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




Blank Space

By David Wright

TRICK INVERTED THE CAN, DRAINING the last of its golden nectar.

“Beer’s gone. Time to go,” he announced loudly, but his commands were promptly squashed beneath violent bursts of laughter and even louder protests.

“You can’t go now, dear. Come on. You’ll get the next one. I know you will.” The pretty blond beside him wrapped her pretty hands around his shoulders in affectionate restraint and nibbled on his ear. He couldn’t help but laugh, despite the fact that he was losing this stupid game badly. And Trick didn’t like to lose.

“And I thought astronauts were supposed to be smart.” A balding, thirty-ish man with a perpetual grin winked at Trick as he finished his beer. Trick glared back at him. Roger was his best friend in the whole world and about two seconds away from eating an angry fist. The older, but still pretty brunette across the table seemed to sense the coming conflict between the two alpha males and held up the next trivia card in defense.

“Are you ready, Trick?”

Trick looked at her with a pained grimace. She knew what he would say, and he knew she knew it. But he said it anyway.

“Trick Peters was born ready.”

In truth, he was anything but ready. He was just resigned to fail again. The brunette seemed satisfied, however. She nodded with relief, having staved off yet another social disaster, and read the card.

“In 1947, a United States aviator—”

The reading was interrupted by a chorus of encouragement from the two slightly inebriated women.

“You should get this, Trick.”

“Yeah, Trick. Nobody knows more about planes than you do.”

Roger sneered. “It’s fixed.”

“No! I took from the top.”

“Just read the card!” Trick tensed, a lion about to pounce.

The brunette, Jill, quickly continued reading before anybody else could interrupt, including herself, “—broke the sound barrier for the very first time. What was his name?”

The blond, Irene, rubbed Trick’s shoulders like a boxing coach. “Come on, Tricky baby, you can do this,” she crooned affectionately, perhaps too much so. Trick squirmed out from under her, awkwardly.

“Don’t worry, doll. I got this,” he said and then pointed his finger at his adversary and best friend in the whole world. “It was Chuck Yeager in the X-1,” he said with absolute and forceful certainty. Roger laughed back at him, but did not disagree. Trick felt the ecstasy of victory flush his cheeks as he danced a little jig and sneered over the table at his sometime friend.

Throughout this shameful display of poor sportsmanship, Jill remained oddly silent. Trick’s gaze at last fell back on her suspiciously, but she made certain not to make eye contact, keeping her deep brown eyes doggedly locked on the trivia card. There was a puzzled, almost scared expression on her tanned, pretty face.

“I’m sorry, Trick,” she began slowly, “but that was absolutely wrong.”

“What?” Trick snapped, any last semblance of restraint now completely gone.

“It says George Welch broke the sound barrier first while diving in an XP-86 Sabre.”

“What? That’s preposterous. A Sabre can’t go anywhere near Mach one.”

“Apparently it can, spaceman,” Roger gloated, taking an aggressive step forward. “And that means we win.”

Irene groaned, but Jill just stood there with the trivia card in her hand looking worried.

“No, I tell you it was Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1, the Glamorous Glennis—roaring over the salt flats like a bat out of hell.”

Roger shook his head. “But the card says—”

“Then the card is wrong! You know, Roger, why don’t you take your stupid game and just go?” Trick snatched the card out of Jill’s hand and chucked it in Roger’s face.

“It’s only a game, Tricky,” Irene said softly, her hands working over Trick’s strong shoulders.

“And you can take your wife back too. She’s getting too frisky.” Trick tried to duck under Irene’s grasp, but she reached for him again with her insatiable fingers.

“Come on, Tricky. You know you like it,” she crooned.

“With him?” Roger shot back viciously. “She must be drunk.”

And that’s when it happened. Trick didn’t mean to do it, at least that’s not what he remembered, but the next moment the dining room table was overturned, the beers were spilled on the shag carpet, and Trick was peeling Roger’s tooth out of his bloody knuckles.


The next morning, Jill drove Trick to the launch pad. They didn’t speak, not for the whole two-hour car ride, not until the very last moment when Jill pulled up to the final security check, beyond which she could not pass, and shut off the engine.

Trick looked into her somber brown eyes. “I know. I know. I’ll apologize as soon as I get back. I promise.”

But she held up a hand to stop him. “I’m pregnant,” Jill said flatly.

Trick’s eyes widened. Pregnant? He opened his mouth, and then closed it again, momentarily speechless. He couldn’t believe it. They’d been trying for years. He’d almost given up hope.

“Are you sure? I mean—” he began, finding his tongue again.

She nodded.

“I saw the ultrasound. In seven months you’ll be a father, Trick.”

A father!

Trick felt something he’d never felt before, an irrepressible, unexplainable emotion, part joyful anticipation and part indescribable terror. He grabbed Jill and kissed her long and hard, and when they finally parted, the air between them was filled with an awkward but electric silence. She looked down at his bandaged hand.

“You’ll get that looked at?”

He shrugged and she knew he wouldn’t. He couldn’t show the agency doctors. They might scrub him from the mission at the last minute. Ever since Deke Slayton lost his place in Mercury 7, there wasn’t an astronaut worth his flight status that would trust a company doc. Of course, Jill knew this.

“Here,” she said, reaching into her purse. “You can cover it up with this.” She passed him a small bottle of skin-colored makeup. “I don’t suppose Roger has rabies.”

“Hope not,” Trick said with a chuckle. He took the bottle gratefully and then kissed her again.

Six hours later, he was in space for the second time in a month. He looked over at Irene, his co-pilot.

“Jill’s pregnant,” he said flatly. Irene smiled.

“Congratulations. I knew you had it in you, Tricky,” she said, no trace of the drunken revels of the previous night evident in her cool, professional voice. Irene was a machine. She could turn it on and off with the flick of a switch. That’s what made her such a cool hand at the stick.

Trick frowned. “About Roger—”

“Skip it,” she said coldly, her eyes dancing over the shuttle’s instruments. “And besides.” She leaned in closer and looked Trick in the eye. “We both know Yeager was the man.”

Trick laughed, but then the conversation was cut short as Roger’s lisp sounded over the radio.

“Say again, control. I’m having trouble hearing you. Over,” Trick replied.

In actuality, Trick could hear Roger just fine. They were only a hundred thousand miles from Earth and reception was, in fact, quite good, but he couldn’t help but rib his best friend about his missing tooth. Roger, who was surrounded by administrators, news media, and assorted big wigs of all varieties, would be powerless to retaliate. It was a mean thing to do, and Trick felt guilty for putting his friend on the spot, but not too guilty.

“I say again, Planck 6, proceed to L2 and prepare to deploy.”

“Roger that, control.”

Trick looked over at Irene who was grinning with delicious malice.

L2 was just a point in space with no discernible matter or energy to identify it—kind of a blank spot. Trick remembered the first time he tried to grasp this concept back in high school and got soundly scorned for his efforts.

“Mr. Waterson,” he queried innocently, “what is space?”

“What is space?” Waterson scoffed. “Think about what you are saying. Have you no brains? Only an idiot would ask such a question. I have just told you that the universe is made up of matter and energy. In between this matter and energy, there is nothing. No God. No heaven or hell. No angels and demons flitting around on gossamer wings. Nothing. In short, space is what you, Trick, have between your ears.”

To this, the class laughed in cruel betrayal.

It wasn’t until years later that Trick learned, to his great satisfaction, that Mr. Waterson was completely wrong.

“As you know, the universe consists of 74 percent dark matter, 25 percent dark energy and only about one percent normal matter and energy,” Roger explained to his audience of assorted dignitaries and captains of industry. “Or that was what we thought until 2009 when the first Planck mission discovered a pattern of anisotropies or blank spaces which may be the primeval seeds of today’s huge concentrations of matter.”

As he listened mutely over his radio, Trick wondered how Roger ever hoped to loosen the golden purse strings with such a dry commentary.

“Or they may be something else. We really didn’t know until last week when the first Spark was deployed. The Spark emits a powerful electromagnetic pulse which simulates the first light of the big bang nearly 14 billion years ago. The effect of the pulse on the anisotropies was demonstrative.”

“Preparing to deploy Angel 2,” Irene interrupted with professional curtness.

“Deploy,” Trick gave the official command, scanning his instruments. In the rear monitor, he could see the two-ton Angel 2 satellite float effortlessly through the bay doors, its forty-foot solar panels unfolding like shining angel’s wings.

“No angels in space,” Trick mumbled.

“Say again, Planck 6. Is there a problem?”

“No problem. Angel 2 deployed.”

“All right, then. Stay focused, Trick. We wouldn’t want to lose you up there. You’re a long way from home.” Roger sounded casual enough, but it was just an act. Trick had mumbled his thoughts into the microphone, and thus broken an ancient taboo as old as aviation itself. But worse than that, Roger had caught him at it. A less spiteful controller might have let it slide, but not Roger.

“Roger that,” Trick responded after an appropriate pause. What else could he say? He looked over at Irene who just rolled her eyes.

“You’re coming up on L2. We would like you to deploy Spark now, Trick, if you think you’re up to it. Are you ready?” It was a trap. Roger was baiting him. He knew what Trick would say, and Trick knew he knew it. But then again, what else could he say?

“Trick Peters was born ready,” he recited proudly, and in five words branded himself the stereotype of his profession—the hot-shot, thrill-seeking, cavalier, devil-may-care, stick-jockey—in a word, the quintessential astronaut.

“Spark ready for deployment,” Irene said dryly, shaking her head.

Irene was less than a decade younger than Trick but a world apart in her style. Cool, efficient, with no trace of swagger, she was part of the new generation of astronauts who entered space, not for the thrill or adventure or even glory, but for the paycheck. A qualified space pilot, especially one with official astronaut training, could make some serious money shuttling tourists into orbit. A few more scientific missions for the International Space Agency and she would move on to a more prosperous, albeit less glorious, career in the public sector. It wasn’t sexy, but it was smart. And it definitely wasn’t for Trick. He was an old-school astronaut all the way.

“Deploy Spark,” he commanded, a hint of excitement creeping into his normally steady voice.

“Spark deployed.”

He looked back to see the small bomb exit through the bay doors. It didn’t look like much, especially when compared to the massive two-ton satellite with its shining forty-foot solar panels, but there was danger here. Spark was an EMP device that emitted an electromagnetic pulse equivalent to that of a high-yield nuclear bomb, except without the lethal radiation, eyeball-melting burst of white light, and all-around mass destruction to life and property. On the other hand, if the shuttle’s shielding failed or the EMP was triggered prematurely, the aftershock would most certainly fry every circuit on board and leave them dead in space until their air ran out or they froze to death, assuming they didn’t rupture first. In any case, there was danger in that little ball of titanium alloy, and Trick liked it.

“Planck 6, how’s it going up there? Do you read me?” Roger asked, lisping impatiently through his missing tooth.

“We are in the pipe. Five by five.”

Irene nodded in agreement.

“All right then, Commander,” Roger said with obvious relief. “Let’s light this firecracker and meet back at Ponchos for a six-pack. I’m buying.”

And with that, Trick knew the feud was over. It’s funny, sometimes, how transitory life can be, Trick couldn’t help but reflect. One minute you are mortal enemies, and the next, the best of friends.

He listened to the count down complacently. Three. Two. One.

There was a brief flash of light. He looked at Irene and she smiled back at him. They were alive. In a few hours, they would return to mother Earth, drink a few beers, and then start all over again as if nothing had changed.


Back in Huston, he rounded a corner on his way from recovery and came face to face with his best friend and sometime enemy, Roger Dodecker. There was that awkward moment of sheepish recognition and then Trick raised his hands in the universal gesture of diplomacy.

“Oh, ah, Roger. About the tooth. I’d been drinking a bit too much. It was late. I’m not trying to make excuses. I know there’s no excuse for ...” He pointed to his mouth.

“Is there something wrong with your teeth?” Roger asked. “Have medical check it out before you go.”

“Not my teeth.” Trick shook his head, puzzled. “Your tooth.”

Roger’s bushy eyebrows furrowed together. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Trick. There’s nothing wrong with my teeth.”

“Oh.” Trick said with some surprise. Only then did he notice that there was no longer a gap in Roger’s front teeth. How he had managed to squeeze in an appointment with the dentist and run control, Trick could only imagine. But then, Roger had always been very efficient. “Well, thanks for being such a sport about it all, Roger.”

Roger shrugged.

“I’ll see you tonight then.”

“Tonight?” Roger scratched his balding head.

“Beers? You’re buying, remember?”

Again Roger’s brow furrowed. “Not tonight, I’m afraid. I’ll have my hands full preparing for tomorrow’s launch.”

“Oh.” Trick took a step back, wondering if Roger was not yet ready to bury the hatchet. “Maybe another time then.”

Roger walked through the gap that opened before him without another word. Jill was late picking him up, but Trick didn’t care. As soon as he saw her pull up in the old Chevy, his heart filled with the excitement of anticipation. They were embarking on a new adventure together. Trick, who had traveled extensively in his thirty-six years of life, had never lost the thrill of the journey. And yet this new life journey seemed to top them all, even the thrill of going into space.

“How was your flight?” Jill asked automatically as she always did after a mission.

“Clockwork,” was Trick’s equally automatic response. “But what about you?”

“Huh?” Jill seemed intent on the road, changing lanes and dodging trucks. She spared a quick, curious glance Trick’s way and her eyes fell upon his hand. “Trick, you’re bleeding.”

“What?” Trick glanced down at his bloody knuckles. “Oh that. Your skin cream makeup must have washed off. It’s nothing.”

“My makeup? What are you talking about?” she said absent-mindedly, her eyes darting back to the manic traffic in front of her.

“You know. Your makeup.” Trick shook his head. “Never mind that now. How’s the baby?”

Jill turned to look at him, utter horror on her tanned face, and then she slammed on the brakes and veered to the shoulder, just barely avoiding the menacing eighteen-wheeler that had slowed up the highway on-ramp. It was a few minutes before she was able to speak, and even then an enigmatic “Oh, Tricky” was all he could get out of her. Trick drove the rest of the way home in silence.

Later that night, Trick received a phone call from Irene. She was crying, something Trick had never heard her do in all of the nine stress-filled years he had known her. Even the death of her father and brother had never brought her to tears. But now she was balling over the phone like a teenage girl dumped on prom night.

“He’s gone,” she said between sobs. “Just packed up his belongings and left.”

“Roger?” Trick asked the obvious question. “But I just talked to him. He didn’t say—” Trick wiped the sleep from his eyes.

“What is it?” Jill mumbled.

“It’s Irene. She says Roger’s left her,” Trick explained over his shoulder.

“I know.”

“You know?” Trick looked at her. “What do you mean you know?”

“Trick? You still there?” Irene called frantically over the phone.

“Yes, I’m here, Irene. Don’t worry. We’ll work this out.” Trick tried to sound comforting but he felt more than awkward in such a role. He wanted to pass the phone over to Jill, but she’d fallen back asleep.

“You can’t work it out,” Irene said. “He’s been gone for weeks.”

“Weeks? But that’s impossible. You were just over last night. Everything was fine.”

“No!” Irene snapped defensively. “We were together then. But when I came home tonight, the place was half empty, Roger’s half. Nine years of accumulated stuff just gone. He couldn’t have cleared out like that in six hours. No way. I’m telling you he’s been gone for weeks.”

Trick was wide awake now. He turned on the light and sat up in the bed. Jill groaned.

“I’ll be right over.”

“Don’t bother, Trick. There’s nothing you can do.”



“Don’t do anything stupid.”

“I won’t. I promise. Just go back to bed. I’ll see you on the launch pad.”

For once, Irene kept her word. The next morning she was prepped and ready for launch before Trick had even entered the flight deck. Roger was at his station too, silent and cryptic as a sphinx. Trick followed his lead and suited up in silence. An hour later, he was punching L3 into his nav-computer.

“Coordinates locked and loaded,” Irene droned. Trick looked at her through his kettledrum helmet, but she purposely avoided eye contact. “There’s nothing to talk about,” she said finally and Trick shrugged. They were coming up on L3. It was best just to get this mission over with and then they could think about how to put the pieces of their lives back together.

“Deploy Angel 3 on my mark,” Trick commanded. “Mark.”

“Roger. Angel 3 deployed.”

Trick watched the billion-dollar satellite unfold behind them. According to Roger, the past two missions had been perfect successes. Control had amassed a ton of telemetry, real mind-numbing stuff that would have blown his old science teacher right out of class. But this last Angel was special. It would tell them everything they needed to know about space for years to come.

“Deploy the spark.”

“Spark deployed.”

“Prepare for ignition. On my mark.”

This EMP was twice the size of the last one and the shuttle rattled with its fury. But when it was all over, they were still alive and ready for the return trip.

“I don’t see it.”

“See what?”

Irene was craning her neck to see out the rear observation window.


“You’re pulling my leg.”

“Take a look for yourself.”

Trick did just that, unclipping his restraint belts and floating up to the observation window. The moon was there, and the sun, but where Earth should have been was a blank space devoid of stars.

“The spark must have nudged us off course,” Irene mumbled.

Trick floated back to the cockpit and reached for the com. “Control, this is Planck 6. Do you read?” Static answered. “Roger, can you hear me? Please respond.”

“This isn’t happening,” Irene removed her helmet and turned up the sensor display. “There’s nothing out there. It’s just a big empty space. No magnetic field. No atmosphere. No frozen debris. Nothing.”

Trick took off his helmet and shook his head. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The little space shuttle completed three passes of the non-existent planet and found nothing. They were running low on fuel and oxygen. The cabin temperature was dropping rapidly. It was only a matter of time.

“Yeager,” Irene said through frosted lips.

“What?” Trick shivered.

“Remember that silly game? You said Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.”

“He did,” Trick insisted.

“I know he did, but the card said some other guy did.”

“What’s your point?”

Irene gave Trick a violent shove. “My point is—this is all wrong. Ever since we came back from our last mission.”

Trick thought for a moment. “Roger’s tooth.”

“Yeah, what about that? You knocked his tooth out, and then it just miraculously grows back. And then he somehow packs up and moves out, and your unborn baby just evaporates.”

Trick glared at Irene, but she was right. None of it made any sense. Roger’s tooth was back, but Trick still had the wound in his hand. So it must have happened.

“So what you’re saying is that we’ve somehow warped the universe. How?”

Irene looked out into the infinity of stars. “Maybe these blank spaces are like windows into another universe, another possibility that could have but didn’t happen in our universe.”

“And the sparks are making these windows bigger?”

Irene nodded.

It was an interesting theory, but what did it matter. They were stranded in an empty universe with no way back and only thirty minutes of air left. Already Trick could feel his eyes beginning to droop from lack of oxygen.

A short time later, he awoke to the sound of Irene’s manic screaming. He tried to calm her, but it was no use. She fought him back with frightening strength, fleeing through the narrow service conduit and locking herself in the cargo bay with the last remaining EMP bomb.

“Don’t do it,” Trick begged, but she wouldn’t listen. He could see her in the rear monitor unscrewing the maintenance hatch and entered the launch codes.

“The numbers,” she explained. “Don’t you see? It’s the numbers.”

A warning alarm sounded on the view screen. The EMP was on countdown to detonation.

“Irene, you have to get out of there. I can’t let it go off in the cargo bay. It will kill us both.”

“It’s the numbers, Trick, the numbers.”

She’d lost her mind. He couldn’t wait any longer. Assuming control of the deployment arm, he lifted the Spark out of the cargo bay and into space, with Irene still clinging to the titanium maintenance hatch. As soon as the arm detached, he hit the shuttle’s thrusters. They were still firing when the EMP went off. There was a bright flash and Trick shut his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Irene,” he whispered.

When he finally returned to the coordinates, there was no sign of the EMP or Irene’s body. He was nearly out of fuel and it was becoming difficult to breathe. But something had appeared just over the moon’s horizon. The Earth was back.

“Planck 6, this is control. Do you read me?” It was Roger’s voice, cool and professional, but with a pronounced lisp. “Prepare for re-entry.”

Trick couldn’t believe his ears. He wanted to spew forth the whole story over the radio, but he was desperately running out of time. In another few minutes, he would be a frozen, floating corpse. Instead, he clammed up and let the protocols take over, his hands and eyes moving like mindless clogs in a machine. Coasting on fumes, he hit his mark for re-entry.

Roger was waiting for him on the flight deck with his scientific but less than satisfactory explanation of the week’s events.

“We lost contact with you right after you set off the EMP, and then I guessed at what might be going on. The Sparks served a dual purpose. Every time one blank space closed, another opened up. So I relayed the numbers directly through the satellite.”

“What numbers?”

“The coordinates for L1, the epicenter of the first spatial anomaly. Your only chance was to re-open the original blank space with another bomb. We haven’t quite solved the math yet, but I’m glad it worked.” Roger smiled, showing off his missing tooth.

“Irene was the one who figured it out.”

“Where is she?”

Trick shook his head. “She didn’t make it.”

Roger glared at him, unbelieving.

“She set off the EMP. I owe her my life,” Trick tried to explain, but Roger couldn’t hear him anymore. He stared at the blank wall, lost in a world of personal grief. Trick stood mutely by his side, not knowing what else he could say to ease his friend’s suffering, and then realizing acutely there was nothing to say.

Down the corridor, Jill was waiting for him behind the final security checkpoint, her hands on her stomach.

“Honey, you okay?” Trick asked tentatively as soon as he’d reached her.

She seemed different somehow—the sadness gone from her eyes, leaving behind a mischievous, almost youthful, twinkle. Trick dared to hope.

“I should ask you that,” she quipped, stroking her stomach. “Are you ready to be a daddy?”

Trick’s eyes widened with comprehension. He felt a sudden wave of euphoria, like the moment of weightlessness upon reaching orbit, as if the weight the universe had been lifted from his shoulders. There could only be one response to such a question. Glancing down at Jill’s little belly, he grinned.

“Honey, Trick Peters was born ready.” END

David Wright is a writer living on Canada’s west coast. His short stories have appeared in more than a dozen publications including “Neo-opsis,” “Aphelion” and “Pulp Corner.” His latest novels are available at Amazon and Smashwords.


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