Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Monkeys and Empire State Buildings
by James K. Isaac

Debbie Does Delta Draconis III
by Sarina Dorie

Becoming Einstein
by George S. Walker

No Good Conscience
by Edward J. Knight

Last Log of the Vancouver
by David Falkinburg

Saving the Galaxy and Taking Names
by Justin Short

Diplomacy in Springtime
by Jennifer Linnaea

Onkeymay Usinessbay
by Doug Donnan

Inside Magic Circles
by Brent Knowles


Cosmic Life Rays
by John McCormick and Beth Goldie

A Lost World On the Polar Ice
by Fitzhugh Green




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Monkeys and Empire State Buildings

By James K. Isaac

HOW MUCH MARS HAD changed, what with Earth sponsored developments spreading like a cancer. Burrowing deep until extraction was impossible. In this way, every day, the planet where Smith had grown and been nurtured became more and more alien.

Towing his rickshaw, smooth and shiny with rounded corners and sleek lines, Smith shuffled along two limbs at a time, slow enough to allow his passengers to take in the sights. Down the dyed and sculptured sand-roads the rickshaw wheels cut a parallel trail of midget-canyons, running between broadly spaced fist and foot prints. And, as always this familiar journey brought on a swell of melancholy. Smith was not a happy Marsman.

Up above, a row of seamless fitted screens, rendered crystal clear under a non-stop nano-wash, broadcast Earth news. Despite the clarity, the colours seemed muted against “manmade” Martian backdrops; the garish red of everything lashed with rust-brown strips from shadows off the encircling scaffold and crane forest. It never failed to impress the VIPs, made them all smile. The excited coos from the kid in Smith’s rickshaw and the shrieking exclamations of the mother confirmed it.

But the tourists’ little outbursts of joy only caused Smith to mope deeper, to close his eyes and trundle onward along the well-trodden road to the hotel. Smiles were supposed to mean happy, he had been taught this during his early months on Mars. But since then he had learned smiles concealed other things.

Smiles could be cruel. Like that of the kid passenger before he had hopped into the rickshaw. The kid had clutched at his backpack, refusing to put it in the luggage-containers slung over Smith’s back. Launching a snide comment outside of his parents’ earshot, he whispered “Mars Monkey,” and never ceased smiling wide and white. The annoying barrage had only started too.

Slapping pitter-patter rhythms bounced out between the rust-red resin buildings, all infused with technical-this and bio-that, lining the sand road. The boy was spanking Smith’s leathery hide, calling out louder than a whisper now, “Mars Monkey.”

Smith recalled a phrase he heard when growing up, something used to refer to children. “Cheeky Monkey.” Yes the boy is the monkey, not me. A satisfying thought. He allowed himself a small smile, exposing the crenulation-outline of the layers of mineral-crunching molars he’d been engineered with.

Silent up to that point, the father spoke. “Don’t say that. It’s rude.” A serious man enjoying the prestige of being among the first interplanetary tourist VIPs, sitting prim in a loose yellow tracksuit made of only the finest synthetic cloth, all shimmery and luxurious. Only important folks got the prestige of being interplanetary tourists. Extra important folks, because the resort wasn’t even finished yet.

Again the boy slapped Smith’s hide, the sound cracking louder than before.

“Allen, do as you’re told. You don’t know where that thing’s been,” the father said. I come from Mars, where have you been? But Smith never answered back. Even when hurtfully referred to as an “it.” He would insist that he was human, his chromosomes modified from basic human stock. He’d never even questioned this before the VIPs came to stay. Best to ignore them and just do my job.

“See the Pyramid and the Face,” the Marsman droned, not really caring. “Almost complete now. A shuttle train leaves from the quarantine station every morning. Look, you can see them from here.”

Through a gap in the scaffold the sun glared across a series of bio domes, like white pimples on the world or giant scraps of the bubble wrap which cushioned tourists’ luggage. Reflections of reflections tinted and twisted in the dome-glass. Mountain sized piles of red stone loomed in the biggest of those domes, the “Martian Pyramid” and “Face on Mars,” still under construction. Destined to be a theme park of sorts, called “Myths of Mars,” where little green men would actually be engineered and bred to entertain, where canals would be dug and filled for future transportation.

How Smith wished he laboured over there instead of doing this hotel stuff merely to provide a splash of “local colour.” Hard work reminded him of the good old days, the days of struggle and hardship, the freezing days before climate controls when Mars was a vacant empty lot. How he missed those days.


At the end of another day, a weary Smith lumbered up the wide internal ramps of the hotel, swaying like a drunken gorilla. All the way to the top he went, to his luxury room decked out with the most modern comforts. However, the latest built-in gaming and media systems remained unbooted, the big buttons for big fingers as nano-washed shiny as the day they were polished new.

Plush and huge, a bed spread corner to corner against an entire wall. High thread counts (whatever that was) and micro-moulding comforters installed just for him. Neat and tidy, always looking like it had never been slept in, except at that marsmanmoment the duvet was gathered and lumpy in the middle. Only for a second though. Then it exploded in a flap of white sleets.

“You found me!” squeaked a voice, a figure bursting from the bed. Cheeky Monkey, Smith thought, not jumping back. Not even raising a heavy brow at the surprise.

Seeing the Marsman, the boy’s wide smile suddenly fell, his mischievous energy sapped away all at once. “I thought you were my dad,” he said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean it earlier. Mars monkey, I didn’t mean it.”

Just doing what kids do. “That’s okay, Cheeky Monkey,” said Smith.

A smirk crawled back up one side of the boy’s face. For a moment Smith looked at him, unsure what to do. Then a knock-knocking came from the wall by the door, the father appeared, his eyes narrow.

“You keep your alien hands off my boy. Allen, come, now,” he said, voice calm and steady but simmering. Bed covers streaming across the floor behind him, Allen sprung across the room, the smile wiped clean off his face.

The father held Smith in his scowling eyes for a moment until Allen was clear out in the hallway. Then he slammed the door, the noise ushering in a blissful silence. Smith wished the door would lock, but he tried that before and couldn’t manage locks with his big hands, whether they were fiddly manual things or breakable buttons.

More of a bellow than a breath, the Marsman sighed, unstrapped the hard and hollow luggage container-buckets from over his back then slung them into a random corner. Curling up on the floor, relishing the hardness and the omnipresent gritty smell of Martian sand, he closed his eyes and hoped for dreams of the good old days.


Outside the vacuum-sealed and bolted doors of one of the quarantine compound’s exits, under the red sky of daytime “theme park Mars,” Smith waited for tourists to cart to the hotel. To pass the time he watched the flashy rolling montages of Martian projects on the news screens. Of Marsmen quarrying huge stones to build wonders. “Not your average Earth-sized wonders,” ran the tag line.

The old tales of Martian pyramids and faces confused Smith. Strange, how low-tech shoddiness gave rise to these myths now being built, to fool the stupid and entertain the wealthy. All to do with old twentieth century low-resolution satellite images, making pictures of blurs which resembled nothing but rocks. Nothing special about a theme park though, not compared to Smith’s virgin Mars of spacesuits and storms.

Images of cranes and a few automatic vehicles ran across the screen. Another worry to add to the multitude. Even more labour-saving machines were on the way now that the colony was established. Machines made hard jobs easier, meant the only workers needed were the techies. Smith’s kind would become the living obsolete. He shuddered and pulled his thoughts back from a dark place, a place which looked like a zoo.

A shuttle train made a smooth silent stop across the sand road from the quarantine exit. Gaggling tour groups started to pour off. Smith tried to ignore them. They seemed too energetic, something almost frenzied about the way they looked around. Raised voices tinged with concern, loud enough for others to be unable to ignore them, stirred the security into action.

Dressed all in white, except for webs of black netting around their waists containing meds and Tasers, security officials, doubling as helpdesk attendees, ran out from their observation posts-cum-helpdesks. Glad of some excitement for sure.

From the VIP kerfuffle rose a shout. “That’s him.” The serious father-man from yesterday, red faced and wet around the eyes. He pointed at Smith. “That ... thing told me to go and see the Pyramid. I found my boy in his room last night too. I don’t trust him. He knows something. He knows where Allen is.”

Behind the father sobbed the mother, her big sunglasses made her face look lopsided. “I know it was you. You’re an animal!” But the security knew Smith too, and they knew he was no threat to anyone. Most of the security seemed like good folk to Smith, even though most of them were off-worlders.

The security sentries tried to calm the couple but the bigwig father demanded action. Turned out little Allen didn’t return with the tour group on the shuttle-train. Threats were made, threats to contact Earth with news of Martian abductions and, worst of all, poor service in the resort. Once the security chief pinged that particular message through to management it all went serious. Bright white lights flashed on, loudspeakers and wireless feeds barked orders, told everyone to go back to the hotel.

Smith’s internal wireless adaptor informed him that today’s quarantine release was cancelled. Well, a little good news at least. He could drop the rickshaw off at the stands outside the hotel and just ... do something that didn’t involve people from Earth.

Hurrying away, he passed other Marsmen towing their rickshaws. But they didn’t seem to share Smith’s happiness. Instead, their deep-set eyes twitched, they crouched low and moved slowly, carefully like they didn’t want to be seen.

Something bad fizzled in the air. Cheeky Monkey’s father still glared at Smith. And then Smith too felt the pinch of instinct bring him lower to the ground, wishing he could just disappear.


Projections of flying saucers zipped outside the hotel, a night show hastily arranged by management to calm down the bigwigs. After all that earlier fuss security had found Allen in a ditch behind the Pyramid, bruised, dirty but fine. Somehow the boy had discovered the only blind spot in the resort’s eye-web. Cheeky monkey, he had simply wandered off. But that wasn’t enough. The VIP tourists demanded action and, just to keep things quiet, the Marsmen labourers from that theme park were rounded up while an investigation was “in progress.”

Allen’s father had made several complaints referring to Smith personally. So Smith was ordered out of sight. He stayed in his room the rest of the day looking out from his balcony at the top of the hotel.

You’re an animal. That’s what they had called him. But he was human, wasn’t he? Mars had turned sad and angry; he somehow felt it, the resentment, the shared feeling of indignity.

Mars belonged to Marsmen!

Slumping down heavily onto the hard floor, Smith curled up and cried before cold darkness stole away the red.


Blinks of colour in blackness swirled and pierced through Smith’s dreams. Then he opened his eyes, an urgency warming his blood, bringing out instant beads of sweat. The light outside his balcony flickered, not the steady faux-red atmospheric sheen of usual. Something chemical, an imbalance snapped in the air. Smith could taste it, knowing instantly the danger it posed to those unmodified. Habits bred and nurtured during the cold empty days on the Red Planet formed cold hard instinct, told him to get up and get out.

In one great stride Smith was over at his balcony looking out to the distant dome of the Pyramid and Face. But he didn’t see the reflected white glints of sun or the outside UV power-lamps. Just blackness in the dome. Almost solid, except for occasional grey as light caught the side of smoke plumes. Not just that dome, throughout every dome of the entire compound he saw fire-sparks twinkling like falling stars. And then Smith noticed something else.

The forest of cranes had broken and bent, or had tumbled from view. The machines had fallen ... Pulsing behind his eyes, a summoning of excitement; a rush. Bounding out his room, drawn by shouting and crackling fires, in seconds he was down in the hotel foyer.

But the hotel was sealed off. White-tracksuit-wearing security crouched behind the armour-glass entrance. Other Marsmen stood around a knot of hotel guests, a barrier protecting the paying VIPS from whatever threat waited outside.

“Smith,” shouted the broadest of them, a Marsman called Simon, a mass of taut sinew. But his boom of voice rumbled with an uncertainty, his face grey and confused. “The labourers broke down the machines in protest of their friends being taken away. They even broke down communication towers. Bad things, Smith.”

The knot of guest suddenly buoyed forward, a man breaking out. Cheeky Monkey’s father, full of that same high-born Earth assurance. “You’ve all gone feral. You know what we do to feral dogs on Earth?”

Alarmed by the sudden shout, Simon shoved the man back into the crowd. Soft for the eight-foot-plus muscle-bound modified human, but too hard for the flimsier Earthmen. Tumbling back, Cheeky Monkey’s father tried to get his balance by snatching at the nearest thing, the tracksuit of an old woman. But he only succeeded in dragging her down onto the floor, both hitting it with a nasty thud.

Antsy, the air itching with bad chemicals, the rest of the Marsmen shared looks. Instinct forewarned of bad things. The security men had all pulled their Tasers from nets, now making their way towards the little drama with slow nervous steps. Young men, as scared as anyone. Feeling a long way from home.

“Nothing bad is happening” said Smith, pounding on the floor to get people to listen. Simon started to pound too. “Nothing bad is happening.” The other half dozen Marsmen joined in as security pushed into the crowd of guests, trying to get at the old woman groaning on the floor.

One of the security helped Allen’s father up. Embarrassment and rage flickering his face. Something in his hand, a Taser. Blinking blue and fully charged, he squeezed the trigger. Cables and pins of electric arced out, piercing into Simon, great looming and monstrous, roaring then turning spastic.

This spurred on further unrest from another audience, one Smith had not yet noticed. The armour-glass entrance started to rattle, bass-thuds reverberating through the walls. Outside, frothing madly, Marsmen threw themselves with brutality against the glass. Wires, piping and microchips pinned to their chests or worn as bracelets or earrings.

Trophies of destroyed machines. Saving us from being replaced. It all made sense. But the violence?

The sight of animal savagery was enough to spook the hotel guests. They broke and made for the ramp leading to the upper floors. Buzzing filled the foyer. A white-tracksuit-body flew up, its form dive-flopping backward like it had no bones, crashing into a window full of orange flicker. A huge monster, Simon raged and flailed, hitting out at anything. And still the high-volt Tasers wracked his nerves. Then, all at once, the other Marsmen in the hotel hurried to the ramps.

Smith bounded after them, screaming “Stop. This is not the way it used to be. Not the way it should be.” Instinct pinched at him, he flipped out both thighs, two feet slamming a Marsman in the face, cracking the huge thing back into a reception desk.

Then Smith joined the rushing throng of VIPs just as a dozen Tasers spiked Simon’s nervous system into shutdown.


Shoving in terror, the crowd tried to get as far away from the foyer as possible. Up to the top floor, to the long corridor, to the last stop on the line, Smith’s room.

Using the walls and ceiling for leverage, Smith clambered above them like some massive spider-thing, slipping under the top of his door frame, brushing the hair of people, making them scream. For once he felt sorry for the tourists, noticing how weak and scared they were. Even the security, standing out in their white tracksuits, fared no better.

Smith’s room, his fortress of emptiness, now heaved with people. The edges of the crowd pushed all the way back to his balcony, to where Smith, claustrophobic all of a sudden, swung, with fingers strong enough to gain purchase on any joints or seams worked into the upper walls. Almost there, he caught sight of a little face, a pair little hands reaching out; a boy falling under the press of bodies.

“Get back, Cheeky Monkey,” yelled Smith. Plunging a big hand into the crowd, with no effort he hoisted the boy up high and safe.

But, of course, the father would have to be nearby. “My son. Don’t touch my son.” The man screamed into the face of a nearby white-tracksuit. “Shoot him. It isn’t even human.” Young security, terrified, untested, whipped their Taser arcs up at Smith. But the room was too crowded, the Marsman too agile.

Dropping Allen into the tight crush of humanity, Smith swung out of sight, onto a ledge above the balcony. Tasers wires flailed with vicious imprecision, getting caught up in the mob. Tourists in the line of fire convulsed still standing, tightly packed and unable to fall.

From outside Smith could see the further disintegration of the resort and colony. Fires spewed carbon dioxide, trapped in the domes as filters were smashed or chugged valiantly yet ineffectively on backup power. Gun-shocks buzzed from somewhere out there. And still he heard Cheeky Monkey’s father rage from inside his room, imploring for anyone and everyone to kill the animals, the aliens.

I am human. I am human.

Then a flash of yellow shimmery cloth appeared. A good few metres away, just peeking out where the room met the balcony. Close enough to reach and touch ...

With one great column arm Smith swung from the ledge, scooping through the tourists, easily pushing them apart. Mighty fingers clutched a bunch of baggy tracksuit and yanked a man out of the crowd, dangling him over the edge of the balcony.

Pathetically, and uselessly, the man pounded on Smith’s arm. No longer a bigwig, but prey pleading with its eyes.

An overflow of nostalgia gushed, a smile appeared on Smith’s face. He recalled a black and white film, of a big monkey climbing a big building. The first movie ever streamed between Earth and Mars, testing out newly installed communications. He couldn’t remember the name. Just that those were the “good old days.”

The Marsman looked into the Earthman’s eyes and saw a thing he had nothing in common with. All I need to do is uncurl my fingers and let go, he thought.

But what would be the human thing to do? infinity

James K. Isaac is an Ancient History postgraduate and has worked in the National Maritime and British museums. Currently, he spends his time between England and China working as a wandering teacher. His writing has appeared in “Interstellar,” “Aoife's Kiss,” “Bards and Sages,” and other publications.



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