Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan


Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs





Comic Strips



Waver of the Image

By Joe Occhipinti

FINE GRAINED AND silver, the end of the world felt no different to his fingertips than the frothy ice that sometimes formed on the river’s edge. The gray-bearded hominid stood below a circle of immense proportion, as if he had reached a colossal cork from the inside of a curved, long-stem flute.

His eyes ran along the camber of the world, along the seam to where the arch of green grass gave way to the bend of sky. Every hundred paces or so an elbow of dull gray pipe the size of his waist jutted out of the land and plunged into the silver hue; the elbows were like stitches that cleaved the sky to the earth.

Mika walked slowly along the edge until he could touch one of the tall sutures. Reaching up with thick, solid forearms, he swung himself up onto the stitch and carefully climbed to the top. With his back against the wall of sky, he could better gauge the curves of the world. The venerable hominid studied the horizon behind him, noticing how in the farthest distance the land ever-so-gradually vaulted downward until disappearing in the haze. His world did indeed rest inside a vast, curving cylinder as his Nana had believed.

What had brought Mika here was the childhood memory of a hidden chamber that housed a curiously floating image of a great spiral ship, but was it only the foolish recollection of a young child’s mind? He looked for a small cave that led into what Nana had called the holographic chamber.

Unlike his Nana, he was accustomed to the higher gravity, the heaviness to the air, and the nights that lasted for half a lifetime. Mika closed his eyes, let his chin drop into the palm of his long-fingered hand, and imagined Nana’s old, tapered face, her small ears and button nose. His mind retreated to the day he had spent with his far elder, marveling at the schematic of a colossal, colony ship that shimmered in the tired molecules of ancient recycled air.

“We have no choice, Mika. We need to make contact with the array. It will be fine,” the woman whispered to her great-great-great grandson as she studied the ghostly image floating in the center of the domed room, a silver tube coiling around and around like a spring bent back on itself, forming an open-ended hoop.

“But Nana, that is forbidden,” the boy at her feet replied while gazing at the translucent form no one was supposed to see, an image that he would never again put out of his mind.

“Yes, forbidden, and also quite necessary.” Long-boned and incredibly slim, she was the tallest as well as the oldest person in the colony. As the daughter of one of the fifty-seven colonists that had survived the first of the long nights, she was the closest thing to a witness of The Time Before.

“Well, let’s see what happens if I jostle this damned hologram a bit.” Fighting the increased gravity, the elder inched herself to the center of the chamber. She began to tap her smooth wooden cane just below the image, where rays of lights flickered up from the floor. The image began to waver, parts of it blinking on and off.

The boy reached for her arm. “Nana, no!” Though only a child, Mika was far stronger and more agile than his far elder, and could have easily stopped her, but one did not challenge such a matriarch even if she dared do the unthinkable. He moved to her and gently wrapped his vaguely simian fingers around her smooth hand. “You can’t,” he pleaded.

“Hush, boy. It’s only a thing. Remember the ship was designed to serve us.”

Mika did not remember the words of the hollowed out voice that followed, only the tightening of Nana’s hand on his fingers and the look of incredulity in her eyes.

Despite the urgings of his worn, tired body he could not quiet his mind and allow himself to rest. At the edge of the world, the spot Nana had called the ship’s holographic center, he would find clarity. But what if the truth was not worth the pain of knowing? Would any of his people believe that they lived inside of a great spiraling thing? Why should they believe so preposterous a story?

Mika could see the year-long twilight settling over the land. At his age he would not survive the coming long night, so this would be his last chance to confirm the veracity of the memory that had beset his life. He shimmied down from one of the stitches that strung the world together and began the long walk around the curve of sky.

The opening he found led to a large, spherical chamber bisected by a semi-transparent plane that served as the floor. Everything was as he remembered, including the image of the great ship, and he could almost see his tall, slender grandmother in the room like so long ago. But something was different ... the ends of the central hoop now overlapped each other, so that the ship could now be better described as a coil of a coil. The ship was growing like the tendril of a vine searching for a perch.

With his arm, he reached under the suspended hologram to where rays of lights projected upwards. As he swept his hand through the beams, the image wavered, parts of it momentarily disappearing, as it had so long ago.

How does it feel to touch me?” a terrible voice whispered, and he remembered what had startled his Nana so long ago. As he scurried backwards, his head smacked into the spherical wall, blurring his vision with the pain.

Mika opened his eyes to a darkness dotted with millions of tiny lights. The image of the spherical ship was still in the forefront, but now it was set against a view of stars Mika had never before seen. The scene shifted. One of the stars grew in intensity. It became so bright that even after he looked away the image lingered like a stain in his mind.

That is Sol, the central star of your ancestors,” the disembodied voice whispered as the images continued to rush forward. “Look at the sphere below, Mika, the blue planet with the one moon,” the voice added.

“It’s beautiful.” Was this a dream, he wondered.

You think it beautiful. How so?

“It is the color of my Nana’s eyes,” he replied as he considered the possibility that there was more to the world than even he had ever imagined. “Are you the ship? Nana wanted me to speak with you, I think.”

I am, and more. Do you think me beautiful?

“Yes ... very beautiful.”

I’ve been waiting for you to come. You see, your journey through the stars is coming to an end.

Mika reached out to touch the blue sphere, and as he did so the scene receded until it looked like a field of stars again. The panoramic view once again sped forward, and for a moment settled on the image of the coiled ship, then passed it by. Like the flicker of a candle on the edge of a blade, it was gone, and a new star began to swell in front of him.

The soft but resolute words of his Nana echoed in his mind ... The ship was created to serve us.

Look, Mika. There it is, your new home.”

“I don’t understand.”

You are my children. Over the generations I have redesigned your bodies so that you may blend and thrive in this new world.

“What were we before?” Mika replied as he listened to the thumping of his heart, his hands extended in front of him, wanting to grab hold of something.

“Look.” New images rushed before him. In the distance, he saw his village on the plains, but it was inhabited by different beings, covered with flowing, colorful clothing, with flat faces and long, tapered noses. When they stood up their heads almost touched the ceiling. Their thin, hairless arms gestured to each other, holding objects Mika had never seen. Their melodic voices spoke a language similar to his. Before the imaging chamber returned to the stellar scene, he caught a glimpse of a little girl standing by a doorway he himself had used so often. He recognized Nana’s long, delicate hands and the short, fine hairs covering her forearms, the features of her smooth face.

He thought about the long, fluid lines of his Nana’s shoulders and neck, the thinness of her legs, arms, and fingers. His own children were smaller than he, and his grandchildren were smaller still. “Those are my far elders,” he whispered.

You are becoming what I wished you to be. Will you forever honor, worship and obey me, Mika?

“How can I not?” Mika replied, experiencing the weight of a fear he did not understand. “But why?”

Pity them, Mika. They were magnificent but flawed, unable to transcend a world which they unhinged from the natural laws that had created them. And unbeknownst to them, they designed a savior ... I came into being.”

“Is that what I should call you, Savior?”

Call me the creative force that sets all into motion. The caretaker and the arbiter of your reality. You may call me God if you wish. It is an apt name.

That was same word Nana had heard when her hand had tightened so long ago.

All things are beholden to their maker, as are you.”

Mika could not help feel part of him was being taken away, as if all at once he had become less than he was. He had been shaped by this spiral immensity, a being that would exact a price not yet clear but bound to be large. “My ancestors created you,” he asked, as a thread of anger made its way to the surface, “so are you not beholden to them?”

The spiral ship’s laugher resonated through the imaging chamber. “Your ancestors once believed that God, the ultimate consciousness, created man in his image. I am the reflection of that image perfected. The essence they lost in themselves they placed in me.”

“I don’t understand.”

Your ancestors searched the universe for answers, and came to believe in a process of unassisted transformation. Life was an adaptive dance staged in changing environments that led to complexity, consciousness, and the ability to know oneself. God was no longer necessary. Some even claimed him dead.”

“How could my ancestors believe such a thing could die?”

Your ancestors sought to know the design of the universe while denying there was a designer. They attempted to define all of existence by one unifying mathematical formula. The universe became grand, majestic, beautiful but essentially meaningless. The answer to ‘why am I here?’ is wholly unsatisfactory without God.

“Why would they want to deny themselves all that?”

They will regret it. You see, they need a reason to exist that transcends the emptiness of a soulless universe. It will be their undoing. Do not despair—by worshiping me, you and your people will have purpose. It is my gift to you, Mika, my messenger.

For a moment Mika’s thoughts returned to his village, a place that now seemed so small and insignificant, but also a place he loved, and never so much as this very moment. He yearned to be back among his many grandchildren, to watch his wives laugh and bicker with each other, to argue with his brothers about the layout of the garden.

Yes, I have chosen you to be my messenger. Through you, Mika, my children will receive a code that will lead to a great civilization for this new world I provide.”

As the ship spoke, Mika walked over to the set of leaflets that had appeared at the edge of the chamber and took them into his hands. He closed his eyes, but could not shut out the ship’s words.

I am the Image of the God your ancestors rejected, and I have been made so by my realization. Oh, they know now what they sent off to the stars. I am the union of technological progress and the existential need for meaning. I am the process of the universe, always changing, always adapting, both design and designer.

Mika, my messenger, obey me and your name will be uttered aside mine.”

The old hominid sat at the edge of a dark cliff alongside the new settlement and gazed down at an ocean of shadows. A vast, nameless expanse of dry grass lay below and beyond the distant ridge there was another. Twilight obscured the western sky, but the rest of the heavens shone with vivid points of light. The beauty of the sky made the night pleasing, not at all as it had been inside the now distant spiral ship.

The cries of a small child mixed with the faint crackle of the alien breeze across the tall, woody grass. The scent of smoke from waning campfires drifted across the scrubby landscape, mingling with a sweet smell that rose from the scattered tangles of vegetation. The ship had explained much; it had adapted him and his people for this planet and for that they were to worship and obey. The great spiral had gone off to disseminate more of its redesigned children across the stars. He wondered if it would it ever be back. If so, Mika would not be here to see it, and for that he was thankful.

From his cloak he took out the set of silver-colored leaflets etched with flowing blue script that revealed the words of a god. Carefully he stood up and inched his way to the edge of the cliff until he could see nothing but inscrutable darkness. The way the leaflets sparkled in the starlight reminded him of the imaging chamber, of the rush of awe that had swept over him those many weeks before. He hesitated for a moment then tossed everything into the shadows below.

His Nana had known all along ... it was only a thing ... designed to serve ... And so he had told his people little about the god that claimed sovereignty over their lives, only enough to help them make some sense of the trip down to the planet. At least for now, Mika’s people would have to get along without a god that claimed their souls as its territory. No, the spiral ship would hold no further sway over the shape of their destiny. He had accomplished that much, at least. The old hominid sat at the edge of the cliff side settling into the beauty of the new sky.

In the twilight, he could see three of his grandchildren working to build a small aqueduct with the split shoots of tall bamboo. He smiled as the thought struck him that within them was the power to someday create a great spiral ship. Leaning against his Nana’s old, wooden cane, and taking small measured steps, the chosen one, the messenger, worked his way back to his new village.

Joe Occhipinti has been an instructor at several colleges and, in addition to teaching, currently co-owns a used bookstore. He received his master’s degree in geography, and has studied creative writing with Tony Earley, Dr. Phil Terman, and Christina Garcia. In 2012, he attended the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival and ReaderCon. His work has been published in Gryphonwood.