Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Silicon and Solitude
by Shane D. Rhinewald

Expedition of the Arcturus
by JZ Murdock

Nude Bargain
by Olga Godim

Dirtsiders on Cinnabar
by Patrick Lundrigan

by Tom Tinney

History of Humanity’s First Alien Contact in the Year 2023
by Eric M. Jones

Space Cadets of the Apocalypse
by Dave Fragments

Illegal Alien
by Betsy Streeter

A Tangle of Brilliance
by Charles Barouch


Playing a Role in Science Fiction
by Clayton J. Callahan

Prof. Pickering’s Practical Plan
by The Editors




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Not With a Bang But a Burst

MOST OF US ARE BY NOW keenly aware that a 45 meter big asteroid with the unassuming name of 2012 DA 14 narrowly missed colliding with the Earth last February 15. Its closest approach was at 19:25 GMT. It came within 27,700 kilometers of the planet. In cosmological terms, that’s like a mouse’s whisker. But 2012 DA 14 gets another shot at us in 30 years. It’s okay. The big fella isn’t one of those planet-killers that supposedly finished off the dinosaurs. Scientists estimate that if 2012 DA 14 were to smack into us, it would only devastate, for example, Los Angeles, hopefully taking Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and the rest of the Kardashian hive along with it. But that’s possibly three decades from now.

Can we wait that long? Not for the destruction of our beloved homeworld. Rather not to have to read about the adventures of the aforementioned descendents of Armenian Molokan Jumpers everytime you turn around. But I digress.

Earth becoming the three-ball in a game of galactic billiards certainly isn’t my favorite scenario for the end of the world. It’s become a bit trite. Not only was it the impetus for the legendary K/T extinction, but it’s turning out to be an almost routine occurrence. There are bakers’ dozens of named craters that are the results of impact events. More recently, in 1908, a large asteroid or comet airburst over Tunguska, in Siberia, Russia, flattening a whole bunch of trees. And coincidentally, last February 15, a meteor exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, causing more than $30-million in damages and injuring around 1,200 people. Clearly, Russia is not a very safe place. No wonder Vladimir Putin looks worried. But enough about death from the skies.

The last time there were any big doings over at CERN, the Large Hadron Collider that straddles the Franco-Swiss border, rumors began to float concerning (no pun intended) the unintentional generation of a mini black hole that would gravitate toward the center of the Earth and gradually devour this watery sphere from the inside out. The digestive process would take awhile; you wouldn’t know or feel anything until the ground you walked on was little more than a shell, at which time the heavier structures, like Los Angeles along with the Kardashian family, would drop from sight and sink into oblivion.

The rumors were enough to send a handful of panicky Luddites packing to court to legally prevent by estoppel the Collider from colliding any more particles. But cooler heads prevailed. Physicists pointed out that mini black holes whizz past and through the Earth all the time; that any mini black hole created in the European countryside would either blink out of existence the moment it was created, or morph into a scattering of harmless photons, maybe. In any case, CERN has been taken off-line for repairs. The facility, which is believed to have discovered the Higgs boson, won’t be smashing any further atoms until 2015. We can all sleep soundly until then.

Distantly related to the mini black hole that devoured the world is death by strangelet. According to Wikipedia, a strangelet is “a hypothetical particle consisting of a bound state of roughly equal numbers of up, down, and strange quarks.” Sounds like the Kardashian family to me, but I won’t argue. The theory is that a strangelet, consisting of “strange matter” (who would have guessed?) only needs to bump against a bit of regular matter and the regular matter is converted into “strange matter.” Why does that matter? It’s a chain reaction. An errant strangelet set loose on this planet would, in short work, transform the entire planet into a ball of “strange matter,” people, puppies, and tropical fish included. Even if life was spared, it is doubtful anything could survive in a “strange matter” environment, so say physicists. I have my doubts. Bizarro World (known as Htrae) appears to be very successful in the DC universe. Survivors of a strangelet incursion might merely do the opposite of everything they had been doing, strive for ugliness, and exalt imperfection.

If you want to wipe out the planet for certain, I don’t think you need to rely on the whims of the universe or exotic quantum physics, though. We have the means within our grasp right now.

According to a recent report from the Ploughshares Fund, a publicly supported foundation dedicated to realizing a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons, “More than a decade and a half after the Cold War ended, the world’s combined stockpile of nuclear warheads remain at unacceptably high levels.” The U.S. andduck Russia together keep 16,200 of a total worldwide estimation of 17,300 warheads under (hopefully) lock and key. The remaining 1,100 nukes belong to seven other nations: France, China, U.K., Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea, in that order.

Shades of “Duck and Cover” from the 1950s. You’d think we’d have advanced well beyond those primitive times, but all it still would take is a silly border dispute to blast us back into the past ... way past ... Dark Ages past. Add to that open sores, radiation sickness, rampaging mutated predators, and biker gangs of snaggletoothed, balding survivalists. Not the way I would choose to spend the last days of my life.

An alternative home-grown apocalypse could come at the hands of the much-touted supergerm. To begin with, it has been estimated that microbes make up at least 80 to 90 percent of the biomass, that is, the total amount of living matter on Earth. And these bugs love to mutate. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Antimicrobial resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats ... it occurs when germs change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs to treat them. Widespread overuse and inappropriate use of antimicrobials is fueling an increase in antimicrobial-resistant organisms.” Such an organism is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). In 2007, MRSA was responsible for 100,000 deaths in the U.S.

That’s small potatoes, microscopic, compared with the kind of very possible supergerm that could wipe out the entire human species in one fell swoop. The killer bacterium, or virus, would be airborne, resistant to all available drugs, highly contagious and, for a germ, democratic. The supergerm has been fodder for a number of science fiction and horror movies and books. The difference is that victims of a real supergerm would not come back to life as zombies three days later hungry for brains and other body parts. The human race would just go quietly extinct, followed by our domesticated animals who no longer have the ability to fend for themselves. Not fun.

These, and other ways that the world could come to an end, like a supervolcano, alien invasion, climate change, alternative universe, or solar radiation, don’t give me much of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. My all-time favorite method to end the world, what I’d pay real money to be part of, is a gamma-ray burst.

Scientists theorize that a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy, aimed at the Earth, could result in a mass extinction—you, me, and the Kardashians included. According to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “gamma-ray bursts are short-lived bursts of gamma-ray photons ... associated with a special type of supernovae.” Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs, for short) last anywhere from a few milliseconds to several minutes. They are beamed, the energy focused into two directly opposing narrow jets. For some reason they appear to occur in galaxies far, far away, which is probably good for the local flora and fauna.

A Gamma-ray burst within our galaxy and aimed directly at the Earth could chemically alter the air itself, destroy the ozone layer, and give us a really bad day. For example, it has been posited that the Ordovician-Silurian extinction event of 450 million years ago may have been caused by a GRB.

A death ray from outer space. That would be the way for the world to end worth writing home about. Not with a bang but a burst.

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Jack Vance