Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Water for Antiques
by Robert N. Stephenson

by Sierra July

Skipper Jeremiah Dudd
by Mark Ayling

If You Could Choose One Day
by Simon Kewin

It’s the Martian Way
by Bob Sojka

Know, Oh Emperor
by L. Joseph Shosty

Abernathy’s Snowflake
by Aaron Polson

Lost and First Men
by David Barber

by Mark Bilsborough

These Undiminished
by Conor Powers-Smith

by George Sandison


Inside Death Valley
by Eric M. Jones

Is Global Warming Good?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

In My Image

By Marta Salek

THEY HURTLE THROUGH THE vacuum. Jagged, gnarled and molecule-tight, but melting, slowly; screaming as the atmosphere swallows them. Streaked with the fireworks from compressed and burning gases.

Layers drop away. Fizzle into ash, crumble into dust and drift useless through the air. Growing thinner, smoother. Smaller. Gone.

Very few survive.


Water laps, cool and wet and salty. Nudges me a little closer to the quartz and limestone shore. Coiling, restless seaweed drifts around me. Envelopes me in its need for photosynthesis. Drapes me in a yearning for the distant winter storms. It’s driven by such primal, ancient needs.

Those same needs that drive me.

The surf hurls me out of the water. I tumble down the sand, lodge in a puddle; endure another wave of hissing, seething whitewash. What passes for a sun here teases me with lukewarm heat. Weak and yellow light; trapped by ozone and the emissions of this petroleum-choked planet.

The barest echo of the baking, relentless, furious red I’m genetically coded to desire.

This world is limp and pale. Watery greens and blues and pretty, white-streaked skies. Delicate, circling feathered beasts and wispy grasses. Sluggish, rough-skinned reptiles that beg the sky for warmth.

The way I do. The way I always will.

And the humans: wrapping their skins in cottons and synthetics; surrounding themselves in mobile metal cages and slathering themselves in creams that block the light. Huddling in their artificial buildings. Sleeping their lives away.

A pretty world, but so impractical. And even not so pretty; not to someone like me who longs for glassy lavaplanes and raging reddened clouds. Mountains that rumble and roar and disgorge the filthy, sullen contents of the planet. Lakes that bubble and churn and erupt in molten, crimson glory. Clean, sleek, obsidian cracked by fire. The tingle of carbon-dioxide in the air.

There’s too much colour here.

“Mum! I broke my bucket. Mum!”

I hear the whimpers as a ripple through the air. See the gangly, long-legged shape as an absence in the ultraviolets that caress me. Feel it ... his ... irritation as a discordance in the spectrum. As prickly, fluorescent lines.

It would set my teeth on edge, if I had any.

“Shh, Tommy. It’s alright. We’ve got another in the car. Here, I’m not using mine—why don’t you borrow it for now?” A taller figure, female. She bundles the screaming, writhing junior away; tucks him into the sand; wraps her tired affection around him. Her burbles are a welcome mellowing; I watch them soothe the edges in his mind. Soon he’s still again. Dulled by love and boredom and the lapping of the waves.

The woman stretches out beside her son. A man lies next to her, fat and lazy in the sunshine. He reaches out and runs his fingers down her curves. She flinches, hardens. I feel the smile in his mind. The dependence inside hers.

I consider her for a moment.

But she’s too old. Weighed down by years and gravity and pallid sunlight. By arguments and insecurities and petty, pointless deceptions. I can see the fractures in her personality. The tiny cancers already eating at her skin. The old, old hatreds that grumble just below the surface. Anxieties ready to flash into life.

Too excitable. Not appropriate.

But there’s another female here. Young. Muscled. Sitting apart; staring silent at the waves. Thinking. Remembering.

Longing. Like me.

I rest for a moment in the soft, sweet greys of her melancholy. Then I call her over.


She sits and stares into the surf.

Green and languid beneath the forget-me-not sky and silver-limned, cotton-candy clouds. Rolling and rolling and rolling ... Relentless. Eternal.

She wishes it was raining.

A surfer braves the waves. Sleek and glossy and splashed with sea. Triumphant for an instant. Then the water takes him down.

It takes a long time for him to reappear.

She turns away when he does. Tries not to wish that he hadn’t. Tries not to wish that she’d been there to disappear, as well. Tussling with the fury of a rip. Letting it take control.

Letting the blackness take control.

Her baby brother’s screams are softened now. Muffled by the sand he’s digging in. Down, down; searching for those fairy tales that their lives have so long left behind.

The rest of them are sleeping. Her step-brother, long and bony and wrapped around his towel. Her mother’s dainty, cat-like snores. The obscenity of her latest step-father’s belly.

Out for a lazy, lonely day on the beach. She and her mother, clad in their skimpiest. Her step-father insisted on that. He likes them lean and sand-encrusted. Suntanned in all those hard-to-reach places.

They’re all here, playing at happy families.

She squints into the sun. It’s lower on the horizon now. Bouncing off the endless waves. Stifled by the distant row of storm clouds rolling in. Too far away, but she can imagine; pretend they’re thick in the sky, loosing raindrops as fat as cannon-balls. Scattering the preening surfie chicks and squealing, shiny children.

Scorched red by filaments of smothered sun. Staining the ocean crimson.

She sighs.

Too far away. The world is too blue and bright and cold. Too many squabbling seagulls and couples and toddlers. Too wet. Too loud.

She kicks at the sand, shrugs off her towel and stands.

Her step-father snorts and opens one eye. “Where are you off to?”

“Walk,” she mutters, pointing vaguely at the surf.

He stares at her breasts. “Don’t get into any trouble.”

Arsehole. But she squares her shoulders and stands a little straighter as she shuffles off. She thinks he hears him laughing behind her. Quietly.

The sand is gold and ugly. The weathered tea tree on the dunes too green. That sun, too yellow. Crisping the skin, but penetrating no further than that.

She doesn’t want it to rain any more. She just wants it hot. Red. Dark.

Something glints, right at the water’s edge. She wraps her arms around her belly and heads toward it, past putrefying seaweed and swollen sea grapes. Like decaying streamers from some welcome-home party; heralding the coming of a new and darker planet.

She kneels down in the surf. Bubbles sizzle against her thighs. Tiptoe into her bikini.

It’s just a rock. Pebble-smooth and black; rubbed to shininess by waves and weather. A streak of something silver running through.

She takes it in her hand. It’s lighter than she expected. Drier.

Hotter than it has any right to be. She squeals and lets it fall.

“What the hell?” It’s left a small, red imprint on her palm. A tiny strip of scaled, peeling skin.

It hurts. Bone-deep; nerve-wide. Through her blood and skin and every strand of hair. She coughs. The air is wrong: heavy and wet and suffocating, spasming her cells; cramping her muscles. The light is wrong: dull with missing frequencies, rendering the sky and clouds and birds a nauseating blur.

This planet is wrong. Too green. Too wet. Lacking vapours and fires and biting acid rains.

“What are you moaning about?”

She squeals again; stands and spins. Stares at her step-father’s tiny swimmers and bulging, hairy gut. His eyes are fixed on her breasts, now, and again, and always.

Her vision clears. The mix of gases in the air is sickly, but palatable. The water scratches at her skin, but can be ignored. The light is pathetic, but she doesn’t need to see for this.

She looks at her palm: the skin is smooth and white again.

She smiles.


I’m in her. Her blood is iron-rich. Sodium-heavy. Alien but acceptable. I suck her carbon dioxide away. Steal her potassium. Absorb her wastes and quiver into two. Then four. Then many.

I ride her nervous system. Infiltrate her epithelium and squeeze a little extra from her heart. Shut down her kidneys to conserve what I need. Make the necessary adjustments in her womb.

I take my place in her brain. The sweet, dark tingles of her electricity. She can see this planet for what it is, now. Wrong. Waiting for my touch.

“What are you moaning about?”

She turns and I let her eyes adjust. The man is bigger than I’d thought. He lumbers towards me in that familiar way of the males of my species. Wrangling gravity; shifting his bulk where it isn’t wanted. Dripping with sand and hormones and laden with cholesterol.

He will serve my children well.

The girl takes on my approval. She smiles and rolls back her shoulders. Reaches out a finger and traces it slowly through the sweat and greying hair beneath his navel.

We both observe the immediate effect.

“You’ll do,” I make her whisper. She takes him by the hand.

That pale, pale sun barely warms the sand dunes where she leads him. The screech of the sea birds mingles with his snuffling, drooling moans.

The blue above is offensive.

It doesn’t matter.

I will remake this world in my image. END

Marta Salek is a writer and a nursing student. She recently sold a novel to Zharmae Publishing Press. Her short stories have appeared in “Aurealis” magazine.



Bot Gone, Ramifications

By Kenton K. Yee

FOR WEEKS, NO ONE WORRIED that Ro didn’t answer our messages. We assumed he went on vacation or jury duty without updating the vacation tracker, a common violation. But after our messages went unheeded for a month, his supervisor George schlepped down to the basement. George came back scratching his shiny scalp, forehead furrowed, as if he had lost his key card.

“Ro’s comm glasses, self stimulator, battery cube, pants, shoes, and socks are on the floor under his desk,” George said. “Since when did Ro start disassembling himself in the office?”

We exchanged glances. Since when did he start stimulating himself in the office? Leased from BotsUSA to do our accounting, Ro was assigned to the basement cube from day one. By all accounts, he was a ruthless book cook, never hesitating to forge a receipt. Whenever one of us ventured downstairs to fetch supplies, which wasn’t often, we saw his skinny silhouette in the dark corner, his hump nose inches from the computer screen, his back arched, his butt perched at ten o’clock on his bubble chair. We didn’t greet him. We were humans and he was just a bot, a standoffish one at that. “Maybe he changed to go jogging?”

“The apple core on his desk must be at least a month old,” George said. “Even the maggots have desiccated.”

Compounding the mystery was that Ro had entered a fake RBID number in his personnel profile. His contact information was a dead end. BotsUSA had no record of him. Apparently he was an illegal bot impersonating a BotsUSA unit to earn a paycheck. The World Bots Registry could not match him to any missing bot. After his almost decade with the company, we realized that we knew nothing about Ro. Could be that Ro wasn’t even a bot.

Office messages flew speculating on the cause of Ro’s disappearance. Virus? Amnesia? Kidnapping? Escape to a new life? One of the techs said she thought Ro’s lips moved faster than his speech, as if he was lip-syncing. But she also thought that he might have been sweet on her. Another wave of messages criticized Ro’s asocial personality. “Not a team player,” we decided. Truth was, Ro didn’t ask to sit alone downstairs. He was assigned the lone basement cube because his nonjudgmental demeanor made us feel unappreciated. He could have rehabilitated his image by joining the singles for beer after work, but he begged off, messaging back that he “didn’t drink.” Sad.

Some suggested, only half-jokingly, that aliens abducted him. Personally, I suspected Ro was himself a space alien who decided to repatriate. Think about it: what Earthling has no documentation, no ambition, and no friends? But I’ll concede that the consensus view, if less imaginative, was more likely: angered by the constant ostracization, Ro leapt off a lonely bridge. Suicide felt less scary to us than health or cyber hazards, or space aliens lurking in the workplace. At least suicide was an act of free choice.

The hardboiled sleuthing of a hired gun would discern the truth from our round-the-clock surveillance data soon enough. In the meantime, our attention gravitated to more urgent issues. We speculated whether Ro would go to hell or if there was even a hell for bots. We imagined Ro in purgatory among pews upon pews of bots who had committed suicide, heads bowed in prayer, ears blinking like diamond earrings.

George suggested a memorial service. We grumbled that a service would cut into our off time. Human resources called a staff meeting and instructed each of our five divisions to send a rep. The reps reported back that the service was dignified, but no relatives showed. There were no cute little toddlerbots saluting the empty alloy casket, no doting wife shivering silently under a black veil. An autonomous car passing outside bleeped a couple of times. A buddy car perhaps? “Ro never made a fuss,” the chaplain said. “Gawd rest his soul.”

A few weeks later, we leased a newly printed accountingbot from BotsUSA. Ro 2.0 has been walking the two flights upstairs to socialize. In him, we recognized our young selves, excited about the new position, the potential friendships, the possibilities for personal growth. “Keep your pants on and your stimulator off,” we advised, “and come with whether you drink beer or not.” END

Kenton K. Yee is a theoretical physicist. His work has appeared in “Physical Review D,” “Cafe Irreal,” “The Los Angeles Review,” and “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.”



Bone of My Bone

By Sarah Crysl Akhtar

DONOVAN KNOWS WHEN TO fold ’em. His grapes were coming in on Khkulian and royalties from that trapdoor we found were keeping it Christmas every day.

I was off on R&R anyway.

But Ozorof, damn him—thinks he’s everybody’s grandpa. Volunteered himself onto that crew of hotshot kids Command sent out in the new freighter.

That’s how we knew what happened.

Latest turf war’d been won by the lower-the-weight boys. New alloy lifting off wet from the shell, so to speak.

Can you say to hell with a pack of wet-eared cubs? We shut up, but brooded.

Every kilogram shaved from the payload was priceless, and they were back in six months with a full haul, and smashed all the records for the weight-class.

Command made love to ’emselves so hard we all felt sticky. So why didn’t we feel like a pair of vaporous old ladies who’d almost ruined the children’s fun?

“He’s not himself,” Donovan said.

“No kidding,” I said. Ozorof had come back quiet.

“I’ve got a baby rosé just about ready to be unswaddled, and it wants its uncles to cheer its first steps. I cashed in big chips to get you on tomorrow’s shuttle, and I’m gonna be real cranky if the two of you don’t show up.”


“I’m fine,” Ozorof rumbled, I was handling him so tenderly. He swatted my back to prove he wasn’t lying and really, the pain was worth it. “Hang on ’til we get there,” he said, “why should I tell it twice?”


It wasn’t gonna be a dainty evening. That infant rosé was swimming in a trio of rock-solid tumblers.

Third moon was just up and the hills were glowing, and like Donovan said, it was fine atmosphere for winegrowing. His Khkulian syrah was gonna be a heartbreaker some day.

“So,” Ozorof said, “I had a little feeling.”

Donovan refilled his tumbler.

“We were transiting a cricket hop, and those little ones, they sprout anomalous compression fields like mushrooms. There, and then they’re gone.

“And I thought, let’s catch one.

“I checked my own chronograph, and then I buzzed Amansky. Piece of luck he was bonecrusher on the run. Won’t hock you with questions just for the joy of his own voice. But he likes a little breadcrumb trail, too.”

We duly toasted Amansky.

Ozoroff continued. “Gonif, I say to him, where are you?

Fore, he says, and there I am aft.

What time you got? and he tells me.

Thanks, I say.

That it? he says.

Maybe, I say. OK, he says.

“So I scribble up some equations. And what do you know? A negative time vacuum amidships when we traversed the hop. Teeny one. And the skin is built to take it, that’s why they don’t bother anymore installing chronograph banks throughout the ship. They already factored in these little pinches, right?”

Donovan changes his mind about any more of that rosé, and cracks open the Arcturian brandy instead. Here comes the fun stuff ...

“Thirty-six hours or so later, Amansky comes by for a little pinochle.

Funny thing, he says. Kid presents with rash and malaise, a little bit of fever. Says it feels like flu. But everyone was clean before we left, we’re well past incubation periods; we’ve had no subsequent contact with vectors.

I scan him, I biopsy him, run his bloods. And I’m a little troubled. It’s almost what I’d call a pseudo-autoimmunological response. I don’t think it really is what it seems to be.

So I ask him, says Amansky, what he’s been doing lately.

“The boy’s our zooarcheologist,” said Ozorof, “and he’d been in our nice new cargo bay with all those bones we were bringing back.

“Amansky shows me a section of the ultra-high resolution scan he took of the kid’s skin, and he asks me what I think.

Puncture wounds, I say.

There you go, he says.

“Titanium-niobium, that bay,” said Ozorof, “light and strong and corrosion-resistant.”

“Brittle, though,” said Donovan.

“Brittle,” said Ozorof. “And that negative time event caused some interesting metallurgical stress. On the nano-level, of course. It’s a bio-compatible alloy and shouldn’t have bothered the kid at all, beyond the momentary discomfort of being pierced to the marrow by nano-shards.”

Ozorof took a big swallow of brandy.

“It’s just,” he said, “that they passed through those fossils first. They’d been in permafrost, not much the worse for wear.

“Amansky didn’t tell him. What would’ve been the point? Amansky took blood samples once a week—for research, he said. But he destroyed them once we landed. There’d been no evidence of parasitic or microbial replication, the kid wasn’t infectious. Amansky didn’t want them to turn him into a lab rat.

“In addition to whatever else he’s gonna turn into anyway.” END

Sarah Crysl Akhtar bakes shortbread and writes flash fiction. Her work has appeared in “Every Day Fiction,” “365tomorrows,” “Flash Fiction Online,” and “Perihelion.”



Size Matters

By Ken Goldman

“WE’RE GOING ABOUT THIS THING all wrong,” Dr. Brian Pennway explained to his fellow team of SETI researchers who were seated opposite the three foundation contributors with money to spend. “Our institute’s search for extraterrestrial intelligence—in almost thirty years we’ve found nothing to indicate that life exists elsewhere, I’ll admit to that. Disheartening, yes, but I believe I’ve isolated the problem.”

Herman Fleiss, some old poop from the Hanson Scientific Research Foundation, pushed his chair from the long table. “And your team, of course, is hoping for another grant of six million to pursue cosmic ghosts? I’m not a believer in throwing good money after bad, Dr. Pennway. Fifteen minutes of listening to your excuses for SETI’s having produced no results since 1984, that’s about all the time I can waste here. I don’t intend to do the same with our foundation’s cash.” He shoved his paperwork back inside his briefcase, motioning for his two accompanying foundation members to do the same.

SETI researchers Morgan and Henshaw looked helplessly at their spokesman. Brian Pennway had to plug this hole in the dike quickly.

“Mr. Fleiss, allow me to present a possible scenario to you, all right?”

A house fly picked this inopportune moment to land on the old man’s nose. Fleiss swatted at it, smiling uncomfortably. “I have about as much patience with you as I have with this fly, Professor.” The moment produced some uneasy laughter.

“Five minutes, Mr. Fleiss. That’s all I ask. Please, sit.”

Fleiss mumbled something unintelligible and sat.


Pennway’s young assistant and soon-to-be wife, Gretchen, squeezed her fiancé’s leg under the table. She leaned close. “If one of these Foundation jerks laughs, just smile and politely thank them for their time, okay? You don’t want to be a laughingstock to the Hanson people.”

Pennway stood. Maybe he had a shot at convincing the only woman on the Hanson team. He beaded in on her as he spoke. “Gentlemen and Miss Loomis, everything we know and understand is relative. Man sees things as he prefers to see them—that is, in human terms. That fly buzzing around inside here may serve as an example. A common house fly’s life span, from larvae to death, is fifteen to thirty days. Do you believe that insect experiences one minute of its life in the same manner as you or I experience those same sixty seconds?”

“This grant isn’t about insects, Doctor.” Fleiss smirked, but Sara Loomis, the female Foundation member at his side, did not.

Gretchen forced a pained smile at the Foundation’s team. She aimed the same grin at Brian, implying it may be a good idea to abort this mission. But Pennway pressed on.

“Gentlemen and Miss Loomis—time, space, we need to consider these things on a sliding scale. Our telescopes are searching for mountains when, perhaps, we should be considering pebbles.”

The smirk now passed among all three Hanson members, although Sara Loomis joined the ranks last.

“Perhaps we should invest in microscopes rather than telescopes, Doctor Pennway?”

Was the woman making a joke? It was hard to tell.

“Not exactly, but not entirely off the mark, Miss Loomis. Consider this ...” Pennway reached into his jacket’s pocket and produced a golf ball. “Picture a planet no larger than this ball, floating in the farthest reaches of space. Advanced civilizations, cities, incredible technology, this world perhaps is even more sophisticated than ours. But time and space, they’re perceived differently to this miniaturized civilization. Their minutes would be our year, and because of their size and condensed sense of time, their entire existence would go unnoticed by us. Unless, of course—”

Fleiss exchanged glances with his team. “... unless, of course, the Hanson Foundation ponies up another six million dollars to track down this planet consisting of microorganisms?” The Hanson team’s smirks remained polite enough not to disintegrate into outright laughter. “Well, Dr. Pennway, I have to admit your five minutes could just as easily have been an hour, and my feelings would have been the same. Thanks for your time, but no thanks.” He and his associates offered their questionably sincere wishes for SETI’s good luck, properly shook hands, and excused themselves from the researchers’ office.

Brian Pennway sat down, red-faced before his team. Morgan looked to Henshaw and shrugged.

From Morgan, “Hey, Brian, you gave it your best shot, man.” Both men excused themselves.

Pennway’s eyes caught Gretchen’s. “Yeah, that went well. Talk about one hour totally wasted.”

Gretchen kissed his cheek and offered a hug.

“Practically a lifetime to a fruit fly.”


The ship’s coordinates were all wrong. The powerful signals emanating from this place proved misleading, and the vessel’s crew had narrowly avoided disaster.

“What’s your take on the landing surface here?” the captain asked his pilot. “It seemed fleshy, soft.”

“I have no idea,” the pilot answered, scratching his tentacle. “I thought at first it was some sort of mountain, but it seemed to move slightly. That dark object appearing above us, I think it intended to crush the entire ship. But it moved so slowly, hardly noticeable. These creatures, they’re certainly as huge as they are sluggish. Their movements seem practically invisible to the naked eye.”

The captain’s single eye studied his ship’s viewing screen. The peculiar landscape below did seem frozen in time. He shook his head.

“Sluggish or not, this place is dangerously inhospitable. Communication seems impossible. We’re aborting this mission right now.”

The pilot had no problem with this decision. “I’m setting the new coordinates, Captain. We’ll be out of here in another minute.”

The captain sat back in his chair. His mandibles curled in what seemed a smile.

“A civilization of beings exceedingly huge and sluggish. I wonder if that means they’re also stupid ...” END

Ken Goldman has published over 700 stories in the small/independent press since 1993. He has won many awards for his writing. He is an Affiliate Member of the HWA.