Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Carillion’s Schemes
by Michael Hodges

by Edward H. Parks

It Don’t Mean a Thing
by A. Miller

Morning Glories
by Jude-Marie Green

Take a Good Look
by Holly Schofield

Fifty Kilograms
by Jim Stewart

Jupiter Hero
by Rob Pearce

Breaking Eggs
by Justin Woolley

To Hunt a Sky Eel
by Daniel Ausema

Gone Fishin’
by Thomas Canfield

Archangels of Heaven
by Leslie Lupien


Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
by Eric M. Jones

A Turn to the Dark Side
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




It Don’t Mean a Thing

By A. Miller

THERE WAS DISTRESS IN THE council chamber. A dozen lightbodies floated above the table, their membranes glowing with emotion-colors: concerned yellow, worried orange, the deep red of panic. Only President Synona, who floated at the head of the table, wore a serene shade of purple.

“Friends, please, let’s focus on what’s important. This is a great day for humankind.”

“This is a trick,” a yellowbody said, using an android voice to hide his nervousness. “Or a trap.”

“Or dementia,” an orangebody said. “Traveling in cryostasis for so long—it could’ve addled the Sirians’ brains.”

“That hardly seems likely,” Synona said.

A redbody looked up from the arkport. “I’ve found the audio, Madame President. Seems complete, but the recording’s pretty old. I’ll patch it through.”

A few seconds passed in silence, and then the chamber was filled with noise. Squeals, booms, birdlike shrieks: it was music only in the crudest sense of the word.

“That’s enough,” Synona said, silencing the noise with a shudder. Everyone in the chamber had turned the same color: the bright green that signified mental pain. Synona took the equivalent of a deep breath.

“You’re sure that’s the one the Sirians meant?”

“No doubt about it,” the former redbody said, glancing at the arkport. “Ko-Ko, recorded 1,240 years ago in a city called New York on the old North American continent.”

Synona nodded, switching her membrane back to purple and making an effort to look calm. This, after all, was a historic moment. At long last, Earth had been visited by an extraterrestrial species.

“Well, who are we to judge their tastes?” she said. “The Sirians are here, and I intend to keep them happy.”

A laugh came from the back of the chamber. Trocope, the minister for public works, sent lines of derision flashing across his membrane.

“It’s impossible to keep skinbodies happy,” he said. “Their nature craves disorder and conflict. Or have you forgotten your own history?”

Synona studied him coolly. Thanks to the remarkable speed with which his ministry had built the new lightcity transport hub, Trocope was riding a wave of popularity, and would doubtless challenge her in the next election.

“If there’s a chance of obtaining an interstellar drive,” Synona said, “I’m willing to put up with a little conflict.”

“And humiliate yourself in the process?”

“If need be, yes,” she said, and turned to the other council members. “Which means that our top priority is to figure out what a charlieparker is, and where we can find one.”


The Sirian ship had been spotted in space long before its arrival. Lightbody scientists had had many years to study its trajectory and prepare a welcoming party. All attempts at contacting the approaching ship, however, had been unsuccessful. Only later did the lightbodies learn that the ship’s crew, including the captain, had remained in cryostasis until mere moments before touching down on the peninsula.

President Synona and Minister Trocope had been waiting as the ship’s hatchway slid aside. The president floated forward to address the Sirian captain, whose name was Llarn.

“Greetings. I am Synona of the Lightbody Council. In the spirit of peace and understanding, I welcome you to planet Earth.”

“Hot jazz,” the captain replied.

The Sirians were small creatures, roughly the size and shape of toasters, with leathery skin and tiny eyes that flashed with intelligence. Their means of locomotion was a personal antigravity unit attached to the underside of the body.

“I am Synona of the Lightbody Council,” the president said again, more loudly this time. “We wish to form a lasting bond of friendship with your people.”

“Hot hot jazz baby now we’re cookin’,” Captain Llarn said.

Synona glanced at Trocope, who turned a smug shade of blue.

“I’m sorry,” Synona said to Captain Llarn. “My interpreting software seems to be having trouble rendering your language.”

“Let’s groove cat and where’s the reefer?”

Weeks passed. Lightbody scientists, after interviews with Captain Llarn and his crew, discovered that the Sirians—a deeply musical people—had intercepted a broadcast from an Earth radio station more than a millennium ago. This broadcast had so fascinated the Sirians that they had immediately dispatched one of their cryostatic ships to make contact with humankind. The trip had taken hundreds of years, but in the subjective experience of the crew it had lasted mere minutes.
“I’m afraid a great deal has changed since you heard that broadcast,” President Synona said.

She had invited Captain Llarn to her house. This was a glowing plastic shell that resembled the chassis of an ancient desktop computer. Most of the space was taken up by the arkport, a holographic interface that allowed users to access the collective mind and memory of the lightbodies.

“Seven centuries ago,” Synona went on, “human scientists perfected the Filian Neural Map. This gave us the ability to copy the consciousness of a given brain and upload it to an artificial intelligence agent. In the Great Migration that followed, we escaped the prison of organic existence and live now as immortal lightbodies.”

She sent a rainbow of color across her membrane to emphasize her point.

“I see,” Llarn said.

He sat quietly on the floor, his face showing none of its former excitement.

“And so,” Synona said, “I’m afraid we don’t play the music you heard in the broadcast. We no longer need to seek solace in barbaric noisemaking.”

“No jazz?” the captain asked sadly.

“No jazz. But I have found a charlieparker for you.”

Instantly the toaster-face brightened. “Yes yes?”

“Yes.” The president gestured with her membrane, and the arkport glowed to life, projecting a holo of a skinbody holding an elaborate brass instrument. Next came the pop and crackle of an ancient audio recording.

“This is Symphony Sid coming live at you from the Royal Roost, right between 47th and 48th Streets, where the lights are low and the music is a knocked-out groove. To start things jumping, Charlie Parker and the All-Stars are gonna play us a cut on Ko-Ko.”

With a clash of cymbals, the music filled the little house, and Llarn’s face fell.

“Simulations,” he said.

Synona stopped the music. “Yes, I’m afraid that’s all we can manage. But we have many more recordings like this one—the arkport contains a copy of every cultural artifact preserved in human history.”

Her voice became sweeter. “And I have been authorized by the Lightbody Council to give you copies of these recordings—in exchange for information regarding your ship’s technology.”

“No.” The answer was immediate and firm. “No exchange.”

The Sirians, Llarn explained, associated only with aliens who were their intellectual equals. The music of the broadcast had convinced them that humankind had reached this level of evolution; but the humans who had made the recording no longer existed.

“You people,” Llarn said, gesturing to the glowing walls of the chassis, “are weird cats.”

An irritation-prevention program allowed Synona to hear this without taking offense.

“But we have music of our own, you know,” she said. “Music based on pure mathematical relationships and designed to increase higher neural functioning.”

Turning to the arkport, she played a sample of the latest hit song, “Perpendicular Bisector of Angle AB.” The captain recoiled in disgust, surging into the air on his antigrav unit.

“No, no.” He shook his toaster-head. “Hopeless. No knocked-out grooves. We will return to Sirius.”

And he zoomed out of the house, heading for his ship. Synona floated after him with all the speed her membrane could manage.

“Wait! Captain! There is—there may be another way.”

Llarn stopped and turned, ten meters above her.

“Another way?”

“We lightbodies are not the only intelligent creatures on planet Earth,” Synona said, talking quickly. “A small minority of humans chose not to participate in the Great Migration. They kept their skins and continued to reproduce, and their descendants live not far from here.”

Her membrane turned a seductive pink and she wafted up to the captain’s level. “These skinbodies may have retained the barbaric noisemaking practices you enjoy. If I take you to them, will you consider sharing with us your interstellar drive?”

“Take me!” the captain cried, zooming upward until he was almost out of sight. “Oh take me baby hot hot hot!”


The party set out at dawn, following an ancient and almost forgotten trail through the jungle.

Synona had decided not to bring along the other council members. The deal she was offering the captain was not strictly in keeping with the principles of lightbody diplomacy, and she preferred to do her haggling away from the gaze of her more conservative colleagues—particularly Trocope, whose anti-organic rhetoric was making him more popular by the hour.

Captain Llarn had limited his own contingent to two subordinates, one of whom carried a barrel of Sirian beer on his shoulders. The little toasters paused frequently to refresh themselves from the barrel, singing songs to one another in deep, guttural voices. Their flight patterns became increasingly erratic.

“The settlement should be just over this hill,” Synona said late that afternoon. “Naturally I can’t be sure if it’s still there—many centuries have passed since I last visited the skinbodies.”

“I hear no music,” Llarn said with a worried hiccup.

“Perhaps they’re resting,” Synona said.


As they drew closer to the settlement, however, a promising noise reached their ears: a steady thumping that might’ve been made by drums.

Llarn’s eyes brightened. “Knocked-out grooves!” he cried, and rocketed over the crest of the hill, followed by his tipsy colleagues.

Synona proceeded more slowly, rehearsing the greeting she would make to the residents of the settlement.

The skinbodies were a proud people. To them, organic existence was something beautiful and sacred; life in a synthetic membrane, they felt, was no life at all. Accordingly they had rejected each advance in technology that had preceded the Great Migration. When the Filian Neural Map had finally been perfected, the skinbodies had marched silently to the jungle wastes, where they had formed a rustic farming community called the Oasis. Here they had devoted themselves to living in peaceful harmony with Mother Nature.

Synona didn’t agree with their principles, but she admired the strength of their convictions. She had visited the Oasis only once, shortly after the Migration, and had been struck by its simple charm. But that had been nearly seven hundred years ago. She crested the hill with mounting curiosity.

“Oh, it’s one of you,” a voice said.

Synona stopped. Below her, twenty meters away, a skinbody was looking at her with mild interest. To her surprise, he was dressed not in the handmade hemp sarong which had been the garment of choice among the old skinbodies, but in a polyester leisure suit. His hands were smeared with dirt and his wan face showed none of the healthful bloom of his ancestors.

Synona’s surprise grew as she inspected the settlement. Whereas the old skinbodies had lived in airy yurts made of bamboo, their descendents occupied goatskin tents that smelled of cheap cologne. The man in the leisure suit sat in front of the nearest tent, holding a wooden club. At his feet were the remains of an arkport, an older version of the model in Synona’s own house.

She stared at it in disbelief. The port was an incredibly sophisticated tool, the greatest technological advance since the Filian Map. It had no business being in a skinbody village.

“Broken,” the man said, pointing to the port with his club. “No more magic pictures. So I beat it.”

To demonstrate his point, he gave it a few thumps with his club.

Hovering nearby on his antigrav unit, Captain Llarn looked at Synona uncertainly. “Drummer?”

Synona hesitated. Lying was theoretically impossible for a lightbody. There were, however, methods for circumventing the truthfulness subroutine.

“Um, yes,” she said at length. “Yes, I believe he may be a drummer. In a manner of speaking.”

Llarn broke into a toasterish grin and zoomed down to the skinbody, hovering in front of his face.

“Jazz man hep cat play hot licks?”

The skinbody swung the club and batted Llarn into a grove of trees.

“Oh god,” Synona said.

“Captain!” the toasters cried, and buzzed off toward the trees, abandoning their beer in the process. The skinbody retrieved the barrel and sniffed it tentatively.

“You there!” Synona said, switching her membrane to angry black and floating down to confront him. “You had no right to do that.”

Her voice brought other skinbodies out of their tents; they formed a protective circle around the man, drawing crude weapons out of the pockets of their leisure suits. One of them, a small woman with a bloodstained dagger and shaggy eyebrows, stepped angrily toward Synona.

“Who shouts at my Igthur?”

Synona hesitated, then switched back to purple. “I am President Synona of the Lightbody Council. Igthur—if that’s this gentleman’s name—just struck a dignitary of an alien culture.”

The woman blinked. “A what?”

“An ambassador from the binary system we call Sirius.”

“I do not understand the language of witches and sorcerers,” the woman said. “But for shouting at my Igthur, you will do penance.” She pointed to the battered arkport. “You will give us another magic box.”

“I’m not a witch,” Synona said, “and the arkport isn’t magic.”

“It is magic beyond understanding. It has brought us the holy works.”

“The what?”

Dragnet,” the woman said gravely. “Three's Company. Space Cops of Ganymede.”

Baffled, Synona paused to consult her internal arkport link. “No,” she said, “those are merely the disposable cultural products of your distant ancestors. The arkport preserves them only as curiosities.”

“We like The Dating Game,” Igthur said. He had ripped the plug from the barrel and was emptying its contents into his mouth.

Synona turned an incredulous shade of brown. “What’s happened to you people? What about your principles? What about the Oasis of Peaceful Harmony?”

Igthur wiped his mouth. “The Oasis lasted six months,” he said, tossing the barrel aside. “Our records tell of much arguing, followed by cannibalism and goat worship. At last we were saved by the liberator, who came to show us the true path.”

“The liberator has given us everything,” his wife said.

“And who,” Synona said, “is the liberator?”

Igthur conferred with the other skinbodies, then beckoned to Synona. “Come. We will show you.”

He turned abruptly on his heel and set off at a lumbering pace. The other skinbodies followed, led by Igthur’s wife, who clutched the dagger and glared at Synona with narrowed eyes.

Presently they came to an open-air bazaar. Stalls were spaced across the muddy ground, most of them covered with fruit or flanks of goat. The largest stall, however, displayed a profusion of arkports and other sophisticated lightbody gadgets. Floating above the stall was Minister Trocope of the Lightbody Council.

“Come to me, O children,” Trocope was saying, using an amplified voice in a deep bass register, “come to me and receive these sacred offerings. For two months’ labor, you can earn a food processor. For four months’, an electric razor. For twelve months, an arkport and this lovely crushed velvet tuxedo.”

He lifted the tuxedo with his antigrav tool, then noticed Synona. He dropped the tux and flushed red with panic.

Synona wafted toward him with slow, furious wafts. She rose level with his membrane and spoke quietly, using the purest lightbody dialect.

“Tell me, Minister, that you have not done what I think you’ve done.”

“I’ve done only what’s best for humankind.”

“Using slave labor for your public works projects?”

“It’s cheap.”

“It’s immoral. And impossible, too. Your anti-corruption subroutine should’ve stopped you before you even started.”

“There are ways around subroutines.”

“Evidently so. And in the meantime you’ve exploited these poor people, bribing them with trinkets.” She turned gray with disgust. “I wondered how you managed to finish the transport hub so quickly.”

“And I’m wondering, Madame President, what you’re doing out here in the jungle wastes.”

Synona wasn’t prepared for this. After an awkward pause, she briefly described the nature of her plan, trying to make it sound as virtuous as possible.

Lines of derision flashed across Trocope. “Buying ships with barbaric music? Well, you’re out of luck. These poor skins couldn’t blow a horn to save their lives.”

“So I gathered.”

“I take it, then, that the Sirians have packed up and flown back home?”

With a jolt, Synona realized that she’d forgotten all about the Sirians. She looked back toward the grove of trees, but there was no sign of the toasters.

As she gazed at the trees, however, she became conscious of a faint noise. It came from just beyond the palms, at a point where the jungle gave way to the coastline of the peninsula.

“Do you hear that?” she asked.

Trocope adjusted his inputs. “Yes—barely.”

The noise seemed to rise and fall in intensity, but it had a regular rhythm and the barest hints of melody. The two lightbodies glanced at each other, then set off for the beach at a rapid waft.


The sun was sinking as they finally emerged from the jungle. In front of them was a narrow white beach strewn with seaweed. Beyond the beach were warm turquoise waves that lapped on the shore. On the edge of the water was a jazz quintet made up of three chimpanzees and two dolphins.

“Hot licks baby we’re groovin’ high!”

Captain Llarn and his colleagues were buzzing in wild orbits around the quintet, giving squeals of pleasure whenever the band hit a particularly barbaric run of notes.

“Good god,” Synona said.

The chimps, she saw, made up the band’s rhythm section, using their dexterous ape hands to play a set of bongos and a crude stringed instrument made from a gourd. The dolphins, meanwhile, supplied the melody with their blowholes, which could be contracted or expanded to produce squeals and shrieks.

“What’s that one doing?” Trocope said, pointing to the nearest chimp. “There’s something in his mouth.”

“A tube of burning leaves,” Synona said, floating forward for a better look. “He’s inhaling the smoke byproduct.”

“Why would he do such a thing?”

“I have no idea.”

As the two lightbodies watched, the chimp passed the burning tube to Captain Llarn, who took a deep puff and then zoomed over to Synona, coughing happily.

“Charlieparkers,” he said, gesturing to the mammal band. “Equals of the Sirians. Equals and friends. Wanna smoke?”

“But they’re only animals,” Synona said. “Intellectually they’re just as backward as humankind was a millennium ago.”

“They’re going home with us,” the captain said. “Cultural exchange. Musical symbiosis.”

Synona’s processors sizzled with disbelief. Warning flashes shot across her membrane. “But you were supposed to teach us the secrets of your ship,” she said weakly.

The captain shrugged his toaster-shoulders. “Ship is dead junk. Jive is alive. But I will ask if you can come too.”

He zoomed back to the band and conferred briefly with the smoking chimp, who seemed to be unequipped with translation software. Llarn pointed to the lightbodies and gave a high, inquiring wail. The chimp frowned in thought, then shook his head and made a crude chattering sound, baring his teeth.

The captain flew back to Synona with an apologetic expression.

“Sorry,” he said, patting her membrane with a stubby hand. “Monkeyman says you used to be hep cats, but now you just ain’t got that swing.” END

A. Miller has published stories in “Silver Blade” and “Big Pulp,” and has a story forthcoming in “Kaleidotrope.” He also won the Improper Bostonian's 2005 short-story contest. He lives and writes in Los Angeles, California.


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