Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peripheral Hope
by Derrick Boden

by M. Luke McDonell

Penal Eyes
by Frederick Obermeyer

Tells of the Block Widowers
by Jez Patterson

Cretaceous on Ice
by K.C. Ball

Some Quiet Time
by Eric Cline

Three Breaths
by Karl Dandenell

by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

Left Hand Awakens
by Beth Cato

Laws of Humanity
by Alexandra Grunberg

Aggressive Recruiting
by Drew Williams


Remakes, Sequels Sizzle in 2017
by Joshua Berlow

Calderas: Doomsday Underfoot
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





Peripheral Hope

By Derrick Boden

PERIPHERAL SIX SPUN SILENTLY on its axis, a husk of titanium and glass and forgotten glory. Viral damage riddled the orbital station’s exterior: charred solar panels along the torus’ circumference, blackened optics around the core, darkened glass running up the spokes. Another goddamned wasteland, drifting through space.

Koji Lafitte fired up the scanners and punched in an entry sequence. His shuttle burned over the lip of the inner ring, where the mirror array blasted reflected sunlight from the nearby G-type star onto the inside edge of the perimeter torus—the living surface.

If you could call it living. The surface was scarred from decades of post-virus skirmishes. Residential blocks lay crumbling and abandoned, waterways overrun with vines and scrub, comm towers toppled and silent. Some sectors still glowed with artificial lighting: the leftovers. Whatever they’d managed to shut down before the catastrophic computer virus swept through and choked them out.

He checked the scanners again. Still nothing. He spun the cylinder of his Smith & Wesson with his thumb. The tertiary elites had provided explicit coordinates. The fuse had to be here. He couldn’t risk another dead end, not with Zoe’s life slipping away in that cold tank.

A blast rocked the shuttle, and an alarm blared overhead. Koji gripped his harness, bones jarring as a fury of projectiles struck the underside of the shuttle.

“Evasive!” he shouted, though the ship was already spinning and weaving in a nauseating rhythm. He gripped the scanner display, his gaze locked on the readout. It had to be here somewhere. His finger twitched near the active sensor controls. The active sensors would pick up the fuse’s location in an instant, but if the virus was lurking anywhere on the station, he’d be opening up his shuttle—and in turn, his starship—to immediate infection. Every exposed optical array was a potential entry point.

Another blast struck the shuttle, this time from the side. He lurched, and his head slammed against the headrest.

“Engaging emergency restraints,” the ship said.

“About damned time.”

Straps buckled around his forehead, arms, and legs as the shuttle plunged downward. The overhead showed a pale green mesh approaching—the atmospheric containment. He braced himself.

The shuttle plunged through the fabric. The flexible polymer warped around the vessel like a soap bubble, then popped on the inside to maintain the outer seal. At least something was working down here.

The scanners flashed green. Found it. He squinted at the display, then clenched his fists when the location resolved. Of all the rotten luck. He was heading in the wrong direction.

The screen switched to a close-up of the station’s surface. The rangefinder flashed. Wait a second, that wasn’t a close-up—

“Impact imminent,” the ship said.

Vents blasted the cabin full of aerofoam, and everything went white. Metal screeched against metal as the shuttle slammed into the surface and skidded to a halt.

The release valves hissed and the foam dissipated, leaving Koji suspended by the crash restraints in the pitch-black cabin. Blood rushed to his head; they must’ve landed upside down.

“Report,” he said.


He punched the restraint release with his palm and braced himself. A metal surface—probably the ceiling—met him with a painful thud. He popped a flashlight from his belt and looked around.

Twisted metal and broken glass lay scattered about the interior. The power systems must’ve severed during impact; everything was blacked out. Goddamned elites always shafting him with their second-hand tech.

He shattered the emergency seal and cranked the ramp open by hand. Sunlight flooded the cabin. He shielded his eyes. Shapes took form between his fingers. People. With guns.

“Well, well,” a man said.


Nylon straps dug into Koji’s wrists, already slippery from the blood. His head pounded, and his muscles ached. He cracked his eyes, then thought better of it and squeezed them shut.

He flicked his tongue across a valve on the roof of his mouth. A series of bio-relays discharged in his gut, like rapid-fire acid reflux. When the nausea subsided, his joints loosened and the fog lifted. He tried his eyes again. The world fuzzed into focus.

Rows of toppled seats. Bleachers tattooed with plasma fire. Old digital adverts, riddled with bullet holes. Obscure graffiti, covering the open-air stadium: “Runner Riot,” and “Parliament Power.” The stench of refuse flooded his nostrils. The persistent whine of low-tech machinery drifted in from afar. He sat with his back to a low wall, cuffed wrists pinned behind him.

“Well, well. The tert’s awake.”

Koji turned too fast and had to swallow vomit. A cluster of men strode across the center of the sports arena, stuffed into too-tight silk shirts and dusty fedoras. Third-wave techno-baroque blared from an old jam-box.

The frontrunner kicked dirt into Koji’s eyes. He raised a hand to protect, but it snapped back hard against the wall. He blinked through the sting.

“Welcome to Matias’ World.”

The drawl was thick and obscure, another nameless variant borne from post-virus isolation. All heavy T’s and swallowed D’s. The leader had Koji’s energy rifle slung over his shoulder. The lanky guy to his right had claimed his Smith & Wesson, and was trying to figure out how to pop the cylinder. Little chance they’d left anything of value in the shuttle.

Koji cleared his throat. It felt like he hadn’t spoken in a year. “Who’s the boss around here?”

The man’s boot struck him behind the jaw, and his vision exploded with white.

“Matias. Head of the Parliament.” He paused. “Me.”

Koji rolled his eyes, and Matias sunk two swift punches into his gut. Matias grabbed him by the collar and dragged their faces together. His breath was hot and reeked of onions.

“I can tell by your clothes you’re a filthy tertiary elite.”

Koji didn’t waste the breath to correct him.

“And I know you didn’t drop into this system on that scrap of a shuttle. Where’s your starship?”


Matias’ knuckles dug into Koji’s cheek. He spat blood onto the packed dirt. The pain was starting to pile up, but he didn’t dare tap into his painkillers again. The bio-relays had already juiced his reserve calories, and his stomach was growling like a rabid dog. He needed to eat.

“Bring it to me. Or end up like this guy.” Matias thrust a finger to the side.

A few paces away, another man hung cuffed to the wall. His collared shirt and suspenders were soaked in blood. His arms hung back and slightly upward, like a bird suspended in flight. A very dead bird.

Koji coughed. “Laws of physics, man. I can’t get my ship in here without popping a pair of those toroidal spokes and knocking old Matias’ World out of orbit.”

Matias eyed him hungrily. He drew closer, and dropped his voice to a whisper. “Don’t matter to me. You’re my ticket off this rot. Next stop, Tertiary One.”

Koji shook his head. Typical. Everyone cursed the elites in public, but most would hang their own mother for a chance to get inside.

“They’re not big on guests,” he said. “That’s how they keep the virus out, in case you hadn’t heard.”

Matias grabbed him by the jaw and twisted. “A hostage would change their mind.”

“I’m not exactly their golden child—”

The ground shook. Dirt and astroturf exploded from the center of the field. The shock wave slammed Koji against the wall, twisting his arms painfully. The Parliament men tumbled to the ground. They scrambled to their feet, swinging weapons to bear.

Matias glowered. “Runners.”

Two dozen dirty-faced men and women crawled from the hole like ants from a hill. They wore collared shirts and suspenders, with grungy ties clipped to the front. Early-millennia rifles and handguns rattled a spray of bullets across the stadium. Makeshift nylon bolas whistled through the air.

The Parliament men broke for cover. An arc of plasma-fire cut above Koji’s head. The jam-box dropped into a nearby bleacher seat, the techno-baroque blaring in eerie dissonance to the sounds of battle. One of the Parliament men slammed into the ground, a bola-cord spun around his body like a cocoon. The Smith & Wesson slid from the man’s grasp, just a meter away. Koji threw his leg out to hook it. His toe scraped against the grip. He stretched farther. Nylon cut deep into his wrists.

Bullets riddled the ground, and he pulled back. The jam-box shattered, and the music fizzled into silence. The Parliament men had broken into a shooting retreat, and Koji was caught in the crossfire. He reached out his toe again.

A booted foot kicked the gun, sending it skittering across the ground. The other boot stomped on Koji’s ankle and twisted. He groaned.

“Hey, skinny boy. Who’re you supposed to be?”

The woman glowered down at him, sweat beading across arched eyebrows. Suspenders held up oversized cargo pants, sagging with primitive tools and knives. The top three buttons of her shirt were splayed open, and tattoos laced cryptic lettering across her skin. A hint of cloves drifted through the sweat-stench of the air.

“Just passing through,” Koji said. “Mind cutting me loose?”

Two of the newcomers had popped the cuffs on the nearby body, and were hauling it toward the hole. The gunfire was dying down in the distance, where the Parliament men had fled around the corner. A bald bruiser sidled up beside the woman, arms the size of Koji’s neck and a nasty scar running the length of his jaw. He was dressed more like the Parliament men than this other crew, in a skin-tight red shirt and jeans. His left arm ended in a fleshy stump at the wrist. Koji looked away, trying to keep his mind off of Zoe. The accident. Her fragile little bones, and her mechanical heart.

A boy—barely eighteen, from the looks of him—picked his way over to Koji. His black, collared shirt was covered in dust. His gaze flicked across Koji’s outfit. “Looks like a tert, to me,” he said.

The bald man pointed upward, toward the station’s core. Then he made a sweeping motion with his hand to the ground.

The woman laughed. “Henri here says nice landing, tert.”

“Listen—” Koji said.

The boy grabbed him by the forearm, twisting the cuff deeper into his skin. “Tanja. Check it.”

His sleeve must’ve pulled up during the fray, and the circular brand stood out on his skin like a big pink disk. Lines running through the center traced the contours of each continent.

“Little reminder of home,” Koji said. The crew exchanged sidelong glances. The boy dropped his wrist and backed away.

“Bullshit,” Tanja said. “Nobody escaped.”

“That’s what the terts said, too. Didn’t stop them from branding me.”

Tanja scoffed. “This one’s full of stories. They don’t let outsiders into the tertiaries.” She turned to leave. “Let’s go, boys.”

Koji swallowed. His window was closing.

“Wait. I can help you.”

“We don’t need help from no tert.” Tanja shot a glance over her shoulder. “No tert slave, neither.”

Koji pursed his lips. “What about some clean tech?”

Henri took a step closer and raised a hand to strike Koji, but Tanja caught the big man at the elbow from behind. She ducked in front and her muscles tensed. It looked like she was going to hit Koji herself.

She looked over at the boy. “Bring him, Jin. But keep those cuffs on.”

Koji let his shoulders relax. His gaze flicked across his Smith & Wesson. “Hey, um. My gun.”

Tanja laughed, a thick, rolling laugh that echoed across the stadium.

“Is that too much to ask?” Koji said. “It’s just a gun.”

Jin hoisted the revolver, gave it a once-over before handing it to Tanja. She stuffed it into her belt, then walked toward the hole without another glance.

“Let’s go, boys. Matias will be back.”


Koji winced as Henri folded him into the payload capsule of the rail bike. The capsule was little more than four sheets of aluminum, hammered together with a plastic windshield and riveted to the side of the bike. With his arms still bound behind him, he lay face-forward, squinting into the darkness. The air reeked of burnt oil. Henri swung onto the bike and kicked it into motion.

The station’s transport system sat five meters beneath the surface. If it was like most of the old Stanford torus designs, these low-friction rails ran the entire loop of the station. From the looks of the tube, the trains had been hauled out years ago, doubtless a casualty of the viral strike. Now, the Runners made do with foot-crank single-seaters that looked like old-world motorcycles on rails. The tracks were still smooth, so it only took a few cranks to get the bikes cooking. Air screamed through cracks in the capsule. Despite the cramped quarters, the rush was exhilarating.

The bikes whirred to a halt at a station with a dented sign labeled “Agriculture.” Henri plucked Koji from the capsule and dropped him onto his feet with more force than necessary. He shoved him through a doorway and into a massive underground encampment.

The stench of unbathed bodies and ripe fertilizer assaulted Koji as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The red glow of cylinder-heaters punctuated a sea of tents and shanties. Open plots housed modest hydroponic gardens. Heaps of busted mechanical parts cluttered the walkways. Muted horns wailed out tunes to the staccato upbeat of snare drums.

Koji followed the Runners down a broad avenue. Dirty faces peered through slits in the tents, ogling his foreign clothing. Skinny kids stood on each other’s shoulders to catch a glimpse of the prisoner. Amputees shuffled through the crowd on makeshift crutches and wheeled carts. Children as young as ten standard years carried sidearms and wicked blades, playing sidewalk games to scattered laughter. He could count their ribs from ten paces.

Koji shook his head. Every colony on the fast grid, once blessed with faster-than-light communication, became an instant target for the virus. It was the last and greatest of its kind, and it turned the interstellar network into a conduit for self-replicating destruction. It burned through the core colonies within forty-eight hours, slowed only by outmatched firewalls, leaving rotten husks and bloody battles for survival in its wake. The peripherals fell next, along the cusp of the fast grid. Some, like Peripheral Six—about twenty light-years from Earth—had been able to shut some things down in time, salvage fragments of technology and barricade the virus with optical shields and severed physical links.

Others were less lucky. Only the distant tertiary colonies, not yet on the fast grid, had escaped unscathed. The elites. Their slow grid hubs relied on outdated firewalls that had ironically proved more effective against the virus, giving the elites the time necessary to wall themselves off entirely. Popular sentiment on Tertiary One was that humanity’s greed and ambition brought on the virus, that they pushed the limits of technology too far. But that was bullshit. The tertiaries had fast grid backbones with state-of-the-art firewalls of their own under construction when the virus hit—they just got lucky by a few years. Everyone else took it on the jaw.

“Don’t be judging us,” Tanja said.

Koji blinked, realized he’d been staring at a pair of teenagers popping flechette rounds into a straw sack shaped like a man. He quickly looked away.

“You know nothing of my people and our struggles,” she said.

Koji opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it.

“Tanja!” A husky man in a long coat hustled through the crowd. Lines of worry creased his weathered face as he fell into step beside Tanja. “Where’s Zhao? Is he here?”

Tanja rested a hand on the man’s shoulder. “We were too late. We brought his body.”

The man’s eyes welled with tears. “Matias.”

Tanja nodded. “He’s on the offensive again, with his bloody tax collectors and moles. Took down five of our safe houses this week alone. We have to make room for more refugees.”

“I need supplies,” the man said. “Medicine.”

“We’ll have to make do with what we’ve got,” Tanja said.

A shout pealed across the encampment, and the man darted off.

Tanja ducked into a broad tent. Henri pushed Koji in after her, then took up a position at the entrance with Jin. The tinny resonance of rebirth jazz droned from a jam-box. A faded rug pocked with burn-holes covered the floor. Tanja sank into a giant pillow, motioned to another nearby. Koji sat down gingerly, his bruised muscles protesting until he found a comfortable position.

“So,” she said. “Why haven’t I killed you yet?”

The flickering lights outside cut deep shadows into her face, and the contours of her body. She fingered an electric hookah absently.

“You’re dying down here,” he said.

“Easy, Earthman.”

“I have supplies on my ship.”

“A little tert-branded gauze ain’t gonna help us.”

“What about an auto-surgeon? Or three cases of strips and meds?”

Tanja scoffed. “I’m supposed to believe you have all that?”

“You need them, so you’re gonna have to.”

“You got balls, I’ll give you that. Telling me what I need.”

She drew the hookah to her lips, and vapor streamed into the air. The scent of orange and spice clung to his nostrils.

Koji leaned forward. “Let me help your people.”

The vapor dissipated. Her eyes glistened in the distant light.

“How about I just kill you and take the supplies? I’ve got launch capsules, you know.”

“Ship’s locked.”

“Key’s in your head, I reckon. I’m sure we could convince you to unlock it.”

Koji looked away, forced a slow breath. “Nobody’s getting into my ship. If that means triggering my harakiri bio-relay, so be it.” He shot her a sidelong glance. “And I guess I was wrong—I thought Matias was the local butcher.”

Tanja rolled her eyes. “All right. Say I’m listening. What are your terms?”

Koji kept his voice modulated. “Take me to the core.”

Tanja laughed, that same throaty laugh that seemed to carry for miles. Her gaze flicked across his expression, and the smile vanished from her lips.

“You can’t be serious.”

He said nothing.

“That place is infested. It’s all we can do to keep it walled off, now. There’s no going in or out.”

Koji sighed. Never easy.

“The terts sent me here to collect something,” he said. “My scanners identified it, up there.”

Tanja leaned forward. “What the hell could they possibly want up there?”

Fabric rustled at the entrance of the tent. Koji caught a glimpse of Jin, crouched down, fiddling with his boot. He was doing his best to look nonchalant, but there was no mistaking his eavesdropping.

Koji leaned farther forward and dropped his voice. “Some kind of nanotech the scientists here were working on in the weeks before the virus took hold. They call it the fuse.”

Tanja raised an eyebrow.

“The terts think its hardware antivirus can hold up against infection. Protect clean systems, construct new ones.”

Tanja snorted. “Sounds far-fetched.”

Koji shrugged. “Maybe.”

“How do they know it’s here? We don’t even know what’s up there.”

“Slow grid comm archives. They’ve been sifting through the data for years.”

She paused. “Saying your nanotech is here, why would I let it go to the terts?”

“It’s only a sample, hardly enough to be useful.”

“And the terts know how to replicate it?”

“I’ll hand over my medical gear to find out.”

Tanja glanced outside. Her jaw muscles clenched into knots as her gaze swept across the encampment. When she turned back to Koji, her expression was steeled. She pulled the Smith & Wesson from her belt and tossed it onto the ground at his feet.

“Ok, Earthman. You got yourself a deal.”


The elevator pulsed ice blue as it blasted up the spoke toward the station’s core. Through the glass walls, the outer ring of Peripheral Six swept away beneath them. The core sat at the center of six equidistant spokes, about a kilometer from the habitable surface of the outer ring.

“How’d you do it?” Jin’s hands were threaded through his blast harness against the opposite wall. Tanja and Henri clung to their own harnesses, one on either side of the boy.

Koji cocked his head.

“You know. Convince the terts to let you in,” Jin said. His voice was tense, betraying a deep hunger.

“Must be my beautiful face.”

Tanja snorted. The elevator rushed past the inner ring, and into the honeycomb network of solar panels.

Henri watched him sidelong, with a guarded expression. With his bulk and his bright outfit, he stood out amongst the others more than Koji. His hands twisted into an unrecognizable sign.

“Henri’s right. You’re not from Earth at all,” Jin said. “Probably made the story up to scare people.”

Koji sized the kid up. He’d been about Jin’s age when the virus struck. The first twenty-four hours were a blur of panic and outrage. Life support systems failed, killing a cool billion in Earth’s arcologies. Autopilots shut off, and aircraft rained from the sky like polished meteors. The planet went dark. Then the real terror began. People turned on one another. Friends. Brothers. Children. The darkness unleashed a savagery in the human heart that most people had long forgotten. They’d spent a millennium beating it down with technology and abundance, but it persevered beneath the surface. Now unfettered, it was back with a vengeance.

He shook off the memories. “Wish you were right, kid. Truth is, the terts let me in because I’m from Earth. I had information they needed.”

“It’s past time they let us all in,” Jin said.

Tanja spat. “To hell with them. They’d have to drag me. My home’s here.”

Koji looked away. They were Zoe’s words, and they stung just like they had all those years ago.

The elevator hummed to a halt on magnetic brakes. The doors hissed open, and all four harnesses popped. Koji released his grip and drifted into the air. Without the benefit of the toroid’s centripetal force, the core was as gravity-free as open space. He angled his legs and kicked off of the back wall, letting his inertia carry him into the lobby. White-paneled walls and bright overhead lighting gave the whole place a sterile, cold feel. The air tasted stale and musty. A row of emergency pressure suits and jetpacks hung nearby, next to an access hatch. Black x’s of electrical tape covered the equipment, rudimentary viral shielding for the onboard optical transceivers.

Tanja drifted in behind him, then pointed down the hall. “Henri, Jin. Secure the area. Make sure we’re alone up here. I’m gonna have to override the security on the chute to get it open.”

They kicked off around the corner. Tanja pulled a fistful of tools from her bag, then popped the access hatch and squirmed into the crawlspace. The click-click-click of an auto-ratchet echoed from inside.

“This is the last functioning elevator,” Tanja said, her voice muffled. “I don’t intend to lose it to this bad idea of yours. My boys are gonna sweep you, once they get back. No electronics. The virus is alive and kicking in there, and we can’t risk contaminating what’s left of the habitat.”

Koji grappled the edge of the hatch and peered inside. Tanja’s boots jutted out from the shadows. “All I’ve got left is pure bio-tech.”

Tanja shuffled around in the crawlspace. “Hand me the deck there.”

Koji pulled the portable terminal from her discarded bag and hauled himself into the crawlspace by her side. He groped around in the darkness until he found her hands, then pushed the deck into them. After a few clicks, light poured from the screen, bathing them in a blue glow. She jacked the deck into an open port on the ceiling and began tapping through entry sequences.

“Henri isn’t from your camp,” Koji said. “Is he?”

“We’re all refugees. Some just more recent than others. Henri was from the Parliament, Matias’ own brother if you can believe it. Word has it, he refused to go through with a hit, a few years back. Bastard cut him up and left him to bleed out on the street. Sliced his tongue right out of his mouth.”

Koji pursed his lips.

“He’s earned his keep with us. One of my top lieutenants.”

Koji watched her fingers dart across the interface, her chest rise and fall in a slow rhythm. Ozone and sweat permeated the air.

“This is a fool’s errand, Earthman. Why do you let the terts jerk you around like this? Sounds like a shit job to me.”

“I needed a place to stay. They needed someone to do their dirty work. The elites themselves wouldn’t dare set foot outside.”

She shot him a doubting glance. “They got Zoe locked up inside?”

Koji squinted. “How—”

She reached a hand down and tapped his Smith & Wesson.

“Got her name engraved on the trigger.”

He pursed his lips. “They won’t let her in.”

Tanja turned her attention back to the deck. “Pricks. She your lady?”

“My sister. She got into an accident when we were young, and a blood disorder ruled out bio-matching. So the docs fitted her with cybernetics. Mechanical hand, leg, heart. Central processor in her brain. People said it suited her—she’s a tech genius, working in the labs by her fifteenth birthday.”

Tanja’s fingers paused against the interface.

“The virus got to her cybernetic firewalls on day one of the strike, by way of her onboard wireless adapter. I was right there next to her, trying to convince her to leave Earth with me. Her eyes went all glassy, and her limbs seized up. I shut her down before the virus could finish taking hold, but without the cybernetics she couldn’t survive. So I stashed her in a cryotank that was still virus-free. She’s been in my ship ever since.” He cursed himself for saying so much, but now that he’d started, the words wouldn’t stop. “We’re twins, but she’s still barely eighteen standard. The elites are petrified of her cybernetics, but I figure in the long run working with them is my best chance at saving her.”

Tanja looked over at him, and her leg brushed his in the cramped space. Her breath was hot on his skin.

“I doubt your sister’s a priority to the terts.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

Tanja remained silent.

“Zoe was always the good one. Wanted to stick around, help Earth. Said she still had work to do. I wanted to cut loose, let them kill each other. After she went down, that’s exactly what I did.”

Tanja’s lips bent into a crooked smile. “Don’t sell yourself short, Earthman.”

The blue light flickered across her tattooed skin. Their closeness in the crawlspace was intense. Koji forced himself to look away. Too much time alone in that damned ship.

“Area secured, boss,” Jin said from outside the crawlspace.

Tanja chuckled, then punched the final sequence into the deck. A mechanical churning reverberated through the wall. She popped the deck and pushed herself out, her skin grazing against Koji’s body.

“Let’s go, Earthman.”

The entrance to the core was a long, white hallway, capped on both ends by hand-cranked airlocks. At the first portal they stripped everything with juice: radio transmitters, EMP blasters, data decks. The tape over the transceivers should be shielding enough, but it wasn’t worth the risk. All it took was a single electromagnetic pulse from an infected system to bring the virus crawling into the daylight. The gear drifted around the lobby like the contents of a floating pawnshop.

Henri cranked the first portal open, then the second, and they were in. A blast of metallic-tasting air buffeted their faces. Pressurized and breathable, at least.

A vast cylindrical expanse stretched the entire height of the station’s core, some two hundred meters. Through transparent bay doors, each end offered a clear view of the stars beyond. In the center, suspended by shimmering docking mesh, hung a dozen shuttles and support spacecraft. Each was twisted in a different direction, giving the docks a sense of silent confusion. A command station sat near the far exit, where a tunnel led to the rest of the core. Nearby, a rack of energy weapons hung against the wall. Lighting from the station’s mirror array cast long shadows across the docks.

The air was tense with static. The virus was here. What remained of the core’s solar array must’ve been pumping power into the infected machines, keeping the infestation alive for all these years on life support. Waiting in the dark for an opportunity to spread.

They drifted through the central concourse in silence. The surrounding spacecraft leered, windows like blackened eyes. At the other end, Tanja shot Koji an inquisitive glance. He checked the wall directory, then pointed down the rightmost hall, where a sign read: “Central Cleanrooms.”

Through another portal the labs opened into a sprawling network of shadow. Henri popped a liquid flare, and the red glow cast an unsettling pall across workbenches and equipment racks. Thanks to the lack of gravity every surface had been utilized: gridded workspaces along the ceiling, specimen cabinets bolted to the walls, darkened terminals lining the floor. Rows of cleanroom suits drifted tethered to one wall like forgotten ghosts, untouched since the outbreak. The static grew more intense as they drifted deeper. The shrill whine of electrical coils pierced the air.

They floated from room to room. Bioinformatics. Genetics. Particles. They were all micro-labs, and the projects the scientists had been engaged in were emblazoned on the wall dockets. Longevity. Bio-relays. Performance enhancement.

Koji kicked over to the sector labeled “Nanotech” and began digging through cabinets of digitized docs. Everything was in perfect order, as if the scientists had locked up one day and never returned. Not far from the truth. His gaze swept across stenciled lettering of a hundred project samples. It had to be here somewhere—

“Earth man.”

Koji looked up. Tanja was embedded in a sea of drifting glass and metal canisters. In her hands, she grasped a cylinder the size of her forearm. A dim glow emanated through the lattice housing, washing her face in orange. Bold lettering across the top read: “Foreign Unit Symbiotic Enabler.”

The fuse.

Koji shot her a thumbs-up and crouched down to kick over to her position, when a blur of movement shot behind her. A flash of black clothing, bearing down fast. Instinct took over, and his tongue flicked across a bio-relay valve. Adrenaline and reflex catalysts burst into his bloodstream.

Jin had snatched the fuse canister from Tanja and was halfway to the exit before the boy’s first shots went off. Henri was hovering near the exit with the flare, and Jin sunk a pair of flechette rounds into the big man’s neck before he could pull a single blade from his belt. Blood spurted across the lab in a spray of tiny droplets.

“Henri!” Tanja said, nostrils flaring. The big man drifted toward the corner, his expression already vacant.

Jin twisted his body and opened fire on Tanja and Koji. Koji snagged a half-dozen hefty lab samples and sent them sailing across the room. The inertial motion sent him spinning, and he grabbed the wall to steady himself. Two of the samples collided with flechette darts mid-flight, sending them skittering off the nearby wall. The third dart struck Tanja in the leg. Her shriek echoed through the labs, laden with rage and pain.

She wrestled her own flechette gun loose and unloaded, but Jin was already around the corner. Koji started after him, then drew up short and shot a glance at Tanja. If the dart had hit an artery, she’d bleed out in minutes. He kicked backward, grabbed a spool of tape from a nearby cabinet and stabilized himself against the wall.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Get that traitor.”

Blood was already spilling from her wound into the air, big crimson droplets drifting across the room.

“This might hurt,” he said, and wrenched the flechette dart free along with a cloud of blood drops. Tanja groaned. He wound the tape around her open wound and bit it off at the end. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pushed off toward the exit.

Tanja grabbed the flare from Henri’s slackened grip, her gaze flicking across her dead companion’s frozen expression. She finished reloading as they coursed through the hallways.

By the time they reached the spaceport, Jin was nearly to the other end of the causeway. Koji glanced at the console. An energy rifle was missing from the rack.

“Get down!” he said, and pushed Tanja to the side. Bolts of light shot across their path, striking the far wall.

“Don’t be a fool, Jin!” Tanja said, pushing off of the docking mesh in his direction. “The gun’s infected. You’ll spread the virus!”

Jin sneered. “Who’s the fool, Tanja? Wasting your time fighting over scraps. Matias had it right from the start. The virus can have this hellhole. This baby’s my ticket to Tertiary One.”

Tanja seethed. “You’re no better than that murderer Matias—”

Jin pumped the trigger. The air crackled with static. Koji kicked and weaved. A flash streaked across his shoulder, and the stench of burnt flesh invaded his nostrils before his bio-relays let him feel the pain. He twisted his body in time to see Jin sail backward through the outer portal.

“Get that bastard!” Tanja said from nearby. “I’ll catch up.”

Koji jammed his feet into the command console and shoved off. He spiraled through the spaceport, drawing his Smith & Wesson. The hallway connecting the spaceport to the lobby went dark with a loud pop. The infected gun’s transceivers must’ve still been active—the virus was already taking hold.

Koji sailed into the upper lobby as the elevator doors were sliding shut. He kicked his foot through the gap and the doors halted, then sprang open. Using his residual momentum he spun in a tight circle, then planted his feet against the far wall. He heaved himself into the elevator. His shoulder struck Jin in the chest and they splayed out in opposite directions. Koji whipped his Smith & Wesson about and pointed the barrel at Jin’s forehead.

“Drop it, kid.”

Jin laughed. “That old relic isn’t even loaded. Checked it myself.”

Koji sighed. Jin swung his energy rifle to bear. His finger twitched against the trigger.

A shot echoed through the chamber. Jin slammed into the wall in a spray of blood droplets, flechette round embedded in his chest.

“This one’s loaded.” Tanja lay against the far wall of the lobby, pistol clenched in her hand.

Koji exhaled. He plucked the fuse canister from Jin’s grip and slid it inside his shirt.


She raised an eyebrow. “Not loaded?”

Koji shrugged. “You know how hard it is to find ammo for this thing?”

The overhead lights dimmed, then flicked off.

Tanja’s face went slack. “The virus.”

She pushed off from the wall and snagged the discarded EMP blaster. The side display read “ARMED"—its optical shielding had held up. She fired a silent burst at the elevator.

“Too late.” Koji’s face was pressed against the elevator’s viewport. Down a dizzying stretch, the spoke was already browning out, section by section as each firewall crumbled silently before the virus.

“If it hits the habitat, we’re shivved,” Tanja said. “Hydroponics, medicals, refrigeration. It’ll fry everything we got left.”

“We have to shut down the spoke.”

“Can’t, not from up here. Safety precaution.”

Koji looked around. “Ok, then. Suit up.”


“And bring the blaster.”

He shoved a pressure suit into her hands and pulled another over his own clothes, careful not to tamper with the optical shielding. The controls flicked on. Still clean. Magnetic buckles clicked into place. The helmet valves hissed with compressed air. He grabbed a jetpack and pulled Tanja into the elevator, then clipped their suits together, chest to chest.

“You’re full of bad ideas,” Tanja said. She nabbed Jin’s sidearm and unloaded on the glass viewport. The material splintered and cracked, then flew outward in a rush of pressurized air that took Koji and Tanja with it.

They spun out of control through the void. Koji kicked on the jetpacks. Compressed air burst out in a stream. He angled them toward the base of the spoke with a few pulses, then fired it up to max. The solar array rushed toward them.

The panels were a lattice of interwoven material—soft enough to break through at a walking pace, but an impact at this velocity would shred their suits. He kicked the jets to the side until they lined up with one of the hexagonal holes between the panels. They rushed through and he immediately had to fire in the opposite direction to line up with the next one. This time he missed his mark, and the frame slammed into his outstretched foot. He grunted and looked down. No tear. He kicked the jets in the opposite direction and burst through the final hexagon.

Past the solar array, the station’s inner ring swept up to meet them. He jetted them up and over the lip—the same route his shuttle had taken not long ago—then back into the disk. Polarizers on his helmet shifted the world dark as the reflected light of the inner ring’s mirrors blasted them from behind.

Koji shook sweat from his brow. They’d drifted too far from the spoke during his maneuvers—he had to reorient them. He twisted the jets to the side, and in a rush the atmospheric containment mesh slammed into them at well over a hundred kilometers per hour. The stuff sucked them in and spat them out the other side with a dizzying pop.

Inside the artificial atmosphere, the jetpack’s pneumatics were a deafening roar. In the distance, the infected spoke had browned-out nearly to the base, with just a single segment still illuminated. If they could blow the power to that segment with an EMP pulse, the virus would be stranded in the spoke. If not, they were screwed.

Tanja raised her blaster and fired an invisible electromagnetic burst at the segment. Nothing happened.

She shot him a glare and pointed to the spoke. Her lips formed the word: “Closer.”

The surface was rushing toward them at a frightening clip. Koji angled the pneumatics and blasted them toward the spoke. He gave it too much gas, though, and the force nearly slammed them both into the glass before he was able to whip the jets around and correct his mistake.

Tanja pumped the trigger repeatedly. The last segment flickered and popped, then went dark. She shot him a thumbs-up.

He smiled, then caught sight of the surface and gaped. They were coming in too hot. He cut the jets, kicked them to a standing position relative to the surface, then cranked the power to full blast.

The jetpack roared, then sputtered and went out. The pressure gauge dropped to red.

A rush of branches and leaves enveloped them. They tumbled down a sharp slope, tethered together. Underbrush tore at his suit, and his helmet slammed against the ground. They skidded across a stretch of dirt and came to a halt.

He reached a hand up and unclipped the tether. Both of them flopped onto their backs. The reflected light of the mirror array beat down on him from overhead. He reached aching hands up to unclip his helmet.

Tanja was lying on the ground next to him spread-eagled. He popped her helmet.

Her face was drenched in sweat. She cocked a wry grin.

“Damn, Earthman. You sure know how to party.”


Koji punched in the entry sequence and flushed the capsule into space. It was a dented old launch capsule held together with more adhesive than original material, and it had made Koji’s ride back to the starship a nauseating adventure. But it was the best Tanja could offer, and he wasn’t in a position to complain. The capsule drifted alongside his starship before the thrusters kicked in and sped it back toward the hulking mass of Peripheral Six.

“Cargo away.”

Tanja snapped into view on the overhead. She was back in the Runner encampment, and the dim light of cylinder-heaters flickered across her face. Trumpets wailed in the distance.

“It’s gonna help us more than you know. You did us right. Heading back to your white-walled city?” The last words slipped like venom from her lips.


“Don’t tell me it’s the wrong stuff. No way I’m going back up there.”

Koji shook his head. “The fuse checks out. But I have my own plans.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You do that, and the terts will never take you back.”

“I know.” Koji narrowed his eyes. “But if I hand the fuse over to them, they’ll hoard it for themselves. This is too important to save for the privileged few. I just needed the terts to tell me where to find the fuse.”

She appraised him across the feed. “Always got something up your sleeve.”

He smiled thinly.

She pressed her lips together, as if weighing her next words. “So, it can be replicated? Distributed?”

“With the help of an expert, it can.”

Tanja’s eyes widened an increment. “A tech genius.”

Koji nodded. “It’ll also take time, and resources—things that only exist at Primary, if at all.”

Tanja glanced away. When she looked back, her expression had softened. “Don’t suppose I’ll be seeing you around, then.”

Koji sat in silence, hoping the heaviness in his chest would lift on its own. Instead, it sank deeper still. Time was not friendly in matters of interstellar distances.

“Probably not,” he said at last.

Tanja exhaled slowly. “So long, Earthman.”

The video feed winked out, replaced by the spinning girth of Peripheral Six.

“So long, Tanja,” he said.

He pulled himself to the back of the living capsule, where a long glass tube lay on its side. Inside the glass, Zoe lay asleep, eyes closed. Disheveled black hair framed her freckled face. She was still wearing those same grungy overalls from a time long forgotten. Her left hand was an intricate weave of titanium plates, as was her right foot.

Beside the tube, the fuse canister sat embedded in a smooth black machine. A digital display read: “Scan complete—FUSE partitioned and primed.”

He tapped the display, then withdrew a small canister from the output side. Roughly half the contents of the original canister hung suspended within, emitting a faint orange glow. He slid it into the cryotank’s receptacle and punched the activation sequence. The glass went dark, then hissed open.

“Time to wake up, Zoe. We’ve got work to do.” END

Derrick Boden is fifteen-year veteran web developer. He wrote his first science fiction novel when he was in the fourth grade. Since then, his fiction has appeared in “The Colored Lens,” “Saturday Night Reader,” and “Theme of Absence.”


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