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




Know, Oh Emperor

By L. Joseph Shosty

DELAO ASCENDED THE HIGH, NEEDLE-THIN tower to Apple Web Theramin-A, climbed out upon its fourth branch, and settled into the web receptacle there. He was pleased to find John Pi already in his receptacle, fitted with his instrumentation and awaiting their conference. Delao similarly fitted himself, and a link between the men was established.

At once Delao was bombarded with relief sensations from Pi, and a number of POV memories of Pi urinating into various facilities passed before him, one after the other. Delao flicked each away by dropping his right eye downward.

There was embarrassment. “My apologies,” Pi transmitted, his face round and cherubic, his chosen background a golden field of wheat beneath a glorious sun. “I’m just glad it’s you and not Ve or Lin. They would have come in looking for someone to blame.”

Delao’s left eye flicked up and to the right, dismissing the comments with a stern hand. He’d chosen no background, only a black screen. As the one making the inquiries, he had no obligation to put Pi at ease. He did change his eye color to green, however, to promote the healing of Pi’s guilt.

“Don’t feel grateful yet,” Delao transmitted. The baleful stare of an authority figure transmitted to remind Pi of who was who.

“Let’s start with the basics of your report. Explain it to me concisely, and in your own words the events in question.”

A shiny wave of confusion passed from Pi. “What don’t you understand? Perhaps I can clear up the points that have you confused.”

“Merely do as I have asked,” Delao said. A lion made of iron stood proudly in a steppe wavering in an evening wind. Here was the strength, and it would not be denied. Pi must have understood immediately the importance of this meeting, and he could not get by with the weak-chinned report filed earlier.

“Well, everything occurred as I’ve already said. The junk salvager, Long Reach, discovered a large artifact passing through the astronautical edge of the system, and investigated it. They reported this immediately to System Authority, but Authority receives several updates like this a relative cycle. There are over four hundred operational vessels in-system providing a similar service.

Long Reach went dark on communications until rendezvous with the artifact, which turned out to be a massive Earth-constructed vessel, traveling at sub-light speeds. No life signs were detected aboard. Long Reach paced the vehicle, docked, and gained entry through separate points, per protocol.”

“But there were life signs.”

Rabbits sprang up on a field of mystal greens. Delao found the image annoying.

“No, it was as was stated: no life signs,” John Pi said. “When the Long Reach crew gained entry, they found a majority of the ship’s interior was devoted to housing Earth forms, placed in stasis. They were, for all intents and purposes, dead to us.”

“What was the nature of this ship? Your report makes a number of assumptions on the reader, and, frankly, you left most of us confused.”

“I’m getting to that. Upon finding the Earth forms, Long Reach retreated and contacted Authority, who sent null-ship Firewatch to intercept and halt the vessel’s trajectory. The vessel was then towed in-system and examined at Lem Branch. It was determined to be as was initially assumed, an Earth vessel, but one which had been launched nearly eight hundred years ago.”

Delao kept his reactions smooth. There was a black lake, deep and calm, and only a few raindrops were allowed to ripple on its surface. Images of the vessel’s interior, however, kept flashing unwanted from Pi. Everything was cold. Sterile. Metallic. Lit cerulean blue.

“So,” said Delao, “it was eventually decided to remove the Earth forms from stasis.”

“After much deliberation, yes. An hour of it, in fact.”

“Was their original trajectory tracked?”

“Yes. The destination was Whitehome.”

“Why Whitehome?”

“Because of its historical significance to Earth, prior to the Exodus.”

“Ah. See, such statements are confusing to planetary administration. No one who’s reviewed the report thus far has an extensive enough source history block to comprehend what we are seeing. The understanding is that certain revelations on the vessel were cause for some excitement.”

John Pi’s face filled Delao’s vision, nodding vigorously. “Then let me enlighten you. Source history tells us that this was one of the first four Earth vessels launched to establish colonies on other worlds prior to the invention of blip technology. That’s why Vespucci, as we later learned it was called, was traveling sub-light when Long Reach found it. It was a world ship, and Whitehome was its destination because what we now know as Whitehome was, at the time of Vespucci’s construction, the only system with Earth-like planets that had conditions suitable for a sustainable colony. It’s the same reason that, once blip technology was invented, Whitehome became the site of the first post-Terran civilization.”

Delao’s eyes flickered over a series of warm color tones. Pi wanted to convey a sense of tranquility while his next point was delivered, so it would be taken with seriousness.

“Earth launched those people nearly a thousand years ago to colonize Whitehome. In the meantime, an entire empire sprang up while the ship crept through the cosmos, undetected. Can you see now why we were so excited? We had intercepted our ancestors, and they were alive.”

Delao nodded, though the movement from his webbing would not be seen by Pi. He began to gain an inkling of what had been at stake. It made what followed, however, all the more perplexing. He switched onto a retinal and glandular scan of Pi. Here was where he would learn what needed to be known.

“And it was at this point that you were contacted.”

There was a pause of a microsecond, a massive gulf of time.


“Why you in particular? You were on field assignment on Svatlynov in the Kier Region. Why pull you from such an important assignment?”

“Of all qualified personnel, my appearance most resembles what would have been considered an Earth form, specifically a Negroid, which is one of the three Earth form classifications, and my name, John, has survived almost unchanged since the Exodus. It was believed these things would put the Earth forms at ease.”

“And you spoke to the council in charge of the expedition?”

“It was actually just one man, Rudolph Schlereth. I know your source history is not quite as exacting as someone with my background, but you should know it’s a common and helpful practice to study the hierarchal limitations of Earth. In our society, councils of seven are given problems broken into equal parts, and it is from their independent findings that a compromise is taken. Source history describes for us in magnificent detail a number of different governmental forms, and though the occasional one did arise that resembled, and no doubt influenced, ours, most forms involved a single entity retaining an inordinate amount of decisional power, oftentimes with multi-entity bodies beneath to offer counsel. Schlereth was their leader, his title being Mission Administrator. He was reanimated first, and I began a dialogue with him.

“I must say, communication with Schlereth was difficult. We’ve established a hyper-efficient linguistic base, and even with intersystem divergence, we maintain effective communications between worlds. The Earth forms were concerned with rhythm and syntax, tense, all of the things we dealt with long ago. Speaking to Schlereth took hours just to brief him on what had occurred.”

“And how did he react to the news?” Delao asked.

“He took everything with a strictly neutral countenance.”

“And he was subjected to scrutiny?”

“All kinds.”

“And a physio-psychic analysis was performed.”

A feral wolf peeked from an ancient wood. “No. All current templates are irrelevant when dealing with one from so long ago. There are no current parameters for such measurements.”

“So you were completely blind.”

An orange burst of energy made Delao wince. “No! We did the best we could, given the circumstances. Nothing in his biology or outward appearance suggested anything was afoot. We explained to him what had happened, and that his people were to be released under careful supervision and given the opportunity to integrate following a period of observation and retroactive source training.”

Delao was satisfied, and the speed and intensity of his transmissions slowed to a less aggressive clip. “Good. That’s sufficient for me to believe that all precautions were taken.”

Half an image of urination occurred, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. “I’m glad you approve. I’m sorry my emotions are not under better control at the moment. I’m still quite in shock, you see.”

Ocean waves crashed in the background, a transmission from Delao. A feeling of soft pillows contouring to naked skin accompanied. “Given the circumstances of this meeting, you are permitted a few lapses. It must have been difficult.”

“It was.”

“Tell me about it.”

“We had fourteen dialogues, and in the last it was inferred that the rest of Schlereth’s people would be removed from stasis so the observation process could begin. Aside from a reaction of elation, Schlereth showed no outward signs of difficulties.

A sharpness stimulated Delao’s olfactory, even though his respiration had slowed during communication. This was another message from Pi, one that had, in fact, been a conscious one. It was the smell of sweat, to let Delao know the difficulties he had undergone and for Delao not to judge too harshly.

“It’s clear to see we should have been alarmed at his reaction, but we’re unaccustomed to interstellar travel such as what Schlereth and the rest of Vespucci’s crew experienced. We have a knowledge of time and distances with blip technology, even as brief as such travel may be, but for Schlereth, the relative time from his being placed in stasis eight centuries ago to the release of his fellow colonists was about forty-nine hours. The depth of his feelings, then, was vastly out of proportion to the situation.”

“He was ... over-exuberant.”

“To a fault, and if what happened afterward was any indication, it likely would not have mattered if we had removed another person from stasis and questioned them first. What we saw, instead, was, for the colonists, a near-instant consensus of viewpoint.

“Following their release from stasis, the colonists were placed in the ship’s common area. We felt until they could be medically assessed of any source pathogens and subsequently informed of their situation that they should remain aboard the world ship. Schlereth asked to make a speech to the colonists to keep them calm and orderly. Remember they were expecting to make planet fall on Whitehome and begin immediate preparations for building a colony, not face a guard of near-Earth forms who had woken them prematurely from stasis.

“What followed was an impassioned speech, by all accounts. I, along with the translators who had assisted me with the more difficult portions of source speech, was not present and can only assume what was said. Schlereth concluded the speech, which lasted for nearly an hour, with a vote, a show of hands, if you will. Apparently it was unanimous, as the guards reported every colonist raised his or her hands. Immediately following this there was some degree of commotion and mutterings among the people. There were many embraces and shows of affection, and within minutes the first colonists began collapsing into seizures.”

A gray, foggy morning from both men demonstrated a mutual concern.

“Extraordinary,” Delao said finally.

Pi’s right eye flicked an image of the World Court at Whitehome. Appropriate. “By the time medical teams were dispatched, it was too late,” he said. “All six thousand were pronounced dead from poison. There was nothing in the ship’s logs or protocols that suggested that death by poisoning was even an option for them. It was likely installed in case the colonists were faced with a hopeless situation once they’d arrived on Whitehome. There is, however, another idea.”

“Which is?”

“Schlereth was their leader, but that was only until the colony was built. We believe that following the colony’s completion, having hierarchal government such as what existed on Earth would have been imprudent, and an experimental form was to be established for anyone breaking laws or otherwise shirking duties. A vote would be taken, and if a person was found unanimously guilty he would be obliged to end his life so as to relieve the colony of the strain he placed upon them.”

Delao pondered this. Finally he said, “John Pi, would you disengage your webbing and take a walk with me?”

“Of course.”

The men discontinued their session and climbed down the tower and entered the commons area. At Station Vibrant was the telescope which had been drawing Delao’s attention of late while he pondered the Vespucci debacle. He went there again and stared at the ship, tethered to the space elevator and station above in geosynchronous orbit. The thing sat there, quiet, with no lights or any signs of it being anything other than a highly sophisticated tomb. The colonists’ bodies had been placed back in their stasis chambers until such time as Vespucci could be disassembled and its parts used to bolster planetside resources. Though much of the technology was woefully ancient, it could be repurposed.

“I have a block of source history pertaining to early religious culture,” Delao said after a moment. “These colonists have concerned me for several minutes, now. The story that keeps bouncing about in my head is the Theban Legion. Do you know it? Six thousand, six hundred soldiers allowed themselves to be slaughtered rather than kill the defenseless peasants they had been sent to destroy.”

John Pi nodded. “I, too, have been distracted. The anecdote that’s been haunting me I found in a manual on military service. It’s unclear if this is history or fable, but it concerns a number of men who suffered all manner of humiliation and deprivation so they could avenge the man they had served after he had been forced to commit ritual suicide. Once the men had gotten their vengeance on the one responsible for their lord’s fate, they, too, committed suicide, having served their leader to the fullest extent.”

Delao pulled away from the telescope but eyed the heavens, not seeing Vespucci but knowing where it lay.


“Yes. This is pure conjecture, but the colonists needed to believe entirely in their cause, and so it’s possible that subjects were chosen for possessing both the necessary skills for planetary colonization and the genetic predisposition for such extremist behavior.”

“But why kill themselves?”

“It’s more conjecture, but I would imagine it was because they, like those men I mentioned, had outlived their usefulness. Their motives must have been similarly extreme, for it’s doubtful mass suicide would have been allowed were it not a unanimous decision.”

Delao shook his head. “Thank you for illuminating this for me, John Pi. Now I understand why you and your colleagues were so excited. In their ignorance of the world, the people of Earth were ferociously adaptable. We’ve lost some of that, out here. Think of what we might have learned from them had they lived.”

“Oh, I should think this matter has been quite instructive,” Pi replied. “One should merely be careful to find what can be taken from it and learn.”

Delao looked down at his feet. “Yes. That will be all, John Pi. Thank you for taking these few minutes with me. I know that is a long time to spend on something that has already come to pass. The matter is hereby closed.”

Pi turned to leave.

“John Pi, another word.”


“You said there were other ships?”

“Yes. Three more.”

“What will become of them?”

“Assuming they are discovered, the outcome will likely be the same. But if we were to—”

Delao turned. “Yes? Go on.”

“If we altered their course and allowed them to land on worlds different from their original destinations, perhaps allowed them to build their colonies and adjust, a different outcome might occur when we send envoys to contact them.”

“I’ll add that consideration to my report, then. Of course, it will be up to those who discover these ships, should such a course of action be allowed, but yours is the best possible idea.”

John Pi smiled. “It should be interesting, first contact between the Earth forms and those who have come after them.”

Delao nodded and turned his gaze toward the night sky. Yes, indeed. It would be almost like two alien races, meeting for the first time. Would that I could be there, he thought. It should be a spectacular moment indeed.

“That is all, John Pi.”

“Thank you, sir.” END

L. Joseph Shosty lives in Texas with his wife and son. His work has appeared in “The First Line,” “Fiction365,” and “Stupefying Stories,” as well as in several anthologies. His novel,“Abattoir in the Aether,” was published in January, 2012.




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