Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Their Trailing Skies for Vestment
by Joseph Green
and Shelby Vick

by Nathaniel Heely

Mapping in the Darkness
by Siobhan Gallagher

Hard Passage
by Holly Schofield

by Linda A.B. Davis

In Therapy With an Alien Cabdriver
by John Skylar

Dancing in the Black Blizzard
by Devin Miller

by Michael McGlade

Don't Think Twice
by Jack Ryan

Two in the Hand
by Jeff Samson


A Force of Gravity
by J. Richard Jacobs

Gravitational Waves
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips





By Nathaniel Heely

THEY MADE ME INTO THE HERO they said they would. Speeches, late night talk shows, football coin tosses, first pitch on Opening Day, morning news appearances, radio interviews, sitcom guest spots, babies kissed, hands shook, smiles given and more photographs snapped than I’d care to remember.

When I touched down at the Kennedy Space Center I had been in isolation for 847 Earth days, twenty-eight months, over two years. I was immediately flown to Houston. After a couple of hours with Mission Control and the press conference, I was flown to Washington D.C. The next twelve months ran together and sometimes even repeated themselves. President Teague told me to call him “Phil.” Not Mr. President, not Mr. Teague, not even Phillip. But Phil. I was named America’s Most Eligible Bachelor, contacted by several dating reality shows—both new and revived—and went out with over a dozen A-list celebrities to various charity events, dinners and award shows. NASA told me that I was going to get to name the new Titan Rover. A national holiday was announced. People named their children after me. The Navy wanted to name a Carrier the USS Michael Scheppers.


You’ve lost somewhere around 45 percent of muscle mass which is much more than we had anticipated. You lost 15 percent bone mass which isn’t as alarming but is still a very serious problem, one that will prevent you from taking any long term missions any time soon, if ever. All told you’re down to about 165 pounds, kid. That’s not a good thing. I would strongly urge you to slow down from this world-wide press tour. Focus on strength and body rejuvenation. Stress does you no good.


After my voyage to Mars and the subsequent year-plus welcome home tour I disappeared back to my home in the backwoods of a town called Conifer, Colorado. I lived alone. Calls continued to come in and I answered them with declining earnestness. Eventually I stopped answering. People stopped calling. I needed my solitude.

NASA could only afford to send one person on a mission to Mars and that was with the extra funding and assistance from the private sector. The Hermes was SpaceX’s shuttle from the ISS to Earth, but they had also supplied the robotic and android assistance. My crew were three Androidica brand Series III space explorers. In truth, it was treated like a glorified probe mission with human cargo. NASA’s Gabriel could very nearly pilot itself. I was just a maintenance worker. I was on board a self-diagnostic machine, something practically sentient. My jobs: eat, sleep, keep an eye out. A human voice that made translation and transmission easier.


Everyone acted as if I was from Mars, and not a temporary visitor of it. But in the end people wanted to know the same things.

Q: Did you ever get bored on the trip there?

A: A little. But every time I did I got to remind myself that I was going to Mars.

Q: How did you feel once you got on Mars?

A: Light. Both in weight and in state of mind. Just dizzy with joy.

Q: How was the food.

A: Not as bad as you’d think.

Q: Do you think NASA will return soon?

A: It’s possible. It’s expensive. But it’s possible. The private sector may ultimately prevail.

Q: You’ve been to Mars. First person ever to do so. So the obvious question: What next?


My house sits on the side of a mountain. Pike’s Peak, the color of blue marble stands sixty miles from the south facing balcony. I own about two acres of the surrounding property and in the fall I stockpile brush and fallen limbs for the fireplace. I bought it with vague hopes of a family and rugged outdoor living: chopping wood, hiking, shoveling snow. Now, I go through the motions doing what I need to feel comfortable. Sometimes I leave the TV on pretending it’s the voices of other people. Even so, rarely do I want people there.


... of the reason Michael was chosen for this mission was because he has a rare chromosomal mutation, which the medical field has nicknamed Trevelyn’s Gene after D.W. Trevelyn, the Irish sheep herder who was first discovered to have such an anomaly. What this correlates with is this unbelievable characteristic of prepping the immune system for cancer. Cancer, an astronaut will be prone to after extended time spent in space. There are five people who are known to have this gene. Michael Scheppers is the only one in the Western Hemisphere that we know of. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this gene does such a good job at not only preventing, but combating cancer. Trevelyn was reported as having five different kinds of cancer before he died of natural causes at 105.


NASA had no choice but to pick someone without a nuclear family. Losing a man in spaceflight is horrible on its own but add a spouse and kids to that and it’s traumatizing. It’s tough to find a single male astronaut, I’ll give them that. But I fit the bill perfectly. 6'1" 210 pounds. Excellent stamina. Resting pulse below 40. Blood Pressure: 110/73. Four percent body fat. Five year’s training in Zen Buddhism and Deep Meditation exercises.


Chris Oftlander, Popular Science. What are scientists hoping to learn specifically from your visit to the Red Planet?

What they’ve always wanted. I mean we’re still looking for life, the building blocks of life, like organic compounds. We’re trying to collect data ... there’s a huge opportunity for an ambitious biologist who can successfully integrate oxygen producing plant life on Mars. I mean, the Nobel awaits you. And then of course it’s always nice to bring back some pictures of the scenery.


My Martian home was a plateau about 100 meters from the drop-off at the end of the Promethei Terra Highlands and flanked by Reull Vallis. The intersection of a rocky highland and an extinct water mass. Perfect for the geologic and potentially biologic research. At the drop-off lay a vast field sprouting craggy red rocks set low into the horizon. If Mars had ever had enough water on it, this was where the ocean was. Vacation on the beach. An ocean of crystal and quartz embedded in the rock sparkling like frosted glass, the muted and dead orange glaze of the air.

Named Athenry.

I dreamed of shamrock fields, prairies with two foot tall grass that was the color of evergreen trees, blue unfiltered oceans and skyscraping palm trees brushing the heavens. Now that I’m back I can’t stop dreaming of dead fields wiped out by famine or Martian surfaces with freezing and dusty plant stalks.

I wake up in panic sometimes. Often actually. The panic of being alone. It’s ... suffocating, like I’m drowning. I turn looking for air, hoping athenry that when I find it I’ll remember how to breathe. My brain has to do a systems check and remind itself what every body part is for. I sweat like mad. Feels like I’m swimming in an ocean of hours, drowning in a current of time. But the all clear is given. I am whole. I function. And then I remember I am alone and the loneliness doesn’t seem as bad once I can breathe.


The Hermes touched down after those twelve minutes of silence, the doors opened and for the first time I saw the Earth as something more than a pale blue dot to get back to. I was overwhelmed. I started convulsing. Cameras and TV stations were peering in to the shuttle. Captain Wu had me sit down. I was shivering, glistening with sweat. The air suddenly felt like the vacuum of space. I was gagging on the thick Floridian atmosphere, the texture of mucus. “Breathe” the voices told me. “Just breathe.” As if it were the simplest thing to do. As if my brain wasn’t soaking in adrenaline and fear. Fear of the omniscient eye of the camera, watching my every move, making me perform, making me dance without music. Captain Wu kept trying to look me in the eyes. I kept trying to close them.


Eliza Apostolos, New York Times. Under what conditions ... Rodney Garrison here with newly returned astronaut ... would everyone please welcome Michael Scheppers ... is Dr. Brianna Pettersen. I want you to know that this is perfectly understandable what you’re going through. We will take the absolute best care ...


My brother killed himself when I was nineteen. At least that’s what all the signs indicated. It was New Year’s day and by reports of his friends he had been on a two week bender. Or maybe it was two months. Tim was an alcoholic. He even got back on the wagon a couple of times but invariably ended up having to hold on by his fingernails and got so dragged he could never make it too long. He was ten years older than me and had held in reserve a sort of mythical invincibility about himself. A big brother among four other siblings burning his life magnificently from both ends.

The VASIMIR that Michael piloted, nicknamed the Gabriel, was somewhere between two and three times slower than we think our current engines can go, but because the window is so small we had to send him much earlier than we would have preferred. The new engines, believe it or not, are capable of making the round trip to Mars and back to Earth in as few as five months. In fact, a similar prototype was tested by the company SpaceX and they made the trip to the Moon Base in about twelve hours.

Liquid Hydrogen burns at about 6,000° F. Upon re-entry the ceramic tiles on the nose of the craft can reach about half that. Just from falling. I was brought on board the ISS and then shuttled home via Hermes. For twelve minutes we fell, not saying a word.

They found his body at the bottom of San Francisco bay two days later. Speculation into foul play was posited but inconclusive and quickly dismissed. The police said it was possible that it was an accident. Tim was tall like me. I reasoned it was possible. Gravity was always working against him. The only thing anyone seemed confident about that night was that he was alone.


How was contact with Houston and your superiors maintained?

At its closest, Mars is approximately four light minutes away from Earth. So communication ended up like voicemail. I would phone Houston, read off a prepared, concise report or request and then hang up. I learned patience. How to process slower. How to deliberate my analytical skills. Applied meditative practices, reading the inside of my eyelids. I re-read manuals trying to memorize them. Systems checks, overriding diagnostic checks, performance evaluation, reminding myself why every step is crucial. The void of space broke down my language, made me mute and I taught myself how to speak with no human voices. I became automated, robotic, pathological, mimicking remembered facial cues, toning my voice as to soothe the nothingness outside of me, reading aloud but not listening.


... start off with 100 mg a day, every morning for about two weeks. Can we meet say, on the 4th for a follow up?

Side Effects May Include Dizziness, Dry Mouth, Sore Throat, Nausea, Fatigue Or Nosebleeds. Alcohol Could Intensify Any Of These Effects So Please Use Caution When Driving Or Operating Heavy Machinery. In Rare Cases Patients May Experience Hallucinations, Seizures Or Panic Attacks. If Such Side Effects Occur Contact A Physician Immediately.

“... All I’m saying, Doc, is that none of this feels warranted. I’m having panic attacks because, what? I’m too famous is that it? I’m too well-known? I’m too liked? That can’t possibly be a sickness or ... or a disease. Open up your DSM and tell me when being a celebrity became an ailment.”


After about two minutes of panic stricken delay, Captain Wu finally coaxed me up. The world was turning and I was on it. Cameras going off everywhere. The lightning of the flashes crashed against the windows and the side of the entrance.

“You okay, kid?”

I smiled. Took a deep breath. I nodded.

He gripped me on the shoulder and pulled me to my feet.

“Your face is about to be on every TV screen in the world.” He grinned.

There was a press conference that was scheduled for ninety minutes. It went just short of four hours. Afterward I met “Phil” who picked me up on Air Force One. We adjourned to D.C. for dinner. We had cigars and he asked me questions. He brought out a telescope and we looked up at everything. Where I had been and where we all hoped to go. I told him there was only one place I wanted to go. He told me he understood.

Cameras followed me everywhere. And when they weren’t following me I was on my way to a TV interview or the shoot of a new commercial. Always in the eye of the public. I was so used to the flashes my heart stopped jumping during lightning storms. I learned to write my autograph left-handed. I had no agenda but the public’s. I was a bondservant to their admiration. Nobody ever talks about celebrity as a kind of slavery.


How have you been connecting with people since you’ve been back?

Mom calls every Sunday. Her friends are all getting sick or dying and she doesn’t seem to mind it, the way she reports to me.

“Regina—you remember Regina, she was the silver haired lady that babysat you when you were, oh Lord, I wanna say three and four. Well, anyway Regina’s got bronchitis and it’ll probably end up being fatal. That’s the way her daughter made it sound ...”

“ ... ”

“And then there’s Hal Gurst, his prostate cancer is back, but they say it’s not serious—”


“And Mitchell Fuchs ... do you remember Mr. Fuchs?”

“I remember the name.”

“Well not that you’d remember this but Alex went out with Brian Shankshaw back in high school—he was the really broad-shouldered but timid soccer player, he was part of the like, Chess or Debate team or something. Well, anyway, his Uncle is, or I should say was, God rest his soul, Mr. Fuchs. He was part of the school’s administration, again not that you’d really remember.”

“You talked to Dad or Wanda recently?”

“Not especially.”

“ ... ”

“He doesn’t call you that much does he?”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“But honey it is a big deal. Aside from Francis he’s the only one of us who lives within 1,000 miles of you.

“Forget I asked.”

“I’ll give him or Wanda a ring.”

“No, Ma forget I asked.”

“You’re not burdening me.”

“I know I’m not, but if Dad wants to call, he’ll call.”

“It doesn’t matter what he wants to do. It matters what he needs to do.”

“He doesn’t need to call me. Besides I was just asking if you had talked to him.”

A pause. “No, hon. I hadn’t heard from him.”

“So,” I said, “how’s the rest of the family?”

“Well, I just got off the phone with Francis, but he called me. We talked baby names. Alex, I haven’t talked to her in two weeks. She’s still in Korea.”

“And RJ?”

“Oh, you know Robbie. Looking more like you every day. He’ll have a Ph.D. and no job soon.”

“Wasn’t he supposed to take a year off and travel or something?”

“I’m sure he still wants to do that. But whether he will or not, well, I don’t know.”

“It’s not like he’ll be out of work forever, Ma.”

“If he wasn’t as Type A as your father I’d try to tell him that.”

“Well at least you got the name right on one of your kids.”

Laughs. “Well don’t forget yourself, Michael. You’re my little angel ...”


The final day was Sol 321. Fitting, almost poetic how serendipitous this was. It was Friday on Earth when I woke up. I wondered at the time that if Mars had Days, what Day it would have been. It felt like a Sunday. Which may or may not be ludicrous. Calling that day Sunday is no more arbitrary than calling it RedDay. But the thing was I still believed in Sunday. The concept of it. Names and dates and reference points we give our observational experiences end up meaning much more than Xs on a calendar or numbers in the collective consciousness.

I didn’t pray on launch day when I could have exploded on the pad. I didn’t pray in the void in all the months of ennui and shrouded blackness, or on my way back when I docked with the ISS. I don’t even remember praying upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. But I prayed on that Sunday. I don’t know who or what I prayed to, but I know it heard me.

Sunsets are blue on Mars. Not always, but given the right conditions, an ocean rises into the sky. The heavens turn into a sea of celestial light. Standing there breathing the only oxygen for millions of miles and staring at that blue spotlight made me feel right. Made me feel at home.

The Earth’s sky is like an ocean to me now, waving shades of blue, rippled with white capped waves of clouds.

Some days I think I could drown in it all.


Tell me about your brother, Tim.

“Hey Timmy. Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve had a hell of a time just staying in one place this last year. It’s probably no use anyway, making excuses to you. I wanted to bring you a Mars rock but NASA wouldn’t let me. So I brought you a piece of my spacesuit, well, the glove actually. And, uh, these are from Ma. So I’ll just pin it right in. Don’t think that should hurt any of ’em. I brought some Wild Turkey with me because I know how partial you are to that ... were ... um, but yeah. Lemme just pour out the first little bit ... there we are. You know I thought to myself about bringing you some PBR ... just cuz I knew it’d piss you off ... But I figured this was a special occasion. Speaking of special occasions, you’ll be glad to know your little space nerd brother is the hottest bachelor in America right now. Dates with beautiful women, offers from what I can guess are just fabulous men. I mean, you know, it’s like celebrity dating. Not like actual dating dating. You date because people want to know who you’re dating. ’Cause your face doesn’t just belong to you anymore. But that’s my own shit. Let’s talk about you. Still wearing that same suit? Your coffin comfy?”


Haley looked at me demurely holding up her wineglass. “Hello, space cadet.” She loves using this phrase.

“Yeah, um, cheers.” I said. We clink glasses delicately. She was grinning the whole time.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing, nothing. Go on with what you were saying.” Haley had been nominated for a Golden Globe and I was her date as well as presenting for Best Original Score.

“Right so, and I mean you could probably use the death of a close person, much less your own mother to form any excuse you want, but well, I always liked to sort of have half-imagined conversations with my mother and, um, I guess when I finally started taking acting seriously it was all the same thing ...”

On Mom’s weekly phone call she off-handedly mentioned she was eight years sober.

“ ... that and, I don’t know if you know this, but theater boys aren’t exactly the most aggressive out there and so I got the feeling my dad approved of it all because he really liked not having to ward off boys with a stick.”

One of the reasons I liked Haley, besides being good-looking and up for several awards, was that she, like all famous people, was a tragic figure. I guess I’m in that category now.

“To be honest though, stage acting always felt disingenuous. So, I don’t know, conscious of everything. Is this making sense? Being in front of an audience. I like the privacy of cameras. Because everyone over-thinks the image and the film so much that eventually they lose all context and meaning. And suddenly they’re no longer looking at you.”

She talked in a way that made me want to always listen to her. I had to constantly make sure that my jaw wasn’t hanging too low and that I wasn’t staring at her lips. She wore red lipstick. Chapped canals, wetted at the start of every sentence. Deep canyons really ...

“Of course you probably by now know what I mean ... Do you know what I mean?”

“About the cameras?”

“Yeah, I mean. I’m not talking too much am I?”

“I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Well I mean given the circumstances I think it is. I mean you went to another planet. I don’t know how you can stand to be this quiet. I mean, god, do you even realize who you are? Jokes aside.”

I smiled with the right corner of my mouth. “You get used to the quiet.”


Part of my nights were spent mapping the stars. Phobos and Deimos became like guardian angels that I talked with. They danced, rising into Sagittarius eventually burning into the morning when I was greeted briefly by the morning star, Earth.

Aristotle believed that the spheres in the heavens made music. I like that. Because even though this view is antiquated and absurdly perplexing, it waxed poetic for me. The stars were scattered out against the sky like shaken salt on a velvet tablecloth. For a moment at a time they were still and quiet, arranged like notes in a symphony of silence. No crackle from the radio, no distant whir of cars on some Martian freeway, barely even a whisper of wind.

I was watching “Apollo 13” the other day. On accident. It was on TV. I noticed that when the oxygen tanks blow up an explosion is heard. It’s the only time there’s any noise in space in the movie. But even explosions like that go unheard to the entire universe. Solar flares launched from the sun, supernovas, galaxies moving millions of miles toward each other are all silent. They make no more sound than notes on a page. People don’t understand what silence is. Not really. There is such a thing as negative decibels, and humans can start hallucinating in tightly sequestered rooms. They don’t understand the long tedious rests between the crackle of transmission or the ever so faint hum of a systems check or the flip from a control switch. Thoughts become deafening after a while. Pretty soon you lose the need to talk. And then the desire.


“... of the things I remember—I should say one of the people—I remember when I was in middle school gym was Clayton. You remember him? You and his older sister were like three years apart. Anyways, he always every day, he had gym right after me, he would come in and call me Tiny Tim. Always called me Tiny Tim. And I remember getting this big swell of pride because he said it with this ... twinkle in his eye. You know? Like I was part of someone that—or at least—had a brother that mattered. You probably don’t understand this, I mean, and it sounds stupid and cheesy and corny—especially if you look at where the two of us are today—it sounds stupid but I really looked up to you, man. I was always ... chasing you. Like you were some ... I don’t know ...distant planet.”


Before I set foot on Athenry I asked Houston for a couple minutes to gather myself. Day after day of blackness and void, always tracking progress, giving updates, monitoring fuel and electrical systems, trying to mimic the motions of an Android. And before that the studies, the sleeping studies, the hibernation tests (deemed too risky for the one man trip), the solitary confinement for months on end sometimes going weeks without talking to another human being in any capacity, the physical rigor involved. All this had finally led to that first Martian morning. After the anxiety ridden tears and the vomiting—experiencing gravity for the first time in five months will do that to you—I made my descent from the capsule.

For the first time in history, mankind has walked among the Heavens, setting foot upon a planet that is not his own.”

The sun had twelve spokes from behind my lens, clouded by a thin orange gauze. The two moons bobbed low on the horizon. I could hear the wind whistle the way it’s supposed to. Beyond lay the valley, the dead ocean covered in dry blood dust where I imagined nature alive and free to grow in some ancient yet incoherent time.


“... the weird thing was I always, out of everybody, Mom and Dad included, I always thought you were the strongest. You were the most unshakeable, the most solid. You could take the most punches. And maybe that’s why I stay awake half at night begging the morning not to come, but also begging to get to sleep. Because here I am as some ... some symbol now of the human spirit or whatever you want to call it. There I was, right? The manifestation of all my dreams. An entire generation’s hopes. An entire species’ hopes. I alone had brought mankind beyond the one and only planet we had ever known and I’m having panic attacks, depressive episodes, mental anguish over ... what exactly? Did you ever feel this pressure, Tim? Did this make you jump? Because these flashing cameras and sleepless nights give me time to think, and time to think makes me wonder just exactly how cold the San Francisco Bay is ... Or were you really a victim after all? Falling as we all do, trying to make meaning amidst the absurdity. But if that’s what happened, Tim, if that’s what happened, when do I fall? When do I fall, Tim ...”


I felt lifeless on the way back. Like someone was taking me prisoner for wanting to give the children of Earth a look into their future. I was cargo. I was a skilled tool. I was a math equation launched between two boulders. I was at the mercy of an indifferent Universe. I was, in those days, at the mercy of something greater. The hero I became will be reduced to a name in a history book. A memorized fact. A picture in a hallway you can’t quite pick out. I look forward to this. To being forgotten. But I’m also scared. Because sometimes I wonder if I was the first one who forgot who I was.


Step 1: We Admit We Are Powerless Over Our Addiction—That Our Lives Have Become Unmanageable.

Mom calls on Sunday. I don’t tell her I went to Mass today. Thankfully, she doesn’t ask. We go in circles, orbits. From more deaths to Francis’ new baby: Mary. These seem to be the only two things my mother is interested in, though I don’t mention that, either.

I wake up the next day and don’t eat anything until dinner. The medication curbs a lot of my appetite even after all this time. Of the droves of clichés my mom extolled, her favorite to teenage Michael was when my eating habits skipped. “You better tell me her name, Michael,” She’d say. “Because if you’re not hungry it must mean you’re in love.” She was right more often than not.

Haley calls me. She does the majority of the talking. She says she’ll be “in my area” for an upcoming movie premiere and that we should get together. I tell her it’d be good to get out and that I’d like that. My heart’s beating open my ribcage but I’m too tough for it. I keep it inside.

The window pane above the sink is an iron tic-tac-toe board, creating four crosses slicing the view outside: The old mountain pines, green needling the branches, the rough hewn dirt roads pointing to where all the people are. The sky is clear and deep blue at the zenith. The birds fall out of the sky like drops of paint, flying low, smearing against the horizon and then disappearing. I can hear faint whistles and songs that they sing to each other. I gaze out at the grated view resting my fingers against the bars. Their songs are of dreams, of stories and of love without words and before meaning.

And do they want to get out?

And do they want to get back in? END

Nathaniel Heely is a University of Arkansas writing student. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in “The Drunken Odyssey Podcast,” “The Citron Review,” “Used Gravitrons,” and “Crack the Spine” He is currently working on his first novel.


beer book


space trawler