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About this title: Version: In issue No. 2, for December 2018: Part 1 of the sci-fi novella Non-Retrieval. The main feature is followed by five recently written short stories, in a range of genres, with three directly inspired by notes from the Story Starters archive. Articles include the revealing How I Became My Female Characters, and for the upcoming holiday, Have A Merry, Pagan Christmas! Rating: HIGH controversy.
They say that a good opening sentence has to grip the reader into reading more of the story. Here are the opening sentences from each of the stories in the magazine. Tell me, do they provoke you to want to read on?
Like a plague they descended, dropping into the midst of the unprepared and frightened soldiers as dozens of bouncing, pummeling cannonballs. - Roaches
Once I’d rotated the co-pilot’s chair by one hundred and eighty degrees, I scanned across the innards of the Unilink Space Transport, designated number One-Twenty-Six. - Non-Retrieval
“Unit XY, Series three dash three four three, you are ready for guest services.” - Unit Four-Three
Transformation must begin somewhere, that’s what I say. - Changeling
Once upon a time down at Old Miriam’s Well... - The Old Hag’s Tales 7
You ever seen a goddamned butterfly weaving its way through a flower garden? - Pickle For Hire
“Once, I saw a shaman suck a man’s soul out of his body, just by waving a piece of licorice in front of his face.” - Gordon’s Soul Takes A Trip
A short excerpt from the leading story Non-Retrieval:
Once I’d rotated the co-pilot’s chair by one hundred and eighty degrees, I scanned across the innards of the Unilink Space Transport, designated number One-Twenty-Six. The Space Marines were filing in through the small vessel’s hatch, some impatient, others somber, all rarely speaking. In their usual, professional manner they filled in the seats starting from the furthest back and moving forward. The seating consisted of two short, gray metal benches running along either side of the transport, with heavy-duty black nylon seat straps for each occupant, and an overhead spot for them to snap their weapons into.
Dutifully, each of the hard-nosed soldiers secured the weapons into their spots, in this case the newer Spitfire v7 plasma rifles, before removing their helmets and laying them on their laps. They reached to their sides, bringing up the adjustable ends of their security belts. With a loud snap, they clicked their belts locked.
Space Infantry, Space Marines, their cammies and weapons I’d seen many times before, perhaps too many times already, during the ongoing campaign against the nefarious Roaches. On this particular mission, however, it was the bizarre coloration of their uniforms that held my attention. The squad of twelve, plus their fearsome and well-known commanding officer, were all wearing standard issue, camouflage pattern fatigues. In contrast to the tan or green shades I was used to seeing, however, the articles of clothing before me had been dyed in an uncommon combination of gray and black.
The outside of our vessel had undergone a similar metamorphosis, with the addition of an even more bizarre color, dark purple. The lower parts of the ship were painted in an irregular black pattern to represent grass, the middle and top half in various shades of the same gray and black as the soldier’s cammies, and the very top had purple streaks on the roof and upper edges to mimic hanging leaves. Even with the quick-dry techniques the Space Corps contractors had used, we’d still been waiting a few hours for the paint to dry.
Upon viewing the odd hues for the first time, the ship’s Senior Spaceman, Royce Tennard, immediately and affectionately nicknamed the vessel the ‘Purple Haze.’ He said he’d named it after some obscure twentieth century rock music, but I’d never heard of the song personally. Who the hell was Jimmy Hendricks, anyway?
With both the Marines and the Unilink Transport so curiously disguised, I thought that the landscape of our target planet, Lesenia, must be a very strange one indeed.
“I hope we run into some o’ them black devils.” One young ebony soldier beamed. I immediately thought of the term B.A.M., or Broad Ass Marine, that I’d heard somewhere or other. The woman aimed an invisible weapon across the transport and slowly squeezed its trigger. “Boo-yeah!”
On the opposite bench, a freckled blond man pretended he’d been shot. He grabbed at his heart, closed his eyes and lolled his head to one side. As a final gesture of his fatality, he stuck his tongue out. This man’s name was Finn, I would come to find out very shortly.
“I hear that.” The heavy shouldered Marine sitting next to the black woman nodded. “Some filthy Roaches are about to get themselves served!”
“Are you finished sightseeing, Douglas?” An impatient voice grated at my ears. I swiveled my seat around to face the front of the ship. I turned my head toward the Senior Spaceman’s chair, where the pudgy pilot was seated and giving me an irritated look.
Tennard leaned in close, since the cockpit was of open design and sound carried well against the mainly metal interior of the transport. He was near enough for me to get a good look at his balding brown hair, thick brown mustache and fleshy jowls. “Just listen to those turkeys. They actually think we’re going to see some action on this trip. So Lesenia hasn’t communicated with CP-1 (Command Post One) in thirty-six Earth hours, big fucking deal. Things like that happen all the time at these new outposts.
“CP-1 panics every time and they send in the cavalry, and all for what? We go halfway across the universe to an outpost in butt-fuck Egypt, only to find that some relay burned out or that they need to realign their satellites one more time. Then we get to stand by and watch as the outpost reboots its computer system and voila! The problem is solved. Try explaining that scenario to Renquist’s lynch mob. You’d think they all jerk off to their rifles, except for that dark-skinned woman. I bet she uses her rifle as a dildo.”
As if on cue, the stern voice of Staff Sergeant James Renquist cracked through the vessel’s bowels like a hard whip. “Davis, Knotts, secure your traps.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” The two Marines complied. “Oorah!”
The grim-looking man slammed the transport’s hatch shut, hard enough that I winced even though I saw it coming. Next, he pressed the small control pad that would secure the hatch and give it an airtight seal.
*** This story is part of my fantasy and science fiction collection Variant Worlds. See the Titles section for more info on this e-book. ***
I was in Nirvana.
My breaths entered and exited in long, controlled intervals, as if I were in a state of deep meditation. My mind was acutely focused, my body so at peace with itself that not even the brow-beating glare of the sun, or the sting of my own sweat running down my cheeks and back, drew me away from my intense concentration.
My finger tensed on the trigger; eagerly anticipating the three pounds of pressure required for the shot. My rifle shifted so slightly it was an almost imperceptible motion. I awaited my final instructions.
“Almost there…” Calamity Jack’s coarse voice whispered from maybe two feet away to my right. “Let him turn towards you. There, take your shot.”
Ninety meters away, the Bastardlope made the error of exposing its chest to me. I squeezed the trigger, hearing and feeling the blast reverberate through my solid frame and bring me to a state of near orgasm. I held my position, trying to extend the feeling of pure ecstasy for as long as possible.
“I do believe you’ve done it, Pearson.” Calamity Jack resumed his grainy speaking voice, evolving from the prone and up to one knee, his binoculars instantly going to his eyes. “Clean shot, straight to the heart. Let’s go take a look at our kill, shall we?”
I could place five rounds within an inch and a half on a paper target, at a distance of one hundred meters. I knew I’d nailed the Bastardlope true. Beaming, I took up a matching stride behind Jack.
My wife Kathy had balked when I’d mentioned that I’d signed up for the weeklong safari in the Keystone Private Preserve for Gentlemen. To tell you the truth, I myself was a bit squeamish at the price tag for the venture. Eighty-five thousand clams I was out, and after the first two disappointing days, I’d started to question the validity of my decision to go through with it.
Not anymore, though. I’d bagged my first Bastardlope and I was floating on Cloud Nine. And Calamity Jack, my buddy from the States, was there to witness my full glory beside me.
“Whew!” Jack praised my accuracy, halting just before the downed Bastardlope and setting up his digital camera for the traditional ‘Hunter With His Leg On His Kill’ pose. “Mighty fine shooting there, Pearson. Mighty fine!”
With some pride, my polished boots brushed past the savannah grass and I took in the trophy. It looked only vaguely human, just as the brochure had promised. The thing had stood some ten feet high, with its elongated neck and limbs, looking freaky and almost cartoonish. Its flesh was fuzzy with short hair. The head had a full brown mane on it, mustached and bearded, as well as defined cheekbones, and that extra length of skin between the nose and upper lip that always irritated me when I saw it on the face of my supervisor back at Relodyne Aquatics.
Yeah, that’s right. Call me immature or foolish, or whatever you’d like, but I had the Bastardlope engineered to look reasonably similar to my boss. I’d paid eighty-five grand for the privilege of hunting down an acceptable facsimile of the person I loathed the most in my life, or fifteen thousand more than the standard Safari fare for taking down look-alikes of famous movie stars or heads of state. And there it was, deathly still on the grass and with a .375 Magnum lodged in its chest.
So fitting, for my first kill to be the one I’d created for my personal pleasure. It made me feel all tingly inside. I took over two dozen digital pictures that I was looking forward to posting on my blog later.
“You know, there’s one out here that I had made to look like my ex-wife.” Calamity Jack said excitedly, glancing in the distance as if he could sense the prey out there. His tongue ran over his bottom lip lustfully. “You see that one, you let me know, man. I’m taking that one out myself.”
That would be the female version of the Bastardlope, also known as the Bitchalope. Trudging after my buddy’s steady strides, I thought to myself; I can’t wait to meet her.