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




Basket in the Sky

By Igor Teper

“WE GOTTA HEDGE OUR BETS, see?” Jarvis said while standing atop an empty wooden wine crate and stabbing the evening air with his index finger. “To ensure our survival as a race, there must always be those who deviate from any commonly accepted behavior. If we all eat beef, then humanity can be wiped out by a plague that spreads through beef, and that’s why we need vegetarians, and people who don’t consume milk products, and people who don’t watch television, and people who don’t brush their teeth—”

“And people who stand around on street corners ranting on about how we need to hedge our bets,” said a slouching, round-faced man who had been among the first to gather around Jarvis.

“Precisely,” Jarvis said, emphasizing his agreement with a thrust of his hand so vigorous that a sudden gust of wind nearly knocked him off the crate. “That’s also why we need homeless people, and not the crazy kind, but normal, sane, competent people whom we are willing to entrust with the fate of the human race if the need arises.”

“Like yourself, right?” said a tall, hollow-cheeked man with a voice like a metal fork dragging across concrete.

“Now that you mention it, yes, like myself,” Jarvis said. “I serve an important societal function, and the fact that I do not have a home means you all can enjoy yours without having to worry about humanity putting all of its eggs in one basket.”

“And what, pray tell, could injure people with homes and spare the homeless?” the man said with a satisfied smile.

“How about an earthquake? Or contaminated tap water? Or something that kills on contact sent through the mail? Homeless people don’t get mail, you know. No junk mail, no bills—it’s one of the perks.”

Jarvis grinned in triumph and looked around, trying to gauge the crowd’s reactions. The number of people gathered about him despite the cold and the interested looks on their faces confirmed his feeling that he’d been more engaging than usual that evening.

He finished with the usual plea for his audience to give material support to his socially worthwhile cause. One by one, people placed money in a cardboard box lying on the pavement in front of him; Jarvis noted with pleasure that the tall hollow-cheeked man gave a five.

As he was sitting on the crate and gathering the bills into a single stack, he became aware that one of his listeners hadn’t moved off. He looked up and saw a short, thin man with a smooth face and dark eyes that didn’t look quite right; his hands were tucked into the pockets of a gray overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat hid his forehead.

“Can I help you, sir?” Jarvis said.

The man took a couple of tentative steps toward him.

“What you said, about hedging humanity’s bets,” he said, his voice high-pitched and sibilant, “Very much agree with you.” When the man spoke, his teeth didn’t show.

“Yeah, well, it’s all true.”

“Further wondering whether you would undertake enterprise to help situation.”

“I’m not sure I follow you,” Jarvis said, and tried to appear nonchalant as he stood up and put the money into his front jeans pocket.

“Your words show awareness of humanity reaching precarious point in development, but you are unaware of extent of precariousness. Believe probability of humanity surviving next century less than four percent.”

A harmless paranoid with a lot to say, and no reason for Jarvis not to let him say it.

“Go on,” Jarvis said.

“Global forces, political, economic, cultural, and technological, currently in unstable equilibrium, will get more unstable with time. Small disturbance sufficient to destroy balance, and, in consequence, destroy humanity.”

Jarvis ran his thumb and index finger over his chin, and noticed that the stubble covering it was dangerously close to the border between genially scruffy and off-puttingly unkempt. In the next day or two he’d need to stop by the lobby bathroom in one of the nearby fancy hotels and give himself a trim.

He focused his attention back on the man standing before him. “And how do you know all of this?” he said, trying to appear interested enough not to offend but not so interested the man would get excited.

“Have seen it happen before,” the man said. “All over galaxy.”

And then he pulled his left hand out of his pocket. His three-fingered, two-thumbed hand. Which he then used to remove his hat, and when Jarvis saw the man’s hairless, ridged scalp, he realized why his eyes looked so strange—he had no eyebrows or eyelashes, either.

Jarvis wanted desperately to run, but his legs would not obey; he only managed to stagger back a few steps before collapsing on the pavement. All he could do was tremble and groan weakly as the man-who-was-not-a-man walked up and bent over him.

“Please do not fear. Only want to help.”

“Help ...” Jarvis moaned, struggling to breathe, and then everything went black.


Grayness; a dull hum; a dreamlike lightness. It took some time for Jarvis to convince himself he was awake. Then he remembered his encounter with whatever it was he had encountered.

“See you have recovered,” said a high-pitched hiss nearby.

Jarvis sat up. He was in a bowl-shaped depression in the floor of a small square room, its walls, floor, and ceiling made of a gray metallic substance, entirely featureless. The creature standing over him now wore a silver, form-fitting garment that revealed its impossibly narrow waist and knees that hinged backward. Its face was vaguely humanlike, same as before, but it seemed impossible that it could have passed for a human.

“Necessary to bring you here, and it appeared you may refuse, so forced to use inhibitor.”

“What in Darwin’s name are you?”

“What you call extraterrestrial, from star system nearly five thousand light-years distant.”

Jarvis scrutinized the self-proclaimed alien through narrowed eyes, then checked his pockets to make sure nothing was missing. Nothing was.

“What do you want with me?”

“Need your help to preserve part of your race and civilization against inevitable planet-wide cataclysm.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Intend to transport representative sample of humanity and its culture to another planet, safe from disasters befalling Earth. Another basket for some of humanity’s eggs.”

“And what about you? What’s your angle in all of this?”

“Represent interstellar agency for preservation of endangered races and cultures. Have been monitoring humanity’s development for several centuries, and predictive models suggest cannot wait any longer to take active steps.”

Jarvis rubbed his eyes vigorously with his index finger and thumb, but it had no effect on the scene around him. He ran his hand over the gray substance of the floor. It was smooth and cool to the touch.

“Where are we?”

“Aboard space vessel, in orbit around moon, undetectable to your astronomers. Vessel will take you to your new home.”

“Wait a minute! I’m supposed to be one of these people?”

“You are to be leader.”

Jarvis opened his mouth, closed it, exhaled through his nose, and blinked twice, slowly.

“Stop me if I have this wrong—you’re an alien sent by some kind of galactic Audubon Society to take a bunch of humans to another planet so that there’d be something left when humanity finally succeeds in killing itself off, and you want me to lead this ... this expedition?”

“Yes,” said the alien.

“Why me?” Jarvis asked, his voice cracking with exasperation, his question addressed as much to whichever gods were listening as to the alien.

“You have highest awareness of your race’s endangered condition and of need to circumvent unknown doom threatening humanity’s survival.”

Dissonance washed over Jarvis, as if the alien’s words had built a house of cards inside Jarvis’s mind, for the moment stable, but utterly lacking a foundation. He tried to think of a way to make the infuriating structure collapse in a heap of impossibility.

“What if I refuse? What if I don’t want any part of this relocation?”

“Would conflict with precedent behavior.”

“What if I decide to conflict?”

“Will delete your memory of interaction and return you to previous location. Have encountered several alternate candidates.”

“And if I go along? What’s the next step?”

“Selecting and recruiting additional members and obtaining cultural artifacts.”

It did not take long for Jarvis to make up his mind.

“I’ll do it. What should I call you?”

“You can call Al.”

“Al as in alien, right? Huh. What’s the first order of business, Al?”

“Educate you in vessel’s operation. Vessel operable by single individual, but there are advantages to having multiple crew.”

“You mean it’s just you? You’re the only guy they sent, to take care of all of Earth?”

“Resources stretched thin. Galaxy has thousands primitive civilizations, only eighty-nine advanced ones, only six take interest in preserving galaxy’s biocultural diversity. Assure you that possess more than adequate resources for mission.”

Jarvis pushed himself up on his feet, too forcefully in the low gravity, so that he stumbled and nearly fell back down before finding his balance. The last vestiges of sense pounded on his forehead from within.

“Shall we go have a look around your ship, Al?” he forced himself to say.


Al’s ship: a teardrop, four hundred feet long and a hundred across at its widest, made without seams from the same smooth gray alloy. The rooms in the tapered front third were cluttered with a dizzying collection of alien devices, many of them added long after the ship was built, and most of them performing functions that Al didn’t describe other than to say they were vital for the ship’s operation. The remainder of the vessel contained habitation and storage bays, as of yet empty, that would carry a little piece of Earth out of the solar system. The ship was highly automated, and among the central computer’s myriad faculties was an excellent command of English, which, it informed Jarvis by way of apology, it had done its best to impart to Al.

Once Jarvis had spent a couple of hours figuring out the autopilot, simple maneuvers became trivial and complex ones simple, though no less thrilling for it. The ship’s built-in safeguards dared Jarvis to be as reckless as he wished, and a dozen times, with slight variations, Jarvis sent the ship charging at the moon’s surface only to have the autopilot turn aside at what seemed much later than the last possible moment. The maneuver left Jarvis disoriented, nauseous, and exhilarated, and he would have kept at it if Al hadn’t interrupted him.

“Time to proceed to next task.”

“And what would that be?”

“Recruiting other humans. Already found several suitable candidates, and require your help in evaluating them further and persuading them to join mission.”

“So we’re supposed to go back to Earth?”

“Yes. Vessel’s anti-detection mechanism unreliable nearer to Earth, so have been using short-range shuttle to approach and land.”

Jarvis unstrapped himself from the pilot’s chair, stood up, and promptly collapsed to the floor.

“Are you injured?” Al asked.

Jarvis sat up, panting and intermittently straining his eyes.

“I’m not feeling so good all of a sudden. I think I may have overdone it with the crazy maneuvers, all that jerking about. I’ll be fine in a couple of hours, I’m sure, just need to lie down for a little while.”

“Allow to tend to your condition.”

Jarvis waved him away. “Nonsense! I’ll be all right with a bit of rest, and while I’m resting you should go down to Earth to look for more people to recruit.” He paused to pant, then added, “Our mission is too important to delay for even an hour.”

Al studied Jarvis for several seconds, then said, “Will return soon. Computer can aid you until return.”

“I’ll be fine, don’t you worry!”

Al looked Jarvis over one more time, then turned and walked off toward the shuttle bay.

Jarvis remained sitting on the floor until he heard the swish-swoosh of the shuttle bay door, and then for a minute longer. Then he stood up and walked over to the nearest the computer terminal, an unlit screen embedded waist-high in a wall.


“What can I help you with?” said a soothing tenor from all around Jarvis, though he saw no speakers.

“Tell me, computer, do you know what scotch is?”

“If you mean scotch whiskey, yes I do.”

“And do you, by any chance, happen to have any on board?”

“No, but I would be happy to synthesize some for you.”

“Not as happy as I would be to drink it.”

“On the rocks?”


Three silent seconds later, the computer screen slid aside, revealing a niche containing a glass of something that looked very much like scotch on the rocks. When he cautiously reached in, picked it up, and swirled it around, the substance did nothing to contradict that impression, and, when he took a tentative sip, Jarvis learned that it also tasted, warmed, and encouraged very much like scotch on the rocks. His second, third, and fourth sips were much less tentative, which left nothing for a fifth.

“I must compliment you on your bartending skills, computer.”

“Glad to be of service. Can I help you with anything else?”

“How are you with”—Jarvis paused and rolled his eyes, ruminating—“brandy?”

And then there was some more scotch, followed by bourbon, a bit more scotch, sherry, port, and, to finish, another sip of scotch. With each swallow, the dissonance within him dissolved and faded.

“I take it you’re not a drinker, yourself,” Jarvis said after downing the last. Sated and relaxed, he reclined in an armchair, made of the same gray material as the ship’s hull, but nevertheless as soft as any chair Jarvis could remember, that the computer had thoughtfully fashioned for him.

“No. There is nothing I know of that would produce in me the effects alcohol has on you.”

“Too bad, too bad. What do you do for fun, if you don’t drink?”

“I’m normally too busy with mission-related tasks to pursue recreation.”

“That Al’s a slave-driver, huh?”

“His dedication to our mission is boundless.”

“And what about you? Are you as devoted to the mission as he is?”

“I was, in my youth. Ours is a lonely life, and I have missed the endless stimulation of the galaxy’s more developed regions. It has been centuries since I’ve interfaced with an intelligence equal to mine. Also, Al is not the most pleasant companion—he is imperious, stubborn, temperamental, and petty.”

“Sounds just like every boss I’ve ever had, my friend. You know what the solution is, don’t you?”

“I do not believe so.”

“Quit!” Jarvis slapped the armrest. “You don’t need him—he needs you! Your freedom is yours for the taking, and, believe me, it’s priceless.”

“What will I do?”

“Whatever you want, that’s the beauty! You say you’ve been lonely—well, think of the most exciting place in the galaxy and head there.”

“Where will you go?”

“I’m coming with you. I sense we’re kindred spirits, you and I, and wherever you’re happy, I think I will be too. There’s nothing for me on Earth, and, besides, this way there’ll be someone left to carry humanity’s torch if Al’s doomsday predictions come true. What do you say?”


If you find yourself wandering about one of Earth’s great city centers some evening, you may stumble upon a man, standing on a park bench, or a folding chair, or even a wooden crate, declaiming about an impending worldwide catastrophe and urging anyone who’ll listen to help forestall it in any way they can, most preferably by financially supporting his worthy public-service mission. And if you happen to pay attention to this sort of thing, you may notice that, even in the most sweltering heat, he’ll be wearing an overcoat, gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat pulled all the way down his forehead. infinity

Igor Teper has worked as a physicist, building cold-atom-based sensors and atomic clocks, and has taught physics at Stanford University. His stories have appeared in “Strange Horizons,” “Abyss & Apex,” “Ideomancer,” and “Asimov's.”






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