Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


When Every Song Reminds You of a Dead Universe
by Karl Johanson

Side Effects of Yeah- Yeah Pills
by A.J. Kirby

A Breederax for Dalia
by Janett L. Grady

by Byron Barton

One of Our Starships Is Missing
by Terry Savage

Help Desk
by Robert J. Mendenhall

Toca la Guitarra
by Wayne Helge

How to Travel Through Time & Space
by Allen Quintana

by Kevin Gordon


Bracing for a Brave New World
by Hunter Liguore

Sizing Things Up
by Eric M. Jones





Comic Strips



When Every Song Reminds You of a

Dead Universe

By Karl Johanson

“HAVE YOU GIVEN ANY thought to what will happen to you after you die?” The woman in the doorway spoke with the unmistakable tone of a person trying to cement their own beliefs, by professing them to others.

“More so than you would, or could, ever believe.” I said seriously.

The woman’s younger cohort was clearly bored, but he’d put in a valiant effort to look interested and devout.

The woman continued. “If you let our savior into your life you would no longer be in danger and you would no longer fear death.” Her cohort cringed very slightly. Like he was worried I’d slam the door in their faces.

“I haven’t feared about death since long before your galaxy coalesced. In fact, I’ve wished for death.”

The young man’s eyes lit up briefly when I said galaxy.

“Wishing for death is a sin,” the woman said. She did her best to look righteously indignant. Like she was trying hard to feel it, but that the feeling wasn't quite there.

“Try living as long as I have, and see if you change your mind.”

“You’re risking your immortal soul even thinking such things!” She was clearly trying to sound as though she cared about me and my soul, but she sounded like someone trying to grab the moral high ground.

“Immortality isn’t what you think it is,” I told them.

The cohort seemed to be more interested.

“Just over a trillion years ago I angered someone very powerful. His punishment was imposed immortality.”

“Immortality only comes from God.” She literally thumped the book for punctuation. “God wrote in this book ...”

“Humans wrote that,” I told her matter-of-factly.


“Humans wrote that book. I met some of them.”

The young man's head cocked to the side a bit. “You’re thousands of years old?”

The woman frowned at him.

“More than a trillion, I told you. I’ve watched this universe collapse and re-expand seven times. I took up residence in this body in the twelfth century.”

“You possessed someone? Like a demon?” the man said. A question, not an accusation. He clearly didn't believe me, but he seemed to find my story far more interesting than the woman’s pontifications.

“It’s a mutually agreed upon association. He was being tortured when I met him. Ironically, the people torturing him had accused him of having a demon. I don’t think the accusers believed the accusation for a second, I think they just liked to torture people for fun. Actually, I’m pretty sure of that.”

The woman watched me and appeared to even be listening.

“I offered to save him from being tortured, in exchange for a close association, one that would allow me to feel what he felt, not just his senses, but some flavor of the emotions as well. He also got centuries more life than he could have had otherwise. He’s asleep right now.”

“How did you save him?” The man asked. The woman didn’t remember to frown at him that time.

“I can affect matter around me, to an extent. It takes a great deal of effort of a type you wouldn’t understand. I said before that the interrogators didn’t believe he had a demon, but they sure seemed to think he did when I caused his drawn intestines to pull back into his body and when the cut on his stomach sealed up. I’ve lived long enough that I know how to heal complex organic life. His interrogators ran screaming.”

The man smiled and leaned on my doorframe.

“He hunted them down while I was asleep. The interrogators. They’d killed his wife. I tasted his emotions about it when I woke again. The strongest thing I’d felt in almost half a million years.”

The man shuffled uncomfortably.

“My companion was good enough to kill them quickly, rather than paying them back in kind. When I noted that he didn’t kill them out of vengeance, but simply to stop them from torturing and killing others, I knew I’d found a companion I could live with for some time.”

The woman looked very angry. “I’m not listening to this nonsense anymore.” She stomped a few steps towards the stairs, but the cohort stayed put.

“What are you?” the young man asked.

“What am I now? I’ve spent a great deal of my existence trying to figure that out. Some of me is the same as what you are. Some matter, some energy extended into… There’s more than the dimensions you perceive. Some of them are curled up tightly around themselves, some… not so much. Much of what I seem to be is a terrifyingly complex pattern of matter and energy and maybe something else, here and extending into some of those dimensions. If I don’t think about it, and there’s enough matter around me, my old body will grow back around me. I can prevent it from happening, or take on the shape of something else with enough effort, although an association like this with another is easier." I patted my sides. "I don’t quite understand how I’m doing it. Think of say a chimpanzee moving its arms, without knowing anything about nerves and muscle tissue."

Neither of them looked ready to interrupt with more of their pitch, so I continued. "Throughout my existence, I’ve enlisted millions of scientists and philosophers in an attempt to understand what I am. Some of them were more capable of understanding multi-dimensional physics than I am. I’ve worked with and developed computers and programs, many of them self-aware, hoping they would see answers I couldn’t. None of them could tell me how to stop being.”

“I talked with your Richard Feynmann. It wasn’t his math or his physics that intrigued me. Rather I was amazed by his ingenuity. How he worked out such a complex system of quantum mechanics and multiple dimensions with so few clues and such primitive tools. Maybe understanding the way he thought will help me eventually.”

“What was it you did?” the man asked. “Why did,” he paused looking for words, “the entity make you immortal?”

“What did I do? That’s hard to answer. My kind is quite different from yours, or anything else that evolved on your planet.”

The woman tensed up when I said evolved.

“Our world had a very stratified society. Stratification and hierarchy seem very important to humans, but we had it far more extreme than all of your cultures ... most of your cultures. I committed what our society considered a perversion. When I say our society considered it a perversion, I mean our leaders considered it a perversion.”

“I’m not listening to this,” the woman said. She started to walk away again, but stopped again after a few steps. She looked like she was relieved that her cohort hadn’t followed her, so she had an excuse to stay.

“Like you humans, most sentient species have their members who declare any non-procreative form of sexual interaction a perversion. It was the same with us. It was worse for me, in our culture’s eyes—in our leaders’ eyes I mean—as my cast was born to tend eggs and larva, not to participate in any form of sex. I was around sexually receptive females all my life, and my body and my emotions reacted to that, but to interact with any of them could get me killed. I learned to ignore the temptation by thinking myself unworthy. Some of my fellow tenders didn’t, and were executed along with the females involved. Even the eggs they had tended were destroyed.”

“What did you do?” the man asked. The woman further down the steps turned her head to better hear.

“There was one egg layer. I didn’t love her, although I like to remember it as if I did sometimes. She made me feel special once. Imagine, me an egg and larva tender, feeling special ... instead of insignificant. Knowing that someone went out of their way to make me feel special.”

“What did she do to make you feel special?” The man’s eyes were wide as he asked.

“In my entire life, that’s the only thing I haven’t told anyone else. A private thing for me alone. My way to honor her.”

“I knew the dangers, but I felt that if I could make her feel special as well, even if for a short time, then my existence would have meaning beyond preparing new generations for my same existence. Pretty much every possible form of sexual congress had been forced upon this breeder throughout her life. But there was a thing that’s rarely done. I asked her once if she wanted me to do it and she ... Ha. I’ve been in humans for so long I was about to say she smiled. Suffice to say, she did our species’ equivalent of a smile. A smile that said she felt flattered by the offer, a smile that said she liked me, a smile that said she was excited, and a smile that meant yes.”

The woman, still standing by the stairs, blushed but didn’t say anything.

“Some time later, after much excitement and anticipation, she was alone in a laying alcove. I went in to see her. Not being alone while laying was considered enough of a crime/perversion to get us both killed.”

The man and the woman’s eyes looked at me expectantly.

“I stroked and licked her ovipositor tube while she laid her eggs.”

“That’s disgusting.” The woman looked quite seriously happy about having an excuse to feel indignant.

The man frowned at her.

“Many of my kind thought so too. Egg laying is painful for our kind. What I did made it not only not painful, but pleasurable, very much so apparently. Some related non-intelligent creatures on our planet would do that naturally, which I suspect is part of why it was considered perverse. She looked in pleasure, happy, blissful.”

“I didn’t know then, but sometime before that our leader had been taken over by something very powerful and severely dangerous. Dangerous like you can’t imagine. The something reacted strongly to the emotions of our leader. The female, my friend, was killed while she slept, as if she didn’t matter. Me; the leader wanted something special for me, and the something inside him obliged. All I remember was light, pain and a feeling like my body was stretched in directions that sense told me shouldn’t exist. Afterwards my body survived any assaults to it, pulling itself back together again, over and over, despite the ingenious tortures our leader thought up. It went on for a very long time.”

The something in our leader left after a time, a very long time, maybe out of boredom. I got past the guards and killed our leader soon after. I’d like to say I was quick about it, but you can imagine that I wasn’t in the best of mental states at the time.”

“I saw tens of billions of my kind hatch, live and eventually die. I saw my species evolve and eventually go extinct. I saw our star grow warmer and our planet dry up. I watched the sun for millions of years. Begging it to nova, knowing I couldn’t possibly survive that. My body didn’t survive the explosion of our star, but I survived. After millennia, I learned to move myself around in what was left of the star. After a longer time, I learned how to move myself through open space as well. ”

“What did you do?” The man asked. “All alone. Your whole race dead ... what could you do?”

“I haven’t always been alone. It wasn’t always aliens like you either. I’ve cloned my own race back to existence on more than a dozen planets. After I got it started it was usually better if I didn’t hang around too long. Once they spread out into a small interstellar empire in the stellar cluster I created them in. They had a thousand origin stories to explain their existence, as they could see they hadn't evolved on their planet, but none of them assumed something like me.”

“You asked what did I do? Almost everything I could think of. I’ve flown through the prominences of a billion stars, and felt the electrical fields coursing through me. I watched the plasma streamers floating over the stars in endless patterns, often like dragons spiraling around each other. Oh you should see that. I watched them all fade out or nova millennia later. Nova ... how human to name the death throes of a sun new star.”

My audience looked like they wanted more, so I continued.

“I’ve sat on the surface of neutron stars as they robbed Hydrogen from the stars they orbited, watching it fuse to Helium as it landed, then watched the built up Helium layer fuse all at once in a brilliant spectacle, all over the surface. I saw it, I tasted the newly formed Carbon, and boy did I feel it! I’ve watched extinguished galaxies collide, lighting up in vivid colors. I once got in between two galactic black holes as they spiraled towards each other, watching the gravity waves rip whole stars apart. When the black holes finally collided, it felt absolutely amazing and hurt like you wouldn’t believe. It hurt so much it made me laugh at the comparatively trivial tortures our leader had subjected me to. But I was still alive at the end of it. I expected that time contraction near and inside the event horizon would make the events pass by more quickly, but the conscious part of me was barely affected.”

“What will you do now?” the man asked.

“Now? Live in the times of stars and life. Learn and experience, even though the feelings aren’t new. Sleep when I can.” I looked at him and smiled. “I’m collecting puzzles. Memorizing them without solving them. I have a particular fondness for crosswords. I hadn’t seen anything like them on any other world. It’ll give me something to do in the long dark night of universal collapse. You can’t imagine what it’s like orbiting a geometric point for billions of years, hoping it will explode into a universe again. There’s nothing to do but think and remember.”

“I learned eidetic recall after the second universal collapse. From memory I can listen to music from any one of a million worlds, but you can’t imagine how that feels when every song reminds you of a dead universe. I can remember conversations, methods of thought, often but not always with a goal of figuring out how to die. A million years is more than ten thousand human lifetimes, and that’s just one star in a cluster compared to how long I’ve lived. That leaves more than enough time to contemplate how to end it all. But you humans have some elements of thinking that seem unique. Perhaps this will help me in my goal.”

The woman stared at me. She didn’t say anything about suicide being a sin this time.

The man looked at me. His throat sounded dry, “The egg layer, your friend. Did she ... did you manage to make her feel special? Before she died I mean.”

“We lay together for a long while after we’d finished, before she went into post laying hibernation ... Yes she felt special, for a time. I haven’t remembered that part of it for more than a billion years ... Thank you.”

The woman looked taken by the story, but then something occurred to her and her expression changed. She looked angry and ... triumphant. “You’re just telling a story and expecting others to believe it, even though you aren’t offering a shred of proof that any of it is true!”

“Is that what I’m doing? Maybe ..." Then I smiled. "But you started it.” infinity

Karl Johanson is Editor of the Aurora-winning “Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine.” He has worked for Sanctuary Woods Multimedia, Disney Interactive and North Star Games, doing writing, design, and testing on close to 200 computer games. His stories have appeared in “On Spec” magazine, “Sci Phi Journal,” and the anthology “Here Be Monsters: 7.”


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