“Penitents” by Rich Larson
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
The 245th issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies has four original stories, including one novelette.
“Penitents” by Rich Larson
Io is in the thrall of an alien black cube in this SF short. Io’s friend, Mara, has hired Soul to rescue Io from the cube. Mara goes topside with Soul to identify Io and find the cube that binds her.
While Mara is a stranger to the desolate world’s dangers, Soul is familiar with the topside world. But the cube has an influence over Soul as well. Together can Mara and Soul rescue Io and what secrets will the cube reveal?
The plot was intriguing and well structured. The story read quickly with an ending that was a little too predictable.
“Red Dreams” by R. Z. Held
In this SF short, Tarnish and Sol are delivering the mail in a distant future. The remnants of destroyed technology dot the landscape leaving people to rely on their own power. The two will take a week dragging the mail cart up and out of the canyon to a distant town.
Tarnish starts getting strange red dreams. Others, who had the same dreams, have gone insane, cutting people around them just to see their blood. She fears she will do the same to Sol unless she runs away. Sol hasn’t lost faith in her friend and convinces Tarnish to fight the impulses. But the urges become ever stronger and Tarnish is soon on the verge of snapping.
The concepts raised were interesting and the mystery was engaging. But the story felt slow until the pace picked up at the end.
“The Last Human Child” by Milo James Fowler
“The Last Human Child” is an SF novelette where Dahlia is a ten-year-old girl, and, supposedly, the last human child. Splices, genetically manipulated creatures, have revolted against their human creators and taken over the world. The splices develop an acid rain to render humans impotent.
Against these dire circumstances, humans trained Dahlia to be a killing machine, knowing she will be a target of the splices. A stone ogre named Brawnstone captures Dahlia. Brought before the splices elder council, she fulfills her training, killing the entire council. And when the humans send a team to rescue her, she kills them too.
Now, splices and humans hunt for Dalia and her protector, Brawnstone. The two fugitives seek a new and better place, one where they can live in peace.
The prose moved at a nice pace, but the story lacked mystery and in the end was a little too obvious.
“Such Were the Faces of the Living Creatures” by Josh Pearce
Radiation sickness is prevalent in this SF short set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. A man is trying to find a cure for his eight-year-old daughter, Annie, covered in scabs. The local judge advises him to seek out the three-eyed Medicine Man in the Badlands.
Travel into the Badlands is not easy, and they encounter many groups, each finding their own way to survival in the hostile reality of a radiation plagued land. In the end, can he find a cure for what ails Annie, and what afflicts himself?
A curiously structured story that seemed disjointed at times. But in many ways, this aided in portraying the despair of humanity trying to survive in such a hostile world.