Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Talus Slope
by Joseph Green

Who Benefits From War?
by Hayden Trenholm

Those Magnificent Stars
by Clare L. Deming

A Soldier Undreams
by Bret Carter

Eating Disorder
by Len Dawson

My Shaigetz
by Marcy Arlin

Two Timing
by Rik Hunik

To Dance With the Girls of Ios-5
by Ted Blasche


Psychology and Science Fiction
by Ann Gimpel, Ph.D.

Get Up and Go Somewhen
by J. Richard Jacobs

In Time For Evolution
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Shorter Stories

The Day the Alien Came to Church

By Peter Wood

REVEREND PAUL MONROE sipped his sweet tea as the alien stooped through the door into First Presbyterian’s social hall. Not many Zael made it to Mentone, Georgia, and Paul couldn’t remember one ever coming to the weekly informal midweek lunch and service before. The extraterrestrials stirred up emotions in most people from discomfort to hatred. Paul just felt sorry for them. He motioned for the visitor to join him.

While the organist finished playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” the Zael picked up a plate of country fried steak, boiled potatoes, collards and corn bread. He squeezed his tail through the open backed chair and sat beside Paul.

Paul stuck out his hand. “Glad to have you join us, brother. My name’s Paul. You down from Waycross?” For thirty years the Zael had lived in a dozen camps scattered across the South, the only climate the aliens could tolerate.

“Yes, sir. I am Moag.” The alien extended a balled up fist, so that Paul wouldn’t hurt himself on the talons. “We are restoring the rotten pews in the courthouse. The foreman said this was a good place for lunch.”

Paul was surprised Moag was skilled enough to work with wood, a rare and expensive material. “Yes, sir. You know, we have a twenty minute service right here in this room every Wednesday before lunch. Maybe you could make it for the sermon next time?”


Tom Muzeen, a mechanic, had just finished telling Paul about the time a farmer expected him to fix a gasoline engine. He turned to Paul. “Good sermon today. Never figured Goliath was nothin’ but a giant.”

Paul smiled. “We all have our Goliaths. Whatever you’re facing won’t just go away. Faith—”

Tom grinned and held up his hand. “Come on, preacher. I already heard the sermon once.”

Paul laughed. “Sorry.”

Tom turned to Moag. “Hot enough for you, spaceman? Name’s Tom.”

Paul hoped Tom wasn’t trying to start an argument.

Moag attempted a smile, but his bared fangs did not look friendly. “January is unpleasant for us.”

Paul wondered what the Zael home world was like. The Zael asked for work assignments in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia’s relentless summer.

The usual cross section of townspeople— from businessmen to field hands— filed past with heaping plates of food. Paul felt like he was at the unpopular table in the high school cafeteria. Paul’s mind raced as he tried to think of uncontroversial topics that would keep the conversation flowing until Moag left.

Tom slid a bottle of Buford’s Insanity Sauce across the table. “If you like heat, try this, spaceman."

“Come on, Tom. Take it easy on him. Let’s have a quiet lunch,” Paul urged.

Moag drizzled hot sauce on his collards. “Thank you.”

Tom laughed. “They’ve been fixin’ up the courthouse since I was a kid.”

Paul coughed. “My great granddaddy used that courthouse.”

“I bet a lot of things have changed since your daddy’s day,” Tom said to Moag.

“I didn’t know my parents. I was raised in a state hatchery,” Moag said.

“That must have been difficult,” Paul said.

“It was not hard,” Moag said.

Tom stabbed a potato and swished it in red-eye gravy. “Ain’t no hatcheries around here. Somebody must have raised you.”

“I came on the ship,” Moag said.

Tom’s eyebrows rose. “How old are you?”

Moag swallowed a forkful of collards. “Two hundred years.”

Tom whistled softly. “Sweet Jesus.”

It was remarkable, Paul thought, how little everybody knew about the Zael or cared to know.

“I like the sauce,” Moag said.

“It’s great how peaceful things have been since the war ended,” Paul said, hoping that Tom would take the hint and lay off Moag.

Tom stroked his unshaven chin. “The U.S. has always treated the losers well. We about built Pakistan a new country not too far back.”

Moag looked up from cutting his steak. “Losers, sir?”

Tom shrugged. “Y’all gave up.”

“We surrendered. We did not lose.”

“Not much difference, spaceman,” Tom said.

“There is a difference,” the alien said.

Tom smiled. “Y’all only sent one ship. You couldn’t have beaten us.”

Paul wondered how cocky David felt after he felled Goliath. And what would the shepherd have done if the giant had just been playing possum?

Paul cleared his throat. “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking politics. This is church.”

Tom’s smile vanished. “We’re talking history, Paul. Spaceman’s wrong. They underestimated us. They gave up.”

Moag took a sip of sweet tea. “The journey here was seventy-five years. The ship was crowded. Some died. Nobody wanted to return home. We overthrew our masters and stayed.”

Tom smirked. “And gave up without a fight.”

“What sense would it make for freed slaves to enslave a world?” Moag asked.

Tom frowned. “Y’all couldn’t have done it.”

Moag did not respond. Instead he stared at the salt shaker which quickly turned bright red. It split neatly in half without salt spilling out. “Now when I release my mind’s hold ...”

Both shaker sides fell down and salt flowed onto the pitted wooden table.

“With our minds we can do many things. And the ship had weapons of vast and terrible power.” Moag scraped his chair back and stood up. He towered over Tom and Paul.

“Thank you for joining us,” Paul managed to say.

“I must get back to work,” Moag said. His tail knocked the chair askew as he turned to the door.

After Moag had left, Tom pushed one broken half of the salt shaker gently with his finger. “My daddy was around when their ship came. That’s not how it happened. I don’t care if the spaceman can slice salt shakers by lookin’ at them. My daddy said we sunk their ship.”

“Maybe they sunk it. The navy scuttles ships.” Paul wondered if the ship was lurking underwater, waiting for the Zael to summon it.

Tom shrugged. “So, they sunk their ship. Big deal. If he’s so powerful, why’s that spaceman slinging a hammer all day?”

“Why was Christ content being a carpenter?” Paul asked as he sopped up the last of the gravy with his cornbread. infinity



Warm and Comfortable

By Paula Friedman

“THEY ATE ANIMALS, didn’t they?” Mo yawned as he muttered, and stretched.

It was warm in the cave. Languidly, Sylvie curled up against his side. “My budsie,” she purred.

He rubbed her cheek and yawned again. “Here, another?” he asked, holding up the last of the bones.

And hoping they were still safe to eat. Must’ve been lying here a good 10,000 Sol-go-rounds. All the flesh was long dissolved. And the—whatever those were, pieces of softness those Revered Ancestors once wore. Lordie, how big they had been! It was a mystery, another of the Once-ly puzzles. “In those days, we might live in tall palatial rooms of brick and wood and gilded chrome, but oh our minds were as those of all those tiny, crawly, flying things we ate.” He knew the rote well, Mo congratulated himself, scratching an itch on his neck. This cave was too old, and yet hard to leave. Of the ancient bones, there were many and plentiful, and farther in was that freezing space where, after clawing away some small patch of the ice, one might feast on both great lumps of flesh and the squared ancient blocks, full of strange tastes that must have served these Revered Ones for food. Food of bird flesh, fishes, and all those other sacred tiny animals a sporting consciousness would never deign to taste. Again, Mo yawned.

Stretching, he stood and padded back into the colder depths of their cave.

As he stepped across the splintery, long-rotted threshold to the ice room, something pressed into the soft flesh of his foot, something slippery and hard; he jerked away and watched it roll, small and somehow slick, into one of those Ancestor-made corners, and stop. He leaped to grasp it.

Frozen, this too, but different from any he had seen. He squeezed it, tore at the shiny cylinder, futilely, using teeth as well, tried to pull away the flatter sides. No odor came from it, no taste on those shiny surfaces at all. And only the shredded bits of something, far thinner and slighter yet reminiscent of the outside surface coating of those ancient blocks of tasty food, could be nibbled off. They were black upon red, these shreds, something horrific about them.

And under it all, now at last a smell—as of innards of tiny and sacrificed fish. Mo backed away, gagging, spitting them out.

“Hmmm?” Sylvie, half-awakened, padded up beside him. Together, they stared at the shreds, black upon red, on the cavern floor beneath them. “Sardine catfood,” the bits of paper would have read.

Ah well, another close call, Mo thought, shoving his head against his beloved’s warm fur. Life was full of dangers, not pampered as in ancient days.

Sylvie pressed back against against him, mewing and thrumming her purr. infinity



Double Dutch

By Sarah Crysl Akhtar

“WORMHOLES—ANEURISMS in the flow of time. Poke around long enough inside one, you might find a trapdoor—but if the bubble bursts, you’re fucked.”

Donovan tossed me the metaphor as the heads-up he had a new quarry. I always know when he’s hot, though, even before he begins to bay. Stops being mannerly—just takes me for all I’ve got. (We stopped playing for real money a long time ago. My seed’s in hock to his unto the tenth generation already.)

Base scuttlebutt was Donovan seemed off his game, so it didn’t surprise me when Command got itchy—pulled me out of R&R, recertified me for active duty and sent me blinking into the sunshine three weeks early. On the new lab schooner’s naming day.

Cunning damn bastard—hope he never quits the side of the angels!

Troubleshooters like Donovan—almost a subspecies of dowser. You can’t train talent like that, just refine it a little to your purpose. Think it’s been domesticated? Guess again.

I knew something was up, those couple of visits he managed. That light comes on behind his eyes—oughta make your blood run cold. Takes me the opposite. You need an ear for counterpoint; you gotta follow as it builds.

“Find something to justify riding shotgun with me,” he’d said. He was just doodling, as he does, but I knew there was more to it. He’s not usually so cagey.

The ship—the first time I saw her, I nearly stopped breathing. A silver fish that had swallowed a glass ellipsoid. The Kimpetourine. (Donovan named her—grew up three blocks from Ozorof. Told Command it was a really rare gemstone. I laughed for a week after.)

“Donovan,” I’d whispered, “get me inside that baby, you’re never gonna get me out.”

Field-testing a prototype like this is one big damned fucking deal. Donovan’s job—find the bugs and squash ’em; get a sense of her soul. They can’t afford he might get distracted—some new partner disrupting the rhythm of his thoughts. But postings still have to make sense, all the way up the chain; they don’t love you for sentimental reasons.

The ship’s lab was designed for specialized microanalysis, though—not the broad-scale projects I usually run—so they could build her small and fast. Once they see how she handles the rigors of hyperspace, they can expand on the class.

But my true love’s always been mycology. I came up with a nice little Basidiomycota study; easy to seed that lab with, say, some Grifola, Ganoderma, Lentinula.

I need something that could draw me a map, he said.

Then I knew.

I’m the one looks like an anarchist, but it’s just the way my hair grows.

Threw in an assortment of Lecanoromycetes too. Beautiful things, lichens. More to ’em than you might think.

Wrote a lovely proposal heavy on enhanced vitamin-D synthesis and immunological activity and presented it with cheery enthusiasm.

Air-tight, I told him when we rehearsed it; doesn’t give a damn thing away. Not a whiff of Khkulian.

He laughed, that I’d run it to earth so fast. Like I said. You need an ear for the counterpoint.

Now, Khkulian was gorgeous. But the treaty expires, end of the decade; without a viable development proposal, we’ll lose all rights. They’re dying to make her an R&R hub for the Outer Band, market her as a tourist paradise—been bellowing that song for fifteen years. But she’s in a tricky quadrant; to commercialize on that scale, you’d need to compress the lanes; you’d need a trapdoor.

Donovan—the brass think he walks on water, all right, but they try to keep him moored to his own little corner of the ocean. Wormhole Coordinates aren’t his specialty and the experts have tender toes. They get testy when he swears he can find their Northwest Passage for ’em.

A ship of this class, she’s not built to go beyond the Near Orbit. Meant only for the cricket jumps linking the research stations. We were authorized to go just far enough to evaluate the Kimpetourine’s rhythm but not risk fatiguing her alloys.

Six months out, felt like two kids on a camping trip. The lab had the tang of the forest primeval now—magic on your tongue. Donovan rigged up a real grill for us out of titanium wire so we could roast mushrooms when we wanted. The boys at Base Command would have died if they’d seen it.

We did ultraviolet scans on the capsule walls every twelve hours, retabulating the data every twenty-four. Lichens seem to grow slowly but they’re livelier than they look. Swear to God, I’d never been so happy.

I was picking some shiitake when Donovan loped in. Bastard’s usually calm as ice but he was vibrating like a tuning fork.

You suspect wormholes anywhere you find distortions in radiation patterns. But with so much energy chatter in space, you have to guess where to focus, analyze the data and then try the next sector. It’s expensive and slow; they call it a science but half the new routes actually come from ships falling through unmapped distortions and making it intact to a known port.

Lichens—exquisitely sensitive to light, to radiation. We’d looked for microscopic areas of desiccation, plotted ’em, turned ’em into a map of stellar energy, and compared it to the relevant quadrant on the Interstellar Atlas. An anomaly could mean a new cricket jump, even a wormhole. Maybe not anywhere we’d want to go. Miscalculate the coordinates, misinterpret random bursts from one-time events—slip through an unstable region—

Donovan showed me the screen—our little beauty of a map superimposed over Khkulian’s quadrant. He’d highlighted the relevant coordinates but I got all I needed from his face.

“It’s win or lose,” he said, “all or nothing.”

Me—never any luck when I gamble. Donovan always has the hot hand.

But for once we’re on the same side of the table. infinity


Another Day In Paradise

By Erin Lale

I WOKE UP BECAUSE my cat was licking my face. I mumbled, “The human skin can’t tolerate that, Sweetie,” and reached up to distract her. I opened my eyes and saw glossy black fur. This is not my cat.

“The human needs coffee,” I said, as if the fur anomaly would make sense fully awake. I crawled out of bed and stumbled right into the wall. “Wrong side of the bed.” I rubbed my eyes and looked around. Room, ten by twenty, door on one side, window on the other. It looked like my room, only flipped. Everything was precisely wrong. The door even opened the wrong way, like a mirror image.

“Coffee,” I repeated, venturing out into the hallway. It looked like my house; the walls were the right color, a sort of cream that had come with the house and which I had never bothered to update. But there were one too many doors in the hallway. The kitchen wasn’t exactly where I had left it, either. I tensed up when I looked for the coffee pot, but it was there. It even mostly looked like my coffee pot. Except it was two inches shorter and the brand name now said Barb-Mor. Although certain I had put coffee and water in it last night, I opened the lid and checked to be sure. Yes, there were fresh grounds, and a filter even. I put the lid back down and pressed the button to turn it on. It did not turn on. Instead, its little screen flashed “Enter cycle.”

“It’s too early for this,” I complained to the black cat who had followed me into the kitchen and was now loudly demanding breakfast. “I haven’t had my coffee.” I fed the cat—miraculously, the cat food was exactly where and what it was supposed to be—and went over to turn the blinds to let in the morning sunshine. OK, to pull the curtains, then. Whatever.

The outside seemed relatively normal. The sky looked like faded denim jeans, criss-crossed with fashionable white tears. Flowers glinted in the sun under sprinkler spray. Not the ones I had planted. In my driveway sat a brown Tatsu. My car is a green Ford. Leaning close to the window, I peered at the Tatsu; it had my license plate.

Abruptly the light stopped coming through the window. The whole thing went to a flat, artificial blue, and the view was replaced by the words, “Windows Is Updating, Please Wait.” infinity


Barking Spacers

Or, I Can See the Universe Through My Moon Woof. Photo by Jenn Libby.