Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Talus Slope
by Joseph Green

Who Benefits From War?
by Hayden Trenholm

Those Magnificent Stars
by Clare L. Deming

A Soldier Undreams
by Bret Carter

Eating Disorder
by Len Dawson

My Shaigetz
by Marcy Arlin

Two Timing
by Rik Hunik

To Dance With the Girls of Ios-5
by Ted Blasche


Psychology and Science Fiction
by Ann Gimpel, Ph.D.

Get Up and Go Somewhen
by J. Richard Jacobs

In Time For Evolution
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



A Soldier Undreams

By Bret Carter

IT WAS CLOSE. They slipped through the battle, falling towards Mars, hopefully just a glint in the fray. Compared to the other ships, they were just a crumb of metal.

Kastler leaned forward in time to glimpse a juggernaut fold under a barrage of missiles. Coil interceptors swept past, blasting the debris.

Stokes angled them in, maneuvering the quip into the atmosphere. “Down and down we go.”

The hull began to roar.

“Did we do it?” Alvarez shouted from the back.

“No, we didn’t do it,” Stokes said. “I did it.”

Alvarez laughed. “Did you hear that? Stokes is doing all the work.”

Normally, Higgs would have told them to stay focused, but he just smirked a little and nodded. It seemed to Kastler he had been a little grim ever since they slipped away from the cover of Deimos.

As the quip fell into the storms, the free-fall became deafening. Kastler closed his eyes

He had told Marie it sounded like the ocean. Like when you listen to a seashell.

His wife knew he was trying to give her some peace of mind, so she pretended it was working. They sat on the rocks together, watching the ocean come and go, come and go. She didn’t cry. It sounds like the ocean, he told her.

Now, Kastler was thinking his description was not completely accurate. At terminal velocity inside this tempest, this was nothing like the soothing whispers of the sea. This was more like the prolonged howl of some great suffering beast. And it never took a breath.

There was a click in Kastler’s ear. Brief static. Stokes had decided to narrate the descent. “At this point, there are three possibilities.”

Mott murmured in his deep voice. “Is one of them the possibility that you might shut up?”

Alvarez practically giggled. Drops seemed to make the guy almost giddy. “No way, Mott. Forecast says a hundred percent chance of Stokes.”

“With scattered idiocy,” Kastler added.

Stokes kept his voice level—casual and calm like he was the pilot of a commercial flight. “One possibility is that I will bring us in for a rough, but survivable landing.” Alvarez tried to comment on that, but Stokes cut him off. “Or it is still very possible that some of the Coil interceptors noticed us after all, and they’re about to pick us off as target practice,” he said lightly.

Somehow Stokes was always able to let some shadows fall across his sense of humor. “And of course, there’s possibility number three. What I like to think of as the most efficient outcome. We make a very abrupt and very deep grave, just another pimple on the face of Mars.”

Alvarez chuckled a little. “Funny.”

Whenever Kastler was weightless, everything felt a little imaginary to him. As if the edges of reality were getting blurry.

The comlink clicked again and Higgs spoke. “Things to keep in mind.” Whenever they were prepping for combat, his words often came out in short, controlled bursts. “This has been expensive. Soldiers, not dollars. Lives spent like coins.”

Everyone nodded. “Yes, Sir,” Alvarez said soberly.

“Lots of sacrifices,” Higgs said. “To get the five of us in.” He let that grow in their heads. “Lots of sacrifices.” This, Higgs seemed to say to himself.

They listened to the howl of their descent.

It sounds like the ocean. Marie had found a shell as they were walking back to the house. She put her ear to it. My father told me a seashell is dreaming of the ocean. That’s why you can hear the waves.

Kastler opened his eyes again and forced himself to be here and now. He focused on the roar. The smell of fuel and sweat. He needed to keep a grip on the present.

A lot of lives had been used up in order to get them past the Coil fleet. Soldiers who had said goodbye just like he had. Kastler could suddenly feel every single mile between himself and Marie.

She had given him the seashell when they were standing on the tarmac the next day. If you listen to this, she said, you can hear the ocean. But if you listen closely, you can hear me.

“Three minutes,” Stokes said.

Kastler sat up. Enough. He could feel gravity settling in.

“The moment we’re down, we’re moving,” Higgs said.

They barked as one. “Yes, Sir.”

Stokes brought them in low and fast. Smooth at first, but then it was a bone shudder. The quip was designed for infiltration, not grace.

Even before the gravel had settled, Stokes popped the seals and they were out. The air smelled stale. Terraforming in stagnation.

Mott and Stokes dropped the go-tanks, hopped in, and took off.

It took Kastler and Alvarez an extra ninety seconds to deploy the scamps and start out after them. The storm hovered, muttering and flickering.

Higgs stayed with the ship.

As planned, they had landed on the east side of the abandoned city. It was nothing but husks now. Minerva, one of the many dead cities of Mars. The towers were ragged silhouettes blocking the sunset, bleeding light.

Within a few minutes, Kastler and the rest were inside the shadow of the ruins, the go-tanks purring down the empty streets, the scamps lurching along at their own pace. Kastler revved his scamp and trudged up the rubble toward the taller structures. Alvarez followed.

The scamp was loaded heavy and so its legs responded cautiously on the uneven surfaces. Then they reached a relatively clear avenue and practically sprinted, claws gouging at the asphalt.

The storm started to drizzle, making the ruins shine. By the time they reached the western fringe of the city, the sky was growing purple and the stars began to appear through rifts in the clouds.

“I’m this way,” Alvarez said, and veered off.

Kastler kept going straight. “Adios, Mademoiselle.”

Alvarez chuckled. “Ciao, Frau.”

After a few dead ends, Kastler found a building with a wide stairwell and he crawled the scamp up to the twelfth floor.

From here, he had a clear view of the Coil base out on the open plain. The flat, gray bunkers. The fence and the towers. Blaring lights.

After almost four decades of a terrestrial makeover, the flora and fauna had been abandoned—left to fend for themselves. The sun had just slunk out of sight and Mars was reduced to grim colors. But this planet had always been in a bad mood.

Marie was always dragging him away from his pillow and sticking a cup of coffee in his hand. Look at the sunset.

Right now, Kastler didn’t have time for sunsets. He unloaded the Thorn, anchoring it into the concrete, calibrating the scope. Then he sat on the ledge and waited.

They had maybe an hour before the Senator landed. He would be high on victory, completely blind to the possibility that the enemy was waiting in these blank buildings.

Marie had tried her best to look happy for him. She had made sure to wear the yellow dress he liked. Her black hair was held back with the onyx clip—a birthday gift. She kept looking at him and then looking away. Then she would look at him again.

Her eyes were even darker than her hair. It always felt like she was looking straight into his mind. When it was time to go, she took him by the shoulders and pulled herself up to his ear. Don’t mess with my happily-ever-after, she said.

The link in his ear clicked. “Kastler.” It was Higgs.


There was a slight pause. “Find Mott. He’s not in position and he’s not responding.”

Could be bad. Could be nothing.

Kastler didn’t take the scamp. He ran down the stairwell, glancing at his handscreen. The green blip that was Mott was nearby and stationary. Maybe his go-tank was hung up.

Weaving through a forest of girders and weeds, he found Mott in a wide plaza, sitting outside his go-tank.

“Hey, Mott.”

“Yep.” He was looking down.

“What’re you doing?”


Kastler took a deep breath. The air smelled like rust and flowers. “We might have less than forty minutes. Higgs is wondering why you aren’t in position. You didn’t respond.”

Mott stared at his hands, watching them shake.

“How’s it going?” Kastler asked.

Still not looking up, Mott closed his right hand into a fist and then opened it again. “I’m losing my mind.”

Mott was usually a solid soldier. This wasn’t like him at all. This could be serious.

Trying to sound relaxed, Kastler said, “You’re just now losing your mind? I lost mine back just before I signed up. But I’ve done just fine without it.”

Mott looked up at him. He didn’t look crazy. He just looked very aware. “I’m seeing things.”

Kastler leaned against the go-tank. “That’s good. It’s hard to carry out a mission if you can’t see things.”

Mott didn’t laugh, but then, he never laughed. “I’m hallucinating, Kastler.”

“Hallucinating?” He waited for Mott to elaborate, but he didn’t. Mott just studied the ruins.

There was no time for front-line psychoanalysis. “I’ll tell you what, Mott. Let’s get this done first and then you can lose your mind later.”

Mott’s mouth smiled. His eyes didn’t. “Too late.”

The drizzle had stopped, but now a sudden gust of wind swept through the city, blowing grit out of the buildings, into their eyes. They both turned away until it was past, the wind moving on through the streets. It sounded like the ocean.

Kastler tried to stay casual. “We need to get going, Mott.”

“I was just stopping for a moment,” he said. “To see where I was. To see if this was real.”

“I can provide verification. This is real. So jump in your little girl-tank and get into position. We’ve probably got—”

Mott stood up. “I’m fine.”

Kastler slapped him on the back, to make things all chummy. “Do you know where you are?”


“You know,” Kastler said. “There was a time when that answer would have meant you actually were crazy.”

Unbelievably, Mott laughed. Just a little. But this made Kastler more uneasy than anything.

Mott climbed up onto his go-tank and tugged the hatch open. He turned to look down at Kastler. There was a brightness in his eyes. “I saw a ghost,” he said. “But it was someone who isn’t dead.” He climbed in, slammed the hatch, and tore out across the broken plaza.

Static in Kastler’s ear. Then Higgs. “Kastler, are we cozy?”

A single bird darted by, here and gone. He wondered if it was the last bird on Mars. “Cozy,” Kastler said. A congregation of dervishes curled against a sagging wall.

Mars was a mistake, he told Marie. At the airport he had been imagining himself standing in the ruins of Mars, like this. Now he was standing here imagining that other moment.

When they said goodbye, they embraced perfectly—then stood face to face, memorizing each other. Don’t be sad all the time, he said.

She nodded. Just some of the time.

Her large, dark eyes. Her small mouth. Her night-colored hair that she grew long to hide her ears that stuck out a little.

My head is a seashell, he told her.

She cried.

The wind picked up again, blowing dirt in his face. He was staring at the tracks left behind by Mott.

Got to get moving.

He ran back through the shadows, back up the twelve flights to his post. The buildings howled.

“In position,” Mott said.

The evening light had faded to a bruise. The Coil base was gathering in its fleet. At least a dozen ships were descending now, their engines flickering.

Kastler looked through the Thorn’s scope. The troops poured out of the transports, glistening. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers. Maybe a thousand.

He placed his hands on the grips. Softly. Once the first shot was fired, the Coil would know where they were.

Hopefully, Alvarez was in position by now too—in another building with his own Thorn, mounted and ready.

In the go-tanks, Mott and Stokes would flank the eastern perimeter of the base, cloaked in fractal-camo. Back in the quip, Higgs was tracking the Coil vessels. Scanning for the Senator’s ship.

It would be one of the last ships in. It would probably circle the base to stir up the troops—so they would be cheering when he landed.

Then at Higgs’s command, Kastler and Alvarez would take down the Senator’s cruiser. Mott and Stokes would trouble the towers. When the Coil mustered to retaliate, it would be time to race for the quip and jet out for extraction. That was the plan.

If this worked—if they completed this mission, then that would be it. In all likelihood, the war would end. Without the Senator, the Coil would certainly break into factions again and the Spire Parliament would fold soon after.

Tonight, Kastler was going to help determine what the next generation would study in history class. Pull the trigger, add a few pages.

“Higgs, I think I see his ship.” It was Stokes.

“Yeah,” Higgs said. “Confirmed. It’s the Senator.”

Kastler leaned into the scope.

There. A gleaming cruiser, like a shard of silver. It circled and descended, but there were several other ships around it, blocking any real shot.

Kastler gritted his teeth. “Alvarez?”

“Nope. No shot,” Alvarez said.

Within moments, the cruiser settled in among the military array.

“Stand by,” Higgs said. “Mission’s still green. Just don’t let him leave.”

Mott spoke, softly. “I think I’ve been tagged.”

Suddenly, a splinter of light darted out from one of the towers. Out to the left, in the distance, Kastler saw a small explosion rupture the darkness. A moment later, the sound reached him—a soft thud.

Higgs didn’t raise his voice. He merely told them what they needed to know. “Mott’s gone. They might be trolling thermal signatures.”

Mott was gone. Instant therapy.

A few seconds later, Stokes called in. “I’m in position.”

“Stand by,” Higgs said.

“Copy that.”

The fleet began to stir. Ships began to rise. “Eyes on the Senator,” Higgs said.

The other ships were crowding the view. “No shot,” Kastler said.

Alvarez sounded angry. “Me neither. But I think he’s still on the ground.”

Stokes came back on. “Higgs. I think I—”

Higgs spoke up. “Say again, Stokes.”

They could hear Stokes just barely whisper over the link. “Jessica.”

“Stokes?” Higgs sounded angry now. “Repeat.”

Stokes didn’t repeat.

The Coil towers sent out a few wild shots, gouging the open fields. Several ships started toward the ruins. Higgs kept calling Stokes.

“Alvarez? Do you see the Senator’s ship?”

“Yeah. Still on the ground.”

One of the towers sent out two more pulses and hit something. There was a burst of light.

Kastler pulled away from the scope, blinking. They had found Stokes.

No one said anything for a moment. “Listen to me.” Higgs was calm. “Alvarez, Kastler. Find a shot. Bring him down. Cripple it. Anything. Just don’t let him leave.”

“Yes, Sir.” Kastler scoped the base. It was agitated, but the Senator’s cruiser remained on the ground, still blocked by the commotion.

“Who’s Jessica?” Alvarez asked.

Kastler rubbed his eyes and then leaned into the gun again. “His wife.”

“Why was he—”

“I don’t know.” But it made him think of the shine in Mott’s eyes. I saw a ghost. Someone who isn’t dead.

The Senator’s cruiser began to lift. Alvarez shouted. “See it?”

Kastler latched onto the Thorn. “I see it.”

A cluster of ships were closing in on the ruins. Skimmers. Maybe a minute away.

“Higgs, we’re on the Senator.”

There was a pause, then a rustling sound over the comlink. Higgs sounded distracted. “Yeah, yeah. Got it. You know what to do.”

Kastler scoped the cruiser and locked onto the engine. “You take the cockpit, all right, Alvarez?”

“What are you doing here?” Alvarez asked.

Kastler turned the words around in his head, trying to make them relevant. “Say again? Repeat.”

“What’s going on?” Alvarez’s voice broke. Something like a gasp. “Why are you here?”

“Are you on the cockpit, Alvarez? You got it?

The link clicked, but no one spoke.

“Alvarez! I’m taking a shot! Do you copy?”

There was a reverberating thud not far away. Alvarez’s Thorn firing. A bolt of blue leaped out at the Coil base. It missed the Senator’s ship and tore through a hanger.

The skimmers veered and fired. They now knew where Alvarez was and it took a Thorn twenty seconds to power up.

Kastler took aim and thumbed the grips.

His shot skimmed the cruiser’s tail. The Senator’s ship lurched, but continued to rise. Kastler slammed his fist down on the Thorn. The gun was already humming, weaving energy for the next shot, but by then it might be too late.

“Alvarez, I missed.”



As the skimmers swept by, they released missiles. The floor shuddered. A building appeared off to his right as it buckled and collapsed across the open field.


The skimmers darted out of sight. They would be coming back soon.

Kastler had at best one more shot. “Higgs?”

“Me and you.”


Higgs came back on to say something and then stopped. Kastler thought he could hear Higgs holding his breath.


And then clear as a bell, on the link, Kastler heard a woman crying.


The Thorn chimed and Kastler scoped the cruiser. He took a slow breath and triggered the grips.

This time, the shot punched the engine. No explosion, but the ship tilted and started losing altitude.

The skimmers suddenly appeared on Kastler’s left, zeroing in. He threw himself backwards just as they screamed by, shooting into the building.

The room filled with fire. He curled up and waited to see if he would live.

It sounds like the ocean.

He shut his eyes and tried to be with her. Tried to hear her.

The seashell was in his locker back at base.

For what seemed like several minutes, the building grunted and moaned. Then it was just the wind, picking up where it had left off.

When he got to his feet, he saw the Thorn was canted forward, the barrel twisted by the heat. The scamp had been hit too. It was in pieces.

He might be able to still get back to the quip on foot. He got up and ran. Scrambling across the wreckage, he skidded to a stop at the stairwell. The steps leading down had collapsed. The stairs leading up were all that remained. He ran up the last few flights, out onto the open roof.

The quip was west of the city, but the high-rises blocked his view.

Kastler shrugged out of his jacket. “Higgs, do you copy? I’m on the roof. Any chance of an evac?”

The skimmers were searching the streets now, slowing down, hovering. They fired in various directions, spraying stone and steel across the plaza.


Something lifted into view. Drifting above the buildings. For a split second, Kastler thought it might be the quip, coming to get him in the nick of time.

It was a small, pitch-black sphere, surrounded by a green orb of light.

A Butterfly.

Higgs had activated a Butterfly. There was not going to be an extraction. This was a one-way mission.

Kastler’s heart was already pounding from dodging gunfire. Now his mouth went dry. This was it. All the headlong rush of living was about to end.

It should have been obvious from the way Higgs had become unusually softspoken. Higgs had known all along. This was his last drop. This was everyone’s last drop.

Higgs had been assigned to release a Butterfly.

During training, they had all read up on the latest and greatest weaponry. But the Butterfly had felt more like an unlikely bogeyman than anything. A few paragraphs about a device that almost certainly would never actually be used.

If he remembered right, it would trigger a sub-quantum cascade. A swirl of positrons would rage over the city. They would sweep across the open fields, scour the Coil base and unravel the very essence of everything and everyone.

In theory.

As a matter of fact, no one knew for sure what a Butterfly would do. This would definitely be worth a page or two in the history books. One thing was for sure—it would end the war. Even if the Senator was able to get to another ship, he wouldn’t have time to get clear. This war was over.

Kastler was surprised to find he was suddenly calm. On the brink of such devastation, any fear seemed moot. He was curious about how much of it he would actually see.

As he watched the Butterfly float toward the Coil base, its black core made him think of a tadpole egg. An emerald glow with a dark heart.


He whirled around to find Marie standing a few paces away. She was also encompassed in green, just like the Butterfly.

This is what it’s like to lose your mind. A mixture of hope and terror. “Marie?” Saying her name out loud made him feel light-headed. “Marie, is that you?”


He started toward her, but she held up a hand and shook her head. “No closer, Thomas. If you get too close, the overlap will fail and we won’t be able to see each other.”

Something was wrong with her. She wavered, seemingly insubstantial. It was as if there were several Maries standing in the same place, blending and blurring. It was Marie, out of focus. Like a ghost. She was wearing the yellow dress.

Was this what Mott had seen? What everyone had experienced? A hallucination in their final moments? “What’s going on?”

“Let me talk,” she said. “This doesn’t last long.”

Despite the insanity of it all. Despite the fact he was seeing an image of his wife millions of miles from where he had left her, Kastler listened.

“I’m not a ghost. I’m real.” Abruptly, she started crying. The sound of her tears made the ruins all the more desolate.

“I always cry,” she said, shaking her head. “Every time.”

Clenching her fists, she shut her eyes tight for a moment and then opened them. The way she did whenever she got frustrated with her emotions.

“You saved us, Thomas. The mission was a success. The Butterfly ended the war.”

Kastler glanced over at the drifting bomb. “But it hasn’t even—”

She held out her open palm again, gently silencing him. “It detonated forty years ago. And when it did, it caused temporal overlaps. They call it a variance.” She shrugged. “I don’t really understand it all. I just know it allows me to see you.”

Kastler remembered there had been concerns about the Butterfly warping the continuum.

“They let us come here every three years,” she said, bursting into fresh tears. “You’re always here. Always fighting this last battle. It’s a loop. You’re always here.”

It began to make sense. That’s what happened to Mott. He had seen his wife or maybe one of his kids. And Stokes. All of them. They had seen someone they loved. Just before they died.

She took a small step closer. “We’re not allowed to communicate at first. We can only watch. If you saw me or if I spoke to you any sooner than this, it might alter your decisions and change the outcome.”

“But you can talk to me now.”


Kastler thought for a moment. Because there are no more decisions to make.

“You came all the way to Mars?”

She laughed. “Of course I did. When they first released the report, they made arrangements for us. And there have been improvements. It only takes a week to get here now.”

He shook his head in amazement. “A week. Incredible.”

“I come out every three years. That’s why you see so many of me standing in the same place. Every three years, I get to see you for a few minutes.”

Her image wavered. Now, he could see. She looked older, she looked young, she looked older. Her hair went from black to gray to black. But she always wore the yellow dress.

“I can only speak to you once. If I had spoken to you every time I came here, my words would become all tangled up. So I’ve been told to speak to you only when I’m sure I know what I want to say.”

She smiled. Several Maries smiled. “But I know if I try to think of the perfect words, it’ll never be real. Or I’ll end up never saying anything.”


She closed her eyes. “I still love hearing you say my name.”

Kastler looked back over his shoulder again, at the Butterfly. More ships were rising from the base, but it was too late.

He looked back at this wife. “We won?”


He watched her a moment. “Are you happy?”

She placed a hand over her mouth and tears streamed across her fingers. Then she brushed her hair back out of her eyes. “Most of the time.”

“Are you married again?”


His throat began to ache. “Listen”

“Yes, Thomas?”

“Don’t be sad all the time.”

She nodded. “Just some of the time.”

“You know, I was just thinking about you. About the ocean. About the sound of your voice.”

She smiled.

“I always say that, don’t I?”

She laughed. “But I never get tired of hearing it.”

Behind him, the Butterfly began to sing. He didn’t turn to look.

He kept his eyes on Marie. infinity

Bret Carter's short stories have appeared in “CrossTIME Science Fiction Anthology,” “Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity,” and “Boston Literary Magazine.” Carter has been accepted into Orson Scott Card’s Boot Camp for Writers, and he was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Novel Contest.


eternal press