Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Decoration Day
by Edward J. McFadden III

A Mother’s Touch
by Beth Cato

Breathing Space
by J.J. Green

Consarn Christmas
by Eamonn Murphy

Having Robot Sex
by William R.A.D. Funk

by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Morphological Understanding
by Jennifer Linnaea

Cloud Cover
by Eric Del Carlo

Abram’s Choice
by Jamie Lackey

by David Barber

Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Clayton J. Callahan


Ho, Ho, Holiday Giving
by Eric M. Jones

On the Antiquity of Man
by A. de Quatrefages




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Clayton J. Callahan

JACK COULDN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE every time he looked at her, this thing of absolute beauty. She had nice curves, sleek design and he even liked the color, a luscious cherry red. Better still, she was almost paid off.

He’d borrowed thousands of credits and pawned everything he owned to buy the Sundancer, a Valkyrie Class light star freighter. He’d gotten her second hand, at one of the Confederation Customs Agency’s auctions of confiscated craft. She’d gone up for auction just as he was walking away from the Navy; fifteen years of fighting other people’s wars and he’d been ready to look out for himself for a while. This made the Sundancer a kind of rebound relationship for him, and it was love at first flight.

As he climbed up the gangway on a bright sunny morning, and felt the warmth of her exhaust vents mixing with the spice-scented air of the planet Tortuga. The hatch recognized him instantly, sliding open as he approached.

“Honey, I’m home,” he called as he stepped aboard. Of course, the empty ship gave him no reply.

Captain Jack Galloway liked being his own boss. He made his own plans and minded his own business. He could fly the ship in his bathrobe if he pleased; but he preferred his old, black leather jacket with the logo of a New Vegas bordello on the back. Jack didn’t recall exactly how he acquired the jacket; much of that night would always be a blur to him. He did seem to recall seeing the bordello’s bouncer wearing it as he entered the place. However, he wasn’t so sure about when or how he left. It could have been through the door or the window. Anyway, the Sundancer didn’t have a crew to comment on his fashion sense. The ship’s numerous automated features made her a one-man starship. Just the way he liked it.

Striding through the curved, modern passageways, he felt the cool air circulating through her internal vents. He took his seat behind the controls. With Sundancer’s state of the art console, he only had to look at the access control for a moment for the software to scan his eye and automatically pull up the gangway. He never installed the autopilot protocols however; he enjoyed flying. Lovingly, he took hold of the control stick and focused his eyes on the commo unit. The transmit light came on a half-second later.

In a clear voice, he announced, “This is MJS Sundancer to Tortuga Control. Request permission to depart.”

Sundancer, you free to go, mon. Have a safe trip and be back soon,” came the usual response.

“Tortuga Control, you know I can’t stay away,” he smiled. “See you in two weeks.” Jack loved Tortuga, a warm and pleasant world with manners as relaxed as its laws. Of course, it was a sharp contrast to the planet he was going to, but those are the breaks.

The Sundancer’s thrusters flared as Jack gave her full power. Like an angel ascending on wings of fire, she swiftly reached escape velocity and broke free of the planet’s gravity well. The auto-nav plotted the fastest course possible to the planet Isis, in the Alpha System. In the ship’s hold, she carried 20,000 stuffed panda toys. In her plumbing, she carried 10,000 liters of very fine beer. The toys were legal, the beer ... not so much.


Having pipes filled with beer had certain disadvantages. Sure, all he needed to do was turn on a faucet to pour himself a cold one, but taking a shower in beer is not a good idea, and using the toilet would just flush away profits. So, for the next six days, Jack drank and bathed with bottled water. The empty bottles also had a use, and relieved him of the need to use the ship’s toilet for the most part. Unfortunately, this uncomfortable arrangement was completely necessary to get his illicit cargo past the Isis Public Protectors.

Beer wasn’t exactly illegal on Isis. The planet even operated a small, state run, brewery. Unfortunately, that brewery produced some of the most God-awful, crap-tastic beer in the known universe. The label on this vile brew called it “Isis Nectar.” Everybody who tried it called it “Isis Piss.” Jack tried a sip of it once, and it instantly reminded him of the time he passed by a bad ammonia leak from a recycling system. Still, the state that produced this sudsy abomination intended to sell it. So, how did they get folks to choose their crap beer over the competition? Simple, they taxed the living hell out of all imported brews until most folks had little choice but to choke it down or go through life sober ... and who would want to do that?

Sundancer’s pipes contained nothing but the best, a brand called Rocket Fuel Beer. Once it got past the state’s customs goons, it sold for a reasonable price in taverns planet-wide. Jack felt a prick of pride for giving the common man his due. And by going around the taxman, Jack made himself one hell of a profit. At this rate, he figured, the Sundancer would be paid off in only three more years.


Approaching Isis’ orbit, Jack’s scanners picked up an outgoing blip. Automatically, the Sundancer’s screens flashed the ident; the MJS Vagabond, an old tub of a medium freighter, home-ported on a nowhere planet called Tarkan. He just shook his head, amazed that something that ugly could actually fly. Still, no reason to be unfriendly, he glanced once again at his commo unit.

“This is MJS Sundancer to MJS Vagabond. Lulu, how the hell are you?”

The Vagabond’s captain replied in her thick Russian accent, “Jack, you son of bitch, long time, no see. We hear you not making Earth to Rama run anymore.”

“No, I got tired of doing military cargoes. Made me feel like I was still back in the service, and you know how I love taking orders. What are you guys up to nowadays?” Jack asked.

“We do run from Tortuga to Isis, mostly.”

“No kidding? Me too. Next time we’re on the same ball of dirt, we’ve got to have a drink together.”

“Is deal, we buy you first round, you buy every round after.”

“Ha!” Jack laughed. “Well, I got Isis Control on the other channel. Suppose I better get my approach vector before they start shooting. Safe voyage, Vagabond.”

“Catch you on flip side, Sundancer. Lulu, out.” And with that, Jack switched to the other channel to get his landing instructions. He followed them to the letter all the way to a docking pad at the main starport.


“Captain Galloway, I am Protector Johnson. May I see your manifest?” said the man in the steel-blue uniform with the standard issue, bureaucratic face.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack replied, as he handed the man his printout.

The official studied the manifest much longer than Jack thought necessary. “Captain, I see you are transporting toys again. Is it to the same buyer as before?”

“Yes, Sir.” Jack felt that when dealing with uncompromising and efficient public officials, it’s best to keep answers short. Calling them Sir didn’t hurt either.

“I see. Well, there should be no problem then. Unless, you have something else to tell me?” The cop let the question linger menacingly in the air.

“No, Sir.”

“Very well. Please proceed to the clinic for your mandatory health check while we perform a routine search of your ship.” Over his shoulder, Jack saw a squad of IPP cops advancing toward Sundancer, scanners in hand. This was the part that always made Jack nervous. If just one of them decided to wash his hands the jig was up. Still, he had no choice. He walked to the clinic for the usual off-worlder’s med exam.

Of all the planets of the Confederation, Isis had the strictest health laws. Jack didn’t really blame them for that. After all, a plague almost wiped out the planet’s population within the first ten years of human colonization about a century ago. The medical workers and scientists sealed themselves in quarantine and developed a cure, while the rest of the colonists died of the disease ... or were changed by it. Those who caught it and lived mutated, and so too their descendants. Many folks said that mutants were filthy, crazy, and downright unstable. But Jack knew different. To his experience, mutants were just folk with no hair and jaguar spots on their skin. Still, that didn’t keep the Regime of Isis from exploiting and abusing them every chance it got. Damned shame, really.

Two hours later, Jack finished with his exam and Sundancer’s search was over. Fortunately, none of the Public Protectors needed to use the ship’s head. As the old lift-trucks arrived to unload the stuffed pandas, Jack decided to take his shore leave. Time to visit Chad.


Jack knew Chad from his Navy days. They served together on the CJS Olympus during the Tau-Ceti Crisis. Old Chad was one of those spooks from Fleet Command who needed a closer look at the bad guys, and Jack had been just crazy enough to fly him there. The fact that Chad was of the bald and spotted set didn’t bother Jack a damn bit. A friend was a friend.

Jack knew the way to Chad’s house by heart. Just take the public tubes from the starport to the Dumpberg Station, and then walk six blocks to the old shantytown by the river.

As Jack approached the house, he noticed some things had changed a bit. For one thing, Chad had fewer neighbors. A couple of lots were newly vacant and the char of fire stained the rubble-strewn ground. Chad’s house was perfectly intact but had a new steel door and a tripwire fence. Otherwise, the outside looked like the same mud/brick/sheet-metal disaster Jack knew so well.

Chad must have seen Jack coming as he opened his front door wide. “Jack, you old nutcase! How ya’ doing?”

Jack regarded Chad’s stained, gray coveralls. “A lot better than you, shipmate! Where’s the suit and tie?” Work clothes were not Chad’s style. He had the noble bearing of a king among the peasants of the space-lanes, and usually dressed the part.

“Well, these days a mutie who puts on airs is asking for too much attention,” Chad said with a shake of his head. “You look like shit yourself. Come on in and take a load off.”

Jack walked past the battered porch and into the opulent living room. Chad’s missus was a fine lady from Central City. Her folks worked in the manor houses of Isis’ sovereign citizens, and she knew how to decorate. As Jack took off his old black leather jacket and draped it over a couch, he saw her enter the room with twin rug rats playing around her knees.

He could never keep them straight. There names were Ader and Adora, both cute as hell at eight-years-old. Nothing disarmed Jack faster than their dimples. He kept that to himself, however. Jack didn’t think he would make a very good father, not after his dad’s example anyway.

“Hello, Emma. Those kids overrun you yet?” Jack said with a smile.

“Mr. Galloway, you know some people actually like raising children. A few of us even do it on purpose,” she said. Her regal smile and warm eyes beamed at him through her tan and cream-spotted face. Turning to her kids, she said, “Now, go outside. It’s too nice of a day to play indoors.”

“But Mom ...” the kids protested in unison.

“No buts, out!” she said as she pointed to the door.

The girls turned to smile and wave to the visitor before scampering out of the house.

Jack returned the grin and waved bye-bye. Then, the three friends sat down for some coffee and conversation on the soft couches that circled the living room.

“So, Jack, when are we going to hear the news that you’re settled down and raising children?” Emma asked.

Jack’s eyes went wide as he turned and silently pleaded to Chad for help.

“Honey, Mr. Jack Galloway is definitely not the child raising type. He has one big kid that he looks out for, and that’s himself, and sometimes he’s not so good at that either. Like the time he got thirty days in the brig for hitting an officer,” Chad said with a roguish wink.

Emma smiled as she poured the coffee. “Smart man like you, Jack? Say it wasn’t so?”

Jack winced at the memory. “Stupid of me. The lieutenant was talking about a classified operation on the mess decks. Chad made a lot of contacts on the ground.”

Chad nodded. “A lot of good people were taking big risks talking to me. If the Populists found out who tipped us off, they would’ve been happy to shoot ’em. The only people who knew my informants were Jack, myself, and Lieutenant Hendrix, the intelligence officer.”

“And what a dumb-ass,” Jack chimed in. “One day I’m having my lunch on the Olympia’s mess deck, when this moron starts talking about our missions. Hendrix wanted to impress some pretty ensign, I guess. Anyway, I tried to get him to shut up polite like. Excuse me, sir. But do you really mean to be talking about that? I said. But this idiot was just too full of himself. Hendrix says Pilot, mind your damn place. So, I reached across the table and put my fist into his honker. It was too big a target to miss. The guy fell back in his chair with this what the hell look on his face. Funniest thing I ever saw. Next thing I know, five marines are piling on top of me, and I’m off to the brig. God, I learned my lesson. There ain’t no beer in jail.”

“I got word from counterintelligence that there was a Populist sympathizer on the ship,” Chad said. “Jack, maybe if you hadn’t hit that little creep, our contacts would all be in caskets.”

Jack mulled it over. “Maybe, maybe not, Chad. I just wish I hadn’t had to share a cell with Petty Officer Kent. God what a whiner! But hey, thanks for the party when I got out.”

Chad smiled, “Least I could do.”

“Tell me about the party,” said Emma.

Jack and Chad just looked at each other and smiled. Both glanced at the souvenir jacket draped over the couch.

“Best I not say, Honey. Military secret,” Chad replied.

Emma began to glare at Chad, so Jack switched subjects by commenting on the neighborhood’s new look. The mood in the room took a nosedive as Chad heaved a sigh.

“Riot,” his friend answered, “About a month ago. The rebels scored a big victory in the swampland south of Central City. Scared the living crap out of the Regime. Next thing you know the news is full of anti-mutant hysteria. You know, the usual bigoted bullshit: mutants are crazy, ugly, and disease ridden. Oh, but somehow we’re supposed to be happy to provide cheap labor for the sovereign class. You know the minimum wage laws don’t even apply to mutants anymore? They tell us we should be happy about that because it helps the economy. What crap! Anyway ... a gang of sovereign citizens came around here with firebombs, and a lot of hate. I used a sonic-screamer that the Regime didn’t know about, and they kept away from my house, but it was still awful. Our kids wake up crying every now and again.”

Jack heard that the mutant rebellion had gained traction, but he had no idea how close to the starport the fighting was now. “Chad, you’re staying out of this right? I know you got that secret squirrel training, but it won’t do you any good if things get real bad. The Regime shoots spies. This is the perfect time to just mind your own damn business.”

Chad gave Jack that half-twist of a smile he always gave before he lied. “No problem, shipmate. I’ve got no business getting mixed up in the movement. That would just put my whole family in danger, and where would we run to if that happened?”

With the coffee finished, Jack made his goodbyes and headed back to the starport. After all, he had a schedule to keep.


Back at the starport, Jack walked past the customs cops and onto the docking pad that held the Sundancer. He took a moment to let his gaze sweep over her as the sun of Isis set below the horizon, its dying rays twinkling off her red hull. Man, such a beautiful ship.

When he took his eyes from her, he turned his head to the sound of a maintainer truck approaching the pad. The driver, an old lady Jack had met before, gave him a quizzical look and Jack replied with a thumbs-up. She smiled as she dismounted the vehicle, lunch box in hand, and unraveled the hose from the back of her rig. The side of the truck read “water,” but Jack knew its tank was empty. He watched as the driver screwed the hose into the portside access of Sundancer’s life-support panel. She pulled the release handle and the beer flowed secretly into the truck.

Jack and the driver sat by the pad and chitchatted about nothing in particular for a few minutes. When the tank filled up, she disconnected the hose and drove away. Funny thing, she left her lunch box on the docking pad. Jack wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, so he picked it up and took it aboard his ship. Sure enough, it contained cash for 10,000 liters of beer, a very nice sum indeed.


In another week’s time Jack found himself back on Tortuga, and what should be parked next to the Sundancer but that old rust bucket, the Vagabond. Well, this was too good a chance to pass up. He went to his pantry and got his best bottle of whiskey and marched right over to the next docking pad to pay his neighbors-of-the-moment a visit.

“I buy the first drink, and you buy every one after. Is that the deal I recall you making, comrade?” Jack said.

Captain Lulu looked down from the top of the Vagabond’s gangway at the black leather clad space bum and smiled. “Da, something like that. You get ass aboard. I find some glasses.”

The Vagabond’s common room showed real old-school space travel design. Back when she was new, couches that doubled as acceleration safeties and cupboards that secured shot glasses in dura-foam probably seemed trendy as well as practical. Now the whole thing just looked obsolete. Still, Jack knew that the difference between heaven and hell is the people you meet. The Vagabond’s spacers were all-right guys by him. He threw his jacket onto a chair and took a seat.

Lulu handed him a glass while he undid the bottle’s cap. Short Stack Mack, the ship’s diminutive navigator, went to get a deck of cards as soon as he saw Jack enter. Deirdre, the ship’s pilot, jumped in Jack’s lap and gave him a big sloppy kiss on the forehead. “Good to see you too, kiddo,” he said to the cute mutant girl.

Drinks were poured and cards dealt. This was Jack Galloway in his natural environment, hanging out with a bunch of spacer bums without a care in the galaxy. After all, what’s freedom if you can’t enjoy it? The whiskey bottle soon emptied.

“So, what’re you guys hauling to Isis these days?” Jack asked as Short Stack opened a bottle of vodka. “Can’t be making too much money. We’re betting less than ten credits a hand here.”

“Nothing,” Deirdre answered. Lulu and Short Stack shot a look at their pilot that said shut-up, and the room got quiet.

Jack looked at his hand, a king, a queen, a pair and a jack of the wrong suit. Nobody flies from star to star for nothing. He ante'd up one credit. “Well that would explain your obvious affluence. Tell you guys what. I got a real sweet set up. I run beer past the customs goons. Make a forty-five percent profit every time. Don’t mind expanding the franchise if you’re interested?”

The Vagabond’s crew eyed each other for a moment. Lulu spoke up, “Thanks Jack, we know you all-right guy. We don’t need any more risk. We okay for now.”

Jack thought about that. Risk is part of life. Sure, you didn’t go into a vacuum without a space suit on, but risk came to everyone, whether they faced it or not. The only question is, which risks were worth taking and which weren’t. He poured a shot and took a sip of the vodka. He preferred the whiskey, but it hadn’t lasted long.

“Yeah, sure ... it’s a risk. I get caught and I lose my ship. Customs takes the Sundancer, and I spend maybe thirty days in the slammer for tax evasion. But at the rate I’m pulling in the dough, I can have the ship free and clear in just a few more years. Look at this crate,” he waved his arm about the Vagabond’s common room. “I bet the first spacer to fly in a ship like this has been dead for seventy years or more! It’s held together with spit and chewing gum for Christ’s sake. You flat out need the cash, and I’m just trying to help.”

Lulu looked at her crew as they each gave their silent answer with a shake of their heads. “No. You trying to help folks so are we. We can’t afford to have Vagabond found with cargo of beer when we already carrying so much.”

“What is it? Drugs? Weapons for the resistance? What the hell can you be carrying that is so damn risky but pays so damn bad?”

“People,” Deirdre spoke out as her shipmates glared at her with exasperation. Lulu turned to Jack with an alarmed look and a steel gaze.

“You keep this quiet, yes? You not let this get out,” Lulu pleaded.

Jack’s jaw had dropped. “People? You’re trafficking in humans?”

Short Stack spoke up. “Not humans ... mutants.”

Then it all made sense. Mutant refugees would pay to escape Isis, but few had any real money. Most smugglers wouldn’t touch a job like that. But Lulu always had a soft spot in her center. It would take a lot of refugees to make the trip worthwhile, and you could probably make just as much with a legit cargo.

“You stupid sons of guns,” Jack exhaled. “Do you know what the Isis Regime will do when they catch you? The Confederation doesn’t give a damn what happens on Isis, they got fifty worlds to worry about! The Public Protectors will take your ship, yes, but that ain’t the worst of it. You’ll be treated like enemies of the state, political prisoners, not common criminals. They’ll send you to some damn penal colony for life, and that’s if you’re not summarily executed.” Jack looked at Deirdre, “It’ll be worse for you, kiddo. You know that.”

The mutant girl just nodded.

Lulu spoke for her crew. “Is all right, Jack. You just be sure you tell no one, okay?”

“Damn straight!” Jack said as he picked up his jacket. “The Navy screwed me over plenty, fighting for causes, risking my ass for other people’s freedom. Well, I got some freedom of my own now, and I’m gonna keep it! People should mind their own business, and that’s what I intend to do.”

With that, he put on his jacket and walked down the gangway.


“This is Isis Traffic Control to MJS Sundancer, sending approved flight plan now. Please maintain present course and speed until you reach the outer marker.”

“I copy, Isis Control,” Jack answered. It'd been an especially long flight, and he was out of bottled water. But, in less than six hours, he would be checking into a starport hotel and taking a nice long bath. He would have loved to pay Chad another visit, but Jack hadn’t heard from him in months. Apparently, Chad and his family moved and left no forwarding address. Jack worried about his friend, but without any more information, that was all he could do. He checked over the flight plan on the heads-up display.

Control’s course put him down on a pad near the starport’s warehouses, a little out of the way but no big deal. He did a cursory check and found that, once again, he would be parking next to the Vagabond.

Jack considered paying them another visit, like he did on Tortuga a while back, but no. Vagabond and Sundancer had been avoiding each other lately. Best not to stir anything up, especially on Isis. A few more maneuvers, and Sundancer fired its retros for a nice, soft landing on the docking pad. When all lights read green, he looked at the access control and stretched his arms. He heard the groan of the gangway’s release, and soon his feet walked down the ramp on a beautiful, sunny, Isis day.

He looked across the field. Yep, that was Vagabond all right. The old piece of junk looked as decrepit as ever. Why didn’t Lulu just trade it in for a newer ship? A few years, a few payments, and it would be theirs. Then he remembered it would probably take Lulu’s crew a lot longer than that to pay off a new ship. After all, they weren’t smuggling beer.

Jack saw Public Protectors marching towards the ships, steel-blue uniforms looking snappy with their scanners at the ready. Jack reached into his jacket pocket for his manifest. Another inspection and another medical exam were all that stood between him and that bath. Then he saw the old maintainer truck.

It just passed Sundancer when smoke suddenly burst out of its engine compartment. The driver got out and checked under the hood. From where Jack stood, it looked like a ruptured coil ... no big deal. But the driver looked like he was about to have a heart attack. Old trucks like that are bound to have some breakdowns so Jack wondered what the guy was stressing about. Hell, only one or two of the Public Protectors even paid much attention to it. Then Jack noticed how the driver’s eyes kept darting to the Vagabond.

Lulu stood by Vagabond’s gangway watching the whole affair, trying to be cool, but Jack knew her better than that. She was shaking. Then, Jack saw people crawling out of the near side of the truck. Not people, exactly, mutants, four of them, two adults and two children. Their clothes were ragged and their bodies malnourished. A king, a queen and two of a kind; Jack knew he was in the wrong suit. Chad, his wife Emma and their two kids were hiding behind the busted down truck. Crap, Jack thought, this wasn’t going to end well.

They were less than twenty meters from freedom, but the Public Protectors were getting closer. Jack looked toward the customs men as they approached and made up his mind. No, not well at all.

Captain Jack Galloway strode to the Sundancer’s port side access life-support panel. Whispering softly, he said, “I’m gonna miss you, honey. I’m gonna miss you a lot.”

Risk is part of life. The only question is which risks are worth taking and which aren’t. A lump rose in his throat.

Grabbing the release handle firmly, he gave it a sharp pull and his contraband flowed all over the docking pad in a waterfall of golden suds. Rocket Fuel Beer, the best brew in the entire galaxy, flowing over Jack’s shoes and lapping against Sundancer’s landing gear. Protector Johnson stopped in his tracks, and his eyes became wide as shot glasses as the precious brew cascaded on the ground.

Jack didn’t dare look at the broken down truck. His eyes focused on the men in the steel-blue uniforms. Waving as the lawmen approached, he mumbled, “That’s right, you bastards, just keep looking at me and my pretty beer. Keep looking over here.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of light as the sun shone briefly on the Vagabond’s rising gangway. A minute later he heard the engines of the old freighter roar. Then, strong arms pushed him to the ground and he fell with a splash. Bathing in a puddle of beer, he felt it soaking into his pants and his jacket as his hands were bound behind his back.

As the Vagabond ascended into the sky, it cast a shadow over Prisoner Jack Galloway. He felt the momentary cool shade touch his face while Protector Johnson’s voice commanded, “You are under arrest! Do not resist. Obey all commands. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand. I sure hope you enjoy drinking Isis Piss from now on, buddy.”

Mind your own business, stop fighting other people’s wars. Some things Jack would never learn. Pursing his lips, he took a deep sip of the foaming beer from the puddle around him. He figured he might as well enjoy it now, there ain’t no beer in jail. At least it was the good stuff. END

Clayton J. Callahan writes science fiction and designs role playing and war games. He is the sole proprietor of Quick & Easy Games, designers of “Star Run.” He is also the author of “Tales of the Screaming Eagle,” and other novels and anthologies.


Adventurous Professions



screaming eagle

For more great tales of star spanning adventure featuring the crew of the Vagabond, read Tales of The Screaming Eagle by Clayton J. Callahan. Released by Double Dragon Publishing, it tells the story of young anthropologist Jan Paulski, and his studies of the lost tribe of space veterans who hang out at a bar called The Screaming Eagle.

beer book

Want more in the beer-themed science fiction department? Read, How Beer Saved the World; an anthology published by Sky Warrior Press.