Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips





Shipping Error

By Robert Dawson

JEANETTE’S CANDY-APPLE RED MOBILITY scooter rolled up to the checkout. “Hi, Amanda!” Jeanette said. She started to transfer groceries from the scooter’s basket to the conveyor belt. The smooth cans were so hard to grip with her arthritic fingers.

“Hi, there! Watcha got today?” Amanda scanned the first few items. “Hey, this can’s got no bar code.” She turned it over and over. “Any idea what it is?” The side of the can showed a lush picture of a tropical beach at dusk, a white full moon setting beside an apricot-gold sun over what might be palm trees, and several lines of unfamiliar white letters. There was not a word of English anywhere on the can.

“Not a clue, but there’s a big stack of them over by the ethnic food shelves.”

Price check, Lane four!” She put the microphone down. “But you want to buy it anyhow?”

“Oh, I always like to try mystery items. I find some really tasty things that way. I know I’ll never get to any of those exotic places”—she gestured at the picture on the can—“but at least I can try the food.”

“Sooner you than me.”

The manager bustled up, his white chef’s jacket spotless as always. He looked past Jeanette at the offending can in Amanda’s hand. “Forty-nine cents. Clearance.”

Before he could disappear, Jeanette put her hand on his arm. Her fingernails, painted to match her scooter, were like crimson cherries against the white fabric. “Do you know what’s in that can?”

He seemed to notice her for the first time. “I’m afraid I don’t. It’s not meant to get through Customs without an English-language ingredient list sticker, but I guess somebody forgot. Anyhow, our supplier dropped off nine cases that I never ordered, and didn’t want to be paid or take them back, so I figured I might as well try to sell them.


“It happens sometimes. Last year we got two dozen durians. Big spiky things with a weird smell. We only sold one.”

“I know. I bought it.” The produce manager had tried to dissuade her, but she’d insisted.

“And ...?”

“It was delicious.”

There was something subtly different in the way he was looking at her. Surprise? Maybe even respect?


Chetakiki wriggled uncomfortably, under the stern gaze of the alpha. “N-no, Mother-of-Many, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary,” zhie said. “Everything seemed normal when I put it into the transporter.”

“Well, that pallet of kshmera preserves never arrived at Triskaleron Twicethree-and-One. We’ve had to ship a replacement.” The alpha raised her thorax and waved her six front legs in a gesture of exasperation.

“I-I’m sorry,” zhie said, in a voice like crumpling leaves.

“Sorry won’t replace the goods, will it, worker? I’m putting you on four ninthdays of unpaid overtime, to make up.”

“Th-thank you, Mother-of-Many.”


With a label like that, Jeanette thought, the can just had to contain some kind of dessert. Fruit or pudding, something of that sort. She was confident enough in her intuition that she didn’t even open the can to check until after her main course: half a can of chicken curry, rice, and edamame. Frozen edamame had been half-price last month.

The can, almost as wide as it was high, was surprisingly resistant to the electric opener, though the metal proved to be eggshell-thin. The magnet wouldn’t grip it, and the cutter skidded. Eventually the can was cut most of the way around. She levered the top back, using the handle of her spoon in case the edge was sharp. The effort hurt her knuckles, until she got the spoon bowl nestled into the palm of her hand, and it went more easily. She smiled grimly. Living with arthritis was all about technique.

The substance inside gleamed a pretty pink. She took a small spoonful and sniffed: a delicate tropical fruit scent. Her mouth watered; she slowly, teasingly, put the spoon to her lips.

It didn’t taste pink. There were bright hints of tangerine, a suave suggestion of melon, and—lychee? Texture like jelly, but firmer to the teeth. She spooned a disciplined half-can into her bowl and ate, savoring every bite.

When it was all gone, she lit her prescribed evening joint. (“Not before dinner,” the doctor had said. “Nothing wrong with your appetite. And I wish half my patients ate as healthily as you do.”) She picked up the half-empty can and studied it carefully. Something not right. The full moon. How could it be there next to the sun? Artistic license, somebody could lose points on their artistic license ... She snickered, then put Saran Wrap over the top of the can, rolled over to the fridge and put it away, quickly, before she was tempted to finish it off.


Chetakiki! Get your useless cloaca over here!”

“Y-yes, Mother-of-Many.”

“Do you have any idea where that pallet went?”

“N-no. But I’ve worked that loss off already.”

“You’ve worked off the replacement price, you useless worm. But there’s a registered debt that’s come up connected with that shipment, worth more than an eightyoneday’s labor—and the nonperformance punishment begins after one more nineday. And I have no intention of working in the eggmunching boron mines. Now where is that pallet?”

Every primitive instinct in Chetakiki’s body told zher to roll up and protect zheir vulnerable ventral surfaces inside zheir thoracic plates. But social conditioning forced zher to stay unrolled. “M-Mother-of-Many, I do not know. But I will find out.”

“Make it happen, worker.” The alpha stalked off, her eighteen legs moving in elegant waves along her body.


Jeanette’s next shopping trip was three days later. The sun was shining outside, and her arthritis medication seemed to be working particularly well. She smiled as she put her jacket on and pulled up the zipper with only minor twinges. It was shaping up to be a good day. For a moment she even wondered about dusting off her walker, but the thought of actually carrying her groceries back in its basket daunted her.

When she got to the store, she steered straight to the stack of cans. The heap was lower now; she wasn’t the only adventurous one. She put a whole pack of nine, three by three, stuck invisibly together at the factory in some clever way, into her basket; and began to pick up a second pack. But she was going to need basket space for cereal, milk, and a few other necessary items; so, reluctantly, she put it back.


For a threeday, Chetakiki had been going over the record files of the pallet transporter. The designers had not thought to timestamp the entries; so zhie was reduced to trying to remember what orders had gone before and after. Those chlorated mudfish tails had surely been shipped the day before. But what about the gephon moss? Had there been one shipment of that or two that day, and had they both gone to the same destination? For a whole ninth of a twentyseventhday, zhie rolled up and trembled. Then zhie resolutely unrolled and continued the investigation.


That weekend Jeanette’s son Daniel came to visit. It was a long drive, but he made the trip most weeks, even though his job as an engineer kept him so busy. He brought her a big box of groceries, exotic foods as well as the basics. The Thai store near his house often had nice surprises.

“You’re looking well, Mother!” he said. “You’re even walking around.” He sniffed. “That dope must be helping. Still seems weird to have your place smelling like Mu Iota on Saturday night.”

She grinned. “The way things are going, it may not smell like this for much longer. I’ve been feeling so much better this week, the doctor may cut me off!” she said. “Did you see I trimmed the roses?” She picked up one of her four remaining cans. “Here, you’ve been overseas a lot. Recognize this alphabet?”

“Not at all.” He stared at the can. “That’s odd.”


“That looks like titanium. Nobody makes cans out of titanium. Must be some sort of anti-corrosion coating.”

“Do you know anywhere I could find out what those letters are?”

“Google unicode and go to their website. You’ll need a few hours to look through them all; there’s no good way to look up a symbol. But they’re all there.”

That evening, after Daniel had left, she sat at the computer, lit her evening joint, and found the website. For hours she searched, but didn’t find those odd, loopy characters anywhere. Some Burmese characters looked a bit similar, and that Bengali one ... But nothing really matched. Around midnight she gave up and went to bed.


There it was.

That was the record, Chetakiki was sure of it. Those were the two digits that must have been transposed. And—shame and dishonor!—that was zheir mark on the record, the scan of zheir own pedipalp. For a moment zhie considered fissioning. Zheir memory of this terrible day would be erased, and the two workers into whom zhie split would be held blameless, even after their brains regrew.

But that was the coward’s way out. Chetakiki prepared the shipping error report, and set off to deliver it. Every one of zheir legs seemed to drag in slime as zhie slunk along the tunnel toward the alpha’s cell.


Jeanette was walking today, really and truly walking to the store, without even a walker, for the first time in years. But how long would this new freedom last?

“You really don’t have any more cans?” she asked the manager. “Not even a few? You’ve checked?”

“I’m sorry. I asked my supplier, but she said she wasn’t expecting any more. It’s a shame, several other customers loved it too. You never did find out where it came from, did you?”

“Sorry, I never did. Are you allowed to give me your supplier’s phone number?”

“Not really, but I suppose I could bend a rule. For a customer like yourself.” He took a pencil and a scrap of paper from the pocket of his white jacket.


“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” The woman on the phone sounded genuinely regretful. “We only received one pallet of those cans. It wasn’t in the order, there was no mention of it on the invoice, and we couldn’t find anywhere to send it back to, so we passed them on to our retailers. We thought somebody might recognize the product. But I don’t suppose we’ll ever know now.”

Jeanette looked at the empty titanium can, the unknown letters, and what must surely be twin suns setting together, gold and silver, over an unimaginably distant alien sea. “No. I don’t suppose we ever will.” Was it her imagination, or were her fingers already beginning to ache again?

“I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do to help you.”

“Just in case you do find out—can I give you my phone number?” Jeanette asked.


“Thank you, worker,” said the alpha. “Your diligence has been honorable. Tracing the individual purchaser through so many transfers was—impressive.”

“I was fortunate, Mother-of-Many. The personal identifier was on file for that one purchaser. Had it been any other, the tunnel would have ended in a wall.”

“Diligence is the egg, fortune the hatchling. You have earned the right to make good the obligation in person.”

Chetakiki would rather have crawled away and forgotten the entire affair. But this was clearly an order, framed in the language mode of politeness-to-underlings though it might be. “Y-Your wish is my instinct, Mother-of-Many.”

“Report immediately to the Education Cells for language training.”

Chetakiki rippled. Zhie had only been to Education twice in zheir life. It was a privilege rarely granted to workers, but each time had led to good things. Zhie made zheir obeisance and scuttled away as fast as zhie decently could.


A threeday later, Chetakiki’s brain fizzed with excitement and newly-implanted knowledge. It was as much as zhie could do to stand still for zheir briefing.

“You understand your instructions, worker?” the alpha said. “You are to accompany this shipment to its destination. Ensure that it is properly delivered, and give official greetings to the recipient. If you perform this as well as you performed the trace, you may expect more duties of this type in future.”

Chetakiki rippled. Zhie climbed into the transporter, rehearsing zheir lines, feeling the strange soft noises of the alien language on zheir vocal membrane.


Was that a knock? Jeanette took one last toke and put out her afternoon joint. The pains were definitely coming back; it didn’t look as though there was any question of having to give up the marijuana, after all. She smiled, wryly, and stood: at least she was going to enjoy the luxury of walking for as long as she could. She reached the door and turned the handle.

Outside sat a giant centipede, a meter-and-a-half long, on top of a large blue cube. In one front claw it held what appeared to be a walkie-talkie. Shouldn’t it be a hookah? She put her hand to her mouth to hide a giggle. The doctor had told her that marijuana couldn’t cause hallucinations. Hah! Wait till I tell her!

“Mother-of-Many Jeanette Trask?” the centipede asked.

“I’m Jeanette Trask.” Mother of many, my ass! She repressed another giggle. Damn, this stuff must be strong! “And who, may I ask, are you?” The accidental rhyme almost set her off again.

“My name is Chetakiki. Do you have a kshmera preserve can with production number two-two-zero, one-one-two, two-zero-one, zero-one-zero?” Zhie looked at the walkie-talkie; a yellow light was flashing urgently.

“You mean the ones the store ran out of? Well, they weren’t steel or aluminum, and nonrecyclable trash isn’t till Tuesday. Hang on.” She walked back to the kitchen, still expecting to wake up at any moment. She returned to the door a few minutes later, bearing a plastic grocery bag of empty titanium cans. “Would it be one of these?”

Chetakiki rummaged through the bag, holding the walkie-talkie close to each can in turn. At one can the light turned blue. “Yes, this is the winning can! Jeanette Trask, I’m pleased to tell you that you’ve won a twentysevenday trip to the fabled kshmera farms of Charikida Three-and-One, all expenses paid. And, of course, a lifetime supply of our famous kshmera preserve! Your first seventwentynineday supply is here.” Zhie gestured downwards at the cube.

“Really? That’s wonderful!” Jeanette said, trying to stay calm. If she let her feelings show right now, she was sure she’d make an exhibition of herself. “Thank you! Do you, um, have time for a cup of tea?”

“I have never had tea. I have, ah, heard of it. I would very much like to try it.”

“Orange pekoe, Earl Grey, or jasmine? Or I’ve got some mango ginger ...” She stepped to one side and beckoned for her guest to enter. END

Robert Dawson teaches mathematics at a university in Nova Scotia. He has been published in “AE,” “Nature Futures,” and elsewhere. He is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.” His last story with us was in the October, 2014, issue.


screaming eagle


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