Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Trusting What I Smell
by Kenneth Schneyer

Taking Flight
by Peter Wood

Dumpster Dive
by Clint Spivey

To Die a Great Death
by Stephen L. Antczak

A Taste of Oranges
by Jacey Bedford

Athena’s Children
by Travis Heermann

Sinking Holes
by D. Thomas Minton

Free Range
by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

by Douglas J. Ogurek

Out of Her Head
by Amy Power Jansen

Icarus and Daedalus
by Sean Mulroy


Hearts on Demand
by Anthony J. Melchiorri

Internet Undercover
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





Taking Flight

By Peter Wood

The Present—Tuesday

IT’S BEEN TWENTY YEARS since most of the world’s planes had fallen from the sky and Greg still feels uneasy around them. He’s glad he has company today to check out the small jet that his client keeps on her farm miles outside Scarborough, North Carolina.

Juanita, the court-appointed psychologist, smiles. “I finished your client’s psych evaluation. Becky’s the real deal. She’s not afraid to fly. No claustrophobia or panic disorders. She’s remarkably sane. But she has a huge anti-authority streak.”

“As long as she can fly,” Greg says. As her criminal defense attorney, Greg just needs Becky to be well enough for the Air Force to claim her. Anyone who owns a plane, after the ban, faces years in prison unless he promises to fly for the military.

They walk behind the caved-in tobacco barn to what passes for an airfield. Matted weeds and grass show where Becky must land the plane on clandestine flights.

“I almost missed the plane when I got here,” Greg says. The plane is covered with camouflage paint and blends in remarkably well with the stand of loblolly pines at the edge of the overgrown tobacco field.

“Your client’s pretty tricky.”

Greg just wants to leave. “Plane looks okay,” he says. The law doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Criminal defense attorneys know nothing about airplane engines, but are still expected to confirm a plane could fly. And the court wouldn’t even authorize funds for an airplane mechanic this time. If the case went to trial, Greg would ask again.

“You sure this is a Cessna?” Juanita asks. “It’s kind of big.”

“It’s a Citation. Internet says it was the largest plane Cessna made. It’s really a jet.”

He follows Juanita up the small stepladder that flips down from the lone door. He glances around the cabin—big enough for a half-dozen people—and checks out the two-seat cockpit.

Smack dab in the middle of the instrument panel, a large red button, the size of a balled-up fist, is labeled PANIC. “A lot of good that thing does,” Greg says.

“If it calms Becky, it does a lot,” Juanita says. “Fear of flying comes from a lack of control. The button gives the illusion of control.”

Greg remembers an old video of a doomed 747’s cabin on Crash Day. The flight camera showed the gages spinning. The flight crew’s screams were on the audio as the virus overtook all rational thought. “Okay.”

Juanita traces her finger to the small space behind the button. “It’s hardwired.”

The Day after Crash Day—Twenty Years Ago

Dad stared at the neverending ticker of yesterday’s crashes on the television. He hadn’t talked in hours.

Greg picked up the television remote.

“Don’t turn it off,” Dad muttered.

For the first time in years Greg wished his brother was here. He had enjoyed the last few months with Brent hundreds of miles away at Air Force basic training in San Antonio. No sarcastic comments. No criticizing Greg in front of his friends. No ganging up with Dad. But since the planes fell, Greg needed his help now.

“You need some sleep,” Greg said. It was hard enough since Mom passed away last year. Greg didn’t want to think about what would have happened if the attack—or whatever it was—had happened the next day when Dad was scheduled to pilot that puddle jumper to Charlotte.

“Every single Delta plane crashed,” Dad said. “Every single one. How does that happen?”

“I don’t know.” Greg picked up the phone and dialed Brent for the thousandth time since yesterday. Still busy. He slammed the phone down and unleashed a stream of profanity.

Two days ago Dad would have thrown him halfway across the room for swearing. Today he just sat there. “What the hell would make all the pilots crash their planes on purpose? They weren’t shot down. Did somebody pump LSD into the water supply?”

“LSD wouldn’t hit everyone at once,” Greg said.

Dad glared. “You’re a doctor, smart guy? You know more than the news?”

Greg wanted to shout that the news didn’t know anything, but kept his cool. “I don’t have the answers.”

Dad covered his eyes. “You get some sleep. You have school tomorrow.”

“The high school won’t be open for a while, Dad.”

The Present—Wednesday

Greg steps onto the convalescent home elevator. He has to meet the Air Force officer at the jail in an hour and doesn’t have time for the stairs.

The visit with Dad had been okay. At least Brent wasn’t there parading around in his Air Force uniform. He never seemed to care that his stories about flying upset Dad.

The elevator door sputters. Greg stares at the floor button. Three. He is stuck.

He focuses on the flyers taped to the walls. Outings for the residents. This month’s birthdays. His heart quickens. He cannot escape racing thoughts of suffocating in this confined space.

The elevator lurches. In a few seconds the doors open on the first floor.

“That elevator’s pretty scary,” a familiar voice says. Juanita holds a clipboard.

“Yeah.” Greg remembers Juanita treats PTSD patients here. His heart rate eases back to normal. “Visiting my Dad.” He fills a Dixie cup at the water cooler and gulps the drink.

“It’s not a bad place.”

“I guess,” Greg says.

“If your client checks out, you have to fly with her in her plane and some Air Force officers, right? I’ve never understood that requirement.”

Greg breathes through his mouth to escape the stench of bleach. They are always cleaning in places like this. “The rule’s idiotic. I guess they want to see her fly without risking one of their planes.” He has gone up a couple of times with his brother and even half-sedated it was torture. He can’t imagine flying in a private plane.

“Why do you have to go?”

Greg rolls his eyes. “To make sure they don’t question her. You can come along if you want.”

“Sure.” Juanita smiles. “I think most people could fly these days, if they’d only try”

“The virus—”

“It’s dead. It’s been twenty years.”

Two Years after Crash Day

“I don’t understand,” Brent said to the psychologist at Eastern Carolina Hospital’s PTSD Rehab Unit. “My Dad doesn’t have the virus. Why’s he even here?”

The psychologist sipped the black coffee he had just bought from a vending machine. “I didn’t say that. Everybody’s got the virus. It’s just inert until you hit eight thousand feet.”

“Then why do people still live in the mountains?”

The psychologist gave Brent an Are You Kidding Me? look. “It’s not just the altitude. The rapid changes in elevation factor in, too, and make the brain kick out stress hormones.”

Greg had lost track of the number of consults he’d had with doctors and psychologists over the last two years. Brent acted like he was going to figure out everything with one conversation. “Jesus Christ, Brent. He’s got PTSD.”

The psychologist picked a couple of pamphlets from the counter. “Read these. They explain everything.” The psychologist scratched his neatly trimmed beard. “There’s a website too.”

“Trying to make yourself feel better?” Greg asked after the psychologist had walked off with another patient’s family. He was tired of everybody pretending that Dad could be fixed. Medical “experts” wore him out the most. Even though nobody had isolated the virus or even knew how it worked or its lifespan, doctors and psychologists still had plenty of inflexible theories. “You think it’s okay that you just come home for a week every six months?”

“You’re in college. You have time to deal with Dad. My career—”

“Nobody has time for this,” Greg snapped. “Nobody. He wets the bed, Brent. He’s afraid to go outside. I go to class and come home and stay with him all night.”

“I’m busy too,” Brent said. “We had three drills last week.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re saving the world.”

“It’s not my fault I’m immune to the virus.”

“I wanted to go to Duke or Virginia, but I’m at Eastern Carolina.”

Brent looked at his watch. “Look, man, I have to get back to Fort Bragg tonight.”

The Present—Later Wednesday

Greg enters the jail interview room and comes face to face with Brent. “What are you doing here?” Greg asks after a few seconds.

“My C.O. sent me, because I have a connection to Scarborough,” Brent holds out his mobile. “I’ve been calling you all day. I just found out this morning.”

Greg sees the string of missed calls on his phone. “Sorry. I turned the ringer off for court.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Greg turns to Becky, his client. “He’s my brother. Are you okay with that? You can ask for a new lawyer.”

Becky is twenty-five, but resembles a teenager. “It’s fine with me,” she says.

“Go ahead, Colonel,” Greg says to Brent.

Brent clears his throat. “We think your client’s a good prospect. She just has to get past Homeland Security.”

Greg sighs. “How’s she going to do that? She has a criminal record, for God’s sake.”

“We’re not concerned about criminals, just terrorists,” Brent says. “Your client’s father was in the Patriot League. They’re long gone, but we can’t be too careful.”

“What the hell’s the Patriot League?” Greg is weary of Brent’s condescending attitude. Brent acts as if everybody should know about some obscure group from years ago.

“Anarchists. Anti-government insurgents.”

“They wanted to be left alone,” Becky says.

Greg puts his finger to his lips and frowns at Becky. “Let me do the talking, okay?”

Becky shrugs.

“The Patriot League did a lot of damage,” Brent says.

“That was my Dad,” Becky says. “I was a kid.”

Greg envisions angry good-old boys calling Talk Radio and complaining about taxes. His brother always overreacts. “Can we get back to her current case, Bre— um—Colonel?” Greg asks.

Brent crosses his arms. “Terrorists caused Crash Day.”

Becky gives a demure little smile like she is toying with some pimple-faced boy at the Prom. “Or maybe the military screwed up. The virus was probably just some untested anti-terrorist weapon.”

Brent narrows his eyes. “Do you really think we wanted to cause almost every plane to crash?”

Greg wants to slug him. He hates when Brent uses the royal We. “Can we just move on, Brent?”

Brent stands up. “If your client never enlists, she’ll have to deal with her state charges. If she joins and stops flying, we’ll assume she’s refusing to fly. That’s treason.” He adjusts his cap. “We’ll be out at her farm Saturday at zero seven hundred to see how she flies that plane of hers.”

Seven Years after Crash Day

“How’s law school?” Brent called out over the roar of the plane.

Greg shifted in his seat. None of the other passengers seemed concerned that the plane was at two thousand feet. They were probably putting up a front like him. Maybe he should pop another tranquilizer.

“Fine,” he said. “Online classes are convenient.”

“Good,” Brent said.

The plane shook. Greg grabbed onto a strap. Even knowing the plane wouldn’t go above five thousand feet was little comfort to Greg.

“How’s Dad?” Brent asked.

“He cried last week when they showed The Spirit of St. Louis on television.”

“I’m coming home in a couple of weeks.”

“Nice of you to stop by.”

Brent leaned forward, but he still had to shout. “Do we really have to argue? Do you know how hard it was to clear you for this flight?”


They sat without talking for several minutes. Brent broke the silence. “We’re going to head back. We’ll land in ten minutes.”

Greg exhaled. “Good.”

“You’re doing great. All it takes is willpower.”

“Willpower? Really?” Greg asked.

Brent shook his head. “I didn’t mean it like that. All I’m saying is that we can’t let the terrorists win. We get enough civilians up in these test flights and maybe we can start private flights again.”

The Present—Saturday

Greg sits in the co-pilot’s seat next to Becky and stares at the Panic Button. He hates it up front. He wishes the State Bar hadn’t fought so hard for defense attorneys to sit beside their clients on these flights. He doubts Becky will say anything incriminating, but she insisted he sit here.

He closes his eyes. The Xanax is barely taking the edge off. In his jacket he has a syringe to sedate him if the flight becomes too overwhelming. He hopes he doesn’t need it.

He pulls something from his pocket and motions for Juanita to come forward. “I found my Dad’s old Captain’s Wings last night.”

She studies the clasp that all Delta pilots wore in the day. “You’ll be glad you brought it.” She takes a seat in the rear beside a stern-faced officer.

Greg pins the wings on his chest.

Brent pats Greg’s shoulder. “We have two pilots back here if something goes wrong.”

Greg wants to tell Brent to shut up. “I know.”

Brent raises his voice to be heard over the engine. “We’re at nine thousand feet, Becky. Any higher and we’ll need oxygen.”

Becky gives a half salute.

“What’s the point of that panic button?” Brent asks.

“Makes the auto-pilot fly below the panic altitude.”

Brent nods. “Why’s a Cessna have a cabin door?”

“Standard with the Citation. My Daddy ran marijuana back before it was legal.” Becky raps the door. “Reinforced steel. Bulletproof.”

Brent takes his seat with the other passengers in the cabin.

Becky pulls the controls hard. The plane arches up. Greg feels pinned to his seat. The cabin door slams shut.

Becky levels off and clicks the deadbolt.

Somebody pounds on the door. Greg reaches for the the deadbolt.

“Don’t touch that,” Becky says.


Becky points a revolver at him.

The Present—Later Saturday

Becky pulls back on the controls again. The plane eases higher. “We’ll be past twenty five thousand feet in a few minutes.”

“How’d you get a gun in here?” Greg asks. Panic is trying to force its way through a Xanax-induced fog.

She raps the instrument panel. “Daddy always hid one in there. Never know when you might need a weapon.”

“This is pointless,” Greg says. “We’re landing at Bragg.”

“Nice of your brother to clear me for flying over the base.”

Compartments open in the ceiling. Oxygen masks dangle. Becky puts hers on.

Short of breath, Greg fumbles for his mask and straps it over his face.

“No oxygen masks in the back,” Becky says. “Daddy’s idea. Gave him an edge.”

The worst that would happen to the passengers would be passing out from hypoxia, but Greg doesn’t want to be the only person awake. “What’s your plan?”

“I’m going to crash this plane in the middle of the airfield and take out a dozen fighters. It’ll be a mini Crash Day.”

Greg tries not to hyperventilate. “Your plane can’t do that much damage.”

“Daddy modified the reserve fuel tank. What’s in there now can blow up half of Fort Bragg.”

Greg feels like he is in a James Bond movie where the villain spills his entire plans. The trouble is he is no James Bond. “You’re in the Patriot League?”

“I’m gonna finish what my Dad started.”

“The virus?”

Becky laughs. “Daddy was no scientist, but the Patriot League had some good minds. That virus was more effective than they planned. Good thing we were innoculated.”

Greg hasn’t used a weapon since junior ROTC. He wonders if he could get the gun from Becky. He fingers his syringe. Half a dose could keep him alert and take the edge off the panic.

Or maybe it has a better use ...

He jabs Becky in the arm and injects her with the full dose.

Without even a whimper, she slumps forward.

Greg pounds the panic button. The plane does not level off. He feels behind the button. Maybe there is a loose connection.

The wire has been cut.

He unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs into the back. He shakes Juanita and the Air Force Officers. Nobody stirs.

He clambers back into the cockpit. He wants to scream at Becky. She had the cure and she hid it.

Then it hits him. He is angry, but he isn’t scared. He isn’t panicking.

The altitude dial spins. It is at ten thousand feet. He pulls back on the controls. The plane keeps going down, but the rate of descent slows.

He feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns around and sees Brent.

Brent grabs the controls and levels off the plane. “What happened?” he asks after a minute.

“She was with the Patriot League. She wanted to set off a bomb at Bragg. I sedated her.” He holds up the empty syringe. “Lucky I had this.”

Brent looks sick. “God. And she had convinced me she was okay.”

The Present—Sunday

Greg and Juanita sit on plastic chairs in the waiting room for Bragg’s Homeland Security Office. It is two a.m.

Greg guzzles his sixth cup of coffee. Homeland Security has interviewed him and Juanita a half-dozen times tonight.

“Were you scared?” Juanita asks.

“I was too pissed off. They had a cure all along.”

Juanita sighs. “Yeah.”

“I don’t think I’m afraid any longer.”

Juanita clasps his hand. “Look, Greg, it’s not that simple. PTSD can linger for years. You went through something extraordinary and rose to the occasion, but you’re not cured.”

“Even if I’m innoculated?”

“It’s not the virus that’s the problem. It’s going to take therapy and gradually you’ll get better. Knowing there’s a cure is a huge deal, but be patient. Okay?”


The door opens and Brent steps out. “North Caronia’s dropping the charges against your client. She has new federal charges. The U.S. Attorney might be willing to work something out if she turns over the cure. Probably something like life without parole instead of the death penalty.”

“I don’t care,” Greg says. “I’m not her lawyer anymore.”

“Okay,” Brent says. “Do you want us to fly you back to Scarborough tomorrow?”

“I’d rather drive,” Greg says.

“Let me get a jeep to take you two to a hotel. We’ll give you a ride back tomorrow.” Before Brent steps back into the catacombs of offices, he turns to Greg and nods. “Nice job today.”

“Your brother’s a jerk,” Juanita says to Greg after Brent leaves.

“You should see him when he’s in a bad mood,” Greg says. He looks at his empty cup of coffee and considers a refill. “You know, I was scared of him once.”

“So, what happened?”

Greg tosses the empty coffee cup in the trash. “I got over it.” END

Peter Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina. He has had stories published in “Asimov’s,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Stupefying Stories,” and “Every Day Fiction.” His previous story for us was “Not Her Kind” in the 12-JAN-2015 issue.


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