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



Three Into Two Won’t Go

By Ann Gimpel

CORINA TROTTED SMARTLY down the well-worn dirt track. She’d gotten a shred off course, but astute orienteering had fixed that. The angle of the sun was a bit of a puzzle. She didn’t see how it could have shifted to the western sky so quickly. And she was worried about Josh. What had happened to him? One minute they’d been together, the next she was walking by herself, feeling out of it.

Just after rounding a bend, the familiar outlines of their truck came into view. Josh stood next to the cab, arms crossed over his chest. As soon as he saw her, he raced forward shouting, “Where the fuck were you? I’ve been so worried my guts are tied in knots.” Sweeping her into a hug, he trembled against her. “I swear to god, Cori, I was afraid we might miss each other if I left here. I’ve been up and down this godforsaken road at least ten times calling for you. If we’re late getting back, they won’t let us in.”

She let her body sag against his. There had to be a simple explanation for what had happened. Pulling back, she asked, “What time is it, anyway? I don’t understand. How'd we get separated? Why couldn’t you find me?”

“Past four. I’ve spent the last three hours hunting for you.”

It felt like an iron band was tightening round her throat. Her stomach clenched. “But that’s not possible—” she choked out. Then she remembered the westering sun.

“Christ, no!” Josh grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. The pressure from his fingers hurt and she yelped. “There’s something wrong with your eyes.”

Her dark glasses had gotten pushed to the side during their hug. She patted frantically at her face, but it felt the same to her.

“What? What do you see?” She stretched a hand toward him, but he drew back. That, more than what he’d said, made her heart race. Moving briskly, she repositioned one of the truck’s side view mirrors so she could look at herself.

Impossible! Gasping, she half fell against their battered, white GMC pickup. Instead of their usual hazel-green, her eyes were an unnaturally bright blue. She grabbed hold of the mirror strut so she wouldn’t fall over. Somehow she ratcheted the passenger door open and crawled in. Disoriented, heart trying to pound its way out of her chest, she shut her eyes. Aw shit, they can’t be blue! They just can’t!

A long time passed before the other door opened.

The truck settled on worn springs as Josh got in. When she didn’t hear the snick of the key in the ignition, she opened her eyes to find her longtime boyfriend staring apprehensively at her. “You're thinking of leaving me here?” she asked.

He didn't nod yes or no. He scooted closer to his side of the cab. “You could be turning into one of them,” he said softly. “I don't know. Don’t know if I can chance bringing you back.”

She held out a hand, fingers stretched wide, as she searched for telltale signs that would verify if the Loki had poisoned her with their mutant genes. Back before everyone had taken to living in compounds, Loki abductions had been common. People would disappear for a while. When they returned, they weren’t the same. Contagious, the alien's mere touch transmitted a twisted genetic code that conscripted humans into the Loki ranks.

“Cori.” Josh’s voice was sharp, startling her.

She met his gaze and waited. If he kicked her out of the truck, she’d be dead before morning. Humans weren’t the only ones affected by the Loki. Even the resident deer herds had become predatory—with a ravenous taste for flesh.

“My hands aren’t any different. See.” She held both toward him, turning them front to back so he could also see there weren’t any of the telltale brown splotches that would mean she’d been assimilated. She struggled on, throat clogged with fear. “No one’s ever said changes in eye color have anything to do with them. Please. Please don’t leave me here.”

She thought of the huge compounds constructed by groups of survivors after the Loki “invasion.” They kept the Loki out but they also kept the rest of them in. She and Josh had been desperate to see the sky, to feel something other than carefully-filtered air on their sblue eyeskin, so they’d agreed to take sweep duty, leaving before dawn. The plan had been to time their return to mesh with a goods exchange from another compound slated for five that day. In retrospect, she couldn’t believe they’d been that reckless. The every-other-day sweep, where volunteers looked for signs of the Loki, often turned into suicide missions.

Josh drew a hand down his face, distorting his rather ordinary features. Long, black hair hung untidily past his shoulders; deep-set brown eyes reflected grief and uncertainty. His corduroy shirt and faded tan cargo pants had long rips in them. A week’s growth of dark stubble dotted gaunt cheeks. “Shit, Cor. I don’t know. The Rules are pretty clear—”

She knew the Rules. They were crystal clear. If in doubt, do not bring anyone inside who could contaminate the compound. Anyone. “I’d wear my dark glasses and go to our room and just stay there till ... till I was sure I wouldn’t be a threat,” she pleaded, hating the fear in her voice.

“How will you know when that is?” His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “One of the markers of becoming them is that you take others down with you,” he lectured almost verbatim from the Book of Rules.

“You could watch me ...” she began. Then she shook her head. She knew how big a risk it would be for her to return. She wasn’t sure just how the Loki got their claws into people. Nobody knew. The secrecy shrouding the internal workings of Loki society had worked to their benefit. People hadn’t been able to reverse or sabotage what they didn’t understand. The Rules were clear.

She pushed her door open so hard it banged against the stops. “Give me the rest of the water and the food in your pack, then.” She walked to his side of the pickup. “At least I won’t be hungry when the animals finish me off.”

Josh blew out a sad-sounding breath. When she looked at him, she saw tears glistening. They’d been together for over six years. She knew he loved her, even though he didn’t say it often. Desperation shone from his eyes. In that moment she understood how hard this was for him. Almost as tough as it was for her. Except he would live. And she— Well, she probably wouldn’t.

He shoved a two-liter plastic bottle at her along with his backpack. Then he got out of the truck. It was her turn to back away. “You shouldn’t touch me.”

“Wasn’t going to.” He turned and began rooting under his seat.

She was pulling at the pack straps, adjusting them to fit her instead of Josh’s broad torso and shoulders, when she heard the tromp of his boots in the dirt. Looking up, she saw he was holding out a gun and her mouth fell open. “Where did you get that?” she asked. Firearms were in short supply, supposedly because they were useless against the Loki. She wondered if that was just one more lie, engineered to control everybody.

“Never mind,” he growled. “Just take it. And these.” His other hand was full of shells. “It’s loaded, so keep the safety on.” He untied a ratty, black jacket from around his waist. “Take this, too. Gets cold at night. There are matches in the pack, but not many. And a flashlight—” His voice broke. He turned away.

“I love you,” she said softly. “I’ll come back if I can.” She knew that last was a lie. So did he. Once someone left a compound on other than approved business, they were never allowed back in.

“Love you too, Cori,” he said in muffled tones. She could tell he was struggling not to break down completely.

No percentage in dragging this out. She took off the pack and found a place for the gun and ammunition, wrapping them securely in Josh’s jacket. Her heart ached. She tried not to look at him, afraid if she did she’d race into his arms, maybe give him whatever she’d been infected with, and then they’d both be goners.

Nope. If Josh was going to make it, she had to leave. Pack back in place, she felt tears welling. Spinning resolutely on her heel, she half-ran back the way she’d come. She remembered a thick grove of evergreens about a mile away. If nothing else, she could spend the night under their shelter. The gun might buy her another day or two. Maybe.

She heard the roar of the truck’s engine. Tears fell in earnest as she walked up the abandoned Jeep road. It had been stupid of them to leave that morning, but life after the Loki Observatory accidentally opened an entry portal for the aliens had become so structured, so militaristic it grated on them both. Many people had simply left the compounds, preferring death or assimilation to the never-ending straightjacket of Rules. The ones who stayed behind, albeit safe, were mostly rigid, self-righteous assholes, anyway, leading the lemming charge right off the cliff. She’d learned early on to keep her mouth shut. Rabble-rousers often met with unfortunate accidents.


Corina had to stop walking. She was sobbing so hard she couldn’t breathe. A stitch in her side burned. Sinking into the dirt, she dropped her head into her hands and cried until she felt sick and wrung out. When she finally looked around her, dusk was falling. She scrambled to her feet. Gun or no gun, she had to do a better job of finding somewhere to settle for the night. No point in throwing her life away. It would be gone soon enough.

As she walked, she thought about the gun. In all the years she’d been with Josh, she’d had no idea he had it. Cori realized she’d almost forgotten their other lives. The ones where she’d been an emergency room doctor and he a policeman. Though they hadn’t known one another then, they’d told each other what their lives had been like before the Loki came. That was one of their favorite games, curled together in bed at night. They’d played Let’s Remember until they were so sad they had to quit. Even being sad was an improvement over life in the compounds, though. At least you felt something.

Josh had gotten kicked off the compound police force because he’d refused to punish—savage—civilians who’d broken minor regulations. Breaking major regulations often meant execution, coldly, swiftly. And those in control had completely demeaned her skill as a physician. Cori slammed a fist into her thigh. People had turned into such ignorant sheep she could hardly stand to be part of them.

She spotted the evergreen grove. It was the only group of trees where half of them weren’t dead. Ducking under a fragrant bough, she entered the rough circle of living wood. It smelled wonderful. Corina wiped a layer of dust and grit off her face and sat on a thick bed of pine needles.

Slipping the pack off her shoulders, she pulled out the water bottle and took stock of what food she had. As she munched on a withered apple, she thought about the Observatory and The Accident. “Pah!,” she spat, realizing she’d capitalized the event in her mind just like it was in the Book of Rules. The aliens had been named after the Observatory that had provided just the right frequency to allow them to open a wormhole and land their ships. Apparently, the Loki had been observing this quadrant of the universe for generations, looking for a way through.

All that was hearsay. Urban legend. No one who’d talked to the aliens had ever returned to tell anything but lies. Once people understood what was happening, they’d pulled out all the stops—including atomic weapons—to keep the Loki at bay. None of it had helped. People had died in droves from radiation sickness, but it hadn’t seemed to affect their enemy at all.

The aliens were incredibly well-organized. They infected themselves into human bodies like pathogens—turning people into mindless slaves—ensuring their toehold on the planet would morph into a permanent occupation. And it had. They took most of the water and virtually all the decent land for growing crops and raising animals. Food in the isolated compounds that were all that remained of human civilization was genetically modified.

Corina examined her hands again; they looked normal enough. For a moment, she wondered if her eyes had changed back, then she realized how unlikely that was. Chewing on dried out bread and processed cheese that tasted like plastic, she took a swallow of water to help the unpalatable mass on its way. It was definitely getting darker, but the grove felt protective somehow. She thrust her pathetically short supplies back into the pack, leaned it on a tree and settled against it. When she looked up through the branches, she saw a blaze of red-orange where the sun—oblivious to the Loki—beat a path toward the far side of the world.

She buttoned her sweater all the way up, then pulled Josh’s jacket on as a further hedge against the cold. It smelled like him and her eyes flooded. “Well,” she said out loud, because she did not want to cry again, “at least I made sure he was safe.” She wondered what he was doing and pictured him in their ten by twenty foot room heating soup on the one burner stove. She hoped he’d be okay. Men were fragile like that. Even more dependent on relationships than women, though they’d rather die than admit it. She laughed wryly through her tears.

“That’s just great,” she sputtered. “I’m turning into a philosopher on what’s probably going to be my last night on Earth.”

Even with the sweater and jacket, she was still cold. Gathering her hair, she moved it out of the way so she could pull the jacket’s hood over her head. She was just tugging at the cinch strap to try to keep her head warm when a rustle somewhere outside the trees made her heart beat crazily. Mouth suddenly dry, she smelled her own fear, sour and acrid.

Better to die on my feet. She grabbed the gun and flipped off the safety, scrabbling for balance as she lurched upright. Her eyes darted from side to side. Where had the noise come from? It was a swooshing sound like an angry wind might make, with the occasional snap as if someone had stepped on a branch. The air had an electric feel to it, making the small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. A sudden brightness blinded her.

“So, that’s what happened to you,” a voice boomed from behind her. Corina twisted round, gun at the ready. It felt odd in her hands. Try as she might, she couldn’t bring herself to simply shoot point blank at whoever had spoken. Even if she’d had the guts to fire, she couldn’t see anything to aim at. One hand flew up to shield her eyes.

“Who are you?” she demanded, squinting against the unnatural brilliance.

“More to the point,” the voice went on, ignoring her question, “how did you manage to escape from me? I gave you enough dope to drop an ox.”

“What?” Fury began to displace fear.

“You heard me.” The light dimmed enough for her to see a human-like form shimmering behind it. Corina clutched the gun tighter in a sweat-slick hand.

“Don’t even think about it,” the voice said, but sounding grudgingly interested. “Wherever did you come by that?”

Just shoot the damned thing and be done with it, her inner voice screamed. Corina’s index finger tightened against the trigger, then spasmed as bitter cold shot through it. When she attempted to move her hand, it was frozen against the metal of the gun’s barrel. She cried, trying to pry her hand away. The pain was so intense her vision wavered. Clamping her jaws together, she clung desperately to consciousness.

“Uh-uh. Not smart.” It looked as if the thing were waggling a finger at her from behind the pulsating light. A wicked-sounding laugh punctuated its words. “Not that you really have much choice. Your friends won’t let you back into the compound. Not now.”

“What do you want?” Corina growled, voice low. “If you’re going to kill me, get it over with, dammit. Otherwise, let me go.”

The light swirled into patterns, forming a multi-hued vortex that was beautiful in a macabre sort of way. When it cleared, a robed and hooded figure stood before her. It shook back its cowl, revealing long, gray hair and a pair of the same weirdly blue eyes she’d seen in her truck’s rearview mirror. A strong jawline, smooth skin, a gravelly voice and large-knuckled fingers made it tough to tell whether the humanoid was male or female. The shapeless, beige robe didn’t yield any clues, either.

Hands on hips, the humanoid arched a brow and sighed, “Temper. Temper. I suppose it goes with that red hair of yours. I do need you to hurry. We should get out of the open before the night’s much further gone. You do know about the predatory changes in the local fauna?”

“What if I told you I’d rather stay right where I am?” Defiance lent an edge to Corina’s tone. Is it one of the Loki? Is this how they subdue us? With rational arguments?

“I’d just drug you again.”

Corina’s fingers had returned to her control at some point during the brief conversation. They still ached, but she forced one to tighten around the trigger of the gun.

“Stop that!” The voice cracked like a whip. “You’ve already seen what I can do. I need you whole for my purposes. But I will hurt you if I have to.”

“What purposes?” Fear made her voice harsh and raspy. Cori started to tremble from far more than the drop in temperature.

“All in due time. Gather your things. Follow me.” When Corina hesitated, the robed figure added. “The end result will be the same. You will come with me—willing or no. I guarantee it will be much more pleasant for both of us if you accompany me under your own steam.”

“Own steam?” That was an idiom. English. An anachronism left over from when people used steam power. Cori felt dumbfounded. “Y-you’re human?”

“What the hell else did you think I was?” the figure growled. “Loki don’t look anything at all like us.”

“You’ve seen one?” Fascinated, Corina leaned forward in spite of herself.

“Your things.” A gnarled finger pointed at Corina’s pack.

A rustling sound broke the uneasy silence between them. From the way her captor’s head whipped about, it was easy to guess the noise meant problems. “Do you know what’s out there?” Corina asked nervously.

“Deer.” Her captor—human?—peered intently into the encroaching gloom.

Desperate, confused, knowing she might not get another chance, Corina swallowed her distaste for violence, raised the large bore handgun and fired. The cowled figure grunted, swaying from side to side. Blue mist sprayed from its unnervingly blue eyes. The mist touched Cori and burned her. Cori stepped out of the path, batting out flames on her jacket sleeve. Minutes ticked by. Breath whistled in and out of lungs that surely had to be filling with blood, but the cowled figure did not fall over.

Adopting a shooter’s stance from lessons taken so long ago she barely remembered them, Cori girded herself to fire again. Arms straight out ahead of her and elbows locked, she squeezed the trigger. The gun kicked in her hands. Cori stared at her nemesis not ten feet away. She felt sick, head whirling dizzily. Even swatting at spiders had once been beyond her, and now she’d shot a living creature—twice. So much for the Hippocratic Oath.

A shadow side-stepped its way out of the other's robed body. Fear pierced Corina’s throat, narrowing her airway. The figure she’d shot finally crumpled sideways into the dust, wavered and began folding in upon itself. All the while a darker splotch, opaque against the night, stood next to it, choreographing something with strange, rapid movements.

What the hell was this? Cori spun and ran for all she was worth. Her breath came fast, making white plumes in the cold night air. Panic settled in her belly like a brick. She knew if she stopped, she’d vomit.

Sudden light flared around her. She couldn’t move; feet caught mid-stride thumped to the ground and she nearly fell. The gun clutched in her hand made a clunking sound as it hit the dirt. She hadn’t opened her fingers, yet they were splayed wide. A low, keening moan tore out of her. The fear she’d felt before was nothing compared with the nightmarish terror turning her insides to jelly. Heat ran down her leg and she knew her bladder had let go.

“No more games. You will obey me.” This voice was different. It had a tinny, robotic quality with the slightest of echoes.

Corina tried to tell this different voice she understood, but she was shuddering so hard the only thing that came out was a gurgling retch. Bile that had been sitting in the back of her throat erupted out her mouth and ran down the front of her face and chest. She raised a hand to wipe some of the mess away, unutterably grateful she could move again.

“Get back here.”

“Giving you problems, is she?”

Cori cringed. Two voices: the last voice clearly a man’s. So the thing that should be dead had help.

“I told you to get back over here. Now.”

“Never mind, Blair, I’ll get her,” the man said.

Arms reached around, lifting her easily. Carrying her. As soon as they came to the edge of the clearing, the man dropped her and swatted her on the rump. “Move. My associate has a temper. It’s not wise to make her wait.”

“B-but I shot her,” Cori stammered, rubbing at her eyes so the spots in front of them would go away. “From less than ten feet. She has to be dead.” Cori’s stomach heaved again, but it was too empty to produce anything except a nausea that made her lightheaded.

“Does she sound dead?”

Corina stumbled forward. The blinding light was back. Its pulsations made her head hurt. She lurched sideway, trying to get away. The man’s hands grabbed her shoulders and held her immobile. She writhed against his iron grip and kicked backward trying to hurt him.

“None of that.” The man kneed her in the kidneys. Pain shot through her.

The one named Blair grabbed her arm. White heat flared. Corina’s eyes flew open to see a large needle stuck into her forearm. “What are you doing?” Fear made it hard to form words. She tried even harder to get away, but their hold was unshakeable.

“Finishing what I started earlier,” Blair snapped, yanking the syringe clear. “A herd of those infernal deer attacked me. I had to lead them away because you were unconscious.”

“Soon you’ll be one of us,” the man said, sounding so oddly cheerful Corina wanted to throttle him.

Christ! I’m as good as dead.

“Now why would you think that?” he asked.

“What? You can read thoughts?”

“Of course.” He let her go. “You’ll be able to read minds, too, just as soon as the gene splicing completes.”

Gene splicing? “What the hell are you turning me into?”

“Bait.” Blair said nastily. She seemed totally recovered from the gunshot wound.

Corina knew she had one chance to fight whatever had been injected into her. She shut her eyes and kept a close watch on her internal systems. Turning her concentration inward, she used her knowledge of anatomy to visualize the flow of blood in her veins and arteries. She shunted blood away from her brain until it had been filtered through liver and kidneys a time or two more. She had no idea if it would work, but it was the only thing she could think of to reduce the effects of the injection circulating through her body.

When she took stock, Corina realized she did feel different. Stronger and more powerful, somehow. And at least she wasn’t cold anymore. She thought she had a handle on inducing her circulation to flow in a different pattern, too. Blood didn’t reach her brain until it felt clean. She wondered if she was deluding herself.

“Okay.” Cori faced her captors. It seemed she could see them more clearly. The man looked far less threatening than Blair. Dressed in faded blue jeans and a flannel work shirt, he had shoulder-length brown hair and those same intense blue eyes. High cheekbones and a beak of a nose suggested Native American blood. He was of a height with her, which pegged him at close to six feet.

“Done looking?” He grinned. It sort of lit his face from the inside out.

She felt heat rise in her cheeks, then stammered, “I guess so.”

“In case you’re interested, my name is Dolan. You should feel right at home, sweetie. I’m a doctor, just like you, or used to be, just like you.”

“How do you know what I am?”

“It’s blazoned across your mind. But we can teach you how to shield your thoughts better. Try not to worry. You’ll be quite safe. We need more scientists. Value them highly in fact.”

“Yes, you should find that a welcome change from your human companions,” Blair said. “If memory serves me, they chucked science out right along with rational thought a long time ago.”

“Oh.” Cori couldn’t think what else to say. It was refreshing for someone to infer that her training as a physician might be welcome somewhere, but she didn’t think she should tell her captors. “You must be Loki. Why else—?”

“We’re not. We’re hybrids,” Dolan interrupted. “Oddly enough, Loki and human DNA are quite close. One can only speculate why. That injection, which would have worked faster if it had been given intravenously, inserts an extra amino acid between cytosine and guanine. The hydrogen bonding holds it all together nicely. You should appreciate that.”

Blair rubbed her hands together and blew out an exasperated-sounding breath. “You certainly gave us enough trouble.”

“Sorry to not be more accommodating—” Cori bit off the rest of her words. She was at their mercy. There was no point in antagonizing them.

“You will return to your compound now,” Blair said.

“How? They won’t let me in. My eyes—”

“Are back to their normal color.” Dolan sounded pleased with himself. “It’s a little something extra I cooked up in the injection. “They won’t stay that way, of course. But you’ll look like yourself for long enough to get past the guards.”

“I thought brown spots on your hands were the marker—”

Dolan waved her to silence. “We like to mix it up a bit. This latest infusion is much faster, and far more effective.” He shrugged and held out his hands. “See? I’ve been my own guinea pig. Blue eyes and those nasty age spots.”

“They still won’t let me in. Josh will tell them what happened.”

“And you will tell them he hurt you. Abandoned you.” Blair flashed a vicious smile. “You have enough bruises. They’ll believe you.”

“But they’ll torture him.” Corina’s heart twisted. The punishment for something of that nature could be very brutal. Trials in front of a jury of your peers had gone the way of much of the rest of former civilization. As had forgiveness.

Dolan shrugged. “The human segment of your life is over. Don’t worry. That other part inside you—the one that’s horrified and helpless—will recede as your genetic code responds to the splicing sequence circulating through your body. Shouldn’t take long. An hour at most. You will remain here until the transformation is complete. By then, you will obey us without question.”

Cori bowed her head, hands clenched into fists at her side. A quick internal check reassured her that her new ability, her primitive blood filtering mechanism, was still in place. Would it be enough to save Josh? She figured she was cannon fodder no matter what happened, but she was damned if she’d take anyone else down with her. The hybrids’ motives were none too clear, but they were, for the moment, irrelevant.


Pack on her back, Cori scuffed through dirt as she walked to the electrified perimeter that surrounded her compound. Blair and Dolan had done something, sort of a beam me up, Scotty maneuver. It had transported them from the abandoned Jeep road to within a few meters of the compound. During the time she’d spent with the hybrids, she’d felt definite changes in her interior landscape, yet she still felt more-or-less like herself. A stronger, more invincible version, though. Cori clung to that, hoping she could convince the compound Elders to either kill her and have done with it or put her somewhere she couldn’t harm anyone while they watched to see what the longer term effects of her injection would be.

Blair and Dolan had told her they’d be monitoring from “inside her head.” They hadn’t explained much about the Loki. Apparently the aliens relied on a hive-mind type of intelligence. Hybridization weakened the gift, but it was still potent enough to enable communication, or coercion, over distances.

These hybrids weren’t Loki; nor were they slaves. A small percentage of humans weren’t completely transformed by Loki DNA. Rather than killing them, the Loki loosed them in something like a bizarre experiment to see how they’d manage to survive on their own. It hadn’t gone very well. Many hybrids had died outside of the compounds until they’d hatched up the idea of capturing humans, enslaving them, and then trading them back to the Loki for food and supplies.

Corina wished Blair and Dolan had told her more about it, but they’d run short of time. Her eyes wouldn’t remain “normal” forever.

They know you’re there,” Blair thoughtsaid. “Limp a little. Look hurt.”

“Halt.” A bright light shone in her face for a second time that night. She stopped walking and raised a hand to shield her eyes. One of the sentries, in full hazmat gear, walked toward her, but not too close. “There is a gun trained on you. You will cooperate and answer my questions. If you make any unusual moves toward me, you will be shot.”

“Corina Bridger,” she announced. “I understand.”

“Bridger? Joshua Littleby told us you were dead. Explain.”

“When he left me, he figured the animals would finish me off. So, yes, he was correct to tell you I was dead. I thought I would be, too.”

“What happened? How did you get back here?”

“I walked.”

“Why didn’t the feral deer kill you?”

“I have no idea.”

Tell him your friend attacked you,” Dolan hissed.

Corina did an internal systems check. She didn’t feel any compulsion to voice Dolan’s suggestion. Shy of storming the compound, she didn’t think there was anything either Blair or Dolan could do to harm her now.

“Cori!” Josh raced past the guard station and came to a stop less than a meter in front of her. “Your eyes. They’re hazel again. What happened?”

“Civilian Littleby. Step away.”

Josh spun to face the guard. “No.”

“The punishment for disobeying a direct order--”

“Shoot me!”

“Oh, stop it!” Corina stepped between Josh and the guard. “There’s been entirely too much killing. For chrissake, there aren’t enough humans left as it is.”

Because she’d easily resisted Dolan’s suggestion, she was feeling more confident she’d be able to stymie the coercion part of the injection. And if that were true, the implications were staggering. “Let me in. I won’t touch any of you, but you need to hear me out.”

The sentry waddled back into the station, hampered by his unwieldy suit. Cori waited. Josh tried to talk to her, but she shook her head. “Wait until we’re inside. We’re vulnerable out here.”

Just what do you think you’re up to?” Blair hissed.

Double cross us and everyone in that compound is dead,” Dolan snapped.

“What?” Josh stared intently at her.

Corina shook her head. “Nothing.” She sucked in deep breaths to quiet the rattle of her heart against her ribs.

Pink streaks were lightening the sky in the east when the gate swung open. “Proceed,” a metallic voice instructed. “Once you are inside, go to the decontamination cylinders.”

Cori stopped just inside the door with Josh right behind her. “I am not going through decon. It'll wipe my memories, then I won’t be good for anything.”

“Those are orders,” the voice insisted. “Some wanted to kill you. Decontamination was a compromise.”

“Where is Doctor Kincaid?”

“Unit forty-three.”

She thought for a moment. Forty-three wasn’t that far away. “He’s a geneticist. I need to talk with him.”

“Request denied.”

“Look here. I’m a doctor. I think I may have the key to defeating the Loki. Doctor Kincaid will understand—”

“Enough. All you doctors became worthless after we ran out of medicine.” Another figure in hazmat gear, assault rifle leveled at her, stepped out of the shadows.

She opened her mouth to tell the guard that healers had been around for thousands of years before pharmaceutical companies had perverted medical practice, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The guard was so uneducated, he’d never understand.

“Civilian Littleby, return to your quarters immediately.”

Josh crossed his arms over his chest. “No. I’m not leaving until I see that Corina is settled.”

“Put them both in a holding cell,” a new voice instructed over the loudspeaker system. “Do it now. We will sort this out later.”

Corina gritted her teeth. It was better than being forced to go through an invasive decontamination procedure that was the equivalent of electroconvulsive shock treatment. The guard who thought doctors were rubbish prodded her in the back with an ungentle hand.

A two-inch-thick metal door slammed shut behind her and Josh. She stared at a twelve by twelve space with an aluminum sink in one corner and a toilet next to it. A stained brown vinyl pallet lay on the floor with a dirty blue blanket wadded up at one end.

“I’m surprised they let us stay together.” Josh folded his long body, sitting cross-legged on the scarred linoleum floor. He looked up at her almost nonchalantly this time. “Your eyes are beginning to turn blue again.”

Corina sat on the edge of the pallet and stretched her legs in front of her. “I’m sure they’re listening to us. Probably why they put us in the same cell. But that’s good. Means I won’t have to tell the whole thing again. After I heard your truck drive away, I ...”

She had to get up twice to get water from the sink, cupping her hands under the flow to drink. She’d never felt quite so dehydrated and wondered if it was a corollary effect of the injection.

“... about all, really. But I think whatever I managed to do with my blood where I didn’t let that serum go right to my central nervous system, somehow short-circuited its effects. I can feel I’m not the same, but I’m not under their power like they thought I’d be.”

“So what? Sorry, Cor. I’m tired and the whole physiology thing doesn’t come naturally to me.”

“It means I have some of their powers, but I’m immune to their mind control.” Excitement thrummed through her. “Don’t you see? My blood could be the key to inoculating everyone. It could make it safe for us to be outside again. Hell, it might even give us an edge fighting those bastards.”

You little bitch!” sounded in her head.

Shut up, Blair. Wait.”

Josh grabbed hold of her arm. “What was that all about? Your eyes turned absolutely ice cold. And by the way, they’re totally blue again.”

“The two who captured me. They can talk to me through some sort of mental projection, but I think they’ve figured out they can’t make me do anything. They can listen to my thoughts, though—and to our conversation.”

The metal door clanged open. Two men in hazmat suits lumbered in. “We’ve heard just about enough of your bullshit,” one snapped. “Time to pay the piper.”

“I asked you to let me talk with Doctor Kincaid.” Corina sprang to her feet. “He’s a geneticist. He’ll understand what happened to me. And what it might mean for all of you.”

“What a pile of crap,” the other man muttered. “You’re just trying to save your own sorry hide. We heard enough. You’ve been contaminated by the Loki. That means you have to die. It’s in the Book of Rules. Page seventy-five.”

“You’re already up.” The first man jabbed the barrel of his automatic weapon into her side. “Get moving.”

“You can’t talk to her like that.” Josh jolted to his feet, clenched fists raised in front of him.

“Hey there, wise guy. You’re going with her.”

“What?” Corina spun to face the guards. “Why are you going to kill him?”

“He touched you while the two of you were sitting on the floor. Not safe to let him live, either. Book of Rules, page seventy—”

“Shut up,” she shrieked. “Just shut up!” Fury filled her. It swept from her guts through her chest until she felt as if she were about to burst. With the anger came a sweet power. She wasn’t sure what she could do with it, but there was nothing to lose.

Josh backed away, a look of horror on his face. The guards raised their Kalashnikovs. Behind the plastic visors, their faces were obscenely hungry. Somewhere along the line, the guards had apparently come to enjoy murder.

Cori felt disgusted. She swung her arms in an arc and both rifles clattered to the floor like so much iron. She drew back a fist and pounded it into the side of one of the guard’s necks. He dropped like a potato sack. The other man turned to run, but Josh pinned him to the wall, then wound his arm around the man’s throat until he gagged and collapsed to join his partner on the floor. Cori kicked him in the side of the head for good measure.

“We’ve got to run,” she said, bending to pick up one of the guns. “Get the other one and we’re out of here.”

“What about the electric fence? No way we’ll make it across the clearing. They’ll pick us off like target practice.”

“Maybe not. We could shoot out the cameras and a fence relay, but I think there might be a better way.”

Blair. Dolan. I killed two. Josh and I are coming out. Help us.”

Told you she’d come to her senses,” Dolan’s voice ringing in her mind was one of the most welcome sounds Corina had ever heard. “She’s smart enough to realize humans are on the losing side.”

Remember how we got to your compound?” Blair asked.


Put your arms around your friend. Visualize the place Dolan and I left you. Do it now. We will help.”

Leave the guns. They’ll just slow things down,” Dolan added.

“Come on.” Corina let go of the rifle and placed her arms around Josh.

“Come on, where?”

“Just hold onto me. I’m getting us out of here.”

“Okay, Cori. Hurry. I think I hear footsteps from upstairs.”

She listened. Crap. He was right. She took a deep breath, and then one more, visualizing the place in the midst of urban rot where Blair and Dolan had left her. The walls of the cell became less substantial, first thinning, then disappearing altogether. Josh’s breath was loud in her ears. His fingers tightened against her back.

They tumbled out into the dawn of a new day. Blair and Dolan stood, arms crossed. “What made you decide not to betray us?” Dolan asked, his voice a mixture of anger and curiosity.

Cori let go of Josh. She walked to stand in front of Dolan, locking gazes with him. “What’s left of humanity has devolved into ignorant, superstitious wretches. I can’t live that way anymore. My blood holds the key to mount a defense against the Loki, but my fellow humans are too stupid to be interested. Besides,” she laughed bitterly, “throwing my lot in with you seems better than death in front of a firing squad.”

She looked over one shoulder at Josh and gestured for him to come forward. “We’re a package deal, he and I. Give him the injection, too. But I’m going to monitor it. Better yet, let me inject him.”

“And then what?” Blair asked.

“Who knows?” Corina felt a grim smile split her face. “Maybe we’ll start a third genotype here. One with power, but that can think on our own. Sort of like you and Dolan, actually.”

“Why would we want you to do that?” Dolan made a grab for her arm, but she sidestepped him.

“Because we can help you hybrids, too. We understand how humans think. See, we’re one step closer to them than you are. If you’re as open-minded as you claim to be, we can help each other.”

And I can be a doctor again.

Blair sounded thoughtful. “It would be useful to have another group like us who think for themselves. The ones we have to watch over all the time are a pain in the ass.”

Dolan cocked his head to one side. “You may have a point.”

“First, let me take care of Josh. You probably carry the stuff with you, right?” Corina held out a hand, not surprised when Dolan rummaged through his rucksack and handed her a syringe and a glass vial with a rubber stopper. “How much?”

“Three ccs.”

Josh looked terrified, pupils so dilated his eyes appeared nearly black.

“It will be all right.” She tried to sound reassuring. “Close your eyes. Visualize the blood flowing through your body. Now focus on it flowing through your liver,” she laid a hand over his midsection, “and your kidneys.” She tapped the middle of his back on both sides of his spine. “Tell yourself, not my brain. Not my brain. Not my brain.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“It worked for me. Now put out your arm. You want the power this will give you. Trust me on that.”

He laughed weakly. “If it will let me do what you did inside the compound, you bet I do. I think you could have killed those two by looking cross-eyed at them.”

She tapped the bubbles out of the syringe, found a vein and drove the needle home. Deep in some secret recess in her soul, Corina warmed to the idea of being Mother to a new race. Maybe they could find a way to coexist with the Loki as equals. And humans.

One thing was certain, almost anything would be better than the life she’d left.

Josh smiled at her. His eyes were shading to blue. “I think I can feel it working, Cori.” He breathed deep. “And I like what I feel.”

She pulled out the needle, and held him close. 

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent, who practices in a very isolated area high in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. Her avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction to give the stories running around in her a head a platform. Three published novels and nearly twenty pieces of shorter fiction later, she’s still writing.