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




Sinking Holes

By D. Thomas Minton

THE WAIL OF THE BACK PRESSURE buzzer cut the thick air, pulling Truman’s attention from the mud bubbling from the borehole at his feet.

“Shut it down!”

Veya threw her hands into her hair and searched frantically across the drilling rig’s control board for the cutoff.

A column of mud geysered out of the borehole into the air. Truman twisted away, but the explosive force knocked him into the knee-deep mud pit and scattered the metal pipe casings across the ground.

“Run, run!” Truman yelled. He knew the bit and cable were next up the hole.

Veya stared at him, her eyes big. Then her shock broke like a pane of glass, and she bounded off through the bog’s sickly grass and twisted shrubs.

Truman curled into a fetal position at the edge of the mud pit, protecting his head as black, sulfurous mud rained down. A two meter section of metal pipe, part of the casing, whoomped from the hole. It splashed into the nearby pond and sank beneath the oily surface.

A final burp of gas splashed the remaining mud from the borehole, and the blowout was over.

Truman pressed the cutoff switch—a big red button in the middle of the rig’s control console. The rotary coughed and shut down.

“Too old for this shit,” he mumbled, wiping the mud from around his eyes with leathery fingers. In his career, he had seen a lot of men killed in accidents just like this. How could Veya have not seen the cutoff switch? Big red button. Right in front of her damn fool face. She might be some sort of a genius, but she wasn’t a roughneck.


Truman held up his right hand while he pinched the bridge of his nose with his left. It wasn’t her fault, he told himself. He should have insisted on another roughneck, but with the world ending, there weren’t enough hands to do everything that needed doing.

“The cutoff,” he said, pausing to draw a breath. The adrenaline bleeding from his system left him winded. The air reeked of sulfur and methane. “That big red button.”

“I know,” Veya said. “I panicked.”

His anger now diffused, Truman could look at her. When he did, her eyes went elsewhere—the ground, the equally muddy sky. He didn’t know how old she was. Maybe thirty? Everyone said she was whip smart, a doctor of genetics or something. Likely she was, but book smart didn’t keep a drilling rig running or roughnecks alive.

“We hit a methane pocket. A small one,” Truman said. “Lucky it didn’t catch fire.”

Veya’s lips pressed into a line. Mud dripped from her chin as she surveyed the drill site.

Expelled mud ran down into the bog’s black water. Silvery threads of reaping fluid that had been mixed in with the drilling mud squirmed across the oily surface, coalescing into longer chains. Several silver strands as long as Truman’s arm now wriggled like severed lizard tails.

“We have to collect it; it’s all we’ve got,” Veya said.

Truman grabbed her arm to stop her from wading into the murk. “I wouldn’t,” he said.

On the opposite bank, fibrous disks the size of dinner plates pressed up together to form a carpet over everything. From the edge of each disk, stubby tentacles probed the air like leeches looking for something to bleed. Truman had been warned to avoid the tentacles because they contained a toxin that could drop a man in minutes. In the month since the creep had first appeared at dozens of locations on every continent, it had spread quickly to cover much of the Earth. Nothing had slowed its march.

Veya’s shoes squelched as she stepped back from the pond’s edge. She warily eyed the creep, as if sizing up her chances and concluding the risk wasn’t worth it.

Truman pulled a hose out of the mud pit and laid the end of it at Veya’s feet. He returned a second later with a section of casing and pushed the hose through it. “Start the pump.”

Veya grinned. The hose circulated the drilling mud from the mud pit down into the borehole to facilitate drilling. Truman had the suction end, and he used the casing to push the hose out into the bog near the silvery threads.

Veya started the pump.

Long threads slurped into the hose, and seconds later, broken pieces sloshed into the mud pit where they began to coalesce again into long silvery threads. Truman swept the hose around collecting the rest of the reaping fluid.

“That looks like most of it,” he said. “Looks like we’re still in business.”


It was nearly dark by the time Truman had finished repairing the rig and re-stacking the casing sections. The bog should have been buzzing with mosquitoes, but the dusk was quiet. The whole world had grown quiet, Truman thought, eaten or smothered or whatever the hell the creep did to what it overgrew.

As night settled in under the cloud pack, the creep-covered land luminesced a sickly green. Truman spun a slow circle finding the creep glow everywhere except for a narrow spot to the east.

Veya worked by lantern light in their makeshift lab processing the salvaged reaping fluid. Her research group had developed the silvery liquid to collect genetic material from aquifers to test for microbial contamination. Not exactly her research group, Truman corrected himself, because that’s what Veya always did. She was a postdoc, but Truman didn’t understand the distinction.

What Truman did understand was the two of them were in this bog looking for genes from microbes that could survive without air or light. Even if they outlasted the creep, they had no idea what would be left, so the genes of creatures that could survive in extreme places—like deep in the sulfur-rich, waterlogged soil of the bog—would be the key to their survival. Or so the smart ones said, and who was Truman to argue.

Veya looked up from pipetting liquid into a line of small snap-top tubes. A strand of thick black hair dropped across her face. She tucked it behind her ear with an irritated thrust of her hand.

“I’m sorry I froze,” she said. “You could have been killed.”

“True enough.” Drilling was dangerous work. More men died drilling wells than fighting fires or chasing criminals. Under that kind of stress, Truman knew anyone could freeze. Three years ago, his best friend froze when a natural gas well kicked. Three good men, including his friend, died in the blast. Today they’d been lucky; the gas pocket had been small and the kick hadn’t seriously damaged the rig. More importantly, no one had been hurt.

Veya’s brow crinkled, as if she had expected Truman to say something different. “I shouldn’t be out here.”

“No, you should be out here,” Truman said. Another roughneck likely could have prevented today’s accident, but there were only six experienced drillers, and each had been sent to a different location with a portable rig, reaping fluid, and someone like Veya. “I know how to drill. You know how to do what you do.” He nodded at her array of vials. “Both of us need to be here.” He turned away and headed for his tent.


He paused.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t stay up late.” Truman didn’t look back, but felt her smile, warm on his back.

Mud flaked off Truman’s shirt as he pulled it over his head. He lay atop his bag unable to sleep. After a while he gave up and slipped out into the night. Veya was still working in the lab, so he went the other way, until the glow of the creep swallowed the lantern light.

Less than a week ago he and his drilling team had been above the Arctic Circle sinking exploratory wells for ICE Petroleum. With limited radio contact they had heard nothing about the creep until a long-range military helicopter found them and flew them south. He first saw the creep at the edge of the ice pack, stretching as far as he could see across the tundra.

“That’s the creep, sir,” the airman said in reply to his question. “That’s the end of the world.”

They flew Truman and his crew to a military base north of Weetonka, where he learned the creep had already overgrown most of the world’s major cities, not to mention the majority of the world’s arable land, crippling food production and whatever social order there had been.

“What about Boston?” Truman asked the admiral in charge.


“Anyone survive?”

“Unknown,” the admiral said stiffly, but the pitying look in her eyes betrayed her true thoughts.

Truman’s daughter lived in Boston, but he hadn’t seen her since his wife had died three years ago. He and Sandra weren’t on talking terms—she was still angry at him for being in Venezuela when her mother’s cancer had finally killed her. Rightly so, Truman figured, but he’d always thought there’d be time to fix things with his daughter.

The dead grass rustled behind him.

He wiped his cheeks; he didn’t want to talk to Veya right now, but ...

He turned and looked into the end of a pistol.


The handcuffs dug into Truman’s wrist. Veya sat on the ground next to him, her hands in her lap. A teenage girl pointed a pistol at the two of them while an older man shoveled the remains of a fourth ration into his mouth. His pistol sat in easy reach on the bench top. The ration tin clattered onto the bench with the others, nearly knocking over a rack of open sample vials.

Veya flinched.

“Try the beef, Margie,” the man said.

“Maybe later, Dad.” The teen had eaten two rations already.

They were both muddy and scrawny, like they’d been living off worms for weeks. Dried grass and clods of dirt littered Margie’s tangle of hair; mud caked the man’s beard.

“More for later, then.” The man picked at his teeth with the wooden sliver from the ration tin. After a moment he pointed the toothpick at Truman and Veya. “Where’d you get all this stuff?” he asked. “You government?”

Truman didn’t know how to answer that. The government was gone, even if the military still seemed to exist. The creep had taken D.C. a week before the military chopper had found Truman and his team. “We’re not government,” Truman said, deciding the man looked like the type who would appreciate that answer.

“What’re you doing here, then?”

“We’re collecting genetic material,” Veya said, surprising Truman. He hadn’t expected her to say anything.

The man snorted. “You mean like dee-een-aye?”

“DNA, RNA, yes. Microbial genes from an anaerobic environment for a genetic catalog.”

The man picked up the pistol and carried it easily. Truman could tell he was comfortable holding it, and likely equally comfortable using it. “The world is ending, and you’re collecting dee-een-aye?”

“Why?” Margie asked. The teenager’s steady hands impressed Truman. Her pistol didn’t waver.

Now she’s done it, Truman thought. Only people with something to live for collected stuff.

“Why?” the teen asked again. She poked her gun at them to show she expected an answer.

“It’s not a secret,” Truman said. “We’re getting out of here.”

Veya’s head whipped around, her mouth hanging open.

Truman ignored her. These two would shoot them if he didn’t give them a reason not to.

“What do you mean getting out of here?” the man asked.

“Submarines. Big ones. Capable of spending years underwater. They’ve got three of them at a naval base near Weetonka. We’re going to set to sea and wait the creep out in deep water. Once it’s got nothing left to eat and dies back, we’ll return and start over.”

The man’s eyes narrowed.

“There’s room for you and your daughter.” Could he tell Truman was lying? Not about the subs—those were real—but about the room. There wasn’t enough room as it was to take everyone already at Weetonka.

“Dad?” The teenager’s pistol dipped.

If he hadn’t been handcuffed to the tarp pole, Truman might have made a move for the gun. If he had been thirty years younger, he might have tried even with the cuffs, but he had done a lot of stupid stuff when he was younger. Working rigs attracted a certain type of person. He liked to think he was still that man, just thirty-years-of-hard-living slower. But also wiser.

“Why should I believe you?” the man asked.

“What kind of idiots do you think we are?” Veya said. “Would we be sitting here with a couple days of food if someone wasn’t coming back for us? And how do you think we got here with twenty-five hundred kilos of gear.”

Truman was impressed by the disdainful edge to her voice. Surely that was enough to sell it.

The man looked around the makeshift lab, at the crates and drums of fuel, the propane freezers, the rumbling generator powering scopes and a computer.

“We’re expecting a helicopter pick-up day after tomorrow,” Truman said, “but if we’re not standing out there waving at them, they won’t land.”

“Dad?” Margie asked in a wisp of a voice. “This is what we’ve been looking for, ain’t it?”

Dirt flaked out of the man’s beard as he scratched it, revealing gray hairs. “Yeah,” he said, “this is what we’re looking for, Margie.”

To Truman’s ear, the man didn’t sound convinced. He sounded like a father trying not to shatter his daughter’s hope. Truman knew that tone well.

The man stood over Truman and Veya. “I don’t know you from Peter, and I don’t trust you neither, but I don’t see as we have much choice. I ain’t stupid, though. You don’t do us no wrong, and I don’t shoot you. You right with that?”

“Right as rain,” Truman said.


Truman slept cuffed to the pole, but the man, Henry Benford, allow Veya to use her tent. Margie slept in Truman’s tent.

Before he curled up on the ground near the work bench, Henry said to Truman “I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I will if you or your friend try anything.”

Truman didn’t doubt Henry would shoot him or Veya. Truman’s goal was to get through the next thirty-six hours, until the chopper returned. Then he’d figure it out from there.

Henry snored loudly, but sleep wouldn’t come for Truman. He remembered when his own daughter had been a teen. She’d been expelled from several schools and did a two week stint in rehab when she was seventeen. Truman’s wife had blamed it on his long absences, but it wasn’t uncommon for a roughneck during the boom years to spend nine months deployed in remote oil fields. Truman had once spent fifteen months sinking exploratory wells in Cameroon and managed to call home only three times during that span. At the time, it was what he needed to do, but now, thirty years later, he wished he had been there for his daughter, like Henry was for Margie.


The next morning, Veya convinced Henry to let them keep working. Surprisingly, it was Margie who convinced her father to uncuff Truman and allow him to operate the rig.

Henry watched from the side while Truman and Veya set to work.

Veya leaned in close, pretending to help Truman prime the mud pump. “What happens when the chopper shows up?” she asked.

“Everything will get sorted out,” Truman mumbled back.

“You mean everything gets ugly.”

Truman glared at her. “Just do your job,” he said, his tone harsher than he meant it to be.

Truman sank the well to bedrock by noon. Throughout the drilling, the silver reaping fluid cycled through the borehole, presumably harvesting genetic material, although the stuff looked no different to Truman when it came out of the borehole than when it went down.

Veya recruited Margie to help her skim the silver threads from the surface of the mud pit and bring them to the lab so she could focus on extracting the DNA and RNA fragments from the fluid and preserve them in small sample vials for later sequencing. Henry had been hesitant at first, but eventually let Margie help.

“The reaping fluid lyses the cells and binds the fragmented genetic material,” Veya explained as she continued to work through lunch. Margie hovered at the workbench, her beef stroganoff ration untouched on the countertop. “We have hundreds of primers back in the lab that can amplify, that is make more copies, of targeted DNA strands. Those strands should contain some useful genes that, depending on what we encounter, can be inserted into crop plants to improve their post-creep survival.”

“That’s cool,” said Margie, wide-eyed.

Henry’s face betrayed mixed emotions, and Truman knew the man was torn between seeing his daughter’s enthusiasm with his fear that she was getting too close to Veya. Henry wanted the best for his daughter, that was apparent, and Truman could respect that, even as it tugged at his own conscience.

“Margie,” Henry said softly as if he was unsure of himself. “Quit your yapping and eat. There’s work to be done.”

In the afternoon, they sank a second well closer to the edge of the pond. Since yesterday, the creep had advanced across the bottom of the pool. The water, once thick with life and mud was now clear to a bottom covered with fleshy disks, the creep having filtered everything from it.

Truman watched it as he worked—it was less aggravating than watching Henry sit guard. In the time it took to drill the second hole, the creep had advanced to two thirds across the bottom of the pond. By morning, it would be crawling up onto the shore. If the chopper didn’t come, they’d have to abandon the site tomorrow afternoon.

The thought of running curdled Truman’s stomach. He had never run away from a job. His crew had continued to drill during the Nigerian coup. When the militant KLF had started shooting foreign oil workers in Kazakhstan, his team had sunk what would become the most productive well in the Mangistau oil field.

No, Truman didn’t like running, which made the times he did even more galling.


“Weetonka, Weetonka, can you hear me.” Veya released the switch and static crackled through the lab. Disgusted, she lowered the radio’s volume and put down the handset. She had been trying since dinner without success.

“Is this right?” Margie asked from the workbench. Veya had left her to snap the lids onto the sample vials and drop them in the cylinder of liquid nitrogen. Veya came over to inspect the teen’s work.

Truman could see Margie’s admiration for Veya, and why not? Veya was intelligent and motivated, the very type of role model he would have wanted for his own daughter.

Margie beamed when Veya complimented her excellent work.

Henry sat on the other side of the field lab working a toothpick between his front teeth. His eyes never strayed far from Truman, who did his best to ignore them. Henry’s posture made sure the handle of the pistol sticking up from the front of his jeans caught the light.

“There used to be nine of us,” Margie said, continuing her story of how she and her father had escaped the creep. “We joined up with them on the road, figuring it was safer that way.”

“Where are the others?” Veya asked.

Truman flinched. The world was ending; what did Veya think had happened to them? Either the creep got them, or hunger, or someone else.

Margie shrugged, her jaw trembling.

Veya must have realized her error. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Margie shrugged her shoulders, trying to put on an air of nonchalance. “It’s okay. We ran into some bad people, and lost a few of our group, but most of them just ... I don’t know ... sort of wandered off, you know, lost hope, I guess. Probably just as well because we didn’t have much food.

“There was one guy though. Jason. He was so cute. I was real sorry when he left. Maybe we’ll see him at Weetonka?”

Veya lowered her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”

Truman sat up straight. He thought Veya was smart enough not to say something stupid, but he was ready to interrupt if needed.

Henry interrupted for him, however. “You sure that chopper’s coming?”

“It’ll come,” Truman said. “Just keep your cool.”

Henry’s jaw twitched.

“I’ve got to relieve myself. Would you mind?” Truman raised his cuffed wrist.

Henry eyed him warily. He tossed Truman the key. “Don’t anyone do anything stupid.”

The glow of the creep gave Truman enough light to see the hummocks of grass and scraggly shrubs. Henry followed, staying back enough so Truman couldn’t jump him. Once he was out of sight of the tarped lab, Truman unzipped his fly.

When Truman and Veya had choppered in four days ago, the bog had been at the middle of two advancing patches of creep, like a finger caught in a tightening vise. The two creep fronts had joined to the west, but from the fainter glow to the east, there was still unspoiled land in that direction. For now.

Behind him, Henry’s boots squished in the mud.

“That Jason guy. He didn’t wander off, did he?”

A rustle of clothing, and Truman imagined Henry shrugging.

“I don’t blame you,” Truman said. He remembered how hungry the two had been last night. They probably hadn’t eaten anything in a couple of days, and more people meant less to go around. “I would have done anything for my daughter, too. I get that.” Truman’s stomach felt hollow as he said the words. There was a lot more he could have done for his daughter, but hadn’t.

“You have a daughter?”

“I don’t know.” Truman was surprised how little the words cut. He had to still be numb from everything that had happened. When that numbness went away, Truman wondered what would be left. “She lived in Boston.”

“I met a family going the other way on the road who’d got out of Boston.” The sound of the shrug again, punctuating the implication. “Sounds like everything is shit, and from what we’ve seen, it is.”

“What’s your excuse then?” Truman asked. He finished and zipped his fly. “Where you running to?”

Henry said nothing. His sweaty face glistened sickly in the creep-glow.

Margie’s laugh carried lightly through the heavy night.

Truman’s throat tightened. “That’s why there’s hope,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. He squeezed his eyes shut as the tightness spread into his chest. As long as people had a reason to struggle on, they would. That was why Henry had been on the road, why he had done whatever he had done to Jason, and why he was here now. That was why humanity would find a way to survive.

Henry cleared his throat. “The creep’s closing in on this place,” he said. “By tomorrow night there ain’t gonna be a way out of here.”

“I’m not interested in running. The job’s not done.”

“That chopper’s coming?”

Truman found it didn’t matter to him if the chopper came or not. No, that wasn’t right. If it had been just him, it wouldn’t have mattered, but Veya deserved a chance. So did Margie. Even Henry.

Truman’s stomach clenched.

“To be honest, I don’t know, but you could get to the coast in three days hard walking from here. I bet you could find a boat.”

“But that choppers gonna take us all, right?”

Truman hoped Henry didn’t notice his hesitation. “Every last one.”


Veya and Margie were huddled together whispering like schoolgirls when Truman returned to the lab. He sat down next to the tarp pole and snapped the cuffs back onto his wrist. He tossed the key to Henry, who threw it back to him.

“You keep it,” Henry said. “We got to start trusting each other sometime, or none of us’ll make it.”


Even free of the cuffs, Truman slept fitfully, haunted by dreams of tomorrow. In them the chopper would land and Truman had to tell Henry he couldn’t get on. Sometimes it wasn’t Henry when he turned around; it would be Margie or Veya. When he turned to find his daughter standing there, he awoke with a start.

Watery light filtered through the thick cloud pack. His watch told him it was an hour past sunrise. Henry lay slumped over the bench top snoring lightly, otherwise the bog was quiet.

Truman shook the dream from his thoughts. His joints ached as he stood.

He couldn’t have helped Sandra, he told himself, and even if he had been there, he didn’t think his daughter would have accepted it. But Sandra had always been a resourceful girl. Maybe she had gotten out of Boston.

Truman cursed under his breath and went down to the rig. That line of thinking wasn’t healthy.

Overnight the creep had spread across the bottom of the pool and its leading edge was now an arm’s length from coming onto shore. Truman kneeled, the steel toes of his boots in the water. He had never been so close to the creep. Gold flecks sparkled in the creature’s mottled brown flesh, and the ring of tentacles along the scalloped edges waved in the water hypnotically. Inside an aquarium, it would have been beautiful.

No one seemed to know where it had come from. Outer space maybe—it looked alien enough—but some of the scientist types had suggested it might be a genetic experiment escaped into the environment. Truman never heard what the military folks thought, but then, Truman figured it didn’t matter to them—the creep was simply another adversary to overcome, and they seemed confident they would prevail.

He checked the rotary and the drill bit. The oil and the fuel levels in the mud pump were okay. He siphoned more drilling mud from a metal drum into the mud pit.

“What are you doing?” Henry asked, wiping dirt and sleep from his eyes.

“Sinking another well,” Truman said.

“But what about—”

“Job’s done only when the helicopter gets here,” Truman said.

“Don’t you mean when the subs sail?”

Truman looked up from his final check of the rig. He hadn’t been thinking that far out. “Either help me, or get out of the way.”

Henry took a step back.

Truman started the pump to circulate the drilling mud, then activated the rotary. The bit ground into the moist soil. The grey drilling mud bubbled out of the deepening borehole, gradually growing darker as the bit hit black dirt. Truman retrieved the first section of casing and prepared to drive it into the hole.

“How can I help?” Henry asked.


They had just passed fifteen meters when Veya and Margie arrived.

Truman kept the drill running. “Get the reaping fluid,” he said.

Veya scanned the clouds to the east. “They should have been here already.”

Truman paused in checking the flow rate of the mud. The chopper wouldn’t have left Weetonka until first light. Veya knew they wouldn’t be here for several more hours.

“It’s possible for you and your Dad to make it to the coast,” she said.

Henry’s eyes narrowed. “They were supposed to be here?”

Truman glared at Veya. He saw what she was doing. If it backfired, things would get ugly. “They’re not late yet,” Truman said turning back to the rig, trying to make it seem like everything was fine. He hammered another casing into position. “Veya, we’re past fifteen meters. Quit talking and get the fluid.”

Veya ignored him. “Margie, you and your dad have to get out of here. Just in case. When the chopper comes, we’ll ... we’ll find you and pick you up.”

“But you’re not leaving,” Margie said. “I want to stay and help.”

Truman grabbed Veya by the arm, but she shrugged him off. “Let it be,” he said.

“What’s going on?” Henry asked. “Why are you trying so hard to get us to leave?”

“She’s not,” Truman said. His body tingled as adrenaline started to flood his system. “She’s just scared.”

“There isn’t a lot of time left, Margie,” Veya said. “You need to go.”

“There is no chopper, is there?” Henry said. “No, there must be or you’d be getting out of here, too.” Henry’s voice trailed off; then his body stiffened. “You’re not going to take us.”

Truman’s hands came up as if ready to deflect a blow.

“Is that true, Veya?” Margie asked.

Veya’s jaw hung open. When she blinked, a tear rolled down her cheek. She stammered, but no words came out.

“Is it true?” Margie asked, her voice rising above the whirring of the rig.

Veya buried her face in her hands.

Margie leaped at Veya, her fists in tight balls. Veya turned, and Margie landed on her back. She punched Veya in the ear.

Out of the corner of his eye, Truman saw Henry reaching for his pistol tucked into the back of his jeans.

The pitch of the drilling rotary changed, rising in tone. A wail sliced the air.

“What the—” Henry’s eyes grew wide.

Drilling mud bubbled out of the borehole.

Truman knew instantly the odor of methane. “Get down!” He dove at the two women knocking both of them away from the rig as the well kicked and methane exploded out of the hole, launching casings dozens of meters into the air. Sparks from the flying metal ignited the gas. A fireball whooped across the back of Truman’s neck.

A pillar of fire crackled into the sky. Flaming chunks of mud splattered to the ground.

Truman pounded out the flames on the cuff of his pants. The heat from the fire blistered his arm nearest it. The mud pit on the other side of them had caught fire. Thick smoke swirled around, stirred by the heat of the flames.

Truman couldn’t see. The roar of the fire filled his head. Veya and Margie lay in the mud under him. They weren’t moving, but he could tell they were alive.

Truman coughed, barely able to draw a breath. He pulled the collar of his muddy shirt over his mouth and nose, and the wet fabric cooled the heated air and filtered the smoke.

“Move!” He pushed Veya in the direction he wanted her to go, but she resisted. “I’ll get Margie.”

The skin on the back of Veya’s hand pimpled into blisters as she shielded her face from the growing heat. She crawled away from the fire.

Truman struggled to his feet and grabbed Margie’s shirt. At first she didn’t move, but he pulled at the fabric, and she started crawling across the ground.

Metal groaned. The rig tower bent as the intense heat softened the metal struts. With his last bit of strength, Truman yanked Margie out of the way and threw up his arms to protect himself from the falling tower. But the tower never hit him as Henry knocked him out of the way.

Henry screamed as the falling rig crushed his legs.

Truman wiped hot ash from his eyes.

Henry lay pinned in the mud, his jeans smoldering and smoking.

Margie struggled to her knees, smoke swirling around her, her shape rippling in the heat waves. She struggled to breathe.

Truman grabbed a section of casing and wedged it under the fallen rig, but the ground was too soft to provide the leverage he needed to lift the tower.

Henry grabbed Truman’s ankle. “Save Margie,” he said into the roar of the flames. The strands of his beard curled back in the heat.

Truman kicked Henry’s hand off his ankle and put his weight onto the length of casing. The casing bent suddenly and Truman fell into the mud next to Henry.

Margie collapsed to the ground, coughing violently. The thick smoke swirled, obscuring her from view. A wave of heat knocked Truman over, singeing his denim shirt.

Another blast like that and they would all be dead.

Henry grabbed Truman’s sleeve. Hurt filled his eyes, more than just the pain from his broken body. “Please.”

Truman squeezed Henry’s shoulder and nodded at him because he didn’t know what to say.

He grabbed Margie’s arm and wrapped it around his neck. His legs strained as he pulled her to her feet. “Run with me,” he said into her ear, and Truman pulled her through the flames without looking back.


Truman didn’t know when the fire would go out. That depended on the size of the methane pocket.

Margie wanted to go back for her father, but Truman stopped her.

“No one could survive that,” he said, hugging her to him.

She wept into his shoulder, like other loved ones whose husbands and sons and wives had died on a rig.

“He wanted you to live,” Truman said. “You owe it to him to do that.”

Truman’s stomach wrenched. The creep was everywhere, relentless as the tide, and the only thing that would stop it would be its own success.

Veya took Margie from him. She didn’t say anything; for that Truman was thankful.

“You did right,” he said to Veya. “Now don’t let go of her.”

Veya held Margie as they sat on the ground next to the cylinders holding the genetic samples.

Quietly he shouldered a backpack and edged away from the crackling flames. On the horizon the chopper was a speck of black against the low hanging gray clouds. He had decided a while ago that once the job was done, he would find a quiet place to sit—just sit—because he was tired and not ready to face a new world alone. His daughter was gone, but it wasn’t the creep that had killed her. He had let her die a long time ago.

The backpack hurt his shoulder where the fire had burned him. The back of his hand was raw and painful, but that meant he was still alive. Being alive meant he still cared.

He looked back to where Veya and Margie sat in the scraggly grass, unaware of the approaching chopper. Margie wasn’t his daughter; he owed her and her father no allegiance, but she deserved a chance. Truman couldn’t control if Margie got onto the sub, but unlike his own daughter, he could be there for her, doing everything possible to make it happen.

The first faint thumps of the chopper blades reached him, and Veya and Margie turned in his direction. He had been wrong about the job being done when the helicopter returned, and he realized he couldn’t abandon Veya and Margie. The two women rose and joined him as the helicopter circled them once before settling onto the grass.

“Let’s get out of here,” Truman said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.” END

D. Thomas Minton is an active member of SFWA. His fiction has appeared in “Asimov’s,” “Lightspeed Magazine,” “InterGalactic Medicine Show,” and other publications. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and daughter.


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