Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Running Tangent
by Dale Ivan Smith
and K.C. Ball

Food, Glorious Food
by Joey To

by Dave Creek

by Siobhan Gallagher

An Island in Your Arms
by James Patrick Riser

Rim’s End
by John Walters

by Holly Schofield

Ooze Love
by Andrew James Woodyard

Shorter Stories

Deus Ex Machina
by Erin Lale

It’s, Like, So Boring at the End of the World
by Amy Sisson

by Robin Wyatt Dunn


Making Sense of it All
by Libby McGugan

Is There Life in Space?
by Peter Cawdron



Comic Strips





By Holly Schofield

WHEN MCSORREL PUT HIS HAND OUT to shake the hand of the man in the smartchair, he paid very little attention to the pink-uniformed female attendant who, following safety protocols, had pushed that man in through the lobby doors. Keeping his military-straight posture, even though his hips were on fire, and greeting his replacement with dignity took all McSorrel’s concentration.

With a cry of glee, the attendant snatched the bag—the usual ragged orange duffel—off the man’s lap and ran deeper into the retirement home.

McSorrel’s curse drowned out the other man’s shout. McSorrel pushed off the wall and broke into a tilting sort of run, fighting against the pain. The man in the smartchair—a Major Gorski, the text communiqué had said—accelerated behind him, tires whirring on the worn rubber flooring.

McSorrel entered the sunlit lounge moments after the attendant. Unlike most recruits, the girl seemed to know where she was headed.

“Go, girl, go!” a bald and wrinkled resident yelled after the girl, cackling. “Don’t let the evil Libby man get you!” The resident raised her cup of tea in salute as McSorrel thumped past.

The girl, now a pink blur at the far end of the lounge, smacked open the door of the Dining Hall.

McSorrel managed a trot, through the empty Hall, then a left to Nursing, then a right to the Gamesroom, staying on the safety-strips all the way. No sense in triggering an alarm.

The girl had some kind of plan. She had to be today’s recruit. Jaxon had implied that the recruit would be arriving later with a school choir but he timed the daily initiations randomly, knowing it would help keep McSorrel’s skills sharp.

McSorrel grinned. His joints would pay for this tonight and he’d failed at reconnaissance, but the chase would be fun, like that time he had tailed the Prime Minister’s car endlessly through the rainy Ottawa streets. His grin faded as his thoughts took a well-worn path. That incident, with all of its implied threats, had triggered the Crackdown, the beginning of the end of the LRM—the Libertarian Resistance Movement—the beginning of the end of everything.

If Gorski had been following at a slow and safe chair speed, he was too far back for McSorrel to hear. McSorrel could hardly hear his own grunts as he jogged, hip screaming with pain at every step. He’d take the pain—this, and more. He wasn’t like today’s softies, those weaklings born after the Nielsen Act of North York. Coddled by the state. Softened by society. Protected by the NANY Act from birth to grave. The girl up ahead had, most likely, never suffered a hangnail, a bruise, or harsh word. Well, that would change. Today.

Through the Media Room now, past startled glances of bedridden residents turning from the giant wall screen to watch his progress. In a moment, he was out the other side, entering the Dorms, the girl’s heels disappearing around the next corner.

The buzz of Gorski’s smartchair snuck up behind him, growing louder.

A crash up ahead. The girl had probably fallen, failed the test already, like so many recruits before her. Was no one under thirty competent enough to continue the LRM cause?

McSorrel careened around the corner, bouncing a shoulder off the far wall as he overshot a bit. The girl was still on her feet at the far end. A robot stood frozen, a meter from the bedroom door it had just exited, a spilled tray of dirty dishes at its feet. The safety-strips on the floor flashed an angry orange.

Bag slung over her shoulder, the girl skidded madly, halting at one of the unmarked doors.

“Maintenance, Maintenance,” the door intoned. “Are you authorized?” The girl danced in impatience.

“You bet I am, hey,” the girl said, laying her palm on the panel. The door opened slowly but the girl waited for confirmation, jittering, breathing hard. McSorrel smiled. He’d reach her in a second or two. She’d probably never seen a door that just took your word for it. The Stirling Retirement Home for LRM Survivors contained a few minor victories like that, all bittersweet—a sop on the part of the feds who no longer feared the dying libertarian movement.

With a startled look at McSorrel, the girl dived through the gap. The door glided shut behind her with a reminder to watch her step. McSorrel slowed to maneuver around the still-frozen bot. His elbow erupted in fire. His arm twisted and he staggered.

“Sorry, Commander,” Gorski called over his shoulder as he handwheeled by, millimeters from the bot, biceps bulging.

McSorrel put a hand against the wall, hip in agony as always. And, lately, his damned lungs wouldn’t let him catch his breath. He clamped down on the pain, sucked in air, and forged onward.

Gorski was arguing with the door by the time McSorrel caught up. How had he gotten there so fast? It shouldn’t be possible to override the smartchair’s maximum speed.

“Residents in smartchairs are not allowed in the lower levels,” the door repeated.

Gorski scowled up at McSorrel, blue eyes snapping. “Nanny’s filthy fingers! I thought it was different in here!”

“Those patronizing federal bastards gave us The Stir, not personal accountability. You forgot we lost the blasted war?” McSorrel pressed the brightly-labeled manual override that was far above Gorski’s head before yanking open the door with a popping of his shoulder joint. As he crossed the threshold onto the landing, he sub-vocalized a command, muting the legislated medical advice that played through the communications bud on his temple. Painkillers were out of the question, and he wasn’t ready to admit to himself about the shortness of breath. Gorski rolled through after him, thumping up against the landing’s safety rail. The narrow service ramp descended in a tight helix, designed for bots, not people.

The girl was halfway down, orange bag smacking the wall with regular thumps as she trotted.

Gorski peered over the railing. “Damn! I can’t fit down the ramp! And my bag’s getting smashed!”

“Who cares about the bag?” McSorrel snapped.

“It’s my stuff, Commander. When they discharged me from Leet Cadre ...” Gorski droned on but McSorrel stopped listening. Gorski wasn’t going to make a good recruiter. He couldn’t manage the physical chase. He didn’t grasp that the LRM-standardized orange duffel was just a plant, an ugly yet serviceable symbol filled with scrap plastic—something for kids like this girl to snatch to prove themselves in order to get entry to the LRM underground. And Leet Cadre? That was humorous—that this chubby, not-too-bright guy could code with the best of the best. McSorrel would have to tell Jaxon that Gorski just wasn’t going to work out.

McSorrel rubbed a hip. He was pretty much the last of the real rebels, other than Jaxon, the fellow that sent him the recruits. And Jaxon—or whatever his real name was—had settled at a comfortable level: a Gen Z wannabe-soldier, acting as a well-placed mole in a provincial department. Without dedicated soldiers and fresh recruits, the LRM was fading away with hardly a whimper. What did McSorrel have to show for his decades of effort? His wife had left him years ago, shaking her head at what she called his over-dedication to the cause. The older LRM members were either in jail or in retirement homes like The Stir—like him, failing bodies, failing minds. Osteoarthritis had stiffened McSorrel’s pelvis so much he’d sat on the edge of the bed for a full fifteen minutes this morning before he could stand. He was hardly any use to anyone until his new hip came through.

At the bottom, the girl straight-armed the exit door open and it softly closed itself behind her.

“She’s headed into the Print Shop.” McSorrel pressed the elevator call button on his left. He was beginning to be impressed by her. He’d never had to chase a kid beyond the Service hallway before. Last week’s recruit, a tall thin boy, had made it as far as the Dining Hall before McSorrel had lobbed a flower vase at his head. Thanks to good medical treatment, the kid had left the hospital that same day, no permanent damage, no scars. A good example of what was wrong with the world.

McSorrel stepped past Gorski, into the narrow elevator car designed for bots.

“This day was clotted enough, checking into a retirement home. I didn’t expect to get robbed, too.” Gorski said, doing a neat spin so he could back into the elevator. His chair clanged against the door frame, slightly too wide to fit.

“Sorry, pal, I’ll twin you in on my bud but you’ll have to stay up here. Besides, it’s not even a real robbery.” McSorrel tapped the bud on his temple before subvocalizing the command. He made a sympathetic face at Gorski which he twisted off his mouth as soon as the door slid shut. Forty years in the LRM upper echelons, only to end up here, recruiting children. He’d wasted his life trying to fix the world—a mouse nibbling on an elephant—trying to make activists out of pampered sissies and obedient sheep. This girl would probably be standing at the bottom of the elevator, waiting to be told what to do.

His life was heading downward as fast as the elevator. His hips burned and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. He wanted to handle each recruit himself, but how much longer could he? He’d have to tell Jaxon to stop the recruiting missions entirely until his new hip template came through next month. And his lungs would just have to keep on working.

The elevator beeped, the door opened and said, “Printshop.” Bots milled about under bright cadmium safety lights, crisscrossing the warehouse-sized room, moving bins of waste between the incoming chutes and the humming 3D printers that lined the walls. Next to McSorrel, a hopper noisily crunched hard plastic tubing into processable bits.

The girl hadn’t gone far. She stood, hands on hips, scanning the walls for something. As McSorrel stepped into the room, she darted forward into the rushing bots, apparently aiming for the biggest printer directly across the room. A large bot, pulling a cart, was right in the girl’s path. She increased her speed, heading directly for it.

“Watch out, it won’t—!” McSorrel bit off his shout. She’d have to learn the hard way that it wouldn’t stop.

At the last instant, the girl threw up her hands but couldn’t slow. The smack, flesh against metal, was audible above the din. The girl crumpled and the agitated bot rolled away, beeping in confusion, its bin discarded, lights blinking furiously.

McSorrel let his bulk loom over the girl where she lay on the concrete floor. She was wide-eyed but said nothing. He held in most of his pleased grin.

“Have you got her? Grab the bag!” Gorski’s voice bellowed through McSorrel’s bud.

“No worries, old man. Her wrist is broken. She’s not going anywhere,” McSorrel replied, louder than the subvocalization needed, catching her eye and letting his grin ooze wider.

The girl started, then looked at her crooked wrist, tangled in the bag strap. She sat up, let go of the bag, and cradled her hand in her lap.

“What’s your name, kid?” McSorrel leaned against the robot’s bin, as if he didn’t need the support.

“Kyre.” Her tone was defiant, angry even, but not sullen.

“A good run, Kyre. But you lost.” McSorrel put a deliberate snarl in the last few words. Jaxon had all these ideas about building rapport with the recruits, but he was too young to have combat experience, he hadn’t been part of the first wave. He didn’t know what it meant to consistently fail at everything.

“Get clotted! It’s not over yet.” Her eyes were moist but her voice held firm.

“Cut the slang,” McSorrel pretend-snapped.

“The runt, the freeloader, I’m gonna kill her!” Through the bud, Gorski’s livid voice was almost loud enough for Kyre to hear. Too bad Gorski wasn’t with them.

“Let’s just talk, Kyre. Sure you didn’t get the target bag far enough. But you get points for trying.” He suspected his craggy face didn’t look as kindly as his tone suggested. Years of masking his emotions during government-LRM negotiations had turned him into a hell of a poker player. But he’d play the good cop for a bit, then get meaner. Like people broke horses, back in the day.

“Mom said you would beat me up. So go ahead.” The girl got to her knees, eyes still holding his.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Mom, my mom, she’s your daughter.” The girl picked up the duffel. “Gram, I mean Marie, your ex-wife, didn’t tell you she was pregnant when she left you, did she?”

McSorrel fought a wave of nausea, gripping the bin for support. He’d have to sit down soon. His hips were near collapse, his lungs hurt, and this girl’s babbling was making his head spin. Gorski was no help, muttering away in his ear.

The girl was still talking, still holding the bag in her good hand, as she stood. “Gram raised us all as resistance fighters, deep underground.”


“You old clotter, you don’t even know as much classified info as I do.” The girl’s bravado was admirable but the words made no sense.

“Try me, kid.”

“You know the person who sends you communiqués from the movement? Did you know she’s female?”

“Jaxon? Why do I care what gender Jaxon is?”

“Because of what I call her. I call her Mom. She’s your daughter.”

The world was spinning. The last thing McSorrel saw, before blackness closed in, was a dizzying view of the girl dodging between bots, orange bag slung in the crook of her elbow.


Blessed relief and a feeling of lassitude. Brightness burnt into McSorrel’s skull and he opened his eyes. He was flat on the Print Shop floor looking up at the ceiling’s glare. The girl, Kyre—his granddaughter!—sprawled not five meters away, trapped somehow under a bot, glowering at him.

Gorski was saying something through the bud—it was hard to make out over his ringing ears.


“You blacked out. I fixed you up.” Gorski’s voice was guarded.

“How?” He squeezed out the word between the receding swells of pain.

“I told your bud to give you maximum painkillers. My coding is strong, eh. It’s my pelvis that’s as soft as Styrofoam. Took a federal gel-pop in the waist a few years ago.”

Could that be? Was Gorski a real Leet Cadre vet, injured in the line of duty? He would have had to hack the cameras down here to know what was going on. That was almost as hard as a med-system hack.

“You’re gonna feel all loosey for a while. Should I call a medbot?”

“No!” McSorrel raised himself onto his elbows. “That’d trigger a file in the system.” He hesitated. How much did he trust Gorski? He subvocalized and looked away from Kyre in case she could lip-read. “The docs don’t know how bad it is. Voluntary med readings and all that.”

“You’re kidding. Why go through that hassle?”

McSorrel snorted. Why go through any of it? Why fight in the underground his whole life instead of taking a cushy federal job? Everyone had their reason—he was sure Gorski did too—but no way was McSorrel going to tell Gorski about his mother, how she’d lost her job as a Ranger when the National Parks closed due to safety concerns, how she’d ended up prematurely in a home like this one, with her mouth in a permanently flat line and her eyes dim.

He’d give Gorski another reason.

“Painkillers are the thin edge of the wedge, Major. You need more and then more. I’ve seen it happen with the other residents here. And, besides, if it became public record, the LRM would take me off as recruiter. I’d just be an old man drinking tea in a rocking chair.”

Gorski’s voice had lost its angry edge. “We all face it. The day we think we can’t carry on. I thought it was the Crackdown. Then I thought it was the day I couldn’t walk any more. But I was wrong both times.”

McSorrel closed his eyes. He told his bud to drop the meds a bit, reducing the inner glow almost instantly. A new communiqué pipped at him and he opened his eyes. Jaxon, telling him that the replacement, a man in his fifties, had wimped out, had decided that being a recruiter wasn’t for him. “Too harsh on the kids,” Jaxon had quoted him. He wouldn’t be coming. Jaxon would keep looking for another candidate.

Jaxon—his daughter, Jaxon. McSorrel put that aside to think about later."Gorski? Jaxon didn’t send you? You’re not the replacement recruiter?” He must have raised his voice above sub-voc because Kyre started.

“Who’s Jaxon? Those meds are making you fuzzy. I’m just an old guy who’s been around too long. My kids decided it’s time I entered a home.” Gorski hesitated and McSorrel waited it out. “But I’m good for a few years yet. My number should come up on the pelvis replacement list pretty soon. It’s been three months already.”

McSorrel sat up, trying not to wince, hating how the meds blunted his thoughts. “What’s with the girl?” She was still motionless, eyes flashing, legs splayed.

“I tapped into the bot and rigged it. Pinned her down good.”

McSorrel squinted. The bot held Kyre’s ankle fast against the floor with one of its pincers. She stared at him, chin high, with that same haughty look that Marie had always had.

Gorski continued. “You distracted her when you fell. I bet she’s never seen a person faint before, at least not in an unattended situation.”

“Glad I could help,” McSorrel said, letting the sarcasm drip.

“No problem. But I could use a briefing, Commander.”

McSorrel drew in some air, assembling his thoughts, then spoke loudly, including Kyre in the conversation. “Fair enough. Let’s start with Jaxon. Works in Social Services. In his—er, her—late thirties, Gen Z, but one of ours. She teaches today’s kids about the real world, about risk, danger, self-determinism, all the things we fought for.” He stood, still huffing, his hips almost numb. “The kids learn how to plan, how to control their actions, how to set goals. Jaxon tells them that getting the oh-so-valuable orange bag out of The Stir is an initiation test, a mission. She makes it sound illegal and fun.” McSorrel managed to straighten all the way up. The meds did help.

Gorski grunted in response. Kyre looked smug and not at all surprised that the orange bag was full of junk.

McSorrel processed that as he marshaled his thoughts. “Next, Major, that waiting list you’re on. Bad news. It favors the younger candidates; I’ve seen our vets hover at the bottom of the list for five years or more. You’re in that contraption for a while yet.” In his own case, only a month, and his new hip would be ready. The bottleneck was always in the design of the 3D template. The actual printing would take minutes and the replacement surgery just minutes more.

“Finally, Kyre. She’s the best I’ve seen this year. Just needs some guidance, some toughening up. And, she ... well, I guess she’s my granddaughter.” He looked over at her, illogically proud.

“Hey, Gramps, Free to Bleed, isn’t that one of your slogans?” She pulled herself to her feet, leaning on the motionless bot, holding a shoe. Blood soaked her uniform pant cuff and streamed down her ankle where it must have scraped against the pincers as she’d eased it out. She grabbed the orange bag and, limping, headed for the large printer.

The meds had fogged McSorrel’s reflexes. When he reached the machine, Kyre had already scrambled to its top. Her head bobbed, disappearing from sight then reappearing, as she crawled over the contents: rags, old towels, torn clothing. Why head back there? At one side, a bot jacked itself into the printer, making setting changes in preparation for a print job. The hopper blinked warning lights.

McSorrel gripped the top of the hopper and chinned himself. He got his head over the edge and ... no farther. He dropped back to the floor, fingers tingling, shoulders and neck on fire.

He was gasping in agony by the time he squeezed past the bot at the control panel and rounded the corner of the hopper to the back of the printer. Kyre was now climbing the metal wall one-handed, the pack held in the elbow of her injured arm. Stapled electrical cables provided handholds. She reached a metal shelf several meters over his head.

“Hey, Gramps?” She knelt in front of a small covered vent between the cables and began to cut the wire mesh with a pair of hand cutters that appeared from nowhere. “Mom said to make sure you see me win, hey.” She wrenched the vent cover off the rest of the way and dropped it and the cutters with a clang.

“Not yet, you haven’t.” He’d climb the cables after her. He just needed a minute to recover. He bent forward slightly, trying to ease the fiery agony of his hips.

“I have so, hey. This shelf up here is not part of The Stir. I got the bag this far. I win.” Kyre smirked and eased herself over the duffel toward the duct opening. “Don’t even have to take it with me.”

McSorrel ran a quick check through his bud. It was true. Some quirk in the property title—the utility company owned the wall space and shelf behind the printer. She’d won on a technicality. He found himself beaming up at her. “Girl, you make a grandpa proud. Tell Marie to buzz me, will ya?”

“Gram? She doesn’t want to see you, but Mom said to tell you she’ll be in touch.” With a mocking tap on her brow, she was gone. Loud scuffling and hollow banging sounds grew fainter as she disappeared down the duct. The bag remained slumped on the shelf, its faded slogan—"In a nanny state, no one dies but no one learns how to live” —distorted by the bulging contents.

At the control panel, the bot started up the printer. With a whoosh, the hopper began to churn like a giant washing machine.

McSorrel gave Gorski a quick update, shouting over the noise, finishing with a burning question: “Major? The bag? Is that really your stuff?”

Gorski ramped up his reply volume. “Medal of Honor and the rest of my kit. We can ask a bot to get it.”

McSorrel shook his head then shouted, “No.” When the day came that he couldn’t climb a couple of meters, then he’d retire.

With a tremendous effort, he hauled himself up the cables in the dusty area behind the printer. He reached a hand out toward the duffel. Almost there. He could touch it with a fingertip. He reset his feet a little higher and stretched his arm up again. His hip flared like a meteor through his leg, right up his spine. His hand spasmed and knocked the bag into the hopper where it whirled away, soon to be bed sheets for the residents.

Sweat cascaded down his chest as he lowered himself. Why did he always bite off more than he could chew? Story of his life. He slumped to the floor, leaned back against the control panel and asked his bud for full meds, and for good measure, a medbot and a stretcher to get him out of here. If his life was a waste and nearly over, he might as well indulge.

Gorski’s voice was rough. “McSorrel, I’m disappointed.”

McSorrel rubbed his eyes. There was nothing he could say. The meds were easing the physical pain but he still hurt. He’d failed at getting the bag, failed at catching the recruit, failed his whole sorry life.

He started to explain. “Major, your bag, I’m sorry, your medal—”

Gorski cut him off. “I’m disappointed that you, a Commander in the greatest social movement the world has seen, are giving up.”

McSorrel raised his head, picturing Gorski’s blue eyes flashing.

“You’ve heard your whole lifetime that it takes generations to make social change. You’ve seen the gradual easing of government controls, recordings, restrictions. Today, you’ve discovered new energy in the LRM, a surge that’s apparently been building for years.”

True. And he had a daughter and a granddaughter. Both, it seemed, LRM to the core.

Gorski kept going, his voice rising. “Commander, you’ve been an inspiration to me my whole life. I needed that a whole lot more than a bag of clothes and some medals. More importantly, it seems you’ve succeeded in getting the younger gens to carry the torch!.”

True, all true. Gorski continued to surprise him. Too bad his spinal injury meant the big man couldn’t be a recruiter.

“You’ve done it, man! Be proud!”

It might be the temporary effect of the meds but McSorrel felt a sudden rush of—what? Energy? Hope? He pulled himself up. “You’re right and you’re wrong, Major. Yes, I seem to have done more than I thought.” He flexed his fingers, making them pop. “But, no, I’m not done yet.”


“Go, go, go. He’s heading for the Media Room.” McSorrel spoke aloud, so Gorski could hear it clearly through their twinned buds. The real-time holo of the Dining Hall hovered over his lap. A miniature image of Gorski ran past tables and chairs at full sprint, shoes thudding on the cushioned flooring. A terrified boy at the end of the Dining Hall, orange duffel held against his stocky chest, ran to a janitorial closet. The cheers from the residents in the Media Room who were following on the big screen carried all the way back to where McSorrel sat in the lounge.

As the boy pleaded with the closet door to shut quickly, Gorski crouched just outside. “Can I ask the mop to gently hold him?” he whispered through his bud.

McSorrel chuckled. “Nope, that would be cheating. That’s what he’s used to, remember. The environment won’t protect him, not here. You are predator and protector both.”

McSorrel raised his eyes from the holo of the little scene into the sunshine streaming through the skylight above him. The warmth took some of the ache from his old bones.

He dropped his eyes after a moment, in time to see the holo image of Gorski throw open the closet door and strong-arm the boy into a corner, ripping the target bag out of his hand. The boy sank to his knees.

Gorski handed the bag of scraps off to a passing waiter-bot. Tears ran down the boy’s broad face. Well, they couldn’t all be like Kyre. She’d visited, with her mother, twice over the past month. Their faces were the first thing he pictured when he woke up each morning.

Gorski began to speak to the boy in an encouraging voice, kind yet firm. Like a pro. Like a recruiter.

McSorrel smiled and turned down the volume. Gorski was doing all right. And so was McSorrel. Training the recruiters was a peach of a job. Kept him alert, kept him busy. And he hardly missed using his legs. With his infiltration skills and Gorski’s hacking abilities, it had been a cinch to do a body scan switch between the two of them. One LRM vet was like another to the government, even now. Blunting the nerve ends in his own pelvis was easily done these days, too. It was just a technicality who got the newly printed hip, he’d joked to Gorski.

A memory of wet Ottawa streets and red taillights washed through his mind. Labeling that day as the Crackdown had been government propaganda for which even he had fallen. His rash action—following the Prime Minister from one closed-door meeting after another, exposing her planned oppression through overprotection—might have been a tipping point in the government’s tolerance of the LRM but it hadn’t failed the movement; it had only driven it deeper underground—where it had flourished. That day should have been named the Catalyst. He smiled at his mental quibbling over semantics and shifted in his chair. Whatever it got called in the history books was only a technicality, too.

A cup of tea would taste good about now. He closed the holo before handwheeling his smartchair toward the snack counter, through a ray of sunshine and out the other side. END

Holly Schofield writes from Alberta, Canada. Her work has appeared in many publications including “Lightspeed,” “Crossed Genres,” “Neo-Opsis,” and “Tesseracts.” Her previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JAN-2015 issue.


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