Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips




Peace Bug

By Stephen L. Antczak

AHMID STEPPED BACK FROM HIS WORKBENCH and breathed a long sigh. It was finally done. Finished. Complete. And it worked, he knew. He’d tested it, unbeknownst to anyone. Illegally. On himself. But no one knew.

He checked the time on the wall clock: 4:17 in the morning. While physically exhausted, Ahmid was also mentally and emotionally soaring.

If he had his way, no one would ever know what he had created; but if they did find out, at least it wouldn’t be until it was too late.

As Ahmid walked over to the locker where he kept his personal belongings, the door to his lab opened, and in walked the last person he expected to see at half past four in the morning anywhere except maybe a loud rockabilly show at one of the bars that skirted the Georgia Tech campus. Ahmid’s blood practically froze, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Wayne Jeremic was a colleague, of sorts, but he and Ahmid weren’t exactly on the friendliest of terms.

“Well, well, well,” Wayne announced as he sauntered in. “Look who’s working late again!”

Wayne, a pot-bellied, but otherwise muscular native Southerner, who spent weekends either hunting, fishing, watching football games on TV, or going out to see rockabilly shows, had a Masters in Chemistry from the University of Georgia, but worked as an Administrator at Emory. One of his duties was to act as the liaison between the Emory scientists and the Big Pharma companies that funded most of their work. He spoke a bit louder than he needed to, and smelled of cigarette smoke, which indicated to Ahmid that he’d just come straight from one of those rockabilly shows and had probably been drinking.

“Yes, I was just about to go home, actually,” Ahmid said, and took a step towards the door. The last thing he wanted was a confrontation.

Wayne, who occupied the space between Ahmid and the door, didn’t move one iota out of the way.

“What’ve you been working on here at all hours for the last three months, Ahmid, huh?” Wayne asked.

So, obviously Wayne had been checking the in-out logs for the building, and probably for Ahmid’s own lab, too. Ahmid had hoped his comings and goings after hours wouldn’t be noticed, but Wayne had obviously been looking for anything that he might be able to use against Ahmid. On one level, Ahmid couldn’t blame him. It was, in a way, his own damned fault.

“If you must know, I’m doing research that is not being funded by the drug companies,” Ahmid said. “I spend all day working for them. I use nights to work on things I can publish about.” Ahmid disliked lying, but he didn’t see any other option.

Of course, he probably could publish a paper about what he’d created if he wanted to reveal his secret to the world that way. It wasn’t exactly the kind of research that the journals liked; not incremental enough, too grand. The science was good, though, especially when it came to the limitations he’d had to overcome, so a paper about it would most likely find a home somewhere.

The key had been the life cycle of the bug, giving it enough time to transmit, to fly across the winds of breath, riding the droplets of saliva that sailed between people like cargo ships delivering their goods from port to port.

He’d consider molecular nanotechnology, so-called DNA machines, to build his ships, but there were inherent problems with that idea. There were issues with programming, transmission, propagation, replication. Given the current limitations of such nanotech, only a truly living organism could meet all of those criteria in the natural environment of the human body. It meant he’d had to manipulate existing genes, to teach them to be the ships he wanted them to be. It had been a long, long process, but tried and true. He hadn’t wanted to take a chance on something entirely new. But there was still a key limitation.

Unfortunately, the seas upon which these tiny organic ships were to sail could only be about the length of a fingernail. So it would be an intimate exchange that delivered the goods. A kiss would work best.

It would take a lot of kissing to spread the bug. Once in the body, though, the bug was a real trooper. It would not be killed by the body’s defense mechanisms. It did no harm; indeed, it was beneficial and communicated this effectively. The true purpose of the bug was its side-effect.

The bug mutated the serotonin transporters in a human being. The mutation caused the 5-HTTLPR transporter gene to mutate, creating specific serotonin receptors that would simply refuse to carry the serotonin types that increase aggression, depression, thoughts of suicide, anger, hatred, fear, etc. It was a delicate dance to keep the levels of serotonin receptors just right so as to avoid the adverse health effects that could result from a serotonin imbalance, such as interrupted sleep patterns, appetite loss or uncontrollable overeating, memory loss, loss of muscular function, and loss of bone density.

Speaking of aggression ...

“Hey, do you remember that argument we had a while back?” Wayne asked. “You remember? We were talking about the drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s where you’re from, right?”

“I’m from Cleveland. But my parents, they’re from Pakistan.”

“Right, right. Anyway, you remember you said that you hate America,” Wayne said.

Ahmid now recalled that conversation. Wayne’s recollection of it wasn’t exactly accurate—what Ahmid had said after three beers was, “sometimes I hate this country.” Ahmid had been alarmed by the intensity of his hatred that night, however brief; his concern over it had actually given rise to the idea of the Peace Bug.

He realized that it wasn’t America he hated. It was himself. His life had somehow gotten out of kilter. In point of fact, he’d had a brief almost-affair with Wayne’s wife, Maria, a brilliant and beautiful economist who specialized in the biotech sector. It hadn’t really gotten past flirtatious emails and text messages, with the occasional meaningful glance at dinners and events. They had kissed once in the darkened upstairs hallway in the Druid Hills neighborhood mansion of a donor to Emory’s medical school.

Ahmid’s then-girlfriend, Mala, had discovered the texts and emails one day. She’d suspected something and had looked at Ahmid’s phone. There had been some tearful drama, and then she broke up with him. He’d been waiting for the right moment to ask her to marry him, too.

Ahmid hadn’t liked himself then, and that made him realize something needed to change. How could a man not like himself? He had a sudden insight, it was the aggressiveness in him which he did not seem to be able to control that he disliked. He realized that his little near-fling with Maria had simply been that aggressiveness in action, seeing an “object of beauty” that he simply had to have, to possess, to conquer. Why couldn’t he appreciate her for who she was, admire her beauty, and move on with life?

It had even caused him to get into a fight one night outside of a restaurant, after a few drinks. Wayne had gone to the bar for more beer. Maria had reached out and touched another man on the arm, a neuro-linguist at the university named Kale, laughing at something he’d said—Ahmid couldn’t even recall—and the next thing Ahmid knew he was making snide comments about Maria’s mannerisms; he didn’t remember exactly, but he was pretty sure the word “slut” popped out of his mouth at one point.

“Fight” was a glorification of what happened; two punches and he was down, and that was it. He’d never been a fighter. He got manicures, for God’s sake. He was a vegetarian. When a cockroach or a spider found its way into his apartment, he went to great pains to get it out alive rather than kill it. The last time he’d been punched in the face was when he’d been a boy of nine or ten.

When it was over Maria couldn’t even look him in the eyes, and Wayne just stood over Ahmid and laughed. Like most Caucasian men his approximate size, Wayne assumed he could “whip” any Middle Easterner in a “fair fight.” Never mind that he’d sucker-punched Ahmid with a one-two combination. It was cold comfort that Maria had gotten angry at Wayne that night. Ahmid distinctly remembered her yelling at Wayne and asking Kale to take her home, saying Wayne was too drunk to drive and he should call a taxi.

Wayne eventually apologized for what happened that night, blaming his behavior on drinking too much and marital difficulties.

It was that next day, laid low with a hangover and a sore jaw, when Ahmid had started to wonder about the root cause of his anger, his hatred, and especially his obsession with another man’s wife while he essentially neglected his own longtime girlfriend. Where did that come from? His research showed it was all connected, even apparent opposites like aggression and depression, anger and illicit desire, hatred and infatuation.

He’d been designing drugs to regulate the very thing that underlied it all: serotonin.

The serotonin system was complex and affected a number of physical aspects of the body as well as mood. Alter serotonin levels in one direction and side-effects could create havoc in a completely unrelated area. That was the inherent problem with most drugs, of course.

Ahmid had been experimenting on mice for years as part of his day job, and had finally locked in on the transporter as the key. His research goals, funded by Big Pharma grants, had ostensibly been to create a new wave of depression medications that would result in overpriced pills to create profit windfalls for shareholders and huge bonuses for executives. During his research, Ahmid had become intimately familiar with how the serotonin system operated, its complexity and how it reacted to the blunt force trauma of pills; it was only due to a personal crisis that he’d finally decided to take things that crucial step farther, and asked himself two important questions.

Why create just another drug?

Why not create a bug?

Create an organism, a virus or a bacterium, that could solve the problem once and for all. Of course, that problem wasn’t depression, despite what Big Pharma’s advertisers would have the public think. Depression was only one symptom of the real problem. As was violence towards women, racism, cruelty to animals, aggressive behavior in trading stocks, crime and, of course, war. Indeed, once the concept of what he wanted solidified in his mind, he started calling it the Peace Bug.

The problem with a drug was that it wasn’t smart. It was the equivalent of dropping a bomb on a school to kill the terrorist hiding inside. Yeah, you maybe got the terrorist, but you also killed teachers and children. Bombs were stupid. Yes, a bomb might kill that terrorist along with a whole bunch of schoolchildren, but it couldn’t prevent another terrorist from moving in. This meant you had to keep dropping bombs, over and over again. This was good business for the people who made the bombs, of course.

What if you could send in a person, though? What if that person was disguised in such a way that no one thought anything about it as he walked into the school, walked right up to the terrorist in question, pulled out a knife and stabbed him right in the heart, killing him instantly? And then the person stayed at the school and prevented any more terrorists from hiding there. The person knew what to look for, could tell a teacher apart from a terrorist, and allow the teacher to do her work, but would kill any new terrorist who came along.

Wouldn’t that be better?

What a strange analogy for the Peace Bug, Ahmid thought.

He’d confirmed that the Peace Bug had multiplied and was active in his blood. He’d guessed that to be the case from the “symptoms” he’d been experiencing, but wanted to know for sure. Now he knew.

Because the Peace Bug wasn’t truly airborne—it couldn’t survive a journey beyond the width of a fingernail—he’d been able to work under Biosafety Level 2 conditions for potentially dangerous bio-agents. His work done, he’d moved the blood sample into the waste container in the glovebox, autoclaved the sample and then discarded the liquid into the sanitary sewer. That done, he placed the sterlized blood slide into a autoclaved waste bag and then put that into an autoclaved waste box, sealing it.

He’d noted with irony that what he’d created should be considered “dangerous.”

Still, Ahmid had taken certain precautions to protect himself and his work in case someone found out what he was doing. Saved on his computer was the executive summary for a business plan that described the Peace Bug as a “next-generation serotonin management treatment.” Anyone reading that document would immediately presume that Ahmid planned to launch a start-up to sell what he’d been cooking during the off-hours in his lab. He might still find himself in hot water with his employer, but at least it would be apparent he wasn’t breaking any laws or anything.

Now, though, Wayne could cast everything in a completely different light.

“You hate America,” Wayne said, his expression an ugly sneer. Ahmid wondered just how much alcohol it took to get the man to that state of sheer contempt for another. “I remember when you said that. You said, I hate this country. Well, you know what? I frickin’ love this country.”

“That’s not what I said, and besides, I was drunk.”

“So what? That’s when people say what they really mean.”

“Well, I don’t think that way anymore,” he told Wayne, hoping against hope that he might be able to reason with the man.

“Yeah, sure you don’t. That’s why you’ve been working these late nights. You know, I’ve seen the books in your office. You read the Koran.”

Ahmid had all but forgotten that he still had a copy of the Koran in his office. He wasn’t a practicing Muslim, but he did feel a need to familiarize himself somewhat with the religion of his parents.

“So, what’re you making in here late at night?” Wayne asked.

“What are you implying?” Ahmid asked.

“Don’t play with me, Ha-meed,” Wayne said, deliberately mispronouncing Ahmid’s name as a childish attempt to insult, or maybe to provoke.

“Look, I’m exhausted. Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” Ahmid said. He made a move to step around Wayne, but Wayne again interposed himself between Ahmid and the door.

“You’re not leaving until you tell me what you’ve been up to,” Wayne insisted.

He backed away from Ahmid, making sure to keep himself between Ahmid and the door, and maneuvered to where the panic button was, next to the doorway. kissesWayne reached back and lifted off the plastic guard that protected the button from being pushed accidentally.

“What are you—?” Ahmid asked, but Wayne answered his unfinished question by slapping his open hand down on the panic button. Immediately the audible click of locks could be heard as the two doors to the lab secured themselves. An alarm sounded three times. Somewhere, text messages were being received by key lab administrators to alert them that Ahmid’s lab had gone into emergency lockdown.

Wayne grinned.

The campus police would arrive first, but there wasn’t much they could do. They couldn’t unlock the doors. Ahmid wasn’t exactly sure who could, now that he thought about it. Would the CDC send a Hazmat team over? Would the fire department arrive with lights flashing and sirens blaring?

This didn’t necessarily destroy his plans for the Peace Bug, but it did complicate things. If they found any evidence of what he’d done, if they discovered he’d infected himself and put him in isolation ...

Ahmid realized he had to do something, and quickly. But what? Wayne wasn’t exactly a hulk, but he easily outmassed Ahmid’s slender physique, that of a long-distance runner and bicyclist who’d done neither in over a year.

“Now what’re you going to do?” Wayne asked him. “Cry?” He was obviously trying to provoke Ahmid into trying to hit him. But that wouldn’t work on him now, of course.

The Peace Bug didn’t simply regulate serotonin to stay at certain levels. It actively managed the serotonin levels, managed the way his body and brain utilized it. He couldn’t work up the anger to hit anyone.

“Fine, you win,” Ahmid said, lowering his head and letting his shoulders sag. The body language of defeat. Wayne also physically relaxed a little, unclenched his hands which he probably hadn’t even been aware were clenched; he no longer expected a fight.

“Tell me what you’ve been doing here,” Wayne said.

“I’ve been having problems,” Ahmid told him. “Personal problems ... I’ve been confused about ... certain things. But I think I’ve figured it out. I’ve been working to create something that would help me ... deal with it.”

Wayne let out a sharp, barking laugh.

“Yeah, you’ve got problems,” he said, and for a moment Wayne’s eyes seemed to focus on something else, something not there. Ahmid knew that Wayne had to be thinking about Maria.

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Ahmid said. “How’s your wife these days?” It was a mean thing to say, and Ahmid immediately felt bad about it, but it was short of a physical attack, and it had a purpose, so the Peace Bug hadn’t interfered.

“You son of a bitch,” Wayne practically growled at Ahmid, and then without hesitation came at him, hands outstretched as if he intended to wring Ahmid’s neck.

As Wayne closed in fast, Ahmid did the only thing he could do to ensure the Peace Bug would live on no matter what happened to him, to replicate itself inside another host.

Ahmid kissed Wayne.

It wasn’t just a kiss; it was a forceful tongue-in-mouth assault. Yes, maybe there was some violence in it, but Ahmid knew it wouldn’t hurt Wayne. He managed to press the attack, driving Wayne backwards into the workbench. By then, however, Wayne had regained his faculties enough to wrench himself away.

“What the hell?” Wayne yelled, his face red and his expression a mixture of fear, rage, disgust, and utter surprise.

Wayne, humiliated, now pushed beyond all reason, renewed his attack with fury and launched himself at Ahmid, fists already swinging. Ahmid tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go in his small lab. The first blows glanced off his arms as he tried to block, but they kept coming and beat his arms down, and the next ones landed on his head and face. Ahmid fell to his hands and knees, and the blows kept coming.

Eventually, he blacked out.


Ahmid awoke in a hospital room, and immediately felt a twinge of pain and tightness in his face. Stitches, he assumed. He also felt logy, out of it, and figured he must be on some sort of painkiller.

He turned his head to look around, and felt relief that he actually could turn his head. At least his neck wasn’t broken. The door to his room was closed, and through the window he could see someone standing there. He squinted—it was hard to get his eyes to focus—and realized the person standing outside his door was a police officer.

What did that mean?

There were several bouquets of flowers and cards.

Also, a large flatscreen TV was on, but with the sound off, high up on the far wall; a financial talk show on CNBC. Ahmid squinted to read the date down near the crawl of stock symbols and prices, and saw that he’d been unconscious for over forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours ... the Peace Bug’s incubation period was twenty-four.

Had Wayne been successfully infected? Had he told the authorities his suspicions about Ahmid before the effects kicked in?

More questions popped into Ahmid’s head. Had the Peace Bug been discovered? Was he now considered a terrorist?

He raised his right arm. No handcuffs. That was a good sign. But the police officer outside his door. That wasn’t a good sign.

Ahmid propped himself up.

His phone, wallet, and keys were on the nightstand by the bed. The phone had been thoughtfully plugged into the wall outlet. His phone’s message indicator light was blinking. Ahmid grabbed the phone, checked to see who had called. There were seven messages. All of the calls save one were from people whose info he had stored in the phone: the head of his department had left two messages, his mother had left three, a chemist he knew at one of the pharma companies had also called.

Curious, he listened first to the message from the phone number he didn’t recognize.

Hey, Ahmid, it’s Wayne. I know I’m probably the last person you want to hear from right now, but ... listen, I’m making my one phone call from jail here because ... well, I just wanted to apologize for what happened. I just lost it when you, um ... when you kissed me. It’s funny ... when I say you kissed me I feel this sudden acorn of anger form inside me, but then before it can turn into anything, it just ... dissipates. There’s like this calm feeling that comes over me, and I see things more clearly than ever before. It’s incredible, really.

I should tell you that I said some things to the authorities when they arrived. I told them I suspected you were cooking up a biochemical weapon, I told them about the Koran in your office, that you’d said you hate America. I was angry as hell. They found what you were working on. I don’t know what they’ll think. I’m really sorry about that.

That explained the police officer outside his door, Ahmid thought. Wayne’s message continued:

Anyway, I’m going to throw myself upon the mercy of the court because I know that’s the right thing to do. I’ve also been contacted by the university ... there’ll be a disciplinary hearing, of course. I expect I’ll have to go into treatment for alcoholism, and they’ll probably make me take anger management, which ... well, you know. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem anymore, because I think I figured out what you did. I’m not half the biochemist you are, Ahmid, but I’m no dummy, either. I get it. And I just wanted to say, well ... thank you. And you know what? I can’t wait to get home and kiss Maria.

The message ended. Ahmid set his phone back on the nightstand and put himself in an investigator’s mindset, analyzing what he had been working on. It wouldn’t take them long to determine it was something that managed serotonin transporters. A deeper investigation would merely show that the effects were entirely benign. Delving into Ahmid’s computer files, they would find the executive summary for his business plan. They would assume he’d been working on something that he intended to bring to market himself. He might get a hand slap, but in all likelihood the university would demand partial ownership of the finished product, as per its policy, or they would seek to quash his research to protect their lucrative contracts with Big Pharma.

Either way, Ahmid figured he’d ultimately be in the clear. And the Peace Bug would be, as well.

There had been one, and now there were two. Eventually, there would be four ... then sixteen ... then two hundred and fifty-six ... sixty-five thousand ... then half the world’s population ...

He leaned his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes.

All it would take now was time, and a lot of kissing. END

Stephen L. Antczak is the author of four small press books, the short story collections “Daydreams Undertaken” and “Edgewise,” the novels “God Drug” and “The Oracle Paradox,” and over fifty horror, fantasy, and science fiction short stories.


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