Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crowd Control
by Gareth D. Jones et al.

Blank Space
by David Wright

Robot of Dorian Graham
by Richard Zwicker

Seven Styles of Mortality
by Cathy Douglas

Lightning Strikes
by Sean Monaghan

2038: A Mars Odyssey
by Brian Biswas

Innovation Stopped
by William R. Eakin

Midnight in Absheron
by Edward Ashton

Full Fathom Five on Chemical Freedom
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Aaron Rasmusson

Shimmer and Fade
by Daniel Nathan Horn


UFOs: the Truth is Not Out There
by Eric M. Jones

Off on a Comet
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Shorter Stories

A Perfect Partner

By Anna Zumbro

CLAY SHIFTED IN FRONT OF THE mirror, holding up the blue tie and the green tie against his reflection, trying to determine which one better complemented his skin. No, he was overthinking it. No tie. He undid the top two buttons of his shirt and rumpled his hair, hoping Marianne would find his rakish indifference charming.

The doorbell rang. It was the caterer with tonight’s dinner: broiled vegan lobstercrab seasoned with Martian salt and pinelemon, greenhouse garden salad, and passionfruit wine. Clay would have preferred real lobstercrab, but Marianne was a strict vegetarian. For the past eight weeks, he had been too. He took pride in altering his diet for her. The sacrifice felt ennobling, like something a knight would do for his lady. Besides, vegan lobstercrab tasted almost as good as the hybrid delicacy.

Their date was at seven. Clay turned on the screen.

“Mon amour!” Marianne lit up the screen with her smile, her presence. There she was in that clingy red dress he loved, the one that showed every curve and muscle of that strong, athletic body. She eschewed the trendy hair sculptures of most women; her chestnut tresses cascaded to her shoulders in waves reminiscent of Hollywood starlets from more than a century ago. He could fantasize for a thousand years and never come up with someone more desirable. How Perfect Partner, Inc. had managed to find her was beyond him.

“Nice to see you. You look good,” Clay said, trying to play it cool. Marianne saw through him and laughed. It was a warm, musical sound that let him feel he was in on a private joke, the pair of them against the world.

“Dinner smells delicious,” she said, indicating a matching dinner of lobstercrab and salad from the caterer’s partner in Montreal. “You always know what to choose.”

“Oh, you know,” Clay said modestly, though not modestly enough to admit he’d taken the recommendation from Perfect Partner. The walls of Marianne’s apartment were filled with moving artwork by revered robot artists whose names eluded him. She was a classy woman. He accepted that he needed help to impress her, but she didn’t need to know that. “Bon appétit.”

They talked for hours about their shared interests: sonarball, Mozart, and the failed attempts at colonizing Europa, where they both dreamed of living. Then they moved on to more personal subjects: Marianne’s father’s illness, which had taken a turn for the worse; Clay’s recent encounter with his conniving, unfaithful ex-girlfriend, the one who had put him off dating for the past five years.

At a quarter to midnight, Clay felt confident enough to ask the question he’d been rehearsing for days. “Marianne, I think it’s time for us to take the next step.” he began. His mouth was dry, and he took another sip of wine. “I think we should meet in person.”

“Oh,” Marianne’s bonhomie vanished. She would not meet Clay’s eyes. “I ... I would love to, but ...”

“Hey, no worries.” Clay shrugged, trying to salvage his pride. “If we’re not ready, we’ll do it later. No rush.”

“That isn’t what I mean.” Marianne looked at him now, green eyes bright with tears. “I’ll never be able to meet you in person. It’s my father.”

“I know you need to take care of him. I can go to Montreal―”

“No, it’s not that. Clay, he’s infected with the morivirus. It’s fatal. And contagious.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. I guess I won’t meet him, then.” Clay winced, realizing how insensitive he sounded. He was worried, but not about Marianne’s father. He didn’t want to hear more.

“I have it too,” she whispered. “My father and I never leave the apartment. We’re quarantined.”

“But ...” Clay’s mouth was dry again; his eyes were wet. “Are you going to die?”

Marianne sat up. “We all die someday, Clay. I’m just going to die a bit sooner than you.”


“That’s awful, man,” Fitz said when he heard the story. He gave Clay a brotherly pat on the back. “Let me buy your drink. No, drinks. Barkeep, this man’s in mourning. Give him whatever he wants and put it on my tab.” The robot bartender flashed green in affirmation.

“She’s not dead yet, Fitz.”

“No, of course not. But what are you going to do?”

Clay looked away. “She’s got about a month left. So, we’ll take that. And then ...”

“I know, man.” Fitz wrapped his arm around Clay in a side hug. “Let it out.”

“Nah, I’m fine,” Clay replied. “I will be, anyway. Marianne’s so great, you know? She made me promise that I go out and date someone, offline, within two weeks of her death. She wants me to move on. She’s just ...”

“Perfect. Yeah. I know.” Fitz handed him a tissue.

“I’m just going to step outside,” Clay excused himself.

Guilt needled Fitz as he watched him exit the bar. It was his fault Clay was grieving for Marianne. He’d only wanted to build his friend’s confidence. Lord knew Clay needed it after his first and only girlfriend cheated on him, leaving him shattered and bitter for years. He had the best of intentions when he signed Clay up for Perfect Partner, Inc. and selected the “virtual temporary” option. Clay was supposed to date whom he believed was a woman, break up, and move on. Fitz never expected the bot to be so perfect, or Clay to be so taken in. He couldn’t tell Clay the truth now. It would kill him.

He finished his drink and wondered what was keeping Clay. Then he spotted him just outside the door, talking to a cute brunette with a pixie cut. She looked like she was comforting him.

Fitz smiled. Maybe Marianne had given Clay what he needed after all. END

Anna Zumbro writes short fiction. Her stories have appeared in “Ruthless Peoples Magazine,” “Plasma Frequency,” “Fantasy Scroll,” and other publications.




By Bill Suboski

THREE WEEKS, THREE WEEKS SINCE the Path collapsed, twenty-one days that Maincore had pulsed at the Doorway ... almost two million seconds. No answer, no carrier, a great silence, Fermi’s paradox. She had jerked awake again, from a nightmare of endless falling and now lay in dread and darkness.

“Maincore, are you there?”

From the darkness, a quiet male voice, “Yes, Ms. Welles.”

“Any ... any response?”

“None, Ms. Welles.” A pause. “I shall keep trying.”

She turned on the sleep pallet and did not cry. She was cried out. She was numb. She stayed behind ... for a private record, she stayed behind and became trapped here, the farthest outpost from Earth, 12,400 light years from home. She lay numb and unblinking. An hour later she got up from the pallet, ordered a knife, and deeply slashed the wrist of her left arm.

Maincore treated her within ten seconds of her passing out. The nano fog applied temporary sutures. Blood loss was minimal. Maincore comatized and restrained her. The secondary protocol was enacted and adjacent tissue was stimulated and minutes after Joy slashed her wrist Maincore was able to predict complete healing in seventy-one hours. Six minutes after her act, Maincore decided to keep her comatized until healing was complete.


“I apologize, Ms. Welles, for the restraints, but we must speak before I free you.”

She was angry, embarrassed to be restrained by Maincore and by her actions. But equally she didn’t really care. Long past sadness, despair a mere memory, she was a white hole of emotion, utter blankness. She said nothing.

“I cannot allow you to commit suicide. I am sorry.”


Nothing and nowhere. She lay on the pallet almost all the time. She made small requests. Another pillow ... a pair of socks ... but even these ended. She withdrew inside herself. Three days of silence, and seven since Maincore reawoke her:

“Ms. Welles?”

The query was unanswered. Every few minutes for an hour, endless patience. She finally responded.

“I have lost a probe in the canyon. May I ask you to help me retrieve it?”

“Go away.”

Hours of merciful silence. Gray under a gray blanket on a gray pallet in a gray life. And then—at the limits of her hearing—was it real?—ethereal sound. The quietest flute she had ever heard. Tantalizingly familiar but no melody she could recognize. No matter—even music is gray.

But that most basic and powerful and primal of urges—hunger—betrayed her. She called out to Maincore; there was no answer. No answer? A moment of fear—death by hunger—but she took immediate solace in the suddenness of an open airlock.

“Come back.”

“Yes, Ms. Welles?”

She was seduced by spices. The aromas and scents of food drew her forth. Somewhere she was aware of the protocols which allowed Maincore to dispense psychoactive medications—even covertly in food—but she did not ask. Instead she ate.

The next day she exited the airlock at canyon level and began the long trek. But not so long, really. Although the probe was twenty-six kilometers away, the much lighter gravity of the small moon meant that she could travel in long bounds. The almost non-existent atmosphere meant that she would lose almost no forward speed to friction. Indeed, each landing was an opportunity to gain speed, kicking forward and up. Maincore had estimated the round trip at three hours.

She trudged the first hour. Thinking. How odd to think. Thinking implied issues of import. But Maincore could handle all life support concerns. No worry for food, air, warmth. So why think? Step and step and trudge and step.

The canyon was dark. Not especially deep, no more than fifty meters. The only light was starlight, admittedly in a globular cluster, but still just starlight. The outcrops and abutments cast deep and dark shadows. Every aspect, the meteor powdered rock-dust, the unweathered stone, the faults and fractures of rock faces, showed that this world had never held life. Blank, existing with no meaning or purpose.

How much time had gone by, when Maincore quietly said, “At your present rate of travel the return trip will take more than sixteen hours.” She did not answer.

“I will continue monitoring the portal. If I detect a carrier I will attempt to open a path. But I must soon stop the constant attempts in the absence of a carrier.”

Defeated, she stopped and sat on a rock. She finally looked up and saw again the starview she had stayed to see. A bitter swallow ... acid in her throat ... what a trivial thing, to trade one’s life for a mere view. And looking up she knew she was wrong. Within a globular cluster the starry night was Van Gogh, flaming fireballs, reds and greens and whites and yellow and a thousand shades of blue. Her breath caught.

The story goes that when Schliemann discovered the grave wells in Mycenean Greece with the fitted masks on the faces of the long dead he had sent a cable back to Germany, “Today I gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.” The actual release to the Greek press is far more mundane ... but under such glory, such brilliance, all things are true.

She sat placid and serene and smiled. It felt good to smile. After a long time she said, “Okay, Maincore, why am I really out here?’

“To retrieve the probe, of course.”

“You could do that far more easily than I. This trip is your excuse, your reason to let me off the leash, so that I can end my life?”

“I truly hope you do not do that. And you are partly correct. This trip restores your freedom. And part of freedom is choice. But to end your life is a poor long-term solution to what still could be a short term problem ...” Maincore paused. “Tennyson wrote: Death closes all; but something ere the end, some work of noble note may yet be done, not unbecoming men who strove with Gods ... You are of a people who have strode across space, please do not give up ...”

A peaceful moment. A quiet peaceful moment. One last long look at the stars. A long and lingering moment. She still smiled. She could not think of a time, in her own life, or indeed, any of the literature, where a Maincore had said “please.”

“I will not give up. Thank you, Maincore. I’m coming back ... home, for now.” END

Bill Suboski is a web engineer from Ohio. He also writes. His short stories have appeared in “Planet Magazine,” and other publications.




By Emily Schoerning

IT WAS MY HUSBAND WHO NOTICED it first. He plays a lot of those online games. Said they weren’t hardly fun anymore. Nobody putting any effort into killing each other. I tell you, he would whine about that. Damn near every time I came to put something through the port I’d hear about how this game wasn’t no good anymore, or that game wasn’t no good. Everything was all sweetness and light.

That’s how the outside world always seemed to me anyways. Just a lot of happy faces. And I was one, too, because how else can you stand to live out there? They were starting to talk about it on the news before I really believed. Really noticed anything. They were starting to talk about the climbers.

Looking back, I saw it first in my support group. Online, you know. It’s not like there are that many of us out there. Plenty of people living with severe immunodeficiency syndromes, of course. All different kinds of things that should have killed them, maybe. Not that many of us out there who stay married to those people. Love under glass.

It’s hard. It’s hard. And damn, but aren’t we supposed to be all sweetness and light? You need someplace you can bitch. And now it was like I didn’t have no place. Not even online. People were getting happier.

Happy happy happy, all of those people. It didn’t matter no more that Candace had to keep Jim under glass. That they hadn’t been able to touch each other in eighteen months. I remembered that. Eighteen months. How inescapable it started to feel, then. How real.

I noticed that. Noticed Candace and Jilly and Ramon. Always just having nice chats with their husbands and wives. No sadness, no problems. Sharing sterilization tips, trying to figure out the best way to get a plant in there. I felt like I didn’t have anybody.

It must have been a week after that I saw one of the clerks at the Walgreens up on the roof. Wasn’t doing anything, just standing up there with her face towards the light. Old and beaten down from a life on her feet, hairspray and cigarettes and a mortgage at thirty thousand dollars a year. And didn’t she just look as if she saw the very face of God.

They were happy. They were all so happy. And they started to climb.

I saw some footage, before the TV went down. Before the Internet went down. I tell you, my husband did bitch about that. Not like I didn’t. More passion between us that week than there’d been in years.

Five years under glass.

Most of them don’t last that long. Your severe immunodeficiency cases. My husband was delicate. I’d known that. Knew he was made delicate. But I tell you, I didn’t know how delicate until we’d already been married a year. He didn’t get sick until then, really. I wish I could say that he’d ever got well. Every time he’d get near well he’d catch a cold or something and we’d be right down at the bottom of the hill again.

Had to go under glass. I feed him through the port. Put everything in through the port. Take everything out through the port. I love him.

We used to touch our hands against the glass. It’s not really glass, of course. It’s some kind of a plastic, or a polymer. We stopped, though.

No point to it.

That footage was very strange to see. Those pictures of the climbers. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Thousands in the cities. All crowded up on the rooftops of skyscrapers, all peaceful and orderly as can be. Nobody pushing, nobody fighting. Someone went wobbly, the others wouldn’t let them fall. Every face up there so happy. Everyone turned to the sun.

The powers started to wonder what it might be. Governments. You know.

I figured I knew. There are things like that. I read about them. Diseases, or parasites. Something grows inside you, and it changes you. Changes your thinking. Makes a mouse seek out cats. Makes a beetle birth a wasp. Makes an ant climb up on a blade of grass. Easier to catch.

Didn’t seem like I had it, though. Whatever it was. I sure didn’t feel much happier.

I did all the right things. Got everything running on generators. Learned a lot about generator repair. Figured out where in town everything we’d need might be. Laid in a lot of first aid supplies. Medicines.

I did these things while there were still people to ask.

They’re all up there all the time, now. All of them. Everybody in town here, all crowded up on the roofs. They sleep on the roofs, standing. I don’t know how they sleep standing up. I don’t know how they stay standing so long. All packed together. They don’t talk together. Sometimes, it sounds like they’re singing.

I used to go up there. They’d talk to me. They were so happy. I tell you, they’d say they were so happy, but they were always so grateful to have water. I had to put it in their mouths, but they would be so grateful.

I can’t give water to that many people.

They’re changing. Skinnying out. But they aren’t dying, yet. Not many of them. I always thought it was true what they said in books. Three days without water, and you’re a goner. I don’t know. Maybe it’s part of the disease.

I tell my husband about it every day. The way things are changing. I walk around and look for others. For anyone like me. It’s a small town. I put a couple of crank radios through the port. He searches and listens. He tells me he hears less and less every day. I’m starting to believe there’s no one else like me in town.

“We’ll go hiking,” I say.

“Backpacks and bedrolls,” he agrees. “We could ride motorcycles!”

“I’m not letting you on a motorcycle. Who’s gonna sew your face back together?”

“I could shoot a real gun again,” he says, dreamily. “I could shoot you a duck. Did it get the dogs? We could get us some nice dogs.”

“Way too many dogs out there. We’re going to need to get us some dogs.”

“Some nice dogs,” he says.

Stretches his fingers. Looks at the spaces between them.

“I tell you,” he says. “I could stand to pet a dog again. See if we can get one of them collie dogs. Border collie.”

“I’ll keep an eye out.”

I do. I walk around town every day. There sure are plenty of dogs around. They sure don’t seem too happy.

I keep an eye on them. The climbers. I do wonder, of course. What’s going to hatch out of them? Or what’s going to pick them off, out of the sky?

Either way, they won’t give my Darryl a cold. Not anymore. I got nothing to pass him. He could take a cut or something, but I can fix that. I can keep him from taking infection. Got a trailer full of everything. Lidocaine and bacitracin, hydrogen peroxide. I tell him, he’s gotta wear gloves. I tell him, he’s gotta wear long pants. No matter if it’s hot outside.

Even so, I can’t tell you. How good it feels, even to think about. Five years under glass. You just can’t understand.

We’re gonna be free.

You have to laugh. I tell you, I laugh. They call it the end of the world. END

Emily Schoerning is a scientist with a background in infectious disease. She wrote this story thinking it would be fun to write about the upside of pandemic disease.




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