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



Mapping in the Darkness

By Siobhan Gallagher

Landing day

MITCH CRANKED THE WHEEL of the SEV as he backed out of the ship’s cargo hold, and onto Plutonian soil.

“Hey! Careful,” Jerome said from the lavatory.

“You knew I was going to do this, so why didn’t you hold it?”

“It’s not my fault. I had a bean burrito.”

Idiot. He shook his head, flicked the spotlight on. With the sun being a bright star in the sky, this was their only source of light to see through the darkness. They’d trained up in Alaska for a few months to get used to it, but damn, this plutoid was darker than dark. Not a nighttime darkness, just a creepy gloom that draped itself over hills, valleys, and craters. He fiddled with some switches to get his mind off it. Oops—wrong switch: the computer console projected a 3D image of the company’s exec, with his plastic hair and plastic smile, between the driver and passenger seats.

The hologram spoke: “Ah, so good to see you two—”

Mitch punched the console, and the image wavered. Tired of hearing this idiot and all his recordings. We get it: we’re here to map the planet and find your lost rovers—the ones that were supposed to do the mapping—because you can’t program anything decent. Even holograms.

“Ah, so good—”


1/2 Pluto day (roughly 3 Earth days)

“Hey, why do you think Mickey named his dog Pluto?”

Mitch glanced over at Jerome on the passenger side, frowned. What was it now? Couldn’t he let him drive in peace?

“’Cause Pluto is Hades in Greek mytho, god of the underworld—”

“Yeah, I know that.”

Jerome went on: “And that’s basically like Satan. What kind of guy—or mouse—names his dog Satan?”

“Is this some nut-case conspiracy theory that Walt Disney is a Satanist?”

Jerome chuckled. “Ha, no. Everyone knows Disney was a fascist.”

Mitch groaned on the inside, kept his focus on the dreary icescape ahead. Maybe in another time, another place, such as at bar after a couple of shots, he’d find Jerome mildly amusing. But not today, and probably not ever.

“So, would you name your dog Pluto?” said Jerome.

“I wouldn’t have a dog.”

“Not a dog person, huh?” Jerome stretched back in his seat. “I thought you

“No. I’m not an anything-person.” He on the other hand sat as straight as possible.

“What does anything include?”

“Anything you ask.”

“Oh c’mon. We’re supposed to be partners.”

“Look—” He spared Jerome a hard look—“I just want to get this done. The sooner we get off this rock, the sooner we can get back to hot showers and naked girls.”

With a sly smile, Jerome said: “You know, I brought some porn with me.”

“No shit. Everyone does that.”

“Even the tentacle—”

“No!” The SEV momentarily swerved, made them both jump.

“Geez, what the fuck?” Jerome said, sitting on the edge of his seat.

He gripped the steering wheel, slowed down just a bit. “I could say the same about you.”

“What? What’s wrong with—”

“If I had to explain, you wouldn’t get it.” Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with him? See, this was the sort of crap he tried to get away from: people and their freaky habits. Keep that shit to yourself.

“Well fine. I’m going to take a thirty minute break in lavatory.” Jerome got up and headed to the back.

“Yeah, I didn’t need to know that.” Oh god. He needed some brain bleach—now.

1 Pluto day (6 and 1/2 Earth days)

Jerome bobbed his head, both fingers tapping on the dash board. He turned to Mitch. “Hey, you know this tune?” Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap-ta-ta-tap.

“Uh, no.”

“Really?” Jerome did it again. “You get it now?”

“No,” he spat. “Now leave me—”

“It’s More Than A Feeling from Boston.”

“I have all of Boston’s albums, releases, remixes, re-remixes ... and that’s not More Than A Feeling.”

“Oh yeah?”

With one hand on the wheel, he went through his music data sticks. Found 1970’s Rock (before synth-shit took over) and plugged it in.

More Than A Feeling,” he told the computer. The song played.

“Oh, well.” Jerome shrugged. “Don’t know what I was playing, then.” After the song finished, he tapped out another beat. “You know that one?”

Mitch gripped the wheel, tight, briefly closed his eyes as his frustrations mounted and expelled themselves as a hiss. No, he couldn’t kill Jerome—not yet, anyway. Just had to endure this for a little longer ... a, little, bit, longer.

5 Pluto days (~32 Earth days)

They’d found it—no, he'd found it. Jerome had been snoozing, the lazy fuck. There in a ditch was a couple billions worth of technology, now part of the icescape.

“Whoa. Looked like someone wrecked it.” Jerome leaned forward to gawk out the front window, where the spotlight focused on the rover off to the right.

“What? No one wrecked it. Stupid navigation program drove it into a ditch.”

“Did the navigation program also beat the crap out of it?”

“Shaddup and get your suit on.”

They suited up in silence—and as much as he hated to admit it, Jerome sorta, kinda, had a point. The rover’s frame was bent out of shape, and it was lying on one side when it should have just gotten stuck. But seriously, there wasn’t anyone out here, so how could it be?

They left the SEV through the pressure cell, their insulated suits keeping out the cold. Yet, Mitch shivered. The ground was hard and compact, a haziness all around them; the shadowed face of Charon loomed overhead. More dream than reality as he moved forward, expecting the crunch of ice.

Then Jerome broke the spell as he bounced around, five or six feet into the air.

“Cut it out!” His own voice startled him. Seemed like an eternity since he’d heard it.

“Geez, chill man,” Jerome said, then chuckled. “Just stretching out. It’s cramped in there.”

Mitch ignored him and approached the rover, crusty with ice crystals that sparkled pink and yellow in the beam light. Odd though, two of the three axles were bent, and the camera lens was smashed. It really had had the crap beaten out of it. No, c’mon, it just had a rough tumble into the ditch. He brushed ice away and detached camera number one. If the rover couldn’t be salvaged, the company at least wanted the vids.

He half-turned in Jerome’s direction, camera under one arm. “Hey, come help me—what are you doing?”

Jerome had his pelvis thrust out, ready to undo the fly part of the suit. He gave him a quick wave. “Going to set a record: first guy to piss on Pluto.”

“And first guy to get frostbite, too.”

“That’s why I put knitter-nanos in my junk.”

Why didn’t that surprise him? The company sure knows how to pick ’em.

Jerome continued: “Can you take a picture?”

“God no.” And he walked back to the SEV.

A few seconds later ... “SHIT IT’S COLD!”

8 Pluto days (~56 Earth days)

Jerome leaned over onto to his side. “Hey, you think I could drive for a bit. I mean, since you’ve been driving this entire time, probably want a break.”

“No breaks,” he grunted. Had to keep focus, keep focus. He strained his eyes, tears welled up.

“Not even for a few minutes?”

“If I don’t have anything to do with my hands, I can’t be held responsible if I strangle you to death.”

Jerome gave a shaky grin. “That’s, uh, funny. Might be good to relax for a bit, grab a coffee packet, some Doritos ...”

He said in a low voice: “You really want to take that chance?”

“Uh ...”

“Now feed me some Doritos.”

11 Pluto days (7—oh, fuck it)

Do. Not. Take. Eyes. Off. Ground. Do. Not—

“Hey, you okay?” Jerome’s voice broke in.

“I should’ve been a miner,” Mitch blurted out. “Dad was a miner on the asteroid belt. Said it was a hard life. Said I should go into the arts. I said I’ll be a photographer. Or an astronaut. Or a photographer astronaut.”

“Umm ...”

“Look at me!”

“I-I’m looking.”

He ground his forehead into the wheel. “Whywhywhywhy ...” He heaved. “Why did I listen to him?”

“It’s okay, buddy.” Jerome patted him on the shoulder.

He snapped up. “Don’t fucking touch me!”

??????? days

A flash of a shadow. He hit the brakes and Jerome smacked into the dashboard.

“Ow, geez.” Jerome shook out his arms and stood. “What was that?”

Mitch undid his seat belt and stared out the window. So they both had seen it—not a trick of the eyes. Of course, what good were eyes in this darkness. Sanity for that matter, too. A nagging ate at his heart, that last speck of curiosity that hadn’t been consumed. Were they alone? Were they? Were they?

He turned the spotlight to the left, where he thought the shadow had gone. Slowly, slowly ... There!

“Ho-lee shit,” muttered Jerome.

The creature was either hunched over or walked on all four (six? eight?) of its crab-like legs, had a thick, fleshy torso from which bat wings sprouted, but ... no head. Instead, there was a cluster of wiggling, wormy antennas.

“Is this really happening?” The words fell out of his mouth, one by one, over the course of eternity. Centuries later, he heard Jerome reply: “Yeah.”

The creature stood upright, extending its forelimbs as it approached the driver’s side. He crammed into Jerome, and Jerome crammed against the passenger seat. He didn’t even care how homo it was that Jerome was breathing on the back of his neck.

It came up to the window, tapped its claw against the glass then motioned for them to come out—at least that’s what it looked like.

He turned to Jerome, seeing beads of sweat on his face ... and realized a trickle was coming down his own left temple. He quickly wiped it away.

“Wha-what do we do?” he said breathlessly.

“It’s making the peace sign.” Jerome pointed behind him.

“It ... What?” He looked back out the window. The creature held up a limb, squeezing the two-halves of its claw to make a V-shape.

Somehow he didn’t see “peace”—it could be V for Victory! Found some food! Then again, it didn’t have a mouth. Then again, its mouth may be hidden elsewhere.

Jerome was already suiting up.

He scrambled to his feet. “What the hell are you doing?”

Never noticed how glassy Jerome’s eyes were—had he not been sleeping? Had neither of them been sleeping? Or maybe they were both asleep and this was some shared nightmare.

“Going out there,” Jerome said. “This is a record. First alien contact!”

“I think we need to wake up ...” he said, more to himself than Jerome.

Jerome grabbed his arm. “No, c’mon. Bring a camera.”

He nodded, slowly. Yeah ... Yeah! The company would pay huge for alien footage. He’d never have to do this shit again. Hot showers and naked babes for life!

He set up the computer to record visual input from his helmet before they both headed out. The creature was there, waiting, made a slight bow in their presence. So it knew human social customs? Weird. There was buzzing too, a buggy buzzing that changed pitch, like speech, from within his helmet. Maybe the comm chip was on the fritz.

“You hear that?” he asked.


It motioned with its claw for them to follow—and this he had to think about ... Unlike Jerome, who went on ahead.

“What are you doing?”

Jerome glanced over his shoulder. “Isn’t it obvious? It’s going to give us a tour of its underground base.”

“How can you even tell?”

“Body language? Intuition? I dunno, does it matter?”

“Uh, yeah, I think it does.”

Jerome shrugged and continued to follow the creature. Goddammit. Mitch half-jogged till he caught up; it wasn’t like he could turn away from the greatest discovery in the history of, well, everything! Aliens existing on a plutoid with no water, no real sunlight, and cold as fuck. Who would’ve thought?

The creature led them to the edge of a crater, where it pushed a boulder—roughly about five feet tall, same as the alien—over to the side. Then it folded up its wings and headed down a pitch-black hole. Good thing they had lights—he pushed a switch on his wrist. A beam from top of his helmet lit his way.

The so-called “stairs” were tiny ridges cut into the ice, and they had to walk sideways, using the walls as support. The buzzing grew louder, felt like a bug stuck in his ear. Never had he wanted a Q-tip so badly.

Where the ground leveled out, it opened up into a high-ceiling cavern. Along the walls here hundreds of cylindrical canisters that shone under the beam. There were other creatures, some loading canisters off a hovering platform, others aligning and realigning the canisters. If he didn’t know any better, this place looked more like a warehouse than a base.

“Think these things were ones who wrecked the rovers?” Jerome asked, awe in his voice as he looked all around.

“Had to have been.” Which sparked a thought: If it were them, then why be so inviting?

Their host must have tuned to his wavelength, because it turned and shook its claw in a “no” gesture. No? No what? Uneasiness got the better of him; he trembled as he took a step back. Then another. And maybe Jerome was cluing in too since he’d stopped in his tracks.

He knocked into some canisters. One fell, its lid popped off spilling grey contents on the floor. Liquid and something ... spongy? A brain-shaped sponge?

Fuck it. He had his footage; didn’t need anything else. He turned and ran, dodged an outstretched crab-limb. The buzzing intensified, almost like a screech, drowning out the pounding of his heart. He scrambled up the steps, gripping the walls. Slipped, got back up. Jerome not far behind.

As soon as they got out, they sprinted and leapt to the SEV. Didn’t even glance back.

He wrenched the pressure cell’s door open, both jumped in, then slammed it shut. His ears popped from the swift change in atmosphere, body felt heavy, shaking with adrenaline. God he needed a drink.

“That was crazy,” Jerome said as the pressure cell gave them clearance into the SEV.

He took his helmet off, gulped air. No more buzzing. “Yeah. Think we dodged a bullet there.”

But to be on the safe side, he got behind the wheel and drove far, far away.

“What if they follow?” Jerome asked.

“They probably knew we were here all along.” What had made him say that? He shook his head, clearing his mind. “I dunno. I’ll run them over if we do see them again.”

He grabbed a non-alcoholic beer packet—the only beer they were allowed on mission—and went through the footage he’d caught of their encounter ... or not. All the recording revealed was them walking. Walking across Pluto, walking into a dark hole, walking into a cavern, too much glare coming off the canisters.

“Where the fuck is it?” he yelled. He went through the recordings again and again. Nothing, nadda, zip.

“Guess they’re non-photogenic.” Jerome chuckled.

“So ...” He slumped in his seat, dejected. “So we risked it for nothing.”

“It’s okay.” Jerome came up and patted him on the shoulder. “Maybe we can go back.”

“Don’t. Touch. Me.” He clenched his hands into fists.

“What? Why—”

Both his hands were around Jerome’s neck, but he couldn't get a grip. Too much damn sweat.

“Stop ...” Jerome wheezed as he reached for something out of sight. “Stop it!”

Stop? No, he couldn’t stop; could never stop. Never, never, never, never—


Side of his skull radiated pain, blinding him. Another whack sent him straight to black.

??????? days plus one

Warning: Low oxygen levels! Warning!

Mitch roused, holding his throbbing head. Geez, did Jerome have to hit so hard? Difficult to stand with the SEV at a downward angle, and the blaring red messages popping up everywhere weren’t helping his headache.


“All right, I got it!” he yelled. Instincts and training cut through the pain, giving him a moment of clarity. His suit would be secure with plenty of oxygen in the tank, while he got this mess sorted out.

His suit was the only one hanging.

Where was Jerome? Sure, he'd tried to strangle him—but he warned him, didn’t he? The idiot couldn’t have gotten far, unless he went back to those aliens ... In which case, they could have his brain for all he cared. He just wanted to leave.

After he suited up and exited the pressure chamber—which wasn’t easy because it had an emergency jamming mechanism to prevent further oxygen loss—he surveyed the damage from the outside. The SEV had been driven straight into a ditch. Tires were busted, axles bent. Ice spikes had punctured the underside: the cause of the oxygen leakage.

“Fucking-a!” He beat his fists against the side, beat them till they went from sore to numb.

Charon passed overhead, its face turning away from him. His shadow grew and melded into the darkness. END

Siobhan Gallagher currently resides in Arizona. She has published stories in “COSMOS Online,” “Unidentified Funny Objects” anthology, “AE,” and “Abyss & Apex.” Her previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-AUG-2013 update.


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