By Scott W. Baker
The inhabitants of Galileo Station parted as Titan moved among them. Not one made eye contact, but all gawked furtively. One of Titan’s dark eyes glared back down at the throng; the other eye remained hidden behind a curtain of stark white hair. Conspicuous appearance was his curse. What bystander would forget a snow-capped mountain of dark muscle? Memorability was not an asset for someone like him.
One body in the crowd moved toward Titan rather than away. “The passengers is aboard, love,” the man said.
“Reif, call me ‘love’ in public and you’ll find yourself very uncomfortable.” Titan lowered his voice so it stayed within the wide berth granted by the populace. “How many passengers?”
“Thirty-two, lo — Captain.”
Titan shook his head. “Hemingway promised fifty.”
“If Hem flew so bad as he scored cargo–”
“Any load of leeches will turn a profit,” Titan assured the mechanic. “But small load doesn’t mean small risk. I want you sharp.”
“As ever, love.”
They continued through the bustling station to their ship, a little cargo runner designed for intra-system transport at sub-light speeds. Of course, a mechanic of Reif’s skill could make a ship reach speeds its designers never fathomed.
Such deviant engineering demanded a pilot with a select set of skills and dubious moral character. Hemingway possessed both. He was waiting for them beside the ship with his ever-present, boastful grin.
“I said there be takers on Galileo, didn’t I?” Hemingway said as his crewmates entered earshot. “I done already told them the rules.”
Titan’s brow furrowed. “Thirty-two? Don’t dislocate anything patting yourself on the back. And there’s just one rule on my ship.”
Titan brushed past his pilot into the cargo hold. It was a small hold, even for an intra-system runner, but it hadn’t always been so. Reif’s touch here made for ideal leech transport. The customized hold maintained a six-foot buffer from all electrical systems, enough of a gap that even a class-three leech couldn’t siphon a single ampere. Despite his extensive precautions, Titan always felt uneasy with such capricious cargo.
Titan surveyed the passengers perched shoulder to shoulder on the plank benches that were bolted to the hold’s bare metal floor. Leeches, every last one of them. They didn’t look dangerous. On a ship in deep space, they could be as lethal as any weapon.
Aside from passengers and benches, the hold was barren: no amenities, no restraints, no personal possessions, no plumbing. These thirty-two leeches would spend the next two weeks in this metal tank. No normal human would accept such accommodations. Why should they when a starliner would take them all the way to Kilroth for a couple hundred cred? This kind of travel was for people the liners would never touch. Alpha System law guaranteed anyone foolish enough to transport a leech would spend the rest of his life laboring on a prison planet — one too close to a sun for a proper settlement but too mineral-rich to resist exploiting. Such labor colonies’ conditions were enough to make one envy the leeches’ sentences; they were simply shot on sight.
Of course Alpha was a big system, difficult to monitor. A captain could make a few thousand cred smuggling a leech between planets. Carrying them all the way to a friendlier system, as Titan did, could net a small fortune. Titan demanded twenty grand a head. Alpha’s policies on leech-genocide made the price a bargain.
“There is only one rule on my ship,” Titan announced again, this time to his hold full of human contraband, “no one leaves the hold.” He walked along the rows wishing one of them would do something stupid, make an example of themselves. None did. “There’s just one penalty for breaking that rule.” He pulled the Berretta from its holster. “Lead.”
Blasters, forcecannons, lasers — a leech could drain these of power, make them useless. A bullet harbored no such weakness.
Titan ran another headcount before closing the huge external door by means of a giant hand crank — no automated functions near the leeches. He had worked up a considerable sweat by the time it was sealed. He then walked past the sheepish passengers to the inner door and pounded three times. Reif opened it from the other side. The door to the ship’s interior only opened from the inside, a fact that made Titan’s one rule seem somewhat trivial. Titan stepped through the portal and let it fall closed with an ominous clank.
“How’d it happen to them?” Reif asked as he resealed the door.
“How did what happen? Their vibrant personalities?”
“Serious, love. Why these blokes end up leechy? Look at that dame in red. She not made up or nothing, but she’s gorgeous. How do a pretty thing like that come feared through the stars?”
Titan looked. There was indeed a woman wrapped in a red parka, more attractive than any of the women whose company he could afford. She was his exact opposite, pale flesh and jet locks, small in every way that he was large, velvet everywhere he was leather. And a leech. Her eyes met his through the thick glass.
Titan turned away. “Why do you always ask stupid questions?”
They were three days out of Galileo and preparing to jump superluminal, always a tense time considering the ridiculous illegality of an intra-system ship breaking the light barrier. Not to mention the discomfort of traveling faster than light with a hold full of energy-siphoning refugees. But all Titan could think about were Reif’s damn philosophical musings. Why was anyone the way they were? Why was Titan–?
Reif burst onto the bridge. “We gots a problem, Captain.”
Titan snapped alert. “Patrol satellite?” They couldn’t risk being monitored when they made the jump. “Not a ship.”
“Did you just use the word _captain_ twice in a row?” Captain, not love.
“The headcount. I get thirty-one. One of them is bloody missing.”
A leech loose on a ship was like an ember loose in a hayfield. Life support, propulsion, heat, navigation, sensors…the loss of any one of them would leave them helpless. The loss of several was instant death. Titan checked the bullets in his pistol. Sixteen, plus two more clips of the same. “Hem, run a full diagnostic.”
Hemingway slumped in his chair and crossed his arms. “Diagnostic? That ain’t my job.” The pilot had not yet outgrown the bluster from his punk mercenary past. Titan chambered a bullet and Hemingway experienced an instant growth spurt. “Right on it, sir.”
Titan’s steps were long and deliberate as he and Reif left the bridge. “Which one’s missing?”
Reif had fallen behind a few paces. “What you mean which one? You think I know them personally?”
“We have a manifest.”
“Yes, love. Three John Does and four Janes. Was going to be a rich haul, them paying fifty percent extra for anonymity and all.”
“Thirty percent.” Titan paused long enough for Reif to catch up to his glare.
“Right love, thirty percent. Slip of the tongue.”
“I’ll deal with that slippery tongue later. Right now, let’s find our missing leech.”
They reached the hold. Titan pressed his face to the window and counted. Thirty-one. Damn. “So is it a John or Jane missing?”
Titan counted again. She wasn’t there. “How is it you didn’t notice she was missing?”
“The looker. The red parka. How does that escape you?”
“Forgotten her, honestly.”
Titan pinned his mechanic to the wall and pressed the Beretta into his gut. “Have you opened this door, _love_?” If the disdainful emphasis on the last word didn’t tell Reif his captain meant business, the exposure of Titan’s full face certainly did. Titan always kept his left eye shrouded. Even Reif had never seen it exposed. Titan was very secretive about that part of his face — that part of his past — and at last Reif understood why. Below his captain’s left eye was an indelible genetic tag, the tattoo that forever marked the inmates of the galaxy’s eternal prison colony, the labor colony the devil himself would not visit: K-Traz. There was no parole from K-Traz, no release, no escape. Yet here on Reif’s captain’s face was the tattoo that never left that steaming planet’s surface. For the first time, Reif began to understand how dangerous his captain truly was. Not by the tattoo, by the gleam in the eye above it.
“I…I tried to talk her into it. She refused. She was there when I locked the door. Swears it.”
Titan stiffened his grip for an instant before dropping Reif in a gasping heap. “If you’ve killed us all, your death will be the most painful. Find her.”
The eight-hour ship diagnostic reported all systems normal. So far. Internal scans indicated no extra life forms in any of the oxygenized sections of the ship, only the thirty-one in the hold and three crew.
“So, numb-nuts let a leech into the ship. This ship.” Hemingway was every bit as eloquent as his namesake.
“That seems the most likely scenario,” Titan said.
“So where is that British piece of crap?”
“Is he British? I thought he was Irish. He’s running counts on things the computer can’t handle. Concrete things.”
“Yeah, like his head.”
“Captain!” The voice came from the corridor beyond the bridge hatch. All hatches had been switched to manual and the ship was running on minimal energy. The jump to light speed didn’t fit that equation and was delayed. Hemingway verified that Reif was alone before opening the hatch. Reif scuttled in. “We gots a problem, love.”
“Another one?” Hemingway flailed his arms like he was drowning. “A problem like having an energy-hungry leech running loose on a ship that uses energy to keep us alive?”
“Right that,” — Reif was panting — “and we missing a vac.”
Titan’s jaw clenched. “Come again?”
“A vacuum suit, love. She might be outside the ship.”
“Or anyplace not under life support.” Titan punched the door. It dented slightly. He leaned his forehead to the wall while the other two bickered.
“Can a leech even use a vac suit?” Hemingway said.
“Can if she be class three. They can turn it off.”
“What, turn their energy sucking off? I’m more worried about her turning our ship off, love.”
“Now you calling people love?”
“I might as well, seeing you done screwed us all.”
“Enough!” Titan’s face was still against the wall. “Hemingway, run another scan. Track for anything different from the last one, including fuel consumption. Reif, find anything else she might have taken, then come down to the hold and let me out. I want open communication channels throughout the ship. If anyone goes dark, investigate. Shoot to kill. Any questions?”
“Yeah. Did you say you was going into the hold? Are you sniffling?”
“You have any better ideas?”
The hold door clanged shut behind Titan. He used his pistol to point as he counted. He stopped at seventeen. There were more after that, but seventeen was his Jane Doe, gorgeous as ever and very much present. He suppressed his initial impulse to shoot her where she sat and said, “Where have you been?” The question seemed to lack the assertiveness intended.
“Where have I been all your life? I’ve heard that one. And I’m not a hooker, so you’re wasting your time in here, just like that little Australian.”
“Where have you been the past few hours?”
Her eyes lowered for an instant before locking defiantly with Titan’s. “Right here. I did get up to use the lovely bucket you provided. It could use emptying, by the way.”
Titan pressed the gun to her cheek and she stopped talking. “Who’s missing?”
“Would you get that thing out of my face?”
He diverted his aim long enough to plant a round in the wooden bench inches from her thigh. Several leeches yelped, but not her. “Who is missing? You were missing eight hours ago. Now you’re here and someone else is gone. Tell me.”
“Where the hell would I have gone? You locked us in here. Not that rule number one makes wandering the ship a pleasant option. It’s a little cold outside that big door.”
Titan ground his teeth. He could smell the lies on her breath. “There’s a vac suit missing. Any of you could have gone outside.”
“Most of us would suck the power out of that suit the moment it touched our skin. Maybe a few of us could–”
She blushed. It was an alluring thing for her to do. “I suppose it would waste my breath to say it’s none of your business.” She glanced at the gun then back to his eye. “All right, yes. Assuming I could get into your ship, steal a suit, get back here, then crank that monstrous door open without killing the rest of them. Not to mention that it would be suicide to go EVA before a lightspeed jump.”
Titan counted the room again. Thirty-one. He should have shot her already. She had left the hold, broken the rule. His trigger finger knew what that meant. He walked to the door and pounded, gun trained on her firm bosom.
He didn’t want to kill anything so beautiful. Her death would weigh heavily on him. So had others before. So would more to come. Was this one any different?
The door opened.
Titan stepped through, slammed and latched it.
“What you mean you didn’t shoot her?” Reif opened his mouth as if probing for more words, but managed only to repeat, “You didn’t shoot her?”
“Never question my actions on my ship.”
“But…how could you not shoot her?”
“I made a call. I’d do it again. You think you could make that call?”
“No. I’d make the call to shoot the bitch.”
Only now, five minutes later, did Titan holster his pistol. “She is alive and will remain so until I change it.”
“You the captain, love.”
“Captain?” It was Hemingway over the comm.
“Go ahead, Hem.”
“I’m rerunning the internal scan. You’re going to want to see this, sir.”
“Just tell me.”
“I’m counting thirty-two in the hold again.”
Titan and Reif looked at each other then rushed back to the window. “Your lady in red still there, love. What do we do?”
“She’s your lady in red.” Titan opened an access panel and reached inside. “I’m done being toyed with.”
“Now what you doing?”
“Covering my ass.” He reached inside. “You get on the comm and get Hem; I need him down here to open the door. You and I are going back in.” He entered the hold without waiting for a response.
“Both of us?” The color drained from Reif’s face. “Why the goodbye am I going in?”
It required a special set of skills to escape a place that secure, skills with which Titan was well associated. There were few possible explanations for how they were doing it, each less plausible than the last. The time had come to start eliminating impossibilities. A breach in the hold wall seemed the most likely explanation. If anyone could find a structural flaw in that hold, it was Reif; he had designed and built it. Now the mechanic was scouring the walls by hand in search of any gap, seam, or panel the leeches might be manipulating. Titan watched the passengers’ eyes as Reif searched, hoping one section or another might inspire the guilty to stir or signal a partner. He watched one passenger more than the rest.
“She seems solid, love,” Reif declared as he hammered his fist against the last section of bulkhead. The metal did not ring or echo. “I don’t think she give for no one.”
“It’s a ship, not a hooker. Holes don’t just open for paying customers.” His massive fist clenched until it vibrated. This was his ship. Who were these leeches to defy him on his own ship? It made him weak to have passengers he could not control, to have any situation beyond his control. He would not accept weakness. What choice had they left him?
“We’re going back to Galileo,” Titan announced. “We don’t go superluminal with unaccounted leeches. We turn around.”
A wave of discomfort rippled through his passengers.
“So we get our money back?” It was Jane, the one that should be dead. She should be dead again for saying it. Why didn’t he just kill her? Titan’s shrouded eye twitched as he glared at her. He walked to the door and pounded. Reif followed.
Hemingway did not open it.
Titan peered through the window. No Hemingway. Perhaps they should have waited for him before entering. Titan pounded again. Again nothing. For ten minutes, nothing.
Hemingway was compromised. Had he been captured? Killed? Or was that pompous pilot behind this whole charade? Not that it mattered now. Titan was locked in his own hold. Even his mechanic had failed to find a way out.
But there was a way…
Titan drew his Beretta and stalked to the bench where Jane Doe sat. He grabbed a handful of hair and wrenched her to her feet. She shrieked. He ignored it. “Tell me how,” he said. The pistol was against her throat.
The temperature of the hold seemed to drop in the silence. Jane’s trembling gasps echoed off the walls. She drew breaths several times as if about to speak. She didn’t.
“We’ve been here before, sweetheart,” Titan said. “I am not renowned for my merciful nature.”
She spat in his eye. He repaid her eye with the ceramic butt of his pistol. She collapsed.
“What the hell you thinking?” Reif shouted from beside the locked door. “You going to beat it out of her? You gone daft?”
“We don’t know who is controlling the ship, if anyone. I could care less how many beauty pageants she has won, I intend to take back my ship. She is going to tell me how she got out of this hold or she is going to die in it.”
Jane pushed herself back to her feet. Her eye was already swollen and turning yellow. “No, I’m not.”
“Not going to tell me or not going to die?”
“No?” She had endangered his ship, risked everything he had worked so hard to protect. No matter who or what she might be, he had but one option. “Let’s find out.”
The blast was deafening in the claustrophobic hold. The air continued to reverberate long after the bullet had fired. The stench of gunpowder scorched the stale air. White smoke wafted from the barrel into Jane’s delicate face. But she did not fall. She did not bleed. Not even a flinch.
“Is this the part where I say I told you so?”
Titan brushed his hair aside so he could disbelieve with both eyes. He had shot her through the forehead, he was certain. But there she stood. He pulled the trigger again. This time he watched the bullet pass through her face, out past her luscious hair, ricochet off the wall, and topple the bilge bucket in the corner. It was as if she was a ghost. But the truth was more impossible.
“You’re class four,” Titan whispered.
The silence was louder than the gunshot.
“But love,” Reif said, “there is no class-four leech. One, two, three, that’s all there be.”
“They exist.” Titan was barely breathing. “You’ve heard the rumors. Leeches escaping shackles and locked cells. Ships boarded and left derelict without a single forced hatch. As much energy as they are human, channeling their whole bodies through conductive material.”
Reif trembled. “Thought those was bedtime stories for bad boys and girls.”
“How many of you are class four?” Titan said.
There was a flash behind Titan’s back followed by a new voice, “Just the two of us.” Everyone turned.
The words came from a plain-looking male approaching from the interior hatch despite not having opened it. Blond hair, blue eyes, shabby brown pants and overcoat — five others in the hold could have been his brothers. He blended as readily as his lovely partner stood out. But he was the only one pointing a blaster at Titan.
“About time, you bloody pirate,” Jane said in a mockingly grateful voice. “This brute shot me. I could have gotten a powder burn.”
“Tragic,” the pirate replied with equal sarcasm, his eyes and weapon still locked on Titan. “Now be a doll and conduct yourself through the door. This ship needs a new destination. You’ll find no competition on the bridge.”
“What took so long if you weren’t setting new coordinates?”
“Bathroom break.” The pirate’s smirk faded. “I grew tired of the lovely bucket. Now go.”
She pressed her lips together and approached the door. Her fingertips brushed across the metal surface. Orange sparks hissed from her nails where they touched. Her palm swept back across, trailing a fountain of sparkling blue lightning. She pressed both hands to the steel and a dazzling halo sputtered around and through her fingers. She stepped forward and exploded into a billion fluttering fireflies that spun and danced and sizzled and whined before fading from sight. The light show cleared to reveal Jane smiling back through the hatch’s window. She wiggled her fingers in a mocking wave before disappearing in the direction of the bridge.
The pirate smiled. “She definitely has her uses. A bit of a showoff, really. You’d never catch me making such a spectacle out of a simple door. Just zip-zap and I’m through.”
Titan’s brow quivered behind its white curtain. This guy was a talker. He could make use of that.
“So only the two of you can walk through walls?” Titan scanned the terrified faces on the benches and turned his pistol on the frailest young female. He grabbed her tiny wrist. “So I can shoot you?” The girl shrieked and tried to duck away.
“Be my guest,” the pirate said evenly. “You won’t sway my favor threatening her.”
“No loyalty among leeches?”
“My loyalty is to my cred account.”
“So love,” Reif interrupted awkwardly, “is you two in this with Hemingway, or he be dead?”
“Your pilot?” the pirate scoffed. “I offered him a million cred if he could bring me an unregistered FTL vessel. Little punk actually expected me to pay.”
Titan released his grip on the terrified girl. “So he’s dead.”
The pirate cocked his head and approached Titan. “You don’t seem too torn up over it. No loyalty among smugglers?”
“You’re going to kill everyone anyway. No point blubbering over who’s first in line.”
“Spoken like a true mercenary.”
“I wasn’t finished.” Titan’s muscles tensed but he held his place. “A pilot is of little use to me if I’m locked away at gunpoint. Hemingway is far more useful as a martyr.”
“A martyr?” The pirate laughed.
“Sounds nicer than sacrificial lamb. His death reveals you as the murderous snake you are. It tells everyone in this hold exactly what you’re capable of.”
The leeches shuffled uncomfortably for a second time.
“You’ve bored me now.” The pirate pointed the blaster at Titan’s throat and squeezed the trigger.
The blaster trembled in the pirate’s hand. He pressed again. And again. Still nothing.
Titan took four steps forward, all he required to close the gap between them. The barrel of the blaster now rested between his oversized pectorals, bunching the material of his black tank top into the crease at his sternum.
The blaster dropped to the floor with a clatter. “So we’re at an impasse,” the pirate said, backing away. His entire body was shivering. “Your bullets can’t touch me, and one of your passengers seems to have quenched his thirst with my gun. Where do we go from here?”
Titan dropped the clip out of his Beretta and ejected the chambered round. The time for guns had ended. Time to do things the old-fashioned way. He cracked his knuckles.
The pirate watched the massive black fingers pop in sequence, then he turned and scrambled for the door. He didn’t make it. Thirty leeches flowed as a single furious entity, blockading his escape. A dozen arms pulled him down. The frail young female Titan had threatened was the first to kick the pirate in the ribs. She was not the last. The mob’s violence intensified, scratching and beating and cursing the traitorous pirate leech.
Titan turned his back to the distasteful scene. He stepped into Reif’s eye line so the mechanic wouldn’t have to watch either. “One down,” he said barely loud enough for Reif to hear over the ruckus.
“Fat lot of good it does us in here.” Reif leaned to see past Titan’s wide torso. He didn’t seem to like the view and looked back to Titan’s face. The white mane had been pulled behind the massive shoulders, again revealing the tattoo. Reif’s eyes lingered there. “How’d you do it? Thought that planet was inescapable.”
“It is,” Titan said. “Unless you can slip your chains and get through two huge metal doors, find a way to neutralize the guards’ stun rods and steal a prisoner transport. Deactivating surveillance helps, too.”
“Did all that,” Reif said, “and you can’t get out of this tin box?”
“Oh, I can get out. I just didn’t want to do it this way.”
“Which way, love?”
Titan stepped to the door and slid his hand across the surface the same way Jane had minutes before. The same orange and purple lightning crackled from his fingertips. It felt hot, hotter than he remembered. He hadn’t conducted since escaping K-Traz. He’d never liked the sensation of it, like breathing hot embers. But he had no choice left. The sparks grew as he pressed his body against the metal. A million white hot razorblades scuttled across his flesh. His breath left him. He stepped through, emerging whole and pain-free in the ship’s corridor. He paused long enough to release Reif before sprinting to the bridge.
The bridge door was open when he arrived. Jane was at the helm adjusting coordinates.
Titan stepped into the doorway, filling it. “I never conducted a bullet. Nice trick. Never occurred to me to get shot so I could try.”
A callous smile was on her lips when she turned. “Caldor owes me fifty cred. Mind you, I had you pegged at class-three, not four. But I knew you were one of us.”
“Caldor? Your big-mouthed associate? You might have a time collecting that bet. I could arrange for you to join him directly.”
Her smile wavered but did not vanish. “So it seems I’m in the market for a new partner. Know anyone suitable? The perks of the position are pretty good.”
Titan scoffed. “I thought you weren’t a prostitute.”
“I said I wasn’t a hooker. We’re all prostitutes.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“I should have strangled you when I had the chance.”
“So it’s a no.” She sighed. “I guess this is the part where I drain the power from life support and watch you die.”
The laugh Titan emitted was both taunting and incredulous. “Without your vac suit? You don’t look much like the suicide type.”
“I’m not much on surrender either.”
“Fine. Every panel in the ship grants access to the power supply for life support. You can bleed every last joule out of the carbon dioxide filters from where you stand. I can’t stop you from here.” He took a step toward her. It would take several more before she was in arm’s reach, but he stopped with one. No need to panic her yet.
“Are you calling my bluff?”
“Were you bluffing?” He took another step.
She examined Titan from black boots to white locks before saying, “Probably. Corner a wild animal, you never know what she might do.”
“I doubt I’d be the first to hope you were that wild. I may well be the last.”
“You must have been pretty wild yourself to score such a lovely tattoo. Rape and murder? Or was it tax evasion?” She was trying to appear cool, but nerves were getting the better of her. She was practically panting.
“Piracy,” Titan confessed. “I once made a lot of cred doing the same thing you’re doing. Until I learned a lesson or two. Five years laboring under that searing white sun helps a man remember his lessons. For instance, never hijack cargo that can fight back — your pal Caldor learned that one today.”
“Caldor hasn’t learned a thing since he flunked out of grade school. And I doubt you let him live long enough to apply his lesson.”
“I never touched him.”
She nodded. “Hence the lesson.” She was starting to sweat. “And what will my lesson be?”
Titan grinned. “Not to breathe so fast with the CO-two filters are down.”
She gasped, another bad idea in the stale air. The last hints of color drained from her face as she surveyed the life support controls behind her. They were dark, all needles pointing to zero. “When did you do that?”
“Long before I shot you.”
Jane nodded, then collapsed. Titan caught her. With the filters down, it wouldn’t be long before Titan’s body gave out as well. Only the energy he had siphoned from the filtration system was keeping him conscious now, like an injection of adrenaline. It had been a long time since he had consumed that much raw energy. He’d forgotten how intoxicating it could be. Still, his body needed air. He laid her less than gingerly on the floor and triggered the comm.
“That suit ready?” The effort of speaking drained Titan faster.
“Just barely got mine on, love. There in a pop. You neutralize the little lady?”
“Just get here.” Then Titan passed out.
Titan woke on the floor of the hold. How had he gotten here? Reif certainly wasn’t strong enough to drag him this far.
“Two of them helped pull you here,” Reif said as if reading his captain’s mind. Reif was in a vac suit, helmet removed. “You’re too damn big to stuff into one of these suits when you go noodle like that. So it be drag you or leave you to die.”
“My head,” Titan moaned as he realized how much pain the hypercarbia had left him in. “You sure you made the right choice? Who’s flying the ship?”
“Managed to put in for the closest planet all by me onesie. Impressed?”
“Astounded.” Titan sat up and rubbed his temples. “Main life support still out?”
Reif nodded. “Smart we set the hold on a separate system, eh love?”
“Smart.” Titan had never envisioned things working quite this way, using the hold as a lifeboat after the main system had been leeched. He had always pictured it the other way, cutting the secondary life support to subdue an angry leech mob. But this worked. Now what?
“I’m sorry I never told you,” Titan said.
“Told what? That you an energy thirsty mutant with the power to walk through walls and slurp the juice out a whole ship’s environmental system? No worries. On the subject, I’m a three-headed dingo and I breathe fire and poop creds. Just thought you should know, less it be handy sometime.”
“I knew you’d understand.”
“Understand nothing. Like why you didn’t know they could get out the hold like they done, seeing you done it escaping K-Traz and all.”
Titan pulled the hair over his face. “I…you could call it selective blindness. I heard stories, but I had never encountered another class-four. Not one, and I spent years searching. Now I had two on my own ship?” Titan shook his head. “I almost hoped they were fours, but I didn’t believe.” He gazed at the floor. “Did she make it?”
Reif inclined his head toward a red bundle tied to one of the benches with polyvinyl cord — very nonconductive. She was unconscious but breathing. “What’s in your mind for her, love?”
Titan rubbed the mark beneath his left eye. “Let’s drop her off someplace hot. I want to be sure she remembers her lessons.”
About the Author
Scott W. Baker is a recent winner of the Writers of the Future contest, the premiere competition for up-and-coming speculative fiction writers. He’s been writing for over a decade, splitting keyboard time with teaching high school math and being Daddy to an adorable little girl. His short stories can be found in place like Daily Science Fiction and Escape Pod. His breakout story, “Poison Inside the Walls” is out in Writers of the Future volume 26. A list of his other published works can be found here, Even better, you can find a sampling of his best work in his collection Baker’s Dozen.
About the Narrator
Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, and writer. He is a Hugo Finalist in multiple categories including Best Fan Writer, and a British Fantasy Society Best Non-fiction finalist for his weekly pop culture newsletter The Full Lid.
His nonfiction can be found at numerous genre and pop culture venues, including regular columns at the Hugo Award-winning Ditch Diggers and Fox Spirit Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.
He co-owns Escape Artists and hosts their horror podcast, PseudoPod, along with the Hugo Award nominated science fiction podcast, Escape Pod. He is a frequent guest and presenter on podcasts, with voice acting credits including winning the 2020 Audioverse Award for his work on the The Magnus Archives.
His second collection of expanded essays from PseudoPod, The PseudoPod Tapes Volume 2: Approach with Caution, is available from Fox Spirit Books.