OG’s Speculative Fiction #25, Summer 2010… (appearances)

You can now find my 400th publishing credit in the webzine/free PDF Download/Lulu Magazine… OG’s Speculative Fiction, edited on a monthly to bimonthly basis by Seth Crossman.  Issue #25.  It wasn’t that long ago that I graced the pages of Issue #23.  This issue has wonderful artwork, a supernova or planet burning up, I believe.  You can download the issue in PDF format direct to your computers.  Other fiction and poetry in this issue includes a story by Desmond Warzel.  This is my third time at the long-running “Opinion Guy.”

OG’s SPECULATIVE FICTION #25 – The Opinion Guy

Lawrence Dagstine – PDF Download – 3rd Appearance

Also check out my last issue…

 

Main Homepage:

www.theopinionguy.com

http://theopinionguy.com/2010/07/ogs-speculative-fiction-issue-25/

Previous Issues w. Lawrence Dagstine:

https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/03/25/ogs-speculative-fiction-march-2010-2nd-acceptances/

 

Other New Entries: “Magazines”

OG’s Speculative Fiction, Mid-Late 2010… (3rd Acceptance!)

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed my third acceptance to the long running speculative fiction/science fiction magazine on the Web — available as a free PDF Download to read and eventually purchase on LULU as a magazine for cons — The Opinion Guy (aka OG’s Speculative Fiction).  This would be my second acceptance in one year to them, and they’ve featured some very talented and familiar names in the science fiction arena.  Both short stories and poetry.  Matter of fact, this third credit comes right after my 2nd, and bolstered me up to the 400 credit mark.  Editor is Seth Crossman, and he also provides an Internet site full of informative articles.

 

Lawrence Dagstine RETURNS to OG’s Speculative Fiction

Third Acceptance – Click on the link(s) for some free reading in PDF format

MAIN HOMEPAGE:

www.theopinionguy.com

Previous Dagstine Stories:

https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/03/25/ogs-speculative-fiction-march-2010-2nd-acceptances/

Other New Entries: “Magazines”

Free SF Serials: “Orphan’s Prey pt. 2” by Lawrence Dagstine

Lawrence Dagstine’s Bimonthly Serial – Don’t Miss Out! Part One link below:

https://lawrencedagstine.com/2010/04/20/free-sf-serial-orphans-prey-pt-1-by-lawrence-dagstine/

“Vendragons live in the grassier regions—probably further north.  They rely on our knowledge of agriculture.  Supposedly, they thrive off it.”

“Yeah, but couldn’t we still head in that direction? I mean, somethin’ made that smoke.”

“Oh, Blake! It’s much too far.  We should wait for a scouting vessel.” She started to undo the knots in her hair. “Go back to sleep.  I’ll take first watch.  Besides, the distance of these plains are farther than you think.  And who knows what manner of beast created those rings.  For all we know it might be the same kind of creature that attacked us, burning carcasses and picking on flesh.”

The boy went scared and silent.

She hoped she spoke with conviction, but after what they’d been through, it disturbed her to know that her brother’s thoughts had been running so close to hers. 

They settled down by the fire, and before long their breathing grew slower and deeper.  After a while, Chelsea couldn’t stay up any longer.  Eyelids falling, she reached for her brother’s swollen hand.  Normally he’d have snatched it away, but he didn’t now.  A veil of mist drifted over the moons that scattered the night sky, and the children slept…

Orphan’s Prey – Part Two

by Lawrence R. Dagstine

Chelsea woke in the twin lights of dawn and reached for her brother.  He wasn’t there.  She quickly looked around her, then scrambled to her feet. “Blake? Blake! Where are you?” For a terrifying moment she thought he had set off by himself had gone on about those smoke rings and the Vendragon for a good hour.  But then she saw him, a dozen or so yards from where the fire had been, staring out across the desert.  In the faint light, with his red vest and tan khakis, he looked taller and older.

Displeased, Chelsea clenched her hands into fists and plodded over. “Blake Prittengayle! What are you doing?”

He didn’t move but kept staring ahead as if in a trance. “Looks like some abominable wasteland, don’t it,” he said, without looking up at her.

“Abominable?” Chelsea vested a short laugh. “I can’t believe you know what that word means.  Come on.” She led him back to the campsite.  He moved like a tiny sleepwalker, then he started to shiver.  She lowered him to the ground and cradled his head in her lap, just as their mother used to.  After a while his shivering stopped.

“Chandler told me what that word meant,” he muttered under his tongue.

“Did he now?”

“Uh-huh.  Also, the air smells funny.  The weather’s gonna change seasons again soon.  The air is salty, like there’s somethin’ big on the way.  Chandler called it pre-cip… pre-cipi…”

“Precipitation?”

“Yeah, that’s it!”

“Blake, what were you thinking of running off like that?”

He slowly got to his feet. “I don’t wanna live on Ragnarok.  We don’t belong here!” His eyes were serious, then he faced the distant mountains.  He remembered the out-colony stories he had heard at the sanctuary from those who were older, those who had gone walkabout with their siblings or cousins on foreign worlds, only to take part in alien ceremonies or have relatives sacrificed in accordance to them.  One boy, eleven, who he shared bunks with, had returned to the freighter after four months of living on nothing but insects.  A salvage team had found him naked, soiled from head to toe and huddled up in the corner of some old cave in the side of a cliff.  He came back without his twin brother or his two older sisters.  There was no trace of the adopting species, no documentation.  The only thing the boy had to remember them by was a photographic imprint locked into a small handcrafted identification bracelet.

“I don’t wanna end up like Louie,” he finally said.

“Louie?” Chelsea was silent for a moment. “Oh, yeah… Louie Peder.  The other kids used to make fun of him.  They used to call him Stinky, because he never bathed or washed.  But after he came back from that extrasolar rock, after his sisters and brother went missing, he just wasn’t right again.  He stopped talking.  Kids stopped making fun of him.  They stopped bothering with him altogether.”

“Hey, let’s go south! Back to the transmat station, where the Keeper let us down.  Plus the air’s not as salty there.”

“But the freighter is no longer above the planet,” Chelsea tried to explain.

“So, maybe it’ll come back when it finds out what happened to us.  The Keeper has rescued stranded kids before.”

“Blake, there is no way I am going back through those crystalline wastes.  And there is no way I am going to risk both our lives going back near those giant stones in the bluffs.  That’s where we first spotted those monsters.”

“Ahh, Chelsea, please!” The boy practically begged. “We have plenty of daylight to guide us, and lots of rest!”

“And what about your hand? Last I looked your knuckles were almost flattened, all black and blue.”

The boy held his hand up for her to see. “Look! All better.  I don’t even need a bandage.”

She had known it was coming, especially since the talk the night before about the smoke rings and the northern part of the planet. “That terminus could be anywhere from a couple of hundred miles to a whole thousand behind us.  We never kept track.  We were inside the vehicle the whole time.  It took almost three days to get where we are now, and using a durable transport.” A brief pause. “I know you’re not that stupid.  There’s no point in even checking our rations.  We’d surely die of hunger and thirst.”

“No nutrient packs or water?” the boy sulked.

“No nutrient packs, I’m afraid.  And not really enough water, to be honest.”

“We could die of hunger and thirst the other way, too, sis.  Or we could get the rover’s touchpad working again.  Least while it’s still sunny.”

“Idiot! You mean the navigational router? Not even the best mechanic in the Cat’s Eye could get that infernal taxi and its low-tech components to run again.  Don’t you remember what that thing did to it?”

There was a moment of significant silence as the memory flashed back.

The girl braided and unbraided her hair.  She was intelligent—so was the boy when he wanted to be, eager and far beyond his years—but her life as an orphan had done nothing to qualify her to make this sort of decision.  So why would Blake be any different? Deep down she was scared like him, only less easily at times to show it.  All she knew in this strange world was that she had to protect her brother, no matter what the cost. “Okay, suppose,” she said slowly, “we stay here one more night, find some kind of cave or shelter in the vicinity of these hills.  After all, I think I noticed some cliffsides.  We have plenty of flares.  We can find some use from all this Yurga brush.  Give your hand another day to heal, maybe collect some herbs or plantlife and make weapons out of the crystals.  If a scouting vessel doesn’t come by tomorrow morning, then we might as well head back to the transmat.  Hope that the Keeper or Koral are there waiting for us.”

Blake nodded. “Fine.”

But no rescue came.  They spent another night in the bluffs, sitting beside the fire again, waiting and hoping.  They examined the flora they had collected, separated what could be used as food or an ingredient and what could not.  Wrist encyclopedias helped them achieve this function.  As handy as the schooling devices were, there was only so much memory it could hold and only so much knowledge it could provide.  That whole day picking, and straight into the night, Chelsea was frightened the monsters would come back—out of all worries, that remained her constant—while Blake complained that the air got chillier at times and smelled saltier.  Whenever she looked down at her wrist, she tried to pull up info about the planet and its meteorological phases, its orbit, and other asymmetries.  Nothing.  No factual data relating to the worlds in the surrounding nebula.  Not even an out-of-place singularity in which she could barter for a clue.  Whenever she tried to be smarter than the device, punch in a successful tag or keyword, she got nothing.  There was absolutely zilch on the tornado creatures—she had figured as much—and nothing even remotely resourceful on the Vendragon.  With its miniature data core, it was pretty much only good for geological referencing: rocks, minerals, botany.  Blake’s was slightly bigger but malfunctioning because he wore his on the hand that got injured. 

In the early morning hours of their fourth day, toting extra satchels of herbs and shrubbery, they set out to walk to the south.  The now longed-for terminus of their dreaming which lay beyond a ridiculous amount of horizons, and an expanse of miles they could not possibly fathom, they walked.  They carried with them spears which they had carved and built by hand: part jagged-edged crystal, part disposable laser cutter.  But even with the lighted, armor-piercing weapons, from all paths the odds were still too overwhelming.  They were not stacked in their favor this day just like the rest; it was a merciful thing they didn’t realize that they had about as much chance of getting to their destination as a soldier ant crossing the cold, terra-formed wastes of New Sedna. 

In the late afternoon they arrived back at the scene of the incident, only along a much higher tract of land; the rover was just over some dry sandy hillocks.  Had they been mindlessly walking in circles? Regardless, Chelsea stood on her tippy toes to look over the rocks.  The moment she saw the monoliths her anxiety level rose again.  Blake began to set aside a couple of water canisters, some wireless provisions, and the weapons they had put together the night before.  Then they approached the edge of the nearest ridge and peeked down.  They lay quietly on their stomachs and just watched.  There were no signs of life, but Chelsea still remarked in a low voice, “We shouldn’t be backtracking let alone stopping here.  Not even briefly.  Those things live here.  I just know it.”

“Oh, come on, sis,” Blake said. “You knew we had to come back this way, and I still think we should go down there and disconnect that touchpad, otherwise look for some kind of communicator.”

“Again, what good will an inoperable router do us?”

“If we get it working it’ll lead us in the right direction.  Duh!”

“Is it worth sacrificing your life for? Oh, you can be so stubborn at times, little one.  Scared one minute yet outwardly brave the next.  No, bro, as your older sister this is where I put my foot down.” She grabbed his wrist with force and, as he pulled away, she fell backwards in the dirt.  His encyclopedia unit detached easily and was now in her hand. “Blake, get back here this instant!” He started running downward along the dust and crystal-lined ridge, handmade spear in tow.  The pulverized vehicle was less than a quarter-mile away. “Blake, please, don’t!” Hesitant to raise her voice any louder, she hurried after him.

Back at the wreckage, the boy stood quietly facing the rover.  A single tear fell from his eye; moments later more followed.  Chelsea finally caught up with him; so did the terrible memories of days past.  Together they turned their attention to the upended vehicle, the broken glass, and the headless driver, whose lanky frame was still sticking a few feet out.  Much of his synthetic tubing was shriveled up, the plastics and operating fluids dried out from prolonged exposure to the heat.  The girl wrinkled her nose, while continuously stealing glances over her shoulder.  Unlike before, the monoliths now interested her.  She wondered what had caused such tall and magnificent bricks to melt from within.

“He ought to be buried,” Blake said.

“Chandler was a machine.”

“Doesn’t matter.  He was still encoded with feelings.  That makes him just as human as us—and he was my friend!” The boy wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “He deserves a funeral.  Even in a place like this.”

“Yes, but how?” The body was too heavy to carry back up the trail, and the ground at the site of the accident happened to be hard. “Listen, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll make a pulley out of what’s left of the truck’s door.  Seems durable enough.” She looked up at the sky. “The suns are currently with us.  It’s that or nothing, kiddo.”

Blake gave a nod of approval.  Then he went to the vehicle to retrieve the touchpad and scavenge for items his sister might have otherwise overlooked or considered worthless.  Afterwards he had to admit reluctantly that she was right: the corpse was heavy.  Panting and straining, they heaved Chandler’s remains onto the top of the blue-tinted door.  In the end, they raised the zyranium stretcher along a ramp and atop a high flat-surfaced boulder.  So flat it resembled a slab in midair.  Once it was clear of the ground, Chelsea crossed her fingers and hoped that the strange alien creatures who walked by wind and shadow wouldn’t mistreat the rest of the body.

The boy didn’t want to chance it. “Burn it,” he said, swallowing hard.

“Are you sure?” Chelsea asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

The girl approached the boulder, leaned up against it, stood on the balls of her feet and raised the spear in her left hand.  The laser cutter at the tip of the weapon worked in conjunction with the lime crystals and ignited Chandler’s dismembered form.  Then she returned to her brother’s side, and together they watched the flames.  A few minutes later she climbed into the back of the rover again and checked the power cells.  The solar reserves were exhausted.  Looking up, however, she noticed a small bulb on one of the contorted operating panels.  A distress beacon—the silent kind.  It was glowing green.  Perhaps Chandler knew the moment they were attacked to throw it on.  Perhaps help was already on the way.  She parted a smile. 

Perhaps there was hope yet.

Outside the boy was packing the router all snug in his satchel.  He deposited its energy cubes in his vest pocket.  Hopefully it could be fixed.  Hopefully he’d be the one to mend it, and, if so, put it to good use later on in their travels.  Then he stared back up at the burning body.  He remembered Chandler’s singsong kindness: the ancient stories of wonder and the furtive bites of jerky and candy that caused intoxicating laughter.  What he did next was partly instinctive, reminiscent of his days aboard the Juniper.  He began to pray and hymn; it was the special prayer which, according to keepers and lonely orphans, would exorcise a new home or planet of its evil spirits and bad elements.  Just like the one that caused Chandler’s death. 

The girl came back and watched her brother.  She felt torn in two; as if half of her was standing dry-eyed beside a spread-open coffin intoning an Earth requiem, while the other half was dancing around gaily and celebrating life.

The boy’s harmonious devotion ebbed and flowed between the smooth cadences of what the Keeper had taught him of religion.  When they were residents of the Juniper, the children had a much simpler name for it.  They called it Faith Class.

Chelsea patted her brother on the shoulder and, giving him as much time alone as he needed, went to inspect the monoliths.  She raised her arm to the first and largest of the great green stones and punched a few buttons on her wrist encyclopedia.  When Blake had finished, he’d gotten off his knees and caught up with her. “What’s up?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she replied without looking back.  Her tone was matter-of-fact.

“Looks like somethin’ to me,” the boy said nosily.

“Just surveying, really.” Chelsea remained unconcerned, but her intuition would have told another story. “See this? According to my cyclopedia this is some form of granite with an igneous outer layer but an internal heating source.” She held her wrist out for her brother to see; Blake shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve never seen anything like it in text cards or disks.”

“You mean like volcanoes?”

“Kind of, I suppose.  Also, these blocks have their own magnetic fields—small, mind you; practically dwarf-sized—but given their geological shape over time they probably act as nothing more than a wind receptor or miniature power conductor.” When she leaned in closer the key drive containing her life essence flipped out of her shirt and clung to the great stone. “See what I mean?”

“Whoa!” The boy was taken aback; he, too, felt the rope around his neck being tugged and pulled. “You think they have somethin’ to do with this planet’s crazy weather system?”

“Maybe.  Magnetic properties are very common among these types of stones: Earth, Mars, Ganymede, Titan, Upsilon, Epsilon, Centauri, Andromeda—they’re all over.  Scientists and colonies from across the stars have proclaimed they even have the ability to metaphysically heal the sick.” The girl was confident she was on to something. “But all the suns and moons in the Cat’s Eye,” she went on, “all the heat generated in Ragnarok’s core couldn’t cause melting of this magnitude.  I just know it.  No, this was a very different kind of combustion.  Or at least something along those lines.  A very powerful force from within, and that force absorbed the special properties these stones give off and used it to burst free.”

“So somethin’ lived inside this big rock, huh?” Blake looked up at the tall stone and rapped the side of it.  He counted twenty more within a few yards of where he was standing.

“Or slept,” Chelsea said. “If you want my opinion, they might even be some kind of age-old resting chamber or husk.”

“The Vendragon?”

“Nah, couldn’t be.”

“Bigger?” The boy’s eyes widened. “Worse?”

“Yes.” Chelsea went back to her wrist and ran another analysis. “And very much alive.”

After she finished scrounging around for more data, she shut the device off and flipped the top panel shut.  She stepped back from the monolith and observed it some more.  For a moment it reminded her of an extraterrestrial Stonehenge, an ancient Earth supposedly known for its magnetic and metaphysical properties.  Then she pretended it was a giant sandstone coffin; the eerie comparison caused a sudden shiver to run up her spine.  She soon realized that anything else than what she’d discovered so far was just a mystery or worthless knowledge.  

Blake was already halfway up the trail. “Come on, sis! We’ve got a lot of walking ahead of us.”

Chelsea eventually caught up. “Oh, here,” she said, going into her knapsack and tossing something his way.

“What’s this?” Blake had never seen anything like it; the interior was paper.

“When I went back I found it in Chandler’s overhead compartment,” she said. “I know how close you were to him.  Thought you might want it.  It’s a book.”

“What’s a book?”

“It’s an antiquity.  The contents are paper.  They don’t make paper anymore.  Not for centuries.”

“What’s an antiquity?”

“Old objects of worth, numbskull.” Chelsea rolled her eyes and laughed. “Books were the things used for entertainment or learning purposes long before touchpads and wrist encyclopedias became necessary.  They were meant for the imagination.”

Blake thumbed through the pages. “It has words in it.”

“So do wrist encyclopedias.”

The front cover read: Lord of the Flies

The boy grinned. “Thanks.  I’ll treasure it with my life.”

He led the way south into the dry wastes and ridges of sand, crystal, and sprinkled garnet.  He didn’t look back, but the girl glanced more than once over her shoulder at the rover and flat-surfaced boulder in the glare of the two suns.  In the hours before the double sunset they covered perhaps twenty miles.  Chelsea was happy with it.  So long as they were far away from the site of the wreckage by the time the primary sun disappeared over the horizon.  That’s all that mattered to her.

They found a good place to camp among a cluster of Yurga stalks which rose like pallid ghosts around a depression.  There, in this quiet place, other washed out trees and herbs were strewn about.  They laid out their provisions, pre-programmed a half-dozen flares and made a giant circle of flames as their fire, then each ate jerky and wuava fruit.  With twilight came the stars—millions of them, literally dotting every section of the colored sky.  Compared to the bluffs, the wastes were beautiful by moonlight—fourteen moons, upon first count—and the children were settling down contentedly in the warmth of the glowing embers.  Here and there the boy went into his satchel and fiddled with the router.  But it was obvious he could not get the touchpad working, no matter how hard he tried.  The girl, on the other hand, sat thinking about the Juniper, and how she too missed the voices of the kids now.  She could hardly believe how far they journeyed.  She could hardly believe they were going into their fifth day on this enormous planet. 

With the flames crackling in all directions, the children heard a metallic clatter in the distance and saw a light inching across the skyline.  It was some time before they realized that it was a rover coming up through the wastes. 

They also shared the most unusual feeling that they were being watched.

The girl’s voice was uncertain. “If we ran quickly, do you think we’d catch it?”

The boy said nothing at first, strangely sniffing the air.  Very carefully he kicked sand and ash over the fires, extinguishing every single glimmer of flame that surrounded them.  His behavior was very weird.  After a time the light moved on in the direction of the bluffs.  Then, finally, he nodded to his sister. “Koral?”

Chelsea, hardly seeable, shrugged her shoulders. “Can’t be sure.” There was a moment of silence as they stared past each other in the darkness. “It’s late,” she whispered. “I really don’t want to take any chances if we don’t have to.  Go ahead.  Make another fire.”

The boy smelled the air again, then ran up the rocky ridge behind him. “Salty,” he said. “I knew it.  Look!” Not one, but two immense fog clouds were moving across the desert fast.  Almost like airborne sandstorms. “Bad weather’s on the way, sis.  Pretty low-cast, too.”

“Smells like methane if you ask me,” Chelsea remarked curiously.  After a while, the stench had become so unbearable she had to pinch her nostrils.

“It’s in the snow that travels over the endless sands,” Blake pointed out, “and the snow falls within the fog.  Never outside it.  Chandler told me all about it.  It’s an atmospheric phe-nom…phe-nom-e…”

“Phenomenon?”

“Yeah, that’s the word!”

“You make that sound as if it’s a good thing.”

“No, it really isn’t.” The boy looked to the plains and darkened horizon. “We need to take cover fast, sis.  Real fast.” His voice was full of worry.

With the helpful glare of one or more moons, Chelsea could notice the same in his eyes. “What if there isn’t enough time? What if we can’t find a cave or some rocks quick enough?” She panicked.

So self-assured, she was, only hours earlier.  So brave and self-confident.  So virtuous and independent at the right moments, yet obviously weak during others. 

She suddenly found herself pressing her hands to the sides of her head—she’d never done something like this in front of her brother—almost sick with discomfort.  She saw the expression on the boy’s face, then her own, only in her mind’s eye, weak, scared, unprotected, and she realized once more that they were just small children, incapable of much, and just how alone they really were.

*

A rather large, muscular, adobe-colored lizard was awakened that same night by what sounded like distant explosions.  From behind the controls of his land scout, the startled iguana with the reddish-brown leather armor and twaddle-speaking tongue realized it was thunder reverberating among the low cumulus that was some hundreds of miles wide.  There was the pitter-patter of rain pellets on the vehicle’s front looking glass and hood.  A break in the drought? Nah, couldn’t be; Ragnarok should only be so lucky this time of year.  All the water in the universe couldn’t fix that recurrent problem, only toss it a band-aid.  Hence the greenhouses, pipelines, and special sprinkler system back at the city.  Fog clouds approaching? Maybe.  It was a more logical bet.  In sandy, mountainous regions like this, a heavy thunderstorm or methane-mixed hail shower could be an isolated occurrence or a signal that a new front was moving in—or yet another unwanted season.  Whichever it was, the lizard was glad he was snug inside his tracker rather than camped out in a dry marsh or deep desert valley where the storm was picking up speed and strength.  As for how bad conditions would get, he’d just have to wait and see.  

TO BE CONTINUED…

Author’s Note: First Draft

M-Brane SF #17, June-July 2010… (Now Available!)

It’s finally summer, folks, and I’m back for what is my third appearance with a weird SF/alternate history tale of sorts to M-BRANE SF.  Edited by Christopher Fletcher, M-Brane Scifi is not just an electronic monthly, a speculative magazine dedicated to the pulps. It’s available in PDF format for  only $1.00 per issue ($12.00 annually); you can download it to your Amazon Kindles and other e-readers.  Christopher Fletcher also provides a daily blog site, complete with news, reviews, and insight on subjects of science fiction and science fact.  Hard SF, Sociological SF, Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, authors new and old can all be found at M-BRANE SF. 

M-BRANE SF – Third Appearance – Early Summer 2010

Issue #17 – Edited by Christopher Fletcher

featuring Lawrence R. Dagstine

 

ORDER THE PDF MAGAZINE w. LAWRENCE DAGSTINE – Only $1.00

www.mbranesf.blogspot.com

Issue Line-up: Edd Howarth, Aaron Polson, Lawrence Dagstine, Jason Sizemore, Joe Jablonski, Charles A. Muir, Margaret Karmazin.

Previous Issues available as compilation print mags on LULU (www.lulu.com)

 

 M-Brane SF Issue #9 — October 2009

M-Brane SF – Issue #2 — March 2009

 

Other New Entries: “Magazines” – PDF Downloads

M-Brane Science Fiction, Summer 2010… (3rd Acceptance!)

In about a month or so I’ll be returning for a third time with a weird SF/alternate history tale of sorts to M-BRANE SF.  Edited by Christopher Fletcher, M-Brane Science Fiction is not just a monthly, speculative magazine dedicated to the pulps in PDF format.  It’s also only $1.00 per electronic issue ($12.00 per year), and you can download it to your Amazon Kindles and other digital readers.  Christopher Fletcher provides a daily blog site, complete with hardcore news, reviews, and insight on subjects of science fiction and science fact.  Hard SF, Sociological SF, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, authors new and old can all be found at M-BRANE SF.  A LULU version is also offered, I believe.

M-BRANE SF – Third Acceptance (summer 2010)

COMING SOON – SO STAY TUNED!

www.mbranesf.blogspot.com

Other New Entries: “Magazines”

Free SF Serial: “Orphan’s Prey pt. 1” – by Lawrence Dagstine

Science fiction meets interplanetary horror, in this 30th century survivalist’s fable about two orphans stranded on the most fantastic yet dangerous world, the benefits and perils of alien cultures meeting and clashing, being reunited with the past, and a most unique and dark breed of alien vampire. Lord of the Flies meets the movie Pitch Black meets Living Amongst the Lizards.  Welcome to Ragnarok, the largest planet in the Cat’s Eye Nebula, the largest world in the known universe.  Meet Chelsea and Blake (our protagonists), as we embark on a new bimonthly series of free serialized science fiction.  What are life servers? Who are the Vendragon? What are the Docengard? An adventure awaits you, in the first installment of Orphan’s Prey, here on… Ragnarok! First draft, first run.  A novella in entirety.  Enjoy!

ORPHAN’S PREY

Science Fiction Serial Part One

 by

Lawrence R. Dagstine

The planet was a phenomenon.  A livable, breathable phenomenon.  The jagged-edged terrain lay sedated to immobility by the heat of twin stars by day, and cold methane hails and monstrous storms by night.  From the vehicle looking glass, the land consisted of desert islands in a yellow sand-like mist that stretched to infinity.  The sky was radiant, directly overhead tangerine with purple, and although the air was chill, the primary sun was already beginning to warm the pre-dawn.

“Sometimes on mornings like this,” the driver said, “I pretend that I’m the only artificial intelligence on Ragnarok.  But”—he smiled with sudden brilliance—“I like it better like this, with a few other inhabitants, preferably young and small.  Oh, by the way, I’m Chandler.”

Suddenly, without warning, the overhead transceiver came to life.  A voice was speaking what sounded to Chelsea and Blake like gibberish, and Chandler smiled. “That’s Koral.  He’s a Vendragon.  You know, the people you were told about before coming here? Always erratic, that one.  He takes a little getting used to.” The children listened for a few moments. “The high pressure system—real high—moving hundreds of degrees faster than what you Earthlings are used to, that’s our direction from him and the colony.  We’ve got a fog cloud ahead of us, which is Koral’s way of saying we’ll be surrounded by irregular precipitation and possible danger.  Good old weather lizard that he is.  But we should be safe in here.  This baby stores double-solar oomph, and the alloy is wind-resistant.”

“Oomph? What’s that?” Blake asked.

Chandler nodded up. “The collector panels on the roof.”

“When do we stop?”

Chandler pointed to an overhead visual system. “Here.” He pressed a red circle on the touchpad.  Surrounding it, the lowest of the two suns lighted the mountaintops, glazed them, turning any visible snow to clear pink, accentuating the shadows of the canyons and valleys and whatever else reside beneath. “We want to be here.  You must understand, this planet is very big.  We go through four seasons every run; it takes more than eighteen seasons to get across the entire northern hemisphere.”

Blake dropped his bottom lip in surprise, then looked across at his sister, who had begun nodding off.

“The weather here is fierce and uncanny,” he continued, “but in the center of that brutality is a place filled with great sunshine, grassy knolls, colorful landscapes, and the most awesome valleys you can run and play in.”

“Did you hear that, Chelsea? Maybe things won’t be that bad after all.” The little boy crowed from his metal chair.

Chelsea was tired.  Her gaze was wandering vaguely, and after a few minutes she closed her eyes again as her lips curved in the faintest of smiles.  She found it hard to follow the A.I.’s rambling words about such a magnificent sphere, but there was still something in them which evoked a sense of unease.

Chandler rambled on.  Chelsea sat trying to think coherently, to feel any kind of enthusiasm, but nothing moved in her.  Eventually Blake stopped crooning and fell asleep himself.  Chelsea’s numbed brain began to come to life again, and she realized that what she had learned made no difference to the situation.  They were never returning to Earth.  They were never returning to the orphan ship, Juniper.  Perhaps it was stupid not to realize that it made a frightening difference.  After all, if it had, she might have been better prepared for the web of mystery, terror, and danger that was to entrap them.

By the time they exited the fog cloud it was almost midday.  The only moving thing was the large zyranium-shelled rover, churning in a cocoon of dust along the now weather-beaten track between the desert islands and the terminus from which they were picked up.  Mud and bacteria-bottomed channels filled the marshlike gaps in-between.  In the driver’s seat the A.I. was alert, optimistic, crossing territories and watching for signs of life.  In the back, seated amongst the luggage and other provisions, the children lay dozing, oblivious to their current surroundings.  The eight-year-old—bright, resourceful, full of energy—slept soundly.  Wisps of red hair covered one of his eyes.  As he breathed, a silky strand would fly up in the air and come back down upon his forehead lightly.  Like his sister, his nose turned up slightly at the end, a spray of freckles across it, his mouth thin, the cheeks half-plump and rosy.  His eyes were wide, a deep blue; his sister’s were hazel. 

Fourteen-year-old Chelsea Prittengayle’s facial gestures were more refined, however, more serious.  More brooding.  Other times they were exaggerated: surprise or puzzlement, pleasure or anxiety, the typical moody or unsatisfied-with-anything teenager.  Whatever emotion she felt, her face would either show it much too emphatically or much too hesitantly.  Compared to Blake’s ruddiness, her chin was smaller, the eyes and ears narrower, her body bonier, her tresses and bangs splayed purple and pink at the tips.  She was also more restless, dreaming.

Chelsea dreamed that she was standing again, as she had stood only three days ago, aboard the Juniper, holding her brother tightly by the hand and listening to her Sanctuary Keeper. “It’s a wonderful chance,” the nun figure said, “for you both, and you’ll be able to stay together.  No more foster planets, just a brave new world.  An exciting one.  Ragnarok is one of the biggest out-colony territories in the Cat’s Eye Nebula, and the Vendragon are a fine species.  Matter of fact, it might be the biggest planet in the known universe.  So much room to move around.  I’m sure you’ll be happy there.”

Chelsea faced the floor. “Yes, ma’am,” she said.

“But what if we don’t like it?” Blake stomped his feet and whined. “What if it’s just like the others? I don’t wanna go.  I don’t wanna leave my friends again!”

“Blake, calm down.” His sister knelt beside him. “Really, it’s all right.  You know the drill.”

The Keeper waved a soothing hand. “No, no.  He’s right.  Here”—she picked up two hexagonal-shaped chips from a servicing tray beside her, walked across the grated floor to a processing machine, then inserted them into place—“in the event you grow bored of your new home.” She brought up the two children’s molecular profiles on screen. “Now give me your hands.” She confirmed their print data.

“What are you doing?” Chelsea asked.

“You’ll see.” Seconds later she was finished.  She removed the two chips from the grooves in the console and attached titanium-alloyed ropes to them. “Wear these key drives as necklaces, but whatever you do don’t lose them.  They hold within them an embodiment of your memories, your metaphysical structure, who you are, and what you may eventually become capable of.  They hold your souls, your very essences.  If you are ever in danger, if you are ever bored, you need only crush them into fine grain, and you will cease to exist in this form and be free from a life unwanted.”

Chelsea held hers up in front of her eye; Blake quickly put his around his neck. “So this is us,” she muttered. “Everything about us is in this small chip.”

“The information on it can be accessed from any life server.  But, at the same time, I would be cautious.  It can be tampered with.”

“I still wish we didn’t have to go,” Blake said.

The Keeper nodded in agreement. “It’s a rush, I know.  The funding for your kind isn’t there either.  But the Vendragon want you right away, before the seasons on their side of the planet change again, and a special transport’s coming for you.”

Chelsea picked up her knapsack. “Why do they want us, and yet our own kind doesn’t?”

“Now, now.  That’s a silly way to think.” The Keeper was programmed to be sympathetic, but she realized she could not hold the truth from them. “Foster humans have become an expenditure for a very stressed and careworn Earth.  There are less than twenty-three thousand of you left, all within sanctuary care or already placed in homes many light years away.  Some siblings don’t have the luxury of being housed together.  Hopefully, both of your journeys will finally end here.  You are an asset to these other races because of your youth, your empathic ways.  The knowledge and traits you possess can grow with you.  Creatures like the Vendragon see human children as role models.”

Blake cried. “Oh, Keeper,” he said, running to hug her. “I’m gonna miss you.  An awful lot!”

“And I will miss you, child.” She embraced them as if they were her own.  Then she led both of them down to the craft’s transmat. “Now before you leave, is there anything either of you would like to ask? Anything at all?”

Teary-eyed, Blake stepped back and shifted from foot to foot.  Chelsea, in a voice she hardly recognized as her own, said: “Our parents.  Our real ones.  Suppose they come back from Earth.  How will they find us?”

“My child”—the nun’s voice was gentle—“if your parents are indeed alive, and if they do ever come back, we’ll send a salvage team for you.”

“Promise?”

The Keeper parted a half-smile. “Promise.”

The dream blurred.  The one thing that stood out from the whirlwind of goodbyes with the other children was the nun’s last minute reminder—“Oh, and Chelsea! See that you look after your brother!” Then they were waving from behind the protective glass of the particle disseminator, just one section of missionary freighter which had been their home on and off for five years, since she was nine and Blake three.  The transmat beamed them down to the terminus.  From this steel transfer point the rover waited, then headed out on the extremely long drive to the Vendragon Township via the listless wastes.

 

“Yes, sir.  Ragnarok! No ball in the universe quite like it,” the A.I. boasted. “Lots and lots of room to run and play.” 

At first the children had been in awe of Chandler, the synthetic man who was driving.  He was the planet’s tour guide and taxi driver.  He was built tall and rangy, pleasurable and amusing, and he understood the many wonders of human behavior.  Juvenile behavior.  The only weird thing about him was that his body smelled of coolant. 

After getting to know him, the children were taking turns riding up front, and he was feeding them processed nuts and jerky.  He told them of the great herds of reptilian creatures that once drifted over the plains and the thousand-year-old walking cacti, which kept the Vendragon on the move in a never-ending battle for food and water.  He educated them on the Docengard—the gangling, clumsy predecessors to Ragnarok, and how, for centuries, they lived in the rocks alone, yet the earlier species regarded them as something of mystics.  By the end of the first day’s ride they were best friends, and the children loved the voyage through the tired yellow landscape old as time itself.  They saw spiky clumps of Yurga, a sweet white medicinal herb, smooth sculptured garnet trees, bloated potato patches and vegetated mist swamps, and smoke rings rising gray and black over the lime crystal bluffs.  It was a fantastic environment, one that was full of desolation yet color, different yet utterly surreal; surely gods must have shaped it.  It was all exciting and new, but in the bluffs an incident happened that Chelsea wanted to forget.

On the morning of the second day’s ride, when a breeze was blowing over the blazing desert sands, Chelsea had seen shadowy columns of air circling the vehicle.  The silhouetted tornadoes had no real substance to them, neither any real shape nor form.  At first, the dozen or so that were out there did not scare her.  Matter of fact, she didn’t think much of them.  For a brief moment she took her necklace out of her shirt.  Curiously, she held the key drive up.  Then, after a minute or two, she tucked it back in.  With some extra speed and a waving of hands from Chandler and Blake, they were now setting out on what seemed like the final stages of their journey.  For a while the girl sat very still, her eyes on the Yurga-plastered trail, her lips pressed tightly together.  The rover made a weird humming sound, and it vibrated to the point of nausea. 

At midday, when the children were asleep in the back of the vehicle, Chandler was tempted to pull over for a much-needed recharge, but he knew that if the fog clouds or other storm-ravaging elements returned, it would hold them up and transform the ground into a sea of impassable mud.  So he drove on through the heat, watching for rifts in the trail.  The temperature in the bluffs was well over a hundred degrees.  They were three-quarters of the way through the landscape, one of the deepest desert regions on the planet, made up of miles and miles of sand and crystalline escarpment.  The road, still rugged in some areas, was following a gully down through a crack in the plateau, twisting and turning between grotesque blocks of melted green granite—monolithic play-bricks scattered along a dried up riverbed or marsh.

It happened without warning.  One second they were skirting a boulder half the size of a building, the next, the shadowy tornado came swirling around a bend, a ten-foot column of viciously dark spinning air.  It hit the rover head on, knocked the vehicle into a skid, and smashed it against an outcrop of crystal. “What was that?” Chelsea’s heart rose out of her chest and into her throat. “What’s going on?” Her seatbelt snapped and, as the vehicle upended, she fell back into the luggage, causing two rows of holding canisters to collapse on her head. 

The tornado, seemingly alive, came back for seconds.

“Damn!” Chandler fiddled with the clutch, but it was bent and stuck.  He quickly glanced through the looking glass in front of him. “Such power! Don’t worry, I’ll get you kids out of here.”

Blake was frightened. “It’s one of those big reptile monsters,” he shouted, as one of the large jagged-edged crystals pierced the vehicle’s interior.

“Can’t be, son.  They’re extinct.”

Chelsea managed to pull herself out from under the baggage. “It was the wind,” she muttered, her forehead bleeding slightly. “The black things swirling in the wind caught us.”

Blake huddled up in a corner with his sister. “I wanna go home, Chelsea,” he cried, as the tornado came back for more. “I want the Keeper.  I want my Mommy!”

“Okay, both of you need to calm down.  Just stay in back of the vehicle.  I’ll get you out of here, now—”

The A.I. was shouting some miscellaneous warnings when a large spear-tipped crystal burst through the front looking glass and caught him on the base of the neck and cut off his vocal functions.  Silver paint and white oil splattered everywhere.  The children screamed hysterically, as manufacturing fluid sprayed across their faces and drenched their clothes.  Chandler’s eyes rolled in back of his head.  He lifted a weary hand and grabbed the area where his larynx used to be.  Outside, the tornado stopped moving.  The tall phantom-like creature stood atop the shadier part of the monolith closest to the rover, sniffing the air.  Seconds later it flew off, spun its way back to the paralyzed vehicle, tore through what was left of the front looking glass, and ripped the A.I.’s convulsing head off.  Fleshy upper body connector tubes and other plastics fluttered everywhere, leaking more white oil and fluids.  The tornado extended a claw-shaped appendage and tore out Chandler’s mechanical heart, then attempted to absorb the spraying juices.  Frustrated that the A.I. was not digestible, it gave off an ear-piercing howl, swirled in a backward motion, and disappeared from the rover with Chandler’s head.

Shaking uncontrollably, Chelsea hugged Blake.  She dare not let go, as a few more metal boxes fell.  There followed a significant period of silence; she did not even blink.  After what seemed like many hours, she finally whispered, “Stay still.”

“No, Chelsea.  Don’t!” Blake cried frantically but quietly.

“I’m not going anywhere.  I just want to look.” They continued to talk in short whispers. 

“But, but—”

“Shhh.” Chelsea lifted her head slowly and peeked out from the rover’s backend.  At first, everything looked quiet.  The same barren wastes, the same gargantuan stones, the same lime crystal formations, the same patches of Yurga root sprouting here and there.  But then her eyes moved to the far left.  There it was—the ravenous tornado creature.  It whirled playfully up the gully with Chandler’s head in tow, leaving the crushed rover on its side, its enormous tires spinning slowly to a halt.  Her eyes then focused on the other dozen or so monoliths in back of them.  Her heart leaped again.  Silhouettes with razor-sharp claws—not spinning, not moving—stood atop the shadowy parts of the high ledges.  Hauntingly, each one seemed to stare back at her, right through the vehicle’s shell, right through her very soul; she grabbed her necklace out of force of habit.  They reminded her of vultures, hungry and in wait for their next meal.  After a few more minutes, the dust settled and the suns beat down harder.  The tornado creatures vanished.  Everything was very quiet again. 

“Blake!” The girl’s voice was frightened. “You okay?”

The boy was matter-of-fact. “Uh-huh.  But my left arm is stuck under this darned metal crate.  And I can’t feel my fingers.”

“Anything broken?”

“I…I don’t think so,” Blake said. “What was it, sis?”

Chelsea shrugged her shoulders. “A whirling devil or something, I suppose.” She used her feet to push the heavy box of provisions aside.  Then she eased the other toppled luggage away from his fingers as gently as she could, and he pulled his bruised hand away from the piled up chaos. “Probably native to the region,” she went on, “and we just happened to shortcut through its habitat.”

“Do you think that was the Vendragon?”

“No.  It was something else, something far creepier.  More dangerous.”

“How do you know?” 

“The Keeper showed me learning disks.  The Vendragon have lizardy features, sort of like iguanas.  They’re a scaly, dry-skinned race.  Their bodies don’t give off perspiration like we do because of their arid surroundings and Ragnarok’s two suns.  She also said they’re humanoid in more ways than one, more than we think.  Can we continue this biology lesson elsewhere?”

Blake nodded, then pushed himself against the escape hatch. “It won’t budge,” he said, then looked back at his sister. “I’m scared, Chelsea.”

“Yeah, I know.  Me, too, brother.” She felt the impacted metal. “Let me have a go at it.”

She managed the door open and helped Blake down from the half-crushed vehicle, and they stood gazing at the wreckage.  The headless A.I. was sprawled halfway out of the driver’s seat, his flittering tubes and empty chest open to the hot-winded air. “Man, only a giant could have done this,” Blake said after inspecting the damage. “Poor Chandler.  He was cool.  Maybe we can use the spare power cells stored in the rover to reenergize him or somethin’, help guide us the rest of the way.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Chelsea explained.  She kept looking over her shoulder. “And I don’t think we should stay out here any longer than we have to.  It’s going to get dark soon.”

“Surely the Township isn’t too far now, huh, sis?”

“Yeah, surely…” Chelsea retrieved her knapsack and Blake’s in a hurry.  She looked for any lightweight supplies—digital nightspecs, perma-flares, laser cutters or first aid blocks—and pre-processed rations she could find.  Anything that might come in handy, anything that might aid in their survival. “Here, catch!”

Blake walked back to the front of the vehicle.  He didn’t understand much about artificial intelligences.  Even headless, he thought for a moment that Chandler was only injured or out of battery power; then he saw the remnants of fluid seeping from his shoulders, and the peculiar angle of his synthetic shape. “Chandler’s not growing another face, is he?” His eyes opened wide and, like his sister, his fingers moved to the key drive hanging low around his neck. “Does he at least have a soul?”

“Blake,” Chelsea whispered. “Chandler’s gone.”

Some time later they sat on a rocky cliff while the environment turned from yellow and green to a dusk brown and deep tangerine.  Chelsea had decided to get as far away from the wreck as possible, but she never left the trail.  Chandler had been in constant communication with Koral.  A scouting rover, she told herself, was bound to come sooner or later, and for the moment they had plenty of sunshine and plenty of food and water.  Blake was falling asleep; the boy was worn out, and his hand swelled something awful.  Every so often Chelsea got some irrational fear inside of her and steeled herself to kneel beside her brother, listening for a flutter of a heartbeat, making sure that he still had his soul on him.  Only when his body began to rest comfortably did she kiss his forehead and lay down beside him. 

“Mother and Father aren’t here,” she said, running her hand through his flimsy hair. “Neither is the Keeper.  It’s my job to look after you, little brother.”

Without realizing just how many hours of daylight Ragnarok was subject to, Chelsea too closed her eyes the moment her muscles stopped tensing and the tornado creature left her thoughts.  The first sun slid behind the rim of the gully, then eventually dissolved over the bluffs; the sky turned orange, with the occasional streak of red marking their spot in the universe.  Then the second, slightly larger sun disappeared over the tip of the escarpment.  The desert wastes, the misty, bubbly swamps that separated them like islands, and the crystalline plateau vanished under a blanket of purple and black, touched up with a satellite-tinged glow.  A breeze swirled the planet’s dusts and, in the face of the twilight, the girl shivered. 

Chelsea was awakened by the wind’s intensity; the monster from earlier played with her mind once more.  Afraid, she shook her brother out of slumber. “Blake.  Blake, get up.” She glanced around her. “It looks like we’re here for the night… However long that is.”

Blake barely opened one eye. “So?”

“So I think those whirling demons can’t take too much daylight.  When I saw them, they always seemed to stand in very little sun or take to the shadows.”

“Then we’ll build a fire.” Blake was very self-possessed. “You took perma-flares from the rover, didn’t you?” Seconds later, he sat up.

“Yeah, but when was the last time you and I went camping?”

“Titan.” Blake smiled.

“How could you possibly remember that? You were only two.  You mean you actually have a vivid memory of Me, Mom and Dad on our trip to Saturn?”

“Yes.”

Chelsea pinched his cheek.  Then she went into her knapsack and handed him a flare. “Remember how to program a spark, too?”

A short while later the children sat close to the blazing fire, listening to the flip-flap-flip of the two-headed air marmot, the long sad wail of the desert dolphin, and the surreal pitter-patter of marsh insects.  They weren’t exactly frightened of these animals; but the front row seat was a far cry from the virtual zoos and jungles back on Earth.

“You think that wind creature was a pterodactyl?” Blake asked out of the blue. 

Huddled closely around the flames, Chelsea answered, “No, silly.  It definitely wasn’t a pterodactyl.  Pterodactyls are long extinct.  From all worlds.” A moment of silence followed. 

Then the boy began to fidget. “Chelsea, what’s this Ragnarok place really like?” He almost wanted to cry again. “Chandler had told me so much.  What do we do now? How are we gonna survive?”

“I don’t know, Blake.  But I reckon we’ll be OK.  So long as you stay with me at all times.  We must never split up, never lose sight of each other.  Not even for a second.”

The boy fiddled with the key drive around his neck. “If something bad happens to one of us, should we give each other permission now to—um, well, you know—”

“Crush the chips and let our souls go free?” Chelsea grasped her own necklace tightly. “Let’s hope we don’t have to.  And if Mom and Dad are still alive, if they’re still out there somewhere, they wouldn’t want us giving up without a fight.”

The boy picked up a garnet tree branch and stirred the fire. “Maybe if the Vendragon find us, they’ll let us use their life server.”

Chelsea grimaced. “Yeah, sure.  Maybe.”

The boy said, “Remember those smoke rings we saw on the way? You reckon they came from the Township?”

She shook her head. “Vendragons live in the grassier regions—probably further north.  They rely on our knowledge of agriculture.  Supposedly, they thrive off it.”

“Yeah, but couldn’t we still head in that direction? I mean, somethin’ made that smoke.”

“Oh, Blake! It’s much too far.  We should wait for a scouting vessel.” She started to undo the knots in her hair. “Go back to sleep.  I’ll take first watch.  Besides, the distance of these plains are farther than you think.  And who knows what manner of beast created those rings.  For all we know it might be the same kind of creature that attacked us, burning carcasses and picking on flesh.”

The boy went scared and silent.

She hoped she spoke with conviction, but after what they’d been through, it disturbed her to know that her brother’s thoughts had been running so close to hers. 

They settled down by the fire, and before long their breathing grew slower and deeper.  After a while, Chelsea couldn’t stay up any longer.  Eyelids falling, she reached for her brother’s swollen hand.  Normally he’d have snatched it away, but he didn’t now.  A veil of mist drifted over the moons that scattered the night sky, and the children slept.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Shelter of Daylight #3, April 2010… (Now Available!)

You can now find me in the thick and fairly new Anthology-Magazine, SHELTER OF DAYLIGHT.  Issue #3.  Published on a bi-annual basis by Sam’s Dot Publishing, and I must confess, with this new year, their cover art and printer/print quality has improved greatly! For this issue I have a science fiction story, and there is a slew of other great authors.  Edited by Tyree Campbell and available in a super-glossy, perfect-bound format.  Just click on the links or the cover art below.  Cheers, Lawrence.

SHELTER OF DAYLIGHT Science Fiction & Fantasy – April 2010

Published semi-annually by Sam’s Dot Publishing:

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www.samsdotpublishing.com

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http://www.genremall.com/zinesr.htm#shelter

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Author Line-up: Tom Humphrey, Greer Woodward, Tyree Campbell, Lawrence Barker, Ursula Warnecke, Kisa Rupp, Keith Graham, Maria Alberto, David Tallerman, Molly Schwanz, Jared Millet, Robin Mayhall, Lawrence R. Dagstine, Michael D. Sonnier, Shane Nelson, John Marfink, Jaime Lee Moyer, Anne Brennan, Marge Simon, K.S. Hardy, WC Roberts, J.L. Opskar, and Amelia B. Winkler.

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