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




Dance by the Light of the Moon

By Milo James Fowler

WHEN SHE FIRST CAUGHT THE BLIP on her proximity scanner, Eyan thought one of the drillbots had broken loose and was drifting by its tether from Futuro’s underside. Nothing the control team couldn’t handle—a small blot on an otherwise pristine moonscape as it swept upward, reeled into the launch bay. But they notified her on internal comms as soon as they had the situation under control, requesting her presence immediately.

In all her lifetimes as station security chief, she’d never seen anything like it.

Now as she stood outside the portside airlock and waited for the visitor to complete his pressure equalization sequence, Eyan found herself at a loss. She played her recent conversation with Dr. Hammersmith over again in her mind, hoping to make sense of things.

“Deal with this,” he’d said crisply via Link, his voice resonating from the subdermal implant behind Eyan’s left ear. “Make it disappear.”

“I haven’t completed my investigation, sir. There is no need to send—”

“He will arrive within the hour. I expect you to make every effort not to impede his investigation in any way. He’ll get the job done, I’m sure.”

“Am I being replaced, sir?”

“Nonsense,” he’d been quick to respond. “You know how the UW mucky-mucks can be. They’ve insisted on an impartial observer, that’s all.”

“I am still in charge of the investigation, then?”

Silence held the moment. “I’ll let him explain the situation to you when he arrives. Rest assured, Eyan, you’ll still have your job when this is over—provided Hammersmith Enterprises is not deemed liable for any damages.” On that note, he’d abruptly ended the transmission.

Damages. Liability. All too much to be bothered with in the eyes of Earth’s greatest entrepreneur. Eyan couldn’t help wondering if Dr. Hammersmith had sold his soul in the bargain when he’d won sole rights to the moon’s titanium ore deposits over fifty years ago, managing to outbid the entire Eastern Conglomerate and garner the favor of the United World extraterrestrial acquisitions board.

But she knew she was the last person to question another’s soul.

The airlock door slid open automatically with a rush of stagnate air. Eyan raised her chin, hands clasped behind her back, expecting to see a soft little bureaucrat in a bulky pressure suit come forth—they always overdressed for the occasion, believing they could be sucked out into space at any moment. Instead, it was a bald, barefoot monk with a face as white and devoid of expression as the robe he wore.

Eyan expected to hear herself say, “Welcome to Futuro 2,” but her eyes immediately caught the scabbard slung across the man’s back, and she blurted out, “Weapons are not allowed here.” How had he managed to check such a thing through shuttle security?

“Projectile weapons. Of course.” He met her gaze briefly with an air of indifference and entered a command code for the unmanned shuttle to return to Earth. “One would be a fool to risk puncturing the hull of this station.”

Eyan tried to read the look in his dark eyes, but it was difficult; they seemed to lack irises. Being adept at translating body language, she could tell he had nothing at stake here, and he did not recognize her authority over him.

“Welcome to Futuro 2, Mr.—”

“Cade.” He strode past her, arms across his abdomen with hands tucked into the generous sleeves of his robe. His bare feet made no sound as they pressed against the cold plasteel floor. “What lifetime is this?”

With a frown at his complete disregard for protocol—one did not enter Futuro 2 and strike out on one’s own without an escort—Eyan moved to overtake the slight fellow and extended her hand, leading the way to the conference room. “Dr. Hammersmith regrets being unable to meet you in person, but we have a vidLink set up—”

“I will meet with the crew first.” He did not acknowledge her with even a glance. He seemed, by all appearances, to be counting rivets along the floor, walls, and ceiling of the corridor. “You have not answered my question.” He faced her as he walked. “Your lifetime?”

“I don’t see that it’s any of your business.”

“A single question. If we are to work together, we must know something about one another.”

His non-confrontational demeanor coupled with such a rude request made a strange juxtaposition—as if knowing her current lifetime would sum up her entire existence for him.

“My fifth—on Futuro.”

“And in all your time here, nothing like this has ever happened before?”

“Of course not. I included that in my preliminary report.” Twenty meters ahead, the corridor branched in two; one side led to the control team’s operations center where all six of them would be on duty at this hour, and the other side led to the mess hall and conference room. Futuro 2 was small enough that everyone knew how to get everywhere they needed within the first twenty-four hours aboard. But unless Cade had managed to memorize a map of the station’s layout, he wouldn’t know she was leading him to the vidLink with Dr. Hammersmith, as scheduled, despite his request to meet the crew.

“How long are the team’s shifts?”

“Six hours.” The same as any workday on Earth—also in her report. “What’s your order?”

His pace slowed, but he did not stop, his face an indecipherable mask.

“My single question.” She shrugged, nodding at his attire. “Not exactly what I’d expect from a UW official.”

“I do not represent the United World government.”

Of course not. He was an impartial observer. “Last I heard, religions on Earth had died out.”

“Five lifetimes ago, perhaps. But things have changed. There are new ways that harken back to the beliefs of the ancients—when life was simpler.”

“How ancient is that?” She pointed to his scabbard, still uncomfortable with him bringing such a thing onto her station.

His thin lips curved upward slightly. “There has never been a death aboard a Futuro station.” He stopped where the corridor forked. He didn’t know the way, or he wouldn’t have stood there waiting for her to lead onward. “Until today.”

Eyan folded her arms, flexing her slim-but-sizeable biceps. “You’re not a bureaucrat, and you’re not a priest. So who the hell are you?”

“I am the man to get the job done, according to your employer.”

With a polite nod, he struck off down the corridor leading to the operations center as if he’d known the way all along.


Dr. Hammersmith’s attention was divided, but he managed to catch the gist of what Eyan relayed.

“He’s there already? Excellent. You just let him do his job, and we’ll be able to put all of this behind us in no time.” He didn’t bother to meet her gaze.

Eyan stood at attention, alone in the conference room, and faced the wide screen on the wall before her. From the vidLink’s perspective—low on Hammersmith’s desk, intentionally placed there to make him look like an imposing figure—he appeared incredibly busy, juggling two slates while he entered streaming data into his desktop console.

“He came aboard armed, sir. With a sword.”

“As well he should have. You’ve got a murderer on board, Eyan. It’s only prudent that this fellow come able to defend himself. You carry around one of those shock prods, don’t you?”

She’d never had to use it. “Part of my uniform, sir.”

“Then consider that sword to be part of his. Eccentric maybe, but the world takes all kinds, as you should know well enough.” With a wink, he met her gaze long enough to reach over and end the transmission.

Eyan stared at her reflection as the screen faded to black. What sort of religion would expect its priests to carry long blades across their backs? But of more concern was the fact that Dr. Hammersmith didn’t appear to see anything amiss with the situation.

Eyan lifted her prod from its holster, and the weapon snapped to life, crackling with static energy as its forked prongs glowed in the dark.


Outside the operations center, things in the corridor were already getting ugly.

“Open this door!” Franklin’s eyes bulged with fury as he pounded his large fists against the door. He paused, catching sight of Eyan as she approached. “Who the hell is this guy? Keeps Peters inside and kicks the rest of us out!”

“He’s here with Dr. Hammersmith’s permission, as an impartial observer.” Eyan kept her voice level, just as she had when Franklin showed her Xavier’s body that morning. In situations where emotions had a tendency to spike, maintaining an even, midrange tone usually helped to deflate hostilities.

“Did you see that freakin’ sword?” Franklin clawed at his bushy ginger beard—a physical tic he displayed while under duress. Standing head and shoulders above the other members of the crew, he was usually the jovial giant among Futuro’s control team. But when angry, he was a major force to be reckoned with. “All operations are on pause, Eyan. Are you sure Hammersmith’s okay with that? Isn’t time money?”

They all knew that every minute lost meant millions of dollars to Hammersmith Enterprises. “Mr. Cade is here with full authority to—”

“Does he outrank you?”

She didn’t know. She still had no idea who or what Cade really was.

“What are we supposed to do now? Wait for him to interview us one at a time? He could’ve used the conference room for this cop routine!” Franklin crossed his thick arms—fat outweighing muscle by a factor of two to one—and leaned back against the plasteel wall. He glanced at his teammates, murmuring discontent among themselves. “He thinks one of us did it. Is that it?”

“He’s only just arrived,” Eyan said. “I’m sure he’s gathering as many facts surrounding the incident as he can.”

Incident,” Rojas spoke up, her eyes kindling with hate at the sight of Eyan. “That’s all he was to you?”

Douglas—the oldest member of the crew by at least twenty years—muttered, “Can’t expect a machine to care. Isn’t that so, Eyan? You’re just a glorified

“Hey.” Franklin stared him down.

Grumbling to himself, Douglas nudged Rojas and they turned their full attention to the wide porthole overlooking the moon below them, waiting for their work to recommence.

“So he’s some kind of samurai detective?”

Eyan’s gaze returned to Franklin. She didn’t know why he was always the only member of Futuro’s crew to treat her like one of them. “Dr. Hammersmith wouldn’t tell me. Perhaps you can ask Cade yourself when it’s your turn to be interviewed.”

As if on cue, the door to the operations center slid open and Peters stepped out with an expression of subdued bewilderment. “Next,” she said quietly, as though it were a doctor’s office.

“That would be me.” Franklin glared at the others—Douglas and Rojas in particular—who seemed perfectly content moongazing. “Time to find out what the hell is going on around here.” He stomped into the command module, and the door slid shut behind him.


Xavier’s body was already frozen brittle by the time Franklin had reeled him in. Eyan had seen death in a variety of forms long before her lifetimes on Futuro, but never anything like this. It was as if the man’s blood had turned to glass and split him open from the inside out.

“Why did he leave the station?” Cade sat across from her now, staring with those dark eyes of his. “Did his duties require him to spacewalk?”

Eyan shook her head. “The drillbots are remote-controlled.”

“The crew never needs to leave the station.”

“Not during the duration of their assignment.”

“Then why did he?”

“Excuse me?”

“What would have induced a man to tether himself in place of a drillbot?”

“You think it was suicide.” After meeting with each member of the control team, that’s what Cade had concluded. Ridiculous.

“As does twenty percent of your mind.” Cade’s lips turned upward a millimeter. “In your report, you stated there was a chance that Xavier acted alone due to an undiagnosed psychosis of some sort.”

“I was weighing all possibilities—no matter how remote.”

Remote. Like you.”

“How’s that?” Eyan was not warming up to this man.

Futuro’s crew controls the drillbots on the moon’s surface. All of the identifying, digging, and collecting of titanium ore is done in this room, but no one ever has to get moondirt on their hands.” He watched her. “Dr. Hammersmith runs this station and the others like it, yet he never needs to involve himself in matters such as this. He handles them remotely. With you.”

Eyan didn’t appreciate being compared to a drillbot for the second time in as many hours. “Not today.”

He tapped the folder on the table before him. “It appears I arrived before you could finish your investigation.”

Was he apologizing?

“What did you learn from the crew?” she said.

He’d sent them to their quarters to await his decision. Eyan knew the idea of Xavier committing suicide wouldn’t go over well with any of them. He’d been well-liked and did his job with no grumbling or complaining. He’d been known to put a smile even on Douglas’s face, and as for Rojas—

“They all have one thing in common. No one has ever met Dr. Hammersmith.”

Eyan blinked—an autonomic response when she found it difficult to understand matters. “Why should that have any bearing on this case?”

The proximity scanner bleeped as real-time video appeared on one of the wallscreens, captured by an external camera. A manned transport pod was on approach, preparing to dock.

“UW security detail,” Cade said with a nod as if they’d been expected. “Escorting the impartial observer you were promised.” He looked her in the eye.

Eyan didn’t blink. The situation had become clear in an instant.

She lunged to her feet, drawing the prod from her holster and activating it as she leapt onto the table with Cade in her sights. He rolled over backward, drawing his blade from its scabbard and sweeping it through the air in a single fluid movement.

Eyan’s prod clattered to the floor with her hand still gripping it, severed at the wrist. There were no wires or sparking mechanical parts, as the old-timer Douglas might have expected. But there was no blood, either. The cut was clean, and a clear, thick fluid bled out as Eyan crouched atop the table and held up her forearm to survey the damage.

“We are more alike than you know,” Cade said, his blade hovering in midair at the end of its arc.

“Tell me who you are.” She clenched her teeth. She felt no pain—only fury.

“This module can be sealed off from the station and jettisoned in case of emergency, correct?”

“You already seem to know the answer.” It was a failsafe measure to ensure operations on the surface continued unimpeded despite any technical difficulties on the station. The command module had been designed to operate autonomously.

Futuro 2, this is Transport Delta 7 requesting permission to dock. Please respond.” The UW detail would not remain patient for long.

“You cannot hope to escape.” Eyan glanced at Cade’s weapon, recognizing it as an antique katana from an extinct culture. She looked at her wrist. She’d been careless, not realizing how fast he was. She would not make that mistake twice. “You haven’t thought this through.”

Cade stood erect as he sheathed his blade and gave the verbal command code for the module to separate from Futuro 2. “You may want to strap in.”

The floor lurched, pitching Eyan off the table. She scrambled to her feet and noticed the screens monitoring the drillbots on the surface—frozen like statues—had begun to flicker wildly.

“Shall we dance?” Cade had her by the arm and midsection before she knew it, and he half-carried her to the main console where two bucket seats were bolted to the floor. Dropping her into one of them, he landed in the other and buckled on the safety harness.

Instead of doing likewise, Eyan made a quick grab for his sword.

“I will take this hand as well.” He gripped her wrist. “If you force me to.”

“You weren’t interrogating the crew—not about Xavier’s death. You were—”

“I have all the passcodes I require now, thanks to their help.”

“Not willingly.”

“My blade holds certain powers of persuasion.”

“You threatened them.”

“And wiped the memory of it from their minds.” His lips curved upward.

That explained why each of the crew had looked a little lost when they’d exited their one-on-one sessions with him.

“They couldn’t tell me how to find Dr. Hammersmith. But each of them seemed to think you would know.”

She tugged her arm free of his grasp and buckled on her harness. The command module shuddered free from Futuro 2 and drifted a safe distance before its thrusters ignited and artificial gravity came back online.

“I don’t know where he is.”

“You are the only person on this station who is in communication with the man.”

“I’m his—”


Her eyes widened. She would have said chief of security.

Futuro 2—what the hell is going on?” the UW pilot demanded. Seeing the command module float away from the station had to be a disconcerting sight.

“Not biologically, of course,” Cade said. “He created you, and there is a link between the creator and his creation in every world.” He paused. “In my reality, Dr. Hammersmith is my father.”

Eyan blinked. “You’re insane.”

“This is your fifth lifetime. Do you know what that means?”

“My upgrades—”

“When the good doctor shuts you down, you carry no memory of your past lives after you’ve been restarted.”

“I’m not a computer.”

“We are not machines, you and I, but there is no blood flowing through our veins.”

“I am nothing like you.”

“We both were created by a genius. But his work didn’t stop with bringing new lifeforms into existence. Years ago, Dr. Hammersmith discovered a way to travel into the past, inadvertently creating a myriad of parallel worlds where nothing lies beyond his grasp.”

Eyan shrugged out of the safety harness and stood, glancing at where her prod lay on the floor. Her stomach recoiled at the sight of her dismembered hand.

“Now what?” She refused to give credence to any of his crazy talk.

“We go to him.” Cade stood up beside his chair.

“And then?”

“You help me kill him.”


For once, Eyan held his undivided attention.

“What’s going on over there?” Dr. Hammersmith stared at her from the wallscreen in front of the two bucket seats. “I’ve received word the UW observer never arrived on Futuro 2!”

“He’s here, sir. With me.” She stood at attention, clasping the wrist absent its hand behind her back. “It’s urgent that I see you. I’ve ... suffered an injury.”

Hammersmith frowned with genuine concern. “Oh?”

Hesitating briefly, she showed him.

He started forward in his seat. “What the hell happened?”

“I’ll need your coordinates, sir.”

“You didn’t have to eject the entire command module, Eyan. I would’ve sent a shuttle for you!”

“It’s better this way. You can check my systems in person and make sure everything is in order.” She forced herself not to glance at Cade off-camera, but she could feel him watching her, his blade out of its scabbard and at the ready. Calmly, he’d told her that her left arm would be the next to go, amputated at the shoulder, if she failed to cooperate.

“Very well.” Hammersmith’s frown remained on his brow as he typed in the coordinates. The alphanumeric digits appeared at the bottom of the wallscreen. “What about the situation with—” He snapped his fingers, failing to remember the young man’s name.

“Xavier, sir.”

“Right. Any progress on that?”

Eyan bit her lip before answering, “It’s been ruled a suicide.”

Dr. Hammersmith’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Really. Well, that’s too bad. We’ll just have to do a better job of screening applicants from now on. That psych-eval hasn’t been updated in years, I suppose. Who knows what new varieties of psychoses are running rampant these days!” He chuckled without mirth. “How soon before we can get back online? Time’s money, kiddo, and right now those drillbots are collecting nothing but moondust.”

“As soon as we return the module, operations will be able to resume, sir.” Eyan’s abdomen tightened. Any second, she expected him to see through Cade’s wild scheme.

Dr. Hammersmith nodded, losing interest. He was a busy man, after all. His eyes focused on one of the other dozen screens positioned around his desk. “Then let’s hurry things along, shall we?” The wallscreen went dark.

Cade sheathed his katana. “Well done.”

Eyan’s knees felt loose. “I will not help you murder him.”

“You would be surprised what you’re capable of—when the tide turns and your back is against the wall.”

“Is that what you’re planning?”

Cade noticed something on the proximity scanner as he entered Hammersmith’s coordinates into the navigation console. “We have company.”

Eyan brought up the display on a console across the room from him. Keeping her distance from that sword of his seemed prudent. On the screen, she saw the UW transport pod moving in an intercept course.

“I don’t suppose this module was outfitted with a weapons complement.”

She stared at him. “Have you no fear of the UW?”

“This is not my world. I have very little to lose.”

She blinked at that.

“The same neuro-gel runs through what passes for veins in both of us.” He approached her, leaving the auto-nav system to take them to Dr. Hammersmith’s location. “If you took a moment to focus, you too would notice the link we share. Besides this, of course.” He gestured to the subdermal Link behind his left ear.

“Technology in your world hasn’t advanced beyond ours?” She smirked.

He halted in the middle of the room. “Much is similar in our two worlds. I cannot say the same for other realities.”

“Why kill him? What good does it do? If you think he somehow messed up time in the past, why not go back and kill him then?” She couldn’t believe she was speaking such gibberish.

“Time travel is quite impossible for the likes of us.”

“And hopping into parallel worlds isn’t?”

He watched her, his expression grim. “The space-between-space is dissolving. The longer these parallel realities exist, the more strain is placed on the fabric of space-time separating them. I know where the holes are.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Why murder him here and now?”

Cade nodded once. “It’s the only way to collapse this reality and restore space-time to its former strength.”

She narrowed her gaze. “You think Dr. Hammersmith’s existence alone keeps this world intact?”

“It is a power no man should possess.”

Eyan’s lips parted, but at first no sound came. “What about all the other billions of lives in this world? Are you saying they’re not real?”

“I would not think to define human life. Some say a soul is required. But tell me, do we have souls, you and I? Would anyone else in this world—if it exists only because of one man’s foolish trips through time?”

Eyan shook her head. “How could one person create entire worlds?”

With a twitch of one hand, Cade plucked a loose thread from his sleeve and held it up for her to see. “You have heard of string theory.”

Eyan crossed her arms, tucking the quick-healing stump of her left wrist into her armpit. Casually, she glanced at her console. The UW transport was matching their course and speed.

Cade ran his fingers along the thread. “There is no way to go back and forth without it unraveling. Changes made to the past, no matter how slight, create an alternate space-time for those changes to play out, so that instead of one thread, we now have two, each thinner than the original—which still exists; nothing can change that. Without it, the other two would never have been brought into existence. Do you follow?”

“I’m no physicist.”

“Nor am I. But Dr. Hammersmith is, and while not a perfect analogy, this made sense to me when he explained it. I remember the string every time I delete an alternate Hammersmith and collapse his world—as I twist the strands back together to make my world stronger.”

“Your world.”

Cade nodded. “The one that matters. Alpha and omega—the first, and the last.”

“When you end him here, then I will cease to exist as well.”


“And my lifetimes, everything I’ve done over the years—none of it will matter. Because in your mind, I’m not real. Nor are the billions of lives in this reality.”

“It is not my place to quantify life.”

“Only to bring death.” She watched him. “Do I even exist in your world?”


She blinked. “Do we know each other there?”

“We are like brother and sister.”

She couldn’t imagine that. “In other worlds you’ve destroyed, do alternate versions of you exist?”

“Dr. Hammersmith created me for the sole purpose of restoring the Prime Reality to its fullest strength. I came into being years after he realized the abnormalities his trips through time had wrought.”

“You’re one of a kind.”

He nodded without conceit. If anything, for the first time there appeared to be sadness in his expression.


With dogged determination, the pilot of the transport pod brought his vessel within meters to couple with the command module’s port side. “By the authority of the United World government, you are hereby ordered to comply. Prepare to be boarded!”

Cade shut off the comm and increased the module’s velocity.

“It wasn’t intended for this.” Eyan gripped the console before her as the hull quaked and rattled. “So much for your crusade if you kill us both.”

Something hit the port side—a solid impact followed by another violent thump.

“Grapplers,” Eyan said. “They’ve tethered the pod to our airlock.” She watched the scene as it unfolded on her display. “They’re reeling themselves in.”

Cade’s sword was already in his hand. “Time to welcome our guests.” He turned to the door that had opened onto the corridor while attached to Futuro 2; but now, with the module floating free, it was the room’s single airlock. “You might want that.” He nodded at her hand on the floor.

Keeping a wary eye on his weapon, she crouched to retrieve the prod and slipped her severed hand—cold to the touch, which sent an unexpected shiver down the back of her neck—into one of the zip-pockets on her uniform where it bulged unnaturally.

“I won’t let you hurt them,” she said. “They’ve done nothing wrong.”

“We will let them decide. They are the authorities.”

“You’re outnumbered.”

“I have been before.”

The module rumbled as the transport pod docked. A loud hiss of pneumatics followed, and the makeshift airlock kicked in, conjoining the two spaceworthy vessels and equalizing the air pressure between them. Eyan glanced at her console. Less than thirty minutes remained before they would reach Dr. Hammersmith’s coordinates. She’d never known where his base of operations was located and often assumed he moved from station to station. Her upgrades had always been performed remotely, as if she were a puppet dangling at the end of a string. Like poor Xavier, tethered to Futuro 2, freezing solid before he’d even reached the surface of the moon.

Had that been his intent? To kill himself?

Eyan blinked, facing the door, glancing at Cade. If she lost an arm or even her head, so be it. She wouldn’t let him hurt these people. Time travel? Alternate worlds? The ravings of a lunatic.

Lunatic. Meaning moonstruck, from the Latin, luna.

Eyan blinked, focusing on the moment. Her muscles tensed, the prod charged and ready in its holster. She would be the first person the envoy saw when the airlock door slid aside. Then they’d see Cade, and there’d come the inevitable moment of confusion at the sight of a sword-wielding monk.

The door opened. Two large men in uniform filled the frame with hands on their holstered sidearms. A smaller man stood behind them, garbed in a formless pressure suit and carrying a digital slate. Noticing Cade, both security officers drew their guns, and the UW official stumbled backward in surprise.

“Put down your weapon! Identify yourself!”

“You are here to solve a murder.” Cade’s steady gaze seemed unaffected by the two guns aimed at him.

“Drop it!” The first officer inside eyed the sword in disbelief.

“I have done your work for you. You will find everything filed here.” Cade nodded toward the console beside him. “All I ask is that you allow me to take your transport pod and be on my way.”

The officer smirked, half-turning to his partner. “Disarm him. I’ll cover you.”

Hesitating a moment, the second officer approached Cade and gripped his weapon with both hands extended out in front of him.

Eyan should have warned him.

Blood gushed in a thick spray. The man screamed, staring at his wrists, severed clean through flesh and bone. His gun and both of his hands lay on the floor.

The officer at the door cursed and fired his sidearm, sending a barrage of pulse rounds at Cade. But as Eyan had seen before, he was far too fast, whipping his blade side to side now, deflecting every round that came his way and sending them into the walls and ceiling to spark and fizzle into black burns.

Cade watched the bleeding man drop to his knees and pass out. Then he turned his gaze to the officer hastily reloading his weapon. Cursing and sweating, the man fumbled with his pulse rounds, glancing at Cade’s white robe—now covered in a wild blood spatter pattern.

“Kill him!” the UW official shrilled.

Eyan drew her prod and came up beside the security officer. Without a word, she jammed the prongs into his abdominal wall. Jerking and barking gibberish, he collapsed to the floor.

“Don’t come in here.” She stared down the UW official who hugged his slate to his chest like it was a small shield and remained rooted on his side of the airlock.

“I will not hurt you.” Cade sheathed his sword and beckoned to the man. “You will want to see this.”

Turning his back on both Eyan and the official, Cade activated the wallscreen. Instantly, monochrome video footage appeared showing two naked figures in a narrow shower stall.

“What is this?” Eyan demanded. The prod sizzled in her grip.

“The truth,” Cade said.

Frowning pensively, the UW official came to the doorway but proceeded no farther, his eyes riveted to the screen as Cade swiped the display and broke the footage into quadrants, each showing a different scene, taken from what was obviously surveillance footage. The young Xavier appeared in each frame—showering, writhing in bed, arguing, but never alone. Eyan was right there with him.

“What have you done?” She nearly choked.

“It took some work to assemble everything from the crew’s eyecams, but now the sum is greater than its parts. Your relationship was a secret to no one aboard Futuro 2.”

The screen showed Eyan coming upon Xavier and Rojas kissing, and in a single move, Eyan had whipped out her prod and jammed it against the woman’s throat.

“This never happened—none of it’s real. I don’t know how you’ve manage to fabricate—”

“Of course you would not remember any of it.” Cade’s tone remained even. “It occurred during your fourth lifetime.”

“You said it was suicide, that Xavier—” She frowned at that. Of course he would have lied to her.

“I will leave this for you.” Cade drew his sword slowly and beckoned again to the UW official. “Please. I must be on my way now.”

Glancing from Cade to Eyan with uncertainty, the man stepped lightly over the unconscious bodies of his security personnel and hung back against the wall, clutching his slate.

“Are you armed?” Cade strode to the airlock.

The man shook his head quickly.

“You may want to borrow that.” With the tip of his blade, Cade pointed out the gun on the floor with the two severed hands attached. “I am leaving you here with a killer, after all.”

The man blinked and stooped to retrieve the weapon with a look of horrified disgust.

“You have no proof.” Eyan pointed at the screen as it ran the looped footage. “There’s nothing here that shows I killed Xavier!”

Cade lingered at the airlock. “In this world, all that is required is a reasonable doubt.” He shrugged slightly. “But I would not worry. Your time here is about to end.”

With that, he stepped outside and shut the door. The airlock sealed itself automatically, and it wasn’t long before Cade had uncoupled the transport pod from the command module and doubled its speed toward Dr. Hammersmith’s coordinates.

“Who was that guy?” the official’s hushed voice broke the silence. He held the bloody pulse pistol aimed at Eyan but there was nothing committal about his posture. His gaze hadn’t left the two men on the floor.

She gripped onto her console and disabled the thrusters—and with them, the artificial gravity. The official cursed as his slate and borrowed weapon suddenly drifted beyond his grasp, his limbs flailing spastically as he rose into the air. She watched him, feeling her insides rebel, demanding to drift free. But she remained standing.

Not floating curled into a fetal position, hoping for another lifetime to come even as the command module of the Futuro 2 Drilling Station rotated end over end through the black in a slow dance by the light of the moon.

Eyan faced the future on her feet. END

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. He is an active SFWA member. His work has appeared in over seventy publications, including “AE SciFi,” “Cosmos,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” and “Shimmer.


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