The Best Startling Stories [MultiFormat]
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eBook by K.G. McAbee & Barry Reese & Wayne Skiver
eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
eBook Description: THE BEST STARTLING STORIES contains some of the finest Science Fiction & Fantasy available! Wild Cat Books has revived this long out-of-print pulp magazine, and this Omnibus features some of the best stories of the year! With Award-winning authors such as K.G. McAbee, Barry Reese, Wayne Skiver, and Don Lee, this is a great eBook for all fans of the weird and wonderful worlds beyond our imagination!
eBook Publisher: Wild Cat Books/Wild Cat Books, Published: 2008, 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2008
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6 Reader Ratings:
ON OMEGA STATION: The Ballad of Malik Blayne by K. G. McAbee Part One: UNDERWORLD
"Captain, Sir! All present and accounted for, Sir!"
Captain Eversyn winced at the shout, then nodded at Baranin; the young lieutenant was so eager he seemed to be vibrating. Eversyn cast a critical eye over the squad of ten that blocked the corridor, all seasoned Connies looking calm, uninterested and assured, then nodded again. He hoped Baranin wouldn't burst in excitement, but it made Eversyn uncomfortable to see how tightly the boy's hand was wrapped around his blaster.
No one on the Rock was supposed to be armed, nobody but the Guard, though that concept had proved more than a farce in the past.
"Good. Inside, triple time. Secure the exits, locate the quarry, surround and stand to until further orders."
The squad entered the Starview Lounge and followed orders; Eversyn watched them from a strategic position near the main entrance. Quick, smooth, efficient, just as the Consolidated Guard did everything; even Baranin managed to contain his excitement and not shoot anyone.
But it was totally useless, since it was obvious that their quarry wasn't there.
Warnings had reached the wrong ears. Not surprising. It was well nigh impossible to keep anything secret on Omega Station--aka The Rock--with its endless warrens and tunnels curving back on each other. The high beryllion content of the planetoid itself prevented most scanners from working more than a few meters below the surface, so it had never been efficiently mapped. That's why he'd decided to take the boveen by the antlers and simply show up at the Starview Lounge with a heavily armed squad, hoping Malik Blayne would be there, as per information received.
Still, Eversyn never expected to be invited to stay for dinner. * * * *
"So, Captain," Rudof Dyll asked, his voice a smooth tenor, the series of silver rings that lined both his earlobes twinkling in the subdued light, "what do you think of our little lounge? Not bad? A bit gaudy, perhaps?" A slender hand, bejeweled to the first knuckle on all fingers, wafted towards the dance floor several meters below, where a number of couples--or in some cases, threesomes or foursomes--were moving in varying degrees of attention and rhythm to soft music. Some few meters below, because Rudof Dyll's table was perched atop one of the several floating balconies that drifted in carefully coordinated random patterns above the floor level of the lounge--now skimming above the dancers' heads, now approaching the transparent dome that protected them from the near total vacuum without, a vacuum that made the stars bright burning lights in the onyx sky.
Captain Eversyn was not happy. Not happy at all. Actually, if pressed, he would admit--but not to anyone else, only to himself, of course, and that in the dark and silence and loneliness of his private domicile--that he was really happy nowhere but behind a desk, bringing order to the chaos of reports and information, then storing that order all neatly away in clearly labeled and docketed files. It was his most secret, secret vice, and it would never do to allow anyone else to know that about him. Being the tall, massive, heavily muscled captain in the Consolidated Guard that he was, everyone took him to be ready at any time with fists or weapons to bring, if not peace, at least some sort of armed détente to any difficult situation.
But Carle Eversyn preferred to deal with paperwork. It was his curse. It was also, though he'd never realized it, his blessing, the means to his constant promotion, and the real reason he'd been assigned to so many difficult and dangerous situations. He had teams of eager fire-eaters under his command, Baranin and others, armed and dangerous Connies who would be happy, with any weapon at hand or bare fists, to break heads--or related organs in non-Human species--whenever necessary to restore the status quo.
But how many of them could write up a concise report, evaluate details, or make deductions from the sometimes sparse information on hand?
Still, the Starview was out of his ordinary haunts. And Rudof Dyll was certainly like no one he'd ever met, in any star system--or nearly out of one, as the rock beneath their feet most certainly was.
The Starview was the most expensive restaurant and lounge on the Rock; no doubt the most expensive Eversyn had ever been in, as his humble upbringing on Garitus Minor Three had seldom provided more than access to the occasional tavern. Even after leaving GarThree as an excited recruit, and his continual rise through the Connie ranks with its concomitant visits to a multitude of planetary systems, he'd not often had the time--or the credz--to visit such places.
But his host certainly had the credz. Sometimes it seemed like half of this damned putrid Rock belonged to Rudof Dyll ... or at least, to the Dyll family. And the Dylls didn't mind shelling out some of their vast amounts of credz--more than he could imagine, Eversyn suspected--to keep Rudof in luxurious, extravagant, elegant, ostentatious, sumptuous ... imprisonment here on Omega Station.
Captain Eversyn straightened in his lushly cushioned chair, glad that he'd been wearing a clean uniform. He'd have felt even more wildly out of place if he'd had to attend in his usual rumpled drab grey cover-up.
He was almost sure he'd lost control of the situation; it was important that he regain it. After all, he was in charge of Omega Station; he was the local commander of the Consolidated Guard. And this man lounging before him was completely under his command.
Then why was he so nervous?
He twisted uncomfortably in his seat. "Uh, this is certainly a very pleasant place, Mastre--"
"Oh, please, no ceremony. Do call me Rudof. Everyone does." Dyll smiled, his thin lips stretching but not opening; with their suspiciously sumptuous red color, the smile gave the appearance of a dagger slash across his pale, narrow face.
Rudof Dyll was dressed in tight yellow breeches tucked into soft, low boots; a frilled, full sleeved shirt of a darker yellow, almost gold, and a vest heavy with embroidery and sparkling with jewels. The yellow-gold tones set off his hair, a deep coppery red, which was scraped back from his long face and imprisoned in a gold clasp, also sprinkled with jewels. His eyes, set behind long, long lashes with tiny jewels on the tips, were a bright green. Rings on his fingers; rings in his ears; one in his right nostril.
Eversyn, without realizing it, sniffed in disapproval. "Very well, then ... Rudof. This is a pleasant place to, uh, relax. But I'm at a bit of a loss. Why did you ask me to dine with you? We Connies are seldom asked to social events--especially when we've just searched the place, looking for a known fugitive."
Rudof Dyll's companion said, "Throob," in a deep, reverberating growl that shook the glasses on the table.
"Indeed, I couldn't have put it better myself, dear old thing." Rudof nodded at the Vamir, who sat on his left side and Eversyn's right at the table for four. "In case you don't understand Vamiri, Captain, Algensio just pointed out that I asked you to dine with us for no other reason than the pleasure of your company."
Eversyn eyed the two meter tall Vamir. He--She? Eversyn didn't know much about the species, and decided to let the first gender choice stand until he had more information--he was covered in short dense fur, dark brown with pale streaks that ran up all four of his burly arms, circled his broad chest, and disappeared over his shoulders to run in streaks down his back. No clothing, but a wide belt around his thick middle, just below his second set of arms.
Eversyn wasn't sure, but he suspected that the small whitish things that hung from silver hooks on the belt might be bones ... or teeth.
"Ah." He nodded at the Vamir. "Uh, thank you ... both."
"Not at all, Captain, not at all. I always enjoy seeing new faces, making fresh acquaintances, and dear Algensio is simply a social flutterby. Not to mention the excitement your little action just created for us! A search, for a dangerous criminal I have no doubt. How positively thrilling."
Dyll raised one eyebrow and leaned forward; a waft of scent--expensive, Eversyn knew--enveloped the table and its environs.
"And let us be totally honest, as among friends: our scene is just the least bit limited here on the Rock, as I'm sure has not escaped your attention."
"And you don't get off-station much, I believe?" There, thought Eversyn; see what he makes of that little remark. Eversyn knew for a fact that Rudof hadn't left the Rock in more than ten sintinz. That equated to six turnovers in control of the shipping lanes here on the very edge of the galaxy, six counting the coup that had placed the captain in charge less than four standard quintinz earlier.
Six turnovers in government on the Rock; but the Dylls were still the richest family in the galaxy.
"Sadly, no, Captain. I do not. I spend most of my time tending my flowers in my domicile dome. I have quite the collection in my hydroponics sphere; you must come see them. Of course, being so lonely, it makes it all the luckier for me that Omega Station has had such a wide and varied selection of ... overseers in the past cyks, yes? It at least gives me the opportunity to share the occasional meal with so discerning a gentle as yourself. Here, let me help you to some of this ka'frindi. It's one of the things our little home is famous for, as I'm sure you know." Rudof leaned over the table, picked up a spoon, scooped a greenish blue glob from a small crystal bowl, and plopped it atop the slice of bovsteak on Eversyn's plate.
Eversyn watched in ill-concealed horror as the blue-green goop began to move, spreading over the steak and sinking clearly visible feelers into it.
"You must wait until it gets settled, you know." Rudof smiled. "It releases flavor enhancers and endorphins, but of course you have to eat it before it ends its life cycle--while it's still green, in other words. If you wait until it turns brown, it could make you quite ill."
Eversyn swallowed through a throat gone suddenly dry. He knew about ka'frindi, of course; it was the Rock's major export--the Rock's only export, officially, at least. But he certainly had no desire to put that crawling green stuff in his mouth. Then he remembered who his host was, and picked up his knife and prong with a sigh, sawed off a small bit of the bovsteak, lifted it to his mouth, and forced it inside. He chewed slowly, surprised at the rich taste but not much relishing how the fungus--Lichen? Bacteria?--tried to escape from his grinding teeth.
"Very ... good," he said at last, after he'd swallowed and sipped his wine.
"I'm so glad you like it. It's an acquired taste, I must admit, but quite popular on some worlds. The fungus grows on the lower levels here, as of course you know--and, so I understand, nowhere else in the galaxy. I won't mention what it grows on." Dyll smirked nastily.
"So, Captain, I suppose you have no intention of discussing who you were looking for just now. Secret Guard business and all that. But perhaps you can tell me this: what are the Consolidated Guards' plans for Omega Station?"
"Plans, Mastre--Rudof?" Eversyn coughed. "We're here to keep the peace, of course, and to make sure that the trade routes stay open."
"Of course. We mustn't let the routes close, if for no other reason than to keep my dearest papa happy--and the rest of my family terribly rich. But to be totally honest, Captain, those were the plans for the last, what was it, six or eight new controllers of the Rock? I had hoped yours would be different."
"Throob," commented Algensio around a mouthful of green salad; it was dripping with a red dressing that looked to Everson uncomfortably like blood.
"Yes, you're right, dear fellow," Rudof agreed. "We'd somehow expected more from the Consolidated Guard of Malpairiso Sector, hadn't we? More, at least, than we've gotten from the Red Publicans, or Inversodynamics, or ... well, in short, from any of the groups who've--let's be dramatic--seized power here on the Rock in the last few sintinz." Dyll gave a theatrical shudder.
Captain Eversyn tried to slide his chair a bit further away from the Vamir, who chose that moment to grin at him, baring a double row of pointed teeth liberally coated with green and red bits.
"Yes, well, uh ... I'm sorry you're disappointed, ah, Rudof. But after all, you're hardly in a position to complain, are you? In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, you and everyone else on the Rock are under my command. My command, backed up, if you don't mind my mentioning it, by my extremely well-armed soldiers."
"Yes," murmured Rudof Dyll, offering another slash of a smile. "That's too true. It's a pity, that. Complaints are useless, yes. Not to mention, you're doing such a good job at ... controlling the Rock, too."
Eversyn felt his face going red. "If you mean the smuggling, that's very nearly under control. And the Depths, well, they're just a matter of time."
"The Depths, Captain?" Slash smile. "A matter of time, do you say? The Depths have beaten better men than you, for all your extremely well-armed Connies behind you. Think of it, Captain." Dyll leaned forward, holding up a bejeweled finger as he made each point. "One: an endless series of corridors, tunnels and caverns, dug from the solid rock that composes our homey little planetoid. Two: groups of settlers, squatters, the lost and the discarded, tribes of children, hermits, any species you might name and some you cannot, all thronging there in the dank dimness."
The captain opened his mouth, but Dyll continued, not allowing him to speak. "Three: the asteroid belt that surrounds our little home, the ice miners, the smugglers, the pirates. Four: the countless unknown entrances to the Depths, impossible to find, much less police. Can one man, however many soldiers he has at his back, make even a dent in those problems? I think not, Captain. I think not."
The captain decided to ignore that last statement. "Just because these ... barriers have defeated previous controllers doesn't mean that they're unsolvable, Mastre Dyll."
"Throob," agreed--disagreed?--the Vamir.
"Yes, Captain, you speak the true, of course. But these latest little ... incidents? That rather nasty explosion at Dock Thirteen? What was the loss there? All those other explosions? And the way those insurgents keep taking over the comsys, sending out those dreadfully unpleasant rants about your own Consolidated Guard, those vociferous complaints about Malpairiso Sector. And after all, you can't even find that pirate or whatever he calls himself, Malik Blayne, can you? Worrying, Captain, for a peaceful, quiet gentle such as myself, I must say. Very worrying indeed."
Eversyn sighed; he could see it was going to be a very long meal. * * * *