Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Clean Limbs of Robots
by Francis Marion Soty

Garbage Miners
by Sean McLachlan

All Comms Down
by Anne E. Johnson

Do Stand-Up Bots Dream of Electric Hecklers?
by James Aquilone

by Timothy J. Gawne

Human Faces
by Karl Dandenell

Charybdis Run
by Nathan Ehret

by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Halieis Anthropon
by A.L. Sirois

by Richard Zwicker

You Need to Know
by Michaele Jordan


Animated Pictures
by J. Miller Barr

by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Halieis Anthropon

By A.L. Sirois

MAREN LAKE, GOING OVER HER NOTES on her datapad, wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings for a couple of reasons. The first reason: despite all the shipboard exercise and the steroid bulking they’d had to undergo, she and the other Martians still weren’t used to conditions on Earth. The worst part was the air; it was just too damn thick. Lake thought it was like breathing foam. She massed more kilos than anyone else aboard, too, which made the additional weight that much more difficult for her to lug around.

The second reason was purely selfish. She was planning a research paper, her first.

She and Solimar, the hyperactive biologist, followed a rough trail toward the ruined city a kilometer or so away from the landing site. The place, according to their maps, had once been called Miami. They could have taken scooters but the captain had decreed to general grumbling that everyone was to walk as much as possible.

In her mind, the paper was slowly taking shape. She tried not to be excited about it, to maintain a professional attitude. This is about the people, after all, she told herself. While the other members of the expedition concentrated on the ruined planet’s ecosystem, she, the mission’s anthropologist, studied the war’s survivors—not the original ones; the war had happened two centuries ago; their descendents were reduced by generations of misery to hunting and gathering. Few humans on Earth lived outside the cities, but they were none the worse for that, as far as Lake could tell. Even the city dwellers had to scavenge and poke through rubble and trash for whatever they could find.

Not that there was much left alive to hunt ... which was why cannibalism had become so widespread among the Earthies.

It was depressing, but the shock of it had worn off. She’d studied enough ancient Earth cultures to know that anthropophagy wasn’t as rare as civilized races would like to think.

Solimar grabbed Lake’s arm. She protested as he manhandled her around to see the threat.

Look.” Half a kilometer or so behind them, a hook was approaching. “I happened to glance back ...”

They scrambled into the dry scrub alongside the old road. Goosebumps prickled her arms. A hook. The thing bumbled along, a couple of meters above the ground. The prevailing sea breeze had no effect on its course: one of the reasons why the hooks were thought to possess some sort of guiding intelligence.

Apparently it hadn’t seen them—assuming hooks “saw” anything. She lifted her handheld and tapped for magnification.

As tall as her outspread arms were wide, the reddish-gold hook looked like an old-time jaggy computer graphic. Seven “lines” formed a rough arc, down from the knobby top, recurving, and then back up. Its cross section looked to be six or seven inches, but no one had ever examined one closely. There was no barb at the tip, just a sucker-like disc.

Lake’s peripheral vision caught Solimar raising his weapon. She knew he had to be as afraid as she was, but he was more willing to fire. Now it was her turn to grab his arm.

He shook her off. “I’m not going to shoot. Just being careful, is all.”

“So am I.” She ignored his scowl. “If only we knew what it was doing.”

“Snagging Martians, is what it’s doing, Lake.” He didn’t bother to hide his scorn. “Have you forgotten?”

“Fu-uh-uck.” She and Solimar flattened themselves as best they could onto the dried scrub. It rustled and crackled, scratching their hands and faces. Her breath sounded harsh in her ears. She struggled to even it out lest the hook hear.

Though the hooks didn’t appear to hear anything, either.

No one on Mars had a clue what the hooks were, where they had come from, or even what they were doing. Their first appearance had baffled the Martians monitoring Earth via the roving robots they’d dropped to assess post-war conditions. The hooks’ existence had been the primary motivating force behind this expedition.

She glanced over her shoulder. In the distance the Arbruzzi sat atop a low rise, gleaming in the sun, looking reassuringly the same—the shiny silver ship she had lived in with the others for six months. Ahead of them, hidden now by the gorse, sat the malfunctioning rover they meant to repair.

Beyond that, the city. And, to their left, out of view while they ate dirt, the sea.

Lake peered at the meandering hook through the scrub. Even now, frightened as she was, the sound of the nearby ocean had the power to distract her.

From the moment they’d landed, Lake couldn’t keep her mind off it. Aside from pictures and videos, she’d never before seen an ocean—or even, despite her name, a lake. On a vidscreen the sea had no real power. But in the flesh, as it were? The endless rattle of wind and the pounding of the waves awed her. And the size! A blue-gray eternity stretching to the horizon and, she knew, far beyond. Then there was the amazing smell of brine, and the humidity. Just being here, on Earth, being able to breathe the air and walk around without protection would have been enough, after a lifetime on Mars. She’d been to Phobos and on sub-orbital jaunts. The immensity of space had never really affected her. But she hadn’t been prepared for the sea.

The landscape was another thing altogether. Denuded and made desolate by the war, it reminded Lake of Mars. If it weren’t for the relentless pull of gravity and the thick, warm (breathable!) air, she might feel fairly much at home.

Except for the alien sea.

The hook slowly approached their hiding place. They clutched hands as it floated past mere yards away. It made no motion toward them. Sweat soaked the back of her shirt.

Solimar inched closer to her. “The cunting thing didn’t see us,” he breathed. His breath stank of cofsub. She watched, fascinated, as the hook wobbled off in another direction. After a few minutes it passed out of their view. Five minutes later they climbed to their feet.

“We shouldn’t both have come out,” she said, and licked her dry lips.

“Please. We agreed—neither of us goes anywhere alone. We need that rover operating, so we’re both here, looking out for each other. Like we agreed, yeah? Now let’s go.”

We shouldn’t both have come. But she clambered to her feet and stumbled after him, back onto the path.

From there, Lake saw the grey expanse of the sea, rumbling and crashing like a demented thing searching for prey. She felt inconsequential in the face of all that surging water. Intellectually, she knew that Earth’s oceans were largely dead, poisoned in the conflict, with only some deep-dwelling extremophile organisms clustered around black smoker vents.

Mars’ own seas, frozen for eons, lay buried beneath blowing sand and dust. This terrestrial one remained alive in its ceaseless movements, its ebb and flow, and its tie to the planet’s enormous moon. Deimos and Phobos could never have exerted the sort of tidal pull that Luna did. The first night after they had arrived, she watched the huge satellite rise. Though not yet half full, it filled the night with light. Lake could begin to comprehend its hold on the mind of the men who had evolved under it, watching it, pondering it. The richness of the interaction between sea and wind and the moon boggled Lake and she caught herself pitying the billions killed in the war.

Beguiled in her childhood by the myths of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, she had followed her fascination into anthropology, to study peoples and their cultures. Nowhere else had there been so many people as on Earth. Billions. Mars had yet to see its first million citizens. The Red Planet had no “culture” per se, no artistic traditions beyond the graffiti scrawled along the underground tunnels connecting the habitat domes, and the endless pulse of pop music. People were too busy extending and establishing their precarious hold on the Red Planet to devote much time to art.

She remembered how excited she had been as a girl when she realized that she had found her life’s work. People! History! She was good at it. It was the only thing, really, she was good at. The fact that no one considered Earth, the aggressor, worth studying made no difference to her. She didn’t care what her friends thought because she had none.

She was short for a Martian, barely five-foot-ten, and more muscular than the norm; almost a throwback. The kids in school with casual cruelty called her “freak” and “trog,” and she had run home more than once crying to her mothers and fathers. They brushed away her tears, loved her, encouraged her, even her unconventional interest in the lost civilizations of Earth.

Lake sighed. Well, all except for Mama Larissa, of course, who wouldn’t speak to Lake for nearly a year upon learning her daughter had been assigned to the first expedition to Earth after the war.

“You want to redeem them,” Mama said, clearly disgusted. That Larissa was Lake’s bio-mother made the confrontation all the more painful.

“It’s what scientists do, find out facts. There is nothing wrong with that.”

“There is if you’re trying to whitewash what Earth did to us. They couldn’t manage their own world, and wanted to manage ours. By force.”

The other expedition members generally shared the prevailing view that the Earthies deserved what they had got. Their mindset, Lake fancied, was like that of Allied soldiers combing through the wreckage of Germany after World War II. Some pity for the non-combatants, but mostly as ye sow, so shall ye reap. She didn’t speak of her treasonous pity to anyone aside from Torgerson. The astrogator shared some of her interest in humanity’s home world—but now he, too, had gone missing along with everyone else from the Abruzzi, except—to date—she and Solimar.

Missing. Although she knew where Torgerson was. He was with the other seven. In the city.

Weapons at the ready, she and Solimar continued trudging along, looking back every so often in case the hook returned.

The irony was, there wouldn’t be an expedition even now but for the discovery of the hooks.


Their path toward the city was roughly perpendicular to the shoreline. The rounded top of its encompassing dome loomed in the distance, reminding Lake of cities back home. There were five others, huge things far bigger than any Martian city, widely spaced around the planet. They had been built during the final phase of the war when the Martians were dropping space rocks, pounding Earth into submission.

Then, in the midst of the catastrophe, communication with Earth ceased, the planet’s comlinks being too damaged by the war to continue operating. Mars declared victory and withdrew its forces.

Earth remained silent for two hundred years.

The Martians had plenty to do in the meanwhile. The demands of their own none-too-hospitable world allowed no pity for the vanquished tyrant.

Now, after two centuries, Mars was flourishing. Scientists grew curious about what might be happening “back home.” They scrounged enough funds to drop a few clandestine rovers here and there on Earth. They saw the few Earthies remaining alive creeping through ruins wearing skins and rags, living in tribes or clans and fighting constantly for resources.

It was through the eyes of a rover—the very one they were walking toward—that the Martians saw a hook for the first time.

During the two-month trip to Earth, Lake and her colleagues speculated endlessly about the hooks: where they came from, what they were doing, why they were doing it. Privately, Lake thought the discussions a waste of time, but she was elated to have people actually paying attention to her, so she joined in the pink-sky speculating.

Were the hooks a failed weapon system pressed into service before it was properly debugged? That was Riggs’s belief. “They broadcast a thought-dampening field,” the little engineer insisted. “Stands to reason, they’re doing it to make the survivors of the war easier to control.”

“But why would the Earthies do this to their own?” That was Whitworth, the pilot.

“No. No,” said Solimar, their biologist. “What they are is mutated life forms evolved to fit current environmental conditions.”

Lake snorted, enjoying the luxury of daring to disagree with someone without fear of ridicule. “Mutated? Mutated from what, Sol? Flying jellyfish? There’s no land animal like that on Earth flies without wings ... never was.”

From Norton, the ship’s nearsighted doctor: “Some spiders float on the wind, I understand.”

Lake simply shook her head. The hooks were far too big, and they weren’t affected by the wind. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t drifting.

“So who do you think had it right?” she remarked now to Solimar as they slogged along. “Norton? How about Torgersen? He thinks they’re aliens, come down to pick over the wreckage. Or they’re a test left by aliens, like the “2001” monolith? Or garbage left behind.” She scoffed, thinking of it. “It’s stupid, though, right? Why wouldn’t aliens stop at Mars and contact us? Why screw around in the boonies?”

“I don’t know, Lake, and I don’t give a rat’s ass. Probably the truth is none of the above. I—ah, there’s the fucker.”

Her gaze followed his pointing finger. Yes, there was their rover, standing motionless on a hillside some hundred yards distant. This one had come with them from Mars, but had ceased operating two days earlier.

After working on it for half an hour or so, Solimar and Lake rebooted the device. It came to life at once.

“Well, that’s good, at least,” Lake said, wiping her brow with the back of her hand.

“Yeah. Come on, let’s get back to the ship. I don’t like it out here.”

She hid a small smile. “Okay.” They moved off, with the rover trundling along behind them.

Tired, she nevertheless tried to keep a conversation going. “Really, you don’t care what the hooks are?”

“No. I’m just doing my job. Gathering information.”

“We’re all just doing that. You, me, Whitworth, Riggs, Norton, all of us ... But you don’t like hypothesizing, do you?”

“Hypotheses are one thing, idle speculation another. All I want is facts.”

They kept walking. After a while she said, “I don’t think they’re weapons, I really don’t. They don’t make any aggressive moves.” She glanced at him. “They don’t threaten anyone.” He kept walking, looking straight ahead. “Nothing to say, Sol?”

His weapon hit the ground with a clunk.

“Hey, you twod! What’s ...?”

Slackjawed, he began drooling.

“Oh sacred crap!” She halted but he kept walking, zombie-like, for the city. “God dammit!” A wave of fear rolled through her. I’m the last one, the last one! Ashamed somehow of her terror of touching him, she snatched up his weapon then turned and bolted for the Arbruzzi.


How did they even do it? How did they get people? Her lungs whooped, her head swam—the very air fought her, clung to her. She paused to vomit, then staggered on until she reached the ship and keyed herself in.

When she calmed down she radioed Mars. Come home, they said. Lake, like all the crew, had had enough training to prep for take-off, after which the Arbruzzi‘s computer could fly the ship itself. A shuttle would await her off Phobos.

“What if I’m infected, or something?” She looked over her shoulder, though she knew she was alone in the ship. What if the hooks could, what, phase through the hull? Right into the control room, here? And do to her whatever it was they were doing to everyone else?

“Don’t worry about that.” The man onscreen grinned at her, but his eyes remained cold. “The isolation facility on Phobos will care for you.”

At the word isolation Lake knew: they’d never let her back down on Mars, lest she somehow bring the plague of the hooks to the Red Planet. She chewed her tongue. “That’s a relief. Sounds like a really great idea. Let me get my stuff together here and I’ll lift off ASAP.”

They believed her. Why wouldn’t they?

She wandered through the ship, trying to decide what to do but her mind seemed frozen. What’s your mission? She asked herself, over and over. What’s your mission? To find out what the hooks are. But we never suspected that they could ... could control us. Somehow they’ve taken over everyone on Earth. She could not move her thoughts off those few simple ideas.

After a sleepless night, she sat herself down in the command chair. The monitors displayed feeds from the various cameras the crew had set up, and from the rover they had repaired.

The rover had returned to the ship and docked itself to a service umbilical. It could be driven with a simple joystick. She sent it to the city, to see how her former crewmates were doing. She specifically wanted to find Norton, who had been the first to “go native.” Like all the subsequent captures, the physician had without explanation flung aside the vestments of his culture. One moment he was studying the city, and the next he tore off his clothes as though they had become alien and constricting—which, Lake decided, they must have done, to his altered viewpoint. He wandered the empty streets naked, gesticulating and engaging in incomprehensible actions like a mime gone mad. Upon meeting another human “native,” he and the other would wave their hands, make faces, and usually urinate.

Today Solimar was the first person the rover encountered. He sat naked against a building looking up at the sky. He paid no attention to the rover as it rolled up to him.

Lake activated its external speaker. “Solimar? Solly? How are you doing?”

He gave no indication of having heard her. After a moment he grabbed a handful of grass from a clump growing from the cracked pavement, and began chewing on it. Green saliva dribbled down his chin onto his hairy chest.

How could he have fallen so far, so fast? And how come I haven’t gone native, too? She could almost wish she would. Then at least she’d still be with these people, whom she had come to think of as friends. But no, she was the outsider even here, the sole unaffected expedition member. She focused again on Solimar. It had happened so quickly ... one moment they had been walking along, and the next—wham.

To stay safe, even though she was the last one, all she had to do was remain inside the ship. Everyone who’d been captured had been outside at the time. The hooks apparently had no influence on anyone in the Abruzzi.

The problem with staying inside the ship, though, was that it was her responsibility to figure out what had happened. They had come from Mars to assess the situation on Earth, and the hooks were a big part of that; the biggest, in fact. The things “captured” people somehow. She squinted at the monitor. Apparently. “It sure looks like they do ... a hook passes near someone, and within, what? Fifteen minutes or so?” She checked the archives. Yes, in every case, within fifteen minutes. “They go native.”

She and Solimar had been approached by a hook ... he’d been captured but she hadn’t. “Why not?” What was there about him—or her—that dictated whether or not to be taken? Or could the hook only handle one captive at a time?

Because she was the last, surely the hooks would get her, too, now, and the Abruzzi would stand here on its little hill, a monument to—what? Futility? “Bravery,” she murmured. “Nothing futile about it. We came here to see, to learn.”

Someone else would come. They’d figure out what the hooks were and what they were doing—and why—and they’d be ready. They’d come back and ... “Rescue them?” From the city’s grasp?

She shook her head.

It was too crazy. Better just to go sit by the sea and watch the waves roll in until a hook came by and captured her. Then, of course, she’d know—but then, of course, she wouldn’t know anything at all.

She could almost see the appeal.

Two days ago she and Solimar piloted a rover into the city and used it to watch their former mates. Like Norton, they all seemed psychotic. They didn’t speak to each other or respond to the Abruzzi when Solimar and Lake tried to talk to them through the rover speakers. Yet somehow they communicated with each other—and with the hooks.

“Telepathy,” Lake said at one point. “What else can it be? The hooks make them telepathic, and they go nuts from it. But they can think to each other and to the hooks.”

Solimar scowled. “Why would the hooks do that? And whoever heard of so much as one clear-cut example of ESP, ever, anywhere?” He shook his head.

“People in the Cloud communicate that way, they say. By transferring thoughts.”

He scoffed. “That’s just file-sharing. The Uploaded ... they’re not even alive, they’re just data.”

Lake ignored this. “But don’t they look happy to you? You know—Whitworth, Norton, all of them?”

“They look fucking sick to me. Diseased. Bonkers. Call it what you will, it isn’t normal, what’s happened to them.”

She couldn’t argue against that.

She couldn’t return to Mars (Phobos, wherever) without the answers that would define her. Having no answers would leave her as a mere Maren-shaped void. If that meant staying inside the Abruzzi pondering the problem and gathering information from the rovers until dwindling supplies forced her to leave, that’s what she would do.

“So I’m not gonna leave without finding out what happened,” she said, watching the city through the eyes of the rover. And was surprised to discover that she meant it.

She blew out her breath. This is the first time that I’ve ever put my life on the line for something I believe in. It was odd, but somehow the best feeling she had ever had.

There was something else, though, something that was nagging at her, some idea sparked by her memory of the conversation with Solimar about uploading.

Maybe I’ll upload myself. That way I’ll just be a cloud of thoughts, no body, no one will call me troll or trog or orc. But she knew she couldn’t, wouldn’t, do that. Losing her individuality that way, in cyberspace, wasn’t appealing. Better to be herself and ostracized, moving through the crowded commercial corridors linking the Martian domes, ignored in the mass of taller, better-looking people. Better even to be a native here on Earth.

So much for a life of the mind.


She had the ship lower a scooter for her and headed for the city, concentrating on her driving, deliberately not thinking about what awaited her.

The city’s shimmering bubble of a dome, pierced with several arched openings, loomed above her. She entered through the closest portal and moved along the empty avenues of tall white buildings. Dust lay heavily along the pavement and streets except where it had been stirred by the wind blowing through the portal, or by the feet of the new “natives.”

Chill breezes prowled along with her, up and down the streets. When she powered the scooter down she heard the wind whispering to itself. The silence and solitude gnawed at her. Although she dreaded meeting any of the crew, she felt an unreasonable pang of relief when at last she did.

It was the ship’s pilot, Whitworth, leaning against a building, standing in a puddle of his own piss, gazing down at it. His blonde hair was matted and filthy.

She went over to him. “Bruce.”

He did not look up from his abstracted inspection of the puddle.


Still without looking up, he said, “It rains right through the sun every day.”


He looked up at the dome. “A time machine poem.”

She gave it up. The natives spoke entirely in non-sequiters. “My fingers,” he called after her. “So long!”

“Yeah, so long, Whitworth,” she muttered.

It was the same for all the rest, as she found them, one by one, here and there in the deserted avenues. Naked or clothed in tatters they wandered, stopping occasionally, motionless and staring, or else making odd gestures at nothing. Lake watched them throughout the day, growing increasingly weary, bereft of any idea how to help them or snap them out of their bemused condition. They ate whatever vegetation they could find, and scooped water by hand out of self-replenishing curbside troughs perhaps once meant for dogs. To her embarrassment any one of them might without warning squat and defecate in the middle of the street.

Hooks occasionally drifted past a cross street. When this happened, the natives hurried to catch up, and seemed to confer with the floating things. At least, the hooks would pause while the native ducked his or her head or sang out a caterwaul of sound. Afterwards, both human and hook would wander off on their incomprehensible errands.

Lake, despairing, gave up, and made her way back to the arched portal. She had no idea what she would do. The day had been a waste. What had she expected to accomplish?

“Just something. Anything. Just something!”

She turned a corner and saw Solimar standing beside the archway leading out to the wasteland beyond. Her heart leaped once, then subsided. He was a native now, a drooling moron who couldn’t even wipe his ass. In fact, shit stained his legs and he was smeared with green goo from eating plants.

She started to pass him without comment.

“Having fun, Lake?”

She whipped around. “Sol? Solly? You’re talking!”

He shrugged. “Last hired. There’s still some residue of that life in my mind.”

“Come back to the ship, Solly. Maybe we can cure you.”

“Rabbity abbity ab! Might tingle, might puke.”

“Goddammit, Sol!” She reached out for him, but he stepped back.

“Go back, Maren. Go back to Mars. Leave us alone. It hurts, Maren, talking to you, it’s like trying to put on gloves that are too small.” He rubbed his eyes. “Go away, go back, leave us alone.”

She grabbed him. At the first touch he collapsed.

She knelt to examine him, feeling for his pulse.

He was dead.

A shadow passed over her. She looked up and saw a hook approaching. She fled.

Outside the sun was setting. Lake, aching with helplessness, drove the scooter back to the Abruzzi. She sat in the command chair, pondering the frustrating conversation while watching the city fade away into darkness and the stars come peering out through the veils of daytime, wheeling above as they had always done.

Why had Solimar, alone of all of them, chosen to interact with her?

Of course, it might not even have been his choice. He might have been made to do it by the hooks. Maybe he’d fought it, maybe the strain had killed him. She shivered. It wasn’t an experiment she wanted to try again. Gone native or not, those people out there had been her friends and she didn’t want to harm them.

Always before, the proximity of a hook had meant that someone was about to go native. Several times during this past day she had been close enough to hooks for them to “capture” her, judging by what the ship’s archives showed of the other captures.

It’s because I’m the last one. I’m the fucking messenger girl. They want us gone, and to not come back. If they took me over, we’d be gone, and someone else would come along sooner or later to investigate. But they want us to stay away. And they want me to deliver the message.

She slammed her hand down on the console. It isn’t fair! Why me? What’s so special about me?

Maybe nothing ... What if the hooks had had this in mind from the very beginning? What if whatever organizing intelligence motivated them saw the Mars ship coming and knew what was happening? Perhaps it meant that an influx of a great many minds would swamp whatever system it was by which the hooks collected their “prey.”

She scowled. She and her colleagues hadn’t even been able to decide what the hooks were, so how could she now be sure of their intent?

But there was another factor here, and maybe it was the most important one. She was the only person aboard with a background in human sciences: a cultural anthropologist.

And what do anthropologists do? They study cultures by immersing themselves in them.

She remembered trying to explain her fascination with Earth’s lost cultures to Mama Larissa: I want to know where we came from, where we’re going.

Lake smiled at the memory. And yet all the time I was still the outsider looking in ...

“Yeah, well, not any more.” She prepared a final report and broadcast it to Mars. Without waiting for any reply she shut down the ship’s systems and left the Abruzzi, walking steadily through the twilight toward the domed city. END

A. L. Sirois is a Pushcart Prize nominated author. His short stories have appeared in “Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine,” “Amazing Stories,” “Fantastic,” and elsewhere. He is also a cartoonist and can play the drums pretty well.




peter saga


robin dunn