Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


How to Build the Perfect Woman
by Timothy Mudie

Sound of Chartreuse
by Nancy S.M. Waldman

Finding New Roads
by Allen Demir

Smart Home Blues
by Mark Ayling

Drone Dreams
by Hayden Trenholm

Game Changer
by Iain Ishbel

Safe Bet to Appelane
by Derrick Boden

Aquilonia, My Zelky
by Barton Paul Levenson

Shorter Stories

Princess Zenla and the Encyclopedia on Mars
by George S. Walker

See No Evil
by K.S. O’Neill

QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name
by Kurt Hunt


God From the Machine
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

And Bugs on the Menu
by Carol Kean



Comic Strips




Game Changer

By Iain Ishbel


His mistake was boring, a stumble near the edge, and his fall was limp and uninteresting. But the cheer squad, looking anxiously at the crowd, ripped off a huge laugh anyway, and kicked and tumbled. Team pulled back and waited for another chance to move, as the playing strip rumbled slowly beneath them all, curving back on itself, displaying the whole field piece by piece for the eyes and the cameras.

Finally, finally the stands showed their teeth and laughed too. Blood, they laughed, all over his ass!

Mark glanced up at the colossal bleachers all around them, then the big screens, the shining white legs of Derek’s uniform up there, splashed with red and dark brown. It looked painful. He moved himself out of line—like an old-style half-winger—as the formation neared the parts of Derek’s body kicking and twitching down between the flywheels.

Mark stood near the edge and looked down. His eyes were stinging.

A new junior dived from the rafters, elbows wide and wingsuit strobing. The crowd looked up and cheered, pointing. Mark tracked the kid in, counting his ribbings to judge true size. Big. A lineman, he thought, and frowned. Derek had been small and fast, made of pepper and sand, all guts and pretty smart. Three seasons they’d been together now, and he felt something tight in his lungs. This new guy—well. Team didn’t need another lineman.

Something folded up inside Mark; just got folded up and put away. He waited until the kid touched the strip, then walked up fast and straight while he was still shaking out the straps on his gear. Put out his hand, and when the kid reached for it, Mark shot him through the hip.

The crowd loved it.

New kid, they chanted. New kid, new kid, new kid. The kid reached behind himself, eyes wide open, feeling the point of the spear. He touched it, worked out its shape with his hand.

Realized his hand was wet, brought it back in front of his face, red and dripping.

Then he looked into Mark’s eyes. “What?” he said.

Mark pulled on the spear, and the kid of course resisted. Set his feet, started to lean away, both hands on the shaft. “No,” he said. “I just got—”

Mark let go of the handle, and the kid was gone, over the edge of the strip.

The cheerleaders flipped. They screamed and called, and shook their blue and yellow. The crowd was on its feet, roaring and banging their hands together. They forgot all about Derek, and the wasted cost of the new kid. They loved the same-team irony, the casual cruelty, the sheer ballsy perfection of it. Probably a new record, feet just ten seconds on the strip, then wham, down into the wheels, team colours waving back and forth on the end of Mark’s own spear as the titanium teeth ground through the junior. The kid wasn’t even out of his wingsuit.

Mark looked back at Team, signalled carefully, and moved into formation. As he passed the kid’s pile of gear, he kicked it open, then shook his head. The crap they were selling to kids today.

He did take a new spear.


The cheer squad moved up the outside, giving a kind of protection off to the left. The crowd swung their heads as one, watching them kick and tumble, blue and yellow skirts with traditional white underwear flashing underneath. The top floods went dark, and dance lights flashed along the outsides of the crowd. The big screens showed nothing but cheer squad, all limbs and hair and pale pink flesh. Team circled up and crouched, odd numbers eating first.

Rick was centerman, and he ran a strong ground game. They had claimed big sections of the strip right after kickoff, pushing green and black right out of the prime real estate, off into dark pockets. If blue and yellow held the ground they’d taken, Team was heading for an easy win.

While the cheerflesh strutted and spun, acting out their dominance dramas, running up sales in the stands, Team watched the darkness.

Mostly that was habit. Years had passed since anybody in the league had made any sort of attacks against cheer squad. Cheerflesh was cheap and easy to replace. Trying to dry out an opponent’s revenue streams was like getting involved in commerce war: a slow-grinding strategy with a long, long horizon. The stands got bored with it early, and it just couldn’t pay off.

But discipline was important too. You watched all the time, and you didn’t get distracted. You watched even when you’d lost somebody you didn’t like losing. Mark scratched an eyebrow and waited his turn to eat.

Odd numbers finished their meal. Mark passed two spears—the new one from the kid was still clean and pale—to his wingman, then tore a wrapper and crouched. With the transition, Rick moved up and rapped him on the spine. “Yo, Mark,” the centerman said. “Gutsy play.”

Mark nodded without looking up. He knew what was coming.

“You making a move on me?”

“No move, Rick.” Chewing, and thinking of the day.

Rick grunted, his authority established. Next was the reprimand. Mark waited, but Rick was silent. Then, after a moment, “Need, uh, need ourselves a new winger now.”

“Kid was no winger, Rick.”

Silence again.

Mark took a quick look at Rick. He was taking a long time with his decisions, staring up at the high rafters out of sight. Mark thought about Derek’s legs jerking all uncontrolled, blood on the white uniform legs. He wanted the conversation finished. “Rick?”

“Where the hell’s the replacement at?”

“We’ll get something presently. Top gate’s dark for the dance number, is all.”

Rick grunted, and stood. “Shifting to a four-three-three after, got it? Throw a surprise at them.”

“Say so, Rick.”


Cheer squad opened up again, and backed down the outside. Two bodies remained by the side of the strip, arms tangled and faces purple. Two of them had made a move on their own leader, and failed. But they were down like professionals: the brunette had torn her sweater right open, and the Asian’s skirt lay bundled up to the waist, blood down her legs.

The top lights came up again. Above the heads of the crowd, back and forth across the strip, a long transparent track had appeared, soft pink lights playing down its treacherous curves and ridges. Teeth glittered all through the crowd, and blood on a good few lips and chins.

There, now, in a puff of smoke, new cheerleaders, two of them. Three! Two kitties and an extra beef, all sliding nude down the oiled track, over the crowd, up the other side. Laughter from the stands, clapping. Three in the chute was good. It looked new and crowded, looked dangerous.

Then the sound of blades.

The crowd screamed, literally screamed. Blades, on cheerflesh? Never before, never, not in a lifetime, a million lifetimes. Fights started in the stands, broken fingers waved in the air. The big screens showed the sliding cheerleaders, scrabbling on the oiled surface, spinning, panicked. The blades gleamed, blocking the gates, blue lights reflecting laser chromed electricity, sharper than paper cuts, taller than harvesters.

The two kitties were holding hands now, legs splayed, spinning slowly, in a star.

No said the crowd, yes! The beef was down in front of them, grabbing for their shiny legs, missing. He stretched, got an ankle, lost it, rolled and put down a single knee. For a moment he had his balance, and the lights flared blue and gold across his torso.

Then he hit a ridge going backward, flipped up, and landed on his head.

The crowd roared with laughter. On his head!

The pair of kitties scrabbled for his limp body, anchored themselves on his back, and waited. Like a gleaming marble sculpture the three shot toward the blades. The kitties each raised a hand, symmetrically.

The crowd faded to a murmur. Mark noticed, for the first time, the sound of flesh zipping down the chute. The beef’s body was trailing a thin ribbon of scarlet.

The kitties rose slowly to their feet, riding on the beef like surfers. The blades below gleamed blue ice.

A gasp, all the stands rising. Too late!

The two matched cheerleaders—too late—leapt outward, pushing off the beef’s twisted legs and shoulders, pushing off each other, hair flying behind them, fingernails sparkling in the lights. Too la—they missed the blades.

They missed the blades!

They missed the blades, and the crowd’s relief was a slap, a punch, a wall right through Mark’s head. Their unconscious surfboard ploughed straight on into the blades with a wet meaty thud. The body never even twitched, jammed between the center blade and the left one, lights going down. A boring death: the whole chute darkened, and retracted up up, up into the ceiling.

The kitties landed, legs poised like gymnasts, on the strip.

The crowd was thrusting, screaming hard vulgarities at the oil-gleaming, naked blondes strutting up the strip. The top gamelights hid the rafters, lit the whole cheer squad as clear as perfect day, spinning and tumbling and shaking and waving and focussing the whole crowd, every eye, every open mouth, every grasping hand, on the matched survivors. Mark grunted. Right now if those two made a move, the head cheer was deep in trouble. He looked up to see where the chute had gone to, with the dead beef.

Down again to see the attack wedge in black and green, twelve strong with no defence set, come straight through the cheer perimeter like a boot through red fruit jelly.


Rick was down almost right away, lost in a scrum so frantic even the big screen replay couldn’t show who scored him. No style in that melee, no space for blocks or picks or any hard-won small-team tactics, just backing and kicking and surviving second by second.

The speed of everything!

Mark parried a high straight to the head, riposted by reflex and nearly caught a green shoulder, but his knees were dropping him, just under a scything cut he hadn’t even seen. He missed the shoulder, tried to tear through black-striped ribbing instead, but it was moving up, up, away from his reach as he fell.

Thud on the ground and roll, roll, flat was vulnerable, and roll back as a foot shook the strip next to his head, so close a sharp edge scraped his throat. Mark shot an arm up along the inside of the calf and up the thigh, keeping the muscle explosion cool for precision, not losing it just yet thank you.

He slit a three-inch cut along the femoral artery. Click, the edge of the blade hit the green groin armour and that was a perfect score, no follow-up for him.

But he’d overextended to make the slice, like an excited beginner.

Now he was pinned to the ground by his own reach, pushing back against gravity and inertia—too slow, too slow—and he watched as another blade rose, trailing green and black ribbons, paused for effect. Twelve attackers, in that hanging moment of resignation, who sets a Total Offence any more? Since I was a kid—the point plunged toward his throat. Mark tucked his chin, pointlessly.

Then pink nude oiled cheerflesh, sliding on her ass, diagonally across his chest, and then the green point burst out of the kittie’s back right in front of him, dripping scarlet now, stopping short of Mark’s throat. One of the matched pair just out of the chute, taking a score for the team.

Cheerleaders in the scrum now. What was happening to the world he knew?

Mark looked for the attacker, but he was gone. Well, that did happen: continuity disappeared in a scrum, flashes of mismatched action scenes instead. Was it all over? Nothing above him, and the crowd noise had gone to vowels, aftermath sound. It was over.

The kitten on top of him was a real trouper: she’d slid into the block in full display, chest high and limbs wide for the crowd. Now she arched her back a little more, dropping her head back until her lips brushed Mark’s ear. Her skin was cold already.

Why had she taken the blade for him?

“Kingfisher,” she whispered, “Today. You should—” Then she was gone, and the blood from her mouth exactly matched the lipstick.


Mark was in a good position for stealth.

Mostly covered up by a shiny nude kitten fresh from the cheersquad, he was good as invisible. Way he’d fallen, way she’d landed on him, his hands were hidden, and his eyes were free. He kept them mostly closed, peering out between his lashes as the strip moved him forward slowly past the noisy crowd in the cheaper seats.

He saw a lot without moving. Blue and yellow was done. Nobody else survived the brutal twelve-and-oh, unless a winger had got off fast and found a camp. Derek, maybe, had the speed—Mark remembered Derek’s legs in the flywheels, and closed his eyes hard for a second.

The cheer squad was done too. The beefs were just gone, off the strip or crushed underfoot, and a mere four kittens survived, stripped nude, kneeling in front of the green and black cheer squad. The survivor’s heads were tugged back, throats and bodies displayed for the big screens, wrists tied behind them by their own white underwear.

The crowd was clapping, a generous, satisfied sound, as bets paid off and allegiances rebuilt. What a first quarter. This year’s cup, right there, said the crowd. Hell yeah. Big screens showed flashes of their cheerleader minidrama, suggestions for steak and sausage, temporary bargains on gallons of beer—in green and black bottles.

The numberboard, when he looked, showed blue and yellow had died hard—surprised, a man short, overwhelmed by a twelve-and-oh, and blindsided through their own cheer squad and Team had still brought down most of the attackers. Of the green and blacks, only the centerman and a few linemen still standing.

That was experience, and discipline. And an older generation of equipment. Mark’s fingers walked along his belt: speargun, two long-range slicecaps, and an old-fashioned bouncer. Not a lot to work with.

Well, he had wanted a change.

The crowd had thinned and calmed, a refractory period that never really changed, no matter what new tricks a team tried. Mark breathed slowly and gathered his energy, tasting the coppery salt of the kitten’s blood in his nose and throat.


“Citizens!” The voice of a centerman, making a call.

But what a voice—low, resonating, but female. On a league team? The stands hummed, crowd suddenly rising. A female? Making a call?

And what a call!

Citizens? An old word, long out of use. Like the Total Offence, out of an old, old past. Like the Total Offence, the strange old call worked: all eyes were on the strip. Beer in hand, food stopped in their teeth, the stands stared.

Mark was staring too. On the big screens, a face—sister-kind, and next-door-attractive—framed in green and black.

“Citizens,” the face said again, “I am Selene Makutra.”

Polite applause, a few boos from blue and yellow fans, but Makutra waved for silence—and got it.

The crowd obeyed her. She waved a hand and they obeyed her. Mark’s stomach tightened.

“Let me tell you about today,” she said.

The crowd went quiet, and listened, to a speech. Words in a row, without actions, without flesh, without anything but ideas. Makutra explained her birth, her troubled youth, the trials of her training school, and the crowd kept listening.

What was happening?

Mark swallowed against an empty panic. He felt his stomach clench, tasted acid in his mouth.

Finally: “My life has been this game. This is the world’s game.” Applause again, louder, and then silence again on command. Again. Obedience, from a gameday crowd.

“But who runs the game? Who runs the world?” Obediently, the crowd answered, looking for the camera, the Patriarch, the corporations; it’s the Polys; the Foundation; no, the Guilds; and Makutra encouraged them, eyebrows raised, a look of coy question.

The crowd was arguing, angry, turning inward.

The big screens had them all thinking on Makutra and whatever she was trying to do. Mark slipped the kitten’s body quietly down to the strip, rolled onto his chest. He pulled in arms and legs, rested in termite position.

“We can run this world. The game can be our victory!” The crowd were cheering again, harsh and mean. Mark looked cautiously up to the big screens, showing faces in the crowd. Some teeth, some tears.

“Citizens, teammates, today is the day we rise!” Cheering, and howls. Clenched fists, and some shirts torn open.

And somebody in the high upstairs thought to distract the crowds: one of the big screens went black. A gasp, from the crowd. A moan, almost. Not a blackout. Nobody could live through another blackout.

“Put it back,” Makutra said, sharply. “These people want to see the truth.”

Put it back began in the crowd. Put it back, put it back. The stands began to shake with the repetitive force of it. The screen flickered, showed a strange unfamiliar logo, returned to a picture of the young rebel leader.

Cheers, relief. Makutra controlled the screens. She did it! The upstairs did what she said to do.

Makutra frowned slightly, judging the faces, reading the crowd, clearly as any centerman. She shifted her weight and turned. “But first, I want these cheerleaders,” she said, and the crowd roared and shook themselves toward the strip. Back to the good stuff after all: they wanted the cheerflesh too.

“Cut their hair,” called Makutra, and with one movement the leading green and black cheerleaders sliced off the long hair of the four nude kitties and stroked in a handful of clear gel. The kitties, crowned now in short spikes of black and brown and blonde, tossed their heads, artfully submissive and defiant at once.

Have them, said the crowd. Take them!

Lifted up by their knotted wrists, bent over, the four received throat collars of green and black, then looked up into passionate kisses, formal public initiation into their new cheer squad. Then the squad withdrew to the side, and up into the backfield, already expanding their pattern with four new juniors.

Mark was alone, the last blue and yellow on the strip.

It was barely into the second quarter.


He had no microphone, no media fast-track. He was just a half-back, doing his job. All he had was what he did, and the blue and yellow jersey he wore.

Mark placed the speargun on the strip and rose. He dropped the slicecaps, and saw the big screens showing them roll away and topple. One spiralled dramatically.

No, said the crowd. No way. One man standing.

Makutra started to turn, fast, then caught herself and came around more slowly. Her face didn’t show anything except calm control, but her feet set themselves at shoulder width, right angles, combat stance.

The three remaining green-and-black linemen spread out, poised, waiting for the moment he made a move.

He kept walking toward them, loose and calm, hands away from his sides. “Kingfisher,” he said, bouncing the sound off the strip, an old trick for teammates’ ears only. “Kingfisher, right? I’m in.”

Makutra’s face loosened in relief, just for a moment, then tightened again. “One man from blue and yellow!” she called to the crowd. “What’s your name, half-back?”

Mark looked at her. “Derek,” he said. “My name’s Derek.”

They cheered. They cheered him, and they cheered her. “Today,” she said, “We’re taking the game off the strip and into the world!” The noise of the crowd, water on a rocky beach, changed its sound, more throaty. Mark smiled, tightly, and looked up at her.

“We’ve got the skills,” she said, and paused a tiny beat, “we’ve got the energy, and the crowd is behind us!” Another cheer. “The citizens are behind us. Let’s take all the cheerleaders,” now a roar, “put all the teams together,” another, bigger roar, “and run the world! No more corporations, no more Patriarch!”

The crowd was screaming again, and stomping in rhythm. Mark looked up at the big screens, saw himself from above. The green and black linemen formed a loose triangle behind him, just out of reach of any sudden blade or a spear. But close, near enough to break his spine with a kick.

His back crawled.

“What do you say, Derek?” said Makutra. “Let’s take back the world!” She stepped down, held a finger out toward Mark’s lips.

“Sure,” Mark said, into a leader’s microphone. It was tiny, the size of a bead of sweat, black on Makutra’s fingertip. The screens echoed with his voice, too loud, and distorted. Sure, sure, sure. “Let’s do that.”

Then he fell to one knee, Makutra and her linemen standing in a circle around him, and he bowed his head. Makutra chuckled, her voice a little too high, and looked around at the crowd. “Oh, I’m not—”

He triggered the bouncer. The mine shot up to face height, and clicked.


Mark opened his eyes, pulling against something warm and sticky. He wiped his face, and brought his hands away covered with blood. Makutra and her three linemen were lying in a near-perfect diamond, feet toward him, heads missing.

Mark rose. The crowd was silent, absolutely quiet, like never before. The strip was still. The lights were dim. Mark shifted his feet, and heard the sound they made on the surface.

Then a single clap, then ten, a thousand and a wave of applause poured from the front rows, spread back, and the noise grew again, screaming and outrage and unexpected joy and relief. The big screens were flashing win win WIN! in blue and yellow, and the cheer flesh, orphaned, up for grabs, flipped and tumbled, legs akimbo, bodies landing hard. The four spiked-hair kitties, still nude, were strangling the squad leaders now, with their own green and black throat ribbons.

Mark looked up at the numberboard, the sales ratios, numbers spinning. He blinked, and turned around, looking down the length of the strip. Swayed a little, and remembered Derek the day before.

Something tapped him on the hip. He looked down, saw a tiny black grain, the size of a bead of sweat, on a small wire up from the strip. He snapped off the microphone and clipped it to his collar.

The cheer squad backed down into the darkness, leaving the bodies behind as the lights brightened and focused on him, on Mark, the crowd quieting once again, breathing heavily, waiting.

The Kingfisher revolution was ready, the crowds poised for anything. All in his hand.

He knew exactly what to say.

“Blue!” he called. “And yellow!”

Noise like you’ve never heard.

In the end, Double Red won the cup. And Mark died before the playoffs. But the Blue and Yellow, everyone agreed, had a really damned good season. END

Iain Ishbel is a technical writer for the provincial Public Service. Before that, he was a high school English teacher. His short stories have appeared in “Crossed Genres,” “Third Flatiron Anthologies,” “Astronomical Odds,” and other publications.


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