Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Rules Concerning Earthlight
by Dale Ivan Smith and K.C. Ball

Waters of Lethe
by Ian Sales

Return of the Mayflower
by Gerald Warfield

Life Out of Harmony
by Rebecca Birch

Our Old Crossed Stars
by Travis Knight

Another Time in France
by Sylvia Anna Hiven

His Special Birthday
by Chet Gottfried

Sucks to Be You
by Tim McDaniel

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds
by Levi Jacobs

by Steve Rodgers

One-Way Ticket
by Milo James Fowler


Cool Facts About Cats
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Krell Brain Boost
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




8 Minutes, 15 Seconds

By Levi Jacobs

MARCH 20th, 2134, 1:33 P.M.

No disasters yet.

Don Maugham stood tense near the back of the control room—what he liked to call “the bridge”—and watched the holo feeds. He wasn’t a handsome man, but in good shape for his early fifties, with a gentle face and a firm handshake. Today he was all focus: as lead researcher in Toynbee Astrotecture Corporation’s third solar probe project, the next ten minutes could have decisive impact on the rest of his career. On the holos at the front, they could see the probe had successfully opened a wormhole. Whether the other side of that hole would be the center of the sun, as planned, or somewhere else in the Local Interstellar Cloud, remained to be seen. If it hit the sun’s core, they’d calculated the probe’s shielding should give them two thirds of a second to record and transmit what it found there—hopefully opening insights into the nature of solar fusion, and possibilities for direct solar energy projects. If it wasn’t, he’d wasted a few trillion dollars of Toynbee Corporation money, and probably wouldn’t be head researcher again any time soon.

“Probe approaching entrance.” That was Mick, exhibiting his love of the obvious. String technology meant that they had instant holos of the probe’s location, though its actual feeds still took eight minutes or so to travel at light speed back to Earth. They watched as the oblong probe approached the temporary time-space rupture. Don crossed his fingers. Wormhole technology was relatively new—found in the last five years—and their control of it less than perfect. If the equipment malfunctioned ...

“Five seconds.” An amused subsection of Don’s brain noted Mick’s tense, clinical tone, like at the old Cape Canaveral launches. He was a glory hog. Oh well.

“Entering wormhole.”

Don held his breath as the probe disappeared; all eyes turned to the holo projection of the core. Nothing there. “Status?” Don asked.

A dot appeared in the burning white core. “Entrance!” Mick shouted, and a collective whoop went up from the twenty-five or so scientists in the room. Don grinned, relieved. They’d done it!

Then a whole section of the core went dark, the white gone, a moment later replaced by red. What the hell?

“Status?” The whoop died rapidly. “Status, Mick?”

“Ah ...”

The room was erupting again, this time in concerned voices—but it was already obvious. On holo, the sun was expanding, exploding. “Jesus,” Don said, his mug shattering against the tiles. “Oh, Jesus.”

The probe had opened a second wormhole, and taken the heart of the sun with it.

The others were rapidly coming to the same conclusion, voices rising. On the holo, the sun was exploding outwards, rebounding from its collapse like a supernova. The control room was descending into chaos, voices rising, people getting up. Mick stood up on a bench at the front and yelled “Order!”

Everyone stopped, turned to him.

“There’s been a probe malfunction,” he said, voice impossibly calm. Don admired him for that. “The sun is exploding in approximately eight minutes and fifteen seconds.” A pause. “Run for your life.” And with that he was off the bench and out the door.

The room exploded.


Bailey had been watching the holo projection too, a row back from Mick at the front of the room. He and three others were in charge of monitoring probe feeds, so they were typically eight minutes behind everyone else, but even they’d taken a break from monitoring to watch the moment of insertion.

“Five seconds.” This was Mick, the pompous ass. Bailey watched the probe holo disappear into the wormhole, belly knotting.

“Status?” his dad called from the back. Bailey held his breath. This was it: they’d worked two years for this moment.

“Entrance!” Mick shouted, and Bailey shot out of his chair, whooping, slapping Gene on the back. They’d done it! They’d sent a probe into the heart of the sun!

“Status? Status, Mick?” That was his dad calling from the back. Bailey met eyes with Gene, confused, and they both looked at the holo. Something was wrong.

“Ah ...”

Probe feeds looked normal, but these were eight minutes behind, old news in terms of whatever-the-hell was happening to the sun. Was it a holo malfunction? A glitch in the string technology? Gene was saying something to Savannah—“the whole core is gone, that thing is going to collapse on itself and—”

He started to say something, then heard Mick yell “Order!”

Bailey turned. They all did.

He was standing on the front bench. “There’s been a probe malfunction,” he said, face ashen. “The sun is exploding in approximately eight minutes and fifteen seconds.” What? “Run for your life.” And Mick was running for the door. What?

People were shouting, but Bailey just sank back in his chair, the sound dimming. The sun was exploding? What the hell? For some reason Wendy came up in his mind, black hair and blue eyes, watching him. He ignored her, tried to concentrate. A detached part of his mind noted that Mick had misspoken—the sun had already exploded. It was the Earth that had eight minutes to go. Or did it? They had talked about this in Stellar and Galactic Astronomy—the sun couldn’t explode, but if it did ... Someone had said something about gamma radiation. Someone else that Earth’s atmosphere would be blown off. Or ignite. Then Dr. Fazella appeared in his mind’s eye, a whiskered elderly man in a white coat, leaning on the podium, saying Regular supernovas, with very few exceptions, reach a full luminosity five billion times that of the sun. Oh shit. They were going to die.

The world came back: Gene was crying, people were shouting, leaving their desks. In the back, Bailey saw Erica dash from the room, stately airs gone; Bryan was a stone next to Gene, staring at his holo. Dad. He had to talk to Dad.

Bailey stood up, looked for his dad near the back. Still there. Savannah in the row behind was shouting something about how this wasn’t possible, gesturing at Tim and Shara. A window broke. He half-ran to his dad, shaking off someone—Roland?—who tried to grab him. “Dad?”

His dad was standing there, for all the world like nothing had happened, save for his coffee mug in pieces on the ground. Don turned to his son. “Hi Bailey.” His voice was calm.

Bailey’s wasn’t. “Dad, what’s going on? Are we really going to ...”

“To die? Yeah. Yeah, it looks like we are. No one’s going to survive that heat blast, at least not on this side of the globe.”

“Oh God.” What were they going to do? With only eight minutes to live, what could they do? And then he knew. “Dad, I ... I gotta go.”

Don looked at him, eyes old. Someone was screaming in the background. “Where to, son?”

“Wendy.” He didn’t even know that was the plan until he’d said it, but it felt right. Wendy. “I gotta go find Wendy, got to tell her—” Someone had put a timer on the screen: 7:43. Jesus. “I gotta go, Dad.”

Don nodded, like he’d known it was coming. “Okay, son. Give me a hug.”

They embraced, Bailey’s eyes smarting. For a second he didn’t want to go anywhere. But he had to. Why hadn’t he done this years ago? “Bye, Dad. I love you.”

Don was nodding. “Love you too, son. Now go.”

Bailey turned and ran.

* * *

Don watched him go. He was a great kid. Would’ve been a great man. And now he was after a girl like his socks were on fire, just like Don’d been with Jeanine, years and years ago. He smiled, remembering. He’d been—

Someone shoved him, and he stumbled to his hands and knees, leg catching painfully in the broken mug shards. “Later, you piece of shit.”

He looked up. That was Darren Schodel’s back, walking down the hallway. It figured: he’d almost had to fire the man two weeks ago for coming to work hung over, and he was surly to begin with. Further down the hall, Angela was looking in from reception. Angela—oh God. She didn’t know, none of them knew! He wondered what was better, telling them or letting them die without panic. Darren said something to her as he passed, but she just gave him a funny look and closed the door. Just as well, he thought, picking himself up. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

The control room was a mess: people were milling around, some of them shouting, on the phone—Virgil appeared to be smashing his computer with a chair. On the left, Savannah’s pod was an island of order, she giving terse instructions to Eric, Darryl and Ed, who were typing furiously into the computers. As if on cue, she looked back at him.

“Don,” she said, voice reprimanding above the din. “Don’t just stand there, we’re getting to the heart of this malfunction.” He almost went—then glanced at the holos: there was no malfunction. Every string reader showed the same thing, the sun expanding outward, trailing an intense strobe of light. As he watched, a monitor halfway between the Sun and Mercury went down, fried. “Don!” No, there was no mistake. He ignored her. What he could use was a cigarette. A cigarette, and then a call to Jeanine. Where could he get a cigarette?

Devon was approaching, looking bemused. Maybe he had a smoke. “Quite the little flub-up, isn’t it Don?” He didn’t sound like someone about to die. In fact, he sounded almost jolly.

“Yeah, Devon, big whoopsie on our part. Say, you don’t have a smoke do you?”

“No!” He looked even more amused, watery eyes gleaming in his round face. “Hell of a time to take it up though, don’t you think?” He was almost laughing now, accent tending towards the British. Devon was losing it.

“Hell of a time,” he said, clapping the pudgy man on the shoulder and walking for the far door. “Hell of a time.” To his left, Jerry and Dan were fist-fighting, glasses gone. He needed a cigarette.

* * *

Bailey raced down the stairs, headed for his Chrysler, footsteps echoing in the parking lot. The silence was eerie, somehow—just an afternoon garage, Ohio sunshine lighting up squares of concrete. He sprinted past a middle-aged woman goggling at him. Was the world really ending? What if it ended without him ever talking to Wendy?

He got in, punched the car on, swerved out of the lot and down the ramp, pedal to the floor. He scraped a pillar coming around the turn, but no matter—the Chrysler could handle it. It was a 70,000 watt, one of the biggest they sold, and he floored it heading for the door. A yellow-and-black gate was down, of course, but he didn’t have time for that—didn’t even have his wallet, maybe. The gate broke with a pop—algaplastic, probably—and he was out, speed climbing as he entered the on-ramp. Wendy’s mom’s house was three, maybe four miles from here. He glanced at his watch: 1:37. When had it happened? 1:35? Six minutes. Jesus.

He swerved onto I-67, motor whining under him as he passed a hydro truck. He was juicing the batteries—at this rate, they wouldn’t last ten minutes. Didn’t need to. He could see the route before him: it was practically the route to his old house anyway. Right on Madison instead of a left; Wendy’s was the blue house on the corner. He’d been going over to that house since he was a kid; Mrs. Noguchi was like a second mom to him. They’d moved when he was a junior, but the neighborhood still felt like home.

That was where he’d seen her, three weeks ago, apparently back from college, walking from the garage, face lit up as she talked to someone on the phone. Wendy Noguchi, back from the dead. He hadn’t stopped, hadn’t looked her up later, but she’d been on his mind since. Like an old melody that wouldn’t come unstuck.

Ahead two cars were blocking the lanes in a slow pass. No time. He rattled past them on the shoulder, hoping the tires would hold out, bounced back on to honks, gunned it again, doing 140, 150 in a 100 zone. 1:38. 1:39. Four minutes. Dammit.

He flew onto the exit, not slowing down, willing the light to change. Cars were lined up. It wasn’t changing. He hit the brakes, switching lanes for a shorter line, hit something behind him and went sideways, backwards, spinning, and slammed into something, hard.


The control room was chaos. Martin was weeping like a baby, Ted was cramming vending machine cookies down his throat, and Janet was pulling on a bottle of vodka so hard she apparently wanted to die before the explosion hit. Who smoked? Gordon. Gordon smoked, and he was a hell of a nice guy. Too bad he was going to die. Don walked towards him, stepping over Dan, who’d apparently lost the fistfight—or maybe he’d wanted to get knocked out.

Gordon was on the holophone with a middle-aged blond woman. “—got to believe me, the sun has exploded and we’ve all got about six minutes to live, you’ve got to get this on air—” He saw Don and goggled for a second, then switched tacks. “Look, my boss is here, Donald Maugham, you can look him up, he’s head researcher, he’ll tell you, you’ve got to get the word out, people need to know!” And he shoved the phone in Don’s hand.

He considered dropping it for a minute, but he needed that cigarette, and what the hell, maybe this was his fifteen minutes of fame. Or six minutes, more like. He held it up to his face. “Hello?”

“Hello? Is this crackpot serious?”

“I’m afraid so, ma’am. We’ve got about—” he glanced at the display, noting as he did that Virgil was trying to smash that now—“five minutes and fifty-two seconds to live.”

She was typing at something, probably doing a visual check. “Are you ... Donald Maugham, Chief Researcher at Toynbee Astrotecture?”

“Yes I am.”

“So this is real?”

They might as well know. “Yes it is, ma’am. Make that five minutes forty-three seconds. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” The woman looked stricken. He put the receiver down. “Gordon, do you have a cigarette?”

The man was taken aback—he had been following the exchange anxiously, wringing his hands even. “Uh, yeah, Don, here. Or—oh, shit, they’re out in my car, you could go and get them—”

He was fishing for keys. Such a nice guy. The end of the world and he’s fishing for car keys. “No thanks, Gordon, I’ll find some.” He handed the phone back. “And—thanks, Gordon. You’re a hell of a nice guy.”

Gordon’s face lit up, forgetting the woman on holo for a second. “Hey, thanks Don, you too.”

Don gave him something between a smile and a headshake, unbelieving for a moment that Gordon really was going to die in a few minutes, that they all were. But they were. That looked like York in the hall, maybe he had a smoke. Don hadn’t had a cigarette in years—twelve years. Not since Jeanine had forced him to quit by starting herself in protest. Well, she wouldn’t mind now. He needed to call her. But if they started talking he’d never get that cigarette, and somehow that first inhale of toasted nicotine was about all he could think of. He walked past Aaron, apparently absorbed in some kind of video game, cussing into a miniature headset as he moved little figures on his holo. Savannah was yelling for him again, something about a second warp-hole to swallow the radiation, but he ignored her. Too late for much but a cigarette now.


The world was airbags and popcorn glass. Bailey’s head was ringing, but he seemed to be okay. Good old Chrysler. He wedged the door open, got out, dizzy for a second. Was the world really ending? He glanced at the sky—nothing yet. He’d hit a black BMW, and the driver was out now, pissed, yelling. The other driver was getting out too, the rest of the cars pulling away.

“What the hell are you doing, driving like that? You could have—”

Bailey didn’t have time for this; they were only cars. The BMW wasn’t badly damaged—he trotted past the driver, who was getting red in the face, glanced in the door. Keys in it.

“Hey, sorry, there’s someone I gotta see.” He got in; it was still on. Bailey leaned out the window; the driver was shouting about insurance. “Oh, and we’re all going to die in a second. Sorry.”

Then he was off, just catching the end of the yellow light, swerving onto Lincoln, pedal to the floor again, dodging cars. Would she be home? Wendy had been his first kiss, his first love—they were just high school freshman, but it had gone deep somehow. And ended six months later, painfully. She didn’t know it, but he’d mourned her for years—and gotten over it around college, and dated some girls, and they’d been fine. But not Wendy. It wasn’t till he’d seen her, black hair luminous in the sun, laughing in a blue summer dress, that he realized he’d been comparing every girl to her, that they’d never stood up. Probably never would. She was all he wanted. Why hadn’t he just stopped that day? Things could have been so different—but there was still time.

The lanes were full ahead, and he bumped onto the median at fifty, almost losing it, didn’t, flew through another yellow light, honked at a pedestrian about to cross, two more blocks, one more—and there was Wendy’s house.

He braked half-in half-out of the parking space, left the door flapping, ran up to the entrance, knocked. Glanced at his watch. 1:40. Jesus. “Wendy?” he called.

Mrs. Noguchi answered the door, surprised. “Bailey Maugham.”

“Uh, hi Mrs. Noguchi, ah, is Wendy here?”

“Well, no, she went to the c-store, but you can wait for her—”

Not home! But there was only one way to the Charge-n-Charge on Maple and 12th. Bailey started running.


York was indeed in the hall, deep in conversation with Mindy, one of the prettier HR ladies, a recent hire.

“You see,” he was saying, voice pleading, backing her somewhat into a corner against the vending machine, “the whole thing’s going to go up, we’ve only got minutes, and it, it’d be a shame to die without—“


He spun, thin face animated, glasses slightly askew. “Don! Perfect! Tell Mindy the world is ending!”

Don looked at her gravely. “Mindy, the world is ending.” Turned to York. “York, would you lend me a cigarette?”

“A cigarette! But—yes—here!” He thrust the whole pack into Don’s hand, turning back to Mindy. “So, you see, we don’t have much time—”

Don smiled, about to leave, then remembered something. “Got a light, York?”

He turned, desperate, “Yes, yes, here, take it,” thrusting a yellow Bic at him. Mindy took this chance to flee, yelling something about her dog, and York took off after her, pleading. Don shook his head, wondering if he’d been that awkward, and walked for the door. On the other side of the vending machine, Chris and Arturo were pressed against each other, moaning and kissing. Don stepped outside.

The end of the world had no right to be this gorgeous: under a brilliant sun, the lawn sloped away emerald green, the sky pale blue, air humid and warm. Hallelujah. Simon was there, already smoking. Time for that cigarette. Don pulled out the pack—Camels—fingers doing it like they’d never stopped, mouthed it, lit it, drew deep. Perfect. Then coughed and clutched his chest, laughing. Jeanine would laugh too.

That made him think of Bailey. He’d taken off for love. Wendy, did he say? She’d been his high school sweetheart? Maybe. Or one of the ones in college he’d brought home. Don couldn’t remember. But he remembering being that mad for love once, a million years ago, fresh out of college himself and unsure what to do with the world. He took a drag and looked up, seeing only memories. He and Jeanine had dated for a year or so, a passionate, rocky year, then not spoken to each other again the rest of college, even though they had the same major. And the July after graduation, he’d heard through a friend she was leaving town, moving somewhere out east, and he’d just known it was then or never. Shown up on her doorstep like a fool, standing in the middle of packed boxes, confessed his love, asked her to marry him. He smiled, blowing smoke out his nose. She’d said “Maybe dinner instead,” and after six months of long-distance, he’d moved out to be with her. And the rest was history. Bailey wouldn’t get a history out of this, but maybe he’d get a kiss, and that’d be enough. He was a good kid, a damn good kid. Don blew out another drag, feeling somehow at peace.

The sound of crying brought him back—and there was Martin, still weeping, but now with Kelly holding him, forty years his senior, just like a mother. Don looked up at the sun, couldn’t see a difference, but it was coming. He had his cigarette. Now he needed his wife. Pulled out the phone, dialed Jeanine.

“Hello?” That was her, solid as rock. She was at the office, hair pulled up, glasses on.

“Jeanie babe.” He hadn’t called her that in years.

“Don?” She knew something was wrong.

“Jeanie babe, I love you.” He stopped for a second. “I love you, and I’ve got some bad news.”


Bailey rounded the corner, still sprinting, and there she was. Wendy. She was carrying a bag of groceries in one hand, arms slender, hair up in a bun, the same cute nose and half-Asian eyes he remembered from high school, singing something to herself. She stopped when she saw him, fifty feet away.

He kept running. “Wendy!”

“Bailey?” she called, unsure.

He flapped up to her, out of breath. “Yeah, it’s me, Bailey. Hi.” Words left him for a second, and he just looked at her, panting. She looked back, then broke into a smile.

“Wow, long time Bailey. How are you? Did you graduate?”

“Yeah! Yeah, last year, I’m working for Toynbee now.” That seemed so meaningless. Was the world really ending? “Hey, look, Wendy, I wanted to talk to you. I, the sun—you remember how my dad was working on those solar probe projects?”

“Yeah,” she said slowly.

“Well, I am too now, and, um, I’ve got some bad news.”


She took it well; he knew she would. There were a few tears on both their parts, but not much. “I’m sorry it had to be like this, love,” he said. “I would have come if we lived closer.”

“It’s okay, Donnie, we’re here. Where’s Bailey?”

“He went off to find Wendy. Do you remember her?”

“Oh honey, of course, she was his first love.”

“Like you were mine.”

“That’s right. Thank God you interrupted my packing.”

“I do, love, I do.” He put the cigarette to his mouth for a last drag. “Did I tell you I took up smoking again?”

* * *

“Oh my God.” Wendy dropped her bag of groceries. “You’re serious aren’t you?”

“Dead serious.” He looked at his watch: 1:42. Oh Jesus. “And there’s something else.”

She looked at him, eyes wide.

“Wendy, I—I miss you. I love you.” Something in him broke, and tears started for the second time that day. “I love you. I’ve wanted to tell you that for so long.” And then his arms were around her, and after a second, hers around his. Her hair was soft against his cheek, smelled like summer.

“I missed you too, Bailey. I never found another guy like you.”

“Well, here I am,” he said, breaking into a grin. Laughing.

She was laughing too. “Yeah, me too.” Then she pulled away from him, serious, her hands holding his. “I need to see my mom. How much time do we have?”

He was still laughing, looking at his watch. “I don’t know. Seconds, maybe.”

She took off running, still holding his hand.

* * *

They were watching the sky, now, Don holding her holo up towards the sun so he could see both. Gene had stumbled out, crying, saying something about being sorry, about his mother; Kelly took him in her arms, too. Jeremy was a ways down the lawn, praying loudly for forgiveness. Simon was chain-smoking. And Stuart just lay on his back, staring up, following the seconds left on his holo. It looked like there were about ten.

Don didn’t know what he felt: sadness, fear, love, anxiety, curiosity—and then, holding eyes with Jeanine in the holo, he just felt peace. She said “I love you, dear.”

“I love you too, Jeanie-babe. It’s been a good run.”

“Yes it has.” The light was getting brighter.


Wendy was holding her mother, crying, still holding Bailey’s hand, too, standing on their front porch, unable to explain. Mrs. Noguchi seemed somehow to understand, though, and just took them both in her arms, saying “It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.” Bailey relaxed, his arms around them, and breathed deep. He’d done all he could, and this was where he wanted to be. He turned his head and kissed Wendy on the cheek, her hand in his.


The sun was brighter in the sky. People were yelling, crying—


Then a roar, a white light, and the world was ash. END

Levi Jacobs is a new writer from Boulder, CO, originally from North Dakota. He holds degrees in philosophy and anthropology. He has another story forthcoming in “Lakeside Circus.” But this is his first published science fiction story.




peter saga