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



Dirtsiders on Cinnabar

By Patrick Lundrigan

CINNABAR KEPT HER SECRETS, Maura realized. Somewhere on this planet, an officer hid from duty. Maura had to bring him back. She had found no trace of him in the city, which left the dozens of canal towns from here to the mountains.

Maura left the Starport at first light, kit bag slung over one shoulder. The guards at the gate waved her through and stood respectfully as she passed. Locals, every one of them, but trained by Fleet Security. They had given her many leads to follow, but now she had to search farther than the dismal city that clustered around the Starport.

Outside the gates, the streets and buildings rooted into the dark soil with no order or semblance of style. Inside, the Fleet maintained proper roads and neat prefab buildings, and kept the ever present dust at bay. She crossed a bridge over a feeder canal, passing half-asleep workers stumbling the other way. Water lapped on the stonework as an inland barge moved under her. On the other side, bars and gambling parlors, doors open, exhaled tired air and smoke into the cool morning. The quay led toward a holding lake, where scores of canal boats rode at anchor, lines creaking in the gentle swells.

She found Icarus and her captain, Buckholtz, at the far end of the lake. To the south, she could see the cluster of launch pads, sitting in the bay like a star on the horizon.

Maura started to step onto the boat then stopped short at Buckholtz’s glare.

“Come aboard?” she said.

He nodded. His ship, his rules, she thought and hopped over, teetering for a moment until she found her balance. His face, sunburnt and raw, looked unused to being under the sun. He wore a trim coverall, patched but clean, and stood a little straighter than all the other captains she had seen.

“You look like a dirtsider,” she said, “I could use your help.”

“No. You just hired the boat. I’ll take you where you want to go and nothing more.”

Maura figured as much. No other captain would even consider her charter. But Buckholtz didn’t come from Cinnabar. She reached into her pocket, took out a handful of papers.

“I bought up all your gambling markers,” she said. “Give me the help I need and I’ll rip them up.”

Buckholtz cracked a small smile. “If you’ve got my markers, I can get more credit.”

A gust tugged at her hair, and a booming rolled up from the south. Buckholtz put a set of optics to his eyes and watched as the shuttle lifted off, blasting clouds of water vapor across the bay. Maura shielded her eyes from the low sun, held her breath. They watched as the shuttle climbed, then disappeared behind a bank of clouds. Every eight days a shuttle left for the high ecliptic transfer station. The Frontier left for the Delta in twelve days—her deadline.

Maura looked around the deck. For a beached Fleet crewman, he knew how to keep an old canal boat in shape. No sign of dirt or rust, and the deckboards looked polished. Faded paint covered the hull, except for the bright letters of Icarus. He had been mustered out years ago, from what she had learned from the guards. He put his optics down, but still looked at the white trail that arced across the sky. Maura tried another tack.

“I can get you passage off Cinnabar,” she said. “If you help me track down the officer I need to find.”

Buckholtz walked forward, untied the bowline. Then moved aft and sat at the tiller. “A runaway?”

“Not any runaway. Hans Dorits, a leadsman, overdue for six months.”

The motor started after Buckholtz fiddled with the controls. The boat pulled toward the center of the lake, moving toward the inland canal. “What has Cinnabar got for a bridge officer?”

Maura wondered the same thing. She knew Dorits’ file backwards and forwards. “He had leave, and he took it.” Could have taken it anywhere, not here in the backwater so far from the Delta.

“And if he died?” He waved over his shoulder to encompass all of Cinnabar. “A lot can happen in six months.”

“We bring him back, regardless.” The bluntness of her orders had surprised her at first: if not a living, breathing Dorits, then his body; at the very least, his head. The General Staff officer also made the unstated implication that success in this mission would reflect favorably on her application to leadsman school.

Buckholtz shrugged. He took the boat into the canal, passing the streets leading to the Starport. “I get my passage whether we find him or not. And you rip up those markers.”

Maura pocketed the markers. “No Dorits, no passage.”

Ahead the canal stretched into the distance. Buckholtz cranked the throttle, and the boat sped up. The decaying waterfront buildings on either side passed faster. “You’ve got a deal.”


Icarus rode high, gliding through the calm waters of the canal. Maura stood at the bow, watching. Where the leadsman would stand, she thought. The high walls and silver towers of the starport and the brick and wood factories of the city had given way to scattered houses on the flat landscape. Crude structures, rough corners, windows open to the wind.

Two children, digging in the mud of a small feeder canal, stared at her. Their eyes followed her as the boat passed.

“Haven’t they ever seen a boat before?” Maura asked.

Buckholtz sat by the tiller, a faded awning strung up to protect him from the sun. “They’ve never seen a Fleet officer before,” he said. “That uniform will stand out even more as we travel inland.”

Maura glanced down at herself. Blue trousers and matching tunic with yellow piping at the seams. Ground duty footgear with ridiculously thick soles. A General Staff pin in her lapel. Just a uniform, nothing wrong with it. She had earned it. Being an officer meant something. When she searched for Dorits in the city, this uniform opened doors and even the rudest local at least pretended to show respect. But Buckholtz knew the dirtsiders. Not out here, far from the starport.

“My old deckhand left some clothes in your cabin,” Buckholtz said. “See if you can find something that fits.”

Belowdecks Maura squeezed into her small cabin. From the chest she picked out a loose fitting shirt and vest, and baggy trousers that tied off at the ankles.

She dug deep in her kit bag and pulled a case out. Fleet Security had recommended that she travel armed, but she insisted on something unobtrusive. The small pistol’s indicator signaled full charge. At her touch, the coils energized, and she inserted the magazine, loaded with sabot-clad bullets. It fit in the inner pocket of her vest.

Back on deck, she felt cooler in the afternoon heat, but the coarse fibers itched her skin. The wind filtered through the fabric, giving her a sense of nakedness.

The canal stretched out along the dust choked plain—an ancient seabed, she remembered. Cinnabar, an ancient world before humans ever walked here, faded into her old age. Men dug canals into her and crawled over her like ants on a corpse. Space felt better to her, cleaner, and the void between suns best of all. The place where the dark currents ran deep. She longed for the feel of deck plating beneath her feet, pulsing with the throb of dark energy. Here she felt nothing but gravity, and the swell of water rocking the boat’s frame.

“You could pass for a local,” Buckholtz said, “if you didn’t look so ... determined.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone lives slow, everyone enjoys life, and the Fleet brings in what we need.” He looked at Maura, and he seemed to remember his job. “How will you find your officer?” he asked.

He had to know. “His eyes, of course.”

“Of course, the eyes, or lack thereof. But what if no one’s seen him?”

“We ask around.”

“Better to find out why he stayed than to look everywhere.”

She had tried that. Dorits’ files had details, but no character. The official records showed a complete officer. Qualified for leadsman school in three years. Returned to the Fleet and served for thirteen years with nothing notable in his record.

Thirteen years in the dome, guiding ships through space. Thirteen years in the dark ocean without ever going dirtside. No records of family, no friends in the Fleet. But what leadsman had friends, besides other leadsmen?

Maura looked out over the featureless land around her, and the ridge of mountains in the distance. Just rock and dirt here. Nothing she would want to look at. Why stay planet bound when you could see the fabric of the universe? See the threads that held it all together, and take a starship along the currents, probing for the pockets of dark matter that propelled starships.

Maura turned to Buckholtz. “It doesn’t mean anything why he stayed. He has to come back.”

“Probably gone native, threw his uniform away. We’ll find him drunk in some bar as far from the starport as he could get.”

“Would you do that?”

“If I had the money!”


Maura wandered through the marketplace, the dust of Cinnabar sticking in her nose, leaving a taste. The heat didn’t bother the locals. They sat behind their stalls, sipping chai, haggling with customers, and ignoring her questions. Without her uniform she looked like another traveler. Either they knew nothing about the leadsman, or they didn’t want to tell.

The town, a handful of buildings huddled around the marketplace, and a main street ending at the edge of the canal, looked like all the others they had visited in the past two days. Buckholtz parked himself in the canalside tavern, sure that if he waited long enough someone would walk in with information. The street went from paved blocks to hard packed dirt at the edge of the marketplace, turned to nothing more than a path through the flatlands as it snaked toward the horizon. Farms dotted the landscape, ramshackle buildings of loose brick in the fields of green. A steady drone of irrigation pumps filled the air. Every now and then she’d touch her hand to her side to verify the pistol remained hidden there. She didn’t fear the dirtsiders, but it reminded her of the Fleet.

Children played in the shade of an alley, tossing stones on a grid sketched on the ground. They would have remembered seeing a leadsman.

Maura watched them until one boy, who had lost the game or lost all his stones, noticed her, standing at the end of the alley.

“Come here, boy, I want to talk to you,” she said.

He left the circle of children and stepped closer, his hands streaked red with dust.

“Do you play in here all day?”

His eyes darted back and forth, but curiosity won out and he moved closer.

“When my dad sells in the market,” he said.

“I want to find a friend. Have you seen a stranger around? In the last couple of months?”

“What kind of strangers? All sorts of people go up and down the canal.”

“He would have glasses,” Maura said. When the boy just stared at her, she pointed to her face. “Glasses on his eyes.”

The boy shrugged, looked back toward the game.

“Black glasses covering his eyes.” She drew her fingers from ear to ear. “A frame around his head, and black lenses, like they could swallow light. He might bump into things, as if he couldn’t see.”

The boy snickered. “Can’t he go to a clinic and get his eyes fixed?”

“He can see. He just sees different things.”

The game restarted—children picked up the stones on the ground, moved to different positions around the grid. The boy walked back.

“Everybody I know has eyes, lady,” he said, and ran back to the game.

Maura watched them for a minute, then walked back toward the canal, thinking about what the boy had said.

Do leadsmen have eyes? Maura remembered the first time she saw a leadsman. Her first cruise, and her first watch on the bridge, manning the logistics console with two other junior officers. The leadsman stumbled out of the dome, spoke to the captain.

“They rip out the eyes,” one junior said, nudging her, “and stick in opticable straight to the brain.”

The leadsman shuffled by, his head tilted back, mouth soundlessly moving, never looking at them.

“No they don’t,” the other junior whispered. “Their eyes get laced with flex circuits. The eyes grow over them, and the lids wither away.”

“Either way, they make you star crazed.”

The captain left the bridge soon after. The ship would drift until the leadsman returned. No leadsman, no go.

Maura still didn’t know. She would find out in leadsman school. Whatever it took, she would do it. Who needed eyes when you could see the universe?

Buckholtz padded up to her as she left the marketplace.

“I found him,” he said.


“Someone saw him weeks ago, at a farm nearby.”

“He wore glasses?”

Buckholtz nodded. “Sounds like he moved in and settled down.”

“Let’s go.”

The wind stirred dust up off the road, and rustled though the waves of wheat planted right up to the edge of the road.

Buckholtz stopped, pulled a few stalks. “Can you believe it, a bridge officer out here on a farm?” he said, twisting them in his hand. Gene-modded specifically for the heat and low rainfall, Maura remembered. He tossed the stalks to the ground. “What would anybody do?”

Maura didn’t know. Cinnabar, a backwater in the dark ocean, never had much star traffic. The Fleet only brought goods in. Nothing shipped out. The Fleet linked humanity’s many worlds, but sometimes the flow only went one way. To sustain a starport, the Fleet needed a population. To sustain a population, the Fleet brought in imports. Steel, medicines, agri-tech.

After this last wheat field, the dirt stretched all the way to the horizon. They approached a house at the road’s end. Built of rough cut stones and fab-panels, it sat alone. A boy played in the front yard, and ran inside when he saw them. A woman stood in the doorway when they reached the yard. She stared at them, as if she could wish them away.

“Fleet?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Buckholtz said.

“Come in. I thought you’d show up sooner or later.”

She led them inside, where the shuttered windows let in bars of light across the fold up table and kitchen cabinets against one wall. The shade cooled Maura’s skin, and the air smelled clean. She held out her hand. “Fleet Officer Tia Maura. I’d like to see—”

She folded her arms across her chest. “You’ll find him in the back,” she said. “with Rolan. Hans lives here, now.”

Maura gave a non-committal shrug. She hadn’t thought that dirtsiders would want a Fleet officer to stay. The starport had high walls for a reason. She turned to Buckholtz. “Why don’t you wait with ...”

“Phillia,” the woman said.

“With Phillia while I talk to Dorits.”

Maura stepped through to the back of house, walking into an airy living room. A wood and fabric couch faced the windows that opened to the endless plain and the mountains. Rolan sprawled on the floor, piling blocks of plastic into walls and towers. Dorits sat, leaning forward, one hand on the boy’s shoulder. But he looked out the window, the afternoon sun soaking into his glasses. He didn’t turn his head when he spoke.

“Rolan, go to your mother. You can finish your castle later,” he said. The boy reluctantly stood up and scooted by Maura. She gave him a smile, but he never looked up.

“Leadsman,” Maura began.

“I can see buildings out there,” he said. “A long time ago, when the sea flowed here. Can you imagine, a city under the sea?”

Maura looked out. Nothing but dirt under the sun until the mountains broke the horizon.

“You have to return to duty,” she said. “I have to take you back to the starport.”

“Million years ago, and hardly a trace of them left. What do you suppose became of them? Did they go to the stars? Or just die out when the oceans dried up?”

Maura walked over and Dorits turned. He fixed the stare of his black gaze right in her face. What would she see when she wore glasses like that? Ancient relics buried in the dust?

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You need time,” he said. “You wouldn’t understand. Years in space ... it does something to you.”

“Physical effects? Men have traveled for centuries on Fleet ships without any harm.”

Dorits shook his head. “Space, I said. Not space travel.”

Space, clean and free from dust that choked this planet didn’t cause any harm. “I know something of your duty. Many leadsmen take extended leaves, but you’ve been gone too long. The Fleet requires you to return.”

“So you think you know leadsmen? Have you applied for training?”

Maura felt those eyes looking straight through her. She tried to look behind, to see his eyes. Nothing showed through the blackness.

“Yes, I’ve applied. But haven’t been accepted yet.”

“Then you know nothing.” Dorits leaned back on the couch, tilting his head. “Why don’t you stay the night? Phillia and Roland enjoy company.”

“And then you’ll go back with me?”

“I wonder what the sea people looked like,” he said, leaning back. “I dream of them sometimes.”


Maura sat opposite Buckholtz and Rolan at the dinner table, set up in the front room. Dorits sat at the head, picking at his plate. Phillia sat at the other end, her food untouched. Roland kept asking Buckholtz questions, and he elaborated every answer.

“My dad’s in the Fleet,” Roland announced, “did you ever meet him?”

“Well,” Buckholtz said, “the Fleet’s pretty big. And ships have hundreds of people on them, and sometimes thousands of passengers. And the Fleet works night and day. He might have been on the same ship as me, and we might never have crossed paths.”

“Mom thinks he won’t come back—”


“—but he said he would. That’s the last thing he told me before he left. He did say it, Mom.”

“We’ve discussed this before,” Phillia said. “I don’t want you to talk about it.”

Rolan looked down at his plate. Buckholtz looked around the table, saw Dorits’ empty stare, and Phillia’s blank face. He reached into his pocket.

“The Fleet retired me,” he said. “So I guess I don’t need this.”

He held out a tarnished lapel pin, a ship emblem. Rolan took it, smiling. “Can I have it?”

“Heck, yeah, I don’t even have a uniform anymore,” he said.

He turned it in his hands, and Maura saw stylized wings on either side of the silouette of a hammer-head Fleet cruiser.

“What ship?” Rolan asked.

“The Icarus,” Maura said, reconizing the emblem. So he named his canal boat after his last posting.

“Do you have one like this, Hans?” Rolan asked.

Dorits looked up, as if seeing the table in front of him for the first time. “I don’t wear them anymore,” he said.

After dessert, Rolan picked up a toy from underneath the table and went off to the back room. Maura’s coffee tasted gritty, like the dust that blew around Cinnabar.

“Rolan’s father joined the Fleet,” Phillia said, pushing her plate away.

“You don’t have to explain,” Maura said. She could guess the rest of the story.

“He had the highest grades in school, and worked at the starport as a teenager. He wanted to see the stars, to go down to the Delta, to see more of everything. He got accepted—the first native in years. I always knew he would join the Fleet. Of course, I wanted to get married before his first cruise. He said no, we should wait.”

Buckholtz shifted in his seat. He had probably said the same thing to his childhood sweetheart. Maura had joined without entanglements, or regrets.

“He came back, once, on Rolan’s fifth birthday. Still he didn’t want to get married. When I get back from my next cruise, we can settle down. He never came back after that. I think the boy drove him away.”

“He might have gotten transferred,” Buckholtz said, “It happened to me, straight out of training. I haven’t been home in fifteen years.”

“I have resources,” Maura said. “I could find him.”

Phillia turned her gaze away from Dorits and stared at Maura. “And what? Drag him back here? He missed his son’s childhood. The Fleet can go to hell, for all I care.”

“Yes, they can go to hell,” Dorits said, turning to Maura. “I won’t go back with you.”

“You could say you never found him,” Buckholtz added. “People go missing all the time.”

“Not bridge officers,” Maura said. “Not leadsmen. You have a duty to the Fleet. You have a skill so few have—to guide ships. The Fleet needs leadsmen.”

“The Fleet means nothing to us,” Phillia said.

“You don’t know,” Maura said. “Without the Fleet, this planet would go primitive. You’ve never seen a lost world. It happens sometimes, that the ebb and flow of the dark currents shifts, and planets sit far from the tide. It could happen out here. Ships might not come for hundreds of years, until the dark tide shifts again. Anarchy descends on those worlds, endless suffering without Fleet imports. The Fleet keeps all humanity linked.”

“But the Fleet doesn’t care for the individual,” Dorits said.

“The individual means nothing compared to all of humanity.”

“What humanity?” Buckholtz said, joining the argument. “The Fleet dropped me on this rock five years ago and never lifted a finger to help me. To hell with them.”

Maura gritted her teeth. She had misjudged Buckholtz. He would only go so far for a passage off Cinnabar. Phillia smiled at Dorits.


Maura awoke at first light, settled on the couch. After years of shipboard duty, the sunlight woke her quicker than any alarm. Buckholtz slept on the floor, his untroubled sleep bothering her. She couldn’t go back to the starport without Dorits. Her orders, clear and direct from the Fleet, left no options. If not him, then his head.

If Dorits wouldn’t come, the Fleet didn’t care—as long as the glasses, his eyes, returned. If they couldn’t get the man, they would settle for the equipment. The actual nature of the glasses and what made a leadsman needed protection. And who better to protect that myth than someone who applied for the training?

Dorits slept upstairs with Phillia. They shared a bedroom, did they share anything more? They seemed like a couple, but Maura saw no tenderness, no interaction. Dorits liked the boy, though. She could use that.

Maura heard someone in the front room. She got up, dressed, left Buckholtz snoring. Rolan stood by the counter, getting his own breakfast. She sat at the table, shook her head when he offered her cereal.

“Has Hans told you about the sea people?” she asked.

He nodded. “He talks about them sometimes, like real people,” he said. “He showed me a spot where you could still see the foundations of their buildings.”

“Could you show me? I’d really like to see that.”

Rolan bubbled with excitement. “Most of the rocks look the same, but I could find the place.”

“Well, we could go now, would you show me?”

“Let me ask Mom first,” he said.

“She might want to come along, do you think? She probably doesn’t like that sort of stuff.”

“She doesn’t believe it.” He slurped up the last of his cereal. “Let’s go, then.”


Maura followed Rolan across the hard packed ground. The boy talked as he walked, pointing out different types of rocks, and a few native plants. Maura told him about the starships she had served on.

“I don’t have a ship now,” she said. “I want to go on special duty.”

“What sort of duty?”

“I want go to leadsman school, like Hans.”

“What makes it special? Hans never talks about it.”

“The leadsman guides the ship, making him the most important officer on a ship, more important than the captain.”

Rolan stopped, turned around. “But everyone has to follow the captain’s orders!”

“True, but the ship can’t go anywhere without the leadsman to guide it. So even if a captain wanted to go somewhere, he still needs a leadsman to get him there.”

Rolan started walking again, kicking at the ground. He said nothing until they reached a low outcropping of rock, swirls of wind whipping up dust devils as they approached. An uneven line of bricks, waist high, ran along, then disappeared into the ground. The remains of the city under the sea. Rolan poked around in the dust. “Sometime you find a rock that looks like a little animal,” he said. “Hans said they lived before the sea people, and after. All gone now.”

“See if you can find me one,” she said.

Ten minutes later she spotted two figures on the horizon. Buckholtz came running up, leaving Dorits behind.

“What did you do with the boy? If you—”

“Hi!” Rolan popped up from behind the outcropping. “Miss Maura wanted to see the city under the sea.”

Buckholtz smiled at the boy, then glared at Maura.

Dorits arrived, out of breath. He gave the boy a hug, sent him off with Buckholtz. “I think Maura wants to talk with me,” he said. He watched them go, his black lenses dark and bottomless even in the sunlight.

“If you tried to do anything to that boy, I—”

“Rolan showed me,” she said, “where the sea people lived.”

Dorits looked back. Rolan walked next to Buckholtz, showing him a rock.

“You can’t stay here. You have a duty to the Fleet.”

“Do I? Do you know what I see? Peering into the depths of space, hours, days, on end?”

She wanted to know. Wanted to look where no one else could see. She sat on the outcropping, drew a hand across the ancient brick. “Think of the sea people.”

Dorits looked at her, the sun shining on his glasses, every scintilla of light falling in and being absorbed. It must blind him, she thought, so close to a star.

“They had a civilization, and they died out when the sea left them,” Maura said. Do you want that to happen to Cinnabar? To abandon people in the backwaters, let all contact with them fade until they perish under the sun? What will happen to Rolan if the Fleet stops coming here? You know about lost worlds, don’t you? Do you know what we find on most of them?”

“Death,” Dorits said. “Not even anarchy.” He sat, looked up at the sky. “The boy needs someone. Does the universe need me? It all seems so simple. A flow of dark energy here, gaps there. A passage through the darkness. But the emptiness of it drives you mad. All that space, and nothing in it, until you reach a star, and see the dust motes that circle around it. And on those motes, people. Living people in all that darkness.”

“The boy needs someone, anyone. But the Fleet needs you.”

“No, I’ve made up my mind. I can’t go back. Not just because of the boy. I can’t look at space again. I see so little of anything, and normal space looks like a shadow to me. But at night, I can see all the way to the Delta. I see the wakes the starships leave in the fabric of space. I see the undertow of the dark ocean that binds the galaxies into superclusters.”

“Then the boy gives you an excuse,” Maura said. Family life didn’t keep him here, fear of getting star crazed did. She just had to apply a different fear to make him understand.

She reached into her pocket, took out her pistol.

Dorits saw it. “You can’t force me to go.”

“I won’t,” she said, holding the pistol out to him, grip first. “You know your duty. You know what my orders are.”

Dorits took the pistol, curled his fingers around the grip. The coils hummed to life as he pointed the barrel in her face. “I could shoot you, and settle this entire thing.”

He might, she thought, if alone. “Someone else will come, eventually. They’ll bring Security, and do a lot of pushing and shoving. Buckholtz would crack in a minute, and tell everything he knew. They might think Phillia did it. Who ever heard of fellow officers killing each other?”

Dorits put his hand down, rested the pistol in his lap. Maura let out a breath.

“If I could take these damn things off,” he said tugging at them with his other hand, “I would. But they won’t come off.”

The pistol came up, and Maura leaned back. Dorits pushed the barrel against the earpiece of his glasses, steel clicking against plastic. “I’ll never lead a ship again,” he said, and pulled the trigger.

Shards of metal and plastic burst into the air. Maura caught Dorits as he slumped backwards. The lenses shattered from inside. Spiderwebs of white fragmented the black. A thin trickle of blood seeped out of the small bullet hole, mixed with a viscous ooze that smelled of green science.

He still breathed, rapid and shallow. Maura lay him down on the outcropping, pocketed the pistol. Buckholtz came running, then the two of them carried Dorits back.

At the house, Phillia cried in hysterics, and Buckholtz tried to calm her as Maura bandaged the wound. The frames, splintered from the bullet, pulled away from his skin, but his skull looked intact. Rolan stood to one side, his face blank. When she stopped the bleeding, she went over to him.

“Go to the clinic,” she said, “and bring back the doctor. Show him this,” Maura took her lapel pin out of her pocket, a trio of stars. No doctor would ignore The Fleet General Staff pin.

Rolan stood dazed, watching Phillia hover over Dorits.

“He’ll recover, Rolan. He just needs a doctor.”


After saying goodbye to the boy, Buckholtz met Maura at the edge of the road. They headed back toward town.

“You’ve earned your passage,” Maura said, hefting her bag. At first the doctor had been reluctant, but she had convinced him. She had packed away the frames and lenses, after cleaning the skin and blood off.

“You did a terrible thing,” he said. “You blinded him.”

“He blinded himself when he became a leadsman,” Maura said. Dorits had no eyes to repair once the doctor removed the glasses. “And I didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to.”

“You have everything you need?”

“Yes. Even if he came back, he wouldn’t have been any use.” Star crazed, the junior officers called it, afraid of space. Maybe all leadsmen have it.

“Maybe I’ll cash in that passage and buy a farm,” he said, “or maybe I’ll try to get home. And you?”

Maura held the bag closer against her side. She’d fly on the next shuttle, and then to the Delta. The Fleet wouldn’t ask any questions about Dorits.

“I leave for special duty next week,” she said. infinity

Patrick Lundrigan is a past winner of both the Writers of the Future and Jim Baen Memorial Contests. His work has appeared in “Redstone,” “Flash Fiction Online,” and “Space and Time Magazine.” He is employed as an aerospace engineer, and has worked on projects from submarines to the Hubble Space Telescope.


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