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Witches of the Pinspecked Void


If you go flying back through time, and you see somebody else flying forward into the future, it's probably best to avoid eye contact.

-Jack Handey

On a sidewalk corner at the fringe of a busy five-way, a raven-haired orphan played jacks. With the eye of a raptor and the hands of a primate, he bounced and whisked up five, six, seven silver stars like nothing.

With his other hand he played a second game. Between games, he pocketed winnings and donations in a heartpouch that locked theft to pre-convicted murder, the cops only give you twenty minutes.

When the sun bronzed in the simsmog, the birdboy left his treasure perch and eyed the traffic. The five streets met in a roundabout where vehicles whirled like fish in a reef: plodding steamlorries and patient slackbuses, wheelless cars coasting on gravbearings and scooters banking crazily on gyrowheels. He flagged a one-seat microtaxi and fed it a spare coin. "Whitby Deposit, main office."

The outside of the bank looked like a colonnaded strongbox and the inside looked like a church. Under a low cathedral vault, rows of brass black-curtained booths stood like archaic confessionals. He parted a curtain.

"Ahoy, Nim!" Above the cash bin and fountain, a vacuum tube screen buzzed with the cheerful cartoon avatar of the bank's great Blip.

Nim grinned roguishly. "Good day." From under his ragged shirt he drew the bulging cashpouch and purged it in the bin.

"You did it!" she said. "You have enough quid to buy a storefront in the Ladbroke-Exchain-ChKung satellite concourse."

"Do it."

"I should tell you, if you can bank like this for another week, you'll be rich! The language guild has lowered the trope threshold to-"


"Bye, Nim. I'll miss you!"

Out on the street, the kid flagged another microtaxi. "Spaceport," he said, and flung the jacks in the air.


In slow spin at Brumvolz 5-7-L4, a score of six-spike stations hung like aggressive ornaments and cast sharp reflections of the white sun. Each spike was a pyramid tower riding a point of the efficient octahedral gravity engine at the center.

Deeper at each center burned a tiny sun, keeping the station aloof from its cold star. From the tips of the chrome spikes gushed gouts of infrared waste heat from the servers.

Just below one of these, a cop bulletship docked and became another nodule on the spire.

Inside the station, the halls were bare and white, boasting their grime and scuffs like battle scars. "Seven floors down," Blink said. "Follow me."

At the central shaft, she tipped into zero-G and sprang toward an obscure and little-dirtied door. Cataria judged the vector and shot past, settling her momentum with a twist on the doorlever, which held.

Blink spidered over and quietly two-fingered a polyrhythmic knock. The door opened to a zigzag rectilinear defile too narrow to walk abreast. Blink found another door and tapped the code.

Inside, a scrawny simworld hacker lay tumescent and twitching in a full body divesuit with a cable as thick as his arm. Blink cut the feed.

"You're under contract to us."

"Sorry." The dazed tech rolled back his helmet, found a pillbottle, and popped a grounder. "I saw you were coming from Chthon 3-1 and I had to check it out. They're about to have a monster archaic eruption."

"We've got something more important."

He looked at the two elves, skeptical at first, then briefly imagining a threesome, but the grounder was kicking in and the pale one turned her scarred face to him with frightening focus.

"I need to go to the Lonely Planet," she said, "and I need to bring this."

"That's impossible," he said. "Artifacts-" and then he saw it, so dark and so bright, harder than diamond and alive as a snake. "Father of Space, is that a level five?"

Cataria didn't bother to answer.

"Is it synced to your monadic eye?"

She let go of the blade and blue electricity held it to her hand. With the slightest tremble she twirled it like a baton.

"Okay, that will go. I'll get your suit." He fumbled in a closet. "Will you be staying?"

"She'll be going," Cataria said. "I don't want someone waiting for me."

Outside the door, Blink waited a few minutes and then knocked back in. Cataria was on her back, fully cocooned, hands crossed over her chest, the blade pointed downward. Divested of animus, it lay flat like a prop.

"They're in," the tech said. "It was strangely easy. Do you want to watch?"

"No. She might need to do more impossible things."

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