Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


When Every Song Reminds You of a Dead Universe
by Karl Johanson

Side Effects of Yeah- Yeah Pills
by A.J. Kirby

A Breederax for Dalia
by Janett L. Grady

by Byron Barton

One of Our Starships Is Missing
by Terry Savage

Help Desk
by Robert J. Mendenhall

Toca la Guitarra
by Wayne Helge

How to Travel Through Time & Space
by Allen Quintana

by Kevin Gordon


Bracing for a Brave New World
by Hunter Liguore

Sizing Things Up
by Eric M. Jones





Comic Strips




Help Desk

By Robert J. Mendenhall

THE CALL LIGHT ON MY console flashed and a steady series of tones signaled an incoming service call. An Occupier heard the signal and headed in my direction. My heart galloped; my mouth dried. And the closer the lanky alien came to me, the more my stomach tightened at the subtle odor that emanated from its filmy, humanoid body. Like milk deciding whether or not to spoil.

The rhythm of the call center was low and persistent, a nervous dirge of electronic and vocal chatter. Narrow windows ran the length of the north wall just below the ceiling line. The sky beyond the glass was gray as old nickel. The overhead fluorescents were off and most of the illumination in the long room splashed onto tense, uneasy faces from LED data screens.

I took the incoming call as the Occupier stopped behind me. The odor drifted into my personal space, but I tried not to let my discomfort show. The last operator who did that was clubbed down right at her console.

“Help Desk,” I said into the headset microphone.

The caller’s voice crackled in my earpiece and over the console speaker in even, enunciated words. “I have an urgent information technology problem for the Help Desk to assist me with.”

It was a long, formal statement. Not something said in casual conversation. Most callers said something like “I’ve got a problem. Can you help me?” Or something simple like that. I tensed, anxiety squeezing me.


I fought the instinct to glance at the Occupier, to see if he suspected. I felt my pulse step up. A thread of cold sweat beaded on my forehead at the hair line. This was the most dangerous part.

“Let’s see what we can do for you,” I said.


There was an imperceptible pause. Did the Occupier notice? They dragged an operator out of here last week. The poor bastard’s screams could be heard all the way up here, and he wasn’t even working with us. We never saw him again.

“I’m glad to hear that,” the caller finally said.


“I’ll need to remote in to your system to diagnose the problem,” I said, and keyed in several short-cut commands. The Occupier watched my every move.

My caller and I went back and forth discussing his “information technology problem.” We were technical. We were specific. We were focused. After a few minutes of jargon and jive, the Occupier appeared satisfied what I was doing was legitimate and in the best interest of the occupation. He ambled off to the other end of the call center and hovered over the trembling operator there. As he moved away, so did the stench and the churning in my gut.

“I hope this solution works for you,” I said, per script. I held down the CTRL, ALT, and F7 keys on my keyboard and tapped F12 twice with my outstretched pinky finger. A tiny, nondescript icon appeared on the taskbar, next to the speaker icon. That was my confirmation the Occupier surveillance software had been shunted to a Help Desk simulatiohelp deskn. A digital feed now supplied benign data and pre-recorded conversation to the Occupier recorders and at the same time sterilized my circuitry. Free of electronic eyes, and with the Occupiers otherwise focused on other operators, I went to work.

I typed “k” and tapped the ENTER key. Instantly, the screen in front of me displayed a series of IP addresses and timing sequences. I scanned them once and rapidly keyed in lines of memorized code. I embedded the instructions inside routine maintenance processes and routed them to the servers at the IP addresses my caller had supplied.

The quiet reek of an approaching Occupier reached me like an early warning system. I completed the final sequence, transmitted the Trojan subroutine, and lightly tapped the ESC key with my left pinky. The icon on the taskbar disappeared. The text on the screen in front of me formed into tight columns of random numbers and letters.

“What are you doing?” The Occupier’s voice was low and oily.

The Occupier leaned over me and took in the display. My eyes watered. Did it know? We were all living on borrowed time. We knew that. But, that didn’t make it any less terrifying when that time approached.

“What is this?” Its breath wafted from its tight mouth with the vapor of old fish.

“W-what,” I asked suddenly dizzy with apprehension and the Occupier’s physical proximity to me.

“This, Human. What is this data?”

I swallowed. “I’m running a diagnostic on the system at the other end. I think we have their problem fixed. Just making sure.”

The Occupier eyed me with those narrow slits. I met his gaze and tried to look like I didn’t know what his problem was. After an endless moment and without a word it pushed off the console and watched me over its bony, aluminum covered shoulder as it angled to another operator.

I finally breathed. My caller and I completed our scripted conversation on speaker and I terminated the call.

They needed us when they invaded, for manual labor in industry and the vast mines they opened up in our crust And they needed to maintain the Earthly technology they knew little about. They established Help Desks to do that. We used that. It was the only way we could fight them.

We never learn what Occupier systems our programs target. We just take our instructions from one of the resistance leaders and send our malicious, hacker code to the servers they tell us to. Oh, we don’t do a lot of damage. But we make them look over their shiny shoulders.

The console chirped. I took the incoming call.

“Help Desk,” I said.

“I have an urgent information technology problem for the Help Desk to assist me with.”

My nerve endings sparked. I glanced nervously at the Occupiers. I started my next attack and wondered again, if it would be my last. infinity

Robert J. Mendenhall is a retired police officer and serves on active duty with the Wisconsin Air National Guard. An active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and SFF Net, he writes across genres including science fiction, crime and suspense, horror, and spiritual fiction. He lives outside Chicago with his wife and fellow writer, Claire. And many animals.


once crowded sky