Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Remy’s Town
by Megan Neumann

by Andrew Hook

Her Robot Babies
by Brent Knowles

Beyond the Reach of Proof
by Seth W. Kennedy

Here Is a Fighter
by Eric Del Carlo

Invasive Species
by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Deciphering an ET Opening Screen
by Marilyn K. Martin

I Once Was Lost
by Edward Morris

by Melanie Rees

Respect of Headwaiters
by Tais Teng

Toy Soldier
by Leon Chan


A Case Against Saucers
by John McCormick

Atomic Light Bulbs
by Popular Mechanics




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Here Is a Fighter

By Eric Del Carlo

THE THIRD TIME THE STAMP TRIED to come back into the bar, this time brandishing a length of rusty rebar with a trapezoidal chunk of concrete attached, the proprietor—Wyatt always thought of him as Ye Olde Cadfan—put the stock of a lovingly kept L129A1 to his shoulder, smoothly let the breath from his lungs, and shot the intruder framed in his pub’s doorway. He had already rung emergency services, already politely asked his patrons to clear away from the entrance.

Everyone gasped, but it was the report which startled them. Wyatt Long, sitting closest to Cadfan, saw the salt-colored brows knit tight and flinched involuntarily at the discharge. But he didn’t turn on the red leather-upholstered stool until the Stamp was crumpling, heart perforated. Wyatt’s ears rang, and he did nothing to clear them. He had tried to ignore the Stamp, both before and after Cadfan rousted him out the first time; but there was nothing he could have done to prevent this. Surely, nothing. Unstable and likely drunk, the belligerent man had gotten what for. So every tweedy patron in the throwback joint would say. Moments before lifting out the rifle, Ye Olde Cadfan had leaned across the intimate expanse of swarthy polished bar top and murmured, “If your man comes in again, I’ll have to do him.” And Wyatt Long had nodded and not watched.

But he did look now and was uncomfortably aware of others observing him do so. He was a practiced stoic, and he took his glass of Dewar’s with him as he turned. Cadfan Simon, as an Olympian, had shot for England at the same games that gave Wyatt his swimming golds. But Cadfan hadn’t passed the Stamping trials, and in the twenty-two years since, he had aged and bloated, which was why Wyatt visited him when he was in this country. Cadfan looked worse than he did. But the stout middle-aged man could still shoot with unnerving accuracy, whereas Wyatt was likely to drown in his own tub.

So it was truly awful, an incident that would brand itself in his brain, when tears overflowed Wyatt’s pale blue eyes, even as he put the whiskey glass’ brim to trembling lips. The dead man lay across the threshold, faceup, still gripping the improvised bludgeon.

Beyond the ringing in his ears, embarrassed muttering arose. This was very un-English of him, and it didn’t really matter that he wasn’t English. Wyatt compounded the impropriety by strangling out, “Goddamn, I look so young ...” as he gazed through his tears at the body.

The lights of emergency vehicles at last colored the pub windows. Cadfan stepped back and worked a cloth into a pint glass, eyes on his cleaning, leaving the L129A1 laid neatly along the bar.


Not entirely meaning to, he caused a disturbance on the flight out of Heathrow. Two hops later, at what became the Stuttgart fiasco, the promotion chief told him to go home. This tour was a contract satisfier mostly. “It’ll wait, Mr. Long,” the leathery woman said, calculating the bottom line, calculating him.

Wyatt Long flew back to the States. He knew something had gone wrong with him, a thing over two decades in the making.

Home was large, echoing, underfurnished, underused. Inevitably, to punish himself, he yubed the Stuttgart footage. It had happened on a live German talk show. He could remember saying some of these things, expounding on modern-day compartmentalized warfare, its geographic and political neatness which assured that an archduke’s assassination in Bosnia would never again plunge the world into war. That was standard shtick. But when he watched himself go off-message, it horrified him. Babbling, almost stream of consciousness. Christ, he was talking about that damned Stamp at Cadfan Simon’s pub. “What did he want from me? What did he think he was going to threaten out of me ...?” Awful, just awful. The interviewer, eyes wide, had let him gibber, and Wyatt couldn’t blame him. Spectacle was always entertaining.

He sat alone in the quiet for some while afterward.

Then he decided to go to the fights.


It smelled like a rodeo, shook like a roller coaster. Wyatt trod sawdust and neo-Dustbowl dirt between clapboard walls. The venues were roofed with scrap metaplastic that at least kept off the hammering sun and raining grit.

He was good and drunk on beer, which went perfectly with this ambience. Even in the hot shadows he got recognized from time to time. He wasn’t famous anymore; he was familiar. He paused each time he was accosted, and smiled and nodded and spoke, and sometimes it was the other person who backed off after a few minutes, saying, “Well, I oughtta get going ...” Leaving Wyatt Long, former Olympian hero, to jabber on his own a little while more.

The fights were really something today, though.

Wyatt stumbled from arena to arena, sweaty underlit canvases, spectators shoulder to shoulder. The energy was palpable, the enthusiasm unfeigned and undignified. They might be watching dogs fight. The contenders, to a person, gave it everything. These weren’t county fair shenanigans. Hard young eager bodies were pounding a way out of this middle-of-nowhere hellhole. Scouts attended sometimes. Fighters were “discovered.” It happened. Not often, but that it happened at all gave the matches their fervor, their bloody passion.

He entered another of the roaring enclosures, eagerly sucking the fury into his lungs. But his beery exhalation stuck in his throat. He peered through the encircling onlookers at the flying shadows atop the roped-off square. He narrowed bleary eyes and sorted image against memory. It surprised him, remotely, to discover that he didn’t want the person in the ring to be her.

But it was.

This was a mixed gender bout. She was fighting a man named Felix Tiger. Wyatt’s virtual program told him that this was her specialty. She went against men. And it looked as if she’d been doing it awhile now.

Wyatt stood and watched as he had not watched the other contests he’d seen today. He didn’t cheer. He did not join in the gleeful carousing. He didn’t even actively hope she would win this bout, though that was the logic of his position.

Really, he just wanted to see her leave the ring without taking any more damage.

Waiting, however, meant watching the fight; and he couldn’t help but appreciate her pure athletic skill. Her motions were fluid. She danced up there. Her opponent took a brute approach, claiming the canvas a half-step at a time, trying to limit her territory. It was working, but the tactic was slow and inelegant. She landed blows and swung under his, and when she took a hit, she spun with it and made it her own movement.

Her taut lithe body glowed with bruises. Blood streamed off her face.

A bareknuckle match. Relaxed rules. Woman versus man. Absolute primal savagery. No wonder the crowd was screaming batshit.

Wyatt didn’t see the end of the fight; didn’t find out until later that she had defeated Felix Tiger. Someone among the onlookers turned around, recognized him in the feverish dimness, and sneered. There was a breed of person who, upon meeting anybody famous or even semi-famous, felt obliged to dig and keep on digging until a nerve was struck. Wyatt Long had experienced this type, of course. But the much-tattooed sneerer had picked a bad time, and when he started in with “Saw you make an ass of yourself on that strudel-eater’s show, ’smatter, warmonger, you goin’ senile?” Wyatt threw a punch. Perhaps he was imitating what he saw in the ring. His lawyer suggested as much to journabloggers at the arraignment, downplaying the blood-alcohol level and emphasizing the other man’s history of misdemeanor assault. Nothing came of the case but a few lurid headlines featuring the word has-been.

Aurora Storch won her fight that day—or at least her Stamp did. Wyatt Long didn’t win his, which ended shortly after the sneering man recovered, cranked back his fist and swung. But Wyatt didn’t care about his defeat. He wanted only to see her. His one true love.


People could be found. That was the world and the way it had been for some time. Everyone left imprints. And if you had altered your identity, you left prints behind under that name.

Certainly Wyatt had been sought out in his time. Hell, it still happened. That Stamp at Cadfan’s bar had tracked him methodically, police had found. He had been living on the streets of London, unemployed and unemployable, evidently waiting for Wyatt to pass within the meager sphere in which he could afford to travel.

Wyatt found Aurora’s Stamp, the one who fought and lived under the name of Evangeline Grossling. She resided in econohousing inside of transport distance to the fight venues. She did not identify as a Stamp, as she was legally obliged to. And she’d apparently gone unrecognized these past two years since her mustering out.

That last didn’t surprise Wyatt. He’d seen her face and the punishment it had so visibly absorbed. Only the bones beneath and her gyroscopic equilibrium in the ring had told him her origins. Aurora hadn’t been a fighter; she was a runner, the two hundred meter. But he had committed her so ardently to memory. He’d seen Evangeline, and he had known. That knowing was an immediate, familiar pressure on his heart.

He rented the cheapest car on the lot, but it was still too flashy for these environs when he pulled up to the rows of converted cargo containers. The main idea behind the housing was that it would withstand the Climate Eccentricities. Everybody paid attention to the weather updates that were broadcast every fifteen minutes here in this sparsely populated region.

Wyatt sat an extra moment in the car and listened to the latest of these. A few figures moved about in the tumbling haze along the front of the housing units, thawbs flapping. Behind headdresses and sunglasses Wyatt imagined covetous eyes staring at his vehicle’s sol-collectors. He wasn’t worried about the rental getting stripped. Not that it wouldn’t happen; he just didn’t care.

He stepped out into the roiling dry heat.

His hair was grayed with dust—grayer than it already was—and his exposed arms abraded when he reached her unit. He pressed the buzzer and waited. His lungs felt gritty as he drew deep but inconsistent breaths. After a minute he lifted his fist and hammered on the hatch. That opened the rust-and-steel shutters on the unit immediately adjacent. A whiny voice said, “You tryin’ to wake the whole row, asshole?” He saw only shadow beyond the metal slats.

The shutters scraped shut angrily. Wyatt didn’t pound again. But he wasn’t going to leave either. He waited, leaned on the buzzer, waited more. His eyes stung from the parched airborne grit, and after ten minutes he felt he understood better than he ever had why someone would do anything, risk any injury, to get out of a place like this.

He heard movement inside the oblong metal box. Or the suggestion of movement. Or else the steady dusty roar was already eating at his brain.

Then something definitely did sound from within, a metallic clang, and the hatch groaned open on thick dimness. Didn’t these sorry people even have electricity?

Of course they did. He had been out in the weather without eye protection, like a fool. She stood on the threshold. Behind her, her home was lit and snug, modest but dignified, he saw as his sight adjusted.

She wore an unraveling cable-knit sweater and jeans. Up close her face was hammered clay, less recognizable than from a distance. She had her dark hair short, and it stood now in damp tufts. He didn’t think she’d been in the shower when he first arrived. He doubted there was water ration enough for a prolonged shower in a setup like this. Probably she had been killing time, washing her hair and hoping he would just go away.

It wasn’t quite the passive strategy Aurora Storch might have used. Aurora didn’t seek out confrontation, but when one arrived, she didn’t evade it.

He had started to rehearse his words during the drive here, then had stopped when everything he said circled back into intimate memories she wouldn’t have. So he just said, “I saw your fight.” His voice croaked; his throat hurt.

“I’ve had lots of fights.” She crossed her arms, pulling the hole at the sweater’s shoulder wider. The angle of her body was purely Aurora, Wyatt thought giddily.

“Felix Tiger. A week ago.”

“Beat him.”

“I know.” His previous years of stoical behavior allowed him to keep his tone steady, but a great violence of emotion moved within him. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, which was, he thought, a question only someone on the downside of fame could ask.

“I know.” Her face was thickened, the individual features permanently swollen. Her nose, broken who knew how many times, was an asymmetrical knob. Her runner’s body was packed with extra muscle.

“But ...” Now his voice did start to shake. “But do you know me? Or—do you know me? I mean, I know you have memories. A kind of blueprint, without the lines filled in. So you might remember me the way she remembers ...” He recalled what he’d rehearsed in the car. He had meant to lay his cards on the table first. “I know who you are.”

Her arms stayed crossed. In the ring she had ceded terrain and danced around punches. Here she stood, wiry muscular legs rooted.

“You planning on turning me in?” she asked. No threat in her neutral voice; but she could take him, obviously. He was soft from his twenty-two unathletic years since he’d taken his swimming golds.

“No! No, of course not. I want—”

“What do you want?”

“I want—”

“What do you want?” But this last had come from behind Wyatt, a masculine voice, firm and confident.

The hatch was still open, and dust was sifting inside. Wyatt turned. The figure filled the doorway. Somehow he loomed, while Wyatt felt shrunken, huddled. The man stood close behind, and Wyatt belatedly felt he had been there some while, maybe since Evangeline Grossling had opened the door.

The Stamp gave Wyatt a push—not a shove, just getting him inside so he could dog the hatch behind him. The living unit wasn’t at all squalid, Wyatt saw. The furnishings were worn, but nothing about the place felt seedy. It was also obviously, he now noted, occupied by two people.

“What do you want with her?” Wyatt’s Stamp asked again; and as with Evangeline, there was no threat in his tone. Maybe there didn’t need to be one. He was fit, hale, strong, created tough and made tougher by his military service. “Why did you drive out here to see her?” The rented vehicle couldn’t belong to anyone else.

Violently powerful emotions continued to churn inside Wyatt. The cargo container groaned, ever so slightly, as the weather outside picked up strength.

He was staring and staring at the male Stamp, which was silly. He’d seen plenty in his time, most recently the one crumpled in the doorway of Cadfan Simon’s pub. People didn’t take Stamps seriously—not as human beings, anyway. It was a prejudice that wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. Social care for them was ineffectual. Legislators proudly underfunded such services to score political points. Stamps didn’t usually do well after the tours of duty for which they had been created. Stamps were good for war, in jungly reaches below the Equator or remote urban hellscapes in Eastern Europe. General populations still wanted wars, at least the neatly sequestered kind. Wyatt had made a living advocating for the Stamping program. Once, he had been a great asset, the face of the operation.

His Stamp moved a step closer. The familiar face was contoured with a stubbly beard. He’d changed his eye color from pale blue to deep brown, but that didn’t seem to be enough of a disguise. Of course, that presumed he too was living a fraudulent post-military life as a non-Stamp. Maybe, though, folks around here just didn’t care about such things.

The Stamp seemed to lean down to speak to him, which should have been impossible. “We have to know what we’ll need to do about you, Mr. Long. Tell us why you’re here.”

The steel box moaned again; or Wyatt thought it had until he realized he was making the faint tortured noise. He pushed out words to stop the sound. “It’s because ... because I love her. I met her at the games. We were together for a time. We both qualified for the Stamping trials. Everyone was excited about it. It seemed miraculous back then. I loved her so much. I wanted her for the rest of my life, but she ... lost interest. She wanted to move on, she said—”

And after that it was just an awful loop of maudlin regrets and recriminations. He sounded like a heartsick teenager, even to his own ears. He offered no reason for why he had fixed on Evangeline. Reason didn’t enter into it. This breakdown had been coming for decades. Others who had signed over their Stamping rights had gone the same way. It was why there were no new Stamps, just the same batches, over and over.

He was in a chair but didn’t remember sitting down. The two Stamps were on either side of him. The cargo container shook harder now, and he blinked up at the walls.

“Churner coming through,” Evangeline said.

“You’ll have to wait about ten more minutes before you go. I’m Gary, by the way. Gary Braceman.”

Wyatt put out his hand. Gary’s grip was sure and strong. “Pleased to meet you,” Wyatt said.

He had ten minutes, and when they were up, he would indeed leave. He turned to look at Evangeline Grossling. During all this she hadn’t baldly told him that she wasn’t Aurora Storch, and he was grateful she hadn’t done so. It seemed a kindness to him.

“Do you run?” Wyatt asked her.

The brows over her hazel eyes were heavy. Those eyes crinkled now, and a grunted laugh escaped her. “Sure. But not how you probably mean. I’m a fighter.”

“A hell of a fighter,” Gary said.

She smiled across at him, a smile that tugged the left corner of her mouth toward her earlobe. A smile Wyatt knew well.

“I don’t suppose you swim?” he asked, turning.

Gary shook his head. “I can, of course. I swam in our war, in the Amazon. Slapped charges on rebel gunboat hulls. But there aren’t a lot of swimming pools around here.” His wry laugh was more like a hiccup. Wyatt remembered that laugh too, from when he could still find his life amusing.

“You met in the field, during the war?”

“After,” said Evangeline.

“And after you met, you ...?” Wyatt wanted to hear the words.

She gave them to him. “We fell in love.” But she offered even more: “He didn’t want to, at first. But I fought for him.”

Wyatt had been sitting on the chair’s edge. He sagged back into it now. The walls no longer groaned. He felt himself calming, the emotional violence fading. Maybe he would continue as an advocate for the Stamping program; maybe he wouldn’t. But he no longer thought he would crack up. Some of those Olympic athletes, picked for their prime physical conditions, said they felt diminished, as if each version of themselves that sprang fully grown to life took away a measure of their crucial essence.

Wyatt hadn’t felt that way, not even when he had started to unravel like Evangeline’s sweater. What he’d felt was more basic, much more self-destructive. He had begun to empathize.

Gary Braceman wore a patched up, full-length Arabic thawb. His boots were cheap and scuffed.

Wyatt sat forward on the chair again, with a new urgency. “I’ve got money,” he said. “I can get you out of here. Both of you.” He looked squarely at Evangeline. Years rushed past her face, but they were his years, not hers. “You don’t have to fight your way out of here.”

That clay-like face suddenly cooled. This wasn’t the neutral look she’d greeted him with at the door. It was the stoniness he had seen when he had pressed Aurora at the end of their relationship, trying to prolong things. He had made that time ugly, when otherwise it could have been adult, even amiable.

“I am a fighter,” she said, clipping the words out one by one.

They were her words; but they echoed Aurora’s as well, who had used to say, as a fanatical mantra, as an unyielding mission statement: I am a runner.

Wyatt Long nodded tiredly and stood and went to the hatch, now that the ten minutes and the swift weather had passed. He traded cordial goodbyes with the two of them. Nobody had messed with the rental car’s sol-collectors, he found when he approached it. In fact, someone had thrown a ragged tarp over the vehicle.


Aurora Storch owned a horticultural lab. As a girl, running junior high track, she had worked at a florist’s to help out her strapped family. She had told Wyatt about making deliveries on foot all over her town. It was a story she had offered up a lot, and one of the reasons she was a darling of the games that year, and why the women’s two hundred meter drew such an audience.

But he was treated to the little details as well, the tiny trivialities. He knew about the crunch of pebbly car window glass under Adidas soles in bad neighborhoods, the three-legged calico that hobbled along with her behind its fence every time she went out of her way to go down its block. He knew the doubt that had run neck and neck with her determination.

That doubt was why he had fallen in love with her—or, really, the sheer gutsiness with which she’d dealt with doubt.

He contacted her through the lab and had to coax and cajole his way through a phalanx of underlings to do so. He and Aurora hadn’t spoken in many years, not since before the birth of her now teenaged daughter. Aurora was very civil but didn’t think they should meet. But Wyatt argued his case hard, and she agreed to a dinner.

If he wanted her, he knew, he would have to fight for her. END

Eric Del Carlo has appeared in “Asimov’s,” “Strange Horizons,” “Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds” and other venues. His latest novel is a collaboration with his father, Vik Del Carlo: “The Golden Gate Is Empty,” published by White Cat Publications.






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