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



Mindship Decommissioned

By Karl El-Koura

THREE TIMES THEY TRIED TO TAKE away his enclosed office and his assistant, and three times Geoff fought to keep both, and won. It wasn’t a total win, though; they’d replaced his assistant—a very intelligent, sometime-professor of astrophysics at the local university—with an undergraduate student who had taken a few science courses. Geoff had no idea how to talk to the young girl. Marcia. No, Mirsha. Mirsha.

He stayed mostly in his office now. Whenever he ventured out, he regretted it as the awkward silence between him and Mirsha dragged on.

Geoff sat behind his desk and studied the latest retirement package offer. They’d tried to force him to leave—but you don’t work in the same place for eighty years and not make a few powerful friends. Although most of his friends were dead now, or dying, or retired. Soon he wouldn’t be able to call on favors. He should accept their latest offer—it had gotten more generous with every refusal—before they forced him out and gave him whatever package they wanted.

A knock sounded.


The door opened slightly and Mirsha’s head poked through. Her skin was sky-blue today; Geoff realized he should have remarked on it when he came in that morning. It was too late to remark now. “You’ve got a message coming through,” she said.

“I do?” Geoff hated that he sounded so surprised. Of course I’ve got a message; why shouldn’t I have a message? I work here, don’t I? Or maybe it’s a personal call. I have friends. “Okay, thanks Mirsha,” he said, smiling apologetically, as if to say he’d love to talk more but he was otherwise occupied.

When she left, Geoff opened his desk drawer and rummaged for the small earpiece. Why do they make these things so tiny? So easy to misplace. Yellow, shaped like a snail—here it is! He blew the dirt and dust off and slipped it over his ear.

Geoff here.

Geoff, it’s Mr. Drycker. Mr. Drycker was thirty years his junior, but his boss’s boss’s boss. Geoff was surprised he was calling him directly. We need you.

You do? I mean, whatever you need. I’m here to serve. That’s what I—

We need you to jump to Pluto. A mindship is resisting decommissioning.

Geoff shook his head. But that’s not possible, Sir. I mean, of course it’s possible or you wouldn’t be telling me that it’s so. It’s just that I—

This mindship is asking for you by name. Shields are up, and it’s threatening to self-destruct if we act to decommission or if we don’t get you there within the hour.

But how can a mindship—

It has enough warheads on-board that its self-destruct would wipe out the orbital station and a few of the colonies on Pluto and Charon. You understand we can’t let that happen.

Yes, of course. But—

Good. There’s a driver waiting for you outside.

Happy to serve. But Mr. Drycker didn’t hear that; Geoff sensed he’d already disconnected.

He removed his own earpiece and placed it in his shirt’s front pocket. How could a mindship about to be decommissioned have control over its systems—shields or self-destruct or anything at all? And why would a mindship ask for him by name?

Outside, he told Mirsha that he had to go to Pluto.

“Pluto?” she said, her wide eyes getting wider. “I’ve never been.”

“It’s an emergency,” Geoff said. “Lives are in danger.”

“Really? It’s that serious?”

“Dead serious,” Geoff said, then regretted his choice of words. “I have to go.”

“Let me walk you out,” Mirsha said, standing up.

Geoff waved her away. “Just monitor my calls. I’ll have my earpiece with me.”

“Good luck, Mr. Zeistley,” she called out after him.

He walked quickly until he turned the corner. There, he leaned against the wall to catch his breath, then made his way to the elevator at a more reasonable pace.


Geoff thought his heart might explode, or his stomach reveal its contents; this Styner fellow drove like a maniac. He dodged traffic as if the slightest error wouldn’t end both their lives; and turned the flycar from side to side and upside down to make it through any unoccupied space.

“You okay?” Styner said, turning his head.

Geoff nodded. “Maybe we should go a little slower.”

“As you wish,” Styner said, but didn’t seem to slow down.

Finally they landed on the roof of the jumpport building. Styner was out of the car and around to help Geoff before Geoff could deactivate his restraints. The air was cool and refreshing and the wind swept away most of Geoff’s nausea. He wished he could stay outdoors longer, but Styner led him by the arm—rather roughly, actually—into the elevators.

On the fourteenth floor, the receptionist asked them to have a seat. They were experiencing delays, but getting Geoff to Pluto was their number-one priority.

Geoff was glad for the break. “How much do you know about the situation over there?” he said, as if he did this type of work all the time and this was one of his standard preliminary questions.

“Not much.” Styner didn’t sit, and kept glancing impatiently at the door that led to the jumppoint. “I can connect you with Pluto Orbital, if you want. They’ll know more.”

“Yes, please.”

Styner slipped on his earpiece. His eyebrows tightened, relaxed, then tightened again. His face contorted and he cursed.

“What’s going on?” Geoff said.

“The signal’s being jammed. It’s that damned ship.”

“You’re kidding.”


“Do you know anything at all about it?”

“Next to nothing. It’s old, I know that; it was in service before I was even born.”

Geoff snorted—I was in service before you were born, he thought.

“The ship itself is called the Nova Warrior,” Styner went on, oblivious.

“And the mind?”

Styner turned again to look at the closed door. Then he glared at the receptionist, who didn’t seem to notice. “No idea.”

That’s helpful, Geoff thought.


Geoff stood in a meeting room aboard the “Nova Warrior,” facing the holographic image of Mart, the ship’s mind. Mart had chosen to look twenty-something. His hair was long and dark and uncombed.

“Thanks for coming,” Mart said, a boyish grin on his lips. “It’s so much nicer to speak with people in person, isn’t it?” He motioned for Geoff to sit down.

Geoff didn’t want to take more orders from Mart, but he was too tired to keep standing. “You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble, you know,” he said, which was not the way he’d intended to approach the situation. As he’d piloted the shuttle towards the “Nova Warrior,” Mr. Drycker had contacted him again, asked if he understood his task, and said, “You’re not going to screw this up, are you?” Geoff had burned at that, but already his mouth had betrayed him into saying something without first thinking it through.

“We’ll see if I’ve caused enough,” Mart said, sitting across from him and placing his hands on the table.

“What does that mean?”

The overhead lights flickered. It lasted only a moment, but they blinked off-on, off-on before turning steady again.

“I want to show everyone that I’m not useless,” Mart said, as if nothing had happened. “Look at all I’ve done, without a crew and tethered to the station.”

“All you’ve done is show that you’re unpredictable and uncontrollable.”

“I was backed into a corner. Don’t you see that?”

“You had your life,” Geoff said. He took a deep breath. “How long did you live in a human body?”

“A hundred and forty-two years.”

“And so far as a ship?”


“One-hundred-and-seventy-six years is more than most people get.”

“I can be useful in the war,” Mart said.

Something about Mart’s demeanor made Geoff stay quiet for a long moment. Finally he said, “You can’t even keep your lights from flickering.”

“But I can block communication signals. I can summon you from Earth on a moment’s notice. I can hold a planet, a dwarf planet and a station hostage. I can—”

“That just makes you dangerous, not useful.”

“My existence hangs in jeopardy! Wouldn’t you do everything in your power if our situations were reversed?”

“You signed up for this,” Geoff said. “There were no surprises here.”

“I wonder if it would be so easy to say that if our situations really were reversed.”

“I’ll die too some day. I accept that.”

“But you won’t be killed! You’ll die naturally. I can still be of service, don’t you believe that? Transfer me to another ship. Please.”

“It’s not just the Nova Warrior that’s gotten old, Mart.”

Neither spoke for a while; the soft hum of the ship’s engines, which Geoff had only now become aware of, suddenly seemed so loud that he wondered how he hadn’t noticed it before.

“You know why I brought you here?” Mart said, finally.


“Because it was your editorial in the weekly rag they used to beam to us retired army people that convinced me to sign up. Another Chance: How New Technology Can Give You A Second Life. At the time, I felt like my body was falling apart. My back was in near-constant pain, my stomach was never restful, my knees were replaced a half-dozen times. I took more pills than there are hours in the day, which didn’t help with my stomach. Every year, they zapped my eyes so I’d see better, but every year my sight got fuzzier. When I read your article, with its promise of adventure and new life, I thought, This is the way out. This is the way out of the death spiral of the human body, the ticking clock of human life, where every second brings you one second closer to your own demise. But entropy is a relentless predator, isn’t she? You can’t escape her grasp for long. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, right?”

“Mart, you signed a contract.”

“Give me another ship. Please.”

“You signed a contract.”


He just doesn’t get it, Geoff thought. “The human brain—it’s wonderful, it’s a miracle,” he said. “It’s capable of great things, of wondrous imagination, of conceiving beautiful art. It’s even capable of bending spacetime itself, an astounding trick we can’t replicate with any invention, no matter what we try. But the human brain is still subject to corruption like everything else in this world.”

“Fine,” Mart said. “Okay. I accept. But don’t shut me down like some machine. Let me travel the stars, alone even. Let me roam the galaxies until my power runs out. Let me die a natural death.”

“We’re at war,” Geoff said. “What if you fell into the enemy’s hands?”

“I won’t.”

“We can’t take that risk.”

“So that’s it?”

“What did you think? That your stunts would impress anyone? All you’ve done is cause hundreds of people a great deal of stress and anxiety. Including me.”

“Shouldn’t I rage against the dying of the light?”

On his wrist, Geoff’s watch glowed faintly; he would have missed the change, had he not been stealing glances at his hand. “Mart, I need to tell you something.”

“They’ve surrounded me with a containment field.”

“You knew?”

“Of course.”

“Why didn’t you do anything to stop them?”

“Like detonate my warheads and kill thousands of innocent people? I only said that to bring you here. I deactivated my weapons before I made the first threat.”

Geoff looked away. “There’s nothing I can do to help you.”

“What about a body, a robotic one? Or a small cruiser?” The words came quickly; one final, desperate, mad dash attempt to extend his existence.

“I’m sorry. Do you have any idea how expensive that would be?”

Mart really thought Geoff had the power to do something for him. Geoff almost told Mart that all of his powers were barely enough to keep himself from getting moved to an open cubicle in a small, out-of-the-way building on Earth. He almost told Mart that he was sent here with a script, that he was little more than a robot himself, programmed to deliver a specific message, to appease and distract Mart long enough for them to sneak in the ships and set up the containment field. He almost told Mart that he knew how expensive it would be to transfer Mart’s brain into a robotic body because he’d looked into the procedure for himself.

“All these years of service.”

Geoff didn’t respond.

“You know,” Mart said, standing up. “You risked your life to come here. You may be risking it still.”

Geoff couldn’t help but smile. “I’ve been sitting here thinking about how similar we are, Mart. I’m an old man myself. I never married. No kids. Most of my friends are dead. Pathetic as it sounds, this conversation is the closest I’ve felt to another human being in years.” He shrugged. “No one will miss me if I die. But you’ve already tipped your hand. You don’t have it in you.”

Mart was quiet for a long while, his back to Geoff. Suddenly Geoff had the irresistible urge to screw up his task, to try to save Mart. But what could be done? Geoff had no power with anyone, and the “Nova Warrior” was surrounded.

“You should go,” Mart said, turning around. “I’m glad I finally got to meet you.”

Geoff began to say something, but thought better of it. Then he said it after all. “If there was something I could have done for you,” he said, and left the sentence incomplete.

Mart stretched out his hand and Geoff took it.

Back aboard his shuttle, Geoff flew out of the open cargo doors. Behind him, the ”Nova Warrior” floated in space, tethered to the station he now approached. Suddenly, even as he watched it on his viewscreen, the ship exploded blue and red and orange, a bright, fiery, spherical flame that was quickly extinguished by the containment field.

Geoff stared at the empty space the big ship had occupied only moments before, and he thought he heard the echo of Mart’s voice.

You won’t drain my power, Mart seemed to be saying. You won’t recycle my skin and guts. I won’t go gently—no, not gently.


“I’ll have nightmares about it for the rest of my life,” Geoff said, picking up the small plastic model of a human brain on his desk and toying with it.

“You did what you had to do.” Mirsha sat across from him, her purple-skinned legs crossed one over the other.

“That’s a comfort.”

“There wasn’t anything you could do, Geoff.”

“I know. But it doesn’t make it easier.” He sat up, as if to put that part of the conversation behind them. “Listen, I’ve made a decision. I’m leaving the government.”

“Oh?” Geoff was glad to see genuine concern on Mirsha’s face. “You’re retiring?”

“Something like that.” He put the brain down. “A good friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in years is Dean of Science at Luna University. Some of his professors are doing really great work in neurobrain mechanics. Most of the research in the field has involved trying to figure out how the human brain, properly amplified, can bend spacetime. The idea being, once we figure that out, maybe we can build machines to do it. That’s been a dead end. But at Luna, they’re trying to train a human being sitting in a chair in their own body to bend spacetime, rather than having to yank out their brain and graft it into an amplification skull.”

“And they’ve been successful?”

Geoff shrugged. “My friend at Luna thinks they’re on the right track. And he wants me to go help. My background’s in research,” he added.

“He called you?”

“I called him. After jumping back from Pluto. I felt like reconnecting with some of my old friends, you know? Anyway, we got to talking, and he offered me the job. It’s part time.”

“I think that’s great,” Mirsha said. “I really do.”

“Yeah. It’ll also give me time to do other things. Maybe learn to garden. I’ve always wanted to grow—stuff.”

“My grandma gardens,” Mirsha said, absent-mindedly. Then her eyes focused on Geoff and she said, “She lives in Luna City, too, by the way.”

Geoff didn’t say anything.

“She’s very pretty.”

Geoff surveyed Mirsha’s mischievous smile for a moment. Usually he brushed off any attempt at setting him up. But this time he said, “Is that right?”

Mirsha nodded.

Geoff laughed, then nervously picked up the model brain again. “I’m interested in hearing more about this very pretty, gardening grandmother of yours,” he said, avoiding Mirsha’s gaze.

“Here,” Mirsha said, pulling out an earpiece and slipping it on.

“No, don’t,” Geoff said, feeling a rush of nervousness sweep through him.

But it was too late. Mirsha held up a finger to tell him to be quiet. Geoff shook his head insistently at her, but Mirsha ignored him. After a few minutes, she took off the earpiece and placed it on his desk. “Her name’s Tamara,” she said. “Make sure to ask about her blue cornflowers.” She winked, then slipped out the door.

Feeling knots in his stomach, Geoff stared at the earpiece for a long moment. Finally he picked it up.

Hi, this is Geoff. He drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting for the signal to travel to the moon and back. Assuming she’d respond. Maybe she’d already disconnected.

Hi, I’m Tamara. She sounded as nervous as he felt.

I didn’t ask her to do this, Tamara. We were talking about Luna and all of a sudden she had contacted you.

Oh, I know. You don’t have to tell me how impulsive she is!

Geoff felt his muscles relax. This was nice. This was okay.

So Tamara, he said, leaning back in his chair, tell me about these blue cornflowers of yours. END

Karl El-Koura was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and currently lives in Ottawa. He has published more than sixty short stories and articles, and several novels. Karl is an avid commuter-cyclist, and works for the Canadian Federal Public Service.




amazing stories