Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




By Michael Hodges

THERE ARE FIVE MUCKERS IN the research pen of Dr. Aaron Hawk, on the continent of Lemark, on a planet named Divinity. They muck about, chittering and huffing and rolling in their own musk spray. This amuses Katei Windthrope, but not Dr. Aaron Hawk. He is a tall man, with a flaring jaw and a receding hairline. His dry smile is constant and thin, covering for his sarcastic wit. Sometimes he looks like a hawk to Katei, or maybe just the beak.

Her parents had promised her intrigue and adventure in Interplanetary Biologist School, and they’d been right. They’d also promised Katei her mother would manage her cancer treatments beyond the second semester. They’d been wrong. Kateai clutched the obsidian pendant her mother had given her and stared across the Central Plain. She’d promised to get best marks she could, in her mother’s honor.

“Hose them off,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said. “We can’t bring them into the lab slathered in musk.”

Katei frowned. “They hate it.”

“Irrelevant,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said. “Look at them. They are doing their job. Eating, spraying, mating. Let’s do ours.”

Katei picked up the limp hose and trudged over to the wooden fencing. The muckers didn’t even bother to look up from their food trough. Katei draped the hose over the fence, then turned to watch Dr. Hawk. A bizarre, if not dangerous thought piqued her. She wondered if Dr. Hawk had slept with female students on previous outings. He was fit, that was for sure, if not a touch aged. And there were so few men out here.

Dr. Aaron Hawk turned the water valve, which protruded from the soil like an erect snake. The hose trembled in her hand and gurgled water into the mucker’s pen. One of the muckers looked up at her and growled. She’d named this one Albert, the biggest by far. And the growl didn’t bother her, either. Muckers were all bark. They made huffing noises, too, as if they were these brave, mighty creatures that could do what they wanted when they wanted. In reality, muckers were about thirty pounds a pop. They had low centers of gravity, with broad heads and white arrow markings on their chests. Their tails were like a tundra fox’s, thick and fluffy and the first thing one glimpsed in the field. Their fur stunk like the rankest musk which accumulated over time, thus the need to clean them before lab analysis. If not, the lab sensors would fire on alert for several days.

“Sorry!” Katei said, leveling the harmless water in the mucker’s direction.

The muckers scurried into each other, huffed, growled, and knocked into each other again. Their little claws dug into the dirt and kicked up bits. Katei removed her thumb from the nozzle. The ratty-looking muckers calmed, then gazed up at her with sad puppy eyes. They had lost their luxurious, windblown style.

Katei rested the hose on the wooden post and pressed the button on her field recorder:

“Day eighteen, and the muckers don’t seem to be as intelligent as we originally thought. They have a fierce aversion to water, perhaps associated with the removal of their scent gland excretions. They do seem to love our multi-grain, though.” Katei released the record button and screwed the water valve closed. With the water off and the muckers calming, the ambience of her surroundings settled upon her. She took a good look at Divinity’s landscape. To the north, the Lost Mountains saw-toothed across the horizon, their tips white with snow. Their slopes lay cloaked in ruger trees, similar to the American ponderosa pine.

Truton University and Dr. Aaron Hawk had designed the study camp for the central plain, on the edge of a sloping finger of trees at the base of Grievous Peak. There were six structures in all: The sleep quarters, the shipment receiving tent, the repair center, the cooking tent, the outhouse, and the lab. All were constructed prior to their arrival by Bot 765. All were made of wind and weather-proof fabric except for the lab. The lab came pre-assembled with aluminum walls and even its own ventilation system. There were three people in all in camp. Dr. Aaron Hawk, the professor and leader.

The species pen occupied an acre, and divided into sections like a maze. Soon, when Section 1 filled, other muckers would be taken to Section 2, and so on. Their mission was to study as many warm-blooded species as possible in a pre-colonization fact finding mission. The muckers had been the easiest to find (almost too easy), and so they were first.

Katei reached into her pocket and pulled out a Zeuss Bar. As she bit into the caramel-nougat goodness, Albert stood on hind legs and crinkled his whiskers.

Katei smiled, a hunk of Zeuss bar making her cheek puffy. “No no no,” she said, pointing the candy bar at her chest. “People food. Not mucker food.”

Albert cocked his head to the side and chittered.

“No,” Katei said.

Albert cocked his head to the other side and flicked his drying tail. Katei had noted a water-repellent quality to their fur. It dried. Fast.

“Trough,” Katie said, pointing to their multi-grain bread. And boy did the muckers like bread. Dr. Aaron Hawk and his associate, Dr. Marthus Reynolds (currently up on Sarlus 1, their main transport ship), had concocted a grain procuration system with Truton University’s Bot 765. All they had to do was let Bot 765 loose in the Central Valley, and it would return with barrels full of grain. From there the bot processed grain into dough, and then the camp ovens. With the sheer size of Central Valley, they’d never run out. A comforting thought when so far from Earth.

As Katei headed back to the lab to prepare for a mucker exam, her classmate, Harley Gallatin emerged from a stand of ruger trees. Long yellow gloves covered his hands and wrists. Behind him was what Katei called the “red wagon.” Dr. Aaron Hawk hated that, had told her the name made the tool look foolish. Well, it looked just like a wagon. Four wheels and a forward handle, painted silver. Upon the wagon, inside chicken wire fencing sat five more muckers. Harley pulled them next to Katei and paused to catch his breath.

“Got them next to Divinity Creek,” he said, a little too cockily.

“How did you get so many at once?” Katei asked as she regarded the muckers. They studied her with curious eyes and subdued chittering, like cat purrs. A few of the muckers fluffed their luxurious tails.

Harley leaned on the silver handle and grinned. “They just let me pick them up.”


“I know,” Harley said, wiping his sweaty forehead with a red handkerchief. “They didn’t approach me, but they let me approach them. It wasn’t like before. At all.”

Katei eyed the fattest of the muckers and regarded Harley with disbelief. “Were they playing dead, perhaps rolling on their side?”

Harley took a swig of water from his canteen, let the water fill his cheeks, then swallowed. Katei didn’t understand how people could drink like that. Just let it go down the throat. No need to store it like a squirrel first.

“Nothing of the sort. They stood right at the exact spot at which they saw me, and let me grab them.”

Katei took one of Harley’s hands in hers and gently twisted so his forearm faced up. “No bites or scratches like before?”

“See for yourself.”

Katei pressed the record button on her field recorder: “Unlike a week ago, these new muckers did not put up a fight, nor did they need to be live trapped. Question for the group: subspecies?”

Harley scooted the wagon to the side of the pen, then put his gloves back on. Katei rolled her eyes as Harley did a little swagger dance. Then she took her own gloves from her backpack.

The muckers in the wagon cage stared at the torn bread chunks with huge eyes. Albert regarded them with an air of indifference and went back to feeding. A fresh breeze swept down from the Lost Mountains and blew a strand of hair across Katei’s forehead. A breeze much cooler than the day before. She took in the clean air and smiled. Divinity was starting to feel like home.

Katei heard a familiar hum, and turned. Harvest Bot 765 hovered past her to the Central Valley, trailering its custom combine and storage bin. The cylindrical bot’s flexi-arms jutted out to the sides, making it look rather cartoonish. Bot 765’s upper half swiveled as it regarded Katei with a fish-eye lens.

Harley unwound the simple twist tie on the mucker’s wagon cage, then reached in and took out one of the weasel-like animals. It did not squirm in his hands as the earlier muckers had, but simply let Harley dump it into the pen. Soon the other muckers followed, all as obedient as the first. Katei watched with interest as the first new mucker inched towards the bread troughs. Albert and the others looked up, gave a half-hearted growl, and resumed feeding.

Katie snapped a photo of the new group with her field recorder, and named the first new mucker Reckoner. Reckoner reached the food trough, sniffed it, then backed away. The other new arrivals followed.

Harley’s cocky grin faded. “Dr. Hawk’s going to want to see this.”

Katie turned to Harley while holding her field recorder out. “Got it on video,” she said with her own immodest smile.


Inside the lab, Dr. Aaron Hawk furrowed his brow as he viewed Katei’s video.

“Subspecies?” Harley asked.

Dr. Hawk cleared his throat. “Within such close geography? Highly unlikely.”

A clean silver table stood in the middle of the small lab. A mucker was strapped to it. Albert. He’d been given a sedative, and his eyelids drooped with smug satisfaction. Dr. Hawk had insisted that no harm be done to the muckers, and that included any non-elective surgery. He’d made the case that they did not know how Divinity’s creatures were connected, or how the natural system worked at all, and being so obtrusive so soon might deliver unwanted consequences. Therefore, only blood withdrawal was permitted in the beginning stages. The first sampled mucker had contained an interesting DNA barcode, not all that different from the weasel species back on Earth.

After digging deeper into the DNA analysis database, Katei found that the muckers were biologically similar to the fisher, or Martes pennanti. On Earth, these were creatures that lived deep in remote northern forests, relying on dense vegetation for security, and downed, old growth timber as forest highways. So far, the research team hadn’t seen any muckers in the slopes of the Lost Mountains. Most sightings occurred in the riparian corridors along the Divinity River. The potential for migration was there, but it seemed the muckers were not built for lengthy travel across open terrain. That was better left to much larger animals who could thwart predators.

Albert let out a squeak as Katei stuck him with the needle. Katei winced. It reminded her of all the immunization shots prior to space travel, and before descending upon Divinity. After the sample was secure, Albert was taken back to the pen with all the other muckers. Katei had noticed the considerable curve of his belly as Dr. Aaron Hawk gathered him up into the cage. The muckers had been eating well.

An hour later, as Katei browsed the DNA barcode, she wanted to curse. Of course, that wouldn’t be at all professional, so she kept it coiled inside her chest and instead paged Dr. Hawk.

Dr. Aaron Hawk entered the lab, his distinguished face scrunched up in worry lines.

“Another bite from a Cintilla fly? Don’t forget the insecticide spray over in the barn—”

“No,” Katei said. “Look.”

Dr. Aaron Hawk’s face lit with monitor display light, making his skin more green than tan.

“Run the test again.”

Harley brought in the relaxed-looking Albert and strapped him to the table.

“Sorry Albert,” Katei said, approaching quickly with the needle. She didn’t want Albert in the lab for as long as he was last time.

Albert did not squeal. Katei winced.

Within seconds Albert was ushered back to his pen. After Katei secured the sample she labeled it Albert-2 10/4/2434. Several blood scans later, Katei inputted the results into the central DNA database.

The indicator icon blinked red over and over. She wanted to curse again. Albert’s blood samples did not match each other. The equipment had to be malfunctioning. Not cool. What if this interfered with her marks? What would her father say? Yes, I lost my wife in 2434, and my daughter failed college. Wonderful.

Katei paged Dr. Aaron Hawk again. It took him awhile to come back this time, as he was out laying bread for the muckers near the riparian corridor.

Dr. Aaron Hawk frowned into the greenish monitor light. “Pull it again.”

Katei’s look of surprise hardened. “No,” she said. “That’s two pulls in two hours. We’d be breaking protocol.”

Dr. Aaron Hawk regarded her comment with a bored look, then paced the lab. “I want two pulls a day, from five different muckers, each day,” he said. “Get another one in here now.”

An hour later, Katei and Dr. Hawk were leaning over the monitor display, faces contorted. “No match,” Katei said, balling her fingers into fists.

Dr. Aaron Hawk hurried out of the lab. Katei followed, making sure to scoop up her field recorder and her canteen.

Dr. Hawk stood next to the mucker pen, forearms resting on the wooden fence, fingers interlaced. The muckers chittered and flagged their deluxe tails. The new muckers, who at first hadn’t liked the multi-grain bread chunks now gobbled it down.

Katei turned to Dr. Hawk and bit her upper lip, certain he’d have an answer.

“Their physical makeup is identical, with common, subtle variations in coloring and size, similar to mammals on Earth,” Dr. Hawk said, tapping his index finger on the wooden fencing. “The scans all show what we expected. There is nothing vastly different about any of these muckers—”

“—except for their own unmatchable DNA.”

Dr. Hawk nodded and watched as Albert bulldozed a smaller mucker out of the way. Chitter chitter.

Beyond the pen, where the ruger trees gave way to their narrow outreach path, Harley returned with a wagon load of muckers. He was beaming. “Easy as pie!” he said. “They practically jumped right in.”

Katei noticed his breath held frost. She shivered and triggered her field recorder:

“Day eighteen. Temperatures appear to be dropping, conflicting with our current Divinity climate reports. Inquire further.”

Harley eased the transport handle down and set his hands to his hips. His smile dissolved as he waited for Katei and Dr. Hawk to return his enthusiasm. “What’s going on?”

“Everything,” Katei said, gesturing to the mucker pen.

“We’re unable to complete a DNA match,” Dr. Hawk said. “From the same mucker.”

Harley took a swig from his canteen, making sure to pre-store the water in his cheeks. Katei furrowed her brow.

“That’s not the only thing, I’m afraid,” Harley said.

Dr. Aaron Hawk turned to Harley. Did Katei see his lip quiver just a bit?

Harley’s cocky grin returned. “When I’m done unloading the new guys, we need to go for a walk.”


After an hour hike, Harley, Katei and Dr. Aaron Hawk settled into the riparian corridor of a Divinity River feeder creek. Katei stared in wonder at the life all around them: Chincy birds, with their sharp wings, the edges as if dipped in orange paint. The Careeba squirrels, with their ruger-nut filled mouths. Insect life fluttered over the tall, whispering nuferns like shredded pieces of paper. The sun was high and hot, but in a good way. The feeder creek gurgled past them and twisted its way downhill to the Central Valley.

“How did you find this place?” Katei asked Harley.

“All part of the fun,” he said. “I was scouting new mucker locations and stumbled across this.” Harley kicked aside a rotting log, then picked up a flat object. He brushed the dirt off and held it up to their anxious eyes.

All at once Dr. Aaron Hawk didn’t seem so bored.

Katei frowned. The object was flat, smooth metal, the kind you’d find on an interstellar cruiser. There was lettering on there too, although none that Katei had ever seen.

“One of ours, right?” Harley said. “Maybe from a recon satellite?”

Dr. Hawk examined the piece of metal, then swallowed dryly. “Perhaps.”

Something deeper in the foothills of the Lost Mountains caught Katei’s attention. Soon she was moving uphill, one powerful stride after another. Being a researcher on Divinity had been good to her body. The carby cafeteria snacks from her first year at Truton were far out of reach here.

What Katei saw next she couldn’t quite explain. In a grove of dense nufern and gilly flower, a small outbuilding had caved in on itself. Like an outhouse left too long in the woods.

An odd feeling buzzed her, one that she had not experienced before on Divinity, one which hinted that maybe humans were not the first ones here. Rusting darts with plastic casings littered the ground, each end rimmed by what looked to be brass or copper.

“Tranq darts,” Katei said. She turned to Dr. Aaron Hawk, who’d paled. “What. The. Hell.”

Harley searched the area, twisting to the north, checking the ground, then his six. Nuferns lashed his sides with dew. Intricate colored butterbugs rose up into shafts of sunlight as he trampled through patches of gilly flowers. He was sweating now, the whites of his eyes growing. Ungulate eyes.

“We have to contact Sepula 1,” Katei said.

Dr. Aaron Hawk placed several of the tranq darts in a plastic bag and headed downhill. “I want 765 to run a full scan on the Central Valley and the foothills tomorrow,” he said before disappearing into the vegetation. He did not look back.


Katei woke at the cusp of light and dark. She exited the tent in her pajamas, arms folded across her chest. Her breath was frosty in the dim light. So far, this had been the coldest morning on Divinity. As she worked her way over to the mucker pen, alpenglow edged the peaks of the Lost Mountains to the north. The ruger trees sighed in the wind.

Once at the mucker pen, Katei flicked on her headlamp. She saw five pairs of eyes, then ten. Then fifteen ... and now twenty. No, not twenty. Make that thirty pairs of glowing eyes. She turned to get Dr. Aaron Hawk, but he was already behind her, never making a sound. He seemed to enjoy her surprise, like a cat that doesn’t strike until it can see the terror in its prey’s eyes.

Dr. Aaron Hawk chuckled. “Already know,” he said. “And we’ve got enough multi-grain.”

Katei nodded and flicked off her lamp.

Sunlight flooded the Central Valley. Thousands of acres of Divinity wheat-like plants knelt in the breeze. Birds never named by a human clouded the skies and cast fleeting shadows upon all. Above the plains, opaque creeks tumbled down rocky draws framed by ruger pine and lichen. Great elk-like animals wailed into the frosty air. Silvery fish fatter than footballs and longer than a man’s leg powered up massive rivers, pooling at barrier falls a thousand feet high.

It was once thought that man would never find other inhabitable planets. They had almost been right.

At ten a.m., Dr. Aaron Hawk, Harley Gallatin, and Katei Windthrope stood next to the mucker pen. The muckers had quadrupled overnight. And every so often, in the tall golden grass on the eastern side of the pen, little eyes stared back and little snouts sniffed the air. It seemed they were building a mucker city.

“Ready for the scan?” Dr. Aaron Hawk asked. His hands were greasy and grime plugged his fingernail tips.

Katei bit her upper lip and ran her hair back with her hands. “The bot?” she asked.

Dr. Aaron Hawk whistled with his fingers. Bot 765 hummed out of the repair facility, ten feet off the ground. Its bottom half pulsed with warm blue light. Four huge lenses attached to the upper half of the orb, each the size of a fisheye lens. For today, Bot 765 was free of its grain harvesting equipment. The thing sounded like a dishwasher to Katei as its upper portion swiveled, allowing each fish eye lens to gather in the surroundings.

Albert the mucker huffed and stalked towards the bot.

Harley nudged Katei and pointed in Albert’s direction. Albert stood on hind legs and rested his paws on the middle post. He craned his neck towards the bot, scrunched his snout, and chittered. The bot swiveled one of its fisheye lenses towards Albert and beeped. Albert jerked his little weasel head backwards, then chittered even louder.

“They’ve finally found something they can’t eat,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said.

The Central Valley group spent the day counting and studying the muckers. Each new mucker failed to match its own DNA upon repeating samples. Each hour seemed to grow colder. By evening, under a fiery sunset, Katei was wearing her down jacket.

At ten p.m., their converted harvest bot hummed into the service tent and powered down. The glow from its propulsion unit lit the muckers pen, their curious, shimmering eyes watching in the stillness. At five after ten, the scan had been uploaded to the lab computer. There, Dr. Aaron Hawk, Harley, and Katei studied the thirty-two inch monitor. The bot had framed most of the valley and the foothills near camp in a transparent topographic grid. At least two dozen non-translucent locations flashed. Each of these shapes was perhaps two acres in size. Dr. Aaron Hawk clicked on the nearest flashing shape, about five miles from their main camp. A text message scrolled across the screen, spelled out in point bulletins, each proceeded by a number.

***unidentified source, likely not human***materials research in nature***Source no longer present on Divinity***classified as source-1***

Katei, hand trembling, clicked the furthest flashing shape on the grid map.

***unidentified source, likely not human***materials research in nature***Source no longer present on Divinity***classified as source-12***

Katei clicked another flashing shape, this one the second closest to their camp, tucked against the base of the Lost Mountains.

***unidentified source, likely not human***materials research in nature***Source no longer present on Divinity***classified as source-3***

When they had gone through all the flashing shapes, Dr. Aaron Hawk got up from his chair and exited the lab. Katei and Harley remained, gawking at the monitor.

A moment later Dr. Aaron Hawk returned, three paper cups in his hand, a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. He distributed the cups, poured fresh whiskey into each one, then sat down and sighed. Katei watched as he pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds. She’d never seen him smoke before. He tapped the back of the pack and offered to Harley and Katei. Katei shook her head. Harley hesitated.

“Why the hell not,” Harley said.

Dr. Aaron Hawk nodded towards the door and the three of them walked into the cold Divinity night towards the mucker’s pen. There were more of them now inside the pen, and gleaming eyes in the tall golden grass surrounding.

Dr. Aaron Hawk lit Harley’s Red, then his own. Their cherries burned bright in the darkness. Not as bright as the Milky Way, which was uninhibited by light pollution. Squares of stars with dark blue backgrounds imprinted on new squares, and on squares further yet until all was stars. A freezing wind rushed down from the Lost Mountains, making the grass kneel and the muckers chitter. Albert stood on hind legs and regarded the mountains.

“This is how they eat,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said. “This is how they’ve always eaten.”

Katei took a sip of whiskey, her hand shaking the cup. Her stomach roiled, then warmed. This air, this whiskey, this sky. She had never felt more alive in her life. She also didn’t know what Dr. Hawk was talking about.

Harley watched the doctor.

Dr. Aaron Hawk took a drag and exhaled to the star imprints. “Research teams,” he said. “That is how they eat. Whether it’s us, or another exploration species. We or they come here, feed the muckers in order to study them, and the muckers gorge themselves.”

Katei turned to the pen and all the muckers therein. Albert chittered at her and pawed the air in her direction. She smiled back.

“What about the DNA?” Katei asked, shivering.

Dr. Aaron Hawk chuckled and regarded the night sky. “That’s the best part,” he said. “It’s a food acquisition mechanism. Keeps them studied longer, which in turn means more food.”

Harley shook his head and expelled a frost cloud of whiskey breath. “Doesn’t seem possible.”

Dr. Aaron Hawk pointed at the uncountable stars with his cigarette. “Nor does that.” He turned to face his students. “We thought Divinity was all there was. Haha charade you are. Instead, Divinity is easily found by interstellar species. The muckers have evolved to benefit from them. Sure, they probably have other food sources, but maybe ones they don’t like as much.”

Wind howled against the tent all through the night. They did not have the necessary means to keep warm. As Katei shivered next to Harley and Dr. Aaron Hawk in their down sleeping bags, she wondered about the climate projections and the equipment matching.

Deep in the wailing night, Katei heard desperate scratching at the tent door. When she unzipped the bottom twelve inches, a furry, frozen snout and head stuck its way through.

Albert. Katei took out her field recorder and filmed as Albert squirmed his way in. Albert inched to within a foot of Katei, then shook the snow out of his fur.

“Hey,” she whispered. “You shouldn’t be in here.”

Albert stalked toward her, his big mucker eyes wide. He bobbed his head to the north, then rubbed on Katei’s leg, leaving a musky scent. He stood on hind legs, bobbed his head to the north again, then squirmed his way back through the tent opening. Katei reached for the zipper and gasped. Frozen. Before she could close the gap, Albert poked his head through again, blinked twice, and was gone.

Things did not let up in the morning. At seven a.m., Dr. Aaron Hawk informed them of the latest weather report from Bot 765. The Central Valley was expecting minus forty degrees Fahrenheit by noon based on current trends. By twelve a.m., minus eighty.

Katei checked her field recorder. The temp read minus twenty Fahrenheit. Her fingers trembled as she layered on more clothes, making sure to cover her ears.

They were under strict orders from the crew of Sepula 1 to remain indoors until a Squatter transport reached them. Then they’d be evacuated from Divinity before they froze to death. Katei would have none of it. They were responsible for bringing the muckers to camp, and she was going to make sure they were alright.

Katei ran into the freezing morning, her eyes stinging and her lungs hardening. The tears that reached her cheeks froze there, yet she pressed on to the mucker’s pen. When she arrived, all she found was empty troughs and snow.

The Squatter set down at 1 p.m. near the shipment receiving location. Squatters were standard human transport devices, although they did have limited space for equipment, such as harvest bots. They were operated remotely by the crew on board Sepula 1.

Dr. Aaron Hawk, Harley Gallatin, and Katei Windthrope boarded the Squatter, gasping with relief at the effective interior heaters. A warm voice greeted them from the center console.

“Officer Mark Damil at your service,” the fit uniformed man said on the screen. “Glad you guys are okay. We’ll have you home in no time.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said.

Another voice came through the speakers, this one much sharper. “Dr. Hawk, do you have Bot 765 on board?”

Dr. Aaron Hawk paused. “No I do not, Dr. Reynolds. We lost 765 along the riparian corridor.”

Katei glared at Dr. Aaron Hawk, mouth agape. Harley did the same. The doctor ignored them.

A blast of wind rocked the Squatter. Officer Damil came through the speakers again. “Strap yourselves in friends, it’s going to be a bumpy one,” he said.

Katei gazed out the bulbous glass windows as the Squatter navigated the storm. Second by second their research camp grew smaller, their private paradise. The empty, frozen mucker’s pen. The lab, with its east wall sheared off. They flew over the frozen Divinity River and the riparian corridor, the former green trees now sagging with frost and wind. To the north, along the wide open Central Valley, the wheat fields were no more, covered in ice and snow. Katei squinted. Something moved in a straight line, emitting warm blue from its bottom end. The Harvest Bot. It had been re-rigged to its harvest gear, which it dragged behind in the snow.

Katei turned to Dr. Aaron Hawk, who winked at her.

Turbulence pummeled the Squatter, and Katei gripped the seat cushion. Higher now, into the Lost Mountains. Through great sheets of ice and wind Katei peered out her window. Below her nothing but craggy spires and glaciers.

The impatient voice sighed through the speakers once more.

“We’re getting data that Divinity won’t be inhabitable for a hundred years,” the voice said. “What happened, Dr. Hawk?”

“Planetary core variance,” Dr. Aaron Hawk said. “Like we’ve never seen before. This is combined with a shrinking tropopause due to unknown pressure sources in the thermosphere. Divinity, Dr., has a heart. But her heart beats irregularly.”

More turbulence. Katei felt the floor of the Squatter freeze beneath her feet. Yet she gazed out into the storm. In a brief moment of clarity and calm, between dagger ice gusts, she glimpsed something far below in a mountain pass. A brown trail of some kind. No, not a trail. A train. Creatures with luxurious tails held high, and faces like weasels. They trudged along, single file, faces blasted with snow and ice. A large specimen at the head of the animal train regarded the Squatter with a wrinkle of its snout. Then it stood on hind legs and watched the craft fly away.

Katei took out her thawing field recorder and pressed the button:

“Day twenty, and the muckers seem to be far more intelligent than we originally thought. They have a fierce aversion to being sprayed by a hose, and that is the only thing it seems they are afraid of. They are intelligent survivors. They seem to crave attention, to be around other living things. They are sweet, all growl and no bite. They may have lifespans that go for centuries—”

Katei squeezed her obsidian pendant as the animals faded from view.

“—and they are my friends.” END

Michael Hodges is a member of SFWA and the Codex Writing Group. Read more about Michael on his website. This is his fourth story for “Perihelion.” He has also been published in “AE,” “Bards and Sages Quarterly,” “Penumbra,” and other magazines.


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