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




By Steven Young

BEFORE SHE LEFT, CHARLOTTE ASKED if I remembered the shed in her parents’ back garden.

“What about it?” I asked.

Even then, even before the floods, it was dilapidated; corrugated iron walls a battleground between rust and peeling green paint.

She reminded me about one winter afternoon when we were in there.

“Charlotte,” I called.

She came over and looked where I pointed. Just inside the doorway, hidden behind a curtain of encroaching ivy, dozens of small pods, like pea pods but speckled brown and black, were clustered.

Charlotte leaned forward, squinting in the fading light, her nose brushing the ivy.

“What are they?” she asked.

I didn’t know. I hesitated, trying to think up some tall tale, but her father interrupted. His voice bellowed out, carrying from the kitchen doorway and down the garden. It was teatime. It was time for me to go.

Later, Charlotte showed the pods to her father. He told her they were chrysalises, and that caterpillars lived in them through the winter while they turned into butterflies, ready to emerge in the spring.

She related this to me and I went with her each day, hoping to see the butterflies as they emerged. Eventually I grew bored and stopped going. I had forgotten about them until one day she hurried to my house, her long golden hair streaming behind her.

“Michael, the butterflies are hatching!” she said breathlessly.

We both ran to the shed.

Small white forms fluttered far above our heads. The chrysalises were open. We looked disconsolately at them.

“You missed it.”

We stared for a minute or two and were about to turn and go when she pointed at the wall.


A single chrysalis had remained shut but now, as we watched, it slowly peeled open. A butterfly crawled out. Tentatively, it felt around the chrysalis with its front legs, and its antennae quivered. It pulled itself out of the chrysalis and sat there, its creamy white wings outstretched. I placed my hand next to it, and it crawled onto my finger.

I held it up to my face and for a moment we stared at each other, and then with a flap of tiny wings it took off to join the other butterflies above my head.

I looked over to Charlotte. She was transfixed by the chrysalis, more interested in that than the butterflies. She held her face close to it and I saw her lips move.

“Chrysalis,” she whispered.


After graduating from Cambridge, Charlotte went to Caltech in Pasadena, and for years we rarely saw each other. But she came back when the seawall broke at Long Sutton and the Wash came rushing in across the salt marsh to inundate the farmland beyond.

I had long been involved in the effort to shore up East Anglia’s ailing coastal defence system and my heart was in my mouth as I looked across at the water lying where fields and roads should have been.

Here and there, trees stood, suddenly out of place as eddies of seawater swirled around them. A herd of Friesian cows had grazed on the salt marsh for as long as I could remember, and they huddled there, lowing in confusion as they waded through knee-deep water.

I barely slept for the first three days as I dashed around, overseeing the reconstructive effort on the seawall and installing emergency pumps everywhere they were needed.

I couldn’t find the time to check on my parents. They’d been calling me for three days.

“I’ll come over as soon as I can,” I promised each time.

Eventually, I loaded up a four-wheel drive with boxes full of bottled water, justifying the visit as a supply drop to a needy community.

And so, guiltily, I drove down the A17, and turned off it toward the row of houses where Charlotte and I had both grown up. The vehicle struggled to make headway through the water and it seemed almost miraculous that I negotiated the small side roads without flooding the engine.

I pulled into my parents’ drive. Sandbags were piled against the kitchen door and my parents stood by it, wearing matching green wellies.

“The carpets on the ground floor are all ruined,” said my mother mournfully. Her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows and she was holding a wet rag. She twisted it and water squelched out and splashed around her feet.

I pulled on my waders and left the car. I grabbed a box from the passenger seat and handed it to my parents.

“I thought this might help,” I said. They nodded gratefully.

A helicopter buzzed overhead. We watched as it swept across the sky until it was a distant speck.

“The RAF,” my father said. “Going to the coast. King’s Lynn, I suppose, or somewhere like it. The worst-hit areas.”

“What about here?”

He shrugged. “We got some supplies on the first day but nothing since. I can’t offer you tea or anything. There’s coke.”

The coke was lukewarm and I screwed up my face as I drank it.

“No electricity of course,” said my father. “People are getting a bit hard up now.” He paused, glanced out the kitchen window at my vehicle. “You have anything else in there?”

“Just water. I’m going to pass it onto the neighbours.”

“Oh!” my mother cut in, “You’ll see Charlotte!”


“She’s here. When she heard what had happened she flew over from the States. She arrived last night.”

I hesitated. “It’s been a long time.”

“She’ll be pleased to see you.”

She was. She opened the door to me clutching a box of bottles of clean drinking water, and she was holding a bucket of brown sludge.

“Swap?” I said.

Charlotte dropped the bucket and threw her arms around me. “I’m so glad you came by!” she said. I noticed her accent had an American twang.

She offered to help me deliver water to the neighbours, and together we splashed up and down the road humping boxes.

“You look different,” I said. Her skin was tanned and her hair had bleached platinum in the California sun.

“Yes. And you ... you’re one of the people trying to sort out this mess,” she said.

“Yeah. Trying is the word.”

“You’re doing the best you can.”

“What about you? What are you doing these days?” I asked.

“I’m studying tardigrades.”


“I’ll show you.”

It was a fat, grub-like creature with eight stumpy legs, and a small round mouth on an otherwise featureless face. It filled the screen of Charlotte’s notebook, picked out in exquisite greyscale detail. A scanning electronmicrograph of Ramazzotius oberhaeuseri, she explained. In reality it was tiny, far less than a millimetre long.

We were in Charlotte’s old bedroom. It seemed unchanged from when she had lived there, with books about space and nature and wildlife lining the shelves, and posters of old boy bands on the walls.

We were sipping beer. At first I had refused.

“I’ve got a lot to do. I need to be up early tomorrow.”

She pouted. “Do you remember when we were teenagers? We’d nick beer from our parents and hide in here, getting tipsy and telling each other of all the grand things we would do when we grew up.”

I smiled. “Yeah, I was going to build a spaceship and drive it to the stars, and you would go with me and study the aliens.”

She waved the bottle at me again. “For old time’s sake?”

I took the bottle. “For old time’s sake.”

As Charlotte showed me the picture of the tardigrade, I asked what was so special about them.

She grinned. “They’re the nearest thing to an alien I could find. They can go into a state of suspended animation and wake up years, even centuries later, as though nothing had happened. Straightforward cryogenics has proven a dead end. We’re hoping these fellas might show us another way.”

“Another way?”

She paused for a moment before nodding slowly. “We’re trying to adapt it for humans, for space travel.”

“I thought space travel was basically dead now? I thought NASA and ESA budgets have been cut back to nothing because all the money is going to mitigate against the effects of climate change.”

“It’s funded by a transnational. They have more money than most governments these days.”

She told me how a spaceship was being built, equipment and supplies, seeds and hydroponics being sourced. Everything needed to start anew on a fresh planet. One had been selected, the most likely candidate for an Earth-like environment. It would take just over a century to reach.

“If my work is successful, we’ll be asleep the whole way. If not, it’ll be a generation ship. At the moment, both possibilities are being accounted for. Either way, it’s going to happen.”

I looked at her disbelieving as her words sank in. As one particular word sank in.


Charlotte looked away from me for a moment. “I’ve signed up to go.”


She stood up and went to the window, jabbed a finger at the view outside. “You’ve seen how this world is going. Maybe it’s time humanity moved on, before it’s too late.”

“For a select few, perhaps. How many can you fit on that ship?”

Three thousand, she told me. Give or take. “Why don’t you come? Our lives could really be the way we hoped when we were young!”

I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m not willing to give up on this world yet.”

She shrugged and gazed sullenly out of the window.

I tried to change the subject, to lighten the mood. “Tell me about California,” I said.

She told me about the glamour of Hollywood and the dry baking heat and the wide, wide roads called Interstates they have there. She made me promise to visit and we talked too far into the night, and neither of us mentioned spaceships or the floods again.


A few years later I did visit her in California.

One evening, we walked along a cliff-top boulevard lined with palm trees. I stopped for a moment and looked down, watching waves crash against the base of the cliff.

“There used to be a beach there,” Charlotte said. “It had the most beautiful golden sand. There’d be children playing and surfers out catching waves. But the tide came in, and stayed a little further each time, and the beach grew smaller until one day it wasn’t there anymore.”

“There’s no beach at Hunstanton anymore either.” I sighed. “Or Cromer. I don’t think there’s a beach left anywhere in the world. The beach is an extinct species now.”

“Come away with me,” she said. “You can see how things are going. There are still spaces available on the ship. Your skills would be useful. I’m sure they would snap you up.”

Again, I declined. I was the Eastern Regional Director for a huge project to reclaim the flooded areas of Britain, to reinforce those defences that remained. There were high hopes that we could fix things. I was needed.

She looked away from me and stared out to sea.

I didn’t know what else to say.


Twelve years later, with barely a word spoken between us in all that time, I received the call.

Charlotte appeared on the screen of my phone. Her hair was a straw-coloured fuzz clinging to her skull, and her eyes were wide and tired.

She told me that everything was ready, that the ship was scheduled to depart in a month.

“Will you come and see me, one more time before I go?”

Her attempts to induce reversible suspended animation in humans had been successful and she had a lot of pull in the colony-to-be. If I wanted I could come and have a tour of the ship. I could see the suspended animation chambers. Chrysalises, she called them.

“Can I bring my wife and son?” I asked.

She paused, looked away for a second.

“You’re married?”


Another pause, a weak smile.

“Of course you can bring them.”

Charlotte was in Texas by then. The transnational had bought and modified launching facilities from NASA. I saw the ship from miles away, glistening in the sun, as large as a town.

She greeted us as we arrived. She supported herself on crutches and her skin was pale, almost grey.

“This is Clarissa, my wife. And this little one is Thomas.” He hid behind Clarissa, and peered around her to look at Charlotte.

“I’m sorry, he’s shy around new people,” Clarissa explained.

Charlotte smiled at them wanly.

“Come on Thomas; let’s leave your father to catch up with his friend.” They bustled off, oohing and aahing at the enormous launch pad and the spaceship.

“You look well,” Charlotte said. “As for myself ...” She gestured at her body, leaning with her forearms on the crutches.

“What happened to you? Are you ill?”

She explained that the suspended animation would induce physiological changes in the human body. Those I saw now were preparatory to this, to ease the transition.

Charlotte coughed, and drew out a tissue from her pocket and continued hacking into it. As she recovered and put the tissue away I saw that it was stained with flecks of blood.

“Come, see the chrysalises,” she said.

They were silver sarcophagi arranged in long rows in a chamber several stories tall. They were fitted to the walls and onto scaffolded structures which rose from the floor to the ceiling and criss-crossed the chamber. There were walkways in front of each row and at each intersection there was an elevator. As I watched, an elevator ascended from the ground floor and stopped partway up. Two workmen came out carrying a chrysalis and they took it to an empty space on the scaffold.

“We’ve nearly finished installing them.”

Charlotte moved to the nearest one. It was labelled 501 (B) Alvarez, Maria and I wondered for a moment who Maria Alvarez was. What was her story, that she was willing to take this leap into the unknown?

“People will start entering them soon,” Charlotte said.

She pressed a button and the top of the chrysalis swung open. The inside was lined by a grey spongy material. It had a slight sheen as though it were slimy, almost organic.

I asked why she had chosen the name chrysalis and she asked me if I remembered the shed in her parents’ back garden.

“What about it?” I asked.


It is a warm spring day and Thomas is taking me on a boat trip across the fens. He has grown up from the small, shy child I once took to meet Charlotte. His hair is thinning and he has children of his own. Clarissa passed away some years ago, and I am certain I will soon follow. This is to be a valedictory tour; one last trip across the region I spent my life trying to save.

I live in Ely these days. It is an island now, and crowded with people displaced from the surrounding area. We head north from there, following a former main road. It had run along a levee raised above the surrounding land and was covered by only a shallow layer of water. Already, it is being colonised by land plants as succession follows its course, and a long straight line of grasses and small bushes points the way across the fen.

The small electric motor on the boat whirrs as we navigate through weeds and rushes. Periodically, we disturb a flock of geese and they fly away, honking angrily at us for disturbing them in this place they have reclaimed as their own.

Around us, dead trees rise from the water, their skeletal branches clutching at the sky. Abandoned houses stand in short rows, their dark empty windows gazing at me reproachfully. I see my failed pumping stations dotted uselessly around.

Eventually, we reach the row of houses in which Charlotte and I grew up. The water reaches halfway up the doorway of my parents’ house and the boat is too large to fit through, so I content myself with looking at my old home from the outside.

Charlotte’s ship has been sending images to Earth ever since it left. I saw the latest pictures. Two small black chunks, Pluto and Charon, like pieces of coal circling in the void. There was a picture of stars sprinkled like confetti across space. One of them was our sun. If I hadn’t been told, I would never have known, and that more than anything made me realise how far away she was.

I think of her, oblivious, the same age still as when she left. I think of her one day stepping out onto a new world. As I look at my old house decaying, I wonder for the first time which of us made the right decision.

I see the old green shed, somehow still standing, and ask Thomas to take us there. There is more rust than paint now, and one door sags off its hinges. The ivy still hangs across the entrance, and it trails down to brush the water. Thomas pulls it aside and steers the boat inside.

Long-forgotten objects buried in the murky water obstruct our passage. Thomas looks at me in confusion, wondering why we are here. I peer at the walls. I see a solitary little pod, like a pea pod but speckled brown and black.

I think of Charlotte again, slowly transforming, sleeping through the cold winter of space to her destination.

It is a new world. It is spring.

The chrysalis opens. END

Steven Young has previously been published in “Electric Spec” and “Liquid Imagination.” He currently lives in South London. He is a marine biologist working in the fishing industry and spends much of his time at sea, often in the Antarctic.


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