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




A Woman’s Place

By Guy Stewart

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE TUBES,” said Dirk VanRosenthal. Five old drinking buddies lifted their mugs of Lunar Gold unsteadily. As a ’quake rattled the glasses and bottles behind the bar, they cheered.

Someone in a dark corner shouted, “Damn the UMMP!”

The voices called in unison, “Yer out!”

Therefore, with good intent but little coordination, the men drank each other’s health and the bad fortunes of the Ultradense Matter Manufacturing Project.

They sang along with music from the early days of the lunar frontier blaring from Dirk’s ancient CD player in one corner. Other men shook their heads in disgust and looked away from Dirk and company. Women scowled, shook their heads in bĂȘte-noir and whispered vulgar suggestions among themselves, snickering.

The door to the LookOut! Supper Club and Bar slid open then closed.

“Doan gemme wrong,” Dirk slurred. “Wimmin have a place on the Moon! But not on the surface or inna shuttles or down the Crack! They should be home inna Tubes, cookin’, havin’ babies and ...” the rest of his sentence was drowned out in drunken cheers and overseen by bleary leers.

No one contradicted him out loud because, however objectionable his politics and however big his mouth, he was, after all, Dirk VanRosenthal, unquestionably the only surviving co-father of the Lunar Rescue Patrol—LuRP—and savior of thirteen adults, one Prime Minister, one televangelist, his own ex-wife, and two adorable five-year-old twins (the latter during a sixteen hour, live-broadcast event witnessed by some 4.72 billion humans). He was a legendary lunologist whose tablet computer textbook on the mineral composition, history and origins of the Moon was the gold standard in sixty-nine languages and he had pioneered and patented more lunar surface equipment than any corporation, anywhere.

From the shadow in front of the LookOut!’s door, a female tenor voice crooned, “If you ain’t the Pickled Sexist from the Twentieth Century, then I just won the Miss Universe swimsuit competition in a bikini.”

Dirk froze. Without turning to face the shadow, he said, “No matter how much you beg, Ruby, I won’t marry you again.”

Ruby Marcillon laughed and stepped into a light. A short, powerful woman, silver curls ringed a squarish face set with alley-cat-green eyes. She stood with her fists on her hips and said, “Sorry to bust up your party, lover boy, but the Patrol got a call, the duty roster says it’s you and me, you never answer your pager and you didn’t tell anyone but the boozer boys here where you were going. So they sent the next best thing: your ever-lovin’ ex-wife and thorn-in-the-flesh.” She held her arms wide, presenting herself.

Dirk set his mug down gently and strode from his buddies, past Ruby and into the corridor without a word.

Ruby grinned and followed, saying, “Hello to you, too, honey,” as the door slid closed behind her.


Forty minutes later, they stood side-by-side in the briefing room of LuRP. Captain Arvid Sadat, newest and youngest man ever to hold the command post, faced a pair who had lived history, swallowed hard then dove into his briefing. “We’ve got four people lost underground at Apollo International Park. Interior sensors are not picking up any life signs—but they are showing elevated radiation levels.”

“Who’s the tour leader?” growled Dirk, nursing an enormous plastic mug of coffee.

Arvid swallowed nervously, “They didn’t have one.”

Ruby nodded, saying, “Ah, special circumstances.” The phrase applied to those whose connections on Earth or the Moon allowed them to step outside the rules.

Arvid nodded and said, “The one who tendered the request was Colonel Antoinette Fellers. She’s a retired North American Aerospace Force pilot—ran forty-eight supply missions to space station Courage. She’s also the American president’s cousin. She brought her kids—Paula and Peter—and they all had standard locator beacons on them. None of the flyby scans we’ve done have picked them up. Their buddy is Alexi Dubinin, professor of lunar sociological studies here at Lunakhod Technical College. Working with Russian InterPol, Lunar Security has linked him to an ultra-left wing nationalist group in Moscow with possible ties to the Courage accident a few years ago.”

“The one where Ruby became a hero?” Dirk piped.

Anger rushed up, but Ruby shoved it down and said, “Oh, ouch, Dirk. Let it be. You’ll still be a hero in everyone’s eyes long after I’m dust mixed with Lunar regolith.” Arvid scowled but nodded. Ruby continued, “No internal sensor data coupled with their beacons not broadcasting? Could be they’re too deep, a ’quake might have damaged the sensor net, signal could be blocked by high density basalt, might be intentional buggering—maybe just bad equipment.”

Dirk stood suddenly and said, “Let’s get going.” He reached for the t-comp in front of Arvid who shot Ruby a questioning look. She lifted her chin and Arvid settled back in his seat as Dirk headed out the door, Ruby in tow.

Arvid said softly, “Ruby?”

She turned, blocking the door and heard Dirk stop as well and felt him come up behind her. Arvid said, “Terrorist alert has been raised to orange plus. Space Control in Canberra’s lost contact with the UMMP. They’re currently off the orbital plane at aphelion. Their equipment for electron and proton stripping of iron normally knocks out their electronics and laser communication about once a week. Canberra’s worried this time because they’ve lost touch with the Crack, too.” He paused. “And now this group has gone missing. Canberra thinks something’s fishy. So does InterPol. Be careful out there.”

Over her shoulder, Dirk growled, saying, “We will be.”

Ruby nodded and pushed Dirk out of her way with her back. “Let’s go, lover boy.”


Once the Lunar rescue rover was checked out and they were partially suited, Ruby glanced at Dirk. He hadn’t said a word since strapping into the driver’s seat. In front of them, the departure lights all flashed green, the Tube airlock depressurized and the exterior door swung open silently. Using the paired joysticks to rev up the rover’s six balloon tires, he gunned them out of the Tube and into the harsh light of lunar day.

Dirk turned his head suddenly as she watched him, then looked away.

“Anything nasty you want to say to me, lover boy?” Ruby said. She held her breath. Nothing she’d tried in the fourteen months they’d been in LuRP together had gotten a rise out of him. She didn’t know what else she could do to get him to talk to her. It wasn’t the divorce as much as it was their adopted daughter.

He didn’t say anything, driving over well-marked roads, crossing the bullet train’s tracks heading from the LuRP station to Roddenberry, then to Apollo International Park. He turned on to a rougher road that paralleled the tracks and said suddenly, “I don’t have anything to say to you that hasn’t been said already. If you have something to say to me, do it and get it over with. Then leave me alone.”

Ruby studied him. Unarguably, Dirk the Jerk was handsome—in a seedy, graying-at-the-temples, professorial sort of way. Without trying, he had always managed to strike dramatic poses. “I’d like nothing better, Dirk, but what I have to say involves conversation. Not speechifying. I’ll have to save it until you’re ready to talk.”

Dirk snorted. “Then you’ll be saving it for a long, long time.” He goosed the rover’s speed up to a hundred kph and slewed off the graded surface. They shuddered over rocks and cratered surface, Dirk wrestling the controls. Then they were back on the main road again. “Thought I’d cut off a few minutes of road time.”

Ruby pursed her lips and shook her head. A few years ago, she’d have let his behavior get to her; probably scolded him. Now she just commented, “I suppose heroes do whatever’s necessary.” She saw his jaw clamp tight and muscles stand out on his neck. She glanced at the clock on the instrument panel. He’d been stewing for twenty minutes already. Maybe the twenty years since their divorce. Who knew? Dirk had never had time for talking about feelings, certainly not after Ita.

He took them down the left branch of the road as they came to a Y. He kicked the speed up again. “We should move it. I imagine the family is pretty important if they sent the two of us.”

Ruby nodded. They drove on.

“Why just the two of us?” Dirk asked suddenly. Ruby smirked, and he caught her at it when he turned abruptly. “Don’t savor it, just tell me what you think is up.”

Ruby’s face flushed and she leaned forward and tapped a secondary display to life. “All right, in addition to being retired NAAF, Antoinette is a Lunar Preservation activist.” She looked up and for an instant they shared a look of disgust. No Loonie stood long for meddling Earthers.

“What brand?”

She wrinkled her nose as she said, “Gaianist.”


“It’s the whole belief that the moon is possessed by some sort of living spirit that I should worship that bothers me most,” said Ruby. “Lunar Intelligence has no idea what a Gaianist cousin of an American president, a Russian nationalist who might be a terrorist and two kids are doing hiking on the Apollo Trail.”

“Sounds like a fishing joke,” Dirk said. He goosed the rover’s speed up another thirty klicks, but the rover’s shell started to oscillate up and down. He cussed and dropped back down to a reasonable speed without Ruby having to say a word.

Few on the Moon would have had any idea what Dirk was talking about. His fondness for old-fashioned fishing jokes had been vaporized when Ita—who was ten when they’d adopted her four years earlier—had died suddenly of a massive brain aneurism. The jokes had been anything that began with some variation of “a doctor, a lawyer and a pastor were fishing ...”

Another ’quake rattled the lunar surface. Ruby stiffened, gripping the armrests of her chair.

Dirk cussed again then continued, “Stupid packages.”

“Agreed,” Ruby replied.

“Only thing we’ve agreed on in a dozen years.”

“We used to agree on a lot of things.”

Dirk didn’t reply.

A flush crept up Ruby’s neck. She unsnapped her belts and stood up, swaying easily with the motion of the rover. In the galley, she popped a coffee bag into the ’wave, pressed the key and exhaled explosively as the fan started up. Dirk’s silence still had the power to intimidate her. After this, she’d need a chat with LuRPsych when they got back.

“ETA twenty minutes,” Dirk said. Ruby returned to her seat, sucking on the bulb of scalding liquid. About sixty klicks south of Apollo 11 was a mountain ridge, almost exactly on the lunar equator. Some 300 kilometers of cleaned and lighted lava tubes formed an extensive system of caverns under 3,600 square kilometers of the International Park, interconnected by other natural tubes and artificial tunnels.

Ruby asked, “Did the newest satellite scans show anything?”

“Empty space, shadows and interference.”

Ruby leaned over and tapped up another set of scans. Peering at them she said, “This one was pretty good. I can see shadows of the Parts Display.” The controversial display held pieces from Apollo 13, the shuttles Challenger and Columbia as well as space station Courage. Nearby was a mirrored glass memorial with the names of all the men, women and children who had lost their lives in the exploration of space.

Dirk called it up on his own screen and nodded. “Nothing as far as we can see. So what’s going on here?” He slowed and came to a stop near a huge sign built of fused regolith. It announced that they were welcome to Apollo International Park.

“I’ll go in first,” Ruby said, standing. “You stay here and monitor.”

Dirk didn’t say anything, but stood up and put his helmet on.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

Dirk tapped the side of his helmet as he turned it and seated it in its groove. Ruby scowled and put on her own helmet. “What are you doing?” she repeated over the closed circuit.

“There are only two of us on this rescue. You think they picked the two geezers by accident? We’re expendable.” He shook his head, which she could see because of his chin light. “We go in together.” The ground trembled again. Dirk muttered, “Damn UMMP.”

Ruby snorted. “Whether we like it or not, the UMMP will make the Moon a permanent home.”

“You think a little air is all it takes to make a home?”

“An atmosphere that won’t leak away and gravity that doesn’t leave you with a permanent Earth disability if you live here too long will be nice. Not that we’ll live to see it.” Ruby continued to suit up and a moment later, Dirk followed her example. They checked each other out in silence then evacuated the rover. Dirk slapped down hard on her orange and green polka dot shoulders. He turned and she gave him a once over then slapped down hard on his white and yellow striped suit. Dirk fingered his rock hammer and a half-dozen other tools on his belt and said, “Ready.”

Ruby opened her tool bag and ran a quick scan to make sure everything was where it should be: high density laser welder/cutter, four sets of pliers, clamps and chisels, three hundred meters of monofilament cable, a power pack, first aid kit, gray temperature-insensitive tape, self-adhesive suit patches, two hammers, four different screw drivers, and a battery powered drill. Fondly known as her Everythingbuthekitchensink Pack, she slung it over her shoulder, catching it on the hook there and said, “Let’s find the tourists.”

Dirk was out the door and on the surface moonwalking toward the tunnel maintenance airlock before Ruby had time to slide to the ground from the rover’s ladder. “Slow down, Dirk!”

“If you can’t keep up, go back to the Tubes,” he said. Ruby ground her teeth and set off after him. He passed around a mound of debris and disappeared. Following him, she nearly ran him over. He gestured and said, “Looks bad.” Regolith was piled hip deep in front of the lock and looked to have slipped from the slope above.

“’Quake?” she asked.

“Maybe, though you can’t tell if it was deliberate or accidental.”

“Someone closed it after they went in?”

He grunted. “Bet we’d find the main entrances caved in, too.”

“That I can access,” she said and was busy for a few moments. She had no trouble using her eyes like an old-fashioned computer mouse. Dirk said it gave him a headache. The images popped up a moment later and she nodded. “Yep. All three main entrances look like they’ve been sealed by landslides or cave-ins.”

“This one looks natural. Not like anyone tried to seal it,” he said.

“Or they made it look natural.”

He snorted, “We can’t try and second and third guess ourselves. The lock swings inward. We should be able to climb over the rocks.” He turned to her. “Need a hand?”

In response, she took a few steps back, moonwalked to a run and jumped. As they passed into the shadow cast by the mound, their lights came on, flooding the lock with stark light. She keyed in an emergency entrance code and the lock swung open. She turned her entire body to sweep the light around the large lock, using the suit’s weak radar to overlay an image on what she was seeing.

The tubes were open to vacuum—part of the charm of the Park—and they headed down a slight incline without having to wait for the lock to repressurize. Debris was scattered everywhere. After a few moments, Dirk passed her. “The place has been shaken up pretty badly. How far away is the Crack?”

“Thirteen hundred klicks southwest in Mare Humorum. But the ultradense packages have passed overhead twice in orbit already.”

“Stresses the crust. Makes work for the ’bots and human workers, too.”

“Nobody alive out here except for special events and scheduled tours,” Ruby said.

“When are the Packages scheduled to start dropping?”

“Rodney said about six months when I talked to him last,” her American nephew was a spider on the work crews in the Crack. “Once they light the nuke, it’s supposed to crack the crust enough to let six packages slide into the core without shattering the planet. The orbit will shift outward a bit, too, to compensate for the increased lunar mass.”

“A grand and glorious plan,” he said sourly. “Guaranteed to piss off a lot of people.” They hiked for a long time in silence, joining the tourist trail not long after a five kilometer hike. Dirk stopped, sweeping his lights from the tunnel proper to a fissure in the wall the size of a tube. “I don’t think this is going to be on any maps.”

“I don’t think it was supposed to be,” Ruby said. The lights spattered off the walls. “Well, let’s have a look and see where it leads us.” They hopped and scrambled over the rough ground for fifteen minutes. Ruby stopped abruptly and breathed, “Lord-a-livin’.”

Dirk stopped beside her, looked over her shoulder and cussed.

The fissure had cut between two established trails. In the middle of a smooth, tourist-safe floor was a narrow, mouth-like hole, barely large enough to fit a person in an EVA suit. On the other side was a massive block of basalt and above it, the jagged ceiling from which it had broken free. From beneath the block space suit boots protruded, toes down, one pair large and green, one pair small and orange. Dirk pushed past Ruby, stepped into the corridor and started across the trail. As he passed the lip of the hole, he stopped to look down.

Ruby shouted, “Dirk! Don’t be an ...”

In slow motion, the lip gave way and Dirk fell. He tried to turn and grab the edge, but even under one sixth-G, he fell faster than Ruby could move. The floor swallowed him as another ’quake shook the Park. Shards of basalt exploded from the ceiling, ricocheting off her helmet, deafening her as she screamed.

The ’quake faded. Ruby cried, “Dirk! Colonel VanRosenthal, report!” She slid her bag from her shoulder, pulled the monofilament free and hooked it to her suit while shouting into a silent comm line. Using a charged piton, she sank an alloy spike into the wall of the tunnel. She anchored the monofilament to it, hooked her bag to her shoulder again and slid flat-footed toward the hole, testing the floor with every step. Once on the edge, she gingerly leaned out, aiming the headlights down the hole. A long way below, she saw a flash of color. Her helmet radiation counter also flared orange.

Cautiously she let herself down into the hole, attaching a line crawler to the monofilament. She hung free for a moment spinning slowly, letting the lights sweep the hole. It was roughly spherical, taller than it was wide, frost glittering all around her. Most likely an inflationary cave, it had formed when lava pressurized and pushed the rocks up then later drained away leaving the cave with volcanic gases forming a bubble of thin rock undisturbed until the Ultradense Project started orbiting packages around the Moon.

Below her feet were three space-suited figures: Dirk’s white and yellow stripes, helmet intact; one electric blue with yellow stars, faceplate shattered; and a smaller fuchsia one with purple circles, faceplate shattered. None of them moved. There was also a silver metal case lying at the feet of the blue one.

She played out lots of line so she could move around without unclipping it. Her helmet display showed that the radiation levels had gone up—there had to be a pocket nuke in the case. But the air pressure had risen as well. “What the?” she muttered. She bent over to examine Dirk. Lying in the patch of silvery flakes, he looked fine. She stepped over him to check his suit readouts and gasped. The aluminum neck ring of the helmet had been crimped into a V-shape. He’d clearly struck it against the rock near his head. The right side of the helmet was flattened as well; a layer of the helmet composite flaked away.

She snaked a cable from her forearm and jacked it into Dirk’s wrist connect. With a few terse commands, she had his suit data showing inside her own helmet. She breathed again when she saw he was still alive. But his suit pressure was slowly dropping—right now, only the hundredths place was counting down. But the digression was steady. The crimp in the neck ring must have punctured the seal without breaching it entirely. Internal sensors didn’t detect any blood pools, but had no way of telling if he’d broken his neck, punctured a lung or was having a seizure. His respiration was slower than hers was but he was unconscious and she was scared spitless. She scowled. His EKG was arhythmic and his blood oxygen levels were unusually low. She spat, “Bastard!” He had a heart condition!

She swept the hole with her lights, possessed of an urge to stand up and shout for help. She did stand up, joints creaking but refrained from clicking her heels together and saying that there was no place like home. She slid the bag from her other shoulder, dropping it on Dirk’s legs. With a grim grin, she hoped he’d be around long enough for her to enjoy his suffering from barked shins. She knelt again, opening the bag. Patches would never seal a crimped helmet ring. A high-density laser welder/cutter was worse than useless unless she wanted to decapitate him. Four sets of pliers, clamps and chisels, three hundred meters of monofilament cable, a power pack, and the first aid kit had no immediate use she could think of. The gray temperature-insensitive tape might work if she could wrap enough around his neck. The two hammers, four different screwdrivers and a battery-powered drill were just so much ballast.

She stopped and looked hard at the ambient air pressure gauge. It was substantially above hard Lunar vacuum at around two percent Earth normal. The ground trembled again and basalt slivers ricocheted from her suit again in a spray of shards. The bodies quivered as well and she realized that the atmosphere must have come from the breached suits. The air temp had risen ten C as well, hovering at minus thirty. She swung her head around again and noticed the crystals weren’t as shiny as they had been. Maybe the cave had contained a volcanic atmosphere as well. She checked: it was there along with argon, neon and even a bit of methane.

The microclimate highlighted a new problem, though. If Dirk were losing air here, taking him to the surface would only make his air disappear faster—and possibly precipitate a heart attack.

There was really only one way to fix his suit. She sat for three minutes trying to think of something else, but couldn’t. So she stood up, set the laser on its widest dispersal and swept the walls of the cave, hopefully vaporizing any remaining gas crystals. Pressure leaped to ten point eight percent Earth normal. Atmospheric content shifted to include water vapor and traces of oxygen and nitrogen and the temperature climbed to a balmy twelve below zero C. She put the laser away. Placing the tools she’d need on his chest, she knelt down. The largest pliers and three adhesive patches were all she required. She cleared her display of everything but Dirk’s blood pressure, EKG, respiration and dissolved blood oxygen levels. She stared down at him. They’d been married once. Long ago. Was there any other solution?

None that she could think of.

The pressure in his suit was sinking. Now or never. Her own helmet first, then his. She hyperventilated with a dozen fast breaths. She reached up and cracked her helmet latches, feeling the neck seal squeeze her upper chest tight as all of her telltales flared red. She stopped airflow then twisted off her helmet.

The neck seal put a death grip on her. Her ears popped with a noise like a rifle shot and her left drum ruptured with a sharp stab of pain. Her nose gushed blood. Bitter cold slapped her face. She set the helmet down next to her and unsealed Dirk’s. She couldn’t turn it at all. Scrabbling for the screwdriver, she wedged it against his collarbone and pried up against the point of the crimp. If his collarbone broke, she’d probably burst out laughing and die.

The crimp flattened, she dropped the screwdriver and twisted the helmet again. It turned and gusted snow as it vented. The neck seal grabbed him as his nose and ears gushed dark, dark blood. With the pliers, she flattened the suit crimp, folded a patch over the rim and stuffed it into the grooves with the screwdriver. She picked up her helmet, jammed it on his suit and twisted with all her might as her lungs began to burn. Green lights on his suit glowed.

Fumbling with his patched and dented helmet, she jammed it over her head and tried to turn it, but the rim didn’t hit the track. Frantically, she lifted it and jammed it down again. Her vision began to tunnel. She gasped and took a reflexive breath.

Gases from lava that had surged toward the surface hollowed the crust then receded leaving impermeable glass walls, mixed with gases from the depleted tanks of dead terrorists, and gases Ruby had just exhaled rushed into her lungs. Lifting the helmet once more, she fell backwards, jamming the helmet hard into her neck. She used her last burst of energy to twist the abruptly seated ring and seal it. The suit roared to life, warm, oxygen rich air flooding her face as she panted ferociously, fighting oxygen debt. After a moment, she gave up and let herself slide to the ground.


When she woke, her suit clock said she’d only been out for ninety seconds. She managed to stand up again, sniffed and winced, desperately wishing for a box of facial tissues. “Focus, dummy. You’re not in the clear yet,” she said. Her pulse was still racing, but she wasn’t panting as hard as she had been. Her ears rang deafeningly and her eyelids felt like sandpaper each time she blinked. She scanned the cave, wondering if she should grab the pocket nuke for evidence. “Evidence of what? Perps and innocents are all dead,” she said. She picked up her bag, rummaged for the power pack and with a few pokes and prods configured it into a crawler that would drag her and Dirk up the monofilament. She grabbed Dirk and set the crawler in motion. It was dicey when she struggled to push him over the lip of the hole without proper leverage, but she got him situated, got herself situated and only had a new nosebleed for the effort.

Away from the hole, she jacked into Dirk’s suit again. His EKG was still arhythmic. It hadn’t changed since they started. By the time she made it back to the airlock, she was panting from exertion rather than panic. Muttering dire threats, she dragged him back to the rover, worrying about his vitals for the first half of the trip. When she noticed his respiration was steady, blood pressure steady and that it didn’t seem he was likely to die immediately, she stopped worrying and started cussing him out. Once she was in the rover, she was on the screamer back to Roddenberry and they’d scrambled a shuttle to pick them up in ten minutes.

When the LuRP shuttle got there, she saw that Arvid himself was in command and she endured being helped inside with dignity. Once their helmets were off, Arvid snapped, “What happened down there?”

She was nearly finished when Arvid exclaimed, “You switched helmets with Dirk outside?”

“Not outside—I was in a microclimate at the bottom of an inflationary cave.”

His eyes were uncomfortably wide and the three other rescuers had stopped moving and were staring at her. Arvid said, “You took your helmet off and breathed real Lunar air?”

“We all breathe Lunar ...” she began.

“It’s not the same! You breathed, like, raw Lunar atmosphere! Billions of years old! Like you were some sort of—Woman in the Moon!” Together, the eyes of the two men and two women were shining.

Ruby recognized the look. “Anyone of you would have done the same thing,” she tried again.

“For Dirk the Jerk! That’s like ... you’re a hero or a saint or something!” a crew cut blonde, boyish LuRPer exclaimed.

Ruby lay back against the bulkhead of the rover and said, “I think I’m really tired.” She held her breath and counted to one thousand as Arvid started up the rover. The other three young LuRPers tried to tiptoe around the vehicle and repeatedly shushed each other all the way back to Roddenberry.


The LuRP doctor was only a couple years younger than Ruby and scowled at her once the others had relayed the story. “You are an unmitigated idiot, Marcillon.”

Ruby grinned and said, “I love you, too, Madeleine.”

The doctor snorted. “Strip out of your smelly uniform, lay down in the bed and stick around. I want to see if you’re going to drop dead on me, too.”

Too? What—someone else die on your watch today?”

Madeleine’s look startled her as she said, “I’m praying no one’s gonna die today. Be a miracle if they don’t with that stupid Crack crisis.”

“What’s happening at the Crack?” Ruby said.

Madeleine pushed her into the bed and said, “UMMP’s holding a loaded gun to EGov’s collective heads. Get some rest now and I’ll let you watch the news in a few hours. Keep an eye on your roommate, too.” She nodded as the medics rolled Dirk into the room and transferred him to the other bed.

Ruby grunted and lay back, letting Madeleine cover her and tuck her in. The doctor shook her finger and said, “You stay put. I’m leaving orders for the techs to sit on you and sedate you if you try and leave.”

“Yes, ma’am,” grinning, Ruby saluted as Madeleine hurried from the room.

She closed her eyes and drifted in and out of sleep for some time when Dirk suddenly said, “You’re a hero again.”

Ruby snorted softly and mewed with pain. Her nose was killing her. Clutching it, she said in a nasal voice, “Just what I wanted.”

There was a long silence then Dirk said, “Ruby?”

She held her breath. He hadn’t used her first name since Ita’s funeral—and then it was to curse her. “What?”

“I’m sorry I never said anything about her ...” He squeezed his eyes closed, struggled against the twitches in his face and finally said, “Ita’s death. I didn’t know how else to handle things. Forgetting about it seemed easiest.”

“For you,” Ruby said.

Long silence, then he said softly, “For me. I’m sorry for forcing the divorce and for all the wasted years trying to ignore you.” He struggled again, then whispered, “and her dying.”

She nodded slowly. It was a start. She said, “When were you planning on mentioning your heart condition?”

“Oh. That.”

Ruby looked over at him. His nose was spectacularly W.C. Fields. His eyes were blue and the whites were red. His face had a bruised, pulpy look but she was sure she looked just as bad as she said, “So let’s go back to being friends.”

Long silence, then Dirk said, “All right.” Long silence. Ruby dozed off, and started awake when Dirk said, “By the way a woman’s place is wherever she damn well pleases.”

Ruby grinned and said, “Thanks, Dirk.” She closed her eyes, feeling better than she had any right to feel. END

Guy Stewart is an active member of SFWA as well as SCBWI. His stories have appeared in “Analog,” “Stupefying Stories,” “Aurora Wolf,” “Aether Age Anthology,” and more. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUN-2013 update.