Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting 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



Illegal Alien

By Betsy Streeter

THE POLICE WERE AT THE HIGH school again today, asking questions. Nobody ever asks me anything anymore. Sometimes the best defense is total irrelevance.

Every day when that last school bell rings, I’ve already got my backpack ready. Zipped closed, the straps right on top so I can grab them and head for the door in one move. No hesitation whatsoever.

Usually I get out the door before the other students even realize the bell has rung. I’ve been prepping for ten minutes, after all. I have to be pretty subtle about it, so my teacher doesn’t see that I’ve mentally checked out for the day.

From careful study I have found that whatever a teacher says in the last ten minutes of class is just repeating stuff they said earlier so hopefully a few more kids will notice that they said it. So if I pay attention in the first part of class, I will be okay.

I get out while everybody else is still stuffing things in their bags and blabbing and the cheerleaders are reminding everybody that there’s a game tonight, come out and show your spirit, and whatever else is going on. If you move fast, nobody notices that you’ve disappeared.

It’s also important to pick the right route to get off campus. No walking through the quad for me, no, sir. I always cut through the Language Arts building, because the back door goes right out past the baseball diamond. Our school has the worst baseball team in history so the only people out there are the kids who skipped class, and they don’t care if you are there. They don’t even notice. They don’t notice anything.

Today I zoom out the door and down the stairs, and then take a little extra detour behind the building before going out through the baseball diamond. That way there’s no chance of encountering an officer in the hall. I get home, and hit the books. I get straight A’s, always. My parents didn’t split up the family and bring me all this way for me to mess around.

Sometime soon, my dad and sister are gonna come live with us. I can remember the day we left, like it was yesterday. But I guess it’s been about seven Earth years now. They probably wouldn’t even recognize me.

But that’s the way it is, Mom and me here, my Dad and my sister there. Like I said, I can remember them clearly, standing there on the transport platform. Dad waving. My sister with her head stuffed under Dad’s jacket, she wouldn’t look. She just cried and cried. She was too little to come. Not ready for Earth’s atmosphere. Not ready to have to look human all the time, either. She wouldn’t have understood. We would have had to watch her a hundred percent of the time so she wouldn’t give herself away. Give us away.

I bet I won’t recognize her either, when I see her again. She’s gonna be all grown up. No more hiding her face and crying, I bet. She’s probably pretty kick-ass, by now. That will help when she gets here.

You might be wondering, do I have any friends. No, that’s not part of the plan. Not yet, anyway. I tried having friends when we first arrived, but it turned out to be a really, really bad idea.

Because if you have friends, then you also have enemies. Humans have this thing where, they have to get together in groups and beat on each other. The groups can change, sometimes, but mostly it looks like the bigger ones, at least the boys, beat on the littler ones, and then go around in their little gangs to show how tough they are. This helps them survive later, or so I’m told.

Every so often, one kid will have it in for another one, and just go around tormenting that one kid all the time. No gang needed.

Back home in my training I was told that this is part of human behavior, so pay attention and don’t get into any scrapes. They said that was really, really important, if you want to last five minutes. If you want to have any chance to make it on Earth.

Now, I know why.

At first, I didn’t think about it that much. But that was before Ray Hornby decided he had it in for me.

He started out just bumping into me. Like, I would be walking down the hall (this was a few Earth years ago so I was pretty small still), and he’d be coming the other direction, and he’d just not quite get out of the way. Enough to brush my arm, that was all. But that was the start. Pretty soon he was putting some shoulder into it, and his friends would laugh.

Then he started knocking me down.

Now bear in mind, every night I’m at the dinner table, studying my ass off, and my mom is reminding me, don’t get into it with anybody. That’s the worst mistake you could make. You would endanger the future of the whole family.

So, I would go every day, and every day Ray Hornby would knock me down.

I could have just put up with that, if that was all. I mean, I just got up again, and kept going. Eventually I’m sure Ray would have gotten bored with me and gone off to knock down some other poor kid. But it didn’t stop there.

One day I got this note in my locker, saying Ray was gonna kill me behind the baseball backstop, one on one, and if I didn’t show up he was gonna kill me anyway. Thinking back, that note didn’t really make grammatical sense. He could have just said, "I’m gonna kill you," and left it at that. But writing wasn’t Ray’s big strength, I guess.

So, after school, I headed to the backstop. I didn’t really have a plan. A bunch of kids were there, waiting to see some gore. Humans really like that sort of thing.

Ray circled around me for a minute, deciding exactly how to kill me. That’s when I formulated my plan. Well, not really a plan, but what I was going to do.

I ran as hard as I possibly could. I ran like my human feet would come right out from under me. I ran so my lungs burned with the Earth air. I could hear all the kids yelling insults, but I didn’t care. They didn’t understand, fighting Ray just wasn’t an option.

Problem was, Ray could run, too. Very, very fast. He was big, and one of his steps was like three of mine.

I turned off into this vacant lot that led into a field, but I could tell he was closing on me. None of the other kids could keep up, or maybe they just stayed behind, I don’t know. But there we were, just me and Ray, out there in the tall grass. And Ray’s thick hand was extended in front of him, just about close enough for him to grab the back collar of my shirt and drag me to the ground.

That’s when I did the worst possible thing. When you are under attack by a beast like Ray, your brain just sort of shuts off. The whole universe and everything had shrunk down to just this, just him and me, in this field.

So, I ate him.

I know, worst possible thing I could’ve done. Honestly. But when you get your back up against the wall, and your very survival is at stake, what you’ve got to fall back on is your instincts. Right? Nothing neutralizes an adversary quite like eating them. (I think my English teacher would be quite proud of the vocabulary in that last sentence, by the way.)

So, I ate Ray, and then immediately I could see in my mind my mom’s face, covered in disappointment and fear that we would not be able to make a life here. That our journey to this planet, splitting up the family, reaching for a better life, were all gone because of what I did. This was exactly, exactly what she had warned me about. You can’t go around eating humans, she had said, they really, really freak out when any of them disappears, and they will never, never stop until they find out what happened. And then if they find out you were the culprit, they put you in this cage and leave you there forever.

The day of the fight is so clear in my mind. The sky was a bright blue with very white clouds. Some guy was hosing down his driveway as I walked home by the longest route possible. I remember it all. Especially finally trudging up our front steps and opening the door.

My mom had the television on. Here I was, all ready with my speech rehearsed in my head about what had happened, and now, I had to compete with the noise coming out of this box. Man, as if there aren’t enough humans in real life, all they want to do is look at each other some more through this box. Humans are obsessed with themselves.

Before I could say anything, my mom said, "Some kid didn’t make it home from school today."

I looked over at the box, and there he was, Ray Hornby, in a snapshot, and some lady talking about a missing child, and shots of police cars and yellow tape and flashing lights. They made Ray look almost like a nice kid. Which I suppose to some people, he was.

I guess I did take the long way home. Long enough for people to notice Ray didn’t show up to football practice.

My mom was right, everyone was freaking out. The people on the television were shouting, even though they had microphones.

And my mom was engrossed.

She had never gotten this close. A top authority on human behavior, an award winning researcher, and this was uncharted territory. It was like a dream come true for her, a career moment. She sat there, like a statue, watching all of this unfold in front of her on the box. After a few minutes she got up, and still trying to keep one eye on the screen, started rummaging around for her notebooks. She would be there the whole rest of the night, writing like crazy. Over the next few days she basically disappeared, amassing gobs of data for a field study that would solidify her reputation as one of the foremost human-researchers in the galaxy. This was big.

So, I didn’t give my speech. I walked calmly to my room, and started my homework.

The next day someone had put up flyers all over the school with Ray’s face on there. He was a Missing Person. Later that night there would be a candlelight vigil, our math teacher announced. My stomach growled right when he said that. Hello, Ray.

A week went by, and then another, and then the phone rang. It was somebody at the police station, wanting to talk to me, could I come in.

So, I went. I didn’t say much to my mom about it, just that they were interviewing all the kids at the school, but I was pretty sure somebody had finally figured out that I was the last person to see Ray alive.

I sat down at this grey metal table. My chair was a little far away, so I went to pull it in, and when I did it made a truly horrible screeching sound on the floor. I can still hear it now. There was this poster on the wall, with an Earth cat clutching the end of this piece of rope with its claws, that said, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

A big man, probably about three and a half of me, came in. He had on a very large cable knit sweater, dark blue I think. He had a moustache. He smiled when he came in.

“Hello Charles,” he said.

“Hello,” I said. My stomach growled. Shut up, Ray.

“I’m going to ask you some questions about the day your friend disappeared, okay, Charles?”

He’s not my friend. “Okay,” I said.

“Some of the other kids said you and Ray had a fight that day after school—is that right? Now, you’re not in trouble, for the fight, not at all. I don’t care about that. I just want to know, is that what happened?”

“I saw him on the way home from school,” I said. Nice and vague. Not going to admit any sort of fighting. Too many times I’ve been told, no fighting. That will get you stuck on the next transport home. Can’t go into that.

“Okay, so you saw him?” said the officer.


“And did you talk?”

“No, we’re not really friends. I mean, I don’t know him.”

“So, what happened next, Charles?” This guy uses my human name a lot. Maybe that’s supposed to be friendly. Kind of creeps me out though.

“I dunno, I guess Ray went home,” I said.

“And which way did he go, do you remember?”

Now, another thing they told us, in our Success in Human Society training, was that if you say something with a grain of truth to it, you look more honest. Something happens to your face. So, I figured I’d give it a try.

“He headed home through the vacant lot,” I said. Man, I hope there aren’t any footprints out there.

“The vacant lot,” said the officer. Right then, a second officer, skinny guy with glasses, came into our little room with the metal table.

“Lots of kids cut through that way,” I said. Actually almost no kids go that way, but I was busy making this whole thing seem really dull and boring. No excitement here.

That’s when things got a little dicey. The officer leaned forward a little bit, rested his big hands on the table. The other guy stood behind him like they were posing for a publicity shot or something.

“Now, Charles, I have several kids who have come in here and told us that you and Ray had a fight that day. Are you sure that nothing happened?”

I said there was nothing, just normal boy stuff. After school. No big deal. The second guy watched me really closely with those beady eyes in his little glasses. Must be a child psychiatrist or something, trying to suss out if I’m cracking under the pressure, hiding something.

I mean, I am, but where I come from, you’re expected to deal with it when you’re under attack. No question. So I did. That’s all.

Next the first man said the kids saw me run away, and they saw Ray run after me, but then Ray never came back. Was that true? Second man still staring at me. I couldn’t see his eyes through the reflections in his glasses.

“I guess it was true,” I said, “but we didn’t fight. I just ran.” I figured that seeming like a total wuss was preferable to seeming like I knew anything.

That seemed to satisfy the big man for some reason. In fact, he found it kind of funny. He and his partner there, they had a good laugh.

I was okay with being laughed at, if it meant I could leave.

The next day after my conversation with the big man in the sweater and his staring friend, a whole lot of people went out and searched the field where Ray was last seen by yours truly. Made a big line, walked across the whole thing. I guess they didn’t find any footprints or anything. If they had, they would have seen one big set for him, and a littler set for me. And then just one set, mine. But too much time had passed and too much rain had come down, I suppose. After all, they were looking for some kind of predator, something big and menacing, some sicko.

Nobody cared about me, just about the stupid field. Just the way I wanted it.

I got straight A’s that semester.

My mom and I never talked about Ray after that, other than in the context of her paper, which she presented at what seems like hundreds of conferences all over the galaxy. Entitled, “Herd and Media Behavior of Homo Sapiens When Contending with the Unresolved Loss of a Member,” the paper was a big hit. I got used to telling people she was on a “business trip.”

Ray’s family, though, they’ve never given up on finding him. With no body and no confession from some deranged guy living in a trailer outside of town or anything like that, they just soldier on. For the most part, I don’t think about it too much.

Except, when I see Ray’s picture on the side of a milk carton or on a poster on a wall somewhere, the corners curled up and torn. Or today, when the officers are back asking questions, scratching around for any shred of information. Every so often, somebody thinks that they’ve found a lead.

They don’t have any leads.

Ray is still there, with me, but there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing he can do about it, either. If we were back home, I’d just wait a little while and then let him go. He’d flop back out onto the floor, maybe re-grow some arms if they’d gotten digested.

But here, that’s totally impossible. Ray knows what happened. He’d tell everyone, and back we’d go, on the transport, back to where there’s no opportunity and my mom can’t get any of her papers read. Back to where the sun is dying and there’s basically no water. No, the idea is for my dad and my sister to come this way, not the other way around. That’s what we’ve sacrificed for, split up the family. We’re not going back now.

So now it’s me and Ray, Ray and me, and that’s how it’s gonna be. Shoot, if I regenerated him now, who knows what kind of shape he’d be in. And humans, as I understand it from our recent biology unit, don’t regenerate anything except parts of their livers. I have no idea if Ray still has a liver.

Soon my dad and my sister will be on that transport platform, here on Earth. Don’t worry Ray, you’ll really like my family. We’re good folks. And, we’re going to make something of ourselves here on your planet. You’re invited to come along. infinity

Betsy Streeter is a cartoonist and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been published by “King Features,” “Wiley,” and “The Great Courses.” She has recently completed a young-adult science fiction novel, “Silverwood.”





Betsy Streeter grew up watching “Star Trek,” “Monty Python,” and “The Muppet Show.” She once devised a method to score infinite points playing Space Invaders. She used to do her Fortran homework on a Cray. She has rigged a special effect for film using a squeeze bottle, dry ice and surgical tubing. She can explain the infield fly rule. She has run and/or hiked enough miles to go around some large object for sure. She lives in Northern California with her equally geeky husband, singing daughter, break dancing son, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, another cat who looks like a cow, and Tina the tarantula.

Favorite drink: White wine that’s not Chardonnay (it is Northern California, after all)

Favorite movie: That would be a tie amongst “Raising Arizona,” “Fight Club,” “The Matrix,” “Terminator 2,“ High Noon,” “Casablanca” (except for the scenes where she’s all wimpy and indecisive) and any Clint Eastwood Western including “Unforgiven.” Also, “The Artist” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” really left marks on me. I’m sure I could go on and on so I’ll stop there.

Pet peeve: When you’re on the phone and someone walks up and starts talking to you, which is when I lose track of what anyone is saying including myself and give up.

Advice to NASA: There absolutely have to be other inhabited planets out there and I hope you keep looking until you find some. biobar