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





By David Barber

THERE WAS AN ELEMENT OF LUCK in the way Fleet Officer Frank Walker’s microfleet ambushed and destroyed the jirt templeship; nevertheless our eventual reckoning was postponed as the jirt crusaders paused to find themselves a more successful god.

After the battle, Walker’s command pod returned what was left of him in cold storage.


My name is George Walker, of Earth, and Salmud is by far the most unpleasant planet I have ever trod. It has no water, no vegetation, and the few women have no taste in men. It is a world of rock and metal, with one or other of its scorching suns always overhead. Human life endures in caverns which seem to have been dug purposely destitute of all the comforts of civilised life.

Let us be clear. The time I have spent helping the war effort on this appalling world has never been acknowledged.


“What state’s he in?” asked the Officer from Fleet.

The medic frowned. “Lower half’s gone. The pod’s salvage program discarded it and tanked what was left.”

“Can he be saved?”

“I always assumed these emergency systems were just a gimmick to boost morale,” said the medic. “Salvage isn’t really cost-effective.”

“Frank Walker is a hero. We need him back.”


Dig here, the geologists instruct, and columns of workers dig. Crush and leach the ore so, the chemical engineers say, and the residue humans call pitchblende is extracted. Hives blessed with the favoured mineral grow unreasonably wealthy, buyers of sought-after human technology, though their workers die in droves.

Still, it is George Walker, not those experts, safe underground, away from the scouring ultra-violet, who must cajole the native Queens into doing our bidding.


“What’s the delay?” the Fleet-Officer wanted to know. This hiatus wouldn’t last forever. He avoided looking at the contents of the tank. A pale shape dangling from a tangle of pipes and wires floated inside.

“Well, his legs are growing nicely, but germ-line tissue isn’t stable.”

The medic caught the blank look. “His testicles. Cancerous.”

The Fleet Officer began to feel queasy. “His sex-life isn’t an issue. We need him on his feet now.”


I confess I am not a great man, though in my early years I had a hankering after the homage paid to greatness. I am not ashamed to acknowledge this, and I believe that most men would admit as much if they were as candid as myself.

I suppose one must find comfort where one can, and at least Salmud is far from actual conflict. They also serve who only wait for the next relief ship.


It was a different officer; this one had an ominous EarthSec hologram on his brow.

The medic hurried to explain about repeated retroviral outbursts. After all, Walker had been soaked in hard radiation. They had discarded everything below the fourth cervical vertebrae and were starting over.

“Remember the jirt warhead that got through?”

The medic was still searching for a safe answer when the man answered his own question. “In fact it was an infective device. We ablated India. Cauterised it. Us. Earth Security.”

The medic swallowed.

“He must face the jirt now. Understand?”


The next ship to stop at Salmud was not an automated U-hauler or some antiquated freighthull, but the Empire-class Jumpship Roman, pulled from Kruger 60 at short notice.

Fleet Admiral Diamond gave an away team three hours to bring George Walker aboard, and they made it with eleven minutes to spare. George tried to explain he had done nothing wrong, that they couldn’t do this, that he knew his rights. It was obvious he must have done, they could, and he had none. They talked over and across him like he was a package, the servos of their monstrous battle armour whining and hissing. He made himself small, fearful they might squash him inadvertently.

Roman was already boosting sunwards as George was marched onto the Bridge and halted in front of Fleet Admiral Diamond’s empty chair with a crash of boots. Around him, the Bridge crew hurriedly prepared for Jump as a sun swelled in the screens.

“Uncanny likeness,” said the short, wide man in Fleet black. He dropped into the Admiral’s chair and rubbed his brutal haircut. “Your twin’s a hero. Sacrificed everything for victory. Almost everything.”

“Well, good old Frank.”

“It’s because of him we have this ceasefire. Now the jirt want to talk. First time ever. But they insist on meeting your brother.”


Warnings began to chime as the sun’s surface overflowed the screens, filters repeatedly ramping down the brightness. They needed to be dangerously close to swap stellar energies for the vast improbability of the Jump.

“Can I ask where we’re going?”

The Admiral lowered his voice. “We’re losing this War.”

“Should you be telling me that?”

“Our best hope is to negotiate a truce.” The Admiral’s face was aflame in the light from the screens.

“Don’t we need drugs for Jump?”

“So you’ll stand in for your brother.”

“Because I was comatose through all the Jumps to Salmud.”

“Can’t Jump into hostile space with your crew taking a nap,” growled the Admiral. “What do you think the funnels are for?”

Jump hit them like a thunderclap.


Some of the Bridge crew didn’t even throw up. Even those who used the suction funnels didn’t look away from their screens. Any low-entropy system was subject to Jump sickness, to spastic neuron firing, to bits flipping at random. Trained spacers recovered faster than majority-voting computers. Neither did as well as jirt. Another reason the War was going badly.

George didn’t even find a funnel. And he burst into tears. It felt like he’d left his soul behind. There was clearing up to be done and much contempt of civs. For spacers, a life-long interest in tattoos, drinking, and foul language, together with an absence of empathy, were pretty much essential; playing with big fuck-off ordnance was just a perk of the job.

The Admiral took George into his stateroom and poured him a stiff drink.

“Why me?” sniffed George. How did spacers cope? He felt like a naked infant dumped into ice-water. “Surely the jirt have no idea what Frank looks like.”

“We thought that, but they knew it wasn’t him. Chen here thought on her feet and told them we suspected a trap. That we were keeping the real Frank Walker safe.” The Admiral stared at his staff officer. “A risky play.”

Officer Chen spoke up. “Somehow they knew our man was an impostor.” She had small, hard features, a small hard body, a small hard soul.

The Fleet Admiral had his own theory. “Telepathy.”

George wiped his eyes. The brandy had helped. “Frank always was the brave one.” He had slipped from existential to maudlin.

Officer Chen gave a weary shake of her head. “Scientists think that’s impossible, Admiral.”

“We’ve just Jumped seven lights, Chen. Who knows what possible means?”

Chen concentrated on George. “Officer Walker’s craft was probably scanned during the battle. But being genetically identical to your brother ...”

“Frank’s dead isn’t he?”

“EarthSec were in a hurry. When your brother woke and found he was just ...” Her lips bent into a small hard smile. “He lost his head.”

George blew his nose loudly. “I’ll be alright.”


Roman raced to get to Fomalhaut ahead of the jirt. There was a second Jump, for which they wisely drugged George. He was coming out of it when they slammed into a vicious five-g deceleration burn. There wasn’t time to fix his nosebleed properly and Officer Chen fretted impatiently as a medtech wadded lint up George’s nostril.

The Fomalhaut system was disputed. Humans eager to mine its planetary disc, the jirt wanting to spawn in its distant, solitary jovian body. Battles had been fought and lost here.

“A script of sorts had been prepared for the meeting,” Chen waved the tablet in her hand. “I’d hoped there would be more time to prepare. But since we have no idea what they want, I suppose we must improvise. You’ll wear this earpiece and say what I tell you to.”

The jirt Jumped in with a huge apparent velocity. One thing all jirt craft had in common was each was entirely different. This one resembled a bunch of grapes trailing strands like hair in water. It came straight at them.

Too fast, remarked one of the techs, offhand.

Even George, no veteran of orbital mechanics, was being warned by his primate brain that their paths intersected. Roman’s software protested. The jirt should have started braking; gigatonnes should not be handled so carelessly, and alerts spread across the Bridge like a rash. There were distant thuds of vac doors slamming, segmenting Roman’s hull. The alien craft loomed, and George tensed himself for death in combat. He would have liked more time to imagine his obituary.

At the last moment, jirt physics toyed with momentum, enduring forces that human vessels and bodies could not, sliding to a halt.

Pussies, said someone into the silence. If they’re so tough how come they didn’t hit us?

Roger that, said another emphatically.

A buzz of agreement filled the Bridge and George opened his eyes.


A voice rumbled the air, every surface in the Bridge vibrating in a jumble of harmonics. Where is the human who killed a god?

“When they say god,” Officer Chen whispered to her Admiral. “The cognate they use is something like interpreter. We don’t think they believe their god is actually present in a templeship.”

The Admiral grunted.

They’ve dropped to background Planck to scan us, remarked someone. They’re open to sensors now.

On the big screen, the jirt vessel was a bewildering maze of tunnels and cavernous spaces, under enough pressure to liquefy the gases inside. In those murky depths, vast dark shapes uncoiled and shifted, while other smaller, more fleeting objects darted amongst them.

We sense the human.

“They can’t tell the difference ...” crowed the Admiral.

“The human, Walker, is here,” interrupted Officer Chen smoothly.

The human who silenced the voice of god will speak.

On the screen, a shape twisted and lashed in the turbid depths and Chen chewed at her lip as she flicked through her script.

“I’m no expert,” volunteered George. “But they seem impatient.”

We are isolated from the voice of our god. Why is this the case?

Chen murmured in his ear. Start with a welcome and ...

George cleared his throat. “I think you’ll find that’s what happens when you mess with the human race. In fact ...”

Chen grabbed George’s arm, but he pulled himself free.

“Just carrying some little tin god around in a spaceship doesn’t mean squat, and it certainly doesn’t give you the right ...”

Admiral Diamond ordered the comms cut, but the voice still jangled the air around them.

It was a false god, so you destroyed it?

“False? Of course it was false.”

George noticed Chen’s expression.

“Um ... not that I don’t respect other people’s religions. Though now I think about it, that’s exactly your problem.”

There was an appalled silence on the bridge.

Then it is the case. You will be god-in-the-world.

And the jirt ship surged forward, shedding small craft like seeds.


Perhaps the Roman’s immune response had evolved dangerously close to a hair-trigger, but it had survived when other ships were debris. Automatically, it pumped up Planck shielding and suddenly George became very stupid, a loud hum replacing thought.

Planck eight and rising, a recorded voice said.

Give us ... there is no need ... human.

“Planck nine.”

Nothing with two synapses to rub together could function with probability shielding above Planck nine. The Roman’s railguns spewed iron pellets at appreciable fractions of c, aimed by spacers with half a brain. At this range, jirt craft began to disintegrate.

“Cease fire!” the Admiral began to bellow at Chen.

“Not me!” she shouted back. Nose to nose they frothed at one another, while around the Bridge, crew gawped at their screens.

“Planck ten!”

Mechanical systems, freed from the restraints of intelligence began their well-rehearsed actions; engines jerked them about in evasive manoeuvres and railgun pellets filled volumes of space where an enemy might be. Nobody knew how the jirt handled it, but human ships ran down like clockwork.

Return fire from jirt gravity weapons made Roman ring like a gong.

“Plan Four!” shouted Admiral Diamond, with the relief of a man finally remembering something that had eluded him. Again the ship groaned terribly, to the counterpoint of alarms, and a voice cheerfully announced the special of the day in Forward.

“Flan Pour I say!” repeated the Admiral, bundling Chen and George from the Bridge. “Safely. Get him ...”

Inside the lift was nice. George watched lights blink downwards until the doors opened. To his surprise it wasn’t the Bridge, but a dead end, facing an open hatch.

Chen stared, slack-faced, until some deep remnant of Fleet training kicked in and she shoved George into the escape pod.


After a few hours George gradually came back to himself. Murderously, the battle had zigzagged away and Planck interference shrank to a faint itch in his brain.

He tried to make sense of the interfaces, but they were beyond him. His long-lost twin had flown a microfleet; a swarm of tiny attack craft, customised to behave like parts of his own body, effective even under high Planck shielding. George couldn’t even get the radio to work.

Time passed.

Human, rumbled the air around him, and instruments went dark. It was like a shadow falling across the sun, suddenly cold.


There was a time when I believed distinction would elude me, though it never stopped me imagining the homage paid to greatness. Events have proved otherwise.

The jirt have a way of thinking about matters which does not include wanting. I have explained that humans are not to be disturbed further, and that the jirt have a destiny elsewhere.

To recap. I am George Walker, of Earth, onetime aspirant to greatness, now hero, and god. END

David Barber is a crime editor at “Thrillers, Killers ’n’ Chillers” and editor of “The Laughter Shack.” His writing has appeared in various ezines, in print and ebook anthologies, including “A Twist of Noir.” He resides in Norwich, in the UK.


hugo noms






jamie noble