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




By George Sandison

MARCUS PALMER HELD HIS HEAD IN his hands. He wanted to enjoy a few more seconds of denial, but he couldn’t do it. He ground the balls of his palms into his eye sockets and yanked them away sharply. He had to look.

Flecks and fragments of wreckage, spattered across the endless night, blinked in and out of existence in front of him. Outside the window of the escape pod, the largest piece spun slowly, ponderously for such a portentous thing. It was several metres across, twisted and bubbled at the edges like scar tissue. The letters PI were occasionally visible in the lights from the dying reactions which were all that remained of the ESA Epitaph.

A couple of the larger pieces of wreckage held familiar elements of the disintegrated whole, like bulkheads, huge cargo containers or these great isolated letters of the ship’s insignia. Or bodies, frozen in unlikely contortions of agony.

It looked less real than the disaster-hols Marcus watched back home, but it scared him more. It was further away, behind the thick layer of transparent polymers, and full of people he knew. Despite this, he sighed with a pretence of levity and said, a little too loudly, “Let’s hope the taxis are still running.”

Next to him Dodo laughed, a heavy, bubbling noise, thick with blood. Dodo even tried to reply before he succumbed to wet rattles. Dark stains were spreading across his uniform, the colours particularly vibrant in the artificial light of the pod.

This was a place of shadows and darkness, and their tiny lifeboat felt to Marcus like a sputtering candle in a silent tempest. He stroked Dodo’s hair and shushed him. There was little else to do. He’d already given him all the Bliss in the pod’s medikit; it was a miracle that he’d heard him at all. He carried on watching the sparkling mist outside. He was starting to see how the larger sections punctuated the stars with swirling patches of darkness.

He’d been on the bridge when it happened, which meant that he knew as much as could be known, which was nothing. An asteroid, debris or something had ripped the ship in half in seconds. It was as if chaos was a binary process, something which knew no middle ground. It was just a casual catastrophe. There hadn’t even been time to signal Terra. Their mission had failed in one of the great vacant tracks of the universe and someone else was going to have to complete the great journey to Proxima 3. The glory would be claimed by someone else and only history had a place for them now that life didn’t.

Marcus knew that their pod would never be found. He could only hope—no, expect—it to be an empty tomb. They were still a month away from the target system, after all, so they were floating like plankton in an endless ocean. Every minute meant they drifted further from their course, and away from the course was nowhere to anyone.

He hit the broadcast control to see if any of the others had escaped. Again, no answer. He stared out at the expanding dust cloud, watching the cooling metals. He imagined the cracks and pings of it all, just like his old BMW back home. It was one of the last combustion-fuelled cars, a real beauty. It was an antique now, an eccentricity which he had gifted to a museum before he left. He loved the way it roared through hazy mornings, scattering frightened wildlife in its wake and growling its affirmation of existence at everything. He leaned forwards and breathed on the window of the pod, writing his name with a smiling face just like he used to do on his BMW in winter. He felt cold now as well.

The rotation of the pod brought the decaying engine core into view periodically. The flows and twinkles of the death of uncontrolled fusion didn’t look so romantic in real life. He turned to say as much to Dodo, but when he did he saw his head lolled and a grey pallour had washed over him. He felt like he should say something, but nothing came to mind. All he could think about was the smell of Dodo’s mints which apparently pursued him even into death. It was a soft spearmint flavour, and it always struck Marcus as too sickly sweet. Now he had to smell it for the rest of his life.

It didn’t take long for the wreckage to cool to nothing, until it was only spreading clusters of metals devoid of purpose, a tribute to entropy. The ship had become wreckage and that wreckage was spreading out, aching to become nothing more than dust and debris. I shall be a time capsule, a monument to this process, he thought. I was meant to help create a new world and instead I am just a memorial, a mote given to the void.

He stared at the remains of the Epitaph, thinking on how prescient a name it was, until he realised he was starting to brood. The problem was that there was little else to do; he knew he was just waiting to die. He began to regret giving all the Bliss to Dodo. Still, Marcus found he couldn’t bring himself to regret ending up here. He had known the risks of the voyage; hell, that was what had attracted him to it in the first place. Terra was so safe, so dull, but out here was adventure and, apparently, death. They’d wanted people like him, and he’d wanted to go. Their profile was for people with no real connections to Earth and a burning dissatisfaction with their lot, an ache to mean something to someone. That had been Marcus alright. An only child with dead parents and a failed, childless marriage. No, he didn’t regret anything; he’d decided not to long ago.

Instead he was angry at himself for having dragged Dodo to the escape pod. They were only intended for use in-system. Out here they were little more than coffins with a choice of nutri-packs and hols. He should have stayed with the rest, gone down with his ship, he knew that. But he was here now, for better or worse, and he had no choice but to wait. With the spinning view of the wreckage growing repetitive he called to the pod, “Show me home.“

“Insufficient parameters. Please clarify,” replied the pod.

A wave of impotent wrath washed over him and he shouted, “Fucking home. Where I grew up, trees and plants. Earth, you bastard!”

The holo flickered into being at last and the pyramids at Giza appeared around him, taken from some glossy tour agency trailer. He muttered, “No,” to himself and the pod took it as an instruction, changing the view to Platform 1, the first of the orbital cities built all that time ago. That’s when the weight of his situation overtook him and he broke down into tears, sobbing, “No, no, no,” over and over again. Each time he said the word the view flicked to another landmark: Rushmore, Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, the first space elevator at Geneva, Macchu Picchu, Ayers Rock, Ayutthaya and more. The beauty and wealth of human civilisation taunted him silently with its majesty. He wanted to turn it off and escape the pain but the infinite cold and darkness of the alternative scared him more.

Eventually he regained his composure enough to say, “A forest. Show me a forest in autumn.” He finally took a relaxed breath as the pod became full of trees with colours spattered across them. Leaves shone in the low afternoon light, blazing yellows and reds, a few darkening greens and so many shades of brown. Dappled shadows created flares, little sunspots, which over-stimulated his retinas, accustomed to the gloom of vacuum as they had become.

He waited for his sight to recover, occasionally wiping away the tears streaming down his face, and started to look for the mushrooms hidden away under the bracken and bushes. He burrowed through this forest of projected light in search of the greens, whites and browns, even the occasional red cup of the fungi. Suddenly the decay made more sense than anything and he dove deeper, hunting out the beetles and worms in the sticky mulch underneath the verdant scene. It all seemed so elegant now. These insects were crucial to the planet, he knew that rationally. But now, as he faced his own insignificance, they grew in stature so that he saw them as beautiful. They are part of something, he thought, something I am very far away from. A place that I cannot serve.

He breathed deeply as he did all of this, in part consciously wanting to use his oxygen as quickly as possible—why prolong the inevitable, after all? He also convinced himself that he could smell the humid and heady tones of the forest. He had walked them so many times as a child and even imagining the smell was enough to make it real again. It was so real he imagined he could hear the rain falling on leaves. The gentle pattering of tiny drops on the—

The whole pod shook with a tearing, crashing sound that was all too real and Marcus felt himself thrown against the seat restraints as the vessel bucked violently. Something had hit the pod. Something big. The holo flickered and failed as the computer recited injuries: “Impact registered. Significant damage to tertiary hull. Re-entry shielding compromised. All other systems unaffected.”

Physical relief flooded through him whilst his conscious mind screamed. He had panicked, frozen in terror, and expected death. Now it had passed him by, he wanted it back. This waiting for slow suffocation was the real thing to fear, not a sudden and unexpected end.

The impact had stopped most of the pod’s rotation so now his view was unchanging. He had the rest of his life to learn the names of the stars he could see. He stared at them, his thoughts heavy, and watched as a wave slowly blinked out of existence. A growing black gap in the starfield, as though the end of the universe was washing towards him, extinguishing the lights of creation. Some animal part of his mind shut down in incomprehension but he stared on at the sight.

Whatever it was, it was becoming huge, obliterating entire constellations in seconds. The pattering of dust and tiny asteroids on the pod continued and then something much larger drifted past, briefly reflecting the weak light from the pod now the Epitaph had passed on. It was a huge chunk of rock, more than large enough to have wrecked the ship. And as it sailed past it revealed behind it four points of light in the shadow, all equidistant and growing in size. They were in front of the great shape, as though they pulled darkness behind them.

They approached so improbably quickly that Marcus could only stare in amazement, paying no regard to the passing rocks, any number of which would have obliterated him and the pod in an instant. He watched as the points grew in luminosity until they seemed to burst into flower and divide into multiple smaller points each. The dots became spatters of light and he was suddenly reminded of daisies, and spring days back home. The yellow bloom at the centre called across space and whispered of Earth in his ear. As these spatters spread out he started to see the curves reflecting between each of them, the echoes of great structures. Shaking the blossoms of home from his mind, Marcus came to realise he was staring at ships.

He hit the broadcast control again and watched as they continued to grow in size until he had no sense of scale and could only see bulbous titans. He looked over the immense hulls, studded with domes and curved protrusions, and saw nothing he recognised. Some part of him was starting to accept that they weren’t made by a human.

The revelations were too large for him to grasp as finally he saw glints of light reflect from the shadow behind. His eyes twitched and quivered as they tried to understand the blues and whites that popped in and out of existence. It was only as the objects continued to grow, defying sense and scale, that he understood what he saw as continents, mountain ranges and glaciers. Where the bodies of his friends had seemed fake this great globe, stripped bare of atmosphere, encrusted with vast frozen oceans, was tangibly and terrifyingly real. Now he could see them, the swirls and colours were bright against the dark spires and plates of rock like an immense marble, cold and inscrutable. He looked back to the ships, reassessing how far away they were, and felt very small indeed.

He hit the broadcast button again and again, praying for any of the ships to respond even if it would only be unintelligible alien noises. He was possessed with terror and wanted a response, some signal that he would give him some kind of purpose. None came though. He could only watch as the four ships and the planet they towed grew larger and he grew smaller. He started to make out a flickering field of some kind pouring out of the ships and enveloping their cargo. His heart sank as he realised his destination, the aspiration of an entire species, was little more than baggage to them. Perhaps that was Proxima 3, he thought, maybe we would have arrived to find it gone and never have known?

Finally defeated, he slumped in his chair. The planet would pass and he would be left alone, a solitary human being paired with death and now graced with such superior knowledge to his kin. He couldn’t decide if this would make the slow wait for suffocation better or worse.

He instructed the pod to record everything it could, in part for posterity but mainly because he hoped that if there was an afterlife—not that he believed in one—he would enter with one hell of a story to tell. The model of the planet started to build on the screen in front of him, and Marcus felt a sense of meaning returning. He would do as those before, and those who would come after. He would stare down the great unknown places of the universe unflinchingly, and unashamed by his ignorance. He even felt a touch of pride.

It lasted until he saw the bulk of an asteroid, probably shed from the planet or one of its moons he reasoned. It was the largest he had seen yet by some margin and it was heading straight for the pod. His mind emptied entirely. There really was nothing left. He was but one pebble in universe where planets were commodities.

As the rolling, tumbling mass finally, and casually, smashed the tiny escape pod, Dodo’s body, and Marcus, he could only say, “Not yet.” END

George Sandison studied English Literature at Cambridge. He recently completed a novel, “Of Falls and Angela.” He has published stories in “Fiction on the Web,” “Dreamscape Press,” and “The Drabblecast.” He works for a publisher in Hackney.


Yellow Glad Days




mystic doors