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




A Taste of Oranges

By Jacey Bedford

“THE AIR TASTES OF ORANGES, which is strange because we’re not in Kansas, Dorothy. We’re not even in Seville where ... oh, never mind, you get it.”

“Hey, Cyn, wait. Will you stop talking into that damn chip and gimme a hand with this?”

I turn my head at Fosco’s whining and touch my collar pips. “Get the grunts to do it.”

He mutters under his breath. Not that long ago we were both grunts together, hauling equipment through doorways in the fabric of the universe. Now there are so many new doorways that promotion is rapid. Get three or four successful expeditions under your belt and you’re a captain with grunts of your own. Steve Fosco is only one tour behind me. He’ll have his own team on the next trip. God help them all. What did I ever see in him?

He was sweet and funny once, before things went sour between us. God knows, I never asked for him to be on my team and he never asked to be here. Damned duty roster fucked up again.

“Now where was I?” I don’t know why I ask the chip. It’s not as if it’s going to answer me. “Oh yes, oranges. Nothing so mundane has ever grown here, at least, not for a long time. This place is dead.”

Like so many of the other worlds through the gates. Dead or dangerous. Or both.

The midnight sky is dotted with unfamiliar constellations and two small moons, one irregularly-shaped, that cast a ghostly half-light on the scene. I realise I’ve been standing with my mouth open rather than recording. I turn back to the chip. “I’m standing on a circular stone platform, an island barely twenty metres in diameter, in the middle of a huge basin lake, miles wide, fringed by jagged peaks like sharpened teeth. Hundreds of hanging valleys are disgorging waterfalls all around the perimeter of the lake, yet there’s no disturbance to the flat, silver surface and—more worryingly—no outflow that I can see.”

Is the water level rising? Is the platform floating or fixed? Will the platform, doorways and all, soon be inundated? What then? Will the water flow into the other waiting worlds?”

If the platform floods will we be able to get back?

I peer over the edge, trying to evaluate whether the water level is rising or remaining constant relevant to the platform. These doors have been here a long time. It would be a very odd coincidence if we’d arrived just as they were about to sink.

Two-way radio communication is impossible this far into a tour until the bounce relays go live. My chip recording will go back through the gates physically, to be evaluated later, whether or not we make it back. The instructions are to keep moving forward as far as we can before retracing our steps. Five or six steps-through is average for any team. This is our seventh on this trip.

This platform is a nexus. Once surrounded by thirteen portals to other worlds, now only six remain, including the one we came through. Five doorways open on to new worlds, each with more doorways, and beyond them, more still. Infinity, or as close to it as I can imagine. There’s writing etched on each lintel in an even script, but it’s not a language that any Earth-born tongue ever spoke. If anyone has figured how to translate it, they’ve not told us.

The wreckage of seven ruined doorways lies strewn at my feet, lintels, sills, jambs, architraves; some fallen whole, some splintered and crumbling with age. The stone platform is scored through by two crazy cracks, as deep as forever, but narrow enough to step over.

The doorways are not always a barrier to wind and rain, water and airborne seeds.

I turn back to my chip. “Desiccated tufts of vegetation clinging to the fallen architecture don’t look native to this place. Interlopers. Living, just barely, off air and the moisture in it. Not even a real root system, just a few pale tendrils anchoring them to rock.”

We’ve seen crossovers before, at other gates on other worlds. They never seem to do well. I wonder if they’re edible.

Fosco swears at a grunt. I leave off the recording and turn in time to see him kick a heavy box of equipment in temper and pull off a glove to inspect his fingertips. The grunt, it’s Teddi Convers, though I doubt Fosco has bothered to learn her name, looks at me and I shrug and flick my eyelids upwards, not quite an eye roll, but she gets the message. I know I should support Fosco, he’s my second, but he has the intellect of an amoeba. And I may be doing amoebas a disservice.

“I broke a damn nail down to the quick.” He puts his middle finger in is mouth then peers at it closely, checking for blood.

“Teddi, set up the bounce, please,” I say. “Fosco, forget your damn fingernail and get the samples, as quickly as you can.”

I don’t want Fosco dealing with the bounce. As my second he likes to stick his nose in where it’s not wanted. It makes him feel important.

It makes me feel nervous.

While he gets on with sample collecting, Teddi begins to unpack the first crate and organise its contents. Four grunts wheel in flight cases from the last nexus. I know three of the guys well. The fourth is a new man, tall and taciturn, a little older than most grunts on the programme. I catch his eye and nod an acknowledgement. He nods back and I notice his irises are a pale amber, almost translucent. Perhaps a genetic quirk. The service takes what it can get these days as long as they can pass the physical. His name is “Silthi.” Just Silthi. What kind of name is that?

This stone circle is getting crowded with equipment. We’ll leave one bounce unit behind. The rest come with us until we run out of units, then we backtrack to home.

That’s the theory, but some teams never make it back.

I take a deep breath, tasting oranges. Time to move on.

Teddi sits back from the bounce. Her body language tells me she’s satisfied. It’s working. I key in my ident and update my sit-rep. It will keep transmitting a relay even after we pass through the next doorway. Home may be millions, possibly billions of light years away. We don’t even know if we’re still in the same galaxy. I don’t recognise any constellations.

The doorways are built to a human scale and, so far, every one has led to a place with more-or-less breathable air. We’ve never even needed our rebreathers. The Builders must have been a little like us. Will we step through and find them? I think not. Too many doorways are derelict. No one has used them in centuries, maybe millennia.

Fosco’s taken his air and plant samples, labelled, racked and stacked them. We’ll push them back through our entry point before we move on to the next unknown place. As each mapping team comes through behind us, taking alternative doorways, spreading out through the universe, they’ll pass the samples backwards to home. We’re the spearhead on this run. It’s important that we send news as it happens—in case we don’t make it back. Yeah, I have to follow the protocols rigidly. We know there are risks. They won’t send a rescue party. All they’ll do if we’re lost is mark the doorway with a skull and crossbones. All ye who would enter here, abandon all hope.

Yeah, right!

Eeeny, meeny, miny, moe. I have a choice of five doorways, now. It’s random chance. All I can see is that each door holds endless possibilities. The only way we can map them is by stepping through and finding out. We’re not scientists, we’re expendables. There are eleven billion people at home, all crowded onto one inadequate planet. The scientists are following us keenly. Bet your boots the first place that tests out close to Earth-like will cause a land-rush. Our mother planet isn’t as pretty as she used to be.

I study the doorways. I can peek at an oblique angle to give me an idea of the landscape in the next place. This place showed dark from our last staging post. I’ve had enough of dark. The middle door in front of me shows green hills. That’s better.

“Fuck!” Fosco reels back from the edge of the circle cradling one gloveless hand against his chest. A sample flask clatters to the stone, bounces in slowmo and flips over. “It’s not water, it’s fucking acid!” His knees buckle and he sits down hard.

The taste of oranges is suddenly bitter on my tongue.

A sluggish worm of liquid wriggles its way from the fallen flask towards Fosco, like it knows where it’s going. Funny, it doesn’t leave even a dampness on the stone behind it. Fosco scrambles back, one handed and clumsy, but the worm gains on him. We move together. Teddi and I grab Fosco, each of us hooking him under an armpit. We drag him to his feet and pull him to safety, which is relative. Suddenly this island seems a lot smaller. The worm keeps coming.

Silthi dives for it. He grabs it by the tail and holds it up in the air, dangling it from his gloved fingers like it’s not liquid at all. I grab a sample flask from Fosco’s case and hold it out. Silthi gives me a half-smile, tilts his head back and drops the worm into his mouth.

My belly flips. Suicide by acid? Not good.

I start forward, but Silthi gives one convulsive swallow and I’m too late. Oh, shit, this is going to look really bad on my report. I’m gabbling into my chip and Teddi’s bouncing details home, even as it’s happening.

I expect Silthi to be writhing on the floor in moments, choking.

“Teddi, crack out the first aid. Silthi, sit down before you fall down ...”

But he’s not falling down. He’s got a beatific look on his face.

His amber eyes are turning colourless. He pats his chest as if reassuring himself that he’s still there.

“Silthi ...”

“I am all right, Captain. Thank you for your concern.”

I step up to him. “What did you think? Did you think?”

“Not for a moment.” He smiles, all taciturnity gone.


I turn at Fosco’s warning shout. The lake level has reached the bottom of a broken doorway. Oh shit! We’re not floating after all. The silvery stuff puddles on the sill. Soon it will flow in and drown the island and then there will be no way back through this nexus. We can’t continue.

“Get the crates back through the door. We’re going home.” I won’t lose expensive equipment if I don’t have to.

The grunts jump to. Teddi begins to disassemble the bounce unit. Fosco closes his sample case, one-handed, and shoves it through the doorway. Only Silthi doesn’t move. Oh, Gods, he must be hurt after all.

“Move, Silthi!”

“I am not coming, Captain.”

“Don’t you understand? This place is going under. There will be no way back home.”

“Home.” His voice is full of contentment.

The step overflows and a stream meanders towards Fosco. This time it’s a snake not a worm.

“What is it with Fosco?”

I ask the air, but Silthi answers. “It has tasted him. It wants more.”

Silthi jumps up, stamps quickly and the snake turns towards him. He leaps nimbly over the crack in the floor and the snake drips down into its depths.

A momentary relief, then a shuddering roar. Forces buffet me from all sides. Wind steals my breath. I hear Teddi shriek as the bounce rattles apart, but I grab her arm and pull her down, crouching instinctively and covering my head, fighting for air. When it stops I look up and half the platform has tumbled into the lake, and along with it our door home and most of the equipment.

I stare for a moment, pushing down panic and then stagger to my feet. “We can’t stay here, we’ll die.”

“This way.” Fosco steps towards the nearest viable doorway, the one with green fields on the other side, and is gone in an instant, never looking back.

“No.” Silthi catches my arm as I begin to follow. He nods towards one showing only a blue haze. “That one.”

“How do you know?”

“The writing on the lintel says Istairiuth Raniescierie Tilitstati. Network Four. That’s the only chance you have of getting home.”

“What does it say on that one?” I point to the doorway Fosco has gone through.

All ye who would enter here abandon all hope.” He grins.

“How do you know?”

“I am home.” Silthi peels off his coverall. Beneath it his skin is turning to liquid, translucent. Like the lake.

It takes my breath away. He’s been amongst us all this time and I never suspected. So many dead worlds, and now, finally a live alien.

I hesitate, wondering whether I should go after Fosco, but the grunts are already shoving the remaining equipment through the doorway Silthi is pointing to. They seem to trust him. Do we have any choice?

Silthi nods. “Go quickly. Destroy your doorway from the other side. I will tear down the remaining ones here.”

“You don’t want anyone else finding you?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “It’s not that.”

So many questions. So little time. “Did your people create the doorways?”

“No. But we have used them to our cost. Never again.”

The platform tilts. A miniature tsunami of acid washes towards me. We’re out of time. I hop up on to the sill, grab my cam and snap a picture so I can commit the inscription above my head to memory. I must recognise Network Four when I see it above another doorway.

The others step through. On the threshold I turn back as Silthi reaches up and tears down Fosco’s doorway with superhuman strength. The lintel splashes down into the lake. I feel a pang of regret for the Fosco I used to care for.

“Go!” Silthi mouths as he moves on to the next. The acid pools about his feet and runs up his legs to his calves which join together and thicken into one trunk. He sucks the lake into his flesh and rebuilds his body. Two arms become four, then eight. Tentacles. He smashes the doorway next to ours easily then dives over the edge of the platform and into the lake. The surface roils around him and he’s gone.

Teddi grabs my hand and drags me through to a new world.

The light changes subtly and I can taste ... oranges ... END

Jacey Bedford is a British writer with three novels published by DAW. “Empire of Dust” came out in November;“Crossways” is due in August. She also has appeared in “Nature” magazine, “Buzzymag,” and several anthologies.




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