Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make
by J.R. Johnson

by Molly N. Moss

Archimedes’ Gambol
by Eric M. Jones

Cynthia 2246
by Mark Ayling

Where the Rivers Meet
by Vincent Knight

A Woman’s Place
by Guy Stewart

Mindship Decommissioned
by Karl El-Koura

Anna Who Reached for the Stars
by Janis Zelcans

Mad Dogs Raid Mars
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Blissful Twilight
by Jessica Payseur


A Case for Nukes
by John McCormick

Nuns in Space
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make

By J.R. Johnson

TREMOLO JAIN COULD NEVER GO home. The time lag was so severe that the Colony Founders hadn’t bothered to price out the trip back to Earth. Trey didn’t mind. War, scarcity, discrimination, all left behind. What they had would come from these modular domes, these tunnels. Looking out across the sandy yellow waste beyond the settlement she still felt the sheer gratitude that had filled her on touchdown. But now the planet meant to be their refuge had turned on them.

She staggered over the hospital threshold, legs shaking from exertion.

“We need a doctor!”

She searched in vain for an empty seat. Trey’s voice cracked as she called out to the crowded room, lungs rasping with the effort of supporting Mare’s tall frame. An expert climber and volunteer fitness coordinator, all Mare could manage now was a feeble grip on the thin fabric of Trey’s overalls. Gut tightening with fear, Trey pulled her friend forward into the infirmary.

Trey had to stop herself from shouting as she waited for help to come out from behind the cluttered grey counter. Instead she stared at the frayed edges of a poster on suit sanitation. It was better than watching the line of blood tracing the contours from Mare’s ear into her collar.

The nurse who finally came had dark circles under his eyes and wasted long seconds rummaging through wrinkled pockets for the stylus tucked behind his ear. Only then did he pull out an assessment pad.

“We’re quite busy at the moment,” he said, scanning the line of patients filling the room. When he did focus on Mare his eyes widened.

“Erik, is it?” Trey had to squint to make out the stained name tag. “Are you busy with an alien illness characterized by hot flashes, tremors, sudden collapse, and oh, I don’t know, bleeding from the ears and nose?” Trey was used to being ignored, but this wasn’t about her. Mare deserved better.

The nurse blinked, then drew in a deep breath and raised his voice. “I need a stretcher and a doctor at Intake, right now.”

Behind the man’s steady tone Trey heard the taut control that speaks of real panic. Staff wearing medical red and white sprang into action. As a set of strong arms shifted Mare onto a stretcher, Trey stepped back with a gasp of relief, grateful for the cooling touch of a ventilation system working overtime.

“Were you exposed to the patient’s bodily fluids?”

Trey forced herself to look up from the pair of sensible shoes in front of her. A doctor stood by the stretcher, her once-lustrous hair tied into a sloppy pony tail. The name on her overalls read “Dr. Sanlu” above the twined chain icon that indicated an infectious disease specialist.

Trey shook her head, then wondered if that was true. She saw Mare collapse and didn’t think, just reached out to keep Mare’s head from cracking on the floor. There had been blood.

“Will she be OK?” Trey felt a chill as she asked the question. It was selfish to hope that Mare’s fate would be different, but she had to ask. Aside from her husband, Mare was Trey’s sole friend this side of Saturn.

Doctor Sanlu glanced up from her pad with a sympathetic, if distant, look. “As much as any of them.”

The acrid smell of an open bottle of disinfectant pricked Trey’s nostrils and brought tears to her eyes. Off-balance and overwhelmed, she looked for a place to sit but was met with the curved walls of the infirmary entrance. She settled for the sharp edge of the airlock door.

“Is it plague? What can I do? When will we have a cure?”

“Enough,” the doctor said, her voice sharp. “All we know is that we didn’t bring it from Earth and it isn’t a side effect of cold sleep. Assumptions can only hurt us. Just let us do our jobs.” She gave the data pad a final tap and walked away.

Manners go first in a crisis, Trey thought. That also wasn’t a “no.”

The nurse tightened a strap on Mare’s stretcher. “I know what this is,” he said, voice low, “and so does everyone else. This bloody planet is trying to kill us, and we don’t know enough to stop it.”

He gave a fierce shake of his head before jabbing at the stretcher controls and moving away, but not before Trey saw his pinched lips and puckered forehead. He wasn’t angry, he was afraid.

Trey watched Mare disappear through the isolation door to Intensive Care. The doctor was right about how little they knew, and the nurse wasn’t the first member of the rumor mill to blame the planet.

She couldn’t find it in herself to disagree.


Trey yawned. God, she was tired, but she wasn’t alone working late into the night. Since people began falling ill everyone worked overtime, even someone with a degree as useless to a new colony as History.

She reached out to drag the next page of Colony records into place on the scanner. The first year they established the domes and harvested asteroids. The second year they transitioned off ship’s stores and relied on Earth crops growing in the new soil. Every step documented in triplicate. Another few hours of pointless, soul-killing work, and then she could take a break. Which she would spend worrying about Mare. Days after admittance, Mare’s condition was worse and no one in Medical had any answers.

Trey’s hand froze mid-motion. The sheet on the desk slid under her fingers with the sleek acceleration of permapaper. She sat upright and peered at the page, then felt her shoulders tense. It wasn’t a paper log entry, it was a love note.

That’s what she’d taken to calling these letters, but the weak attempt at humor didn’t make them hurt any less.

“Whose place did you take? A doctor’s? My daughter’s? Ten dead already. Maybe you’ll be next. Better watch yourself.”

She knew how lucky she was to be part of building a new society, what she owed, and how little the other Colonists thought of her. Passthrough, empty baggage, mouth with no hands. And now that the Colony was in the grips of this terrifying illness, Jonah. She frowned from her tiny desk in a corner of the lab at the other, better-supported members of her division. Just another reminder of her failure to live up to even their diminished expectations.

No signature, just a ragged red circle embracing a shooting star. An underground organization, the Drovers should have been left behind on Earth. That they were here, and targeting her, was as disturbing as the more concrete signs of illness in the Colony.

Trey swallowed hard, then double-tapped a corner of the page to wipe it. This was the first explicit threat but taking it to Security wouldn’t do any good, it never had. The worst part was that the anonymous author was right. She didn’t deserve to be here.


“Daydreaming again, Trey?”

Will’s smile drove away the morning’s tension. He wore an unadorned Resource coverall, and neither it nor his self-deprecating nature hinted at his status in the Colony. As a leader in asteroid capture and mineral exploitation, Will’s reputation warranted both a Colony assignment and a sinecure for her on the roster. She slid from her chair to give him a kiss, almost tripping on the rough crete floor in her haste.

“You know better than that, Willet.” Her voice deepened, adopting a mock severity. “I would never waste valuable Colony time on such pointless endeavors.”

Will laughed but glanced around the room. Her spoof of Founder Caplan’s voice was spot on.

“I’m happy, of course, but why are you here?” Unlike her own job, Will’s resource work was crucial to Colony survival. It wasn’t like him to skip out on it.

He frowned. “You haven’t heard?” The intercom on the wall above her desk blared to life.

“Attention, all personnel.” Founder Caplan’s deep voice resonated even through the tinny speaker. “Attention. Colony-wide Assembly in ten minutes. Repeat. Mandatory Assembly in Founders Hall, ten minutes.”

Will extended an arm with a mock bow. “Lady Tremolo, would you do me the honor of accompanying me?”

She stifled a grin and made as formal a curtsey as her disheveled orange coveralls allowed. Not her best color, but it marked her as a member of the Science Team and that was worth a lot.

“With pleasure, my Lord.” She started this game in grad school, escaping the realities of life on Earth by living out the more entertaining details of cultures long past.

They walked through the lab’s containment door and into the corridor still smiling, able to forget, for the moment, that the pressurized walls were all that held back the planet’s harsh environment.


Back in the lab hours later, Trey no longer felt like laughing. The chair’s sharp edge dug into her legs as she sat at the desk, gritting her teeth and trying not to scream. The Founder’s announcement still echoed in her mind.

Amazing discovery. Alien artifacts. Perhaps even a cure. A new culture, exactly what she had trained for. When the shock died down and they began the real work of dividing up new assignments, though, her own name had been as far down the list as it could get.

Will stayed with her even though his project was announced in the first few minutes, patting her hand as people streamed from the Hall. The work details could have been sent via pads, but the Founder liked the idea of a physical Assembly, of sharing the same air and communicating face to face. Of letting others experience your humiliation in person. She winced.

Dara Lakey, a Colony administrator and Founder Caplan’s assistant, sat alone on the raised dais in front of the almost empty Assembly room. A short woman with a muscular physique, she managed to exude exhaustion and tension in equal measure. She cracked her neck and sighed before flipping to a last entry in her pad.

“Tremolo Jain. Miscellaneous cataloging.”

Trey slid her hand from Will’s with a gesture for him to wait. “There must be some mistake. If I could talk to the Founder ...”

“No mistake, Jain.” Dara’s eyes narrowed. “Your assignment reflects your position. The rest of us will carry your weight, as usual. Stay out of our way.”

An undercurrent of disgust ran through her tone, sharp as a knife. Cold as a love note.

In the corridors other Colonists nodded to Will or averted their eyes. Trey’s also-ran status couldn’t be clearer. Will walked her as far as the main junction before giving her a kiss and striding east to his lab. She watched him go and wished for even half of his enthusiasm, his sense of belonging, before trudging north to her own desk.

The desolate plain outside her window beckoned, empty and inscrutable, as she waited for evidence of her uselessness to be delivered.


Eavesdropping on lab gossip gave her the whole story. An exploratory team stumbled on the cave entrance in the midst of a resource dig. Scouting for metal deposits below the planet’s surface led them to a trove of a different sort, sealed into a reinforced network of chambers. The first trip back they transported a small sampling of the find, but even that upended all assumptions.

The pre-selection surveys found no signs of civilization, just a thin oxygen-based atmosphere and potentially fertile soil. Still, the planet had been occupied before. For all they knew, this hidden cache was all that remained of the first sentient species identified by humanity.

By the time Research sanitized, scanned, and disseminated the first wave of artifacts, someone had posted a probable likeness based on found images. Four-legged with a roughly canine configuration, these creatures possessed a magnificent shock of fine flexible scales on their backs and talons but were bare elsewhere. Waiting for her own small piece of the puzzle to arrive, Trey painted in the black and white sketches with colors to match the world outside the Dome. Perhaps it had not been as bleak when these creatures reigned, but the soil’s rich gold would not have changed. She painted the creature’s skin to match, and its scales a brilliant collection of primary colors. She kept her sentimentality from Will, but found the idea of a species deciding what to leave as a record of their existence both melancholy and captivating.

For deliberate record it was. Detailed progress in Linguistics was slow but it soon became clear that the planet’s previous denizens had decided to preserve a piece of themselves, in case the worst happened.

Trey looked past her colleagues to the empty landscape outside the lab’s window. Climate change, perhaps, or an impact event.

Whatever the reason, their fears had come to pass.


Trey’s throat tightened as she felt a sharp prickling in the corners of her eyes. First the news that after a week in intensive care Mare had died, and now this.

She had been given one artifact, one small book, and she couldn’t make any sense out of it. A language primer had been sealed in a case at the very front of the cache, and should have been a godsend. Will’s team was making great strides with the maps left behind, but the written material was giving everyone fits.

Whatever she had, she knew what it wasn’t. A scroll-form book in an iridescent metal casing, it was not a radical re-imagining of the universe, a new scientific breakthrough, or even a social record, from what she could tell. She’d begged the latest crib sheet from Cherry Tanh in Linguistics and the preliminary translation was on target, but the text still didn’t make sense. The language seemed incomplete, a pseudo-system missing crucial components like the subjects of sentences. How the hell was she supposed to extract useful information from this?

She turned a sob into a throat clearing and dashed away a tear, then gasped as a dark spot bloomed on the open scroll.

“Oh, no.”

Trey grabbed a sterile swab and touched it to the edge of the droplet, resisting the urge to scrub away evidence of her mistake. When the moisture came off the page without removing any of the markings, she sucked in a lungful of air. That would have been too much, screwing up this one tiny job.

She collapsed against the chair back, then stopped still, nostrils flaring as saliva moistened her mouth.

Another breath over her palate brought out a scent, faded and even now vanishing into the ventilation system, unlike any odor Trey had smelled before. She stared at the book’s thick roll, edges discolored by use or time, then dug her pad from a jumpsuit pocket and called Will’s extension.

She could hear the smile in his voice but didn’t have time for pleasantries. “What was the average humidity at the time of the Runners?” That’s what they were calling the planet’s original residents. Evidence pointed to a species that ran as much as it walked, and who measured distance in running times. “Higher, right?”

“Yes, but the sealed cave system preserved the cache.”

She listened to the beginning of his explanation on current thinking, that the planet had once been wet but would have continued on its arid path if not for the Colony’s terraforming. She felt a surge of annoyance at Will’s pedantic tone. She didn’t want an introductory lecture, she needed specifics.

“Closer to seventy percent, yes?” When Will agreed she hung up. She’d apologize later but right now she wanted to confirm her theory. And she wanted to do it on her own.

Cradling the book in its case, Trey wound her way past lab tables to a supply closet converted into an isolation room. Trey sealed the door behind her.

The scroll and case just fit inside the experimentation chamber’s clear walls. She eased the book’s two-tube case apart to expose a single vertical line, then propped the chamber lid ajar. Fumbling with the unfamiliar controls, she managed to adjust the humidity setting. She fidgeted with her stylus and watched the numbers climb.

At fifty percent she caught an earthy whiff, a bass note with rich undertones of loam. Sixty percent brought out a sharp, cutting odor as of citrus, but with a hint of saponin. At seventy percent she hit the mother load.


A lab tech found her half an hour later and called Will in a panic. Trey watched through hazed vision as her husband burst wild-eyed through the door. His expression turned from fear to shock as he saw her slumped between the isolation chamber and a shelving unit. Only later, after he moved her to the floor by her desk, did she stop laughing.

“It’s a cookbook, Will.”

He wedged a lab coat beneath her head and frowned with incomprehension. Trey waved one trembling hand toward the closet.

“The book, my book,” she said. “It’s a cookbook.” She shook her head. “I’m sure, I don’t know why, but I know it, Will.” She struggled to a sitting position, unsteady but trying to get to her feet. “Help me. I have to talk to Cherry.”

Will caught her as she fell against the edge of her desk.

“I’ll get her for you, Trey. We’ll figure this out.”

She smiled, laughter bubbling up in her chest. She’d already figured it out.

Cherry didn’t understand what Trey tried to say either, not at first. As the effects of the isolation chamber wore off, though, Trey felt more herself and Will stopped trying to drag her to Medical.

“Wait, you’re saying that scent was not just a sense for Runners, but a critical component of the written language?” Cherry cast a stunned look at the closet. “That could explain the rooms we’ve seen,” she said.

Trey hadn’t realized there were more images than she had access to, but that didn’t matter now. She had what was important. Will, though, asked the question.

Cherry shrugged and glanced away. “We thought they might be, you know, elimination chambers.” Her look turned speculative. “If scent was a critical component of the written language, they’d need somewhere private to read. Otherwise it would be like a library where everyone’s reading aloud.” Cherry mumbled that last sentence as she headed for the door, already working the problem. She paused at the lab’s threshold, shooting back a look with a grudging hint of gratitude.

“Maybe you aren’t what they say.”

Will’s voice wiped the smile from Trey’s face. “What the hell were you thinking? You could have been hurt. What if we hadn’t found you?”

She reached for him, twining her wrist around his in a gesture that felt strange yet intimate. “I’m fine, Will.”

His face pinched with worry as he let his guard drop.

“I’m fine. In fact,” she said, releasing his arm, “I’d better take notes on what I smelled. You should go back to work, too.”

He hovered as she rolled onto all fours and pulled herself back into her chair but cast a distracted glance at his pad.

“You’ll call me before you do anything crazy, right? Anything else crazy.”

Focused on ways to describe the new odors, she forgot her promise before the door closed behind him.


Two days later Trey stood in front of Cherry’s desk in Linguistics, pad displaying her preliminary results.

“Look, Cherry, I think this research might be useful. It’s incomplete but with the new framework I’ve been able to sketch out a broad structure. I just need more resources.”

Cherry set the pad on the desk and pushed it away. The hand she ran across her face couldn’t smooth away the lines. Even a month ago she had looked too young for her position, but now even healthy Colonists showed signs of stress.

“I understand, Trey, and maybe in the greater scheme this might be a big deal.” Cherry’s lips twisted but the smile looked like a grimace. “Hell, I know it would be, if we were back on Earth.”

And not dying from the plague. Trey didn’t say it, but it was all anyone could think now.

“Half the Colony is sick. We need every available resource focused on a cure,” Cherry said.

Trey’s shoulders slumped. Cherry was right. The science teams and every doctor still able to function were searching for a cure. They didn’t have time for what they would see as a flight of fancy from an untrained civilian.

She turned away, but not before seeing a tremor ripple through the fingers of Cherry’s right hand. And as Trey left Linguistics she averted her eyes as she passed a red circle scrawled around a star on the wall outside. The star’s trail angled up to the ceiling like a spray of blood.


She doubted human noses were equipped for this; it would be a job for a mass spectrometer. She tapped her stylus on the desk, thinking, then smirked as she dialed Science Support. Vernon still owed her after that incident in the fish ponds.

None of the Ag Lab techs mixed much with Trey’s division, but she wangled an introduction from one of Support’s extruders. The tech’s name was Winna, and she was willing to show off the work they were doing with the seed samples the Runners left in the cave.

“There is no way to preserve an entire ecosystem. Still, the collection is extensive and I have high hopes for our local garden.” Winna gestured to the greenhouse now devoted to growing new plants. All had taken to the soil with greater alacrity than the Earth crops.

“They’ll need to be tested, of course,” Winna said.

Trey took the samples straight to her contact in Science Support.

“We’re even now, right?”

Hunched inside an oversized lab coat, Vernon McCauly came across as smaller than his 160 centimeters. With prominent eyes that never quite made contact, Vernon was odd but not what most might consider deviant. Even the Founder seemed to have missed his attraction to limbless cold-blooded vertebrates. Walking the farms one night after finding a new love note, Trey stumbled onto his secret. She winced at the memory.

Vernon paired Winna’s samples to the scents in Trey’s book. It took hours of clandestine lab time, but she came away with a code book matching Winna’s plants to Runner scents.

Trey confirmed that Vernon’s file had transferred to her pad.

“We’re even,” she said. “Stay out of the fish pens, Vernon.”


Days turned into weeks spent working on the puzzle of her book. Progress was slow, but it was better than turning her attention outward. Tempers frayed, and the Drovers were getting bolder. Short of personnel like every other department, Maintenance couldn’t remove the symbols fast enough. Security was either too sick to police the corridors or had already been suborned. And the love notes kept coming.

She made the mistake of letting Will find one.

For the good of all, you shall be put out. How could you not tell me about this, Trey?” His forehead creased, the bewildered look of a man whose world was collapsing around him.

“It’s just a saying,” she said. “They don’t mean it.” The silence after she spoke was filled with doubt.

At night, she avoided Will’s concern as much as possible, and chose silence when she couldn’t.

“You know this is an obsession, right, Trey? A reaction. I’m sorry, but it won’t bring Mare back.” His eyes tracked her hands, watching her read through the latest research notes, then bit his lip.

“I’m afraid. If this gets as bad as Gyre Colony I don’t think I can protect you.”


“Please, Dara, I need to see him.” Trey leaned over the assistant’s desk more from exhaustion than threat, but Dara jerked back in her chair.

“The Founder doesn’t have time for you, Ms. Jain,” Dara said. Trey had long since stopped mentioning her doctorate.

“I found a lead,” Trey said, desperation making her say more than she intended. “I can’t make promises, but if we could put more resources on it, I have a feeling ...”

Dara interrupted, her voice shaking with rage.

“You have a feeling? You found what no one else could? Aren’t you sick of grandstanding?” A fleck of spittle formed on her upper lip but she ignored it. “In fact, you’re looking a little tired. A little pale. Ever thought of offering yourself to Infectious Diseases as a test subject? At least you might be more useful than in life.”

Trey wasn’t the only one who looked pale. Beads of sweat dotted Dara’s brow and her face held little of the happy image smiling out from the desk’s projector. Desperate, Trey tried to step around it to the Founder’s Suite. Dara surged up from her chair and blocked the path.

“Not a chance. It’s time you got what you deserved.” Her face lit up with a fierce, almost mad grin. “Not all of us have sinned,” she said, voice low. “Why should the rest of us be held accountable?”

One hand darted out to grab Trey’s overalls, the other punched a button on her pad. “Time for you to go, Jonah.”

Trey yanked herself out of Dara’s grip and fell back against the visitor’s chair, then scrambled to put it between them. The menace in the other woman’s stance felt as solid as a wall.

Trey kept her eyes on Dara’s mad expression, backing away until she felt the smooth floor of the Founder’s reception room shift to the rougher coating of the Dome’s main quarters. Then she ran, stumbling and lurching to one side, feeling a frightened laugh bubble its way up into her chest as sweat wound its way down into her collar.

She was out of time. If they couldn’t find a cure, the planet was going to kill them all.


Trey wiped sweat from her face and focused clouded eyes on the work bench. A translated copy of a page from the book sat propped in one corner, her handwritten notes and sketches crowding the edges. It detailed the first recipe in the book, one of the shortest and one for which the Colony had all of the components.

A small pot simmered over a burner, surrounded by ingredients. They would never know how the Runners thought of the native plants, of course. Trey was certain human minds were not able of capturing the full range of scents, the subtle distinctions between categories. Even a mass spectrometer could only identify differences, not assign values or comprehend meaning. Still, since her first experience with the book’s subtle sensory layer, Trey felt there must be more to this than a simple remnant of daily life. Why would it be one of the first artifacts in the cache? Why would the Runners preserve it at all?

Trey glanced at the lab’s wall clock. Besides, she thought with humor as black as the Colony’s prospects, it’s almost lunch time.

Will came through the lab door at a run, shouting. “We have to go! The Drovers are coming, Dara and the others. There’s no one left to stop them. If we can get to the suits we might have a chance.” He turned away from the door to focus on her and true panic washed over his face.

She pulled the spoon from her mouth.

“No!” His face contorting, he reached for the utensil, to undo what she had done. He took in the ingredients strewn across the table, the wrinkled recipe propped up by indigenous plants.

“You can’t, Trey! None of the new material has been tested on humans.” He closed the gap between them. “There’s no telling what a dozen alien substances together will do to you.”

“It had to be done, Will. If not by the least of us, then who?”

Trey licked the last salty drops from her lips and gave him a smile. She felt a spasm shoot up her legs before the room spun and the floor rushed to meet her.


Of course, Trey thought, as she felt Will’s arms half lift, half drag her into the corridor. The Runners knew they were dying, left clues for anyone who might come after. Built a key.

She giggled, heady with the delicious mix of scents in the air. Sweat, yes, but as a subtle footnote against the grassy odor of fabric, off-gassing plastics, hair and the fascinating stew of individual notes blended to form one whole. One den, one pack.

She curled her fingers around Will’s wrist. “Will, you smell so good.”

His expression flickered between confusion and horror.

“We have to get to the hospital. They’ll find a way to fix you.” His voice was bleak.

She shook her head, hoping he would understand. The headache and hot flashes were already gone.

“Bring the pot, Will.”

He stared at her, brow tight with incomprehension.

“My recipe, it’s the cure.”

A flash of hope lit his face.

“They left it for us, like a, a vaccine, to adapt us to the planet’s defenses.”

Trey sighed in relief as Will stepped out of the lab, tucking the sealed crucible into a carry-all. They took the smaller corridors to avoid discovery, Trey struggling to support as much of her weight as she could. Focused on their path, it took her a moment to notice Will smiling down at her.

“You did it, Trey. Despite the rest of us.”

“Thank you, Will.” Trey pulled herself up straighter. “For giving me the chance.”

The wave of happiness she felt at the praise ebbed as they reached the hospital wing.

A wave of stale air rushed out as the infirmary door opened. Intake overflowed with the bedridden and their caregivers. From the listless eyes and hushed atmosphere, neither group had much optimism. Trey glimpsed a doctor’s raised arms trying to push Will out of the quarantine zone. From the corridor behind them came the sound of many feet running down the hard crete floors.

“Stop her!” Dara’s voice echoed up the hall, managing to leach acid even from afar. “She must be purged if we are to be saved. For the good of the Colony!”

Trey could forgive them. Even Dara. Their eyes met over Will’s shoulder.

“Salvation, yes,” Trey said, turning back to the waiting room, “but for all. We have a cure.” Already stronger, her voice carried back through the room. A wave of whispers pulsed through the room.

“It is that and much more.” She felt the gazes of both the sick and the well tracking her, but none of the tension, the inadequacy once so familiar.

The senses of a once-dead race welled up through her changing body, erasing any remnant sense of failure. She had succeeded where others faltered. The Colony would change, would survive, and they would come to understand more than they dreamed about their new home.

Trey waved away an offered oxygen mask. She heard the doctor at the door, saw Will point at her as he raised his voice. She felt the hands of the patients close enough to touch her. Faces watched with what could almost be called hope.

Her throat tightened in a wave of sorrow. If she’d been faster, smarter, perhaps she could have saved her friend. Mare hadn’t deserved to die, any more than the other Colonists. She watched as a team of doctors took the crucible from Will and hurried through a door into the lab wing. She set her shoulders and stood tall. These people, at least, she could save.

What if they had to stop being people to survive? The thought flickered through her mind like a bird before arrowing away.

The landscape outside the infirmary window no longer looked desolate and uninviting. Now Trey saw wide flat spaces glittering in smooth sienna and gold. Perfect for running. With water and time this planet would be beautiful, the sanctuary they all sought.

Their mistake? Believing such bounty came without a price. END

J.R. Johnson likes writing, food, science, society, and the occasional picture of a cat. Her work has appeared in “Nature,” “Stupefying Stories,” “Grand Science Fiction,” “Not One of Us,” “Luna Station Quarterly,” and other publications.