Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Watchman, What of the Night?
by Eric Del Carlo

Enemy From Nowhere
by Jeffery Scott Sims

Dance by the Light of the Moon
by Milo James Fowler

Continue Program?
by Seth Chambers

Perfect Blue, Scorched Black
by Rachael Acks

Catastrophic Failure
by David Steffen

Twice Upon a Midnight Dreary
by Richard Zwicker

Screwed by Frankie Frog
by Tim McDaniel

Infinite (∞) LDK
by Ryu Ando

by Sara Backer


Time in a Bottle
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Death Star
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Enemy From Nowhere

By Jeffery Scott Sims

THIS IS HOW I FELL INTO IT. I INTENDED a day hike in the vast wilderness preserve of the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix, a picturesque region of granite cliffs and barren, rocky ridges. I planned to head up the trail through arid Mesquite Canyon, reach the high peak overlooking the broad valley to the east before the sun grew too ferocious. So I intended. This is what happened.

I arrived at the preserve a good two hours before dawn, drove slowly in my pick-up truck along the park road up to the pass, where I got a good look by moonlight at the scrubby plains below with the stark mountains, my destination, beyond. Then I dipped down toward the plains, making the final run in to the trail head at the picnic area. Beyond the pass the lights of civilization were cut off by hills, and I ventured into the loneliest, most pristine depths of the preserve.

To my surprise a brand new locked gate blocked the road at that point, a couple of miles from the commencement of the trail. I considered that a mistake, or due to road construction. Did I give up? No way; I parked, hiked down the slope, left the road shortly at a spur trail and approached my destination through the back door.

All was normal at the trail head, a location familiar to me. So was the beginning of the hike, which passed through a dense stand of palo verdes and up the rocky trail ascending into the steep lower portion of the canyon. I went well prepared, a procedure born of hard experience, carrying a massive canteen, copious snacks, sunscreen, compass, and my trusty walking stick. A flashlight was part of my kit, temporarily necessary because the first traces of dawn still held off, and the moon left such black shadows. My boots crunched rocks, gravel, hard-packed earth.

Suddenly I strode on soft, moist earth. I wondered about that for an instant, then about a lot more. Suddenly damp, riparian vegetation pressed against me. It was light now too, just like that, but a dull, muted light, the grayness of what a glance showed me to be a heavily overcast sky. Those huge, wide-trunked trees hanging over me: they were strange, vaguely like willows, with long fronds and vines dangling in bunches. Water dripped from them onto my face.

I figured I’d gone insane. This wasn’t the Arizona desert I knew. Instinctively I turned to backtrack, get onto sure ground, only there wasn’t any trail to speak of. I pushed along what resembled a wet, narrow animal path for a hundred yards before I gave up, deliriously perplexed, already a bit scared. I knew the region well enough to be afraid. This was beyond not right. The situation eluded sensible explanation.

I must seek high ground. From there I could take bearings, get out of this incomprehensible mess. I checked my compass. The needle wobbled uselessly. I chose a direction at random. Presently I emerged into a small clearing. The light was a little better there. Through a gap in the tall trees I beheld a symmetrical, rounded mountain in the distance, wholly unlike the craggy peaks of the White Tanks, with a startling white spire protruding from its summit. It didn’t look like anything, just a solid white needle piercing the sky. That vision really alarmed me. Nothing I could see matched reality.

As I surveyed the scene, an intense blue fireball rocketed across the heavens, leaving a dark trail in the low clouds through which it passed. It swerved suddenly and raced off to my left. That wasn’t natural, either.

Nearer at hand lay other items of odd interest. Visible among the dense growth were stone structures, ancient in appearance, not much more than foundations, reminiscent of the Mayan ruins I’d visited in years past. The low walls were heaped with soggy earth, festooned with flowering weeds. Idly it occurred to me that I didn’t recognize the flowers.

I heard sounds off to my right. Someone approached. Without thinking I scurried out of the clearing, crouched behind a shock of tangled vines. Three figures appeared. They were short, no bigger than children, though burly, and entirely encased in black metal suits. Their arms didn’t look proper, and they had too many of them. Each figure held in one funny hand an instrument like a camera. They stopped in the clearing, not speaking, turned their heads—turned them all the way around!—then after a silent pause took off in a hurry, the way I had come. I noticed that in particular. It really got my blood bubbling.

I waited as long as I could stand it, got up and moved fast the opposite way. Following a period of quiet locomotion I began running as best I could. It wasn’t easy in that thick undergrowth. I kept going, breathing harder and harder, until I crossed another skinny path. I pounded down it at a gallop. Somewhere in there creepers snagged me and I lost my canteen. I didn’t stop to search.

I hurtled straight into the arms of another metal figure. This one was tall, taller than I, more reasonably proportioned, with some kind of weapon slung over its shoulder. It was cloaked in gleaming metal, with a dark visor where the face belonged. I started to cry out. A big metal hand clamped over my mouth. A harsh voice hissed, “Shut up, you fool. Do you want to bring them down on us?”

There were about a half dozen more behind him; yes, a total of seven, all in shiny metallic garb, their faces hidden behind opaque visors. “You’re human?” I whispered.

“He catches on fast,” snickered one. They were large forms, save for one shorty in their midst. My initial acquaintance released me. He said, “Come with us.” They commenced marching. I scuttled after, hungry for information, eager to question, not daring, hoping I was among friends. We traveled maybe a mile before we stopped.

“This will do for now,” announced the same fellow, who spoke like a leader. He flicked up his visor, removed his helmet. “Let’s sit for a spell.” They all went down at the trail’s edge, doffing their helmets. Human beings they were, five of them obviously armed, obvious soldierly types, young and hearty. Their two companions were different: one an elderly man, distinguished, with iron gray at the temples and a small, manicured beard. The other an astonishingly pretty blonde girl.

Their leader glowered at me. “I’m Lieutenant Stevens. I’m in charge. You sure aren’t authorized to be here. Who are you?” I told him. “What are you doing here?” I told him I didn’t know. The girl laughed at me. Well, what was she doing there?

The older guy said, in a very precise, accented voice, “I think we can deduce the reasons for this gentleman’s current whereabouts. A nature outing, I take it, sir?”


“You ignored the barriers, and now you have lost your way. Conditions confuse, do they not?”

“Who are you people?” I cried, “and what is going on?”

“I am Vorchek,” he replied. “Professor Anton Vorchek. This is my assistant, Miss Theresa Delaney, who insisted on accompanying me, despite my severe remonstrations. These stout fellows are members of the United States Army.”

“Special Threats Division,” declared Stevens, who proceeded to rattle off the names and ranks of his comrades.

“I never heard of that outfit,” I answered.

“Big surprise. It didn’t exist until this started happening.”


“Until the invasion began,” Stevens said heavily.

“The facts are simple enough,” Vorchek commenced, “if, unfortunately, minimal. Eight months ago—to the best of our knowledge—elements of another world, or plane of existence, began to break into our own. Chunks and patches of our reality are being replaced by another. The weak evidence informs us that this process is intentional. Someone is masterminding it for their benefit, probably—a fair assumption—with little regard for our own. The long term consequences are disturbing. Hence, we act ...”

One identified as Corporal Hotchkiss complained, “We sure don’t need him,” indicating me. “It’s bad enough with this babe in tow.”

“I’m carrying my weight,” Theresa hotly retorted. To prove it she hefted the small but bulging satchel she held in both hands. “The Professor and I are the brains of this team.”

Vorchek grinned. Stevens shook his head and smiled. He said, “We’d better keep moving. You”—meaning me—“have you seen anyone else?” I assured him I had. “You see? They’re around. All right, resume march. Bucko, you’d better stick with us.”

I didn’t argue. Helmets slapped back on and away they went, into the jungle, I in the midst of the pack, feeling awfully naked by comparison. I still knew next to nothing. Fifty questions boiled in my brain. I was afraid to talk, and they didn’t. We marched silently, in some anonymous direction, for most of an hour.

A horrid sound wove its way to our ears through the massed, soggy foliage. What was that: a machine noise, the whining of an insect? I felt icy cold of a sudden. I couldn’t see faces, but postures told me my companions were greatly distressed. Private Wilson whispered, “We can’t let it catch us in this stuff.”

The Lieutenant agreed. “We require fields of fire. Keep an eye out.” They—we— broke into a trot. Ramming through all those damp leaves and vines soaked me. A short, rapid shower fell. I’d dressed for the desert! I was afraid of getting sick, only I suspect a whole lot worse in store. We entered a clearing of clinging grassaliens and sloppy mud across the way and saw another set of those forsaken ruins.

“Over there, on the double.” We jogged to the stone walls thrusting out of the engulfing growths. They were stone, I realized, but solid slabs like concrete, with several openings missing doors or other fixtures. We clambered inside. Ah-ha, a hiding place! Stevens and Private Lammers crawled up to the low, overgrown roof. The soldiers checked their weapons, prepared for action.

Crouched down, I watched from what I’ll call a window. The whining intensified. Something trundled into view. It resembled an insect—as big as my truck—with a segmented gray body and many short legs propelling it, advancing into the clearing, where it halted. It had a small head, a globe with three bulbs, a kind of snout, and several long, thin antennae. The three featureless bulbs or eyes pulsed with eerie red light. I couldn’t make up my mind if it was actually a living thing. Its locomotion had seemed oddly mechanical.

The head rose up on a thick stalk. Now I could tell that it was a machine or vehicle. The waving antennae swerved our way. Yes, this was more metalwork. Everything that moved out here was metal. The eyes glowed steadily. The whining grew shrill. A blast of yellow fire shot from the snout!

I recoiled behind the wall, felt heat. Stevens barked an order, and he and his men let loose with their unusual rifles. Bright, narrow white beams played upon the monstrous attacker. It fired again. Flame flashed through the window. I scuttled away on hands and knees, finding refuge with Vorchek and the girl, who were esconced in a deep cubbyhole shielded from the battle area. I spent the rest of the fight huddled there.

Theresa laughed at me again. I groused, “I’m not armed. What do you want, that I should tackle that thing with a pocket knife?”

Vorchek evenly stated, “No one accuses you, son. This must be quite disconcerting for you.”

Theresa sniffed, “He should’ve backed out as soon as he entered the zone. A few steps and he would’ve returned to the normal world. That’s what I would’ve done.”

“I didn’t know that was an option,” I retorted. “I was dazed and turned around. The farther I walked, the deeper I got into this mess. I didn’t know. I still don’t.”

Vorchek shrugged, turned to his lovely companion, said easily, “Tell him, my dear, if you are not otherwise engaged.”

So, against a cacophony of shots and blasts and booms, Theresa explained to me the situation in a fashion that I could more or less understand. At various, random places about the Earth, these peculiar zones were appearing, zones of otherness—invisible from the outside—yet replacing the natural terrain with that of a strange, dreary world, in every case exhibiting the depressing features of gloomy, wet jungle, murky skies, and scattered signs of ancient habitation. Within these practically mystical realms lurked beings of whom little was known, but the best minds had concluded that these creatures were deliberately fostering these incredible events, utilizing forces unknown to our planet. Who they were, where they came from—outer space, another dimension, from under the sea, for that matter—entirely guesswork and supposition. Every zone possessed one, and only one, of those weird spires such as I’d seen, located in the heart of the affected region. Special instruments proved that mysterious energy radiated from those spires.

Said Theresa, with haughty confidence in her information, “Left to themselves, the zones slowly grow. Each one spreads, gobbling more territory. Unchecked, in time they’d take over the Earth, and wipe it all away. Isn’t that right, Professor?”

“I fear so. That does seem to be the plan. It is fortunate that we learned of this current outbreak so soon as it appeared.”

“But we have a plan of our own,” the girl proudly proclaimed. “The Professor figured it all out.” He demurred, spoke of a broad scientific effort, but I gathered he was the prime mover in the enterprise. Regardless, there was a way to fight back, and that was what brought them there.

Everything learned about this impossible invasion came from reports of daring military adventurers and scientific spies who had penetrated the zones, observed and studied, and if they survived returned to report. They spoke of the wandering bands of aliens infesting the zones, with whom any attempt at communication meant instantaneous conflict; many good men, early on, had perished endeavoring to establish friendly contact. The denizens of the other world, whoever or whatever they were, weren’t interested in chit-chit, free trade, or the like. Every time it was tried, they wanted us dead. There were organic creatures inside those black suits, but no one could say what kind. Apparently there weren’t many of them, at least few patrolled the forest, but even in small numbers they were deadly, and as I knew from experience they had fearsome mechanized weapons at their command. No one knew whether this place was their world, whether they built the old ruins, or whether it was a world they’d conquered and were using as a jumping off point for fresh aggressions. The most useful data gleaned to date concerned the spooky spires. They emitted radiation on a freakish frequency. Professor Vorchek, possibly among others, had concocted a means of blocking those transmissions that were eating the Earth.

Theresa indicated her satchel. “This is a bomb,” she said.

Vorchek politely disagreed, crisply took over the narrative. “I call it a neutralizer. You see, sir, conventional military means have failed us. Attempts to move in large bodies of troops, tanks, big guns, and so forth, have in every case led to total disaster. Five months ago we lost a regiment in Idaho. Small unit penetration offers the best chance. With this weapon a few good men can make a difference. It counteracts the altering field, if we can get it close enough to the enemy tower. We have achieved a passable success rate.”

I dreaded the import of this news. “So we aren’t clearing out?” I queried. “We’re going in?”


The noise of battle had stopped. The men joined us. Lieutenant Stevens informed all: “We smashed that thing. Wilson bought it, though. We can’t stick here.” He carried two rifles, one slung over his shoulder. He tossed the other at me, which I awkwardly caught. “Got the guts to use that?”

I looked about helplessly at their staring faces. Theresa snorted, defiantly snapped, “If not you, buster, then me.”

“I’m good for it,” I replied. “Tell me what to do.”

It was crazy—it was a nightmare—all of it an outrageous fantasy, but within minutes I became a gun-toting member of a team advancing deep into trackless enemy territory, on Earth but not of Earth, animated by the goal of suppressing or disabling the fateful power surging from that creepy alien tower. Behind us lay the shattered, steaming wreckage of the fire-breathing insect machine, and the charred body of the comrade I hardly knew. We disappeared under the jungle canopy for the longest time. I don’t know how they maintained our heading. I guess they were experts at this kind of thing, or had become so fast. Then the massed walls of foliage drew back. To our front loomed a rocky slope smothered with low vine-bushes. High above us gleamed the tower. From this vantage I noticed gray cubes moving about its base. To the Professor, Stevens muttered, “We don’t get closer, unless we contemplate suicide.”

“This must do,” nodded Vorchek, who went into action on the spot; his style of action. He and Theresa sat on a flat rock—green-veined stuff, only similar to granite—and communed together over their wares. While the girl unwrapped her possession, he removed a palm-sized device from a tiny pouch, switched it on. He held it aloft, made passes with it in the air. It clicked and buzzed. “They employ greater intensity now,” he observed with a frown. “They are learning, as do we. Miss Delaney, I recommend the highest setting.”

“The charge won’t last long at that rate,” she replied in a remarkably professional tone.

“It should serve.”

Theresa had extracted an oval thing of metal and glass on stubby tripod legs, resembling a lidded iron kettle sporting curious knobs and bunched, coiled wires. On second thought, it reminded me of an old-fashioned underwater mine, smaller but just as ugly. She fiddled with connections, read a needled meter, depressed a red button. She looked up expectantly.

Professor Vorchek turned to Stevens. “Lieutenant, ready when you are.”

That officer said, “Hit it.”

At Vorchek’s curt command, Theresa punched a second button. As she stood up Stevens growled, “Okay, that’s done. Now we make a beeline toward normality; no deviations, no stopping. If you get into trouble, or can’t keep up”—he’d shut his visor, but if he didn’t look at the other two civilians, he certainly did at me— “then you’re out of luck. We can’t spare a minute for you.” He pointed. “That way, I think. I bet my life. Move!”

So in single-file we filtered back into the jungle, took off at a supportable but rapid speed, Stevens setting our pace. As we plunged into cover four blue fireballs roared overhead, vanishing behind the mountain of the spire. Corporal Clanton called to the fellow before him, “They must be responding to the diversion at the perimeter. Our guys timed it pretty well.” Stevens spat out an oath, ordered him to save his breath.

I, farther down the line behind Theresa, whispered to her, “What’s the big hurry? You set that gadget. It’s doing its dirty work.” She tossed her helmeted head, turned briefly my way, and I’m sure she rolled her eyes. She answered me crushingly, as if I were a moron.

“I only set the timer. The device activates in one short hour. If it does the job, all this disappears. I don’t know about you, pal, but I’m not keen to disappear with it.” I kept quiet after that. I wanted all of my wind.

Good Lord, could we make it in an hour? Were we ten miles inside the alien zone, one mile, somewhere in between? I couldn’t estimate. I had to believe they knew what they were doing, had sanely calculated their exit strategy. I knew merely of dripping trees, wet tangles of undergrowth, occasional faint paths, glimpses of sodden skies. We marched, incredibly fast, through that morass for an eternity. One hour? Something had gone wrong. Countless hours had passed. My ability to keep up, though, cheered me. My regular hiking regimen paid off.

Stevens halted us at a clearing containing those mysterious ruins, but not any of those I’d seen before. He had, though. Eagerly he announced, “This is it. We came in at an angle, but we found it. Five hundred yards—that way—will see us clear. Professor, what’s the time?”

The old man whipped out, of all things, a gold pocket watch on a chain. He said, in an infuriatingly calm voice, “We have twenty-five minutes, sir.”

“Piece of cake,” cried Private Bates. I thought: my God, that ghastly trek consumed only thirty-five minutes? We dashed across the clearing, almost at a run. We must have been covering ground splendidly, but twenty-five sounded an awfully small number when death or worse lay waiting at twenty-six.

Then came the rain, accompanied by its annoying pattering on leaves, and another sound that brought us up short: the tread of feet nearby, something moving concealed by blinding foliage. Stevens called hollowly, “Prepare to fire. God be with us.”

It had to be: when life and death are at stake, nothing comes easy. We continued forward through the gloom, in the rain, I frankly terrified by the dark peril encompassing us. Maybe one heart-thudding minute inched by. Short black figures materialized under the trees. We swiveled the barrels of our high-tech rifles. In a split second shots erupted.

I guess we got the draw on them, by a hair’s breadth. Our beams—including mine!—lanced into them. The rifle didn’t kick at all. They hurled back at us blasts of crimson fire from the weapons I’d compared to cameras. Bates took one bolt. He blew up. Professor Vorchek stooped, retrieved the singed rifle from the hand of the incinerated man, ripped away. Clanton screamed, went down, his whole side ablaze. A moment later my dazzled eyes saw nothing, my tortured ears detected no sound save that pattering and trickling of descending moisture. Our strange enemies lay dead. Their black suits, in rupturing, had squirted quantities of loathsome pinkish ooze, their small bodies deflating, their many arms flattened like ribbons. It sickened me to think there was nothing but living gelatin inside those suits.

Stevens dragged the moaning Clanton to his feet, said harshly, “If you can keep up with me, Private, then you’ll live to receive that medal.” Incredibly, he did. Ten minutes later, more or less, we stepped through another wall of trees and into glaring sunlight, onto bare, honest to goodness dusty rock and pebbly sand. I turned. There behind me stood the bleak, somber, gorgeous, and entirely normal White Tank Mountains. A jeep blinked its headlights from a nearby knoll, bumped toward us over the scrubby ground. In moments more men and vehicles hove into view. An ambulance arrived for Corporal Clanton.

Professor Vorchek said, “Six minutes.” Of course: the calm, sere reality around us still meant nothing. Just a few feet away lay that insane, invisible zone of no place. Would our efforts succeed?

Zero hour, and the scene modestly flashed, as if I’d been poked in the eyes, so abruptly that I doubted the fact. Others did not. A tracked armored carrier roared forward, entered the area from which we had come. It spun in circles for a period, drove deeper, then shuddered back. A hatch popped open, a soldier appeared. He gave the “thumbs up.”

Theresa Delaney said, “I could use a drink.”

I laughed carelessly, replied in my most outgoing style, “I’ll take you up on that.”

She looked me over with casual distaste, sneered, “I didn’t mean with you.” Then: “Come on, Professor, you can tell me what to write in your latest volume of notes. It might be a best seller one day.”

Vorchek took me aside, said, “All is well here, son. I advise you not to make waves. Dismiss this curious episode from your mind. When you are ready, if you please, get on with your hike. These mountains, at least, are what they ever were.”

He had to be kidding. I haven’t approached the White Tanks since that day. Indeed, I’ve developed a phobia about the charming regions of wild country I used to frequent. I don’t know if they’d still be there, even as I stepped into them. I haven’t heard any more about it, but I reckon that the war against the enemy from nowhere goes on. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of it again. END

Jeffery Scott Sims professes a devotion to fantastic literature. He lives in Arizona,
which forms the background for many of his tales. He has been published in “Aurora Wolf,” “Swords and Sorcery,” “Voluted Tales,” and other periodicals.


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