Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Uses of Nirvana
by Mark Silcox

A Place for Oysters
by Sandy Hiortdahl

by Steven Young

A Switch in Time
by David Steffen

by Richard Wren

Mostly a Question of Molecular Bonds
by Steve Bates

Panic Button
by Seth Chambers

When the Robots Struck
by Eamonn Murphy

John Cochran’s Amazing Flight
by J. Richard Jacobs

by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Vegan State
by Mark Ayling


Mining Data on UFOs
by Preston Dennett

Trip the Light Fantastic
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




John Cochran’s Amazing Flight

By J. Richard Jacobs

ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER sixth, 1918, Lieutenant John R. Cochran was caught napping. It was Sunday and nothing much happened on Sundays. He was watching the ground for any sign of troop movement and not paying attention to the sky around him—a bad thing for a fighter pilot to do. He knew better, but everybody was aware the war couldn’t go on much longer and the Germans were already pulling some of their troops out of the trenches in various places, though it was believed they were secretly massing them in other locations to make one last big push.

That was why he was out there alone. Alone and freezing his ass off. He hadn’t seen another fighter in the air in more than five weeks. Because of that, the brains who run things saw no need to tie up too many assets. Likewise, he had seen no unusual movement on the ground during the same time. He was growing perilously complacent. Then, in front of him, three gaudily painted D.V. Albatroses materialized suddenly out of the glare of an early morning sun that gave no warmth. They were closing fast.

Shit. Where the hell ...?

One of them, though far out of range, was already firing at him. The flashes from the Spandaus were unmistakable. New kid, he thought through his involuntary grimace.

Cochran’s only hope for escape was that they were all green enough to be suckered into a high-speed dive that he knew his Spad would survive. The Albatros didn’t do so well in a dive and worse in a hard pull-out—they tended to fall apart like badly made toys. He formulated his plan quickly, even as he forced his machine into a hard, steep banked right turn and let the nose drop to a near vertical plunge toward what appeared to be a vineyard some six thousand feet below. He aimed for the northern side of the field where a stand of mostly denuded trees, groping at the sky with crooked, black fingers, lined the edge of the vineyard.

Wires whined, struts chattered, and the engine screamed in loud protest. Cold winds drove into the cockpit, pounding at him with invisible fists of ice, and the whole machine vibrated violently. A quick glance around told him the best—and the worst. Two of them had taken the bait and followed him in his mad plummet earthward, but one remained high and set up a lazy, descending left turn so he could keep his speed and be lined up to meet Cochran during his climb out of death’s grip.

No new guy, that one. He’s the dangerous bird. Gotta watch him close.

Cochran gripped the stick with both hands and pulled hard. True to form, one of his pursuers didn’t make it and blasted straight into the trees to join seamlessly with the terrain below. Ice exploded from the branches, forming a sparkling cloud that might have been beautiful in other circumstances. The other came out wide, rattling the treetops with his landing gear. Cochran eased off on the stick and kicked in a little right rudder, forcing the nose over and giving him a steepening roll to the right without having to resort to any movement of the ailerons. That way he wouldn’t drop too much speed and, with any luck at all, he would come out facing a climbing, already stressed to the limit Albatros with enough Kentucky windage to do some damage to his struggling enemy and possibly surprise the smart one above.

As he eased out of his tightening spiral loop he had his prey slightly below and directly in line with him. Cochran set the Vickers to clattering. Flames erupted briefly from the cowling of the Albatros and a steady train of smoke billowed out behind. The pilot of the crippled Albatros was clever enough to break away quickly and head for the vacant field north of the tree line. Maybe he’d make it and maybe he wouldn’t, but Cochran didn’t have the time to watch him to the ground. There was still a third one to deal with and he hadn’t seen that one in some time. Much too long for comfort. Where the hell was he? His head swivelled wildly in search of his adversary. Nothing. Maybe he had broken off early, too. Maybe he was running low on fuel and had to turn back. Maybe ...

Cochran brought his machine around to a westerly heading and slipped his goggles up to his forehead. In spite of the biting cold, perspiration trickled from beneath his fur-lined leather helmet and froze in his eyebrows. That’s when he caught sight of the third Albatros, slightly above him and a little to his right. Cochran was dead—he was sure of it. But ... but, no. The other pilot didn’t drop back and begin hammering slugs into him from those two deadly Spandaus. Instead, he moved farther to the right and dropped down until they were nearly level with one another. Wingtip to wingtip. They were close enough that he could see clearly the smiling face of the German flyer. This was about as personal as things ever got in the air. The guy from the other side of the line made an exaggerated salute and was laughing. Cochran returned the salute. The surviving Albatros rocked its wings and turned back to the east. He could have been easily gunned down, but it didn’t happen. Cochran, too, laughed—but weakly. Five weeks and one day later, the war came to an official end and Lieutenant John R. Cochran prepared to go home.

An intense barrage of artillery fire from both sides of the line broke out and the fighting continued in a frenzy for several days after the armistice was signed. It was a thoroughly predictable reaction that any third year psychology student could have foreseen, but didn’t.


“Are you sure he’s the man for the job, General? I mean, just look at him. He’s grown fat behind the desk, he’s almost bald, and his last physical brought up a recommendation for retirement on medical grounds. And, I’d like to emphasize, he’s forty-seven years old. Not exactly a man in his prime.”

“A man in his prime, as you put it, couldn’t do what we need him to do. A man in his prime should be in uniform out fighting on the Russian front, working in one of their plants, or at least working for the Reich in some capacity, you know. They’d spot him immediately. We need a man who can blend with his surroundings and fill the role he has to play. He’s the spitting image of his alter ego and we doubt Engel’s own mother would notice the difference. He got his degree in theoretical physics three years ago, speaks both German and Norwegian fluently, and has been in and out of Germany during the past eighteen years enough that he knows the lay of the land better than some of the locals. On top of all that, he’s still flight qualified, in spite of his last exam.”

“All right. Let’s suppose he can get in, and let’s suppose further that he can do what needs to be done. How does he get out with the documentation on the project?”

“Well, that’s another issue. He probably won’t get back. He will ... appropriate an aircraft in Germany and he will be ... dealt with when he reaches Holland. John is a friend and I hate like hell to do this, but no one who has any knowledge of this operation below our level is to survive the experience. A courier, who knows nothing of what the papers contain, will deliver them to our man in Amsterdam, and from there they will find their way to our people in England.”

“No chance for a slip up?”

“Are you kidding? There’s always a chance for that. We’re dealing with human beings here, right? All I can say is that we’ve done all we can do to make this as airtight as possible, including limiting the number of people who have any knowledge of our activities. Our original tip-off came from the OSS, but they were satisfied with our negative response and have dropped the issue. There has been no paper generated on this project here, either, and none will be. Once the plan is set in motion, we can only hope it goes well, because there will be no communication of any kind other than peripherally during the entire process.”

“No direct communication can lead to major problems.”

“That’s true, but we have a man there who will keep a watch on him. If anything appears to have gone wrong, he will get word to us. He, by the way, thinks he is watching the real professor—a fellow countryman. He has no idea why.”

“But there’s no way to control the mission without some connection and I don’t like the sound of that. Not one little bit.”

“None of us do, believe me, but we think this scheme of theirs is more important than anything else they have in the works. The level of secrecy goes a long way toward proving that and it has to be stopped at any cost. If we’re lucky, the whole program will fall into our hands. You know, this project of theirs is so secret that not even Rundstedt or Keitel’s OKW knows anything about it? Hell, we’re pretty sure that prancing, blowhard Austrian paperhanger doesn’t know anything about it, either.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me. No one but a small group of scientists and a few upper echelon SS and some Gestapo goons know what the hell’s going on—and they’re right there in Berlin, under the noses of the General Staff. Everybody in their leadership thinks they’re funding other projects. We don’t know exactly what it is they’re trying to do, either, but we have some ideas based on where it is and what department is running silent. All we know with any certainty is that it has to be damned important and we can’t afford to allow it to continue—whatever it is.”

“Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. We’re going to send a man in, steal the plans to an unknown something-or-other, destroy their labs, and kill several innocent people based on nothing more than a ... a hunch? A string of wild guesses? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“In a nutshell, yes—that’s about it.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“If it’s as important as we think it is, it’s far from ridiculous.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

“There’s plenty of reason to believe we’ll all be damned ... if we don’t succeed.”


Early in the morning of the twentieth of October, 1942, Colonel John R. Cochran awoke to an insistent pounding on his door.

Who in hell—? Good God, man, it’s three o’clock in the morning.

“All right, all right ... I’m coming, damn it! Hold your horses.”

Cochran rolled out from under a thick, goose down quilt, realized he’d not left the heater on and wished that he had. He slipped on a heavy robe over his flannel pajamas, jiggled his feet into a pair of slippers, then felt his way to the front door. He turned on the porch light and was presented with two unwelcome sights. It was snowing hard enough that he couldn’t see the street at the end of what was once his lawn, now covered in a foot-deep, white blanket. An early first snow of the year—and it had to be a damned blizzard at that. The other was a Master Sergeant wearing a white “MP” band on his arm and a blue face.

What the hell?

Cochran yanked the door open. The sergeant saluted with a blue hand that matched his face.

Before the sergeant could speak, Cochran grabbed his arm and hauled him through the door.

“Sit your frozen ass down in the dining room—over on your right—and let me light the heater. What the hell brings you out here in the middle of all this shit?” he said as he struck a match with his thumbnail and stuck the flaring, sputtering stick over the burner. The heater roared agreeably to life. Then he moved to the stove and lit a fire under the coffee pot. Cochran turned on the dining room light and sat down at the other side of the table from the shivering soldier.

“Orders, Colonel.”

“Orders from whom, and for what?”

“I don’t know, sir. Command level is all I know.”

“Please, don’t sir me. Feel at ease here. Want some coffee? Spiked with some good brandy, of course.”

“Uh ... yes, sir. I mean, yeah, sure.”

“Good. I’m not going anywhere until I get some armor on, no matter where the orders came from.”


“What’s the meaning of this, man?” Cochran asked as the car stopped in front of an old and apparently abandoned warehouse by the docks.

“It’s where I was ordered to bring you, sir.”

“I told you not to sir me, and this is no military post.”

“Um, no, it’s not. But it is where they told me to bring you, Colonel. You’re to go in that door on the right of the loading dock. It’ll be open, they said.”

“Okay,” Cochran mumbled, turning up the collar of his overcoat and pulling his hat down hard so it wouldn’t blow off in the wind howling around the corner of the building and whipping the snow into a spin-dance cloud of fluff. “You wait right here ... just in case.”

“I ... I can’t, Colonel. I’m to drop you here and leave. Orders.”

“Orders. I suppose I can’t countermand those orders, can I?”

“Not unless you grew a couple of stars on your collar on the way over. Sorry.”


It was no warmer inside than out in the street, but at least there was no wind to jack up the cold. Cochran brushed the snow off his hat and coat as he grumbled out a string of appropriate profanity and headed for a small room, its door ajar and leaking dim light into the expanse of emptiness that echoed any small noise.

The room he stepped into was not what he expected. One tiny desk sat at the far end, away from the door. Behind the desk hung a large scale map of Berlin and, to the right of it, a map of Mannheim—equally large scale. Two men sat quietly behind the desk—one he recognized, the other was new to him.

“Good morning, John. Rest your rump in that chair and we’ll get on with it.”

Cochran pulled a straight-backed wooden chair away from the desk and sat down.

“Hello, David. When did they pin the star on you?”

“Six months ago—as a good behavior award, I think. Before you ask, the man on my right doesn’t exist. We ... we have a little job for you, if you’re interested. And it’s not at a desk. Well?”

“Well? Well ... what? You haven’t said anything to whet my appetite.”

“How would you like to go to Germany?”

“Now, or after we pound those miserable heinies back to the Stone Age?”


“You’re out of your ever-loving mind, and your friend, the one who doesn’t exist, is equally nuts. I’d wind up dead inside a week.”

“We don’t think so. We believe you can pull this whole thing off without so much as a scratch. Tell me, John, do you like flying that desk you’re shackled to?”

“You know better than that.”

“Good, then listen to at least a small portion of what we have to say—then make your decision. Just remember, you’re not likely to see any action in this war, and you’ll probably be retired out before it’s over. This is your only chance to grab some glory.”

“Grab some glory? Bullshit. Take part in a dangerous game; live through it if I’m lucky, and gain graceful anonymity, living out the rest of my life in a swamp or on a mountain peak somewhere that no one ever heard of. That’s more like it, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. So, are you going to listen?”

“I’ve been listening and it all sounds like an elaborate plan to get me to commit suicide. You know what they do with spies? They shoot them. On the spot. That’s what they do. Do I have a cover that will work? Papers? Foolproof papers? Transportation? Money? Real money?”

“Your cover is a professor of physics we smuggled out of Mannheim nine weeks ago. You’ll be using his papers and identity. All authentic. The two of you could have been twins, John.”

“What about the time he’s been missing? You have that worked out?”

“That was part of the original plan to get him out. This plan and you came up later. He took time off from the University because of a chronic cough he conveniently developed. His car, clothes, papers and all you’ll need are hidden on a small, recently deserted farm not far east of where you will be dropped. All you’ll have to do is make your way to the road at the north end of the field, walk a few yards east, and you’re in. Everything’s all set. If you decide to go, you’ll be briefed on your cover and you’ll be able to talk to him for speech and other details. So, what do you say? Will you listen?”


In the early morning hours of the seventh of December, 1942, John Cochran was freezing his ass off. This time in the bowels of a Lancaster bomber. The first thing Cochran noticed when he hooked up his static line and looked down through the still open bomb bay doors was a mostly solid cloud cover a few hundred feet below, glowing dull orange in spots from sporadic fires the incendiaries had touched offstory tech in what appeared to him to have been a failed raid.

Damn it, I’ll be a sitting duck when I come out on the underside of that deck.

He didn’t have time to think much about it. The Lancaster, the only one in the flight, had swung wide on its turn back, as they said it would, so the fires were behind, but not too far, in the west. He had to get out fast. They’d be closing those gaping doors soon to clean up the plane for their run back to England. He pushed off the rack and fell into the darkness and bitter cold. The risers snapped and he felt as though his crotch had been the target of an irate mule. A secondary jerk said the static line had popped the automatic release so there would be no evidence of his having been in the plane at all. Instead, the static line would accompany him to the ground and be buried along with the chute and other unnecessary paraphernalia.

His dark gray canopy wouldn’t be visible until he punched through the clouds.

When I break out from under that deck, I’ll be a damned dark black bull’s-eye on an orange background for anyone looking my way.

He released his gear pack and let it drop to the bottom of its tether. He didn’t like jumping from a plane that was still working. There was something unnatural and stupid about that. The thought of jumping at night into enemy territory caused his stomach to churn.

Worse, I have to drop through the dark into ... into what? ... a slobbering enemy who can hardly wait to put me in a cold grave, that’s what.

When Cochran made contact with the ground, he hit hard and rolled to his right. The return to terra firma knocked the wind out of him and his roll let him know he was in a field strewn with large, hard stones. Fortunately, there was only the gentlest of a breeze. He struggled to stand, separated himself from the chute’s harness and reeled in his pack.

Damn, that was a rough one. Must be getting old. Damn, it’s cold. Have to hurry. Good thing there’s only patchy snow here—and the ground is as hard as the rocks. No tracks as long as I stay out of the snow. At least something’s going right.


Cochran stopped the ancient Mercedes in front of the checkpoint on the outskirts of Berlin. He reached over nervously to the passenger’s seat and retrieved his papers so they would be ready when the guard asked for them. It was the fifth and final checkpoint on his trip and he was anxious with anticipation.

Things have gone well, so far, but this ... this is Berlin. Will they accept what I have ... or do I die now?

“Your papers, please,” the guard said. Cochran, trying hard to hide his uncertainty, handed the packet to him.

“Herr Professor Engel. You are from Mannheim. Why are you traveling to Berlin?”

“The raid. They did not hit much, but they found my house. Nothing but broken stone and ashes are left. I thought it wise to move, ja? I will be looking for a position with the Friedrich-Wilhelms.”

“I understand. You may pass,” he said and waved his arm toward the gate that was being opened.

And that was it. He was on his way into Berlin and the guard hadn’t given his papers a second look.


One week after his arrival, Cochran made contact with one of the professors on his list. He had been frequenting a brauhaus located near the University when Dr. Eric von Stauffenberg wandered in. He watched Stauffenberg as the good professor downed one after another of the local and somewhat powerful brew until he was sure Stauffenberg was well lubricated.

“Good evening, Herr Professor Stauffenberg. Do you mind if I join you?”

“Please do. Do I know you?”

“No. I recognized you from your photograph. I am Johann Engel from Mannheim and I am looking for a position with the University here in Berlin. Do you suppose you could provide some help in this regard?”

“But of course, Dr. Engel. I have heard of you and I have read some of your papers on advanced mechanics. Quite impressive. We, some colleagues and I, have a program nearing its testing phase now and we could use a man of your stature. You see, we recently lost two of our team for unknown reasons, though we do have our suspicions. Oh, and, please, call me Eric.”

“Fine. I shall do that—and you may refer to me as Johann. Out of curiosity, are you related to Claus von Stauffenberg?”

“No, but I know of him. Everyone knows of him. Quite famous around here, you know. Rommel’s right hand, they say.”

“Yes. Foolish question. Sorry.”

“Flattering question, really. Why are you here in Berlin, Johann?”

“The raid. They missed everything but my house.”

“Yes, I heard about that one. Pity about your house.”

“May I ask what it is you are working on, Eric?”

“Why do we not save that for when you are in the lab, hmm? Dr. Kreiner says we will be setting up for the first full scale test right after Christmas. Why not come in on Monday? Make it early morning, say around six? That will give you a few days to understand what it is we are doing, before we ... plug it in, so to speak. Ask for me and they will bring you to the laboratory.”


At six o’clock in the morning it was cold and dark, save for a slight peach coloring of the overcast in the east. The city was in total blackout in spite of their blustering and phony confidence. He chuckled inwardly.

A chilling breeze found its way through all the layers of clothing and pinched at his skin. He was a bit surprised to see that there were no guards near the entry to the University and no soldiers milling about on the grounds. He thought that a little odd for a place where a super secret project was going on.

A woman met him in the hall.

“Dr. Engel?”

“Yes. I was invited ...”

“Dr. Von Stauffenberg informed me. Come, the car is waiting.”

“The car?”

“You mean he did not tell you? Well, that is like him. He forgets a good many things these days. I think he has been working too hard, poor dear. Anyway, the facility is not here. The ride, they tell me, is about three hours.”

“If it is not here, where is it?”

“I am afraid I do not know. They tell me nothing. Please, follow me.”

At the base of the stairs off a side entrance, a limousine waited, a cloud of condensing exhaust fumes drifting off to the west. Cochran noticed immediately that all the windows behind the driver were blacked out.

He turned to his guide with a questioning expression. She smiled, knowingly.

“You will be staying at the facility.”

“But I made no arrangements ...”

“Do not worry, Dr. Engel. Everything has been taken care of and you will be provided with all your needs when you arrive. Now hurry along. They do not like waiting.”

At that moment, a man in a long, black leather coat stepped out of the back of the car and stood stiffly, looking up at Cochran.

Gestapo? What the hell is going on here?

“Please, we must go,” he said. The statement was polite, but it was definitely not a request.


“Excuse me, sir,” a young corporal called out as he hurried down the hall to catch up with General David Steers.

The general stopped, then turned toward the approaching man.

“What is it?”

“Dispatch, sir, marked urgent and secret.”

The corporal handed a packet to Steers, snapped a salute, then disappeared down the hall. Steers turned in to his office, closed and locked the door behind him.

Everything around here is marked urgent and secret. Now what?

He opened the packet and withdrew a coded message. He took one quick look at what was written on the paper, then grabbed for the phone.

“Hello, Dennis. We have a problem.”

There was no answer from the other end for a moment, then a voice said, “What is the nature of the problem?”

“John Cochran is gone. Vanished off the map.”

“What do you mean, vanished?”

“According to the message, he is no longer at the hotel and there has been no sign of him for several days.”


“No indication of trouble. He’s just gone. Our man approached the proprietor as a student looking for the professor and was told his room had been cleaned out by a group from the University. No officials. No soldiers.”

“What do you think it means?”

“Come on, Dennis, the list of possibilities is as long as your arm. He could have been arrested, or kidnapped. Maybe they put the whole staff underground. Who the hell knows?”

“Not good. Not good at all. I don’t suppose we could send someone else in.”

“Not with as good a cover as John’s. We can only hope they consider this project so important that they’ve locked the science crew away somewhere till they finish whatever it is they plan to do and that John can find a way to stop them.”

“In the meantime? What do I tell the Secretary?”

“Just ... just tell him to get on with the war.”


On a beautiful day in May of 2014, a nurse pushed a reclining wheelchair out onto the lawn where a throng of other residents of the home waited in various conveyances around a huge birthday cake. Today, David Steers would celebrate his one hundredth year on Earth. Behind the table supporting the cake stood a stranger much too young to be one of the patients at Sweethome Sanctuary.

The nurse bent down and spoke into Steers’ hearing device, “We have a special guest who wanted to be with you today. He says he has come a long way to be here. Isn’t that nice?”

“Nice,” Steers said in a fragile, broken voice.

His visitor stepped away from the table and approached. When he was within a couple of feet of Steers, he took a seat on a low bench next to Steers’ chair.

Looking at the nurse, he said, “Would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?”

“Of course, sir, but remember what I told you about his breathing. If anything changes, call me immediately.”

He nodded and she walked over to a group of other patients.

“General,” he said, “I have a birthday present for you. I have wonderful news and I couldn’t think of a better day to bring it to you.”

“News? Good news?”

“Yes, David. Wonderfully good news. Do you recognize me, David?”

“No. Come closer so I can see you.”

His visitor bent down until his face was no more than a foot away.

“Now, do you recognize me?”

“You are familiar, but—no, wait—I know you, don’t I?”

“Yes, David, you know me well. Mitchell Field. Nineteen forty-two?”

“Oh my god. Is ... is that you, John? John Cochran?”

“Yes, it’s me. John Cochran. Now, do you remember?”

“No. No, no, no. This is some kind of sick joke. John Cochran was lost in Germany. I remember. You can’t be ...”

“But I am. It’s true, David. I am John Cochran.”

“I ... I am so sorry, John. So terribly sorry.”

“About what?”

“I sent you, but you weren’t supposed to come back.”

“I figured that out before I went. I knew I’d get out, but not by following the plan.”

“Are you sure you’re John?”

“In the flesh.”

“But ... but, you should be—What?—a hundred and ten? You don’t look a day older than the last time I saw you. How can that be?”

“First, let me tell you the news. Then you’ll understand everything. We won, David.”

“I know that, damn it. I was there.”

“No. I know we won the war, but that’s what I’m here to tell you. If you hadn’t sent me in, we probably wouldn’t have won the war. The whole world would have lost miserably. You and me, David—we stopped them cold.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I took their prototype, David. They didn’t have time to build another one.”

“Prototype? What prototype? How the hell did that stop anything?”

“Project Chronus. Walther Gerlach’s toy. It was supposed to unleash incredible nuclear power that they could turn into a weapon. They didn’t achieve that part, but they stumbled upon a more insidious function in the first startup. It could move things in time. It was their time machine, David. I took it and they couldn’t build another one. You and I, David. We are the ones who won the war and nobody knows but us. Happy Birthday, my friend.” END

J. Richard Jacobs is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.” He has studied physics and astronomy. After formal schooling in these areas, he became a naval architect. He has published several novels with Double Dragon, and was a 2007 EPPIE nominee.




peter saga


bendayDie Glocke

This was a top secret project purportedly undertaken by the SS and other elements of the Third Reich at a facility called Der Riese near
Wenceslaus mine about 50 kilometers from Breslau to produce what is believed to have been their Wonder Weapon. Igor Witkowski, a Polish author broke the news to the world in a book titled “The Truth About The
Wonder Weapon” that was released in 2000. His information supposedly
came from agents who had been involved in the project and/or had access to secret documents.

“The Hunt for Zero Point,” a later book by Nick Cook, popularized the story and expanded it considerably. Conspiracy theorists took it from there. If there is any truth to the story of The Bell, it was indeed a frightening prospect, regardless of what direction it actually took.
Whatever the case, we know they were working on incredible projects and this may well have been one of them. —J. Richard Jacobs