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




Last Log of the Vancouver

By David Falkinburg

THE AIR BOILS. THE STRUCTURE of the excavation facility is fractured. Muffled booms resonate from within. Overhead lights flash and wink out. The windows are fogged with ash and caked with debris. Outside, the expanse of the fuming terrain of Io lingers. The broken mining facility is crumbled across the volcanic rocks like the remains of a shipwreck. What was once a bunkered down fortress, is now a fragmented ruin strewn across the sulfurous surface. Cataclysmic cracks in the volcanic moon divide the rough ground and expand out across the curving wasteland like gaping veins.

Within the structure the halls are almost silent. The droning, constant sound of escaping gases hiss along with the drip of liquid water from a bloodied sink. There are bodies in stained, white uniforms sprawled across the facility. The invisible sulfur dioxide lingers in the air and rots their lungs. Some sulfur frosts around the fractured pipelines and gathers in clusters.

The intercom crackles on. There is static until an automated message breaks through the white noise. First, silence. The sound of someone stepping up to a microphone echoes in the clammy halls of the Geoforge Mining Facility on Io to speak an automated message to dead bodies.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Leon Damianus, CEO of GeoForge.”

“Where do resources come from? Where do we come from? Where do planets and moons and mountains and atoms come from? Well ... I’ll tell you. I have the answer.” There are distant chuckles from an audience as the recorded sound waves pass across the glazed over eyes of a corpse.

“The very atoms that make up our body were forged in the souls of stars. They were fused and eviscerated from the furnace in which they were made and hurled into the galaxy to fend for themselves. Sound familiar? It should.” Damianus pauses.

“Humanity was born on this planet, but now, this planet is dying. We have extinguished this planet’s resources, albeit we abused them without regard, but nonetheless, the past is the past. We’ve learned, grown, and advanced as a species. We have no choice now, but to adapt to our new environment: the cold vacuum of space. The building blocks of galaxies, of life, migrated from their mother’s solar womb and so must we. Earth has provided for us, and we are grateful, but now we are grown. It is time to take, in full, to the stars.” An applause erupts from the speakers across the magma glow of Io pulsing in from the outside. The booming echo of the speakers continue to play in the ravaged halls where the light ends, and blackness begins.

“To make this journey we will need resources, industry. GeoForge and myself boldly accept this role to play in humanities’ new galactic theater. And we will do it with a technology that humankind has never wielded in its existence.” The pause in the speech lingers in the gloom of the dim halls. There is a porthole, glowing of light, at the end of the hall. One of the only signs of power in the facility. A shadow blocks it out for a moment.

“This is Io, a moon of Jupiter. This wrathful moon is a volcanic inferno, but GeoForge can harness its power. The titan upheavals that take place in the moon’s mantle are not unlike the geological processes that take place here on Earth. Now, deep underneath Io’s surface, where the crust meets the mantle—in its inner hells—we may tap into the unlimited, geological energy of the moon as it churns and forges the raw resources we input into Forge. The Ionian Forge will create the foundation we need to fuel humanities’ expansion into our solar system and beyond.”

Christina closed her eyes as the speakers played the applause to Damianus’s final words. She sat in the emergency bunker, bathed in red light, and stared out of the porthole and into the darkness. She wondered what was happening out there. She had tried to hack the systems to shut off the radio, but had failed. It cut back to white noise after the applause died out.

A tear escaped her closed eyes and streaked down her cheek. She remembered the flashing lights of cameras and the endless crowd gathered under the stars at the launch celebration. They had come out waving in their white uniforms—the very uniform she wore now—onto the stage with Damianus. Now, she resided in the last stable, emergency powered, closet-sized bunker of the Forge.

A rumble groaned deep beneath her. Every hour or so a new rumble sounded from either the collapsing facility or from the shifting moon. Christina couldn’t tell the difference in the emergency airlock. The machinist wore only the white pants of her uniform with the unzipped top hanging from her waist. She had to take it off, partly because of the heat, but mostly because of the blood spatter. Her black tank top clung to her chest soaked in sweat. In a messy bun, her frizzled, scarlet hair dripped with perspiration. Christina kept her gaze on a solitary blinking light on the terminal console in front of her within the closet sized compartment. The distress beacon had been sent.

“It’s just a matter of time,” she said to herself in a weak voice. Christina swallowed and watched, with sky blue eyes, as a slight vibration of the chamber shook and poured dust on her. She didn’t move and kept her gaze, through the cloud, on the blinking red light.

“They will come.”

The room began to vibrate more. A jolt made Christina grasp the flat metal walls around her. She searched for purchase, but found none. The red light blinked. She pressed with all her strength against the compact walls on each side, sure that if she didn’t the room would crush her. She cried out as the room shifted. Then, she caught her own reflection in the bulk head door porthole window. She stared at the reflection of herself in the black void that eclipsed the other side of the glass—when she heard the ding. Her eyes darted to the blinking red light. It turned green.

The distress message was received. Christina exhaled a sigh, reached to brush some strands of hair out of her face, and had just a moment to think before a boom jolted the entire compartment and threw Christina against the wall. She slammed into the steel and was knocked unconscious.


They’d received the distress signal at 1900 TST (Tellurian Standard Time) on May 18th while aboard the Jupiter IV Orbital Station. Alexander had been reading about the worst natural disaster in the history of Earth to the tick of an analog clock when the antique phone rang and scared him. His team had been roused and were now en route to the Geoforge Forge mining site on Io aboard a Chronicle Class ship named the Vancouver.

Alexander Johnston leaned into the cockpit where Evans piloted the humble ship across the backdrop of the king of the Jovians. Their ship was soaring past the Great Red Spot at the moment. Alexander took a moment to gaze upon the massive storm. He spotted faint flashes of lightning illuminating the phosphorus clouds.

“A storm the size of a planet, sounds like something out of ancient mythology,” Alex thought aloud. Evans grunted in response and seemed distracted by pictures that he shuffled through on his display screen.

“Are those from your vacation?”

“They are,” he sighed with nostalgia in his voice.

“Where is that?”

“It’s the new addition to Saturn Blue. The Star Sea.” The picture on the screen showed Evans and a young woman in swimming attire. His arm was around her in the waist deep water. They posed from the inside of a colossal glass sphere, half filled with water, and surrounded by the stars of space.

“It’s a series of spheres of water, where you can swim, and they have bars and what not. Some of them are zero g.” He scrolled through the pictures as Alex overlooked. He stopped on a random picture, showing him and another woman kissing with the planet Saturn in the background.

“Wait, I thought you had gone with the other one.”

“There’s too many women in the solar system to only stay with one my friend.” A wicked smile exposed itself on Evan’s face and chuckled.

“A science I am unfamiliar with, I’m afraid,” Alex responded, scratching the back of his head.

“Ah, to each man his own. Don’t worry, some women love you old fashioned types.” Alexander sat down in the co-pilot’s seat. He couldn’t stop his mind from drifting to Jana.

“There were so many different girls at Saturn Blue, Johnston. Coronas, Venusians, Bolides, Auroras, too many to count and from every corner of the system. Saturn Blue is just a wondrous haven for beautiful women,” Evan said with animated enthusiasm.

Saturn Blue had been the destination for Alexander and Jana’s planned honeymoon all those years ago. He tried to remember how many years it’d actually been. Jana would be a Corona, he guessed, with her sun surface blond hair and amber eye color.

“Jana would be a Corona,” Evans said aloud. Alex glanced at him and laughed. He has no idea of our history, Alex thought.

“You know, you’ve been awkward ever since she’s been around. You guys have a history or something? I know you both went to Ares City University. You for Exogeology and her for Exoplanetary studies. I read both your files, but that was the only connection,” Evans said.

“And that’s all the information you’re going to get,” Alex replied. He couldn’t help but surrender an awkward laugh after Evans gave Alex his mischievously suspicious grin. It was similar to the wicked smile.

“Uh huh, we’ll see about that. I can’t see the sexual tension, but I can definitely measure the gravity of it between you two.”

“Clever,” Alex responded in an attempt to drift from the conversation. The memories had already pulled him in and there was no escaping the gravity of the endless, black well of memories they had together. Alexander reminisced as Evans tried to think of a clever way to combine the phrases “sexual tension” and “dark matter.”


They had met at the university and had spent several hours in classes together. They would acknowledge each other, but it was never more than a few words here and there. Luckily, Jana had enrolled in the same Master of Science program—their tracks only differing by a few classes—and was single. He remembered commenting on a baseball cap she’d worn to class one day.

“Ares City Martians, huh?” he said.

“Yep.” She smiled with dimples.

“That name is a crime,” Alex responded.

“And what might be your team of choice?” He remembered the two locks of hair that had escaped from under her cap in the most symmetrical way and wondered if she’d done it like that on purpose or if it was just unkempt, only perfectly so.

“The Lunar City Lunas.”

“Our rivals. You could not have done any worse than that.” She laughed, “a military team, huh?”

“My dad was a colonel in the fleet. I inherited his passion for them, despite their consistent disappointments.”

“Hard expectations to live up to? Your father?” Jana asked.

“You have no idea,” Alex replied

“I bet he was thrilled to hear you’d dedicated your life to rocks.” They laughed, and with that, Alexander Johnston was in love.

“Instead of following in your honorable footsteps, Dad, I think I’ll go survey some dirt,” she had followed up with, impersonating him. Alex couldn’t remember a time he’d laughed so hard before he met her and he couldn’t remember not laughing after that day in class.

The next day they departed, with their fellow graduate students, into the Martian terrain to an excavation site at the base of Valles Marineris. They talked on the rover ride there, all throughout the day, and watched the azure sunset at the peak of one of the canyons. They spent the night out on the rusty dirt in the campsite gazing at a meteor shower as they discussed where they wanted to be in ten years. Alexander fiddled with the fingers of her hand until his and hers interlocked under the ecliptic of the galaxy. When her lips met his, the moisture and smooth caress of her kiss ignited a longing desire in Alexander that he’d never quite felt before.

They graduated from their respective fields and attended a GeoForge convention in Ares City on Mars. That night, after the convention, Alexander drove her out to Valles Marineris on the pretext of a camping trip and got down on one knee. He’d timed it perfectly under the rain of another meteor shower. Alexander remembered the glow, the touch of her naked skin and silver hair in the Martian moon light. The curve of her body under the moon beams, against a sky of glimmering, plummeting meteors, and the feeling as she rotated her hips on top of him.

The next month, they both applied for employment at GeoForge. There had been rumors along the channels of their field that the company was planning something big.

“Something that will define what GeoForge was founded for in the first place.” Alexander remembered a friend telling him. After shaking hands with Leon Damianus atop the Geoforge skyscraper in Tharsis, and the announcement of the Ionian Forge, Jana and Alex were on a ship bound for the Jupiter IV OS to begin their new jobs surveying and aiding the Forge down on the surface of Io.


That was four years ago, Alex thought in his bunk aboard the Vancouver. He blinked and realized he must have fallen asleep for a few hours. He got up and made for the cockpit.

When he leaned through the bulkhead door, Jana and Evans were talking in the pilot and co-pilots seats. Evans looked back and acknowledged him; Jana didn’t, but when Alex looked up through the windshield he forgot all about it.

Before him lingered the moon, Io, only from this angle the sulfurous moon was no longer a rough sphere. From the surface of Io a colossal bulge protruded so massive that Alex could see it clearly from—

“How far out are we?” Alex asked.

“Four thousand kliks,” Evan responded.

“What is that?”

“Don’t know,” Evans said. Alex glanced at Jana’s back as she manipulated the touch screen of the terminal in front of her.

“Bring us in closer, Evans,” Alex ordered.

“Roger that, Captain,” he mocked.


It was huge. As the Vancouver drifted past the moon the ship calculated that the bulge swelling from the surface of Io was 1,500 kilometers in diameter.

“Where is the Forge?” But as Alexander asked he knew the answer.

“Right on the peak of the bulge,” Evans noted as he read off his screen. Alex gazed at the volcanic surface of Io and at the gargantuan geographic feature.

“What could it be?” Evans asked.

“Tidal force, a massive caldera, I don’t know,” Alex said, baffled.

“We have to go down there,” Jana said, finally, with her arms crossed.

“What?” Evans started.

“Out of the question,” Alex said, but his gut knew he would give in. The geologist in him had never stopped for danger in the light of discovery and this was quite the discovery.

“Someone sent that distress call. Someone is still down there. Alive. Besides, we need to find out what that is.” Jana stood and moved past Alex without looking at him. The bulk head door slammed.

“Suit up, Evans. She’s right.”

“Of course she is.”


Evans brought the Vancouver down along the bulge. Alex watched a feed of the surface as they passed over it from a terminal screen in the deployment room. The ground was splintered and cracked, overworked, and obtuse in countless areas. Io had always been an unstable wasteland, but this exceeded that definition, he thought.

The Forge facility came into view and rising in the distant background billowed the smoke columns of volcanoes. The Vancouver hovered above the pair of connected facilities that were situated on top of a blackened mesa. The thick, dark metallic buildings contrasted against the splashes of tarnished orange that broke through the blackened, ash laden terrain. The Vancouver descended through the heavy smog that lingered in the atmosphere and eased towards a landing pad. As they crept in closer, Alex noticed only the building they were landing near had power. The other facility was completely lifeless, emitting nothing. Alex felt the ship touchdown. The door to the deployment room opened. Jana stepped in. She pulled up a maneuverable terminal and began to don her bio-suit.

“So, I didn’t expect you to be back,” Alex said. The hum of the vessel permeated throughout the almost silent room. The blip of the buttons on Jana’s terminal screen responded to him. “It’s been so long I thought—”

Jana turned. “Alex, we aren’t doing this now. We’re on a mission and you can’t let your feelings for me get in the way.”

“Jana, I, I haven’t even spoken to you in three years and all of a sudden you just show up on this mission and expect me to go along and not say anything?”

“I didn’t choose my assignment. This is where they put me regardless of what I thought about it.”

“You left, Jana,” Alex said. The air drifting through the ventilation shaft was the loudest sound Alex could hear. Jana's chartreuse eyes bored into him with an unimpressed look, shimmered a little, and turned away. She inhaled, glanced back at Alex, and moved her lips as if to speak, but at that moment Evans came through the door to the deployment room and she remained silent. Alex turned to his scrolling screen of diagnostics with broken anticipation.


The three of them, clad in bio-suits, waited for the Vancouver’s airlock to secure onto the Forge’s entrance.

“What do you think’s going to be in there?” Evans said, fidgeting on his heels.

“We should be prepared for anything and we need to be ready to go if I give the order,” Alex said, “this place is unstable as hell.”

The airlock lights flipped to green. Jana stepped forward and grabbed a hold of the bulkhead door wheel. She pulled it, turned the wheel, and pressed a green button. The doors cracked and the pressure adjusted between the compartments. Then, once the equilibrium was met, the doors opened wide to reveal the entrance hall to the Forge.

It appeared completely normal. Alex stepped through the threshold with caution.

“Welcome to the Forge. Geoforge’s premiere resource creation and forging facility where our Artificers wield the might of two of nature’s greatest forces, temperature and pressure, in one of the most hostile environments known to man, twenty five kilometers below the surface of Io where the inferno of the magma ocean meets the rocky lithosphere ... ” An automated message, narrated by a woman’s computerized voice, played on as Alex, Jana, and Evans stepped through the lobby. On each side of the lobby stood empty, black marble reception desks. In the middle of the foyer stood a massive diamond. The plaque embedded in its granite base read: The Forge, founded 2228, where the largest diamond ever witnessed by humanity was created on the first day.

Evans whistled in surprise at the diamond that now doubled as a fountain. Water trickled down the lustrous face of the glimmering prism.

“One hundred thousand carats,” Alex read.

“We brought the laser chisel, right?” Evans remarked. Alex let a chuckle escape as Jana moved around the massive diamond and down the hall towards the elevator.

“If you were looking for the moment to get down on one knee, Alex, now’s the time,” Evans said. Jana shot a glare back at Evans.

“First, we need to get to the emergency bunker and find the registrar. We find out what happened and if there are any survivors, they’ll be there,” Jana said.
“A diagnostics of the integrity of this facility would be nice too,” Evans added. Alex pulled up the layout of the facility on a pad embedded in his wrist. The screen showed him the location of the emergency bunker at the end of the compound.

“It couldn’t be farther from where we are.” Alex told them. Jana turned and reached the lobby elevator when all the lights in the room flickered. A resonating boom rumbled.

“On second thought ...” Jana trailed off. She made for the lightless stairwell and the three descended into the facility.

“Does anyone else hear that dripping?” Evans said aloud and searched for the source with his flashlight.

“I hear it,” Jana responded. Alex watched a drop of clear, yellow liquid splash and drip down his visor. He aimed his flashlight directly up from where he stood on the steps to reveal a chunk of frozen sulfur dioxide.

“There it is. The facility must be fractured. Io’s surface atmosphere is getting in. That’s not good.” Alex immediately checked his oxygen reading.

“We’ve got four hours. Let’s move it,” Evans remained a minute to gaze at the yellowy ice mold atop the ceiling at the center of a crack that etched across the concrete wall.

They passed through the door and found themselves at the skyway. The bridge connecting the two facilities stretched fifty meters across the precarious, blackened landscape with a panoramic view of Io.

The team entered the skyway and began to cross through the reinforced glass tunnel. Below them, hugging the ground, were two parallel halls connecting the facilities on the surface. Between them, and directly below the team, stood the building that housed the lift that workers took down to the Lift Bay, and beneath the moon’s surface to the Forge. Where the magic happened, Alex thought, eyeing the structures below them.

Evans stopped midway through the skyway and began to inspect the glass. When Alex followed Evans’s gaze he saw the same cracks in the thick, synthetic material. The cracks arced over them, over the top of the cylindrical skyway, and shot out into hundreds of tributaries. Alex opened his mouth to say something, but Evans held up his gloved hand, gesturing for Alex to listen. When he did, he heard a slight hissing.

“Let’s move,” Alex ordered. The three began to advance from a walk to a jog when the skyway lurched and bounced. The team hit the ground of the bridge as the distinct sound of cracking glass shuddered throughout the tunnel.

Alex pulled himself up and snagged the arm of Jana to help her up. The three ran for the blast door at the end of the skyway. The glass ceiling of the skyway collapsed and caved in behind them. An onslaught of gas screeched in as the three passed through the threshold of the second building. Once Alex was through, he turned and slammed his fist against the emergency close button. To his relief the blast doors slammed shut, but not before Alex saw the entire hallway frozen by the invading sulfur dioxide. The team stood in utter blackness.

“Is everyone okay?” Alex asked as his suit’s exterior lights flickered on. The groan of metal answered him from the other side of the blast door.

“Let’s keep moving,” Jana said, exhaling.

“How are we going to get back to the ship?” Evans asked.

“There’s another tunnel on the surface level that runs past the lift to the Laboratory,” Alex said, checking the layout of the facility. At least some power is still on, he thought, thinking of the blast doors. Perhaps only some minor systems, or emergency power, he concluded.

“From now on, how about we check each room we enter for exterior leaks so that we’re not frozen to death by the exterior atmosphere?” Evans suggested as he checked the room they were in. Alex gazed down the hall at Jana who’d become a beacon of exterior suit light at the end of the corridor. He eyed the sign on the wall which read: BARRACKS.

Alex saw Jana stop and stare at something around the corner at the end of the corridor. He started towards her rigid silhouette.

“Jana?” he said. She didn’t respond.

“Jana.” Alex said. She didn’t move. Alex picked up the pace. When he reached her, he took her hand. Jana's eyes were locked on what was behind him. Evans reached them and also stopped. Alex turned around.

The white lights of their suits illuminated a hall of corpses. White uniforms on pale bodies cluttered the floor of the hall. Blood spatter stained the ghostly colors of the lifeless corridor.

Alex stepped over the first body to make his way into the massacre.

“It’s the chemicals in the air from the exterior breaches. They were poisoned by the invading atmosphere,” Evans said after completing a diagnostics.

“Life support and air filtration must have been knocked offline,” Alex said aloud, crouching down to look into the face of a man whose eyes bulged out of his skull. Old blood was caked around his drooping mouth.

“Suffocated to death,” Alex said. Jana remained silent and began to step over the bodies. She made for the stairs to reach the lower levels where the emergency bunker resided. The men followed. As Alex walked he found that wherever he shined his light revealed a new horror. A body, face down in a bloody sink, below finger sized streaks of blood on the mirror. A woman, eyes closed, hands clasped, laying on a bed without any sign of harm, but no doubt dead. Alex flinched as the whites of dead eyes stared at him from the skull of a corpse lodged upright in a doorway. They seemed to follow him. He felt the eyes on his back as the three of them reached the stairs down to the next level. Alex would remember to shine his primary flashlight only where he had to from now on.

The second floor was more of the same and so was the third. Alex and the team kept their heads down and continued through without a word about their surroundings. At one point a corpse fell from a malfunctioning door. They stopped finding corpses on the level just above ground. Alex brought up his latest estimate as to what happened.

“The formation of a bulge this size would have caused a tremendous moonquake in the ballpark of a 9.0 magnitude or higher. This wouldn’t destroy the facility, but it would cause some serious structural damage. The initial quake could have ruptured the structure in the barracks somewhere and hit them first. Following aftershocks could have taken out more systems and furthered the damage as the bulge grew in size,” Alex concluded. The others didn’t look as if they were listening.

“So what caused the bulge?” Evans asked.

“I still don’t know.”

“We need to get to the registrar to find out,” Jana said.

When they reached the ground level, a dull red light glowed through the darkness. Alex walked out into the hall with the surface tunnel on his right and the source of the light on his left. A square porthole, at the end of the corridor, emanated the red light. He checked the layout of the facility.

“That’s the emergency bunker.” The three of them broke for the blast door containing the porthole. Jana slammed against it and pounded on the window shouting. Evans pushed himself up to gaze inside.

“I can’t see anything,” Evans said, trying to wipe away the fog on the window from the wrong side. Alex noticed a speaker on the side of the door.

“Watch out,” he said as he depressed a red button.

“Is anyone there? My name is Alexander Johnston and I am here with the response team. We received your distress message and we are here to get any survivors off this moon.” He released the button and waited with the others, hesitant.

The speaker came alive with static, and then breathing.

“I’m opening the door,” a female voice said.

The door depressurized and hissed open. The two atmospheres mixed and, bathed in red light, a woman in a bio-suit emerged. The lights of her helmet illuminated her fair face and curls of scarlet hair. She blinked back tears while looking at them and gestured for them to come inside.


Christina told them that she’d had to don her suit once the filtration system inside the emergency bunker malfunctioned. She’d gone through four oxygen tanks already and had one left, with two hours to kill.

“I thought I was going to die, and I was ready to accept it. Until I heard your voice,” she said to Alex. They introduced themselves.

“Where is the registrar? And more importantly, what happened?” Jana asked.

“I’ll tell you.”


The Artificers had dug too deep, she’d told them. There had always been the fear of penetrating too far in the lithosphere. The stability zone was where the GeoForge Artificers used the planet’s extreme conditions to forge their gems, resources, and alloys with the raw materials they put in, but they’d never expected to drill into the red zone. Christina didn’t have all the information, or numbers, because once the Artificers penetrated the shallow pocket of the magma ocean it was too late. The 500-1000C lava from the magma ocean that made up ten percent of Io’s mantle had flooded up to five kilometers below the surface, she told them, and had incinerated the entire Forge. Lucky for them, the magma flood had stopped rising, for the moment. Everything she’d learned she’d found from investigating the station’s backup hard drive within the facility, but soon after the first quake the servers had been destroyed. From the evidence she’d gathered she postulated that it was only a pocket of magma they’d broken rather than the entire magma ocean, but Alex thought otherwise. Christina had no way of knowing about the monstrous bulge rising from the surface of the moon.

“Greedy bastards,” Evans said aloud.

“The Artificers must have penetrated a larger portion of the magma ocean than they thought. There’s a bulge, fifteen hundred kilometers in diameter, protruding from the surface. It is clearly visible from space and at this point probably takes up an eighth of the moon’s surface,” Alex explained. Christina listened with wide eyes. Alex sighed with apprehension and sat in silence for a few moments trying to work out everything Christina had said to him. He rifled through all the possibilities until a very clear scenario came to him.

“I believe that the pocket the Artificers fractured has released the Ionian magma ocean which is now pressing against the very crust of the moon with immeasurable pressure, and soon it will crack the moon’s surface and explode. When that happens, all the might of the moon’s muffled, pressurized magma ocean will erupt and jettison an unfathomable amount of blazing mass into space. Basically, the moon is going to erupt ... like—”

“—a volcano,” Jana finished. Evans looked up as he realized what they were saying.

“This moon is going to explode?” he asked.

“Yes, we need to get out of here. Now,” Alex commanded and made for the hallway.

“This way,” Evans shouted as he glanced at the schematics of the facility on the screen attached to the arm of his suit. He ran down the hall followed by Christina, Alex, and Jana.

Before they’d gotten halfway down the hall Alex felt the ground fall out from under him. Stepping into thin air he tumbled forward until the floor rose and smashed into his body. The entire hall lurched up and down; an explosion erupted ahead. Glass and metal shattered as the corridor leading to the other building collapsed. Alex watched as the sides of the hall ahead blew inward from the force of the moonquake. Io’s freezing atmosphere rushed into the facility and set all of the alarms on Alex’s suit into a tempest of alert.

To his right was an open bulk head door.

“Get inside!” he shouted to Jana. Alex saw Evans shove Christina into another door up ahead just before the first fingers of the atmosphere licked his suit. The full force of the invading air consumed him as the sulfur dioxide froze Evans faster than he could react and petrified him with sulfuric ice.

Alex crashed down onto the floor through the bulk head door with Jana. He pulled himself up and closed the airtight door. More alarms went off in Alex’s suit as Evans life signature died. He used his anger to wheel the airtight door closed. Alex breathed and waited for a moment to make sure the invading atmosphere hadn’t compromised their room. He turned to Jana who stared off to the side. Alex couldn’t say anything. He saw Christina get up on the other side of the room. A pang of dull pain pulsed within him.

“The facility is falling apart. We need to get out of here,” Jana whispered. Christina spotted them and walked over.

“Is he ... ?” she asked. Alex nodded and tried to distract himself with a schematic of the facility on his suit. They’d ended up in the water treatment section of the facility. At this point there was no conventional way to return to their ship. If the Vancouver was still intact and docked at the platform that was, Alex thought. He found a solution: the water pump tubes, which transported massive amounts of water, passed down into the Lift Bay. The Lift Bay rested beneath the surface, but was still the last level of the surface facility before the lift transported workers to the actual Forge near the mantle of the moon. From there, they could climb up through the ore transfer pipes and into the Laboratory in the other facility. That is, if the Lift Bay wasn’t flooded with lava, he thought. Alex ignored this and opened the top of one of the water tubes. A rumbling echo answered him.

“The only way up is down,” he said and gestured at the black tube. Alex climbed in, slipped off the edge and slid down the pipe into darkness. When he hit the bottom, he reached up and pulled the crank. The door opened and he crawled out into an open reservoir. Alex stood and watched as dust unsettled from the massive bay’s walls. A slight vibration seemed ever constant now. He climbed out of the reservoir and walked across the bay. The lift, which occupied the center of the room, was missing, and had been replaced by a gaping hole that emitted an orange glow. The lift shaft chasm separated the two sides of the Lift Bay. Alex’s footsteps echoed in the almost empty concrete chamber.

Lift cords hung over the pit where the lift had apparently broken off, Alex saw. He finally reached the edge and peered into the lift shaft. Deep in the wide, cracked concrete shaft, an eye of lava stared back at Alexander. The pool boiled and glowed deep in the depths of Io as if Alex was staring into a portal to hell.

“How are we going to get across that?” Jana said when she and Christina came up from behind Alex. The scaffolds on the left and right had collapsed and the absence of the lift left a fifteen meter gap between the team and their escape route on the other side. The lift cables hung precariously over the gap, Alex saw.

“We could swing across,” Christina said. Alex opened his mouth to refute her insane idea, but after looking around realized it was their only option.

“I’ll go first.” Christina stepped back a few meters and rocketed forward. She leapt off the ledge with arms stretched outward until she snatched a lift cord and swung forward. Bending her body she let go at the peak of the arc and soared to the other side. She hit the ground rolling and stood. Alex and Jana watched her, impressed.

“Let’s hope I can do that,” Jana said as she started back.

“You can. Just try and relax,” Alex said.

“I know what to do, Alex,” Jana said.

“I’m just trying to help—”

“No, you aren’t, you’re coddling me just like you did in our relationship. Acting like we are still together isn’t going to change the fact that we aren’t.”

“Jana, I didn’t mean it like that.” But she was right, all he could think about was getting her out of here.

“You’ve been walking on eggshells this whole mission taking every chance to show me that you care. And seeing as how we might die here, I might as well tell you why I left you? You couldn’t just let it go.” Jana put her hands on her knees and exhaled. Alex heard her exasperation over the communications channel.

“I couldn’t breathe, Alex. I could ignore it at first, when we were still together, but then it became as suffocating as this place. You haunted me every day. We had influenced every aspect of each other’s lives so completely that I couldn’t escape. Our careers, our interests—everything. So I put AUs between us, planets between us, and slept with countless other men. But no matter what I couldn’t fucking breathe. I thought it might be that I associated my career with you, but if that was true then it meant that literally every aspect of my life had been corrupted by your infectious, suffocating memory.”

Alex didn’t respond because he couldn’t. Her words made the old wounds he’d stitched together all those years ago become thorns that seared, and pierced.

“You were dying to know, so there it is. I’m sorry, Alex,” Jana said as she stepped back to make the leap. He didn’t say anything because there was nothing else to say. He would never have her back.

She inhaled, held her breath for a minute, and sprinted for the gap. Halfway to the ledge the ground jolted. Alex began to lose his balance and watched as Jana tripped on the shifting ground and tumbled forward. Before he could react, Jana rolled over the edge of the pit and disappeared from view.

“Jana!” Alex screamed as he darted for the edge. Alex ignored rationality and leapt into the gaping pit. He found a cord and grabbed onto it. He looked down in his restricting bio-suit and saw Jana dangling from the lowest hanging cord. Despite warnings from Christina in Alex’s peripheral hearing he slid down to the end of his line, making him almost even with Jana.

“Jana! Take my hand.” She made eye contact with him. His suit told him that it could feel the heat from the rising lava below. Jana attempted to pull herself up on her own cord, but as she did the violent shaking of the chamber snapped her cord free from its hold above. Jana extended her arm and took Alex’s glove as her cord fell past them and into the chasm. Alex and Jana swayed a few meters from the top of the shaft trying to hold on to one another. The realization that they might not climb out of the pit together crept into Alex’s mind and he couldn’t eradicate it.

“Jana ... ” he said. She didn’t respond, but only tried to reach another cord. She grabbed another, but it gave way once she put any weight on it. Alex sensed it wouldn’t be long before the entire facility collapsed with the surface of the moon. He tried to haul her up with one arm but it was no use. His gloved hand slipped on the cord when he tried.

“Alex ... ” she said

“Jana, don’t do this. We need to get out of here.”

“We can’t,” she said. Alex resisted the notion and scanned the sides of the chamber.

“If I can swing you to the side—” he said, but the cord gave and they dropped another meter. Jana looked up at him.

“Let me go, Alex.”

“I can’t,” Alex said, blinking away his tears.

“You have to Alex.” He gazed into her eyes and remembered seeing her face every morning in the Martian sunlight and against the meteor shower the night they’d become engaged. He remembered the touch of her skin and imagined it against his hand despite the fabric of their suits.

“Jana, I’m sorry,” he cried.

“I’m sorry too, Alex,” she said with the fear of death in her eyes.

“I ... I love you, Jana,” Alex said with a quivering voice. His gaze never left her eyes, and neither did hers leave his. But when he said those words something changed in her. The boiling of lava and groan of the earth around them filled the vacuum of sound as Jana’s last hold on Alex’s hand slipped. Alex screamed, but he couldn’t hear it over the blaring silence of Jana’s absent response. She hadn’t said anything in return.

Jana fell through the shaft, glowing of fire, and towards the abyss of magma. The black silhouette of her body soon was outshined by the light of the fumes. Alex shuddered with pain. His visor fogged as he hauled himself up the lift cord, tears streaming down his face, his strength coming from the anger and pain knotted inside of him over her loss and her new rejection. Even in the face of death she couldn’t love him. The sting he’d managed to dull after all these years burst forth into an indescribable pain that seared his bandaged heart. Unwittingly, Alex reached the top of the shaft and took Christina’s hand. The two of them ran through the collapsing Lift Bay and into the ore distribution system. They climbed inside the small lift and crawled through the diagonal, conveyer belt shaft which carried mined ore back up to the facility. Enclosed in the tiny space, Alex cried, his chest heaved inside of his suit as the facility around him shuddered in response.

Christina said something, urging him to continue on, but he didn’t hear the specifics. He grabbed hold of something and pulled himself through a chute and into the Lab. Alex laid on the white floor of the vast bright room. The two of them were back in the building that still had power. The automated lights turned on when they entered. Christina helped him up.

“Come on, Alex. We need to go. Now.” Through his misery, Alex noticed that the shaking hadn’t stopped since it’d started in the Lift Bay. This was it, he thought. Christina and Alex maneuvered through the cluttered white lab tables lining the Laboratory of the facility where GeoForge experts examined the wealth they’d forged from the depths of Io. Crates of precious gems and tools lined the exterior of the room and hung from the walls. Glass mixed with bits of ore were strewn across the room. Frozen sulfur dioxide clusters had formed in the corners. Alex’s eyes caught an exposed pipeline running along the inside of a collapsed wall. Everything slowed down as he heard the sound of escaping pressurized gas.

“Get to the door!”Alex shouted. He kicked the door open to reveal the lobby of the facility where the hundred thousand carat diamond stood weeping water.

The sound of escaping gas vanished.

“Christina—!” The contents of the Lab exploded. The force threw Alex across the lobby and into a wall. The ricocheting of thousands of tiny diamond pieces resonated in the lobby like a hail of bullets. Alex pushed himself up and saw Christina slumped against the diamond fountain, her suit punctured in a thousand different places, accentuated by blurs of red blood. Alex looked back at the Lab and spotted the specks of diamonds covering the floor of the lobby. His boot crunched against the diamond shards as he stared at Christina. Her face glistened from the diamonds embedded in it. Alex turned, made for the Vancouver, and turned his back on the Forge, GeoForge, and the blood splattered, hundred thousand carat diamond that represented the consequences of their greed. The consequences that came from the power to create diamonds, and not from the humble promise to fuel humanities' expansion to the stars.


Alexander reached the Vancouver and climbed into the pilot’s seat. He detached the ship from the docking bay of the facility and ignited the engines. Lifting off, Alex watched as the bulge writhed and pulsed over the vast moonscape of Io’s surface. The Vancouver rocketed towards the stars as black smoke billowed into the atmosphere. He broke free of the moon and soared out into space. He’d reached a distance of five thousand kilometers and turned the ship to face the moon. Alexander activated all the recording devices aboard the ship and sat in silence.

Io rumbled in the cosmic distance.

Vancouver—” Alex choked on his words, “Vancouver, this is it.”

The bulge gave one last shudder and erupted. The entire face of Io toward the Vancouver exploded and disgorged immeasurable amounts of planetary debris into space. Ejecta blasted into the stars as the gargantuan bulge vomited all of its force away from the moon. The flashes of oceans of magma fired through the black and grey smoke and debris. The molten rocks soon formed into a storm of asteroids as the cold vacuum of space hardened the erupting magma.

Through the immense eruption, Alex saw Jana’s face against the backdrop of the manmade disaster. He saw the night they’d made love on Mars under the meteor shower. He saw their hands interlocked with each other and the glistening of her engagement ring shining back at them. He saw the meteor rain cascade over them through the backdrop of stars. A threatening orchestra of alarms blared around him in the cockpit of the Vancouver. Numb to the warnings of the ship, Alex cut the footage of the ejecta storm once it started to soar past the ship. He jettisoned a pod containing the data they’d accumulated from their mission, and from the eruption, out, to the side of the cone of incoming destruction. The tiny pod rocketed away from the storm of hardening asteroids and plotted a course back to Jupiter IV OS, a place Alexander would never return. He’d decided, as the first smaller asteroids pelted the hull of the Vancouver, that he couldn’t go on. He’d lived too long in the void without her, and he couldn’t keep living without her, now that she was gone. Lost to this incredible force.

The Vancouver warned Alex of an asteroid on an impact course and of the hull’s diminishing integrity, but he ignored it and watched Io through the storm of newly formed asteroids. A fourth of the moon was now exposed. The very core of the moon seemed to shine from the ruinous chasm as the magma ocean bled away from its fractured surface. Alex let go of the piloting controls and watched in awe the magnificent force of nature. Those last seconds of admiration nearly overcame the pain of the event. He could almost enjoy the greatest natural disaster humanity had ever witnessed without her, but without her, his passion for it seemed half fulfilled. Alexander closed his eyes and let his last experience permeate through his body.

The asteroid tore through the hull of the Vancouver and ripped the ship into pieces as a fourth of Io soared through space and lingered among the stars. infinity

David Falkinburg is an internationally published science fiction author. His stories have appeared in “Aphelion,” “Roar and Thunder,” and “Stupefying Stories.” His production company, Imagination Ignition, produces book trailers for novels.