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




Diplomacy in Springtime

By Jennifer Linnaea

THE KING OF JHIBRIXI DECREED that his people shouldn’t mob the alien in their midst, so I was treated as politely as anyone else. I lived among them for the necessary season, even made a friend. The laws I had to follow were outrageous —no weapons, no ATV, no weather manipulation devices. But in return the king made one other decree on my behalf: that none of his people were allowed to harm me, physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychically, while I was planetside. On any other world I’ve been to, such a decree would amount to a gateless node, but it’s said that obedience to the king is hardwired into Jhibrixin genetics. And after six months of scanning the horizon for anti-human extremists I began to believe it.

When summer came in a few weeks I’d be safely off-world and carrying enough knowledge of Jhibrixin solar cell technology to set myself up for life on the profits. In return, I’d given the king a device that would allow Jhibrixins to remember their hibernation dreams. Hey, that was what he’d asked for.

Then everything went to hell.

“Anasiat,” the Jhibrixin said, scuffling up the dusty farm road on its vestigial root-feet, along with several others of its kind, “this self Zoë is home.”

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and looked up at the creature before me. It was definitely not Zoë. Zoë wore the vocal generator that I had given her, and her voice was the only human voice on the planet save mine. I corrected myself: had been the only human voice. This creature speaking had a human voice, but it was all wrong. It sounded like it had been chopped up and reassembled.

“Welcome,” I said, looking nervously past row upon row of solar collectors towards the low mound that contained the entry to my dwelling. Although polite to do so, I wasn’t going to invite them in.

I heard the hum of the generator vibrating the translation of my greeting. Like Zoë, this creature wore the translator strapped to its torso just below the eyes. Zoë wouldn’t sell that technology out from under me, ever. Where had it come from?

“These selves are solar workers like this self,” the Jhibrixin said, bowing towards the others. “Since your self is leaving soon, this self wishes to show yours a new technology that will soon be available at their selves’ farm, as a future trade opportunity between the Earth and Jhibrixi peoples. It is not far by lift. Please come.”

Zoë had been off the farm for several days. Now five Jhibrixins stood before me. The Zoë-impersonator was in front; the other four stood behind and shifted on their root-feet, thejhibrixinir tall bodies swaying and their splayed solar collectors rattling above me in the breeze. I wondered if deceiving someone by pretending to be their friend constituted harm in Jhibrixin ethical standards. I began to rethink my assumptions about the tree-folk, and rethink them hard.

As long as I stayed away from their hunting-arms, which sprouted from their bodies at human knee-height, these five posed little physical threat to me. I could easily outrun them, if it came to that. But I had an uneasy feeling that wouldn’t go away. Something big was happening, something I didn’t want to be part of.

“I have concern,” I said, “about traveling this close to summer.” I made it a policy to lie only when I had to. My one deception was in saying “concern” instead of “rampant paranoia.” The Jhibrixin “summer” is a raging inferno, with temperatures high enough to melt copper, and winds that scour away all traces of life. It doesn’t come on slowly, either, like seasons on Earth. Once the bifurcation point is reached, the climate shifts within the span of several days. The Jhibrixins hibernate far underground. Other races, the few who care to visit, jump out while they still can.

The one calling itself Zoë approached me. Don’t show fear, I thought, but despite that I took an involuntary step back. I should have run, but I was still in the lull of six months of security.

“This self will vouch for your safety,” it said, and reached out a pincer to grasp my calf below the knee. There was a sudden, dizzying lurch in my sight as its hunting-poison took hold. Then I lost consciousness.


“Shit,” I said. “Shit, shit, shit.” This was bad. I had let down my guard, and then reacted far too slowly. What had complacency done to me? “I’ve gone soft,” I said, and then I said it again, louder. There was no one nearby to hear me.

I was shut in a metal box, a packing crate used for the transport of goods. It was dangerously hot inside, and I put my face to a slit in the side and let the hot wind dry my sweat. I should have been conserving water, but it hadn’t hit me yet. The Jhibrixins were bound to treat me as an honored guest. A cultural misunderstanding had occurred that would soon be undone.

Looking through the slit I realized immediately that I was on the lift. The box was suspended high above the desert floor on a cable strung to the horizon. Because of their ridiculous summer, everything the Jhibrixins constructed could either be dismantled in a few weeks and stored underground, or else was built to endure and then endure some more. The bulk of their mass transportation system consisted of little more than pulleys and wires and solar sheets. The rest, the permanent support pillars, might as well have been the monuments of a lost race, they looked so timeworn. Altogether the lift was like the sort of thing hanging on the side of a mountain at a resort, except that whenever I saw it I felt small and insignificant.

Even in winter, a hot day on Jhibrixi can kill you. That I was still alive inside a metal box in the sun was proof that it was not such a day. Either my captors were fools or ... I did not wish to consider what else they might be. I had wasted enough time already. It was time to make my escape.

I took off my white coveralls, then lay back against the wall of my prison and let my focus shift to my right thigh. My implant, the only thing my grandmother willed to me upon her death, was for emergencies only, and I hadn’t used it in a long time. Unlicensed implants were hard to repair. I concentrated on the muscles that would activate it, a small group of muscles I’d been trained long ago to isolate.

Damn! I had forgotten how much the stupid thing hurt.

Looking down I saw a small, blood-covered blade protruding from the skin of my thigh. I reached down to extract it, wincing. I needed something to staunch the blood, and I settled for the head cloth I wore to protect me from the Jhibrixin sun. Breathing deeply to control the pain, I pushed the cloth against my leg and peered out of the box again. I needed to know where I was if I was going to get back to the farm.

Calculating my location was easier than I’d imagined. Just visible on the horizon, and growing, were the spindly outlines of Jhibrixin orbiters. There was only one airfield on the continent, for why spend precious resources on space-going craft, when there was no place interesting to go? The Jhibrixins had not yet developed the hyper-drive that would allow them to reach other worlds, and their isolationist sensibility kept most of them from seeing the value of doing so. Only a few souls, out here alone at the edge of civilization, labored to turn the orbiters into void cruisers. I had visited them once, and found their passion heartening.

If my captors took me into space I would be safe from being burned alive and scoured to the bones in an alien wind, but I would be totally in their power.

“This is where I disembark,” I said into the air, and cleaned the rest of the blood from the tiny blade. The wound in my leg had clotted; I put on my coveralls and rechecked the pockets, just to make sure everything in them had been taken. It had.

My implant had a fancy name, but nobody used it. It was known simply as “the escape device.” “For just in case you get in a fix,” my grandmother’s will had said. And she should know—she had gotten into and out of more fixes than anyone else in my (admittedly small) family. I held the blade in my hand and spoke the activation code into its receptor. Immediately a line of blue light appeared along its length. Good. I slid over to the back wall of the crate, the one facing away from the airfield, and pushed the tip of the device against the metal while saying the action I wanted the tool to perform.


The screaming of metal on metal exploded on my ears. Inside the box all sound was magnified. I clenched my teeth together and concentrated on the task at hand.

In less than a minute I had drilled a small hole in the wall of the crate. Now came the tedious part. With a limited battery supply, the escape device didn’t use dramatic effects like vaporization. It was a small laser-saw, and it was damned slow.

Luckily for me, the Jhibrixins were even slower. Their ancestors were a bunch of trees—“speed” to them meant a very different thing than it did to me, and their transportation system crawled along at an intolerable pace. Now, though, I was thankful for it. The airfield was still a long way off.

My box rocked in the wind gusts high above the plains. The Jhibrixins called these the devil winds, the first sign of the changing season. And the more I thought over my plan, the less likely it seemed. The airfield was several tens of kilometers away from Zoë’s farm. If I was halfway home when summer hit my chances of survival were zero. Just zero, period.

If I stayed in the box and faced my captors, what then?

“They can’t harm me,” I said to myself, but the paranoia of years of solitary space travel wasn’t so easily put to rest. I trusted my instincts, and they said, get out while you can. I redoubled my efforts with the saw.


When the battery gave out I realized I wasn’t going to make it.

“That bastard swore he charged it!” For the price the cargo doctor had debited me to reinsert the blasted thing, he’d damn well better have charged it.

But he hadn’t. No way the battery had drained already. It hadn’t been in my leg that long. I snarled and threw it to the floor, where it bounced once and lay motionless, its blue light slowly fading.

“I’m getting out of here!” I said. I braced my back against the opposite wall (bastards had put me in a fucking small crate) and pushed my feet with all my might against the partial cut I had made.


One thing about the Jhibrixins— when they made something they made it right. I remembered one other time I’d been locked in a packing crate, on Xi Sai II ...

“Focus,” I told myself. There must be a way out of this. I picked up the escape device and thought about where I could hide it. When its blade was retracted, and its handle telescoped in, it was a smooth capsule about the size of a dose of neural stimulant. Any one of my various orifices would do. I wasn’t sure how much Jhibrixins understood of human anatomy, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t much.

Sure enough to bet my life on? Well, what choice did I have?

Hours later, my crate was unloaded roughly onto a concrete slab in an underground bunker. When they saw the cut sliced across it, a ring of Jhibrixins stood around and whirred to each other. None of them was wearing a translator, but there were five of them. I had no way of knowing if they were the same ones as before.

They didn’t stay long. Since most of Jhibrixin nourishment comes from sunlight, they weren’t ones to hang around in a dark place. For the most part, the notions of “inside” and “outside” were foreign to them. They must have made an exception for me. When the door raised again, I don’t know how long after, a single Jhibrixin entered, wearing the translator that looked so much like Zoë’s. It opened the crate and stood back.

“Please come out,” it said. The Zoë impersonator’s voice.

I came out. My legs were stiff and aching, my throat raw from thirst.

“You’re not allowed to harm me,” I said. “What is this all about?”

“This self and the selves of my colleagues do not wish to harm yours,” it said, “but our selves will if it must be done.”

“But the King decreed ...” Standing unarmed in the custody of hostile aliens, it became the pathetic statement it really was. “Shit,” I said.

“What these selves want,” it said, “is to take by threatening your well-being what your self would not give in a trade agreement.”

Well, that was clear.

“Have I met you before?”

“Any information this self gives you on its identity could be used against it. This self will not tell.”

They knew I couldn’t recognize them as individuals. I glanced at the door. It was down again, perhaps remote controlled from the outside, although what sensible photosynthesizer would create a dark space it couldn’t get out of in a pinch? Still, these guys were better than I had thought they’d be. I really had gone soft. I suspected I was going to pay for it.

“All right,” I said. “What do you want?”

The Jhibrixin settled down on the floor. They don’t sit, exactly, but they arrange their many feet beneath them and rest their torsos upon the mass. Like a built-in cushion. I wished I had one of those. I settled on leaning against a wall, a pose I hope looked casual, not that the damned aliens could read my body language, anyway.

“We want to join the Net.”

Shit. This was bad. This was worse than I had thought. I thought maybe, spaceships, right? They can’t build their own interstellar craft, so they want to steal my technology and use it to make themselves voidworthy. I could work with that. I had contacts, people in the know. I could get them whatever the hell they wanted, no skin off my teeth, though it would’ve been nice to make a fat buck in the meantime.

But they didn’t want the Void. They wanted the Net. And I couldn’t give them that, but it seemed like they hadn’t quite figured that out.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk.”

Then I waited. The Jhibrixin said nothing. I said nothing. Of course it could outwait me, because it lived about ten times longer than me, but as long as I didn’t have to say anything, I could think. How could I save my skin?

“You want to join the Net.”


I waited some more.

“And ... what is your understanding of the appropriate entry procedure?”

“The Net is open to any who ask,” it said. “That your self has refused the Jhibrixin race of this position is a grievous wrong to every self born on the world.”

“I traded with the King! He asked for something else!”

Wrong choice. The Jhibrixin produced a short metal rod from a pouch at its side, and shot something out of it, something that hit me in the side of the head and hurt like hell. Felt like a thousand little hypo sprays all at once. Any hope that my captors were bluffing succumbed to gravity.

“Your self lied to the King,” it said, “may his self live ten thousand years of happiness. Your self misled his self so that it would choose the wrong path.”

“Okay,” I said, and I struggled to remember, through the metal shard sensation in my scalp, some advanced diplomacy. “If you wish to join the Net, then we must work together to answer one very serious problem,” I said. Very serious? How about fucking impossible? “How can we construct a Gate on Jhibrixi, when the summer would melt it and blow the slag away on the god-fiend winds?”

Then I waited. Be irrational about that, I thought. Tell me I’m lying to protect my king.

“This self thinks,” the Jhibrixin said, “that your self is lying to protect its king.”

A textbook example of Jhibrixin psychology.

“How do I make your people understand,” I said, hearing the strain in my voice. “The Net has no king. No king. No sub-kings. No ruler at all. Individual planets have rulers.” Only some of them, but I didn’t want to complicate things. I had had this conversation before. Before, however, it hadn’t mattered if I was talking to a hull. No one had been threatening to kill me then. Okay, fake Zoë hadn’t actually said it, “kill,” but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Our talk went on like that for some time, getting nowhere. To become a member of the Galactic Net, a node needed to be established on your planet; otherwise, transportation was too impractical, since void cruisers took so long to cover interplanetary distances. To have a node you needed a gate, and to have a gate you needed a stable, above-ground place to put it, one not affected by strong radiation, nebular dust, or extremes of climate. There were many races adversely affected by this law. It wasn’t a diplomatic evasion from a reluctant king who didn’t think their people worthy. It was a simple fact of time and space. I was sorry, but there was nothing I could do until node technology advanced to the point where gate construction was equal to the extremes of their clime.

No good. After several more shots with the hypo-gun, I stopped trying and asked if I could send a message to my home world, asking for their acceptance of the Jhibrixin people to the Net. “Of course,” they said, “but you will be held until it arrives.” I reminded them that I could not hibernate through the summer, as they could.

“That is why we chose this time,” they said. “So it would be done quickly.”


When the Zoë impersonator left to begin preparations for my message, I started looking for a way out. It would be some kind of button, or perhaps lever, wired to a solar sheet on the outside, that raised and lowered the door. I hadn't been in many Jhibrixin buildings, so I had no idea what the standard convention was. Also, if they were smart they would try to hide it from me.

They had done better than that. They had put it out of my reach, in an empty room with a Jhibrixin-height ceiling, which is to say, tall. I never measured, but the Jhibrixin solar collectors, their “branches,” extended a good three meters over their heads, and their heads were well above mine. Plus, I wasn’t even sure that what I thought was the door control did, in fact, have that function. But it was a small, textured surface on the ceiling in front of the door. Nothing else in the bare, metal room seemed even remotely likely.

I extracted my escape device. Its lights were completely dark, which meant it was dead. D. E. A. D, dead, meaning, mostly-useless. I hurled it at the patch on the ceiling.

The door opened.

The guard outside shuffled around to face me and raised up its hunting arms. It was smarter than to enter the bunker, but there was no way I could get past it.

“Piece of shit,” I said to it. It wasn’t wearing a translator.

I retrieved the escape device from the floor. I didn’t have much time. Jhibrixin pincers were covered in hard, protective shell. Their upper branches, although tender, were too high to reach. That left its eyes and its feet. I chose the former.

With a long, wordless shout, I threw myself at the guard with everything I had, blade first. I had to jump on it high, well above the hunting-arms. I was wearing boots, good ones, to protect against the desert, but I didn’t trust them to hold out in the claws of a pissed off Jhibrixin. Luckily, they didn’t have to, because something surprising happened—the guard fell right over with me on top of it. I untangled myself from its branches and wrenched the blade free, not even looking to see where it had embedded.

After that it was easy. I ran through across the airfield, past the rows of orbiters, clear to the territory wall. I heard movement behind me, and I was afraid someone would have the sense to shoot me, and that would be that. But no one did—lumbering incompetents. I jumped over the low territory wall in one leap, and out onto the packed clay of the plains.

There was a lot of land between me and the farm. Once I was out there, following the lift line didn’t seem like such a good idea. I didn’t think the Jhibrixins had a way to catch me, but there was a lot about them I’d “known” that had turned out not to be true.

I followed it anyway. I needed the shortest route possible or I didn’t have a chance. The silhouette of the lift against the skyline looked different, and it took me a moment to figure out what had happened. While I had been imprisoned (how long?), it had been dismantled for summer. Only the pillars stood up alone in the baking earth. A devil wind sprang out of nowhere and flung me several meters to land on my back on the rocks. I stood and continued walking.

Zoë, I thought, now would be a good time to rescue me. Back on the farm, she never failed to bring me out of the sun when I stood repositioning solar sheets for too long. Sometimes she would kill something for me to eat, though it expended more energy for her to do it than it would have taken me. She was like that, and as I shielded my eyes with my hands and looked out over the lifeless dust, I half expected to see her walking towards me, arms outstretched.

“Yeah,” I said. My voice barely made it past my parched throat. I realized I had stopped in my tracks and was just standing in the middle of the plains. Sure, Zoë had walked across the flatlands in the devil-winds, in a random direction, in the hopes that she might find me. If Zoë had any sense she was asleep in her burrow. I wasn’t going to see her again.

I kept walking. I desperately needed water. But now that I wasn’t trapped in a metal box or under the ground, finding it should be, not easy, but not impossible either. That was why these miserable, lifeless dust flats were called the plains, instead of the desert they sure as hell looked like to me. Finding water was a matter of knowing where to look. I started looking. Soon, by following the mineral lines as Zoë had shown me, I came to a crack in the ground, and followed it until it widened into a steep-walled gully. Jhibrixins could not climb, and used the gullies only as guides for putting down their roots and sucking the water lying next to the surface. But I could climb just fine, and I did. Once at the bottom of the gully I dug with my hands in the soft clay until water pooled in the hole. It tasted like shit, and was greasy to boot, but now I wasn’t about to die, and I could think of what to do next. I felt almost good.

Then I stuck my head over the rim of the gully and saw a vehicle on the horizon, in the direction of the airfield, coming straight towards me. I dove back down and almost cracked open my skull on a well-placed rock. This was very, very bad.

There was a law about wheeled vehicles: forbidden on the plains, the king had said. Something about the micro-flora in the subsoil. My request for an ATV had been denied. Thanks a lot, king, I thought. Should have told your other subjects about that one.

My white clothes would stand out like a beacon against the gray dust if I ran for it. “Repels Dirt!” the ad had said. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But I didn’t have time to hide in a hole hoping five well-trained Jhibrixins would just pass over me. How long until the climate went to hell around me? A week, three days? I rubbed mud into my clothing, ground it in with the palms of my hands. Then I rubbed it on my face and hands, for good measure. It smelled like axle grease. I stuck my head out of the hole, and looked. The truck, or whatever it was, was much closer.

In the distance, away from the lift route, a dark smudge crossed the featureless plain. A cliff maybe, but one likely to be crumbling and climbable. And, as an added bonus, impossible to drive up.

I scrambled up the side of the gully and came out running. It was hot. Hotter than was safe for me to be running around in the noontime sun. I thought of what Zoë would say, and almost laughed out loud. She’d say, “Run!” She was no fool. The cliff looked to be a good two kilometers away, at least. I spared a glance over my shoulder to see if I’d been spotted. I had; the Jhibrixins had changed course and were angling their truck towards me.

If that ATV had been Earth-made, I’d have been caught before I could run a quarter mile. Still, it was faster than anything I had seen the Jhibrixins build before. How had they done it? I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew. On my trip to the airfield, full of goodwill, I had brought vid images of the Siberian Airfield, on Earth. ATV’s had been swarming around the orbiters, in that clip. I had thought nothing of it.

Well, I was thinking now.


That was no cliff I was running towards, but there was nowhere else to go. I stumbled, and sweat mixed with foul-smelling clay dripped in my eyes. I was dizzy and nauseous, and I couldn’t think straight. Into the trees, I thought, forgetting I wasn’t on Earth, had never been on Earth in my life.

The ATV was coming right up behind me. It had had to detour around wide cracks in the plains, and an area littered with head-sized stones that I had imagined my grandmother’s spirit herself had placed there for my salvation. But it hadn’t been enough. They were still going to catch me. Because I couldn’t go forward, that was for sure.

Forward, sprawled across my path, was a forest. That hadn’t been there on my first visit to the airfield, I was sure. But forests tended to migrate, on Jhibrixi, and this one had chosen one helluva bad spot to migrate to.

The thought of a thousand poisonous trees gave me pause. That is, until the Jhibrixins got within shooting range. The diffuse, prickly feeling across my back spoke of worse to come. Now I had two choices: run into the forest and get poisoned to death, or stay out on the plains and get shot down.

I headed for the trees. At least the trees weren’t smarter than me.

At the base of each tree a set of hunting arms protruded. Shorter than the Jhibrixins’, but armed with a set of spiked claws that made theirs look like toys. I could jump higher than that. I’d done it just ... was that today or yesterday? My brain was like an asteroid field, all the thoughts crushed together.

I bunched my muscles and leapt.

My jump barely cleared the ground, and I slammed full force into the closest tree. Oh shit, this was it. I fell back, getting my legs tangled in the tree’s prop roots. I put up my hand to keep the pincers away from my face.

That was when I noticed that the tree wasn’t moving. None of them were. They stood like dead things on the plain, their solar sheets tattered.

They were dead; of course they were dead. It was almost summer. They’d dropped their seeds, and that was it. The whole forest would soon be swept away, burned to nothing. I shuddered at the thought; that was going to happen to me, if I lay here like a cargo drop. The sound of a motor whining roused me from my daze.

I plunged into the trees. They were crammed together, probably crowding for a water line before death took them, but I slipped between them, cracking their roots beneath my feet. Behind me I heard the truck skid to a halt, and the shooting began.

I tried to put the bodies of the dead trees between me and those guns, but even the indirect hits made me burn and itch like parasites were crawling under my skin. I ran as fast as I could, or, I tried to run, but maybe I just crashed and stumbled. It was the heat. Nothing was straight in my head anymore. But after a while the pain on my skin faded, and all I could hear was the wind blowing through the limbs of the forest. The Jhibrixins couldn’t follow me here; I’d lost them.


By the time I saw the lights of the farm I was too weak to do anything but crawl towards them. Night had fallen, blessed night, but my skin was still on fire and my vision swam in waves. I wasn’t even sure that it was the farm, but what else could it be, this far from civilization. It wasn’t a city.

I can make it, I thought, but I noticed I wasn't moving anymore and that my opinion on that didn't change anything.

I awoke inside, underground, with a wet cloth on my forehead. A Jhibrixin was standing nearby, wearing a translator. My heart seized up in my chest.

“Anasiat,” it said, “this self is so glad to see yours.” It was Zoë—the real one.

“You’re not hibernating,” I said. It was the only coherent thought I could form.

“The king forbade it,” she said, “until you jumped off Jhibrixi. May his self live a thousand lives of happiness.”

“Thank the stars!” I said. “But I need to go now!” My lander was here, at the farm, but it couldn’t jump off if the winds were wrong, if they were—“Has it happened?”

“Summer is almost here,” Zoe said, “this self thinks the Earth orbiter will not fly.”

Since when does a solar sheet engineer tell me when to pilot my own ship, I thought, but instead I tried to say something useful, something she could use when I was gone.

“Zoë, I was kidnapped,” I said. “People disobeyed the king.”

“This self’s translator struggles on your words,” she said. “Your self was taken away against its will?”

“Yes!” I shouted. “They tried to kill me! I was told that was impossible!”

Zoë hesitated as the translator whirred away. “People have been giving the king new laws,” she said. “Their selves used the technology your self gave Jhibrixi. No self knew what it could do.”

I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. “Who used the dream recorders to do what?”

But Zoë wasn’t listening to me. Her eyes looked upward as she spoke, as though contemplating something far away. “It must be that the selves that took you used the dream recorders to give themselves dreams, to dream that the king had made no decree on your self’s behalf. It is the only way this could have happened.”

“Dreams?” Dreams couldn’t make people into killers.

“The king, may his self live a thousand lives of happiness, has explained it to this self fully, and—”

“Fuck the king!” I said, knowing she couldn’t hear it. It would be as though I’d said nothing at all. “The king could have been trying to rescue me, instead of leaving me with the leaders of a goddamn insurrection! You could have been trying to rescue me! You could have ...” A very uncomfortable thought began to form in my mind.

“Zoë,” I asked, very careful, for I was treading on thin diplomatic ice now, “do you work for the king?”

“All selves work for the king, may his—”

“Yes, but do you work for him in private?” That’s what I would have done, were I the king. Put the spy with the alien. I was a bigger idiot than I’d thought. No wonder she’d been sitting comfortable at home when I returned: she only cared for national security, not some stupid offworlder.

“If this self did, it would not tell you.”

Disgusted, I headed outside.

When the door opened, the air felt like a wall of flame. The dust was so thick I could barely see two meters ahead.

“Close it, close it!” I called to ... to the alien.

I was prepared for this. Stored on the farm, underground, was a work suit for ship repairs in the Void. I put it on and secured the face shield. Freezing air flowed over my skin. I’d set the stupid thing to Earth standard; I turned it up. Thirty degrees was perfect.

Zoë came with me to my ship. She’d secured a line from her burrow to the lander, and we used it to guide us. The wind wasn’t yet so strong that I was in danger of being blown away, but it was only a matter of time. I checked the temperature gauge on my suit. Sixty-five degrees. Zoë’s eyes looked odd under the dust membrane I’d forgotten her people possessed.

“Zoë,” I said, once we were inside, “you’re wrong. The ship can fly.”

“Here near the ground,” she said, “it can fly. High up, the god-fiend wind is already raging.”

From the lander I had a direct line with my ship, and I used it to confirm what Zoë already knew. High above Jhibrixi, summer had begun; and it was descending.”

“I’m dead,” I said, but I still couldn’t believe it.

“Your self will not die,” Zoë said. “This self has been charged with saving its life at any cost.”

But I didn’t give myself time to start to believe that one. “You can’t save me!” I said. “What are you going to do? Manipulate the weather! The king has the same opinion about that as he does guns and ATVs. Zoë, those people tried to kill me! They ran me down and they shot at me!”

“This self is sorry for your self’s pain,” Zoë said. “This self has a plan, but it needs your self’s help.”


The trip from Zoë’s farm to the airfield took about ten minutes. I set the altitude as low as it would go and kept the course clear of the lift pillars.

“The king forbade you to hibernate?” I asked in the air.


“I thought that was impossible.” There were stories on their world, tragic tales of those who waited too long to go underground.

“This self took a drug,” Zoë said.

“Oh,” I said. “How long will it last?”

“This self does not know.”

There was nothing left to show the airfield existed but the tarmac stretching to the border wall. The orbiters had vanished, secreted under the ground with everything else of value. We landed where Zoë directed, and she told me her plan. If I couldn’t use my orbiter, I would use one of theirs.

“Your self must use its weapon.”

“The king forbid me a weapon,” I said.

“Nonetheless, this self knows the weapon is here.”

Nonetheless, this self knows the weapon is here. I was furious, and at least as furious with myself as with her. I’d believed everything she said, on autopilot.

“I’m not going to hurt those people,” I said. “The kidnappers are under the king’s law, let him deal with them.”

“This self did not ask that of yours. Their selves are in hibernation, elsewhere.” Zoë said. “Be calm. Shoot in the door.”

The door to the underground control room was set flush to the ground, built to endure the burning winds scouring its face all summer. It melted slowly, and I had to hold onto Zoë to keep from being blown away while I powered the gun built into my suit on its maximum setting. Zoë had hooked metal bands affixed to her roots, and they held us down until the job was finished.

Inside orbiter control, with the emergency door sealed behind us, it was silent as the Void. Zoë led me past a row of Jhibrixin computers, screenless things, the operation of which remained anatomically beyond me, and came to stand at a jumble of wires and circuitry.

“That’s a dream recorder,” I said. It was there, just as she’d said it would be. “I don’t understand.”

“This self has explained,” Zoë said.

“No, this self hasn’t. This self has explained nothing except that some Jhibrixins dreamed the king never protected me, or maybe this self forgot.”

I wasn’t sure how the translator would handle that one, but she merely said, “Exactly.”

“But Zoë,” I said. “Dreams aren’t real. Dreaming the king said something different doesn’t make it true.”

“Dream is memory,” Zoë said. “Why else do you think the king, may his self live a thousand years of happiness, wanted the device of your self’s people? It was so all could retain the memories of their hibernating selves, not just the selves of waking.”

“So you’re saying, they used their dreams to alter their memories, so they could disobey the king.”

“This self receives no translation for what your self just said.”

I tried again, desperate to understand. If I half comprehended what Zoë was saying, I had single-handedly created a global uprising. “They dreamed the king gave different laws, and forgot that it wasn’t true.”

“As soon as they dreamed it, it was true, for them. And then their selves shared the dream, so all could live it.”

Shit. “And you just left me there with them?”

“Many did this. Our selves did not know theirs also had done it. Our selves thought the orbital scientists held your self in high regard.”

“Who gave them the goddamn equipment?”

“It was given to all,” she said, “Why else would the king acquire it?”

I stared at the pile of my gift for a while, as though it would tell me something else, but it didn’t. Looking at it, I had a terrible feeling.

“Your self must go,” Zoë finally said.

She unfurled the solar sheets and turned on the computers. Without screens, I couldn’t see what she was doing. All information was transferred through vibrations.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” I asked.

“It was the king’s order,” she said, “may his self live a thousand years of happiness.” She pulled out a thin strap of metal from the side of the machine and wrapped it around her torso: the interface. “This self knows everything your self needs it to know about orbiter technology. This self will pilot the orbiter from the ground while your self escapes.”


“It won’t work,” Zoë said. “The pre-navigation option is locked down for safety, and this self does not know the code.”

“What are you saying?” I asked.

“This self has no choice but to take you itself.”

“No!” I said. “I can fly it!”

“Your self can’t fly a Jhibrixin orbiter,” Zoë said. “Your self doesn’t have the right body, and can’t hear the ship’s instructions.”

“But I’m going back to the Net! I can’t wait for the end of summer!”

“This self has always wanted to see the Net,” Zoë said. “It sounds wonderful. This self wondered at the king’s trade with Earth.”

“But I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“This self is willing. This self has formed a bond that it does not wish to see broken.”

This self wishes to use you to learn about the Net, on the king’s orders, I translated. And to make sure the alien doesn’t cause any more trouble. But I didn’t argue any further.

Zoë led me through a series of underground tunnels I had not known were there. We came out high above an enormous room—an entire tarmac lowered down, a fleet of orbiters in their stations. She led me down an elevator and across to one of the ships.

The orbiter’s hatch, amazingly, wasn’t locked.


We climbed into the cockpit and Zoë strapped herself in. I tried to mimic her, but the straps crossed my stomach and neck, and I decided I was safer without them.

“I don’t trust you,” I said. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe because Zoë had been my friend, and the god-fiend winds were howling above my head.

“This self is not lying when it says it can pilot the orbiter through the god-fiend wind. The orbiter is built for it, and this self is trained.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Your self means, because this self lied.”


“Your self lied as well, do not deny it. It said it was unarmed. It said there was no king of the Net.”

“There is no king.”

“But most of all,” she said, “your self failed to tell mine that Jhibrixin knowledge would be sold for profit, instead of given for the good of all selves.”

“That’s how it’s done,” I said.

“This self’s lie was how it is done, as well.”

At that, I could think of nothing to say.

Zoë whirred something in Jhibrixin that the translator didn’t interpret, and a shuddering hum built beneath our feet. “Hold on,” she continued, “this is going to be a rough jump.”

“Wait!” I said.


“You saved my life. I’m in your debt.”

“All selves are one,” Zoë said. I could almost see her shrug. Textbook Jhibrixin psychology.

I looked at the maelstrom of sky above. “I care about you, too,” I told her. infinity

Jennifer Linnaea's work has appeared in “Strange Horizons,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Flash Fiction Online,” and “Interzone.” When not writing, she works at the library, for obvious reasons. She's also been a research scientist, bicycle superhero, personal growth workshop assistant, and landlord, not necessarily in that order.