Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Au Pair, or Else
by Lee Budar-Danoff

Frail World
by R.A. Conine

Electra Had a Daughter
by Juliana Rew

This Long Vigil
by Rhett C. Bruno

Old Clothes
by Eric Del Carlo

Good Behavior
by Genevieve Williams

Saving Time
by John Hegenberger

World Away
by Alan Garth

Shorter Stories

Dreams to Dust
by Jamie Lackey

Virtual Ghosts
by Adam Gaylord

Olympus Mons
by James E. Guin


Science of Dogs
by John McCormick

Not Lost in Space
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Olympus Mons

By James E. Guin

“EARTH AND MARS ARE ON THE same side of the sun, so today we will experience a four minute signal delay instead of the usual twenty minutes, give or take ...” like he’s the portal between Earth and Mars, some man in a red shirt with the Mars Center Logo plastered all over the front of it explains.

Speaking with a tone that he probably uses for elementary school tours, he’s more zealous about whether or not we understand the difference between perihelion and aphelion than whether or not our loved ones will ever return to Earth. Everyone in this room has waited all year to speak directly with our loved ones, so our understanding of a four minute delay isn’t going to make much difference.

After Earth-Mars Portal Man shuts up, a man in a white laboratory coat holding a clipboard crosses the room to ask me “a few questions.” He’s going to administer Aadi’s psychological evaluation.

“It’s not you. It’s Aadi,” he assures me.

But from the way he’s been observing me from across the room, it feels like my psychological evaluation, not Aadi’s. If he knew I had the multi-shades-of-red patchwork blouse in my purse that I bought the day Aadi left, he might think I’m crazy. The various shades of red began to fade, and now the subtle differences between the reds are less accentuated. I stopped wearing it a few months ago. Now I carry it around in my purse like some lucky Martian rock.

So while I sit here waiting to tell Aadi how much I love him, Mr. Psychological Evaluator is waiting to check off on his clipboard whether the forty-minute-longer Martian days have made Aadi crazy or not. The Martian days may be longer, but there’s no way that has affected Aadi more than my sleepless nights.

“Hello, family and loved ones! Greetings from Mars!” Aadi’s voice booms over the PA speaker while Mr. Psychological Evaluator walks back to his evaluation corner.

My heart beats louder. I’m nervous, but I should have known he would be the first to speak. Aadi is always the first to volunteer for spokesperson.

Everyone in the room breaks into applause. The applause dies. We wait.

“How does it feel to be speaking with the first Martian?” Aadi asks as if our presence at the Mars Center is just some kind of publicity stunt.

A woman in front of the room smiles while she swirls a video camera across the small group of family members. Aadi has always been good at making strangers feel welcome.

As soon as the laughing and applause cease, Aadi’s mother calls out, “Aadi?”

He doesn’t answer. Her face contorts in pain, she stands up, falls back down in her chair, and Earth-Mars Portal Man dashes over to re-explain the delay.

“Ma, how are you?” Aadi says.

“Oh, Aadi, are you eating well?” she says with all of the concern and grief in her voice that only a mother could muster.

Delay. Everyone in the room tries not to stare at her with their pity-stricken faces.

“Don’t worry, Ma, Martian food tastes great,” Aadi says.

Some people laugh and some peoples’ faces transform into baffled expressions while Earth-Mars Portal Man holds up tortuous containers and packages of food.

“How’s Sharini?” Aadi asks as if he thought I wouldn’t come.

“She’s here. Aadi. She’s here,” Aadi’s mother says.

Delay. People’s eyes wander around the room. I wait.

“Sharini, how are you?” Aadi’s voice is friendly like it is when he talks to strangers.

“I’m fine, Aadi. I miss you so much,” I say.

I stare at a digital clock buried inside all of the equipment at the front of the room. The long string of red numbers speed away like the memories of our time on Earth together. It’s been at least six minutes before he speaks.

“Did you see the footage of the rover when it stopped at the edge of Valles Marineris?” he asks like I’m one of his old college buddies who he’s trying to impress.

I want to say, “Of course I saw it. We Earthlings see everything you Martians do. Mars Stream Reality TV pays for your gourmet Martian meals.”

But I just say, “Yes, Aadi, I saw it.”

A screen in the front of the room lowers from the ceiling and some technician pulls up images of Valles Marineris. People “oh” and “ah.”

“I was driving that day,” Aadi says.

People cheer and clap. I don’t know what to say. I sit there and clasp my purse. I look down and my brown knuckles are turning white.

“All in a Sols ...” pause, “I mean a day’s work,” Aadi says and everyone laughs.

Then, without my asking, Aadi answers one of the questions I’ve wanted to ask him since the live stream of the Mars crew went public. “I’m sorry I deleted the picture of you in your red blouse from that day in the thrift shop. We had to delete a lot of personal information. We are making too many discoveries and the system’s running slow.”

I want to say, “Why didn’t you print it out? We Earthlings can watch the stream anytime. I’ve seen pictures of the other Martian families plastered on their consoles. I’ve caught glimpses of your mother, father, and brother among those pictures. But I guess if you deleted your mother’s picture, she would have a hissy fit like she did when she found out your last visitation day on Earth was spent with me.”

There’s nothing on the Mars Blog about having to delete personal information due to computer speed. “Is that what I am to you, a picture in your Mars database that you can delete? A picture among megabytes of information about the atmosphere, topography, and Valles Marineris?”

I want to ask about that cute, petite, blonde American girl you play chess with in the Rec Area, or that tall, dark-haired Iranian girl with the gorgeous skin complexion you somehow end up exercising with every time the cameras show you during Fitness Schedule.

I really want to ask, “Why didn’t you tell me that the female/male ratio is so skewed?”

I want to ask, “Do you miss me, Aadi?”

But I can’t, not in this room full of strangers. Not in front of Aadi’s mother.

“Oh Aadi, we know you have to make sacrifices,” his mother interrupts my painful thoughts.

Like a fool I sit there crying, gripping the reddish-brown wooden handles of my purse filled with the multi-shades-of-red patchwork blouse I bought at the thrift store the day Aadi’s physical presence disappeared into the network of buildings in the Mars Center.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I have to go. Beth is throwing the Martian rocks we’ve collected for analysis at me. She wants to talk to her boyfriend, John,” Aadi says.

“Bye, Aadi, take care Aadi, we’re proud of everyone on Mars, Aadi,” everyone in the room says, but besides Aadi’s mother and I, they don’t even know him. I’m not sure I know him anymore. Martian Superstar.

“Hello, everyone ...” Beth’s voice erupts over the speaker.

Mr. Psychological Evaluator tries to stop me. He holds up the clipboard for me to look at.

“He’s doing fine,” he says, and I close the door in his face, and Beth’s voice fades.

“I don’t care if you climbed Olympus Mons,” I say aloud after the door is shut.

While I walk through the network of hallways in the Mars Center, people in red shirts turn to look at me. They probably want to ask if I belong here, but then they notice I’m crying. I see a door without an Emergency Exit bar and open it.

Outside the night sky is littered with stars. Through tears, the brightest one sparkles and glistens. Single rays of white light seem to draw toward me and then pull away back into the star.

I hear a mishmash of noises and look down from the night sky to see a group of people drinking and talking around the corner of the building. It looks like a party. Who could party during this great age of human exploration and accomplishment?

Some guy sticks his head around the corner and yells, “Hey come over here!”

I pull myself together and walk around the corner. He is standing next to what looks like a volcano with fire raging out of the mouth.

“What is this?” I ask.

“It’s an old model of the Martian landscape. Various groups used it for practice driving rovers and God knows what else,” he says. He reaches into a nearby cooler and hands me a strawberry-flavored wine cooler.

I look around the model of canyons, ridges, rocks, and hills.

The Martian landscape changes people, I think. But then I have a second thought, Maybe it just brings out their true colors.

I feel anxious. I haven’t talked to an Earthling in so long I forget where to begin.

After my thoughts return to Earth, I ask, “What’s your name?”

“I’m John,” he says.

Pointing at all of the people hanging around, he says, “We’re all kind of rejects and flunkies from the program. Now we just work here on Earth.”

I take a gulp of the strawberry-flavored wine cooler and laugh for the first time in a long time. Quite possibly since Aadi left for Mars.

Shaking my head, I say, “Yeah, I know how you feel.”

John laughs.

“Hey, check this out,” he says, drops his empty beer can on the ground and stamps it flat with his foot.

He picks up the flattened disk, points at a canyon that looks like the Grand Canyon, and says, “You see that big trench over there.”

“Yeah,” I say not really wanting to hear another lesson on the Martian landscape right now which, was all Aadi talked about before he left.

“Watch this,” he says and throws the aluminum disc into the trench.

It pings as it bounces from side to side and then disappears into the bottom.

“You’re littering Valles Marineris, dude,” some drunk guy sitting inside of a crater to our left says, guzzles the rest of his beer, and throws the empty can at Valles Marineris, but the empty can falls short.

“Remember, dude, gravity on Mars is about one-third as strong as it is on Earth,” John says.

I drink the rest of my strawberry-flavored wine cooler and throw the empty bottle at the Valles Marineris. It hits the side of the valley and glass spews into the air and smashes all over the red model.

“Yeah,” everyone starts yelling, fervently finishing their beverages, and throwing the empty containers at various landmarks on the model.

When the noise from the clinking aluminum and the smashing glass die down, John asks, “You’re part of the group that went in to speak with the crew on Mars?”

“Yeah, how do you know?” I ask.

“I saw you go in a couple of hours ago,” John says.

“Yeah, well I won’t be coming back. I think my boyfriend, Aadi, is having a good time on Mars with Beth, the chess girl,” I say.

“Boyfriend, hell, if I had a girlfriend like you, I wouldn’t go to the moon much less to Mars,” he says.

I reach into my purse and take out the multi-shades-of-red patchwork blouse, its various accents of red faded into each other.

Pointing at the fiery volcano, I ask John, “Is this Olympus Mons?”

“Yeah, the largest volcano in the Solar System,” he says.

I throw it into the mouth of the miniature model of Olympus Mons. The fire sparkles and glistens. Dark smoke rises toward the stars.

“What’s was that?” John says.

“Just an old blouse. I’ve always wanted to throw something into the largest volcano in the solar system,” I say.

“I know what you mean,” John says. END

James E. Guin’s fiction has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Untied Shoelaces of the Mind,” “Every Day Fiction,” and “Alternate Hilarities Anthology Volume 1.” His previous short story for “Perihelion” was published in the 12-April-2014 issue.