Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Saturday Night in Saskatchewan
by Steve Stanton

Praise the System
by J. Richard Jacobs

Network Outage Engineer
by Erin Lale

Unintentional Colonists by Elizabeth Guizzetti

Mr. Weston’s Key
by Todd A. Burnett

Central Battle Command, Allied Forces: Day Four by Marilyn K. Martin

We Do Not Serve Weeping Men
by Eric Del Carlo


Zeros ... All Those Zeros! by Eric M. Jones

Facing Facts—And Analyzing Them
by John McCormick





Comic Strips



Saturday Night in Saskatchewan

By Steve Stanton

THE HOSPITAL BUZZED Brad Markham during the first intermission of Hockey Night in Canada. The Toronto Maple Leafs were losing, and the announcers were gabbing about trade deadlines and future prospects. His beer had gone warm and stale in his hand. “Doctor Markham,” he said as he fumbled his phone to his ear.

“Brad, it’s Macy. We’ve got a situation in Maternity.”

Brad winced at the sound of her voice, battle-axe Winters, Head Nurse in Pediatrics. “It’s not my gig, Macy. It’s my night off. Every third Saturday, remember?”

“I know,” she said. “I thought you’d be interested in this one.”

She wouldn’t try to pull rank on him over the phone. She’d try to wheedle him, break him down. He felt a portent of doom. “How far along is she?”

“Eight centimeters dilated, contractions every five minutes.”

“Ultrasound on file?”

“No, she’s a walk-in from the Project.”

A walk-in? Who shows up for a birth without a prelim these days? Some migrant worker from the spaceship construction camp? Brad rubbed furrows on his brow. “Well, how does she look?”

Macy’s hesitation grew palpable. “I guess she looks okay. The baby’s head is in good position.”

“You guess?”

“I wouldn’t call if I didn’t need you, Doctor. Are you coming in or not?”

Her voice had gone icy, all too familiar. He could imagine Macy Winters at her command post, running her fingers through her short brown hair, teasing it into the perpetual tousle she wore like a crown, standing firm and grim and keeping it all together. Brad sighed. “I’ll be there in twenty. Feel free to start without me.” He walked to the kitchen and dumped the dregs of his beer down the sink, then pulled on his parka and left the TV blaring as he locked the door behind him. He hated coming home to a quiet apartment, his hamster cage in the middle of Saskatchewan, over three thousand snow-covered kilometers from his nearest relative.

His black Porsche Cayman came to life with a thrum of power as he keyed the ignition. What the hell, he was pulling down six figures. So what if he was stuck in a frozen outpost working in a hospital named after a politician? He had speculative investments and a good shot at freedom-forty-nine in some tropical clime far away from the damned alien Project. His Porsche accelerated like a scared cat as Brad pulled onto the freeway. He gunned the pedal to pass a transport truck loaded with sheet steel. The alien spaceship glinted like a jewel in the distance, a floodlit skeleton surrounded by cranes and scaffolding. The Project looked like a giant mushroom, not sleek and aerodynamic like the shiny cartoon rocketships on TV, but squat and bulbous and ugly. The arcane secrets of antigraviton-field drive were being earned with blood money from Canadian taxpayers and sweat equity from vagrant workers. One new spaceship for the Gargoyles, one bold future for mankind.

Brad Markham bumped his car over icy ruts as he took the off-ramp to the hospital. Of all the places in the world, why had the Gargoyles chosen this frozen wasteland to commission the Project? Was northern Saskatchewan the closest thing to the weather conditions on their home world, or were they just trying to minimize the tourist traffic? Brad pulled into the staff lot and swiped his access card. He slid under the gate with a throaty purr and parked his black beauty with care, near the back, away from the main traffic zone where the interns trundled their battered Toyotas. His Porsche chirped happily as he pressed the lock button twice with a backhand stab, never too careful with his baby. He put on his plastic smile and went back to work.

Macy Winters was not at her command post. Brad shrugged on a lab coat over his street clothes and scrubbed up. He sauntered toward the delivery room and found two security guards barring his way. He fished around for his laminate and clipped it to his collar, wondering what procedural protocol had summoned such attention on a quiet Saturday evening.

“Doctor Markham,” one of the guards said as the other tagged Brad with a reader and took his confidence down a notch.

Brad found Macy Winters in the delivery room with two, count ‘em, two able-bodied young nurses: Sarina Rogers, a gorgeous brunette he had dated a few times with as yet unrequited lust, and Dawn Groedin, a mousy Dutch blond. A team of four to deliver a healthy baby? He almost laughed as he breezed forward. “Well, the gang’s all—”

He stopped in sudden shock and blinked with disbelief. The mother on the birthing bed was a seven-foot Gargoyle with green scaly skin and a yellow beach-ball belly. She mewled a throaty growl and repositioned her burden. Her bent knees pointed up from grotesque, trunklike legs and triple-toed feet, her stubby tail propping her genitalia up in the air on a sturdy tripod. She was ready to go.

Sarina squirted water past white fangs from a squeeze bottle. “Hello, Brad,” she said with a furtive smile.

“Nurse Winters,” he said, turning with slow deliberation to face Macy, “you failed to mention that the patient was a Gargoyle.”

“Sorry.” Macy stared him down, her taut face a granite mask of impassivity.

“I don’t believe I’m authorized—”

“Well, who the hell else is going to do it?”

Brad pressed his lips together in what he hoped might be a smile. “Can we confer?” he asked, and stepped over to a scrub sink in the corner. He began to wash his hands mechanically, falling back to routine for composure.

“Does she speak English?” he whispered.

“No, we can’t get a thing out of her.”

“Shouldn’t she be, you know ...” He pointed his eyes up. “... on the mothership?”

“I contacted their Embassy the moment she arrived,” Macy said. “It's a complicated situation. Our patient is a prostitute, very low caste. She does not have a license to procreate. The Ambassador assured me that my diagnosis was in error.”


“That’s the official translation.”

Brad glanced back at the alien on the delivery bed. “It looks pretty obvious to me.”

Macy Winters frowned and ducked her head conspiratorially. “All male Gargoyles are sterilized at birth,” she murmured. “They're not allowed to breed, except by court order. They live in a closed system aboard ship.”

Brad exhaled. He had been holding his breath for a long time.

“They promised to send a medical team and a translator, but it might take hours. It’s up to us, Brad, I’m sorry.”

He shook his head with resignation. “You keep saying that.”

The Head Nurse visibly relaxed. “Are you ready, then? She’s fully dilated, but the baby’s stalled.”

Doctor Markham turned dutifully and snapped on sterile gloves as he stepped toward the patient. “Nurse Groedin, can you punch up some soft music there behind you. Let’s try to keep things calm. Nurse Rogers, what’s our status?”

Sarina looked at her chart. “Contractions every three, sometimes four minutes, twelve centimeters dilated, but no presentation.”

Brad bent forward for a visual inspection of this exotic creature, a green gorilla with body armor like a dragon. Rough scales on muscular thighs gave way to a texture like chain mail on the upper leg and then to leathery brown skin, hairless. Her prominent clitoris curled up like a cashew above gaping green labia. Between her vulva and the base of her tail a puckered pink anus was stretched and beginning to protrude. Pretty basic stuff. He could do this.

He examined the mother’s face, surprised momentarily by a glimpse of anthropomorphic femininity underlying her features. She grimaced at him and slipped a forked tongue through green lips. Her nostrils flared on a broad, flattened nose as convoluted ears pointed up with menace. Scales like bony carapace covered her bulging forehead and huge brain, but grew gradually finer in size and detail on her patterned snakeskin face, glinting like shiny sequins around her mouth and eyes—what miraculous evolutionary convergence, a gorilla with the head of a lizard and fingers like daggers. How could a primate and a reptile possibly have conjoined to produce this xeno-mammalian monstrosity?

The alien tightened with contractions and huffed a snarl.

“Easy, girl, easy,” he cooed. He massaged her swollen yellow belly with a gentle caress. The baby was almost there, headfirst in perfect position—nothing more natural than live birth. Brad chewed the inside of his lip as he looked down at triple toes curled like scimitars around the edges of the delivery bed, any one of which could easily eviscerate an unfortunate observer. “Nurse Winters, get two stirrups out of the supply cabinet and some nylon rope.”

He heard her spring away behind him on sensible shoes as he continued his inspection. Metal doors banged open and closed. Macy returned and together they placed the patient’s feet into stirrups and tied down the alien talons. When he felt it was safe, Brad reached up inside the creature with a fetal monitor. “Heartbeat slow and irregular. The baby’s in distress.”

The Gargoyle snarled and strained against her bonds as she tightened with a contraction. She gnashed her fangs and cursed in a foreign guttural growl.

“That’s it,” he said. “Push, girl. Give it all you’ve got.”

“Nawg!” the Gargoyle snarled.

“Yes!” he shouted back.

The baby didn’t budge.

“Forceps,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got to get this baby out or we’re going to lose it.”

Macy Winters dashed to a supply cabinet and sprinted back with a pair of stainless steel tongs. “Episiotomy?” she asked.

Brad paused in consideration. Could he cut a hockey stick in this alien creature? Could he be sure of her anatomy, her ability to heal? He grinned with wanton humor. “What would I cut her with, a chainsaw?” Keep it light, keep it cool, keep working. He carefully positioned spoons on either side of the baby’s head. He tilted the forehead slightly to get a better angle on the shoulder. He braced himself for the next contraction. “This is it, mom. Give me a good one.”

The Gargoyle huffed and tightened.

Brad pulled, gently with increasing pressure. His arms and shoulders strained.

The baby’s head popped out, purply red and smooth-skinned. Brad checked the neck for obstruction with his finger. “Cord’s caught tight around the chin. Scissors,” he barked. What else could go wrong? No measurable pulse. “Scissors, damn it.” They appeared in front of him. He snipped quickly and untangled fleshy rope, his fingers slick with blood. He felt a faint but unmistakable heartbeat. “One more push. Get ready.”

He stared up at the mother, directly into black alien orbs that had learned to focus by the light of a distant star. He spoke slowly, with critical care that would carry intent without meaning: “Give me this baby now!

The Gargoyle howled when the next contraction hit. She bore down and strained as Brad pulled for life, for destiny, and with a slurping gush the child slipped out amid a torrent of placental fluid. Brad Markham blinked and stared. He could not believe his eyes. In his hands he held a human baby, healthy pink and choking weakly. A baby girl. He scooped blood and mucous out of her tiny mouth. He gaped in awe.

Sarina Rogers stepped in to clip and snip, and Dawn Groedin wrapped a clean blanket around the newborn and began to rub patches of sticky gray vernix from her face. Brad stood frozen, watching from infinite distance as Macy Winters delivered a black placenta into a stainless steel bowl.

No way, no possible way. Different species do not mix or match, never have, never will. Even if some drunken steelworker poked his welding torch in the wrong place at the right time, the DNA could never commingle, not without a spontaneous redesign, a deliberate alliance of incompatible sperm and egg. Brad struggled with the simple rules of genetics, searching for an explanation. Perhaps a human fetus had been implanted in her womb as a paid surrogate, perhaps this was some crazy frontier research experiment. He peered closer at the scrunched up face and saw a yellow nictitating membrane slip over tiny eyeballs. He examined the baby carefully: two arms, two legs, ten fingers and toes, one stubby pink tail.

A death spiral twisted in his stomach as the word alien took on new and dreadful meaning. He’d have to report this to civil authorities. He was on the hook for a scientific impossibility, a blasphemy against reason. His life would never be the same. Brad wanted to go home and watch television, he wanted the Maple Leafs to stage a miraculous third-period comeback and win the hockey game, then make the playoffs and clinch the Stanley Cup. He wanted a cold beer and relative obscurity.

“Doctor Markham?” Macy Winters held the baby forward with grim concern. “Doctor Markham?” she repeated.


“Should we try to nurse?”

Brad blinked his eyes back into focus. The Gargoyle's xeno-mammalian torso looked like war armor with teats, a comic-book super-villain. “Sure.” He bent forward and offered the tiny bundle. “Hey, mama,” he cooed, “look what I’ve got.”

The Gargoyle growled at him with menace.

“Baby just wants a drink,” he persisted.

“Nawg,” the Gargoyle snarled and swiped at him with a single talon, slicing through his lab coat and street clothes and cutting his upper arm. She blinked nictitating membranes at him in anger.

Brad recoiled and stared at the spreading bloodstain on his lab coat. Filthy alien whore! He stifled an exclamation with a calming wave of professional decorum. What the hell, what did he know? He was no xenobiologist. He was a simple country doctor, a bumpkin. Macy Winters checked his wound and began mopping blood with a gauze towel. He pulled away and summoned himself to action.

“Sarina, get an incubator ready to standard human specs. Get a feeding tube ready and a syringe with basic nutrients.” He turned to the Head Nurse. “You and Groedin give the mother a sedative to quiet her down, then slap breast pumps on those teats. I want a complete chemical analysis of whatever comes out. Call the lab and get me top priority.” He swept them all with an imperious glare that came from somewhere far beyond himself. “We’re going to save this damn baby.”

They scuttled to action and got a feeding tube up the girl’s nose and down her esophagus. They started her on a nutrient solution by gravity feed and she kept it down. Her temperature was one degree above human normal but stabilized. Breathing seemed irregular, so they pumped the incubator with oxygen and watched her constantly. Gargoyle mother slept while bagged milk went for analysis. News came in that the Leafs had lost another game.

When calm prevailed, Brad slipped away to the men’s room to relieve his bladder. His hands trembled with anxiety as he finally recycled his beer into the urinal with a sigh of abandon. What a night. What a mess. The door opened behind him and he craned his neck to see Macy Winters enter the male sanctuary. He hung his head. No rest for the righteous.

“I need the keys to your car,” she said as he zipped up.


“The keys to your car.”

Brad turned to face her. “No way.”

Macy vibrated with anxiety, gruff and businesslike. “A medical truck just arrived out front from the Project. Three Gargoyles and a translator are making inquiries at the front desk. We think they'll take the baby.”

“Well, why don't we hand her over?”

Macy's eyebrows shot up and Brad recognized the hackles of maternal instinct. “This is a human baby, Brad.”

“What about the tail?”

Macy stiffened and braced firm hands on her hips. “That’s just a fashion statement. They're already doing tails in California. She's not even setting a trend.”

“We'll never get away with it.”

“We already have. I've logged a stillborn certificate with Groedin and Rogers. Lawrence in the morgue has bagged and tagged a surrogate corpse for incineration. We think the mother will be characteristically uncooperative with the authorities.”

“Jesus, Macy.”

“Jesus is on our side, Brad. Sarina is already headed downstairs.” She held out an open palm. “Give me the keys.”

He shook his head. No way he was handing over his black beauty. As if ever. “I’ll drive,” he said.

Macy scrutinized his face and dropped her arm. “Fine. Go.” She stepped aside. “I’ll delete your name from my duty notes.”

Brad rushed to the basement parking level and dashed to his Porsche to find Sarina with a pink bundle in her arms and a backpack filled with supplies.

“This is probably illegal,” he said as he popped the lock. “In fact I'm sure of it.”

“Where’s Macy?”

“Upstairs. I’m driving.” Brad took her backpack and stowed it behind the passenger seat.

“You know we can’t go home,” she said.

He straightened to study her. “What do you mean?”

Sarina sighed with determination as she nestled carefully into his Porsche with the child. “They’ve got webcam on us, Brad. Macy’s plan will only stall for a few hours at best, and probably cost her career. We’ve got to clear out our bank accounts and disappear forever.” She waved him forward with her arm. “Hurry up.”

“What the hell?” Brad clambered into his car and checked over his shoulder for cops or Gargoyles. He drove out of the parking lot with care, trying to focus his raging imagination. Kidnap a baby and disappear forever? What madness was this? A tiny pink miracle peered at him from under a hospital blanket and mewed like a kitten, an impossible incarnation of recombinant DNA. A pretty nurse stared at him with compassion, the sweetheart he had lusted after for months on end.

Brad swiped his card at the gate and steered slowly past an ambulance plastered with alien language, crooked hooks and arrows framed by dancing whorls of punctuation. He felt something defiant building in his gonads, a numinous pride of genomic sanctification. Sarina studied him with grim destiny on her face and the promise of adventure in her beautiful eyes. Brad smiled with hard assurance, took the ramp to the freeway and sped away into the darkness with the twilight gleam of the Project in his rearview mirror. 

Steve Stanton is the author of The Bloodlight Chronicles trilogy. His science-fiction stories have been published in sixteen countries and a dozen languages. He is President of SF Canada, and was recently interviewed by Canada Writes.