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



A Self-Digging Well

By Jay Fuller

I WAS PLAYING SPADES with Bob in the ship’s common room when the canary flew in and alit at the console.

Trilling, Hercules brought up the ship’s schematic on the console’s display. With sharp little chirps, he accessed the gravity detectors and sub-systems. Stepping sideways twice, he called up a secondary display and, referring back to the primary now and again, began to do calculations.

Until Hercules had signed on as crew I’d had no idea that there was a canary language pack available as a systems update. I’d programmed my wrist-comp to automatically translate through the earbud I usually wore, or through the closest ship’s speaker.

I’d quickly programmed in an off switch when I learned the words to some of the songs he sang. I’m not a prude, by any means, but I didn’t really need to be regaled with florid descriptions of Molly McGuire’s incredible assets, even if they could crush walnuts and men’s heads.

A good captain tries to keep his crew happy, but having a crew that consisted of a pompous, baseball-sized metal sphere and a foul-mouthed, gene-engineered, ex-mine canary meant that I often needed to make concessions at a moment’s notice and under difficult conditions.

“What’s up, Hercules?” I asked. I wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to turn the ship’s gravity off again. For him and Bob, freefall was preferred. As a human who’d spent much of my early life on a planet, I liked to know which way was down whenever possible.

“Gravitational anomaly detected in Cargo Bay 1,” announced the console.

“Something’s sucking back there harder than a—” I interrupted Hercules automatically, fearing where his analogy would likely go, but he’d gotten my complete and full attention.

You ignore canaries at your peril.

Genetic engineering had expanded usual canary duties from merely keeling over dead from toxic gases, as his ancestors had done, to life-support expert and mobile sensor array. Besides natural defenses against many airborne toxins, he could detect a good range of emissions and forces.

“Something on this scow sucking? That’s not exactly novel,” Bob observed.

I ignored Bob. “What kind of anomaly?” I asked the bird.

“High-gravity source. Not big enough.”

“Not big enough?” I said.

“Yeah, if it had a proper amount of mass it would be an asteroid larger than the cargo bay,” the bird said. “Looks to be less than a meter in diameter. Has to be generated.”

“Could it maybe be some neutronium coming unshielded or something?” I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about, but it sounded good.

Hercules made a sound somewhere between a raspberry and a fart.

Bob sighed. “We would be a new and interesting stellar phenomena should neutronium lose containment, Stanton. Let us be thankful that this tub isn’t rated to handle it.”

“Hey!” I protested. “Have some respect! This tub, as you call it, is what keeps us in bird seed and batteries, pal.” She wasn’t much—an oldish freighter—but she was mine. We weren’t going to get rich, but we would get by just fine.

“Yeah, generated. Like I said,” Hercules interjected, annoyed. “But bigger than those fucking Pulsers they use at the mines.” Gravity-Point Pulsers were used in the Belt mines to shatter layers of rock by creating a small pulse of gravity just below the face.

I was already on the way to Bay 1 by the time Hercules finished his sentence.


“The sucker is growing,” said Hercules from his new perch at the cargo bay’s console.

“Is it in a pod?” I asked.

“Position says probably, but we’ll know for sure if we try to move it.”

“Bob, identify the pod and pull it out of the stack. We should get it out of there before it welds the pods into a lump.” The huge cargo pod racks began to move.

“Anomaly moving with the pod,” Hercules confirmed.

“Shipper is Pedersen Gravitonics; Prototype BH53; En route to Planck Research Station off G3 out,” Bob said. Gate three was the singular designation of a pair of wormhole stabilizing rings. By convention, the inside or in end was always the ring closest to Sol.

“You’re going to love the place, Herc. A group of brilliant scientists out in the ass-end of nowhere with billions of credits worth of machinery and very little supervision. You can do about anything there except be stupid—a crime they punish vigorously.”

“Oh, the merriment abounds at PRS,” Bob drawled, dripping sarcasm. Bob rarely left the ship when we ported at Planck. It probably had something to do with the time a group of drunk physicists roped him in to a baseball game—as the ball.

“Gravity has increased a [tweet] hair,” said Hercules. It was probably good that the word didn’t translate.

“Put it on a spur near the external cargo hatch,” I said. “Get it out of the way until we figure out what to do.”


“Without a hyperwave radio, the lag time for a reply would be days,” I said. “A couple each way, so figure a reply back in at least three days. We’re on schedule to port there in less than a week.”

Hercules was at the common room’s console again, keeping an eye on sensors. “We’ll be a ball about the size of a horse turd by then. Gravity’s building. Slowly, but every little bit hurts. What the fuck are you doing carrying around shit that can kill you, huh?”

I was surprised he knew what a horse was, let alone how big it’s droppings were. “Making enough credits so you can get a tour of the galaxy, chicken legs.”

“A worn circle in space ain’t much of a galaxy, if you ask me.” The bird chirped grumpily.

“Well let me know when you want to go back to the Belt mines. I’m sure you can find a nice sugar-miner on some asteroid that’ll take you in.”

He snapped a quick somersault in place. I’d learned that he was literally flipping the bird at me. I chuckled. Living with Bob’s sarcasm for so long, being heckled by a bright yellow canary seemed kind of cute. “So, you’re saying we need to do something about this?” I focused an overly concerned expression on the bird.

He did two somersaults.

I grinned at him then turned to Bob. “Can we tow it? I think we still have a couple kilometers of monofilament.”

“As long as you don’t mind it ramming itself up our ass in three days or so.” Bob was picking up language from Hercules. Worrisome. “The pod’s gravity well will eventually overcome our acceleration and the tail section of the ship will start to fall toward the pod. We are under acceleration so the pod will do most of the actual falling.”

“By falling, you mean speeding at us like a hypersonic torpedo?”

“Not at first,” Bob said. “Since it appears we’re dealing with a point source with no appreciable mass attached, it’s got an insanely deep gravity well. It will accelerate faster the closer it gets. Quite dramatically the last few hundred meters.”

“So let’s park it somewhere and come back with someone from Planck.”

“Absolutely,” Bob said. “No one should mind us leaving a potential black hole in the middle lanes of travelled space. No siree.”

“Oh.” I deflated. “Then how about—”

“No. We can’t just fling it into a sun, although they might possibly name the supernova after you if we did. Oh! That’s right. No one would survive to call it anything. Sorry.” He made a sound halfway between a raspberry and a fart, much like Hercules’ but a few octaves lower.

“So let’s just turn the frickin’ thing off,” Hercules said.

“At least one biological on board this bathysphere has some sense. How will you do that, Stan?”

“Let me call up my BH53 user’s manual. I’m sure it’s in the quick start menu.” I returned. “How should I know? Let’s pop the pod and take a look.”

“Pedersen could dispute payment for the shipment.”

“Oh, they’ll pay all right, or I’ll weld it to the outside of the station and turn it back on.” I was starting to get a little angry and self-righteous. It was their malfunctioning cargo that was putting my ship and crew at risk.

I couldn’t pop open the pod without a key from Planck station or Pedersen Gravitonics themselves. Not an unusual thing, really. Standard for prototype and sensitive shipments to insure I didn’t show their competitors pictures of their newest gadgets along with my vacation snapshots. Not that I would anyway. I’d turned down bribes before, figuring I made more in the long run by charging a bit extra for discretion.

“How long would it take for you to break the lock code, Bob?”

“You’d be dead by then,” he said.

“Even if you commandeered all the ships processors?”

He bobbed slightly, his way of nodding the positive. I’d figured as much.

“I might be able to fool it, though,” he noted. “Pedersen uses a lock that checks position in space and the biometrics of the addressee. I should be able to access it through the pod’s maintenance cluster and rewrite the key.”

“It’ll lock down the pod if it doesn’t work.”

“It doesn’t have a chance against an AI of my caliber.” He sniffed derisively.


Pressing a thumbprint onto Bob’s mirror shell was fine. That he’d taken an unexpected blood sample when I did it had me annoyed. “Damn you, you little testicle!” I sucked on my thumb automatically. “Where in the hell did I leave my lacrosse stick?”

“Calm down, monkey-boy, it was necessary. Now sit back and watch a pro work,” he said. Hercules and I stayed at the cargo bay’s console as Bob moved across the bay toward the singled-out pod. He progressed normally until he floated within about a half meter of the pod and then I could see a slight jerkiness to his movements until he settled onto the pod with a small click.

“Everything ok?” I called to him.

“Just peachy,” he replied.

Hercules trilled softly. “Don’t think he’ll be able to lift his ass off that thing. Gravity’s getting a bit much.”

Bob apparently had his auditory circuits turned up. “So this will just have to work, birdbrain. Now shut your beak. I’m trying to concentrate here.”

I was sure the snap snap snap of the pod’s intrusion locks closing did nothing for his concentration. Bob swore a string of invectives using words I didn’t think he knew.

“So, oh Floating Orb of Wisdom, what now?” I probably should have insisted on a plan B.

“Now is when you get your bipedaled butt in gear and pull me off this thing.”

“Alright, alright, don’t un-charm your quarks there, big guy, we’ll figure something out.” I turned to the console and Hercules, who was running numbers. “What are we up against here?”


“Can you roll on the surface? Say, to a corner, maybe. An upper slant?” I asked Bob.

We watched from across the bay as the silver orb moved along the outside of the cargo pod. He got up some speed and tried to fling himself off an edge only to do a short arc and clack back onto the pod. Finally he settled in the middle of an upper, angled face. “Getting off the centerlines is taking some effort.” No sarcasm detected. Bob was rattled.

“Ok. We can work with that.” I lined up the sights on a Winchester 3rdRail adjustable-velocity rail gun. The size of a bulky rifle, the weapon could be set to throw a slug at any desired velocity, from a few tens of meters-per-second to hypersonic speeds. Instead of the usual super-dense Depleted Uranium projectile, I’d loaded it with a small lump of gold.

The last thing I wanted to do was damage Bob any more than could be helped. A DU round would spread little pieces of Bob-shrapnel everywhere. Gold, being a soft metal, should deform around him without penetrating and still give him the push I wanted. Hopefully that push would get him far enough out of the pod’s gravity well for him to escape the rest of the way under his own power.

“Ok, Bob, go to the far edge from me and be ready.” I hunkered down and checked sighting.

“Did I mention that this is your stupidest idea to date?” Bob said as he moved to position. “I’m only doing this to make you feel better, you know.”

“And I appreciate it, you brave little toaster you.” I squeezed the trigger and watched through the rifle’s scope as a gold ball suddenly jumped away then arced slightly behind the pod. I lost sight of it but heard the clang that must have been Bob being sucked back onto the opposite surface of the cargo pod. “Damn you, you tailless mammal!” I heard him shout. The shot hadn’t damaged his vocal circuits, apparently.

He came over the lip of the pod and rolled back to the center of the angled face like a marble finding the bottom of a bowl. About a third of his silver shell was now gold. “I’m lucky I’m still able to move. Next time I get to shoot you in the ass.”

“Sorry about that, Bob. I probably should’ve used a nine-iron.”

We were in a tough spot. On the plus side, gravity is an inverse square. Its effects peter out quickly with distance; twice the distance equals one-quarter the pull, four times the distance and it diminishes to one-sixteenth, and so on. Even being just across the cargo bay from the pod, I could barely feel any gravity effects.

On the negative side, gravity is an inverse square. Its effects increased markedly the closer to the pod. Our point of gravity was tiny and effectively had a zero radius which deepened its gravity well significantly. If it had been the size of a small asteroid, as Hercules said it should be, then that would give us some built-in height—add distance from the center of gravity—and decrease escape velocity, which was the root of Bob’s predicament.

“This thing is growing like a boil on a [tweet’s] ass,” Hercules chirped. I’d have to ask him about the untranslated word later. “We need to bail or we’re gonna be getting real cozy with Bobby-ball before long.”

“We can’t leave him,” I said.

“I updated my rezz profile just yesterday, Stanton. You can download it to your wrist-comp on the way to the escape pod,” Bob said, far more reasonably than I would have, I was sure.

“But ...” As I trailed off I came to a decision. “No. You said yourself that we can’t just leave this floating in space. We need to turn it off.” I didn’t mention that I couldn’t bring myself to leave without him. Turning, I grabbed the clip of Depleted Uranium slugs off the nearby work bench.


Hercules was aware of the anomaly’s effects more than I was, and to me the deck beneath my feet was getting a definite tilt to it. I had to hand it to the small avian, he was probably pretty uncomfortable by now and he was sticking in like a trooper. He had a big mouth and the balls to match.

Slotting the clip in to the rifle with a snick I cranked the muzzle velocity selector on the Winchester up as high as it would go. “You sure you don’t want to ride an escape pod out of here, Hercules?” My voice sounded muffled in the close-fitting pressure suit. “I could be blowing the safeties off a singularity.”

“Nah, I’m fine.” The canary was perched inside a pressurized sphere just larger than a basketball that was in turn, sitting in front of the console. He had the damage control systems up. “Someone has to be the adult and keep an eye on you two clowns.”

I re-sighted the rail gun almost dead center on the cargo pod, just below where Hercules had determined the anomaly’s center to be. I squeezed the trigger evenly until I saw a neat hole appear in the side of the problem pod. The pressure suit’s audio circuit damped the shot’s incredible scream and crash to a mere whee and tick.

Audio coming back online fully, I could hear the loud whistling hiss of escaping air. A sound that invoked terror in the bravest spacefarer was the most beautiful sound in the galaxy to me at that moment because I was alive to hear it.

The clunk of Bob hitting the deck of the cargo bay was the second most. I was jogging over to check on Bob when he started to roll away.

“Oh, Asimov’s sideburns! The fun never stops,” he cranked as his roll picked up speed.

By the time I got to him, Bob was solidly plugging the small, circular hole caused by a hypersonic Depleted Uranium slug punching outwards through the hull. We were air-tight again.

Hercules began to trill in laughter. “I say we just hull-patch right over him.” Then to Bob. “Promising career ahead as a bung plug there, bub.”

Bob extruded a slender manipulator and replied with a universally recognized gesture which only seemed to encourage the canary. “And you could moonlight as a paperweight!” The bird was laughing so hard I could hear him starting to gasp.


Both Bob and Hercules were in the ship’s common room when I strolled in. Bob, for his usual reasons; Hercules was probably tired of job offers. Apparently, nearly every scientist on Planck Research Station wanted to have an avian as a test subject and Hercules was the only one they’d seen in years.

I held up the thin plastic flimsy. “Pedersen paid in full and is picking up the tab for patching the hull. Even offered to re-line our artificial gravity plates.”

“Trying to shorten our memories, are they?” Bob said.

“Probably so.” I said. “I turned ’em down. We, uh, agreed that an insurance fee on future shipments would make Good Business Sense.”

“How were you able to trick them into believing you had a passing familiarity with either business or sense?”

I grinned at the silver orb and placed the flimsy page on the table in front of him. “When I made them sign a three-year exclusive shipping contract with us.”

“Hmph,” Bob said. “So wasn’t I beating you at Spades? Rather badly, too.”

It took me a moment to reorient. Bob liked to make statements that seemed like non-sequiturs but were perfectly apt comments on conversations or events, just days, weeks, or months after the fact. He hoped for a clueless reaction so he could expound on the short-comings of the biological brain.

“Not that badly.” I said as I shuffled the cards. END

Jay Fuller works at the local public library in Seattle. He recently published a sword & sorcery humor story at “Fiction on the Web.” Another story has been accepted for the “Alternate Hilarities” anthology from Strange Musings Press.




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