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A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

The glider was mangled, but the body was worse. Way worse. Dolly Juarez was a mess, so the rigging tech, Dium Flecc, led Rin along the winding maintenance trail to where the remains lay.

Rin felt the two bites of karak egg and mayo roil in her gut. She tried to look as if it were the corpse that was making her sick, but it was the sheer drop a meter away. The cliff towered above too, and Rin wondered for the millionth time, How do people climb these things?

She squatted to examine the gaping chest wound in the body. It had tumbled, rolled a ways, but it was clear that the primary damage was the massive thoracic puncture.

"For crying out loud, Dium. Nobody saw anything?"

"Alden Moss was a regular. Wealthy kid. University football star. He was gonna be top pick in the draft this year. Word is the Asteroids and the Tigers have been locked in an unofficial bidding war over him for a month."

Rin stared down at the contorted body. No more long bombs. No more keg stands and pretty coeds. No more TDs. What a goddamn waste.

Flecc continued, "He's gone gliding all over the sector. Been coming up here summers with his dad since he was a squirt. Hell, Dolly's got an autographed ball above the desk. Alden hasn't needed a guide in years. Comes up from the resort early in the morning… We wouldn't have known he'd gone out if not for the empty rack in the gear shack."

"You've been gliding a long time. What do you make of it?" asked Rin, delicately lifting a limb with the pen from her shirt pocket.

"If the dampener failed and he hit a strong shear like the ones on Zeph III, he could've hit the rocks. Tumble might account for the damage to the glider, any broken bones, and the shallow cuts. But I have never seen gravity make a wound like that."

"And where's the blood?" said Rin. "Even if he got snagged somewhere and dripped awhile, there'd be seepage here. Something. But there's not."

"Looks like something sucked on him like a Qwencher packet." Flecc scratched his bald head, tan from years outside. "Could be game bats found the corpse—"

"Be a lot of game bats to drain a big guy like this. And unless he was out there before moondown…"

This has all the earmarks of being a really big problem, thought Rin, and as she thought it, Flecc agreed with what she hadn't said.

"Marshal… I was only in the service one tour, and I spent that running airborne jump drills. Never even saw a live xeno. But I saw the ed-vids in basic, and in the vids I only ever saw one creature could make a gouge like that…"

All the earmarks, thought Rin. "Dee… you take any kind of armament with you when you were mustered out?"

"Took a Torrent. An SR-8. Blows the shit out of a range boar when I hunt on weekends."

"Maybe you keep that handy when you lead your tour groups, okay?" said Rin, rocking back on her heels and standing up, away from the stench of the dead kid.

"You think it is a xeno?" asked Flecc.

"Don't matter what I think," said Rin, averting her eyes from the canyon. "Matters what I can get Haskins to believe."

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