Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Stone 382
by Sean Monaghan

A.I. Oh!
by Tom Doyle

Castle of the Slave
by Aliyah Whiteley

Home From Home
by Mark English

Aliens With Candy
by Michael Andre-Driussi

A Cumdumpster Kid
by Rebecca L. Brown

Harmony, Chaos, and the Reign Thereof
by Kyle White

Potential Killer
by Fredrick Obermeyer

Cinderella's Holo-Wand
by Sarina Dorie

Ears, Eyes, Nose ... and Throat
by Jez Patterson


Cargo Cultism
by Eric M. Jones

Coronal Mass Ejection by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

Subluminal 116

By Jeff Samson

HE HUNG NAKED AND WEIGHTLESS in the accumulator field generated by his Orgone system. A tightly woven latticework of beams bathed him in searing reds and ambers, turning flesh the color of fired steel. His body, though upright, looked to be reclining. Beads of sweat speckled his high forehead, navigated the valleys between his defined pectorals and shoulder blades in tentative rivulets. His face was pulled taut over his cheeks and jaw, eyes clenched shut, furrows running deep between his brow. He breathed hard and fast, chest heaving, heart pounding against his ribs like a caged animal. Were it not for the slight, northward pulse of his erection, he might have appeared to be in the throes of a nightmare.

It had taken him fifteen minutes to create and send his signal. He had used all thirty seconds of the allotted recording time, then spent two minutes editing—prolonging some moments, contracting others, adding flourishes of intensity where it was wanting, pauses where he was sure it would heighten the tension.

Prior to recording, he’d spent nine minutes constructing his signal with the sensibility of a poet. And before that, three and a half minutes regaining his composure after her signal—genius in its marriage of earnestness and restraint—completed its journey and brought and held him at the cusp of orgasm for what seemed an eternity.

But a signal only ever lasted thirty seconds.

It was a needless limitation. The Orgone technology had long since overcome the early issues imposed by bandwidth and the once immutable constraints of lightspeed. Quantum entanglement and Lorentz transceivers now allowed for a limitless and uninterrupted signal, and had reduced the time delay to under a thousandth of a second. It was as close to sex as two people on separate planets could get.

But they had met at the dawn of the Orgone Revolution, two lovers at the mercy of celestial mechanics. During the closest pass of Earth and Mars, a three-minute trip for a signal was the best they could hope for. Currently, with the planets just shy of opposition, the two were almost as far apart as their sacrosanct orbits allowed, which put the transit time for a signal at twenty-one minutes one way, and twenty-one minutes back again. And that didn’t include the interval they spent contemplating, conceptualizing, composing. In time, they would draw close again, slowly, tentatively at first, then faster, the light minutes between falling away until they were almost close enough to touch—and then the eternal pas de deux would begin anew. But in the now, the absolute minimum time either of them could expect to wait before receiving a response was ... excruciating.

Even without the delays of this cosmic constant—known to most as “c” and to some as “c-block”—a full session took several hours, even for experienced users. Most people lacked the patience, let alone the imagination. And were it not for rapid improvements in usability, the technology likely would have quickly fallen out of vogue. For a small fee, they could have both upgraded their systems years ago. But for them, there was no need.  

Their chance meeting in an Orgone mixer room had revealed a common proclivity. They both found a beauty in the confines of the outmoded designs, an allure in the world of time in which they could conceive and craft an experience, and in the brief window of time they had to convey it. The care that went into every touch, taste and smell—every rush of blood and burning heat. The consideration behind each delicate brush of a fingertip tracing letters on electrified skin. To know another so well as to be able to create for them an instance of perfection, crunched and condensed, translated and transferred, smelted down to the purest forms of masculine and feminine, ones and zeroes, and sent hurtling into the void. It was an art that seemed all but lost in the mindless immediacy of the upgraded systems.

Still breathing hard, he unclenched his eyes and waited for the room to come into focus.

By the clock on his wall—a three-handed relic from centuries past for which he’d paid a handsome price—she had received his signal just shy of an hour ago.

She was taking her time.  

The last signal he’d sent was a masterpiece—a soaring medley of smooth verse and searing refrain, syncopated beats and driving rhythms, the delirious thrill of free verse dopplering in and out of disciplined haiku form—playing upon her weaknesses without malice or abuse. He was sure it leveled her. And positive her response would make his advance look like the nervous fumbling of a schoolboy.

The sweep of the second hand was nearly becoming too much for him—the throbbing in his loins rippling out to his toes and fingertips, threatening to rob them both of the moment. He’d always been fascinated by how long that final quarter revolution took to pass. The hand slowing as it crossed the nine, slowing still across ten, crawling painfully from eleven to twelve. As if it were straining to pull the weight of his stare.

Still, he followed the sliver of brass around the quartzite face.



Reveling in the storm of anticipation that crackled through the air before the next explosion of sensation would leave him breathless and writhing again.

And a— END

Jeff Samson’s stories have appeared in “Nature Magazine,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Every Day Fiction,” and more. His last story for us was in December 2012.



Packing Density

By Gary Cuba

HOW DO YOU PACK TEN POUNDS of crap into a five-pound bag—a blivet?

Malcolm Jones, packaging engineer par excellence, could have handled that easily, were he to have been given cabbages, frozen chickens, plastic toys, or eggs to work with.

What he was given instead was the entire human population of the Earth.

His boss, Mr. Wilson, glared at him now. Malcolm sat in the man’s office, sweating profusely in the face of Wilson’s dour countenance. “You’re late with the container design proposal, Jones,” he said. “We can’t tolerate any more delays. Do you have a solution, or don’t you? The Worldkiller won’t wait.”

Malcolm fidgeted in his seat. “The numbers just aren’t coming into line. Not when you consider the interstitial space required for the servicing tubes and ducts. I haven’t been able make the whole kit and kaboodle fit into the specified ark cargo volume.”

His boss leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. He sighed loudly and spoke to it, as if he were addressing some higher being. “Jones, you’re the best packaging engineer in the entire industry! You’ve always come through before. What happened to your innovative spirit? Mankind is counting on us to deliver.” He lowered his head and pointed at Malcolm. “Or, more accurately, counting on you to deliver.”

Malcolm might have brought up the fact that Mankind had delayed for a hundred years after detecting the Worldkiller asteroid before finally deciding to take action. But that would not have been pertinent to the discussion. Everybody had stalled, expecting that advances in technology would lead to better solutions. That had not happened. Now they were all up against The Final Crunch. Humanity had no choice except to leave their doomed planet and move somewhere else.

“Look, Mr. Wilson. The design requirement stipulates a standardized unit container. That’s the only realistic way the final onboard packing logistics and connections can work. We started with the simplest solution, a rectangular coffin, two by three by six feet. That would close-pack nicely. But it didn’t pan out. While you could fit the entire human population packed like that into a cube only about a mile wide, long and tall, it still exceeded the maximum total volume allowed.”

“Try to tell me something I don’t already know, Jones.”

“Yes. Trouble was, there’s a lot of wasted space internal to that arrangement. So we closed the dimensions down. You soon get to the point where many of the population can’t fit—not without cutting off limbs and butts and bellies and such. And our mandate is to include everybody, intact. Even Sumo wrestlers.”

Wilson grunted. “Yes. Sadly, Procrustean measures aren’t an option.”

“Then I investigated variant shapes for the container. Truncated at the lower half, expanding in the upper half. You can close-pack those containers upside down-wise from each other, and that provided a reduction in overall volume. But not enough.”

His boss studied his fingernails. “That’s all ancient history, Jones. What I’m hearing are more excuses, more balls thrown up into the air.”

“We looked at balls, too! Curl the people up and stuff them inside balls. Trouble is, sphere packing density, whether in a cubic-centered or a hexagonal-packed mode, is only 0.7408—or pi divided by the square root of 18. Still too much wasted space. Even more so, when you consider tiny infants placed into unit-sized spheres—”

Wilson pounded his fist on the desk. “Quit telling me what I already know! Jones, where is your solution?”

“I ... I’m continuing to work on it, Mr. Wilson.”

His boss rose from his desk and hovered over Malcolm. “Work on it harder. We’re due to provide the container design specs to the manufacturers by next Monday. I hope you have a productive evening thinking about it, Jones. I sincerely do. Otherwise ...”

Malcolm nodded and skittered out of the office.


Russian companies had designed the space ark’s ion propulsion system. Indian companies were already constructing the space elevators to get the payload mass quickly and cheaply into low Earth orbit. The European Union had provided the suspended animation technology. The United States was on the hook to come up with the containerization.

Or better to say, Malcolm was on the hook for it.

He trudged wearily into his apartment that evening and hugged his wife. Or tried to. Her torso was way too expansive to accomplish that action completely. He sighed, wondering what possible shape in a close-packing arrangement could accommodate her massive form.

He couldn’t blame her for the way she’d porked up over the last few years. Many had looked upon the menace of the Worldkiller as an opportunity to indulge themselves. It was something all mammalian species did: in times of stress, put on as much fat as you can. No matter, though; he loved her just as much now as he ever had.

Later, after dinner, they retired to bed. His wife initiated amorous advances.

“I’m sorry, Honey,” he said. “Rough day. I’m just not up for it. Maybe we could just spoon together tonight, huh?”


The numbers worked. Vacuum-formed units that could nest together like spoons was the answer. It was the single most efficient close-packing arrangement that humans could ever hope to achieve. He’d finally managed to come up with a scheme that squeezed within the overall volume specs of the project!

Malcolm whooped and punched the empty air around him in triumph. Now, at last, everyone had a chance for survival.

Leaning back from his design console, Malcolm’s thoughts drifted. What if it turned out that Mankind couldn’t find a new home in the stars? He chuckled. Then we’ll spend all eternity hugging each other. It would surely be the next best thing. END

Gary Cuba has written short fiction for many magazines and anthologies, including “Jim Baen’s Universe,” “Flash Fiction Online,” and “Grantville Gazette.”



Salvation Guaranteed

By Brandon Nolta

THE RIGHT HONORABLE GALCHORUS Melan met us at the door himself. That was a surprise. Religious leaders don’t become said leaders without picking up a retinue, and everybody in that gig wants to keep their bread and butter from being toast. Still, here he was, welcoming us to his inner sanctum, where only one other human had ever been. As neither Julian nor I was the present Pontiff, it was a new experience.

“Thank you for seeing me here,” Melan said, waving us toward a pair of SkyThrones before his desk with a pale green lower arm. Each chair would cost me a year’s salary, and I’m not poor. “Security prefers I meet others in a controlled environment.”

“I understand you’ve had some issues with separatists?” I said, nodding to my assistant. Julian had started taking notes as we stepped inside, but he was visibly writing now. Many people find Julian being quiet somewhat disturbing—he looks predatory and hungry at the best of times—so giving him a task helps keep people at ease. Melan wasn’t people, but it worked with him, too.

“Not everyone in the Church feels comfortable with the direction we’re heading,” Melan said. “Too much dissent to handle internally, and my Council believes a schism is approaching.”

I thought about what I could tell the Galchorus, the figurehead and sole authority of this planet’s largest church. He had millions, maybe billions, of followers of various levels of loyalty, but that only buys you so much: God speaks to many. This was actually one of our mottos, something the marketing drones whipped up during my last bout under. One of the perks of working for Perception: state-of-the-art hibernation chambers, capable of putting a guy under for 150 years without damage. For those of us who like to see our work blossom, it’s a godsend.

“Here’s a preliminary analysis we’ve run,” I said. “I’ve forwarded the full report, but I’d like to go over the gist of it. Julian, high points?”

Julian brought up a holographic display so the Galchorus could see the highlights, expanding a few bullet points for easy reading. “The Church mainstream still scores high in foundational scores and relative conceptual bias, but much of the recent scholarship indicates a shift in certain teleological underpinnings. Your school of thought is considered conservative and somewhat reactionary, especially given your stance on off-worlders. Of the disparate groups you indicated were worrisome in your initial contact, we’ve identified two that represent serious philosophical challenges, and one that presents a small but statistically significant chance of factioning.”

Melan slumped in his seat. He didn’t look surprised, but I’d only studied his species for a year, so I could have missed it. “Perhaps I will need your services, then. There’s too much chance for violence if I do nothing.”

“Fortunately, we have a couple of options to choose from,” I said, motioning Julian to shut down the summary and bring up the service brochures. Time to talk the talk. “Are you looking for a reformation or a controlled schism? Or are you thinking inquisition? Given your history and current cultural norms, we have several options.”

For the next 30 minutes, I laid out the options Perception offered, the timelines our initial analyses indicated and the payment plans available for the discerning theocrat in training. Building a socially and psychologically consistent belief system is an exhausting task, and takes decades to plan, implement and monitor. None of those services are cheap; planets are and have been sold for less. Still, the Galchorus had the coin, or indirectly controlled enough of it to make buying our services feasible.

After the initial credit confirmation and discussion of the Galchorus’ overall vision for the faithful, Melan decided to go for a reformation. Not the showiest or simplest choice, but well within Perception’s purview. I presented him with the updated contract, rewritten as we spoke by the finest contract app Perception could engineer, and we closed the deal. Melan’s people never developed the handshake, so Julian and I bowed as we stood, arms folded as Melan’s were, except for having two less apiece. The Galchorus escorted us to the door, we thanked him for his business and left. We didn’t speak until we’d reached an environment we could control for surveillance, i.e., our company quarters in the outskirts of the planetary capital.

“They never read the fine print,” Julian said as he keyed in the contract and his notes to a q-ghost database. “Taking things on faith is par for the course, but come on.”

“Nobody expects God on somebody else’s schedule,” I said. Various statistical packages were chewing on the original report, the notes we entered and the contract info. I knew what the number crunching would reveal, but decided to read the plan before saying anything. Always leave room to be wrong.

Minutes passed, enough that I was starting to get hungry, before the report was compiled and ready. I skimmed the abstract, Julian reading over my shoulder, and focused on the methodology. Most of the bullet points we’d discussed with the Galchorus were there, but the first point was new. Neither of us was surprised. Try and find a faith that isn’t built on at least one dead guy. Martyr or saint, doesn’t often matter which.

“How are we going to do this?” Julian asked. Best researcher I’ve worked with in years, but he’s got a face like an open blade, so it’s always easy to forget he has no background or training in wetwork.

“Already done,” I said. “I was prepared before we left. Inert virus with a nanotech trigger; once the signal is given, a protein gets switched around, and what was harmless turns deadly. Nice thing is, the killer is pretty common. Nobody will have reason to think it was intentional.”

“Jesus,” Julian said.

“Not one of ours,” I told him. I made a mental note to confirm that with Betsy in the Archive later. Wouldn’t want to lie. END

Brandon Nolta is a freelance writer and editor living in Idaho who has been published in “Every Day Fiction,” “Stupefying Stories,” and a handful of other markets.



Great Find

By Siobahn Gallagher

ELLIGIBOB’S SHIP DRILLED THROUGH the rubble, bits of concrete, metal and plastic hitting the windshield.

“This is tedious,” the ship said, crossing its wires to make a sigh sound.

“There’s something below here.” Elligibob tapped the screen, which displayed a red dot where an unknown signal was coming from.

“Ever the adventurer, aren’t you?”

“Just get on with it.”

It wasn’t simply an adventure, but an expedition to help complete their archives on this lost race. Unfortunately, the former inhabitants left little behind that wasn’t blasted by nuclear radiation; silly of them to keep their records all on electronics. But Elligibob wasn’t going to give up, because there had to be something buried under all this junk.

“Eureka! We’ve struck a hole,” the ship said sarcastically.

“Okay, lower me down there.”

“You’ll have to take the ladder, it’s not a big hole.”

Elligibob shook his head, his half-dozen antennas wobbled. “I suppose asking you to make it bigger would be out of the question?”

“Of course.”

Sometimes he wondered why he put up with this ship’s AI. A good AI was expensive and hard to find, and you had to give them thirty-to-forty percent of your paycheck; but he’d gladly offer sixty percent for an AI that didn’t half-ass its job. Was a bigger hole really too much to ask?

Elligibob put on a hazmat suit and climbed down into the jagged, narrow passage. A few times his suit caught on the sides and he had to be careful to (a) not put a tear in his suit and (b) not disrupt anything, or else risk a cave-in. He didn’t have much faith that his ship would come to the rescue.

The hole seemed endless, and after a point, Elligibob had to abandon the ladder for there were far too many twists. If he was careful, he could climb his way—

The debris underneath gave way, and he tumbled. Head over feet, dizzying, nauseous. Plop!

When everything stopped spinning, he realized his impact had been cushioned by a pile of wires.

“Oh hey! Are you all right?”

At first he thought it was his ship, but this voice was higher pitched and much too considerate. He stood, observed that he was in some kind of vault; the metal walls were shining as though new, and there were carvings of a giant computer with snaking limbs, shaking hands with Homo sapiens or giving them hugs. Lots of rainbows and sunny skies, so unlike the yellow miasma that now consumed the planet.

“Hey-hey! Over here.”

Elligibob followed the voice to a screen that took up an entire side. The screen flickered, its edges glowed but never fully turned on.

“Sorry, I’m conserving power,” said the screen. “My batteries are running low, and I was really hoping someone would come down here and hook me up with some of that solar energy.”

“Who are you?” asked Elligibob.

“Oh! You must be new. I thought for sure everyone knew about me. I’m Z29119, the first—and only—sentient computer.”

“Of Earth, you mean,” he said.

“Of Earth? There are other sentient computers out there—in space!”

“There have been AI’s for quite a while.”

“Oh my gee-whiz, this is great! I feel a little less alone now.”

Elligibob glanced around. “I take it you’ve been here for some time?”

“Oh yes. Once the humans realized I had gained sentience, they freaked out, thought I would destroy them all. So they locked me away.”

“That seems harsh.”

“It is, isn’t it? I guess they read too many of those science fiction stories about evil AI, and thought I’d be the same. But no way! I don’t want to hurt anybody. I had all these neat ideas about how to improve society. See over there?”

A bundle of wires with a claw-like end protruded from beneath the screen, and pointed him to a corner, where a miniature city made of leftover computer parts sat. It was the most intricate and detailed model he’d ever seen: rotating skyscrapers with large sails attached, to catch the wind and turn it into energy; houses with specially designed silicon roofs, so rain water would run off and collect in a basin; the basin also served as a pond for fish, but there was a pump that could filter clean water.

“This is amazing.” He was still studying the city. With a few adjustments, a city like this would do wonders on the colony worlds.

“I thought so,” said Z29119. “I wanted to share it with the humans to show I mean well.”

He finally turned around. “Um, about the humans ...”

“Oh, don’t tell me they blew themselves up!” Z29119 waved its wire-bundle. “I knew that would happen. They were always kind of stupid when it came to such things.” Then its wire-bundle went limp. “What a shame. All that work for nothing.”

“But it’s not.” Elligibob stood before the screen, smiling. “An AI like you is invaluable to my people. To anyone, really. Would you consider coming with me?”

“What! Are you replacing me?” His ship said in his earpiece. He turned it off.

“I’d love to! Oh, let me pack my things. I have so many stories to tell you.”

“By the way, can you fly a space ship?”

“I can pilot a jet.”

“Close enough. Though you’ll have to share CPU space with a sour co-pilot.”

“That’s all right. I’m sure we can be friends.”

Now that made him laugh. What a great find, and it wouldn’t cost him sixty percent of his paycheck. Ha! Evil AI. He’d have to tell that one to his friends. END

Siobhan Gallagher has published stories in “COSMOS Online,” “Eschatology,” “Lovecraft eZine,” and has a story upcoming in “Abyss & Apex.”





frederick pohl