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




World Away

By Alan Garth

MY MOTHER WILL STRANGLE ME, Tenni thought, as she drifted backwards in a slow, head-over-heels spiral towards the stern pole of the generation ship. But she’ll have to catch me first.

The Hypophysis gradually appeared at the top edge of her helmet’s viewframe, then glided down to disappear at the bottom. For a while, there was only the star-pocked black rotating about her head until the ship came into sight once more, and the cycle repeated. Over and over. Tenni was grateful for the anti-emetics she took before she and Freemon ventured out of the airlock onto the hull.

She was surprised at how dark the ship seemed from outside. Were it not for the rig lights they had set up there beyond the rotating sections, and the weak glims extending in a series of interrupted annuli to the flattened cap of the starbrake at the rear, the huge ovoid would only be visible as an absence against the starfield. The squat engine tubes flanking the ship were dim, their fire extinguished before she was born. And even at this c-fraction, the particle shields made contact only infrequently, throwing a silent blue flash over the ship’s forward edge.

A world should be full of light, shouldn’t it? she thought. Light and life ... and a little affection.

She was only a few metres above the ship’s surface, but might as well have been a world away. The thrust packs on her suit had been empty from the start; maintenance hadn’t bothered fitting a gas refill.

“No need,” the tech had told her in the no-gee suiting-up area, hardly keeping the yawn out of his voice.

When she stared at him, he became suddenly interested in checking the work schedule on his wristview. “Nothin’ ’bout a space walk.” He indicated her boots, which held her to the floor. “Keep least one gecko on the hull, you’ll be fine. But, yeah, no dancin’.”

Freemon had also chipped in as he adjusted his exoskeleton. “I’m empty too, Tenni.” He flexed his arms, gauging the added power the exo gave him. She wondered why he got the best toys. All she had was a well-used power wrench clipped to her thigh.

The tech secured their helmets and shooed them towards the ’lock. “You’ll be tethered, anyway,” Freemon said over the suit-to-suit. “Safe with me.”

But while Freemon had connected his safety line to the hull by the airlock, Tenni was tied only to him, via the swivel clips on their suits.

Why did I let him take charge like that?

She damned his name and the names of his ancestors, as she continued swinging sternward, out of control, the pole of the ship growing ever closer. And beyond that, light years of empty space. Tenni had tried rotating her arms to slow her angular velocity, but the eevee suit was too bulky, and there was no way to alter the direction of drift.

One of the exterior instruments, a fine guidance sensor perhaps, passed almost within reach of her outstretched arm. If their positions were reversed, and Freemon were tumbling out here, he could probably have caught hold, she realised.

Tenni cursed her size, let out a growl of rage. This is not my fault—my mother and her Councillor friends can’t blame me this time. It’s Freemon, it’s always Freemon. He’s the one who should be strangled.

After a few more turns, her anger cooled and she began to think.

If I’m not there, Freemon’ll spin them any story he likes. And who’ll contradict him?

The hull cameras were hit-and-miss—and the transceiver relay was what Tenni and Freemon had been trying to fix, so there’d be no audio recording of their fight. The Council would hold an enquiry, she knew, but would dither over the verdict, and Freemon would get away with murder.


A trivial event triggered their argument. Tenni had insisted she could manage the tranceiver housing, even without an exoskeleton. But while wrestling with the securing bolts on the stanchion, she lost control of the power wrench, which flipped out of her gloved hands. Freemon was elsewhere in his head and reacted too slowly; the wrench was soon out of reach, winking in the rig lights as it headed up and over towards the rear of the ship.

Tenni suggested via the suit-to-suit that Freemon boost off the hull and catch it, he being the hero type.

“Get it yourself. You dropped it,” was his response.

Too tetchy for a hero, Tenni thought. How could he believe we’d be lovers?

Love was out of the question; she didn’t even want to mate with him, despite her mother’s instructions. Her darling mother, Mella Fayde Deng, the Director of Lineage, had gone on repeatedly and at length about their genetic compatibility and how important their children would be for subsequent generations. But harmonious genes didn’t count for much if the girl couldn’t stand the boy. Her mother had taken to bringing Freemon and Tenni together at the slightest excuse; her latest ploy was having them assigned to the same eevee repair team. As if that would twang the heart strings.

Freemon also couldn’t accept her rejection, but he reacted differently from her mother. Tenni had grown accustomed to his alternating sulkiness and fury, and took great pleasure in converting one mood into the other. Their escalating squabble via the suit comms owed little to any anger over a lost wrench.

Tenni squared up to Freemon, not intimidated by his bulk. She yanked the safety line between them, pulling herself within range; she batted at his chest, bouncing a little with the reaction to each blow. He took a half-step forwards and his hands went to her shoulders. For a few moments, they swayed like drunken partners at a dance, until Freemon lost what little patience he had. His shove was hard, assisted by the exo, and deliberate, bolstered by his rear leg.

She staggered backwards over the leg of the stanchion, which changed her direction of travel up and out: first one gecko boot, then the other, popped off the hull. Tenni waved her arms instinctively, but there was nothing within reach and she performed a slow reverse somersault into the black.

She was not afraid: all she had to do was pull on the line gradually extending from the attachment point on Freemon’s suit. But as she tumbled, she couldn’t resist one more taunt.

“Look, Freem! I’m head-over-heels in love!”

It was not until she rotated around that her giddiness collapsed into outrage: Freemon was fumbling to detach the line between them. He was going to let her loose into space, to drift forever in the deep.

“Freemon, no! No, I won’t let you do that! I won’t let you—”

Tenni reached down to her side, found the swivel clip there. She was nimbler than Freemon, despite the gloves, despite her tumbling motion. A twist-and-click motion released the lifeline and she tossed it away.

By the time Freemon had released his end, she was free of him and beginning her slow journey to the world’s end.

“OK, you bastard. Mate with me now!”

He stood there, silent behind the blank of his faceplate, arms at his side. He let the line go, then turned and made his way back to the airlock. Tenni screamed after him down the suit-to-suit, but he had closed the comms; the link was dead.


She reviewed her options. The broken transceiver relays made direct contact with the ship impossible via the suit comms. Her helmet light was probably visible—just—to anyone watching, if any of the tech team were awake and a functional camera were pointing in the right direction. But the Hypophysis had no lifeboats; no one would come to her rescue. The only positive—besides the anti-emetics—was that her suit had just an hour’s oxygen left. The end would arrive quickly.

Would they miss her that much? Maybe her genome. She remembered one of her mother’s lectures: “One drop less in the gene pool can make all the difference, Tenebra, all the difference in the world.” Tenni knew she was in trouble whenever her mother used her full name. “Maintaining maximum heterozygosity is paramount in an inbreeding population ...”

And so on, until finally Mella got to the nub of it: “Why won’t you pair with him, with Freemon? Let me show you the allele combinations again, how favourable they are ...”

What kind of mother is that? she thought. A mother should sympathise with her only daughter, not browbeat her with genetics. Even if that is her job ...

The Hypophysis was five generations out from Mars. Tenni only knew the home planet from the vee libraries and the stories handed down, while the arrival at Firstfall was far in the future. Ever since she was a child she had told her mother, and anyone who would listen, that she wouldn’t be a part of it, that she didn’t want to be an intermediate.

I should be more careful what I wish for, she told herself. I got off the world, and it won’t stop to let me back on.

She couldn’t quite believe what she’d done. Had she really cut herself loose just to spite Freemon? Tenni bit her lip to stop it trembling. She wasn’t ready to die, but the ship was slowly leaving her and her life behind: the rig lights were further along the destination vector with each loop she turned.

Something else had changed, though, since her last somersault. There—more light, a halo around the ship’s rear pole. Tenni strained to keep the ship in sight, but her wriggling only served to complicate her spiral trajectory. She gave up squirming, tried to calm her breathing. Again the ship passed across her visor frame and this time she saw that the hull segment at the pole was different. From Tenni’s viewpoint, it looked as if a cap-shaped piece had detached, like someone had sliced the end off an egg.

And then, a couple of flips later, the cap began to slide outwards, away from the ship, on puffs of gas that condensed in the cold. The cap pulled with it a folded cloth-like structure, which glimmered in the light of the pole and was wrapped around an umbilical coil of fibres that spooled from the ship’s interior. Tenni’s surprise transformed into recognition: someone had released the starbrake.

Every child on the ship knew about the starbrake; they learnt about it in shipcraft lessons. She knew it was intended to slow the Hypophysis in the destination system, to catch both light and plasma stream from its sun on the approach to the inner planets, like a parachute in an atmosphere. She knew it was enormous, and would be kilometres across when it unfurled, as it began to do now, rotating to gradually extend its aluminised canopy from a web of cross-linked carbon microcables. But to see it was different from knowing. Tenni began to giggle.

By the time she approached the ship’s pole, the starbrake was partially deployed and dwarfed the Hypophysis, occluding a large sector of the sky. Out here in deep space, far from the nearest sun, whoever released the starbrake can’t have intended to slow the ship, she realised. But it might be used to catch an errant voyager. Even she couldn’t miss something so big. Perhaps her fellow voyagers didn’t want to lose her after all. Perhaps her mother valued her genome too highly. Or maybe she loved her daughter like other mothers.

When she drifted into the support web, she was only a few hundred metres behind the ship. Tenni disentangled and reorientated her body, and then allowed herself to be rocked for a few moments in the web’s embrace. Gazing back at the Hypophysis, her breath began to flow more easily; she stared at the yolk-yellow light spilling from the ship’s pole. There were figures moving in the bay. Was one of them beckoning to her?

And there it was: safety, and a route back to the world. Too easy for her fellow voyagers, for her mother, for Freemon, to wrap her up and pull her back, before she did herself damage. Too easy to go on as before, for them to grind her down, point by point, until she gave in and did what they wanted. Maybe Freemon had staged it all to teach her a lesson, pushing her off the hull skin knowing she could be caught in the starbrake. Maybe her mother was in on it, had planned it all with Freemon.

I should head the other way, she thought, glancing back at the ’brake. Jump off into the black, where they’ll never reach me.

Tenni was almost ready to turn and pull herself in that direction when she noticed something caught in the cables to one side, something winking in the ship’s light. It was the lost power wrench, bobbing and swaying with the movement of the web.

Probably it’s the dumb wrench they wanted to save.

She laughed then and moved to extricate the tool. Its mass in her hand was reassuring as she hefted it a few times, thinking of what she might do with it back inside the ship, thinking of Freemon. She clipped the wrench to a thigh loop. After a last look at the enormity of the starbrake, she turned again and faced the world. Though no one would hear, Tenni found her voice. “OK, Freemon, loverboy. I think we need to have a little heart-to-heart.”

She hauled her way back along the cables towards the ship, the hand-over-hand travel easy in the no-gee. END

Alan Garth is a biosciences researcher in the U.K. He has published over one hundred papers in peer-reviewed journals. His stories have appeared in “AE” (twice winning the annual AE Micro Contest), “Stupefying Stories’ Showcase,” and “LabLit.”



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