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



Redemption of Colony Venturis

By Wayne Helge

CADET MIHRANI TESHAN GRABBED the arm of the pilot’s chair with one hand and pushed the yoke hard into her left thigh with the other. The horizon outside the disk’s windshield continued to drift the opposite way. They were off-course, unstable, and in danger.

“Why won’t it respond?” Mihrani said, more to herself than anyone else on the bridge.

“Aileron failure?” said Jancy from the co-pilot’s seat. Mihrani dismissed the suggestion with a scowl. It wouldn’t be like her instructors to throw an equipment failure at her, not during her check-ride. Today was about raw piloting skills.

“Your mom would know why,” Jancy said loud enough for Mihrani to hear.

Mihrani cycled the yoke to center and back again. She watched the readouts showing the degrees of pitch on the ailerons. “We have control. Just no response.”

Then she checked the wind sensors. Usually the winds coming over the mountains hit Wind Rider 7 head-on. With its streamlined disk shape, the ship had the lift to stay aloft in the brutal mountain gusts on Venturis. The only natural turbulence hardridewas where the planetary tether connected to the underside of the disk. But now, Mihrani was seeing the pressure differentials shift. The wind was trying to turn the disk into a spinning coin. “A ripster,” she whispered.

“What?” said Jancy, and right then Mihrani knew that Jancy had never studied ripsters.

“Ripster!” Mihrani shouted this time, loud enough to echo throughout the bridge. Everyone needed to know what she was about to do and why. Then she jammed the rudder over hard, sending the disk’s nose away from the mountains. The tether shrieked like quenched metal. Stress readings shot upwards into red. Alarms sounded across the control deck.

“What are you doing?” Jancy yelled. She tried to shift the main controls from Mihrani’s station to hers, but Mihrani smacked her hand away. “Don’t do it,” Jancy said frantically.

Mihrani ignored her. She knew what she was doing. The disk bounced once, then twice. Mihrani steadied it and blew a bead of sweat from her lip. Surviving a ripster was something that maybe only one other pilot on the disk could pull off. Her mom.

With the rudder over hard, Mihrani pitched the disk’s nose downward, directly into the updraft ripster. It was the only safe option under the outrageous wind conditions. The only problem was recovering.

“Watch pressures,” Mihrani said to Jancy, who now scooted up the back of her seat. “Let me know if the headwind drops below three hundred RPTs.” Mihrani’s eyes were glued to the stress report for the tether. It was approaching yield numbers. Much further and the engineering crew would have to manually detach the disk from the planet, to avoid damage to the tether’s connection point. “Hold on,” she said quietly.

“Three hundred?” Jancy asked, still scanning the flight deck for the headwind read-out.

“Three hundred,” Mihrani shouted impatiently. “Three hundred, three hundred, three hundred.”

Then Jancy’s voice cut through the bridge. “We’re already down to two seventy-two,” she said.

Mihrani’s eyes shot across the flight deck to confirm, then flipped the rudder hard. They’d waited too long. “Dammit! We’ve lost it.”

Losing the headwind meant they’d dropped in altitude, which meant that the tether had slack in it. As the disk pulled back up toward the mountains, Mihrani saw the headwind velocity shoot up over four hundred. The stress reports on the tether blanked out.

“Disconnect!” Mihrani reported.

Jancy was nearly in tears, her hands fumbling over the control deck like a loose fish. She kept saying, “Not good! Not good!”

Mihrani burned the thrusters while still managing the yoke. She could reconnect to the loose tether, in theory. The problem was she had to hold the ship steady to do it, which was impossible if the wind didn’t also hold steady. And an untethered disk was about as stable as a coin standing on its edge.

“Watch the stress reports,” Mihrani said to Jancy. “We can’t afford to flip.”

Jancy’s eyes were all over the dials, like she couldn’t remember where anything was anymore. Mihrani couldn’t fault her. Who knew they would face both a ripster and disconnect today? It wasn’t on their syllabus. It was barely in the books at all. Only the older crew knew how to handle them, from back when the swirls had knocked the other Wind Riders loose from their tethers. Mihrani found the registers and watched the disk creep forward, fighting the tremendous headwinds, back toward where their tether swung loose, waiting for them to reconnect. The headwind report was over eight hundred now.

And then it died away. From eight hundred to under two hundred in what felt like an instant. “Another ripster,” Mihrani said, trying against everything to keep from simply giving up.

But she was out of tricks. An untethered ripster. She felt her chair turn her on her side. They were going over. A senior officer sitting aft on the bridge grabbed the ship’s intercom handle and announced, “Romeo zulu, romeo zulu. Twenty-two hundred souls on board.”

And then Mihrani’s chair spun upside down. She dangled from the straps, trying desperately to maneuver the yoke. But it was no good. She’d lost control.

Through the windshield, the planet rushed up to meet them.

“End Sim,” said the deck officer. “The last settlers of planet Venturis are all dead. Well played, Cadet Teshan.”

“Nice flying,” Jancy said sarcastically from the co-pilot’s seat. She crossed her arms and blew her hair away from her mouth.

Mihrani watched the senior officer step forward. From Mihrani’s viewpoint, the officer was walking on the overhead.

“Your mother thought you’d be able to handle that one,” the officer said, meeting Mihrani’s eyes. “Fail a second time and you better learn how to cook a damn good conso-paste.”

The officer was a few ranks lower than Mihrani’s mother, and her eyes wore the pleasure of having defeated the daughter of the great Captain Teshan on the flight sim.

“We haven’t had a graduating cadet cause a disconnect in quite a while,” she said in way that split the difference between laughing and gloating. She helped Jancy out of her seat first.

“I’ll bet you haven’t thrown two ripsters at a graduating cadet in forever,” Mihrani said, waiting for her turn to be freed.

“It’s not the first time we’ve run this sim.”

“As part of a check-ride?” Mihrani wondered.

“You have to be ready for anything,” the officer said. “Don’t believe me? You could ask the pilot of the Wind Rider 3. His piloting skills killed thousands.”

Mihrani shut up. What else could she say? Anything that came out of her mouth now would make it back to her mother and earn her a lecture. And the last thing Mihrani wanted, even less than another failed sim session, was a talk from her mother.


After the sim session, Mihrani went up to deck nine for the only mother-daughter time she ever enjoyed. It was something her and her dad did regularly, back when he was around, and she often wondered if that’s why she still enjoyed it.

From there, Mihrani could look down onto the bridge and see her mother at the control deck, piloting the disk. At the moment, the gray-haired Captain was surrounded by the newest group of flight cadets, all fifteen-year-old girls, all wearing oversized dark blue pants and the light blue button-down shirts of pilots-in-training. Mihrani counted seven of them. There had been over a dozen new cadets when Mihrani began her training, just a few years back. She was eighteen now, and favoring her mother more each year. Her body was finally starting to fill out her student-pilot uniform, especially in the shoulders, and her hair was darkening toward the steel-pitch that her mother had worn in her own flight school days.

Soon enough Mihrani would begin graying as well, like all the other pilots. Mihrani scanned the girls closely. She was expected to be her own mother’s replacement. So which among these new girls would replace Mihrani? The population of the young ones was dwindling. Of the seven down there, Mihrani calculated that three would never complete their thruster quals, and another three might someday max out as co-pilots. That left one to join the pilot ranks.

Thinking ahead, Mihrani imagined a scenario where she and her mother alternated twelve-hour shifts as disk pilot. Mother, daughter, mother, daughter, ad infinitum, until they were finally rescued or her mother died. And then it would be Mihrani, on her own. And when she died, what? Would somebody finally invent an auto-pilot that could mimic her mother’s control movements? They’d already tried that. It failed dismally.

Mihrani smiled sadly. Apparently she and the auto-pilot had something in common.

Thinking about her sim crash, Mihrani watched her mother’s movements on the controls. She was so subtle, so refined. She didn’t control the ship so much as will it into stable position. How could anyone replicate that with something so crude as lines of computer code?

Mihrani looked out then, above the ship’s bridge, to the perpetual sunset. God, it was beautiful compared to the cold metal of the ship. Even the sim couldn’t match it exactly. Prevailing winds streamed through two mountain peaks, directly in front of the airborne disk. Particulate was picked up by the wind, reflecting glints of light as it approached the disk. Mihrani always suspected that her mother read the swirls of brilliance like flying instructions in a language written by the long-dead Venturians.

From the bridge, the tether beneath the disk was invisible. Even though she knew it was there, holding them fast to the surface of Venturis, Mihrani liked to imagine they were flying freely through the planet, as if they had just arrived and were still searching for a spot to land and inhabit. What must her ancestors have thought on that journey, when the planet still held the possibilities of hosting a permanent colony? Now it was just a deathtrap for them to escape.

Down below on the bridge, Mihrani’s mother handed off the controls to her co-pilot, then stood and smoothed her shirt. With a salute, her pilot’s seat was assumed by her relief, another girl not much older than Mihrani. Immediately, the ride grew rougher as the disk bounced twice on a patch of dense bluster. Captain Teshan’s hand went to the pilot’s chair for stability, but her face went upwards, toward the observation deck. It was as if the captain knew exactly where her daughter was. Even from the distance, Mihrani could see the flash of annoyance that zipped across her mother’s face.

Another bounce shook the disk and Captain Teshan leaned over. She spoke a few words into the new pilot’s ear and guided her hands on the yoke. Mihrani couldn’t recall her mother ever doing that for her. She never needed to. After a moment, her mother stood and nodded upwards. Mihrani knew her presence was required in their cabin. Now.


The click of Mihrani’s boot heels echoed through the narrow passageway. When she realized how much space her noise was taking up, she changed her gait, stepping closer to the soft mid-sole and rolling her foot. The echoing died down. Now if she could just disappear entirely, or at least until her mother recovered from this latest disappointment. Mihrani shouldn’t be causing a disconnect in the sim, no matter how tough the scenario. She would be expected to make amends for this mistake. More sim sessions? Extra watches on the bridge? She didn’t mind the work. What she minded was spending extra time on something when it was clear she was near, if not at, the top of her class. Hell, if Jancy had been flying, she would have let the first ripster tear the disk right off the tether as easy as a ragged fingernail.

Mihrani passed through the hatch leading to the berthing area. As usual, it was busy with doors propped open and voices sounding out. Nobody on the ship was so charmed as to be able to relax all day without somehow contributing to the ship’s work. But a number of the people did the work from their cabin. Mr. Chirpappi had a small electronics workbench in his dining area. Mr. O’Shea debugged the nav system’s software from the terminal in his kitchen. Others had similar projects, and they all left their doors open, sharing news and gossip as they worked.

Mihrani reached her door and pressed her bare fingertips to the latch pad. The shrill ring of releasing magnets sounded out, and Mihrani pushed the door slowly. Her mother was already in the cabin, standing barefoot on the galley’s textured deck when Mihrani stepped through the door.

Mihrani pulled out a chair and tried to sit.

“Stand up,” the Captain said. “You stand at goddamned attention for a senior officer.”

Mihrani struggled to jam the chair back in place and made a half-assed attempt at an attention posture. Her arms hung loosely at her sides rather than being locked in. Her head tilted slightly. She sighed heavily. The sum of her behavior clearly drove her mother mad with rage.

“Show some respect for me,” the Captain said, like she was talking to a junior officer, not her daughter. “Show some for yourself.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Mihrani said, tightening up her pose.

Captain Teshan folded her arms and paused a moment, inspecting her daughter. “What happened in the sim?” Before Mihrani could answer, the Captain looked away, unwilling to witness whatever excuse Mihrani was about to deliver.

“I was recovering from a ripster. I would have reconnected but they threw a second at me.”

“No. No. You wouldn’t have recovered. You’re not half as good as you think you are.” Captain Teshan spoke so quickly and harshly that it had to be instinct that drove her reaction.

Mihrani broke ranks. “I could have done it. But the second ripster made it impossible.”

“It’s not impossible,” Captain Teshan said.

Mihrani began to speak but lost her balance with the disk’s yaw. She bounced off a chair and kicked it onto the deck. As it clattered, her frustration exploded. “How do you know? You weren’t even there.”

Captain Teshan’s voice was on top of Mihrani in a flash. “Because they threw that scenario at me when I was a flight cadet.” Her heavy breath filled their shared space. Mihrani tried to speak but her mother wouldn’t have it.

“They threw that scenario at all of us. Every one of the girls. Now, they don’t want to challenge the pilots in training. If things aren’t so hard, more will qualify.”

“So if none of them had to do it, why did I?”

“I told them to do it to you.”

Mihrani stared at her mother’s wandering form. “How is that fair?”

Captain Teshan turned back. Her rage brought out the wrinkles in her eyes. “Is it fair that most pilots have no idea how to handle one ripster? Is it fair that every person on this ship is at risk, right now, because there is an unqualified pilot behind the controls?”

“It’s not fair that I have a different standard because you’re my mom.”

Captain Teshan got in close, closer than she’d been to Mihrani in years. Their noses almost touched. “Is this burden too much for you, daughter?”

Mihrani thought she knew how to hurt her mother and let it fly. “I wish I’d been born somewhere else. To someone else.”

But the insult reflected off the Captain like a dust fleck on the metal of the disk. “All you know is Venturis. It’s all any of us will know, until the rescue comes.”

“If it comes,” Mihrani said.

“Have faith, Mihrani,” Captain Teshan said, nodding.

Mihrani wiped at her eyes. “I should have gone with Dad.”

“That coward’s gone.”

“What’s cowardly about an intentional disconnect?” Mihrani said. “At least they tried to colonize, rather than just giving up the like the rest of us.”

“They were scientists. They never expected anything other than suicide,” her mother said, her eyelids wide with anger. Mihrani started to respond, but her mother sliced the air with an open palm, silencing the cabin. “Suicide for an entire ship of cowards.”

“Dad wasn’t a coward,” Mihrani said.

“He abandoned us,” Captain Teshan said. “He lost faith.”

“Only you think that,” Mihrani said.

“You need to know the facts,” Captain Teshan said.

Mihrani found the seat of a chair and fell into it. “I know the facts. I know we can’t get off the planet by ourselves, and we’ve already been waiting over a hundred years for the System Ship to come back and save us. In the meantime, our ship’s power reserves could fail completely, at which time we won’t be able to fly at all. We’ll be tossed around in the wind for a few terrifying seconds until the tether ruptures, and then we’ll all crash in a roar of ripping metal. Until that happens, we’re all just here together, waiting to die.”

Captain Teshan tried to jump in, but Mihrani grew stronger in the face of her mother’s authority. “Dad didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want to wait for death either. He took a chance at colonizing. His entire ship did. They knew that nobody in the history of Venturis had ever landed successfully on the surface, and they still tried to survive, to complete the Colony Venturis Mission. That’s what I know. And don’t tell me that’s not the facts.”

“We’re waiting for rescue,” Captain Teshan said, clearly trying to keep her composure.

“We’re waiting to die,” Mihrani said.

“If we die—” Captain Teshan said, “—and that’s a big if. If we die, it won’t be because of me.”

Silence passed between them.

“So now what?” Mihrani finally said, fidgeting.

Captain Teshan crossed her arms. “You’re in the sim all week. Eight hour watches.”

Mihrani cracked an eyelid. “What time do I start?”

“Zero-eight,” said the Captain. “Don’t miss it.” She waited just long enough for Mihrani to realize the hell of eight-hour watches over ten consecutive days, and then retreated to the berthing chamber without another word.


Mihrani set an early wake-up call for the following day. At 0315, the duty messenger shook Mihrani awake in her rack. But rather than get up, she rolled away, pulling her blankets up toward her chin.

“Ma’am,” the kid said, shaking her again. “Ma’am!” He pulled the blankets down toward her feet and splashed her face with drops of cold cycle water.

With effort, Mirhani slid her body to the edge of the rack and hopped off. Her eyes still didn’t open.

“Ma’am,” the kid said.

Mihrani stared into his glow lens.

“All right?” he said.

“All right,” Mihrani said. “Even if it is way too frigging early.” She hated the four-to-eights but this was her only opportunity of the day. She dressed, brushed her teeth, and found a consolidated grain bar in the galley for snacking. Then it was on the way to the bridge.

No matter the time of day, the view outside the bridge was the same even though the rest of the ship had an artificial light scheme that matched a primitive day-night chronology. As she stepped out from the darkened passageway through the barrier, the orange glow greeted her like a whistle. She immediately felt energy course through her body. The deck officer stood aft on the bridge and Mihrani approached him.

“Cadet Teshan, Sir. I’m here to fill in.”

He returned the salute and checked his watch log. “You again.”

“Yes, Sir,” Mihrani said.

“IC watch again?” he said.

“That’s the one, Sir.”

When the lieutenant nodded, Mihrani saluted again. She crossed the bridge with the same stealthy footsteps she had used in the passageway the day before, hopeful that the other watchstanders wouldn’t notice her among them this morning.

IC was located in a room adjacent to the bridge, connected by a short passageway. Screens filled the walls, displaying a complete image of the disk’s exterior. Mihrani relieved the previous watchstander, who had the lazy eyelids of someone who’d been awake far too long, and set up her watch.

From the seat in the center of the room, Mihrani could see all the screens. She could look out at the mountains in front of them, the same mountains she viewed from the pilot’s chair. But she could also check other screens to see the desiccated cracks of the Bijan desert to the southwest and northeast, and the dusty plume that rose high above the planet’s surface, far behind them to the southeast. Unlike most of her classmates, Mihrani enjoyed the time inside the IC. She enjoyed seeing a part of Venturis that wasn’t visible to the other disk inhabitants. And she enjoyed being in the darkened space. It hid her beautifully.

Beneath the screens sat the other IC watchstander, a boy between the age of sixteen and twenty. Mihrani didn’t know him personally, but knew of him and he her. His job was to watch. Just sit and watch. It was about all boys that age could handle.

He cycled through views of the carcasses of the dead ships, Wind Riders one through five and eight through twelve. They were smashed on the surface below, barely recognizable now, with their ragged metal edges smoothed out from the never-ending grit blast of Venturis’ wind. He inspected the wreckage with the camera, zooming in and over it as casually as a hand-wave. Mihrani had never clearly seen the wreckage herself, but knew that he was breaking protocol. She started to speak, to correct him, but suddenly caught herself thinking about the ship that was missing from the aged destruction below: Wind Rider 6. She usually tried not to, but now she couldn't stop. She thought of the ship, and she thought of her father.

She wondered if he regretted leaving her behind.

She wondered if he knew he was going to die.

She wondered who he thought about as 6 augered into Venturis.

And she remembered first the silence on 7’s bridge as her mother piloted through it all, and then the months that followed, when her mother’s anger had been too much for one person to carry, so Mihrani had carried it too, for as long as she could stand, until she had to set it down. And down it stayed.

“Eyes on the sky,” she said to the boy, who flinched as if stabbed. He disconnected from the wreckage cameras without glancing back.

Exactly at 0400, Mihrani clicked in to the comms system that connected IC to the bridge and reported in. The deck officer confirmed her watch.

“Ready for 0415 connection to Eagle?” came the deck officer back to her.

“Preparing now,” Mihrani said. Once each watch, the IC duty officer had to establish a communications channel with the Eagle, the ship that remained in orbit above Venturis. The process was not difficult, but it required a deft hand to aim the transmitter toward Eagle’s orbit. During training, Mihrani had learned that the process used to be automatic, but that something—particulate, maybe—had collided with the transmitter’s housing and damaged the processing chip in charge of extra-atmospheric transmission. Ever since, the transmitter had to be aligned by the duty officer. Mihrani had once asked, “Why not fix it?” It had garnered her a response from the chief engineer that explained a lot, actually. “These ships were just designed for temporary berthing while the surface colony was establishing,” he had said. “A couple years at most. Nobody ever knew we would be stuck here permanently, and they certainly never expected to have to fix anything.”

Mihrani called up the manual control system. The crosshairs of the long-range transmitter were already pointed into the hazy-orange sky, and Mihrani ran the calibration and called up the Eagle. It was always a short call, but had to be on time according to standing orders. Mihrani confirmed their position, ship’s status, and other details of their daily routine. Then she held her breath. She needed to hear it for herself. In response, the Eagle confirmed no update on rescue efforts. Mihrani signed off and nearly vomited in the trash. That was it. They were stuck.


All that week, when not in the sim, Mihrani moved through the ship’s corridors as if in a bubble. All around her she heard talking, the barking of orders, ship’s business. It came to her as if sent from thousands of light years away. Even if she wanted to respond, she couldn’t. The senders were already long dead.

That’s how she felt, too. Long dead.

Never before in her life had she realized how alone they all were. Sure, the Eagle was hovering above them, but the distance from Venturis to the next human colony was so far that even if Mihrani herself had been rescued, it would only be Mihrani’s descendants who finally reaped the benefits. The realization arrived. In the air or on the ground, Mihrani would probably die on Venturis.

It’s not what I want, Mihrani thought, stopping cold. For the first time she could remember, she considered what she actually wanted. As things were, she was destined to repeat her mother’s life, as if all her mother’s blood and thoughts had been drained, stored, and then transferred into Mihrani. Once her mother’s reflexes started to give out, Mihrani would become the chief disk pilot. She had never considered any other possibility.

She wondered if that was what always bothered her father. He always possessed a depression that Mihrani couldn’t place. When he left for Wind Rider 6, even the ship-to-ship transit wasn’t a sure thing. It had been a first for the colony. The energy had been palpable, and Mihrani now understood what it stood for.


Mihrani hated her father for leaving, but loved that he did it. She understood everything now. Her mother would never understand.

Moving forward again, Mihrani made up her mind. She would make her mark on the Wind Rider 7. She would do something her mother had never done.

In the days that followed, Mihrani stood the zero-fours in the IC. She thought about her father’s vision for the new colony: how he planned to generate electricity, grow food, spread their footprint over Venturis.

When he wasn’t talking about the colony, he used to ask Mihrani about her flight training.

“I’m so close,” Mihrani would say.

During their last talk, before he departed, her father had said, “I can’t wait to see you fly. I mean really fly.”

“I know, Dad,” Mihrani had replied. “Me neither.”


On the morning of Mihrani’s final exam, Mihrani’s mother was up and out of the sleeping quarters before Mihrani awoke. Mihrani took her time getting ready, lingering in the cleansing chamber long after the steam was recollected, wondering if her mother would acknowledge the importance of the day. When she was finally dressed in her flight suit, she moved from the sleeping chamber to main cabin. She stood there alone. There was no pre-cooked meal, not even a note wishing Mihrani good luck. Mihrani was not surprised. It was like they had no idea how to connect as mother and daughter anymore. And so without a word, they each decided to stop communicating.


Mihrani retook her final exam without any influence from her mother. She held the altitude steady in the sim for nearly four hours before anything unusual hit, and even the big event was a non-event. It was a wind buffet that would have gotten only a few people sick had even the worst disk pilot been at the stick. She climbed to get over the roughness. This increased the tension on the disk’s tether, and Mihrani paid out extra length while still holding tension. It was a textbook maneuver, something she could have done even before she started taking flight lessons, just by watching the other pilots fly. Then, before her watch was over, she had to take in the extra length to return to cruising altitude. She handled it all splendidly.

At the conclusion of her watch, she had earned her wings through one of the simplest final exams ever administered on the Wind Rider 7. She understood why her mother wasn’t there. In her mother’s eyes, there was no honor in graduating the simple way. It didn’t matter to Mihrani. Her goal was what came next.

At the ceremony, as chief disk pilot, Mihrani’s mother issued Mihrani her wings. Mihrani stood at attention, her right hand at salute, and her mother retrieved the wings from a felt-lined ceremony box. On a metal plate attached to the box was a list of names of all the women who had worn these particular wings before Mihrani. Two were in the audience, and a third was confined to her quarters, at the end of her life. The wings had once been polished and shiny. But now the patina was a misty brown. Mihrani wondered for a moment—just a moment—whether she would be the last woman to ever wear these particular wings. The thought stuck in her head. It was the first time in a long time that she’d considered her own history. Her father encouraged her to think about the future, not about the past. Ending their ship’s reign as the last wind rider of Venturis was a big decision, especially for a newly minted pilot to make on her own.

If I don’t do this, who will?

Captain Teshan approached her daughter and removed the caps from the prongs on the backside of the wings. She then pressed the wings onto Mihrani’s uniform, pointed ends down, without anything to protect the smooth skin underneath. Without a word, Captain Teshan wound up and punched the wings into Mihrani’s chest. Mihrani had seen it done a thousand times and knew it was coming. She held her salute steady, barely flinching when the tips stuck into her skin, skidding off bone. Then her mother returned the salute and moved to the next graduate.

And that was that. Mihrani was a pilot.


Mihrani stood watch on the bridge six times before detaching. Six times she woke before her mother, dressed in the dark, and stalked the empty passageway. For the first time in her life, she noticed the odor of the ship. It was a dry, organic smell, like dust smeared just under her nose. She wondered how she’d never smelled it before, then realized that she’d always been reasonably content on the ship. She’d always accepted her fate. What she smelled in the air now was a sort of desperation. It hung over everything. It crept under their doors and climbed into their racks with them. It weaved itself into their food and their drink. They consumed it willingly, knowing that they had no choice. Now it made Mihrani want to scream, “We don’t have to live like this!”

It was the voice of her father that calmed her down, when the fits of panic set in, saying, “I can’t wait to see you fly.” She thought of that moment, how glorious it would be. And how short-lived. Her mind was made up, and she dissolved all interactions with other people on the ship. What did they mean to her now? They could only inhibit her plans.

On the seventh morning, Mihrani, dressed in a wrinkled flight suit that looked as though she’d slept in it, climbed the bridge steps and relieved the previous pilot. The seat cushion relaxed, accepting her for what was expected to be the next four hours. It was 0400 exactly.

Another girl, also fresh out of flight training, sat in as co-pilot. Long ago, this arrangement would not have been permitted. But there weren’t enough experienced pilots to cover the rotation anymore.

The girl’s nametag read “Bashant,” and Mihrani pronounced it out loud as a question.

“That’s right,” the girl said.

“Okay,” Mihrani said, filing it away. She wouldn’t need the girl’s name but once or twice during the watch. And then maybe never again.

As part of the routine, Ensign Bashant filled out the watch checklist, then reported it to the officer-of-the-deck, Commander Tak, who Mihrani recognized as one of her mother’s favorite dinner companions. It was a shame, Mihrani thought, that his reputation on the ship would be so closely tied to Mihrani’s actions today. He would always be known as the officer who was on watch when Mihrani Teshan detached the ship. She hoped he wouldn’t be punished for his inattentiveness. Mihrani debated within herself to hold off another day, until a different officer was on deck, but just as quickly dismissed the idea. Today was the day. This was the watch. She had steeled herself for this for six previous watches. If she made an excuse for further delay this time, she’d be able to find an excuse next time as well.


This was it.

She focused on the swirling dust in the perpetual twilight and lost herself in the rhythms. Everything else—Commander Tak, Ensign Bashant, even the ship’s bridge—fell away. It was just Mihrani and the wind on Venturis. She watched the spirals as they peeled off the mountains before her. With a subtle rudder, she nosed the disk to the left and down, dropping into a smooth pocket of wind.

“Everything all right, Ensign Teshan?” asked Commander Tak.

“Fine, Sir.”

“Keep us steady, Ensign.”

“Aye, Sir,” Mihrani said.

They sat there in the pocket for a good twelve minutes before the ripples came in. They shook the edges of the ship first, small vibrations that Mihrani felt in her ankles and knees. She drifted up again and accelerated. The thrusters drove them skyward and the stress alarms on the tether sounded out with a short squawk. Mihrani silenced the alarms and spun to see the commander’s glare. He stepped away from his watch post and stood next to Mihrani, observing her.

“Do I need to get your mother down here to keep an eye on you?” he said.

“No, Sir.”

“Then keep it level.” He stood there long enough to suggest that he was expecting a response. Mihrani was unwilling to give it though, and he returned to his post at the rear of the bridge.

Then, at 0446, Mihrani saw her chance. A ripster was developing down and away from the ship. She could see the swirls and spirals of dust as the light danced off of them. She drifted toward the ripster carefully, hoping not to draw Commander Tak’s attention again.

Ensign Bashant had her face down into the control panel but glanced upwards as she noticed Mihrani’s gentle moves. She spotted the ripster and pointed. “Watch it, Mihrani,” she said.

“It’s fine,” Mihrani said.

“It’s a ripster,” Bashant said. “And you’re sliding toward it.”

“It’s fine,” Mihrani said, holding the rudder steady. From the corner of her eye, she saw Bashant scanning the bridge, antsy for Tak to step in and solve the dilemma of the wandering pilot.

“Commander Tak will—” Bashant said.

“It’s fine,” Mihrani said, and then decided she was done talking. She jammed the rudder hard toward the ripster and pushed the thrusters up. The metal of the ship groaned under the new stresses. The alarms went off again and Mihrani let them ring. Somewhere behind her, she heard footsteps and attributed them to Commander Tak. If he got to her, he’d probably rip her right out of the flight deck. And then there’d be brig time. Mihrani wouldn’t let it get to that. She folded the ailerons and nearly turned the ship on its side. Her seatbelt held strong and kept her in position, with one hand still on the thrusters. Bashant wasn’t strapped in and found herself sliding across the polished metal deck into the bulkhead.

And that left Mihrani all alone to throw the ship into the ripster. The updraft was strong enough to toss them high into the air, but Mihrani balanced the forces with the all-around thrusters. Then she let the wind push the disk upwards. The tether alarm’s warble increased in frequency, and Mihrani knew it was about to rupture. Calls from engineering went unanswered at Commander Tak’s station. Mihrani imagined frantic engineers at the tether, scrambling to keep them engaged. But Mihrani also knew that the emergency procedures required them to disengage before the ship was damaged. As she thought about those procedures, she heard the “thunk” and knew that they were now flying free of Venturis. She had done it. And unlike her mother, she was not about to attempt a reconnection.

“What are you doing?” came a calm voice. Her mother, wearing her pilot’s under-suit, bounced into the co-pilot’s seat and strapped in. Unlike all the others, Captain Teshan was calm, reserved. A pilot to the end.

“What you should have done years ago,” Mihrani said. She pressed the thruster controls all the way to the conn panel and felt the ship dive lower into the oncoming ripster blast. Downward they crept, just low enough to pop out below the updraft. Then, with a deft hand, she dropped the engines back and spun the disk one hundred eighty degrees, so its nose pointed at the sky. Once in position, she applied light thrusters to hold them steady.

And for just an instant, Mihrani glanced over at her mother.

“Are you going to stop me?” she said.

“No,” said Captain Teshan. “I’m not.”

Without another word, Mihrani jammed the thruster controls and locked them in full. The ship accelerated slowly at first, slipping up and away from the planet. But then it found the ripster’s pull, and the disk screamed upwards like a pebble fired from a cannon.

Mihrani glanced outside the ship as they flew higher and higher, but they were moving too quickly for her to see the skeletons of the crashed wind riders on the surface below them. As she piloted, she wished her father could see her fly. She wondered if the Wind Rider 7 had enough fuel to break the planet’s atmosphere. And most of all, she wondered what they would do once they reached orbit. The nearest life was still billions of kilometers away. But at least they weren’t waiting for a rescue anymore. They were finding their own way. They could figure out the next step when—if—they reached the Eagle.

As the sky darkened toward space, Captain Teshan reached out to take Mihrani’s hand. Mihrani accepted it, but couldn’t hold on. They let each other go and looked out the window, at the stars and growing darkness, each entering the new world alone. infinity

Wayne Helge was in the Coast Guard for a dozen years, but resigned in 2005 and now works and writes in Northern Virginia. He has been published in a number of markets, including anthologies from “Damnation Press” and “Permuted Press.” His previous story for us, “Toca la Guitarra,” appeared in the 12-Jan-2012 update.




amazing stories