Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Carillion’s Schemes
by Michael Hodges

by Edward H. Parks

It Don’t Mean a Thing
by A. Miller

Morning Glories
by Jude-Marie Green

Take a Good Look
by Holly Schofield

Fifty Kilograms
by Jim Stewart

Jupiter Hero
by Rob Pearce

Breaking Eggs
by Justin Woolley

To Hunt a Sky Eel
by Daniel Ausema

Gone Fishin’
by Thomas Canfield

Archangels of Heaven
by Leslie Lupien


Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
by Eric M. Jones

A Turn to the Dark Side
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Carillion’s Schemes

By Michael Hodges

JUPITER’S SPIRALING STORM bursts can blind satellites. But they don’t blind Carillion. Group Four knows him only by his mocking laughter, high up in the fire cloud projections.

Oh yeah, Group Four: Christopher Degaldo. Funemployed IT guy whose job was shipped to India.

Erika Knowles: Facebook addict who drank way too much Big Gulp soda and who played so much Farmville she once thought she was one of the pigs. Then she tried to buy a real farm with virtual currency.

Chelsea Higgins: Almost-Olympic track star who is good at everything, including not wearing makeup. Seriously, the envy of every breathing woman.

Rory Header: Likes to lift weights, go hiking, and be tan. He also likes saving people from burning buildings. He’s the human version of a golden retriever.

What they all have in common is Carillion. The hiding, laughing coward in the hellfire sky films. Two weeks ago they’d been sucked away from their lives, numb and helpless in dreamlike states. Then it was sleepy sleep time. When they’d woken, they wore collars (Rory’s golden retriever transformation at last) that were attached to individual stalls in a clinical, white barn-like structure. When the drugs had worn off, they were left to try and make sense of their predicament. But there was no sense to be made. The only man ... or thing who knew had not made an appearance. Yet. Just his mocking laughter and demented funhouse face in the bizarre films that played on the walls of the White Barn. And then it was sleepy sleep time. Upon awakening, Group Four found themselves on the surface of a smooth and icy planet. Delgado guessed it was Europa. He was good like that.

“Freaking Europa?” Erika asked, stuffed inside one of the protective space suits from the White Barn. A robotic voice had warned them they would die if they did not put them on. She splayed out her gloved hands and frowned, her face puffy from carb abuse. “This is a dream, right? I’m back home rustling up pigs in Farmville, right?”

Rory took long, bouncing strides to her side, then put a spacesuit arm around her shoulders. “Hey,” he said. “It’s no dream.”

Degaldo nodded. “The smoothest orbiting body in our solar system, a touch smaller than our moon.” He picked up a small piece of ice and flung it across the surface. The ice kept going until it disappeared on the horizon, which was nothing more than an endless hockey rink. “And the radiation doses we’re getting will kill us for sure.”

Chelsea pivoted back to Delgado, her defined cheekbones flaring as she pursed her lips. “Radiation?”

Delgado met her eyes, even though he felt compelled to stare into them for way too long. Ever since they’d found themselves in this mess, he’d crushed on her. He hoped she didn’t see it, but guessed she could. Besides, what almost-Olympic track star with supermodel looks could resist an unemployed IT guy who soaked in Wikipedia like a sponge? He’d become Cliff from “Cheers.” Lots of info, little value. But maybe, maybe this time the know-it-all that had consumed him in the Internet era would provide something tangible. And yeah, this did seem like Europa. The biggest giveaway? The freakish views of Jupiter of course, a glowing orb of a witch in the sky. And the other moons, too. If you couldn’t pick Jupiter out of a lineup, you had slept through school (or life). The bummer was (there always was a bummer) the radiation levels on Europa’s surface were enough to kill a man. And just to remind him, his helmet beeped as chunky red text flashed on the tinted visor:


The words flashed ten times, and then a red beacon appeared on the horizon. Delgado watched the beam sweep across the smooth, icy surface, and for a second he was glad to see it. The light was the most human-looking object they’d seen in two weeks other than the White Barn. Hotel Crazyfornia, they’d also called it. Or just Glenn Frey. Erika had particular bad memories of “You Belong to the City,” so the justification was there. God, how they’d panicked and shrieked and pounded their fists on the walls. It wasn’t until day ten that they’d become resigned to their fate. And here they were again, switching tracks, hard. But as his boss told him the day he was fired from ET Communications, sometimes you have to roll with it. Rob Galbreath of ET Communications was indeed an asshole, but he was right that time. Strange that advice from a sociopath would prove to be the words Delgado clung to the most these last two weeks.

Delgado turned to the rest of Group Four and shouted, which had the unpleasant effect of distorting their helmet radios. As the others groaned from the feedback, Delgado pointed at the distant beacon. “Go!” he shouted again, which came out as SHHKEEEWWWSHHWWW!

Chelsea took his hand. He took Erika’s, and Rory took his. They loped across the smooth hockey rink, Jupiter the one-eyed witch looming above them. Degaldo would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit it was the single most impressive thing he’d ever seen. He got the feeling the others felt the same way as they looked up, mouths slack.

The ice was easy to navigate thanks to the low gravity. As long as they got decent footing they could push off and skip huge chunks of the hockey rink.

The red warning text blinked on his visor, faded, then blinked again. After fifteen minutes they stood before the beacon structure, sweeps of red light bathing their space suits and wide eyes.

“What the hell?” Rory asked, stepping towards the structure, which was nothing more than a concrete outhouse with a metal door. Crimson light swept across them from atop the tiny roof like a demon lighthouse.

Rory reached for the door.

Chelsea grabbed him. “Sure that’s a good idea?”

Delgado pushed past them, grasped the handle, and flung the door open. “No choice,” he said. “The only way to avoid the radiation is to get below the surface.”

Erika stepped forward. “Wait ... below the freaking ice?”

Chelsea seized her arm and dragged her inside the structure. Then Delgado slammed Europa’s door behind them.

The Lair of Grimfangen

Erika had seen this before. No biggie, no big thang. She’d seen it in countless video games, these icy kinds of caverns. Everything would be AOK. Maybe she wouldn’t be playing Farmville again, but it would be AOK. All she had to do was take slow, deep breaths and keep telling herself that.

Once inside the beacon structure, they’d taken a set of stairs at least forty stories below the surface of Europa. At each descent, their tinted space suit visors indicated the level of radiation had improved. Sweet relief. But the relief dissolved when they opened the door at the bottom of the stairs. A seemingly endless cavern stretched out before them, supported by arching walls of ice. Every so often enormous chunks scraped off the walls and crashed into an ocean inlet below. Embedded in the ice and to a lesser extent the ocean was a shimmering phosphorescence that lit the cavern with an organic, amethyst quality.

Group Four worked their way down ice stairs to the ocean’s shore. A series of small waves lapped at the silicate beach. To their right stood stacked crates, looking like something that had arrived from UPS.

Erika took a slow, deep breath. Just like video games, she mumbled to herself, although she’d forgotten that there was no “self” when speaking in these suits.

Chelsea turned and offered her a nervous smile.

As usual, Rory was the first to approach. He reached out his hand to the crates, and Delgado seized his arm.

“You don’t know what’s in there,” he said.

Rory brushed him off and flipped the frosted wooden lid. Group Four gasped at once, and it made a strange sort of double-tracking sound in their helmets like a snippet from a Pink Floyd album.

Erika gawked at the objects in the crate. Guns. Not any she’d ever held (her brother Davey had taken her shooting in the national forest a bunch of times) but guns nonetheless. They reminded her of plasma guns from video games.

Rory reached down and Delgado seized his arm again. Rory turned to him, brow furrowed behind his tinted visor. “They’re here for a reason,” Rory said.

Chelsea took a long step towards Rory and placed her puffy space suit glove on his shoulder. “I agree,” she said, giving a haughty look to Delgado.

Rory grabbed the closest gun. Then he pivoted and held the gun up for the group to see, careful to keep the muzzle pointed away. They all reached out their puffy gloves, touching the object to make sure it was real. The stock, grip, and hand guard consisted of smooth black plastic, similar to any rifle, but the receiver was a grey bulbous thing with a small tank-like device attached at the side. A black tube ran from the tank to the receiver’s innards. The barrel circumference varied from narrow at the receiver end to six inches wide at the output, with a serrated muzzle-like device the finishing touch.

When they had finished gawking at the weapon, Rory turned towards the ocean cavern, aimed, and pressed the trigger. A stunning flash of light emitted from the barrel. The air pulsed green and distorted in front of them. Erika felt a rush of air shove her, and swore she heard a nasty sucking noise. Within a half second, the pulsating green orb that had lingered at the barrel streaked upwards to the icy cavern wall, right where it curved into the ceiling. As the orb traveled, erratic tongues of green lightning quartered its interior.

“Jesus,” she said.

The orb pulsed along the behemoth cavern walls, and as it passed certain sections, the amethyst phosphorescence disappeared, leaving a lone, green reflection. And then the thing slammed into the wall, knocking loose shards of ice the size of Volkswagens. They watched the ice crash dogrimfangenwn into the ocean, each shard splashing away the amethyst phosphorescence.

Life, Erika thought.

“Hot damn!” Rory said, loud enough to distort in their helmets. He pivoted to them, his tan-guy-with-frisbee-dog smile as charming as ever.

Delgado shook his head.

Rory flipped open more of the crates and waved the rest of Group Four on. The rest of the crates were filled with similar guns, and what Erika could only describe as hand grenades. She picked up one of the diamond-shaped grenades and rolled it in her hand. One thing was for sure, holding an object like this imparted a hell of a sense of power. Back on Earth she might’ve been scared, but after the last two weeks, sitting in Glenn Frey and now on Europa, holding a grenade didn’t seem like the kind of thing to frighten. She thumbed the device in her palm, making the little silver pin jangle against the black, diamond form. She wondered who’d put these weapons here, and why. Whoever it was, it was like a video game, wasn’t it? She’d played plenty of those, searching for the ultimate sense of immersion, to be lost in the game. Well, here was her chance.

When she looked up from the grenade, something caught her eye. A shape near the ice cavern’s ceiling. A flying thing.

A big flying thing.

“OMG!” she shouted into her radio. Group Four stumbled back and whipped their helmets towards her. Erika pointed with her grenade hand towards the cavern’s ceiling.

They followed her point and spoke at once, a jumble of heavy breathing and shouts and shrieks.

The flying thing drew closer, and Erika saw its citrine, eager eyes. As it flapped near the icy ceiling, its mouth opened and closed, revealing teeth as long as kitchen knives. The beast’s forked tongue flicked out and back again, and she was sure that’s how it smelled. And no doubt it had smelled them. The creature’s course was dead-on. In the sky behind the winged creature appeared a dozen more, although these were smaller versions. Inane chatter filled the helmets as Delgado pleaded for coherence in the jumble. At last his words prevailed.

“Do not shoot!” he said.

Rory lowered his new gun.

Delgado sighed. “We are visitors to its habitat,” he said. “Let it make the first move. Would you enter a hornet’s nest and start shooting?”

Rory made a spitting sound in his helmet, followed by chortling. “Who made you king?” he asked, turning to Delgado.

Delgado met his eyes (well, as much as he could with the tinted visors). “Shooting first, asking questions later is the very definition of stupid,” he said.

A strong and confident voice came through his headset. “Agreed,” Chelsea said.

Group Four watched the creature and its apparent brood approach, fingers on the triggers of their newfound weaponry. The flying beast unfolded its wings and landed on an ice floe a hundred yards out in the atrophic ocean. It arched its long neck and watched them with citrine eyes while flicking its tongue. Each of its feet was brandished with severe talons, perhaps a dozen of them. These daggered the ice for support. The creature’s brood angled in behind it, sputtering down onto their mother’s backside and along her neck like blackbirds on telephone wires. As they did, the amethyst phosphorescence in the ocean retreated from the ice floe and dimmed.

A red text message flashed in Erika’s helmet. Shit, she thought.


The message flashed ten times, then faded.

Delgado’s voice boomed into her helmet.

“It’s Carillion,” he said. “The face from the films. He’s screwing with us.”

Well, if there was one thing she was any good at (besides watching her sister’s five kids) it was playing games. Other than Facebook, she was an old skool gal, preferring the analog feel of Tempest, Space Invaders, and even the fabled Kings Quest Series back in the ’80s. And damn she wanted to scratch her nose. But there was no way she could, and that perhaps infuriated her more than Carillion’s stupid games.

The text flashed again, blocking her view of the enormous creature, perched on its darkening ice flow in the choppy cavern sea.

WHAT WILL YOU DO? The text message blinked. WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A thought came to her, perhaps her first serene thought in weeks. She went to scratch her nose, then huffed. Damn it. She always scratched her nose. This sucked.

“Well,” Rory said, turning to the group with the barrel of his gun pointed to the icy ceiling. He had that look in his eyes, the life of the party, the desire of any young woman. And he knew it.

“We don’t do anything,” Erika said. “Nadda. Zip. Zilch.”

Chelsea shook her helmet. “I hate that expression”.

“Not as much as I hate this blinking text,” Rory said.

Group Four turned to the ever-watching bird. The babies upon its back shrieked and adjusted their wings.

“It looks hungry,” Rory said, raising his weapon. “And it’s staring right at us.”

The text flashed again.


Clear visor.


Finally, Delgado spoke. “Erika’s right,” he said. “We do nothing.”

The great bird arched its head back and whipped its wings, sending the babies fluttering all about it. Their underbellies shone with the ocean’s amethyst phosphorescence. The bird pushed off the ice floe with its talons and flapped towards them, citrine eyes alight with hunger.

“Get back,” Rory said. He bent his knees and braced the stock against his shoulder.

The bird at fifty yards now.

“Don’t!” Erika screamed, her voice distorting in their helmets.

Twenty yards now, coupled with a blood-curdling shriek and a clear view into the beast’s gullet.

Rory went to press the trigger. The bird’s talons stabbed into the shimmering ocean. At first Erika thought the bird had come up short in its attack, but when the talons emerged from the ocean spray, a fat, silvery fish was speared in the keratin curls. The glistening fish flapped side to side, held firm by the midsection. The bird hammered its wings again and again, stirring up amethyst droplets. The dry docked phosphorescence trickled back down the silicate beach in a single line. Then the massive bird turned and flew back to the ice floe, where its brood coalesced around it and tore at the unlucky victim. They seemed quite satisfied to Erika, peeping and chirping out there in that bizarre sea. They didn’t seem so dangerous anymore.

Rory let his gun drop.

“Too close,” Chelsea said, her voice smooth and confident.

A pang of jealousy hit Erika when she realized Chelsea could do radio or voiceover work, too. Damn, was she good at everything? Freaking ridiculous.

Delgado loped over to Erika and patted her on the shoulder. “Good work,” he said.

She turned to him, her eyes pooling with moisture. “I want to go home,” she said. “I’m starving. And thirsty.”

“We all are,” Delgado said.

The bird family feasted on their fleshy marine prize, out on that darkening ice floe. The amethyst phosphorescence now kept even further away from the birds.

Chelsea loped over to Erika and put her arm around her shoulder. “Group hug,” she said. Rory sighed, but shambled his way over anyway. Each member of Group Four touched their helmets together, their visors reflecting the shimmering ocean and bobbing citrine eyes.

“We came together, we leave together,” Delgado said.

The words warmed Erika’s heart. More of these moments, please.

“What the hell is next?” she asked.

The group remained quiet, and then Delgado spoke. Erika did not care for his tone. Not one bit.

“Whatever IT decides.”

As soon as Delgado finished his last word, the cavern’s enormous ceiling glowed dim with what could only be another projection. All around the cavern the amethyst luminosity disappeared, the night personnel flicking off the lights in a skyscraper.

Another film. Similar to the ones in the White Barn.

“Anyone bring popcorn?” Rory asked with a cocky grin, aiming his weapon at the ceiling.

Soon the ceiling was filled with projected images of red, swirling clouds. Maybe Jupiter. The clouds moved faster and faster, each one becoming infected with black lightning. Then the face came. The sunken cheekbones, receding, white widow’s peak, the sharp nose, the narrow chin and impetuous smile. And the laughter. It roared through their helmets. Words flashed on the cavern ceiling, bumpy from ice knobs and other surface irregularities. It said what it always said.


Rory made another spitting sound, and Erika had to wonder if he was actually spitting in his helmet. So gross.

“Screw this guy,” Rory said.

The red storm clouds in the projections dissipated, revealing a vast stadium of cyclopean masonry. Thousands of twisted and robed life forms roared from stone benches. Above the stadium gleamed two pink moons, offset by forty-five degrees. A tunnel was carved into each interior stadium wall, and from the black depths trudged four figures, then two more sets.

Teams, Erika thought.

Teams One and Two didn’t look human at all, despite being bipedal. But Team Three did. Two men and two women were ushered into the arena’s center by robed leviathans, their eyes dim orbs in shaded hoods. The crowd roared. Strange, rhythmic language boomed across the arena and then all fell silent. A burst of light illuminated Team Three. They slowly disappeared, only to reappear as projections on an enormous stadium wall made of slate-like rock. Team Three looked horrified as they gazed at their new surroundings, which didn’t seem all that far off from Jurassic period vegetation. The crowd chanted in a bizarre tongue.

Text flashed across the helmets of Group Four:




At once the ceiling film ceased to exist. Their helmets flashed red.


Before Erika could figure out the next step, a fine chemical spray filled their helmets. Erika couldn’t help but think of her mother polishing the wooden desk in their study so long ago. Pledge, she thought, drifting off to sleep. Lemon freaking Pledge ...

The White Barn

The members of Group Four woke in their stalls, suit-free. Chelsea rubbed her temples with her long fingers (the cherry nail polish she loved had peeled off, leaving jagged patterns). She didn’t care about the crumpled space suits laying in the corner. What she did care about was her Brad. Or Bradz, as she preferred to call him. He’d proposed to her several weeks back at the super high-end Gallante’ De Ville restaurant. The ring was stashed under a cloche, and set perfect upon lace cloth. The waiter had grinned with every step to their table, and she had the distinct sensation of time slowing down, each fork scrape and spoon clang doused in heavy reverb, the waiter’s hair undulating as he walked, the shit-eating grin on Brad’s face. When she glimpsed the ring, she’d clasped her hands to her upper chest and gasped.

Bradz. Yeah. She could deal with the craziness of the last two weeks, the uncertainty. What she couldn’t deal with was the separation from her fiancĂ©. She wanted to see his cobalt eyes, to disappear in them like she always had, for him to hold her, for him to lay on top of her and make love to her, breathing heavy in her ear, her nails clutching his flexing lats ...

“Hey,” Rory said, nudging her in the shoulder. “You okay?”

She looked at him for a moment, not wanting to break from her daydream.

“I’m ... fine,” she said, averting her eyes.

“That’s a classic tell,” Rory said.

“What would you know about tells?” she said.

“Poker,” Rory said. “A group of us firefighters get together on Sunday nights.”

Chelsea leaned back on her wall and sighed. To her left sat Delgado. He was just coming to, and seemed okay. To the left of Delgado sat Erika, who was scratching her nose.

Before she could ask Delgado if he was okay, the chain-hung ceiling lights dimmed and a film projected onto the north wall. The red clouds again. Tempestuous. And the laughter, like Vincent Price. She remembered Vincent Price from those Halloween specials her mother always watched. The guy liked his silk pajamas, that was certain. It made her think of Halloween candy, and it occurred to her in a sudden pang that she was starving. She thought of melted Butterfingers and Baby Ruth’s. They’d get that way after leaving her Halloween sack too close to the heater in her father’s rusting pickup truck. Chelsea licked her lips and when she realized they had no food, dug her fingers into her palms. The first two weeks, they’d gotten their necessary nutrients from long, looping straws that emerged from the White Barn’s clinical walls. Delgado had yanked on his once, and was warned by text (on the north wall) that his sustenance would be taken away if he did so again.

Chelsea watched the red clouds and black-tainted lightning. Text flashed across the film.



The film shut off and the chain-hung lights grew bright once more. What had been a smooth, white wall on the eastern side of the White Barn now contained a single dark square. And to Chelsea’s astonishment, something colorful slid out through the square and thumped onto the floor.

Group Four stumbled over to the eastern wall, their mouths agape. They reached down (mercifully free of their puffy space suit gloves)and sunk their fingers into the colorful plastic bags. Chelsea couldn’t believe it. Clutched in her hand was a yellow candy bag. Printed on the top of the bag was the word: BUTTERFINGER.

“Holy shit,” Erika said, ripping open her bag of Milky Ways.

“We don’t know what’s in those,” Delgado said. “Could be a trick.”

“Don’t care,” Chelsea said. She used her fraying fingernails to slice open the bag. Next came the wrapper, which she ripped off with her teeth. Part of the wrapper got caught in the corner of her mouth. She devoured the snack-sized Butterfingers, her taut model face a mess of chocolate and cookie crumbles.

Erika did the same, although she didn’t have the luxury of Model Face. Delgado’s eyes darted to Rory, to Chelsea, then to Erika. He licked his lips as he squeezed his bag of coconut Almond Joys.

Rory, his lips caked with chocolate, handed his bag of Hershey Bars to Erika, and she handed her bag to him. Chelsea tore away the half-filled bag of Hersheys and swapped her Butterfingers in its place, then turned her back to the group like a wild animal.

“Hey!” Erika said.

“Smorreee,” Chelsea said, worshipping the decadent taste of pure milk chocolate.

Finally, Delgado tore into his Almond Joys, his eyes wild and his tongue working his lips over and over to get every last morsel. Within minutes the bags were limp and empty on the floor. The members of Group Four plopped down on the floor, Chelsea and Delgado with their hands on their stomachs. The overdose of sugar and chocolate seemed to have no effect on Erika, who whistled the melody to “Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips.

Chelsea stared at the tile floor in her carb coma and noticed one of the empty bags move on its own. She looked around the White Barn, and saw five well-painted vents along the lower south wall. This was new to her. For the first two weeks, they’d been tethered by their necks to their stalls, and no doubt fed anti-anxiety medication through their sustenance tubes.

“See that?” Delgado said, never to miss a beat.

Chelsea nodded. She got up (feeling a little sick, thank you very much) and headed over to the vents. Delgado followed. Rory waved them off and proceeded to lay on his back. Erika whistled the song and scratched her nose.

“Won’t matter,” she said. “Carillion’s not going to let you do a thing.”

Delgado and Chelsea ignored her, and stepped towards the vent. As soon as Delgado touched the wall, a white-painted door sealed the vent opening. Click!

“Told ya,” Erika said, scratching her nose.

Delgado and Chelsea backed away from the vent, it opened again. Two rectangular boxes slid out and clattered to the floor.

Monopoly!” Erika shouted, getting off her rump and rushing over to the vent.

Chelsea stared at the items, shaking her head and biting her lip. And it wasn’t just “Monopoly.” No, there was a cruel twist, as there always was. The other box was another game ... by the name of “Sorry!”

Delgado held up the “Sorry!” box and the game pieces rattled inside. “Warped sense of humor,” he said.

Chelsea turned to see Rory waving them off. She guessed he wasn’t a fan of board games. But what else were they to do? Stare at these stupid white walls and go mad? No thank you. She knew a good thing when she saw one.

“I call thimble!” Erika said, tearing into the plastic wrap.

“Damn you,” Delgado said. “That was always my favorite.” He turned and winked at Chelsea, and she found it endearing.

“Wheelbarrow,” Chelsea said.

Delgado stood, the “Sorry!” pieces shifting to the bottom of the box. “And maybe we should move away from the vent. Who knows what will come out next ...”

They moved back to where Rory was sitting, near the victimized candy bags. Then Delgado said, “Race car.”

At last Rory the hard ass piped up. “Terrier,” he said.

Delgado was a hell of a “Monopoly” player. He’d wrapped up Park Place and all the railroads in no time. Before he could roll the dice, Erika shattered the fun.

“What is doing this?” she asked, not bothering to look up from her “Monopoly” money and game pieces.

Rory did look up, his jaw clenched. “Doesn’t matter. When we see the son of a bitch, we’ll kill him.”

Chelsea let out a chuckle and shook her head. Damn Delgado and his railroads!

She handed Delgado his cash and he tucked it into his fat stack. Then he spoke without looking up. “All of us know what is going on.” He rolled a four, and moved ahead to Baltic Avenue. “We just don’t want to face it.”

Rory furrowed his brow at him. “Speak for yourself,” he said.

Erika scratched at her nose and counted her thin pile of cash. Chelsea wished she hadn’t raised the issue. Denial was a layer cake of respite and comfort.

“He’s right,” Chelsea said. “We have a good idea.”

“Don’t need to say it,” Delgado said.

Rory socked him in the shoulder, perhaps a playful blow at the ol’ firehouse but Delgado was not built like Rory was.

“Just say it,” Rory said.

Delgado looked up from his domination and sighed. “Look at this place,” he said. “It’s some kind of holding pen. Like for rats in a lab.” He gestured to all four corners of the White Barn. “We’re being put through our paces for games of some kind—”

“Competitions. Contests.” Chelsea offered in her calming, strong voice. “Under the thumb of a lanista.”

“Could be,” Delgado said.

Rory shook his head. “Like some plaything? Ha. We’re the species that plays with things. WE ARE.”

Erika rolled a nine and landed on Pennsylvania Railroad. Delgado held is palm out.

“Shit,” Erika said.

After stacking his fat cash, Delgado turned to Rory. “We were,” he said. “Life is what happens to you while making other plans.”

Delgado counted his money, and leaned back with his forearms on his knees. He studied the White Barn, and Chelsea figured he was looking for a weakness, for a way out. But there were no doors as far as they could see, and the vents had closed. And besides, whatever was doing this to them was beyond powerful. IT would figure out a way to prevent escape. This was an entity that could send them to Europa and back. All at once she missed her Bradz, missed her mother, her father, and her brother. Tears came, and she was horrified by the looks on the other’s faces. God she wanted to throw up.

Erika snuggled up to her side. “We’ll figure this out, okay?”

Delgado was next. He said nothing, instead placing his hand on her shoulder. She had to admit it felt really good. Rory stood and kicked a few game pieces in the process. He waved them off. “Screw all this,” he said. “We’re gonna whip some ass soon!”

Chelsea glared at him, his figure smeary in her vision.

Rory kicked at the white floor and shuffled away from them.

“It’s just how he handles things,” Erika said. “Look, I miss my family too. My mom’s birthday is next week ... Friday to be precise. We had ordered her a custom Oreo ice cream cake. I was so looking forward to that.”

Delgado walked off to meet with Rory, and the two engaged in an animated conversation.

Erika watched them for a moment, then turned to Chelsea. “Boys,” she said. “Some things never change. Even in Glenn Frey.”

Chelsea laughed and wiped her eyes. Before she could sniffle again, the lights dimmed and a film appeared on the north wall.

They had no illusions as to the director. END

Michael Hodges is a member of SFWA and the Codex Writing Group. He is also represented by FinePrint Literary. His previous story for “Perihelion” was “Fletcher’s Mountain” in the 12-JUN-2013 update. More about him at Michael Hodges Fiction.


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