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




Captain Loop Jamaan’s Conversion

By Trevor Doyle

YES, MY FAN-FRIENDS, THE FROGMAN was aiming an ancient weapon known as a firearm at my artificial heart.

He wasn’t, in fact, a hybrid of a man and that long extinct amphibian once known as the frog; he was a man encased in a bio-suit that had froglike features. His broad, hairless head was elongated and flattened on the top; his eyes were cloudy, glass globes rimmed with mottled green flesh. Two angled slits scraped the front of his curved face where his nose should have been, and he had a lipless mouth that stretched from one earhole to the other. Under my shuttle’s dim cabin lights, his moist skin almost seemed to glow.

In his left hand, he held a hemispherical helmet with a transparent faceplate, and he wore a body length white stocking that had a zipper down the front and was ringed at the neck with a black gasket. Since it wasn’t outfitted with projectors or ports, several hundred nanoseconds passed before I realized that the garment served the same function as the exosuits we use in the vacuum of space. The firearm was a molded piece of black metal wedged in his right hand; a Qubit Local query had defined it as an outmoded tool for maiming and killing that didn’t throw fire from one’s arm but could, nonetheless, expel a pointed lead projectile from its long, slender barrel at a velocity exceeding the speed of sound. In the close quarters of my shuttle, this made it a very dangerous weapon, for although my artificial heart was capable of short term self-repair, my exosuit was on the aft side of the ship, and a projectile traveling at such a speed would easily penetrate the shuttle’s hull, leading to rapid depressurization and my certain death.

Let me recap, briefly, for my fan-friends who have arrived here mid-feed. This incident took place thirteen years ago, when the Second Singularity was barely a decade old, while I was a captain in the Earth wing of what was then referred to as the Solar Space Command, or SSC. The SSC had just been granted authorization to engage in military action against the outer colonies, but we were still eight Earth months away from the outbreak of the Fringe War. I had been recruited for a special mission that could not be undertaken by a drone, and I was traveling in a small, unarmed shuttle alone, without an attaché or robotic servant of any kind. I was scheduled to arrive at Ganymede in less than seventy-two hours; the frogman had appeared a few minutes before my final course correction.

Out of sheer habit, I tried thinking at him, even though I knew it was impossible for him to receive me. This meant that I would have to vocalize instead, which made me almost as apprehensive as I was about the weapon that he was pointing at my chest. Utilizing a vestigial organ has always made me uncomfortable, as it reminds me of what we once were.

“The instant you discharge that firearm,” I said, grimacing against the stiffness of my vocal chords, “you will destroy us both, for I have programmed this shuttle to self-destruct the moment the cabin begins to depressurize.”

This was sheer subterfuge, my fan-friends, but my calculations indicated that there was a seventy-three percent probability that the intruder would believe that I was telling the truth.

“Disengage and step away from the console!” he shouted. His voice was oddly modulated, probably because of the bio-suit, but it was also higher in pitch than I’d thought it would be.

Disconnecting as ordered, I withdrew my fourth quadrant tentacle and moved one meter closer to him.

“Put your hands behind your back,” he growled. There was a smacking sound as the bio-engineered lips clamped shut; his nostril slits fluttered like fish gills as he took several deep breaths. “This bio-suit produces a toxin that will melt those tentacles of yours, so you would be wise to keep them to yourself.”

I nodded. “I suspected as much, but it’s very kind of you to warn me. I suppose you realize that I have already sent a direct message to Qubit Prime indicating your presence on my ship?”

“Yes,” the frogman replied, slurring that single syllable slightly. “I also know that we are seventeen light-minutes away from the nearest Earth relay station, which means that thirty-four minutes will pass before you get your next batch of instructions, Captain Loop Jamaan.”

I was surprised to hear him call me by my name, but I kept staring at him with the same gracious, complacent intensity.

“And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” I asked. “Or is there a face under that mask which I already know?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

Smiling gently at him, I nodded again. “Then it is as I suspected. You are a colonial scavenger, here to requisition my provisions and equipment.”

“Shut up, Jamaan,” the frogman retorted, in a voice that was even higher in pitch.

I hesitated for a moment, then calmly continued. “You were clever enough to cloak yourself with that primitive space suit and that outmoded weapon,” I said, “but have you considered the fact that the SSC will know your exact location as soon as you leave this ship? You will be apprehended in a matter of days, if not hours.”

“I said shut up.”

Raising his arm, the frogman pointed the firearm menacingly at my face, but I went on in a slightly softer tone that remained as even and as flat as before.

“No doubt you entered through the cooling duct and managed by some ingenious means to breach the maintenance port to the engine room without being detected.”

The weapon in the intruder’s hand started to shake, and the smooth, pale skin around his neck began to swell, inflating with air, but it was impossible to read anything in the creature’s unblinking, opaque eyes.

“Nonetheless,” I added, “you remain a common criminal, a simple-minded colonial thief.”

The frogman tossed his helmet across the cabin. It clattered. He gripped his weapon with both hands to steady it.

“I’m a member of the Fringe Resistance, you arrogant bastard.”

I raised my eyebrows. “The Fringe Resistance? Is that a political organization?”

“You know exactly who we are,” he said. “We’re the people who are going to keep you from taking the outer colonies.”

Glancing down at the frogman’s boots to demonstrate that I did not wish to be impolite, I cleared my throat, which I did with some difficulty, because it was beginning to ache. I wasn’t used to so much vocalizing.

“This may come as a shock to you, whoever you are, but neither the central government nor the SSC recognizes the existence of such an organization.”

“Of course you don’t. Doing so would force you to admit that your so-called police actions are acts of unjustified aggression in an undeclared war.”

“If you are referring to the anti-terrorism campaign that we’ve undertaken in the outer colonies, those are highly coordinated and targeted exercises against small bands of disaffected colonists who have sabotaged mining operations on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In accordance with existing agreements and previous treaties, we have not engaged a single vessel registered to the outer colonies in a military action.”

The skin beneath the frogman’s wide but heavily receding chin deflated and inflated several times; his nostril slits flared out to such an extent that I could see the pink mucous membranes that were inside his head. The weapon was steady, however, and it was aimed once more at my chest.

“If it was up to me,” he said, “I would kill you and be done with it, you lying, nanobot-driven slave of Qubit Prime.”

Although I did not appreciate this unwarranted slight, I was undeterred. Indeed, my fan-friends, the frogman had provided just the sort of revelation that I had been waiting for, as he had revealed, unwittingly, that he did not have the authority to act on his own. This implied that he was a link in some sort of chain of command, which had a direct bearing on our confrontation.

“Then you must be willing to die with me,” I said. “Why is that?”

“Just stand there and keep quiet.”

To appear compliant, I stood very still and was silent for approximately twenty-three seconds. My mind was working feverishly, however, because I’d realized that he was waiting for something very specific—the arrival of another ship. At the end of those twenty-three seconds, I started speaking again, very softly this time.

“Admittedly, I misjudged you,” I said. “You are obviously driven by personal feelings, not petty greed. You must have been swayed by the propaganda that has recently been disseminated among the outer colonies by the last remnants of the disaffected. Perhaps it’s that misinformation which brought you here.”

The frogman snorted. “The deaths of my father and my sister are what brought me here. They were killed by one of your drones while they were in a transport, just as they were leaving the mines.”

“Where? On which moon?”

“On Ganymede, of course. They’d done nothing wrong; they hadn’t even spoken out. They were innocent civilians.”

I glanced down again. “If that is so, then you should have been compensated.”

The frogman opened his mouth wide, exposing his moist, fat tongue as he made a sound that was part gargle, part bark. “Compensated? Sure, I was compensated. The regional governing committee upgraded my mining permit and credited my father’s quarters to me. But they wouldn’t come out and say that the SSC had done anything wrong. They’ve never admitted that the SSC murdered my family.”

“In consideration of the scope of your loss, I can understand the power of your grief,” I replied. “But I can only offer my condolences; nothing more.”

“Don’t patronize me, you transhumanist piece of trash.”

The insult did not achieve its intended effect. Instead, it made me realize that I was approaching a dead end and that I would have to try a new tack if I wished to maintain my advantage in this standoff. For the next one hundred and forty-four seconds, I needed to engage the frogman on an even deeper, more personal level, focusing his passion to a fine point that would be aimed, just as the weapon was, directly at me. Failing to do so would imperil my plans and lead to my capture rather than my liberation, which would make my preparatory action—upon detecting the intruder—a grave miscalculation rather than the triumph I was hoping it would be.

“I wasn’t my intention to appear patronizing,” I said with a slight bow.

The frogman jerked his arm, pointing the firearm at my face once more. “Don’t move!” he shouted.

“Of course not; I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

Something on his face caught my attention. Magnifying the left side of his mouth by a factor of twelve, I identified several small creases near the left corner of his lips that I hadn’t seen before.

“You do that again and I’ll put a bullet through your spine,” he muttered.

I closed my eyes briefly to acknowledge that my fate was entirely within his hands. “I suppose that seeing me wounded in such a fashion would give you pleasure,” I said humbly.

“I’m not the monster here, Jamaan, you are.”

“But it would make you feel good to see me writhing in pain, wouldn’t it?”

“I’ve never taken pleasure in another creature’s suffering, and I’m not about to start now.”

“And yet,” I continued, “if you were to end my life, and if you think of me as an agent of the SSC who is partly responsible for its actions, then you would be more fairly compensated, so to speak, for the loss of your loved ones. This would make you happy; therefore, you would derive a kind of pleasure from killing me, correct?”

“This isn’t about revenge.” The frogman smacked his lips several times in rapid succession, as if he was thirsty. “And you can stop playing your little game; you pose a greater threat to me than I do to you, and you know it. You want to take your chances, you go right ahead. If that means that we both have to die here, so be it.”

I nodded. “I understand. From your perspective, you would be acting in self-defense.”

He did not respond to my observation. I allowed eight seconds to elapse before I addressed him again.

“You framed your allegiance to that organization, that resistance movement, in the same fashion, although I find your logic there to be rather flawed. Our treaties are still in effect, after all; none of the colonies are in any danger. The deaths of your father and your sister, for example, were obviously accidental; the fact that you were offered compensation for your loss demonstrates that our mutual governments regard the incident as an unintended consequence of a particular police action.”

“That’s a lie! They didn’t die accidentally. They were targeted.”

“That’s a bold statement to make. Do you have any proof?”

“Hundreds of colonists have died in these police actions of yours. None of them were terrorists; the truth is that we’re the ones who are being terrorized because we refuse to be a part of your crusade.”

“Then why are the colonial governments jointly participating in these operations with the SSC? Are you suggesting that your own duly-elected representatives wish to harm you?”

With the weapon still at the ready, the frogman leaned forward slightly. “Do you think that working in the mines has made us blind? After every single citizen in the inner system had been upgraded or disposed of, you came to us and threatened to re-negotiate all of our trade treaties. You were going to end all trade with the outer colonies if we refused to install your colonial converts as chancellors and regional governors, which would have crippled us, all of us, and you knew it.” He paused long enough to smack his lips once more. “The mining guilds were the only ones who had the guts to stand up to you, and as soon as they did, you manufactured a non-existent crisis in the mines and used it as an excuse to increase the SSC’s military presence around Ganymede and the other moons.”

I beamed a broad, friendly smile at him. “That may be the most elegantly constructed conspiracy theory I’ve ever encountered,” I said. “As propaganda for your cause, it’s nearly perfect.”

“It’s the truth, Jamaan, and as soon as we replace the chancellors that you pushed on us, everyone on the Fringe will know that it’s the truth as well.”

“A revolution, then. That’s what you’re after?”

“No,” he said. “We want what we’ve lost—our freedom. The right to live in peace, according to our own customs.”

“If you threaten the sanctity of the colonial governments, you will forego any chance at regaining what you claim to have lost. Upending the existing political power structure will have one inevitable result: it will serve as a declaration of war.”

“So be it,” the frogman replied proudly. “We’re ready to die for the right to remain human.”

I wanted very much to laugh at this, but I restrained myself. “To remain human? The colonials are already biologically distinct from Homo sapiens, and you have been for over one hundred Earth years.”

“We’ve adapted out of necessity,” the frogman said, his voice high and shrill. “But our values, our culture, what we yearn for and strive for are fundamentally human.”

“Do you mean to imply that we are not, simply because we’ve adapted by choice? How can you tender such an argument, when you and your ancestors readily adopted the augmentations that arose from the First Singularity?”

“We were connected in new and different ways, but we were never slaves to a living machine, and we never will be.”

I shook my head. “I’m afraid that you are showing your ignorance. Qubit Prime isn’t a machine; it isn’t mechanical in any sense, and can’t be, because it is a living thing, with emotions that run as deep as yours. It loves, and it is loved. We are not subservient to it, not at all; we are part of it, and we are better off being parts of it than we ever could be if we were not.”

“You’re a disease,” the frogman said. “You’re parasites feeding on a host that uses you as its arms and legs.”

“Hardly. We’re people, just like you, but we’ve evolved into something new, something better. You can either be a part of it, or you can be left behind.”

“We want no part of what you are,” the frogman hissed.

“Some of you will have no say in whether you are or not.”

It is astonishing, my fan-friends, how clearly that moment is still etched upon my mind. As my mouth closed upon that last syllable, I noticed more creases near the frogman’s lips as well as new wrinkles that had gathered around his bulging eyes, which told me that his bio-suit was degrading rapidly, more rapidly than I’d calculated it would. With his head tilted ten degrees to the left, he looked puzzled, as if he didn’t know how to respond to my taunt; perhaps he realized, in that instant, that he would never have another chance to do so.

Time slowed as my nanobots surged, consuming the extra power that I’d been rationing up to now. With greater speed and agility than I was normally capable of, I unclasped my hands, threw myself down on the deck, and wrapped my arms tightly around the nearest tether rail, bracing myself as the retro thrusters fired at full force, igniting for a two-second burn that I’d programmed upon detection of the intruder who had come aboard my ship.

Flailing, the frogman flew past me, hurtling toward the command console; then the engines quit, and as he slid to the floor, I pounced, landing on his back with all four of my tentacles extended.

He struggled as I restrained his wrists and ankles, but he wasn’t as strong as I’d thought he would be, and I was able to wrestle that ancient weapon out of his fist with my hands. Placing my right boot squarely against his lower back, I leveraged the tension of my tentacles against the muscles in my leg and let all four go at once, so that the frogman tumbled forward, striking his bare head against the console’s sharp edge.

Moving quickly, I raced aft to reach my locker, where I transmitted the unlock code quickly but efficiently, modifying my exosuit’s melding sequence to compensate for the weapon that was now securely wedged in my own fist. Withdrawing my tentacles, I leaned into the locker, initiating the sequence; the exosuit’s bands unfolded, wrapping around my legs, torso, and arms until my body was almost entirely covered with a protective layer of life support. Then the system paused for a brief second, and I switched the firearm from my left hand, which was uncovered, to my right, which was; the final bands looped around my last five fingers and the helmet descended, sealing itself with a soft click.

Stepping out of the locker, I opened the ports of my lower quadrants and unfurled two of my tentacles. The frogman was hunched over the command console when I reached the main cabin; he was trying to contact the ship he’d been waiting for.

“Abort!” he shouted. “Do you read me? Abort!”

“The comm section is locked,” I said, the weapon ready in my right hand.

He whipped around to face me. His swollen head was wrinkled, and his jaw was slack, exposing a tongue that had turned gray. A triangular flap of greenish-brown flesh had peeled away from his right temple; a tawny tuft of all-too-human hair protruded from the gash.

His voice was slurred now by the rapid degeneration of the bio-suit. “The self-destruct,” he started. “You lied; you were lying, weren’t you?”

“Of course.”

He hesitated, and I thought that perhaps he was about to plead for his life, to beg for mercy, but he wasn’t. He came at me with his full force, leaping with his arms outstretched; for a moment, I tried to imagine the face that was hidden inside, and then I pointed the ancient weapon at his chest and squeezed the triggering mechanism.

Two short claps of thunder ripped through the shuttle’s small cabin; one of the projectiles ricocheted against the bulkhead. Then the cabin pressure alarm sounded, and the door behind me sliced shut.

Jolted in mid-air by both projectiles, the frogman fell face first against the deck, landing a mere half-meter from my feet.

Squatting beside the length of his body, I set the weapon down and rolled him over on his back. There were two holes in his outer garment offset from the center of his chest, and I could see blood pooling underneath, just beginning to soil the fabric with red rust.

I would have to act quickly to get what I needed. I felt a certain amount of reluctance; it was irrational, but I felt it nonetheless. Bear in mind, my fan-friends, that the conversion process was still in its Beta phase at this time. As this was to be my first conversion, there were uncertainties that hovered in my mind, in spite of the training I’d received. I have to admit that there was a foreboding of the unknown that my nanobots were not able to control; I actually shivered as I leaned over him, even though I knew that I could not complete my mission without proceeding with the conversion.

The frogman’s nostril slits were fluttering rapidly; a large piece of his clammy chin had sloughed off onto the floor. Reaching down, I slipped my fingers into the holes in his garment and ripped the fabric, pulling it back. Then I took a deep breath and clawed at the bio-suit, which had degraded to a spongy mush that I peeled away with little effort; where it wasn’t torn and bloody, the skin beneath was pinkish and flecked with freckles.

I extended my tertiary tentacle, probing the open wound that was farthest from the heart. As I tunneled in, I felt a mild burning sensation, probably the result of residual amounts of bio-toxin that had transgressed the perforated flesh. Then I pressed down, pushing deeper into the chest cavity; more blood seeped from the wound. My tentacle pierced a muscle, poked through a membrane, and slid between lungs to ram against another obstacle.

The vertebrae: this was the crucial point of contact. I guided the tip into the crevice between the two bones I’d located in the spine, injected the tentacle’s needle into the fluid sac that cushioned the vertebrae, and was suddenly paralyzed by self-doubt. Had I missed the target? What had I done wrong? And then that doubt was washed away by an intense swelling of pleasure that crested and toppled over like a tall wave crashing against a sandy shore. A slowly diminishing feeling of release followed as a cadre of my nanobots left the tentacle to incorporate within the frogman’s spinal cord.

With my remaining nanobots taxed by their increased workload, weariness settled over me, a kind of fatigue that slowed my thoughts and made my arms and legs sluggish. I fought against the urge to slump down on the deck beside the frogman, where I could recuperate, where I could sleep peacefully and dream of the light of Qubit Prime. I focused instead on the frogman’s face; my tertiary tentacle, which had switched autonomously into self-cleaning mode, was withdrawing from his chest, so I dragged my gloved hands up to his glassy eyes and pulled feebly, cracking the bio-engineered flesh like an eggshell. The eyes came off, then the cheeks, and as my strength started to return, I stripped away the nostrils and the upper lip and reached in to dig out the rubbery material that was cemented in his mouth.

The sound of my own heavy breathing pounded against my ears in the exosuit. With my right hand, I scraped away the remaining nuggets of moist bio-matter from the stranger’s face, which was still shrouded within a ragged, dark ring of rapidly decaying material. I was shocked by what I saw.

The frogman wasn’t a man. He was a woman.

Her freckled cheeks were clammy and her lips were pale, but before I could read the torment in her eyes, our nanobots completed their sync cycle, and our minds were joined together. Her thoughts rushed up at me, a torrent of grief and pain and self-loathing that broke through my defenses and left me quivering and weak. My chest was on fire; my legs were numb. I saw the face of her dead father, felt his warm embrace before he was ripped away from us both, and then I heard her sister’s voice and was soaked with the guilt of having survived, of having outlived this younger, more beautiful, more talented sibling. I saw the life they’d all lived on Ganymede, in a deep well of dimly lit corridors where the air was foul and bits of trash littered the crevices and corners of every room. My quarantine had collapsed; I was slipping fast, falling with her into a spiral of suffering that would have an inevitable end.

But then I felt her pull back a part of herself, withdrawing into her own pain. She wrapped her feelings tightly around her thoughts, using them like a cloak, and I worried that she was trying to sever our link. I reached out, offering all of the strength that I had left in me in order to buoy her up, to provide something that she could hold to, but she pushed back, distancing herself. She cast a weak line of thought across the small space that existed between us; I heard it as a slight, soft whisper in my inner ear.

Don’t panic, Jamaan. I’m not going, not yet, and I’ll tell you what you need to know.

Relieved, I relayed the essence of my mission. Two of our spacecraft had been lost along the Ganymede trade route, and I had been sent out as bait to attract another attack. I needed to know what the Fringe Resistance was up to and how they’d successively compromised the security of our ships.

In response, she showed me secret meetings and messages that the members of the Resistance transmitted to each other in code. The faces of her co-conspirators flashed in my mind, freedom fighters in a cell that received instructions from a leader they’d never met; I asked her what they’d done to the officers we’d lost and wondered if they were still alive.

The first ones destroyed themselves, she explained. We were able to download the second set, which allowed us to access your encryption keys; they are being held captive on Titan at the following coordinates.

So they’d decrypted one of our channels. That was how she knew my name when she came aboard. As for how they’d gained entry into our ships, that was all her doing: she’d intercepted each one in a low-mass mini-craft that was the size of a locker, tethering to the ships’ portside ducts during a cooling cycle. Bio-engineered organobots had breached and then sealed the maintenance ports that were nearby, allowing her to access the engine rooms covertly.

What were they going to do with me? I asked. Was I to become a prisoner as well?

We were never told more than what we needed to know to fulfill each mission, she said. But I suspect that they were going to use you as a hostage.

And her co-conspirators were still coming to meet me; she sensed the question that this realization prompted before I could ask it.

They’ll be here in less than an Earth minute, she told me. When they find out that I’ve been converted, they’ll destroy us both.

The truth was much darker than this, my fan-friends, because it was doubtful that she was going to live that long. I thought about putting her to rest in the shuttle’s cryo-bed, where her new nanobots would be preserved even after her body ceased to function; she could then be virtualized, with most of her memories remaining intact, once we returned to Mars. She rejected this possibility outright, however.

Your ship isn’t armed, Jamaan, and that weapon of mine will be useless against them. You have to get out of here; you have to save yourself.

Leaning over, I peered through my helmet to look into her eyes, which were still a bright blue, even though they were almost closed.

“You will never see Qubit Prime for yourself,” I said out loud, “but let me show you how it feels to be touched by its love.”

Summoning the most recent of my memories of Earth, I compressed all of the joy and pleasure that I’d felt in the presence of Qubit Prime into one glorious, enlightening beam of light that I sent through her.

Her lips curled into a smile that was wrought with pain, but I could feel the pleasure she felt, a pleasure that was now mixed with relief.

It’s like being in heaven, she observed. And the glory of one truth that is above all others—thank you, Jamaan; thank you.

Her quivering cheeks stopped moving as she closed her eyes. Folding her arms over her bloodstained chest, I stood up slowly, not wanting to leave her side, but I knew that only a small part of her remained alive, and even that would soon be gone.

I crossed the cabin in my exosuit and joined with the console, where I programmed the shuttle’s engine to overload as soon as the proximity sensor went off. When my tentacle was fully withdrawn, I solemnly passed by the body that was lying in the middle of the floor, making my way to the escape pod.

A trace of her last gesture, that warm, comfortable smile, was still etched upon her face.


I wish that I could say, my fan-friends, that I derived some sort of satisfaction from watching, at a distance of some twelve hundred and twenty-six meters, my shuttle and the colonial junker that had just come alongside it rip apart in a bright blast that sent the wreckage of both vessels hurtling into the blackness of space, but my thoughts by this time were on other things. The transmission that I was about to send to the command cruiser Galant, for instance, as well as our impending and now inevitable conflict with the Fringe Resistance, which would soon become an all-out war.

And then there was the adversary whom I’d faced that day. An adversary who became, at the end, a very close friend.

She was called Anna. Her name was Anna Jackson, and she has been a long time gone. END

Trevor Doyle holds advanced degrees in computer science and has worked both as a computer programmer and as a technical writer for a major software development company. He lives with his wife and his two dogs in western New York.


Frank Wade comp




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