Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Stolen Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Boon’s Mutiny
by Harold R. Thompson

Dancing in the Right of Way
by Cyn C. Bermudez

Esterhazy’s Cadence
by Guy T. Martland

Ghosts of Space Command
by Milo James Fowler

by Jeremy Szal

White Russians and Old Lace
by K.C. Ball

Shuttle 54, Where R U?
by Jack Ryan

Shorter Stories

Faraday Cage
by Timothy J. Gawne

Rose Coloured Tentacles
by Gareth D. Jones

Screaming His Scream
by Tim Major


Making Real Life X-Men
by E.E. Giorgi

Taking the Temperature
by Pierre Duhem



Comic Strips




Esterhazy’s Cadence

By Guy T. Martland

Earth, C.E. 2041

A WOMAN SITS IN FRONT OF A GRAND piano, the lid open and angled slightly. She adjusts her chair height restlessly, before reaching to the score in front of her and penciling another note down on the clef. She plays what she has already written, a series of single tones—she likes the effect they have on her, she gets an eerie tingling running down the back of her neck and along her spine.

The sound reverberates but does not echo in the hall, despite the fact it is otherwise empty. A skylight above allows the sun to cast its rays into the room, although the piano has been positioned away from any possible solar influence that may cause it to lose its tune. A few windows grace the sides of the hall, all of which are closed.

Outside, it is a cold, crisp wintry day. A layer of white frost decorates the rooftops and spires. It is the kind of day when just to breathe bites at the back of your throat and every expiration is a smoke-like plume that slowly dissipates.

She adds another note to the score. This is the way she does things, slowly finding a thread, a melody, before then fleshing it out with chords. It has worked for her in the past. But her former achievements always seem to pale when she is composing something new, as if the new work is the only important one. The here, the now.

Lapsade, C.E. 2450

“So are you really going to do this?” asked Dirian.

“I am halfway through. A single piece, a whole week’s work of music,” Carrago replied, mouth twitching in his thin face.

“Aren’t the orchestra going to complain? You can’t expect them to perform for a whole week. What about ... natural functions, like food and well ...”

“You mean comfort breaks?”


“A rolling orchestra, sir. The only problem is we have almost a day’s worth of Viotel solo. As you know, it is hard to find one of them.”

“Have you had a word with their sect?”

“Yes, but the real problem is that I particularly want Jathria to play. And she is still persona non grata within Viotel player circles.”

“Ironic, given that she is the best damn Viotel player there is.”

Carrago nodded, then continued. “I’m sure the Guild will help locate her.”

“Will she be able to cope with a whole day’s playing? She is pregnant!” exclaimed Dirian.

“It is a state she holds herself in permanently for the sake of her art. Even so, I shall have to write breaks into the score for her. The day’s music is going to have a fragmented feel anyway. It is meant to represent the fractured nature of the Haze,” Carrago replied, pointing to the reddish brown nebula in the night sky above. He pulled a band from his pocket and tied his long hair back before lighting a cigarette, holding it at arms length, away from Dirian, who tutted disapprovingly. They were sat at a candle-lit table outside, the remains of dinner in front of them. Occasional whoops from the surrounding forest were Darvenio, who had disappeared into the bushes to “powder his nose” a few moments before.

As well as the Haze above, they could see the large shining star that was, Strada II, the apex of the planet’s space elevator. Carrago, the host of the small party, had just moved to Lapsade; earlier he had mentioned that sometimes the knife-like edge of the wire, stretching from the surface of the planet, caught shafts of sunlight. As they both gazed upward, the star that was Strada II seemed to brighten and split in two, but one part moved away and dwindled: a craft leaving the system.

“Did I hear you correctly?” asked Darvenio, bursting from the undergrowth, complete with leaves in his hair: he was a tall muscular fellow, but despite his outward appearance, affectedly camp. “Your voices do travel in this rarefied atmosphere ... So, Carrago, are you really going to write a piece scored for a whole week?”

Darvenio received a nod by way of reply. “And where is this wondrous piece going to be performed?” he continued.

Carrago paused, for dramatic effect: “Andhaven.” His company started shouting at him almost immediately, the blur of words difficult to make out, reminding him of the middle section of the piece. But it was the end that was most interesting—the denouement of the music’s narrative that should strike at the heart of the planet’s intolerant, and in many minds backwards, religious society. In short, it would mock their puritanical nature. He caught “suicide,” “madness,” and “crazy” from his friends, before they finally realized he was serious. It was exactly the effect he wanted.

Andhaven, C.E. 2451

It was almost the end of the piece, entitled “The Haze Plagal.” Jathria’s day of Viotel playing had proved sensational and was receiving rapturous reviews, system-wide. The audience, like the orchestra, was rolling, but the recent interest in the concert had caused tickets for the last few days to sell at an unprecedented rate.

Darvenio and Dirian presided above the crowd in their private box. They had wanted to sit with the composer, but he had been encouraged to sit with a variety of local dignitaries. And at one point, to a round of applause, he had taken to the stage and joined the orchestra, playing a “cello at the back of the section.” At one point on the second day, Carrago had popped by to say hello to the couple, telling them to expect something special at the end of day seven. He had complemented Darvenio on his outrageous outfit, which bordered on the obscene.

And now that they were nearing the end, something did seem to be happening. The orchestra had just slowly swapped again and the piece seemed to be heading to a climax. But then as if in mockery, every instrument began to play the same note, a resonating B-flat, held. The musical movement of the piece just stopped, as if it had been hit by a car, replaced by this single sustained note.

Dirian looked at Darvenio and frowned. The note carried on: ten minutes became twenty, twenty minutes, forty. A pervading sense of restlessness seemed to spread through the crowd in the fiftieth minute. As the hour struck, the crowd launched into uproar, led by a fervent man in black and white robes: one of the local priests.

“What is exactly going on?” asked Darvenio, above the ruckus.

“Carrago just affronted the locals, on purpose. Absolutely bloody typical. We should have known he’d try to pull something like this. Some religious thing to do with Andhaven,” replied Dirian, consulting a holo. “I’m not exactly sure ... but I think it is something to do with the birth of their Messiah.”

Dirian leant over the precipice to look down into the theatre, catching Carrago making swiftly for the exit, chased by a horde of incense swinging madmen. The rest of the crowd had invaded the stage, the music stopping suddenly as musicians ran for cover. Bass drums, xylophones, and other percussive instruments rang above the seething throng as they were knocked over and kicked about. In the distance, sirens began to wail.

Earth, C.E. 2041

The hammer beats softly onto the strings inside. She pedals, holds the note; but it isn’t what she wants. She decides on another tone and pencils that on instead. She takes the whole collection again from the top; dynamics don’t matter at this point—she plays everything mezzo forte.

Halfway through, she again gets that eerie tingling she felt on previous plays, but this time, as she plays through the new notes, something else happens. A sense of panic builds up, a feeling of pressure inside her head. She continues playing, nearing the end. Her thoughts start to blossom, then bleed in confusion, as she hits the last note.

She stares motionless at the score for a second, then collapses, crashing off the stool and slumping to the floor, her head glancing the piano as she falls. The keys she hits have an almost plaintive tone, as if the piano is crying out for her. Also caught in the motion of her fall is the keyboard lid, which snaps shut, as if punctuating what had come before: the notes and then the life.

Andhatch, C.E. 2452

The prison was located on the nearby desert moon of Andhatch. It was a series of small platforms, located one kilometer above the surface, anti-gravity plates underneath providing support. Each platform held one prisoner. There was no shelter—they were left to the elements’ will, although subjected to twice yearly medical checks—if they were still alive. Everyday a small probe dropped off bread and water, should they choose to accept it.

Carrago was a changed man. His skin, once a pale but interesting white, after repeated bouts of sunburn, had taken on a brown leathery appearance. There were ulcers on his arms and chest which wouldn’t heal, lesions he expected were small cancers. His hair was long and unkempt and a beard had filled out his usually drawn face.

He had been sentenced to life for heresy. The judge had been quick to determine the sentence, to avoid the chance that Carrago might gain any sympathetic press coverage from elsewhere in the system. Nevertheless, the recording of the piece had made him a millionaire, although he didn’t yet know it. He had been denied any visitors, much to the chagrin of his best friends and those fighting for his amnesty.

It was now about a year after his arrival, and he was sitting on the platform, waiting for the probe to bring his daily supplies. As he waited he peeled off another sheet of skin from his legs, revealing the raw flesh underneath. Another sore had appeared on his cracked skin and he winced as he pulled at the irritated epidermis around it.

On time, the probe buzzed over to his platform, dropping a canister of water and a hunk of bread from its pincer claws. But this time there was something else: a small packet. He tore it open, hoping that maybe it was some pills to cure the sunburn, or even some to take his life. Instead, a smile crept over his lips and into his cracked face: it was a pair of earplugs.

Allegro, C.E. 2452

It had taken a few months and endless meetings for the Guild to finally grant Dirian’s request. Due to its nature, “Esterhazy’s Cadence” was shrouded in secrecy and speculation. Being a senior Guild member, Dirian was aware of its very real presence, and its history. As they flew from the shuttle landing pad in a designated Guild craft, he explained its importance to Darvenio.

“When Sarah Esterhazy died, there was naturally some interest in the piece she’d been working on at the time of her death—she’d been extremely famous for a time. And when someone dies young, at the peak of their career ... Why she wrote the piece was never clear—although her discovery is generally considered to be a coincidence. There was certainly no indication she took her own life.

“It was played of course, with devastating consequence. But in the first performance, one Professor Bawtree had stepped out of the recital for a moment and survived. He wisely removed the music and, in time, the Guild was formed.”

“It sounds dangerous. No wonder it took such a long while for them to agree,” suggested Darvenio.

“Without the Guild’s influence it could have destroyed humanity,” said Dirian, returning his lover’s gaze.

“It has been used though, over the years?” asked Darvenio.

“I have only heard rumors. Of times back on Earth and in the first colony settlements. I strongly suspect it is one of the reasons why the Musician Guild is so powerful today,” Dirian replied, gesturing out of the window at the planet which was the center of the Musician Guild’s influence. Where the musical elite of the system tended to congregate.

He looked toward the horizon, the shape of distant hills forming a pattern, a melody which ran through his mind. Then the craft plunged downwards, flitting across a lake towards a small castle. A place Dirian had heard described, but never visited. A building beneath which, kilometers deep, were concealed the Guild’s vaults.

Andhatch, C.E. 2452 (one week later)

The platform began to descend without any warning. This had happened once before for his six-month medical, pointless as it was. As was the case previously, the suddenness of the movement came as quite a shock. A boxy anti-grav transport was waiting on the sand below, flanked by four guards. Two of these cuffed him and pushed him inside while the other two trained their weapons on the softer points of his skull.

When they arrived in the facility, he was pushed into a cell and left alone. The guards had said something to him as they manhandled him through the door, which, having the earplugs firmly in place, as they’d been for the past week, he hadn’t been able to catch. He’d tried to read the words from their lips, but hadn’t quite managed it.

After a short while the cell door opened and he was pulled out and marched down a corridor. Just as he was about to be shown into the medic, the guards began gesturing at something. It seemed they were pointing at the small speakers mounted in the wall, the speakers that were present in every room throughout the facility.

One of them started shouting into his wrist comm, but then suddenly both fell to the floor and lay there, motionless. Carrago pushed open the door to the medic’s office and saw him, too, slumped across the desk. He wandered back along the corridor to the reception where there were more bodies strewn over the floor.

A familiar face crashed through the doorway minutes later. Dirian took a few seconds to recognize him, almost doing a double take when he saw his friend’s malnourished and weather-beaten countenance. Seconds later, Carrago felt the cuffs snapping off his wrist, and he began to gouge the plugs from his ears, his friend on hand to help with a pair of tweezers.

“Thought we’d got the wrong man there for a minute!”

“We?” asked Carrago.

“Darvenio is here too. Couldn’t have done it without him. He’s over there, accessing the computer system. What it is to have a computer geek boyfriend, eh?”

On the other side of the room, Darvenio was hauling a man’s body into position for the computer retinal scan. He paused for a moment to wave at Carrago, hardly missing a beat as his enhanced musculature held the corpse steady.

“We’re releasing all the prisoners. If you are wondering,” explained Dirian

“Well, it would be a bit suspicious if you were the only one that went missing. And it’s not as if we agree with their practices here ...” added Darvenio.

“Isn’t there a single code for each prisoner?” asked Carrago.

“Yes. That’s right. But there’s also a hack; there’s always a hack. And that should about do it,” continued Darvenio, pinching the console and turning back towards his two friends. “Almost forgot: the cameras, need to sort them out too,” he said waving a holo into the computer, which proceeded to erase and overwrite the memories of all the facility’s cameras more than a million times.

Darvenio turned back to them and suddenly a look of horror spread over his face and he went for his gun, a fraction too late. The shot hit Dirian in the side, knocking him over. Seconds later, Darvenio unloaded his round into the guard, then ran to Dirian’s aid.

“Must have been a deaf one,” gasped Dirian, his breathing suddenly heavy.

“Yeah, we hadn’t thought of that,” said Darvenio, tearing his shirt open and ripping it into a makeshift bandage which he pressed onto the wound. Dirian gasped in pain.

“You are the action hero, this isn’t meant to happen to me: I’m an artist!” wheezed Dirian.

Darvenio lifted up his lover, and nodding at Carrago to follow, led the way to a hovercraft parked outside the facility. Carrago’s frail form was unable to provide anything more than words as assistance. Once Dirian was safely strapped in, Carrago in the seat behind, Darvenio gunned the machine into action, speeding it away from the forsaken place, dust blazing a trail behind them. In a perfectly executed dance, the platforms behind began to lower, spilling out a mob of angry prisoners, who began marching towards the facility, blood on their minds.

As the three friends arrived at the shuttle, Dirian was white as a sheet. His clothes were coated in blood, one side of his body covered by a thick rind of crimson. As quickly as he could manage, Darvenio carried him inside, plugged him into the ship-board autodoc. As they burst through the cloud cover and into the empyrean, all they could do was hope Dirian would make it.

Lapsade, C.E. 2452 (one month later)

Dirian and Carrago sat at a table in the garden, Darvenio fussing over them both, acting as waiter and entertainment. He wore an immaculate white tie, complete with hat and tails. Dirian had just about recovered from his wound although his movements were slightly strained and he winced every time he laughed. Carrago was now a healthy tanned color, his blisters healed, although his long hair was now streaked with gray. He’d decided to keep the beard, albeit with a more stylish and less haggard-looking cut.

They’d spent much of the day listening to selected recordings of “The Haze Plagal.” Dirian had suggested they sit through the whole thing again, adding a commentary for the imminent re-release, which now would include an interview with the composer. But Carrago felt the whole experience was somehow dulled in the comfortable surroundings of Lapsade, without the live orchestra and the tangible sense of excitement. He hoped it didn’t show.

“You know, I’m enormously grateful, Dirian. For everything you and Darvenio did.”

“It was the least we could do for our dear friend.”

“However, I wonder about using the cadence in that way ...” started Carrago, finally putting into words what he’d been thinking about all day.

“The Guild agreed! And they are of course now monitoring things carefully. So mute those thoughts.”

“But if the cadence had somehow leaked?”

“You know that is always something the Guild take into consideration. You are worrying unnecessarily. They aren’t interested in causing the death of innocent people.”

“No. Of course not,” replied Carrago.

“The musical files disintegrated after use, as intended. No evidence remains,” confirmed Dirian.

Carrago thought about this for a while, tapping out a rhythm on the metal table top. The sound reverberated, hanging in the air awhile before fading to nothing. “Those first few notes, that we were taught to remember?”

“To protect ourselves, Carrago.”

“Have you ever thought ...”

“Of adding my own? No—I’m not crazy. Besides, the probability of finding the exact pattern of notes again is infinitesimal.”

“But what if Sarah Esterhazy, all those years ago was onto something? What if the pattern she’d started was meant to go somewhere else, elevate us to a higher dimension or warp the fabric of space?”

“Are you suggesting we just sent those prison guards to join Sarah Esterhazy in a separate plane of existence? Don’t tell me after your time in prison you’ve found religion?” Dirian laughed, grimacing slightly with the movement.

The question remained unanswered as Darvenio lurched out of the house carrying a tray of smoking cocktails. “Harness of Serenity for you gentlemen!” he exclaimed, placing the drinks carefully on the table. Harness of Serenity was a drink known system-wide not just for its cost, but also for the protean effect it had on your palate—one minute you’d be supping the finest blackberry wine and then a thick gravy and then a cheese. Innumerable combinations flooded the senses—it was the drink of hedonists.

“So your next piece,” asked Darvenio. “Dirian says you have started something already.”

“Well, I had a lot of time to think about music,” replied Carrago.

“Another long one? Can I be the support act this time?” asked Darvenio.

“Support? Your electronic stuff might not be appropriate, my dear. And, yes—I think it will be a long one. A month this time!”

“Will it be a dark piece to represent your time in captivity?” Dirian suggested.

“Being in the prison on Andhatch was a mixture of blinding light and unfathomable darkness. So, there will be striking contrasts,” Carrago replied. In fact, I am considering using the FAS diatonic scale.”

Dirian’s face paled. “You aren’t going to say what I think you are going to say ...”

“Yes. My friends, I intend to perform this monumental piece on the ascetic world of Kallrit.”

They both began shouting at him, gesticulating wildly; their words blended into one another’s. He grinned back at them, reveling in the experience, then sat back in his chair, lit a cigarette, and looked up into the sky. At that very moment, the space elevator’s spider thread caught the setting sun, slicing the heavens
apart. END

Guy T. Martland is a poet, pathologist and an alumnus of Milford SF Writers in Snowdonia, North Wales. His stories have been published in “Albedo One,” “Fiction Vortex,” “Jupiter Science Fiction,” “Noesis,” “Imaginalis,” and “Bento Box.”






jamie noble