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Issue #7, July 2005:

Martian Sparklers,

by K.M. Praschak


The Blueblade Warriors,

by Brian G. Ross


The Landing,

by Brian C.Petroziello


The Count's Daughter,

by Martin Green



by Barrie Christian


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Martian Sparklers

by K. M. Praschak

For the human and android staff of Femme New Bar and
Grill, New Year's Eve ran about sixty-three hours. As
Rochelle slipped past the stage, she watched in awe as
the Mechanixxx Sisters built a dance pole out their own
spare parts. When she arrived at the table, she set
down the platter of steaming chicken wings and smiled
at the big blue margarita waiting there. A year ago,
she'd laughed over other margaritas with Nacio in a
booth here to celebrate their move to Mariner City, but
this margarita didn't smile back at her and neither did
the customers.

"These aren't too hot, are they? I had a sundae
at Rusty Red's that almost killed me yesterday."

Hanging onto her smile, Rochelle wondered which
part of 'War God's Wings of Fury' had failed to hit the
tourist's woman's head when she'd placed the order.

"My grandma eats our hot wings all the time." The
City Social Services money wouldn't come in fast enough
to cover groceries, the meds and the deposit on the new
place and the caseworker Rochelle needed to talk to had
taken the week off for the holidays. Meanwhile, she
made herself cope a minute at a time. Tips and
appetizers were the way to go, she thought.

The woman from Earth grimaced. "Your grandmother
doesn't have my heartburn. Get us some honey wings
instead." When she took a deep breath, her belly
pushed the table half a meter away. Rochelle thought
of her scale, abandoned in the back of the closet of
her old apartment days earlier. Next paycheck, she'd
buy another scale and more of those 'specially
harvested in the soil of Olympus Mons' diet pills.

"Honey wings coming right up." Nodding, Rochelle
scooped up the platter, signaled to another server to
watch over her brood and returned to the kitchen. When
she found the ticket for the table, she scratched out
the hot wings and waved at the cook.

"Another change?" The cyborg shook her head.
"People need to make up their damn minds, that's my

This from a woman who reprogrammed her hair color
twenty times a day, Rochelle thought. One of the
medium go boxes fit the hot wings. "I'm going on a
break. Sky's got my tables for me--press her reset
button if she screws up the orders." She grabbed the
box and went out the back door before the cook could
bum a mood cigarette off of her.

Outside, the chill made her run to dodge the jumper
cars in the parking lot. A chorus of barking started
up before she reached her beat up wagon. Several
spaces away, three guys in baseball hats gave her
surprised looks, but Rochelle ignored them as she
opened the back door.

"Hey, Grandma Suzy. Boys, you need to go?"

Both Rug and Cappy hopped out of the wagon to
explore the gravitank in the next space. Laughing to
herself, Rochelle went to the front seat and sat down.
Next to her, Suzy shook herself like one of the dogs
and clutched at the box.

"Since we're running busy tonight, I don't think
I can get you a table, but I brought you some more hot
wings." Rochelle patted down the quilt to fit Suzy's
lap and pulled a napkin out of her apron pocket.
"Still got tea, Grandma?" She found a chewed up straw
and some ice cubes when she shook the cup.

Suzy stared at her with big brown eyes until
Rochelle leaned over and opened the box. "Chicken."
As a prayer, it lacked conviction, but after two nuke
bus accidents nineteen years apart Suzy didn't have
much beyond her stubbornness left.

"Yeah, chicken again. Sorry." Rochelle shook out
a moodie and lit it with her old-fashioned lighter.
"If someone sends back a nutristeak, it's all yours."

"I want fireworks," Suzy said with the blunt assertion
of a five-year-old. "You promised."

Not far away, a truck honked like one of the aggravated
geese at City Hall. Several more vehicles prowled around,
hunting for free parking spaces that weren't there.
Rochelle stubbed out her moodie and leaned over to open
the glove box. During her apartment hunt this afternoon,
she'd stopped at a fireworks stand before picking Suzy up
from her friend's place in Chinatown.

"Since you're such a good girl, we'll try out some of
these sparklers. Now eat up."

In answer, Suzy picked up a chicken wing and bit into
it. The sauce dripped down her chin onto the quilt as a
satisfied Rochelle leaned back to enjoy the rest of her
break. This being the busiest holiday of the year, she
didn't expect to catch another moment away for a few hours.
After the motel had kicked them out over the dog messes in
the bathroom, Rochelle had figured that the wagon would
work out until they got the new apartment on January 2nd.
God knew the other hotels and motels were booked up for
the night.

"Come on, boys." Neither dog responded to Rochelle's
whistle. "Boys?" Irritation flooded her as she hauled
herself out of the wagon.

Neither dog sat on the grass by the artificial creek,
but the unique purr of the jumper car Nacio had gotten her
for Christmas caught her ear. Following its sound,
Rochelle caught Cappy snarling at Nacio. Typical of Rug's
attitude, the bigger dog sprawled across her ex-boyfriend's
three thousand dollar boots. Next to them, one of the
jumper's custom rims glowed wet.

"Capricorn, Rug--come on now." Rochelle clapped her
hands together and both dogs struggled to reach her.
She turned to go, but Cappy tripped himself up in her
feet and she stumbled.

Nacio caught her before she could fall. "Roach, you
want me to take the dogs back to the apartment? I could
drive your wagon and come back for you."

"No, thanks." Rochelle pulled herself out of his grip
and hurried after the dogs. "I got to get back to work."
The other server would be hunting for her in a minute and
she needed to escape Nacio before she gave in to the
impulse to spit on his leather coat.

"You don't have to work here." Nacio sounded irritated.
"If you can't handle the job in my office anymore, I make
enough money to take care of you."

"That wasn't the point." Rochelle fired a glare at him
the same way his mother had greeted her on Earth the day
before Thanksgiving--also the glare his office manager
loved to fix on Rochelle early on Monday mornings. "Go
away before I make a New Year's resolution about you
neither of us will like."

Once the dogs ran into the back seat, she shut the door
on them and yanked open the front door. The crumpled up
quilt sat on the driver's side and Suzy had vanished. A
stabbing pain shot through Rochelle's guts and she kicked
the door.

"Where are you this time, Grandma?" In a panic,
Rochelle dashed amid the vehicles in the parking lot,
calling Suzy's name. Since her stepbrother Mike had left
Suzy with her three days before Christmas, Suzy had run out
on her twice. Each time had cost Rochelle a finger's width
of gray hair and more narcopills than her ration card

Behind her, Nacio snorted. "Maybe she ran back to her
old building again. Let her go, Roach. She's not even
your blood."

Rochelle swung around and shoved Nacio in the chest until
he fell back. "Will you listen to me for the last time? I
told you and I told Mike I'd take care of his grandma until
he came back from that mining gig in the Asteroids. You
don't have to deal with any of us, okay? I got a job, I
found an apartment and we're fine. Everything's okay."

Instead of backing off, Nacio pointed across the street.
"Catch her before she makes it to the jumpway."

"Suzanne Augusta Mills," Rochelle yelled. "You stop
right there."

The spell of the older woman's full name worked its
magic--Suzy jerked to a halt meters away from the edge of
the highway. When Rochelle and Nacio reached her, Suzy
shook the box of sparklers at them.

"My fireworks." Bits of chicken were stuck in Suzy's
ragged teeth. "Just like in Manila."

Nacio tried to tug the box away from Suzy, who wouldn't
release it. "Yeah, those fireworks are pretty and so are
you when you aren't exploding. Come back to the car."

"No." Suzy batted away Nacio's arm. "Leave me alone,
I want Mike. Mike?"

"Mike's gone to work the mines for awhile, Grandma
Suzy." Rochelle held up her lighter. "Let's take out a
sparkler when we get back to Rug and Cappy."

The bribe drew Suzy back towards the wagon, where
Rochelle unwrapped the box and handed a sparkler to her.
As the firework showered its light, Suzy's wide grin made
the pressure in Rochelle's chest slip away.

"Hey, watch out. Those stands that sell those aren't
regulated." Nacio dragged the box out of Rochelle's hand.
"Jewelry is better than fireworks anyway, Roach." His
offer for her to return to the apartment hung in the
distance between them.

"If you need diamonds, go find them yourself."
Rochelle's fingers curled around her lighter and she
wrestled the box of sparklers out of Nacio's grip. "I'm
not the Queen of the Space Trash your mom thinks I am, but
I need to do things my way. That includes watching Suzy
until Mike comes back from his job."

"Give me another one."

Without a word, Rochelle picked out another sparkler and
handed it to Suzy. The dogs yapped to get out again until
Nacio freed them.

"You boys miss home, don't you?" Nacio attempted to pick
up Cappy, who bared his teeth. "Roach, do what you want.
Bring Suzy and your zoo if you have to. The whole
neighborhood can come home--I don't care anymore."

Light ate up the sparkler while Rochelle stared at Nacio.
She could jam herself back into his life and enjoy the
pinching comforts of the job in his office and she'd get to
drive the fancy jumper again, even if it weren't red like she'd
wanted. When Mike's job ended, he'd take back Suzy. However,
a new year wouldn't rewind the shredded tinsel of Christmas,
when Nacio had told her to pick between him and Suzy. Also,
sometime between the three flights back from Earth and now,
Rochelle had realized she couldn't face a lifetime sentenced
to a man and a mother-in-law who hated dogs and fireworks.

Rochelle shook the last sparkler out of the box and lit it.
"You got a few hours to find someone else to kiss at midnight,
Nacio." She waved the sparkler at the fury in his face until
he backed away from them.

They'd get the apartment and in a few months she could check
into the job at the vet's office, maybe go back to school,
though she didn't have the courage to make any promises to
herself about that. Resolutions were pretty useless, but
Rochelle could make herself keep going without Nacio's constant
nagging. Freed from the phantoms of doubt chewing up her insides,
she stuck her lighter back in her apron pocket and parked Suzy in
the passenger seat of the wagon.

As Nacio's black and blue jumper zoomed past them, Suzy laughed.
"More?" She turned the empty box upside down.

A margarita bigger than the moons waited for Rochelle somewhere.
She squeezed her dogs, then Suzy's hand. "You bet, girl. On the
Newer World, there's always more sparklers."

The End

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