by Robert Lowell Russell
Robert Lowell Russell is a writer, occasional gardener, and a trophy husband. A native Texan, he now lives with his family in Ohio. The ex-librarian and current SFWA member (former history grad student and semi-professional poker player) is now pursuing a nursing degree—when he isn’t writing. His stories have appeared in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Penumbra, Digital Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Loconeal’s Loco-Thology, and other venues.
I put my fingers on the observation glass as I watched tugs move freighters to and from the station. When I pulled my hand away, the marks my fingers made lingered, then disappeared. Beyond the station, a billion stars shone in the black. I knew that darkness.
“There ain’t no one in this ‘verse without some sort of demon chasing them,” the old man had said. “Some folks run so far ahead of the darkness, they don’t know to look back. Others…” He grinned. “Well, I hardly ran at all.”
I’d put a bullet through the old man’s heart, saving the trial. Shame what he’d done to those girls.
My hands were shaking again. Deputy Cason came up beside me with a bottle in his hand. He tipped it back, taking a long, wet drag.
“Damn it, Cason!” I said. “Did you get that from my locker?”
“Yeah, man. Did you want some?”
He wiped the bottle with his shirt and handed it to me. I sighed and took a drag. The burn felt good going down.
“I hear they’re gonna terminate you,” said Cason.
“With a bullet? Or the other kind?”
“Braddock,” said a quiet voice behind me.
I flinched and slapped my hand to my hip. My gun wasn’t there. No side arms on the station.
The boss stood behind me with a hint of the sneer he called a smile. “Follow me to my office, deputy. We need to chat.”
Guess Cason was right, I’d finally burned my war hero pass. Most Fleet Marines got into some kind of security service after the war. No other place to put us after jacking us up. When you put the monster in, it was there to stay.
A pile of films lay on the boss’s desk. One of them was pink — some traditions die hard. I sat, unasked, and the boss sat down across from me.
“Deputy, how long have you worked for us?”
I didn’t answer.
“Do you like your job? Think you can do anything else?” The boss glanced at the pink film but pushed a white film my way. “Think you can fuck up a simple prisoner transfer?”
I shrugged. “Sure, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Your freighter leaves in fifteen minutes. You’ll get your weapon and badge dockside.”
I glanced at the film. Son of a bitch.
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