Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan


Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs





Comic Strips



Joshua Who Could See

By Elizabeth Streeter

TODAY IS THE DAY JOSHUA Gamble has been waiting for.

The sun presses through the dusty windows running the full length of the warehouse space where Joshua lives. He pulls on his pants and brushes his teeth. He skips breakfast.

Joshua lets the metal gate guarding the outside of his building click shut and joins the throngs of people rushing up and down the sidewalk, bumping and jostling, cutting one another off in a race to be first to reach the next bit of space in front of them. The morning throngs differ from the afternoon throngs—in the morning each person emerges from their own cocoon, alone. But by the afternoon, having mixed around together all day, they congeal into little clumps, discussing the day or their nasty coworkers or picking up on one another. Except the ones who still want to be alone, or who get forgotten altogether.

Joshua keeps his head down, black sunglasses shielding his eyes. He focuses on nothing. The doctors taught him this technique. It will calm you, they said. Keep you from getting overwhelmed. Keep you from hurting yourself.

Unfortunately, the sidewalk under Joshua’s feet still peels away to reveal what is underneath, old layers of pavement, a sewer line, conduit filled with wires pumping power to this building or that ... his head spins with vertigo as the ground drops off and endless space opens up deeper and deeper. The dull throbbing pain in his head, never completely gone, reasserts itself.

Joshua cuts off his gaze from the abyss below him by squinting his eyelids shut and hurrying on. He can’t look at any one thing for too long. Definitely not people. That’s the worst. Bones and sinews, the cancer lurking there in the spinal column ...

The woman on the train last night was not amused. “See a doctor,” Joshua had said. “Please. There is still time. The growth is small, yet. You can get it out before it is too late.”

Mostly, though, Joshua has learned to keep his vision to himself.

He turns a corner into an alleyway already packed at this hour with parked cars from one end to the other. These are the people who get up extra early for the free spaces. Every foot of curb is occupied, bumper to bumper. The line only breaks for the massive rolling doors and driveways on the backs of the buildings, each plastered with angry (okay maybe not angry, but insistent—assertive, perhaps) signage in bright colors. Loading zone. No parking. Don’t even think about it.

Joshua takes a route down the center of the alley, where you only encounter double-parked delivery trucks. Dollies crash to the ground with boxes stacked on top of them to roll through the big doors. This one contains nothing but blank paper. That one, illegal copies of DVDs. Joshua looks through them in passing as he hurries by.

As a person Joshua is neither big nor small, tall nor short. He keeps his in-between blond and brown colored hair cropped short, he picked out his unremarkable solid blue zippered jacket at a department store last August. He gives the non-impression of a bland, generic guy. You could base the stick figures used on the bathroom signs on him. He walks at an average pace, not the gait of anyone particularly young, nor old.

Joshua has mastered the art of being unremarkable. A life spent removing stimuli, keeping everything simple, paring life down to only the essentials so that it would (hopefully) not fly apart into a horrible mess.

Even now though, as he walks down the alley, the rolling doors fall away under his gaze to reveal machine shops, a film studio, boxes and boxes of contraband, and now here’s a desk, a metal desk with those horrible squeaky drawers, the middle one containing a revolver, recently fired, and a passport on top of an envelope containing expired plane tickets ...

The pain in his head worsens, throbbing and rolling around in his temples like a bowling ball.

Joshua looks away and back down at the ground, he must not let his eyes stay still. His pace quickens, dull brown shoes moving along in even steps past the trash and the puddles. Where is this place? He puts his hands on either side of his head like blinders. The sun’s glare hitting the water on the ground makes it hard to make out the numbers on the doors.

1022, 1087, here it is, 1101.

Joshua presses the buzzer mounted at waist level next to a battleship grey door stuck in a brick wall. Nothing. He presses again, then steps back and takes a look through the building. A long hallway, then a flight of metal stairs. He looks upward through the second floor, deep into the back of the building, and there’s Doctor Morris, the woman with whom he has an appointment today.

Unfortunately Doctor Morris has company. Suits. Big people, looks like. She appears tense, with good reason. Looking around Joshua determines that the suits each wear a firearm of some sort. Although one of them forgot to load, that’s too bad. The rest look to be in good working order. Joshua takes a quick glance through their pockets. Each one carries ID, one of them chews a lot of gum, of course two of them wear wires. The kicker, though, is the syringe in the big one’s pocket, which he assumes is some sort of sedative. Nice touch.

There was always a pretty good chance this would happen, that the suits would get here before the process was complete. Joshua buzzes again. The door pops open.

The brown shoes go pong, pong up the metal stairs, making a deep echo much larger than his actual footsteps. This would be a great place to pretend to be a giant.

Joshua reaches the top floor. The stairs open out abruptly into a large open space, with no interior walls except a tiny room set off in the corner. Everyone, the suits and the doctor, turns to face him.

“Good morning, Doctor Morris,” says Joshua, ignoring the suits and staring straight at her. The doctor looks pale. She’s about sixty, elegant, green eyes, salt and pepper hair that reaches her shoulders. Tailored outfit and pumps to go with her lab coat. And, Joshua notes, that broken leg she got skiing last winter appears to have healed up nicely.

Currently Doctor Morris sits with her back perfectly straight in a metal office chair. Joshua looks around and picks out the formula, hidden behind her in a countertop refrigerator in the tiny room. A miniscule vial, with no label. Only about half-full. Ah well, the vial is always half-full, Joshua thinks to himself.

“Hello Joshua,” says Doctor Morris carefully, “these gentlemen would like a word with you.”

“Well, I would not like a word with them.”

“Mr. Gamble, I’m afraid that’s not your decision,” interjects a suit.

“Who’s this gang?” asks Joshua, still looking at the doctor and jabbing out his thumb toward the suits.

“They are with a special program, Joshua. They say that you need to help them. That you can save lives.”

Joshua considers this. “Do you think I can save lives, doctor?” asks Joshua.

“Yes Joshua, I do. But I also think you have made your decision.”

Joshua turns to face the suits for the first time. “That’s right,” he says, “I have made my decision. So why don’t you all be on your way.”

Joshua shifts his attention to the alley outside the window where there sits a white van, double-parked (of course since all the parking spots are taken), two men in front, one in back, lots of equipment. Screens. Hey, there’s his own face. He smiles. Not a bad shot. Kind of grainy, though. Black and white.

In the rear of the van he picks out shackles, an IV bag. Nice setup. And also just beyond the van, looks like his favorite muffins in the coffee shop on the corner.

“I highly recommend the blueberry muffins at Stacy’s Coffee Stop,” says Joshua, returning his attention to his immediate surroundings. “Stacy is putting out a fresh batch, just now. Why don’t you go down and try one, and leave us alone.”

“You know we can’t do that,” says the Big Suit in Charge, a fellow who stands a bit taller than the rest and looks like he certainly eats his fair share of muffins.

“Why, watching your girlish figure?” says Joshua.

Big Suit steps forward, shiny black shoes glistening. “Mister Gamble, we mean you no harm. But you must understand, we do intend for you to come with us by whatever means you make necessary.”

Joshua raises his eyebrows. “That I make necessary? So I am the cause of this in your puny mind? I did not invite you here. How can I be the cause?” Joshua turns away. “Doctor, we have work to do. The formula, please.” He extends his hand.

Doctor Morris stands. “You stay put, there, Doctor Morris,” says Big Suit. She lowers back down into her seat.

“The formula,” Joshua repeats impatiently.

Doctor Morris looks first at Joshua, then at the suits, her pumps planted to the ground, sitting ramrod straight in the chair.

“Look, they’re not going to shoot us,” says Joshua. “We know too much. We are such useful people. Me, I’ve got my little parlor trick, and you, you have the know-how to reverse it. We’re like, a carnival. A sideshow. I mean, who else can say that?”

“Which means,” Joshua continues, “that these fine people have some interesting theories about how we can help them, too. Isn’t that right, gentlemen? By the way you’re totally wrong, but it’s not your job to decide, is it. Just following orders. You people are clowns.”

The suits step forward, slowly, together, tightening the space around Joshua.

Doctor Morris stands again and backs up toward the tiny room. “I’m not going to help you,” she says to the suits. Her voice quivers. That did not come out anywhere near as forcefully as she had hoped it would, or as it had sounded in her head before she spoke. Her move has the desired effect, though, of causing attention temporarily to shift to her. Attention that practically makes her wince. Doctor Morris has a distinguished career, in the lab. Not out in front of people like this. This is foreign territory.

“She’s not going to help you,” Joshua repeats. “She’s going to help me.”

Doctor Morris reaches into the pocket of her white lab coat and grabs a syringe, pulls it out and tosses it to Joshua. Genius. Of course she’s got it on her. Joshua snatches it in midair before the suits can react.

Everyone freezes and the suits all put their hands out, palms facing him, the posture you assume when attempting to talk someone down off of a ledge.

“Mister Gamble,” says Big Suit, “let’s just calm down here a minute. Give that there to me, and I assure you that nobody gets hurt.” Behind him hands make their way toward firearms in holsters. Big Suit takes another step forward, one hand with the palm out, the other hand extended. The folks in the van in the street peer into their screens, barking orders into earpieces.

Joshua watches the hearts beat faster, circulation increasing. Boy, the big one has some plaque buildup in those arteries. He really should see a physician about that. Cut down on the cholesterol or something. Maybe muffins are not such a good idea.

“I won’t be giving this to you,” says Joshua, brandishing the syringe needle at them. Nobody likes needles, so this has the effect of keeping everyone at bay, at least momentarily.

A Secondary Suit starts forward, presumably to subdue their uncooperative target, but Big Suit puts up a hand. The action stops as if someone pressed the pause button. They all stand, looking at one another.

Big Suit tries another strategy. “I have a question, Mister Gamble, if you don’t mind. What is it that you want, exactly?”

“What do I want? Is this the part where you offer me a lifetime of comfort, the protection of your fine organization, a small island? Things you have no intention of actually giving me, but they sound great and weaken my resolve?”

“Just tell us what you want, Mister Gamble.”

Joshua looks around the room, at Doctor Morris, through the walls at the people walking by, into the air at the planes flying overhead. The luggage in the planes. The wires in the planes. The lady asleep in Row C. He squints his eyes shut, shaking his head from side to side to throw off the vision. Then, his eyes snap open.

“I want to play the violin.”

Big Suit’s eyebrows rise. “The violin, fine. We will get you one. Stanley,” he speaks into a device on his wrist, “we need a violin. Pronto, like.”

“No no, you idiot,” Joshua rolls his eyes, “you don’t understand. I want to play. The violin. I want to read the music off of the page. I want to hear the sound. I want to draw the bow across the strings and I want to hear the notes. I don’t want to see atoms, or molecules, I don’t want to see the insides of the strings. I want to play Bach. And the only thing I want to see is, the sheet music, the bow, and the faces of people listening. Just their faces. I don’t want to see the blood cells in the backs of their eyes, I just want to see their faces as they are listening. No. No.” He puts up his hand. “You know what? Forget that. I don’t even care if anyone is listening. I just want to play. The violin. That’s it. Oh, also, maybe the cello. The cello is nice.”

Joshua paces as he speaks, gesturing with his free hand but holding the syringe in his other hand almost as if it were a weapon. All eyes in the room follow the syringe. That is a long needle.

“But you all,” says Joshua, turning and waving dismissively, “You all want to be able to see the way I do. Have you ever asked yourselves, why is that? Why do you want that? What is it that you want to see?”

Big suit opens his mouth to offer up something lofty about saving lives, helping your country, seeing enemy weapons installations before they are fully built, discovering caches of nuclear material, finding kidnap victims, but Joshua cuts him off and points the syringe at the man’s face.

“I’ll tell you why. Because you want to see more than the other guy. That’s it. There’s no ultimate truth to be had by seeing more than you can see now. You will never see it all. You think a squirrel running around on your front lawn in your tidy suburb has any less grip on reality than you do? Wrong. Wrong. It just sees different things than you, that squirrel. You know what you, me, all of us have in common with that squirrel?”

“Please, tell us what we have in common with the squirrel,” says Big Suit, trying hard to be patient. Might as well let this little, unremarkable-looking man finish his tantrum.

Joshua continues. “None of us, not one of us, will ever have the full picture, no matter how much we can see. None of us has the ultimate truth. Nobody. Not you, not the squirrel, and not me. All you want is, to get ahead of the other guys. And you want me to make that possible for you. It’s not about truth, it’s about beating somebody else. Knowing more than somebody else. Winning the race. Staying ahead of the other guy. That’s it.”

“Mister Gamble,” says Big Suit, “I understand ... we understand how difficult this capability must be for you. How exhausting. And, if I might be frank ...”

“Oh, be frank, by all means,” snaps Joshua.

“Well, to be honest, it would seem that your, talent, it has driven you, shall we say, a little mad.”

“A little mad, you shall say!” says Joshua. “I saw cancer in some lady on the train last night. Plain as day, there it was. So, I told her about it. And you know what? She didn’t want to talk to me. Here I am, saving her life, her stupid life, and she doesn’t want to hear it. Why? Because she didn’t understand. You think you will understand something just because you know about it? Well, you’re wrong. Seeing makes it worse. It makes it much worse, I can tell you. What is the good of seeing something, if you can’t understand anything about it? I can see all your stupid firearms, oh and by the way, you, sir, didn’t load yours ... and I can see your van, and all your equipment, and I can see the sewer system, and I can see the muffins in the shop on the corner. What is that? Just more information. More crap. More cable channels. That’s all. So tell me, who is mad, in that scenario? Just me?”

Big Suit softens his body language. Trying not to look threatening, he might be actually getting somewhere. “Mister Gamble, perhaps it would help you, in your travels through life, to know that your gift was helping people. Making a difference. We can assist you, give you a sense of purpose.”

“I don’t want a sense of purpose from you people!” yells Joshua. “And just imagine all this capability in the hands of idiots like you. Saving lives. As if that’s what you’re going to do with it. You know what makes you people go? Fear. That’s it. You think that if you can see the way I do, you can get ahead of the fear. You can beat out the other guy, the scary guy. The militia on the other side of the planet with some weapon or other. The crazy person you imagine is hiding in the jungle. The spies. The criminals. Well, you won’t. All you will do is make the world that much scarier for the people on the other side. You will be the bogeymen. And that, in turn, will make them scarier to you. And so on, and so on. And that’s the game, forever.”

Joshua has positioned his thumb on the end of the syringe. He throws forward his opposite arm, and in one motion jabs the syringe into it, the needle going right through his jacket sleeve.

The skinniest and jumpiest of the suits yanks out his gun and fires at Joshua’s leg, to immobilize him the way they were taught at special-program-suits-school. Joshua drops to his knees, fumbling, pushing the serum into his veins. The needle snaps off in his arm and the suits are on top of him. They grab his unremarkable jacket by the shoulders and drag him toward the top of the stairs, a long smear of blood trailing behind his injured leg. As he goes, Joshua looks up at Doctor Morris and smiles.

In the seconds and minutes and hours and days immediately following, the suits will take hold of Joshua Gamble and carry him down the stairs, straight forward like they are planning to use him as a battering ram, shiny black shoes rushing along together. They will install Joshua in the van, sedate him, try different methods to reverse the serum’s effects. They will attempt unsuccessfully to extract the chemicals from his cells.

They will transport him to various nondescript facilities, testing and prodding him. But his mind will offer up nothing, his vision will be blank. Eventually the suits and their bosses will get the idea and dump Joshua out of an unmarked car into an empty street. He will roll to a stop, lie there on the asphalt for a minute, sit up, and then take a deep, satisfying breath when he sees that the pavement remains solid under his gaze.


Doctor Morris looks around at the furniture and broken glass strewn across the floor of her laboratory. She straightens her lab coat, grabs a broom, and begins the task of cleaning up. She will have to relocate, again. No time to stay still, someone will be back for the serum, she’s sure of it. Or, worse yet, they will be back for her. To extract from her exactly how she formulated the antidote, how she determined how many doses to administer, to kill the parasites without killing the patient. No one outside of the proper channels was supposed to even know of the parasites’ existence, or of Doctor Morris’ work on them. No one was supposed to know how a group of children, of a certain age in a particular town in a particular year, all grew up with this unusual affliction.

Doctor Morris had once been part of the proper channels. Her work had distinguished her from the beginning. Those were the days—big paychecks, posh laboratories, all the resources she needed.

But then, she met Joshua. She saw the torment in his face, and he had asked in a hushed voice, would she please help him. Make it go away. Forever. Please.

That’s when Doctor Morris left the safety of the proper channels and began working on her own.

As she sweeps, a single bit of glass, stuck there by a smear of Joshua’s blood, stays on the floor. She passes the broom over it again and again, trying to free it from the wood, but it stays put. She crouches down to pry it loose.

As she extends her index finger, she pricks it on the piece of glass and it begins to bleed. She pulls back, surprised, annoyed that she could be so stupid. She puts her finger in her mouth for a moment, then pulls it out takes a look at it.

The blood cells on her finger grow in size, until they are like red tennis balls. Their outer coverings peel away, revealing ever-smaller particles inside. She can see clearly that some of these cells are hers, some Joshua’s. She holds up her hand, the bones exposed, every muscle visible. She squeezes her eyes shut, but now she sees the circulation on the insides of her eyelids.

She opens her eyes and looks again for the bit of glass. The shard has expanded into a shining puddle in the floor, a rough-edged window, revealing the room below, the stairs, the ground, the plumbing ...

This isn’t how it was supposed to happen. Joshua was meant to walk in for his final appointment, the last in this long series of treatments, the last time she would ever see him. This was to be the end of his suffering, he was to walk out the door a regular man, with regular vision. Only one injection left. In return for the treatments, Doctor Morris would sample the parasites that had lived in Joshua’s body and so altered his vision, place them in a vial, and quietly go about her research. That was it.

But somehow, their cover was blown. Someone else, somewhere, knew about the organisms living in Joshua’s body. Someone who had finally, finally found him. Joshua, the only one of the group, it turns out, who had not committed suicide. The only one with hope of a cure.

Why not just kill the parasites? Be done with it? The whole issue would be gone from the Earth and no one would be any the wiser. Joshua Gamble’s story would rot in a binder somewhere, discredited and forgotten.

That would have been the easy answer. But Doctor Morris is a scientist. Why do you suppose somebody still has polio in a bottle somewhere? You don’t just toss away something like this. You capture it, contain it, understand it. Then maybe you can flush it down the toilet or something.

But that sunny morning when the van pulled up in the alley outside, Doctor Morris knew that Joshua’s visit was not going to go down as planned. Unmarked vans unloading crowds of suits are never a good sight when you are a scientist. It means you have attracted the wrong kind of attention. Everybody who has ever seen a sci-fi thriller knows this.

That’s when Doctor Morris hurried into the tiny room, made up the syringe, and placed it in her pocket.

When the suits took Joshua, they of course took the liberty of trashing the lab. That’s part of what you do when you are roughing up secretive scientists and freaks that won’t do what you tell them to. At least smash their stuff. Like, their stupid little mini-fridge in their tiny little room, containing whatever crap projects the scientist is working on. Give them something to think about. Next time maybe they will be more agreeable. Or, at least, you can vent some frustration by kicking their butt.

Take out their little glass bottles and smash them under your shoe. That’ll show them.

As the suits carried Joshua battering-ram-like down the stairs, Doctor Morris stood still, a sickly look on her face, as the serum spread across the floor, now useless.

Lab destroyed, finger throbbing, standing there full of parasites. This is how Doctor Morris’ day has gone. Months of preparation, and now a mess.

And, the ability to see. Or, the affliction, depending.

To amuse herself, Doctor Morris spends the next week or so fooling around with her new talent. She goes to the cemetery and checks out how the corpses are dressed, each according to the decade in which they died. She gives silent thanks that she did not die in the 1970s.

She looks into the trees and watches them convert sunlight into leaves.

Before even a month goes by, the pain starts in her head. At first she ignores it, but its insistence and pulsing gradually bring her down. Long hours in her new lab, her skull pounding, her mental state deteriorating. She can no longer focus.

Not that the time has been wasted, necessarily; Doctor Morris has promising starts on all sorts of chemical compounds in the lab. But none of it is finished, just ideas. Beginnings. The pain, the overwhelming mountain of information crashing through her head, keeps her in a perpetual state of mental slogging through drying concrete. Everything takes ten times as long as it should. If it gets done at all.

And, she’s got to focus. Got to create another serum, a series of injections, to counteract the parasites. If only she can keep her head together long enough ...


Joshua Gamble sits in a warm square of sunlight cast on the rug by the window into the front room of his rickety house. He looks out across the waving grass toward the ocean, and then down at the calico cat sitting at his feet, swishing her tail. He picks up his violin, smiles, and begins to play. infinity

Elizabeth Streeter is a cartoonist and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been published by King Features, The Funny Times, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Thompson Learning, Wiley, The Great Courses, and the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, among many others. She has recently completed a young-adult science fiction novel, “Silverwood.”