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




Ghosts of Space Command

By Milo James Fowler

CAPTAIN BARTHOLOMEW QUASAR SAT alone in the conference room of his gorgeous star cruiser, the Effervescent Magnitude. As it hurtled through the star-punctured void of deep space, he stared at the wallscreen, unable to believe he was seeing what he was seeing.

Whom he was seeing.

“You should be dead,” he managed after a solid minute of awkward silence.

“Good to see you too, Captain.” Admiral Lehee smiled like a kindly old grandfather—older than old, if Quasar’s calculations were correct. “You’ve been busy. Seems you’ve strayed a bit from your original mission of exploration and acquisition. Been playing hero among the stars lately, eh?”

“Why aren’t you dead?” Quasar took a moment to clench his jaw and waited for the muscle to twitch. “I saw Earth, Admiral—what was left of it. No life remains. We rescued the sole survivor, a janitor, and promoted him to ship’s engineer. There was no United World on that rock. No Space Command.”

Admiral Lehee chuckled as though he were humoring his great-great-great-great grandson. “Space Command has evolved beyond the bounds of Earth in your absence, Captain. While you’ve been out traveling the galaxy at near-lightspeed, centuries have passed—”

“How can you be alive?”

“We’ll get to that. It might be a good idea to invite your first officer to join us. This matter concerns her as well.”

With a quizzical frown, Quasar summoned Commander Selene Wan via her comm link. “What matter would that be, Admiral?”

“Your career can be equally divided into two parts, Captain. Pre- and post- your return to Earth. Before you witnessed the utter destruction of our home planet, you were entirely on-mission, seeking cooperation with miners—both human and humanoid—in possession of the rare minerals Earth had long ago exhausted completely. But once you discovered there was no one left on Earth to utilize said minerals, your mission took a decidedly different course. You became a heroic starfarer of sorts, bungling your way through various situations, always with the mistaken idea that you were the last representative of United World Space Command in an alien frontier.”

“Bungling?” Quasar glanced at Commander Wan as she entered with long strides and came to a halt, standing stoically as the conference room door slid shut behind her. “While I’m honored you’ve been following my career so closely—”

“Welcome, Commander,” Lehee said with a warm smile. “Do have a seat.”

She did so, looking more reserved than ever as she pulled up a chair at the glass conference table.

“We know you’ve always had your sights set on something more, Commander,” the admiral continued. “Your goal isn’t the deluxe-model captain’s chair like our hero with the chiseled jaw.”

Quasar stroked his clean-shaven chin pensively.

“You want the brass.” Lehee tapped the gold fringe on the shoulder of his admiral’s uniform. “We can make that happen, Wan.”

“Who’s we?” Quasar narrowed his gaze. “I see only one admiral before me, and he could very well be a hologram programmed by some hostile alien entity to lure us into a trap.”

“Has that happened to you before?”


Lehee chuckled apologetically. “I’m sorry, Captain. You’ve had a rough time of it out there, I’m sure. The other admirals and I would like to invite you to Pluto Prime to discuss this matter in person. I believe it will be of interest to you both. And it is, of course, in the best interest of Space Command. Your helmsman should have the coordinates that we’ve transmitted. We’ll see you soon.”

The wallscreen faded to black. Quasar threw up his hands in a sudden display of incredulity as he turned toward his first officer. “What do you make of this, Number Wan?”

For once she didn’t roll her eyes at the ridiculous nickname. Her focus remained on the blank screen. “That wasn’t Admiral Lehee. It couldn’t be.”

“Agreed.” Quasar nodded, bringing his clenched fist to his chin in a meaningful pose. “So we’ll go with the hologram/trap scenario. Best to be on our guard henceforth.”


A week later, as the Effervescent Magnitude approached Earth’s solar system, the Pluto Prime space station came into view. Akin to a massive, glittering thumbtack in design, it orbited the dwarf planet/transneptunian object/plutoid known as Pluto, that small celestial body which had been a source of contentious debate amongst astronomers for decades. Captain Quasar and Commander Wan prepared to disembark, but before they could leave the bridge, Hank the helmsman—a four-armed, very hairy Carpethrian who resembled a cross between a depressed sloth and a hung-over orangutan—swiveled his chair to face them.

“Captain,” he growled in his gravelly voice, “isn’t it against protocol for both you and the commander to leave the ship?”

“Only in dangerous situations. We’re just visiting some very old friends.” He winked at no one in particular. “You have the bridge, Hank ol’ buddy.”

Leaving the Magnitude in Hank’s capable hands—all four of them—Quasar and Wan, garbed in their spiffy dress uniforms, exited the ship via Pluto Prime’s bulky walking bridge that had automatically coupled with the portside airlock upon arrival. Not a word was spoken as they strode the length of the plasticon walkway, but Quasar wondered if Wan was feeling what he was feeling: an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Of course he didn’t ask her if that’s what she was feeling. He didn’t want to appear nervous in front of his first officer. So instead he tapped the Cody 52 Special holstered on his thigh and cleared his throat.

“I hear Pluto is beautiful this time of year.”

“Sir?” Wan said.

He shrugged, and they continued in silence until he could bear the silence no longer—two seconds later.

“Been a while since I’ve had to shoot a hologram,” he said.

“How did that work out for you last time, sir?”

“Well, the pulse round went straight through. Holograms are just light projections, you know. No damage done, none at all. It was weird.” He was babbling. “So, Admiral Wan, eh?”

The station-side airlock opened automatically with a rush of cool, filtered air. Quasar’s hand remained on his sidearm as they approached the vacant corridor beyond. But it didn’t remain vacant for long. A spindly automaton wheeled into view with a whir of its treads. Quasar shuddered at the sight. He hated robots, especially ones that talked.

He hoped this one wasn’t the talkative sort.

“Captain Quasar and Commander Wan—welcome to Pluto Prime,” it said in a reedy monotone.

No such luck.

“This way, if you please. The admirals are expecting you.” The robot led them down a series of empty hallways—each one constructed of sleek, dust-free plasticon that gleamed like polished steel—until they reached a pair of massive double doors. Leaving them at their apparent destination, the robot bowed awkwardly and rolled away humming to itself, which gave Quasar another shudder.

After a pregnant pause, the doors swung open automatically, and Admiral Lehee strode out of a humming communications center to meet them. Smiling broadly, he extended his hand.

“So glad you could join us!” he greeted. His palm was cold as he pumped Quasar’s hand in a crushing grip. “We don’t get many visitors these days, truth be told.”

Quasar had noticed the Magnitude was the only vessel docked at the station. He also noticed the admiral wasn’t a hologram. He was solid matter. But not exactly human. No human could be so cold to the touch—unless he was dead ...

“The others will be here shortly. Tying up a few loose ends, if you will. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“Way?” Quasar echoed.

“Such a powerful ship you have, Captain. So much firepower! The Effervescent Magnitude will be a great help in solidifying our command of this sector.”

“How’s that?” Wan said.

The captain had been stricken speechless.

“Your new mission!” Admiral Lehee released Quasar’s throbbing hand and beat him on the back so hard he almost coughed up a vertebra. “We’re going to take over the quadrant, of course.”

“Not with my ship, you’re not,” Quasar managed.

“No?” The next slap on the back sent Quasar headlong against the wall where he collapsed like a discarded puppet. Quick to spring to his unsteady legs, he found his eyes oddly unable to focus.

“How about you, Commander?” The admiral advanced on Wan. “Ready for that promotion? You’re acting Captain of the Magnitude from this moment forward, and ambassadorship won’t be far off if you play your cards right.”

Wan matched every step the admiral took toward her with one back, retreating the same way she and the captain had arrived.

“How have you managed to live so long, Admiral? Gene replacement therapy?”

Lehee smiled, reaching for her shoulders with both hands. Wan remained just beyond his grasping fingers.

“We’re going to live forever, Commander. Or should I call you Captain now? Fly us where we need to go, and you too will live for centuries without end!”

“Don’t do it,” Quasar said with a grimace, holding a hand to what felt like fractured ribs. He couldn’t be sure beneath the ridges of his solid-muscle core, but he was in a great deal of pain, nevertheless. Something had to be broken in there. Gasping, he followed Wan and the admiral up the corridor. He gripped his Cody 52 Special and aimed it at Lehee. “You can’t trust him. I’m pretty sure he isn’t even human.”

“Perhaps not,” Lehee conceded, “but I retain all of my own memories. My ghost is in this machine, and it will carry me to the end of the age.”

“You’re not a ...” Quasar gulped. “Robot?

“Artificial life sure beats being dead and forgotten for hundreds of years. Wouldn’t you say?” Lehee turned as a dozen other elderly admirals approached via an adjacent corridor, male and female, representing every ethnicity from Earth in its heyday. The bravest, wisest souls of United World Space Command murmured their agreement and smiled like a squad of benevolent grandparents. They advanced on Quasar and Wan with the deliberate steps of automatons. “Good. Everyone’s here. Charges all set?” Lehee said.

“Ready to blow, Admiral,” reported a white-haired, wiry lady Quasar instantly recognized as Admiral Haley. She winked at him, her skin crinkling like chocolate-colored parchment. “Looking good, Bart. You haven’t aged a day.”

“Near-lightspeed travel will do that.” Quasar kept his gun aimed at Lehee. “What’s your excuse?”

“Advancements in artificial life. Digital consciousness,” Haley said. “Complete neural transfer to a fully functional cybernetic organism.”

“I see.” He did, if only partially. They had downloaded their brains into machines that looked like their old bodies. “Why not make yourselves look younger?”

The admirals glanced at each other as if the thought had never occurred to them.

“We can discuss the particulars later.” Admiral Lehee gestured for everyone to move toward the docking bridge, twenty meters away. “The station is going to explode in a few minutes, and we’ll need to be far away from here when that happens. The legacy of Space Command is in your hands, Captain Wan!”

Without a glance in Quasar’s direction, Wan led them to the airlock. Quasar blinked, unable to believe what he was seeing.


“Coming, Bart?” Lehee grinned. “I’d hate to see the galaxy lose its greatest hero.”

Quasar ground his teeth and fired his Cody 52 Special over their heads. A blue pulse round struck the transparent wall of the docking bridge with a blast of light. A fissure of cracks expanded exponentially, releasing atmosphere into the frozen void beyond with a wild hiss.

“Quickly, everyone—aboard the Magnitude!” Lehee cried, charging forward and herding the others.

Quasar’s next shot hit the airlock control panel with a burst of sparks. The door slid shut and sealed itself. Lehee cursed, shoving his way past Wan and pounding on the panel in spite of the flames. His artificial hands were scorched in the process, but he didn’t relent. The door wouldn’t budge. Already the docking bridge had uncoupled from the Magnitude and had begun retracting toward the station.

“Now what, hero?” Lehee spat, looking for all the world like an ugly old drunk. “You die with us?”

“Nobody’s dying today. But on the off-chance that something goes horribly wrong—” Quasar activated the comm link in his collar with a swift, albeit awkward, head jerk. “Hank, take the Magnitude to a safe distance in case Pluto Prime suddenly blows up.”

“Is that likely to happen, sir?” the Carpethrian growled.

“I’ll get back to you on that.” Quasar jerked his head to end the transmission. As the Magnitude veered away from the station, Quasar holstered his weapon. “You all may very well be ...” He clenched his jaw. “... robots, but I have a feeling there’s enough of a self-preservation instinct somewhere underneath all that creepy artificial flesh that won’t let you annihilate yourselves. Am I right?”

The admirals glanced at each other, their expressions inscrutable. Only Lehee spoke, still in grumpy belligerent grandfather mode.

“Five hundred years, stuck on this awful station. Attended by soulless automatons. Do you have any idea how boring it’s been for us?”

“Why didn’t you contact me sooner?” Quasar asked. “If I’d known—”

“It’s taken us this long to destroy our artificial caretakers and disable the station’s AI. That thing was the worst—Big Brother on a whole ’nother level! Wouldn’t let us do anything, said it was protecting us. A vestigial failsafe we never intended to last this long.” He blew out a sigh. “We’re finally on our own now, and we want to make our mark on the quadrant. Is that too much to ask?”

“You said you wanted control. I assume that involves subjugating neighboring worlds?”

“If necessary, yes!”

“And who will decide what is necessary?” Commander Wan said as she came to Quasar’s side. He gave her a wink, glad she was back with the program. She ignored him. “United World Space Command has never been about domination. Its aim was to safeguard the interests of Earth—”

“And look where that got us!” Lehee shrilled. “We did a fine job of destroying ourselves before Emperor Zhan and his drones finished us off! Our home sweet planet can’t even support a population of cockroaches, much less any of the human refugees spread out across the quadrant. If we’d been more proactive centuries ago, our species never would have gotten to this point. What’ll be next? Inter-species reproduction? A human/Carpethrian mingled bloodline? No. Not while Space Command is still in operation.”

“You’re living in the past, Admiral,” Quasar said. “As long as you do, there will be no place for you in the galaxy.”

Wan turned to face him, probably impressed by the captain’s wisdom. He even surprised himself sometimes.

“Bart’s right,” said Admiral Haley. She nodded toward the others. “Disarm the charges. We’re not blowing anything up today.”

The other admirals bolted out of sight faster than humanly possible, leaving only a downcast Lehee and chipper Haley with Quasar and Wan. Lehee looked deflated, shoulders slumping and arms dangling uselessly at his sides, mouth working silently as if with sudden-onset dementia. Admiral Haley patted him gently on the back like a sympathetic nurse.

“Galactic domination seemed like a good idea for a hobby. But we’ll find something else to do with ourselves. Don’t worry, we’ll try to stay out of trouble.” She looked Quasar up and down and gave him a broad wink. “Don’t you be a stranger, Bart.”


Back aboard the Magnitude, Captain Quasar and his first officer stood alone in the conference room, staring out the wide viewport as starlight passed by in streaks of frosty white.

“Completely understandable,” Quasar acknowledged, referring to Wan’s apparent betrayal earlier on Pluto Prime. “You just didn’t want the greatest minds of Space Command to blow themselves up.”

“That, and I did like the sound of Captain Wan.” She gave Quasar a sidelong glance and almost smiled.

“Someday, Number Wan. Someday.”

“Will we be returning to monitor the admirals’ status?”

“To see if they’re hatching any new diabolical plots, you mean?” Quasar chuckled. “Of course we will. Their minds contain centuries of valuable data. They would be a significant resource to us, as long as they behave themselves.”

She paused. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”


“You and Admiral Haley. Is there a history between—?”

“That will be all, Commander. Dismissed.”

With a short nod, Commander Wan exited the conference room, leaving the Captain to gaze out into the black and ponder the mysteries of space-time. Intimate memories only a few years old (from his perspective) drifted through his mind, bringing half a nostalgic smile to his chiseled features. Even with the time dilation factor, wasn’t age just a number? He toyed with the idea of keeping in touch with Admiral Haley—

Until he remembered she was now a freakish robot.

With a shudder, he shook himself and returned to the bridge of the Magnitude, doing his best to focus on the job at hand: being the greatest starfaring hero the galaxy had ever seen. END

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a writer by night. He’s an active SFWA member with work published in “AE,” “Cosmos,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” and “Shimmer.” He previously appeared in the 12-JAN-2015 “Perihelion.”




adjacent fields


deep fried