Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Running Tangent
by Dale Ivan Smith
and K.C. Ball

Food, Glorious Food
by Joey To

by Dave Creek

by Siobhan Gallagher

An Island in Your Arms
by James Patrick Riser

Rim’s End
by John Walters

by Holly Schofield

Ooze Love
by Andrew James Woodyard

Shorter Stories

Deus Ex Machina
by Erin Lale

It’s, Like, So Boring at the End of the World
by Amy Sisson

by Robin Wyatt Dunn


Making Sense of it All
by Libby McGugan

Is There Life in Space?
by Peter Cawdron



Comic Strips





By Dave Creek

AS ERIC BARRE ACCOMPANIED his wife and children down to New Laitila’s small dock at the edge of the Surrette River, their herds of merra and doxar following, he searched his consciousness for the emotions he knew he should be feeling—an impending sense of loss at their departure for their southern residence in Springhaven, regret that he’d spent so little time with them these past few months, concern that Sofia must take care of the children and manage their livestock all alone.

All those feelings, however, were subsumed beneath swirling images of Seura’s ring system, that swarm of fragments of stone and metal, some as large as houses, others mere specks of dust, all part of his effort to find a solution to an ecological crisis.

Eric zipped his jacket against the unseasonably cold breeze. He gazed toward the western sky, where the narrowing bands of the rings were backlit by the setting sun, and their edges glowed silvery, yellow, red, or purple depending upon how the sun’s light shone upon them. He moved his gaze to the southern horizon, where the rings formed a celestial arch of intricate beauty, one that religiously-minded humans had compared to a gateway into heaven. That arch provided both constancy and variety to Seura’s skies—constancy by the mere fact of their unyielding presence, variety in that they appeared different every time you looked at them.

Normally, Eric could never dispute their beauty, but given his current mental focus, the more closely he looked, the more he focused on objective detail: rings within rings within rings, and patterns within them that formed spokes, braids, and ringlets.

As he stood on the dock next to Sofia, however, Eric tried to move his focus to Sofia’s features.

What he saw: her furrowed brow, clenched jaw muscles, her hand running nervously across her bald head. Her unblinking eyes aimed at him as if straining to understand who this man had become.

Eric pointed upstream. “Look,” he told Sofia. “The tempaq.” The living cargo boat had just come into sight. It was a living cargo boat fifty meters long and ten meters wide.

Eric and Sofia gathered the sheaths of yellowish-green, thick and spongy grass that would coax the boat to shore and nourish it during Sofia’s trip southward. If the humans had not been at the dock providing the grasses it desired, it would’ve returned upstream to its usual feeding and nesting areas.

The tempaq’s wide flat deck narrowed toward the bow into a torso and head about the size of a walrus, with similar fatty folds. The tempaq’s expression combined dignity and a hint of sadness—loose folds of skin surrounded surprisingly small, rheumy eyes. Small withered arms jutted from its chest.

Sofia went to the river’s edge and, waving the sheaths of grass, coaxed the tempaq closer to the shoreline. The tempaq’s arms grasped the wood of the dock as it pulled itself into position at dockside. Sofia and Eric placed sheaths of the thick grass before the tempaq’s eager mouth. Its feeding sounds were loud and enthusiastic.

Sofia looked upslope, clapped her hands twice, and the herds started toward the tempaq.

The dozen merra came first. They stood upright, most over two meters, and had a chest girth the size of horses. Their intelligence was comparable to human children, and they were capable of simple speech. “One side, please,” the lead merra, its voice a low growl, said to Eric as it eased past. The soft pads of its paws pounded dully against the ground as it trotted down the slope and onto the living boat.

Behind the merra came three doxar. Their long fur ranged from a burnt umber color to a blondish-red. They were beasts of burden, towing several large sledges behind them. The first sledge carried Sofia and Eric’s children, eleven-year-old Martin and ten-year-old Cacambo, along with their two girls, eight-year old Cunégonde and seven-year-old Paquette, who waved enthusiastically at their mom and dad, as if they were on parade. A part of Eric deep down in his consciousness wondered how long their enthusiasm would last, if they’d realize they weren’t coming home anytime soon, if ever.

The final two sledges carried bundles of spices, vegetables, and various tech units. Behind the sledges was a cloud of insects, some natural, others synthetic. On a farm, the merra grew and harvested the crops, and the doxar provided milk and transport. The natural insects pollinated new crops and the synthetic ones herded the natural ones and monitored for plant diseases or blights. Sofia often joked that it was all the fun of farming without most of the work.

Sofia and Eric remained on the dock as all their creatures boarded the tempaq. The animals and the children shuffled for position on its broad deck. Eric was vaguely gratified to see Sofia chuckle as the merra tried to impose order upon the chaos and failed. The children, in particular, were singularly successful at eluding the merra among the many loose folds of deck skin.

“I wish you wouldn’t go,” Eric said. “I might have the problem solved in a few days.”

“If it doesn’t work, though, we’ll be late getting to our southern home.”

“It’ll work.”

Sofia faced Eric. She raised her hand toward his face, hesitated just a moment, then ran her fingers down the side of his face and neck.

To Eric, it felt as if she were rubbing his face with gravel. He pulled her hand away.

Sofia said, “I only meant—”

As she spoke, Sofia’s words faded into the background for Eric as his thoughts encompassed a waking dream of ring shadow that kept some of the most fertile areas of Seura mostly in darkness half the year.

Sofia was saying “—want my husband back.”

Eric shook his head to help himself emerge from his waking dream. “I’m ... sorry. What was that?”

“I said, as much as I want you to solve the problem of the rings, I want you—I want my husband back.”

Eric took Sofia’s hands, and this time he felt the warmth, the softness, of her flesh. For this moment, could relate to her as a loved one, and not a distraction. “I’m sorry. It’s how I have to be to ...”

“To get the job done. I know. Please be successful. We can make a life together even coping with the rings. We can’t if you’re going to ignore us in favor of the rings. If you’re going to show these flashes of anger.”

“The anger,” Eric said, “is what motivates me. It gives me focus.”

Sofia didn’t say anything more. She embraced Eric and he held onto his humanity long enough for his embrace to be genuinely affectionate.

Sofia boarded the tempaq, which began its sluggish journey downriver toward Springhaven. That trip would take a couple of days.

With the sun close on the horizon, shadow began to obscure the rings’ eastern arc. In turn, the darkened portion of the rings blocked the view of that part of the sky. Even so, the rest of the arch shone so brightly that only the most brilliant stars were visible.

Eric stood on the dock until the veiled sun sank below the horizon, darkening Seura’s rings, making them an ethereal presence in the moonless sky.


As he headed back toward their farm at the edge of the town of New Laitila, Eric considered the task he would face the next day.

Seura’s rings weren’t quite two centuries old, having formed when the planet’s only moon entered the planet’s Roche Limit and shattered. That was recently enough in astronomical terms that the rings were only now upsetting the planet’s ecological balance in the areas where their broad shadows fell. They’d affected the life cycles of everything from the ubiquitous strandwood trees and fingermoss to Seuran animals such as the wildtooth and doxar.

Many animals were changing migratory and breeding habits. Merra were having more offspring than was usual, only to see fewer of them live to maturity. Doxar, in some cases, refused to breed at all, and even mature ones were finding it more difficult to gain nourishment from the plant species remaining.

Such ring systems had always fascinated Eric and he wanted to study one up close. Sofia had always wanted to live on a farm. They’d come to Seura expecting it to be a place they could both live out their dreams.

But now Eric faced a task he’d never anticipated; he had to modify the rings, perhaps destroy them to save Seura’s ecological balance.

Once he returned home, Eric was barely aware of fixing himself a light supper of a salad, and washing it down with some iced tea. Most of his consciousness concerned itself with the mechanics of molding Seura’s rings into a form that would allow more sunlight onto the planet’s surface.

I’m afraid my approach is going to be needlessly sudden, even violent, Eric thought. But we don’t have time for a more subtle, long-term solution.

Seura’s rings had no effect in the summer on the northern hemisphere, where New Laitila, and their farm, was located. Then, the planet’s axial tilt meant its primary’s rays cast “over” the rings. Or, to look at it from the planetary viewpoint, the sun was high in the skies, and the rings didn’t eclipse it.

Winter was a different matter. Then the the rings did eclipse the sun’s rays in the northern hemisphere. That made winters even colder and darker than they would be otherwise.

Over the next few thousand years, the ring system would break up on its own.

Humanity couldn’t wait that long.

With his meal finished, Eric made his way to his bedroom. Our bedroom, he reminded himself as the visualizations of Seura’s ring system arose again, soon to take over his entire consciousness, to force thoughts of Sofia and his children into the background.

This was my decision, he thought, mine alone, to allow biotech into my body to allow me to focus so completely on my visualizations, to go beyond mere calculations any computer could make, and into the conceptual imaging allowing me to conceive new, more benign patterns for the rings.

Lying in bed, though, Eric’s emotions managed to well up for a brief moment, forcing him to relive recent incidents he’d rather forget:

—Grabbing Paquette’s arm in anger as she interrupted his studies of the rings one afternoon, and barely noticing her jagged cries as Sofia took her to another room to comfort her.

—Sofia recoiling from him during an argument about the ring project as he stood, eyes tightly closed, fists clenched. He never took a step toward her, but in a more lucid moment, he realized he’d never seen her so frightened, and never dreamed that he’d ever be the reason for that fright.

But those concerns faded as that same biotech sent his awareness flying among the spokes and braids of the intricate patterns of the rings in the moments before sleep took him.


Early the next morning, a shuttlecraft took Eric up to the Unity archeological starcraft George Allenby. He barely spoke to the two crewmembers on board, as images of Seura’s ring system still swirled within his mind.

The Allenby, given its exploratory mission, was a relatively small ship. Its commander, Andrea Boca, was a woman who looked as if she was in her thirties, except for her eyes. They don’t actually make her look older, Eric realized. Just wiser. Something rejuv treatments can’t hide. Not that you’d want them to.

Those eyes were looking at him with a piercing gaze, and Eric wondered why for an instant, until he realized his own expression must be distracted at best. “Sorry if I seem a little distant, Captain,” he said. He indicated the main bridge viewscreen, which showed a closeup of the arc of Seura’s rings, with the planet in the background. “You might say, I’m more out there among the rings than I am here on your bridge.”

“We’ll hope that’s for the best, then,” Captain Boca said. She introduced Eric to Ensign Yuri Vasilev, the ship’s chief weapons officer. Here on this archeological ship, the weapons were rather basic and normally used only for defense.

Vasilev told Eric, “We don’t get much of a chance to fire these things except in practice.”

Capt. Boca said, “Yuri, don’t be too modest.” She turned to Eric. “He’s the best at what he does. If he weren’t, I’d never allow this, given the concerns I already have about this project. One shot, and fragments of ring material the size of a house get thrown from orbit and strike the planet.”

Eric said, “I’ve allowed for that in my calculations. And at the first sign of any danger, we stop down.”

“I find that reassuring,” Capt. Boca said in a tone of voice that implied she did not.

Eric told Vasilev, “I’ll need to work right beside you. I’ll be providing your targets.”

Vasilev took Eric over to a console on one side of the bridge. “It’s all set up. Cube imaging of the rings, interface with the weapons. You say you want a particular part of the rings gone, it’s gone.”

The solution Eric had come up with was to destroy as many shepherd moons within the rings as possible. The gravity of such moons maintained a planetary ring’s sharp edges, keeping the ring stable.

First, the Allenby’s enticement beams would grab hold of a selected shepherd moon, moving it from its position within the rings. Then disruptors would turn them into fine dust. That, in turn, was supposed to allow the Seuran rings to spread out sufficiently that they would allow more sunlight onto the planet’s surface—a quick, violent solution to a long-term, subtle ecological change.

Eric fought to balance Vasilev’s words alongside the images of the rings within his mind as he said, “We’d better get started.”

A display grid appeared on the main viewscreen, overlaying real-time pictures of the ring system. Vasilev worked the Kojima’s weapons console with a sure touch, setting up a firing pattern. He turned toward Captain Boca: “We’re ready, Captain.”

Captain Boca told her weapons tech, “If the smallest fragment goes wild, you know what to do.”

“Aye, ma’am,” Vasilev said. “Everything shuts down.”

Don’t consult me first. Do it, and we’ll sort everything out afterwards.” After another moment’s hesitation, she said, “Fire when ready.”

Eric worked the console in front of him, the small cube display of the ring system overlaid now with the comp’s calculations informed by his insights into how to mold the rings into a less destructive form.

Eric highlighted one of the nearest shepherd moons, a moonlet several kilometers across whose gravitational pull was barely strong enough to hold close the gaps among the smaller ring fragments surrounding it. Otherwise, those fragments would drift apart. Multiply that effect over the entire expanse of the rings, and wider, more diffuse rings would form.

At least that was the plan. Vasilev pressed the firing control. The silent beam was invisible in the vacuum of space until it reached the edge of the ring, then Eric saw it as a thread of light that struck the center of the targeted shepherd.

The cube image Eric was watching bloomed into an image of pure white light for an instant. When that light faded, all that was left of the moonlet were more ring particles expanding outward in a wave that encompassed the main body of the rings for half a kilometer or more.

Well, that part worked, Eric thought. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is doing it again and again and seeing if it makes a difference.

He looked at the sensor readout that appeared beneath the holo. “Great job!” he said. All the same, the necessity for this destruction saddened him. His primary motivation was to rid Seura of the ecological effects of its ring system. What had originally brought him to Seura, however, was an eagerness to discover more about the rings. It was unfortunate in a way, even regarding lifeless rock, but you learned a lot about something by destroying it. The part of Eric’s consciousness that was concentrated on the rings themselves eagerly absorbed details of the moonlet’s structure, its tensile strength, whether it contained water—all the information its destruction revealed.

Eric provided Vasilev with another target, then another. The work exhilarated him as he watched entire sections of the rings already beginning to spread out, become more diffuse.

Even as Eric kept targeting more shepherd moons, he began examining the consequences of his work. Exactly how much more sunlight would make its way down to the shadowed portions of the planet? Even though the changes in the rings had just begun, the comp could extrapolate the endgame from these preliminary results.

The shock of the initial conclusions made all of Eric’s concentration on the ring patterns fall away.

The rings wouldn’t become diffuse enough. Yes, more sunlight would reach the ground, but it wouldn’t be sufficient to restore Seura’s ecological balance.

Eric pounded his fist on the console before him. He barely heard Capt. Boca telling Vasilev to cease fire.


Back in his empty house on Seura, Eric had never felt so alone. Sofia was gone, the children were gone, and as he moved through the house he could hear every creak of every floorboard, every gust of wind as it whistled within the ceiling or inside the walls, every drip of water from the kitchen faucet.

He made himself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table, trying to decide what to do next.

Capt. Boca was pissed at him, first for screwing up the project, second for insisting upon returning planetside to his home, necessitating another shuttle trip. No doubt she’d be pissed a third time if he insisted upon coming back up to the Allenby.

If I go back up at all, he thought.

Eric consciously forced down the now-useless images of the ring system that tried to impinge upon his consciousness again.

Where did I go wrong? I wanted so badly to help my planet, to help everyone on it. I became angry, I wanted to lash out against the rings themselves.

Slowly, images pressed upon his mind: making Paquette cry when he grabbed her arm, Sofia’s expression of fright at his anger.

Realization came more quickly: That’s the problem. I wanted to strike out. I was angry at the rings, angry at nature itself for creating them and threatening the world that has become my home.

I was going about this the wrong way from the beginning.

With that realization, Eric stood as a new series of visualizations appeared in his mind. Now he knew how to tackle the problem of the rings and make it work.

I’ve got to get hold of Capt. Boca, he thought. Whether she’s pissed or not, I know this new method will work. I know it will.

But an instant of reflection made him stand in the middle of his kitchen with his hands pressing against the sides of his head, his eyes squeezed shut. I know these visualizations are taking me over again. But I’ve got to keep a part of myself free, got to remain aware of what really counts—Sofia, Martin, Cacambo, Cunégonde, and Paquette.


The next day found Eric back on board the George Allenby. Capt. Boca’s attitude toward him as she stared at him from her commander’s chair was professional but reserved. Ensign Vasilev seemed more skeptical now than he had the day before, but Eric couldn’t concern himself with that as long as the man did his job.

Today, though, Vasilev wasn’t at the weapons position.

He’d be operating the enticement beam projector—pushing here, pulling there, using the patterns of force at his disposal to mold the rings rather than carve on them.

The Allenby was closing in on the outer edge of the rings, and once again Eric was impressed at their complexity as he found himself leaning forward to better see the patterns of braids and ringlets and spokes on the cube projection in front of him.

Captain Boca told Eric, “I want to hear directly from you exactly how all this works.”

Eric explained, “The key is to move individual moonlets and make them into shepherd moons. It’s all how you place them among the various rings that make up the total ring system. You need one between the individual ring and Seura, and the other out beyond the ring, and you do that with as many of the individual rings as possible.”

Capt. Boca asked, “To what end?”

“Narrowing the larger ring system. Every such system has gaps between the rings, and shepherd moons can create those gaps. Move the shepherds into different positions, then we can fill those gaps and create a narrower set of rings. Given the planet’s axial tilt, the areas that had been in shadow will take turns getting more sunlight.”

“So rather than a more diffuse ring system, we’ll have a narrower one, and more sunlight will get through to the planet’s surface.”

“That’s exactly right.”

Capt. Boca didn’t say anything more. A nod and a wave of her hand were enough for Vasilev to begin the process. Within moments, Allenby’s enticement beams were focused on an unaccompanied moonlet which a computer simulation—and Eric’s best intuition—picked as the best candidate to make into a shepherd moon elsewhere in the ring system.

After a time, Capt. Boca managed to speak up, asking Eric, “How long will it take to move it where we need it?”

Eric stared at the cube readout. “One of the requirements for picking shepherd moons was that we wouldn’t have to take them far. This one has to go about a thousand K, in the direction of the rings’ rotation. It ought to take about half a day.”

“And the whole process?”

Eric faced the captain. “We should know within a few days whether Sofia and the kids can come back home.”

“That quickly?”

“The rings won’t have been altered that quickly. But we’ll see the trend by then. We’ll know if this is going to work.”


Two weeks later. Eric and Sofia stood behind their home, where Martin, Cacambo, Cunégonde, and Paquette, exhausted from their brief jaunt down much of the Surrette River and back again, were already in bed. The doxar were back in their accustomed fields, with the merra, docile as ever, watching over them.

Eric felt Sofia’s fingertips touching the palm of his hand. He took her hand in his. A small forgiveness, he thought. Maybe something bigger can grow from it.

Eric pointed toward the rings, which were visible only as a shadowy presence in the night sky. “See? We used to stand here and the western arch of the ring would be this huge arch over that ridge over there. Now it disappears behind it. The rings will adjust even more as the new shepherds continue to draw ring material toward themselves.”

“Such a quick change,” Sofia said. “And it means we can live where we want. I’d given up hope, and I apologize for that. I didn’t have enough confidence in you.”

“I have a lot more to apologize for. The way I let my anger take control. I frightened you. I’m sure when I made Paquette cry, I frightened all the children.”

“You needed that anger, you said.”

“I was a goddam liar, and didn’t even know it. But all that’s fading now. I had the biotech taken out. No more waking dreams about spokes and braids and ringlets. Now it’s just us and the children, as it’s supposed to be.”

The rings were a dark, starless presence in Seuran skies as Sofia stepped into Eric’s embrace. END

Dave Creek is an active member of SFWA. He has published two short story collections, with most of the selections reprinted from “Analog.” He has also recently published a novel, “Some Distant Shore,” from Hydra Publications.


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