Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Au Pair, or Else
by Lee Budar-Danoff

Frail World
by R.A. Conine

Electra Had a Daughter
by Juliana Rew

This Long Vigil
by Rhett C. Bruno

Old Clothes
by Eric Del Carlo

Good Behavior
by Genevieve Williams

Saving Time
by John Hegenberger

World Away
by Alan Garth

Shorter Stories

Dreams to Dust
by Jamie Lackey

Virtual Ghosts
by Adam Gaylord

Olympus Mons
by James E. Guin


Science of Dogs
by John McCormick

Not Lost in Space
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Electra Had a Daughter

By Juliana Rew

CAREFUL, CAREFUL. THIS WAS THE crucial step, stripping out the egg nucleus. There was just the one cell for Gareth Romolo, b. 1992, and she didn’t want to waste him.

God, it reeked of mildew in here. Probably lost a lot of them during the repeated power outages. This area looked dry, though, with a good chance of finding some viable cells. Good thing her mom never had to deal with this shit. Jordan was already in the womb when she did all her tinkering.

“OK, Gary, you’re all egged up.”

She did have good hands for this sort of thing, if she did say so herself. Now to apply a few electrical pulses to get young Gareth going, stick him in the soup, and start the next egg thawing.

Cripes! What was that? Another damned quake. And the power was out again.

“I’m real sorry, Gary. I’m going to have to crawl back out on the surface and find out what’s up with the power plant.” She didn’t need the lights to see—she had more rods and cones than a lemur—but she did need to keep the soup cooking. “I’ll be right back. Just don’t die on me, kid.”


She heard the dull thud as the computer restarted the cooling fans. Back in business. If she wasn’t so paranoid, she’d chalk the frequent power failures to a squirrel in the transformer. They’d spent the last two years carving out lab space for the farms alongside the vaults. Jordan was particularly proud of the nuclear power plant she repaired on the surface. It was on stable ground, but far from shore, which made it hard to find sufficient water. Most of the vaults were radiation hardened, so some of the heating and cooling equipment could be salvaged. They’d even got the computers back online, to run the HVAC. But every now and then, a feral human would stick a wrench in things. She tried not to kill them on the spot, like mosquitos. Mom wouldn’t have liked it.

This vault in Humanity Records Subbuilding A was the first constructed in 1976. Epithelial cell storage from every newborn in the country began as one of those “advanced research” Defense Department projects they could show the public when opposition to the war machine or public scrutiny became too great. They were going to save one cell from each human being so that at some future time genetic duplicates of extraordinary individuals could be constructed. Some people, of course, objected to the project, saying it would produce a “Brave New World” society and ultimately result in the demise of free and random genetic recombination.

Proponents of the project pointed out that even if “test tube” babies became possible, it would be a long time before the DNA present in every cell of an individual could be mapped, duplicated, and properly divided for construction of compatible egg and sperm cells or full cloning. So the uproar died down, luckily for everyone in this brave new world.


Jordan couldn’t see how they expected her crew to pull 44,000 individuals out of vaults all over this unpredictable, heaving continent. They’d waited two years for the dust to settle from the war, and now had a better understanding about how many died.

Pretty much everyone.

She pulled out a drawer containing one hundred slides and headed to the lab. Storing cells this way was a tremendous waste of space, but nowadays space was cheap. Frankie CX2 (no relation) sat at the microscope, fine hypodermic in hand. He wore surgical gloves, and sported a blue caduceus tattoo on his dark bicep from his days as an army medic.

“Hi, Frankie. How’s it going?”

“This is stupid, Jordan.”

“Yeah, I agree that it’s ridiculously slow. Any ideas how we can automate this?”

“No, I mean trying to resurrect humans. They are not our friends, Jordan.”

“Well, we’re creating babies. They’ve got to like us. We’re their parents, for chrissakes.”

“Yes, and as soon as they find out we’re superior, they’re going to hate us. I don’t understand why Dr. Electra wanted to keep them at less than fifty percent. Humans aren’t gods, you know.”

Jordan thought again about her mother, Dr. Evangeline Electra. She was one of the missing or dead, and she was the former brains of the outfit. She proposed this project to reconstruct enough humans to ensure robust genetic variability. If unsuccessful, humanity would be in danger of going back to square one, perilously close to its state in the mythical Garden of Eden.

“It’s to preserve diversity, Frankie. We can exceed that fifty percent limit later, when we know better what we’re doing. You know, you need to get out more and talk to people.”

Jordan had been with the U.N. Humanity Records Division for ten years now. She’d always been intrigued by the idea of creating a new Albert Einstein or even a great recreational software specialist like Eleanor DuBois. Mme DuBois died before she was born, but everybody still played her computer games on Friday nights, if only in single-user mode. Also, it was the only place she could get a job. Her mother had crossed the line in replacing her biological equipment with nanobots and other enhancements. It was against the law to claim you were human if you were less than fifty percent human original. Mom herself was right below the line, but she couldn’t resist making her daughter bigger, smarter, and stronger than all of the other kids. Jordan’s father deserted them when he found out. She became Jordan CX2 (formerly Downton), somewhere outside Colorado Springs.

“But I agree it’s ironic, Frankie, a cyborg saving humanity,” Jordan added. She promised herself that if she got the chance she would rebuild her mother. Of course, it wouldn’t really be her, just a clone.

Frankie grumbled, but returned to work. It was beginning to rain meteorites, and it was playing havoc with their schedule.


A dozen CX2s were assigned at this HRD facility. Its location far underground provided protection against the pulses that shut down electronic devices worldwide. They operated autonomously, unlike the CX1s, who were tied to the Network.

After DNA mapping became routine, the saving of cells was discontinued as unnecessary. Luckily, a lot of infertile women routinely froze their eggs, hoping to implant fertilized embryos at a later date. None of those women were alive today. Jordan felt apologetic for not using their eggs for their intended purpose, but at least she was putting them to good use. The sperm banks? They were just too delicate to survive under the much-less-than-ideal conditions.

During the war, HRD continued to maintain the cell vaults, putting cyborgs like Jordan in charge. She never liked the term, “cyborg,” but she couldn’t deny that CX2s were well suited to the drudgery of vault maintenance. She never took a day off, and she never called in sick. It was a small price to pay in return for being allowed to continue living. Not quite slavery, really. More like indentured servitude; cyborgs continued to push the envelope of what was considered “human” and trusted that someday they would be let in under that growing umbrella.

Since Jordan had joined HRD, however, the world had suffered some pretty unbelievable natural disasters, like the eruptions in the Pacific Rim basin, followed by electromagnetic pulse warfare, as nations blamed each other for what Nature was doing to them. Some of the religious called it the “End Times.” Humanity lost the Network, along with the ability to retrieve and decipher the electronic DNA records its forebears had so painstakingly constructed. So, it was back to the cells.

Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.


“We’ve got 10 batches of New People hatched and shipped to their foster parents, and the next-to-last batch growing in the tanks,” Jordan said, checking the whiteboard. “I’m not too worried about the meteorites—New Telluride will probably hold up fine.”

The habitat of New Telluride was a well-known secret, engineered to house 100,000—the 50,000 or so pure human survivors, their artificially grown diverse foster children, and their caretakers. Tucked away off the beaten track high in the Rockies, it was a nod to the biblical metaphor of “the City on the Hill.” Jordan felt proud of her role in preserving what was left of the world.

Still, it was better to err on the side of caution, and she boxed up the completed embryos, put the cryocase in the dumbwaiter, and lowered it to a room another two hundred feet below the original vault. The safety room.

“’Bye, kids. You’re my reason for living.” She tried to sound sarcastic, but it was true. The humans in New Telluride were liberal as hell, but out in the hinterland, the Dark Ages were back. Those who still believed in God had the idea that they had to die purely human before they could go to heaven when God called the worthy on doomsday.

Jordan didn’t buy that. She treasured her human parts, but once her mother told her she was cyborg, she took advantage of every cybernetic upgrade they could come up with. Upgrades had come to a halt, of course, but hers were good for another couple hundred years anyway. She wasn’t goody-goody enough to want to live forever, but she didn’t want to be smashed, drowned, or incinerated while the world fell apart, either. Doomsday had arrived, but the creators of New Telluride wanted to fight back rather than hope for the Rapture. Some of the neighbors were just going to be a little—different.

The alarm sounded at the front entrance. Pretty cheeky of someone to come right to the door. No one ever said people were intelligent.

Jordan boarded the express elevator to the surface and felt several gees pressing on the soles of her feet. As she reached the top, she detected a fluorescent green heat signature in her peripheral vision, possibly a feral human. She pressed the button on the intercom.

“You are in a restricted area. State your business.”

“Um, I’ve come from Fort Crandall to offer you the use of our seed banks.”

Fort Crandall? She’d grown up there, but nobody here knew that. She and her mom were boutique farmers, growing unusual varieties of veggies and the occasional medicinal weed. They often visited the North American Seed Bank to buy stock, and once went on a pilgrimmage to the Genealogical Center library, there to try to determine what became of Jordan’s father who left when she was an infant. She learned that her dad was a real nutter, and he hated cyborgs and androids. Oh, well, that was his loss.

“Hello, Jordan,” the man said, coming right up to her as she rolled the chain-link gate open. Like he knew she was here and was waiting for her to show up.

“Chris?” Her heart would have skipped a beat if that were possible.

“You were expecting someone else? Long time, no see.”

It hadn’t been all that long. Maybe ten years? Jordan and Chris had a little “thing” when they were teens, before the disasters. Then cyborgs were banned, Jordan and her mother moved to southern Colorado, and she started working for HRD.

Not that long at all.


“My dad was killed when the rioters destroyed the Genealogical Center,” Chris said. “Your cyborg buddies came in to take care of everything at the seed bank in Fort Crandall. That’s how I heard about this place.

“People said all you cyborgs were killers,” he added. “I knew that was bull, of course. You are nothing like your father—he’s the real killer.”

She didn’t know if that was entirely true. After they were forced from their home, her mom had to talk her out of leaving a path of destruction all the way south to U.N. Sanctuary. She remembered she especially hated those little shits who kept vandalizing her farm. But that was in the past. There was a whole new generation of little shits to bring up now.

Chris asked her to come back with him, gazing at her with cool blue eyes that needed no augmentation. “Everyone in Fort Crandall’s a cyborg. You don’t know how good it is to talk to a real person for a change.”

Jordan refrained from reminding him that she was not a real person, either, technically. But she owed him a lot for helping her figure out who she really was. Plus, he was a fox. A shame about his father. He was a rational guy, like Chris, and even better looking. Jordan still had human reproductive capabilities, “full backward compatibility,” as her mom put it.

It took little convincing before she agreed they could use the seedstock to feed the growing population of New Telluride. She touched her comm to let Frankie know that she and Chris were going to hit the seed banks at Fort Crandall.

“Hey, Frankie. It’s time to start growing some crops. Lotta hungry mouths, you know.”

“What? With the meteor showers? Are you nuts? No, I take that back as a question.”

“They’re pretty harmless. Usually just one every minute or so, and most don’t even reach the ground,” she replied. “They’ll be gone by the time I get back from Fort Crandall.”

Just before daylight, Jordan and Chris took a skimmer for the three hour trip north to Fort Crandall, enjoying the negative ions and cool air on their skins. Jordan was a little shocked at all the nothingness. This used to be verdant, fertile farming country, but it had reverted to untended prairies, parching under a high ultraviolet August sky. They flew over the ruins of the Genealogical Center—hit or burned down by humans who wanted to destroy any records of claims on land and money by the likes of Jordan and her mother. She remembered that over the library entrance a motto was carved: “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

Outside of the former town limits, a simple marker identified the location of the seed bank. Like the humanity vaults, the plant seeds were kept underground. Jordan examined the front door. It only weighed a couple of hundred pounds, possibly sufficient to hold back the wrath of God. Chris typed in some codes on the entry pad, and the door opened obligingly.

Banks of lights began turning on, starting at the front and marching into the invisible distance. Neatly labeled boxes filled the shelves. The place seemed to be in a lot better shape than the HRD facility.

They loaded up an assortment of winter wheat varieties, as well as other crops to plant in late summer, before the first frosts in October. Plus, of course, some heirloom tomatoes, which she’d grow under hothouse lights. She could taste the tang already and daydreamed about culturing some peaches too. She secured the bed with force-field locks. Chris seemed a little sad about leaving his home, while Jordan looked forward eagerly to showing him all they’d accomplished at the humanity vault. So what if it was a little messy?

“Ever heard of Gareth Romolo? I cloned him, and he’s a toddler now,” she said proudly as they flew the skimmer back.

“Yeah, that sounds familiar. Wasn’t he an autistic savant that they managed to augment so that he could communicate with people? A mathematical genius, as I recall.”

Chris was right. Gareth was one of the first subjects who demonstrated that it was possible to upgrade the brain of ordinary, or even defective, humans and make them productive members of society. Jordan had taken the liberty of upgrading Gareth the Second’s brain interface with nanoreceptors before handing him off to his foster parents, and she hoped they were going to be amazed at how well their little genius baby measured up to the original. She didn’t upgrade Gary’s strength and agility, though. That was still strictly a no-no.

Upon arrival at the silo housing the HRD vault, they unloaded the skimmer into the elevator, and started to descend to the fiftieth basement. In her excitement, Jordan didn’t notice anything wrong at first. Then Chris began to wheeze a little, and she checked the air. Bad. She stuck her pincer in the emergency lock and stopped the elevator.

“Listen, Chris,” Jordan said. “Something’s on the blink with the HVAC, as usual. I’ve got to go down by myself. I’ll take you back up and return for you in a bit. Why don’t you wait by the skimmer?”

Chris nodded, and they returned to the top.

“Thanks, Chris, back in a sec,” Jordan said, practically pushing him out the elevator doors.

She headed back down, tapping impatiently while the elevator slowly gathered momentum and dinged its way to fifty. “What do I have to do, get some canaries, for chrissake? There aren’t any infants right now, but there’s about to be. Whoa!”

The elevator bounced a little and stopped.

The doors slid open to total darkness. Another violation of protocol. Or another disaster. Or unwanted company. At this thought, she activated everything she had, including the kevlar bots, which immediately rushed to cover every inch of her skin. It felt claustrophobic, but at least she wouldn’t die if somebody took a shot at her.

There was no sound. Where was everybody? Not all of the CXs breathed air, or needed to, but she should hear something, if only some mechanical hums and whispers. Nope.

“Hello?” she ventured. “It’s Jordan. Anybody home?” She gave herself a tiny dose of beta blocker for the butterflies in her stomach and started broadcasting on the CX communication wavelengths. She wasn’t even hearing static.

Maybe this wasn’t human visitors. They’re usually clumsy and loud. She worried that it was rogue CX. No need to be overly paranoid, she told herself, as she noted that no weapons were missing from the armory. She picked out the biggest stun weapon from the rack and started a quick recon. Her brain felt like it was sizzling, in spite of the beta blocker. She hadn’t had to do a security sweep in a long time, so maybe it was jitters.

She checked the farms on the fiftieth level next. The vaults were above, on the thirtieth, but she had planned to show this to Chris first. A momentary panic hit her. If anything’s gone wrong with the kids ...

Someone had applied a hydraulic breaker to the farm doors, which lay twisted off to the side. She flipped the switches on the electrical panel to restore power. She hoped she was in time to get things cooking again. The lights instantly glared on, and the soup control board sprang to life, red warnings flashing. An indistinct form lay sprawled across the floor. Frankie CX2. Or most of him. A smashed stunner lay by his unconscious body, and a little blood and nanofluid leaked from a sizable hole in his chest.

“Frankie!” Jordan cried. He stirred.

“I told you this was stupid, Jordan.”

“What happened? I leave you alone for a couple of hours, and everything goes to hell. Where is everybody?”

“Dead, or offline, I think. At first we thought it was EMPs from lightning, or from the meteor showers. By the time we figured what was going on, it was too late.”

“Who did this?” she said, her voice rising. Who could kill CXs like this?

“You aren’t going to want to hear this, but I think it’s Randall Downton’s troglodytes.”

Jordan’s pupils dilated just a smidge. She never was perfect at controlling her autonomic reflexes, especially whenever her father’s name was mentioned.

“But I don’t see or hear anyone in the vault,” she pointed out. “Especially clumsy ferals.”

“They’ve got some kind of jamming equipment. Maybe an advanced EMP weapon. It interferes with our sensors. I was out cold until just now.”

Now that she thought of it, her brain did seem fuzzy since she’d got back.

“Will you be all right? I’m going to go look for them. Then we can get you fixed up.”

Frankie grunted assent. Jordan repurposed some of her corrective nanobots and watched as they streamed off her and jumped into Frankie’s chest hole. She added a coat of camo mesh to her kevlar and tweaked her adrenalin levels to counteract the beta blocker. No time for relaxing now. “See you later.”

“Not if I see you first,” Frankie said.

Jordan wondered if her dad knew about the safety level. She hoped not, but guessed he probably was up at thirty, the main level containing the slides. She decided not to ride the elevator, instead monkey-climbing the cable hoping to elude detection.

As she got close to level thirty, she heard electronic chatter. The bastards probably thought all the CX2s were out of commission. She did her best ninja impression and sneaked out into the hallway.

“Hurry up. Pack as many as you can into the freezer and get it up to the transport,” a voice said. Yep, it was Dad all right. She’d met him once, sort of, when she broke up one of his fascist pep rallies. Chris pulled her out of there before she could knock his block off.

Creeping forward, she heard the whine of a stun weapon powering up. She dodged in time to avoid being fried, but she couldn’t get up right away. Boots stopped near her head, and a barrel pointed at her.

“It’s a female CX2,” someone said. “The harpy’s got blonde hair, like a person.” How had they seen her? She looked at her hand and discovered that she was shimmering as the energy dissipated.

Her father sauntered over. “The new anti-CX countermeasures are working great. This one must have some human component, or else she’d be toast like the others. Finish loading up these drawers and then get rid of her.” The old reprobate didn’t even recognize her. Or maybe he did.

She tried to talk.

“If you take all the slides, there’s not going to be enough for the human species to survive.”

“It’s too late, anyway,” he retorted. “You’ve been adding CX to the New Children, and we can’t have that. It’s better for humanity to die out than to go cyborg.”

She almost laughed. Her crazy father. He was obsessed with his lineage. Mom had spent many hours in the genealogical records tracking down his ancestors. What they found was pretty disturbing. He had relatives who were hunted down during the Salem witch trials, Nazis who persecuted Jews and Russians, royalty who tortured and killed dissenters, coal barons who hired thugs to break strikes and kill unionists, bootleggers, suicides, fly-by-night con men, failed entrepreneurs, and on and on. Even the relatives who weren’t criminals or insane had unfortunate pasts, such as imprisonment in the poorhouse.

Her mom said that eventually Randall came to the conclusion that his bloodlines were irreparably tainted with bad luck, horror, and violent death. He was impressed with her Ph.D. in biotechnology, and the fact that she was forty percent android. Irrationally perhaps, he thought he could break the streak by mixing some of her synthetic blood into the family. But then he went ballistic when he found out she augmented Jordan to survive anything short of a direct nuclear hit.

She was recovering quickly and was about to take Downton out, when she heard a yell, and laser fire erupted all over the place. Scorched air overloaded her olfactory sensors. Cripes, it’s Chris!

“Let’s get out of here,” he said, pulling her up onto her knees. “This whole place is about to go up.”

Up where? she wondered groggily.

They staggered to the elevator, where a couple of CX2s, including Frankie, were waiting in various states of deshabillement. After everyone was up and out on the surface, Chris turned his laser on the blast doors to seal them. He then began to run. Too slow, little man. Jordan picked him up and sprinted for the skimmer at full tilt.

A giant whomp shook the ground under their feet. She scowled at Chris, too mad to cry. Yet. She was sure he thought he had saved her yet again. She couldn’t bear the thought of all those children who’ll never be again.

“Don’t worry, pretty lady,” he said, either referring to her dayglo skin or verifying her conjecture that he thought he was her knight in shining armor. “While I was waiting around for you, I saw Downton’s goons getting slides out of the vault, and decided things had gone south.”

“Very far south,” she responded petulantly. “Now what’s Earth going to do for a dominant species?”

“Don’t worry,” Chris said again, with a smile. “Your dad’s out of the picture, and there’s plenty of room at the seed bank to finish the project.” He pulled back a camo cloud, revealing seven military grade skimmers loaded to the scuppers with slide drawers.

“Oh,” was all she could manage. A change of scenery might be nice, after all.

Jordan, Chris, and the CX2s arrived at Fort Crandall and began unloading their precious cargo of slides and the protobabies they had excavated from the safety level. Jordan held the doors as a CX2 wearing camo greeted them. Only her head was visible.

“Well, hello strangers. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”

“Hi, Dr. Electra,” Chris said, while Jordan stood there speechless, hastily revising her sense of history.

It was the mother of us all. END

Juliana Rew is a former science writer for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO. Her stories have appeared in “Bards and Sages Quarterly,” “Stupefying Stories,” and “The Colored Lens.” She is a member of SFWA.


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