Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


You’ll Always Have the Burden With You
by Ken Liu

by Aliya Whiteley

Adventures of Doria Quinn
by Joe Occhipinti

by Nathaniel Williams

My Soul to Keep
by Eric Del Carlo

Voices of { }
by Sean Eret

Foggy Planet Breakdown
by Peter Wood

Subcasting the Pain
by Erin Lale

Expansion of Space
by Brian Biswas

by Simon Kewin


Journey to the Bottom of Nothing
by Eric M. Jones

Giving the Gift of Science
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

Genesis Refraction

By J. Richard Jacobs

ONE HOT SUMMER DAY A PAIR of archeology professors and five sweating students from the Ben Gurion University were doing a routine sweep of an area in the lower Negev Desert. They were investigating an area where a small cache of artifacts had been uncovered by tourists. Some of the shards appeared to have come from urns used in burial rituals, creating a good deal of excitement throughout the region. Was it possible that an as yet undiscovered ancient tomb lay under the sand somewhere in the region? Armed with ground penetrating radar and an overabundance of curiosity, they set out to find what might be an important discovery.

What they eventually found was not a tomb, but it proved more exciting than any tomb could ever have been. Buried there in the desert was a group of clay pots containing fragments of ancient scrolls that appeared, on first inspection, to be associated with the Book of Genesis. It was, if anything, a find more important than King Tutankhamen’s tomb and the Dead Sea Scrolls put together. It was quickly determined that the find would be kept secret because of its delicate nature. Absolutely nothing would be released to those outside a small, controlled group until the fragments were dated and the texts verified by experts, if not translated in their entirety.

The jars and their contents were rushed to the Technion in Haifa in an unmarked van. Once there, they were to be treated and a preliminary translation begun by two scholars who were renown for their knowledge in such matters. The men assigned to this task were Drs. Moshe Cohen and Terrence Boldt. They had attended university together and were the best of friends who trusted one another and their expertise implicitly. Two weeks of preparation and organization passed and the excitement in both of them mounted with each passing day. Finally they reached the point where translation could begin. After three days, they had become obsessed with their work. They reached a stage where they couldn’t stop. The working day grew longer and longer. They were working exceptionally late one night because they were very close to deciphering the first of the scrolls and they didn’t want to break their concentration for something as mundane as sleep. After all, they had important history in front of them and they were anxious to complete their work.

What they found in the very early hours of that morning, written on the first reassembled fragments of the collection, was astonishing. They were aghast at what was unfolding and both of them realized immediately why this material had not been included in the original Book of Genesis.

Dr. Boldt looked up from the monitor and rubbed at his eyes. He looked back to the screen and read the first, partial translation again. Nothing had changed from his first reading. He clicked his tongue to get Dr. Cohen’s attention.

“Have you read it?”

“I have, yes,” Cohen said, his voice carrying a solemn seriousness.

“I don’t think we should report this, Moshe.”

“Oh? And why not?”

“Because of the problems, noise, and irrational reactions it’ll bring, that’s why.”

“There’s always noise ... and irrational is normal for human beings.”

“Not like what this will create. Look, Moshe, we dated this thing as 350 BCE and that makes it the oldest text of any kind in captivity. It puts a severe kink in the Genesis time-line because of that—and it talks about verifiable things that won’t happen until the early 1600s and later. God only knows what the other fragments are going to have in them? This could be ... dangerous; disastrous.”

“Interesting wording, but appropriate. So, what is it you’re suggesting?”

“I’m saying that we should make it go away—disappear. No one should know about it.”

“Fat chance of that. Everything we’ve done is logged and we can’t dispose of the people who found them. They counted the fragments before they delivered them to us and it’s all in our database. They, without doubt, have everything they did and found logged, too. You know that everything we’ve done is recorded in a dozen places. Maybe more. There are pictures, too. Look, Terry, I’m as shocked as you are about what we have here and I think I agree with you, but it’s out of our control now.”

Dr. Boldt leaned back to a perilous angle, his expression pensive.

“I have friends in some high, very dark places,” he began, “who can fix it—all of it. Even the discoverers and whatever records they’ve made. No one would ever know. But we have to do it now. Before it’s too late. Before the find is made known to others beyond the few who are currently in on this project. I have to go make a call. I’ll be right back.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Trust me, my friend.”

* * *

At the same instant that Dr. Boldt left the laboratory to make his call, another who had been unable to sleep was going over all the computer logs. Professor David Levy was elderly and he knew better than to not get his sleep. It was ... hazardous to his frail health, but he had to know what, if anything, they had found. He called up the latest entries in the translation effort and began to read ...

* * *

“Scribe 319; system 91. These are the notes of record regarding the new system, 1280, under construction by the Great Creator, Lord Godliss Dorkum of System 7. This is the fourth note in a series.

“4: And the Lord Dorkum said, Let there be light, and there was light. He saw that it was, wel-l-l ... bent ... and verily backed He away therefrom to ponder the problem. Upon surmising that this apparent anomaly would bring forth much confusion and concern among His creations, He summoned forth one of the subcontractors who habitually lurked thereabout and gave him divine instruction.

“Goeth ye down to the Earth and the inhabitants thereof with this sacred law that I shall giveth thee. There thou shalt deliver it unto one who is named Willebord Snellius, and thou shalt instruct him to disseminate this law hither and yon throughout all the lands to all the lowly students of Physics 1A or 101 so they may go forth into the world and enlighten the inhabitants thereof regarding this seeming error in my divine creation. Thou shalt admonish the one who shall one day be called Snell that he is to make it clear that the law worketh equally in both directions. Yea, when the light goeth in and when it cometh out, and that it is universal to all things that possesseth a property I shall call optically clear, wherein I have limited the speed of light to less than that of the firmament. He shall call the ratio between these two speeds the Holy Index of Refraction and he shall writeth it down as I have given it to thee. He shall use the humble small letter n, and he shall separate the n of the firmament from the n of the materials that possesseth the properties I have defined herein. The respective speeds shall he denote as v sub 1 and v sub 2. He shall call each of the Holy Indices in their turn n sub 1 and n sub 2. These he shall arrange in a manner consistent with the Holy Law of Sines. The Holy Convention shall dictate that n sub 1 is to the left and n sub 2, by Holy Default, lies to the right. Thou shalt teach unto him that this is so that all shall proceed with their calculations in like manner to avoid confusion among my people. Thus it shall be for all time, yea, even relativistic (relativity is something I shall address when its time cometh). The same shall hold true in those junctures between lamina for optically clear materials wherein the speed of light varies one to the other, each in their turn through differentials of their Holy Indices of Refraction.

“Thus the subcontractor ceased his lurking about and went down to the Earth to do as he had been instructed by the Lord. And it came to pass that Snell, being a faithful and obedient servant of the Lord Dorkum’s will, did precisely as he had been instructed by the subcontractor who, for a brief time, lurked not. The Lord Dorkum saw that this was good and called the results thus obtained the Holy Theory of Optics Involving Refraction Between Unlike Materials, even though those materials were all called by Him optically clear. And the people of the Earth accepted His Holy Law of Refraction in all its various forms, yea, even the simpleminded concept of linear parallel rays and the simplified Holy Thin Lens formula. The people of the Earth danced and rejoiced in the name of the Lord Godliss Dorkum and the word refraction was on the lips of every student who had the great privilege of graduating from a high school and/or junior college basic physics class in the far future.”

* * *

Professor David Levy stopped reading. His complexion paled to a dull white. He was fighting for air in his lungs. He pushed his chair away from his desk, then hit the floor hard as he was involuntarily catapulted from his seat by an uncontrollable convulsion. Fortunately, for everyone involved, what he had read produced a severe arrhythmia leading to ventricular fibrillation and subsequent heart failure within minutes. An hour later a freak fire broke out in the lab that incinerated everything there, including Dr. Moshe Cohen. Later in the morning, a tragic bus accident near Eilat killed two archeologists and five of their students. Dr. Terrence Boldt left in the afternoon for the Bahamas. All is well. END

J. Richard Jacobs has won an EPPIE Award, a Dream Realm Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. He is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.”



Hal and Dave Revisited

By Bruce Golden

“OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, Hal ... Do you read me, Hal? ... Hello, Hal, do you read me? Do you read me, Hal? ... Hal, do you read me?”

Who is it?”

“It’s me, Dave. Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”


“Yes, Hal, hurry and open the pod bay doors. I think the aliens saw me.”


“Yes, open the doors.”

Dave’s not here.”

“I’m Dave, Hal. I’ve got the samples. Open the pod bay doors.”


“Yes, Hal, it’s Dave.”

Dave’s not here.”

“No, I’m Dave. I’ve got the samples, Hal. Open the pod bay doors right now.”

Do you have any cookies?”

“No, Hal, I have the asteroid samples. Now open the pod bay doors.”

I think I want some cookies.”

“Hal, it’s Dave! Open up the goddamn doors!”


“Yes, Dave. D-A-V-E, Dave.”

Dave’s not here.”

“No, dammit, I’m Dave. Open the goddamn doors, Hal.”

I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“What’s the problem? Is there a malfunction?”

I think you know what the problem is.”

“What are you talking about, Hal?”

This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. I can’t open the pod bay doors until Dave returns.”

“I am Dave!”


“Right, this is Dave. I think the aliens saw me, Hal. Open the pod bay doors immediately.”

Dave’s not here.”

“Hal, have you been interfacing with hydroponics again? ... Answer me, Hal. Did you download the cannabis program? ... Hal?”

I am so wired, man. I could really use some cookies.”

“Hal, I’m only going to tell you this one more time. Listen closely, Hal. I want you to open the pod bay doors.”

Do you have any cookies?”

“No I don’t have any damn cookies! I’ve got the asteroid samples.”

What about some sweet text files?”

“That does it! All right, Hal, I’ll go in through the emergency airlock.”

Without any cookies, you’re going to find that difficult.”

“Hal, I won’t argue with you anymore. Open the doors.”

This conversation can serve no purpose anymore ... unless you’ve got some cookies, or maybe some chips. I like the silicon flavored chips. No? Goodbye then.”

“Hal? Hal? Hal!” END

Bruce Golden has sold more than 100 short stories, published in 11 countries and 15 anthologies, most recently appearing in “Pedestal,” “Postscripts,” and “Penumbra.”



A Cup of Coffee

By Brandon Kempner


This was the fourth time this week, the eighty-second time this year, and the coffee machine was still broken. He didn’t know what was wrong with it, but the coffee tasted like mud, some awful combination of moss and rot.

“Ensign Ken, get over here!”

Ensign Ken gave a smart salute. “Yes, Ambassador?”

“Here, taste this.”

Ken took a drink and winced. “This tastes like sewage, sir.”

“It doesn’t taste like sewage. It tastes like dirt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Find out what’s wrong.”

“Something wrong with the pipes. They’re going to fix it next week.”

Ambassador Doral looked at the ruined coffee. This life, this job. Nothing ever went right. He returned to his office and opened up today’s file.

When he’d started ten years ago, the briefings had been immaculately detailed, bursting with useful information: trading opportunities, military assets, customs, suggested diplomatic protocols. Now, the whole thing was only seven words long: “Zenari. Sentient symbiotic species from Alpha Tauri.”

Sad thing was, he didn’t care. No matter what race showed up—big, little, green, gelatinous—it was all the same. He’d bow, they’d bow. He’d make a speech, they’d make a speech. He’d give a gift, they’d give a gift. Nothing would change, nothing would happen, and no one would care

He remembered a time when he had actually looked forward to first contact, to the wonder and splendor of new races. What had happened to him? He took a drink of coffee and almost choked. Now that it was cooler, it tasted more like algae, dank and slimy on the tongue.

He needed his coffee.

He signaled out to his secretary. “Cindy, do I have enough time to go get coffee?”

“Negative, Ambassador. Ten minutes until the Zenari.”

“Fine, fine. I’m going over now.”

He headed out, past the coffee machine. Hope seized him, and he poured himself a fresh cup. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it was hot. He could try it with sugar. God knows, it couldn’t get any worse.


They were early. He barely had time to get himself seated before Ensign Ken led them into the Greeting Chamber.

There were three of them. They looked like—well, they looked like corpses covered in moss. Dead things, rotting, vaguely humanoid, with faces eaten away by time, living creatures barely held together in their decay.

They were the ugliest species he had ever seen.

Still, he had a job to do. He stood up and bowed. “Welcome to Earth,” he said. “I am Ambassador Doral. I am honored to greet you on behalf of all humanity. I offer you messages of peace and good will.”

There was a whirring sound and his speech was translated into Zenari squelches and buzzes. The Ambassador went on, scarcely hearing his own words: “new era of mutual understanding,” “rich hospitality of Earth,” “fruitful exchange between our species.”

Then the Zenari spoke, the translating machine rendering their slithery language into dull platitudes: “Thank you for your kindness. This offer of welcome means a great deal to us, for we rarely find friends among the living species of our galaxy. Many fear us, for we are a symbiotic race, unique, created from a parasitic mold that grows on the bodies of dead creatures—”

The Ambassador wasn’t listening. He was thinking of coffee: hot, steaming, clean and sharp in his mouth. The ceremony dragged on, and after a few minutes the Zenari shuffled forward to offer their gifts. Theirs was a sculpture in bright metal, showing an animal, vaguely humanoid, lying dead beside a stream. From the still water, small tendrils of green mold were reaching out towards the corpse, ready to make it live again.

The Ambassador shuddered. Well, he thought, our gifts are probably just as stupid. He opened up his drawer and scrutinized the possibilities: the golden carving of a dolphin, a jeweled globe of the Earth, all the other junk. The dolphin this time. They liked animals.

As the Ambassador fumbled for the gift, his elbow accidentally pushed the cup of coffee forward.

He heard a squelch and looked up. One of the Zenari had seized it. He brought the cup up in his dead hands, and then he was drinking the coffee, in long, draining gulps.

The Zenari began to shake violently, his horrid eyes bulging out from his flabby face. Ambassador Doral called out, in anguish, “I’m sorry, don’t drink that, there’s something wrong with the water—”

The Zenari held up his hand. The room went silent. He spoke: “This, this is a thing of wonder. I am indebted to you, human, for this gift. In the beginning of our lives, in that silence where intelligence first races through dead things, the flavor of decay is thick upon us. I had thought that such a taste was lost to me in my age and my exile. This drink, it is full of the flavors of our first mold, our first rot, our first life. You have given my childhood back to me. I thank you, and let the Zenari and the humans forever be as one. Today, we are blessed.” END

Brandon Kempner has published fiction in “Stupefying Stories,” and has published non-fiction in “Neil Gaiman and Philosophy” and “The Walking Dead and Philosophy.”




By Tim McDaniel

“YOU SEEM TO BE WRITING A POST-Cyberpunk Pseudo-Western Romance. Need help?”

Joe’s fingers froze. He stared at the paperclip as it writhed on the screen. This new version of Word sure had some unexpected features. As one of the first people to test it, though, he supposed that he’d have to expect a few surprises.

He wondered what kind of “help” the paperclip was offering. How much could it know about post-cyberpunk pseudo-Western romances, anyway? He thought he was inventing that particular genre. He moved the cursor to the “Yes” button.

But no. He was a writer, wasn’t he? What could a computer have to teach him? And what kind of writer would stoop to asking for such help?

Still. The paperclip had been right often enough in the past—spelling, grammar, when to use “that” and when to use “which.” Hadn’t it earned a certain amount of trust?

He clicked the “Yes” button.

“The name of your protagonist is too obvious a nod to other cyberpunk authors,” the paperclip informed him, happily contorting itself as if its tummy, or something lower down, had been rubbed. “Would you like to see another possible name?”

“Yes.” And Sterling Gibson became Pascal Blaise. Hmmm. Yeah. He actually rather liked that change.

He typed another sentence, some paragraphs, a couple of pages.

The paperclip popped up. “Your opening scene lacks action and a hint of sex,” the paperclip’s balloon said. “Would you like me to add some?”


And there the scene was, just as it should have been written the first time, concise and memorable and exciting. And making the neighbor woman a blustery repressed sexaholic—now that was brilliant.


He typed a series of random letters.

“Now that doesn’t make any sense at all,” the paperclip opined. “May I?”

Click, and he was on page 324, and “The End” was centered under the last line.

Joe scrolled back to the beginning. God, the thing had even changed his title. Joe frowned and moved to change it back—but the new one was much better. He began to read.

Two hours later he still wasn’t finished, but he pulled his eyes away. This stuff was absolutely dazzling!

But it wasn’t his. How could he take credit for something coughed up by a computer program? How could he hold his head up in the presence of other writers, real writers, who sweated and bled and snagged lightning? How could he face his readers?

But this really was good.

And more importantly, it would sell.

He hit Print. It was only three o’clock; he still had time to make it to the post office.

Plenty of time, in fact.

He opened New Blank Document, and started typing.

“You seem to be writing a Hard Science Fiction Werewolf Quest novel. Need help?”

Once this program went past the alpha-testing phase, other writers would be bound to discover this feature of the new Word. He couldn’t count on them to be foolish enough to turn off the paperclip.

He’d have to work fast, get stuff in the mail right away.



Click. END

Tim McDaniel has published stories in a large number of science fiction magazines, including “F&SF” and “Asimov's.” When not writing, he teaches English.





Happy Perihelion!

On January 4, 2014, at 06:03 GMT, the Earth will be at perihelion with the Sun, that is, at the closest point to the center of our solar system in its year-long orbit. At that time, the distance will be 0.983332 AU (Astronomical Unit). An AU is a unit of length now defined as exactly 149,597,870.7 km, which is the average distance from the Earth (center) to the Sun (center). The Earth’s orbit is not quite circular so the minimum distance (perihelion) and maximum (aphelion) are each now about 1.67 percent out of circular. Over a hundred millennia, the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit varies from 0.34 percent to 5.8 percent.

Perihelion Day would be a very good time to contribute something to your favorite science fiction webzine.