Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Conversations With a Garbage Truck
by Margret A. Treiber

Freshly Brewed
by Preston Dennett

by Barton Paul Levenson

Gift of Nibelung
by Olga Godim

by Fonda Lee

Send in the Humans
by Harold R. Thompson

Rhythm of the Rain
by Samuel Van Pelt

Worms of Titan
by Brian Biswas

Shorter Stories

by C.R. Hodges

by David Steffen

Fast Time Machines at Ridgemont High
by Fred Coppersmith


Madness of the Winter Soldier
by Erin Lale

Resistance Fighters
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Send in the Humans

By Harold R. Thompson

“I NEED VOLUNTEERS,” said Strike Commander Weelund.

Section Commander Dalmont did not hesitate. He stepped forward. After all, he had nothing to lose.

“I’ll go in,” he said, and turned to the members of his section who were formed in a line of blue tac-suits, their disconnected contact wires dangling. “I don’t expect any of you to come. I won’t give you that order. Volunteers only.”

He again faced Weelund. The Strike Commander’s long dark face was twisted in a look of disgust and resignation.

“Anyone else?” she said.

Baron Kinkaid also stepped forward, detaching himself from his shrunken ragtag band of former pirates.

“I want to finish this,” he said.

Dalmont met Kinkaid’s eye. The old pirate, his brown skin like leather and his hair like pulled steel wire, just nodded once.

Well, Dalmont thought, no one has ever accused Kinkaid of cowardice.

Six members of Dalmont’s section stepped forward. That was pretty good.


“Here’s the situation,” said Weelund, half an hour later in the belly of her MACU, or Mobile Armoured Command Unit. The volunteers were arrayed in a half-circle facing her, everyone now kitted out in light battle armour and weighed down by the heavy weapons that had characterized this campaign, antiquated projectile rifles that required every soldier to carry a ridiculous amount of ammunition in small spring-loaded magazines. Dalmont thought they looked uncomfortable. Most had not worn battle armour since basic training. Only Baron Kinkaid, dressed in leather and carrying a short sword, two pistols, and a projectile rifle, looked happy. Truly happy.

“As you know, we’ve located Mother Carnage’s control bunker,” Weelund continued. “Her troops are still out there, but their pilots are holed up here. Unfortunately, we have no intelligence as to the size and layout of the bunker or how many people are in there. We’ve lost contact with every squad of RCUs we’ve sent in.”

An RCU was a Remote Combat Unit, a humanoid battle robot that was controlled from a protected location, such as here in the MACU. Piloting an RCU was like being in its metal skin; you became the robot. But if it died, you did not.

For an army employing RCUs, war was safe unless the enemy found your control location, such as your MACU.

This bunker was Mother Carnage’s control location.

“The bunker is deep and shielded,” Weelend said, “and orbital bombing will likely not be effective, and there may be civilians down there. This is Carnage’s safe house, her hideout, her lair, whatever you want to call it. We take it out, we take down her armies and this war ends.”

Intelligence told them that this was it, that Mother Carnage herself was in there. They had her cornered.

And so it ends here, Dalmont thought. Maybe.

It had been a long campaign, long and controversial. Of all the Six Moons of the gas giant Caledon, Wulver had long been the problem child, the one failed human colony. Its government had collapsed and splintered into warring factions and criminal gangs. The other moons had watched and worried but had done nothing. Mother Carnage had changed all that. At first she had been just one of many warlords, squabbling for territory and scarce resources, but when she developed RCU technology, she had started gaining ground. When it looked like she was poised to seize control of the entire moon, Kelpie, the largest of the Six Moons, had sent in the Kelpie Defence Force, the KDF, to take control. The last thing they wanted was a unified Wulver under an aggressive character like Carnage, who could pose a threat to every other colony.

“I wish there was another way to do this,” Weelund said, “but there’s no time. We have to send in living, breathing troops. Casualties are to be expected.”

That was the source of the controversy. The people of Kelpie would not accept casualties in war. Maybe for the other side, but not from theirs. And thanks to their RCUs, so far the only Kelpie troops to die had died in accidents.

Dalmont was not sure how many Wulverians had died, how many of the other warring tribes. Of course Carnage’s use of RCUs meant that she had lost fewer.

“Section Commander Dalmont,” Weelund said, “place transmitter relays and try to take down whatever’s disrupting our RCUs. You are also authorized to deal with targets of opportunity. Their pilots will be in their crèches and vulnerable, so you may not face any danger at all, unless there are sentries. If you find Mother Carnage, eliminate her.”

Dalmont nodded. He would not hesitate this time. He had made his peace with the prospect of dealing death, and of perhaps meeting it himself.


They did a last minute weapons and kit check. Carnage’s RCUs were shielded from plasma weapons, which was why the KDF were armed with old fashioned projectile weapons. They were tough to keep clean, but Dalmont’s Section was up to the task.

Dalmont looked at Kincaid.

“So why did you agree to do this, Baron?” he asked. “Why risk your life after all this time?”

Kinkaid had been a powerful warlord in his own right, but had surrendered to Kelpie early, offering his services to help fight Mother Carnage.

“We’ve always risked our lives,” he said. “You know nothing of the realities of war, despite all your power. I was fighting Carnage long before you got here. Why do you think they call her Mother Carnage? She would have killed everyone in the other tribes. I despise her and her people more than anything, and I would gaze on her face at the moment of her ultimate defeat.”

Dalmont nodded. “Alright. I think I understand.”

Kinkaid laughed. “Do you? So tell me, then, why did you volunteer?”

Dalmont shrugged. It was an old story now. He had joined the Kelpie Defence Force because it had always been his ambition. It had looked exciting. When the war had come, it had been a game, an endless test of his skills, with no real risk of death or injury as long as he fought via RCU.

Then they had come up against one of Wulver’s many warlords, one who refused to surrender, who called himself Big Daddy. Despite his obstinacy, he had been defeated and was on the run, fleeing with the remnants of his people along a narrow bridge across a swamp. Dalmont’s section of RCUs had come upon them. Dalmont had seen those people, real people, running across that bridge on foot, with no protection, and he had understood what he had to do. He had to kill them. Kill them so they did not escape to fight again.

He had balked. This was not a game any longer. He was not fighting Mother Carnage’s remote combat units with his remote combat units. These were living, breathing people.

Big Daddy escaped. There were more battles. Dalmont had been disciplined. The entire KDF knew what had happened.

He had to do something. So he had volunteered to risk his own life.


The entrance to the bunker was located on a flat plain surrounded by jagged brown mountains. The KDF had secured the area and was there in force, watching for the inevitable attack by Carnage RCUs.

“Two Carnage strike forces are each about two hours away,” Weelund told Dalmont. “So you don’t have much time. “

Dalmont looked at the rectangular entrance to the bunker, the mouth of a vertical shaft that dropped away to a lit chamber, probably storage bays for Local Combat Units (LCUs), which could ascend under their own power. For those on foot, a staircase zig-zagged down one concrete side wall.

“This can’t be the only entrance,” Dalmont said.

“The only one we’ve found,” said Weelund.

Barond Kinkaid pulled his pistols from their holsters. “What are we waiting for?”

Dalmont shook his head. Nothing, he thought.

“Send in the humans,” he said. The soft-bodied humans, who actually cease to exist when they are struck with plasma bolts or steel jacket bullets. “Right. Let’s go.”

He started down the stairs, his seven companions following in single file. It was a tiny force, but eight lives were all they would risk.

Two flights down, he encountered two RCU sentries from the KDF. Their camo skins matched the surroundings, a concrete gray. The plasma emitters had been removed from their arms, and they carried projectile rifles.

“How far down can you go?” Dalmont asked.

“Ten more metres and we lose contact,” said the first RCU in its pilot’s voice.

Dalmont nodded. “Thanks. Let’s keep going.”

They continued down. Dalmont’s helmet featured a tactical display inside its visor. He felt like he was piloting an LCU, and wondered if he would forget that he was not. That was a risk, because sometimes he exposed himself too much, believing that, if he was knocked out of a fight, he could just return to the fight in a new body.

“There must be a quantum disruption field down here,” he said to Kincaid, who was right behind him. “That’s what’s cutting our pilots off from their LCUs.”

“Why have they never used such a thing against us in battle?” asked Kincaid. “And how do they avoid severing their own quantum communications?”

Dalmont shrugged. “Not a question I can answer. Probably the field doesn’t extend beyond this entrance. Maybe it needs to be directed to work, so it’s useless in the open, but can be deployed as a defensive measure in an enclosed space.”

Kincaid just grunted.

At the bottom of the stairs, they encountered a pile of dead LCUs. Dalmont counted twenty-six.

“A graveyard,” he said.

Surrounding the inactive robots was a large, rectangular chamber lit by two golden light strips in the arched ceiling. LCU and other vehicle storage bays lined both side of the room, but there were no vehicles present.

Dalmont’s squad fanned out and took up positions along both walls, near the bays, facing the double doors at the far end of the room.

Dalmont approached a fat vertical pillar in the centre of the room. The pillar had three sides, and on every side was an analog schematic of the entire bunker complex.

“This place has only one level,” Kincaid said, examining the map, which showed a jumble of chambers, big and small, each with a label: barracks, armoury, magazine, dining hall, kitchen, storage, more storage, maintenance, machine shop, electrical room, ablution rooms, offices, infirmary, assembly area. Narrow corridors connected them all.

“There,” Dalmont said, stabbing the map with his right index finger on a room labelled “operations.” Next to that was another chamber labelled “command centre.”

He took an image of the map with his helmet camera. Meanwhile, his squad forced open the sliding doors at the end of the chamber.

“Nice of Mother Carnage to give us a map,” Kincaid said, starting for the doors.

Lights flashed in the room, and Dalmont dropped to one knee. Bright floating rectangles had appeared in the air, at different heights and of different sizes. Dalmont almost fired a few rounds before he realized they were just video screens.

A face appeared on every screen, the old woman’s face of Mother Carnage, smiling and benevolent, the spaces above her eyes shaded turquoise fading to deep blue, her lips and cheeks bright red. Gold ornaments shaped like plasma grenades dangled from her earlobes.

“Look at these warm bodies!” she said. “What are you doing in my house, little ones? You’re trespassing. Don’t blame me for what happens!”

The screens all winked out.

Dalmont looked at Kincaid and gave him a sharp nod.

“She’s here,” he said.


Dalmont followed the map. They went slowly, hugging the walls. Twice more video screens appeared and Mother Carnage taunted them, saying, “I’d turn back if I were you, little ones,” and, “I’m called Mother Carnage for a reason, you know.”

The barracks they came to were uninhabited, the rows of beds neat, the clothing racks bare. The kitchen was spotless, the dining hall quiet, chairs stacked on the tables. Beyond the dining hall was an Assembly Room, an arched cavern as big as the first room they had encountered. There Dalmont told his troops to rest while he tried to set a comm relay, assuming they were through the disruptor field.

His comms worked.

“The place seems abandoned,” he said to Weelund with a sigh of disappointment. “We’re pushing forward to the Command Centre.”

He and Kincaid went to the doors on the other end of the room. Dalmont keyed the latch and the doors opened. Peering around the door frame, Dalmont saw just another empty corridor.

Behind him, the room suddenly erupted in rifle and plasma fire. He turned to shout at his troops, to ask them what the hell they were doing, but the words died as he saw that a line of twelve RCUs had risen from hidden panels in the floor, and were gunning down the surprised members of his squad.

The RCUs had their backs to him. Dalmont raised his rifle and fired, starting on the left of the line and working his way down. Kincaid joined him, blazing away with his pistols. Within a few seconds every RCU was down, sparking and smoking.

Their metallic bodies mingled with the corpses of Dalmont’s squad. He ran to them, crouching to check their vital signs, each in turn. Everyone was dead.

“They wiped out my troops,” he said in wonder, leaning on his rifle.

It had happened so suddenly, but he had failed again. He had been complacent. Mother Carnage had lured him in and struck when he had let down his guard.

“We’ll have to head back,” he said in a hollow voice. “Get a retrieval team in here.”

“You go and do that,” Kincaid said. “But I’m pressing forward.”

Dalmont took off his helmet, wiped his forehead. Yes. Why go back? If he died down here, so be it.

“Okay,” he said. “Watch the floor for more hidden panels.”


The corridor led to the Operations Room. Two heavy RCUs armed with grenade launchers stood sentry on either side of the doors, but they were slow to react. Two grenades went wide, detonating in the corridor as Dalmont and Kincaid rushed forward. The LCUs went down in a flurry of steel bullets.

Kincaid blew in the door with a grenade.

The room beyond was long and narrow, and the entire space was filled with tall video screens that floated and spun, moved and changed shape. All showed the full figure of Mother Carnage, dressed in flowing turquoise robes.

“Where the hell are the RCU pilots?” Dalmont said to Kincaid as he picked his way forward. “They should be in here.”

“Confused, little ones?” said Mother Carnage. “Things are never what they seem, hmm?”

“Are you real?” Kincaid yelled at one of the screens.

“What do you mean by real, my barbarian friend?” the image of Carnage said. “Ah, yes, I know you and all your kind. I’m more real than you would like.”

“She has to be in the Command Centre,” Dalmont said, and something rose up from the floor ahead, making him drop just as a volley of plasma bolts ripped the air. He returned fire, his rifle loud in the enclosed space. The RCU fell, but there were others. Kincaid was screaming, firing his pistols.

They inched forward at a crouch, taking down one RCU after another. At last the way was clear and they came to a door with the words “Command Centre” stenciled on the steel. Parts of destroyed RCUs were scattered on the floor.

The door was locked. Again they employed grenades.

Dalmont ducked into the smoking gap that had been a door frame.

The room was full of living, breathing humans.


Along either wall, operators were strapped into their crèches faces shrouded in goggles, arms and legs encased in control sockets. Dalmont counted about thirty people on either side, or sixty RCU controllers. There had to be more somewhere, but this was no doubt where command and control originated.

He raised his rifle. This was it.

He did not fire.

“Would you murder so many helpless people?” said the voice of Mother Carnage. She was there, actually there, walking toward them along the gangway between the crèches.

“You witch!” Kincaid shouted.

Dalmont aimed at the closest operator on his left. His hands shook and his vision blurred.

He just had to do it. He could not fail again.

He screamed as he squeezed the trigger. The first operator convulsed, then the next and the next down the line. Kincaid was also firing. Sparks and bits of metal, plastic and composites sprayed the air. Then they were all dead.

Mother Carnage leapt back, raising her hands. Kincaid drew his sword and rushed forward.

“No!” Dalmont exclaimed, but Kincaid struck once and Mother Carnage fell.

Dalmont charged up the gangway. “Wait!”

Kincaid paused, sword half-raised for a second blow.

Dalmont knelt beside the injured woman. Blood was streaming from a gash in her head.

“Where are the rest?” he said. “The rest of your troops?”

Mother Carnage managed a weak smile. “Don’t you know? I’ve lost so many ... I’ve had to manage with actual robots, under the command of what was left of my people. People you have slain here today. Are you ... proud of yourself?”

She closed her eyes and her head settled back.

Weelund’s voice came over the comm. “Dalmont, I need a sit-rep! We had three divisions of Carnage RCUs converging on our position, but they seem to have halted their advance.”

“Stand by, Commander,” Dalmont said.

He looked at the riddled corpses where they hung in their control sockets. Blood had pooled on the floor.

“I am become death,” he murmured, but he could say no more. He had made this. He would be a hero, his reputation restored, for he had engaged in true war, at last. END

Harold R. Thompson is a member of SFWA. His stories have appeared in “Detectives of the Fantastic,” “Clockwork Canada,” and “Stupefying Stories.” His third novel, “Sword of the Mogul,” has just been released by Zumaya Yesterdays.






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