Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Short Story: UPON A NEW ROAD by Jonathan C. Gillespie

Yvanna Jasmine stepped right, dodging the burly man that walked past her. He plodded down the sidewalk and entered the doorway of an old restaurant.

She despised this city, and she hated the streets even more. The slums bordered the middle class and rich districts like a ring of scum along the edge of a porcelain tub. Each of the prior two districts were protected by surveillance cameras and a strong police presence.

But this place, and its residents, didn’t have these protections. Here, every vice could be found, the peddlers of the shadow economy scurried into the slums like sewer rats into a gutter. It was this reason alone that Yvanna worked the streets in this area. It was where the majority of her clients came, under auspices of anonymity.

A patrol vehicle hovered inches over the road as it came down the underused street. Its navy blue, egg shape was dotted with a multitude of sensors. It slowed as it neared Yvanna.
Mentally, she cringed, but on the surface she was all smiles. She ran a finger through her black hair and brushed it out of the way, and cast her brown eyes towards the vehicle.

The patrol vehicle’s driver-side window lowered slightly. Yvanna walked over to it. Her hips swayed just slightly as she approached. Her miniskirt was transparent, showing off the pink thong that clung to her voluptuous rear.

She bent down near the vehicle, which she knew exposed the faintest trace of her nipples to the man in the driver’s seat.

"Hey, pretty lady," said the officer inside, but the greeting was formal. He held one hand on the fly-by-wire control yoke; the other fell lazily his groin, and Yvanna realized he was hiding his arousal.

"What’s the take so far this week?" he asked.

"Twelve thousand," she replied.

"So that makes two thousand for me," he said. He nodded, satisfied. "Let’s take a ride."

She walked around the front of the vehicle, dragging a pink-tipped fingernail across the titanium hull, then stepped into the passenger side, and they were off.

*****

As they moved off and ascended to two thousand feet – about half the length of the tallest skyscrapers around them – she lost her patience.

"Damn it, Orlando," she said, "Picking me up in broad daylight? In your patrol car? If you want to get serviced that bad, we could have used my place."

"Shut up," he replied. His plump frame and gray hair belied his age. "You know I don’t ask that of my employees."

"Don’t romanticize it, Detective," she replied. "You’re not some company boss. I work with you because the protection you provide keeps me away from those scum-sucking pimp shitheads. But more importantly, you supposedly could find the Northside Builder…supposedly."

When she got mad, her accent came out. The Jersey shore overtones faded into a rich, vibrant inflection not unlike that of the Turkish.

"You’re the best," said Orlando, "And that’s why I‘m glad we have our arrangement. You pull down more than any of my other girls...more than any of the others." His face was grave.

"What’s wrong?" she asked.

"I have good news for you," he said, "And probably bad news for me. But a deal is a deal, so I’m honoring my part of it."

He handed her a single sliver of clear plastic.

"This is it?" she asked.

He nodded. "Got it off a poor-soiler, of all people. He works as a night shift janitor at one of the big high-rises downtown. You know, Kilo Heights."

…A high-rise so named because it was a kilometer high.

"So this is the one?" she asked, excited. "The one that knows how to over-ride the route codes? This is the Northside Builder?"

"How many times do I have to say it?" he snapped. "I'm dropping you at eighth street, near the public teleway. One of my officers has pre-arranged a camera malfunction for us, so I can drop you without any questions later on. You can work your way to eleventh street from eighth. The john is expecting you on floor 228.

"That access key is valid only for two hours, Yvanna. He doesn't know who you are, or that you know who he is. This is your chance to get them here."

He glanced over at her. Tears were running down her face. She really thought she had a chance. He decided the last favor he'd ever pay her is not breaking her illusions.

Yvanna clutched the piece of plastic like it was some magic ticket out of her tired world. But really, it wasn't her chance that she held. It was someone else's.

*****

Once, the wide strip at Pacific Boulevard had been vital as a hub of subway travel, car traffic, commerce, and pedestrians. Only its notoriety as a place of affluence and foot traffic remained intact. Very few bothered with the subway now, which was hopelessly slow. Even skycars were rare in this district.

The crowd around the public teleway was huge; this she welcomed. It would be easier to blend in and pass without any scrutiny from the cops that still held some semblance of honesty.

The teleway was really northing more than a circular array of large domes, each with entrances guarded by wireless currency account readers, and bored-looking security men in black uniforms.

There were ten yellow domes, and each was as large and wide as the dome of a water tower. These were inter-city transportation units. Many had graffiti and advertisements on their sides. Then there was another array of ten domes; smaller, blue, and crouched side by side. These were national domes.

Finally, three small domes in a dark red were where people disembarked to international routes; often those people would hop through several telepoints before reaching their destination, but sixteen seconds to reach Tokyo (according to the scrolling holotext above the nearest dome) wasn't too bad.

Each dome would fill to capacity with people, then red, bright plasma would descend in a microsecond behind the tinted glass entrances, and the people would blink out of existence, vaporized and transferred on through the route. A few seconds later, a different load of people would re-constitute in the dome, then exit through the gates before another load was allowed in. The rest of how the teleporters worked was very technical – which meant more than Yvanna cared to ever know. She remembered something about molecule mapping on a grid...or something like that.

Private domes had gotten affordable enough for the average family, but she still didn’t have one, primarily because her tiny, run-down apartment wasn’t quite large enough for one. If she had a house, she’d have torn her driveway out and placed her small single-person telenet dome there, but she couldn’t move from the city.

Not without them.

As she pushed her way through the throng of travelers someone bumped into her. She turned and the man extended a hand.

"What do you want?" Yvanna hissed.

He looked absolutely ragged, and when the wrinkled, skinny man smiled he showed only a few teeth in an otherwise bare mouth.

"Spare a little cash for a poor-soiler?" He asked.

"Oh really?" She folded her arms. "Where do you own land at?"

"Downtown Detroit. Used to be in the three hun -- eight hundred-thousand range per unit. I have an entire building full of empty condos. Help a guy out. I just want to eat."

"Then sell your property," snapped Yvanna. She tried to step by the man, but she stepped in front of him.

"No one's buying," he replied mournfully. "Argentina is all the rage. Austria…New Zealand. You know, green space. Convenience don't mean two shits now that everything's relative. Banks are after me; Republic Revenue is after me. I just want one meal in peace…"

She reached into her pocket and fished out a single bill, and dropped it in his hand.

He smiled again, but she turned and walked away.

She passed a group of people that had paused for a moment near a holodisplay. As she walked by, a news report played, and the image of a mountainside dotted with thousands of houses rotated in front of the onlookers.

"Congress met again," said the projected image of a news anchor, "to discuss the ongoing problems with implementing the act dubbed the 'Teton Tariff', after the range of mountains surrounding and comprising Grand Teton National Park. In this portion of the Grand Tetons, not protected by federal park space, single family homes have been built in such numbers that the wilderness itself has been affected."

As she left the crowd behind, she could hear another voice, from one of the protestors that had gathered in Washington to propose the Act.

"This act," said the woman, "Is nothing more than an attempt by Congress to artificially raise or lower land values. Senator Keller said himself that it would help the poor-soilers out. We know what’s going on here, and it’s lobbying. People are fed up with taking hits on their property values, so now they’re turning to their paid friends in positions of power. The poor-soilers don’t like the real estate market turning the table on them. It’s got to stop…"

Then the woman’s voice faded into all the others behind her, as Yvanna walked north, away from the busy teleway.

*****

Kilo Heights towered over her, a white angle drawn sharply against the sky.

The condominium was a rarity in this day and age, because Kilo Heights actually had a high number of residents. With the advent of affordable teleportation, the rush to far-flung green space had sucked huge numbers of residents from the major cities. The high-rises in the cities had to compete fiercely with each other for the remaining wealthy tenants whom enjoyed living in an urban environment.

Kilo Heights, renowned for being state-of-the-art and extremely luxurious, had managed to do just that.

Yvanna stepped around a fountain in the courtyard, then up to a pod that was sunk into the marble entrance. She flashed the plastic sliver in front of its reading strip. There was a chime, and then a glass door slid open. She stepped inside, and was greeted with a single red holographic scanning diode.

She was being recorded.

Her first impulse was to try to open the glass door again. But when she reached a hand out to the door, a voice stopped her.

"Mrs. Jasmine?" the voice asked.

Male. Not old, but not young.

"Yes?" Yvanna replied. She turned back to face the red diode.

"Orlando said you were beautiful," the voice replied. "I see that was not manufactured."

Great, a charmer, she thought. But he held the keys to the kingdom. That made him charming, suave, and as debonair as he wanted to be.

"Thank you," said Yvanna. She smiled, then raised an arm and tucked her index finger into her bottom lip, like she knew some men liked.

In truth, her mind was a thousand miles away.

Just do what he wants, she thought, and don't screw this up.

"I'll bring you up," said the voice.

There was a humming sound, then a burst of light, and for a fraction of a second Yvanna felt like she was a thousand feet tall.

But she instantly forgot the sensation.

As she blinked back into existence on the two hundred and third floor, her neurochemical transmissions – their molecular components – were reconstituted back to where they had been before she had ever been teleported. As such, to her mind no time or event had passed at all. She'd simply blinked and found herself looking out a glass door into an immaculate entrance way.

The door slid open, and a man stood there, with a hand outstretched. She took it and let him guide her into the foyer.

He was a somewhat short man, with unblemished, black skin, and a gentle look to his features. He did not appear strong, but he did appear at ease and relaxed. Were it not for his loafers, designer slacks, and white electropolymer sweater, he would have blended into a crowd of everyday normal people.

And yet, this was him. This was the one that could alter the paths, change the flow of routes, and circumvent the draconian security measures that stood between Yvanna and her goal.

She gripped her wrist. There, embedded in her watch, was a single transmitter, with a message she could send at any moment.

It was tuned to send an encrypted signal to a satellite, which would then pass the message to a watch just like it. The wearer of the other watch waited, five thousand miles away, for this message.

"Don't look so nervous," the john said.

She realized her displaced thoughts had been obvious.

"No," she replied, "I'm fine. Just ready for you, baby."

"Of course," he said, "Would you like a drink first?"

She shook her head. Not on the job. Booze and drugs on the job led to how hookers got robbed or beaten, and men like this john could get away with it. No one would trust a hooker over someone from Kilo Heights.

"Well, I need one," he said. "Come."

He led her past a white hallway, which was lined with holoart. She paused to glance at one piece. It hovered over an antique wooden table, and showed an abstract blue ripple dancing through a dark purple fountain of sparkling colors.

They soon arrived in the kitchen. It was magnificent – a curving wooden countertop of polished, smooth cherry wood snaked in a circle around integrated, top-shelf titanium appliances.

He called into the air, "Chardonnay, Bristol, 2128".

A cylindrical wine rack descended from the ceiling. The rack rotated, and a bottle was brought nearest him. A blue laser light shot from the ceiling and highlighted the bottle, and he'd drawn it almost as soon as the light touched the glass.

The cylinder hissed back up into the ceiling.

He tapped a drawer and it slid out; he grabbed a wine opener and uncorked the bottle.

A portion of the countertop had opened and four wine glasses had appeared, he grabbed one and filled it halfway. He gestured towards Yvanna.

As tempted as she was, she declined.

"My name's Robert," he said. He took a sip of the wine, and let out a satisfied exhalation. "I'm going to pay you very well."

Yvanna smiled. "I assumed that, you know, given the wine."

He nodded. "If you drew your conclusion based on your wine, you'd be only partially correct. Sure, a real bottle of Bristol from 2128 is worth a hundred thousand or so. But this is just a copy – rather, a recreation."

She cocked her head. "What, fake?"

He grinned. "Yes and no," he replied. "Let's just say it's the most realistic facsimile you'll ever see."

Yvanna stammered, then said, "You're a builder, aren't you? And you found a way to make more than just basic materials."

"Guilty as charged."

"You're not nervous telling me this?" she replied.

He shrugged. "You're a hooker...no offense. Just wanted you to know that, if you so chose, I could pay you in some raw goods. I have other things than wine that you might like, too."

She understood what he was implying.

"I never did that stuff."

"Oh, of course," he replied, in a tone that was a little more than patronizing. He took another swig. "But you could always sell it, and that's..."

He stopped. His eyes fell past her.

She turned, and there was a short, nervous-looking young man.

The young man was taller than Robert, and thinner. He had a full head of curly hair. His mouth hung open just slightly, so that his teeth could be seen just past his lips. His eyes avoided his father’s.

"Franklin," said Robert, "Go back to your room."

"I want to play with Pike," the young man replied softly.

"You can’t play with Pike," replied Robert. He stepped around the kitchen bar towards Franklin. As he passed by Yvanna, Robert issued a near-silent "Sorry" to her.

When he reached Robert, he placed his hands gently on the younger man’s shoulders, and led him away.

"Where’s Pike?" Franklin asked, as Robert led him into a hallway.

Yvanna heard the question asked again, once more. Then there was the sound of a door being closed.

She sat down at a stool at the kitchen bar, and crossed her legs. She stared out the one-way window, and saw the tops of the other nearby buildings. She watched as a small one-person micro jet –a rare craft these days – streaked around the apex of one of the buildings. The jet’s sides glinted in the sunlight.

"Beautiful, isn’t it?" asked Robert. He had emerged from the hallway to the left.

"Yes," replied Yvanna, "Every year it gets more and more blue."

"To think just a century ago," he added, "one could not see out that window because of the smog…By the way, sorry about Franklin. He has a disorder, you know."

"What’s wrong with him?"

It was the wrong set of words. Robert’s smile faded slightly.

"I’m sorry," she replied, "I didn’t mean it that way."

"It’s all right," replied Robert. "Franklin is autistic. He doesn’t normally cause anyone trouble. Sorry he disturbed us."

"Robert," she replied, "I need to discuss payment."

"Of course," said Robert, "The transaction before the deed to the land is given… I’m sure you won’t make me feel like a poor-soiler."

He followed this with a sly grin. Yvanna’s disgust did not displace her forced smile.

"Actually," she said, "I’m interested in a special payment."

"Came around after all?" said Robert, "Okay, perhaps a brick of xethamine? Or red rusher? You know, the teleport filters will report your position to the police if you try to use them with that on you, but there’s a service elevator you can use…"

"No, no," said Yvanna. "I want you to help me…I want you to help me get my husband and son here."

"Your family?" he asked. He folded his arms.

"Yes," she replied. "They haven’t been able to get out of the Serbian Combine. I came over here just after everything went to shit between the Republic of Western States and the Serbians."

"Yes…" said Robert. "I remember the fallout over the teleported goods tariff. So your family is stuck behind closed routes, and you can’t get them here…"

"But you can," replied Yvanna.

"You want the country code encryption broken?" asked Robert. He looked nervous for a just a moment, then it began to fade. The warm smile returned.

"Yes," she said. "Please…alter the route. I’ll do anything you want."

"Anything?" Robert asked.

Yvanna sensed it was time to seal the deal. She never got used to this – but she thought of Nicoli and Asim. Asim would be nearly three now…

She looked at Robert and smiled seductively. She undid the buttons on the back of her shirt, and the material slid down, falling first down her collar, then down her breasts, then finally to the floor.

The older man looked at her, pleased.

"I’ll get your family here," he said, "Right after we find out just how far your definition of ‘anything’ extends."

An hour later, Yvanna lay quiet on the mattress, bruised and sore. She crossed her legs, and hid her face in the satin pillow of Robert's large sleigh bed.

Neutral light fell in on her from the shaded windows. All around her were the trappings of extensive wealth – fine furniture, the smell of synthetic aromas as they were piped through the house's pressurized atmosphere system, and a large walk-in closet full of clothes.

Robert sang off-key as he showered in the master bathroom, which had been as equally impressive as any other room in the condominium.

Behind the gentle demeanor had been an aggressively sexual man; the vigor at which he'd attacked her suggested illegal stimulants. And he’d kept pounding away, even after she began to let out stifled cries. Even though she was used to rough handling, Yvanna was startled at just how vicious Robert had been.

If Yvanna hadn't been working for a cop, she might have even called the police.

She forced her thoughts away from her pain. Robert had a fee to pay; a promise to deliver on.

Robert stepped out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist.

She slowly sat up in the bed and forced another smile.

She asked, "So, honey, not to spoil the mood, but when do you think we can start?"

"Start?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, twirling a finger in her hair, "When do you think we can try to get my family back?"

"Oh," said Robert. He paused. "Maybe after another session."

"'Session'? Are you a therapist?" Her smile soured; she added: "I'll take my payment as soon as you get cleaned up. Then we'll talk about another 'session'."

He was on her before she knew it; to the bed he ran; she raised her knees but not fast enough. He nailed her left cheek with a clenched fist; then he climbed on the bed and towered over her with another fist held back in the air, ready to descend like an artillery shell.

"Bitch," he hissed. He tore at the sheets with his free hand, and ripped them away from her body. "You'll do what I say, when I say it, in my house!"

Yvanna was terrified, but prepared. When he moved a knee to pull the sheets from under it, and away from her body, she was ready. Into his groin went her left knee.

He collapsed and moaned. She was off the bed in an instant. She ran to the door of the bedroom and snatched her clothes from the floor as she went. She had one shoe – she must have dropped the other accidentally.

"I'll kill you," he growled, as he rose again. Gone was any trace of the man that had met her at the door earlier in the morning, replaced by a beast.

He rushed at her again. Yvanna backed against the wall and bumped into it. In two heartbeats he would be on her, and he might make good with his promise. The death of a street whore would be something this shaper of the teleport routes could easily mask. He'd send molecules of the body into a hundred million different directions; the corpse would be reduced to scattered, untraceable mist.

To her right was a small shelf, and atop it was a glass vase, lit up by an accent lamp from above.

It was her only chance. She grabbed the vase and struck downward with it.

It connected with Robert's head; it shattered. The pieces of glass fell like broken illusions into a horrible reality. There was no turning back now. Either she killed him now, or the bastard would be back on her, and she wouldn’t get up next time.

He crumpled forward, and then she was on top of him. Feral anger and adrenaline gripped her. She felt as if her right hand was moving out of her control. It had found a shard of glass.

There was a blur of rage. She stabbed the shard into his chest, then his face, then his neck. Dots of blood and bits of flesh arched along the path of each upstroke; they fell to the carpeted floor, where they were swallowed up in an expanding smear of finality. She stabbed over and over and over...

*****

A little while later she sat in the corner of the adjoining bathroom, crying, not only for herself, but for her family, thousands of miles away and ignorant of it all.

There would be no way home for them. And she'd waste away in a Republic prison.

She thought of Asim. The toddler was reaching the age where his natural tendency to explore would lead him from his father, so that even when Nicoli tried to keep the young child restrained he’d inevitably act out or rush away to something of interest.

She thought of some of the similar-aged children back in her home country. She remembered their stumps, where limbs once were, and the scars left on their mangled bodies, all from land mines and other traps.

Yvanna forced herself back into reality.

Her foot was cut from stumbling over the glass into the bathroom. She'd spent several minutes holding a rag against the sole, until the bleeding had stopped.

Robert's corpse lay in the bedroom, facedown; the last few trickles of crimson oozed out of his wounds onto the soaked carpet.

Orlando would come down on her the hardest, but maybe that was her chance. Maybe they could get this thrown out as a self-defense charge. The corrupt bastard owed it to her. He wouldn’t want one of his income sources taken away.

Then, she'd get slapped on the wrist for prostitution. Big deal; she'd been in jail for that once. Orlando got the judge to go easy on her. Maybe he could pull some strings this time....

There was a knock at the bedroom door.

She froze. Her eyes widened.

Another knock.

She rushed to put on her clothes; fumbled with a zipper on her miniskirt...eased it slowly, almost painfully up her sore hips. She fastened the button at the top of the miniskirt and, to her horror, it made a loud snap.

"I want to play with Pike, Dad," said the muffled voice from the other side of the door.

It was Robert's son. She'd forgotten about him.

She pulled on her shirt and walked over to the door. She brushed her hair with her hand.

"Franklin?" she asked, "Are you there?"

"I want to play with Pike," he replied.

"Uh..." she stammered. "I'll come out and then we'll play with Pike. Wait in the living room, though."

"Really? Okay," he replied, "Hurry up so I can play."

She heard his steps as he walked down the wooden-floored hallway towards the living room.

Yvanna ran into the bathroom one more time, collected her things, and her thoughts. She then carefully locked the bedroom door behind her and walked into the living room.

When she got there, Franklin was standing in the center of the room, looking past her, as if his mind was on a thousand other things.

The thought occurred to her: Had he heard the struggle?

"Your face," said Franklin.

Her skin went cold as she realized she was probably bruised.

"Oh, this?" she said, as she touched her cheek. "My makeup got smeared."

He nodded. "You wear it so dark…wear it so dark. Where’s Pike?"

"I don’t know," she said. She stepped past him. Now was her chance to get out of here; to call Orlando and explain everything.

God, her face hurt.

But as she walked by Franklin, she heard a whimper.

"Where you going?" he mumbled. He shot a half-glance at her, nervous.

"Home," she said.

"Out the telepod?" he asked, "Where Pike and Franklin used to live, across town?"

"Yeah," she replied.

"Don’t do that. The Pods are bad. Pike and Franklin used to play."

She turned around to face him fully.

"What do you mean, play?" She asked.

"I can’t play anymore," he said. "Dad said so. The doctors said so."

She shrugged and hurried back across the living room and towards the foyer. She felt a sudden wave of nausea. Had that bastard given her a concussion?

She reached the pod and swiped the plastic across the reader. Nothing.

Yvanna slowly dragged the plastic strip across one more time. Nothing.

She felt acid in her stomach. Again she swiped, then slammed her hand into the glass, leaving a slightly pink palm print.

Franklin walked up to her side.

"Pod Access," he mumbled.

The oak paneling on the pod pulled apart in one area, and out from it came a holo-emitter.

A projected keyboard appeared in the air.

He stepped up to the keyboard. He hesitated for a moment, then Yvanna watched in amazement as his fingers flew over the keys, and command after command was sent.

Three displays appeared in the air around him. He glanced at them rapidly, and executed more commands.

The glass door slid open.

The interior of the Pod was exposed.

But Yvanna didn’t enter.

She had gripped both of his shoulders and spun him to face her. Her eyes lit up; she smiled.

"You’re the one, aren’t you?" she asked, shaking him slightly.

He recoiled in fear.

She pulled her hands away.

"Franklin," she said, "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. But…you’re the one that can change the routes. And you’re a builder, too, aren’t you?"

"Not a builder," said Franklin. He covered his ears and shook his head. "No, no, I’m not a builder anymore."

She raised her hands. "Calm down. Was Robert a builder?"

"I don’t like these questions," said Franklin. "Make Pike come play."

She lowered her voice. "Franklin," Yvanna asked, "Did Robert make you build?"

He nodded, hesitantly.

"And you don’t want to any more, right?"

He shook his head. "Playing is bad. Building is better. That’s what Dad said."

She said, "If you can change the routes one more time, I can help you. You’ll never have to build for Robert again." She suddenly felt less guilty for killing him.

She glanced on her wrist, and squeezed the sides of her watch.

That was the remote signal. Thousands of miles away, her husband and son would rush to a telepod as fast as they could.

"Franklin," she said, "If you change the routes you can play with Pike."

The kid was the one; the legendary Builder of the North side. He was the one that could change the routes as easily as a musician could tune an instrument, and could reshape matter streams into whatever he wanted. He was brilliant, but more importantly, her only chance.

So what was a little lying?

"Okay," said Franklin.

"Great," she replied. She took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "Franklin, do you know the Serbian Combine master route code?"

Franklin’s fingers launched into a blur of motion. Half the time he wasn’t even looking at the displays. One screen after another passed by; then there was a list: a projected database.

"Okay," said Franklin, "I’m in UNTR. UNTR tells Franklin three, seven, two, nine, five, pound."

Incredible! The kid had cracked the Unilateral Notated Tele-registry. All international routes were authenticated and authorized against its database.

Michael, her husband, had spent months trying to crack that database. He was an activist, interested in getting as many people out of the crumbling Combine as possible. Yvanna was the first one through when they thought they’d test their "infallible" code.

That’s when the UNTR picked up the rogue traffic and cut off the route right after her, which tossed her penniless, and alone, into the Republic.

"Franklin," said Yvanna, "You’re doing great. One more route. What’s the route code for this door-to-door pod your Dad uses?"

"Need Republic code and then pod prefix," he said. Furiously he went to work again.

"Republic code and pod prefix together is four, two, twelve, one, dash –"

Yvanna waved away the rest of the words. "Sure, sure," she said. "Now when I give you a telepod prefix in the Serbian Combine, can you…"

"I’ll make them play," said Franklin. He grinned, resembling his father for a moment. She shoved the thought away.

There was a flurry of typing by Franklin; a dash of keystrokes, a pause, then resumed typing.

One of the displays briefly projected an alert; a few keystrokes and it was gone.

Yvanna’s wrist transmitter beeped three times. Franklin let out a little yelp and jumped back from the displays.

"No, no," said Yvanna. "It’s okay. It’s just the prefix for the other pod." Then she added, with a smile, "It’s the one my family is at. The prefix is nine-seven-nine-three."

"Can I play with Pike?" asked Franklin. "Please, I want Pike!"

Yvanna replied, "Sure, sure. Okay. But let’s finish up the route and then you can play with Pike, all right?"

Franklin grinned; a gesture of happiness and innocence. In the back of her mind, Yvanna wondered: would this young man ever be able to even comprehend what she had to done to his father? Or, what his father had done to her?

He leapt back up to the displays and resumed his work. There were moments where he didn’t even glance at the displays.

Then he paused and said, "Done. Now, Pike can come."

Yvanna tapped some buttons on her watch.

The signal was sent to her husband, thousands of miles away: ENTER.

She placed a hand on Franklin’s shoulder, half to reassure him, half to comfort herself.

"Okay, Franklin," Yvanna said. "They’re coming. I can’t wait to see them…"

Her eyes watered. Tears rolled down her cheeks to dot the wooden floor beneath her pink high heels. After eight months of hell…finally, her family would be free of that frozen war zone. Finally, they could start a new life in the Republic. She could get back to being a wife and mother, and not this whore the crooked westerners would have her be.

She’d have to contact Orlando, work out the details…the defense. Keep her family out of the way while she did so.

In the back of her mind, though, she knew everything was going to be fine.

Franklin was typing furiously. He had a smile from ear to ear on his face.

"Franklin," she asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah!" he replied, "Now Pike is coming back. I can take the transfer grid record from his file and build him again! I can build Pike!"

Yvanna realized too late, with horror, what Franklin meant. In the moment before her hands struck Franklin’s away from the keyboard, the young man completed one last instruction set. The transmission was interrupted, corrupted and irreparable. The reassembly matrix was altered and replaced by a different design.

In the millisecond between the initialization that hopped across the illegal route, and the molecular reconstruction on the other side, the route subversion was detected and corrected by the UNTR. The pod in the frigid Serbian Combine was shut off; its doors latched remotely. There would be no return for the travelers – only a trace by the UNTR, which began immediately to find out where the rogue transmission was delivered.

But for Yvanna, the inevitable arrival of authorities didn’t matter anymore. She lay curled up in a ball in one corner, with her arms folded up around her head. She hadn’t been fast enough to stop Franklin. With her own words, she’d given Franklin, the gifted builder, all the permission the young man needed to instead become a destroyer.

In the pod were large perfectly-sided blocks of carbon, calcium, and other materials – leftovers from Franklin’s play time. A few small beads of iron, a tiny amount of copper and other metals were interspersed. A torrent of water had poured out onto the floor the moment the pod doors had opened. Now, Yvanna lay there in the puddle of water, and sobbed.

Oblivious, Franklin laughed from the living room. Around him danced a soaked, but otherwise healthy border collie.

"Let’s play, Pike!" Franklin said, as he laughed and rough-housed with his long lost friend. Pike leapt up and licked his hand – to the animal, it had only been a moment ago that it had been shoved into the telepod by Robert to be sent outside. The dog was very glad it wasn’t being sent outside after all.

"Boy, I missed you," said Franklin. "I’m so glad we can play!"


About the Author:
Jonathan C. Gillespie is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer living in Atlanta, GA. Readers can find some of his other works in Issue 14 of "Jupiter SF", Issue 4 of "OG's Speculative Fiction", or the upcoming first issue of "Murky Depths". Writing news, contact information, and his blog can be found at http:\\jgillespie.us.