Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crystal Love
by Francis Marion Soty

A Little at All Times
by David R. Bunch

Bounded in a Prison Pod
by Alan Rader

Isolated Incidents
by Nick Nafpliotis

by Barbara Krasnoff

Kella Vector
by Henry Szabranski

Growing Pains
by A.L. Sirois

It’s the Last Ice Shelf!
by Anthony Langford

Time Out at the Café Metropole
by Guy T. Martland

Canvas of the World
by Frederick Obermeyer

by Louis Shalako


Science Fiction and Fidel Castro
by Ricardo L. Garcia

Ebola’s Deadly Path
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




By Louis Shalako

THE ONLY SOUND WAS THEIR BREATHING and the whir of the cooling fans behind the instrument panels. U-1495 was deep into enemy space.

Fully cloaked and with the latest in detection gear, they had glommed onto an enemy flight path.

The disturbed space followed linear parameters. They were fortunate to have some good maps. The Conglomerate had been here centuries before. The path was still warm, and the convections were strong, and yet it was narrow. It had to be a very small ship, and this was confirmed by scope when it came in view. They spotted it when it came within a half trillion km. A bigger ship, they would have seen it farther away. All the data looked good.

It was a difficult question, whether to trust the machine or to trust the eyes.

There were said to be prime resources in the Alpha Eridani sector, but no one had seen fit to stake them.

The original prospectors were long gone.

Reed Farrell and Cameron Dowd were extremely fortunate to see this.

They had lain doggo for three full days. They were just about to ease their way out of the system to go and look for trade somewhere else. They only had so much time on station and a lot of space to cover. Strategic interstellar reconnaissance was a new science, and that added just a touch of the willies to the lower abdomen when confronted face-to-face with the success of their technique. After studying seven other systems where there was nothing going, it was a bit of a shocker to actually see something.

“Never let it be forgotten ...” Reed Farrell muttered softly as he took a quick pull from a water bottle.

“... that they were all volunteers ...” Dowd grinned, his face a satirical mask in the multi-coloured glow of the screens.

The ship was parked in an asteroid belt between the fourth and fifth planet. They were just one of a known six hundred thousand inert objects. It was assumed, or possibly just suspected (military intelligence being what it was, a lot of guesswork) that the Breakaways didn’t know much about the sector. Hopefully they didn’t know anything about the U-class ships, but even the best-kept secrets didn’t last for long.

With access to the databases of all the firms and companies acquired, merged with, or otherwise swallowed over the years, the Conglomerate perhaps better understood the commercial stakes in this system.

Reed wondered what the Breakos were doing here.

“Look at him, Reed.” Dowd pointed at the screen, where the enemy ship was doing the classic insertion into the thick, deep atmosphere of P-3, the third planet out from Eridani.

“I am.”

“I ain’t ever seen such a lovely set-up.” Dowd’s stomach rumbled; they’d have to eat something soon. “Another thing. P-3 is said to have a habitable zone.”

His fingers busied themselves dragging up the info. Reed studied the pictures.

“Hmm.” Not exactly a vacation paradise, but there was open water and greenery on a planet that seemed to have unusually large polar ice-caps and a cool, arid desert around the equator.

Fresh water was all well and good, but getting it from the surface to where it was needed was another challenge. P-3 wasn’t populated as far as the database indicated.

“Hey, Reed.”


“What’s the most precious commodity in the universe?’

People were evenly divided between water and arable land, a kind of chicken-and-egg kind of reasoning.

“I don’t know ... what?”


Reed grinned.

It was as good as any other theory. A Breako base seemed unlikely. As far as anyone knew, they didn’t have the resources. With no major markets of their own, the Breakos had one option: to break the Conglomerate.

This situation implied attack rather than defense. Hence the urgent need for reconnaissance.

Reed studied the numbers and watched the parabola as the enemy machine decelerated.

“Yeah, he’s all right.”

The guy got full points for precision. He watched the numbers carefully, comparing the possibilities with a ship-recognition manual. The enemy had some exceptional pilots. It was a good thing to know.

Tapping away, he brought up the estimated vessel mass, the power output as observed, and then he looked at the three possibilities presented by the computer.

“It’s a runabout. A yacht, a yawl ... the ship’s cutter. Something like that.”

Dowd gave his head a quick shake.

“What were they doing way the hell out here?”

Here, referred to the sixth planet, which was in conjunction, way over on the other side of the star, and about a trillion km farther out in terms of its orbit.

“I don’t know, Buddy.”

Reed bit his lip.


“Yeah. I hear you.”

They had orders, and those orders, when it seemed very likely that nothing would happen, were fair enough. Observe the enemy, and don’t get caught. If you’re vastly stronger (it was hard to imagine a ship so small that a U-class scout could tackle it on such terms), take it out—but only if in your opinion, it will yield valuable intelligence. Otherwise. don’t bother, as we’d prefer the enemy not to know about you guys just yet ... it went on, of course, but that was the gist of it.

Orders were all very well. You fulfilled your orders, you got paid. If you screwed up, you died, or if you were very lucky, switched sides or were paroled to the sidelines. The trouble with parole of course, was that you couldn’t make any money.

They were lessons learned long ago.

A simple proposition, and one the pair had met often enough. Those were all smaller jobs—much smaller, especially when first starting out in business. They’d had their disasters along the way.

They had no real way of knowing just how uncrackable their signal might be, and while it was the tightest-ass beam that money and the full weight of the Conglomerate could buy, anybody who got between the U-1495 and the signal’s intended destination would see it for sure. Or anyways, they might.

It wasn’t a very nice thought.

Dowd looked over.

“What do you want me to do?”

Reed nodded.

“What the hell, Dowd. Might as well do it.”

He watched the ship descend into the atmosphere, and then something strange happened.

“Belay that. The bastard’s coming up again.”


Dowd’s hand hovered over the emergency start button.

“All right, all right. Let’s just watch ’em.”

The enemy was at the bottom of a deep gravity well, in a low-powered ship. The real consideration was entirely unknown—what the hell was out at P-6, or otherwise why did the guy come for way out here? The enemy ship climbed into another orbit. It disappeared around the backside and they waited.

Dowd nodded in agreement, lost in his own thinking processes. The important thing was that they could get away and outrun the enemy if they must. If it was going to bust out, it would do it very soon.

Reed wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about P-6. For the moment, that one could sit on the back burner.

The enemy ship did two or more orbits, and then it did it again. It disappeared into the atmosphere for a while, and they lost it. It popped back up a minute later and went around again, always coming back to its original insertion point ...

It was only when a couple more ships came in from the vicinity of P-6 that they began to get an idea of what was going on down there. It was a hairy moment when Reed looked over and realized they were already too close for comfort, and yet he could have sworn he and Cam were fully alert and not missing a thing ...a troubling prospect, but he didn’t have time.

Reed studied the data and then had another look.

“That’s a frickin’ flight school.”

It was the only thing that sort of fit the observations, bearing in mind one of the new vessels was a slightly larger ship. The pair took careful shots with their best lens and sucked up as much EM as they could without actively searching. Much of that could be analyzed later, but the machine was chewing on it, albeit slowly. The way it was looking, the machine would call it inconclusive.

“What do we do now?” Dowd had beads of sweat on his forehead and their ship, normally a bit chilly even on a good day, seemed downright warm inside for a change.

Reed couldn’t help but notice beads of sweat rolling down his ribs and the insides of his arms.

“Well. I’m damned if I know.”

On the one hand, they could probably get a couple of quick kills and get out of there—

“Reed. Those boys came from P-6.”


They sat watching the activity on P-3, as the student pilots, all of them seeming fairly competent, practiced planetary insertions and re-boots. Dowd, ever attentive, swept the panels for cabin pressure, breathing mixture, air quality, and all other systems. With Reed, it was like he just didn’t care sometimes.

“What are they practicing for, Reed?” This was another good question. “Is it just qualifications, or are they planning a raid somewhere?”

“Huh. Interesting. I don’t know. I would also like to know how we’re supposed to get out of here.”

He meant unobserved. Entering the system, fortuitously from the far side of P-3 and P-6, the silvery front of their ship was all that had been visible. The four hot little engines on the back end presented them with an entirely different problem.

Dowd, bushy black beard sticking out at all angles, front half of the head shining in the dull blue overhead light, set his devious mind to work on that for a while. Normally clean-shaven, Reed was feeling distinctly grubby.

The key thing in intelligence-gathering was patience. The enemy wasn’t just passing by. They were here to stay for a while. They had foreseen the possibility of contact, but not the difficulty of being outflanked by multiple sightings. The galaxy was a vast and empty place, and yet this system was awfully crowded for some reason. Dowd suspected their ultimate survival would benefit from patience, as well. There was no need to be hasty. His friend was inclined to have balls of brass, although Reed was cool enough once the shooting started or fists began flying.

No, I don’t like this at all.

He’d have to keep an eye on Reed.

The intruder’s mission was, first and foremost, not to get caught, second, to gather intelligence, and more than anything, deliver a meaningful report.

The pair decided to sit on it for a while.

The next development was frankly terrifying. A purely military ship, what looked like a destroyer, left low orbit from P-3, and after transiting the intervening space, made the jump and disappeared in the direction they themselves had come from. So now they had him to contend with too.

“Holy, shit, Reed.”

“I know, I know.”



“Humph.” Reed woke with a start, and gave his mischievous hazel eyes a quick rub. “What?”

“How are we going to get a look at P-6?”

There wasn’t much going on down below. Dowd had let him sleep.

During that time, one more ship had done their obligatory half-dozen practice insertions and then apparently stayed planet-side. That made at least five of them still down there.

“I’ve got just the solution, my man.”

“Hmm. I’ve got a funny feeling I’m not going to like this.” Outside the small window to Dowd’s right, a billion stars looked on in total indifference to their fates.

The dim back-light couldn’t hide his concern.

“Ah, don’t worry. You’re going to love it.” Reed started tapping in the numbers.

Watching his own screen, Dowd’s mouth opened and then clamped shut when the significance sunk it.

“Oh, nice.” He uttered a deep sigh. “Yeah. I should have known.”

It was fun while it lasted. Dowd went into the rear cubby and checked to see that everything in the galley had been put away and that there was no loose equipment or clothing lying around. He came back and strapped himself in.

Three minutes later, U-1495 was out-bound, at a moderate sub-light cruise, heading in a perfectly-calculated student-pilot-type arc, straight for P-6.

“... and if there’s nothing there, then no harm done. Right, Buddy?”

“Sure, Reed. Whatever you say.” Dowd had a sick feeling in his tummy right about then.

Dowd had learned to trust his gut.


Blocked from view by the planet’s ring system, they were on it before they knew what was happening. Ring A was just a light fog of dispersed gases, but it took forever to punch through.

Dowd began streaming curses, and Reed did three things.

Reed noted in his peripherals the small moon, composed largely of water ice by the display. He hit the icon to roll all cameras, and he smacked the throttle all the way forward with the heel of his right hand.

When they regained equilibrium, they were light-years away and still accelerating.

Dowd had developed a powerful thirst.

He looked over at his friend of the past eleven years after quickly rolling the pictures.

“Three of them, buddy. Frickin’ battle-wagons. Complete with escorts, and a couple of pocket cruisers—and that big, fat, juicy tanker.”

Reed looked up from the rear-view screen, where because of ionization and electromagnetic convection they would never see anything, anyway. It took a little while for space and time to eddy back into its original configuration, but Reed had the impression there was nobody back there. The odds were very good that they had been detected, he thought.

“Hold on.”

Nodding, Dowd was still strapped in.

Reed made a course change. It would take longer, but they stood a better chance of making it home if they kept things a bit erratic. The first few zigzags were the most extreme. As speed built, course changes were finer, but the result was a greater deviation from predicted course.

“All right, Buddy. Were you saying something?”

Dowd took off his shoulder straps.

“Nope. Never mind.”

Anyway, Dowd figured he had earned that drink and, for that matter, so had Reed.

There must have been a dozen enemy ships tucked in here.

The really important thing was to live to tell about it, and to drink another day.

Dowd was a philosopher, and if you calculated the odds, that destroyer could be anywhere.

The odds of running into it—perhaps even literally, were exceedingly small.

“Reed.” Dowd settled in again. “Let me know when we’re ready to send a signal.”

“Oh, is that the bottle? You can do that now, I guess.”

Hitting a moving, cup-sized target a hundred light-years away, from an object moving at many times FTL, using a beam little bigger than a human hair, was a problem that had always fascinated Dowd. His mind was already nibbling on the equations. But a sip or two first wouldn’t hurt.

Reed reached over and nudged him on the shoulder.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” He handed over the amber fluid, strapped himself in, and got to work.

Reed made a few more impulsive course changes with his free hand. It would make them that much more difficult to predict, and therefore intercept.

“Hey, Dowd.”


“What’s the second most precious commodity in the universe?”

“Hmm. Hand over that bottle, and I’ll give you my answer in a minute.”

Reed laughed out loud at that one.

It really did kind of help though.

Dowd’s tension slowly eased.

The only sound was their breathing and the whir of the cooling fans behind the instrument panels. END

Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Ontario and has written for community newspapers such as “Brant News,” and “The Nanticoke Times.” His fiction has appeared in “Bewildering Stories,” “Aurora Wolf,” “Algernon,” and more.


Adventurous Professions




mystic doors