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



Seven Styles of Mortality

By Cathy Douglas

From: Avriden Preeneet Cazlimook
Esteemed Pod (Sir!):

This will be my last written transmission before I cross the communications threshold. Soon my small crew and I will set our suspension timers for a thousand years, give or take, and catch some sleep on the way to the Zaleet galaxy. (I’ll be using Creelat time and astronomical references here, as if I were writing a real report. Must stay in practice, right?) In all, we’ll be away from home for some 2,500 years. That’s a long time to go without seeing my most treasured friend.

Anyway, before I get any more sentimental ...

After suffering through my dry reports for the last half millennium, you’ve asked for candid thoughts about the six mortal, sentient species catalogued so far in Quadrant 2, to complement the transmissions sent by the other three teams. I shall write this final letter, then, as both a friend and a colleague. But I have something more as well.

As I alluded in our last voice-comm, we have encountered here on the edge of the galaxy a species which is both sentient and, for the time being, mortal. Their level of advancement is such that, according to our ship’s charter, we were able to let down our invisibility and make direct contact. They welcomed us, and seemed eager to hear about the current level of civilization in the rest of the galaxy.

But look at me getting ahead of myself. I handed my official report off to Avri, who, fortunate soul, should see you in a matter of days. I’ll just give you a little preview at the end of this transmission.

Planet 4, Star 7 of Fractal Primmiuth, known by its inhabitants as Taafaa. Mortal Sentients: 9.5 billion.

To understand how the Taafaati die, you need to understand their anatomy. Their cushion-shaped bodies sprout an indefinite number of appendages for mobility, manipulation, information gathering, and sexual reproduction. These appendages emerge, grow and die off throughout the Taafaati’s lifespan. When an eyestalk, for example, grows too old to function well, it withers and breaks off; other eyestalks take over its function until another one grows, though not necessarily in the same place. Features I found particularly fascinating were speaking antennae, which are well adapted to their radio-frequency language, and their vacuum-powered sexual organs (each individual possessing both male and female parts).

This body type functions well in the lush terrain of their world. Their varied limbs allow them to climb and maneuver among enormous grasses, trees and mountains. We noted that their physiology differs from any other species on their world. This led us to hypothesize that the Taafaati might have evolved elsewhere, but we were not able to spend the time necessary to explore this hypothesis.

As I mentioned, the Taafaati grow new appendages throughout their lives, but the rate at which new appendages emerge tapers off as they age. So while an individual’s central body doesn’t naturally lose its ability to sustain life, Taafaati who have lived many hundreds of years can no longer get about, communicate, see, hear, etc. Once an individual enters this pathetic phase of existence, it’s up to the family to decide when to terminate life. They then celebrate the death of their family member with a feast, at which everyone consumes a ceremonial portion of the body—a body which would otherwise have been both conscious and immortal, but of no use whatsoever to the soul inside.

As Taafaati technology advances, they will no doubt one day conquer this problem and become as immortal as we are. Check up on them for me, Pod. I’d love to visit the Taafaati sometime in the future, without need of invisibility.

Moon 3 of Planet 9, Star 3 of Fractal Meejeet, known to its inhabitants as Science Station 87. Mortal Sentients: 412.

The sentient species of this planet is the mechanical leftover of a civilization that destroyed itself. The planet’s surface is nothing but rubble, but they left a science station on their moon that continues to function after life support for its biological residents ceased.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for those last poor souls, Pod? The moon has no atmosphere, so the scientists stationed there depended on regular shipments of a carbon/oxygen/nitrogen atmospheric mixture to sustain life. They not only had to watch their home planet destroy itself from afar, they did so with the realization that they were the last of their species, and that they were doomed.

Fortunately, the machines are intelligent and self-sufficient enough to evolve on their own. They back up themselves regularly, but are prone to system crashes. When this happens, strings of data known in their culture as “individuals” may be lost forever, or may mutate into some nonfunctional form. But these computers have also learned to synthesize new identities. Because the moon’s environment is stable, and its solar collector easily powers the machines, I see no reason why this mechanical society shouldn’t continue to develop and grow.

I suspect we’re both thinking the same thing: Grow into what? My hopes for this society are mixed with a dose of trepidation.

Planet 1, Sun 5 of Fractal Meejeet, known to its inhabitants as L’Baar. Mortal Sentients: 1 billion.

In a more hospitable environment, the L’Baar would live on indefinitely, but their planet is so hostile to life that it eventually kills everyone. While we visited, we had to be constantly on guard for sudden showers of chemical rain, radioactive fumaroles, earthquakes that take the ground out from under you, and other hazards that, while causing no permanent damage to our own bodies, made for quite an uncomfortable stay.

The L’Baar themselves are not so lucky, lacking the technical ability to enhance their physiology. In the short time we were there, we saw children sucked under the ground, homes pounded into rubble during a meteor storm, and people whose bodies were at various stages of miserable, chemical-induced breakdown. Since there was nothing we could do to help within the confines of our ship’s charter, we were only too happy when it was time to leave.

Both planet and inhabitants go by the same name, L’Baar, which led the crew into some philosophical speculation. How and why do these kind, gentle creatures identify with the murderous world around them?

Planet 5, Sun 7 of Fractal Primmiuth, known to its inhabitants as Bonetrahg, Bondron, or Botrahuvan. Mortal Sentients: 1.5 billion.

I consider this whole situation a failure, one I take personally. The inhabitants of this place are sturdy, intelligent and decent, but the planet supplies insufficient amounts of the chemicals the population relies on to function and grow. Chemical balance is restricted to those of reproductive age and growing children; others are, of necessity, forced to die of starvation.

They’re the loveliest creatures, Pod, with their sweeping blue and green tentacles, and tendrils of light-drops that surround their heads. They have beautiful souls, too, accepting their stages of growth, reproduction and untimely death without complaint. Each of them dies as a willing sacrifice to others.

In my original report, I included a plea on behalf of these beautiful people. If we were to provide them with a few simple technologies, things that would cost us nothing, they could synthesize enough chemicals to allow for extended lifespans and modest population growth.

Of course this request was turned down flat. I understand our non-intervention policy, and why it’s usually necessary, but I still feel terrible. It’s just wrong. With proper nourishment, this species might well leave mortality behind and evolve into a great people like ourselves.

I won’t ask you to take up my cause, Pod, but I would not object if you were to make it yours as well.

Planet 4, Sun 4 of Fractal Primmiuth, known to its inhabitants as Mark in the eastern hemisphere and Frangirishiel in the western hemisphere. Mortal Sentients: 500,000.

Two continents comprise about a tenth of the surface of this planet, the other nine-tenths being ocean. The two most intelligent of the five sentient species are still in the early stages of creating civilizations, and have only known about each other for a short time. But the distance between the two continents is not great, and both dominant species are able to make the journey.

The Dahn of the eastern continent are quadrupeds who farm their land with the help of a race of semi-aware giants they have enslaved. The western continent’s bipedal Granuleths live in a perpetual state of war with two other hominid species, which they are slowly but inexorably wiping out. The Granuleths have a religious-based military state, whereas the Dahn lack both religion and any social organization beyond the family unit.

In spite of external differences, the Granuleths and the Dahn share a hardy physiological blueprint, with an exceptional immune system and the ability to regenerate damaged tissue. In the recent past, their main cause of death was the kind of accidents typical of the early stages of technological development. But with interspecies hostilities escalating, war and murder have become the two main causes of death. On the safer parts of both continents, individuals live in terror of attack; along interspecies frontiers, the usual perspective is that the best way to stay alive is to kill your enemies before they kill you. Hence, these intelligent and potentially immortal species have one of the highest death rates of any society yet encountered.

All we can do is wait, and hope they think better of exterminating each other.

Planet 3, Sun 7 of Fractal Gaphsith, known by its inhabitants as Terra, Earth, Diqiu, and a variety of other names. Mortal Sentients: 7 billion.

In many ways, these soft-tissue bipeds are the opposite of the Taafaati: Their exterior is relatively strong, but their inner organs wear out over time and are prone to various problems, notably invasive microorganisms. As a result, their lifespan is the shortest of any self-aware species we know. They also fall easily to intentional means of killing, which they practice with shocking regularity.

The inhabitants of this planet have put a lot of research into finding ways to extend their lifespan, by controlling levels of physical exertion, nourishment, and levels of exposure to both beneficial and toxic chemicals. But those with the necessary resources often don’t share them; stranger still, those with plenty of resources frequently refuse to follow life-extending protocols themselves. Instead, individuals preoccupy themselves with sensual and sexual gratification. My personal conclusion is that these creatures simply do not fear death.

I don’t understand why they are so engrossed with sexual reproduction in particular. This should make a fascinating study for follow-up missions.

Planets 9, 13 and 12 (along with several inhabited moons) of Sun 1, Fractal Mayzeet; Planet 1 of Suns 3 and 4, also in Fractal Mayzeet. Obviously the inhabitants have many names for these several worlds. Our direct contact was with the planet of the binary star system, which its inhabitants refer to as Maugalehd. Mortal Sentients (for all inhabited planets): 5 billion.

It’s only by chance that we encountered this species, who call themselves Maugalehdi, before they found one of our outposts. These scaled, fire-breathing multipeds occupy four planets in two solar systems. They’ve also explored five planets in three other systems, several now with permanent colonies. At some point in their warlike past, Maugalehd was badly damaged, stripped of much of its vegetation. At that point, off-world colonization commenced.

Their physiology is well adapted to planetary colonization. Their bodies tolerate and even use the entire spectrum of chemical elements, including radioactive isotopes, which they are able to metabolize for energy. Their scales (which are many-colored, iridescent, and—I thought—quite beautiful) help protect them from physical assault.

In the past, Maugalehdi were equally likely to die from biological infestation or violence. But Maugalehdi medical technology has made big advances in the last sixty years or so, and a newborn hatchling can now expect medical technology to find solutions for the few remaining causes of death within its lifetime. In other words, they will soon be for all practical purposes immortal. And now that they’ve expanded their population to four planets and counting, there’s less pressure between clans. Hostilities have subsided, with the major exception of political assassination. The traditional way of gaining a high position is to murder the current occupant, and Maugalehdi are sticklers for tradition.

Most younger Maugalehdi now believe their lives will go on indefinitely. Sexual reproduction, no longer needed to repopulate the home world, focuses on expanding the population to new planetary holdings. As this puts Maugalehd in the same league as our own civilization (along with the Gluvinn and Turrin-ghelli), our ship’s charter authorized contact. Our linguists found the Maugalehdi language difficult to learn, but our contacts brought their own linguist as well, and we ended the visit with a fair level of communication and a rudimentary dictionary and grammar key.

You can imagine how exciting this was for us. They’re at the brink, Pod—right where our world was just before our generation abandoned sexual reproduction, ready to expand into the galaxy. They made personal gifts to me of artwork and literature (leaning heavily toward scientific essays and songs), which I will enjoy at my now-plentiful leisure.

I’m a little concerned about the savage Maugalehdi political system, though. When I described other systems to them—cooperative anarchy, self-governing population cells, even primitive democracy—they seemed ... I don’t know, unimpressed. Such a waste of life. Perhaps with continued conversation we may convince them to adopt more civilized practices.

So, there you have it: my final report before leaving the galaxy. Can you read between the lines and detect how excited I am? We should have plenty to talk about when I return in a couple thousand years. I can’t help wondering what I’ll find when I get back.

Your intimate friend and most admiring underling,
Den. END

Cathy Douglas been writing short stories and poems for about five years. Her most recent publication credits are with “NewMyths,” “Penumbra,” “Quantum Fairy Tales,” and “Strange Musings Press.“ More information about her on her website.