Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


On the Road Again
by Michaele Jordan

A Prince of Blood and Spit
by Guy Stewart

by Brandon L. Summers

Little Ships
by Harold R. Thompson

Road Rage on the Hypertime Expressway
by Ken Altabef

Bug Out
by Cas Blomberg

By His Jockstrap
by Eamonn Murphy

Tamera’s Engagement
by John Hegenberger

Shorter Stories

From the Other Side of the Rubicon
by Sean Mulroy

To Be Carved
by David Steffen

Final Frames of the Eldrisil
by J. Daniel Batt


About That Colony
by John McCormick

Tesla and Newton
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Road Rage on the

Hypertime Expressway

By Ken Altabef

WITH PROGRAMMED EASE, THE SKY BLUE Corona XTS hugged the gentle curve of the Expressway. Traffic was moving well and the bright sunlight and fresh air combined in a particularly glorious fashion, certain to uplift the heart and nurture the soul. Robert glanced at the blue-haired, pinch-faced woman in the passenger seat.

“Perfect day for a drive, eh, Mom?” he said.

“Yes, but I wish they would patch up some of these bumps. And aren’t you going a little too fast?”

Oh, hell. He wondered again why he even bothered trying. Robert considered himself a very good driver and, allowing for a moment of gentle immodesty, practically a saint besides. How else could he put up with his mother’s constant barrage of annoying, unsolicited advice?

At least on the Expressway there was relatively little she could complain about—except for his speed, his proximity to the other cars, his “god-awful” taste in aftershave, and his improper handhold on the wheel. This unwelcome litany was peppered with occasional reminders to keep his eyes on the HUD at all times and to stop fiddling with the onboard systems. Robert nodded his head at regular intervals in polite accession, while covertly stifling a yawn.

Aside from the endless stream of prattle wafting from the passenger seat, there wasn’t all that much to require his attention. His new car virtually ran itself. The Corona was a gem of a vehicle, his pride and joy, just six weeks off the assembly line at Montes Carpatus. Packing over seventeen gigawatts under the hood, Robert was more than satisfied with the sublime purr of the engine as she skimmed along the surface, a light feather touch.

Mother had wanted a picnic lunch in an idyllic 18th century pastoral setting and so they had dined in a field of clover on a great lawn in Dorset, England. The setting was extraordinary with Durlston Castle towering above them in the distance. The food was fine. His mother’s company was a different matter, churning up more than enough raw gastric juice to ensure that Robert’s newly diagnosed peptic ulcer was not only permanently ensconced in the family, but made to feel right at home. Robert believed that she meant well, she really did, but simply could not help herself. During lunch she fixated chiefly on their twenty-year-old political disagreements, but was willing to break from that tack periodically to nag about his dead-end job, the fact that he was thirty-five and still unwed, a perceived lack of emotional commitment to his girlfriend who was a sweet and caring person and deserved so much better than the shabby treatment he seemed to be providing, and the practically nonexistent prospect of grandchildren in her lifetime.

Pushing eighty, his mother’s face was crosshatched by ravines rather than wrinkles, resembling nothing so much as a chalky porcelain cake baked too long in the kiln. Before his very eyes, it seemed, Gladys had grown old and set in her ways, insisting on wearing a ridiculous powder-blue wig which was ten years out of style even for a septuagenarian. In the decade since his father’s death, she’d gained weight steadily and now the mystery was explained—she ate like a horse. Her mouth was an astonishing thing, capable of both chewing and carping at an incredible pace, and often simultaneously.

Eventually she asked the eternal Sunday-drive question, “How much longer until we get home?”

“We’re making great time,” he replied. “Looks like only about two hundred years to go.”

“Well don’t go too fast. I was simply curious, that’s all.”

Gladys continued her patter, keeping up a steady stream of criticism, now making sure to exclaim at every pothole and bump as if they were his fault. The Hypertime Expressway had been slowly falling apart for as long as he could remember and while WorldGov enthusiastically vowed to repave it, particularly in advance of each new election, the task proved prohibitively expensive and the funding simply did not exist. And apparently it never would. Robert thought that somewhere upstream the funds might eventually become available but the restorative effects, which would have been apparent retroactively, had never materialized. So the road was continually patched and glossed over, two activities at which WorldGov excelled, ad infinitum.

An old-model car, a Ford MagnaStar circa 2047, pulled in front of them from the left lane, cutting it painfully close and much too fast. The Corona’s onboard proximity override immediately forced a deceleration, but not quite in time. Robert distinctly heard a dull thunk.

“I think he clipped us!”

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed Gladys.

“Will you just look at him, weaving in and out of the traffic like that. Does he really think that’s going to get him there any sooner?”

“Well, maybe subjectively ...” said Gladys. She didn’t care to think about such complexities and paradoxes; they gave her a headache. Likewise, she tried to avoid looking out the window. The timestream effect rendered a whirling vista of ever-changing waves in crimson and amber that swirled about the road in a circular arc, making it seem as if they traversed the inside of a hollow, metallic tube embedded in a shifting sea of light. The mercurial fluid that was time was familiar enough, but the inconstancy of the view unnerved her. Not so, Robert. Even as an adult, he still occasionally indulged in that common childhood pastime of searching for the outlines of familiar animal shapes or fanciful creatures that appeared fleetingly to the imaginative in the folds of the swirling time-mist.

Robert stuck his head out the window, straining to get a glimpse of the front end of his vehicle. “I knew it! I just knew it! He dinged us. My brand new car!” Robert attacked his operations panel, programming a new sequence into the onboard navsys with a series of aggressive keystrokes.

“Now calm down, Robert. These things happen. What are you doing? Why are we speeding up?”

“I’m going to give him a piece of my mind, that’s why. He isn’t going to get away from me in that old rattrap car.”

The Corona accelerated and began swerving between the traffic in an exaggerated parody of the red MagnaStar’s movements.

“Oh, Robert, you’re just as bad as your father. He used to pull these types of crazy stunts all the time. Took ten years off my life, I swear.”

“He’s not getting away.”

True to its advertised performance stats, the Corona cut across several lanes of frantically braking, blaring traffic and easily caught up to the red MagnaStar. When he had stationed himself altogether too close to the MagnaStar’s rear bumper, Robert blasted his horn. Several short honks and a long drawn-out squeal, the car sounded nearly as angry as its driver.

A hand emerged from the front window of the MagnaStar and the wrist waggled defiantly, pinky extended.

“Did you just see that?” roared Robert. “He just flipped us the bird. What a jerk!”

“Robert, please!”

Certain that this was no time to start listening to his mother, Robert stabbed at the dashboard console, disabling in rapid sequence the proximity steerage override, the proximity alarm, and the link to WorldGov Navsys, and then punched in a command to accelerate. In a flash, the Corona rear-ended the MagnaStar, jolting Robert and his mother forward, the sudden impact not completely compensated by the cloying magnetic grip of the seat restraints.

“Just a little love tap,” said Robert, his face a demonic grimace of rage highlighted by the blue light of the dashboard. He noted he had finally succeeded in shutting his mother up, however briefly. Her complexion was bleached of what little color it had originally possessed, her lips gone only slightly less blue than the powdered wig.

The MagnaStar slowed, an automatic reaction dictated by the car’s onboard systems in response to the collision. The hazard lights flashed on as the vehicle robotically pulled over into the right lane. As Robert passed on the left, chuckling, he strained to see what the idiot driver looked like, hoping for a pained or appropriately contrite expression. Instead he caught a glimpse of a teenaged kid hunched over the console, feverishly working his data inputs—a brief glimpse just before the MagnaStar swerved suddenly and side-swiped the Corona. His proximity systems already disabled, Robert was taken completely by surprise. His car lurched to the left, time seeming to slow, then speed up, then slow about them as it went into a spin. He heard a sickening snap and a loud metallic ping as something ripped apart under the hood. A fraction of a second later, they were rocketing sideways across the traffic, headed directly for a commuter bus.

They had about two seconds to live.

“That bastard!”

“God in Heaven!” yelled Gladys, “Look out for that bus!”

“I see it, Mom. I see it.”

“Can’t you turn the car?”

“No, I can’t,” said Robert, through his teeth. “The entire steerage subroutine is offline. We must have blown a servo relay somewhere.”

Gladys stared potato-eyed at the oncoming bus. They still had about two seconds to live.

“Well, what are you planning to do?” she demanded, “Can’t we call for help?”

“Not like this. They’d only have about two seconds to get to us.”

“God in Heaven,” repeated Gladys, still completely unnerved by the sight of the onrushing commuter bus. “We’re going to die. We’re going to die.”

“I’ll have to take a look under the hood.”

“All I wanted was a nice quiet lunch in the 18th Century,” she whined.

“And we had lunch, Mom. The castle. The wine. The whole thing. Okay?”

“No, it’s not okay. It’s clearly not okay, Robert. I didn’t think it would be my last meal. For one thing, I wouldn’t have brought the Chardonnay, we would’ve had the Bollinger.”

“Look, we’ve only got about two seconds. Let me run a diagnostic.”

The readout was technically complex, almost prohibitively so, a scroll of incomprehensible schematics that ran by nearly as quickly as the legal disclaimers at the tail end of a TriVid advertisement. Robert wasn’t interested in the technical specifics, just the bottom line, which read: “Ruptured neutrino hose. Inoperative guidance servo.”

They had just under two seconds left. Travel at tangents to the time flow carried with it a substantial time dilation. Robert estimated their angle to be just the merest fraction off the perpendicular, perhaps as little as two or three degrees. Luckily, that meant that an hour subjective time inside the car for every second relative to the Expressway. They had just slightly under two seconds before they smacked into the bus barreling down on them. After that it would get ugly. But within the subjective real-time bubble of the Corona, they had about two hours. Of course two hours of Mother’s grousing could seem like two years.

Robert knew it might have been worse, as if that were any consolation. If they had wound up exactly perpendicular to the flow of Time, the Corona would be stuck here indefinitely, with their subjective time elapsing at infinity relative to the Expressway. There were urban legends of such unfortunate people littered throughout the Expressway in just such a circumstance, trapped in a single instant, still helplessly waiting for a tow service that would never arrive. Amelia Earhart not the least among them. He had never given much credence to those stories up until this moment, but he was now a firm believer, thanking his lucky stars for the fortunate angle they had hit.

Using the emergency key in the dash, Robert popped the locking clamps that prevented opening the hood while the fusion reactor was in operation. As the hood panel slid back, Robert’s hands knotted into fists. He was no mechanic. He worked in the financial district. The last time he had fiddled with an engine was as a pimpled teenager indulging an after-school hobby. Could he even find the damaged servo?

Robert blotted out his mother’s litany of safety admonitions, which were helping him not at all, and climbed very carefully onto the exposed hood of the car. He didn’t want to die and, despite his mother’s persistent sniping, he really did love his girlfriend. He clung desperately to the hood, lost in a mental state somewhere between extreme caution and abject terror, a situation that was not helped by the looming specter of the gigantic passenger bus a mere six feet away. At this distance he could see the driver’s face all-too-clearly, a frozen mask caught in the early stage of a blossoming shriek of panic.

With thanks to Einstein, Robert still traveled the Corona’s subjective time so long as he remained within the car’s spacetime bubble, which included desperately hanging on by one’s fingernails while spread-eagled over the engine. If he were to fall off, well, there was that word ugly again. All around him the swirling timestream effect stood at a virtual standstill. Where colored bands usually shot alongside the car, a sea of constantly shifting ooze, now he was surrounded by nearly static particles of time. The effect reminded Robert of an old style of impressionistic painting called pointillism. Instead of tiny dots of color that made up a picture, there were tiny dots of reality, little shimmering globs of spacetime hanging all around. It was indescribably beautiful.

It was indescribably dangerous. Balanced on the engine block, Robert held his breath as he surveyed the damage. He had never seen a Quasiturbine engine exposed while still in full operating mode. The electric blue streaks of coruscating nuclear energy traveling across the engine block particularly held his attention. As the old saying went, the ability to repair an engine while it was still running spelled the difference between an auto mechanic and a cardiac surgeon, and Robert fell far short of either. Seventeen gigawatts of power sounded really impressive in an automotive brochure, but he found himself a lot less enthusiastic about it when it crackled a few millimeters away from his fingertips. Mustn’t touch those.

The problem turned out to be fairly obvious; the free-flapping end of the snapped neutrino hose must have flogged the steerage servo. He could patch the hose in a few minutes time, but he had no replacement for the servo. Luckily the engine would continue to function while he pried the steerage unit loose, brought it back inside and worked at it with the microtools in his emergency kit. If the Quasiturbine did shut down, the sudden collapse of the spacetime bubble would ... well, he didn’t even want to think about it.

The servo repair operation was delicate work with unfamiliar tools and took the better part of an hour. Using the microsolderer would’ve certainly gone much smoother if the diagnostics display had offered diagrams that were halfway readable or had his hand not been shaking in frustration at his mother’s continued blubbering. She went on the entire time about how they were going to die, his irresponsible behavior, terrible driving, and the lamentable lack of grandchildren—a situation rendered permanently irreparable should they perish in a muonium-hydrogen fireball on the highway.

When it was finally done, he ventured the climb back out to replace the unit. Glad to be away from Mother’s perpetual negative cheerleading section, Robert paused for an extra ten minutes on the hood of the car in a futile attempt to compose himself. The peace and quiet was a blessing. He marveled again at the frozen spacetime, picking out a flamingo and a huge pink bunny rabbit, but these things failed to erase the infuriating image of the teenager in the red MagnaStar. It was one thing to ding a fender, but that punk had practically gotten them killed. And with his mother in the car! Even now, the bus was close enough to touch if he reached his arm out. And the driver had begun to scream. It was time to climb back inside.

The steerage again responsive, he cranked the control back toward the flow of traffic. In the end they missed the commuter bus, but not by much. For a second, as his mother screeched in mortal terror, Robert seriously regretted the extra ten minutes spent languishing on the hood which had almost cost them their lives.

As their angle corrected back to the parallel, the objective time of the Expressway began to catch up with them, causing a weirdly disorienting effect as they seemed to be accelerating in time as well as speed and direction. Robert just kept cranking the wheel, eyes half closed. His mother was chanting his name, and not in a good way, each frantic screech more protracted and higher in pitch than the last. In the end, the Corona scratched a thin line of yellow paint off the surface of the bus.

When the ship was righted again, Gladys noticed him scanning the traffic ahead and knew immediately what he was looking for.

“Forget it, Robert. He’s gone. Gone into the upstream. No way of catching him now.”

“That’s what you think,” said Robert, his voice deepened a full octave by grim determination.

“Robert, what are you doing?”

“He almost got us killed. I’m turning around.”

As if they hadn’t done enough to disrupt a perfectly idyllic Sunday’s drive, Robert slashed the Corona across traffic and headed for the off-ramp. The consternation of their fellow travelers gave voice to a dissonant chorus of beeps and honks. Robert did his best to tune out his mother’s shrieks of protest as they flew down the service roadway, circled the ramp and rejoined the Expressway going downstream.

Travel backward in time was all swirling blues and rich violets. Those colors were said to have a naturally calming effect on the human psyche. Not today. Robert was anything but calm and Gladys was absolutely furious. At the next exit back, Robert programmed another tight U-turn and they rejoined the forward stream.

“This is just wrong!” said Gladys.

“Don’t worry, I’ll wait until after he sideswipes us, so there’s no paradox.”

Gladys puffed her disapproval but fell silent for a moment, apparently having run out of tactics to dissuade her son. A moment later Robert blurted, “I think he clipped us!” even though nothing had touched them, which was followed by an, “Oh, dear!” from his mother for seemingly no reason. These outbursts were accompanied by a flash of bright light with a strobe effect and an intensely unpleasant feeling of deja vu. Gladys looked momentarily stunned as if she’d just belched loud and long at the Sunday dinner table. The two had experienced a Heisenberg flashback, an involuntary spasm induced by traveling the same stretch of timeline twice in rapid succession.

“That’s why you’re not supposed to—” began Gladys.

“We’ll be fine. I’m not letting him get away.”

“You’re acting crazy, Robert. I’ve never seen you like this.”

“Sure you have, Ma. Just a few minutes ago.”

To illustrate this point, Robert indicated the expanse of Expressway just ahead where they saw their blue Corona begin a series of wild swerves in pursuit of the MagnaStar. A moment later there was another strobing flash and Gladys blurted, “Robert, you’re just as bad as your father. He used to pull these types of crazy stunts all the time. Took ten years off my life.”

“I heard you the first time,” Robert mumbled, knowing it wasn’t her fault, another flashback effect having forced the uncontrollable repetition.

They watched the Corona ahead of them as it was sideswiped by the MagnaStar and spun around sideways. From their point of view the scene played out at hyperaccelerated speed and the car immediately righted itself in response to Robert’s superfast, it seemed, ministrations. Watching closely Robert could not catch his traverse across the hood, which spanned all of a microsecond. He did manage a fleeting glimpse of the ten-minute respite atop the car, his former self popping into vision long enough for Robert to make out the figure of a gremlin on the hood looking like some kind of maniac, a maddened frustrated expression on his face. The image faded out again as the figure moved superfast to get back inside.

Just as soon as the original Corona made for the exit ramp, their current Corona came bearing down on the unsuspecting MagnaStar. Robert had been poised for this moment. As the other guy watched the Corona bumped off to the side, he would never expect what came next as the selfsame car came out of nowhere from behind him, with a vengeance.


“Robert what are you doing?” his mother screeched.

His only reply was a peal of maniacal laughter at the satisfying crunch as the Corona sideswiped the MagnaStar.

“Eat that!”

“Robert, please!”

Robert rammed his adversary again, sending the MagnaStar slamming into the guard rail. The rail gouged a long streak out of the older car’s hide before the car came skidding to a stop on the shoulder.

With his nemesis off the road and helpless, Robert realized just how stupid he’d been. The tsunami of emotion had crested, arced over his head, and crashed onto the beach, leaving him feeling hollow and damp with cold sweat. He pulled up just in front of the MagnaStar.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” said Robert, a thirty-five-year-old waif.

Gladys pursed her lips, perhaps realizing she had said enough, until she noticed him inactivating his seat restraint.

“Don’t get out!” whined Gladys. “Interaction is absolutely forbidden, and for good reason. Just let him wait for the tow service.”

“I’ve run him off the road, Mother. I have to at least see that he’s all right.”

Just as Robert stepped out onto the pavement, the door to the MagnaStar’s cab flipped open and its driver came dashing out of his vehicle, a tall skinny kid, not more than seventeen.

“Just what the hell do you think—” began the red-faced teen.

“Dad?” said Robert.

“Henry, is that you?” asked Gladys. Without skipping a beat, she began laying into him. “Henry Albert Sanderson, have you been drinking? If I’ve told you once, I’ve said it a hundred times! You never could hold your liquor. Really, you are completely irresponsible at times! And what have you been up to? Nothing good I’m sure ...”

Robert began a combined apology and explanation that was inaudible above his mother’s continued harangue. His teenaged father offered no verbal response but his eyes seemed to pop out of his head at the sight of the approaching woman and the way that she was talking to him, her voice laden with the undisguised contempt of forty years of marriage. There was no mistaking that tone.

As he saw what must have looked to him like a haggard, blue-haired harridan on the charge, Henry took a step back. He glanced appraisingly at Robert and nodded a note of sympathy, then looked again at the wife, cringed again and shrank back.

Robert considered throwing in a parting admonition against leaning too far out of the Great Nevada tramway in order to get a better picture of the Grand Canyon, which was an altogether silly way to die, when his father took another step back, clapped his hands to his ears, and said, “I—don’t—want—to—know!”

At which point he ran for the car.

Yep, that was Dad all right.

Robert turned toward his mother, laid a hand on her shoulder, and said, “Mom, next time let’s just go to the Moon for lunch, okay?” END

Ken Altabef is a SFWA and Codex member. His short fiction has appeared three times in “F&SF,” as well as in “Interzone,” “BuzzyMag,” “Abyss & Apex,” and elsewhere. His first short story collection, “Fortune’s Fantasy,” was released last year.




thru jan-2016


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