Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Mortality, Eternity
by Joseph Green

Absolute Pony
by Alisa Alering

Quisic Smith and the Russian Puzzle Doll
by Sean Monaghan

Clever Bubble
by Antha Ann Adkins

by Matthew Wuertz

To Walk the Earth
by Rebecca Birch

Five Stages of Future Grief
by Gary Cuba

Lost Planes, Lost River
by Michael Hodges

Funny Money
by Chet Gottfried

Insanity Machine
by Lawrence Buentello

Ten Minutes
by Eamonn Murphy


A Quantum Mind
by Eric M. Jones

What is Science?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Absolute Pony

By Alisa Alering

MARKO SET THE PERSONAL intergalactic recreational pod (PIRP) coordinates for Mon-Mon, and switched out of the auto-nav screen. Several kiloparsecs later, he called up the sound library and scrolled his fingers over the screen, looking for just the right song.

Ah, yes—Absolute Pony’s “Up Your Neo-Fascist Noodle.” Classic, Marko thought. Reena is going to love this one. He hit Play and cranked up the volume.

“Ugh. Not that song again, Marko. Are you trying to drive me crazy?” Reena said. She was sitting at the space-saving dinette at the other end of the PIRP, legs curled under her. She looked up from her computational physics game, a line creasing the skin above her eyes.

“What are you talking about? This is our song. Don’t you remember?” Marko sang along, smacking time on his knee with his hand: Up your, up your ...

“No, that’s your song,” Reena said, closing her console. “My favorite song is Strangers in a Crystal Sea by The Dippity Boo.”

Marko rolled his eyes. “Analog strings and pretty boys in eyeliner.”

“I happen to like strings and pretty boys in eyeliner,” Reena said.

Marko whirled around in the captain’s chair and mimed strumming a lute. He sang: “I’m so pretty, so pret-ty. I’m a pretty little boy.”

Reena shoved away from the table. “There’s nothing wrong with The Dippity Boo. You think your music is superior because they build their own instruments out of recycled off-world mining equipment. Very manly. I guess it’s no coincidence that they sound like a re-genned mastodon with twelve thousand years of constipation.”

“Whoa.” Marko held out his hands. “What’s got into you?” She had been like this ever since their trip began, and he couldn’t understand it.

“Into me?” Reena said.

“You’re the one who said we should sell up and go traveling. But you don’t seem to be enjoying it. You haven’t had a good word to say since we left home.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m excited about the trip, just not about revisiting the past at every opportunity.”

“You used to love Absolute Pony. I thought it would remind us of the good times.”

“They were good times. But I want us to move forward and make new memories.”

Marko wondered if she was trying to say that she was bored with him. Twelve years of marriage was a long time. “Like what?”

“Like back when we were at the supply station. I saw that display for Alligator Planet—”

“Alligator Planet is a tourist trap,” Marko said.

“See! This is exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t care if it’s a tourist trap—I wanted to see it.”

“But we’ve dreamed about visiting Mon-Mon for years. We were going to go on our honeymoon, and we couldn’t afford it. Don’t you want to go anymore?”

“Yes. I just want—”

The ship’s alarm sounded, cutting through their conversation.

“What’s that?” Reena grabbed Marko’s hand.

“I’m not sure.” Marko swiveled around to the controls. “It’s probably just a false alarm.” He wouldn’t be surprised if the guy at PIRP World had sold them a lemon. Like that weird upgrade option he had used to sweeten Marko into the sale at the last minute. Wrong Turn Regulator, my left elbow, Marko thought. It was just your usual spatial positioning manifold wrapped in a fancy name. It was a given that all pod salesmen were crooks, but Marko had dismissed that knowledge in his hope that this trip would give him and Reena a chance to rekindle their romance.

“There’s nothing to worry about, we’re a million miles from ...” Marko scanned the security views. That’s odd, he thought. Something was blipping on the radar.

Wham! The ship rocked sideways, and Marko fell against the console.

Reena clung to the table. “That felt like an awfully big nothing.”

She pulled up the exterior cams on her portable console. “A Narteen pirate ship. They’re only supposed to be in the Tilbassian sector—we’re miles from the ...” Reena ran to the captain’s console and reached over Marko’s shoulder for the navigation, flipping the screens. “Marko, what the hell have you been doing? We’re right in the Tilbassian hot zone for pirate attacks.”

The ship jolted again as the pirates engaged their boarding mechanism.

“Marko!” Reena shouted.

But Marko wasn’t listening. He was on his knees under the captain’s console, looking for the Wrong Turn panel. It was pretty much their only hope. He pulled off the factory seal and tried to figure out the Regulator. It had a flimsy vertical slider, marked in increments, and a big blue button labeled CORRECT. He adjusted the slider, worried that it was going to snap off in his hands. How was he supposed to know how big a correction they needed? He looked over his shoulder. Reena was screaming. The pirates were boarding—he could see the tip of a hairy sword, and the pickle-shaped helmets.


Marko blinked. He was sitting in the captain’s chair. His hands were on the controls, flicking through the music files. “Up Your Neo-Fascist Noodle” by Absolute Pony was highlighted. Now, there was a great song, Marko thought. His finger twitched over the screen.

Then he remembered what had happened. He spun around in his chair, but Reena was at the dinette, bent over her computations on the portable console, undisturbed. No sign of any pirates. He called the nav screen into the foreground and checked the coordinates. They were headed straight for the Tilbassian sector. The WTR had actually worked—they had escaped the pirates. Marko double-checked the pod’s auto-nav against the old-fashioned calculation logs, found the error, manually re-set the course for Mon-Mon, and closed out.

The music library foregrounded again, Absolute Pony highlighted. Reena was wrong, Marko thought. He remembered their meeting clearly: he had been in the Union club, with his identity set on public, sharing his playlist. Reena had broadcast that she was <really into guys who liked Absolute Pony.> He thought this was meant for him, but he wasn’t sure, so he cued another Absolute Pony song—"Neo-Fascist Noodle,” in fact—and looked casually around the lounge, hoping that the pretty girl in the manic-chic outfit sitting in the corner was the one who had messaged. And then she got up, and walked towards him.

Reena had loved “Neo-Fascist Noodle” as much as he did. They had listened to Absolute Pony songs almost non-stop the whole first year they were dating. If he told her this whole story, Marko thought, she’d have to remember. He was so tempted—his fingers hovered over the screen. At the last minute, he scrolled and made a different selection.

Twenty minutes later, the gentle ba-dum-bim of a strummed lute drifted gently around the bed.

“That was wonderful, darling,” Reena said. She lay back on the pillow, the sheets falling away from her bare shoulder.

Marko kissed her nose.

“Isn’t traveling so much fun? I almost don’t want to arrive.” Reena snuggled against Marko. She hummed along with The Dippity Boo, streaming through the PIRP’s embedded speakers on repeat.

“This is the best song ever,” she said. “I love Strangers in a Crystal Sea.”

“Me, too,” Marko said. His stomach rumbled.

Reena rolled over, her hair tumbling loose around her face. “You hungry, sweetie?” she asked. “How about some scrambled eggs and a bit of coffee cake?”

“Sounds fantastic,” Marko agreed.

Reena got out of bed, pulled on her robe and padded over to the little galley.

Marko let a puff of air escape from his lips. They were back on track, he thought. Being squeezed together in the PIRP was a new environment—there was bound to be an adjustment period. He watched Reena open the pod-sized fridge and reach inside. This was his wonderful wife, he thought, and she was his again. He couldn’t resist: he got out of bed, naked, and went over and wrapped both arms around her waist.

Reena shrugged him off, holding out a nearly-empty juice cartridge. “What happened to the orange juice? Did you forget to fill it again?”

“What do you mean, again?” It wasn’t a good feeling to be criticized when you were naked, Marko thought.

“I mean you always forget the refills. You’re so predictable.” She turned away, dropping the empty cartridge into the bio-reclamator.

He edged towards the bed, feeling behind him for the edge of the sheet. “Tell me one other thing I do that’s so predictable.”

She tightened the belt on her robe. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You can’t make claims like that and not back them up. I deserve to know,” he said, wrapping the sheet around his waist.

“Fine. You know that thing you do? When you blow on my ...” She blushed. “In bed?”

He knew exactly what she was talking about. She loved it.

“I can’t stand it when you do that,” she said.

“But you always wriggle around!”

“Because it feels weird and I want you to stop.”

He couldn’t believe it. He had relied on that little move to please her. But if she didn’t like it, then ... “You let me keep doing something you hated for twelve years, and you didn’t tell me?”

She sat down on the bed. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“So why are you telling me now?”

“Because you asked!”

“I didn’t know you were going to rip off my manhood and feed it to the reclamator.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, crying. “I didn’t want to tell you.” She pulled up her knees, and buried her face in the pillow.

Marko looked down at his bare feet. That didn’t go very well, he thought. And then he remembered the WTR.


Marko’s stomach rumbled.

“Hungry, sweetie?” Reena asked. “How about some scrambled eggs and a bit of coffee cake?”

“Sounds fantastic,” Marko agreed.

Reena reached for her robe.

“Let me go,” Marko said. He scrambled out of bed, pulling on his own robe. He went to the galley and, after some banging around, returned with two trays. “Here you go,” Marko said, setting a tray down beside Reena. “Bacon, eggs, and coffee cake. And mango juice.”

Reena untangled from the sheets and took the glass. “Mmmm, delicious. I love mango juice.”

Yes! Marko thought. He had been nervous when he pressed the Correct button but, thank the seven stars of Mon-Mon, it had reset after their romp to The Dippity Boo.

“So clever of you,” Reena was saying. “What made you choose mango?”

“Oh—um. I thought you’d like it. Special juice for my special girl.” Marko said, climbing back into bed beside her.

Reena’s brow wrinkled.

“What’s the matter, honeybunch?” Marko said, tucking into his soy bacon.

“I’m trying to remember,” she said. “Did you get more orange juice after we stopped at that last supply station? Because ...”

Oh no, Marko thought, not the orange juice. He hit the control panel at his side and the projection screen popped up at the foot of the bed. “Why don’t we watch the Travel Channel and get inspired?” he suggested, scrolling through the sub-menus.

“Look, a special on Mon-Mon,” Reena said.

A suave man in chef’s whites stood on a platform at the center of an industrial kitchen, conducting a team of synchronized minions who were painting scenery, roasting pigs, chopping onions, arranging flowers, and decorating multi-story cakes in the shape of pirate ships.

“Chef Alberto!” Marko exclaimed. “He’s a total star of extreme cooking. I ordered tickets for his show at the Gastrodome.”

On screen, the chef’s eyes flashed as he shouted at an assistant who presented an unflattering costume for his evening performance. A tempestuous black curl tumbled from under Alberto’s tall white hat as he cursed the poor man up and down.

“What a diva,” Reena said.

Marko stuck a curl of bacon on his forehead and shouted at his scrambled eggs. “Off with their heads!” he declared. Reena giggled. Maybe this PIRP trip could turn out okay after all, Marko thought. That Wrong Turn Regulator was worth its weight in yttrium.

The extreme chef segment ended and the program moved on, panning across the famous pipe organ carved into the face of the rugged Mon-laa cliffs. At its base, an intergalactic delegation of musicians in pastel livery played counterpoint on origami harpsichords.

Reena was fascinated. “So lovely,” she murmured. She turned to Marko. “I want to learn to play the harpsichord.”

Marko’s fork missed his mouth and cake fell into his lap, showering him with streusel. “But you don’t like the harpsichord,” he said. He distinctly remembered that the girl in the manic-chic ensemble had said the harpsichord was a worn-out bourgeois affectation.

“So you’re an expert on what I like?” she asked.

Marko scrabbled in the sheets, clawing at a cinnamon-scented nut lodged somewhere uncomfortable. “I’d like to think I know something about my wife after twelve years.”

“Things change, Marko!” Reena pulled the sheets up to her chin. “It’s like you don’t want me to try anything new.”

I don’t, Marko thought. I want you to be the same Reena I remember. He said, “I don’t understand where all these things are coming from.”

“They’re coming from inside me. If you can’t understand that ...” she flopped back on the pillow, then sat up again. “What do you mean by all these things?”

“Well—” he began, then realized that she didn’t remember. To her, this was their first fight.

“Never mind,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “I am so tired of this argument, and my head is killing me. I’m going to bed.”

Marko knew that what she really meant was that she was tired of him. Marko sighed, and got out of bed. He crouched down under the console and stared at the WTR. He put his hand on the slider and, for a moment, he wondered if it was worth it. It seemed like they were destined to find something to fight about. Maybe he should just leave well enough alone. Then he remembered Reena snuggled up under his arm, warm and smiling ...

He pulled the slider, but it didn’t budge. He put both hands on it and pulled harder. With a slow grinding, it gave way. He positioned it, and pushed CORRECT.


Reena guided the PIRP into the reserved slot in the orbital dock, and they caught the shuttle down to the surface. As they made their way into the Gastrodome, a trio of tuba, liquid metallophone, and harpsichord played in the lobby. A minion in eyeliner accepted their tickets, informing them that the evening’s performance was based upon a Tilbassian pirate attack.

Marko barely heard. He knew Reena didn’t remember watching the concert at the Mon-laa Cliffs because, technically, it had never happened. To his relief, Reena didn’t seem to notice the harpsichord. They changed into their protective slickers in the lobby, and were handed off to a second minion, who was dressed in elaborate pirate regalia.

“Guess these things are foam and spray paint, eh?” Marko said, indicating the sword which the minion brandished at their backs as he ushered them to their seats.

“Chef Alberto does not use stage props.” The minion sounded offended, even through the grille of his faceplate.

Marko and Reena took their seats in the front row. Chef Alberto sliced, diced, swore, and swaggered, and costumed minions circulated with the first course—savory orange sherbet in a nuevo polymer broth.

“Look,” Reena said, pushing back her chair. “Chef is calling for volunteers.”

“I’m not sure that’s—”

But Reena was already headed for the stage, her plastic shoe covers shuffling on the gleaming floor.

Alberto himself helped Reena onto the platform. “Ah,” he said. “Beautiful and brave—what a delightful combination.”

The crowd applauded, and Reena beamed. Marko couldn’t believe it: the creep was flirting with her.

“Now,” Alberto said, “the most important question—are you afraid of pirates?”

“Terrified,” Reena said, playing along.

“Wonderful!” Alberto declared. “Show us how you will scream when the pirates attack.”

“Aiee!” Reena said.

“Very nice ... but perhaps you can do better.” Alberto clapped his hands and shouted backstage: “You! Some help with the lady’s motivation.”

A minion dressed in full Narteen pirate armor, complete with single-bladed gravity skates and pickle-shaped helmet, advanced on Reena, waving his hairy sword. From his seat in the front row, Marko saw the color drain out of Reena’s face. She opened her mouth and screamed.


“Very convincing,” Chef Alberto announced to the crowd. “This is real talent.”

“—EEEEEEEEEEEEEE—” Reena continued. Alberto motioned to the Narteen minion, who stepped back and lowered his sword. It had no effect. All around Marko, diners covered their ears.

The chef harangued his attendants, who tried to usher Reena from the stage, but she was locked in place, rigid with panic, and still shrieking. Marko scrambled out of his seat and leapt onto the stage.

“Reena,” he said, grabbing her shoulders. “Oh God, I’m sorry. It’s okay.” He shook her. “We’re at the Gastrodome. There aren’t any pirates. There have never been any pirates,” he said desperately.

Her scream broke off, and Reena looked around, confused. “Marko?” she said. “What—”

Chef Alberto glared at them from within a huddle of minions. “Get these people out of here!” he hissed.

Marko helped Reena offstage and led her back to their table. She took her glass with a shaky hand, and drained it in one gulp. “I don’t know what got into me,” she said.

“Let’s just go back to the PIRP and forget about this whole Gastrodome thing.” Marko started to pull off his slicker. “You were right—Chef Alberto is just a big diva.”

“No, I’m fine. I just need a minute.” Reena pulled out her chair and sat down. “Let’s stay and see the show. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Reluctantly, Marko took his seat. “I still think we should go.” On stage, Alberto unleashed one of his famous tantrums, hurling expletives and fish heads at the minions.

“I’m fine. Really.” Reena sampled her broth, then dropped the spoon back into the bowl. “When did I say Alberto was a diva?”

“I—” Marko began. He was pretty sure she had said it, he just couldn’t remember in which reality. “I’m sorry,” he concluded.

“Why do you keep apologizing?” Reena fished a leg bone out of her broth and laid it on the side of her plate. “Did you know that was going to happen to me? Is that why you didn’t want me to volunteer?”

“No!” he blurted. “I just made some ... miscalculations.”

The Narteen minion skated up to their table with the next course and wobbled to a stop, banging a platter of scent-petrified octopus into the back of Marko’s head. He apologized. “New skates,” he said, avoiding their eyes. “Chef is making everyone nervous tonight.” He withdrew two small hammers from his war apron and placed them on the table next to the platter. “To break the scent crystals,” he explained, and skated away.

“Marko, I know a guilty look when I see one.” Reena picked up her hammer and smashed the octopus in the face.

Marko stared at the destroyed octopus. It smelled like peppermint. And briny feet. He closed his eyes and sighed. He realized he didn’t have the energy to do this anymore. As Reena demolished her octopus, he told her about the WTR.

Reena dropped her hammer. “You have a time machine,” she said. Her voice was icy. “That you used to rewrite our history. Without telling me.”

“I can explain—”

“No.” She held up her hand. “I’m not even having this conversation until you promise me that you will never—ever, under any circumstances—use that thing on me again.”

“I know, I’m sorry. Of course I promise.”

Reena balled her napkin in her fist. He watched her squeeze it as if she wished it were his throat. “I can’t believe you would do this to me!” she shouted.

“We can go back to the PIRP and destroy the WTR right now,” Marko offered. People were starting to stare at them. On stage, Chef Alberto was building to a frenzy. He frothed and lathered, and the cake galleons fell under the pirate horde.

“That’s not the point!” Reena said. “That won’t make what you did go away. What have I ever done to you that would make you want to erase me?”

“I didn’t erase you, that’s not fair. I just ... made some changes.”

“Says you! How can I believe you when you’ve already hidden something so big? If you come home and say you just popped out to the store, maybe it’s been ten years and you lived a whole other life in between and then just reset it all. How can I believe anything you say ever again?”

“I didn’t do it to keep things from you,” Marko shouted. “I did it because everything was wrong between us.” That, and the pirates, Marko thought.

“Isn’t that interesting,” Reena said. “I thought things were going fine, but since I can’t even be trusted with reality, what do I know? I thought our marriage was based on a foundation of trust and mutual respect, but I was obviously wrong about that, too.”

“Reena, please try to understand. I did it because I love you and I didn’t want to lose you.”

She didn’t look like she was about to forgive him anytime soon, but at least she seemed willing to look at him again.

The stage show ended, and Alberto swept off his chef’s hat and bowed. Marko and Reena stood to join the ovation. “I was desperate,” he said, shouting over the thunderous applause. “We’ve wasted too many nights working late, too many hours on long-distance conference shuttles. We’ve grown apart. I wanted this trip to be a success.”

The pirate-waiters gave a blood-curdling war cry and rushed on the audience, swords and hammers raised.

“I would do anything to keep us together,” Marko declared. “I’d climb the Mon-laa cliffs. I’d rescue you from a pirate horde. I’d even march right up there on stage and make that tyrant Alberto eat his own sock-scented squid.”

“Oh, Marko,” she said. He wasn’t sure, but it looked like she might be holding back a laugh. He reached for her hand. She let him take it, but said, “Don’t think we’re done with this.”

The horde reached their table and a Narteen pirate skidded up to them, windmilling out of control. He slammed into Reena, and she caught herself against the back of her chair.

“You okay, Reena?” Marko asked.

She nodded. He looked down and saw the tip of the hairy sword poking through her ribs. She pressed her hand to her side, and her fingers came away red.

“Reena!” he shouted. He brushed away the horrified waiter and swung Reena into his arms. The shuttle took them up to the PIRP, and he carried Reena in and laid her on the floor beside the console. She was pale and sweaty and blood soaked her front. He checked her pulse: weak, but still there. He felt under the console for the WTR. The slider was stuck again. Oh no. This was not how things were going to turn out. Wretched, miserable, neo-fascist, noodling piece of junk, he thought, pounding on the slider with the heel of his palm.

Reena’s eyes fluttered open.

“Rest, sweetie, it’s all going to be okay,” he said, as he grappled with the slider. He needed one more time, one more correction. Just one more. He gave it a final blow, and the slider broke loose, spinning to the bottom of its track.

Reena’s eyes seemed to focus, and she took in their surroundings, the WTR and the big button marked CORRECT. “You promised,” she said, reaching out for him. “You know it only makes more trouble.”

He stroked her fingers. She was right, he had promised.


“You promised,” Reena said.

“Huh?” Marko jumped, and banged his knees on the underside of the captain’s console.

“Before we left Earth,” Reena said. “You promised you’d play my new computational physics game with me. I’m going to kick your butt.” She stood up from the space-saving dinette and stretched, her fingertips touching the PIRP’s ceiling. “This thing seemed so much bigger at the dealer’s,” she said. “I hope we’re not going to be stepping on each other’s toes all the way to Mon-Mon.”

“Yeah,” Marko agreed. He looked at Reena. She seemed whole and healthy—no blood, no hairy sword. The WTR had set them all the way back to the beginning of the trip, to the supply station just beyond Earth. There was so much he was going to have to remember—again. He ran down the list: orange juice, Tilbassian Sector, Travel Channel, Gastrodome. And—he cringed—he was going to have to come up with something new in bed. He didn’t know if he was going to make it.

“You alright, baby?” Reena asked, coming over to the captain’s chair where the exterior cams were focused on the robots loading supplies into the cargo hold. “Come on,” she coaxed. “Let me beat the pants off you—then you’ll feel better.”

Marko concentrated on the screen. Once more, Reena didn’t seem to remember anything about their experiences before he had used the WTR. And he had saved her life. So why did he feel so guilty?

Reena nudged him with her elbow. “I know you’re scared of me,” she teased. “But a promise is a promise.”

Reena was right, he thought suddenly. He had promised. Maybe he could make it up to her.

“Hold on a moment.” He reconnected the data link with the supply station and scanned the inventory lists. Yes, there it was. Exactly what he wanted. “There’s just one more thing we need.” He relayed the order.

A few moments later, the loading bay lift dinged. Reena opened the hatch.

When she saw what was inside, she gave Marko a puzzled look. “What’s this for?”

Marko shrugged, and helped her move the harpsichord into the main space. “I thought you might like it.”

Reena ran her fingers over the keys. “I do,” she said, testing a note. “I just wonder how you guessed.” She turned to him. “I never used to like the harpsichord. I think I even once said it was—”

“—a worn-out, bourgeois affectation. Yes, I remember,” Marko said.

Reena tried the keys again. She smiled at Marko, her head tilted, listening carefully to the tones. “Things change, huh?” she said.

She experimented with the notes, sounding out sequences. The harpsichord produced sounds that were old-fashioned, archaic, and difficult—almost not like music at all. Marko watched her, delighted. As she bent over the keys, her hair fell away from her neck. A pair of earrings flashed at her ears.

“Did you just get those at the supply station?” Marko asked.

Reena’s fingers slipped on the keys. “These?” Her hands flew to her ears, covering the tiny alligator snouts. She shook her head and her hair fell back in place. She shrugged. “Oh, I’ve had them for ages.”

“Really? I don’t—”

“You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this,” she said, and sat down in front of the harpsichord. “Listen. Tell me what you think of this.”

She pressed the keys, and Marko began to recognize the melody.

Reena repeated the series of notes, and Marko found himself tapping along on his knee, nodding his head as the familiar words flowed into his mind: Up your, up your ... END

Alisa Alering is a writer living in Indiana. She has published short fiction in “Writers of the Future Vol. 29,” Clockwork Phoenix 4,” and “Flash Fiction Online.” She is also a 2011 graduate of Clarion West. She is currently working on a novel about ponies.


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