry about all of humanity’s sinning. He told me he likes me and my family and that we’re to build a big boat. He’s going to put all kinds of creatures in it to preserve them when the flood comes. So, we’re doing what He said.” Noah let that sink in. Seth looked back and forth at the other men, then said “Why would God preserve your family and not mine ? Or Jacob’s or Aarons ?” He pointed at the other men. Noah looked at his feet and he knew what he had to say, but he also knew that it wouldn’t satisfy them. It hadn’t satisfied him when he asked God. “God told me that it is his will, and if I love him and believe in him then that should be enough.”

Seth looked at Noah for a moment, then he and the other men walked a little ways away. They had a heated discussion, pointing and gesturing, and then finally Seth came back. “God bless you Noah, and your family, I hope that you can carry out God’s commands. We will leave you in peace.” He took Noah’s hand and kissed him on both cheeks and then he turned and left with the other men. Noah looked at Ham in amazement and said “Well, that went better than I imagined!” He walked back to his work. Ham looked after the men and he said in a low mumble “I’m not buying it.” He strode back towards the forest.

Noah had good nights and bad nights. The good ones were when he collapsed into an exhausted dreamless slumber and didn’t wake until his wife prodded him the next morning. The bad ones were when lying next to the others he was tormented by thoughts of failure, destruction, followed by eternal torment by God. God had actually spelled this fate out to him. His entire body would be wracked by uncontrollable tremors, his teeth would clench, and finally he would creep away from his family and go to where he had hidden the wine bladder. It was up a ravine that opened above the building site, there was a depression under some trees padded by fallen leaves, where he could recline out of the wind in relative comfort and drink from the wine bladder until the tremors left him and he passed out.

This was a bad night, perhaps brought on by the confrontation with the neighbors, or maybe just the grinding labor. In any case, he found his way up the ravine and he lay in the leaves drinking from the inexhaustible wine bladder. The fact that it also was replenished every day made him think that God knew what he was doing to Noah. Noah looked down at the building site, and then up at the sky through the boughs of the trees above him at the carpet of light above and the shining moon. He raised his hand and made a gesture to the sky that in his culture meant Fuck yourself! A few draws on the wine bladder later he lost consciousness and slept.

He awoke the next morning to the smell of smoke. It wasn’t the good smoke of his wife’s dried wood cooking fire. It was the resinous black smoke produced by the tangled undergrowth nearby. He sat up and looked around for a wildfire, then down to the building site. A sheet of flame and black smoke was visible beyond the partly completed Ark. His first thought was that his defiant gesture to God had doomed him and his family along with the rest. He jumped to his feet and tried to run down the ravine. His coordination was for shit and he ended up sliding and tumbling more than running. By the time he ran, gasping and bleeding, to the edge of the site, he could see dozens of people standing watching a fire that had been built along the side of the boat. Flames licked the sides of the Ark streaking them black. Fortunately Gopher wood wasn’t great for firewood and it only sizzled and steamed.

As he got closer he saw Ham, his largest son, lying behind the crowd. His axe was beside him, his head bleeding profusely, seeping onto the earth. Beyond him, a group of women prodded his wife and daughter-in-laws with pointed sticks when they tried to run to help Ham. His other sons were lying beaten and bound beyond them, unmoving. Noah screamed in rage and ran unthinking at the crowd. They turned and encircled him and beat him to the ground with sticks, fists, and feet.

Noah lay there bleeding, crying, watching his doom unfold in the fire. Then, three things happened in rapid succession. Every one of the people standing suddenly seemed to have a red collar extending from their necks. The collars looked like some of the flowers that briefly showed up in the spring from the spiny undergrowth. Then their heads tumbled to the ground, followed by their twitching bodies. Then a huge gust of wind roared out of the ravine and blew the fire away and apart. As Noah rose shaking to his feet, he realized that Ham had disappeared.

“A daisy cutter! A fucking daisy cutter! Are you out of your mind? We could have just knocked them out or something!” Rakesh yelled. He never yelled. He was shaking both clenched hands at Francine. Francine was standing over Ham who was face down and naked on a transparent table floating in the center of the room. She was carefully washing, sorting, cleaning and then using carefully crafted enzymes to glue Ham’s brain bits approximately back where they belonged. There were pieces missing. Oh well. She glared at Rakesh and said “Calm down you big baby, they were all going to get killed in a few weeks anyway. I couldn’t wipe their brains and then have them come up with this stupid idea again. You know how predictable they are!”

“Oh sure, that’s all very reasonable. But how about the probe up that guy’s ass? Is that reasonable? We’ve had the ability to monitor all of their life processes remotely for centuries, and yet you still use the probe?” Rakesh pointed a shaking finger at the pile of cables protruding from Ham’s backside. “We get better monitoring of their biome from the probe. The remote sensing is too high level to get an accurate read on all of the gut fauna that actually controls their lives.” Francine turned back to her work cementing skull pieces back together. She welded the flesh neatly back in place above them. “There…” Francine said “not good as new. But he was never a mental giant, but he should be okay to cut trees and follow an ass around.”

Soon the horrible pyre of burning bodies died down. Ham reappeared out of the woods, incoherent, to be stroked by his wife like a dog and led from place to place. Work resumed on the Ark and it rapidly took shape. The highest deck was  surmounted by a house where they all moved with their supplies. The Ark had a large door with a ramp and a huge window which Noah personally hoped was well above the water line. Summer was almost at an end, and they had completed God’s work.

But, now that it was done, nobody wanted to enter the darkness inside the Ark. They were all gripped by a fear of that space. Even when the sun should have illuminated the interior it was in pitch blackness. The animals started arriving shortly after they completed the Ark, all manner of them, a great many they had never seen in their small part of the world. The animals would simply run or slither or hop up the ramp. Sometimes they were dropped by huge birds of prey or they just flew through the window on their own. After each group entered, there was a whining noise which Noah and his family couldn’t identify. Then a white cloud shot out of the window. The cloud smelled like the steam from the millet bread that Naama baked. After a couple of weeks, the day and night arrival of the animals tapered off and then ended. The strangest thing was the complete silence from inside the Ark. Noah and his family slept in their house atop the boat, waiting for the flood.

Noah woke to the sensation of being held in someone’s arms. At first he thought his wife was embracing him, then he realized that he was being held in strong arms like a baby, his upper body elevated. He opened his eyes. He was being held by a beautiful young man, with dark skin and dark hair and a crescent shaped blue stone like a moon affixed to his forehead. He tried to move and found that he could not, or cry out, he could only stare. “I’m Rakesh and I’ve come from God.” the young man said gently with a melodious voice “Your family has gone into the Ark, and it’s time for you to go too.” Noah wanted to scream or struggle but only a tear left his eye. “It’s going to be better.” Rakesh crooned and wiped the tear away, stroking Noah’s head. “When you awaken your life will be better. God appreciates all you’ve done, and you and your family will be together again.” Noah was overcome with the urge to sleep and sank deep into slumber.

Aboard the spaceship, Rakesh deactivated the projection of the young man. He pushed the floating platform with a large block of frozen metamaterial, Noah inside it, in suspended animation, forward to the center of the control room where it settled onto a pedestal. Francine smirked. “Well, now who’s violating the guidelines, taking their form, cuddling them. Hah!” Rakesh looked at her coldly. “I’ve decoded and read your reports to the WMS. If I wanted to, I could add some corrections that’d leave you frozen in a block too. You’re done with Noah here. When we put them back, he’s out of the ‘Agent of the Lord’ business for good. Got it ?” Francine snarled, but turned to the console. “Fine! Whatever!”

The aliens watched the enormous eruption, the earthquake, the fire storm, the ash cloud that blocked out the sun, leading to the rushing wall of poisonous searing hot gas that raced across the planet. It was quite a show, once things settled down a bit, 100,000 years or so later, they transported machines to various places on the globe that cleaned the atmosphere, collected the dust, and sucked up the smoke. After 5,000 years, the planet looked pretty habitable. The plants seemed to be the most resilient creatures, coming back on their own covering the globe in new green growth, now that there was sun and rain. It happened several million years too fast. It would perplex the geologists in the future.

Noah woke in his bed on the Ark. He had no sense of time passing, but everything seemed strange to him: the air, the sky, the sounds around him. He walked out of the house and saw that the Ark was open. Periodically waves of creatures would leave via the giant door or the window. He looked around for his family, but he was alone.

After several days of watching creatures exit the Ark, and eating gruel (the only thing he’d learned to cook) and sleeping he saw the first human come from the Ark. It was a woman, completely naked. He recognised her as a younger Naama! He sprang down the ladder and ran to her, embracing her, kissing her, saying her name. The woman laughed, and patted his beard, and stared at him uncomprehending. Struck dumb, he clutched her to him. Then he took her face  gently in his hands and said “You are Naama. You are my wife” She laughed she said “I am Naama, I am your wife.”

Every evening he would sit with Naama and tell her stories of who she was or had been. He’d known her all her previous life after all. She came to love him and after a while she accepted that his stories were about her.

Other people came out of the Ark before it crumbled to dust. They were brought to Noah. He named them and told them who they would be. He and Naama and his new sons built a big stone house and planted a vineyard around it. He traded the wine he made for everything they needed. Noah claimed he was more than 600 years old. Since nobody could remember where he came from, they believed him. He never heard from God again.






Townsman is a restaurant in Boston right on the edge of Chinatown. It is run by Matt Jennings previously of La Laiterie and Farmstead in Providence, RI. My wife and I have been fans of Matt's for a long time, we would make regular trips to Providence to visit his restaurant and cheese shop. When we heard that he was opening a new restaurant in Boston, we were very excited. A few weeks ago we had lunch there. It is a much more high-end environment than the previous restaurants, but the food is still extremely well though out, combining flavors in perfect ways, using ingredients to their best. The service was friendly and excellent. We'll be back for dinner.

Got the front page the way I wanted it...

They have a "wall" widget that shows a sample of a gallery... now the most recent pictures will show up there... 

I'm in the process of moving another site I work on over to squarespace and the migration is going pretty smoothly...


Day Two...

I am getting used to the editing tools for the new site... generally they are better than the old ones. Different enough that I need to practice. I'm almost ready to call up the old hosting and reduce them to just managing the domain, that'll be good. Need to do some deleting and backing up before that however.


But we have much better layout control than we used to and that's good... so embedding pictures is simpler and easier...

So, more practice and I'll get it down...