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




Athena’s Children

By Travis Heermann

JENNA KEPT HER GAZE PINNED TO THE rivet in the sea of ceiling illumination. Her jaw ached, and the surgeon’s tools whined and growled into her mandible. As he worked, her tongue lay clamped to the side like a piece of jackfish steak. She wished she could sleep through this, but the medi-comp jacked into her skull kept her firmly in the land of loopy half-consciousness. The sensation of a huge flap of synth-skin cheek lay against her ear, and the patch of numbness ended near the bridge of her nose.

The rivet was scored and scarred across its rounded head—how would it get scratched on the ceiling?—and joined its fellow rivets in a close-order march to the wall in unerring precision, locked in formation.

The smell of burnt flesh comforted her, even though she knew it was hers. She only vaguely marked the shredded, charred remnants of her left arm as they were lifted away, the glistening knob of humerus, pristine, never to be part of her again. In the arm they brought back, the “bone” was a dark gray, mirror-polished ceramic, similar to the new set of teeth being implanted into her jaw.

And then her daughter was there.

She wanted to leap off the table and scream at the medical staff, What are you doing letting a kid in here? But her body was a slab of meat. Merrill came and took Jenna’s remaining hand, and squeezed it, tears streaming down her face. Jenna wanted to squeeze the soft, little hand in return, but only her index finger twitched.

Her skeleton shuddered and cracked as the cybernetic arm was fitted into her shoulder socket. Muscle fibers were tugged and clipped, and neurotronic feelers burrowed into her scorched nerve endings like a hundred tingling needles.

Merrill stroked Jenna’s hand with gentle persistence.

Was it strange that she could feel her daughter’s hand so concretely, like the touch of a bright flower petal, when the rest of her body was a gray blur of numbness?

The blur faded into the long dark of oblivion.


She awoke to voices and the self-important hum and chitter of machines. She felt chilled to the deepest core of herself, as if her bones were made of ice, her blood strained from a polar lake. She wanted blankets, a fire, the comradeship of her platoon. Even the weight of her exo-armor would be preferable to this naked, freezing softness.

Yearning for Merrill’s warm touch again ached in her heart.

The vague shape nearby of a human presence, swathed in scrubs and mask, became something to focus on.

“Whuh-where’s muh-my daughter?” Jenna said.

“Sergeant Jackson, you don’t have any children.”

Another voice from out of sight. “She’s hallucinating. She’s been asking for her daughter for hours.”


Morning sun and ring-light spilled orange-red through the blinds. The tiny room smelled of clean linen, antiseptic, and rancid sweat. Her roommate slept fitfully behind a curtain.

“Two months of learning the new limb and you’ll be back out there with your outfit.” Doctor Herzog held her med-pad up to the shoulder joint like a small window and studied the graphical representation revealing the interior workings, where original flesh met artificial. “The neural connections look good. Do you feel anything?”


“Good. You’re not supposed to yet, not until we switch the neurotronics to feed back into your nervous system. Right now, it’s still assimilating itself. Let’s sit you up so I can scan the posterior.”

The arm felt like a clunk of insensate log hanging from Jenna’s shoulder, the hand resting in her lap. There was nothing about the hand that made it look hers, beyond the general shape of a human hand. There were none of her wrinkles or veins, none of her scars, none of the fine hairs on her knuckles.


“Beg pardon?” the doctor said.

“Shoulder itches.” Jenna’s mouth felt like she’d been chewing broken glass, and she had to sift every syllable through the raw ruin of her palate and tongue. The film of healing gel thickened every word.

“That’s the synth-skin healing over the joint. You’re really very lucky. Your exo-armor saved your life.”

And made her a bigger target than she already was. It added twenty centimeters to her natural two meters. “Lucky.” The word felt strange, and her tongue kept questing about her mouth like an animal investigating the dimensions of a new cage, probing and flicking. “The others?”

“Patil was the only other casualty.”

The sob clutched Jenna’s breath tight in her throat. The image of Serena Patil evaporating in an explosion of fire and smoking viscera, the look of surprise and resolution frozen forever in Jenna’s memory—

Doctor Herzog laid a gentle hand on Jenna’s shoulder. “You saved everybody else. They’d all be dead. You held the line until evac arrived.”

How could Herzog know that Jenna and Serena had talked of pledging, talked of having a daughter when the war was over? A wave of confusion washed through her. Something didn’t compute. That must have been years ago. Merrill had Serena’s eyes and Jenna’s milk-tea skin. And she was three years old by now? She had to be, at almost a meter-and-a-half, with long hair and dark eyes knowing beyond her years. But shouldn’t a mother remember her child’s face?

“Where’s Merrill?” Jenna said.


“My daughter.”

The doctor licked her lips slowly. “Sergeant, you don’t have a daughter.”

“She held my hand ... during the surgery!”

“I can assure you, the only people in that O.R. were myself, Dr. Rashnikov, and the nurses. It’s not common, but sometimes people hallucinate after what you’ve been through. A combination of physical and psychological trauma, plus the jack-in. One patient created an entire fantasy world where she was living on Old Earth in some magical forest called Lothlorien with a unicorn for a pet. Eventually she accepted that it had all been just a delusion, but for two weeks she kept demanding her sword.”

Jenna tried to smile at that. “No unicorns on Old Earth.”

“Among other things.” The doctor smiled.

“What about Rift Canyon?”

“We got everybody out, but ... It belongs to the Hairies now.”

At least until I get out of here. Now the enemy had a foothold that gave them a landing field within airstrike range of LeGuin. The capital’s anti-air batteries would fend off the first assault, but eventually the Hairies’ saucer-sized drones would slip past the defense net and destroy them. The drones were too small, too quick, and packed enough wallop to punch through tank armor. Intel even believed that some of them carried tactical nukes, as evidenced by the slaughter in Curie City.

“That’s the spirit. In a few days, we’ll activate your arm, and before long it’ll feel like the one you were born with.”

“When can I ... solid chow? Shakes taste ... like paste.”

“A couple of weeks. Give the bones a chance to regrow. You lost half your face.”

“Not much of a loss.”

The doctor smiled wanly. “Some people love the big, strapping fighter.”

Serena had. Hold back the tears. “Anything you’ve done ... would be ... improvement.”

The doctor cleared her throat.

Jenna chided herself. It was time to curtail the depressive death spiral before it picked up too much speed. “Mirror?”

“Actually, yes.” The doctor grabbed one from a nearby tray and held it up. “As you can see, the scarring is minimal.”

Burns and shrapnel cuts peppered the rest of her face. The new cheek and side of her neck were smooth as a baby’s. “I want to ... requisition some lips and ... less jaw. Future in beauty vids.”

The doctor chuckled. “Keep your spirits up. And if you need to talk, there are a lot of people around here waiting to do that when you’re ready.”

Jenna looked down at her unfamiliar forearm. “Thanks.”


When the confines of her room became too stifling, and the fecal stench of her roommate became too overpowering—may all the powers of the universe spare her a plasma blast through the lower bowel—she took a walk through the hospital grounds. The gardens were in the full bloom of spring, the sky itself a rainbow as the sun shone through Athena’s rings. All around her were people with far worse injuries than her, wheelchair bound, heads swathed in bandages, even one woman reduced to a limbless torso nestled within a motorized cart, but she didn’t move, just stared into the sky with a vacant expression. Dartbugs sang to each other from the shadows under the trees. LeGuin, the First City of Athena, had never known war, not once in the two-hundred-fifty years since its founding. There had been a few squabbles between settlements in the early days, those hard, hard early days when no one knew if they would ever be able to survive in this ecosystem, until they were able to adapt their genetic code to more easily digest Athena’s flora and fauna. Every life was more precious then.

How would they have responded if the Hairies had shown up back then, when they had been too few to spare even a dozen lives? Would they have fought? Appeased? Surrendered?

Even now, the military force Athena had managed to cobble together was composed of volunteers from police forces and local militias. There had been no major conflict on Athena since the Washburn Insurrection. Everyone was too busy trying to build something, to survive, to produce food for a growing population. Jenna often wondered what her parents would have thought about her joining the LeGuin militia; they had been staunch pacifists, and their voices had been politically prominent. When the gray blight had taken them, the block had become her family, the tight-knit bonds of blood and friendship creating a safety net to catch her. In a colony that struggled for so long, community was everything.

Her comrades were everything.

With the new incubation advancements, the Athenans could certainly replenish their population more quickly than natural births allowed, and without debilitating the mothers for significant periods. They had already lost so many. Unless they wanted their agriculture and industries to collapse for lack of workers, natural childbirth would become a luxury for years to come.


She jerked so stiffly that her jaw clenched, sending spears of agony through her skull.

The voice had been so familiar, Merrill’s voice, happy, like the delight of coming home from school. Her heart leaped for joy as she looked around the grounds, then settled cold and sluggish again against her ribcage. There were no children here.


But there was a face she recognized, striding toward her with an enormous, freckled grin. Jenna couldn’t help but grin back. Joiry was contagious that way.

Before Jenna could resist, Joiry had thrown her arms around her.

Jenna’s eyes teared with joy. “You AWOL?”

“Nah, they pulled us off the line for debriefing, and now we’re waiting for a replacement NCO. I got leave from the captain to pay you a visit.”

Jenna scowled. “Should have ... counterattacked.”

Joiry’s face darkened. “We did. Bastards dug in and held. There were drones everywhere. Swarms of them. The 15th had to pull back.”

A shudder of apprehension went up Jenna’s spine.

“Look, Sarge,” Joiry said, “what you did ... That was something, you know. We all saw it. None of us had ever heard of anything like that before. I came here to say thank you, and we’re all pulling for you to come back.”

“Two months.”

Unless they found some success, the war would not last two more months.

Joiry wrung her hands and kept glancing at Jenna’s left arm hanging dead in its sling. “Captain put you in for a Shield of Valor.”

Jenna happened to glance up and noticed a series of contrails half-camouflaged by the curve of Athena’s rings. Then the ground rumbled with distant explosions. Somehow she didn’t think she’d ever get that medal.


The enemy tore through the western extremities of LeGuin, the farms, the pastures. Three divisions of citizen soldiers hunkered in the cover of the city to defend against the inevitable ground assault.

Jenna sought out Doctor Herzog. “Doc! Turn on my arm! Have to go!”

Sweat and fear sheened the doctor’s face. “It’s not calibrated! The synth-skin graft might tear loose! You could damage your shoulder irreparably!”

“I’ll be ... careful. You know ... what they’ll ... do to us!”

The doctor took a deep breath, swallowing hard, her face turning pale.

“You know,” Jenna said.

Another distant explosion rattled the bottles in the cupboard, juddered up through their legs. “Okay, soldier. You must keep the bandages in place and tight. And I suppose telling you to baby it is ridiculous.”

Jenna nodded.

The doctor reeled out the medi-comp jack and plugged it into Jenna’s skull.


“Sarge!” Joiry shouted. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Several hundred troops of the 17th Heavy Infantry Battalion filled the depot yard, either completing preparations or awaiting their turn. The evening air was cool, smelling of dew, smoke, lubricant, and ozone. Jenna stepped off the omnibus beside the depot where she recognized the fifteen faces of Delta Platoon gearing up. Tech checked the joints and power supplies of their exo-armor. Fifteen—not sixteen—faces all turned to stare at her. She thrust her left hand deep into her pocket to minimize the twitching. She happened to notice that the handrail of omnibus was now slightly deformed where she had gripped it. With that kind of strength, she indeed had to be careful, lest the Newtonian reaction stress of some ill-advised action tear her arm right out of the socket.

“Need NCO right?” Jenna said. “What you all looking at?” Her mouth felt full of meaty gruel, and spasms of pain shot through her cheek and throat. Could she give orders this way? Didn’t matter. Without every able body, the capital would fall.

Ramirez came forward, glancing from Jenna to her datapad with a sharp concern. “Sarge, your armor is not scheduled for repair until next month.”

“Flak jacket. Helmet. Weapon.” Those were all she needed. The Hairies’ plasma cannons could slice through exo-armor as easily as a flak jacket.

“Sergeant Jackson!” Captain Spengler’s booming contralto halted the conversation. “What are you doing here?” Spengler stalked up, her icy blue eyes drilling into Jenna.

Jenna squared herself and saluted. “Reporting, sir.” Her left hand slapped too hard into her thigh, stinging, twitching.

Spengler did not return the gesture. “You are on medical leave, Sergeant. Get your ass back to the hospital.”

“No Hairies ... at hospital, sir. Due respect ... in a week ... might not be any hospital.”

Spengler stood five centimeters shorter than Jenna, but her face was all flinty eyes and hard angles.

“I only ... need eyes and ... weapon, sir.”

“No. You cannot issue orders with your mouth—” Spengler flinched and held her hand to her ear, listening to a silent message. “Fuck. A wave of drones just wiped out the 9th.”

“Captain—” Jenna began.

“Shut the hell up and get back to the hospital, Jackson. If I see you again, you’ll be polishing your Shield of Valor in the fucking stockade.”

A series of explosions sent everyone onto the dirt for a moment.

“That was closer!” Joiry said.

“Goddammit, Jackson!” Spengler said, standing up. “I can’t believe you, of all people, would be so fucking irresponsible.”

“Sir, I—”

“Shut up. Ramirez, get Jackson a flak suit, helmet, and a weapon. Nice of the Hairies to bring the fight to us.”


Jenna peered through her scope, looking for the flickers of movement that bespoke incoming drones. The robotic plasma cannon behind her was far more efficient than human eye and muscle at detecting and tracking them, but a good eye and a steady hand could take them out, once one got a feel for their evasion algorithms.

Hunkered behind their barricade on Broadway, LeGuin’s central thoroughfare, as aircraft thundered overhead in every direction, battling for dominance over the skies of LeGuin, as streams of deadly AAA ripped toward the stratosphere, as the incessant echoes of explosions and arms fire formed an arrhythmic cacophony, as the communications network chattered reports from various defense points, as crackling voices screamed at waves of incoming drones drowned by the whine of the robotic plasma cannons, flanked on both sides by the towering mosaics that told the story of Athena’s founding, backed by the theater, the Landing, the tea houses and bakeries and restaurants, Delta Platoon of the 17th Heavy Infantry regiment waited.

The twitching of her left hand felt like a palsy that frustrated and worried her. How could she hope to hit even one of those little bastards? Her heart thumped against her breast as it always did when battle was nigh, and as she always did, she took a series of long, slow breaths.

“Fucking cowards,” Ramirez snarled. “Come out and fight and quit hiding behind those fucking drones.”

Ferris said, “Anybody ever seen one close-up?”

Captain Spengler said. “We took a CNC post early on. They’re as ugly as you’ve heard.”

Jenna remembered. It was difficult to believe that they were the same genetically compatible species. Too long in space with too little shielding had reduced them to deformed, diseased travesties of human beings. They had come in peace—they said.

“Contact! Two hundred meters!” Joiry clutched her weapon tighter against her shoulder. She had always had the sharpest eyes in the regiment.

An instant later, the miniguns began to track and spool up with a whine of magnets and pressurized coolant. What looked like a solid line of super-heated plasma packets streamed down the street, splattering fire and sparks across store fronts and pavement. Blossoms of tiny explosions indicated hits.

Through her scope, Jenna could see scores of gray specks zipping up Broadway toward them, zigging, zagging, hugging walls and darting in and out of cover. Like swarms of dartbugs or schools of fish, the drones came on.

“Smooth, steady bursts, people!” Spengler shouted. “Fire at will!”

The sputter of rifles ripped through the air as the soldiers opened fire.

“They’re not exploding like usual!”

“Where did they get so many?”


“What is that they’re releasing?”

“They’re not loaded with H.E.!”

Dozens of the drones popped like maize in a skillet.

The barrels of one of the miniguns hissed and smoked and turned red, then orange, then fell into heat shutdown. And still the drones came.

Damn them. The intel had been true. While the first engagements had been largely troop-to-troop, during which the Athenans superior numbers came away more often the victor, as time went on, engagements became more and more wild defenses against drone assaults. Then a recon telescope had spotted some sort of structure in one of Athena’s densest rings. Speculation was that it was a mining facility and factory, where the enemy was now building drones by the thousands. With the Athenans’ space-faring capabilities long since degraded by salvage and hardship, there was nothing that could be done. Engineers were working on plasma missiles to bring down the facility, but the war was happening too fast; it took time to recover knowledge from the centuries-old records, to relearn what had been abandoned. No Athenan had ever built a weapon of that type. Or military aircraft for that matter. All the machines of war—on both sides—were cobbled together from civilian counterparts, agricultural and construction tractors affixed with armor and heavy weapons, civilian air transports fitted with makeshift cannons and improvised bomb racks.

The enemy numbered only three thousand when they arrived in Athena’s orbit in their massive generation ship, just over five years ago. Even now, Ark 7 hung like a decrepit lump in orbit, pocked by centuries of micro-collisions, radiation storms, and entropy, largely evacuated except for those left aboard to run its scientific facilities. They had come with their hats in their hands, fellow human beings, they said, begging for food and succor after centuries in the black abysses of space, one of the first great ships to venture forth from Old Earth. And the Athenans gave them food, but the newcomers could not digest it properly without extensive and costly processing, which made it edible but not palatable. And now, the Hairies, as they became called when relations turned sour, were using Athena’s own rings, one of its most beautiful features, to attack the inhabitants who had won their own survival through ingenuity, persistence, community, and hardship.


Jenna squeezed off burst after burst, minding her ammunition, the slugs spitting downrange with shuddering supersonic shockwaves. Resting her weapon on the barricade minimized the left hand fouling her aim.

The miniguns sputtered and whirred, increasingly sporadic. The defenders fired and cursed and hooted.

The settlers of Athena had been part of humanity’s second diaspora, venturing forth from New Athens centuries after the husk of Old Earth had been abandoned, the Great Experiment, as their founder Helena I had called it.

The final straw had been the newcomers’ last set of demands, which the Athenan Council had unanimously rejected in the most direct terms. The thought of it still set Jenna’s jaw hard with outrage.

A frantic voice shrilled from the left flank, Crazyhawk. “I can’t hold them!”

Jenna caught a glimpse of a machine the size of a dinner plate, carefully camouflaged, popping up in front of their barricade, zooming toward Crazyhawk and bursting in a cloud of yellowish-white.”

“Gas!” Captain Spengler roared. “Masks! Masks! Masks!”

Tonya Crazyhawk dropped like felled treelion. The cloud diffused over them. They struggled to put their gas masks in place, but some were too late. A sensation of sick dread and resignation washed through Jenna’s stomach. She had no mask. Another drone shot through the gap and burst over their heads, showering them with powder.

An acrid chemical stench punched her in the nose. And as she was tumbling, Merrill watched her from beside the laboring minigun, beautiful brown eyes glowing with alarm.

“Oh, honey.”


Someone stood over Jenna in a suit of urban camouflaged body armor. Her arms and legs were immobilized, bound at her sides by some sort of cocoon.

A voice spoke with a timbre so deep and resonant it could only be alien. Her eyelids fluttered in the shadow of the silhouette. Dusk had fallen and bands of color painted the sides of the buildings around her. She lay where she had fallen among the motionless bodies of her comrades, surrounded by her captors. Their exo-armor had been stripped and piled nearby. Two of them stood over her, their faces obscured by tactical helmets and masks, the shape of their shoulders, chests, and hips utterly alien to her—even though she had seen vids and stills in the dramas and archives—weapons slung at their sides. Seeing them felt like a fevered glimpse into humanity’s atavistic past. They were talking to each other in their own language. She had studied enough to pick up some of what they were saying.

One pointed at her. “This one’s too big for me. You want her?”

“No, I think (unintelligible). I like that one over there. Perfect lips.”

Pointing at Jenna again. “This one uses her face for a brake.”

They laughed.

A small darting figure caught Jenna’s eye. Merrill hunched behind the fusion generator that powered both of the miniguns, which now lay in slagged heaps. The little girl raised a finger to her lips, glancing furtively between the enemies. No, honey, run away! Jenna wanted to shout, but something clamped her mouth shut. I don’t have a daughter. I don’t have a daughter, she kept repeating in her mind. When she glanced again, the little girl was gone.

An agricultural tractor pulled up nearby—one likely presented as a gift to the newcomers from the Council—having been fitted with armor plates around driver, engine, and cargo bed. The enemy soldiers started lifting the bodies of her comrades, all of them gagged and cocooned in a glimmering silverish webbing, into the bed of the tractor. Some of the cocoons struggled. Pain tore through her as she was lofted by shoulders and ankles into the tractor bed and stacked like cord wood. She didn’t know who lay under her, but she rolled to the side to give whoever it was some comfort. With more painful scooting and writhing, she was able to see Crazyhawk next to her.

When all of them had been loaded, she saw that not all of her platoon had been captured. Four had successfully donned their masks but it had not mattered. Their bodies were thrown carelessly atop the living, blood and other fluids leaking from the great charred wounds.

Captain Spengler’s eyes stared from behind the mask lenses like marbles of lifeless granite. Sadness washed over Jenna. Four more strong, courageous comrades, all of them closer to her than her own family, had given their lives to refuse the enemy demands. And then, blasting through the sadness, a quiet, seething rage.

Under the spectacular tapestry of Athena’s long dusk, the tractor trundled back toward the edge of the city where the enemy command post must lay.


The tractor took over an hour to reach the next settlement, which had been turned into a staging area for the enemy’s assault on LeGuin. The corpses were hustled away on gurneys, and the living were placed in a makeshift holding cell, formerly a large industrial cooler. Jenna could hardly peel her eyes from the Hairies’ faces, so named for the beards they so often wore, for the thick hair that coated their arms and chests and backs. So like ancient primates they were, with their deep voices and coarse skin and coarser demeanor. These human males were shorter, pale-skinned, bandy-legged, knotted, unlike the statuesque representations on Ancient Greek pottery preserved in the archives. They handled Jenna and her helpless comrades like pieces of meat, laying them haphazardly on the floor.

As she wormed into a more comfortable sitting position, Jenna’s shoulder throbbed; she longed for a stiff belt of painkiller.

A medic entered the room and started peeling away their gags. He would have had to look up to meet their eyes, but he wouldn’t. Then he gave each of them an injection. They struggled, but to no avail.

With a parched mouth, Jenna croaked, “Water!”

He glanced at her and departed, slamming the heavy door closed behind him.

“What do we do, Sarge?” Joiry said.

“Nothing now,” Jenna said. “Wait.”

They didn’t have long to wait. The door opened again, and a man with a general’s pips and gold braid on his collar entered, clasping his hands behind his back. Cold black eyes swept over them from cavernous eye sockets. Gaunt cheeks and thin lips pinched into a ragged grimace that tried to become a smile.

“I trust you are all well?” he said. “I apologize for the restraints. I’m sure you understand that it’s unavoidable until we have pacified the rest of your capital. Rest assured you will not be harmed.”

“Fuck you!” Ramirez spat. “You’re all liars!”

“There is no further need for hostility,” he said. “Why would we harm you? We need you.” The downward twist of his lip suggested distaste. “We are here. We cannot leave, and we cannot survive here without you.”

“But we’ve been doing fine without you. We offered help!” Joiry said.

“I’m not going to debate history with a bunch of grunts. Forgive me for the epithet. No offense is intended. Who is in command here?”

“Me,” Jenna said. “Sergeant Jenna Jackson.”

He squared on her. “I am General Bartimaeus Coulter. Sergeant, you will instruct your unit to obey my commands until you are sent to your final destinations.”

“What you ... doing with us?”

“You will be assigned a mate with whom to have at least one child.”

“My uterus belongs to me!” Ramirez hissed.

The general’s veneer of cordiality melted like hoarfrost. “No, it belongs to us now, the spoils of war. Too many of us are sterile from our sojourn. The women have it worse. We must reproduce with you, or else we will be gone before we can adapt to Athena’s ecosystem.”

“Go back and live on your Ark!” Ramirez cried. “Let it be your fucking coffin!”

“Corporal!” Jenna said. “Stand down.”

“We will use your womb as we see fit. It is our right. The injection you received was a cocktail of hormones. By tomorrow, all of you will be ovulating. You may submit to a mate, or accept artificial insemination. If you refuse those options, you will be rendered comatose and inseminated then.”

Ramirez thrashed in her bonds, a guttural cry of rage crescendoing in the confined space.

“You may even come to enjoy being mated to a man,” the general said. “After all, it is the natural way. Women enjoyed such arrangements for centuries. Real sex is pleasurable and children are the blessed results of such unions. Your chromosomal fusion techniques are an abomination.”

Jenna’s tongue lolled. “Slaves.”

“An unfortunate, incorrect perception. You will be under our protection.”

Before relations with the newcomers had soured, some of the women of Athena had found themselves attracted to the male newcomers, formed bonds with those who were not hopelessly twisted and ugly. Some had even managed to have children, but their physiology was not quite as well suited to Athena’s demands as their mothers. The sad truth was that all of those families were treated with distrust at best, scorn at worst, regarded as sexual deviants. The very thought of having sex with a male made Jenna ill.

The general said, “After the fighting is over, we will welcome peace, and a new era of cooperation between us. In a few generations, this war will be nothing but a memory of foolishness. Your selfishness brought this upon you. We did not want to fight, but we had to preserve our race.”

Ramirez roared and thrashed, kicking against the floor but succeeding only in smacking her head against the aluminum shelving.

The general shook his head, spun, and departed. He said something in his own language to the guards, then stalked out of sight.

Ramirez was sobbing with rage, but the webbing held her as tight.

“Save it!” Jenna said.

But Ramirez did not relent. “It’s my fucking body!” she screamed over and over, thrashing and straining until blood soaked her hair and tears and snot streamed down her face.

The medic darted inside with three males and a syringe. They tried to hold her down, but she fought too hard. The stock of a carbine slammed into her skull. Her eyes rolled back, her body spasming, twitching.

The rage that had been simmering in Jenna’s belly roared with fresh heat. Her left arm tensed, flexed, inhuman fingers digging into her thigh until they twisted and clawed at the cocoon. Surprise shot through her at a tiny ripping sound. Coruscating ripples of numbness and tingling sparks shot through her arm. Her hand tore free.

Ramirez flopped prostrate, convulsing.

“Put a hole in her head!” one of the males snarled to another, who trained his carbine at the back of her skull.


And there stood Merrill, unnoticed, in the back of the freezer, eyes wide with fear and horror, the innocence melting away from her face with each passing microsecond.

No!” the word tore from Jenna’s throat. Her left arm tore from the webbing. Something inside her shoulder popped and ripped. Incomprehensible agony seared through her. Tingling warmth bloomed around the perimeter of the synth-skin.

The males were so absorbed with Ramirez that they did not see Jenna shrug off the webbing, choking back cries of pain as she forced her left arm to obey a few last commands. One of them caught her shadow as she rose to her feet. He half-spun, but a snap kick to his genitals—one of their more valuable discoveries from the archives—doubled him over. She snatched the carbine from him, pummeled him with it across the ear like a bludgeon. The second male raised his weapon, but her left hand lashed out and swept it aside, ripping a roar of pain from her. One-handed she reoriented her stolen weapon, raised it, pulled the trigger, and perforated his torso with a quiet blaze of plasma packets. The third swung his barrel. Blazing light spat toward her. Two more quick trigger squeezes, followed by a swift coup de grace to her first target, and it was over.

Blessed numbness ballooned in her shoulder as nerves relinquished their grip. Something in the joint felt loosened. Smoke and the stench of sizzling flesh hazed the compartment. Something burned across her ribs, but the shot must have only winged her.

For once, she was overjoyed that the Hairies’ plasma carbines emitted only a low tremulous hum. A quick check outside the door to find the hallway empty. She knelt over Ramirez, but she was dead.


Delta Platoon stormed out of their makeshift prison. Their superior physical condition, the cover of darkness, the element of surprise, and no small amount of luck allowed them to sweep through a guard post and rearm themselves, complete with carbines and grenade launchers.

As they hunched in the dark, they looked to Jenna for orders. “General,” she said as she wrapped her useless left arm in a sling. “Take him alive.” It was getting hard for her to breathe, and the smell of burnt flesh clung to her. Her heart labored. Dizziness made her vision swim.

“Sarge,” Joiry said, “you’re bleeding.”

Jenna nodded. “Let’s go.”

They ghosted through the remnants of the town, low and quiet. The scarcity of the enemy soldiers worried Jenna, stoking fear that they might stumble upon an entire battalion of sleeping troops, but encountered only a few handfuls. Were their numbers really so few?

It was then they discovered the mayor’s house, surrounded by only twenty guards. General Coulter was certainly inside. In the diffuse luminance of Athena’s rings painted across the velvet starscape, Delta Company took positions, and opened fire. Thanks to eyes adapted for seeing in Athena’s twenty-hour night, the initial volley all but annihilated their targets.

Like a wave of fury, Delta Platoon stormed through gardens toward the house. Jenna’s steps faltered, and hot pain seared through her chest. She kept smelling burnt blood.

Screams and sparks erupted through the house. Bodies fell. Shouts deadened by her hammering heart. A grenade detonated in a back room.

Jenna slid against a wall, and the strength left her legs.

She breathed.

Joiry ran to her. “We got him, Sarge! We fucking got him!”

Jenna gave her a thumbs up. The room grayed out for a while.

“Evac’s on the way, Sarge!” Joiry screamed in her ear. “Hang in there!”

As Jenna lay against the wall, numbness spreading through her torso, the night grew darker. Her breath came slow and cold into her lungs. Her eyes grew heavy. Merrill came and sat beside her and took her left hand, squeezed it, and smiled up at her.

If she ever had a child, if she survived the war, if she ever found someone
willing to share chromosomes with a used up slab of soldier ... “I’ll see you soon,
honey.”  END

Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His stories have appeared in “Alembical,” “Weird Tales,” “Pulp Empire,” and elsewhere. He has two novels out from E-Reads, and a YA horror-thriller from Damnation Books.






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