Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Super Plunge Lady and the 3D Printed Rocket Car
by Erin Lale

by Daniel Huddleston

Portraits Hung in Empty Halls
by K.C. Ball

Mouse Trap
by Fiona Moore

Basket in the Sky
by Igor Teper

Worlds Less Traveled
by John C. Conway

Redemption of Colony Venturis
by Wayne Helge

Where the Grass May Be Greener
by Rob Butler

Double Time
by Rik Hunik


Do Beavers Rule Mars?
by Thomas Elway

Science Fiction at the Box Office
by Adam Paul




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

Text to #BigOneLA

By Luke R. Pebler


I know, I know. There was an earthquake just now. Of course I heard. Sounds like it was big. The Big One, maybe.

I’ll get around to it, for sure by tonight. There’s just so much to get through.


I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years since our first date, when you told me you could tell the future, and then you proved it.

I remember you casually suggesting you knew that a quake was going to hit somewhere in the next half hour, but you didn’t know exactly when or where. (“I’m not omniscient,” you admitted.) Twenty-five minutes later, just as Vietnamese beer and easy conversation had obscured the memory of your boast, my phone explodes with texts.

“Whoa! Did you feel that bro? Coming up from South Bay!”

“Were you near the earthquake? Call us please.”

“O fuck!”

Twitter and Facebook followed suit. CNN blasts. LAFD advisory pings. BREAKING. Google already knew: 7.2, centered just off Palos Verdes. Casualties unknown. Stay indoors and await instructions.

Thirty-eight miles northeast, you gripped the table, eyes twinkling, readying yourself for the approaching rumble. I glanced around the Alhambra phô joint. A handful of white-haired couples sipped their spicy soup, oblivious. One young guy slurped noodles and scowled at his phone. We waited for the shock ...

Not so much as a rustle of the ivy that draped the place’s low ceiling.

“Must have been a shallow one,” you smirked, and reached for the sriracha.

I didn’t ask how you’d done it, but you told me anyway, later. We were lying in bed next to your window, still sweating and wishing in vain for a night breeze, and you informed me that there would be no further details to read about #PVQuake in the morning. There was no #PVQuake at all. Some pre-cached scraps of creative writing, a handful of redirect hacks and a ripely insecure Android build in my pocket was all it took. You told me a lie, and used my most trusted screen to corroborate it. How in hell would I have checked your facts, once you’d pwned my phone?

I realized I didn’t care. Moreover, it didn’t objectively matter. You had told the future, inasmuch as I was unable (unwilling?) to prove you wrong. The facts were weaker than the tech. Right now had lost out to Last Updated.

I realized I was already madly in love with you.


What you saw in me back then is one of the great mysteries, especially given that this was pre-Lipidra.

The pill was an even bigger deal than people give it credit for. It gave me proof of what I had always suspected: the “fun” in exercise was no fun at all, only the body’s endorphic pittance in exchange for scheduled maintenance. Remember all the boring fit people who were terrified that Lipidra would make everyone as boring and fit as them, overcrowding the world’s clubs and beaches with nouveau-buff? All that handwringing, and then exactly the opposite happened. Without the excuse that we needed to get off our butts or we’d die young, most people stopped pretending it was fun and started using that one-hour-three-times-a-week in much more stimulating ways.

The pill not only freed up time once used for exercise; it got people thinking about everything IRL and whether it was worth their time (because we may die prettier now, but we croak all the same). I remember taking the train to work, those last couple years I was still going in person, so I could get a little extra reading done on my commute. I’d look around at the car full of strangers, physical proximity meaning nothing. Every soul oblivious to every other. I’d watch them stare glass-eyed down at their phones, or zone straight out ahead through a pair of smartspecs, and think, “Why are we doing this? Why are we burning fuel to move bodies to remote locations to do the work (and play) that 90 percent of us could do from home, gaining no physical or social benefit in return?”

Sheer habit wasn’t a good enough answer.

Beyond breatheeatsleepfuck, humanity’s need to connect is our most ubiquitous compulsion, by far. It’s basically immaterial whether people enjoy it or not; most simply can’t not connect, given the opportunity. We are curious, social beasts, but we crave efficiency, as well, and in here we’ve got both. Even an old text chat avatar, static though it might be, is far superior to (as you used to put it) “the top of my head as I ignore you for my phone.” Simultaneous conversations. Multitasking without offending anyone. No compromises, no downtime! It is not surprising that people gravitated in this direction, and from there it’s just a matter of advancing the sensory experience to bring more and more stubborn apes into the boat. Say, oh, I don’t know ... you move far away to pursue a geobotany post-doctorate at Ithaca College, studying the effect of rising Finger Lake temperatures on upstate New York wineries. Your only option to be with the people you love every day is stim-share. Isn’t the slight hit you take in sensory resolution an acceptable tradeoff for what essentially amounts to the power of teleportation? (Not to mention the power of “not having to befriend dull new people because you happen to live or work near them.”) I am reminded of the crybaby audiophiles who railed against the loss of quality in the mp3 age, to which a deafening horde of real music fans responded by brandishing their SpotifiPods and good-enough earbuds and crying, “Recordstore of Alexandria, bitch!”

Before you know it, you’re not going out there much. Even if there’s an earthquake.


Now, if my place or my rig or my person had been damaged this afternoon, that would be a different story. Of course that would be worthy of my immediate attention. But I would’ve been notified, had that been the case. None of my friendlist feeds look dire, either. As it stands, I would call this a very successful test of the seismic dampening in my new ’pod. (Vizio! Still the best.)

As it stands, #BigOneLA is in my high-priority queue, and when I do get around to it, I’ve got my choice of literally hundreds of CNN full-stim clips, stereo LA city feeds, public videosynth ... you get the picture. Don’t worry, I promise I won’t miss the Observatory tumbling off Mount Hollywood; apparently the feed from the coelostat balcony as the sensor lurches out into freefall is breathtaking.

But it’s not the only thing going on:

*You should see my feed backlog since CES ended. I haven’t even seen the Brooklyn levy fail yet, and that was Tuesday!

*I haven’t voted.

*I’ve gotta queue for Radiohead tickets at 4—I’m sick of being a passive login at shows. For once, I want to be one of the ones driving those front-row remotes.

(Did I say realtime has ceased to matter? Scratch that.)

Not to mention, you know, work. I’m a build behind in at least three different modules ... and the physics of Tom Cruise’s ageless CG musculature aren’t going to simulate themselves.

(Somewhere, my father is frowning down on me, but screw him. I’m physicist and artist! Just ask Mickey Mouse, or either Warner Brother.)

Shit—and don’t let me forget our taxes! You see my problem?


To those who say you can’t run your life as an asynchronous stack, I respond, “Take a number.” (Rimshot!) They can keep their jumbled meatspace lives. I love that you work out there, and that you love it. You love Earth all the more for its being old and broken and slipping further all the time. Mother Nature in the nursing home, with lung cancer and Alzheimer’s, and you’re still visiting her every day. You’re a better person than I.

Take an extra breath of Adirondack air for me, would you?

But if I’m being honest, the sheer mutability of all that outweighed any benefit I ever enjoyed. How come those crotchety librarians never stop to consider that “book smell” is the scent of chemistry slowly destroying the information in that book? Those pretty LA sunsets we watch, gelato cones in hand, are tinted by the same exhaust vapors that are, bit-by-bit-by-bit, bringing us to a boil.

Sorry, I know you know this. You’re perfect because you acknowledge the subjectiveness of “perfect.”

My perfect is “redundantly archived, tagged and searchable, and accessible anywhere, anytime, forever.” For others, it seems to be “pushing arbitrary heavy things around in order to stay fit, forever.” And I’m sure when the endtimes come, there will be Luddites sitting in traffic, maually driving their own cars, and loving it. Wasting half their precious lives they could use to work or play instead.

But I suspect most will come around eventually. Look at us—how could we exist otherwise? Our marriage? In what previous age could soulmates be free to chase opportunities separated by 2,000 miles and still, by any reasonable sensory standard, sleep next to one another every night?

Don’t worry, the poetry of the timing of the quakes, “real” and realer, this quarter century apart, is not lost on me. I’ll be at the restaurant tonight. Live and in-the-flesh, one night only. I’ll even put in my antique dumb contacts so that we might, simply and without distraction, moon at each other over the bread pudding.

Until then, though, I’ve gotta go. There’s so much to get through. infinity

Luke R. Pebler is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Workshop. His fiction has appeared in “Ray Gun Revival” and Michael Moorcock’s “New Worlds Magazine.”



Can You Smell What the Lab is


By David C. Kopaska-Merkel

“HONEY, EAT YOUR SALAD, you need those plaque munchers.”

“Mom, they taste like compost. Carnivore compost.”

“No dear, they do not. You have never tasted carnivore compost.” She shuddered at the memory of cleaning out Oma’s fridge after the old woman was finally moved to the Ranch. Oma had been the last of the diehard omnivores. “You can hardly taste them if you use the dressing.”

“I don’t like the dressing.”

Melissa sighed. It was a good thing Ellen was still asleep, because she copied everything Chuck did.

“Chuck, honey, do you want me to cook them into the Veggs™ tomorrow? I know you won’t taste them there.” It took her another 20 minutes to get her son to finish the salad. By then, she was about ready to just let the disgusting parasitic microbes eat his teeth.


Shaka checked the time. Damn! She’d better call.


“Hi sweetie. Look, I’m not going to make it home before I have to ship out.”

“What did I tell you. You should have done something special with the kids before you went to Luna. They aren’t home. I’ll have to tell them they won’t see you for ... what, six weeks?”

Shaka bit her thumb, then stuck her hand in her pocket. “I know. I don’t know why I argue with you about stuff like that. Listen, tell Chuck and Ellen I’ll bring them something heavy from the Cluster.”

“Do you have plaque munchers? They won’t have them yet in the Cluster.”

“No! I’ll pick some up on the station. The cost here is ridiculous, but it’s reimbursable.” She swallowed and lowered her voice. "Melissa, I owe you big. When I get back we’ll take some time, just the two of us and, you know ...”

“Just take care of yourself out there. We’ll make some time for us soon.”


Melissa was nearing the end of the latest editing job when a news report tripped her filters and popped up on the screen. The video showed a couple of toothless people with their mouths open wide.

“Sound,” Melissa said.

“... brands including Plaque Munchers, Tooth Bufferz, and No-Brush Smiles are prone to developing rogue strains. Rogue traits include consumption of tooth enamel, hair cells, and connective tissue. The Health Directorate recommends ...” Melissa was already running to the bathroom. She stared at her teeth in the mirror, turning her head this way and that. They looked normal as far as she could tell. Was any of her hair falling out? She rubbed vigorously at her head while leaning over the sink. Five hairs lay in the sink. That didn’t seem out of line. She would check the kids when they got home from school.

Shaka! She was headed thru the wormhole ... Melissa checked the time ... five minutes ago. She chewed on her lip. Maybe Shaka forgot to buy the plaque munchers? She did have a lot on her mind. And was out of communication now for six weeks—worrying would not help. Tell that to her subconscious! Melissa realized she was measuring out the three-meter office with her steps. The door slammed, jerking her out of her thoughts, followed by Ellen’s panicked screaming.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy! They took Chuck! They took him!”

Melissa scooped her daughter up in her arms and stroked her hair, patted her back, said those things parents always say, until Ellen was calm enough to speak coherently. Chuck had collapsed during atomic theory lab and had been taken to the school medical office. From there, medibots had taken him to the hospital. That was all Ellen knew.


Beige walls, soothing mass-produced “prints,” posters full of medical advice for dummies, battered readers full of uplifting human-interest stories. Waiting rooms don’t change. How many times do you have to read that unlicensed street nano might have unwanted side effects?

Melissa, pacing, froze when a young woman in a white coat came into the room. She wore the telltale black and green sigil of a doctor. “Ms. Cokran? I’m Dr. Smith.”

“What about Chuck?” Melissa gasped. “Is it ... the rogue plaque muncher? Will he live? Can he ...” She was hyperventilating but still couldn’t get enough air. Dr. Smith put a hand on her shoulder.

“He’ll be fine. It’s just a viroid left over from the MilLab incident. The bug’s not a bad one, and I gave him something for it. Take him home and he’ll be his normal self before you get there.”


Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Exhausted, Melissa flopped down in the smart chair. It began to massage her shoulders as she leaned her head back and shut her eyes. A long sigh shuddered out of her chest. Ellen and Chuck ran shrieking past her and into the playroom. Then, dead silence, followed a few moments later by terrified screams and her two children returning at a dead run to leap into her lap.

“What now? Mom is worn out! This better be important.”

Ellen’s screams had subsided and she was now sniffling into Melissa’s chest.

Chuck pointed a trembling finger at the door to the family room. “The wall, with the stain?”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “There is no stain. Remember? The two of you couldn’t wait.  Mommy made a special trip to buy the new universal cleaner. And, for a wonder, it worked. So now, if you make a mess that the cleanbot can’t take care of ...”

“But Mommy, we don’t like the face.”

Eventually Melissa was convinced to struggle out of the chair and let the children push her ahead of them into the playroom. Neither one would enter the room; Ellen stopped a few meters short of the door.

The mark on the wall had returned. No, when she got closer Melissa realized this was different. It was a face, a three-dimensional face sticking out of the wall. It was huge, and did not look human. The nose was long and curved up to a point, almost like a horn. The eyes big as dinner plates were closed. The mouth was closed too, but sharp teeth were visible. Evidently there wasn’t room behind the lips for them all. The eyes opened. The irises glowed yellow. The pupils were horizontal lozenges, like those of a goat. The lips writhed open. “Hungry,” the thing said, in a voice of stone and wood. It leaned forward a little out of the wall, stretching the flexipaint. Its as-yet-invisible stomach rumbled, and the floor and walls trembled.

Melissa wondered faintly when she would receive the warning bulletin about the universal cleaner. infinity

David C. Kopaska-Merkel is a geologist. His short stories and poems have appeared in “Asimov’s,” “Strange Horizons,” and many other publications.



How the World Was Saved

By Peter Wood

COMMANDER ZAMOT MATERIALIZED the human onto the interstellar ship’s quarantined examination room. Zamot switched on the universal translator to make sense of the human’s babbling.

The human stared at his captor from behind the shimmering force field. “Y’all fixing to probe me?”

Zamot frowned. The Empire had not probed aliens in generations. “Why would we do that, human?”

The human’s voice quivered. “Name’s Buddy.” He wore a bright orange vest that covered a green and brown speckled jacket. “That’s what y’all do, right? Anal probes?”

Zamot waved a claw over the contagion sensor and activated it. Soon he’d sweep the planet with the Eradication Ray. Then he and the crew could begin mining while his wife stayed shipside. After a four month interstellar journey, he craved time away from his mate almost as much as the planet’s wealth. “No. We do not need to perform experiments.”

Buddy exhaled loudly. “Thank the sweet Lord, y’all don’t probe.” He reached into a bulging pocket and pulled out a metal cylinder. “You want a beer, bossman?”

Zamot squinted at the can. Pabst Blue Ribbon. He was curious about Earth culture, but would have ample time to poke through the rubble after mining commenced. “No.”

Buddy popped the top off the cylinder and took a sip. “Can you make it quick? I got to get back to shining deer. Y’all had me worried. When I saw your light I thought State Wildlife was coming.” He swayed as he talked.

Zamot pointed the contagion sensor at the human. As long as the planet was clean of a select few kinds of toxic microbes, mining could begin. Soon he would be calculating shares for everybody on board. Even his wife would have no reason to complain.

“I figured you boys would have landed in New Mexico,” Buddy said.

Zamot put down the sensor. “Why would you presume we would land anywhere?”

“Y’all landed there a while back. Area Fifty-One.”

“We are the first Empire ship to come to your world.”

Buddy shook his head. “Ancient aliens built the pyramids. The government’s been covering y’all up for years, bossman.”

Zamot’s mate, Dreel, stomped into the room. Her erect antennae showed she was not happy. “You said we were the first to land here, Zamot.”

Zamot suppressed his anger. Why must she always correct him? What was he thinking when he combined a mining expedition with a second honeymoon. “We are.”

“Not true, bossman.” Buddy reached into his pocket and pulled out another beer. “If y’all hadn’t been here before, how would a good old boy from Alabama know about probing?”

Zamot could not believe the audacity of the human. “Silence. We no longer probe.”

“How far back did you check the records, Zamot?” Dreel asked.

“Forty solar cycles, as is required,” Zamot said.

Dreel glared at Zamot. Her scaly tail thumped against the bulkhead. “So, you didn’t research the complete records? You never thought another citizen may have already laid claim to this planet? I knew you would err.”

“I did not err,” Zamot snapped. As Dreel’s tail hit the bulkhead again, he wondered if the reinforced walls had the strength to withstand the wrath of an angry wife. “The Empire has not been here before. I just ran a complete diagnostic. There are no hyperspace drive exhaust traces.”

Buddy’s eyes were bloodshot. He stumbled and grabbed onto the hovering examination table for support. “That saucer crashed in Area Fifty-One over sixty years ago.”

Dreel snorted. “See Zamot. That is why you should have looked past forty years.”

“Dreel,” Zamot insisted. “The human is wrong.”

“He knows about probing,” Dreel said.

Buddy yawned. “And then y’all helped out Lee friggin’ Harvey Oswald. Landed a saucer on top of the School Book Depository,” He pointed his right hand like a gun. “Bang. Goodbye JFK.”

“Jaefkay probably tried to take the rightful claim to this world,” Dreel growled.

“I have no idea what the human is talking about,” Zamot said.

Dreel’s tone was stern. “If you had done a proper investigation, you would understand.”

Buddy’s voice slurred. “How’s Jimmy Hoffa doing?”

“I told you we should have gone to the Maxiumus star system,” Dreel said.

“We have every right to colonize this world,” Zamot said.

Dreel’s voice rose. “We will not set one talon on this world. I cannot believe you failed to do proper research.” She gave a slow shake of her head and let loose a condescending laugh. “No, the sad thing is that I can believe it, Zamot.”

Buddy pointed to the sensor. “What’s that doohickey for?”

“Return the human to his world!” Dreel thundered. “Whoever has rights to this planet will not appreciate us tinkering with his property.”


“Just set the controls for the home world and do a proper investigation of the next world. We will tell the crew and the authorities that we detected a hostile microbe here. At least that way we can pretend you know what you are doing.” Dreel slammed her tail against the bulkhead and stormed into their sleeping quarters.

“Could y’all drop me off at Wilbur’s Stop and Shop for a second before you beam me to my deer stand? I’m a good ways in the woods. I’m fixin’ to run out of beer,” Buddy drawled.

“You will materialize where we captured you,” Zamot hissed.

“I got trouble with my wife too. That’s why I spend so much time hunting. Always after me to get a job.” Buddy tossed an empty beer can on the floor.

Zamot sighed. “My mate can be a challenge.”

Buddy laughed. “You need a vacation.” He pulled two unopened beers from his jacket and set them on the table. “You need these more than me.”

“I will return you to the Stop and Shop,” Zamot agreed.

“Thanks, bossman.” Buddy vanished in a flash of silver light.

Zamot popped open a beer. He leaned back in a chair and pondered where he would go after this expedition. Without Dreel. infinity

Peter Wood is an attorney from North Carolina. His previous story for us was “The Day the Alien Came to Church” in the 12-FEB-2013 update.