Classmates called him Jacksmack.  And they stayed out of his way.  He had no particular reason to hurt them, but he wouldn’t have shed a tear if one or two were toasted by a faulty jet pack.


The nickname had stuck to him as far back as he could remember.  Some kids thought he got the name after knocking around a kid two years older, back in grade school.  More likely it was a reflection of the beatings he took.  Once or twice a week he’d show up bruised, limping or wearing a splint.  That went on until he grew taller than the bitter shrew living off her dead husband’s wealth.


Jacksmack started each day by pouring his mom a glass of what local producers called whiskey and ended it by picking up another fifth after school.  An arrangement with the general store allowed them to ignore the youth’s age — so long as he bought a single bottle of Tennessee Earth.  Laws on the Martian colony were lax.  And the store owner knew he wouldn’t dare steal a sip from her lifeline.


Unknown to anyone but his teachers, Jack Magill was the most brilliant student of his time.  His mind retained everything he ever read, saw, heard . . . or felt.  On demand he could recall complex mathematical formulas or biochemical principles.  And he could call to mind the searing pain of every burn, scar or broken bone he’d ever endured.


As the final days of school approached, advisors counseled students to consider the next step.  Apply for college back on earth, find a job or join the Sol-system Police Force.  And for all his study of psychology, he struggled to break free from the bonds of the only person who mattered in his tortured life.


Walking home one day, Jacksmack made his usual stop, interrupting a robbery in progress.  A tattooed thief aimed a moon-taser at the clerk, demanding money from the till along with the gemstones and jewelry in the display case.  He recognized the markings on the man’s arm.  An Alba Mons pirate.


Alone, the store clerk had no choice.  But moon-tasers were slow to recharge.  The pirate was not a big man and stood no chance against two people.  Jack could prevent the theft simply by calling out.  Even if the man turned and fired his weapon into Jack’s chest, he would recover in a few hours.


Yet here was opportunity.  The Alba Mons pirates were known to live in luxury.  People feared their insignia and only a well-armed police force dared stand in their way.  To give assistance was a quick way to win acceptance.  A once in a lifetime career opportunity stood before him.  But he had to choose.  Now.

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