Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Dahlia and the Ronin

By Milo James Fowler

ACID RAIN DROOLED IN THICK YELLOW globs outside the cave, but Brawnstone the trollgre crouched with his back to the rocky mouth, creating a barricade with his own body between the acrid fumes and the bleary eyes of the human child before him. Already she had been exposed to the elements for too long as he carried her through the wild.

“You must eat,” he rumbled, raising a thick finger to the rabbit on the ground.

She wrinkled her nose at the limp carcass. “It’s raw. Can’t we cook it?”

“No fire.” He shifted his massive head from side to side. “They would see the smoke.”

She resettled, drawing up her knees and pulling close the tattered remains of her bloodstained gown. It had been pure white when Brawnstone first found her in the compound. The last human child, a priceless treasure among her people, and the Elders had paid Brawnstone handsomely to bring her to them. They said they wished to honor her, when in fact they desired only to eat her flesh.

“But they’re dead.” A shudder coursed through her frail shoulders. “All of them.”

Of this he had no doubt, for he had seen the carnage himself. The child had been trained as a killing machine, and her caretakers had allowed her to be taken, programmed to massacre the twelve Elders upon her arrival at their feast. But her people could not have foreseen that she would turn on them in the end. Somehow, she had grown attached to Brawnstone, and when it became clear that her trainers meant for him to be destroyed as well, she would not have it.

“There are others, Dahlia,” he said, his voice like low thunder.


He winced slightly at the derogatory term, knowing the child meant no harm by it. Decades ago, the humans had created all manner of intelligent, genetically engineered creatures for their own entertainment, blending DNA from the animal kingdom with that of humans and molding the results to appear any way they chose. The fortified compounds where the humans now hid themselves were the original Genezoos where Brawnstone and others like him had been put on display before the rebellion.

“Your people as well. You must realize your importance to them.”

She shrugged. “They can’t come out here. The rain hurts them.”

This he could see firsthand. The child’s eyes were bloodshot and swollen in the dim ambient light. She had been subjected to the outside world for three days now. For the first time in her life, she was not breathing the filtered air she was accustomed to. While he had made certain that not a single drop of the rain touched her, he could not stop her lungs from inhaling the fumes in trace amounts.

“Does it always rain like this?”

He gave her a slow nod. “Most always.”

When the splicers first revolted, commencing a year-long bloodbath against their creators, the humans had retaliated with the only method they’d come to embrace over the centuries: total annihilation. The acid rain was their doing, designed to destroy as many of the splicers as possible while the humans went deep into hiding. Their cities were laid to waste in the process, but they succeeded in destroying thousands of the Genezoo escapees. Many of the creatures, however, were able to find shelter, and a cold stalemate ensued between the two warring factions.

In the years that followed, Chief Elder Arsaelean rose to power among the splicers, uniting them to commandeer every major city abandoned by the humans. With the head of a lion and the furry body of a massive human wrestler, Arsaelean was a force to be reckoned with, as much a scientific genius as a natural predator. He engineered a special drug rendering the exterior of trollgres—splicers with rhinoceros DNA who were already as much like stone as anything—impervious to the acid rain’s effects, and he sent them by the dozen against human fortifications, blasting through their concrete walls. For a while, it appeared the splicers held the upper hand in the conflict—until the humans developed explosive rounds for their launchers that could break a mighty trollgre into pieces from thirty meters away.

And the stalemate resumed.

“You must rest, Dahlia.”

She shook her head. “I can’t sleep. I see them.”

Who did she refer to? He watched her, waited for her to speak again. He grimaced at a sharp pang in his left shoulder where a drop of rain pierced his singed overcoat. The dosage Arsaelean had given him was wearing thin. In a few hours more, he would be almost as vulnerable as the child. Then where would they be? Trapped here, waiting for her people to come. Or his—and would they think to bring him another dose?

“I can’t believe I ... killed them all like that.” Her voice was small, trembling. “How did I do such a thing? How could I have?”

“They programmed you for that purpose.”

“Like a machine?”


She swallowed, staring up at him. “So I’m not really human.” Tears welled in her aggravated eyes.

“I did not say—”

“I’m a monster on the inside. Like you’re one on the outside. That’s how we’re alike, Brawnstone.” Tears spilled down her cheeks.

He had no children. He never would, as far as he knew. Trollgres were, by design, asexual creatures—despite their human and animal genetic makeup. He did not have much in the way of experience when it came to comforting young girls, particularly ones he had caused, by his own words, to break into sobs. Yet she held her chin up despite the quaking of her shoulders, and he was again astounded by her bravery.

Trained—perhaps that is a better word for how they prepared you,” he said.

“But I don’t remember any of it! How could anybody have trained me to do what I did?” She fell into hushed whispers: “So many of them. I see their faces, every time I close my eyes. So much blood.”

He pointed to the rabbit again. “You must eat.”

Lost in the horror of her reverie, she stared unseeing at the ground.


She looked up at the boom of his voice.

“You must keep strong.”

“Will you have some of it with me?”

“I do not eat.”

“What?” Her eyebrows arched upward in disbelief.

“My sustenance comes from the earth. The minerals. I am made stronger here in the wild.”

She nodded as if she could understand. “In the city ruins, you’re not as strong?”

“Too many human-made materials there, concrete and steel, asphalt.” He drove the fingers of one hand deep into the hard-packed ground between them. “This is what I need. Just as you need meat.” He nudged the bloody carcass toward her.

Again, she wrinkled her nose at it. “How do you know it’s safe?”

There were no pustules, no rashes. The creature had not spent much of its time above ground, by all appearances. It too had adapted to life beneath the poisonous rains. “Trust me.” Another grimace as a drop of precipitation hit him square in the back.

“What is it?” She rose to her feet in a single movement. “Are you hurt?”

“I am fine.”

She came to him, reached up to touch the scorched shoulders of his coat. The rain had burned through the layers, and his stony exterior lay exposed through the holes.

“You said it couldn’t touch you.”

“It touches me, but it has no effect.” As long as he received a regular dosage of Arsaelean’s drug—but he would not tell her this, just as he would not tell her that in all likelihood, one of them would die in this cave. It depended only on who found them first.

“It looks like it’s having some kind of effect on you now. You’re in pain.”

“Sit down and eat. You must remain strong. When they come—”

“I’m done with killing. And besides, I didn’t bring any weapons.”

She had not brought weaponry when she faced the Elders; she had used what she found in their banquet hall against them. Brawnstone was sure she could do the same here with the fallen branches and rocks, whether she realized it or not.

“Come inside. Your back is exposed to the rain,” she insisted.

“The fumes do not agree with you. If I move, the mouth of this cave will inhale great gusts of poisoned air, and you will be sickened by it. Trust me. Now sit down and eat.”

She crossed her arms. “I will only if you come further in. Enough people have been hurt already because of me.”

“I am not moving, young Dahlia. You will eat, or you will grow weak.”

“You will come inside, and then I will eat. That’s the deal. The rain is hurting you.”

“It has no effect,” he grumbled, forcing himself not to react as another stray drop pelted him from behind.


His eyes widened. His hand in the earth tightened into a fist. “A trollgre speaks only the truth.”

“Even regarding his own limitations?”

A rustle in the brush outside the cave seized their attention, interrupting the standoff between them. Dahlia picked up two sharp stones as Brawnstone knew she would, and he turned to look over his shoulder. The only thing that could end him now would be a launcher with explosive rounds—and he had heard nothing to make him believe one was aimed at his back. No need to break his seal of the cave’s mouth until absolutely necessary.

A lone figure stood in the middle of a glade twenty meters away. It faced the cave under the shroud of a protective cloak. The acid rain congealed and oozed from its surface, a material which shimmered like liquid mercury.

“Is she with you, Brawnstone?” a voice called out, one he recognized.

“Who is it?” Dahlia hissed.

“Elder Arsaelean’s chief operative,” he said in a low rumble. Then to the figure, he boomed, “Our master is dead, Eyan.”

The figure nodded. “This I know. The whole world saw the massacre.”

Brawnstone remembered the cameras the Elders had mounted in the banquet hall to capture their feast. But it was their annihilation broadcast instead.

“Why have you come here?” He glanced at Dahlia who stood at ease, much as she had prior to unleashing the full fury of her killing spree on the Council.

“She is there with you. The child.”

“Yes.” A gust of wind-driven rain swept across his back, sizzling, and he ground his teeth to keep from releasing a low roar.

“Brawnstone—” The child dropped the rocks and clung to him. “Come inside!”

“Your dosage is all but depleted.” The figure strode forward.

“Stay back.” The trollgre’s eyes flashed a warning, and Eyan obeyed.

“I have a proposition for you,” Eyan said.

“I am not interested.” He would not trade the child for his own benefit. Of course he knew Eyan must be carrying some of Arsaelean’s drug. She would not have tracked him this far without it—her only bargaining chip.

“You have not heard me out.”

“Are you alone?”

Eyan chuckled, and the sound hung in the putrid air like soft music. “Would we be having this conversation if I were not?”

Dahlia’s tears wet his neck, and he pressed a large hand against her back. “I will not give up the child.”

“And I will not ask you to.” Eyan came another step forward, testing her boundaries. “We are Ronin now, you and I—warriors without a master. I say we work together. You could benefit from what I have to offer.” Her cloak rippled, impervious to the rain.

He gave her a slow nod. “What would you ask for in return?” A creature such as Eyan was ever motivated by self-interest.

“Protecting the last human child is not reward in itself? Why would you think I’d want anything else?”

Because he knew her. And he did not trust her.

“Brawnstone, you need me.” She paused. “I can tell you about the humans who are tracking you through the wild at this very moment. They’ll be here in less than a day. Tell me, are you prepared to face them?”

“Can we trust her?” Dahlia whispered.

“We share a common enemy,” he said.

“That’s not an answer.”

He pried her from him and set her down at arm’s length. “Go deeper in. And hold your breath.”

“You’re going to let her inside?”

“She may be able to help us.”

“We don’t need her help,” Dahlia said.

“Is that your answer, Brawnstone? Turning your back on me?” Eyan called.

“Go now. I will tell you when to return.” He gestured for the child to move. “Do not worry. I will keep you safe.”

“But who will keep you safe?” Yet she did as she was told—a first—shuffling barefoot into the dark.

Brawnstone pivoted to face Eyan. Pungent fumes rushed inside around him. “Hurry.”

Eyan did not have to be told twice, sprinting to close the gap between them. She cast back the hood of her cloak once she was safe from the downpour.

“Leave that,” Brawnstone said. “It reeks.”

Eyan shrugged out of the cloak and cast it down at the mouth of the cave without pause. Clad in silk leggings, boots and a tunic of the same human-made material, she held up a hand as the trollgre turned to reseal the cave with his bulk.

“Wait,” she said and reached for an oblong disc clamped to her belt.

“What is that?” He tensed, thick fingers curling into fists like small boulders.

“Not a weapon, I assure you.” She knelt at the cave’s entrance and pressed her fingertips against the disc’s obsidian surface, setting a code of some sort. When she backed away, a field of blue light leapt upward, a wall of energy that covered the mouth of the cave. “That should do the trick. You won’t need to sacrifice your backside anymore. You’ve suffered enough damage already. Speaking of—” She slipped her fingers into a pouch on her belt and retrieved a small vial, which she tossed to him. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

He caught the glass ampoule, and it tinkled against the hard surface of his palm. He pondered it a moment, glancing at the force-field then at Eyan. “There is a human expression—”

“I believe I know it. Something about Greeks bearing gifts?”

He nodded, eyeing her closely. The stopped vial remained in his hand. “How many are there?”

“Is this up for grabs?” She nudged the rabbit with her boot.

Brawnstone sighed, irritated. “The child would not eat it.”

“I don’t blame her.” Eyan reached into another pouch on her belt and glanced at him. “Again, not a weapon.” She hoisted the carcass up by its long ears and directed a handheld device at it. A red beam of light shone forth, tracing the rabbit from head to foot, dissolving the skin and fur and cooking the meat beneath. The smell of it filled the cave, an aroma savored by most humans—and strong enough to entice young Dahlia from the shadows. “Hungry?” Eyan cast over her shoulder, as though she’d already known that the child approached.

“Who are you?”

Brawnstone beckoned Dahlia closer to him, but she held her ground just at the edge of the force-field’s glow, where its light dissolved into darkness. Eyan returned the cooking device to her pouch and ripped a chunk of meat from the rabbit’s haunches, biting and chewing like an animal with no regard for meaningless human etiquette.

“You’re a splicer,” Dahlia said, and this time when she used the word, there was a harsh edge to her tone.

Eyan turned to face her. “Guilty as charged, human. So does that make us enemies?”


Half a smile tugged the corner of Eyan’s full lips. “The humans headed this way—are they your friends?”

To this the child made no reply, but her fierce gaze did not waver.

“How many are there?” Brawnstone repeated.

“Enough to bring this cave down around your ears. If you have ears, that is.” Eyan faced him. “Do you?”


She laughed, and again it sounded like music. “Are they ever not? You know how the humans adore their weapons. I’m sure they’re packing explosive rounds just for you, planning to shatter you into a million pieces. Maybe they’ll turn you into a gorgeous mosaic.”

“You don’t sound like Brawnstone’s friend,” Dahlia said. “Why are you here?”

“Perceptive.” Eyan glanced back at the child. “I’m here for you, little one. Dahlia, the last human child.” Her tone sounded awestruck, but it did not ring genuine. “Do you have any idea how important you are? How popular? Every human compound in the world saw what you did to the Elders—and to your human trainers who came afterward to take you with them. Yet they do not blame you for your actions.”

Dahlia frowned. “I killed all those people.” She sounded as though she spoke of someone else.

Eyan shrugged. “If anything, they pity you. They know it wasn’t really you who did it. It was your training. What was done to you.”

“Are they sure of that?” A gleam came to the child’s eyes, and for a moment Eyan made no response.

“But the humans on their way here, they do not pity the child.” Brawnstone watched Eyan. “They are from her compound, where she was trained—correct?”

Eyan nodded. “You catch on quick, trollgre.” She sighed, smacking her lips as she tore another chunk of juicy meat from the rabbit. “This is good. Where’d you find a clean one?”

“Give it to the child. You have eaten enough.”

Eyan glanced up at him. “I haven’t eaten all day.”

“She can have it,” Dahlia said. “I’m not hungry.”

With a brief salute to the child, Eyan gobbled down some more.

Dahlia paused. “What are you?”

Eyan shrugged. “You already said it, kid. I’m a splicer. Sworn enemy of every living human, yadda yadda.”

“But I can’t tell what you are. What you came from, I mean.” She pointed at Brawnstone. “He carries the genes of a rhinocerous. Elder Arsaelean was half lion and half—”

“Not exactly a fifty-fifty split,” Eyan corrected. “But I see what you’re getting at. What am I? You want to know what kind of fuzzy little creature they crossed with my DNA, is that it?”

“You look like a normal human woman. Except your skin is silver.”

“Normal, huh.” Eyan laughed out loud. “So I’m almost normal, is that it? Except for the skin—which just happens to be the largest organ on any normal human.”

Brawnstone had heard enough. Time could not be wasted like this. He popped the cork from the vial and downed the dosage. Immediately he could feel it take effect, healing the scars from recent contact with the rain and turning his already tough exterior into impervious granite.

“You said you could be of help. Besides this—” He crushed the glass ampoule underfoot, advancing on Eyan. “What else do you have to offer?”

Eyan’s lips parted, but no words came.

“I thought as much.” He stomped to the force-field and smashed the disc generating it. “Come, Dahlia. We are not safe here.” He reached one hand out into the yellow downpour. Globs of the stuff ran off without effect. He nodded to himself.

Dahlia squeezed around Eyan and leapt into the trollgre’s arms. He covered her with his coat and bent forward, shielding her with his body.

“You don’t know how long that dose will last.” Eyan stood with the half-eaten rabbit dangling from one hand. “Where will you get your next fix?”

“We are not safe here,” he repeated.

“Not now, no.” She glanced at the remains of the force-field generator. “But they would have passed us right on by with that thing intact. It projected a hologram on the exterior, mimicking the surrounding landscape. They wouldn’t have had a clue you were hiding in here.”

Brawnstone’s frame tightened. He knew better than to believe her. Back in Alcatraz, she had told him the Elders wanted only to honor the child. She had brought him Elder Arsaelean’s orders, sending Brawnstone out of the city for young Dahlia. He had asked her then, straight out, if the Elders planned to kill her.

Eyan had lied to his face.

Of course not, she’d said. The humans don’t need a martyr. We aim only to steal their hope.

But now, what she said seemed to hold some truth. Could they have been safe here?

“Where will you go now?” Eyan approached him.

Dahlia tightened her grip around his neck. “I’m ready, Brawnstone.”

He stepped out into the rain, arms shielding the child, his own massive head dipped over hers, protecting her. “Where she will be safe.”

Eyan dropped the carcass and wiped her mouth across a sleeve, reaching quickly for her discarded cloak and shaking off the yellow sludge. Pulling it on, she came outside to stand before the mighty trollgre. “You must take her to her own people—those who will take care of her. Not the trainers. They want only to reprogram her for her next mission.” She paused. “Their goal is our extermination. They won’t stop until every splicer is dead in the land.”

“How do you know so much about these humans?” he rumbled.

“Did you think you were the first one Elder Arsaelean sent to extract this child? With my almost normal physiology, I was a prime candidate for his scientists’ cloned human skin, which I wore to perfection.” She chuckled a short, mirthless melody. “I lived among them for a time, and they had no idea. But I couldn’t get close to Dahlia. Security was too tight. Arsaelean needed someone of your rare talents for a smash and grab.” She sighed. “Then come to find out the humans let her go on purpose to fulfill her bloody mission!”

Brawnstone backed away. “Thank you for the dose.” He readied himself to charge deeper into the wild.

“Plenty more where that came from.” She patted one of the pouches on her belt.

“Tempting.” But he could not trust her. Not until she had proven herself, at the very least. “The child is my charge. I must see her to safety.”

Eyan cocked her head to the side, features hidden beneath her hood. “Back in the old days, Ronin had few choices when their master was slain. Serve the new master, or exact vengeance on the offending party and live the rest of their lives as exiles. Or commit suicide.” She chuckled without any music in her tone. “I hope you realize I wish the child no ill will. Arsaelean was a beast—literally. I’m glad he’s gone.”

Brawnstone nodded once. “Prove it.” With that, he lumbered away, leaving the former operative of the Council either to provide a distraction when the humans arrived or to lead them directly on the child’s trail. Her choice would tell him whether she deserved his trust. Either way, he knew she was far too smart to let them kill her.

“Will we see her again?” Dahlia’s voice came through the coat, tucked under his chin as he ran.

Brawnstone grumbled, and the child giggled with the vibrations in his broad chest. “Quiet now. There are things worse than diseased rabbits in these woods.”

“But you will protect me. And I will protect you. That’s what monsters do for each other.”

“You are not a monster, young Dahlia. You are a princess among your kind. We must only find the sort of humans who will allow you to live your life without any more killing.”

She nodded, her warm little face nuzzled against him. “I would like that, Brawnstone. But they’ll have to like splicers, too. At least you. That’s the deal.”

Did such humans exist? Until they were found, Brawnstone knew he must run as fast as he could, for there was no telling when the next shelter from this rain would appear, and he had no way of knowing how long his latest dose would last. Perhaps he was a fool not to allow Eyan to join them, but he could not trust the child with anyone but himself.

“Yes,” he rumbled, giving her a gentle squeeze. “That is the deal." END

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a writer by night. He's an active SFWA member with work published in “AE,” “Cosmos,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” and “Shimmer.” He previously appeared in the 12-FEB-2014 “Perihelion.”




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