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



World Without Rot

By Erin Lale

“DO WE HAVE TO TAKE MARY?” Andrew asked.

“You know her feelings would be hurt if all of you went and she didn’t get to go,” grandmother said. She was wrinkled, but stood as straight as the rest of the family, keeping her large, bald head held high.

“But she’s a total tard!”

“Watch your language, young man!” She pointed and wagged a delicate finger.

“He’s right, Gramma,” Fedora said. “She’ll just get in the way.”

“You are all going. Let’s find Mary while I tell you what we need you to do.” Gramma rose and gestured, and Fedora, Andrew, Rodman, Hector, and Shipley all followed, listening. “First you’ll go to the surface in our time to get used to being on the surface and to your equipment. I’ll come with you to the surface to explain more about the problem we face, but I can’t go to the past with you. My body couldn’t take it.”

They found Mary in the play cave, surrounded by toys all made of the same extruded pink plastic. She was cuddled up with Shipley and Rodman’s little girl. Mary made a shh gesture at her lips. “Baby,” Mary mouthed. “Sleep.” The child was several years old now and was not really a baby, but it was close enough for Mary.

Gramma lowered her voice and told Mary she was going with the other young people to the surface. “After that, you’ll time travel to just before the collapse of the ecosystem to pick up living soil from a forest, a meadow, and a pond, and what they used to call compost starter, a collection of beneficial bacteria, which you will find packaged at a garden center. You won’t need to enter a city for any of your samples, but the garden centers are located in towns.”

Before going outside, they sprayed zinc on their skin to protect themselves from solar radiation. The sunlight was still much weaker than it had been when the world was full of life, but none of them had ever been exposed to it. The spray-on sunscreen left their skin looking like granite.

As they went outside, Gramma said, “In my day, we couldn’t come up here without hazmat suits. The land was contaminated with heavy metals from the albedo project that destroyed nature. Our robots have been cleaning this part of the world, so now it’s safe to move around up here, and it would be safe to plant crops in the ground and eat the produce.”

They looked up at the blue sky, and down at the treacherous footing of the rocky forest. Fedora thought it was snowy, based on artwork she had seen of the world before the collapse. The former trees were nothing but cones and poles now, all their needles long gone, most of their branches having broken and fallen with time.

Rodman and Shipley held hands as they walked along in the snowdrift. Hector smiled at Andrew and drew close to him, and Andrew put an arm around Hector’s shoulder and gave him a squeeze before holding his hand. The couples looked similar; they were all cousins many times over. Shipley was a little shorter than Rodman, but they all had the wide, dark eyes that were adapted to life underground, and the large heads and small, slender bodies of people whose only real work was thought.

Mary, not understanding, tried to hold Fedora’s hand, but Fedora shook her off and went to examine one of the skeletal tree trunks more closely. Mary pouted and whined, and Gramma held her hand. Fedora rolled her eyes.

When Gramma started giving a speech, the others turned to listen, but Fedora kept examining the stubby branches studded on the trees, fascinated by the wind-scoured broken ends, wondering if they were turning into petrified wood.

“The history of human attempts to alter their physical environment to achieve a desirable goal is not pretty. Rabbits were deliberately introduced to Australia. A later generation built a fence across the whole continent to keep them at bay, and when that didn’t work, deliberately introduced waves of disease. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent one century straightening waterways to make them more navigable, and the next century putting them back the way they were to prevent flooding. One generation’s proud project to drain nasty swamps became the next generation’s struggle to restore wetlands to filter fresh water, provide wildlife habit, and prevent erosion from washing the land into the sea.”

Fedora saw how the wind had polished the branches smooth like tumbled stones, and wondered where the sawdust went. She looked down at what she had taken for a snowdrift, and realized it was actually a pile of dust. They were all wading through dust up to their knees. Particles wore off of things, but in the world without rot, that was as far as it went. Nothing could turn from dead particles to new living matter. That was the link in the chain that was broken, and the reason the Earth’s ecosystem had died.

Gramma droned on, “The European wild boar was intentionally introduced into California for sport hunting, only to become an agricultural pest that farmers paid hunters to remove from their vineyards. Salt cedar and tamarisk were deliberately planted by early environmentalists for erosion control, and then were laboriously hand-removed by a new generation of environmentalists to restore native habitat. The U.S.A.’s ban on hemp farming contributed to deforestation, as trees were used for paper that could have been made from hemp. In an attempt to find a suitable replacement for illegal hemp, farmers introduced invasive kudzu to America on purpose. Suppression of small fires in national forests both interrupted the life cycle of fire-dependent species and led to mega wildfires that destroyed instead of restored. Scientists created killer bees, which escaped all over and proved impossible to fully exterminate, until they died along with all other life on the surface. Westerners put in charge of environmental preservation on the island of Komodo forbade the natives from practicing a religious custom of feeding the Komodo Dragons, resulting in the hungry dragons eating people.”

Andrew asked, “So this—” he gestured around to the dead planet. “It happened because of human arrogance. Thinking they could make things better.”

“Yes,” Gramma confirmed. “Scientists in the 21st century thought the Earth was getting too warm. Most governments and environmental groups tried passive solutions like slowing down industry, conserving energy, things like that. Some of the rich of the world—rich, you understand the concept? The ancient world used money.”

Everyone nodded, except Mary, of course.

“They thought they were doing good. Saving the world. They had a project to increase the Earth’s albedo. To increase the amount of light reflected from the Earth’s atmosphere, to cool the Earth. They injected metals into the air, the same toxic metals we had our robots clear away so we could stand here safely.”

“They succeeded,” concluded Fedora. Her voice was deeper than the other women’s voices, if not quite as deep as the men’s. “They created a nuclear winter. That’s what they called it in the old books I read. So cold did all this?”

“Yes, and no. They succeeded, but it wasn’t the cold that killed everything. It was the dark. This seems bright to us, but more light reached the ground in the old days. The first time people really noticed something was wrong was when solar panels stopped working efficiently. Then it was sensitive plants, and people coming down with vitamin D deficiency disease. By then it was too late. The darkness couldn’t be stopped. The dark killed the marine algae, and after that, all life on Earth.”

“Except us,” Andrew pointed out.

“Except our ancestors, but they weren’t on Earth, they were already inside. They were called Preppers, and they built the Doomsday colony so humanity could survive.”

“I’ve seen their list of preparation supplies,” said Fedora. “They thought of almost everything.”

Andrew glanced at Mary and said tartly, “Yeah, too bad they didn’t think of starting a colony with enough people to ensure a varied gene pool.”

“That’s enough of that, young man,” Gramma snapped.

Andrew fell silent, and Hector rubbed his arm consolingly.

Secretly, Fedora agreed with him, but she would not stand up for him to grandmother. Andrew could stand up for himself if he wanted to. Besides which, Andrew was not exactly genetically perfect either.

Gramma herded them over the rise to the hangar. It was a stand-alone building, separated from the entrance to the colony by a protective hill of rammed earth. Fedora knew the time travel ship was extraordinarily safe and its engines could not blow up, but the hangar dated to the foundation of Doomsday and so it probably originally held a combustion vehicle of some type. Or perhaps the entrance to the colony had originally been hidden, to keep the colony safe from raiders or from the government of the time.

The ship was dome shaped on the top, with a flat bottom for landing. Fedora took the first turn as pilot.


They traveled to the early 21st century and landed in the rural areas without incident, except for discovering the hover engine had some unfortunate effects on local four-footed animals, and landing in a field of tall grain left patterned marks. Hopefully the locals would not be able to see the patterns for what they were. The central circles were just from the hover engines, but the other patterns were the fingerprints of waveforms of air displaced by the fourth dimensional rotation of the idling time travel engines.

They flew to the town. They had chosen it because it was small and could be accessed via uninhabited land, but not so small that there would be no centers of trade from which to acquire what they needed.

They landed in an open field. Fedora chose one that had only short vegetation.

They had not realized that the local humans had observed them, but it became obvious after they went down the ramp and were crossing the field. Giant humans with big muscles and guts and small heads and beady little eyes, and strange colored skin—clothes, they realized—ran out yelling.

Only Fedora understood what they were saying, because she had read old books written in an older form of English.

“That’s them!” One of the giants yelled. “They kidnapped me! They put something up my—nose.”

One of the giants had something in his hand. He pointed and it made a noise like a tunneling robot breaking rock.

Hector cried out. He was bleeding.

“Hector!” Andrew yelled. He hefted Hector over his shoulder, staggered under the weight, and carried his dear one to the ship.

“The space creature’s name is Hector! I knew they was illegal aliens!”

“Run!” Fedora yelled. “They have guns!”

They ran back to their ship, bundled in and took off. Fedora flew the ship while Andrew helped Hector, and Shipley kept Mary from helping. Fedora put the ship down miles away in a small valley. More of the four footed animals died as she used the hover to put the craft down in the meadow, and she felt a pang of regret, but they needed to be somewhere open enough to land and yet out of sight, and this fit the requirements.

As she shut down the engines, Fedora looked out at the landscape and for a moment she felt she was looking at a painting. Golden plants covered the hillside, and in the gully at the bottom ran a quaint little stream surrounded by gnarly trees with green leaves. Then she sighed and went to see how Hector was doing.

When they set out again, they left the ship behind so it would not attract attention from the locals like it had before. Hector was doing fine, but was in no condition for a hike, so he stayed behind to guard the ship. The group took frequent rest breaks. Their feet and legs hurt from the unaccustomed walking. It was dark by the time they came to the town. They walked through deserted streets under the pink streetlights until Mary suddenly made a delighted sound and dashed out ahead.

“Mary!” Fedora called. They all quickened their pace, and caught up with her as she leaned over a small life form.

Mary picked up the puppy. “Baby.”

“That’s not a baby, Mary,” Fedora said. “It’s an animal.”

Mary cradled the puppy in her arms and rocked from side to side. “Baby.”

“It’s not ours, so please put it down so it can go home.”

The puppy started licking Mary, and she giggled.

A giant human approached them. Only Fedora understood the human’s speech. “Have you come to save us?”

Fedora responded, “Save you from what?”

“From ourselves. Take me with you to space. Please.” Like the other humans, this one was wearing clothes. It was shorter than the other humans, though, only about a foot taller than the time travelers. It was lumpy under its clothes, and Fedora realized from old illustrations in books she had read that this one was a female. And like the other humans, this one thought her group were from outer space.

“I’m sorry,” Fedora replied. “We can’t do that.”

The human nodded, and held out her arms for the puppy. “That’s my dog. Jazz! Here, Jazz!”

The puppy pricked up its floppy ears and looked at the human.

“Mary, give her the baby, it’s hers,” Fedora said. Mary pouted, but she handed over the puppy. The human petted its head and it licked her hand.

Fedora asked, “Can you help us find a garden center?”

“A—sure. Why not?” The human gestured them to follow and they walked with her. She asked, “Why do you need a garden center?”

“We’re here to save our world, not yours. Our world is a world without rot.”

“You mean nothing decays?”

“Atoms decay. Stone erodes. Skin flakes and is replaced by more skin. But the natural world is dead. We have samples of plants ready to replant, but we need soil bacteria. We can’t restart the ecosystem without a way to break down dead matter to nourish new growth.”

The giant human with the puppy led them to the right place. It was a large, box-shaped building. The garden center was an outdoor space fenced in next to the building. “Here it is, but it’s closed. It’s the middle of the night. You’d have to come back in the daytime to buy anything.”

“I’m afraid we’d create a disturbance if we showed ourselves to a lot of people,” Fedora said. “We will take what we need now.”

“Without paying for it? That’s stealing.”

“It’s what?” Fedora thought a moment. “Oh, I see. Yes, I’ve heard of that concept, although we don’t have it ourselves. We’re a family. We will leave something valuable behind.”

“Does this have to be goodbye, then? Can’t I come with you? I’ve dreamed of space all my life.”

“We’re not from space,” Fedora replied.

“But you’re the Grays.”

Fedora looked at her family, and then back at the human of the past. The ancestral form of the human was taller, stockier, brown-skinned, with hair, and small, horizontal eyes with round centers, and a nose. She had a body built for work, for running with wolves. “I see,” Fedora said. “We thought we were still human. Thank you for your help finding this place.”

“I’ll wait for you!”

Fedora led them into the garden center. When she used a tool to open the door, a loud sound startled them and they jumped.

The woman with the puppy shouted, “You set off the alarm! Get away quickly!” and she scurried off across the parking lot, bending over the puppy in her arms as if to protect it.

The time travelers thought the noise was annoying, but it didn’t seem to be dangerous to them. They started to fan out to look around, but quickly regrouped back with Fedora when they all realized they needed to read the labels to find the right object, and Fedora was the only one who knew how.

“We’re the Grays,” Fedora said over the alarm sound.

“We’re the who?”

“People of this time period thought they were being visited by aliens from outer space. They said the Grays studied humans and kidnapped rural males to extract DNA samples.”

“We’re here to get compost starter, not rednecks.” Andrew said.

“This time, yes. We have a time machine. We could have already come back.”

“That makes my head hurt.”

They found the compost starter. It came in small boxes, but there were a lot of them. “I’ll get a wheelbarrow,” said Rodman. He and Shipley went off in search of a primitive transport for the goods.

Andrew said, “If they’re humans, theoretically we could use their DNA to refresh our gene pool. A hybrid could solve our inbreeding problem.”

“I don’t know if it would be safe to grow a hybrid baby,” said Fedora. “They’re so much bigger than us. But it’s worth a try. We could stop and collect some samples before returning home.”

Mary said, “Baby?”

“Yes, Mary,” Fedora said. “Baby.”

Just when Rodman was wheeling the loaded barrow out the door, two giant humans ran in. They shouted and pointed guns.

Rodman abandoned the wheelbarrow, Shipley screamed, and they all dove for cover. Except Mary. Mary just stood there.

Fedora could see another door, but it led farther into the building and it was not close to any of her family. She could not think of a way to get all of them out it without getting shot by the giants.

Andrew yelled, “Mary, you dummy, hide!”

Mary started to cry. She hid her face and shrieked, “Andy bad!”

The giants shouted again and Mary started twirling around, exhibiting her self-soothing behavior. A box on the giant’s belt emitted a static pop and what sort of sounded like a human voice. Mary jumped, eyes wide, and the human shot her.

“Mary!” Shipley wailed. She ran out of cover toward Mary and the giants shot her too.

More giants tumbled in the door. They were like clones, all wearing the same blue suit, and they all had guns out.

Fedora’s mind whirled. She couldn’t think of what to do, except to try to understand what the giants were shouting. She called to the other time travelers, “They’re saying to surrender!”

“No!” shouted Rodman. “Shipley!”

“We can’t fight them!” Fedora shouted. In archaic English, she yelled, “Don’t shoot! We give up!”

The blue men swept the room, grabbed the time travelers’ arms and wrenched them unnaturally behind their backs and secured them like that, and piled them all up by Mary and Shipley, who had been treated likewise despite their injuries. Everyone was shouting, and Fedora was so worked up that she couldn’t keep up with the two different languages. The noise became a song, with Mary’s wretched wails a discordant counterpoint.

A human in black clothes came in and did something to Mary and Shipley that made them stop bleeding and screaming. The giant humans started loading the time travelers into various vehicles emitting ear-splitting shrieks and seizure-inducing shots of bright light.

Then humans in completely different uniforms showed up, with large, dark vehicles that chewed up the asphalt. They carried bigger guns, two-handed weapons that even the blue men seemed to respect. Two men who appeared to be wearing what Fedora recognized from preserved historical films as business suits and sunglasses seemed to be in charge of the new group.

The two giants in the sunglasses carried no weapons, but walked with the casual authority of a matriarch like Gramma. They spoke, but Fedora didn’t understand. The long-gun group loaded the time travelers into their own vehicles, and they started off with a rumble. Fedora could not see where they were going because the big vehicles had no windows in the back compartment. It was uncomfortable on the metal floor with her hands still bound behind her back. They drove for a long time before the vehicle came to an abrupt stop, and momentum carried her family to the front wall of the compartment, piled up like loose bags.

Fedora recognized the distinctive hum of their time ship’s hover engine, and then shooting and shouting from outside. The back hatch of the vehicle opened and Hector stood there dragging one of the rifles by his one good arm. Everybody rolled out and scrambled to their feet. Except Mary. She sat dumbly and cried.

It was daylight. Harsh desert sun beat down on them.

Hector cut the plastic cuffs. Fedora grabbed Mary and managed to hustle her out of the vehicle, although Mary was a little bigger than Fedora so it was awkward trying to get her down. Mary started wailing again and Fedora said, “Shut up. I need to think.”

Hector said, “I have everything under control. Just get in the ship.” As they boarded, Fedora noticed that far from camouflaging the ship, Hector had added gaudy running lights in rainbow order. “There was another garden center across town,” he said as Fedora dropped into the pilot’s seat and lifted off. “I got everything we needed. And added the light show. You’ll see why. We have to go back across the city, see that road there?”

Fedora flew toward the street Hector indicated, but it was full of people and strange, large, slow moving vehicles. “The road is full,” she objected.

“Hover over that float,” Hector directed, pointing to a vehicle that seemed to have one of their own people onboard, except giant human size. It must be a giant in a Gray suit, Fedora realized, but she didn’t understand why. She positioned the ship high enough so the hover effect would not squash the banners and the marching band. The sign on the float said “Las Vegas 51s.”

Hector flipped a switch that he had added to the copilot panel. “I turned on the lights.”

The crowd outside looked up at their ship and “oohed” with one great voice loud enough to penetrate the hull. The marching band waved a rainbow banner. They did not seem to be wearing the sorts of band uniforms that Fedora expected. They did not seem to be wearing very much at all, in fact.

Night was coming down. They must have traveled a long time in the vehicles on the road. The city began to glow with white and pink lights. Hector flashed the running lights again, and the crowd “aahed” and made vuvuzela noises. A brilliant navigational beacon flared to life ahead of them. Fedora saw it was coming from the tip of a black pyramidal structure.

“I know where we are,” Hector said. “I’m inputting co-ordinates for time travel.”

Mary appeared in the pilot compartment, dry faced. “Baby?” she asked.

Fedora spared her a glance, wondering why no one was minding her. “We’ll come back,” Fedora promised. “No more cities. We’ll pick up some rednecks and ...”

Andrew appeared behind Mary. He was out of breath, as if he had been running inside the ship. “There you are!” He turned to Fedora. “Yes, my idea? We’ll try it?”

Fedora turned away from the hunger on Mary’s face, concentrating on her flying. Hector passed the co-ordinates to her board and Fedora ascended the space near the navigational beacon, preparing to bring up the time travel engines from standby.

“I don’t know if it would be safe,” Fedora commented, “but Mary is bigger than our other females, so it might be possible for her to carry a giant human’s baby to term.”

“Baby?” Mary asked.

Andrew kept Mary from messing with the cockpit controls. “And if it isn’t, no loss.”

“Andrew!” Hector objected. “What a thing to say!”

“Well, it’s true. No one wants to breed with Mary. She’s an evolutionary dead end, might as well try the hybrid experiment. If it works we can always try it with better females later.”

Hector said, “She’s only bigger because she won’t stop printing herself candy from the food assembler. She might not be more robust.”

“Baby?” Mary asked.

“Baby,” Fedora affirmed. “But later. We’ll come back to this century later. We have to fix the world without rot before we think of repopulating the Earth.”

Fedora started the time travel process. The engines roared and the navigational beam winked out. All was black out the window for a moment until Fedora’s eyes adjusted. Then she saw stars above, and the lightless, uninhabited land below. They had returned to their own time.


“Yes. Baby. Soon.” END

Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She was the editor and publisher of “Berserkrgangr Magazine” and former owner of The Science Fiction Store.


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