Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Stolen Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Boon’s Mutiny
by Harold R. Thompson

Dancing in the Right of Way
by Cyn C. Bermudez

Esterhazy’s Cadence
by Guy T. Martland

Ghosts of Space Command
by Milo James Fowler

by Jeremy Szal

White Russians and Old Lace
by K.C. Ball

Shuttle 54, Where R U?
by Jack Ryan

Shorter Stories

Faraday Cage
by Timothy J. Gawne

Rose Coloured Tentacles
by Gareth D. Jones

Screaming His Scream
by Tim Major


Making Real Life X-Men
by E.E. Giorgi

Taking the Temperature
by Pierre Duhem



Comic Strips





Boon’s Mutiny

By Harold R. Thompson

THE KILLER BOT HAD BEEN IN A HIGH but elliptical orbit, unseen on its outward revolution, and when it swung back in toward the asteroid, it sent a single bolt torpedo into the Retriever just as the vehicle was completing the de-spinning. The attack had been too swift, too unexpected for Rom’s Armoured Assault Team, or AAT, to stop it. The Retriever disintegrated in a flash of light and dust, spitting a few larger chunks of debris that turned the drop ship, and the backup AAT squad on board, into just more debris.

In a few seconds of lightning violence, Rom had lost half of his command and both of his vehicles. The mission, and the fate of Homestead and its people, was in danger of complete, absolute failure, and the failure had been his.

Fighting through the shock, the astonishment, he saw what he needed to do as a series of steps or marks, like a map in his head: eliminate the threat, take stock of remaining resources, secure the asteroid. Above all, secure the asteroid, the massive chunk of rock they had dubbed Number Thirty-two, for it was life and hope for the Homesteaders, his people.

He issued one command: “Collapse.” His dozen armoured troops dropped their dispersed formation and closed in on Thirty-two, using their suit thrusters, making contact with the night side surface of the asteroid. In the darkness, they were less obvious targets, their suits taking on the colour and texture of their environment and going cold to suppress their heat signatures.

“Target acquired,” Sergeant Boon said, her icon highlighting on Rom’s personnel display inside his helmet, left of his main view. “Permission to fire, sir.”

Rom nodded to her, although he knew she could not see the gesture, and said, “Fire. Destroy the enemy before it can complete another orbit.”

The bot was outward bound, about to swing around the daylight side of Thirty-two. Rom could see it in his main view, with his own eyes, and also on his tactical display on the right side of his helmet. The killer bot, one of Beltcorp’s, looked like a large white disc against the backdrop of crystal stars. Boon’s primary laser made a sudden steely blue beam, and the enemy sentinel, like the Retriever before it, disappeared in a flash like a tiny nova.

“Target eliminated,” Boon said, triumphant, though there was a slight tremor in her voice.

“Do a short-range sweep,” Rom said. “I want to make sure that we’re actually alone.”

A moment of silence followed. Rom could hear only the faint rush of his own breathing. The silence gave him time to think, and that was bad, for it made him face the reality of just how severely he had screwed up, that thanks to his mistake, his Team was stranded in space, deep inside the asteroid belt.

“Looks clear, sir,” came the voice of Trooper Link, his personal icon flashing on Rom’s helmet display. “No other significant objects within fifteen thousand kilometers.”

“Why didn’t Intel see it?” said Sergeant Boon, her dismay clear from her voice.

“They didn’t see it because half of our equipment is crap,” said Link. “And now we’re looking at our worst case scenario!”

“Solutions, not complaints,” Rom said, though part of him was relieved that they blamed Intel, their kit, and not him. They were wrong, but at least they had not lost faith. They would still follow his lead.

“Link, engage the beacon,” he added. “Homestead will send the second Retriever and its drop ship.”

The Retrievers were large cylindrical housings for a fission drive cluster, grapplers and a de-spinning harness. They were automated space tractors for moving massive objects like Thirty-two, and had no cabin for crew or passengers. A Retriever was always accompanied by a drop ship.

“Beacon engaged,” Link said.

“Commander Rom,” said Boon, “I have a question, sir.”

Rom hesitated. There was an accusing tone in Boon’s voice, and he realized that she did blame him, after all. She was just too good a soldier not to hide her personal feelings from the rest of the team.

“Go ahead, Sergeant.”

“Retriever II is back at Homestead, sir,” she said, and that also sounded like an accusation, because Rom had insisted that the second ship stay behind. “It’ll take about nine hours for it to reach us. We each have two hours of air in our battle suits. Three, with the scrubbers, maybe four if we induce bio-sleep.”

“What’s your question, Sergeant?” Rom said, failing to hide his irritation.

Boon let out a sharp sigh before continuing.

“Sir, my question is: how can we defend Thirty-two in the time period between now and when Retriever II arrives. How can we defend Retriever II, if none of us are alive. Sir.”

“Because some of us will be alive, Sergeant,” Rom insisted, though the words sounded insincere, even ridiculous, to his own ears. He could not make that promise, but he had already let it out, so he had to find a way to back it up. “Some of our equipment may be second rate, as Link has pointed out—we aren’t a rich people—but our battle suits are the best available. We still have a mission to complete, this rock to secure. Homestead needs it.”

He could have added that Homestead was an act of desperation, an act of foolishness: two hundred people throwing everything to the winds and coming out here to the belt, with resources enough to last a few months, determined to build what they could from the Roids themselves. That was the plan. Harvest the Roids, string a few hundred together in a ring, a massive spinning space habitat, and start their lives anew.

Many had died already, and that was to be expected. They all knew the risks. But the reward was freedom. Real freedom. The kind that they could no longer find on Earth.

“We need this rock,” he repeated. At about one-hundred-and-ten meters in diameter, it was both ore rich and manageable, and its acquisition would see the realization of their dreams. Failure to bring it in would see those dreams crushed. There would be no second chance.

“We’ll defend it, sir,” Boon said, but she sounded unconvinced.

I’m losing them, Rom thought, and he turned his suit, rotating until he could gaze away from the surface, out to the stars. The sight calmed him, brought some focus. This was why he had come. Homestead had made many mistakes, and yes, Intel should have known that the Roid was guarded. Maybe he had been wrong, and they should have deployed both Retrievers to this mission at the same time, but then again, had they been in close proximity, the killer bot might have gotten them both.

“Be vigilant,” he said, just speaking to hear the words. “Beltcorp probably know by now that their bot’s been knocked out. They may send another, or even company troops, if there are any nearby.”

Beltcorp was an Earth-based mining company that had the gall to make a unilateral declaration of ownership of the entire asteroid belt. This outrageous claim was not recognized by competing corporations or governments, but Beltcorp’s ships had made it out here before anyone else. To Beltcorp, the Homesteaders were interlopers, thieves and criminals, and to stop their crimes, the company had seeded the belt with robotic sentinels. It was murder, plain and simple, murder for profit, but so far Rom and his fellow ATT members had given better than they had got. Until today, that is.

“It’s a fact that we only have two to three hours of air each,” he said, “but you all know how these suits work. Oxygen tanks can be linked in series.”

He closed his eyes. This was right.

“We could drop into bio-sleep, and that will conserve our air,” he continued, “but we have to secure this rock against Beltcorp and give Retriever II a chance to get here. We need to be alert and we need more time. Three hours won’t do it. But six might.”

The solution was suddenly clear to him, as was his role in it. It filled him with a strange wild energy.

He glanced to his right. It was too dark to see his companions with his unaided eyes, but his display told him that Boon was there. “Sergeant Boon, come to me at this position.”

Boon arrived a few minutes later, her suit thrusters making a blue glow.

“Here, Commander,” she said. He could see her now from the lights inside her helmet, the lit contours of her face.

He looked into her eyes.

“I can’t order anyone to do what I’m about to do,” he said. “A soldier has to be prepared, at all times, to make the ultimate sacrifice ... which is why I’m transferring command to you, Sergeant Boon. Take my air. This will give you six hours, maybe the entire eight if you drop into bio-sleep. I recommend that five more of us volunteer to donate our air to the other five, but I can’t give anyone that order. That being said, unless we do this, none of us will live long enough to meet Retriever II.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more, sir,” Sergeant Boon said, softly.

“Then take my air tank, Sergeant.”

“No, sir.”

Boon was unclipping her main air tank.

“Stop what you’re doing, Sergeant,” Rom said, understanding at once.

“No, sir. Homestead needs you more than it needs me, and you need to fix this mess.”

“Sergeant Boon, do not remove your air tank!” Rom almost shouted. “That’s an order!”

Boon’s face was receding already, her suit surrounded in blue fire from her thrusters. Her air tank floated in front of Rom, its indicator lights blinking green.

“Take my tank, sir,” Boon said.

“Sergeant Boon, get back here and re-attach your air tank!”

“No, sir,” she said.

Her tank was within arm’s reach, and Rom grabbed it, pulled out the connector tube, plugged it into his tank intake, then secured the extra tank with the clamps provided. He then kicked off from the surface of Thirty-two, hitting his own thrusters, on a heading toward Boon’s location. With her head start, she was accelerating away from him.

After a few seconds, he realized that he would never catch her with suit thrusters alone.

“Boon!” he shouted. “This is insubordination!”

It was mutiny. She had disobeyed him. She had broken his command.

She had taken away his chance at redemption.

Rom killed his thrusters and turned to face back toward Thirty-two.

“Shit,” he said. “Shit, shit!”

“Sir?” came Link’s voice.

Rom did not respond. The asteroid was a dark patch in space, one edge an uneven illuminated crescent. Five small objects were moving away from it, to Rom’s left, all framed in blue flame. His jaw went slack, and he stared in wonder. Five members of his team had given up their air tanks, had given up their lives for their people, without argument or reflection.

He should have been with them.

He drifted, circling the asteroid on a trajectory that took him toward daylight, toward the sun. It broke over the edge of Thirty-two in a bright point of light, compact and distant but still powerful, blinding. Rom raised his hand a second before his helmet display adjusted. His breathing was becoming rapid, and his throat closed, his chest tightening. His sense of self, of his role, was suddenly unclear.

“Sir,” came Link’s voice, flat and dull now, “we’re awaiting orders, sir.”

Rom swallowed. No sound would come from his throat.

“Sir?” came another voice, that of Corporal Ming, his senior NCO now that Boon was gone.

“Something moving toward us, sir,” Link said. “Two objects.”

Rom swallowed again.

“Distance?” he managed, just a croak, though he could see the bogeys on his tactical display. Two objects eleven thousand kilometers away, closing on a trajectory and at a speed that would take them both past the asteroid in about twenty minutes. Two more of Beltcorp’s killer sentinels, no doubt diverted from their hiding places to investigate the destruction of one of their fellows. When they arrived, they would attack.

The bots were a gift, a blessing. They provided direction, and clarity.

“Link and Parcel, target the leading object,” Rom said, his voice gaining strength with every word. “Corporal Ming, Janus, Harding, the trailing. Four-second burns. Wait for my signal.”

The killer bots were easily in range of their battle suit lasers. This was a simple thing.

“Fire one,” he said.

The beams lanced out into the star-speckled black.

“Fire two,” Rom said, after four seconds had passed.

The first target vanished in a bright flash. It took one more four-second burn to do the same to the second target.

“No sign of them, sir,” Link said. “Target destruction confirmed.”

That was it, then. That had to be it. They had won. Rom was sure of it.

Except that he was not so sure.

He used his thrusters to move closer to the asteroid surface, to resume his place in the Collapse formation. Information scrolled across his helmet display. A message appeared in text, a message from Homestead. Retriever II had been dispatched. ETA eight hours.

Rom knew everyone had seen it. They had eight hours.

“Sir,” Link said. “We may have five hours of air left.”

“I’m aware,” Rom said.

“There are six of us, sir,” Link continued. “Three of us can make it. I volunteer—”

“No,” Rom said. “No, Link. No. We’re all getting through this.”

No more deaths. No more failures. He had to stop it.

Link was coming towards him, wreathed in blue flame.

“Stay where you are,” Rom commanded, holding up his hand, palm outward.

“But sir, we need to hold the asteroid for eight more hours,” Corporal Ming said. “There may be more attacks.”

Rom shook his head inside his helmet. Not this. Not again.

“There won’t be,” he said. He was searching, searching for a way out of this, to retrieve his honour. “How many sentinels do you think Beltcorp has to spare? We just destroyed three. There can’t be any more in closer range than Retriever II. You know that.”

“Maybe, sir,” Link said. He was still coming closer.

“Not maybe,” Rom said.

A few more of them could die, could embrace death, or they could all take a chance.

“No more maybes. We’re an elite AAT. I’m your commanding officer. My word is final, understand? I just brought us victory, and I say there’s no way the enemy has anything else to throw at us. All we have to do now is just stay here, sit on this rock, and wait.”

Link had stopped his approach, his thrusters firing in all directions, stabilizing his position.

He doesn’t believe me, Rom thought. He knows I got us into this in the first place, so why should he believe me?

“We’re a team,” Rom continued. “We follow orders. Without that, we have nothing. We all stay together. There won’t be any more attacks, and no more questions. Here’s what we’re doing. We shut down essential systems, induce bio-sleep. We’ll use less air. We can push this to eight hours if we do that.”

“Yes, sir,” Ming said, and the other said it as well, including Link: “Yes, sir.”

Their compliance surprised him. He closed his eyes, unable to speak for a minute, glad they could not see his face.

At last he turned so that his back was to the asteroid, and the sun. The stars lay spread out before him. He waited until the members of his team had all keyed in the suit commands to induce bio-sleep, a safety mode that would put them in a semi-coma, cutting their need for oxygen by two-thirds, and then he did the same. If they were attacked again, they would not be able to respond.

His last view was of the crystal stars.

He awoke in a bright cabin, floating weightless in the cocoon of a sleeping shell. He no longer wore his battle suit. A face loomed above him, the warm, dark features of Doctor Maya Anubis, medical officer.

“Maya,” he said. “What ... what happened?”

“Commander Rom,” she said, placing one cool hand on his forehead. “It’s okay. You’re on the drop ship heading back to Homestead. Retriever II is with us, towing the asteroid.” She smiled. “Your mission succeeded, sir.”

“We survived ... with only five hours of air?”

Maya’s smile did not waver. “You did, sir. We have you all. Your command is safe.”

Rom just nodded and turned his face to the bulkhead.

“Half of my team gave their lives,” he murmured.

But not him. No, that would have been wrong. That would have been retreat, flight, abandonment. He had needed to stay, to snatch victory from the jaws of his defeat, and he would not have done that without Boon’s mutiny. END

Harold R. Thompson works for Parks Canada, but in his spare time he writes. He is an associate member of SFWA. He is the author of three novels, “Dudley’s Fusiliers,” “Guns of Sevastopol,” and the forthcoming “Sword of the Mogul.”


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