Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Falling Sun
by Arley Sorg

With Hostile Intent
by Eamonn Murphy

Between First Dawn and Last Dusk
by Emily McCosh

by Stephen L. Antczak

Black Starburst
by Barry Charman

Captain Loop Jamaan’s Conversion
by Trevor Doyle

Tumbler’s Gift
by Geoff Nelder

Zoo Hack
by James Van Pelt

Shorter Stories

Terminate and Stay Resident
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

World Champion
by Sean Mulroy

I Love Lupi
by Holly Schofield


It’s a Puzzlement
by Terry Stickels

It’s Invisible
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Between First Dawn and Last Dusk

By Emily McCosh

THE STREETS ARE DARK AND SLICK with the last few hours of rain. Storm clouds hang in a low blanket around the city, blocking out the stars. The smell of decaying plant fills the air, somehow blowing in from the forests outside the wall. Mostly it just smells of cold stone. I hurry through the streets, keeping my head down and shoulders hunched against the drizzly mist. The metallic buzzing of guns echoes like a clap of thunder, and I glance over my shoulder as I pick up the pace. They’re hunting again, as usual. The lights blare red in the heavy fog, not too close, but alarming all the same. It’s getting worse. The city was supposed to be protection from the crumbling outside world, the world that can barely get its sun to rise each day—but for now it seems paranoia is stronger than reason.

I flip my collar up around my neck, walking faster as my pulse pounds in my temples. There’s no one on the streets this time of night. I’m late coming back, I shouldn’t have stopped to watch that man being Programmed. I couldn’t help it—it drew me in, horribly unsettling. My chest still aches from watching and knowing it was wrong, that I should have helped, but how could I? I could tell by his eyes that the man didn’t know who he was after the process was over. This city is decaying like the world outside its walls.

Now I shouldn’t be out here this late, the prog-cops are hunting. I don’t want their frantic actions taken out on me.

I veer around a corner and hear a door creaking above me. Chills run down my chest and my skin crawls as it startles me. I freeze where I step. But it’s just a curious man, moving out onto his pocket-sized balcony. He glances to his right towards the hunting party, then back to me.

“You’d better run,” he warns, “They’re on the other side of the building ... they’re—”

My ears pop with the deafening zap of a gun, just around the corner behind me. The door slams above me as the man disappears. It’s just a warning shot I’d guess, no one’s been Eliminated, but I don’t look up to see the man vanishing into his Nook—I’m running. Running without need is a disturbance and a short while ago would have earned a simple punishment, but not now. Now it would warrant something much harsher, but no worse than being caught by a hunting party after dark. I’ll take my chances.

The piercing click of my shoes takes me two blocks from the hunters before I finally settle into a walk, gathering myself and trying to find my bearings.

A small noise pulls me from my unbroken pace, unusually low to the ground for any human. I turn halfway towards the noise, eyes darting to take in all my surroundings. There’s nothing to see, but I hear it again, coming from the drain into which the rain-water empties. The bars on the circular hole are broken and it’s just big enough for a person to squeeze into. I take a full spin around, listening for any guns. Silence answers. I should walk away. Definitely. Definitely walk away.

Oh, come on Tem. Grow a backbone. I tell myself, unconvinced.

I slink back to the drain, walking on needles as I strain to listen only to the rain misting on the concrete. There’s nothing to hear or see at the wash, just the water rushing in, but I crouch down anyway, bracing my shoulder against the building to look into the dark hole. Something small is curled up an arm’s length in.

My spine crawls with cold—eyes watch me from the end of the street, and I know exactly what I’m seeing. The oddly misshapen huddled mass is what they’re hunting, and from its size it can’t be more than a child.

I move to leave as the eyes follow.

“Stop.” The monotone voice of a prog-cop freezes me.

I finally turn to face its eyes, my limbs aching from the adrenaline pumping through them.

“Yes, officer?” I ask, taking in its cold appearance. It’s outfitted like every other prog-cop—a silver armor-suit and helmet with no uncovered skin, not even on the face. This one has a chink in the cheekbone of the armor, the only differentiation from any other of its kind I’ve seen. The metal is slick from the drizzling rain, water traveling down its surface in wild rivulets, making the still form appear more like a statue than anything else.

It has the heart of one.

There are seconds where I stare into the lifeless glass shielding its eyes from view without feeling anything. I focus strongly on calming my nerves, steadying my breath, and trying with all I have not to look guilty.

It stares back. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was studying me.

I don’t pay any attention to the drain.

Finally, “State your business.”

“I’m late coming from work. I was going back to my Nook but I heard a noise.” I say, trying to make my voice tight and commanding. I’m not sure if it’s convincing; it sounds hollow in my ears, like an echo.

There’s a pause. “Submit to an iris scan.”

I walk to the prog on legs that wobble like peach jelly, allowing it to put the little handheld machine up to my right eye as it finally breaks its still stance. The bright heat burns and I blink rapidly, only making the process start over—I force my eyes wide. When it pulls the scanner back, I squeeze them shut, red lights swimming against my vision.

The scanner reads off my name-number, sex, age, position, and status.

Name-number: Tem, 357. Sex: Male. Age: 28.9 years. Position: Program machine worker—Program Lenses. Status: Fully Programmed. The scanner reads in a robotic voice. My lip curls ever so slightly. I hate begin defined as a number without a soul. I hate being defined as Programmed.

The prog gazes at me with that studying expression again. It sets me on edge. Progs don’t think; it’s not part of their contract. They do precisely as the laws tell them without a second thought. They are more machine than man, both mentally and physically. Unspeakable creations.

At this precise moment it should have taken me into custody to be examined and questioned. The city is falling apart around them, it is not the safe haven it once was—they have no time or space for mercies.

“Go to your Nook immediately, thank you for your service,” the prog says, pressing buttons on its armored wrist without looking away from me.

My breath comes out in a huff.

I don’t believe it.


Ties are not allowed to be kept after entering adulthood. Childhood is a stage to be passed, and no one is supposed to keep relationships, whether old friends or old enemies. There is no such thing as “family.” No one knows anyone else’s DNA.

Jerriko and I spent childhood in the same Nurturing Quarters. We were friends, and clever children—at a young age we figured out why blood is drawn from every child: to test for inconsistencies in the system and separate any DNA ties. Later, we learned how to draw blood and interpret results. There must have been a mistake in the system for the two of us to have been raised in the same Quarters.

My older brother: a Programming Cop. How did he wriggle his way into that? I squint through the rain, trying to decide if I’m right.

The prog’s voice gets a tone, “Tem, 357, return to your Nook now.”

Definitely Jerriko, progs don’t use tones. They’re not living. They have no emotion. They have no souls.

More impressive than Jerriko becoming a prog it that he has still kept his humanity.

He has still kept his soul.

“Goodnight.” I murmur, turning and walking away.

My heartbeat pounds in my ears. It’s more than the adrenaline. I feel proud. Proud of my older brother—he is surviving this world, and he would never hurt a child.

Once out of sight, I break into a dead run, ignoring the sting of the rain lashing my face. My building is dark with sleeping citizens, and I shuffle quietly into my Nook, shrugging out of my wet coat. There isn’t any lock on my door, there isn’t any lock on anyone’s door. Authority can come in whenever they wish, for whatever reason.

My Nook is dark—I haven’t lit any of the lamps. All Nooks have a fireplace, but I can’t remember the last time anyone dared light one. Fire is frowned upon unless in dire situations or special occasions. Which means never. When the city was first formed, they were meant as a small pleasure in a world trying to survive. They were encouraged. But this city lost its meaning a long time ago.

Other than the fireplace, there’s a kitchen along the south wall, a bed in front of the fireplace, and a small, closed-off room for bathing. All of this is squeezed into a space no larger than two vehicles parked together.

I lean against the window frame to watch the pouring rain, knowing that being a prog means being a killer, and that Jerriko was never, and never will be one. That little child was scared, and I can’t imagine what he could have done to deserve an Elimination. Is Authority really desperate enough to kill a child? I know that imperfections, either physical or mental, are terribly frowned upon. But I can’t believe what I saw.

And I know Jerriko would never hurt anything so innocent. I remember him. He loved to rescue baby birds that fell from their nests, of the few birds that still come to the city. He was protective. Of everyone. Before we even knew our DNA he would defend me from the older boys. He did that for all the younger children. He wanted to take care of everyone.

My brother does not have the heart for being a prog.

The soothing patter of the rain explodes with shattering noise. Gunshots crackle through the night, sending electric jolts up my chest. I jump to the window, watching the crimson lights shimmering in the haze not far away.

Did they just shoot that child? Did Jerriko? My chest tightens around my breath. I refuse to believe it. I shove my arms back into my coat and slink from my Nook, telling myself how very, very foolish I am.

The alley with the broken drain is clear, the prog-cops have left, and even in the lull in the rain there is no other sound. I drop to my knees and maneuver my head and shoulders past the broken bars and into the wash. The roar of the gushing water echoes in my ears, drowning out any sound of my breathing. The air is pitch black and smells of decomposing life, twisting my stomach. I push farther in, the icy rainwater soaking my arm. It’s horrifyingly risky, but I can’t see a thing, so I pull a lightstick from my back pocket, crack it, shake the liquid inside, and hold the dimly glowing, white-blue beam out in front of me.

It’s right there, a few feet from me, and I cringe, startled by the closeness. The little boy is huddled in a ball, his limbs misshapen as I had thought, eyes seeming to stretch far too wide for his face. His breath comes out in rasping gulps, skin pulling against his naked body. Shreds of his clothes lay strewn about—he hasn’t been shot, but there are bullet holes in the walls of the drains.

I feel sick from what they’ve done to him, but also relief. Jerriko missed on purpose.

It doesn’t take me any time to decide. I’m not as Programmed as they thought. I set the lightstick where it won’t be washed away and reach to pull the boy from the drain. He can’t move away, and sobs when I get close, an odd, broken sound. His body shakes. I can’t imagine being scared enough to shake like that.

“It’s okay.” I assure him, “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s okay.”

I inch closer and closer, talking soothingly. He slowly turns to look up at me.

“Come here.” I struggle a little nearer. He doesn’t cringe away this time, although the shaking doesn’t still, tears streaking down his face.

I get close enough to put my arm around his frail little body. His icy skin bites into my fingers and he cowers under my touch. I murmur gently into his ear, pulling him close and managing to wriggle back out the drain without hurting him. It’s pouring now, heavy, fat drops beating down on us. I crack the lightstick again to turn it off and unbutton my coat and shirt, pressing his shivering little body against my warm chest, re-buttoning my clothes around both of us. It’s like hugging cold stone, but his fingers curl slowly under my arms, wanting to be held.

A red light at the end of the alleyway draws my attention, and I automatically stare, fear and shock paralyzing my limbs.

The progs are back.

They must have gone off for a different hunt. Now they’re coming to collect the body.

Damn. I try not to panic. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I gather the little boy tighter and stumble to my feet. By the time I hear their footsteps I have no time to make it around the corner of the building. I dive behind one of the stone garbage containers built into the wall, crouching low.

The child has stopped crying, holding desperately to me.

“You need to be quiet,” I whisper against his ear, “Do you understand?”

He doesn’t respond but goes as still as he can, making no noise. When the progs’ footsteps approach, he cringes into me, hiding his face weakly against my shoulder. I put my hand on his hair, cradling reassuringly. I lean back against the stone and quiet my breathing, listening to the prog-cops’ mechanically-enhanced voices. I catch only a handful of words, but the subject is clear—where is the body?

I wince, smoothing the little boy’s hair.

Footsteps start in my direction, sharper and sharper. My stomach twists painfully, and I’m sure they have to hear my heart pounding. The clicking stops just next to the stone garbage bin.

I pray with all I have that it’s Jerriko—and more so that he is still as human as he seems.

The short pause is painfully long. Two more steps forward, and the prog turns its face towards us.

It stares, and I know it’s Jerriko. It has to be. The chink in his armor seems blindingly apparent now that I know who it is. He holds my gaze for a long moment, and I wish I could find my brother’s eyes through that visor. I wish I knew if he sees me, knows me, comprehends the decision he is making. He may have missed this child, but he is fighting something far past his control. We both are.

And yet, finally, blessedly, he nods, nothing more than a fraction, and I know he sees.

“Let’s go,” his metallic voice says, turning and striding away, “It must have washed off the edge of the drain.”

The footsteps fade into the misty distance. When only the patter of the rain surrounds us, I stare into the dark night, comprehending what just happened. But when the child shifts in my arms, trying to get closer and warmer, I rise, cast a glance over my shoulder, and shuffle back down the streets and into my Nook. The shelter of my small home surrounds me, and I feel human once again. Comforted.

“Okay,” I say, standing in front my bed, trying to bring myself back to reality. “Okay. Let me have a look at you.”

But he clings to me, shaking again, so I rub his back until he calms and sit him on top of my covers, gently lying him back on them. He doesn’t want to be left, but goes limp when I wrap him in blankets, eyes following my every move.

I want to light a fire to warm the chilly little room, but I’ve already pushed my luck much too far tonight. I set a container of soup to heat in its own little bowl and unwrap the child to get a better idea of what I’m dealing with. He really wasn’t harmed too terribly much. He’s gaunt—most likely from the food rationing the whole city is experiencing. Growing children are usually hit the hardest—but only some cuts and bruises are scattered along his skin from when he ran away. The worst of it seems to be a gash along his arm, maybe from the sharp wire of the drain, or one of the bullet grazed him. I rip a spare sheet into strips for bandages because taking him to a doctor is far, far out of the question. He whimpers when I clean his injury, but doesn’t struggle.

And I know at least in part why he was marked for Elimination. His right arm isn’t whole. He can’t use it correctly, and his fingers and wrist are curled inwards, unable to move to any great degree. At first he tries to hide it from me in the blankets, but when I hold it and rub the back of his hand, he doesn’t pull away. To my knowledge, an Elimination has never been inflicted for something like this, but I can’t be sure anymore

I bathe him in the washroom tub, and the warm water makes him sleepy. He sags in my hands. The crimson “E” dyed onto his shoulder, marking him for Elimination, won’t wash off. I tuck him into my bed, retrieving the soup from the counter. His eyes light up when he sees the food, and he gobbles it down as I spoon it into his mouth.

“What’s your name?” I ask, gently smoothing his hair back from his forehead.

He looks up at me with his big, brown eyes, blinking owlishly, too frightened to answer.

“It’s okay, you can talk to me.” I assure him, taking both his hands in mine. He stares at the contact, then seems to enjoy it, wrapping his good hand around my fingers and letting me hold his curled ones gently. I smile at him.

It’s a great struggle for him to speak, but he finally manages. “Z-Z-Zeke.”

“There you go,” I congratulate him, and it earns a crooked little smile that fills me with warmth.

The room is cold and each clap of thunder has him cowering. They sound like gunshots. So I crawl under the covers, keeping him cozy and safe against me. That seems to comfort him; he snuggles close, nestling his face against my neck. He falls asleep that way, exhausted. It takes time for my thoughts to stop racing, to stop thinking about what my older brother must have gone through, and what he is now, and about being able to protect Zeke.


It’s a close call, and gives Authority quite a scare, but the sun eventually rises three days later. I notice its coming when the sky beings to lighten, a hoary gray replacing the black. I wrap Zeke in one of my shirts and a blanket and take him to the roof. Being outside frightens him, but once assured I’m not going to let him go, the prospect of seeing a rare sunrise makes him brighten. He locks his arms around my neck and watches the sky fill with sunlight.

“They s-s-say that one day the sun w-w-won’t rise anymore,” he murmurs sadly. His voice has improved with someone to care for him.

“Maybe,” I say. “No one really knows.”

The horizon begins to streak with red, the tip of our searing star peaking over. It’s a little hazy from the wall surrounding the city, an electric dome emitting from it, curving over us in a shimmery field that appears a pale white-blue at certain angles. The foodhouses against the wall give artificial sunlight to everything we eat. Past them, remnants of what used to be wide grasslands and lush forest slowly whither in the dark and cold.

Dawn and dusk are the most beautiful things left in this world.

“What h-h-happens when there’s only darkness?” he asks.

I glance over the edge of the building where a prog wanders the streets, hands held behind his back, watching citizens at their business in the precious sunlight. He stops and looks up at me holding a little boy three days ago condemned to die—there’s a familiar chink in his armor. I smile and he continues on his way, protectively pacing my little section of the city.

Who would have thought the world would have ended like this? Who would have thought we would have survived?

“We’ll find a way. We always do.”

Zeke sighs and rests his head against my neck, letting me hold his hand in mine. I’m absolutely sure I can protect him, no matter how far the world falls around us.

We stay there together for a long while before returning home, watching a beautiful, rare sunrise spread over our lonely city, somewhere between the first dawn and last dusk. the end

Emily McCosh is an eighteen-year-old writer and poet from central California. Already she has been published by “Intangience,” “New Realm,” “AE Micro 7,” and elsewhere. She also won a Silver Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.


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