Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Blink Twice

By Rebecca Birch

“YOU’RE AN IDIOT,” MY WIFE SUSAN said, the day I told her it would be my turn to make the jump. Her cleaver sliced through a celery stalk, pounding against the bamboo cutting board so fast I worried for her fingers. The faintly acidic smell set my teeth on edge. She knew I hated celery. It was why she’d taken to adding it to everything. “You’re all bloody idiots. What’s the point? Why risk your lives for a glimpse of the future? What does knowing gain you?”

“Hope,” I said. “No more, no less.”

It really was that simple for me. As long as there was a future, I had something to live for. A reason to keep clinging to the hope that things would get better someday.

Besides, it would be easy. A simple leap forward in time. My colleagues had done it before me, the brave souls who would go down in history as the pioneers of a new era. First it was a day. Then a week. A year. Never staying longer than it took to blink twice. Too dangerous to linger. Too easy to be the pebble sending ripples out in all directions. To accidentally shift humanity’s course.

Susan swept the celery into her grandmother’s old ceramic bowl with the rest of the salad and the strips of grilled chicken, poured too much Italian dressing on top of it, and slammed the bowl onto the sleek oak table in the breakfast nook.

The window over the stainless steel sink was open, letting in the late evening breeze. The lilac bush outside was in bloom and the thick sweet smell filled the kitchen, too painfully lovely. The ozone energy between Susan and me should have killed anything so pure.

I filled my chipped brown plate, a remnant from my bachelor days, and took a bite without sitting down. The chicken should have been delicious, but I couldn’t taste it, the herbs nothing more than grit against my tongue.

Susan took a seat on the built-in bench, slouching back against it. The sound of her chewing jackhammered off my eardrums.

“I’m jumping day after tomorrow,” I said. “The plan is for two hundred and fifty years.” She didn’t want to know, but I needed to talk about it to somebody. “No one’s gone that far ahead yet.”

Her fork scraped the bottom of the dish.

“There haven’t been any accidents. Not even a glitch. There and back, every time, and a new snapshot of what’s to come. Jack hasn’t stopped talking about his hundred year jump. About the hover cars and the pink dog and—”

Susan slammed her hand onto the table, clattering the knife and spoon sitting in perfect arrangement beside her bowl. “Who bloody cares about a damned pink dog? How’s that worth risking your life? Steve, if something goes wrong, if you don’t come home, how am I supposed to feel? That you cared more about a fucking dog than leaving your wife alone in the world?”

Tears glimmered in her eyes, but didn’t fall. I didn’t know what to think. Was it really all about her? Or was she actually worried about me, but didn’t know how to admit it?

I sighed and moved close to her, dropping a kiss on her forehead. She smelled like fru-fru shampoo and dryer sheets, the way I always remembered. My chest tightened and I stepped back. “I’m going for a walk. Don’t wait for me.”


Icy surf rushes forward in a wash of foam. I’m in up to my knees. The surf tries to knock me off-balance, but I hold my ground, one foot in front of the other like Lady Liberty. I curl my toes, barely able to feel my cracked and blistered feet. Displaced grains of damp sand shift beneath me then slide seaward.

Heavy clouds hang low. The few patches left open to the sky reveal only more gray—a silent, patient haze slowly choking the life from this feeble earth. A sharp wind, dripping with the smell of salt and impending rain, ruffles my month-old beard. Thunder rumbles in the distance, beyond the jagged spire of basalt that stands like a silent soldier in the dull gray waves halfway between the shore and the horizon.


“We’ll kayak out there some time,” Susan said, shielding her eyes from the blinding sun the first time we came to this stretch of beach: me fresh from my Ph.D., she overflowing with pride at being able to say, “My husband, Doctor Carter.”

“Looks dangerous,” I said, looping my arm around her waist and pulling her against me. Even in early summer, the breeze was cool, and I kept my body between her and the worst of it.

Susan leaned her head back against my neck, her blond curls tickling my chin. “What’s life without a little danger, as long as we’re together?” Twisting in my arms, she nuzzled up against me, pulling my face down until she could trace her lips along the line of my jaw, up to my ear. “You’ll take care of me, won’t you?”

God help me, I loved when she did that. Made me feel like a man. For a while we lost ourselves in slow, lingering kisses flavored with her strawberry chapstick. Her hands found their way under my shirt and up my back, fingernails grazing over my skin, driving me crazy.

I’d have given anything to make love there on the beach, but we weren’t alone, and in the end I forced myself to pull back, apologizing with a soft kiss on her forehead.

We perched on a twisted piece of driftwood, sandflies hopping everywhere like Mexican jumping beans, and watched the sun set over the ragged island. The log’s uneven surface dug into my thighs, but I ignored it, content to have Susan leaning up against me, my arm and the side of my black walking jacket wrapped around her shoulder.

“I don’t know what it is about this place,” she said, “but it speaks to me. I want you to spread my ashes here when I die.”

I squeezed her, staring out into the molten sky. “Nobody’s dying.”


The waves slam against me in angry rushes of foam. Salt spume coats my skin, seeps past my lips. I’m numb from the waist down. My teeth chatter like a snare drum. Long fingers of rain smudge the horizon, racing toward shore on the west wind.

A lone seagull glides past, its harsh cry cutting over the crash of the surf and the hiss of the wind. I wonder whether he’s searching, too.

The bird circles once, then soars southward, vanishing when his plumage becomes one with the sky’s relentless gray. The emptiness he leaves behind feels deeper than it had before he came. A canyon dredged by guilt and regret.


Susan and I had planned a trip to the Grand Canyon to celebrate our fifth anniversary. It was difficult to find a time. There was a deadline at the lab, and I grudged every minute I couldn’t spend there, but Susan wheedled, cajoled, and pouted until I managed to find a week wedged between the end of one round of tests and the start of the next to fill with hours stuffed in the Volvo station wagon and nights camping in the old blue three-man tent that smelled of must, pretending we were still young and the hard ground didn’t leave us feeling like rusted, aching tin men in the morning.

Susan did the packing. It made her happy, puttering through the garage to dig out the forgotten Kelty packs, poly bottles that never lost the taste of iodine, the single-burner gas stove and its robin’s-egg-blue fuel canisters.

The back end of the Volvo filled with bundled plaid wool shirts, his and hers Big-Bird-yellow rain slickers, and coolers full of freeze-dried meals in shiny silver pouches.

We’d just slammed the back door on the last of the provisions when the lab called with the news. A freezer had lost power, destroying half the test samples. A week’s worth of work lost. They needed me. Needed my expertise to reset everything back the way it should have been or we’d miss the deadline. Probably lose funding.

“I’m really sorry,” I told Susan, scratching the stray hairs at the back of my neck, looking at the car, the wilting dandelions lying flat in the planter beside the driveway. Anywhere but here. “I know this was important to you.”

Her hiking boot toe scraped over the mottled asphalt. “I thought it was important to both of us.”

“It was. It is. But I’ve got no control of over this, Sue.” I finally looked at her face, hoping to find a glimmer of understanding, but she’d gone blank as an empty whiteboard.

“Why don’t you still go?” I suggested. “Take some girl time. Get back to nature. Make campfire s’mores while I put out a different kind of fire.”

She didn’t say anything at all, but the corners of her lips twitched downward, as if she were fighting to keep an even expression and losing.

I hated to leave her like that, knowing I was cracking the foundation. “We’ll find another time. I promise.”

“It’s okay,” she said, her right hand fiddling with the diamond solitaire she’d worn for the last five years. “I understand.”

I took her by the shoulders and pressed my lips to her forehead. “Thank you.” She shivered and pulled away.

By the time I backed the Ford Galaxy out of the garage, the Volvo was gone, and Susan with it.


I can barely keep my feet. The tide has reached my chest, pressing me backward with each swell, though the waves no longer break against me. My breath comes in shallow gasps, barely expanding my constricted lungs. Dizziness threatens to topple me. Rain pours down on the island, dark and heavy as spilled motor oil.


The place where Susan’s Volvo should have been parked was empty when I got back from my walk, still thinking about the chicken salad and the pink dog. There was only a light sheen of oil on the hard gray cement, and a note taped to the screen door.

The note was scrawled on a yellow Post-It instead of her usual perfumed stationery with roses printed on the background. “I’m going to find somewhere that I matter. I won’t be back. —Susan. P.S. Don’t wait for me.”

I should’ve seen it coming, but I’d become a moth inevitably drawn to the hypnotizing flame of research and exploration, blindly assuming my Susan would someday understand. The screen door guarded the entrance to a house full of mementos and memories of a shared life, but it was nothing more than an abandoned shell without half its soul.

My hand rested on the knob, the flaking paint rough on my palm. I stayed that way a long time, convincing myself I could handle going inside, at least long enough to cram an overnight case and flee to the safe sterility of the lab. A gibbous moon hung over the tree line in a field of accusing stars. I sucked in a diver’s breath and plunged into the darkness.


Each breath is filled with muddy rain, the sea clutching at my chin. A strand of kelp clings to my neck like a noose. This is the future I’d ached to see. How could I have known?


Dr. Sanjeev Mohan reminded me of Bunsen Honeydew, with his rumpled white lab coat, Muppet-round head, and bottle-thick black framed glasses perched atop his pointy nose. “When you are ready, you please to stand in center of the pad,” he said, gesturing through the observation glass to the silver-smooth disk inside the jump room, a stark white cubicle lined with micro-reflective chips. “Big day!” His white teeth beamed in his dark face. “New future glimpse.”

I forced myself to return his smile, but my enthusiasm had frozen—an iceberg drifting in the arctic sea where Susan should have been. The antiseptic smell left behind after the decon team prepped the jump room irritated my nostrils, and the variable camouflage suit I’d helped design scratched on every inch of skin it touched, which was every inch of skin at all.

“You’ve run all the checks?” I asked.

Of course he had. Dr. Mohan and his team had been doing this for a while now, and we weren’t all just colleagues. We were friends. None of us would take unnecessary risks.

Except leaping into an unknown, unseen future. I couldn’t stop hearing Susan’s voice, and finally I began to understand. For her the future wasn’t hope. It was the boogie-man beneath the bed. The nightmare that wakes you in a puddle of sweat with the taste of bile swimming at the back of your throat.

As I waited to leap two hundred and fifty years into the future, all I wanted was a chance to go back. To make different choices. To take that trip to the Grand Canyon. Kayak out to the basalt island. Embrace the lust for life I’d managed to crush beneath the heel of my devotion to my career.

“Give me just a minute, Sanjeev,” I said. “There’s something I need to do.”

A pad of graph paper hung on a clipboard by the jump room’s entry. I grabbed the BIC pen hooked through the clamp and wrote, Susan— then stopped. What could I say? Would anything be enough?

The blue lid tapped the sheet arrhythmically while I gnawed on my lip. Finally I realized nothing would be enough. All that mattered was truth.

If you read this, something’s gone wrong. I know you don’t want to hear from me. I know how much I’ve let you down. But I can’t make the jump without telling you I love you. I’ve always loved you. And somewhere on the other side, I’ll be waiting. Your Steve.

Among the things I’d excavated from the skeleton house was a photo that had hung on the refrigerator so long the image was nearly sepia, although it had been color once. Susan and me, our backs to the sea, the ragged island peeking out from behind my left shoulder. We were smiling then. The wind played in Susan’s pale curls and the sunlight gleaming through made her look like she had her very own halo. She’d held the camera herself, throwing the image askew, but I didn’t care. She was beautiful then. Happy. The Susan of my memory.

I touched the photo to my lips, brushing them over her forehead, wishing it was her there with me, not a sick-slick piece of paper.

Dr. Mohan cleared his throat. “Time to be going, yes?”

Regretfully, I laid the picture on the corner of the Formica countertop. “Yes.”

I folded the note.

“Sanjeev, if something happens and I don’t come back, will you see that Susan gets this? She may not be easy to find.”

He wobbled his head back and forth in that uniquely Indian manner that seemed to mean both yes and no at the same time. “Not to worry. The system has been tested many times.”

“Humor me. Please.”

“Yes, very good. If you wish.”

Then we were into the final checks. Checking the suit’s ion charger for the return trip. Calibrating the optic camera embedded in my vari-camo mask. His hands smelled like curry.

Sanjeev stepped back and smiled. “Pre-jump check complete. All clear.” This was for the benefit of the lab recorder. We both knew. Words weren’t necessary.

“Confirmed, pre-jump check all clear.”

He took my hand and pumped it. “Best of luck, my friend.”

I stepped into the jump room and placed my feet dead center on the slick metallic disk. The complete stillness of the air made my ears pop and hum. My gut twisted. Fingers flexed. A piece of the apple I’d eaten at lunch was wedged between my teeth and I worked it with my tongue. In my rush to leave home, I’d forgotten to grab dental floss.

“Commence countdown,” the computer said. We’d used Margaret, the receptionist, as the voice. Smooth and reassuring.

I wanted nothing more than to run. To fling myself through the glimmering white wall. Throw myself at Susan’s feet and beg for forgiveness.

“Ten ... nine ... eight ... seven ...”

Sensation vanished in my toes. A high-pitched whine vibrated the micro-receptors, making my teeth ache. I focused on breathing.

“Six ... five ... four ...”

No fingers. No legs. My eyes throbbed.

Normal. This is normal.

“Three ... two ...”

Nothing but light. Blinding. Agony.




Gray. Swirling clouds of microscopic gray. Harsh wind. Broken skyscraper corpses. Drifts of gray like molding snow clinging to the remnants. Silence. Stillness. Where are the people? The trees? Dear God, what happened here?


Ion pulse to pull me home. Arm hairs, leg hairs erect. Static spike. Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. Can’t—




The ionic energy fades. Gone.

I’m still here.


I don’t know how the world ended. Meteor strike? Comet? Supervolcano? It doesn’t matter. I came here to find hope. Instead I found apocalypse.

The air is gritty, and tastes wrong. Like old freezer ice left too long without baking soda. I don’t know for sure why the suit malfunctioned. Best guess, there’s something off in the atmosphere. Enough to interact with the electronics. There’s not so much as a glint of power left in the suit, and even if I could find a way to recharge, the co-ordinates are lost. Will the team send someone after me? I both hope for it and pray they don’t. The protocol says no, but still I linger, until pale gray has turned to black, then twice more, drinking puddled rainwater rough with sediment.

They aren’t coming.

I scrounge the forsaken ruins, littered with ash and clutter and bones, find enough canned food to keep me going, and turn for the coast. It isn’t a choice. An instinctive, primal need, born of memory and the last hope left to cling to.

I want you to spread my ashes here when I die. No way to know if she followed through with that wish. She wrote it into her will, back when she was young and never really believed in death anyway. Anything could have changed. I’ll never know.

But it’s enough. One last chance to be near her again.


The implacable tide swamps over me, filling my mouth, my nose, with briny tears I’m too broken to shed. This was my choice. My dream.

Death is my earned reward.

Darkness swamps me, thick, cloying, impenetrable. My arms spread wide to embrace it.

A seagull’s cry breaks into my awareness, dragging my eyes upward, unwilling. The bird’s sleek gray body glides up out of the south, but this time it’s not alone. Just behind, a second gull follows in its wake, squalling its raucous call. They swoop and play on the wind like a pair of schoolkids.

Something unfamiliar surges through my veins. Something I’d thought was lost forever. Hope. If the gull had given up, he’d never have found his companion. How can I do less?

The chances of anyone finding me, much less mounting a successful rescue, are so small I’d have to search for them under an electron microscope, but that’s better than no chance. Dr. Mohan and the rest wouldn’t abandon me without a fight.

I spit out a mouthful of seawater, churning my leaden limbs. The tide drags at me, unwilling to relinquish its claim, but Susan’s claim is stronger still. Giving up now would only prove her right about me. Choosing death is selfish. The easy way out. In my note, I promised I’d be waiting on the other side, and that’s where I’ll be. On the other side of time, waiting for the door to open.

I stumble free of the surf. My body is numb and trembling. Must keep moving. I scoop up a handful of damp sand as a talisman. Maybe some wisps of her ashes are already there. Maybe mine, too.

I don’t know what my future holds, but I pray for only one thing. The past.

My feet turn to the east, blood beginning to pulse pain through my numb veins. Each throb is pain, the pain a reminder that I am still alive. I take the first step. And the next. And the next.

I have a long walk ahead of me. END

Rebecca Birch is a science fiction and fantasy writer based in Seattle. Her fiction has appeared in the “Grantville Gazette: Universe Annex,” “Abyss & Apex,” and “Every Day Fiction.” When not writing, she enjoys singing and practicing Tae Kwon Do.