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 Michael McGlade

HUMANITY IS ON THE BRINK OF collapse. A new illness affects seventy-five percent of us. The Sickness is a pervasive disorder that renders the immune system useless. Once infected, prognosis is terminal. Utilizing current medical intervention, the affected can survive for up to ten years. But those who can afford such prohibitively expensive treatments resemble the living dead. Like clockwork toys that have wound down, eventually they die, too, same as everybody else.

No cure.

No clue how The Sickness is transmitted.

Infection is a lottery.

So many of my friends and family have died. The world is dying. Yet we hang on, clinging to the hope that one day scientists like me can develop a cure.

My name is Alec Croyle. I am a molecular microbiologist and I must save our race from extinction. I have to. My cure will end human sickness and suffering. A world without illness. And I do so for purely selfish reasons.

My family, all of them dead. My children, too. And now my wife has contracted The Sickness. She is all I have left. I won’t lose her. I can’t.

And then there’s me. Thirty-four years old. Average height, normal build, not a thing exceptional about my physical characteristics or genetic makeup. Except one: I don’t get sick. Never ill a day in my life. And I’ve been working on this cure for a decade. It’s been ten years since my wife’s diagnosis. She’s living on borrowed time.

And I’m so very close to a breakthrough.

There are those select few, like me, whom The Sickness does not affect. With all my years of research the reason is unclear. But the cure is simple. I must impart my healthy DNA into my wife’s body, reboot her failing immune system, make her whole again.

The answer is a virus.

An infection.



Miranda is prone on the bleached white sheets of the hospital bed. The air smells like burnt ozone, but then again everything on this planet smells this way. My wife’s isolation chamber is hermetically sealed and purified air pumped in. Miranda’s immune system has shut down. She has incubated here in this casket for two years. She hasn’t been able to speak in six months since they inserted the tube into her trachea to help her breathe.

The nurses, doctors and medical staff wear sealed hazmat suits. They are juiced up on a cocktail of antivirals and B vitamins. They think it will help protect them from The Sickness. Me, I no longer care. I’ve never been sick a day in my life.

I don’t wear a mask, a hazmat suit, nothing.

I sit beside my wife’s bed, breathe the air she breathes, stroke her clammy forehead, cling to her powder-dry hands.

“Remember when I leapt off a chair one St. Patrick’s Day and broke my heel? What was the band again ...? Dropkick Murphys, that’s right. And you carried me to the emergency room. Made me noodle soup every night for eight weeks till I got the cast off.”

Her green eyes point toward me. It’s all she can manage. She’s in a locked-in state. The body has shut down. Without me, and the medical care I pay for, she’d be dead.

“And every day when you came home from work, you told me a joke.”

I laughed. Tried to. Those memories brought tears. Red hot hurt.

“I won’t let you go. Miranda, my lion.”

It’s my pet name for her. Got it from the kid’s show “Miranda the Lion” we watched with our two girls.

“You’re my lion. Always. But you’re sick. I have to be your lion, now. Make sure you get better.”

The heart rate monitor beeps quicker.

“I should go. Let you rest. But, just to let you know, I’m getting great results with the new strain. Malion 6419. You should see her. She’s beautiful.”

Miranda flinches. Such an action should be impossible.

The heart rate monitor blares. Alarm wails.

A doctor and nurse enter the airlock. Meanwhile, Miranda flat lines. She’s dead.

The medical staff enters the isolation chamber. Expose her chest. Zap her with electricity.


And again.

Her pale skin crimson where the paddles arc into her chest.

Skin almost translucent.

I’m muttering, calling her name, don’t know what I’m saying.

Miranda’s heart beat registers. Breathing returns to normal. Blood pressure stabilizes.

She died for thirty seconds. Longest time dead yet. She’s dying for longer and longer.

“You need to wear a suit and mask,” the doctor says.

“I don’t get sick.”

“Maybe you’re a carrier.”

I break down into tears. The doctor, she edges toward the airlock, careful to avoid physical contact. The nurse pops a B vitamin complex.

“Who’s Malion?”

“I was saying My Lion. I call her that.”

“No, you said Malion.”

“Just my accent,” I say and sit next to Miranda and hold her hand. I have an hour before they make me leave.


Lashing rain, almost horizontal. It’s afternoon. The smog is shroud-thick today, visibility a couple feet. My protective gear sizzles in the sulfuric rain. The respirator, about the size of a plum, filters the dead air, makes it safe.

I’m walking. Not many people walk anywhere these days. I like to remember the world in which we live.

No trees. No greenery. Climate change and fossil fuels raped the sky. Nothing we can do about that. The atmosphere has changed. We’re stuck with it. Learned to adapt. Moved indoors. Burrowed underground. Built vast structures like sports stadiums, baseball diamonds and football pitches inside the earth. Put roofs over our cities, those cities that could afford it. Plants, too, inside: all hydroponics. At least we’re not starving. But the cost of creating water, processing the sulfuric torrents, is high. But we’ve adapted, survived.

I climb crumbling steps. The sign for the World Disease Research Center is a twisted helix of rusted metal.

The massive concrete structure of the WDRC, all boxes, parallel planes and geometric shapes, is a pockmarked, measles-like acne scar of its inception. Sulfuric rain has stripped it back like a tooth dissolved by Coke to its enamel-less core. Maintenance will blast protective foam on the exterior in the next few days to protect the building for a couple months.


Wyatt Alegre removes his reading glasses and scratches at a small patch of eczema on his cheek above the beard. We’re in the lab. When he gets like this, evasive, I know we’re screwed. I’ve known him a decade, exactly as long as I’ve been working on the cure. It’s my funding from the WDRC, my connections, that have allowed us to get this far.

“What’s wrong this time?”

“Strain 6419—”


He glares at me.

“If you want to name it, name it. But I’m not christening it until we make it work. And it’s not working. It’s never worked. And I can’t ... where’s the end? There’s just more and more complications.”

I scan through the molecular model readout, protein structure prediction, and viral prognosis simulation.

“6419,” he says, “it’s not a cure—it’s a potent killer. Killed every test subject. We’ve created another killer not a cure.”

“Where are we going wrong? The last molecular model indicated this strain had promise.”

“Just another dead end.”

Wyatt’s face is flushed. Crimson blotches his neck. He takes a meditative breath, unclenches his fists. I want to sweep the contents of the desk onto the floor, months of work, and crush it. Another failure. I don’t have time for this.

“Tear it down,” I say. “Begin again. Get it right this time.”


I lean on the balcony of my apartment a hundred and sixty floors above the city. Through a rare break in the clouds, the streets are coiled like black snakes, twisting, writhing. Up here the air is cleaner, swifter. It’s still overcast, you’d need to go three thousand feet up to break the constant cloud line. But it’s the worst where the smog never lifts beneath the twentieth floor. Takes more than money to soar this high: takes connections.

Wind ghosts the smog line, creating waves. It’s a beige ocean. The rain cuts like daggers. Farther along, between the spires of tower blocks, floodlights pop. They burst like fireworks. Sparkle the city like a diamond. Nothing lasts, must always be repaired, mended.

I turn my head upwards. No mask. No respirator.

The rain stings. Little pinpricks of heat and hurt.

I hardly notice them anymore.

My skin tightens, doesn’t feel like my own anymore. Feels like it’s someone else’s.


On the street corner, people are huddled around a dice game, playing. Light darkles from the huge video screen set high on a rotating column. The news details the lack of development of a cure and the counter states it’s been 5,475 days since discovery of The Sickness. No getting away from it.

These people on the street, they’re wearing rain slickers but their faces and hands are exposed. They’re wrinkled and aged, could be in their forties—but I recognize some of them and they’re still in their teens. These people that go out in the rain, it’s like those who clung to the idea that smoking was cool, like it was back in the twentieth century. They don’t care it’s killing them. They wear their bleached white skin like a merit badge.

I turn my face upwards. Rain darts my bare face. The skin tingles, stings.

I approach the melting exterior of something rotten that used to be a building. A hatch opens. Inside the airlock, I’m decontaminated.

Piano music.

The bar is ornate carved oak. Art nouveau leaf motifs and trailing vines. Brass railings and Venetian stucco with painted scenes of canals and gondolas and cornflower blue skies.

It’s a tie and jacket affair. I’m wearing a tux.

The WDRC Director, Donovan Caldera, is sitting at the table. He’s early. It’s not a good sign. He’s ordered the most expensive water on the menu. Glacial is hard to come by. He pours me a glass, clinks his off mine, and downs half.

“Rough day?” I ask.

“How’s the new strain. 6420 is it?”

“Still perfecting it.”

“Six months,” Donovan says and his lips turn down at the corners. “A half year since the last dead-end. Where are we with the new one?”

I order a double scotch. We don’t speak. I drink my drink and order another.

“Are you ... OK?” he asks.

“We never talk like that. Not anymore. You know that.”

“You look pale. Too pale.”

I drink my scotch in one long gulp.

“Too many people have died to ask if someone’s OK. You’re being rude,” I say.

Donovan’s hands tremble. The pale band where his wedding ring used to be still visible.

“Tell me some good news.”

“Good news doesn’t exist.”

“Alec, you’re our best hope. The others, they’ve nothing. You need to make this work.”

A woman enters through the decontamination hatch. The maître d’ removes her protective smock. Her face is covered in a fabric folded like the Bedouin use in dust storms. But it’s not just loose fabric: it’s a solid headpiece, which collapses and folds into the neck of her jacket, like it never existed. I know this woman. Meeki Eun Kwan. Lives on the same floor as me. She waves, smiles, then takes a seat at the bar. Waiting for someone. Wish it were me.

“She’s beautiful.”

“The new strain?” Donovan asks. “Will it work?”

“It has to,” I say. “It has to.”


I stand next to Wyatt in the lab. Held within the containment unit is Malion 6420.

Now, this vial of pinkish liquid, strain 6420 modifies its color, becomes redder. It’s reacting to our presence.

“6420 isn’t a cure,” Wyatt says. “It’s the opposite. It kills the sick. Outright.”

Malion was administered to a patient. The patient died.

I check the readouts and molecular models. My eyes skid across the lines.

“She’s perfect,” I say. “On paper she’s perfect.”

“We need to destroy it.”

The vial of Malion, contained behind a foot of glass, deepens in color, goes black.

“No,” I say. “No, Wyatt. We can make this work. A few tweaks. Go back a few steps and build her up again.”


“Malion. The virus.”

“You called it her.”

“We’re off point, Wyatt. We need to make her perfect.”

Malion changes color, becomes clear.

Wyatt shoves past me and scans through the readout.

“It’s recoded a DNA section of itself. A new protein strain.” He turns to me and stares. “You see that’s the problem, it’s like it’s got a mind of its own, overwriting what I program into it. If we’re to do this, I want to strip it right back, start again.”

“Donovan won’t go for that. We don’t have the funding. I tell him we need to start over, and he’ll cut us off. So, we go back a few steps, that’s all.”

“You’re too attached to it.”

“I’m pragmatic. We’re running out of money and friends. WDRC is desperate. We need results. A winner. If we don’t hit this out of the park, we’re finished.”

“We go back just a few steps, in another year it’ll be this same conversation.”

“I won’t let Malion die.”


“My lion—Miranda, my lion. That’s what I said.”

Wyatt closes the viewing window and Malion strain 6420 is gone. Did she change color just then? Like she was pleading with me?

Wyatt drapes his arm across my shoulder. We walk toward the hallway.

“Alec, come out with me for a drink. We need to talk.”

“I don’t have the time. Neither do you.”

“You’re getting strung out. I don’t see you anymore—not outside this lab. Nobody’s seen you. Where do you go at night?”

I shrug his hand off.

“Where do you go, Alec?”

He moves into my path and stops me. He scrutinizes my face. It’s gotten noticeably whiter these past few months. From the rain.

“Are you sick?”

“No one asks that anymore, Wyatt. You forget yourself.”

“I’m a friend—your friend. I can ask.”


It’s 12:08 at night. I enter Miranda’s isolation chamber. They tell me I can’t, but I do it anyway. The money I’ve donated has built most of this hospital wing.

She’s being intubated. Atropine injected.

She’s been dead five minutes.

There are six medical personnel crowded over her.

It’s a wake.

“Don’t leave me,” I say. “Please. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”

Flurry of hands.

Paddles cranked.

Flat line wail.

Miranda’s had eleven years of The Sickness.

“I won’t let you go. I won’t. Malion, please. Malion, please.”

The medics work her lifeless body for another ten minutes. It’s solely for my benefit. She was already dead before I arrived. The medics did their best.

Everyone dies, eventually.

They leave me to be alone with her. No one meets my eyes. No one asks how I am.

They file into the airlock.

“Who’s Malion?”

The voice sounds like a cup and string. Faraway. Unrecognizable.

“My wife.”

“Your wife, Miranda?”


Director Donavan Caldera comes around his cherry wood desk and sits next to me. His eyes are red and puffy. He rubs at his finger where the wedding band used to be. He lays his hand on my knee and looks in my eyes. I glance away, start to shudder.

Three days since Miranda passed. They incinerated her this morning. I had an Irish wake in my apartment for two nights. Wanted to melt everything away with booze. I’m not thinking straight. Brain knitted and woolly. Feel wrung out like a wet dishcloth.

“I’m sorry,” Donavan says, “so, so sorry.”

He’s weeping for the love he lost, not me. It’s how it goes.

He dabs his eyes with a napkin.

I am hollow.

I haven’t felt anything in a long time.

Now, with this death, I’m emptier still. A shell. Nothing.

“It’s perfectly understandable,” he says. “Take some time off. As much as you need.”

“I’m not taking any time off.”

“You need to regroup, Alec.”

“I’m close to a cure, Donovan. I can’t stop now.”

“Close? I’ve seen your latest research. Strain 6420 is a devastatingly lethal airborne virus.”

“But I’m close. So close.”

“Take some time off. Please.”

“I won’t.”

“You’re forcing me to make you take a sabbatical.”

“A sabbatical? Or you’re just not man enough to say my funding is cut.”

“I want you off this project, for now. Others are working on better approaches.”

“Don’t do this to me. Please. I won’t let you.”

“Grieve for your wife, Alec.”

“Who grieves anymore? Too many have died to grieve.”


I enter the lab. My security clearance still works. I remove Malion 6420 from the containment unit. It’s a small vial and fits in my pocket. I replace the vial with an inert liquid. They won’t know they haven’t destroyed the real thing. I compromise the surveillance camera footage, then begin copying all Wyatt’s files.

Someone grabs my shoulder.

I make fists.


“What are you doing, Alec?”

I continue with what I was doing, collecting all our files to take with me.

“We’re shut down. Funding’s been cut.”

“I saw you take it.”

I turn on him. Stare him down.

The files have downloaded and I put the memory stick in my pocket alongside Malion.

“Come with me,” I say. “Finish what we started.”

He steps closer, hands balled.

“Suit yourself,” I say.

I shove him away and rush for the exit.

Wyatt lifts the phone to call security, then slams it back in the cradle. He watches me leave.


I collapsed on the floor. Had locked myself away from the world for a week. Maybe more. Don’t remember. Spent my time stripping Malion, fixing, repairing. Went right back to where we lost it a year ago. Nothing I did worked.

I have created a killer, not a savior.

My cure is a death sentence. It kills precisely those it was designed to help.

Malion 6420.

She’s a murderer.

But she’s my murderer.

And I have nothing left to live for.

I fill a lethal dose into a syringe and inject myself.

Time winds down.


Darkness comes.


Wyatt synthesizes a new rDNA. We will introduce this into its new host: Malion 6421. The lab takes up my entire apartment.

It’s been two months since I should’ve died.

The previous Malion strain had an unexpected trait. It actively selects prefect, healthy individuals, those incapable of contracting The Sickness, and fortifies their immune systems. It makes the healthy healthier. I can work longer, sleep less. My body mass and lean muscle has increased even though I eat less. The other side of the coin is that the virus kills the weak, the infirm.

“If we can’t cure The Sickness, we kill it.”

Wyatt glances up from the microscope. He has dark rings beneath his eyes. He can’t keep up with me, with my new vitality.

“It has to be perfect,” he says. “Work exactly how we predict, no possible deviation.”

He’s still unsure of my plan. We’re talking about the murder of seventy-five percent of the world’s population.

“We’re creating New Eden.”

“Get it wrong, it’s genocide, plain and simple.”

He says this like a mantra. Keeps saying it at every opportunity. It’s his way of coping. We have decided that Malion 6421 will kill the sick and infirm—those who have contracted the incurable Sickness. Those who remain will be genetically modified, enhanced, resistant to all illnesses. They will be cured of all psychological imperfections, unable to become psychotic or schizophrenic. The new strain, as it now stands, makes this all possible. But one more thing must be incorporate.

It must kill me.

Someone like me, who could mastermind the murder of innocent, infirm people, can never be allowed into New Eden.

I’ve signed my own death warrant.

We can’t have someone like me, in the future, deciding to release a deadly virus on the world that will kill seventy-five percent of the population.

So, this is what we’re currently encoding.

But Malion is resisting.

She’s rewriting protein sequences faster than we can predict.

Which is why this is taking longer than expected.

“Doing something like this,” Wyatt says, “requires a level of perfection no one has ever attained before.”

“We’re good enough.”

“You won’t release it until it’s perfect?”


“If you’re lying to me, I’ll kill you myself.”

“That’s the spirit.”

All genetic faults are attacked, those with any mental abnormalities, those capable of rape, torture, unprompted murder. With these individuals, the virus has a 99.9 percent success rate.

With a hundred percent effectiveness, the world’s population would be reset, sickness eliminated, crimes eradicated.

When Malion is capable of killing me, she’ll be perfect.


I line the sequences up like notes on a musical score. G, A, T, C. Play the correct sequence and magic happens.

It’s a mutagen.

Molecular microbiology. Cut specific DNA strands by catalyzing the hydrolysis of the phosphodiester bonds. Utilize endonucleases to sever within strands. Employ restriction endonucleases to snip DNA at predestined sequences. EcoRV enzyme recognizes the 6-base sequence 5'-GATATC-3' and makes a cut at the vertical line. DNA ligases to rejoin broken DNA strands.

And so it goes on.

Eleven years’ work.

I require perfection.

She must be perfect.

Malion will be perfect.

“It’s reacting around you,” Wyatt says. “Didn’t know for sure to begin with, but it’s obvious, now. Its structure changes when you’re near.”

He doesn’t know why.

But I do.

“I’m her creator. She knows me.”

“You talk as if you love it.”

“What’s not to love? It’s me. I am Malion. Everything I am is everything it is.”

We’ve tested the final iteration. It’s passed our most stringent tests.

Malion 6421 is ready.

“We need more tests,” Wyatt says. “Can’t let it loose with this unforeseen trait occurring.”

Wyatt is pale.

“You been going out in the rain, too?”

“Of course not,” he says.

Wyatt scrutinizes me, and puzzles it out—why I have become so pale. The sulfuric rain no longer affects me, doesn’t damage my skin. I can breathe the tainted air without a respirator.

“How long have you been doing it? Hurting yourself like this?”

I turn away from him.

Finalize the dispersal mechanism for the virus.

Wyatt coughs into his hand. There’s blood. A fine misting of claret on his palm. He’s caught The Sickness. There’s nothing to be said.

No one talks about it anymore.


Wyatt’s heart stops beating.

I watch him die, don’t dare look away. I owe him this last modicum of respect. He is paralyzed and has been unable to speak for a week because of the respirator.

He passes over.

Just me now.

No one else.

I weep for Wyatt more than I wept for my wife.

What does that say about me?

On the video screen in the hospital isolation chamber, the WDRC announce they have failed to make progress on a cure. They admit to having exhausted all current avenues of research. They believe a cure is impossible. The population is one billion. This is the tipping point. In a year we will be extinct.


I have learned to characterize, isolate, and manipulate the molecular components of cells and organisms. My score and scale are the notes of DNA, RNA and proteins. Hairpin loop. Pre-mRNA. Nucleobases. Ribose-phosphate backbone.

The virus will insert DNA by transduction.

The transfection is immediate.

Malion 6421 is perfect.

From Latin, perfectiō, a completing.

From perficere, to finish.

She is flawless.

You are my greatest creation. I made you. You make me.

I love you.

She is everything I ever imagined. The perfect match for me. Me for her.

Just you and me, now, Malion. You and me. No one else.

She works on DNA detecting the switches for psychotic behavior, unwarranted aggression, greed, envy, bitterness, cruelty. She will not leave some cowed people incapable of fending for themselves. She will evolve humanity. We will be gods in this brave new world.

Those chosen to die will do so painlessly and quickly. They will pass out, then turn into simple organic matter, dissolve into hydrogen and carbon, nothing will remain except useful elements of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus.

I walk onto the balcony of my apartment a hundred and sixty floors above the city.

I release her into the air.

This airborne particulate is water activated. Earth is always raining. Everywhere, it rains. Malion will encapsulate the planet in thirty-six hours.

There is a tingle, like a kiss, as the virus enters my lungs.

I stumble.

Everything goes dark.


How wonderful she is. How beautiful. I’m not thinking of Miranda, my two children, my parents, siblings. All I think of is Malion. How perfect she is. How I need her to save us, protect us, make us better people.


Population is on the brink of collapse. A new illness affects seventy-five percent of us. The Sickness is a pervasive disorder that renders the immune system useless. Once infected, prognosis is terminal. Utilizing current medical intervention, the affected can survive for up to ten years. But those who can afford such prohibitively expensive treatments resemble the living dead. Like clockwork toys that have wound down, eventually they die, too, same as everybody else.

No cure.

No clue how The Sickness is transmitted.

Infection is a lottery ...

I awaken on the couch inside my apartment. I have been placed here. Someone has cared for me and bandaged the gash on the back of my head from when I fell. The video screen relays my prerecorded message, which is transmitting across all broadcast mediums.

The answer is a virus, I say onscreen.

An infection.


I, the creator of Malion 6421, am dead. I hope something like this can never happen again. Or never needs to ...

I notice her, then. The woman sitting across from me. It’s Meeki Eun Kwan. My neighbor. She’s like porcelain. She used to be brown skinned.

Her mouth moves to form words but she can’t speak. Makes baby sounds. Like she’s learning to speak for the first time.

“Do you like me?”

She speaks from faraway, from somewhere deep within. I do not recognize Meeki’s voice.

“I can take another form if it pleases you.”

It’s a croak, but getting better, more like the Meeki I once knew.

“Who are you?”

“I love you.”

My heart thumps in my ears. Pulses into my neck.

“You called me Malion,” she says, “but in this form I deserve another name. One I choose for myself. I shall be Pi, the perfect number, unique and unending. And I shall be Malion. I will be both, call me Pygmalion.”

She smiles and extends her open hand toward me.


I hold her hand. We walk along the street. The rain has ceased. People crowd the sidewalks, looking at the sky, at each other, at us. They bow before us. We’re their saviors. Their King and Queen.

“How many people are alive?”

“I was able to save two hundred million.”

“What else did you change?”

“No more death. We can live forever.”

Shafts of light split the storm clouds. The air smells newborn, scrubbed clean.

Embrace the future, this brave new world.

Pygmalion. The virus, my lover.

Malion, my lion. I love you. But you’re not perfect. Your flaw is that you chose me. I love you but love is not enough.

You call yourself Pygmalion after the king of Cyprus who fell in love with the statue of a woman he carved. I am the creator. You are the created. I am Pygmalion.

I can do better.

I know now where I have gone wrong. Just one more tweak to the virus. New Eden will ensue. Perfection. END

Michael McGlade is a writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He holds a master’s degree in English Creative Writing from Queen’s University. His science fiction stories have appeared in “Jupiter” magazine and in “Third Flatiron” 2013 winter anthology.


star run


six questions