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




2038: A Mars Odyssey

By Brian Biswas

FREDERICK HUNTER HAD THE STRANGEST dream. He was lost in New York City back on Earth. He called for help, but no one came to his aid. He hurried up and down busy streets, smelled the exhaust of cars that sped by. He went into a drugstore on one corner and asked directions to his hotel, but the man at the counter only stared at him blankly. He felt helpless.

The scene switched. His wife, Julia, was in her garden in the country, weeding. Julia had always enjoyed working in the garden. Clumps of yellow irises surrounded by rings of dainty daffodils. Rows of pretty red and white roses in full bloom. Two forsythia bushes that blazed with brilliant yellow flowers. She loved the feel of soft, moist soil as her fingers dug out weeds. And the heavenly smells of the flowers. The sky was blue and dotted with puffy, white clouds. It was quiet, eerily so. Julia uttered a cry. She brushed loamy soil from pieces of a blue porcelain teakettle Frederick had given her on their wedding day. “I’ve been looking for this teakettle for years!” she exclaimed. Just then a thin black snake poked its head from the soil in which the kettle had lain. The reptile had bright-yellow eyes, red-and-blue crosshatch markings on the body, and primitive arm-like appendages which moved about in many directions. Julia jumped away in disgust as the snake slithered away. Frantically, almost as if her life depended on it, she reassembled the pieces of the teakettle and Frederick read the following words engraved in bold, black letters: “’Til death do us part” and the date: “March 21, 2036.”

He thought of this dream often in the weeks that followed, and it never failed to terrify him: what if he was to die here on Mars?


The day began like any other. As Frederick suited up for the trip to Chryse Planitia, he noticed that the suit’s oxygen sensor was reading a fraction of a percent below normal. It didn’t alarm him. It had been slightly off for days and he simply hadn’t gotten around to replacing the unit.

Martian Base Alpha—mankind’s first, and only, Martian outpost—was located in Valles Marineres, a nearly five-kilometer-long valley that ran along the planet’s equator. Chryse Planitia (the “Plains of Gold") was a smooth, circular plain at the eastern end of the valley. It was one of the planet’s lowest regions and showed signs of water erosion. Apparently, water had flowed out of Valles Marineres and into the plain in the distant past. It was an excellent place to search for signs of alien life. Commanded by Captain Frederick Hunter, the outpost consisted of a dozen scientists. A second outpost, whose members were currently en route from Earth, was to be established in the south polar region.

Frederick headed out in the rover on the two-hour trip that would take him to Chryse Planitia. The sky was fiery red, the sun a bright star low in the east. The temperature was ten degrees Celsius. Balmy for this time of year.

At one point Frederick began to feel light-headed. He attributed it to a poor night’s sleep (the recurrence of his nightmare), but as the day wore on it grew worse. He looked at his oxygen sensor; it read one percent below normal. Unless it reached six percent—highly unlikely—it was nothing to be concerned about. When he returned to the Base that evening, he would be sure to check into it. Staring up into the pale-red Martian sky he saw that it had a mosaic texture. Like the stained glass of a cathedral.

As Frederick approached the site, he slowed the vehicle to a crawl. No matter how many times he came to this place, he was always struck by its solitude. The vast, red plain littered with boulders, sinuous ridges, and dusty dunes. The emptiness that stretched to the horizon. He was two hundred million kilometers from Earth and prospecting for rocks. How thrilling it would be to become the first to discover organisms on this desolate planet!

The scientific instruments at the excavation site were designed to drill through rocks and analyze the underlying soil for signs of life. A powerful laser blasted apart rock and soil. The gas chromatograph heated the vaporized bits and separated the resulting gases into various components. The spectrometer bombarded those components with alpha particles and x-rays, then analyzed for carbon compounds. Though designed to work autonomously, the instruments needed to be periodically checked and adjusted.

Today Frederick needed to clear an area around Site 4B. He pulled a drill from the rover and went to work and as he did so his mind began to wander.

Damn! Frederick wasn’t paying attention and he drilled into the side of the spectrometer. (The laser, too, was damaged, but could be repaired.) He watched in horror as the precious gases it contained seeped out. There was a replacement back at the Base, but that meant this day was wasted. He did not notice that his oxygen sensor registered two percent below normal.

As far as his current situation went, there was little he could do. Without the spectrometer, nothing could be analyzed. Further prospecting would be pointless. He began packing up and was about to climb into the rover when off in the distance he saw a flash of light. Initially, Frederick thought it was a shooting star (they were prevalent on the plain, even in the daytime), but it flashed repeatedly and at regular intervals.

With no hesitation, he made the decision to investigate.

As the rover edged towards the light, Frederick’s heart was racing. When he was perhaps half a kilometer away he realized he was observing a cluster of pulsating lights. His palms began to sweat and he found himself taking deep breaths, but he attributed it to the anticipation of the unknown.

Frederick’s oxygen sensor was now six percent below normal.

He wasn’t looking where he was going and the rover struck a boulder. “Oh, God!” he cried in dismay. The rover caromed off the boulder and pitched sideways into a gully. He was thrown from the vehicle and hit his head on a second rock which, luckily, crumbled on impact. Momentarily stunned, he lay still. Then he picked himself up and brushed the red dust from his spacesuit.

He examined the vehicle—and shuddered. Several of the metal struts were bent beyond repair. Due to gravity being a mere one-third that of Earth’s, he should have been able to easily right the vehicle, but one of the front wheels was wedged between two rocks and would not budge.

He radioed back to the Base and told them what had happened. He mentioned the lights that even now his eyes were fixed upon. He was told that a rescue rover could not be sent out until morning. He had no choice but to hunker down for the night—a night during which the temperature might reach minus thirty degrees Celsius.

Frederick’s head was beginning to ache and his right leg felt numb. Apparently the fall was worse than he first thought. If he could have seen his skin he would have observed that it had a bluish tinge.

He looked at the lights which grew steadily closer as dusk approached. They had been right about the suitability of Chryse Planitia for life, but wrong about the progression of its development. The lights were no natural phenomenon. Indicating the presence of life forms far above the microbial stage, they flashed with a meaning known only to their makers.

Frederick opened the rover’s cargo bay and pulled out the damaged laser. Though no longer suitable for experimental work, it still functioned and would make a useful weapon. Then he turned to face the lights. They had increased in intensity and pulsated with a haunting blue.

Clutching the weapon he started across the plain.



Jason McNight scrambled over the rocky caldera. After hours of searching, he had come upon the crashed rover. He radioed Peter Larissa who was searching an area about one hundred meters to the south.

Jason radioed the Base, “Rover located. Search in progress.”

It was nearly noon in Chryse Planitia. The sky was pale-red, the sun a small fiery yellow globe directly overhead. They’d had no transmissions from Frederick since the night before and feared the worst.

It took several minutes for Peter to make his way over the caldera. He scanned the area as he did so and saw nothing but an endless plain studded with small, jagged boulders and twisty, narrow dunes.

Jason waved at his partner when he came into view. Peter’s spacesuit was covered with red Martian dust. Larger and courser than the dust that covered the lunar surface, the dust could easily clog spacesuit filters and cover lenses. If not carefully monitored, the results could be catastrophic: the hallucinatory effects of inhaling even trace amounts of Martian dust was well-known. Was that what had happened to Frederick?

“What was Frederick doing out here, anyway?” Jason radioed. “We’re way past the excavation site.”

“Dunno,” Peter replied. “He said he saw something—or thought he did. Maybe he got lost. Or disoriented.”

Together, Jason and Peter were able to quickly right the vehicle. The hood was smashed in. The vehicle’s liquid propylene, which served as temperature-regulating fluid, had pooled underneath the front axle which was bent at an awkward angle.

The men were puzzled. Frederick hadn’t said the accident was this bad. He was lucky to have survived. His extra oxygen tanks would have lasted twenty-four hours and only twelve had elapsed. So where was he?

“He must have been traveling fast,” Peter said. “Look at this mess. What the devil was he doing?”

Upon opening the cargo bay, Jason let out a low whistle. He had found the extra oxygen tanks—unused. Frederick’s primary tank would have run out long ago. There was a second site, which contained supplies and in which he might haveodyssey found shelter, Site 2A, but it was located several kilometers away on the northern edge of the rim.

Peter shook his head in dismay. “Maybe he tried to walk to the site and got lost?”

“Where are the footprints?”

Jason was correct. Except for their own prints and the tracks of the rover, the Martian soil was undisturbed. They were about to report their findings when they saw them: bright blue lights hovering near the horizon.

“What in the world ...” Peter gasped.

The powerful blue lights of the alien landing craft immobilized Jason and Peter before they could radio for help. A dozen long tentacles lifted them up and into the airlock. They could not move their lips, nor their limbs, and their thought processes, while still functioning, were fading and confused. Even so, they beheld the hideous visages of their captors: the thick, green torsos, the slimy tentacles, the bright multi-colored appendages, but, above all, those reptilian faces with the elongated proboscises and the compound eyes.

The men sensed an intelligence so advanced they were powerless before it. They sensed, as well, a purpose as to what was happening.

What they did not know was that their Mars odyssey was finished. Soon they would be light-years from that dusty, red planet, on a journey that would take them to a galactic zoo in a distant region of the Milky Way, there to be gaped at until the end of their days as hapless creatures from a far-flung world.


Frederick was nearly out of oxygen when he reached Site 2A. He stumbled through the airlock, removing his helmet as he gasped for breath. And then he collapsed.

He awoke to an unknown world. The air was dank and musty and the room he was in was illuminated by pale yellow light. His head ached. His body felt dirty, suffused with sweat. He was also quite hungry. He rubbed at his eyes and yawned. And there was another problem: he did not know who he was.

There was a window along one wall which looked out upon a desolate Martian landscape, the rocks a stark rusty red, the land gently rising to a hill which lay a kilometer in the distance. The landscape was forbidding, yet—to one as curious as Frederick—it was inviting as well. Mars! He remembered where he was. But not why he was there.

He went into a second room which appeared to be a kitchen. There he found ingredients to prepare a simple meal. As he was eating, he noticed a pantry in one corner. He opened the door and found that it was packed with food—enough to last a month or more. He rejoiced at his good fortune.

An adjacent room looked like lab space. The equipment seemed familiar, but Frederick couldn’t remember what it was for. Something having to do with soil analysis, perhaps. (The thought entered his mind, but he did not know from where.) He saw several oxygen tanks along one wall and a spare spacesuit with silver-and-gold markings.

He had seen no sign of occupants. Either this was an abandoned outpost or the residents were outside, probably engaged in scientific work. He hitched a fresh oxygen tank to his spacesuit, put the suit back on, and emerged once again into the pale light of a cool Martian day.

The sun was nearly overhead. Though only about one-third as bright as on Earth, its light cast sharp shadows over the Martian surface. The area he found himself in was rocky with boulders ranging up to two meters in diameter. He wandered over the desiccated plain for nearly an hour, but saw no one. He came upon many rock formations—some quite unusual—and was about to turn around to head back to the shelter when he saw it: two large boulders and sandwiched between them a rover, partially overturned, the front-right-side smashed in.

On the front seat Frederick found a tablet with orders from NASA. They were addressed to Captain Hunter, commander of Martian Base Alpha. Scientific investigations had revealed the existence of organic molecules in soil samples in Chryse Planitia, he read with mounting interest. Their mission was to determine if Martian microbes inhabited the area as well. And it was at that moment that memories of his past life came flooding back. He was Captain Frederick Hunter!

Just then Frederick heard a sonic boom. He recoiled in horror as he watched an alien spaceship swoop down out of a butterscotch sky and land in a thick cloud of Martian dust. He saw bright colors, pulsating lights, a dozen reptilian tentacles reach for two of his crewmates. He watched in stony silence as the ship rose into the sky and disappeared from view. And then he headed towards where the alien spaceship had been.

He found Peter Larissa’s recorder, wedged between two rocks. He picked it up, gave it a cursory inspection, and turned around to head back.


It happened in an instant. Frederick didn’t have a chance when six spaceships came screaming down from out of the sky. The spaceships were large, oblong, and painted bright silver. They didn’t look anything at all like the other alien ship. That vessel was small, circular in shape, with vivid gold markings, a sweeping red light illuminating the cold Martian surface. These ships were cigar-shaped with a translucent dome from which a soft, yellow light pulsated. They landed in unison about one hundred and fifty meters from Frederick. He had no idea what to expect when the aliens emerged—would they also be reptilian in nature or something odder still?—and was startled to discover that they looked remarkably similar to humans. It was parallel evolution on a cosmic scale and a stunning validation of the scientific theories of Darwin.

What happened next Frederick found unfathomable: the aliens began communicating via telepathy, their thoughts simply forming in his mind. He was told to report to Spaceship 123A at eight the next morning. There was a blinding flash and the ships took off and he was alone, staring up at the structure which was Site 2A. He entered the building once again and spent a troubled night, slipping in and out of nightmarish dreams—was he to be killed? did they want something from him?—until he could take no more and pulled himself, exhausted, out of bed. After breakfast, He examined the recorder. He pressed the playback button, but nothing happened. He shrugged, donned his spacesuit, and stepped out onto the Martian landscape.

No one was in sight. He had no idea what he was supposed to do when a series of thought transmissions—similar to those of the day before—guided him to Spaceship 123A. The ship was painted blue and gold with an image of a creature that resembled a dragon along both sides. In the middle of the spaceship was an oval hatch, bright red. As he gazed upon it, it opened. He expected one of the aliens to emerge, but no one came out. Minutes passed. Frederick realized it was up to him.

He entered hesitantly.

He felt the thumping of his heart.

His skin was cold and clammy.

He feared he would never see Mars again.

When Frederick was fully inside, the hatch closed abruptly. He jumped back startled, expecting to be confronted by aliens, but he was met only by silence.

The interior of the spaceship looked like a set of narrow white tubes that jutted out in many directions. It bore little resemblance to the structure as it had appeared from the outside, and Frederick wondered what he might have stumbled into. He wondered if he would be led to the meeting place by telepathy, but, oddly, nothing happened. He picked one of the tubes at random and began to follow it, and as he did so he felt his mind grow numb.


The alien’s name was Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi. He claimed to be a visitor from Little Cloud, an amalgamation of over a trillion stars which was faintly visible from Mars on a moonless night. He had sparse gray hair, a long, aquiline nose, high cheekbones, fading black eyes. His brow was furrowed and there were deep creases under his eyes. He smiled when Frederick entered his cabin and motioned him to take the seat opposite. The room was spacious. Frederick saw two bronze lamps, a desk, and a black leather sofa. The walls were painted light blue. There was a drawing of a fishing village on one wall. A painting of a dozen Asian warriors slogging through a dreary mountain pass on another. A bright yellow rug adorned the floor. (He doubted these things were native to al-Sufi’s world; most likely they’d gathered the information from Frederick’s mind the day before.)

Frederick sat down and took a proffered glass of a red liquid which al-Sufi identified as a beverage from his home planet.

“You are Captain Hunter?”

“I am.”

“You are in command of this Base?”

“Yes.” Frederick paused. “I assume you are the conquerors, we the conquered?”

Al-Sufi only smiled.

“You mean you are not invaders?”

“We were too late to save your two crewmates, but I was able to shield you from the Reptilian probe.”

“I don’t understand.”

Al-Sufi paused, then said, “We are here to save your world.”

Frederick felt himself swoon as a thick fog swept over him. Flashes of bright, white light danced before his eyes. He felt the rush of a lawless wind and smelled the intoxicating aroma of wild roses. And through it all he saw al-Sufi staring at him with not a trace of emotion.

“You see.” al-Sufi raised his left-index finger and made a slow circling motion. “You will be taken to another room. Later you will be free to go.”

That was it? No instructions? No interrogation? Or did they mean to—

“You are to be the instrument of your world’s salvation.” Frederick heard al-Sufi count to three. And that is all he remembered.


Frederick found himself in a room with white walls. There were drawings of fishing villages on the walls, as there had been in the room where he met al-Sufi, as well as paintings of sea towns and harbors and a picture of a lake filled with enormous reptiles. The room was lit by four brass lanterns hanging from the ceiling. He was lying on a small bed that was covered with cotton sheets. A light blue pillow supported his head. There were four other beds in the room; all empty. The door opened and a woman entered. Her face was smooth, her complexion clear, her green eyes steady and calm. She was wearing a red skirt, and a white blouse with yellow buttons down the front. She asked how he was, but before he could respond she pulled out a butcher knife from beneath her skirt and, her green eyes gleaming, handed it to al-Sufi who had also appeared. Frederick screamed. As he lost consciousness he saw al-Sufi hovering over him, the knife raised over his head; the alien seemed to flutter in and out of existence.

When Frederick awoke al-Sufi was the only one in the room. A misty haze suffused his mind and he was too exhausted to put up a fight. Al-Sufi touched the sides of Frederick’s head where it ached and gently massaged the temples. The operation had been a success, he said. The nightmares would soon subside. He gave Frederick a few minutes to compose himself. And then al-Sufi told him what they wanted him to do.


“What happened to the men?” queried a reporter with the St. Louis Tribune.

“Since their bodies weren’t recovered, we’ll never know for sure,” the government spokesman said. “As for what we believe happened ...” Dr. George Barker was in his mid-fifties, tall and slender, with dark-brown eyes and closely-cut black hair. He was well-respected, having been involved with several investigative committees during his decade-long tenure with NASA, including the infamous Moon Base Gamma explosion that had wiped out most of mankind’s first lunar settlement.

“We believe,” Dr. Barker continued, “Frederick Hunter died after a spacesuit malfunction. At the excavation site he’d complained about an oxygen leak. Though less than two percent, we consider it the first indication of oxygen deprivation, particularly because he never referred to the problem again and his final transmissions indicated a heightened, almost frantic, sense of urgency. Over what, he was unable, or unwilling, to make clear.

“Jason McNight and Peter Larissa were killed by a Martian dust storm. Known as dust devils, they are the greatest threat to astronauts on the Martian surface. They arise without warning and dissipate just as quickly. Though calm weather had been forecast throughout the day, investigation of the area in and around Site 4B indicated the possibility of foul weather earlier: increased adhesion of dust on the surface and two pairs of dust devil tracks that led to the north. Probably the men took shelter in a gully when the storm arose where they now lie covered in dust. There are hundreds of gullies all over Chryse Planitia. We’ll keep looking, but chances are the men will never be found.

“The lights McNight and Larissa commented on before their final, garbled, transmissions have been attributed to a phenomenon known as a devil tower. When a devil is fast and wide enough it sucks so much dust into the atmosphere negative charges build up which result in lightning bolts dissipating in many directions. A Martian borealis, if you will. This one wasn’t that large, but smaller devils have similar effects.”

And as far as everyone in the room was concerned that was the end of the matter: the case was closed.


It was a war between two ancient civilizations. They had chased each other over space and time for a thousand years. The Reptilians hearkened from Little Cloud as well. But, unlike al-Sufi’s race, which was peaceful, the Reptilians were warlike. And they intended Earth’s solar system to be their next conquest. Al-Sufi’s people would not permit that. Al-Sufi smiled as he concluded to an astonished Frederick, “and you will ensure that it does not happen.”


Two weeks later war broke out. The Reptilian army crossed the northern rim of Chryse Planitia in a lightning advance, then moved to the central plateau. Martian Base Alpha fell quickly.

When contact with the outpost was lost, NASA was concerned, but not alarmed. Any of a number of reasons could have accounted for the sudden silence. But after several more days passed with no communication, mission control grew uneasy. The second ship, the Troubadour, would be redirected to land in Chryse Planitia and conduct a rescue mission. That ship was one-month away. Frederick and his men would have to hold on until then.


With the Martian base destroyed, Frederick donned his spacesuit and journeyed to the Red Caves that bordered Chryse Planitia. There was a dry ravine, about two kilometers in length, that loped across gently sloping Martian land before rising up a hillside and ending at a clearing that provided a magnificent view of the overrun Base below. He gazed into the light-red sky as if seeking guidance from above. But none came.

When Frederick looked down he found himself staring into the penetrating eyes of al-Sufi. Frederick opened his mouth to speak, but al-Sufi brought a finger to his lips in a vain attempt to silence Frederick. Where had he come from? Frederick asked. Al-Sufi smiled. He was always watching, he said. And then al-Sufi told Frederick a story of life on Rhune, a planet that circled a star in Little Cloud.

Rhune was a swamp planet which teemed with reptiles, much like this solar system’s primeval planet Venus. Except Rhune, unlike Venus, was also home to primitive man-like creatures. Hominids who were being wiped out by the slithering reptiles that seemed to be everywhere. To ensure the survival of the hominids al-Sufi’s people genetically engineered them for telepathy. And with that al-Sufi touched his left temple. Immediately, Frederick felt a wincing sensation in his own temples and then a feeling of warmth flooded his mind.

We came looking for life on Mars and look what we found, he thought.

“Base Alpha has been destroyed,” Frederick said. “What is the point of further resistance?”

Al-Sufi frowned. “The Reptilians next conquest will be Earth.”


It was the moment mankind had waited centuries for: the discovery of life on other worlds. It was dubbed “The Eleventh-Hour Discovery” by the press on Earth, for, after the initial deaths were reported, and with the possible loss of the Martian base, it was understood that the colonization of the red planet had suffered a major setback, if it was not to be cancelled altogether.

On March 18, 2039, a week after Martian Base Alpha had fallen, and three weeks after Frederick and the others had vanished, one of the high-resolution cameras revealed the telltale signs of Martian life. It was in an underground cavern on the outskirts of Site 4B that organisms resembling aquatic flatworms were imaged. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Schmidtea mediterranea back on Earth, the organisms had pale-white bodies and oval mouths surrounded by hundreds of hairlike projections. They secreted a sticky substance on their undersides that defied analysis.

The images were received by an astonished Earth, still reeling from the apparent loss of the first manned Martian mission.


When the Reptilian army was defeated, Frederick could not suppress a smile. It had been child’s play! He visualized in his mind the foreign invaders. He instructed their commanders to order their battalions to fire upon their own units. It was telepathically-induced mass suicide. The soldiers were slaughtered like turkeys, blood flowing across Chryse Planitia and the central highlands. Realizing they had met their equals, the Reptilian force withdrew, never to trouble the inhabitants of Earth’s solar system again.


In the battle’s aftermath, Frederick realized that scattered over the galaxy there must have been many such as himself. It is most likely they were all part of a grand scheme, a universal life-sustaining web.

One evening Frederick went to the Base chapel, which, miraculously, had escaped the wrath of the Reptilians. There he found al-Sufi in one of the pews. The alien smiled when he saw his former pupil. Al-Sufi had aged considerably since Frederick had first seen him. He looked like an elderly man in his eighties, perhaps older; it was hard to say. His face was gaunt, his eyes tired, his body thin. There was an oak walking stick at his side. Frederick was taken aback by al-Sufi’s appearance and it must have showed, for al-Sufi said, “Don’t be concerned.”

Frederick asked why he had aged so and al-Sufi referred to the dilation of time, a concept with which Frederick was unfamiliar. Al-Sufi said that what Frederick saw as a temporal disturbance was simply the cacophony of his own thoughts. Al-Sufi spoke then of life in higher dimensions, but Frederick could not follow his reasoning. He nodded, though, as if he understood.

Frederick asked if there were further orders, but al-Sufi did not respond. And then Frederick told al-Sufi of the vision he’d had months before, of time and space and other things, and he asked al-Sufi who he really was. Al-Sufi thought a man like yourself that was all, but this didn’t put Frederick at ease. He knew al-Sufi was immensely old, one thousand years or more, and he knew as well that in the place he was from time had no meaning. He may have been a man, or a man once, yet he was something else now and what that was Frederick would never know.

And then Frederick saw that al-Sufi was fading, like a vision that dissipates when morning comes.

He assumed al-Sufi’s people left Mars then, in their silvery spaceships.

Yes, Frederick had saved Earth, but at what a price! Alone on a desolate planet, a martyr to humanity, there was one thing left for him to do.


Julia Hunter was in her garden, weeding. This was the place she went to when she needed to relax, when the stresses of the day threatened to overwhelm her, and after the disappearance of her husband, his presumed death, well, her life had been like a living hell. Only days before, NASA had informed her of the discovery of life on Mars. It was wonderful, of course, and Frederick would have been thrilled at the news, but it did nothing to alleviate the pain of her loss, indeed, it seemed only to have been heightened.

It was a beautiful spring day, the sky a light shade of blue shot through with streaks of pink and gold where the sun was slowly rising. The aroma of spring flowers permeated the air. Honeysuckle and bayberries. Wild roses that seemed to surround her.

Just then she heard the telephone ring. She rose and stretched her lithe body. She inhaled the intoxicating air of spring. And then she went to answer.


“Julia? It’s George Barker from the Johnson Space Center. We found him. Your husband. He’s okay, Julia, and he says he has quite a story to tell you—to tell us all.”


“Over here!”

A rush of feet, searchlights on full, a staggering figure illuminated. A gasp. A sign of recognition. A weak smile.

An outstretched arm caught Frederick as he fell fainting onto the fiery plain. One month after his disappearance and a kilometer from Site 2A.

An auxiliary hose was connected to Frederick’s suit, the rush of fresh oxygen slowly reviving his half-lifeless body.

And as the mist of unconsciousness cleared, Frederick recalled the vast plain of Chryse Planitia, stretching to eternity, imagined the look of horror on the faces of his friends when they were abducted, saw, as if written in gold, al-Sufi’s writ ordering his protection, and, as the eyes of his rescuers settled upon him, heard the suspiration of the wind that only moments before had arisen and swept it all away. END

Brian Biswas is listed in the Speculative Fiction Database. His story, “A Betrayal,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has appeared in “Aoife’s Kiss” and “Bewildering Stories.” His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-DEC-2013 update.




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