Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


19th In Love
by Gerard Mulligan

Nelay and the Blunt
by Clint Spivey

Fletcher’s Mountains
by Michael Hodges

Robert and Sarah, Across the Multiverse
by Matthew S. Dent

Boccaccio in Outer Space
by Chet Gottfried

Invoking Fire
by Guy Stewart

Seven Seconds
by Charles Payseur

by Simon Kewin

Coming of AGE
by Bob Sojka

A Journey Through the Wormhole
by Brian Biswas


A Taste for Physics
by John McCormick

Scale of the Problem by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Nelay and the Blunt

By Clint Spivey

NELAY SEARCHED FOR THIRD Father’s face among the pressing crowd. Likely he’d returned to his duties after relinquishing her. Still, she held out hope. A final glimpse before departure. Of the only person she’d ever known. None of her other fathers or mothers had accompanied her. Why would they?

A massive black column split the sky vertically. It reached high, vanishing beneath the clouds. The orbital lift. Gifted by the humans upon cessation of hostilities. Below, the line of those awaiting transport wended serpentine about itself. Those of her people intrepid enough to partake in humanity’s offer. The offer of travel to their system.

Nelay’s journey was decided long before this day. Forced upon her by the blunt. The rare condition that left her deadened to all physical sensation. Reduced to mean vocal communication. To speech.

A wall of dust fell, the wave crashing over the crowd. A hundred upturned faces recoiled. Nelay was still. The lone rock over which it broke. She peered through the cloud. Watched the colossal lift’s descent. Its shadow extinguishing the glint of sun off her people’s scales. Only when the dust so clouded her eyes that all was a blur did she turn away with the others. Her dulled senses felt nothing.


“The humans will bear you. They take pride in their care of things dulled. There is a place for you with them where none exists here.” So it was Third Father had informed Nelay of her future.

“The next departure isn’t for several years. We will need to visit their consulate at some point,” he said.

“I will go today?” Her scales twitched eagerly.

“The family is entertaining guests today. You will remain out of sight.”

It was a small sound. A lock. It slammed home like thunder in Nelay’s small room. For years afterward, she would count Third Father’s announcement that day as the moment her journey with the humans began.


“I’m Source. I’ll be your escort to Solar.” A sleek, humanoid form. No taller than many of the humans Nelay had seen aboard. Her face bare and smooth but for two black, lustrous eyes and an unmoving slit for a mouth. Black ligature peeked out at the joints from beneath the gleaming gray shell of the body. “If you need anything at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.” The voice clearly feminine. Even to Nelay.

“You’re not human. You are one of their robots,” Nelay responded in her own dialect.

“Yes,” Source answered in Hyance. “I am the unit assigned to accompany and prepare you for life in the Solar colonies. Please believe me, we are happy to have you with us.”

Smooth, green scales covered Nelay’s body. From head, to her thick tail. Green hued, like all her race, the light danced chromatic upon her scales. Nelay, of an average height for her race, stood a half meter taller than Source. Seven centimeter clanelayws and rows of jagged teeth completed the reptilian appearance of the Hyance.

Nelay moved to the far wall of her tiny cabin. A lone porthole, the size of a human hand, was set in the wall. Light rippled prismatic outside, tracing neat, hexagonal lines. The latticework shell rotated unhurried about the ship. Beneath, a dull gray glow. Her world.

“How is your English?” Source asked.

“I know many something,” she replied.

“That is very good, Nelay. Very good.” Source’s words were slow and clear.

The iridescent light from the window grew bright. Shimmering ever faster, it reflected off Nelay’s scales, throwing kaleidoscopic patterns across the bulkheads.

“You’ll need to secure yourself in your rack,” Source said. She gestured to the cylindrical bed beneath the window. The robot’s movement was slowed as she crossed to a seat against the wall and secured herself.

Nelay made to move and found she couldn’t. She exerted more force and finally saw her leg respond. The blunt fought her at every moment. Her scales ruffled in annoyance.

“The gravity shroud will compensate once we’re inside the transit corridor,” Source said. “Until then, be thankful you can’t feel our acceleration. I’m told it’s quite unpleasant.”


Nelay had contact with no others in her tiny room. Not her family. Not anyone. Third Father alone acknowledged her.

“It’s not your fault,” he once told her. “Before the humans came, you would have been culled from the litter the moment your condition manifested. Dropped from First Mother’s back. Left to starve.”

“The humans pile troubles upon our people. It would have lessened your burden. My death.”

“They defeated us. It is at their whim that they disregard our customs.”

“Do you hate the humans?” Nelay asked.

“It is a strange question,” Third Father said. “They are soft. Weak. Yet they demonstrated their mastery of our species. We must bow to them and their treaty.”

“They were always small. Always soft. I have read it.”

“Their evolution was very different from ours. Their past. They skulked in trees while we roamed the land fearless. They laid cowardly snares. With our claws we dashed all prey. They climbed to dominance of their world by a much different path than we.”

Third Father’s stewardship of the blunted Nelay forced him to communicate with her through voice and not scale. A means of intercourse reserved for strangers. Mundane tasks. A loathed method for interaction within family where physical contact by scale imparted true emotion. Dulled by her condition, Nelay was reduced to more base methods. Her brood would never reduce themselves to such means to address her. That unpleasant duty fell to Third Father.

“Why is it the humans want me?” Nelay asked.

“They would rather take those blunted than see them killed.”

“I am made to suffer for our people’s weakness. Spared. Only to rot in this chamber until collected by our enemies.” Anger flecked her scales.

“They are no longer our enemies,” Third Father said. “But our masters.”


“You would ignore me you runt?” the male ahead shouted, bristling scales in her direction.

“I ignore no one,” Nelay said. “Take your flirtation elsewhere.” She may not have felt his scales brushing hers, but the dalliance that stiffened them was obvious.

His scales flared back in rage. “It was you who brushed me! You play at games? Before these outsiders? These humans?”

“Is there a problem?” The security drone approached the line of Hyance queued in the galley. It was half the size of the male, but there was no threat. The Hyance had become quite docile upon defeat.

“Isn’t problem.” The male pushed past Nelay. From that night forward, she took her meals in her cabin.

“It’s likely I instigated it. Grazed his scales with mine,” she told Source later in her room. “I must avoid others of my kind during this journey. Similar situations could occur.”

“At the institute,” Source said, “there are Hyance who have learned to make judgments beyond scales.”

“This place where are the broken things,” she attempted in English.

“Very good, Nelay. And to the humans, you’re not broken. They will teach you to make due with your other senses.”

“Make due.” She switched to her own language. “Your masters sentence me to a life of exile twice over. First, among my own people. Locked away. Lest others of my race are forced to communicate with one blunted. And here. Aboard this ship. Taken as refuse to your world. Was your victory over us not sweet enough?”

“It was not the humans who locked you away,” Source said.

“There was no alternative. My death was forbidden.”

“The humans would rather see you live.”

Nelay scoffed at their plan for overcoming her condition. Such childish notions. Without sensation, she was nothing. Unable to form the barest bond with those of her kind. Like this robot before her, Nelay had voice. Little else.


“It is not known to many, but Third Father has the most sacred of duties. For keeping the Mothers and other Fathers comfortable and free of troubles means a stronger family.” His scales rippled in confidence, but Nelay suspected otherwise. He often revealed himself to her through his voice, so unaccustomed was it to extended use. To dishonesty.

“Fathers and Mothers do not tell you this. They don’t thank you for your sacrifice.” She watched his scales closely, for he hesitated in reply.

“Duty does not require gratitude,” he said. His scales rippled once more, but she’d discerned the truth of it from his speech. Third Father was not a fool. He knew his place.

“The humans only look to merit. I have read it.”

“Be wary of seeing perfection in them,” he said. “They may be our masters, but they are as full of error as we.”

“Not as we,” Nelay replied. Third Father remained silent.


Her scales glowed cerulean from the light pouring through the porthole. She peered outside as she spoke.

“The transit corridor”—she focused on the word—”compresses space. Like a river. The space inside is not abnormal space, but it is normal space, only slower.” She looked to Source.

“You’re getting better. I’ve warned you against studying antonyms together. It causes interference. The space within the corridors is not normal space, and it moves much faster than normal space.”

“Why is it blue?”

“I don’t know, Nelay,” Source said with exasperation. “I’m not an astrophysicist. I only understand the basics of the corridors, which is all you need to know.”

“You say it is a river. Rivers on Hyance are sometimes blue. I think this is why the corridor is blue.”

I think we’ll end there for today. Are you ready for dinner?”

“Do you have a large family? Like mine?”

“Not like yours. Some A.I.s consider Matron our mother. She is the ultra A.I. that designed many of us. The sponsor of the institute. If she is our mother, then perhaps I do have a large family.”

“She is your first mother?”

“I suppose you could say that.”

“I never see First Mother.”


“It is not for First Mother to see you. You know it is forbidden. Don’t ask me this.” Third Father had entered her room with learning materials. Preparation for her journey.

“I’ll not sully her presence with my voice,” Nelay said. “I just want to see her. Once. Before I depart forever.”

“There was never a bond, Nelay,” he said. “Without the imprint, she can’t even comprehend your existence. It is as if you fell dead from her back that day.” He paused, considering. “The blunt is indeed cruel. Do you see why death is preferable?” He placed the materials before her.

“You will need to watch these.” He scrolled through files on the human tab-screen. “And read these.” More files.

“Some of these human devices double as cameras. Perhaps you could create a picture of First Mother and show me that.”

Third Father looked at her for several heartbeats before exiting.


The pad slammed into the bulkhead.

“It is not logical,” Nelay said. Her speech was muddled. A mix of Hyance and English in her frustration. “I go crazy. He goes crazy. I go out the airlock. She goes out the airlock. One insignificant sound separates the two and you name it an immutable rule of language. Ridiculous. Yet your masters cling to it with all ten of their frail digits.”

Source retrieved the undamaged tablet and stared at Nelay. Neither spoke for over a minute.

“Are you through? May we continue?”

Nelay stared straight ahead.

“Yes, it’s illogical,” Source said. “I can explain the reasons behind it.” She returned to Nelay’s side. “If you’re done throwing things.”

She remained silent.

“It’s an archaic function of the language. That final ’s’ was on its way out of the lexicon. Likely cast away. Forever. Then the humans discovered their love of print. Their industriousness allowed them to fill the page with as much ease as they did the air with their incessant blather. Several basic forms, which likely would have been culled from the language, became instead fossilized by print. Remaining to this day. Eight hundred Solar standard years later.”

“Why was I kept alive?” Nelay asked. “To toil daily at imitating the humans? Shall I sing for them as well? For it is by their decree that I’ve been forced to rely upon this wretched voice.” She took the pad from Source with despair. “Why are we Hyance expected to change? When the humans cannot even bring themselves to drop one sound from their language in pursuit of utility,” she said.

“Perhaps,” Source said, “they have higher hopes for those dulled.”


“I didn’t like it,” Nelay said. “It was too ... jarring. So many impossible actions. Implausible outcomes.”

The human video had been a whirlwind of events. Following them all had been like trying to count raindrops in the midst of a storm.

“Their heroes must overcome these obstacles. These challenges. Nothing less will hold their attention,” said Third Father.

“It did not content me. I’m more excited now than when I first sat down to watch.”

“They don’t entertain for contentment. But exhilaration.”

“Is all their world such a blur?”

“Rest easy,” Third Father said. “The human reality is much less eventful.”


“I didn’t get it,” Source said when the film ended. “The hero wasn’t troubled with anything. She just tore through everything in her path. No adversary could harm her.”

“Yes. It is one of our greatest epics,” said Nelay.

“But there was never any doubt of success. Every enemy was crushed. She was unstoppable.”

“It is different from human stories,” Nelay said.


“We weren’t accustomed to such fighting,” Third Father had said when she asked about the war. He’d been coming to her room often. Checking on her studies. Her preparation.

“The humans were much better at it. They thrived upon defeat,” he said. “Drew strength from it in ways we couldn’t fathom. Defeat was alien to us. Since the beginning of time, all life on Hyance was our feast. Humans were the fodder of their world. Morsels for greater predators. Soft. This gave them strength.”

“They were food,” Nelay said. “Our loamhorders do not grow stronger from their weakness. Nor oceangrazers or treemulchers. First and Second Father bring these prizes to the table with their own claws. Will these beasts one day rule as humans do?” Scorn flicked across her scales.

Third Father looked at her, his own scales unmoving.

“After witnessing the might of humans, I would not discount anything.”


“Did you always fix broken things? Always help blunted humans?” Nelay asked Source during a lesson.

“Humans don’t suffer from the blunt. But they do sometimes lose their sight. Or hearing. Humans have often tried to help these people, yes.”

“Even before they had machines and robots to assist them?”

“Some periods in their past were kinder than others.”

“The blunt on Hyance are left to starve. We’re left to starve. Before the treaty forbade it,” Nelay said.

“Yes. We take them now.”

“It will weaken you. Taking our broken things.”


“How is it you know so much about them?” Nelay asked Third Father of the humans.

Contemplation flitted across his scales. “It is important that you be prepared for your journey. I, too, study them. Stealing glances at your materials in my few free moments.”

Despite her studies, she felt she knew little of her new masters. They were small. Delicate. Their soft features belying masterful skills of deception and strategy.

She’d still been a whelp when the fighting stopped. Upon First Mother’s back as the blunt had not yet revealed itself. First Mother had complained of her people being forced to peace on the human’s terms.

“They lie in wait, like lanceweed. Striking us from behind, or when we feed. They flee from our front. Attack in our rear and sides instead. We crush them when they come forward. So they come from everywhere else.”

It was Nelay’s last memory before First Mother forsook her.


“We dominated everything on our world,” Nelay said. “Even before we made tools. Before we drove the chemicals from stone. To power our machines. Our weapons. These things made life simpler. Less tedious. But we never had to worry in the dark night the way the humans did.”

“Yes,” Source said. “There were no predators to challenge your dominance of the planet. Your claws and your scales and your size placed you at the top of the species on your world.”

“We were strong.” Her scales puffed with bravado.

“You won’t like to hear this.” Source crossed the cabin and looked outside. “But you must.”

Nelay stared at her teacher.

“Such domination did not make you strong.” Source looked at her student. “It made you weak.”


Nelay was forgotten by First Mother before she hit the floor. The rest of the clutch twitched their attachment and needs scale to scale with First Mother. Nelay, silent and unfeeling, was removed by Third Father.


“It is a sad story,” Source said.

“The blunt might as well kill, for a child that can not feel its mother is as a stillborn.”

“You defend her abandonment.”

“It would have been better if I was dead,” Nelay said.

“You can’t believe that.”

“Passed from one cell to another.” She gestured to their cabin. “Taken as your prisoner. Your specimen.”

“You know that’s not true, Nelay.”

“Then why forbid the death of those blunted? Like me? If not to return to your masters with trophies, then why not allow death to those dulled?”

“You would defend such bloodshed?”

“A family must shed weakness as one sheds dead skin.” Nelay said.

“And shirk the inconvenience of caring for those dulled?”

“Family must never suffer such a burden.”

“Would Third Father agree?” Source asked.

Nelay had no answer. All burdens fell to Third Father. In a million million families throughout the history of her world this was true.

“It is Third Father’s duty,” Nelay said.

“Then who rightly claims the strength of the family?”


The blunt rendered the chill morning air impotent over Nelay’s scales. She stood in the small garden. The first rays of sunlight shattered into a thousand pieces upon the night’s deposit of dew. Only when the world around her slept was Nelay free of her confinement. Only recently had Third Father allowed it. Leaving her door unlocked during the night. Leaving her free.

Shuffling footsteps and labored breathing punctuated the silence. Third Father stumbled through the gate beneath a burdensome sack. The day’s meat for her family, who now slept peacefully within the house. He’d be lucky to get even a few scraps come nightfall.

“You could cut a small hole in the bag. I would hide what escapes. No one would search my chamber,” Nelay said.

The bag slid to the ground.

“Is it not enough that your very existence is an embarrassment to this family? That I must find my voice daily in dealing with you? Dredging it up to answer your questions?” His breathing remained heavy. “And now you would steal from our family?”

“Are they my family? Do you not hunger?” she said.

His scales relaxed in exasperation. “These things do not change.”

“The humans would take you. You could join me.”

“Perhaps I should end your studies of the humans. Leave you to learn once you join them.” He hefted the sack back to his shoulder. “The very knowledge of their culture fills the head with strange ideas.”

“I just thought you would like to eat.” She resumed her confinement.


“The more high ... compressioned of the ... altered space, gives the communication corridor its yellow color. Message traffic can ... go ... go much more fast in the communication corridor than a ship go in the standard transit corridor.”

“Excellent, Nelay. Watch the articles, and I want you to focus your vocabulary study on the comparatives. I’ve downloaded the relevant assignments to your tab.”

“I want to send a message.” She switched to Hyance. “We can do it when the ship traverses the arches. I have read it.”

“That’s splendid. To whom? Third Father?”

Nelay puffed her scales in annoyance. “As yet, there is not a single person besides yourself who acknowledges me in this universe, and you ask to whom I want to send a message?”

Source looked to the floor. “I thought it polite to ask. And perhaps instructional.”


While the world slumbered, she crept from her exile. As her people retired to their homes in the sluggish cool of the night, she followed Third Father on his duties.

She risked losing the privilege if Third Father caught her. Her door would remain shut through the night. Locked. Access even to the garden stolen away from her. If she were caught.

The chase was simple. Her people were slow without the sunlight to warm their bodies. Exhilaration swelled Nelay’s scales in the empty streets. Such space to move unencumbered. Free from the possibility of physical interaction. She soon lost sight of Third Father in her excitement. She returned home after several hours. Alone.


“Is that what makes Third Father strong?” Source asked. “That he does things the rest of the family refuse to do? Things they are unable to do?”

Nelay pondered the question. She once thought this the source of his strength. His duties. His importance to the family’s well-being. She was no longer certain.

“Third Father is strong because he knows the others cannot accomplish the same tasks. Despite this knowledge, he continues. He knows of their needs. Their dependence.”

“Is that not weakness? His sacrifice?” Source asked.

“I think it is not. I think his choice makes him stronger than First Father and perhaps even First Mother.”

“Do you still wonder why we take the blunted to Solar?”

Nelay remained quiet. Did she indeed still ponder that question?


Third Father returned home with the day’s meat. Lumbering through the garden gate, he slipped, tumbling to the ground with the heavy bag. He lie unmoving, mustering his strength before resuming the struggle into the house.

There was a tear in the bag. Nothing too serious. Just enough that a shred of loamhoarder flesh protruded.

The scent raised saliva in his mouth. It was tantalizing. Tempting.

Something small and metallic crested the garden wall. Insect wings fluttered transparent. It dodged erratic around the garden before gliding towards him. It informed him of a waiting message at the human consulate. It darted away and vanished over the wall.

A message. Not from the humans. From another. Her. He pulled the errant scrap of flesh from the bag. Held it in his claw. He looked at it for several minutes. He hid it beside the garden path.


“How will he receive it?” Nelay asked as they returned from the communication center. “Will the consulate even know where to find him?”

“Oh, I think they’ll know,” Source said. “He’s not exactly a stranger at the consulate.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Did you not wonder? How he came to possess such knowledge of humans?” They entered Nelay’s tiny cabin.

“He studied my texts.”

“He did more than that,” Source said. “He spent hours at the consulate. Nightly questioning the staff. How someone dulled with the blunt was to be treated. He wanted to know everything. All that he could about the institute. I’m told that half the consulate staff couldn’t stand him while the other half was quite impressed with his efforts.”

Nelay had gone still. Source, who had been babbling while looking out of the porthole in their cabin, turned.

“Oh. Nelay. I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have been so casual. Nelay?” Source approached, raising a metal finger to the Hyance’s eye. She drew it away wet.

“One of the few features you share with the humans,” she said, displaying the tear. Nelay hadn’t known it fell until Source plucked it away.

“He could have come,” Nelay said, sadness shuddering her scales. “The humans take any Hyance who ask. This ship teems with them.”

“Perhaps he thought he was needed elsewhere.”

“I will convince him to leave. Flood the communication corridor with messages until he does,” Nelay said.

“You could always go back.”

“Why say such things?” She looked at Source. “You know there is no place for me there.”

“As of now? No. There isn’t. After your time at the institute? Well, that’s another matter entirely. Your people can’t bar your return. The humans have codified such measures in their treaty.”

“After so much time away.” Nelay moved to the porthole. The gravity shroud swirled chromatic outside, the transit corridor dancing azure beyond. “I would be something alien. On my own world.”

“Are you not now?” Source said. “You would be something better. A bridge. Between human and Hyance. The blunt gives you freedom. To learn. To see past that which blinds your people.”

Nelay looked from the porthole to Source.

“You speak as if the blunt is a blessing,” Nelay said.

“Recall what I said about humans and fear. Recall what Third Father said of them and defeat. Can you imagine a stricter, more severe tutor than the blunt? It is for you to draw strength where few in your species have before.”

The light from outside played unending across her scales. Such colors. Further works of the humans. Would she one day glow as brightly from their endeavors? Could she carry even a glint of such light back to Third Father?


“What is that you carry?” First Mother said sharply. The footage shook from an unsteady hand.

“It is a human device. Nelay will use it to study before departing,” Third Father said.


“The dulled one living on the bottom floor.”

First Mother looked away, already weary of the conversation. She sat before the great window on the top floor. Silhouetted against the incoming light, the sun teased color out of her scales.

The video shifted. A great mass of Hyance were gathered in the bright afternoon sun. The core of the orbital lift lanced upwards above the host.

Nelay gasped at the scene.

The picture jerked about, focusing on individual faces before jumping to the next. Finally it settled on one in particular. A lone face amidst that surging mass. The body language showed feeble attempts at bravery. But the scales revealed the truth. Fear. And the sadness that fought for purchase over the girl’s scales. The view lingered on her for a long time.

Source said nothing. Teardrops struck audible upon the deck-plates. Finally, a great cloud of dust washed over the crowd. The sad, scared young girl was lost from view. There was nothing more in the message.


“We slip to the deceleration lanes tomorrow,” Source said.

Nelay’s face glowed blue beside the porthole.

“I think you’ll like Earth,” Source said.

Nelay turned to look at her. “You’re not coming with me, are you?”

“No. I’ll be transferring to another ship. Outbound for Hyance.”

“I will miss you, Source.”

“And I you, Nelay.”

“Will you bring something to Third Father for me?”

Source cocked her head. “I won’t arrive for almost two years. We’re visiting several of the colonies here in Solar first. What is it you want me to bring?”

“Just a message,” Nelay said.

“Wouldn’t you rather send it?” Source asked. “It will arrive in a matter of weeks.”

Nelay shook her head in the human fashion. As Source had taught her. “I don’t want him to see it. Not yet. Not while I’m still this same girl. I want to be something else. Even if he sees me as I am now.”

“Then I’d be happy to deliver a message for you, Nelay.”

“Thank you. One more thing. Please don’t watch it.”

“I’ll leave you to it then.” Source bowed with a flourish and exited the cabin.

Nelay picked up the pad, and pressed the record button. infinity

Clint Spivey is an English teacher and graduate student in Japan. When not buried in coursework, grading papers, or fighting his way onto crowded trains, he tries his hand at science fiction. “Nelay and the Blunt” is only his second sale of a story.


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