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




Home From Home

By Mark English

THE LANGUOROUS ROLL OF THE five hundred spherical habitats brought the blaze of a new day to each of the designer commissioned orbital homes. Each was beautifully made, unique to the owner’s wishes (“Live an exclusive life!” the brochure had boasted). The top half of each sphere revealed a magnificent house surrounded by sumptuous gardens encased in a transparent dome. The lower half showed clinical white blanking out the life support and maintenance systems.

Yellow-white, the sun’s disk peaked over the sharp horizon at the edge of Lethe’s property. A place to spend weekends, a mere two hour shuttle ride up from New Zurich. The shuttle even went door-to-door—from his office landing pad to the airlock tailored into the dome wall—so he could step out from the shuttle onto his lawn. All automatic; no people—no problems. He had lavished his entrepreneurial earnings on a simple cottage set in a floral country garden. A neatly clipped lawn hemmed by wild shrubby borders extended from the front of the two storey stone cottage to the habitat dome wall, a welcome mat for each new day.

The bedroom window captured the early morning sun, as per Lethe’s designs. To the right and left, through the trees of the cottage garden, glimpses of similar independent bubble houses in the ring (“Never hear your neighbours!” The brochure had exclaimed).

All were exquisite. Sychronised. Stranded.

A soft, warm breeze flicked the curtains across the jagged shards of glass in the bedroom window, then washed its summer scent over Lethe as he slept. Bright sunlight spilled over his shaggy bearded face with each billow of the curtain. Lethe turned in his sleep, rousing with the sweet smell of cottage-garden flowers. A smile cracked his ragged beard, his long hair tumbled as he moved with his dream, pursuing the scent and sunlight.

The dream progressed to memory. Peace evaporated from his face, his expression shifting rapidly to a grimace. His eyes flicked open. Lethe leaped from the bed, ran to the window and clutched at the window sill. Sweat beaded his brow, his stare savaged the floral, tangled wilds of the lush garden through the shattered glass. Rigid with rage he gripped the window frame, as he witnessed the piercing glory of an orbital sunrise.

He thrust a white-knuckle fist through the vacant pane and shouted wildly, madly, spittle forming on his lips, face flushing red as he raged at the vista. His broadside abated, an ebbing tide, until with a single sob he rested his head on his arms, the room echoing to his quiet murmuring.


The night of the Event the residents of the Lagrange Orbital Ring Community had a spectacular ring-side seat. In their separate, private gardens they had gazed straight up into the midnight sky; Earth directly overhead.

Network alarms had woken them all to the outbreak of war planetside. A hailstorm of electronic squawks had flickered between the house bubbles as nervous voyeuristic excitement from the wealthy owners of the settlement peaked.

Thoughts were exchanged; many for the first time in the five years since the establishment of the orbital development. You didn’t buy a home in space in order to socialise with your neighbours.

At the Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun the housing scheme had been planned and sold on the safety, privacy, and above all, exclusivity that being off-planet afforded. Each home in a bubble was physically separated from the others, carefully placed in orbit in a circle facing the Earth. The glossy brochure showed how each bubble rolled on its own, simulating the motion of the sun across the sky. A black sky for sure, but how priceless and exclusive was an eternal sky of stars?

The war escalated above them, small sparkles flickered on the globe above, each flash framed by rapidly expanding circles of cloud. Communication from Earth had ceased with the start of the first sparkling atomic explosions. As the pinpoints of light gave way to glowing red raw patches on the planet surface, the messages between the houses became more fearful.

The first hour of war complete, the sparkling stopped. All messaging between houses dried up.

The sun-lit Earth glowed down on them; a vicious orange face split by searing slashes of red as magma remade the planet. The upraised faces of the denizens of the Lagrange Orbital Homes were bathed in exclusive hellish light.

They had all tried to contact the Earth, firstly the property managers in New Zurich, then family, then anyone. Anyone at all. Earth remained silent, brooding. There would be no shuttles, no more supplies, they were stuck in their individual bubbles.

Then they had started talking to each other, finding out who their neighbours were, reaching out to speak and video-chat with any of the houses in the orbital ring. Remote comfort over the network link, friends, but from a distance. The immediate neighbours for Lethe were Brent to his right, and Charmaine to his left. From network chatter he knew they were a banker and stock broker respectively. Both solo, like him.

They started a routine; at noon and midnight when all the habitats were facing toward the Sun or toward the Earth, they would stand at the transparent wall of their bubbles. They would look out across the fifty metre gap at one another and chat across the network. They would wave, smile, hold up drinks—as though toasting someone across a crowded room, Lethe moved from one side of his globe to the other, sharing time between his neighbours, chatting on their conference phones. There was a sense of life continuing, of waiting though help would not come.

Then the communications satellite failed. The networks fell silent. The neighbours continued with their routine, but waving galled quickly, and gazing at someone across fifty metres of vacuum became pointless. For Lethe, the isolation snapped sharply into place, amplifying his separation from the human tribe.

After very few days his discomfort at continually staring at Brent and Charmaine repulsed him from the regular rendezvous, keeping him away, to skulk in his sprawling designer tangled gardens.

Lethe wandered his property, losing track of time and purpose, a momentary vagrant, sleeping rough. The cold of isolation overcame his sense of awkwardness within a week, returning him to his usual post to greet Charmaine. Across the void he could see a ragtag collection of sheets, a pillow, and boxes heaped amongst the foliage of her garden against the glass of her bubble. She had been camped, waiting. As Lethe stared, wondering, Charmaine appeared, weighed down with more boxes. She spied him across the void, stumbled her burden to the ground, then waved and jumped—like a puppet figure on a miniature TV—before falling to her knees, face in hands.

He hammered on the glass, desperate for her to stand and look at him, but his performance, as hers, was rendered a sick mime by the vacuum gap. Hot tears tracked through the filth on Lethe’s face, to be smeared away as he dropped his head into his elbow against the curving glass wall. Minutes passed before he dragged his body away, staggering to the other side of the bubble, to reunite himself with his other neighbour.

Brent’s bubble from the ground up was black as pitch, with whorls of grey around ice-white fractures. The crazed black pearl reflected the bright scene of Lethe’s own home. A confused minute ticked by before Lethe collapsed to his knees as understanding drained the strength from his legs. Smoke. Fire. His neighbour had burned everything in his environment. Lethe pulled his unresponsive form to the glass wall, to sit with his back to the self contained funeral pyre. Tear-blurred vision took in his own burgeoning garden tended by the automatics. His neighbour must have worked fast to set a fire that the machines could not contain.

Such dedication. Deadication. The thoughts teased a squeaky laugh from him, closely followed by a long session of pathetic sobbing. The next weeks were lost to aimless trudging, pounding the ground in his exclusive snowglobe, to end each day at his stone cottage, having avoided Charmaine.

The rhythm of his days had set some certainty into his existence now; wake, rave, then walk, walk, walk. Lethe could not let go like Brent had done—he could sense the appealing pit of annihilation, but shuddered away with the knowledge of the pain that would accompany release. Time had even let him rationalise avoiding Charmaine—he could not bear to see if her orbital home had also been torched to a shattered black pearl; but really he was avoiding the developing closeness, and associated torture of enforced separation. Meanwhile the walking tired his body and numbed his mind.

He had wondered about the fate of the other occupants, around three-quarters of the habitats had been occupied the night of the Event. Most would be alive, surviving. Lethe had seen flashes of light from a habitat across the ring one night—short and long flashes; but Lethe could not read it; who bothered learning old skills like Morse code nowadays? One night when looking across the ring, avoiding looking towards Charmaine, he had seen a habitat shine out fiery orange, a demon’s eye come to claim another hopeless soul.


Lethe lifted his head from his arms and looked to his right where he had set up his network tablet for video and chat—it was grey and mute, with small lines scratched evenly into the screen. He stood, reached for a pen-knife and scribed another tally-mark next to the others. Another day another dollar he thought to himself, a sick smirk twisting his mouth.

He glanced back to the sunrise, shading his eyes against the glare. The sun was different today, no ... there was something else in the sky between him and the sun! Lethe scrambled out of his bedroom, tripped his way down the stairs and out, into the wild garden. What could it be, he wondered? A ship? Wreckage from another habitat? Rescue perhaps? His pace thundered down well-trodden tracks in the undergrowth, to deliver him to the sunward point.

He stumbled, gasping, at the dome wall to stare directly into the transparent face plate of a space suit. The suited figure floated directly outside the dome glass, barely touching, arms and legs spread as though trying to hug the glass. The hands opening and closing, fingers grasping at the outside surface, trying to gain purchase. A faint tapping noise came through, with a clean glass squeal as the plastic fingertips pinched over and over at the slick surface that slid with the sunrise roll.

The figure appeared to slide up the wall as the habitat turned to bring a fresh day. Inside the helmet a woman’s violently red face, eyes wide, fresh tears glistening on her cheeks, mouth gaping and shutting as she screamed out a silent appeal. Lethe pressed himself to the dome wall keeping his face to hers as long as he could mouthing helpless wishes until she slid too high up the wall, continuing in her pseudo-orbit. When she reached the zenith an icy stab went through him breaking his vigil—was this woman Charmaine?

He pelted once more down the beaten tracks, until he reached the older trails to his Charmaine view point, where he slammed into the wall, bouncing back, thrown to the floor. Where was she? His eyes scanned the other side, the stacked boxes, the camp. No one. She must have found a suit somehow (where?) and jumped across the void to arrive at his bubble to see if he was alright—he had lured her to her certain death. She would run out of oxygen and then orbit forever around his day, a vertiginous conscience.

As he turned from the dome wall, a movement in the undergrowth across the gap caught his attention. His heart thumped hard, mouth drying. He stared across at the bushes, willing them to move and reveal the answer to a soothed conscience. Coloured sparks danced before his eyes before Lethe realised he had held his breath and had to whoosh in a lungful of air. The branches moved again, revealing Charmaine. She froze. As Lethe sobbed in relief and beat at the glass she crumpled to her knees in silent supplication.

The next few hours passed with both Lethe and his silent witness gazing across the dark distance, companionable in their separation. As dusk crept in Lethe remembered the suited figure—she would be at his sunset by now. He jumped and ran to the rear of the property.

He arrived at the sunward point, as the suited figure slid down, head first, to his level, no movement now. He looked up, seeking her face, to check in pathetic support that she was alive. Her face was still red, but not through screaming; she had chosen a rapid death over a slow circling asphyxiation. Her open faceplate mute evidence to her choice. Her face reddened by burst corpuscles, her stilled mouth open through the force of soft tissue that had leaped with vacuums first kiss from its rightful place, deeper inside. Lethe turned, his stomach emptying in short sharp contractions onto the grass. He turned back to the dome wall, wiping the acrid spittle from his beard. The legs of the suit dropped down out of view. Tomorrow she would be back, and every day that followed; his own morbid satellite.

His walk back to the cottage was unconscious, his head a maelstrom of images, thoughts; horror and relief assaulting his mind.

In amongst the exhausting welter an idea wormed to the fore; if the habitat from whence she came had a suit, did all habitats have a space suit? He could find it, and make the jump to Charmaine. He stopped in his tracks, lifting his head to look at his cottage. Where would it be, and how to get to it? He had explored everything he could see, but he hadn’t been underground to the automatics and life support. Underground.

He raced into the house, to the kitchen; somewhere there had been a door into a cellar. The small door found, he wrenched it open, a rectangle of black promise. Fumbling fingers around the frame he located a switch, flashing the descending steps into fluorescent blue-white. He clattered down, near tripping in his fantasy of leaping the void, to make contact.

The cellar was matched to the archaic designs of the cottage owner; packed earth floor, stone walls. The door he sought was fixed anachronistically under the steps, shadowed, clean steel, clamp latches, small square glass window. Lethe near fainted at the sight; all that time wading through weeds and grass, lost, when all along technology and answers were beneath his feet. He wrenched the latches, frantic in his need to open the Aladdin’s cave.

A small hiss of inbound sterile atmosphere betrayed the protective overpressure behind the door. The door folded back lightly on well engineered hinges. Lethe paused; he saw a short corridor, painted clinical white, with a second hatch, this time in the floor. Checking that the door he had opened had reciprocal latches on the inside, he stepped into what he had concluded was an airlock. The hatch in the floor had a window also; this one showed him a small room with further doors, and—there!—the sought after space suit!

This door had no latches, only a single button; currently dim green. No matter the number of times he pressed it, the hatch would not open. In frustration he beat at the window to no avail. Panting, he considered his situation, the door, the hatch, the reciprocal latches and his initial conclusion this was an airlock. He needed to shut the first door to make this work.

Images of being trapped in this bright white coffin, dehydrated and hidden until he died, parched his throat. Briefly testing the reciprocal latches, he swung the door shut. Sealing the outer door, he scurried to the floor hatch. Pausing briefly, swamped by the sensation he was well beyond his understanding, he pressed the dim green button. It lit. The floor hatch cracked open, he grasped the edge, and pulled it up, his urgent pace near propelling him into the chamber below.

Catching himself, he descended feet first into the chamber. There were two suits and three other windowed hatches. The one to his front labelled Systems, and to left and right L287 and L289. The window in the first door let onto a view of a mezzanine over a bank of machines— mystery to Lethe—but the latter doors showed long corridors also ending in hatches. He concluded they must be for maintenance workers to move from habitat to habitat.

His blood fizzed through his ears, but he couldn’t just start out into the void—he didn’t want to become a stray for Charmaine as the mystery woman had become for him, forever clutching at nothing. First he had to show Charmaine his discovery. He grasped a suit, and hauled himself and his Golden Fleece up into the airlock, slamming the hatch into place, then opened the door into his cellar.

The day had plunged into darkness when he emerged, but that did not stop him lurching with arms full of voluminous sterile suit to the point facing Charmaine’s habitat. He arrived and flung himself at the dome wall to rest spreadeagled, pinning the suit to the wall. Peering over the suit neck he saw Charmaine rise from where she had been sitting, eating a meal. She saw the suit, her exaggerated nodding visible across the void.


Lethe sat at the outer hatch down the corridor from the door labelled L287. In the two days since his first foray into the depths of the habitat his frantic enthusiasm to jump across the gap had been calmed by the cadaverous gaze from his personal Selene; a cyclic reminder about the value of preparation.

He had scavenged materials to make a long rope; sheets ripped, braided and knotted sat piled next to him, the end tied off on a hand hold. The operation of the suit, how to correctly close the helmet, and remove it, had been practiced. He did not want to find out through the hard vacuum of space that he did not know how to start oxygen flow, nor that he had failed to close the seals correctly. He had also explored the corridor behind both doors L288 and L287. L288 led to an airlock opposite Brent’s black pearl of a habitat; mute witness to his violent escape from isolation. The other airlock L287 offered up a view of Charmaine’s satellite. A giant leap for a man.

He activated the airlock, bracing himself in the small chamber; he did not want to accidentally move out of safety to drift, uncontrolled into the dark. Air hissed, the outer hatch cracked open; his throat dried, his guts chilled. Heart drumming in his chest he pushed the hatch with a foot; it swung wide open, the doorway framed his destination. The suck and blow of his breath echoed mutely in his helmet; no other sound intruded save the bump of helmet on hatch.

Arms and legs moving in short paces, trying to touch all four walls of the corridor, he edged towards the black of the infinite fall. At the entrance he reached out to grasp the hatch with both hands, a lurching movement that left him clamping his gloved hands on either side of the hatch edge. His hands felt clumsy, weakened by the layers of material protection. His limbs tingled, the earlier adrenalin rush fading, sapping his strength. Savage fear kicked in as his legs drifted out of the airlock, leaving him hanging on the hatch, legs flailing in the dark; flesh made flag by zero gravity. Cold sweat beaded over his body, stinging him into a death grip on the opened door. Controlling his racing breath Lethe gently pulled his arms in, curled his body onto the open hatch edge, gripping it with his knees.

He paused, a fearful foetus, ragged and knotted umbilical drifting and looping into space.

The knowledge that he had tested the strength of the rope, the knots around his waist, and the hand-hold in the airlock did not ease the rising dry-sick sensation in his mouth as he let go of the door with his hands to reel the rope in. Once done he pulled the rope into a bundled armful, held the habitat end taut, eased his clamped legs from the door. A momentary drift swirled his head as the habitat swung above him, then below, and around with each of his intuitive gravity-trained movements proving counter to his new environment. He maneuvered until he stood on shaking legs, braced across the open hatch beneath him, his destination above him, rope pulled taut holding him firm on the hatch sills. He looked up. How odd, he reflected, he now had to jump up, whereas from the airlock, with the habitat framed in the doorway against the black of the void it had felt like a dizzying fall.

The rudiments of motion in zero gravity briefly governed, Lethe faced his next challenge. He had to propel himself up, reach the airlock on the other side and grip the handhold he knew was there from inspecting his own airlock.

His legs began to shake as he bent his knees to begin the jump. Violently straightening his legs he sprang up, away from his habitat, knotted rope trailing behind, spooling from his arms. The drag from the material slipping across his suited arms tumbled him. He released the bundle to flail his limbs, trying to re-orient himself. Nothing happened, it was not like swimming, there was nothing to push against. He was tumbling at the whims of the laws of physics, the habitats sweeping in and out of view, one larger and looming, the other smaller and connected to him by a thin, winding, cord. The dry-sick sensation in his mouth returned, he closed his eyes to avoid the nausea inducing view. With his eyes closed he felt nothing, no movement; was he dreaming even, just about to waken?

His back thumped into the wall of Charmaine’s habitat. He shrieked and snapped his eyes open. He was on his back, gently scraping along the metallic surface. He writhed and twisted his body, trying to turn over so he could see the surface, to locate the airlock and handle. His body began rotating, his legs drifting away from the habitat, leaving his fingertips scraping along the dome side as it rotated. He remembered the pathetic fingertip squeak of the woman around his own habitat, her bloody remains. He started scrabbling, urging his body to get closer, to find a grip, a hot flush brought more salty sweat to bead on his body. His visor fogged reducing his world to the inside of the helmet bowl. The habitat surface was smooth, he was not going to make it; the rope had been a good investment in time, he would reel himself in and try again.

He felt something clamp around his wrist. He screamed. Looking up he could just make out a gloved hand grasping his wrist, and above that hand was a suited figure tied as he was, knotted sheets trailing back to a hatch.

The figure tugged on its own rope once, and they both drifted smoothly back to the opening. Through the faceplate Lethe could see Charmaine’s face close up for the first time. She smiled at him, then turned to pull the rope once more, smoothly maneuvering them into the small airlock.

Lethe fumbled with the knots around his waist, until finally he cast off his umbilical so they could close the hatch. The airlock cycled, they walked out into the corridor that was a mirror of his own habitat. His arms shook, his heart fluttered as he hastened to unclip his helmet. Charmaine hurriedly matching his performance. Helmets off they clutched each other, both revelling in the feel of being cheek to cheek with another person. Minutes passed before either spoke.

“Thanks for rescuing me,” whispered Lethe, “I really don’t know how many times I could have done that jump.”

“You would have done it only once. I was preparing to jump when I saw you coming across.”

“We would have looked like quite the circus act, bouncing out from our habitats and back again!” a bubble of a laugh crept into his voice.

Charmaine released her embrace, and looked into his grizzled face. “I’m pleased you have a sense of humour.”

A quizzical look crossed his face, “Why?”

“Because I have to tell you that you really need a bath.”


Yellow-white, the sun’s disk peaked over the sharp horizon at the edge of the property, blazing a new day against the black of a star-studded sky that arched over the smart Victorian villa.

A soft, warm breeze flicked the cotton gingham curtains through the open window, then washed its summer scent over Lethe as he slept. Bright sunlight spilled across his clean shaven face with each billow of the curtain.

Lethe woke and lifted himself on one elbow. He gazed at Charmaine’s sheet-shrouded form as she slept. The weeks since they had clung to one another in the airlock had brought something new into his life; a desire to care outside his own needs.

Charmaine turned in her sleep, rousing with the earthy smell of newly planted flowers. A smile tickled the corners of her mouth, her long hair tumbled as she moved with her dream, pursuing the scent and sunlight.

The dream progressed to memory. Peace evaporated from her face; her expression shifting rapidly to a grimace. Charmaine’s eyes flicked open, she called out, frantic, grasping at Lethe.

“Everyone is dead, but I dreamt I was happy.” She looked at him, stroked his smooth face.

“I’m happy,” Lethe smiled at her touch, “but when I see the Earth, I wonder if I should be. There is nothing left, and nothing we can do, but ... I would rather grow old here with you than go the way of Brent and the others.” He rolled his weight off the bed, landing both feet heavily on the floor, stood and walked to the window.

Charmaine tugged the sheets in a nest around her on the bed. “I sometimes wonder about the war—all those factions, the divisions, the antagonism through isolation and exclusion. If they, or we, had been less exclusive, would we have had the war?”

“Probably not—so are we the guilty ones then? Are we incarcerated whilst the rest of the human race was freed by some vengeful god?” He didn’t turn, but continued staring out into the garden.

“Lethe.” She called, sitting up in her twist of linen. He turned to face her. “You’ve a rare sense of humour, you know that?”

He laughed at her favourite joke. They were living the extinction of the Human Race. They were living their brochure-promised lives. END

Mark English is an ex-rocket scientist with a doctorate in physics. He is a member of SpecFicNZ in Christchurch, New Zealand, his home for the past ten years. His work has appeared in “RayGun Revival,” “Everyday Fiction,” and “Escape Pod.”