Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




Bounty Call

By Curtis C. Chen

REMEMBER, HUNTERS: “NON-LETHAL” does not mean “safe,” and as a certain maverick archeologist recently learned, even rubber bullets can get you into trouble with local law enforcement.

I’m Cathieri Pomayn, and this is “Bounty Call.”

We get a lot of questions from viewers about weaponing regulations, and our answer always has to be the same: do your homework! With over two hundred human worlds, there is no way we could keep up with the research, even if liability issues allowed us to address specific inquiries in the first place.

Please, before you even think about entering another jurisdiction, look up their prevailing regulations. We can’t tell you where to do your research—again, liability issues, sorry boys!—but your local weaponer should have some good pointers. If anyone’s going to know what’s legal and what’s not, it’ll be the guy selling you the bullets.

Now, what we can talk about is current events. For example, here’s what happened to notorious exologist-for-hire Driftis Degge earlier this week on the Grunsharii homeworld.

(Roll clip, Murray. How long is this segment? No, I’m fine, just let me review the coverage. Do we have the police report yet? Okay.)

And there you have it, folks: celebrity does not guarantee you immunity from prosecution, and nobody—repeat, nobody—is immune to projectile damage.

Interesting fact about the non-lethal rounds used in this particular incident: they were manufactured on—

(Okay, Murray, hold. I need a second. I know I reviewed the copy before air, but it just—I don’t like the way it sounds now. Mark this for an edit. Yeah, I’m ready, go again.)

The non-lethal rounds used in this incident were KMR-8’s, manufactured on Senqara Prime and commonly known as “crazy eights.” If you’ve ever taken a job in the Senqara system, you’ve probably pulled more than a few of these out of your vehicles or body armor. If you haven’t tangled with the Senqarans, consider yourself lucky.

Why did Driftis Degge have a sidearm loaded with KMR-8’s in the first place? Well, it seems that—

(Cut. Sorry, Murray, this is just—I know I’m on camera, but I can’t pretend I didn’t even know the man, and this copy—look, just let me talk, okay? Record a waiver for the lawyers, but I need to say this. Thanks, Murray.)

We don’t know all the facts yet. The Grunsharii have not yet released an official statement, and Driftis Degge is being held without bail in their capital city. But I traveled with Captain Degge for several years, and I can tell you this: he always knows what weapons he’s carrying on his person, and he always knows what ammunition he’s loaded into them.

Someone else might have made this mistake, forgotten to change out his mission load for travel-safe rounds, not checked his sidearm before leaving his ship.

Someone else, maybe. Not Driftis.

(You cut that any way you want, Murray. I need to go.)


I see him and I’m sixteen years old again, ready to jump through an airlock the moment he smiles at me. Even in that orange detention jumpsuit, with maybe a week’s worth of stubble covering his face, he’s beautiful.

I’ve never been one to go for bad boys, but he was the exception. I could always tell he had a heart of gold. Or so I thought until a few days ago, when his mugshot hit every news outlet in the local cluster. Arrested for assault after crippling some would-be Grunsharii muggers with Senqaran “crazy eights,” only technically non-lethal because the unpredictable nerve damage they cause won’t kill you immediately. More likely than not, they’ll trigger a psychotic episode, and the resulting friendly fire will do what your enemies couldn’t.

You don’t load that ammo outside of a war zone. Everyone knows that. Especially Driftis.

Last week I would have vouched for him on interstellar broadcast. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s changed. I certainly have. Haven’t I?

“Cathie,” he says, standing up and walking right up to the force field until it buzzes against his jumpsuit and makes the hairs on his head stand up. “Cathieri Pomayn.”

His eyes still twinkle like crazy when he smiles. Damn him. I fold my arms and stand my ground, a full meter and a half away. I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“Driftis Degge,” I say.

“How long has it been?”

“We can catch up later. Who’s your lawyer?”

“Waiting for a public defender,” he says.

“Are you kidding?” My body takes a step forward before I can stop it. “You’ll be in here for a month. Why didn’t you call the local JAG station?”

“I don’t have a lot of friends in the military these days,” he says. “I’ll be fine. But hey, what are you doing out here?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“You look good,” he says, staring at my face.

“Drif.” I lower my voice and step closer, hoping the guard at the end of the cell block isn’t listening too closely. “Why the hell did you have Senqaran ammunition loaded in a personal sidearm?”

His smile disappears, and I recognize a different face: the stoic, silent loner who could take a secret to the grave if he thought it was important enough. I trusted him with so much. But I could never trust him to stay, and I didn’t want to chase him all over the galaxy.

I never figured out what he really wanted. I wonder if he ever did.

“Is that why you’re here?” he says flatly. “Looking for a story? Trying to get a scoop?”

“No!” I say, a little hurt. “I’m here because I know you. You would never carry a weapon unless you had triple-checked the load. What happened?”

“We haven’t seen each other for ten years, and that’s what you want to know?”

“Believe me,” I say through clenched teeth, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

A buzzer sounds behind me, and the guard calls out, “Degge! Your lawyer’s here!”

Driftis steps back from the force field. “Well, it was good to see you, Cathie. If you want an interview, talk to my attorney to make an appointment.”

And that’s when I see it. Two people can’t live together like we did, hopping from planet to planet, system to system, in the same tiny spacecraft for almost five years without learning more about each other’s mannerisms and habits than you ever wanted to, or thought you could.

He looked away, for just a split second, when he spoke that last sentence. Right when he said my name. And I know what it means when he can’t look me in the eye and address me by name. It doesn’t always mean he’s lying, but there’s definitely something he doesn’t want to tell me.

In a split second, I know the answer to the question I’ve been asking myself for the last day and a half, ever since I left Sagittarius:

Do you really want this guy back in your life, Cathie?

The door at the other end of the cell block slides open. I move forward until my left shoulder is up against the wall, hiding my front side from view, then jam my right hand into the pocket of my jeans and fish out the fake diamond solitaire.

Driftis’s eyes narrow. “What are you doing?”

I slip the synthetic gem onto my left ring finger. “Just follow my lead.”

Footsteps approach and stop just behind me. I step away from the door and turn, folding my arms and placing my left hand on top of my right elbow. The light’s not great in here, but the synthetic refracts like crazy. It’s supposed to be a beacon, to tell every man in whatever bar I happen to be in that I’m not available. It usually works pretty well. And if it doesn’t, the cameras inside have a record of who I should press charges against.

The lawyer is a woman. She looks at Driftis, then at me.

“I need to speak to my client,” she says. “In private.”

I hold up my left hand. “I’m his fiancée.”

Driftis coughs loudly.

Mazel tov,” the lawyer says. “Let’s go have a conversation.”


The lighting in the interview room—or “lounge,” as the helpful guard calls it—is deceptively soft and warm. I’ve seen this kind of illumination before; it’s designed to penetrate the skin surface and reflect back to hidden sensors in the walls. They’re not the most precise passive medical scanners available, but they’re good enough to tell you when your chat show guest is uncomfortable and vulnerable—or whether a suspect might be lying in response to a certain question.

Driftis’s public defender, Lirrina Banefs, pulls a small disk out of her briefcase as the three of us sit down around the bare desk in the lounge. She places the disk in the center of the desk and taps it with two fingers. The disk glows white, and a dot of red light sweeps around its outer edge.

“Jammer?” I ask. I’ve seen these before, too. Sometimes my guests get creative and try to hide them inside brooches or other jewelry.

“It’s not that I don’t trust the police,” Lirrina says. “But I’ve seen more than one monitoring technician accidentally forget to stop recording. And Grunsharii courts are notoriously lenient when it comes to admitting evidence.”

I was prepared to dislike this one, but now she’s starting to grow on me.

I look over at Driftis. He’s slumped back in his chair, picking at his fingernails. That’s not a good sign.

“Unprovoked assault, on the other hand,” Lirrina continues, “they’re not so keen on. Do you want to tell me what happened, Captain Degge?”

“I was attacked,” Driftis says. “I had to defend myself.”

Lirrina stares at him for a moment. “That’s it?”

“Ask him about the ammunition,” I say.

Lirrina turns to me. “I should warn you, Miss Pomayn, that attorney-client privilege in this jurisdiction does not extend to spouses or relationship partners.”

I almost don’t hear the last part of her sentence. “You know who I am?”

“Please.” Lirrina grimaces with—is that jealousy? “Half my clients are bounty hunters or extralegal operators of some sort. Sometimes I feel like I’m representing the Cathieri Pomayn Fan Club.”

I’m flattered, but what I say next is rehearsed. “I make it very clear that my broadcasts should not substitute for professional legal advice—”

“Relax. I like your show.” Lirrina’s left cheek twitches in what might be interpreted as a momentary smile. “You can’t help it if most of your viewers are meatheads who never grew out of adolescence.”

Oh, I definitely like this one.

She turns to Driftis. “The ammunition is a problem. Grunsharii are very no-nonsense about weaponing regulations. The mere fact that you took those bullets off your ship is enough to put you behind bars.”

I open my mouth to say something, and a realization dawns on me. Even I knew the Grunsharii courts had started reinterpreting statutes and locking up independent operators, and I’m just a chat show presenter. Any hunter worth his salt will research a planet’s legal and political climate before stepping off his ship. It’s simple self-preservation.

Driftis would have done his homework. He’s not an idiot.

Or maybe he’s just a different kind of idiot.

I glare at him. “You knew about this. You knew, and you came here specifically so you’d get arrested and imprisoned. Why?” I lean toward him, my hands balled into fists. “Who are you hiding from?”

He looks at me with those damned eyes, and it’s all I can do to keep my heart from melting. “I don’t want you to get mixed up in this, Cathie.”

“You never could ask for help,” I say. “Dammit, Drif, you’re not alone! You have friends.” I hesitate before continuing. “You have me.”

Something buzzes in Lirrina’s pocket. “Please excuse me. I have to take this call.” She stands up and gives us both a warning look. “Don’t go anywhere. And remember, there are cameras in here.”


“I found them,” Driftis says once we’re alone.

“You’ll have to be more specific,” I say. “Found what? Your socks? Sheet music for an unpublished Cass Mile Burnie power ballad?”

“Listen to me,” he says, putting a hand on my arm—on my sleeve. He wants me to pay attention, but doesn’t want to distract me with skin-to-skin contact. He can still read me, just as well as I can read him. “I found sentient, multicellular alien life forms. In the Galactic Bar, near the 3-KPC Arm.”

I look into his eyes, and I know he’s not joking.

If he has gone completely insane, I would have noticed by now. Wouldn’t I? Unless this is some kind of delusion brought on by too much time alone in space, traveling those long empty stretches between inhabited systems, digging up artifacts from long-dead human colonies that never made it. Space travel was a real bitch before we discovered how to go faster than light.

But I know this man. I’ve seen him at his worst, and I don’t think he’s gone off the deep end.

Then why did he shoot a civilian with illegal rounds, Cathie?

I grab his wrist, making sure I’m touching the detention jumper and not him, and move his hand off my arm. “That’s very interesting, and I’m sure you’ll be the toast of the archeological community. But that doesn’t explain anything.”

“You don’t understand,” he says. “I’m not talking about artifacts or fossils or some other forensic evidence. I’m talking about actual, living aliens.” He takes a breath. “And they’re trying to kill me.”

Now I’m not so sure about his sanity. “Maybe you should start at the beginning.”

He shakes his head. “It’s a long story. And we shouldn’t talk here.”

“Well, this is where we’re going to talk. You’re being held without bail—”

My wristcom beeps. I touch it to silence the alert, and the display flashes a federal bulletin with Lirrina Banefs’ face on it. I’d forgotten that my ring automatically uplinks any new faces it sees for a criminal records search.

“What the hell?” I mutter.

The entire building shudders around us, and through the closed door, I hear a variety of alarms sounding.

Something whines in the corridor outside, and then the door vanishes in a burst of dust and light to reveal Lirrina holding some kind of energy weapon. The stock appears to be made of the same leathery material as her briefcase was.

She tosses a plastic evidence bag to Driftis and says, “Extraction’s on the roof, Captain. Let’s go.”

I glare at Driftis. He grabs his personal belongings out of the bag, shrugs, and dashes out the door. I follow, pausing briefly to also glare at Lirrina.

“You’re not a real lawyer,” I say.

She gives me a thin smile. “And you’re not really engaged.”

I grumble and head upstairs.


The getaway vehicle on the roof of the police tower is a late-model Vanteri with modified ion drives. There’s no way anybody is going to catch us, but Driftis lets the cops think they have a chance. They chase us through the local system for a while, until he finally opens up the throttle to slingshot us around a gas giant and into FTL.

After Driftis sets the autopilot, I slap him across the face. Hard.

“Okay,” he says, after waving off Lirrina when she tries to tackle me, “I deserved that.”

“Oh, I’m just getting warmed up,” I say. “And this skinny bitch is not going to stop me. But before I start the actual beat-down, when the hell did you become such a good liar?”

“He doesn’t know me,” Lirrina says.

I do a double-take. “If I have to ask one more person to explain themselves today, I swear, somebody is losing a limb!”

“You’re not the only one with a fan club, Pomayn,” Lirrina says. “There’s a small but dedicated group of us who follow Captain Degge’s career.”

“Such as it is,” I mutter.

“At least he didn’t sell out.”

“You wanna go?” I turn and get uncomfortably close to her. “Right now?”

“I don’t fight heavyweights,” Lirrina says.

“Blades only, no armor, I will cut you so bad your own mother—”

“Ladies! Please!” Driftis slashes an arm between us. “Cathie, she’s telling the truth. We’ve never met before. I posted a blind RFP on MercNet before entering Grunsharii space.”

I gape at him. “You accepted an anonymous bid for your own jailbreak?”

“She had good references. And she got the job done, right?” He looks at Lirrina. “You’ll get your payout when we reach Omega Centauri.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Lirrina straightens her posture. For a second, I’m afraid she’s going to salute. “I’m also available to extend my contract.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Lirrina actually looks hurt. “Whoever you’re hiding from, Captain, I can help conceal you. I have connections in Centaurus.”

“I don’t want you involved in this.” He looks at me. “Either of you.”

I see the apprehension in his eyes, and I remember why I left him. It took me a long time to figure it out, but he still hasn’t.

Driftis never learned how to not be alone.

“He’s not hiding,” I say. “He’s running. Isn’t that right?”

Lirrina frowns. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would you run into Grunsharii space?”

“He wasn’t running then,” I say. “He posted the RFP before he arrived, before he shot those civilians. That was the plan, wasn’t it? Make yourself a wanted man, then escape.” He’s staring at the floor now. I turn to Lirrina. “He wants the Grunsharii to chase him all the way to the center of the galaxy. Where the aliens are.”

Lirrina blinks. “The what?”

I bat my eyelashes at Driftis. “Captain?”

He sighs and glances at the flight controls. “Okay. We’ve got some time. You should both sit down.”


“I’ve been doing a lot of pre-FTL colony digs recently,” Driftis says. “Private collectors pay decent money for human artifacts, especially ancestral objects, potential family heirlooms, crap like that. It’s not as exciting as the gun-and-run jobs, but I can’t do too many of those anyway, now that I’m some kind of celebrity.”

He shoots me a dirty look. I glare back at him. It’s not my fault if people like to hear my stories, and he happens to feature in many of them.

“Anyway, some of those old colonies didn’t fail because of natural disasters or tech malfunctions. I started finding the evidence two years ago, out in Omega Centauri. Settlements that looked like they’d been raided, pieces of spacecraft hull that didn’t match any human designs. But never any actual remains, no non-human skeletons or anything.

“Then I hit the jackpot. You know the theory that Omega Centauri is not a native star cluster, that it used to be the core of a dwarf galaxy which collided with the Milky Way—”

“Skip to the end,” I say.

“Well, that’s where the aliens came from. Another galaxy, but a long time ago.” Driftis pulls out his mobicomp. “I came across a habitable planetoid which didn’t match the geology of anything else in its star system. I followed this energy reading”—he holds up the mobicomp, showing a multicolored spectrograph—“into a cavern, where I found a three-meter-tall cube with one open face, made of an unidentifiable metal alloy and still drawing power from a geothermal source.”

I frown at him. “And you went in there alone?”

“Who was going to come with me?” he says. “I couldn’t even convince you to stay, Cathie.”

I look away from his sad eyes, not wanting to have this conversation, and see Lirrina watching me intently. I scowl at her and pull myself back to the current topic.

“So you found this cube,” I say, “and it turned out to be, what? Some kind of communications device?”

“Even better. A teleporter.” Driftis grins. “Can you believe it? It took me two days to dig up all the equipment around it, and three more to figure out how to operate it. There were all these symbols etched into the metal—”

“Skip to the end,” I say.

“Well, I probably shouldn’t have been standing inside the cube when I turned it on, but activating it that first time was an accident. It teleported me into another cube, inside a spaceship which turned out to be several thousand light-years away. The aliens there were just as surprised as I was. They looked like—well, like huge, bipedal lemurs. Big round eyes, giant ears, creepy as hell.

“We couldn’t communicate at first, of course. They took away my equipment and threw me into a holding cell. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I was back in the first cube, on the planetoid in Omega Centauri. There was a timeout on the sending cube—an auto-retrieve function, a safety feature. My mobicomp said I’d been with the aliens for about three hours.” Driftis shrugs. “I probably should have left the planet at that point, got some reinforcements before—”

“You went back?” I shake my head, frowning.

“I was excited!” he says. “First contact, right? What if I left, and then something happened to the cube? Or the aliens disabled their receiver? So I geared up—weapons, personal shield, the full kit—and went through again.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Lirrina shaking her head, too.

“This time,” Driftis says, “after I blasted some holes in the floor with a portable maser, the aliens were more willing to listen.”

“You what?” I stand up.

“No, it’s okay!” he says. “These aliens—the Rry—they’re very militaristic. I could tell I was on a warship, and their behavior was all monkey dance. Status demonstrated by strength. And it worked.”

“Then why are they trying to kill you now?”

“I’m getting there.”

I clench my teeth. “Get there faster.”

Driftis nods. “The Rry have encountered humans before. In those dead, pre-FTL colonies. They dug up some translations from that era so we could talk. I spent a lot of time with their scientists, figuring out where they are now in relation to human space. I didn’t know that while I was talking to the scientists, their technicians were fiddling with the equipment I’d brought through on my first trip.”

I sit back down. “Oh no.”

Driftis grimaces. “It was a small shaped blast charge. I always carry one for excavating rock. I’m not sure exactly who got killed—maybe a military leader observing the techs, or maybe they were just angry that my equipment had killed any of their people. They didn’t believe it was an accident. I was lucky that my cube timed out and pulled me back before they could decide how to execute me.”

“And then you ran,” Lirrina says, with more than a hint of disdain in her voice.

“Of course I ran!” Driftis says. “I’ve got an entire alien war fleet after me!”

“Okay, stop,” I say. “Why aren’t they here already? It’s been over a week since you left Omega Centauri.”

“That’s the good news,” Driftis says. “Remember how the aliens came from another galaxy? Well, they evolved here, after their dwarf galaxy collided with ours and formed a black hole—”

“Skip to the end,” Lirrina and I say in unison.

Driftis frowns. “The point is, the stars in their sky were always moving erratically; they navigate by sensing local stellar conditions. They don’t have starcharts like we do, and they never developed FTL.”

“Then why are we hustling?” Lirrina asks. “It’ll take them centuries to reach human space at sublight speeds.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” Driftis says. “Apparently there are more of those teleporter cubes scattered all across the Galactic Bar. A lot more, and some of them large enough to transport entire spaceships. The Rry I met don’t know how to work the cubes—”

“The cube that only took you, working alone, three days to activate,” I say.

“They couldn’t even figure out how to dismantle a simple blaster!” Driftis says. “But yes, it is a concern. The Rry will figure out how to work the cubes, sooner or later. That’s why I had to get myself jailed. Do you understand now? The only way to protect myself—to protect all of humanity—was to get someone with more firepower to follow me to the Rry, to see the threat for themselves.

“I just hope the Grunsharii survive long enough to warn the rest of the galaxy.”


“You’re an idiot, Drif,” I say. “Were you this dumb when I was with you? I really hope not, because that would just be embarrassing.”

“Well,” Lirrina says, “you were young and stupid.”

I glare at her. “And I suppose you had your entire life figured out when you were sixteen.”

“Seriously?” She raises an eyebrow at me. “Your parents let you run off with this guy? At that age?”

“They weren’t really paying much attention at that point.”

“Ladies!” Driftis waves his arms at us. “I think we have more immediate problems to consider here?”

I look into Driftis’s eyes and see more than just the handsome now. I’ve grown up a lot since I was with him. And at least one of us has learned when—and how—to ask for help.

I get up and go over to the comms station. I have no idea who last used this station, but all the settings are wrong, and half the controls seem to be backwards. I look for a flight manual to tell me how to operate the radio.

“I understand, Drif,” I say. “You’re too much of a coward to face these aliens yourself, so you want someone else to do it for you.”

“I don’t have a chance of fighting them off by myself!” he says, looking wounded. “And who’s going to believe me? Alien lemurs? Magical teleportation cubes? The authorities would remand me for psych treatment.”

“You didn’t think to collect any physical evidence?” I ask. “Where’s the cube you found? We’ll lead the Grunsharii there and let them see it for themselves.”

“I destroyed the cube,” he says.

I shake my head, and Lirrina says what I’m thinking: “Wow, you really are an idiot, Captain.”

“I didn’t want them to follow me back through!”

“So you destroyed a piece of highly advanced technology which also happened to be the only actual evidence you had of an alien civilization,” I say. “Brilliant.”

“This is not about digging anymore,” Driftis says. “This is going to be interstellar war in just a few hours!”

“Tell me you at least took some photos,” I say.

“Of course,” he says. “I’ve got plenty of images and energy readings, but that’s not going to convince anybody.”

“You still don’t get it.” I do my best to stare some comprehension into his thick skull. “It’s not about talking people into doing anything. It’s about building trust.”

Lirrina joins me at the comms station. “You need some help with that console?”

“Yeah.” I shake my head. “Who put this thing together, anyway?”

“This ship’s had a few different owners,” she says, tapping at a diagnostic panel. “Most of them weren’t big on keeping paperwork.”

“That’s a shock.”

“We shouldn’t signal until we’re in Omega Centauri,” Driftis says, coming up behind us. “We don’t want them to actually catch us.”

“I’m not calling the cops,” I say.

“Then who are you calling?”

“My producer.”

His face contorts and puckers with confusion. “We’re running for our lives, and you want to record a show?”

“Actually,” Lirrina says, “we’re not running anymore.”

Driftis jumps forward to the flight console. “Is something wrong with the engines?”

“No,” Lirrina says. “I mean nobody’s chasing us.”

“What happened to the Grunsharii?”

“Yeah, funny story about that.” Lirrina brings up a list of local alerts on the comms display. “When I took your jailbreak contract, I hired a sub-contractor to work through actual legal channels to dismiss the charges against you—”

“What?” Driftis squeaks.

“I didn’t think you wanted to be a fugitive,” Lirrina snaps. “Breaking out of jail isn’t super helpful if the police are still chasing you.”

“So we’re off the hook?” I say.

“More or less.” Lirrina scrolls through the police bulletins. “My sub got the assault and weapons charges dismissed shortly after we went FTL, before the news of our escape made it to broadcast.” She turns to Driftis. “We’re still wanted for fleeing police custody, of course, and property damage, but in Grunsharii jurisdiction, those are lesser charges which don’t warrant extrasolar pursuit.”

Driftis slumps into the pilot’s seat. “They’re not following us.”

“Cheer up,” Lirrina says. “This is a good thing.”

“Have you not been listening?” Driftis says. “We needed the Grunsharii to follow us to the Rry! The aliens! The Grunsharii are the only organized fighting force large enough to face the Rry!”

“Why do men always want to skip to the fighting?” I say, mostly to Lirrina.

“Biological instincts, I suppose,” she says. “Can you blame them, though? They’re not really good for too much else.”

Driftis frowns at us. “I’m sitting right here.”

Lirrina taps the comms console, and a cluster of touchscreens lights up. “Okay, the soft controls should be working now. You ready to make that call?”

I nod and start dialing.


Here’s a hypothetical question, hunters: if you knew hostile forces were preparing to invade your home planet, how would you prepare to fight them off?

I’m Cathieri Pomayn, and this is a special edition of “Bounty Call.”

Our regular viewers will, of course, recognize that I just asked a trick question. If you know that someone’s preparing to attack you, you do whatever you can to prevent the shooting before it starts.

So why bring this up now? Well, we’ve got a special guest today. I’m sure you all recognize Captain Driftis Degge, who was recently incarcerated on the Grunsharii homeworld but has since been cleared of those charges! And he’s going to tell us exactly what got him so excited in the first place that he mixed up his ammunition loads and got into trouble. Captain?

(Okay, Murray, just stay on him. He might ramble a bit—don’t worry about it. Just keep him in frame.)

(Oh, no, you just wait. It gets better.)


(Trust me, we can sell this. Just look at that face. And those eyes.)

Well! Quite a story, isn’t it, hunters? Now, I know many of you are going to be very skeptical, which is why this broadcast includes the coordinates of Captain Degge’s historic find. The cube itself was demolished for security reasons, but the ruins are still there. Go see for yourselves!

And, to make this even more interesting, “Bounty Call” is—for the first time ever—offering our very own reward for successful project completion! We’re calling this Operation Sugar Cube, and here’s what we want you to do:

First, head out to the Omega Centauri star cluster and locate one of the alien transport cubes. They’ll be easy to find, once you’re within a million kilometers—just scan for the energy signature described in the data band of this broadcast.

(Do we have graphics cued up, Murray? Great.)

Second, once you find a cube, we want you to move it. That’s right—just rip it right out of the ground, or push it out of orbit, wherever it is! Then park the cube inside the corona of the nearest star—or, if you can manage it, just outside the event horizon of the Omega Centauri black hole, facing inward!

Third and finally, we want documentation. Attach a standard monitoring buoy to your cube and set it to continuous broadcast on the frequency shown below. We want to see what happens when those alien warships pop out inside a highly curved gravity field!

Are we asking a lot from you? Well, yes. But we’re also paying a lot! And more importantly, you’ll be doing your part to protect humanity from a hostile alien invasion. Sure, they’ll still be coming after us, but it’s going to take them centuries to crawl across the galaxy at sublight speeds. Maybe, once your footage helps convince everyone of the existence of the Rry, we’ll send some ambassadors to pay them a friendly visit first. But right now, we just want to make their cube transport network as unwelcoming as possible, give them some second thoughts about dropping in on us.

Any closing thoughts, Captain?

(Just let him talk for a minute, Murray. Who cares? It’s not his story anymore. This is going to be the biggest distributed archeology project in history.)

Well, that’s it for this special edition of “Bounty Call.” We look forward to hearing your success stories from Operation Sugar Cube. Don’t disappoint us, hunters!

And remember, a friend in need? Means they’ll always owe you a favor.

Good hunting! END

Curtis C. Chen is a graduate of Clarion West and Viable Paradise. His fiction has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction” and the Baen anthology, “Mission: Tomorrow.” His debut novel, “Waypoint Kangaroo,” is published by Thomas Dunne Books.


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