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




Zoo Hack

By James Van Pelt

LYRIC WALKED QUIETLY ALONG the maintenance path in the Bird Garden. She checked readouts on her tablet that showed her every bird’s location as she headed for Flamingo Grove. The readout also showed her occupied birds and untenanted ones. The four bald eagles were booked through August. She saw one riding a thermal overhead. Probably Annette’s bird. At eighty-three, Annette was the zoo’s best customer. Lyric checked: the three other bald eagles perched on tree limbs along the bluff that marked the Bird Garden’s edge. Most visitors who ported into animals found the experience too stunning to move. They’d spend their hour or two swimming in the animal’s limited and pure consciousness. If the eagle decided to fly on its own, the shock often jolted the client right back to themselves. Only an intense port fiend like Annette would take over major motor motions and become the bird.

At eighty-three, Annette was one of the most intense, alive people Lyric knew.

All the Bird Garden’s toucans sported hitchhikers, too, mostly pre-teen girls who liked the bird’s coloring. Parrots were popular, and so were penguins. Lyric preferred finches herself. Occupying one was like sucking adrenaline. Finches didn’t survey the landscape like an eagle or vulture. They didn’t “decide.” They just did, flitting from place to place like lightning bolts. She loved little birds. A bright blue one alighted on a branch beside her, cocked its head as if to look her over, then sprung into flight and away at an eye-blink. Lyric smiled.

She opened a disguised gate into Flamingo Grove. The zoo used numerous, invisible barriers to keep animals in their areas. The gate didn’t control the birds, of course—aerial subsonics fenced them in effectively—but it did stop tortoises and lizards from entering the flamingo habitat.

Lyric stopped at the mangrove swamp’s edge. No breeze. Fetid air roiling with gnats and flies. Fifty meters away, the zoo’s flock stood in a pool of water. Carnage coated the shore at her feet. Pink feathers. Torn open birds, a mess of blood, guts and bone. The nearest one’s neck had been snapped, and flies crawled over its feathers and the bloody mud. Four dead flamingos. Her tablet only showed the birds’ locations, and if they were occupied, not if they were living.

She dropped to her knees. Clearly impressed into the mud around the corpses were an animal’s tracks. A distinct pad with four clawed toes, about ten centimeters long. Lyric took a picture, but she knew they were from a cheetah. On the swamp’s other side, beyond thick, tall brambles, grazed African herbivores: zebras, warthogs, okapi, giraffe, water buffalo; and beyond them, the Primate Panorama. Next came the big cats. There was no way a cheetah—an unaccounted for cheetah—could hunt in Flamingo Grove. That was three fences away. She triggered her earpiece. “Rachael, this is Lyric, someone’s hacked the zoo. I’m coming in.”

Atop Menagerie Tower, three stories above the zoo’s grounds, Rachael’s office looked more like a stock brokerage than the headquarters for a major animal attraction. Her diplomas and certificates in gold frames covered one wall. Covering the second, sixteen panel displays showing various views of the park, while the third and fourth walls were glass. Workshops, veterinary compounds, the visitor center and port broadcast masts spread out below the left window, while the zoo itself reached to the foothills eight kilometers away. Rachael sat at her ludicrously large desk, an unlikely combination of bamboo and glass. At forty, she was impressively fit. Lots of weight room hours paid off in meaty arms and a muscled neck. She wore her safari business suit that she liked on the days when she ran passenger orientations.

Rachael drummed the fingers of one hand against the pith helmet on the desk. “The animals are accounted for and where they’re supposed to be. If a cheetah killed them, then it’s back where it belongs and all we have to do is track down how gates were left open. Nothing is wrong with our computer security.”

Lyric’s voice rose. “It was butchery of defenseless creatures, not a loose cheetah taking a meal. You didn’t see it.” She swallowed, the stench of torn flesh still fresh in her memory. “A cat would never take down so many birds, and there was no evidence that it fed. Slaughter like that is a human thing. We have a breach.”

Rachael waved her hand at one of her displays. “You can see yesterday’s and last night’s schedule yourself. It’s been two days since we’ve checked out a cheetah. You’re telling me that the records have been tampered with? I helped design this system myself. We know every occupied animal, and we know their moves.”

The readouts didn’t show cheetahs out of place. The records looked perfect. Ridership was up. Reservations were up. Tie-in products like tee shirts and relivable trip highlights were booming. No wonder Rachael wasn’t concerned. Lyric erased the four dead flamingos from the data base. The zoo probably wouldn’t replace them. Almost no one chose flamingo, although Lyric would take a break in one every once in a while. A flamingo’s world was serene, unrushed, like a lavender oil bath for the brain.

In her office, Lyric closed the door and locked it before putting on the port glasses and lying on the couch. Part of her job included animal evaluation. She would port connect, assess the animal’s health, and move on. Today, though, she needed to relax, so she chose her favorite sloth. Regular clients ported-in through an introductory orientation that explained the consciousness transfer equipment, safety tips, and suggestions for how best to enjoy the experience. Most passively appreciated the ride. Seeing the world through an animal’s brain was exciting enough. How marvelous to actually become a different creature, to feel the world through another body, to really “be” the animal for a short while. Animal thinking didn’t resemble human thinking. No curse of self-awareness (although elephants and primates approximated it). No sense of personal history. No planning and correlating. Riders reported their experience through peculiar similes and synesthesia: “The warthog felt red. He saw everything like a drum roll” or “The anaconda slithered through tall reeds like a children’s choir.” Inexperienced patrons didn’t take over the animal’s movements.

Lyric skipped the orientation. She closed her eyes for the transition, and then saw the tree branch she hung from. Her long, hair-covered arms supported her effortlessly. Leaves rustled around her. She reached slowly out with one claw-tipped limb, pulled a leaf-covered twig toward her mouth, and ate. Lyric sighed at the sweetness, the satisfying texture. The world smelled green and crunchy. She let the sloth move on its own volition, aware of herself as a person on board, but also being a worry-free creature driven only by animal needs to eat, to sleep, to procreate. Sloths had few enemies. They paid little attention to other creatures. Lyric thought of the sloth as the Zen Buddhist of the animal world. She stopped thinking about Rachael. For a moment, she didn’t see dead flamingoes and mud-smeared feathers.


The next morning, an alert in the Primate Panorama sent Lyric running. Rachael joined her a few minutes later. In the trees around them, capuchins chattered, swinging from branch to branch, or sitting on their haunches watching the two women. On the ground, three patches of bloody meat and fur had been stomped into the earth.

Rachael leaned over one of them, careful to keep her boots away from the mess. “That used to be a mandrill?”

“It’s half the horde. The other three have retreated to the far end of the enclosure.” Lyric checked the ground, but it didn’t take a tracker to tell that an elephant had done the damage. “Two animals out of their area in two days. Do you still think it’s an accident?”

Rachael shook her head. “We’ve got a worse problem than roaming exhibits. A high school sophomore from Tallahassee was riding one of these when the elephant caught him.

“Oh, no.” Lyric blanched. “Did he get out in time?”

“No.” Rachael looked into the forest as if she thought the elephant might be hiding there. “He thought it was a part of the experience, didn’t know to be scared. Mandrills are social, you know. His animal was a male guarding a female in estrus. Any other time of the year, the mandrill would have run. They’ve got the boy in with a counselor right now, quite shook, and his parents are talking lawsuit.”

Invisible birds cried out from the leafy canopy. Insects buzzed angrily. Lyric felt in the morning sun how hot a day it would be. “Nothing on the record again?”

“The elephants are accounted for. Every ride properly logged. Either the records aren’t accurate or someone hijacked the only elephant not scheduled this morning. Just one gate to open between the two environments this time. Also not recorded. If we’re being hacked, they’re jacking rides and snaking the gate codes.”

“If you know which elephant it was, I have an idea. Let’s get back to the tower.”

“You’re the expert,” said Rachael.

In her office, Lyric prepared to port into the suspect elephant. If the visitor was still riding him, Lyric might be able to identify the culprit. She turned the recording gear on to capture the experience so she could review the results later. The glasses fit her snugly. If it had been any other animal than an elephant, then this approach wouldn’t work, but elephants exhibited self-awareness, a trait they shared with humans, the great apes, and dolphins. An elephant truly did remember, although not in a way analogous to human memory. Riding an elephant scared Lyric a little. Once, when she ported into one for a normal health check, she could swear that the animal awoke to her presence. She felt it’s slumberous, non-human intelligence turn inward, looking for her.

The elephant was running. No other intelligences on board. Lyric rolled with the rhythm of four pounding legs beneath her, the strength in her shoulders and hips. She breathed hard, smashed through brush, trumpeted. Why was she running? She worked to separate her sense of self from the elephant which the porting procedure worked against. She was supposed to be the elephant, not herself, but she couldn’t analyze the animal’s experience without the distance. Dividing the two was hard. The senses overloaded her while dread and grief flooded through her. (Or was that the elephant?) A memory played like a film loop. She charged into a clearing, saw the mandrills, grabbed one with her trunk, and flung it against the ground. It clung to her before she threw it, roaring in fear. The second didn’t move fast enough to avoid her feet. Bones broke underfoot. The third loped toward her, teeth bared, but it had no chance. She stomped and stomped, driving the monkey into the ground. Volcano rage erupted, searing, spilling down her slopes. Kill. Kill. Kill. She rushed the trees, but the shrieking animals fled. Then the memory replayed. The clearing. The mandrills’ blood splashing. Entrails squeezing from them. Lyric reeled against the images, against the trauma. To where was the elephant running? Agonizing sorrow weighed against memories of rage. Was this elephant guilt? She’d never been in an animal like this. She tried to orient herself, her elephant heart slamming like a drum.

The zoo separated environments with fences and geographical features. A wall of thorny hedge in one part, a river in another. The elephants’ territory rose on one side to the top of a bluff overlooking the big cat enclosure. Lyric ran uphill. An elephant doesn’t see clearly but has an excellent sense of smell. Cats were ahead of her. The elephant ran toward the cliff. Lyric tried to steer the animal away, to make it stop. Fear, guilt, animal horror. The legs churned on. Now Lyric saw the forest beyond the cliff thirty meters away. Turn! Stop! But it wouldn’t veer or slow. Fifteen meters now. Ten.

Lyric flung the glasses off, sat in her office, sweat pouring off her face. She was wet with it. What happened?”

Her earpiece clicked. Rachael barked, “What the hell was that? An elephant fell off a cliff. Customers saw the whole thing, dammit. Were you controlling it?”

Lyric touched a key on her computer, brought up a camera angle that caught the action. The elephant never paused. It hit the cliff edge as if the world burned behind it.

“Suicide,” Lyric said. “It killed itself.” Tears mixed with sweat.

Lyric took a long shower before heading to the command center. Whoever had taken the elephant contained more anger than any intelligence she had ever encountered. Fury tasted like burnt cinnamon. What could make a person so wrong?

Sandy ran port ops and gate security. Because she didn’t meet with the public, she wore whatever she liked. Today the middle-aged technician sported a Hawaiian shirt over a turquois tank top. “It’s not an employee. Everyone’s actions are accounted for and crosschecked. Even if they erased the illegal ride, they couldn’t be two places at once. It has to be a customer.”

Lyric stood beside her, looking at the display of Port Hall. One hundred visitors sat on comfortable recliners, port glasses in place. Three snappily dressed attendants monitored their experience, leading clients to their chairs, making sure the glasses were properly adjusted, snugging their seat belts (some people translated animal moves into reactions of their own—it wouldn’t do to have customers falling out of their chairs and injuring themselves). Only one customer sat in the handicapped-friendly staging area, separate from the rest, a young girl on a motorized chair. Her head lolled to the side.

“A client couldn’t possibly hijack a ride, could they?”

Sandy said, “They’re the only ones who could. What is impossible is that someone from outside the zoo ported-in remotely. The system has no connections beyond our property. No hard lines. No transmitted data. Whoever the hacker is did it from the visitor room.”

Lyric studied the visitors. Old people, young ones, family groups. Some twitched in their chairs. Most of them grinned the same stunned grin of people who were experiencing an animal ride for the first time. Always before, Lyric found their expressions charming. She worked at the happiest job in the world for the happiest people; but now she found the rows and rows of smiling visitors wearing the same opaque glasses disconcerting. One of them could be the maniac who’d scared an elephant to death.

“How much equipment would be needed?”

“Theoretically, not much. The trick would be getting through the firewalls. After that, you could fit everything into a lunchbox.”

A basket was attached to the back of the clients’ chairs. Many held backpacks, book bags, or purses.

Sandy checked her tablet. “Seventeen clients have left since the mandrills were killed. Whoever did it might already be gone.”

On the screen, a client sat up, removed his glasses and started yelling.

“Can you turn up the sound?” asked Lyric. An attendant rushed toward the man.

Sound clicked on. “I paid for a full hour!” He threw his glasses on the floor. “I’ve had this reservation for three months. I know my rights, and I get an hour.”

The attendant reached him. “I’m sure there’s a mistake, sir. There may have been a glitch in your glasses.”

The man looked at the shattered pair on the floor. “No shit.”

“Our hitchhiker is still here.” Lyric turned to Sandy. “What was that guy riding?”

Sandy tapped her display. “Hell, no. The Siberian. There’s only one gate between the cat enclosure and the visitor center.”

“Call display control. Tell them to bring tranq guns. Have somebody physically lock that gate.”

“How would they do that?”

“I don’t know. Park a truck against it.”

Lyric ran toward the visitor center. The Siberian was one of the zoo’s prize acquisitions. Over four meters long, almost three hundred kilograms. The tiger was a favorite ride. Lyric didn’t prefer the cats, though, especially the males. Awesomely powerful. Lithe. Beautifully marked. But always hungry, evaluating anything that moved in terms of should it be attacked, and if it was the right time of the year, whether she should mate with it. She felt the same way after a few minutes in one of the big cats that she did after a sixth cup of coffee, without thetiger jitters. Hypervigilant. Dangerous. Wolves weren’t much better, although they ran sometimes just for the joy of running. The big cats sat still, brooded, and when they rose, there was a good chance something was going to die.

Lyric went down the stairs three at a time. Whoever was riding the tiger was still in a chair.

She triggered her earpiece. “Sandy, who was here yesterday when the flamingoes died?” It took her three tries to key in the security code that let her out of control ops.

“Eleven-hundred visitors ported-in yesterday. You want the whole list?”

Lyric entered the port arena. “I don’t need all the names. It’s someone from the morning who came back today. A repeat visitor.” The windows to her right showed the zoo, but the glass wasn’t tempered to hold back an animal. A Siberian wouldn’t even slow down going through. She passed fifteen ported-in kindergartners all wearing the same color shirt in the seats to her left. Their teacher sat behind them. Probably doing the seals, Lyric thought. Five-year olds are suckers for seals.

“There’s the old lady who likes the eagles.”

“Yeah, Annette. I know about her.”

“Man, we have a lot of names here. Oh, double shit.”


“I’ve lost video feeds and tracking in the zoo. I can’t see anything. I can’t tell you where the animals are. No port controls. I’m cut off.”

“Gates are good?”

“Far as I can tell, but we didn’t know how they opened for the other attacks. I don’t trust my readouts.” Lyric heard Sandy’s despair.

“I need the repeaters. Figure a way to find them,” Lyric said, keeping the panic out of her voice. “I know how to get us eyes.”


Lyric moved between the visitors. Two attendants looked at her curiously, picking up on her urgency.

She stopped at an elderly woman. Long, wispy white hair spilled over the woman’s dark blue blazer. No time for niceties. Lyric took off the woman’s glasses.

“I need your help, Annette.”

The old woman blinked against the room’s reality. Lyric knew how disorienting an abrupt exit from porting could be.

“We have an emergency. There’s a tiger loose in the zoo. It might be headed our way. We’ve lost video feeds. We don’t know where it is. I need you to find it.”

Annette, her face a map with a thousand wrinkles, looked up at Lyric. In a voice surprisingly firm for her age, she said, “What about the fences? I’m stuck in Bird Garden.”

“No, you’re not. The subsonics are only uncomfortable for a few seconds. If you hold the eagle steady, you’ll blast through. Can you do that?”

Annette nodded and slapped her glasses back on. “It will take me a minute to get there.”

Impressed, Lyric stood. Even she had a hard time talking when she was glassed up.

The next step, the obvious one, would be to have the attendants take off everyone’s glasses. With the connection broken, the tiger would revert to normal behavior.

Or it should.

Lyric could still feel the broken elephant’s spirit. There was nothing normal there. Would a tiger ridden with such anger come out of it unscathed? Elephants weren’t normally violent. It couldn’t handle the rider’s killing rage, but what would an apex predator like the Siberian do with the remnants of that nuclear reactor in its psyche?

She called the attendant’s earpieces. “Take everyone’s glasses off. Some of them will get angry. Tell them you’ll explain later. Move fast.”

“That’s not procedure,” one of the attendants said. “The manual says abruptly interrupting the brain-to-brain connection can be traumatic.”

Lyric took the glasses off a young woman holding the hand of a boy in the seat next to her who must be her son. She looked around as if Port Hall was an alien planet. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Problem with the equipment.” Lyric took the boy’s glasses, who immediately started crying.

She moved to a young girl in a flowery, spring dress. The other attendants were working, but too slowly. At this rate it would take several minutes to remove all the glasses, and if the tiger came this way ... it could be at the barrier now. She looked across the lawn that led to the gate into the cat enclosure sixty meters away. Someone was maneuvering a golf cart against it. “A golf cart is not a truck,” she muttered. The tiger weighed more than that. She hoped it would work. The wall was five meters high, over the recommended dimension to contain tigers, but she knew the barriers were more a visual impediment than anything. A determined animal, particularly one guided by a human intelligence, could figure a way through.

“Where are the tranq guns?” Lyric barked. She went from chair to chair, pulling glasses without explanation. A clatter of indignation arose as she moved from customer to customer.

Sandy answered, “Inside the enclosure. They’ll find him soon enough.”

“Pull them out. You don’t have visuals.”

“They have guns.”

“Pull them out!” Lyric remembered a video she’d seen of men hunting a tiger from a platform on an elephant. They hit the tiger with several tranq darts, but it still leapt several meters up, mangling a man’s hand before running off into the long grass.

Some clients shouted. Children wept. It sounded like flamingoes squawking. People picked up on Lyric’s and the attendants’ intensity and helped, pulling glasses around them. “No, leave her alone!” shouted Lyric as an eager helper reached toward Annette. “Don’t let anyone bother her.”

Lyric glanced back at the wall, expecting the gate to crash in at any second, sending the golf cart spinning. So she was looking when the big cat cleared the barrier, not bothering with the blocked exit. It clung to the top, then flowed over and onto their side.

Tigers have huge heads with stripes that draw attention to their eyes. They’re intense animals. Focused. Clearly aware of their surroundings. Numerous times, when Lyric worked at a traditional zoo, the tigers scared visitors by scrutinizing a child. She remembered a mom, dad, and four-year old girl who peered over the rails at the tiger enclosure. These were Malayan tigers. The largest weighed over one hundred kilograms. It spotted the child, padded to the moat’s edge that separated visitors from the cats, and then pinned the youngster with a stare. The child moved close to the mom—the tiger shifted its gaze. It rumbled in the back of its throat until the child whimpered. Lyric thought at the time that this was the moment that would send the child to therapy when she grew older, haunted by eyes that scrutinized and measured. Eyes that only wanted to eat.

The Siberian stalked toward the visitor center with the same stare, muscles rippling in its shoulders.

“Sandy,” Lyric said, “Who was here yesterday?” She jumped on top of an empty chair. Other than Annette, the zoo visitors had taken off their glasses. The tiger came on its own. The crowd noticed. Some moved toward the window. Some backed away. No one controlled the animal.

Unless it was Annette who still lay in her chair, the glasses hiding her face.

Lyric couldn’t get to her in time. The tiger would be through the window in seconds, but Lyric tried. She pushed past a man mesmerized by the advancing cat. Dozens of other visitors stood next to their chairs, all between her and Annette. So, because she faced away from the windows, trying to get to the old woman, Lyric didn’t see the eagle come down, shrieking. Its claws raked the tiger’s back. The tiger roared, turned a circle, looking to the sky as the eagle arced around.

On the second pass, the tiger clawed at the bird, but missed. The tiger stopped coming toward Port Hall, all attention on the attacking bird.

Sandy’s voice chirped in Lyric’s earpiece. “There is a repeat visitor from yesterday. Her name is Tyce Duchamps. Twelve-years-old. Today is her thirty-seventh porting experience, always predators. She’s a veteran.”

A roar shook the windows. The tiger crouched, back legs trembling as the eagle swooped in again. It leapt, staggeringly high, but the bird veered at the last second, and the frustrated tiger missed.

“Which chair?” Lyric scanned the room. No one wore glasses. They all watched the battle beyond the window.

“Special needs. She’s on the handicapped stage.”

The special needs area was on an elevated platform. Lyric saw the back of Tyce’s wheelchair, but not the girl. It was a large, motorized chair with plenty of room to hide the equipment needed to hack the zoo.

The tiger leapt again. Missed. If he caught the eagle, nothing stood between the tiger and over a hundred visitors. If he captured it in its claws, what would the shredding of bones and feathers do to Annette? She was eighty-three and so tightly tied to the bird that she completely controlled its volition. To fly like that, she had to be pure eagle. Its death would be hers.

Tyce’s arms were skinny, and her face was narrow and pale beneath her glasses. Her knuckles, though, were white where she gripped the chair. She twitched when the tiger roared. Lyric snatched her glasses, revealing milky eyes. The girl howled, not seeing her. “I was winning, you peasant! I rule!”

Lyric backed away, the glasses dangling from her hand. Tyce couldn’t see unless she rode an animal. She couldn’t walk without the port connection.

Beyond the window, the tiger shook his head, baffled, as the eagle swept close again, driving it back. It turned, roared a last time, sprinted for the wall, then sprung from the golf cart, and cleared the barriers. The eagle shrieked, beat its wings hard, heading toward the Bird Garden.

Rachael ran into Port Hall, a bullhorn in hand. “Please remain calm, folks. We are experiencing a minor containment challenge. You are perfectly safe at the zoo.”

Tyce snarled at the announcement. “I’ll have your throat.” Strapped to her chair, though, with sightless eyes and pipe-thin arms, she didn’t frighten. Lyric felt sympathy. Tyce had been a cheetah, an elephant, a Siberian tiger. For an hour each day, she’d been master of all she surveyed.

A voice behind her cried, “What are you doing to my daughter? I’ll have your job.” A woman pushed by Lyric and hugged Tyce in her wheelchair. The girl hissed, tried to bite her mother, and then collapsed in tears.

“What do we do now?” asked Sandy.

Lyric slipped Tyce’s glasses into her pocket, walked down the short flight of stairs to the main level where Annette still sat in her glasses. “Call the police. She’s committed a half-dozen crimes.” When Lyric reached Annette, the old woman smiled. She looked exhausted.

“Whew,” she said. “That was a humdinger.”

Lyric laughed. “You are a port genius, Annette. I’ve never seen that kind of control.”

Annette straightened her hair. “Whoever rode the tiger knew what she was doing.”

“That’s true.” Whatever else was wrong with Tyce, the rage that filled her, she was also bright enough to take over her rides and brilliant enough to hack the zoo. The authorities would have to watch her in the future. “We owe you big time, Annette. You saved lives.”

The old woman scooted to the front of her chair. Picked up her purse and cane. She couldn’t weigh more than forty kilos, and her skin seemed thin as fine parchment, but she moved with confidence, with the surety of a bird of prey.

“Do you think,” said Annette, “that it’s worth a season pass? Coming here isn’t cheap, you know.”

Lyric nodded. She made a note to herself to make the arrangements, right after putting in for a higher wall for the big cats. END

James Van Pelt is an active member of SFWA. His stories have appeared in “Analog,” “Asimov’s,” “Clarkesworld,” “Flash Fiction Online,” and elsewhere. He has received nominations for the Locus Award and the Nebula Award for his work.


winchester 11/16



crazy liddy 9/16