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




Free Range

By Kathleen Molyneaux

ALICE WIPED THE TEXAS DUST OUT of her eyes and studied the O’Brien mansion. It looked like someone had cut a wedge out of the house, neat as a piece of cake. Alice could see the living room on the first floor, the second floor library, and at the top, Pete’s room. The cut edges revealed flooring, support beams and here and there some duct work and wiring running between the stories.

“Clean cut. Edges kind of glassy. Very high heat, probably a laser, but didn’t set off any flammables. It’s a mercy they didn’t hit any of the wall studs.”

Alice blinked. She’d been gawking at the house and hadn’t noticed the guy in the suit and his attendant group of Amarillo cops.

“And you are?” The suit finished detailing the structural damage and turned his attention to Alice.

“Friend of the family,” Alice replied.

“Hmmm. Got a name?”

“Got a couple. You?” Alice smiled.

The guy sighed and tapped the frame of his glasses. “Alice Dawes, independent contractor for Doko Shipping. Born Isidis Colony, Mars, year fifty-six Post Settlement. Didn’t need the glasses to tell you were third generation Martian. Tall, spindly, flat-chested—”

“You’re not exactly my type either.”

“Immaterial and I wasn’t finished. Social media sources have you pegged as the current girlfriend of the O’Brien heir.”

“Only girlfriend, past, present and God-willing future.” Alice snapped. “His name’s Pete, by the way. You find him yet?”

“That information is classified.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“Our sources say that he might be on route to Mars. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Ms. Dawes?”

“Last I heard, he’d been abducted by aliens.”

The suit raised an eyebrow a full-half inch over the frame of his glasses.

“Got that intel from Pete's sister Nancy. She was here when it happened.” Of course, Alice had spent the last nineteen hours mulling over whether Nancy was devious or just plain crazy.

“And do aliens seem likely to you?”

Initially they hadn’t, but the chunk taken out of the building had Alice wondering. “Nothing from Mars could do that kind of cutting.” She jerked her chin at the house.

“Hmmm.” The suit moved his fingers like he was typing something in the air. “Can you think of any reason why aliens might want to kidnap Peter O’Brien?”

“If I were an alien, I’d kidnap him.” She was thinking about Pete’s wavy blonde hair, southern drawl and the dimple in his chin. She loved that dimple. She also loved the fact that Pete had never been more than fifty miles away from his home. He was such a good family boy. Just imagining him in the grip of some bug-eyed critter made Alice’s blood boil

She turned and was about to stomp all the way back to the Newark Spaceport, but the man in the suit grabbed her shoulder.

“Not done here, Ms. Dawes. Word has it you don’t get along with the rest of the family.”

Alice shrugged off the paw on her shoulder. “Word’s right, but Pete isn’t like the rest of the family. I love that boy. I’d never hurt him. Never.”

“Care to share your opinion with Mrs. and Miss O’Brien before you leave? They asked me to invite you in.”


Alice allowed herself be led into the intact portion of the house. Mrs. O’Brien and Nancy were in the sitting room, or as Alice thought of it the “junk room.” Pete’s family seemed to like their stuff more than people, at least people like Alice.

Mrs. O’Brien’s creaky drawl snapped Alice out of her reverie on foreign relations. “Officer Kelly, did you disarm Ms. Dawes? She gets a might twitchy when confronted with the unexpected.”

“She’s unarmed,” the officer replied tapping his glasses again.

Alice shot him a glare. “X-ray vision, Superman?”

The man’s lips made something that might have been a smile before lapsing back into their more normal straight-line configuration.

“That’ll be all, Officer.” Mrs. O’Brien waited until the man turned stiffly and strode out of the room. “Tiresome government flunkies,” Mrs. O’Brien murmured. “Top notch equipment though.” The twinkle in the woman’s eye made it clear that she hadn’t been thinking about the guy’s glasses.

Alice had always been intimidated by Pete’s mom, but that remark almost made her like the old bat. Unlike Nancy, Mrs. O’Brien had seemed polite but remote. For her, polite could mean anything ranging from cautious acceptance to outright disdain. Alice had always assumed the latter.

Nancy cleared her throat. “Mama, make her tell us where Pete is.”

“She doesn’t know where Pete is, dear. Weren’t you listening to Officer Kelly’s interrogation?”

“That wasn’t an interrogation!” Nancy shouted.

“I was interrogated? Why was I interrogated?” Alice shouted back.

“Because you’re a fuckin’ Martian.”

“Language, dear,” Mrs. O’Brien said gently.

Nancy opened her mouth, but before she could get out another word her mother cut her off.

“You hush now.” Mrs. O’Brien smoothed her skirt and looked back up at Alice. “I’m sorry we inflicted Officer Kelly on you. But our only hint right now is that Pete is traveling to your planet.”

“My planet? I don’t own the place. And what makes you think he’s heading to Mars?”

“Subcutaneous tracking chip.”

Alice thought about that for a second and then decided that she really didn’t like the old bat after all. What kind of woman micro-chipped her children?

“My children are precious, Ms. Dawes. They don’t wander unattended.”

For a moment, Nancy’s face looked like she’d swallowed a toad.

“We should be able to find him easily,” Mrs. O’Brien continued.


“You have a ship. We need a ship. You do want to find him, don’t you?”

Alice did want to find him, but preferred to work alone.

“What about the aliens? She,” Alice jerked her chin at Nancy, “said that there were aliens. I’m sure a government vessel would be safer, not to mention more comfortable.”

Mrs. O’Brien’s response was a short laugh that quickly turned into a cough. Nancy had to jump up and pat her mother’s back.

“See what you did?” Nancy snapped.

“Care to explain?”

“Not here,” Mrs. O’Brien gasped. “Pack up, Nancy. We need to catch a plane to Newark.”

“Me? Why me? I mean, why do I need to go?”

“Because you have such nice baggage, dear.”

That sounded inane to Alice, but it made Nancy shut her mouth with a snap and run for the stairs.

“Don’t worry,” Mrs. O’Brien called after her, “Ms. Dawes will help you carry it.”

Alice rolled her eyes, but relented when she saw Nancy struggling to carry a massive suitcase down the front steps. She took it from the girl and settled it in the trunk next to Mrs. O’Brien’s tasteful leather carry-on. Thus armed, the three ladies set out to rescue Pete.


“The Soukies appear to be obligate carnivores.” Mrs. O’Brien poked her fork into her tray of airline food. She let go of the utensil and the fork remained standing. The woman sighed and pushed the tray away.

Alice was tired of the O’Brien women. Mrs. O’Brien buzzed the stewardess every ten minutes to do trivial things like adjust her reading light. As for Nancy, she’d gotten air sick upon take off and now alternated between moaning and sulking. At least the barf bag muffled most of her complaints.

“Did you hear me, Ms. Dawes?”

“Uh-huh. Carnivores. With atmosphere capable ships and combat drones. Their technology was enough to make the U.N. shit their collective pants and offer them whatever they wanted.”

“They wanted meat.”

“And so the U.N. contacted you?” The O’Brien’s were a ranch family, or as they preferred to call it, beef entrepreneurs.

“Not immediately. The government does like to keep its secrets. We eventually offered to supply them in return for their staying out of Earth air space. That got hard as the environment deteriorated. Global warming, water shortages.”

Alice picked up Mrs. O’Brien’s rejected tray and spooned some of the glop into her mouth. “Guess the aliens don’t like soy?” She chewed and swallowed. “Or is it mealworm?”

Nancy mumbled something into her bag. Mrs. O’Brien frowned at her daughter and rang for the cabin attendant. The long-suffering staffer arrived, but instead of helping the girl, he removed Mrs. O’Brien’s tray and replaced it with a plastic cup of bourbon.

Mrs. O’Brien sipped her drink and continued. “The government asked us to speed up development of synthetics. Stem-cell grown meat products. Any animal, unlimited production, no environmental consequences.”

“Pink slime that tastes like dirt and costs a fortune to grow,” Nancy popped her head out of the bag long enough to interrupt. “I’d rather eat airplane slop.”

“The Soukies rejected all insect and plant-based proteins. The government moved the time table up and offered our best synthetics about a week ago.”

“And you can see how well that worked,” Nancy interrupted again. “One taste of that shit and they decide to start abducting people, starting with Pete. Why Pete?”

Alice shrugged. She didn’t really care why Pete had been taken. She just wanted him back, preferably intact and sooner rather than later. She needed a plan. “So what do you know about these things? Their ships, their weapons, biology, language, customs. Whatever you got.”

“Nancy, give Ms. Dawes what we have.”

Nancy pulled an electronic tablet out of her purse and tossed it into Alice’s lap. “Oh, and you’ll need this too,” she said, pushing her mother’s drink onto Alice’s tray table.

The tablet showed a thirty second video clip of a spacecraft hovering over the O’Brien mansion. The ship was saucer-shaped and so bright that it was painful to look at. A nozzle extended from the bottom of the craft and fired a blue beam into the side of the house. Then the image fuzzed into static.

“That’s it? Where did you get this?”

“Security cameras. That was before they all blew out. So at least we know they have some kind of EMP weapon.” Nancy laughed.

Alice groped for the bourbon and finished the glass in one gulp. Nancy had been right. She needed it.


Alice jerked awake when her ship radio crackled at her. “Warning. Warning. Entering restricted space. Contact Mars Station 3 to adjust flight path. Warning.” Alice shook her head and silenced the comm switch before the message repeated. She switched to visuals. The familiar bulk of Mars filled the view screen, but the planet’s rusty-orange circle was interrupted by an irregular blotch. “Phobos,” Alice said the name and tapped the rapidly expanding blotch. “What are you doing on Phobos?”

Far as Alice knew, the moon didn’t have so much as a mining station, but Pete’s tracking chip indicated that he’d been down there for at least a week. That gave Alice hope. Maybe the aliens weren’t as technologically advanced as everyone thought. Maybe it was all just chrome plating and a fancy light display.

“You going to deal with that?” Nancy nodded at the intercom.

“That’s an automated warning, not a live line.” But then Alice noted that there was a call coming in on a different frequency. She switched over and the console screeched and popped.

“Imoogi-class ship.” The screeching resolved into a clipped tenor voice. “This is the Ghandi-2 U.N. police craft. You are about to enter a restricted zone. Please adjust your trajectory. You will be escorted to the nearest station.”

“Ghandi-2, got a signal down there. Man we’re tracking. Wonderful guy. I’d sure love to see him alive and well.”

“Rescue operations in restricted space are to be conducted by U.S. personnel only. Adjust your trajectory and prepare to dock.”

Alice glanced at the visual display. The nearest station was a bright speck hanging over the sunny side of Mars. Smaller specks and streaks indicated ships. It all looked like normal orbital traffic. No sign of the Ghandi-2. They’d announced themselves as a U.N. ship but Alice hadn’t missed the comment about U.S. personnel. Regardless, telemetry data indicated that the U.N. or U.S. ship was twenty-four hours outside Mars space.

“Roger that Ghandi-2, but we’re closer. How about we do your job for you?”

There was a new voice on the line, deeper this time. “Alice,” it said and that was enough for her to picture the dark suit and x-ray glasses. Officer Kelly continued, “I don’t know what the O’Briens told you, but if you maintain your current course you will disrupt negotiations that are vital for Earth security.”

“I’m from Mars, remember?”

“I misspoke. We are negotiating for the security of all humanity.”

“I feel pretty secure right now, thank you. Just want to make sure Pete feels the same.”

There was a brief chatter of voices on the other line, some kind of exchange between Kelly and his crew.

“Can you put Mrs. O’Brien on?”

“What makes you think she’s here?”

“Spaceports have cameras, Ms. Dawes. We have numerous high quality shots of Mrs. O’Brien bribing her way through the check points.”

Alice shrugged and told Nancy to go get her mother. Mrs. O’Brien floated into the cockpit. She hadn’t learned how to hurry and keep her feet on the floor at the same time. The woman grabbed a security rail and pulled herself down next to Alice.

“Officer Kelly. How nice to hear from you again.”

“Pete is safe, Mrs. O’Brien. Tell your pilot to dock. She can keep whatever you offered to pay her and we’ll save her the trouble of transporting you back.”

Alice blinked. No one had said anything about payment. It had all just been “Oh! Don’t you want to rescue poor little Pete?” Alice wasn’t sure who to be angry at. Mrs. O’Brien for not offering to pay, Officer Kelley for assuming she was just a hireling, or herself for being a sentimental stooge. It was easiest to get angry at the flunky in the suit.

She grabbed the handset and told Officer Kelly to go fuck himself. After all, what could the Ghandi-2 do? It was twenty-four hours out and no human ship had weapon systems. Space combat was stupid.

A moment later, a column of blue light bisected the space between her ship and Phobos. It vanished in an instant, leaving an afterimage that took a couple seconds to blink away.

“That was a warning shot. Believe me if we—”

Alice switched the sound off and turned on Mrs. O’Brien. “What the hell did you do?”

“No more than what I told you. No more than what the government asked. I developed products. I just didn’t feel like parting with them when the time came.”

Alice didn’t have time to fully digest the meaning of that remark. Space had turned blue again, the beam so close that it blotted out the entire view screen. The button on the comm station blinked an angry red. Her options were dock, get shot, or evade. Her mind went into overdrive. She considered the telemetry data and the position of the beam, then flipped the navigation console to manual, fired the rockets to swing the ship in line with the Ghandi-2’s approach and plunged straight towards Phobos. If she’d reasoned correctly, she should be directly between the U.N. ship and the moon.

“Let’s see if there really is something important going on down there. You might hit me, but to do that, you gotta risk blowing a big hole in your precious rock. That might mess up negotiations a little.”


The landing was decent for a ship that had never landed. The cabin was only half-filled with smoke. Alice ducked her head so that she could see the controls. Oxygen levels were holding steady, but the thrusters on the right hand side were gone. They’d ripped free when that side of the ship clipped a cliff. That encounter had spun them about and they’d bounced a few times before settling down roughly five kilometers from where Pete’s tracking signal originated.

When Alice had started the plunge for the surface, Mrs. O’Brien had the presence of mind to drop into the co-pilot’s seat and strap herself in. She was still in her chair, her prim little face pinched and white, but Alice wasn’t sure where Nancy was. Alice unstrapped, stood up and wobbled into the galley.

The room was a mess, every cabinet was open and the floor was covered with ration packets. There were globules of freeze dried food everywhere. Alice walked through a swarm of dark droplets.

“Nancy?” Alice didn’t get a response. She hoped the girl had made it to the sleeping bags. They were fixed to the floor and would have been a nice soft place to ride out the descent. Nancy wasn’t in either.

Alice scanned the room again. The densest collection of globules hovered just to the right of the bolted-down galley table. Alice watched a large red drop collide with the table and smear.

“Oh. Shit.” Most of Nancy was buried in food packets, but Alice could see a pudgy leg sticking out from under the table. The girl must have cracked her head on the edge and crashed down into the litter. That explained the floating red blobs and the burst packets.

Alice pushed off the rations and checked for a pulse. It was there. The girl was just out cold. Alice yelled for Mrs. O’Brien to bring the first aid kit, but the woman wouldn’t unstrap. She was rocking in place mumbling something that might have been a prayer.

By the time Alice bandaged Nancy’s gash and got the girl settled in one of the sleeping bags, Mrs. O’Brien had stopped calling on Jesus. “Now what?” The older woman said.

“We gate crash this little U.N. party, get Pete, and go home.” Alice stood up to her full six feet and reached for the equipment locker. She had two evac suits in there, not to mention the revolver she’d learned to keep in storage when around the O’Brien ladies.

“You think he’s still alive?” Nancy’s voice was muffled by a combination of sleeping bag and blood loss. “I don’t. I think they ate him.”

Alice was delighted that Nancy was awake even if the girl was speaking nonsense. “Tracking chip’s still broadcasting. We’ll get your pretty brother back. No worries. You rest.”

“Get me my suitcase. I’m coming with you.” Nancy was wriggling in the sleeping bag trying to work her way out.

“You’re not well, dear. You listen to Ms. Dawes.”

Nancy rolled her eyes at her mother. “You brought me on this mission. I wanted to stay home, but now that I’m here, I’m going to shoot me some aliens.

“That’s the spirit,” Alice said. A head injury seemed to have improved Nancy’s personality. “But I only got one gun and two evac suits. You’re staying put.”

“You call that thing you have a gun?” Nancy giggled. “Bring me my bag.”

Alice found the suitcase in the cabinet under the sink. Most of the interior of the case was taken up by a locked metal box.

“And here I thought you were just packing a shit-load of shoes.” The bag had been damn heavy and Alice had carried it at every layover. “How’d you sneak that thing through security?” Then she remembered Officer Kelly mentioning bribes.

Nancy didn’t answer, she just held up a key. The case contained a snub-nosed, boxy, tactical assault rifle. “Eight hundred and fifty rounds a minute out to sixteen hundred feet,” Nancy murmured. “Dreamy, isn’t it?”

Alice eyed Nancy and tried to imagine the girl wielding the gun. Nancy shared her brother’s fair coloring, but not his athletic build. She looked like a dumpling and not one of the light and fluffy ones, either.

“Ri-i-i-ght. Dreamy it is, but I still only have two evac suits.” Alice held the gun in one hand and rifled through the first aid kit with her other. She slapped a sedative patch on Nancy’s exposed arm. The girl’s jaw dropped open and then her eyes glazed over. “At any rate, it’s not going to perform at those specs near zero-G.”


The tracking signal led Alice and Mrs. O’Brien up a steep slope. Even with the low gravity, it took them an hour of trudging to reach the crest.

“Huh. Impact crater, big one, probably Stickney.” Alice waved at the bowl-shaped valley in front of them. The crater faced Mars and was a feature regularly pointed out to Martian children.

Mrs. O’Brien gestured down-slope, but Alice was busy studying the rim. The whole valley had a shimmer she didn’t recall from her school days. The older woman shuffled over to tap Alice on the shoulder. Alice finally remembered to switch on her radio.

“The alien ship is down there,” Mrs. O’Brien was saying.

Alice stood up and the shimmer cleared. The ship looked like a large silver limpet stuck fast to the rock at the base of the crater. Next to it there was a cluster of dark cubes. “Prefab habitation units,” Alice said. “Looks like our U.N. camp. Shall we?”

“Ladies first.” Mrs. O’Brien tried and failed to keep the quaver out of her voice.

Alice checked to make sure she still had the rifle. She was sure that she could do better than Nancy with it. She marched down into the crater followed by Mrs. O’Brien, but by the time her head got below the lip she was falling. She could hear Mrs. O’Brien gasping and praying over the suit radio. Alice slid to a stop in a shower of rock dust. The dust was all wrong. It fell too quickly. She’d fallen too quickly. Alice lay on her back like a turtle that had been tipped over. She checked the suit diagnostics projected on the inside of her faceplate. Seals intact, internal oxygen, humidity, and temperature were within normal limits, battery levels were good. Then she noticed a blinking green number. External oxygen and temperature readings had jumped. Her suit was saying that there was an atmosphere out there and her back was telling her that there was gravity.

“Are you hurt?” Mrs. O’Brien shrieked into the radio. Alice winced at the sound and sat up. It was easier now that she knew what was going on. Still, the suit felt like it weighed a ton. Mrs. O’Brien had remained standing on the lip of the crater. She looked blurry.

“I’m fine. There’s gravity and an atmosphere here. I’m not sure I want to shoot these things anymore.”

“You might have to and soon.” The blurry outline of Mrs. O’Brien pointed. Alice turned.

“Shit! Would those be the combat drones?”

There were three of them, each one a perfect sphere made from the same reflective silver metal as the ship. They flew in a complicated pattern, twisting and gyrating around each other on their way up the slope. They were mesmerizing in the way they reflected the black rock and the orange sky. Alice fumbled the gun off her shoulder and fired wildly. Nancy was right. It was dreamy and it put so much metal in the air that aiming was optional. She strafed the approaching drones and heard the satisfying sound of metal hitting metal. The drones halted their approach and hung still for a second. Then they zoomed straight up and vanished.

“Do you see them? Do you see them?” Alice shouted and tried to stand.

“They went up,” Mrs. O’Brien called back. “I lost them.”

Alice finished getting to her feet. “Let’s get down there while they’re trying to decide what to do.” She eyed the green numbers on her faceplate. “I’m taking my suit off.” She popped her helmet seal and was relieved that there was no hissing out-rush of air. Then she popped the wrist, ankle and front seals and stepped out. “Kind of chilly. Good day for a run.” She helped Mrs. O’Brien out of her suit and the two of them sprinted for the valley floor.

The drones came back and buzzed them a couple times during the decent. Alice sprayed bullets in their direction and waited for Mrs. O’Brien to catch her breath.

“You okay?” She asked the woman between clips. “Think you could move a little faster? They’re getting—” Alice didn’t finish that thought. A dark opening had appeared in the silver skin of the lead drone. Alice dove for cover and grabbed Mrs. O’Brien on the way down.

“Nutriment Engineer and armed companion,” the drone addressed them. “Have you remaining tribute?”

Alice rolled off of Mrs. O’Brien and stared up at the thing. The voice was stilted, mechanical.

“Uh, don’t believe we do.” Alice mouthed the words “do we?” in the general direction of Mrs. O’Brien. The woman just scowled at her and continued trying to brush herself off.

“Complete or repossess equipment.”

Alice turned her hands palm up in the universal I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about signal. “You want to help me out here, Mrs. Nutriment Engineer?”

“The tribute wasn’t ready. We insist you return the part you took.” Mrs. O’Brien’s insistence sounded more like pleading.

“Tribute replacement accepted. Equipment exchange secure. Initiating launch cycle. Farewell Nutriment Engineer and armed companion.”

The speaker port on the drone vanished, then it and its two wingmen zipped towards the valley floor. In seconds, the drones reached the ship and were absorbed into the silver hull. The ship hummed and brightened.

Alice pushed the gun into Mrs. O’Brien’s hands. “Hold this.” Then she grabbed Mrs. O’Brien and swung the woman up onto her back. This was easier than it would have been a couple of seconds ago. The gravity was dropping. Alice bolted for the habitat module with Mrs. O’Brien bouncing behind her. The light from the ship was blinding now. Alice could barely see the keypad next to the airlock door.

“What’s the door code?” Alice shouted.

“Why would I know?” Alice could barely hear Mrs. O’Brien’s reply over the ship engines.

“Those fuckers are taking off with the gravity and the air!” Alice gasped. That made the door code moot. Alice dropped Mrs. O’Brien and grabbed the rifle out of her hands. One hundred bullets later, the key pad was obliterated, but the door was still closed. In a last fit of pique, Alice slammed the butt of the rifle into what remained of the touchpad. The airlock door irised open.

Alice gave a soundless grunt, dropped the rifle and grabbed for the door. The impact of the rifle had sent her drifting backwards, but she made contact with the edge of the hab module and pulled herself inside. Mrs. O’Brien bobbed in after her. Alice slapped a hand onto what she hoped was the “close-the-damn-door” button. It was. The airlock cycled and Alice spent a few precious seconds just floating and breathing. The inside air was stale, but welcome.


“Pete’s not really your son, is he?” Alice was working on the second keypad, but could afford to take her time on this one. They had air, light, and heat. Also, Alice was sure that the alien ship had left.

“Biologically, no.” Mrs. O’Brien was leaning against the wall fanning herself. “But in my heart, yes.”

“Ri-i-i-ght. In your heart, you just decided to whip up a little snack for the extraterrestrials?”

“You think you understand me, Ms. Dawes. I can assure you that you don’t.”

Alice went back to vigorously punching numbers into the keypad. She told herself that she didn’t want to talk to Mrs. O’Brien anymore, but ten seconds later another question slipped out. “Why not just grow them a brainless hulk?”

“We made them meat in a dish, from all kinds of different animals. Then we grew organized structures up to and including the so-called brainless hulks. They were deemed inedible. Poor muscle mass. Poor trace nutrients. Missing that special flavor imparted by living an active life at the top of the food chain. To the Soukies, a free-range human is a vitamin packed meat pop.”

“Well, Mrs. Nutriment Engineer, you couldn’t figure out what those trace compounds are? Make something you can sprinkle onto the synthetics?

“Tried, but don’t know enough about Soukie physiology. It’s not like the things stopped to provide a stool sample. We’re lucky they negotiated at all.”

“So that’s why you decided to let the synthetics go free range?” Alice muttered.

Mrs. O’Brien nodded.

“Just how many of these prototypes were you supposed to make?”

“Two initially.” Mrs. O’Brien hung her head. “If suitable, production would be scaled up.”


“Yes. I think she came out better than Pete, don’t you? More pluck. Pete just did everything he was told.”

“You brought her along as a bargaining chip, didn’t you?”

Mrs. O’Brien grimaced. “I’m not a monster. I brought her along because she knows her way around a gun.”

“Right before the drone left, it said the tribute was accepted?” Alice didn’t like Nancy, but didn’t think she deserved to be made into an entrée.

“It said alternate tribute. I don’t know what that means. And I’m sure Nancy is safe. I took out her tracking chip myself.”

“That’s how they homed in on Pete?”

Mrs. O’Brien nodded. “Government funded the project. Wanted to keep an eye on their investment. Still not sure why the aliens came to collect Pete themselves.”

“Well, you said they weren’t patient. Neither am I. Wish I hadn’t dropped that gun.” Alice glared at the touch pad.

“Did you try punching in all ones?”

Alice didn’t know how many numbers were in the code, so she tried three, then four, then five ones. The door slid open after five.


The place was an abattoir. They found the bodies of two men in U.S. army fatigues in the corridor leading to the airlock. Their uniforms had been sliced open and the bodies selectively defleshed. Alice could see bone where the muscles had been neatly cut away from the thigh, calf, and upper arm. There were bits missing from their faces and torsos as well. Mrs. O’Brien made a gagging noise and turned away.

It was the same in nearly every room of the facility. Four more soldiers had been dissected and were lying on the floor of the mess hall. In the next room, they found five mutilated civilian technicians still hunched over their computer consoles.

“Good work ethic.” Alice had to say something funny to keep from screaming. Mrs. O’Brien didn’t seem to appreciate it. She started calling on Jesus again.

Bedrooms, conference rooms, the gym, they all had bodies. At least one of the soldiers had put up a fight. There were scorch marks and bullet holes in her bedroom wall, but she’d ended up like the rest of them, flayed and lying in a pool of gore that had spread before the gravity vanished. Despite her prissy manners, Mrs. O’Brien stepped right into the puddle and craned her head back.

“Good girl! Clipped one before she went down!” There was a dried splatter of green high up on the wall. “I need gloves, tweezers and a cup. Now!” Mrs. O’Brien gave commands like she was born to it.

Alice ran from the bedroom, jerked open the door labeled Med-Bay, and screamed. It was Pete. She’d recognize that body anywhere even with some of the better bits missing. His wrists were tied and looped over a hook in the ceiling. They’d removed his tongue and lower jaw leaving a broad brown stain down the front of the man’s chest. The soft blonde hair around his naval was caked in dried blood. She took a breath and continued screaming.

That brought Mrs. O’Brien bounding awkwardly down the hall. “Alice? Are they back? Are you hurt—” The woman trailed off when she saw what was in the room. “Oh my. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Mrs. O’Brien patted Alice’s shoulder, but Alice couldn’t stop screaming. “Please dear. Please. He’s gone. This won’t bring him back.” Alice shrugged her off and curled into a floating ball.

“I—I’ll make you another. That’s what I’ll do. I promise.”

“I loved this one. I had a history with this one.” Alice sobbed. “He taught me how to line dance!”

“Make a new history. A better one.” Mrs. O’Brien coaxed. “I’ll help.”

“Fuck you will,” Alice snapped. She straightened out, grabbed her revolver from her hip pocket and casually shot Mrs. O’Brien in the leg. The woman yelped and recoiled back into the hall.

“I should have done that months ago,” Alice shouted, but her joy was short-lived. The momentum from the gunshot pushed her into the Med-Bay where she fetched up against Pete’s corpse. She managed to get her hands around his chest and used the leverage to maneuver her feet onto the floor. She rested for a moment. The flight hadn’t made her nauseous, but the cold slick feel of Pete’s skin had. From the hall, she could hear Mrs. O’Brien weakly calling for help.

That poor blonde boy up there would have wanted her to help his mama. “She’s not your mother, you know?” Alice tried reasoning with the corpse, but he just floated there, his dead eyes full of disapproval. “You’re too damn nice,” Alice grumbled, “but you can’t argue with someone when they’re dead.” Alice sighed, wiped her hands on her pants and went out to check on the old bat. The bullet had passed through Mrs. O’Brien’s leg. Alice bandaged the hole and pumped the woman full of pain killers. Then she scraped the green glop off the wall and dropped the specimen cup into Mrs. O’Brien’s lap. “There’s your fuckin’ Soukie sample. Think you can use that to figure out what they want?”


Eventually, Alice, the injured O’Briens, and the precious blood samples were escorted off of Phobos by the U.N peacekeeping ship, Clinton.

“Nancy, you’re a clone and your mother was going to trade you as meat,” Alice said by way of conversation on their way to the shuttle.

Mrs. O’Brien winced and promised the samples would fix everything, but Nancy just shrugged and said, “Whatever, Mom”

On the ship, the sullen women were separated and debriefed. Alice was told that the Ghandi-2 did not exist and that the Soukies were no longer a threat. She pretended to believe that and tried to return to normal. She took out a loan covering salvage and repair of her ship, even shelled out a little extra cash for new translation software. She didn’t want to do business with U.S. companies anymore. That meant seeking business from Europe and Asia, wooing clients who didn’t speak English. Her plan was to work hard enough to forget all those bodies, especially Pete’s.

That was until she saw him. It was a year after the Phobos incident and she was en route from Orbital-1 to Japan. She was in the waiting bay, staring at a live video projection of the Earth.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A man’s voice said over her shoulder. Alice was thinking about her next assignment and didn’t register the slight Southern accent.

“Too blue,” She said. “Red’s better.” She looked back and there he was, blonde hair, dimpled chin, and eyes blue like the Earth. Her mouth went dry.

“Knew you were from Mars. You’re tall. Exotic. I like it.” He smiled and extended a hand. “I’m Peter. Peter O’Brien. Nice to meet you.”

She eyed the proffered hand. It was all there—the long sensitive fingers, the broad palm. She backed up a step and tried to collect herself. “I’m Alice Dawes.”

“Well, Ms. Dawes, I bet I know the only restaurant on this station that serves genuine steak. Dinner? I can tell you all about Earth—or Texas really. It’s the only place I’ve been ’til now.”

“Steak’s too rich for my blood,” she said. “How about Ramen? I know a place that serves amazing noodles, they play country music, it’s multicultural—” and they have a metal detector in the doorway. Alice couldn’t coordinate her internal and external dialogues so she just trailed off and stared at the floor.

“Do I know you? I feel like we’ve met.” Pete’s smile vanished. He looked as confused as Alice felt.

“N-no,” Alice stuttered, “but I think we can be friends. Maybe good friends?” Alice took Pete’s hand, smiled, and made a mental vow not to lose this one. END

Kathleen Molyneaux lives and writes in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She has a Ph.D. in Cell Biology. When she is not feeding yeast, HeLa cells, frogs, mice, whooping cranes, cats, and humans, she likes to knit and author science fiction stories.


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