Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips





Moving the Floral Sea

By Anne E. Johnson

“CAN’T THEY JUST BLOW IT UP? We’re wasting time and money.”

Captain Joe Xavier often talked like that. Krista Golding couldn’t get used to it, so this had been a long voyage. Krista was a scientist. She collected. She studied. She wondered and appreciated. She never, ever just blew things up.

“The planet’s a goner,” Joe groused from the control panel of the Interleague TechCraft Aristotle. “We got no business landing there. Next week they’re gonna seal up the atmosphere.” He looked accusingly at Krista. “But here we are on this floating science lab, me and ...”

“You and the annoying botanist?” Krista laughed. She’d been teased about her brains since she was little, so this guy couldn’t faze her.

He studied the panel’s buttons and levers closely. “Sorry, Miss.”

“You mean, Sorry, Professor.” She was enjoying his discomfort.

“Yes, Professor.”

It was a little triumph. Krista felt pity for him, though. It wouldn’t be obvious to a layman why this final voyage to the planet Niwa was necessary.

Although she didn’t owe Joe an explanation, she tried anyway. Maybe it was more for herself than for him. “Certain flowers on Niwa might have medical potential.”

“Then why didn’t they take them off the planet already?”

It was the plebian question she’d expected. Krista, regretting she’d brought this up at all, closed her eyes and sighed. “These flowers have proved difficult to transplant.” That was the simple version. Not knowing Joe’s politics―guessing she wouldn’t like his politics—she left out the part about the pharmaceutical lobby fighting removal of the carpet flowers from Niwa. She gave Joe a tight-lipped smile. “While I’m there collecting the last of the other specimens, I’ll give one more try at figuring out how to move those special flowers.”

Joe snorted. “If the government needed those flowers for medicine, they’d have figured that out by now. Whatever it is the flowers have, obviously they just plan to synthesize it. So I don’t see why they sent you.”

Krista did not say what she was thinking: They couldn’t synthesize it, and wouldn’t if they could. Too effective a healing substance would affect the drug companies’ bottom line. Not going to happen.

Joe coughed and fidgeted, making her realize she’d been staring blankly. “Uh, anyway,” he muttered, “we’re landing soon.”

Krista readied for her visit. Although the protective suit she pulled on was uncomfortable and hard to work in, it was essential. Krista’s botanical research often took her to planets other than her home, Gaia II. All of them required special gear for breathing and pressurization. But Niwa had extraordinary requirements for human visitors, thanks to its increasingly toxic atmosphere. No one was really sure it was safe even then. But, for the sake of the carpet flowers, Krista would take the risk.

She buckled herself into a chair in the viewing area of the Aristotle. She loved to watch as the craft broke through the atmosphere and the planet’s surface drew nearer. This time, this last time, she was awed all over again by the beauty of the plant life completely blanketing Niwa. The planet had been named by a crew of Japanese Astro-explorers, who used the Japanese word for “garden” to capture the sphere’s most striking feature. There was foliage everywhere, in every imaginable color and texture. “Garden” didn’t do it justice, but it was better than “Outer Quadrant 3/7,” the Corporate Government’s official label for the planet.

As they approached, the patches of carpet flowers took Krista’s breath away. More extraordinary than their mesmerizing blue color was the way they made waves on the planet’s surface. There was no official explanation for this oddity, but even laymen noticed it. Krista’s nine-year-old daughter, Conny, had been so moved by a video of the carpet flowers billowing that she’d made up a little song. She often sang it around the house. Watching the pulsing tapestry of blossoms balloon and shrink in repeating patterns, Krista sang her daughter’s ditty quietly:

Up and down, up and down
Waves the Floral Sea.
Wish that I could swim and play
In the Floral Sea.

The song made her more wistful than usual as she realized she would never again see the carpet flowers waving over the surface of Niwa. No one would.

“How do all those pretty flowers grow with all that poison gas around, Professor?”

Joe’s question through the intercom startled Krista. She suddenly couldn’t remember whether there were cameras on the observation deck. She wiped a tear from her eye, just in case.

“So? What about the poison gas?” Joe pressed.

Krista slipped into teacher mode. “The plants seem to like their changing atmosphere. They’ve flourished since it reached toxic levels.”

“Huh. So, how come the air is changing?”

“There’s some sort of chemical reaction taking place on the surface, maybe involving the plants themselves, maybe an interaction with the soil.”

Krista hoped the chat was over so she could watch the landing in silence. But the intercom crackled again. “Yeah, but those flowers and stuff look like they been there forever. The Japanese only found this planet ten Gaian years ago. How come it’s suddenly changing now?”

Krista considered her answer. Maybe Captain Joe was smarter and more thoughtful than he wanted people to know.

His voice came through again. “Well? Don’t know you know the answer?”

A bit shaken, she went for a vague duck and dash. “There are a number of complex theories. Molecular interactions of various types.” It meant nothing.

“Huh,” said Joe. “So, you don’t know the answer.” After a pause he said, “Brace for landing, please, Professor.”

Krista leaned forward to take one more peek at the fuchsia treetops below before settling back into her safety seat. She knew the answer to Joe’s question, of course. She just didn’t feel like talking about the mortifying truth.

Ten years before, when she was a naïve young scientist, she’d been part of the space botany team that first tried to harvest the flowers of Niwa. The grant they’d won for this project―the biggest grant in Astro-exploration history―required them to force greater plant growth. The hope of the joint Corporate Government was to export the blossoms back to Original Earth. The market for space exoticisms was booming, and nobody on O.E. had ever seen anything like these plants. They’d make a fortune.

But they’d used the wrong formula. Well, it was the right formula for growth, but it had poisoned the atmosphere.

Krista, her wife, Mei, and a couple of colleagues had noticed the damage right away, but kept getting the runaround from the Corporate Government. “No budget,” was the answer when they applied for money to develop a different spray, an antidote to cleanse the air. “We’ll get around to it,” promised CorpGov. But they’d dragged their feet too long: the poison was now self-generating, intensifying, pushing out through the atmosphere.

One day a small craft made an emergency landing there, and everyone on board died from the toxic gases. Suddenly there was plenty of budget to develop a cutting-edge spray to seal off the atmosphere, blocking anyone from nearing the planet’s surface and preventing the poison from seeping farther out into space. Oh, and probably killing every living thing on the planet. No one seemed to care about that part.

And then Mei got sick. Cancer of the blood, a rare new form called myeloma arachnosa. She turned obsessively inward during her illness, locking herself in her lab. Locking Krista out of her life. “It’s to reduce your pain when you lose me,” she would explain, the rare times she spoke at all.

When Mei died and Krista finally found the strength to excavate the lab, she couldn’t believe what Mei had been working on. In cell scrapings from the carpet flowers on Niwa, Mei had discovered a new molecule, which she’d named tapeteline. She’d been using her own blood to test the effect of this molecule on cells infected with MA. The research was promising, but there were no more carpet flower scrapings to continue the tests.

When CorpGov announced its plan to seal in the toxic planet, the press wept over the loss of beautiful flora. Krista considered a public campaign to get funding to extract the carpet flowers, but she talked herself out of it: One woman in a lab thought maybe these flowers might help fight an extremely rare form of cancer. The billions it would cost to remove and transplant and experiment on the plants wouldn’t seem worth it to the average taxpayer.

She also made the huge mistake of mentioning Mei’s research to a colleague who worked in drug development. The pharma lobby jumped all over it, convincing the government that the carpet flowers were a medical dead end.

Krista and a few colleagues scrambled to arrange funding for one last mission. They’d proposed it as a last ditch effort to save samples of Niwa’s matchless flora. With that ruse, they scraped together enough for one botanist and one crew on the smallest, oldest lab ship, the Aristotle.

And here she was, that one botanist. Heavy from both her suit and her sadness, Krista closed her eyes and sighed.

“Landing now,” said Joe’s voice. “You copy?”

Instead of following the required safety script, Krista said, “Aren’t they wonderful?”

“What? Oh. The plants. Yeah. Nice. But, honestly, I’m not really into flowers, Professor. And I’m kinda busy here.”

“Right,” she said. “Sorry.” She pictured her beautiful Mei surrounded by beautiful blossoms, and she smiled slightly.


It was a week-long mission. The days were exhausting, and Krista was often near tears from muscle aches, eye strain, and a general feeling of hopelessness.

“Do all these plants cure disease?” Joe asked on the third day. “Shouldn’t we just pick the ones that cure stuff?”

Krista moved her hand in an arc, taking in the rainbow of colors and the jungle of textures around them. “Any of these might cure anything. Nobody knows yet. When I was here with my team before the toxins spread, we took samples of only a quarter of these plant species. We thought we’d be back many times. But this is the last trip anyone will make to Niwa. You and I have to gather up whatever we can.”

She was lying. She only cared about the carpet flowers. But she’d funded the charter of the Aristotle by promising to preserve at least a hundred more species.

“Okay, we’d better get back to work, then,” said Joe. Krista, ashamed of not being truthful with him, imagined a smirk behind his reflective visor.

They established a strict routine. Every sunup Joe drove her to the area she’d chosen for the day. She dug up whole plants or snipped leaf samples. Joe’s job was transport. In a small, solar-powered cab pulling a covered bin, he drove to the Aristotle, loading samples into the onboard lab. Then he drove back to the field.

They repeated this process from dawn to dusk for five days. Seven days on Niwa’s surface had been alotted for mission. It was time to deal with the carpet flowers. On the sixth day Krista led Joe to a remote patch of the exotic, precious flora.

He complained about the change in routine. “Can’t I just meet you later, like usual, once you’ve got some samples ready for me?”

“This isn’t going to be like the other days,” she explained as they drove over a hillside sparkling with turquoise Pelli blossoms. “Carpet flowers can’t be pulled or cut in the usual way. Last time all we could do was take surface scrapings from the leaves. But I need whole flowers and roots so I can breed them.”

“And how are you gonna do that?” Joe asked.

She shifted in her seat, embarrassed. “Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ll harvest them. But I’ll definitely need your help.”

Joe slowed the transport car to a stop and turned to her from the driver’s seat. “Something about this smells fishy, Professor.”

“What are you talking about?” Krista tried a girlish laugh, but she couldn’t pull it off.

Joe spoke defiantly. “If the carpet flowers are so important, if they’re gonna be so hard to get, how come you’re here by yourself? Where’s your team? Are you even supposed to be on Niwa? Am I doing something illegal?” When Krista didn’t respond right away, Joe threatened her. “Tell me what’s going on, or the Aristotle takes off in an hour and I don’t help you with nothing.”

In Krista’s mind, her wife’s favorite expression echoed: “If you’re going to tell the truth, it’s now or never.” Krista picked now.

“My wife’s name was Mei Yee,” she began. And she told Joe everything: the overzealous use of fertilizers causing the toxins on Niwa; Mei’s research on the carpet flowers pointing to a cure for MA; the lobbying of pharma to squelch development of a drug.

“So I’m asking you, Joe,” she finished quietly, “please help me save the carpet flowers. I admit it’s not officially sanctioned by the government, but it could save lives. It’s even possible the cells that Mei found can be used to cure other diseases as well.”

Joe didn’t say anything for about a minute. Then he cleared his throat. “My mom died of cancer.” With that, he started the car’s engine and continued up the hill. As they neared the top he added, “How come it seems like our government’s working against people instead of for them half the time?”

Krista laughed. “Because government is made up of people. And they’re all looking out for themselves.” She knew what lay just over the hill. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said, touching Joe’s arm as the car broke the crest. Before them spread a blue so intense it tugged on their souls.

“Incredible,” he whispered. “Never seen anything like it.”

Then the winds shifted and the carpets billowed, showing off ripples of sun and shadow. Krista could hear Joe’s breath quicken. She knew the Floral Sea had a hold on him.

Once they got to work, they found what Krista expected: there was no way to separate any of the complete flowers. They took some petal samples, but that provided no way to preserve the species.

“Sorry, Prof,” Joe offered sympathetically. “I don’t see how we’re gonna do better than snipping off the petals.”

“No!” Krista shouted. “There has to be a way.” Although it was uncomfortable in her suit, she sat cross-legged on the ground, staring at the recalcitrant wilderness.

Joe surprised her by sitting down, too, stiff-jointed and awkward. “They can synthesize it back home,” he said.

She shook her helmet. “Not enough people get MA for them to bother with the expense.”

Joe was silent for a minute. “Then maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about it. We can’t heal everything. People gotta die of something.” Krista felt the blood pulse in her head as Joe continued. “I mean, I know your wife died of it, and that’s a shame. But if not that many people ...”

“Conny,” Krista blurted out.


She finally spoke what she had barely dared to think. “Conny, my daughter. She was Mei’s biological child.”

“And it’s ...”

“Genetic. Yes.”

After another long silence, Joe stood up. “We’d better get us some carpet flowers, then.”

But the problem of harvesting remained. They stood side by side, watching the Floral Sea billow. Finally, Krista realized something. “It’s not the winds causing the appearance of waves. The carpet is actually waving.”

“How’s that possible?” Joe asked.

“The root system in intertwined, but not attached to the soil. They’re sort of bromeliads!”

“Bro what?”

“The roots sit on the soil, so they’re actually loose.”

Joe cocked his helmeted head. “You’re saying it’s really making waves?”

“I think so. The flowers all need each other. Maybe gases released from planet’s crust cause the carpet to billow.”

“So we should be able to ...”

She finished his sentence gleefully. “Lift it up as one piece!”

They rushed over and started poking around with trowels at the edges of the patch of flowers. “Hey, I think you’re right!” Joe called out. “So, what’s the plan?”

Krista grinned. “Well, it’s a carpet. Let’s roll the whole thing up.” The flower patch was about ten by twelve meters. As she’d predicted, it came loose from the ground in one big piece. They rolled it, securing it with thick plastic bands.

“Okay,” Joe warned when they’d finished, “but that little car can’t handle the weight.”

“Can you land the Aristotle on the edge of this patch?”

He laughed. “Why the hell not? I’ve broke all kinds of laws already.”


Once the Aristotle was in place, his voice came through the external speakers. “Dig the hooks in,” he instructed.

Krista grabbed the three huge towing hooks he’d released at the back of the ship. It was easy to slip them into the woven root system. Then they covered the roll with space-safe plastic. “All set,” she reported.

“Then climb aboard, Professor.”

Back on the Aristotle, ready to head home, Krista took a seat by the observation windows. As they took off Krista grasped her armrests so tightly, she nearly broke her fingers. “Please let them make it,” she prayed over and over. “Please don’t burn up those flowers.”

The roll of carpet flowers stayed attached. It did not burn as they exited the atmosphere. Once they were in clear space Krista heard Joe ask, “How’s it going back there?”

“Looking good,” she said. A flood of gratitude washed over her. “Joe?”


“Thanks for the flowers.”

“Ha. My pleasure, Professor.”

Watching their precious cargo―her wife’s legacy, her daughter’s very life―Krista sang quietly to herself.

Up and down, up and down
Waves the Floral Sea.
Now we all can swim and play
In the Floral Sea. 

Anne E. Johnson is an author of many young adult and adult novels. Her stories have appeared in “Urban Fantasy Magazine,” “The Future Fire,” “FrostFire Worlds,” “Story of the Month Club,” “Liquid Imagination,” and other magazines and anthologies.


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