Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Uses of Nirvana
by Mark Silcox

A Place for Oysters
by Sandy Hiortdahl

by Steven Young

A Switch in Time
by David Steffen

by Richard Wren

Mostly a Question of Molecular Bonds
by Steve Bates

Panic Button
by Seth Chambers

When the Robots Struck
by Eamonn Murphy

John Cochran’s Amazing Flight
by J. Richard Jacobs

by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Vegan State
by Mark Ayling


Mining Data on UFOs
by Preston Dennett

Trip the Light Fantastic
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




A Place for Oysters

By Sandy Hiortdahl

Neither do men inhabit the moon nor do souls migrate there. —Riccioli and Grimaldi, “Almagestum novum” (1651)

“YOU DON’T MEAN YOU PLAN TO MOVE the pod?” John’s eyes showed fear and we all watched as it finally dawned on him what Lady Weems had in mind; we had known it all along, had known from the time of touchdown that she planned to take over and put us on the other side of the Francesco Grimaldi crater, sardonically known as “Grim Frankie” for its isolation and what some called a streak of bad luck: half of an exploratory team vanished down Grim Frankie and never came back. That was last year.

Lady Weems looked straight at him without blinking. My friend Nona-mae had once allowed as how Lady Weems’ palms had the rare “simian crease” lines more similar to apes than to humans. It meant, Nona-mae whispered (for it would not have been good to be overheard) that Weems had no “humanity” in her soul. Now, Weems seemed to be looking from John to us, his students, as if to say we had one choice here—to follow him and go “down the crater” with him or to back off now and let him sink.

I knew, and Nona-mae knew, that our group would be split about four with him and five saving their livelihoods. Someone in these situations always tries to make peace, and this time it was me. I’d been part of the all-girl “welcome group” to help Lady Weems unpack her belongings and decorate her mini-pod, so I thought there’d be some leverage left from that. “Lady Weems,” I began, looking as innocent as I could manage, “John doesn’t mean to be disrespectful. It’s just we’ve done a lot of work near Mare Insularum and that looks like it’d be a much better place for the U-pod.” (The “University Pod.”) We’d not decided that at all, and the Mare, too, was an isolated place—but it was a far, far better choice than Grim Frankie, if we had to go somewhere.

Lady Weems turned her gaze on me, and it was almost a glare but then softened a little. “You,” she said, “Private ... Herman ...?”

“Hermea,” I put in gently.

“Hermea, yes, that’s right. You say the Mare would work as well or better? That all of you are in agreement?”

John nearly knocked me down getting past me to her—too much scientist, I thought, not enough politician in him, for he shouted, “Nothing of the kind! We refuse to move the U-Pod to Mare Insularum!”

And so it was that the next week we were packing and deconstructing the U-Pod for our journey across the lunar surface to Grim Frankie.


“You did your best,” Nona-mae said to me a month later as we drove the lunar U-Haul with the last of the load, seventy-two trips by the four of us who stayed with John. The other five, in a predictable fashion, saved their asses and their careers and were now comfortably reassigned inside the Bigger Pod. They would say, in their research studies for the rest of their lives, exactly whatever Lady Weems and ExxonDiscoverBenz wanted them to say, about minerals or oxygen transference or whatever it may be.

The rest of us could disappear down Grim Frankie, for all the government cared, one more little group martyred to science. “Do you think that’s what happened to the others?” I asked, for I’m a little naive when it comes to these things. “That they disagreed with her and then vanished down that hole?”

Nona-mae shook her head. “I hope not. I hope it was just an accident. I hope we don’t have a similar accident.”

“Me too,” I said. One of our favorite professors had disappeared in it, a strange Irishman from upstate New York with a penchant for reciting T.S. Eliot and changing the words to suit our new habitat. “Remember Wilson?” I asked.

Nona-mae grinned, and recalled, “Let us go then, you and I, while the Earth is blue-green in the sky ... and moon dust restaur-pods with oyster shells ...”

“Funny that he kept the oyster shells,” I said.

“He always expected to find some here.”

I laughed, “On the moon?”

“Yeah. Said it was a perfect place for oysters.”

At the edge of Grim Frankie, John and the others had the U-Pod mostly assembled. It was strange to see it, so familiar in its hexagonal-wartness and so different beside the steep dunes here. John seemed heartbroken and said little or nothing except where to put the classroom chairs and how to rearrange the cafeteria differently this time. As for me, I was hoping we’d be here for a few months until the political crap blew over and then we’d take the thing down and head back to the Bigger Pod, lesson learned.

And then, that night, John sat us down for our first lunar night fully there and dealing with all of our new conundrums, the lack of connectivity to the Earth feed, the spotty connectivity to the Bigger Pod, and even our Sky Phones went batty on us much of the time. We’d finished our mostly cold meatloaf (the generator kept jagging) and John stood, even though there were just four of us. “I’ve made a decision,” he said, “We are going to do our best to honor Lady Weems and the fine members of our United States Congress. We’re going to do our job here without complaint, then reestablish the U-Pod back near the Bigger Pod, and we’ll all be better for it.”

Nona-mae jumped a little in horror beside me. John was not a political man, but he was an excellent scientist and a man with conviction—to see him kowtow to Weems’ agenda was hard. The other two, a guy named Dent and a mid-gender, Blair, tried to protest, but John cut them off and gave an even more flowery speech about Weems’ dedication to the program. At the end of it, he bowed his head and then with a single, simple flick of two fingers gave us the secret University symbol to cut off our communications systems—so that all equipment that could be a source of connectivity to the outer worlds was silenced.

We had been taught it on day one at U-Pod and it’d been reinforced through Alien Terrorism training (though as yet we’d encountered no aliens, nor did we ever expect to). But it was useful here and other times because, as scientists, we had to be careful and we had to stick together. When it was clear we’d obeyed him, John sat down and motioned for us to bring our chairs close. Then he said, “The ones who betrayed us, some of those who stayed behind, are no longer a threat to this mission. Now we can do here what we came to do here.”

To Nona-mae I whispered, “What we came to do here?” and she shrugged.

“Professor Wilson,” John said, “Is alive. Or was alive as of two months ago. I received communication from him in, well, you’d call it hieroglyphics. He and two of the others are ... down in the pit of Grim Frankie.” He took a breath, leaned in, his eyes bloodshot. “Weems thinks she’s sent us here either to humiliate us into submission or to be done with us, or both, and she thinks we came here against our will. We didn’t. We came here to rescue Wilson.”

Dent, a mathematician with freckles, asked, “We’re ... going down into Grim Frankie?”

“Half of us. Half of us are going to stay up here and pretend we’re all up here. I’ll show you how. I’ve made some tapes and we’ll make more and the connectivity issues will go in our favor.”

“How deep is it?” Nona-mae asked.

“About four and one-quarter kilometers, as well as we can determine.”

“How are they living down there?” Blair asked, the small features made serious by glasses, which no one wore anymore.

“I don’t have all of the details,” John said, “though it’s clear some of their party tried to rescue them and some others ... didn’t. But there’s not much time. It took me this long to piss her off and get us sent here.”

“I’m sorry I tried to block it,” I said, “If I’d known ...”

“I couldn’t tell any of you, Herm,” John said. “But I knew that the ones who stuck with me would be the ones for this mission, the ones who can get it accomplished.”

“So who’s going into Grim Frankie?” I asked.

“Is that your way of volunteering or disapproving?” John wanted to know.

“Volunteering,” I said.

He grinned. “Thought so. Okay, then—you and me and Dent. Blair and Nona-mae man the pod and make it look like we’re all up here doing fine, doing our little experiments.”

We were getting ready to have that shake-each-other’s-hands aren’t we all grand moments but I said, “Wait. If we are successful, even then, and we go back to the Bigger Pod ...”

“Wilson has enough on Weems to get her off the Moon entirely, and maybe even imprisoned back on Earth.”

“Which is why he was pushed down the hole in the first place, I assume,” Nona-mae said.

John sighed. “It wasn’t an accident.”


The next day, we went down, John first, then me, then Dent. The particular type of hardened lava inside Grim Frankie made navigation down the hole a perilous journey. It seemed less a “crater” and more a fissure in spots, and tracting down it with bolt beams made me squeamish: twice, less than fifteen meters down, Dent got stuck. The idea that once stuck there’s no one to call for back-up, that really this is the frontier, hit me hard. We were not soldier types, after all, but students of science ... to be in rock-climbing pole vaulting oxygen suits seemed like a weird dream. Thirty meters down, all voices through our headsets became mere crackling and sputtering. Dent and I spoke through hand signals. We couldn’t see John at all.

Finally, I tugged on John’s lead rope in Morse code until he understood what I was doing and tugged back “OK—WE GO.” Well, yeah, that was our only choice. About one and one-half kilometers down, the crater opened and we could just see the gleaming green light of John’s suit. He tugged back to me, “BAD NO OXY SIGNS WILS.”

I looked back up to Dent and hand-signaled that. He was still near the lip of the opening, one hand holding it so that he swung back and forth a little. It looked strange and then he turned on the light of his mask so I could see his features and he was smiling. I heard his voice through my headset. “You know, you’re a fine little gal, Hermea, and I was once upon a time hoping we could go out or something.”

I cleared my throat, “Thanks, Dent, but this seems like a really, really inopportune moment to bring that up.”

Then I heard John’s voice, “What are you two talking about? Glad the audio’s back.”

Dent said, “Oh, it’s me controlling the audio, John. Always was. Also controlled whether you see Wilson’s life signs. And me and Hermea are talking about all the children we aren’t going to have together, the first generation of Lunar born we aren’t going to have together.”

“Well, it’s not that bad here,” John said, “I think we can make it all the way down ...”

“No,” Dent said, “That isn’t going to happen, John. I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for sweet Hermea. But what happens now is ... unfortunately the line holding me to you gets severed. You two disappear into the hole with the others from last year. If they’re still alive down there, you’ll have probably six months of supplies, enough time to catch up and recite all the poetry your heart desires. Because there’s going to be a small explosion up here and as a result ol’ Grim Frankie gets filled in forever.”

I wanted to think it was a joke. My mind actually tried to assert such a reality. Then I saw him begin to detach the cable from his belt, the one that held me to him, our one connection to the surface of the moon. “Don’t do this,” I said, “It’s not worth it, Dent. Really. Think of our unborn children—we could still have them, two or three anyway, a boy and two girls, or two boys, or three girls and we could get a puppy, they’re bringing puppies up next year, I heard, and that’d be time for our kids to grow up with one ...”

Dent’s freckles seemed to shine a little and he blushed. “Thank you for the images, but I’ve already been paid quite well to dispose of you both.”

John said, “Dent, you have real promise as a scientist. You don’t have to do this. We’ll not tell a soul about it. Just think of it as a moment of lunacy where you were tempted by the evil Weems but got over it.”

“Seriously,” I said, “We can make this like it never happened—they sent you to get rid of us, but you turned on them and now we’re all successful. Double-agent Dent saves the day! And Weems goes back to Earth.”

For several moments, Dent said nothing, simply continued to sway back and forth on the lip of the opening, his smile coming and going eerily in the glow from his mask. Below me, I could feel John working to attach his gear to the crater wall; I hoped Dent couldn’t feel it.

Then Dent said, “You make it appealing, you both do. But the fact is, you don’t know much about human nature. You trusted me, after all. You trust that Professor Wilson really has something on Weems, and you don’t know for sure if that’s true. He’s a crazy poet-scientist, remember? You just don’t understand how the real world, or even this world, operates.”

John tugged on my rope in Morse code. “CUT UR GRAV AM STEADY HERE.” I tugged back “OK” but if Dent set off an explosion, it would kill us both, if not immediately then in several months.

“So,” Dent said, “Sayonara and all that ... good luck in the hereafter, if there is one. Maybe we’ll hook up there, Hermea. Rest assured, I’ll make a quick end of your friends Nona-mae and Blair, so they won’t suffer. I’ll give a fabulous report of your heroics and your fine deeds so both of your families get compensation.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I meant that, just in case.

But another voice came through the audio. It was Nona-mae. “Dent,” she said, “Don’t move or I’ll kill you instantly.” Dent jumped, I jumped, John Morse-coded me “WTF?” Then none of us moved. Nona-mae’s voice was smooth, “I have attached a charge to this surface line and if any major disturbance occurs, all three of you will die instantly. So much for your payoff, Dent.”

“No,” I said, and deactivated my gravity with a flick of a button, then ripped the line connecting me to Dent out of my belt. I began to float even as the line to Dent hung there limply. To Nona-mae, I said, “We’re clear of Dent on the lines. Go ahead and kill him, if you want to.”

John tugged, “A-OK.”

Dent began to laugh, somewhat hysterically. “Damn,” he said, when he got his voice, “I was just joking. I was making a joke, is all. Come on, now.”

None of us laughed. Nona-mae seemed to be consoling him, “Blair has had you on conductor surveillance from the start,” she said, “It’s over, Dent. Your choice is you die here or you come up to the surface and we report you.”

Dent went to rage. “Report me to who, you bunch of rejects! Who’s going to believe you anyway!”

“Kill him,” I said, simply.

There was a flash of light that zipped down Dent’s line from above. The light of his mask went off and he hung limply. “Damn, Herm,” John said, “Did she ... did she kill him?”

I couldn’t find my voice. I didn’t know what to feel—relief, revulsion?

Nona-mae laughed, “Knocked him out is all. We’ll deal with him later. Blair’s at the hole, Herm, sending down another line for you. Attach it and then go on down and get Wilson, the others. We’ll take care of idiot boy. Go on, it’s going to be fine.”

It was. Wilson and the others were ragged and sick with fear from their months of seclusion and dehydration, from supplies that wouldn’t have kept them going another month. But in a day or two up at U-Pod, they looked a hundred percent better and Wilson was singing tunes from the last millennium and also quoting from some Irish guy—he kept saying “Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home” and then laughing like it was the most profound thing in the world. Nona-mae and I humored him. John just shook his head and sighed.

We put Dent in a cell and treated him like he didn’t exist. When Wilson finally got in touch with his friends in Congress back on Earth, we were all exonerated. Blair turned out to be the real hero, having suspected Dent all along and bugging his lines. Weems left our little rock for good and U-Pod was moved back to the Bigger Pod.


Last week, we went to visit Grim Frankie, John and me, Nona-mae, Blair, and Wilson. We sat on the edge of the crater and passed a bottle of Earth whiskey amongst our intake tubes. “It would be a perfect moment,” Wilson said, “If only we had oysters.” He toasted toward Earth and we gazed on her swirls of clouds, on her beautiful blue and green, and imagined the oysters under the sea.

Then Nona-mae said, “It took me two day’s pay to get these ...” and pulled out a small canister of Chesapeake Bay Oysters. They were raw and they were gray as the Moon.

“Cheers!” I said, and we put them into the tubes. Wilson laughed so hard that his eyes watered.  END

Sandy Hiortdahl holds a Ph.D. in English from The Catholic University of America. Her short fiction has appeared in “Bewildering Stories,” “Blue Lake Review,” and “Bradbury Quarterly.” She recently won a fellowship from the Key West Literary Society.


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