Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Go for the Dome
by Sean Monaghan

Quantum Rose
by Jude-Marie Green

Autumn’s Net
by Matt Thompson

Crawley, I Tell You!
by Tim McDaniel

In the Cave of the Silver Pool
by Peter J Larrivee

How Uncle Larry Became a Shape-Shifting Blob
by Marc Rokoff

by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow
by Brandon Ketchum

Shorter Stories

Robot Story
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Jeffrey Abrams

Dumb Luck
by Michael N. Farney


Xenophobia Destroys Science Fiction
by Carol Kean

Computed Cryptograms
by Sam Bellotto Jr.



Comic Strips




Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow

By Brandon Ketchum

WHEN THE MON WHARF flooded, everyone assumed the storm was to blame. Brad was still in the driver’s seat when a rippling whir crashed down behind me. Something tickled my right foot for a moment, a ribbon of shuddering sensation. A mushroom cloud of pain engulfed it, though the tingling continued. Mechanized droning whined from within my shoe as the microscopic bastards ate my limb. Flesh stripped away in a blink, bone consumed a second later.

I damn near lost a leg that day. They only got my foot, though I sure the hell lost my life in the bargain. My husband, my best friend and only surviving family, gone in one gulping wave of feral technology. I spiraled into a depression no amount of medication or therapy could erase, struggling to adapt to my new prosthetic, barely cognizant of the world around me. It took months of wallowing in self-pity, battling through painful physical rehab, before I decided I’d had enough. Maybe I couldn’t see them, but I’d damn sure make them pay for what they’d done.

I stalked the Strip District streets at the witching hour. The market neighborhood used to close up shop at the end of the business day; now business didn’t even begin until well after dark. Dejected eyes reflecting forgotten hope followed me everywhere, the stench of unwashed humanity hounding my nostrils in waves of nauseous futility. Every now and then my fake right foot wobbled when it came down on a pebble or the curb, pain prickling my lower leg. I kept my long hunting knife naked, held prominently against my weakened leg. Otherwise a crippled, skinny, suburban white chick like me would have been rolled, or worse, within five minutes. The street dregs took note of the weapon, and the resolve to use it in my countenance, and drifted back to find easier prey.

Hawkers peddled life’s simple necessities. Items we’d taken for granted, now worth far more than money. A brutal barter system sprung up out of FEMA’s failure. I passed boxes of cereal, canned goods, batteries, searching for a different kind of dealer. Nestled amongst the common hucksters lurked a wizened old woman with an empty milk jug on the sidewalk before her. A large square had been cut from the plastic, revealing a small rock holding it in place, as well as her wares: missing people.

From the shadowy gash of an alley, a slim man with snakelike eyes crept towards me. I hunched over a stack of paperbacks, seeming oblivious to him. No longer reading material, these were what passed for poor man’s toilet paper. When he crossed an invisible threshold into my private space, I whipped the blade up and around, slicing him alongside his nose. He hissed and sprung back, sleeve held up to staunch the blood. I could’ve taken an eye, and he knew it. I stared him back into the alley, then drew the old woman’s gaze. Pretense cast aside, with a full sense of my resolve, she beckoned me close.

“Who is it, dearie? A son or daughter? Husband, boyfriend, aunt, father? Whoever it is, I’ll do my best.”

“Your rates?”

The old woman looked me up and down. “Depends on what you can offer. Something in advance, a taste only. Something much more substantial upon delivery.”

A bottle of Vitamin C pills accompanied my accepting nod, which she returned, keeping the bottle. “What’s the name?”

“I don’t know yet.” She didn’t voice her plain curiosity, waiting for me to elucidate. “I need to speak to someone from the CDC.”

Though I must have given the hag a heck of a shock, she didn’t let it show. “That’ll cost more. A lot more, maybe more than you have.”

“Not anybody important. Someone entry level, administrative, who can get me a step closer to a certain scientist. A mycologist, to be precise.”

This would actually be an easier task than tracking down some more-than-likely dead relative the river had already swallowed. Still, the woman would make me pay a premium, and I’d pay, but not too steep a price. We settled on two rechargeable AA batteries and the accompanying charger, up front.

Once the meet was set, I parted with two factory-sealed gallon jugs of water, my perfume collection, a can of condensed milk, a ripe cheese, and a plastic shopping bag full of flour. I paid without hesitation.


“What have you got for me, Linda?” The cagey blonde secretary glanced around the dim coffee shop while she spoke, looking anywhere but at me.

Even though the cafe operated in the farthest northern city suburb, it had fallen into dinginess, a shell of its former self. The remnants of the rich still patronized it, swilling the expensive black market beverages with gusto.

“What you asked for, plus a sweetener.” I slid the bag under the table with my foot until it bumped against her shins. My stump ached. I forced down the pain, and what it brought to mind, to deal with later. Needing to stay sharp, I hadn’t taken any pain-killers that morning.

My name isn’t really Linda, but for an alias, Linda, as in Linda Lovelace, would do. You know, “Deep Throat,” the porno, also the Nixon informant’s moniker? It struck my funny bone. My sense of humor has been warped lately. I think you can understand why.

Gina held the bag open and glanced down. Six bottles of water, liquid gold now, with the threat of nanobots in the water supply. Nestled amongst the plastic bottles was a box of water purification pills. Nobody knew if the things really worked, but they were hotter than crack on the streets. She nudged the bag closed and gave the room a final once-over.

“What do you want to know?” Gina asked.

“Not what—who,” I said, savoring my bargain thirty dollar cup of coffee.

“What do you mean?”

“I want a sit down with your boss.”

Gina tensed. I imagined her fight-or-flight instinct warring inside her, but really, she didn’t have a card to play. “Not going to happen.” She reached for the bag, ready to get up. Something in my demeanor made her pause.

“A CDC employee playing the black market? That wouldn’t go over too well.” I glanced down at the bag and back up at her.

Gina huffed, leaning back in her chair. “You’ve got nothing on me. I could walk out of here with your water, and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it.” She didn’t walk, though.

I set my phone on the table and tapped it to end the recording. “Sure I do.”

She snorted disdain at me. “You’re too smart to think it would hold up in court.”

A wolfish grin on my face devoured her certainty. She was my prey, all right, caught and trussed. “Who said anything about the legal system? I’m sure the papers would love to run with the story, Gina Atkinson.” She was too stupid to remember to take off her nametag.

Her haughtiness melted in an instant, a hand fluttering up as if to cover her badge. “How’s tomorrow at noon?”


Next day, same table. A balding man in a rumpled suit with sharp eyes that belied his appearance sat in Gina’s place across from me. Dr. Roger Dawkins of the CDC, although he wasn’t stupid enough to have his badge on. He’s not going to be a pushover.

“You know my name,” the scientist said, pouring milk into his mug. “What’s yours?”

An alias wouldn’t do. “Annalise.” My last name wasn’t important.

He considered me a moment, then nodded and started adding sugar.

“How’d Gina get you to come?”

“Who’s Gina?” Voice flat, deadpan.

I wished the scientist would have turned out more like his secretary. I didn’t have anything on him, so I jockeyed for an angle. “I thought the CDC was supposed to head the task force?”

He laughed without humor, a brittle, bitter sound. “Lasted for all of an afternoon.”

“So who’s in charge?”

“What day is it?”

We shared a laugh, the man thawing somewhat.

“They say someone has a theory on how to get rid of the nanobots,” I said.

Dawkins tapped his mug with his spoon and set it on the saucer. “Did they mention what it was?”

Brushing back a lock of auburn hair, I strung the moment out. If he wanted to play coy, I would mirror him. “A fungal extract with proven efficacy in combating insect infestations.”

“How curious.” Dawkins raised a brow. Is he flirting? The thought of tumbling him made my gorge rise, but I’d do it if I had to. The scientist expelled a lungful of air, puffing out his cheeks. His shoulders sagged. “My theory was roundly rejected. Oh, the science is sound, they agreed, if we were dealing with a Biblical swarm of locusts. Biopesticides eradicating nanobots? No, they couldn’t accept the leap in logic, never mind how the nanobots so cleverly infiltrated the ecosystem.”

Nibbling at stale biscotti, I trawled for a reaction. “Biopesticides? Wouldn’t those kill us too?” A neat trap for his bruised ego.

He waved a dismissive hand, ignoring the bait. “One hundred percent harmless to the human population.”

He’s a tough nut. “Why didn’t they at least give it a try?”

“Idiots!” Dawkins slammed a fist onto the table, rattling the saucers. Furtive eyes regarded us, darting back to their own business. “Money, why else?” His voice went whiny. “Who’s going to foot the bill? What proof do we have it will work?”

“Bureaucrats,” I said.

He winced, then offered a sour half-smile. “Bureaucrats.”

“How do you make this biopesticide?”

The scientist measured me with his eyes. He pulled a pen from his pocket and scribbled on his hand. He held it up before him. 6 rolls TP, 3 boxes energy bars, it read.

“Twelve and six,” I said in a subdued voice. “Delivered to your lab. Not the official one at the CDC base camp.”

More pen strokes on his hand. 15 and 9. I nodded. Dawkins slid a card across the table, which I palmed without looking down. “Midnight tonight,” I told him.

A final nod. He left his coffee on the table and slid from the shop. Night was a long way off, and I sure in the hell wouldn’t let the drink go to waste. I dumped his coffee into my empty mug, savoring the cooling brew as I chewed over my new dilemma. The toilet paper wouldn’t be a problem; I had hundreds of rolls stashed away. Nine boxes of energy bars? They’d be tough, expensive to scrounge.


Another trek to the Strip District, early, just after dark. I carried a diaper bag with everything I had left small enough to stuff in it, looped over a shoulder. The hunting knife adorned my belt. This op called for something heavier, so I brandished a .38 snub in front of me, cradled under my breasts, the only baby I’d ever have now.

Two hours bought me almost enough. The bag bulged with slim boxes of energy bars instead of assorted goods. Problem: I had seven boxes, and nothing left for currency. I could’ve traded the gun for what I needed and more; I’d never keep hold of my bag if I did. Making more of my injury than was necessary, I slowed down, scanning the murky streets and human animals. Wary of moving too soon, I trolled for a white whale, a dealer with more than one box of bars.

Just when I thought I’d have to risk multiple robberies, I came upon the old fish market. A weedy little man sat behind a crate in the wide open storefront. A whole stack of what I needed, along with plenty of other savory merchandise, lay before and around him. Why haven’t the street scum plundered him by now? A look each way revealed two hulks, one on each nearby corner, watching over the man. Anybody trying a snatch-and-grab would be snatched up before they could take five steps.

Multiple targets, spread far apart. No chance of gunning both down. Only one way to pull it off. I drifted closer, taking in all the street merchants, as if browsing for something I hadn’t found yet. When I neared the storefront I bounded forward, seizing the boxes. The man began rising and footfalls pounded down the sidewalk from both directions. My shoulder sent the man sprawling and I bowled past him, sprinting into the guts of the old market.

A lifetime ago I’d shopped here, taking advantage of the attached gourmet grocery. In between had been a staircase leading down to bathrooms, and what I thought was a fire exit. I scrambled down the nearest aisle. Scattered junk and my prosthetic made for slow progress. I clasped the bag close, shoving my gun and the boxes into it. Shouts cried out in the dark behind. The place’s fishy smell threatened to make me nauseous. Small-caliber guns crackled, bullets whizzed all around. I weaved behind an unplugged cooler. Crouching, I ran along, using it for cover. Thump thump thump, bullets tattooed it like a drum. The cooler kept me clean. I rounded a corner, half-stumbling, half-running down the narrow stairs.

Time for the big risk. I flicked a flashlight from my pocket and thumbed it on. The total darkness parted in a thin beam. Sounds of pursuit banged closer and closer. There, at the end of the corridor. I flew at the door’s push bar. Game over if it’s locked.

The door crashed open and I staggered into the fetid night air, maintaining momentum. Zig, zag, crawl, hide, sneak. Always mindful of the diaper bag. The pursuit fell back into the wash of city clamor. Some minutes later I stumbled onto Smallman Street. Straightening my clothes, I slowed to catch my breath. My watch reported time enough for an easy walk to the lab.


The Southside Flats. Once the haven of drunken masses, morphed into an urban wasteland, fit only for those too lost or destitute to be anywhere else. So many bars and clubs, windows shattered, long since stripped bare by looters. A population of mice people, skirting the remaining streetlights, scurrying away from each other to hide in their own private hells.

Squatting over a puddle, a mother and two children risked the water. Danger mattered little to a desperate family threatened with thirst. Mom dipped a pitcher in and filled it up, while a little boy cupped his hands to drink. He couldn’t contain the water in his hands, though. It flowed up his arms. He gaped a moment, unable to process what was happening. Then mom noticed, shrieking her terror. The boy screamed next as the nanobots began their work. Layers of flesh stripped from his arm, baring bone in moments. Mom hugged him to her and hauled him back. His body disappeared before she got clear of the puddle; water swarmed and drowned her in bloody ruin by the time she fell. The girl wasted no time in crawling away. She rolled to her feet, but too late. Her legs disappeared to her hips in muddy water, whining hums buzzing up with it.

Arms scraping against asphalt, she managed to drag herself free. By the time she reached safety, it was over. The nanobots had eaten all the way up through her abdominal cavity. The dying orphaned girl raised her head and cried. Pain, loss, animal fear. The girl found me with her eyes, and those eyes begged. I took no steps towards her, but she was close enough. One shot kicked up chips beside her, the second grazed her arm. She flinched, but lifted up to present me a better target. Tears flooded my cheeks as I took aim. I’ll never have a little girl like her. A third bullet found her chest, granting her peace. I felt a wrenching in my own womb, still physically fruitful. Too bad I’m too broken to make use of it.

Growling low, I shook my head to shrug off the scene. Time to move. Those shots wouldn’t go unnoticed, and I had an appointment to keep. First I fetched the mostly-full package of toilet paper I’d stashed nearby, carrying it by the plastic outer wrapping. The goods all secured, I followed the directions along the river bank.

A movement in the darkness caught my eye. I dropped the toilet paper and brought the .38 up in a double-handed grip in one fluid motion, right shoulder forward, feet staggered for better balance. A furtive figure shambled onto the gravel lane, into a pool of moonlight. The ashy light revealed a woman. She froze at the end of my pistol’s sightline, gaping and clutching a bundle of soiled rags to her breast. The skeletal woman had matted red hair and looked like she hadn’t bathed or eaten in weeks. Weeping sores pocked her pallid face, and what flesh her dingy clothes failed to cover. A moment passed, and another. I lowered the gun. As soon as the pistol moved, the fragile woman scampered from the light, over the edge of the bank, cradling her rags like a sack of treasure. On I went.

The address led to an abandoned warehouse on the waterfront. Surprise surprise. Nobody in their right mind would venture near the place, which made for the perfect secret lab setup. I adjusted the bag on my shoulder and stuffed the .38 in the small of my back, pulling a shirttail down to cover it. Didn’t want to make the scientist jittery, not after I’d come so far. I left the shadows and crossed the street, raising a fist to knock on the door.

“Set the supplies on the ground and take ten paces back, Annalise.” Dawkins watched from an empty window pane to the left, brandishing a baseball bat. I complied, making sure to open the diaper bag as wide as possible to display the boxes. When I’d obeyed the order, the scientist climbed through the empty window and checked the goods. He nudged the door open with his foot, gathered the stuff, and set them inside, motioning me to precede him.

His lab could have been the set for any number of genre movies; horror, sci-fi, thriller, the prototypical hidden, seedy work space. Overhead lights and lamps plugged into small generators here and there, coolers with medical stickers slapped all over them, the grime barely held at bay. The derelict building threatened to fall in upon itself. No sterile environment, this. And yet, there in the middle, Dawkins had set up a small lab, wrapped tight in clear plastic curtains. Inside, amongst the expensive equipment—likely stolen—would be the biopesticide material.

“Have a seat.” Dawkins gestured to a crate pulled up next to an end table. I crouched on it while he plopped onto a grubby floor chair beside me. He set the bat down next to him. “You paid up, so ask anything you want. I’m an open book.”

“I don’t know much about entomopathogenic fungus.” My tongue stumbled over the challenging word. “From my limited research, it sounds a promising solution. Tell me how it works.”

“These fungi attach microscopic spores onto an insect’s body. The spores need an aquatic or high-moisture environment to germinate.” He spared me a crooked smile. “Ideal, given our circumstances. Once the spores grow enough, they infiltrate the insect’s body cavity; once inside, they multiply and devour their way out of the insect.”

The thought of the execrable robotic microorganisms being eaten from the inside out appealed to me. “Sounds great, Doc, but isn’t that small-scale thinking? We’re talking billions of nanobots here.”

“Ah, but once the fungus does its work, it sporulates.”

“In English, please.”

“Sporulation means the fungi that kills the first nanobot spreads and infects a few other nanobots. Once they do their work, they sporulate and kill more and more. Soon, the entire population is fatally polluted, becoming extinct in a short period of time.”

Gratification warmed my heart in a way love would never again do. “Why haven’t you tried it yourself? You have the fungus in there.” I nodded to his inner sanctum.

“You think I haven’t?” He shook his head, weariness pushing out of Dawkins just as the fungus was supposed to force its way into the nanobots. “We can agree these things have quite the taste for live human flesh. They’re not feeding on fish or other aquatic prey, which became obvious almost immediately. The rivers’ ecosystems still function as normal, as far as we can tell. What about mammals? Beavers, muskrats, river otters, et cetera. The impact of their gradual disappearance from the ecosystem would take far longer to realize. Thinking perhaps the nanobots had adapted a taste for mamallians, I introduced the entomopathogenic fungus into a live cat and chucked it kicking and screaming from a pier.”


“And the poor puss swam back to shore, screeching in protest. The nanobots didn’t harm a single hair.”

“Maybe your theory’s wrong.”

“Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s the way they’ve slipped so seamlessly into the rivers, and their singleminded determination to attack humans only. How is it they can tell if a human is alive, feasting upon the living and ignoring the dead? No, artificial intelligence isn’t advanced enough to malfunction in such a way. They’ve become partial natural creatures, and like other natural creatures, a natural foe can destroy them.” Dr. Dawkins struck me as a practical man first, who happened to also be a scientist. I believed him.

“Tell me how we infect them.”

“There’s the snag. I don’t have the funding to research a delivery system. Nobody believes in my solution, so that’s not like to change. Besides someone swallowing the fungus and wading into the water? I have no idea.”

A jolt of anger mixed with anticipation blazed up within me. It must have shone through my eyes, for Dawkins flinched and reached for the bat. I stood and drew down on him.

“Now wait a minute.” He held his hands out to the side, palms facing me, bat clattering to the concrete floor. “Please, think about what you’re doing.”

I leveled the barrel at his forehead. “Shut up and bring me the fungus.”


I regarded the orange fuzz, approaching the river bank slowly, as if walking through sucking mud. Our possible salvation, held in a simple sealing sandwich bag. Yellow and blue make death. How fragile, how much like a tenuous life, so easy to puncture and ruin. The pain reached higher than my knee now, pulsing up, burning deep in the muscles. It tickled, a sickening sensation reminiscent of when they’d eaten my foot. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d popped a Percocet. Too much to do, too much needing a clear head. Not any more. Dr. Dawkins understood, once he realized I wasn’t about to sacrifice him to the river. We’d exchanged a knowing glance, his eyes sad as he passed over the baggie.

At the bottom of the bank I came to a set of train tracks. Across the tracks, beyond a few trees, lay the end. My end, and theirs, together. A fitting end, for what would I have to live for once the nanobots were annihilated? Pain? That I had in spades. I had no stomach for romance, my family was gone, and my life lay in tatters, shredded along with the ruins of Pittsburgh. What do I have left but vengeance?

An infant’s wail pierced the air behind me. I whirled to the shadows higher on the slope. The area lay in utter darkness, the wan moonlight nowhere close to its edges. The voice choked a bit, coughing, and the baby kept crying. Unburdened by the treasures given to the scientist, I brought the pistol up in my free hand, suspecting a trap.

While the child carried on, another voice joined it. “Please, don’t hurt us.” A female voice, wavering, weak.

I crept up, pulling my flashlight. It didn’t take long to find them. The mother stayed silent, but all I had to do was follow the baby’s weeping. The beam fell upon them. The woman from earlier rocked back and forth, shushing a swaddled babe wrapped in a bundle of greasy rags. Her treasure. She shivered, whether in fear or weakness I couldn’t tell. She kept her eyes low, clutching her baby close. A shock of red hair poked from the rags.

I frowned and tucked the gun in my belt, raising the empty hand. “I mean no harm to you and yours.”

“W-why are you down here? I never thought anyone would follow us here.”

“I wasn’t following you.” I nodded out towards the water. “I’m headed for the river.”

Her eyes widened, her mouth forming an O of wonder. “But ... but that’s certain death. They’ll eat you.”

“That’s the idea.”

“Why would you kill yourself? You have everything.” Her voice trailed off in a whisper.

I raised the baggie. “I have the cure, something for the nanobots to choke on. I’m going to eat this, and they’re going to eat me.” I shook the baggie in front of the flashlight. “Then this will eat them. All of them.”

The woman must have thought I was insane, gibbering nonsense at her. Still, I wore nice clothes, carried weapons, and walked unmolested through a dangerous neighborhood. Her eyes shifted up, wary but hopeful. “You don’t have to do it. M-maybe I could do it instead.”

My turn to be shocked. “Why?”

“I want my child to live.” Another body blow to my system. I gawked at the woman. “You can take her, protect her as your own. She’d have food and a good home, I can tell. Schooling, too, once I’ve—once this terror is ended.” She coughed, as if she’d overused long dormant vocal chords.

Though she was offering to sacrifice herself to my vengeance, a repulsive notion, realization beat its way into my heart. I wanted this. I wanted to live, yes, to enjoy my revenge, but I wanted a life once I’d achieved it. I would never love another man, but I could love a child. This child. The woman might have read the emotional conclusion I came to, or maybe she yearned to end her life struggle.

“You’ll raise her as your own?” she asked.

“Yes, I will.”

“As your own. Don’t tell her about me, about how—just promise not to tell her.”

“I swear. What’s her name?”

The woman choked a moment on the answer. “Heather.”

I noticed then the baby had stopped crying. Were I a religious woman, I’d take it as a sign. Instead, as the mother lay her now sleeping child in the rubble at my feet, I was just weary. Fed up with fighting, exhausted from the pain, empty now that my task neared completion. I dropped the baggie, knelt, and scooped up the baby in my arms. The exhaustion didn’t go away, yet I suddenly felt I could bear it. “Heather,” I murmured to the angel slumbering in my arms as her mother ate the fungus.

I trudged up the bank, out of the dark, right hand drawing my pistol. Nothing and no one would part me from Heather. The woman, the stranger, screamed her anguish, her sacrifice. A splash, a momentary flurry of sound, then silence, stillness.

Was the scientist right? I shrugged to myself. Drained of my lust for vengeance, I returned to Pittsburgh with Heather, to reclaim my life. END

Brandon Ketchum has previously been published in “Every Day Fiction,” the “Gothic Tales of Terror” anthology, “Mad Scientist Journal,” and elsewhere. He attended the 2013 and 2015 Cascade Writers Workshops.


winchester 11/16



crazy liddy 9/16