Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peripheral Hope
by Derrick Boden

by M. Luke McDonell

Penal Eyes
by Frederick Obermeyer

Tells of the Block Widowers
by Jez Patterson

Cretaceous on Ice
by K.C. Ball

Some Quiet Time
by Eric Cline

Three Breaths
by Karl Dandenell

by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

Left Hand Awakens
by Beth Cato

Laws of Humanity
by Alexandra Grunberg

Aggressive Recruiting
by Drew Williams


Remakes, Sequels Sizzle in 2017
by Joshua Berlow

Calderas: Doomsday Underfoot
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Three Breaths

By Karl Dandenell

STANDING WITH MY RECLAMATION team at the foot of the old warehouse, I gazed up at the day’s challenge: six stories of concrete, broken glass, steel girders, and various early twenty-first century artifacts. All left to rot after the Bad Weekend.

I sighed and rubbed my tired eyes. This was the third building on an assignment list already too long. And it was going to be a bitch. Absolutely.

“Serious!” said Tommy.

“Now what?” I unrolled my datapad.

“It’s the sprayer,” Tommy replied. “Gotta rethread the damn thing.”

“Well, can you do it quietly?" I said. "I’m trying to read this blueprint.”

“Sure thing, boss lady.”

As obedient California civil servants, our job was to survey the shattered building floor by floor, room by room—if necessary—before the wrecking crew arrived. If we found anything valuable (which happened more often than I liked), we had to safeguard it with architectural nano. Later, after the cleanup crew had dissolved the whole blighted building with recycling nano and vacuumed it up like an oil spill, our discoveries could be extracted and studied at leisure.

Right. That was the theory. Sometimes the preservative didn’t work, or the disassemblers got a little feisty and ate up half the block before running out of carbohydrates. Macro-scale nanotech might not be bleeding edge, but it was still fussy.

This neighborhood didn't help, either: a former industrial park wedged between the northern border of Oakland and the earthquaked rubble of Berkeley. A tough job, even on a good day. Add a nasty mix of feral house pets, unmarked toxic wastes, and squatters, well, you had a real day at the spa. With temps approaching triple digits. Shit.

I pushed those thoughts aside. I needed to keep my head clear and stay focused. I needed to Follow Procedure.

I looked behind me. “José? Status?”

“Perimeter drone's in position, doctor. No one’s going to steal our ride,” said our security expert, his eyes half-closed. José, a broad-shouldered man who had played pro soccer in Honduras before joining the Urban Reclamation Corps, stood in his usual semi-slouch. He reminded me of my first cat: warm and fuzzy, yet ready to lash out with teeth and claws if you approached him wrong.

I sighed. “You don’t have to be so formal.” My doctorate was in Cultural Archeology. “Carol is fine.”

“Old habit, ma’am,” he said. “My grandmother always told me to respect my elders.”

“We’ll move out as soon as Tommy’s ready, then,” I said, ignoring his last comment. I looked at my blueprint a final time before rolling up the datapad and jamming it into my fatigue pants thigh pocket.

Alan’s trail had gone cold four months ago, although everything I’d learned about my brother pointed to this area. When north Oakland appeared on the reclamation schedule, I grabbed the assignment, rather than take something easier in the suburbs.

I walked over to the team’s youngest member. “We have less than eight hours before they drop the tent, Tommy. How’re we doing?”

The young man looked up from his equipment, shielding his eyes from the sun. His acne scars stood out amid his sunburn. “I don’t know how we doing, boss, but I’m almost ready. Would’a been done an hour ago if that idiot supply clerk hadn’t given me the wrong hose couplings. Fortunately, I keep metric adapters in my kit.” He gave me his best everyone’s an idiot but me stare. “You can’t mess around with nano. This is serious.”

Tommy considered himself pretty laid back. However, nano, football, and computers were serious.

“How close is almost ready?”

He scratched at the stubble of his red hair and turned his attention to the high-pressure tank he was fitting into his backpack frame. “Five minutes, tops. Why don’t you have a smoke while you’re waiting?”

“Funny, Tommy. Just get the lead out.” I’d quit smoking gene-mod tobacco months before, and still missed it. I hated giving my lungs to Big Pharma, so one morning I tossed my last pack in the toilet and flushed it twice just to make sure.

I walked away a meter or two to gain some privacy, pulled out my personal phone, and hit Redial.

The line rang twice before the automated attendant cut in: “You have reached the Department of Missing Persons,” it said. “If you know your case number, Press one—”

I punched the one, then twelve more digits. It had taken me just a week after Alan disappeared to memorize the case number, though I still kept it on a scrap of rolling paper in my shirt pocket. For luck.

A minute later, I heard “Missing Persons, this is Makayla. Please give me a minute to review your file—oh, hey Carol.”

I forced a smile into my voice. “Hey. Anything new?”

“Let me see ... Last update was Tuesday,” Makayla said. “Uh, August eleven.”

“Old news.” I sighed, and the smile evaporated. Some homeless guy had turned up at the UC med center with symptoms of meth overdose. It wasn’t Alan.

“Sorry, girl. Wish I had something else for you.”

“Yeah, me too.”

An awkward silence blossomed. Then she said, “Well, I’ve got calls waiting. Take care of yourself.”

I clenched my teeth and hung up. That was the last thing Alan had told me before his unit went to Los Angeles. Take care of yourself. The last words he’d said to me at all.


I walked back to José.

He looked up. “Are they’re going to let us leave early so we can catch the World Cup?”


“Oh well,” he said, looking up at the cloudless sky. “At least it isn’t raining.” He grinned and offered me a piece of candy. Mango something. Sugar was a poor substitute for nicotine, but I ate it anyway.

José had an urban assault rifle slung across his back, courtesy of Homeland Security. The rifle linked to the military computer built into his body armor, and had safety lockouts to keep it from being used by anyone not carrying the appropriate biochip.

Fortunately, the current release had demonstrated fewer bugs than the last one.

Tommy had once tried to handle the assault rifle; more to the point, he had reached for it without asking permission, earning himself a sprained wrist. That was six months ago, when he had just arrived from drug treatment camp.

“What do you think, José?” I said.

“Going to be hot, ma’am.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “Nine in the goddamn morning, and I’m already sweating through my vest.” I lifted the edge of my heavy Kevlar. “Tempted to lose this antique crap.”

He shook his head. “Against regs, ma’am.”

“I know. Wish they’d issue us spider silk weave.” Twice as strong as Kevlar and weighed almost nothing.

“Gotta save the good stuff for the army.” He slipped his helmet on and checked the backup interface cables. Wireless worked great in the field until it didn’t. José didn’t like to take chances. “Sooner we do this, sooner we can go home and have a beer.” He inclined his head, made the sign of the cross, and pulled on his combat glasses and dust mask. “Hey, Tommy!” he shouted. “Are you through dicking around? We got a schedule to keep.” He glanced left and right, looking for threats.

Tommy was trying to balance a backpack frame built for someone taller than him. “Yeah, yeah. You could help me instead of polishing your boots.”

“Excuse me,” José said.

He easily lifted the frame while Tommy freed a stuck buckle. I switched on my radio and called in our status. The dispatcher logged our time and wished us luck.

By the time I finished the call, the others were ready. Tommy had drawn curls of red flame on his dust mask. He reminded me of a Mexican wrestler, a compact lucha libre demon.

“Let’s go, then,” I said. “Freight elevator’s supposed to work.”

“East side?” asked Tommy.

“East,” I said.

The elevator car swayed too much for my comfort, shuddering its way to the roof. I pinched my own dust mask around my nose and mouth. Then I took three long breaths to loosen my knotted stomach, silently repeating my baby brother’s mantra: As long as you can take three breaths, you can keep going.


The elevator doors refused to open more than a crack. José cut through with a ceramic machete, casting pieces of metal and rotting insulator onto the rooftop.

The roof appeared quiet.

Sunlight beat down on us as we stepped cautiously onto a fractured helicopter pad. José unslung his rifle and took point. I followed close. Tommy stayed behind long enough to disable the elevator controls. A furious crackhead had snuck up on us once that way.

“What’s on the wish list today?” Tommy asked when he caught up.

“Filter from the HVAC,” I said. "They busted an unlicensed gene lab here back in the day. Dispatch wants to see if anything escaped the containment seal during the Bad Weekend.”

“Germs. Great.” Tommy moved over to a rusty AC unit and began unscrewing a panel.

José cleared his throat.

I looked in his direction. “What?”

“Have a look.” He pointed at a small pile of ashes set in the middle of a circle of broken concrete. “This is pretty recent.”

How recent?” I asked.

“Less than a day ago,” José said. “We might have company.”

“Or they might have moved on to another squat by now.” I knelt down, unhooked a thin wand from my datapad, and thrust it into the ashes. “Social services posted notices but didn’t send beaters this time.” I unrolled the datapad and studied the readout. “No radioactives. Some ugly polycarbons, though. Probably burning scrap furniture and cubicle walls to make a cook fire.” I poked around the ashes, found a length of bone. “Squirrel?”

José pursed his lips. “Too big. Maybe a small dog.”

“Well, I don’t see anything to get excited about.” I stood up. Tommy began spraying a thin mist of nano over the AC’s exposed guts. He kept a light hand on the trigger, letting the preservative gunk settle before applying the catalyst. A few seconds later, the distinctive stench of cooking nano—burning bread—hit my nose. I coughed and backed away. Even after two years, the stuff still bothered me.

“That’s it!” Tommy said. “That’ll make the biotech guys happy. Where to?”

I consulted my datapad and pointed toward the fire stairs. We moved quickly down one flight of steel stairs to the sixth floor. The door opened easily enough, revealing a near-empty expanse. Scavengers had picked it pretty clean. At least it was cooler. I wiped some sweat from my headset.

José paused near the landing, scanning the shadows. Then, for our benefit, he raised his rifle and fired off a flare. The shell bounced off a wall, landing in a corner where its bright silver-white light illuminated one wall, casting fantastic shadows on the ceiling. I saw the smoke stains of dozens of campfires, along with graffiti in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Polish. Something moved at the edge of my vision.

“Animal?” I asked.

“Not sure,” José replied. “Better do the spiel.”

I touched my throat mike. “ATTENTION,” I called out in amplified tones. “THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED. YOU ARE IN DANGER IF YOU REMAIN HERE. YOU ARE ORDERED TO LEAVE THIS AREA IMMEDIATELY. IF YOU DO NOT LEAVE, YOU ARE SUBJECT TO ARREST, IMPRISONMENT, AND LETHAL FORCE.” I touched the mike off. The Babel unit in my pack repeated my speech in all the approved languages.

When the big raccoon scurried out from behind a pile of broken vertical blinds, I released the breath I’d been holding.

Tommy gave a cheery wave to the departing animal. “Say hi to the wife and kids!”

“Well, that was a pleasant surprise,” I said without irony. We didn’t have time to arrest anyone. I tapped José on the shoulder and pointed behind us. He nodded and led the way down another flight of stairs.

On the fifth floor, we came across a full squat. Tommy found empty liquor bottles (Welfare issue), a torn and greasy Army field jacket with UN Peacekeeping insignia, and some faded paperback books. “Hey, check it out! Somebody here’s reading Shakespeare.” He held up a dog-eared copy of “The Merchant of Venice.” “Maybe you went to school with this guy.”

“Unless he went to Penn State, I doubt it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tommy said. “Looks like he won an all-expenses paid tour of Nigeria. Him and ten thousand other lucky guys.”

We found a lot of Army veterans in these squats. I tried to imagine Alan living in a place like this, and failed. My brother wasn’t a quitter. He’d keep going. “Whatever,” I said. The squat smelled like homegrown tobacco, which made me irritable. I probed the debris with my datapad’s wand, hit something hard. “What’s this?”

“Let me see,” Tommy said. He dug through the dirt and rotted fabric, revealing a personal lockbox. “Jackpot!”

I knelt down and look closer. “I don’t know, Tommy. Doesn’t look like it belongs with the rest of this stuff.” Too new, for one thing.

He was already examining the locking mechanism. “First-generation fingerprint lock. Probably powered by a lithium battery.” He flipped it over to peer at the bottom. “Looks Korean—”

Careful!” José’s voice boomed above us. “You want to spend all winter regrowing your fingers?”

“He’ll be careful.” I looked Tommy in the eyes. “Right?”

“Right, boss,” Tommy grumbled. He set the box down with exaggerated care. “I didn’t get off the bus yesterday, you know.”

“We know,” José said. “And both of you know the rules.” He unclipped a probe from his belt and attached it to the box. “We can do it right, or we can do it twice.” His glasses bounced data off his eyeballs. “Well, that’s cute.” He inserted the thin blade of his knife along the lockbox’s edge, twisted it, and popped out a circle of metal that trailed a pair of wires. He cut one wire and stepped back. “It’s safe enough now.”

“Open it up,” I told Tommy. “We’ll keep an eye peeled.”

“You do that, boss.” Tommy dug out a small grinder and got to work. While he cut his way into the box, José and I walked a slow circuit of the floor.

I glanced back to check on Tommy. He couldn’t hear us over the sound of his cutting. “Thanks for stepping in back there, José.”

“Just doing my job, ma’am.”

“Well, I still appreciate it.” I leaned against a concrete column and wiped the sweat from my forehead with an old bandana. “You know, he’s not a bad kid.”

“No, he’s a drug addict who knows his way around machinery.”

“Well, he’s here, and that’s what counts.”

“He’s here as part of his sentence.” José said. “Why are you here? I checked the roster. You should have rotated out weeks ago.”

I drank long swallows from my canteen. I was really thirsty, and I needed to work up some courage to answer. Finally, I said, “I’m looking for someone.”

“And what happens if you find him?”

“Bring him home,” I mumbled. I imagined a flag-draped coffin.

“Well, I hope you’ll come back when’s that done,” said José. He glanced around. “We need all the grownups we can get around here.”

“We’re in!” Tommy said.

I stood, stretched my shoulders until they popped, and walked back to where Tommy was examining the lockbox’s contents.

“Naughty, naughty.” He poked around inside. “Definitely not your basic squatter kit: micro-tools, industrial solvent, and this.” He held up a lump of something white and shiny.

“Nano?” I asked.

Serious. Mil-spec decrypter,” Tommy said.

“A thief,” José decided.

“More than likely.”

“What are you guys talking about?” I asked.

“It’s like this,” Tommy said. “Our former English major and soldier boy is probably freelancing, supporting himself by stealing phones and breaking their credit encryption. Instant pre-paid debit card. You can go to any 7-Eleven parking lot and trade one of those for a hit of Grandpa Poppy or a night of companionship.”

I rubbed at a headache growing in my temples. “I thought the banks locked down stolen phones.”

“Well, they do. Unless you spoof the IMEI and network address so that it doesn’t—”

“Save it, Tommy.” My head throbbed. “Bag it or spray it. Got it?”

“Yeah,” he said, dropping his head. “Yeah, I got it.” He shoved the lockbox into a nano-resilient bag and brushed off his gloves. “Now what?”

“Stairs.” I turned and led the way.

The fourth floor was all business. Most of the interior walls had survived aftershocks, scavengers, and one determined pyro. I helped Tommy unearth some teraflop computers.

“Remember last year?” Tommy said. “Someone resurrected a couple of old hard drives and discovered the governor’s big stock kickback. Ended up kicking his ass out of office.” He laughed.

“Do we need to open up these?” I asked.

Tommy studied the pile of computers. “Naw, I’ll just cover the whole mess, and let someone else sort out the goodies.” He made an adjustment on his sprayer. “Maybe one of these days we’ll find something that’ll tell us why the Raiders benched Coleman before losing the Super Bowl. Seriously. He was rushing more than two hundred yards a game during the playoffs. No way he was injured.”

“Anything’s possible.”

Privately, I didn’t give it much chance. Too many politicians were quick to seize on the Bad Weekend as a chance to erase the past, replacing it with new, eco-friendly buildings and shady green parks full of pollution-eating grass. Who would notice few white collar crimes buried along with the urban blight?

We waited a few minutes until the nano reaction stabilized, then made our way down another floor.

The work took on its usual hot, hazy rhythm. I finished off my canteen, and managed to chew my way through a couple of tasteless energy bars while José disarmed what appeared to be a burglar trap he found in the false ceiling of the second floor.

“He’s something to watch, isn’t he?” Tommy said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said wearily.

“Come on, boss. I ain’t talking about his tight fatigues and his handsome face. I mean his attitude.” He popped a handful of peanuts into his mouth and crunched noisily. “Pro ... fessional.”

“Uh-huh.” I thought about that. I’d worked with other security people. They all seemed a little too macho to me, even the women. José was different. Grounded. Confident.

Not like me.

“You weren’t living here during the Bad Weekend, were you?”

I shook my head. “I was in Philadelphia. Waiting tables and looking for a teaching job. Not many companies needed a Cultural Archeologist. My brother was here, though. In the Army.”

Serious. I remember seeing all the military trucks on the streets, trying to keep the looters out. At night, we’d sit on the roof, watching the fires. Better than the movies.” He tossed his empty peanut bag. “You came out here after that?”

“Something like that.” Like most of the world, I’d gorged myself on news and high-def images after Richter-seven quakes flattened whole neighborhoods from Silicon Valley to the Golden Gate Bridge. When the Third Infantry had been called up to supplement the National Guard, Alan’s medical squad arrived on the first transport from Pennsylvania.

They never came back from patrol. A CNN camera crew found their ambulance, stripped of supplies, but no bodies.

I shoved half an energy bar into my pocket, my appetite lost. “Let’s get moving. José’s probably finished.” I quickly policed the food wrappers from the floor around us.

“You don’t have to do that,” Tommy said.

“Is it all right with you if I do?” Alan used to kid me about my housecleaning when he visited my spotless dormitories and apartments.

“It’s cool, boss.”

We trooped through several former conference rooms, which showed fewer bird droppings than the floor above. Most of the windows on this floor had cracked and fallen from their frames, and I could see remains of old nests, plus the telltale smudges of cook fires.

The floor near the main escalators had sagged and fallen apart, making footing treacherous. I paused and dug out my datapad. “I want to circle back to the other set of fire stairs. That would be over ... there.” I pointed to my left—

A black wraith, man-shaped, darted through the shadows toward me, side-stepping piles of trash like a running back. I saw the glint of a pistol in its hand.

I froze.

“Get down!” someone screamed. I stumbled backward and landed on my butt.

I saw José snap off a quick burst, then roll to one side. Answering rounds ricocheted off the walls and struck the carpeting near my knees. I scuttled to one side, looking for cover.

Tommy wedged himself behind a moldy cubicle wall, twisting a valve on his sprayer. “Goddammit!” he said. I watched him kick over a desk and scramble out of sight.

More gunfire exploded above my head: José behind me, firing. I crawled in his general direction. My ears were ringing, so I keyed my radio. “Tommy!” I hissed. “Where are you?” He didn’t answer. I popped my head up for a quick look, but didn’t see him.

Another fast belly crawl brought me up against a freight elevator shaft. José crouched behind a torched printer. “You okay, ma’am?”

“Fine.” I pulled down my mask and spit dust, trying not to think about all the crap getting past the cheap paper filter. “I don’t know where Tommy is.”

“I’ll ping him,” José said. Two seconds later, he added, “He’s up ahead, to the right. Closer to the hostile than us.”


“It’s your call, ma’am, though we’re not safe here.” We heard the scrape of furniture somewhere to our right.

“I’m open to suggestions.” My own voice sounded like a whisper.

“There’s nothing here worth catching a bullet. You two fall back to the lobby and head for the car. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Sounds good.” I keyed my radio. “Tommy!”

Shh,” he replied. “Not so loud. He’s in the next row.”

I lowered my voice. “We’re heading for the lobby. Time to go.”

“I don’t think so. I can’t run too well with this rig.”

A burst of gunfire scored the wall above, showering us with plaster.

“I got an idea,” Tommy said. “Get ready.”

I heard movement. I popped my head and saw a stream of brown liquid arc over the cubicles. When it splashed the floor, it sizzled. The stream moved right to left, like a sprinkler.

A baritone scream cut across my ears. The wraith emerged from his hiding place, clutching his arm. Blood ran from a wound on his shoulder. As he stumbled toward the escalators, I tried to see his face. He turned away too quickly.

José flipped his rifle up and steadied it against his shoulder in one smooth motion.

“Let him go!” I yelled.

José moved his finger from the trigger, tracking the fleeing man as he slipped through the broken glass doors in the lobby. “He’s headed for the metro station,” he said. A moment later, he safetied his rifle. “We’re clear.”

“Did you see that?” Tommy stood up and waved at us. Then he patted the nano sprayer. “That was serious.”

I ran to a broken window and vomited up my snack. When the dry heaves finished, I wiped my mouth with my bandanna, then tossed it away.

Footsteps behind me. “Water?” José said.

“Thanks,” I said, taking the canteen. I took a swallow, spit it out, then drank greedily. I took three calming deep breaths and returned the empty canteen. God, I wanted a cigarette.

José knelt by me. “How you feeling, ma’am?”

I looked up. “Shitty, but I’ll manage.”

“Don’t feel bad. The first time someone shot at me I peed myself.”

I surreptitiously checked my pants. Dry, thank god.

“Is there a reason you didn’t want me to shoot that guy?”

“I thought—” I coughed and cleared my throat—“thought it was my brother.”

“Right.” José paused a moment, considering. “Back in a sec.” His boots crunched on broken acoustic tile.

I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes. José came back in a minute and pressed something into my hand. “Here.”

I looked down at a sample tube. “What’s in it?”

“There was a fresh blood stain on a desk back there. You might get lucky and get a hit on the DNA registry.”

I look down at the tube. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Although in the future, ma’am, I’d appreciate it if you let me do my job. You can’t find him if you’re dead.”

I nodded. “Good point.” I raised my voice, “Tommy, you okay?”

“Doing fine, boss.”

“Then let’s do the first floor.” I still felt shaky, but serviceable.

“I’m up for that,” Tommy said, and headed toward the escalator. I waved José after him.

I clenched the sample tube in my hand, smudging the clear plastic with sweat and dirt. Even if it weren’t Alan’s DNA, it might belong to a member of his squad, or someone who had seen him. I’d track him down eventually. I knew I would.

Then I thought about what José had said. Whatever happened with Alan, I knew I couldn’t wait tables again. It was time to grow up.

I secured the tube in my backpack, took three breaths, and moved forward to join my team. END

Karl Dandenell is an active member of SFWA. His work has appeared or will soon appear in “Aboriginal SF,” “Buzzy Mag,” and “Fiction Vortex.” He is also a graduate of the Viable Paradise and Paradise Lost fiction writing bootcamps.


callahan 9/16