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




Saving the Galaxy and Taking Names

By Justin Short

ROAD TRIPS THROUGH THE galaxy are exhausting, dude. They’re nothing like the ones you see in movies. You never meet a cruiser full of Mercury-bound space babes. Nah, Milky Way’s too cold for bikinis. And you ever try to shotgun a beer up there? End up with floating globules of tasteless liquid and a severe case of asphyxiation.

They never tell you the reality of it. I mean, that would be some major buzz kill. Anyhow, it’s not like I was taking a pleasure cruise or whatever. I was lucky enough to be picked for my school’s study trip to Jupiter. They had other programs, yeah, but this one was all prestigious and what-not. More importantly, the astronomy department paid the tab. Free gratis space trip, yo.

It took a lot of training, though. Conditioning. Had to go to these “atmosphere classes” twice a week where I sat in a banana-shaped tanning bed that smelled like B.O. A line of blue bulbs hissed above me, and a woman in a radiation suit soaked my hands and feet in something that felt like poison ivy medicine. Thick, gloppy junk.

Then there were the preparation pills. I swallowed five a day, making sure to take them in the right order. They were supposed to adjust your body for the shock of a gaseous surface. Not sure if they managed to do that, but they did introduce me to a wicked case of hallucinatory diarrhea. Yeah, it’s as confusing and terrible as it sounds.

After the getting-ready nonsense, I was off. Mom warned me she’d kill me if I came home with one of them gas girls from Jupiter. As if!


We convened on Europa to get some rest and meet our classmates before heading down to the big guy. Our professor introduced me to my future lab partner, a guy named Tort.

I held out my hand, and Tort licked it. Freak. “Anyways,” I said, “name’s Alan. So where you from, man?”

Tort looked down at me. He had to do that, seeing as he was like nine feet tall. “Malum-79. That’s the fourth moon of Heracles, if you haven’t been there.”

“Ah. Was gonna ask. I gotta say, Tort ... you look human. No offense.”

He held a hand to the side of his face and grinned. I assume it was a failed attempt at laughing. “I hear that a lot.”

“So, you looking forward to Jupiter?”

“Definitely. So much to learn.”


I hated to leave Europa. It was a chill place, all blue and white and shiny. Like a ridiculous ice-skating rink. Course, I don’t personally get all worked up about landscapes. It was pretty, yeah, but I had stuff to do.

Tort, now, he got thrown into some kind of trance. Sat on a snow bank, mumbling about how ethereal it all was. Kept going on about the “awesome vistas” and “wintry desolation.” Not sure if he was talking to the rest of us, or maybe trying to write some sort of emo poem.

“You gonna start crying, man?” I asked him.

He held a palm to his eyeball. “No. Just a little haunted, that’s all.”

I thought about sitting down beside him, but he seemed like he wanted to be alone. I ended up sharing a couple brewskis with the professor’s daughter. Girl’s name was Lanie. Her family came from a little rock out in Andromeda. Humans, just expatriates from Earth. She was cool enough. We sat near the way station and kept our eyes on Jupiter. It basically filled the night sky, every detail magnified like we were microscoping it up. All the red and orange and white lines, those swirling, cloudy circles, that famous red spot, and everything else. The few stars we could see weren’t really interesting ... not with that monster basically eclipsing the galaxy.


We left early next morning. I mean, it was morning on Europa ... I think. I sort of viewed Jupiter as the sun there, and it hung huge and sunrise-like over our heads. Threw our whole moon into red shade.

The professor had these quirky vehicles prepared for us. Looked like old-school trams, except for the rows of cylinders plastered on the outsides. They were power sources, he explained, though we probably wouldn’t need them much. The engineers had fixed the trajectories where we would soar into Europa’s sky and let Jupiter’s gravity suck us downwards. Not a lot of energy required on our end.

A couple native dudes who looked like living quarries (granite faces, chunky, peeling arms, gravel hair, other hilarious details) fired up our vehicles. With a rumble, we poot-pooted into the black sky.

We started the descent, and the red was pretty overwhelming. I tried to remember our training. The inhabitants down here were far from human. No real surprise, given the environment. They were gaseous bodies, but weren’t uniform. A gas fellow from north Jupiter could easily pick out one from the east side: there were differences in cloud particles, slight discolorations, stuff like that. But to us, they’d all look more or less the same.

Another difference was speech. They didn’t really have any. But they communicated among themselves with some sort of matter-borrowing system, where two bodies would momentarily share thought-filled fog with each other. The professor compared it to covalence, and I wished I had a dictionary.

The professor hooked us all up with some headsets that had little sieves on both ends. Apparently, they release a small amount of steam when you talk, and end up working as a translator.

On the surface, hundreds of clouds waited. Good old Tort, he was already talking a mile a minute, spinning around in some sort of curtsy thing. The gas folks near him were laughing and shimmering. I looked around for mjupitery own escorts, and saw a pair of blocky clouds. A rust-colored one hovered at attention near me, and a pinkish one stood a little ways off. “I’m Alan,” I said, holding out my hand like an idiot.

“I’m Red-Red,” the first one said. His voice came through my headset as harsh and manly. I saw his form expand in the middle as he pointed to the pink cloud. “And this is my daughter, Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens.”

“Nice name.”

I heard her voice come through my ear grates. “Enchanted to meet you,” it said.

Red-Red led me to their home, which was really just a messed-up looking square of land in the middle of a bunch of churning yellow and red tornadoes. And when I say land, I mean sky, but when you’re hovering on it, it almost reminds a fellow of standing on solid ground. Not sure what would happen if I didn’t have all them atmosphere pills in my system. I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to experiment and find out, though.

After showing me his non-place, Red-Red disappeared. Mumbled something about all the atmospheric rebuilding work he had to do. Unfortunately, this meant I was alone with Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens. Her childish giggling came through my translator. I knew that sound, and shuddered as I heard it: she totally wanted me. Cloud person or not, she was crushing hard on ol’ Alan. Had herself a case of the third-rock fever.

I wasn’t sure what to say when we were alone. This wasn’t something a fellow could find in The Gringo’s Guide to Jupiter, or even A Handbook of Jovian Culture. Not like I bothered with our required reading. Books were expensive, brah.

I was about to ask if I could have a drink, provided that beverages existed on this planet, but she interrupted my almost-question. “Do you require a period of slumber now?” she said.

I scratched my neck. “Uh ... I am tired, yeah.”

Without another word, Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens left the area. I tried to lie down, found it really difficult, and ended up curling my knees and dropping to the surface. It was kind of like resting in an airy beanbag. Felt like my neck was suspended over an abyss. Not exactly memory foam.


Tort woke me up. He was throwing his arms in the air, dancing around like some loser during rush week. “What’s up, man?” I asked, trying to wipe the hydrogen out of my eyes.

“Today’s the day!” he said. “We get to see the observatory! Can you imagine?”

“Sure. Sounds ... uh, fun.”

“I’ve waited eons for the chance, Alan! What luck!”

As I scrambled out of my non-bed, I wondered for the third or fourth time if Tort was on any medication. Dude was a freak-out waiting to happen. He could seriously use a hit of some Triton tobacco ... it’d calm the guy down. For real, Tort.

I looked around for some eats, found my pack, and dug out these hard pastries Lanie had let me borrow. They smelled pretty rotten now, with all that gas everywhere. A toilet-flavored breakfast ... just awesome.

Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens invaded my meal. She tiptoed around the area (figuratively, of course) before asking me if I wanted to hang out. “Would you like to bathe in the helium eddies?” were the exact words as the translator put it.

I told her I kinda had some stuff to do. Tort mentioned how he would be delighted to have a fulfilling conversation with her, and she faded from the room. “Thanks,” I told him. “I owe you, man.”

Tort put his hands together. “Okay.”


The professor gathered us all in a group before we headed off to the observatory or whatever. “It truly is a marvelous facility,” he said. “However, it’s on the opposite side of the planet. Let’s get started.”

He began paddling in the air, and soon propelled himself up into the atmosphere. His daughter was beside me. I dogpaddled beside her. “Kinda seems like the long way around,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, why don’t we just swim straight through the center? It’s not like Jupiter has a solid core.”

“No, but personally, I don’t wanna implode or be burned alive.”

“Good thinking.”

“Alan, I got a question: are you really majoring in astronomy?”

“Like, sure.”


“Don’t act like that, now. I mean, stars are cool and stuff. Looking through those sweet telescopes and talking to hot chicks about constellations? I can totally see myself doing that for a living.”

“Good luck with that.”

Professor Whoever led us a little higher, and then he settled and spread his arms like a freaking pelican or something. The rest of us followed suit. As I extended my arms, I felt the warm wind carrying me. It was a toasty feeling, like riding a roller coaster when the sun is hot enough to make the metal burn.

“We’re riding the convection currents,” Lanie told me.

“Um, I know.”

“Sure you do.”


Not sure why I was expecting a tower and telescope. Guess the word observatory conjures up that picture. My bad.

Jupiter’s version of it requires more imagination. It’s basically an amber cloud on top of a red cloud, both of which are separated from the lower gases near the surface. Apparently the astronomers sit on the cloud and look into the sky. Sounds incredibly pointless.

So I was kinda shocked when we got there and the galaxy seemed to magnify. Like, if you squint your eyes and peer through the amber gas, you can see every detail of Io. And when I adjusted my seating and looked through it at a cross-angle, I could see the hazy outlines of continents on Earth. Magic clouds, man.

“Now that you’ve experienced the Jovian retinal cloud forms,” the professor said, “I’d like you all to—”

“Sweet celestial nightmare!” Tort interrupted.

“Dude,” I whispered, “be cool.”

The professor frowned up at Tort. “Yes, son?”

Tort lifted both his hands to his forehead. “It’s coming! The great darkness, the destroyer of worlds!”

“That’s what Oppenheimer’s mom said,” I told Lanie. She snorted, and ended up coughing a hole clean through the cloud as she laughed. Her dad wasn’t too amused.

“What do you mean, Tort?” he asked.

Tort curled himself into a giant-sized ball right there in front of everyone. “On Malum-79, we called it the encroachment. It slides through galaxies and swallows what it finds.”

“So it’s a black hole?”

Tort frowned for a couple seconds. “A mobile black hole, if you want to call it that. A sentient black hole.”

“Are you getting all this?” Lanie asked me.

“I’m not stupid.”

Tort rolled onto his stomach and wept into the cloud. “It eats the universe’s leftovers. Dying planets, asteroids, dwarf stars ... ”

“So why are we worried?” I said. “None of that really applies to Jupiter.”

“Can’t you smell this place? The encroachment is also attracted to a strong stench. As far as it’s concerned, we’re a bag of space carrion.”

Lanie shook her head. “None of that is possible, Tort. I mean–”

“Not trying to be funny here,” I interrupted, “but you’re saying it’s like a huge space buzzard, right?”


“Just checking. Because if that were the case, I think I have an idea.”

“All ears, son.”

I lowered my head and told the professor my plan.


So it’s like a hundred million miles between Jupiter and Saturn, dig? No big deal. Gas expands. Especially when there’s an urgent need for it. When the encroachment was close enough for me to see its space eyeballs, I told our gas friends to line up arm-in-arm and stretch themselves into the reaches of space. All the way to Saturn.

Okay, so they didn’t have arms, but it helped me to visualize them that way. I just pictured a game of cosmic Red Rover. I was in charge of the whole mess, after all. A pretty important dude for the moment. Felt like a lieutenant sending his troops off to die. Is that a lieutenant’s job? Can’t remember. Haven’t watched any good war movies lately.

Red-Red passed me with an approving buzz, and his daughter came next. Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens paused as she neared me. I tried to turn off my translator, but was too late. “My love for you will burn for ages,” she said.

“Let’s move along, now.”

“The heat death of the universe would be nothing compared to my flaming passion for your Earth face–”

“Seriously, you’re holding up the line,” I said.

Eventually she leapt through the atmosphere with her fellows. Thousands of them floated into position. The great red storm was in there somewhere. Tell you, that guy was huge. Like, bigger than Texas huge.

Within a couple minutes, we had a string of gas people connected all the way to Saturn. Sounds impossible, but I totally did it. Just in time, too. The encroachment was blocking out the stars and moons of Jupiter. Solid blackness. It dangled over us evilly, glaring like some deep space hangover. I held my hands apart, ready to give the signal. Lanie was beside me. “Please tell me you know what you’re doing.”

“Yeah, I do this all the time,” I lied.

The blob hovered over us. A chilly heat spun in cyclones above my eyebrows. I was afraid it was too late, but I screamed out the order and clapped my hands. “Please, let my voice carry,” I thought.

The encroachment opened its mouth just as our gas friends tugged Saturn. And there it came, man, the whole planet, rings and all, hurtling toward us like the universe’s most massive yoyo.

As the darkness prepared to chomp down, Saturn flew into its mouth, rocketing past the invisible teeth with the strength of a hundred Earths. Its momentum flung it deep into the nothingness ... then all was black. Next thing, I got this churning in my guts that made me double over. Felt like a thousand piranhas fighting inside my entrails, kinda like the aftereffects of taco night at the house.

Then a scream echoed inside my nostrils and ear canals. It was deep and piercing at the same time, and just when I thought it was gonna crack my skull, the dark was gone. The stars and moons returned, and chunks of ruined blackness rained on Jupiter. It was over, and I hadn’t even soiled my pants.

Lanie hugged me for like a whole minute. Maybe a minute and a half. “You did it,” she said. “How’d you know?”

“I watch a lot of cartoons. And one time I saw this snake eat a whole rabbit ... it was pretty sweet.”

“Never mind.”

When I looked at Jupiter, my heart sank. I had expected Saturn to bounce back into position; instead, it was here to stay. The reds and oranges of Jupiter were mingled with the yellows and whites of Saturn, and the gases of both planets churned and tossed in their new, supermassive home. The gorgeous rings were no more. Instead, we now had millions of satellites, a near-infinite number of icy chunks circling Jupitaturn. Lovely particles of space debris; planetary dandruff.

It was beautiful and frightening all at once.


Back home, I got invited to a press conference at the White House and stuff. Some people shook my hand and called me the defender of the galaxy, and others cussed me for destroying a planet. Lanie was with me throughout it all. She usually wore tee shirts or whatever.

Vision-of-Rain-in-the-Frothy-Heavens was there, too. Her dad thought it would do her some good to visit Earth. He didn’t ask my opinion. It’s strange being followed by a cloud chick who constantly professes her love for you, but a guy can get used to about anything, I guess.

It’s definitely good to be back on Earth. I wish Tort would come and visit, but I doubt he will. I kinda think he’s mad at me. Last time we talked, he was on a major rant. Something about my desecration of the peerless rings of Saturn ... I dunno, it was hard to hear him through all his man-tears.

He’s not the only one I offended. I get a lot of hate mail. Some people have accused me of causing this recent rage of tsunamis and drought. The scientist-types tell me I’m responsible for altering the seasons on every planet in our galaxy, and that the damage I’ve done is irreversible, and that I’m much worse than the worst war criminal in history. Normally I just shrug my shoulders or give them a little bow. What can a brother do?

Ya know, the word hero gets tossed around a lot, but I believe it’s applicable in my case. I mean, I’m the dude who saved Jupiter by sacrificing Saturn. Not many people can put that on their résumé, brah. infinity

Justin Short currently lives in the Midwest. His fiction has been published in many online magazines, including “Mad Scientist Journal” and “365 Tomorrows.” He also has a story set to appear in the forthcoming anthology, “Once Upon an Apocalypse.” His hobbies include reading, juggling, and researching discontinued cereals.