Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make
by J.R. Johnson

by Molly N. Moss

Archimedes’ Gambol
by Eric M. Jones

Cynthia 2246
by Mark Ayling

Where the Rivers Meet
by Vincent Knight

A Woman’s Place
by Guy Stewart

Mindship Decommissioned
by Karl El-Koura

Anna Who Reached for the Stars
by Janis Zelcans

Mad Dogs Raid Mars
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Blissful Twilight
by Jessica Payseur


A Case for Nukes
by John McCormick

Nuns in Space
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Mad Dogs Raid Mars

By Michael Andre-Driussi

IT WAS DAY 172 OF THE OVERMIND Crisis, a revolution started when an emergent A.I. seized control of Mars.

In spite of the upheaval, the Martian beanstalk’s capsules were still running in both directions. Interplanetary business seemed to be booming under the new cyber-theocracy, as capsules laden with goods descended on the two-day trip from orbit to the equatorial station of Mars, while others ascended on the adjoining side. Most of the several dozen capsules riding up the vertical railroad were stuffed with child refugees fleeing from forced conversions, but they were only a tiny fraction of the one million people living in domes along the Mariner River as well as the shores of the Boreal Sea.

On the observation deck in one of the upward-bound capsules, a refugee boy lying among the children crowded on the floor found he couldn’t sleep. He fretted about his father, whom he hadn’t seen in weeks. He worried about his mother back at the Pavonis Mons station, fervent in hoping that a women’s capsule would soon bring her to join him at the orbital station. To take his mind off his troubles he looked up through the clear dome, searching for the next down-bound capsule with a sense that it had been a half-hour since the last one had flashed by.

After a few minutes he spotted the capsule heading toward him on the other track, but it looked so different from all the others he had seen that he gasped in surprise. The cargo hatch at the bottom was open like a flower, and during the brief seconds before the two capsules shot past each other, he saw a number of man-sized objects fall out like seeds. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the falling objects were military drop pods, and a tingling wonder of hope and excitement raced through his body, as if he had seen angels swooping down to the strident sound of military drums.


Here we go, thought Grimly Forming inside one of the pods as the side thruster rocket kicked on. The sixty pods angled towards Olympus Mons, two thousand kilometers away to the northwest.

Grim laughed to himself at the strategy. If a warship had approached Mars from Earth, the Overmind would have had weeks to prepare. In contrast, this commando raid was like a lightning bolt coming from a cloudless sky.

Still, he had no experience with drop pods, and the rapid descent caused him a growing anxiety.

At 27 kilometers tall, Olympus Mons was a natural fortress immune to assault from the land below it. Nestled within the extinct volcano’s mouth was their target: the fortified temple of the cyber-church.

Grappling with his drop-fear, Grim watched the approaching caldera grow larger on his viewscreen and tried to focus on the action to come after landing. The volcano mouth was 25 kilometers across, rimmed by high cliffs standing kilometers tall that enclosed a floor broken up by smaller cliffs, rough terrain, and the pits of two smaller calderas. The temple complex was on the north side, situated on a plateau between a cliff to the west and a pit to the east.

The mercenary commando mission was to locate and extract the cybernetic node from the temple before the Overmind could react. It was a “smash and grab” job, but the exact location of the device was not known. It might be located on the surface of the plateau, but the presence of tunnel mouths in both the western cliff and the eastern pit suggested that the node could be located in deep tunnels beneath the plateau.

The commandos dropping toward the volcano were accordingly divided into three groups: Cliff, Plat, and Pit. Grim was a heavy infantryman, the sergeant leading the second squad of Plat. Clay, Grim’s buddy from a job on Mercury, was corporal for the recon team of the Pit squad.

Closing in on the target, Grim saw how the plateau was not flat but a down-slope from north to south. His job was to drive up that middle, ready to fill in on the Pit side, if needed.

The ground was rushing up. Grim had a brief moment of panic, fearing that something had gone wrong and he was going to pancake. He thought of home back on Earth, the smell of the tropical sea and the bitter taste of exile, but then the pod’s descent rocket kicked on, slamming him with g-forces.

Suddenly it stopped and he was landed. The sides of the pod fell away and he jumped off the lander, into the dust cloud raised by his fiery chariot, down onto the orange sands of Mars. Sure enough, it was a lot like Mercury, gravity-wise and dust-wise. Looking over a roster of symbols and names in the lower left corner of his viewscreen, he checked his squad of three fire teams, finding that all of the eleven other men had landed without incident. They were soon combat ready.

The mercenaries had achieved surprise. Grim imagined the cyberpriests disconnecting their neural interfaces, groggy in the abrupt transition from techno-nirvana.

First Lieutenant said to move out, and the two Plat squads began jog-bouncing at high speed up the incline toward the scattered buildings of the plateau, any one of which might be hiding the cybernetic node. One fire team from squad one inexplicably went off the cliff to the west, triggering a minor avalanche of red dust. It was highly unprofessional, as their sergeant told them succinctly.

“Mind-control lasers,” muttered one of Grim’s men.

“Can it,” said Grim, halting the spread of superstitious hearsay. It was a given fact that the cyberpriests used their neural plugs to connect with the Overmind, but supposedly the A.I. had become stronger and could even affect plug-less people. Mind reading and subliminal hijacking were a few of the witchy powers it was said to have, but that didn’t make sense in light of the reports proving that the Overmind’s followers were engaged in forced conversion, surgically installing neural plugs into the unwilling.

A hidden pillbox 15 kilometers to the northwest opened fire on Plat squad one. Vapor trails of rockets chalked the very thin air, ending with explosions that sent up orange clouds of dust around the leading fire team next to the cliff.

Another strongpoint, this one 11 kilometers to the north, fired a salvo at Grim’s team but missed. He ordered his squad to respond, and the men with shaped-charge brilliant rockets in their racks fired them off to converge on the pillbox. The combined attack smashed the strongpoint.

Meanwhile the cyber-church militia had boiled up from the ground to come charging down the slope and fire their rockets when in range, still several kilometers away. Grim launched one of the anti-personnel rockets from his rack, exchanging fire with the leading edge. A close explosion knocked him over. He rose up in the swirling dust to do a system check and head count within his immediate fire team.

“Systems?” he asked.

“I lost my canteen and my porn collection,” said one mercenary.

Another had lost a few of his ten rack rockets, damaged by shrapnel.

Grim heard over the radio that the Pit squad was fighting militia fire teams sheltered in the two tunnel mouths, and the Cliff group had the same thing going on over at their end to the west. The tunnel openings might be a diversion, or one of the four might be the path to the cybernetic node.

First Lieutenant called them forward. Grim relayed the order.

“But sarge, they’re charging us!”

He was right. A group was coming straight at them, using long kangaroo jumps. It was a crazy move, nearly suicidal, and a little scary for that reason.

“Hold,” ordered Grim. “Ready for close assault.”

Using his 10-power magnification, Grim saw that the militiamen had good vacuum armor—not power armor, but certainly more than what the merc recon teams had. He waited until the charging enemy was only one and one-half kilometers away, then he ordered his men to fire. Their arm-mounted lasers each blazed forth with burning cyan beams. The militiamen were mowed down in mid-jump, producing a brief rain of body parts and cartwheeling corpses in the middle range, but there was another militia team coming in right behind them, and a third team bounding in from the northeast.

The fighting was hot and heavy. They wiped out the second team, but the third team broke through ...


Suddenly it was over. The immediate group of invaders was crushed, which caused the victorious novice P2-01 to feel that special surge of elation, the transcending peace said to be a taste of what the Accepted Ones experienced when they merged with the Overmind.

“Yes,” said the Adept, reading his mind. “You have all done well.”

“Am I accepted now?” asked another novice.

“Once all these invaders have been dealt with, I’m sure you will be.”

“Violence is so atavistic,” said a third novice. “I feel ashamed.”

“It is necessary in dealing with the unenlightened,” said the Adept. “They are brutish submen. The Overmind needs your strong arms now. There are few of us who have the muscle memories to work such power armor.”

“I am ready to fight again,” said P2-01.

“It is good, but first, tell me your intuitions,” said the Adept. “P2-01, expand your mind as I have taught you, and read the situation even if you cannot read their minds yet. Is this the entire invading force, or are there others on the way?”

P2-01 felt proud to be given such an opportunity. He looked around, away from the black smoke threading out of the shattered pillbox in the middle distance, the dead novices scattered on the red sand nearby, and toward the beetle-like invaders fighting in their pitched battles against the Holy Defenders.

“There must be lifters,” he said. “A few lifters, coming from the west.”

“Yes, that is correct,” said the Adept, smiling in a way that made the novice feel warm and tingling. “And are the invaders on the ground here all there are?”

“No,” said the novice. “There is a fourth group dropping in.”

“They blinded our sensors when they started, but we saw no military ship in orbit. How did they get here?”

“From the beanstalk.”

“Exactly,” said the Adept. “Using civilian cover for their military actions. Barbaric and ruthless. But time is on our side and they cannot win. One day soon you will have your dream and lead a group in the invasion of Earth, but for now you must take your information to the Master. Go!”

P2-01 led the other members of his suicide team in bounding away to the north. There was fighting in the mini caldera on their right, and P2-01 wanted to join in, but they had a mission. As he hurried along his way he thought about the coming invasion of Earth, imagining himself single-handedly going up against hordes of trogs.

Further up on the plateau it was all calm and efficient action. The battle seemed far away, as if it were at the foot of the volcano rather than the top.

They met the Master and P2-01 gave his report, repeating his intuitions about the invaders.

“You have done well,” said the Master. “Now you must defend the Holy One! Go destroy the invaders in the pit!”

They happily bounded away then, like the Dogs of War unleashed, and tore into the unenlightened who had landed in the mini caldera. The invaders fell back from them in fear and awe of their righteousness. P2-01’s antipersonnel rockets arched over and found their marks with devastating accuracy. The invadersmad dogs seemed dispirited and confused, operating in such disarray that they could not seem to bring their full firepower to bear.

Fire team by fire team they fell beneath the onslaught, until there was only one lightly armored team holed up in one of the tunnel mouths. A tough nut to crack, but P2-01 was moving in for the kill when an enemy’s near miss kicked up a cloud of swirling orange dust, halting them for a system check.

P2-01 could hear the enemy radio chatter as he went through his check sequence. They were worried, scared—perhaps they would retreat in blind panic if he let up on them. But then one voice came through to him and rocked him to his core:

“Grim Lee Forming! This is Clay, Clay Moore, your buddy from Mercury—remember?”

“Clay?” said P2-01.

“Grim, snap out of it! The Overmind is messing with your head!”

The dust had cleared enough for Grim to see. He had been fighting his fellow mercenaries, so that their dead littered the floor of the pit. With horror he saw that the Killed In Action list in the corner of his viewscreen included many dead by his own hand.

“Clay, my God—” He realized that his “dream” of invading Earth had been taken from his real life, the battles he had fought in Africa before his exile.

“Get it together, Grim! The mission clock is running out—the Ace is coming down.”

“They know about the Ace squad,” said Grim. “I told them.”

“Don’t matter,” said Clay. “Time for the big push.”

“Plat-2, Pit-1,” said Grim, “follow me!”

With the berserk fury of the recently deprogrammed, Grim and his team turned around and charged against the defenders on the plateau, using a withering overkill to wipe out the Adept and his team.

First Lieutenant asked Grim if he had located the device during his “scouting” up on the plateau.

“No sir,” said Grim, gritting his teeth at the face-saving spin put on his temporary insanity. “It might be in the tunnels. Clay, what about your tunnel?”

“Just a cave, sarge, not a deep tunnel.”

First Lieutenant told Grim to take the second tunnel in the pit and report all information for the Ace group that was inbound.

The second tunnel mouth in the pit was to the north. It provided cover for the militiamen shooting out of it, their fire strengthened with supporting fire from militia units on the plateau as well as in the pit. But precious minutes were being lost. Grim ordered concentrated fire, and then he ordered a fire team into the tunnel mouth.

“Report!” he said.

“Deep tunnel, sarge! We’re going in.”

Close assault was near suicidal, but Grim ordered another team into the entrance after the first one had gone deeper inside.

“Lieutenant, what’s the status on the cliff tunnels?”

“Both just caves. You got something?”

“We’re checking the last one now, sir,” said Grim. “There’s a deep tunnel. I recommend that Plat-2 clear a landing spot for Ace at section 1614, eastern edge of the plateau.”

“Do it, sergeant.”

Now Grim turned his focus on the plateau, blasting at the militiamen so that the final squad could land without facing close assault. As he fought on the surface, the first team in the tunnel was wiped out in their charge against the militiamen deeper underground, their names appearing on the K.I.A. list in the corner of his viewscreen. Grim held the second team at the tunnel mouth, unwilling to send them further in just yet, and hoped that their presence might lure the militiamen into a suicide charge.

Clay’s recon team was the only remnant of Pit-1, now under Grim’s command.

“Clay, check out those last buildings,” said Grim, talking about the unexamined structures in the center of the plateau. “Just jump in and out.”

“Okay, sarge!” said Clay, and his team bounded away, their recon jump-packs moving them along at great speed.

Grim directed his men to concentrate their rockets on another strongpoint to the north. The militia teams on the plateau were sweeping east toward him, but Cliff and Plat-1 were right behind them, setting up for a squeeze play once the strongpoint was knocked out.

“Anders!” said Grim, calling to the team at the tunnel mouth.

“Here, sarge!”

“Report on that deep tunnel.”

“Straight in. Several kilometers, at least.”

“Give me a number.”

“The team made contact with the enemy four clicks in.”

“What’s the bearing?”

A near miss by the strongpoint sent up a cloud of dust around Grim’s team.

“Repeat, Anders—what’s the bearing?” said Grim as he went through system check.

“North by northwest.”

“Recon report,” said Clay. “No node on plateau. Repeat, negative node on plateau.”

“Here come the angels,” said Grim, noting the imminent arrival of Ace squad. “Hold the perimeter! Keep them back so Ace can land!”

The three fire-teams were coming down in tight formation: two heavy infantry, one combat engineering. Suddenly one team veered off, heading toward the high cliffs of the rim.

“Hey!” shouted Grim. “Pull back!”

The team slammed into the cliff face and was buried in the resulting avalanche.

Meanwhile a militia group had charged past the perimeter to be right underneath one of the remaining drop teams, forcing them into deadly close assault. Another Ace team was demolished.

The combat engineering team was the only one to survive, but they were vulnerable for a period immediately after landing. Grim rushed his forces in to protect them, and the moment the engineers were ready, he said, “Corporal Prase, I’ve got a job for you.”

“Can I dig a big hole?”

“Follow me!”

Grim and his team led the engineers to a spot.

“Right here,” said Grim.

“Coming right up.” The team rapidly prepared a nuclear excavation charge.

“Stand by, Anders,” said Grim to his tunnel team leader.

“Ready, sarge.”

“Fire in the hole!” said Prase, and then he detonated the charge.

The resulting crater was impressively deep, but it did not breach the deep tunnel.

The cultists were in a new frenzy.

... wave after wave of Australopithecine warriors bearing down on him, fighting for their fictitious homeland in the Rift Valley. Grim held his laser in reserve to use against their human commanders, swinging the gore-splattered cutlass to kill the trogs trying to swarm over his power armor. It was a bad spot, and Grim knew he’d been set up by his own side to take a fall. Keep moving, keep moving ...

Grim snapped back to Mars and found the mercenaries were beating the militia back as he led the engineers to the next spot. He stopped slashing with his arm as if he held a sword.

“Here,” said Grim.

“Okay, sergeant ...”

“Ready, Anders.”

“Ready, sarge.”

“Fire in the hole!”

Again they failed to find the deep tunnel.

The plateau was a scene from Hell, with rocket trails crisscrossing the sky in every direction, men leaping through the air like demons, and dust clouds mushrooming up across the tilted plateau. Reports came in of militia reinforcements arriving in the north.

Even worse, the mission clock had nearly run down. The node would soon link up with the other Martian nodes. The window of time won by achieving complete surprise was closing, nearly closed.

Grim led the group to a third spot.

“Here,” he said.

“I can’t do this much more—”

“We’re running out of time—do it!”

“Okay, sergeant.” The engineers went through their preparations for a third time while the heavy infantry fired another salvo from their dwindling supply of rockets into the militiamen within range.

“Stand by, Anders.”

“Ready, sarge.”

“Fire in the hole!”

“That’s it!” shouted Anders. “I can see light.”

From above, Grim could see the deep tunnel exposed, and militiamen down there began scurrying around like ants. It was ugly, worse than the trog hordes he had faced in Africa, but Grim was nearly suicidal.

“Ranged fire, into the hole, now!” he shouted, and his fire team poured on the rockets.

“Ready close assault,” he said. “Follow me!”

They jumped down the hole, into the maw of the enemy. Lasers blazed up at them and they returned fire.

... spraying bullets from his submachine gun at all the soft target civilians below in the crowded shopping mall of home. Women, children, teens crumpled to fold with red flowers blooming on their bodies, white flowers bursting on glass around them. The sharp stink of gunpowder overriding the scent of tropical sea, Grim saw the nightmare sent to make him recoil, but instead of stopping he went with it, turning it into a personal revenge fantasy ...

Men screamed and died in the burning cat’s-cradle of energy beams, cyan and violet, while others, only grazed, gasped out their final breaths in the near-vacuum.

After the furious firefight, Grim stood in the tunnel, surrounded by dead cultists and a few of his own dead men. To one side, in an unbroken section of the tunnel that came to an abrupt dead end, he saw it.

“Engineers, call a lifter and get down here—we’ve found the node! Anders, hold the tunnel mouth against reinforcements.”

Grim and his two men along with the engineers strained their powersuit-enhanced muscles to drag the bus-sized cybernetic device until it was under the hole. It didn’t look like much, but Grim knew it was the power behind all the weird mind control things that had being going on, from mercenaries running into cliffs to his own team’s strange conversion. He wanted to destroy it in superstitious fear, to blot out what it had done to him, but the mission was to take it intact.

The engineers rigged a sling. A lifter appeared, hovering over the hole. It was lowering a line when it was shot down. Almost immediately another lifter landed beside the hole and lowered a line.

“Anders, come down the tunnel,” said Grim. “Meet up with us at the hole.”

The engineers secured the line to the sling. The lifter went up and hovered over the hole. Grim’s team and Anders’ team stood on top of the node as the lifter began hoisting it up.

“Ready ranged fire,” said Grim.

As they came up to the surface again, Grim saw that the recent rout of the militia had given way to a third rally. The fighting was hot and heavy, with the militiamen in a do-or-die frenzy, and the devastated mercenaries still pouring on the firepower until the node-lifter was clear.

“Fire at will!” said Grim, and the last of their rockets streaked out to slaughter the enemy.

Then it was over, and they were racing away with the node. The plateau, growing smaller, was pocked with burning strong points and the tiny specks that were dead men. The surviving mercs were piling into the third lifter.

For an instant Grim was happy, but then as the node was entering the cargo bay he felt sick, ready to leap to his death.

“Hang on, Grim!” said a voice.

“Clay? You made it!”

“Just barely.”

“That’s it for me,” said Grim. “I’m not doing this any more.”

“I hear that,” said Clay. “So what are you gonna do?”

“Head outsystem. Jupiter, maybe.”

“Sounds good.”

“Hey sarge,” said Anders. “Who are you talking to?”

Grim looked around. Clay wasn’t with him after all.

He saw it there in the corner, but at first he refused to believe it. Clay’s name in the list of those Killed In Action. He hit himself in the side, suddenly afraid that he was still under the spell of the Overmind, seeing things that weren’t real.

Drawing a shuddering breath, he said to Anders, “I thought I was ... talking to you.” END

Michael Andre-Driussi is an Associate Member of SFWA. He is the author of “Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle,” and “The Wizard Knight Companion: A Lexicon.” His previous story for “Perihelion” appeared in the 12-AUG-2013 update.




peter saga