Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crystal Love
by Francis Marion Soty

A Little at All Times
by David R. Bunch

Bounded in a Prison Pod
by Alan Rader

Isolated Incidents
by Nick Nafpliotis

by Barbara Krasnoff

Kella Vector
by Henry Szabranski

Growing Pains
by A.L. Sirois

It’s the Last Ice Shelf!
by Anthony Langford

Time Out at the Café Metropole
by Guy T. Martland

Canvas of the World
by Frederick Obermeyer

by Louis Shalako


Science Fiction and Fidel Castro
by Ricardo L. Garcia

Ebola’s Deadly Path
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




A Little at All Times

By David R. Bunch

I HAD FORSAKEN MY HIP-SNUGGIE chair and the Long-View Problem Survey in the Room of Deep Thinking. I had my legs and arms stacked by the wall. I had taken to my bed to mull the problem. My heart was on rest-beat, my brain on max, as I lay like a metal keg, or a little legless and armless suit of old armor, on my lever bed and thought back. Yes, it had started then, that June Wednesday. Then! On my lever bed thinking back I could see it all, then, clear.

A thousand years flung back. With a little cloud. Ten centuries of progress raped. Our assurance torn from us on a summer’s day, like a pronouncement of cancer. In Old Times. Oh, the horror of the pronouncement, let us remember. The draining of strong men’s bravado. The nagging dread. The what’s to do? The reorganization of thinking, and pride gone, and assurance broken asunder. To leave? What? To leave a man who cowered in his bones, his quaking bones. Dividing his life by years, his chances by seconds, to come up with a strange and bitter quotient. To run, to cry, to yell, to scream, to shriek—help! And there was no help, no aid, nor any hope of aid. We are that way now. We have no worse than the cancer. In Moderan. Believe—believe me!

To understand, you must know we are the peotals, the metal and people people who had long ago, in a “discovery,” come up with a wonderful new-metal alloy that would fuse with our flesh and “replace” us down to a very minimum of flesh-strip holding our shape in bounds and keeping us linked up to the human. And that, I believe, was the main trick, thinking back—we became more than steel men in our durability, and yet we remained linked to the human in our ability to hate and take pleasure. Metal humans! Well, what’s to improve on that? Our organs became little engines and metal bellows and small tanks for chemical changes. Just as an instance, consider my heart. It became a sturdy motor to hammer out fine strokes according to my heart-gauge settings. Consider the lungs. They became metal accordion bellows that (supposedly) had no boundary on their lasting. They were of and for forever. And so on it went in all of our new-metal parts. Our flesh-strips we fed inroven. How could such pride not cry out for a fall?

And when pride has fallen, how pick it from the ground? How starch the unstarched rag man and make him stand again? What steel ribs for his ravel? This must be a way. But we cower now. We cower.

Consider me here now on my lever bed, my legs stacked neat against a wall. (When I cower, I really like to cower; I like to lie like a lump as helpless as I may. Then too, let’s admit it, my crusted hands and feet, steel-fingered and steel-toed, set up a fearsome jingling when I tremble as I’m scared. And sometimes my knees clank together and you’d think I still had bones and that the kneecaps, unfleshed with their knocking, were beating a clank-dinge of fear. No! When I cower, I’ll take off the tremble things that could betray old bravery, and I’ll lie like a lump on my hard bed and think back.) There may be a way.

Consider how we were once in Moderan, before this cloud raged up that set us back to the dark a thousand years. Expertly served by Gad-Goes in our very automatic Strongholds we sat like little monarchs, had each our place in the hate leagues of our times and warred from sun to sun, and far into the night, manning switch panels of War Rooms in Moderan’s almost constant Big Shoot. And in the infrequent truce times, with Big Shoot uneasily in false armistice, we’d have our joys mapped out. Maybe it’d be a diamond-tooth tiger cub fighting a fierce new-metal kitten in our own individual sporting and game rooms. Or maybe it’d be a down on our knees by the lever bed to drag out the new-metal mistress. Most Stronghold masters kept one for a variety time in Joys. With her life switch full to on, our heart switch toggled to frantic! and our pale green blood pounding out our great need in a hurry, the war would soon be recessed for us—ah completely! But the point is, in Moderan before the cloud there was no urgency of time. Big Shoot or truce and Joys time, we took it all large, knowing we did not have to measure out our moments like a flesh man of Old Days.

But consider poor us now; we’re back in that old field and White Beard holds the sickle. We speculate on graves and know our homes as coffins. We cannot see a bank of raw earth anywhere but what we shake and dread. And looking at the yard sheets of gray and sterile plastic that clothes most of our landscapes, we know that soon or late, despairing of the Dream, half-eaten by the cloud, we'll probably hack and enter—our dead selves going home. We divide our time again into compartments, the old way—it’s in our thinking. We make the grim subtractions and shudder the minuends. We multiply and add and still come up with the same voice talking—nearer death, nearer death

And that’s why I’m on my bed like a cold lump this morning. I’m thinking. Thinking. With one ear cocked to danger and the threat that’s looking for me, I try to think of ways. I’ve chased it in my brain until my head’s all tracks now and all the tracks are circles, and a little red demon in there rides the coal-black car at a furious speed. And he is grim and frowning most of the time. But sometimes he slows and smiles most ingratiatingly and says through the whitest of teeth, “Hi!” Just that and that’s all. But I think I know what he means.

At such times I roll and thresh on the lever bed until one of my weapons men comes to attend me. “Bring me my legs and arms,” I shriek. “Strap on my hands. Saddle white go-darts for the fields tomorrow. Make sure it’s a swinging day among the launch pads. Check for an All’s Ready.” And when it’s done I clamber from my bed. I walk the steel walk of the upright Captains, clop clip clap, toggling my hinges and braces. And sometimes I go all sly. I cuff and kick at my tin men; or maybe I’ll rub them and pet them with a soaked rag of their favorite oil. I curse and rave through the Stronghold; or maybe it’s soft sweet songs I sing. I calculate my brains and wonder what’s for crazy. I could slap down the sky with all the hate I own. Or is it that my once bright sword is now crossed by futility?

And soon I’m in my War Room. If there's a Big Shoot on, I gun it hotly. I press such buttons that almost the fury of crossed launchings shudders my great Walls down. If there is no war, I start one with peripheral fire to gun in all the Strongholds. And there we sit, all of us under the same threat of the eating cloud, our rockets beautifully firing, our skies torn to exploding light and all our world gone to shudder while we give each other Max Fire.

And nobody wins and nobody loses, and after awhile a truce flares up; the diversion is over, taken by a small uneasy peace, and we ride on into our days under the threat that continues and has made a joke out of the once proud, the once invulnerable, the everlasting (we thought) new-metal Moderan.

The threat? The cloud? The dragon that has unmasked the Dream and made a mockery out of our plans to live forever in steel-topped Moderan? Well, it isn’t time exactly that eats us, the idea of wearing out, I mean. It never was that exactly, not even in Old Days. There was always the something else—a disease,moderan an accident, or just old age, which was a special disease all its own, I would say, or maybe old age was the most terrible-horrible accident of all. But our threat is special and seems so “right” for us, if something had to be. What I mean is, it seems so “right” for us because it could only happen in a land like ours. And unless we stem the threat, which I see small hope of doing as things are now, we must be completely doomed in less than a million years. I believe not even bones of Strongholds will stand then, unless something can be done. You see, there is an eating cloud loose in our land.

Think of it as time nibbling away at eternity; think of it as common rust nibbling a steel bar. Then think of us as eternity, but we can be a bar that is eaten. For we have boundaries. Or am I being vague because I do not wish to walk in and say it plain. Who in Old Days liked to say, “Well, I have a little bone rot that’s thinning out my chances here and there,” or, “I have some TB germs having lungs at lunch time; an active family they that I’m hosting out of goodness—” Well, you see?

But let’s cut through this verbiage, have done with roundabouts, blast in and say it clear. We are being eaten by the all-metal new-metal eaters, strangest mutants of all time. And now you know; we have told of our shame. They go in clouds of little shark-jawed atoms. One June Wednesday it came to me, first time—low over the metal flowers a strange cloud lifting black and louring, like damp smoke of Old Days. And high up were others, riding the air like eagles. Of Old Times. And when it hit me it settled in like small-small things, a million of which, grouped, might make a dot as big as a pencil speck, bumped together, lumped and came on in very hard in their overly eager landings to get at me. Then they spread into that dark, thinnest of films all of us came to know so well. Up and down and across me they moved that first day of a truce time while I sat outside my Stronghold in a hip-snuggie chair and conjectured. (I knew it couldn't be secret war from a neighboring Stronghold, because in our great hate leagues we have rules that are honored.) Then with the tiniest sound of sand across a stone they lifted, and as they gained I threw up a great spyglass, and to my eyes so many times multiplied they looked like a black drift of condors fanning away, the small-small things. I didn’t know it then, but I was lesser by a little than I had been. For they were digesting me! now in a short Joy flight of their own—the flying black marauders, living, multiplying animals that clawed at us like rust!

And now we’re eaten all the time in Moderan, we and our Strongholds, as the black clouds lift and land upon us to nibble a metal fill. If we're inside, our Strongholds shut so tight not even smoke can penetrate, they sit upon the roof tops and enjoy repasts there. And so it is all the same—we or our Strongholds, finally. Sooner or later the great collective mutants, small-small with the insatiable need for a metal meal, must eat us each and every bit, all but the flesh-strips, us and our Strongholds, and on a last Joy flight they'll go out with the last metal of the last new-metal man and the last metal of the last Stronghold, to digest the last of once great Moderan. Then I suppose they'll die too, unless they can lift into another land of metal, another planet, another someplace else for their terrible need. And so you see ...? END

David R. Bunch, although critically acclaimed, remained obscure throughout his lifetime. His Moderan stories are now considered major works of the New Wave. “A Little at All Times” was originally published in the Summer, 1969, “Perihelion.”


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