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



Consarn Christmas

By Eamonn Murphy

“DARN!” BRENDAN CONWAY WAS WAKENED by a loud cry. “It’s Christmas!” The shout came from second engineer Sean McMurty as reveille sounded over the speakers at 0700 ship’s time. He glanced at the chronometer/calendar on the wall—the one that showed Earth time.

“Again,” he added sourly. Conway sighed. He knew how McMurty felt. However, their other bunkmate took a different view.

“Sean.” The prim voice of Navigator Kelly carried a note of warning. “It is Christmas and so we must be joyful.”

“Again,” said Conway, no joy in his tone. He was executive officer of the starship De Valera and part of his duties included scheduling rotas, no easy task in their present situation. Three quarters of the crew, mostly Irish, were practicing Catholics and needed time off to go to mass every Sunday, and every Christmas, and every Easter and every holy day of obligation. Conway cursed the religious revival that had taken place in the mid 21st century. But he cursed it silently. The captain had a strict no swearing policy enforced by hefty fines—a day’s pay if someone reported you. For swearing over the ship’s intercom it was a week’s pay. Happily, words permitted by the Hays code used in old Hollywood were allowed as a kind of safety valve. Late at night the recreation deck rang with consarns, dagnabbits and darns, as if it were crewed by 1890s California gold prospectors, or Walter Brennan clones.

Conway swung his long legs out of the bunk and donned his uniform trousers, tunic and shoes while the other two relaxed and watched him.

“Aren’t you having a lie-in for Christmas?” asked McMurty in an innocent voice.

“No. I’m on duty.”

McMurty sat up. “Dagnabbit, so am I soon, and I fancy some breakfast first.” He got up.

“I assume you’re going to mass,” said Kelly.

McMurty shrugged. “I might skip it.”

Kelly grunted. “I sometimes think you engineers are so focused on the material aspects of creation that you don’t pay as much attention to the spiritual side as you should.”

“What about him?” The second engineer nodded towards Conway. “He’s a dirty atheist.”

“Actually, I’m a dirty agnostic.” Conway grinned at Kelly. “If you lie there much longer it’ll be Boxing Day and you can open your presents.”

“Yippee!” said McMurty. “I assume you’ve got me something, too.”

“Of course. It’s traditional.”

McMurty raised his eyes to the ceiling. “God help us.” His upward look was traditional, too, for it had once been thought that the Almighty resided above the Earth. In his present circumstances it was meaningless becauser the heavens were all around him. He clapped the EO on the shoulder. “Let’s go, Brendan.”

When they had left Kelly and were in the corridor, McMurty said: “He’s a good bloke, really, just a bit strict about his faith.”

“I don’t care,” said Conway. “This religious observance is driving me nuts. How many days are we from the halfway mark to Gliese 518?” At that point the De Valera would begin decelerating and slowly go back to normal time relative to Earth.

“About ten months.”

“And how many Christmases is that?”

“Only nine more!”

Conway closed his eyes and winced.

“As an engineer,” said McMurty, “I blame Einstein.”

“I blame the Pope,” said Conway.

“Ah, you can’t do that.”

“I can’t cope with this, either. I’m going to see the captain.”

“Good luck. He’s more religious than Kelly.”


Really, the Creator was to blame for their predicament because he had forged the nature of space-time, but in this matter Einstein was his prophet. It was all relative. The De Valera was the first Irish starship and the whole country had been proud when it launched. Richer nations had pioneered the diaspora into the galaxy: China first, then Russia, then the U.S.A. and France. As the technology became cheaper, smaller countries joined in and Ireland was proud to be among that number. It had been decreed that the crew should observe religious feast days in accordance with Earth time, in line with their families and friends back home. Unfortunately, as the ship went faster Earth time passed more rapidly for the ship. Now they were approaching 99.995 percent of the speed of light. Christmas came every thirty-six days, as did Easter. There were fifty-two Sundays in that period, too, one every seventeen hours, as well as several holy days of obligation. In the early stage of the voyage, Executive Officer Conway joked that the crew spent more time on their knees than at their stations.

He didn’t joke about it anymore. Certainly not with the captain.

“I don’t think I can cover all the rotas, sir,” said Conway.

Captain Mahoney blinked. “How so?” Personal religious items were not allowed to be worn with the uniform, but the senior officer had a crucifix placed prominently on the wall behind him and a picture of Pope John Paul V on his desk. There was no doubting the strength of his faith.

“It’s Christmas again, sir. And at this speed the time differential is almost ten to one. We have five hundred and twenty Sundays a year, Earth time. That’s two every three days our time. Today it’s Christmas in the morning and Sunday this evening. Most of the crew need time off to go to mass twice. It makes the rotas very difficult. Impossible, really. There’s a definite danger that if something happens there won’t be enough staff to cope.”

“A competent executive officer would be able to manage.” The captain grunted in exasperation. “Mass only takes an hour at most. They have enough time off surely.”

“But they can’t go whenever they like. They have to go when Father McAndrew says it, and he’s only human. He can’t say mass non-stop so that all the crew can attend. He has other duties.”

The captain dismissed the argument with a chop of his hand. “You should still be able to keep the ship running smoothly.”

Conway repressed a sigh. “I’ll try. Obviously our top priority is the safety of the colonists so the hibernation pods must be fully manned at all times.”

The captain nodded. The whole purpose of the voyage was to plant good Irish farmers on another planet so they might go forth and multiply.

Conway took a deep breath then asked the big question. “I was wondering, sir, if it would be possible to change over to ship’s time for these sort of things. We are so close to light speed now that Earth time is becoming impracticable. We run on ship’s time for the normal ship functions.”

“Obviously.” The captain stood up and paced to the view port in his office wall. Looking out at the stars, with his back to his number two, he said: “Religious feasts follow Earth time because the church is on Earth. The Pope himself decreed that it be so.”

“But ... you’re the captain of the De Valera, sir. Can’t you change that?”

Mahoney turned around and glared at him. “A captain has authority in most things, sir, but in spiritual matters the authority of the church is absolute.”

Conway realised it was useless to argue. “Right, sir.” He left.


At the refectory he was unsurprised to see that there was a skeleton staff and only cold dishes were available. Mass. He sat at a table with Rudyard Chauhan, the Indian telepath and communications officer.

Telepathy was not proven at the beginning of the century but it was undeniable that some test subjects showed results that defied random chance. Twins, especially, seemed able to communicate on some non-verbal level. Then drugs developed to fight Alzheimer’s disease were found to boost the psi abilities of such people. Further tests showed that their communication defied the normal laws of relativity as it seemed to be virtually instantaneous. So when travel to the stars became practical with the Hawking/Branson drive, telepaths were recruited as communications staff. One twin stayed on Earth, the other went to the stars. When radio communication, limited by light speed, became impossible, the telepaths took over. Unfortunately, there were no Irish telepaths. This had sparked a lot of bad jokes in England about Irish brains, until it was discovered that there were no English telepaths either. The best available candidate was an Indian.

Conway smiled as he remembered his first meeting with Chauhan. It had been in the recreation area of the De Valera on the first night out from Earth and he was with second engineer McMurty. They had both had a few too many and sat by Chauhan to befriend him. But first they had a bit of fun.

“Are you a good Catholic, Mister Chauhan.”

The handsome, dusky skinned communications officer was soft spoken and polite. “No sir. I am a Hindu.”

Conway looked at McMurty in mock puzzlement. “What’s a Hindu?”

“It lays eggs,” said the engineer.

Conway chuckled and nudged Chauhan with his elbow. “Say, you’re a clever man. I mean, you must have a big brain to be a telepath. So tell me”—he paused to don his uniform cap—“what would happen if I cut off my ears.”

The Indian frowned. “Your hearing would be affected, I suppose.”

“Wrong!” shouted McMurty. “He wouldn’t be able to see.”

“Because my cap would fall down over my eyes,” said Conway.

The two men cackled with glee at the old joke.

Chauhan sighed. “Gentlemen, I know as well as you do that every person on this ship has a university education. Many have two science degrees. So when you play me like a couple of navvies I know you are fooling around. Fine. I expect you to have a bit of fun with me on the first day but please don’t keep it up for the whole mission. Good day to you” He rose to his feet to go.

The EO grabbed the young Indian’s sleeve. “Sit down, son. If you can’t take a joke on a ship full of Irishmen it’s going to be an awful long voyage. We apologize. Sincerely. Now sit down and relax”

To his relief the man sat. He might have made a complaint to the captain. Since that time they had become good friends and he was pleased to see the Indian that morning.

“How goes it, telepath?”

“Chauhan smiled. “Getting more difficult. My twin is on Earth time so his thoughts come at me ten times too fast. But he can slow down the words and make himself understandable, just. Of course, he has the opposite problem in that my words come to him dead slow.”

“The time differential is causing me problems, too.” Conway explained the situation.

Chauhan looked worried. “I believe you are right. If there was any kind of emergency and the crew were not at their stations it could be very dangerous. But I thought the captain was the supreme authority on board a ship. Surely he can change the system?”

“He doesn’t recognize his own authority. He says it’s a spiritual matter and outside his remit. The church is in charge of such things.”

“Hmmm. Then you should speak to Father McAndrew.”

Conway stared at him. As an agnostic he had very little contact with the priest and had not considered him as a person of any real power. He clicked his fingers. “Rudyard, that’s a brilliant idea. Why didn’t I think of it?”

The Indian tapped his head with a forefinger. “You must remember that as a telepath I have a very big brain. You told me so yourself on the first night of the voyage, remember?” He grinned.

“I had hoped you’d forgiven us by now.”

“I forgive. I never forget.”


Conway found Father McAndrew in his office behind the chapel, hard at work on his next sermon. He looked up in surprise when the executive officer, after knocking, entered. “Mister Conway. I haven’t seen you at mass.”

“I haven’t been. Keeping busy, Father?” The tall, lean cleric was sitting, frowning at the blank screen of his laptop, one long-fingered hand clutching his mop of dark hair. He sighed.

“I’m saying mass virtually non-stop and having to write sermons for every one. And one of my parishioners has the habit of taking confession before every service, even though there’s very little opportunity for sin in the short time between them.”

“Is it Navigator Kelly?”

The priest twitched. “I couldn’t possibly say. Now, how can I help you?”

“What I want would help you, too. This present system of following religious observances according to Earth time is making it very hard to run the ship, and it’s obviously Hell for you.” Conway remembered the strict rules on swearing. “I mean Heck for you.” That didn’t sound right either. He thumped the table in frustration. “Consarn it! I mean, it must be difficult for you. The captain says he has no authority over spiritual matters so I came here.”

The priest shook his head. “Alas, I can do nothing.”

Conway had really believed the priest could help and was visibly annoyed. “Damn ... I mean, darn it, Father. Don’t you have authority over Catholic matters on board this ship?”

“Not to that extent.” McAndrew leaned back in his chair and spread his arms in a gesture of helplessness. “When we set forth on this voyage the Pope himself decreed that we should follow the Earth calendar for Catholic feast days.”

Conway swallowed an inappropriate curse. “Dagnabbit it, Father. Didn’t anyone explain to him what it would mean when we got so close to the speed of light?”

McAndrew pursed his lips. “I believe he is a doctor of Divinity, not Physics. We are focused on man’s place in the universe, not how it works. I doubt if he understood. And, meaning no disrespect or anything, John Paul V was very old. Most Popes are.”

Conway looked at the Earth time chronometer/calendar on the wall. “Yes,” he murmured. “Yes, they are.”


Conway had a busy few hours but the following day he wore a satisfied grin as he sat in the communications room beside Chauhan. Internal communications as well as external were handled from the Indian’s neat office and as he sat before the toggles, lights, and touch screens of the comms system, the executive officer looked almost smug, especially when Father McAndrew came there to announce mass times.

Conway watched him pick up the microphone and let him begin.

“It’s Sunday on Earth in the next few hours,” said the priest. “Mass times for the ship are as follows ...”

“Belay that!” shouted the executive officer. “As of right now religious festivals are on ship’s time, not Earth time.”

Chauhan kept transmitting so the whole ship could hear.

Father McAndrew looked visibly relieved for a few seconds, then frowned. “Who says so?”

“The new Pope, George Ringo I.”

“George Ringo?”

“He’s a fan of classical music,” Conway explained. “Thought it followed on nicely from the last John Paul. Anyway, through the good offices of Mister Chauhan and his twin on Earth, and the Irish diplomatic corps, we got a message sent to him explaining our crisis. It took a couple of days but that’s only hours our time. He has rescinded the last Pope’s decree in the name of common sense.”

“A new Pope.” McAndrew looked mildly surprised.

“Actually, he’s been in for about a year. We’ve been watching that ... darned Earth calendar and counting days but forgetting that there are events as time passes. It’s real time and real life going by back home not just pages of a calendar flipping over. Popes come and go. Things change. Oh, one other thing that might interest you, Father.”


“Priests can get married now. So when we get to the new colony you can start a family, maybe.”

McAndrew looked surprised again. “Bless my soul.”

“Bless Pope George Ringo I.” said Conway. “Hell, Father, I may even go to mass in his honour.”

“Heck,” said the priest. He nodded to Chauhan who still had the intercom transmitting. “You just lost a week’s pay, Mister Conway.”

“Darn.” END

Eamonn Murphy is a 53-year-old writer living near Bristol, England, and working for the NHS. He grew up reading Marvel comics, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and all the classics. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUL-2014 update.