Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day
by Alexandra Grunberg

by Fábio Fernandes

Sixteen Tonnes
by Robert Dawson

It’s Not What You Think
by Davyne DeSye

Dreams of Clay
by J. Rohr

Mundane Applications
by Philip Margolies

by Eric Del Carlo

My Parking Space is Near the Door
by Gustavo Bondoni

Shorter Stories

Clothes Make the Man
by Peter Wood

For All Time
by Simon Kewin

You Belong to Me
by Tom Borthwick


More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick



Comic Strips






By Fábio Fernandes

WHEN THE NULLTIME BUBBLE carrying Ariana bursts at the Eagle Refuge, the research team she came to help is already dead.

She hasn’t been informed yet. The first thing she does after the kinetic shock of reentry into realspace is retch.

Down on one knee, she focuses her only eye as soon as she is capable of doing so and starts running her trembling hands over her body. She followed all the nulltime teleportation protocols and fasted twelve hours before the trip (intake of fluids included) and emptied her bowels several times in the last couple of hours before leaving Refuge One.

Still, nothing prepares a manifold traveler adequately.

In theory, every trip using the nulltime bubble is instantaneous; somehow (nobody is able to explain why so far), inside the bubble, time seems to run differently; people have complained of waiting for hours inside the bubble while on the outside mere seconds have passed. Once, people of the Phalanstère Gauche, aka Refuge Eleven, said they found a desiccated corpse inside a bubble. But nobody at Refuge One will confirm this.

Not to mention the premature bursts that kill one in every twelve travelers, approximately.

Right now, Ariana is not thinking about any of this. She has arrived safely again. In one piece. In her right mind. And, it seems as she looks around at the curve-walled stone cave full of pads and small ships, at the right place. She can now proceed to step two.

Carefully, she stands up and looks at the woman facing her on the pad installed in the hangar. The woman, like most refugees living in close quarters with microgravities, has her head completely shaved. She is wearing an orange jumpsuit and carrying what looks like another in her arms. Ariana breathes deeply; her expiration is cloudy.

“Status?” she asks, extending her white-blue hand to the woman. She shivers inside the cold tunnel inside the rock.

“Their vitals stopped a few minutes ago,” answers the Regulateur, giving her the suit. Only organics can travel in teleport bubbles. “They were finishing the last connections.”

Ariana finishes zipping the jumpsuit. “Lead the way.”

The complex of caves dug inside the asteroid is huge. The manager of the project leads Ariana to the third sublevel, where both of them need to put on O2 masks because of the rarefied air in the corridors. The Regulateur points to Ariana’s left camera eye.

“Is it on?” she asks.

The black-on-black eyeball should have a solid red dot in the middle, but right now the pupil is dead black. Ariana is aware of this.

“It doesn’t work in nulltime, so we must keep it turned off during the trip,” Ariana answers. “I’ll reboot.” She looks around the place. “Do you have coffee here? I really could use some.”

The Regulateur grimaces.

“Up there,” she says. “Right now I’d feel better if you followed me to check the team.”

“I’m sorry,” Ariana says. “But you said that their vitals ...”

“Yes, that’s true. But I’m afraid things are not that simple. That’s why I requested the assistance of a kinocchio—a couple of days ago, by the way.”

Ariana nods. “We are short of people.”

“Aren’t we all?” the Regulateur says grimly. “Are you ready?”

“No, but I’ll get ready on the way. Shall we?”


As representatives for the Human Consensus in Exile, kinocchios must record everything: they act at the very least as observers, sometimes as diplomats among the former colonies of humankind, and, when the need arises, as fixers. Thus the case in point seems to be, because Ariana arrived after the fact.

While Ariana finishes adjusting her mask, she blinks twice to jumpstart the eye. Nothing. Sometimes a nulltime bubble can do that to electronics, even when they are offline.

She wouldn’t ask the Regulateur for spare parts. If they had an extra camera eye, they would have a kinocchio of their own, and no need to call the Consensus. You don’t do these things when you’re smack in the middle of a war.

They get the go-ahead from the airlock decontamination team and enter the tunnel, which looks like the infected throat of a giant, if the infection manifested itself with a slightly eerie phosphorescent glow.

The tunnel is entirely covered in white fuzzy fungi. Except fungi isn’t exactly the word for it: fungal mycelium was already described by early mycologists as a single-minded organism—some even called them intelligent. (This depends on your definition of intelligence. If your definition encompasses the capacity for self-reproduction and mobility in the direction of all possible sources of food, then the fungal mycelium is intelligent by every measure.)

They don’t exchange a word on their way down. After a few twists and turns, the Regulateur points to a strange lumpy smudge a few paces farther from Ariana’s right shoe.

The smudge is the research group.

She approaches, very carefully. It’s more a bunch of lumps covered in ropy strands of a gray, mushy look-and-feel. Ariana is having trouble seeing with one eye only, all notion of perspective gone, but she guesses she can distinguish at least four bodies. “What were you doing here?” she asks.

“We were trying to assess the possibilities of using mycelium as an alternative form of communications,” the Regulateur answers. “Part of our group had already been experimenting with its hallucinogenic effects in a controlled dreamspace matrix.”

“And something went wrong, I presume?” Not without irony. A defective eye always gets her in a foul mood.

“Not in the beginning. Jo and Ian,” the Regulateur points to the two closest bodies in the mush, “came to me one day telling they were getting very promising results regarding chemotelepathy.”

Ariana squats and tries her best to observe as closely as possible without touching anything. “I must check whatever data you have,” she says after a while.

“It’s all there,” the Regulateur gestures at the lump.

Ariana frowns at her. “You don’t save it in electronics?”

“We used to do it in the beginning, but then things got too big and we built a nanoconsensus.” The populations of the Refuges are encouraged to do this in emergencies. That doesn’t mean Ariana necessarily agrees with it, but there’s nothing she can do about it anymore. She only nods.


The war started two years ago.

If that’s what you can call the sudden, utter destruction of every single planetary colony of humankind by an unseen, untraceable enemy. Not to mention the disappearance of Earth, apparently destroyed as well but with no fragments to tell the story.

The term of choice is obliteration. Which is not quite accurate either, but nobody talks much about it. Ever since this mess began, everybody wants just to survive.

Things happened too fast in these past twenty-four months. But one thing was clear since the beginning: their electronics were traceable. Every human ship was caught by the enemy.

There is only one thing they can’t trace so far, and that is the nulltime bubble. This means of travel via opening a manifold in an n-dimensional space, designed right at the beginning of space exploration but only rarely used, mostly in emergencies, was in the end the thing that most helped the survivors. If not for the bubbles, the diaspora of human populations to the mining asteroids wouldn’t have been possible.

Nobody knows for sure if the bubbles are folded into space, thus hiding them from enemy eyes, or the instantaneous journey simply doesn’t give the enemy time to find them. Anyhow, since the war began, the last remnants of humankind—less than a hundred thousand—Ariana doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know the exact number—are running against the clock. They are doing all they can to avoid detection; and if they can find what is attacking them, maybe strike back. But survival comes first.

So the first directive among Refuges, as the former mining colonies were now renamed, was to try and come up with new, undetectable technologies. Anything that could buy time and allow humans to keep their heads above the water, so to speak.

Provided they didn’t die in the process. Like the team in the cave.

This shouldn’t have happened. When the microbubble containing the message popped up at the receiving end in Refuge One, the chief Comunicador sent it immediately to the Consensus. An assembly was called at once in the Sala Principal and the Comunicador was asked to read the message to the members. It wasn’t good news. An experiment gone wrong in Refuge Forty-Four, located in the Eagle Nebula; something involving fungi. The Regulateur, responsible in general for the administration of the Refuge and in particular for that research, was asking for a kinocchio and an expert in micotoxins.

Fortunately, they had just the right person for the job.


As a Consensus representative, Ariana is trained for a number of situations which require the kind of intelligence for assessing threats and the capacity to act accordingly. Contrary to the common sense of humanity in exile, a kinocchio is not only a passive observer, but a consensus unto herself. Therefore, she must have clarity and a quickness of mind.

That is why Ariana stands up and, slowly but deftly, takes out her cyborg eye. “My camera is fried,” she finally tells the Regulateur. “I need data right now. You don’t have it. Do they?”

“In their minds?”

She nods.

“That was the whole point of the research, but now they are ...”

“Unavailable, you would say?” Ariana counters.


“Definitions of what is alive may vary,” she says, squatting again and reaching out to a small elevation near her, letting her hand hover two inches above it. “They aren’t breathing, for all I can tell. But their brain cells might still be working.”

“And? Even if what you’re telling me is right, what can you do?”

Ariana reaches out and rips off a strand near the first body. “The mycelium is alive.”


She pulls the strand to her face and molds the end into a sort of semi-hemisphere. “Then,” she says, “this will have to do.”

And she puts it into where her left eye used to be.


The effect is instantaneous: it’s so strong she jerks her head with the force of the impact and stumbles backwards.

She starts breathing harder. So many sensations. So much raw information.

At first, she thinks it’s all her memories, flooding back to her. But in the middle of the deluge, she can glimpse strange flotsam and jetsam—thoughts and memories definitely not her own.

Words, feelings, touch, smell, taste, sex, wet, oh fuck—whatyesnowherebluehatespacedidyougettheequationsright—

Equations, formulas, numbers, insights, pieces falling together.

The elation of scientific discovery.

Also, an orgasm.

Ariana takes forever to peel the ball out of her eye socket, blinking, shaking her head. “They are still alive,” she says. “Take them out right now.”


Later, sipping coffee or a really bad tasting analog, at some incredibly cramped space in the upper levels.

“What is it like?” the Regulateur asks Ariana.

“This?” She points to her offline cyborg eye.

“Actually, I was more interested in the bubble.”

Ariana frowns. “You've never traveled in one?”


“But this was one of the first mining colonies, right?”

“A century and a half after the Human Diaspora began, yes.”

“One would think that you’d be trailblazers in this sort of stuff.”

“What? Kinocchios and teleport bubbles? We like to keep it simple here.” She laughs without any humor. “We were already creating the trend before it started: low tech, low life.”

“And yet ...”

The Regulateur sighs.

“Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate your presence here. Very much. It’s just that we never needed anyone from outside. We had mining operations here long ago, generations before I was born. This refuge here is strictly research. That’s where we can make a difference to fight whatever the fuck is out there hunting us.”

“I understand.”

“Thanks,” The Regulateur manages a smile. “What is it like? You didn’t answer.”

“Not a fun ride.”

“I could see that when you arrived. But is it dangerous?”


“How many losses?”

“I don’t keep tabs.”

“Many, then.”

Ariana sips her analog coffee in silence.


In the dawn of human-embedded information storage, silicon chips were implanted in the brain, but they could only hold so much information. After that came bioimplants, cloud-managed external ancillary brains, intelligent viral infections, a plethora of efficient but flawed storage systems.

Most of the kinnochios had both eyes; they just underwent surgery to have a lens implanted and infected with nanotech. Ariana’s case was a bit different.

She was born and raised in a mining colony. She knew asteroids well—and kinocchios, too; their kind had been created in the asteroids, living registers to help with the daily operations of the colonies. They assisted the authorities in everything, from tallying the workers who went outside to fix solar panels to the occasional fight over a game of chance—or solving murders.

Ariana worked in aeroponics with her parents until the war. When the first immigrants started to arrive—still by ship, in the heat of the moment—she was conscripted to help, accommodating those who would stay and directing the others into a way station for nulltime bubbles.

All went well during the first seventy-two hours. Then things started to collapse; people were exhausted, and exhausted people make mistakes. Ariana was leading a group of refugees into the hangar bay for the next bubble when a huge blast destroyed the entire room.

Later, the kinocchios and the authorities of the colony would conclude that a bubble burst prematurely in the receiving end, killing everyone inside and a few people outside as well. The refugees being conducted to the interior at the hangar weren’t harmed, aside from a few bruises and scorchmarks.

Ariana was hit in the eye by a tiny fragment of rock.

At any other time, she could have been taken to Earth to have a new eye grown. But Earth was the first casualty in the war, and the technology in the colonies wasn’t as reliable. So, after careful consideration—and a visit with a representative of the Kinocchio Clade—she chose a cyborg eye. She could live with that.

After all, she couldn’t complain. She was alive and well, and so were her parents. Most of the human race was not.


“Are they going to make it?,” Ariana asks after sipping her morning tea.

Exhaustion seeps into her bones. She has been working non-stop for two standard days with Hélène, the Regulateur, in basically two fronts: trying to stabilize the condition of the research team and making sense of what she absorbed from the mycelium.

The Regulateur, Hélène, shrugs. “Paul and Amira are brain dead, as far as I can tell. Only Jo and Ian show some activity. But they’re probably too far gone now. Did you find anything new today?”

To Ariana, chemotelepathy seemed more an educated guess than a science. She had never heard of it until she got there; the files she read told her there had been more than a few experiments back on Earth, centuries ago. She was able to understand—if barely—the mechanism behind the chemical transmission of messages via the branching, thread-like hyphae. But the images she “saw” are starting to fade from memory. She transcribed everything she could, a hard task without a means of translating the information in the mycelium to the shielded electronic equipment they are still allowed to keep. She did it mostly in audio records and by hand.

“Only sparse thoughts,” she says. “I’m not sure, but my best guess is that they collapsed before they could form a stable hivemind. I can barely get a coherent thought between them.”

“So they are gone?”

“Paul and Amira, yes. Maybe Jo and Ian can be drilled a bit more.” Ariana shrugs. “Anyway, I can’t stay longer; I have to go tomorrow.”

“Why?” Hélène asked.

“The Consensus needs me there. We can’t spare anyone. Why don’t you have any kinocchios here?”

“We never needed one.”

“I will put a word in for you,” Ariana says. “If you want this research to continue, a resident kinocchio will help you a lot.”

Hélenè nods. “I’d appreciate that.”


The last thing Ariana does before going back to Refuge One is pay a visit to the research group. Now entirely cleaned of the fungi, Jo and Ian’s brown naked bodies gleam under the lights of the medical bay. Paul and Amira are nowhere to be seen.

If Earth still existed, maybe they could be saved. Things being as they are, however, nobody can say for sure if they’re going to wake up. At least, Ariana thinks, their suffering wasn’t in vain. She wonders, though, if suffering is the right word. What would they say if they could talk now?

They would probably babble insanely, that’s what she believes. The medics would have trouble trying to fix them before their consciences would be reduced to a melting pot of chaotic thoughts beyond any chance of recovery.

When she is ready to go, it’s with mixed feelings. She wants to stay longer, but the maximum assigned timeframe for this mission was seven days. She already did more than was expected of her, communicating with the researchers, doing the translation, and adding a few notes of her own concerning the properties of the fungi and the best way to handle them—but there is so much more to do. She barely scratched the surface regarding the use of organics instead of electronics as a surrogate eye. She decided she will ask the Consensus for a temporary transfer. Hélène could use some help.

Hélène takes her to the hangar. When they get to the pad, they hug and kiss.

“Safe trip back,” she says.

“Good luck with the chemotelepathy thing,” Ariana says.

“We could use some luck. It will be hard to establish a safe communication platform with the mycelium. Apparently they never got to research portability issues or toxicity levels, and that’s for starters.”

Then, a sudden thought occurs to Ariana. “Come with me.” She grabs Hélène by the arm.


“The mycelium might be too much for us, but there’s one thing we didn’t try.”


They don’t talk. There’s excitement in the room. Under Ariana’s instructions and Hélène’s approval, a medic picks a vein in Jo’s arm and inserts a needle there. Then repeats the procedure with Hélène.

“This is almost the same as a transfusion.”

Hélène inquires: “Are you sure about this?”

“No,” Ariana answers. “But it’s a first step. If, as I guess, their bodies are saturated with the chemicals released by the mycelium, then maybe an incipient form of chemotelepathy is already possible this way. And, if I’m right, you will be able to talk to her at length and discuss more aspects of the research.”

Hélène nods. “You better be right,” she says. “I hate needles.”

Ariana smiles.

“If I’m right, there will be no need of them in the future.”

Hélène closes her eyes and enters immediately into deep sleep. This could change everything, Ariana thinks, holding the Regulateur’s hand. If they learned to use this sort of fungal communication to their advantage, they might have a chance.

It takes five minutes. Then, a croaked voice:

“Where am I?”

Ariana didn’t have time to know Hélène that much, but she is certain that the tired and strained voice is not hers.

“Alive, Jo,” she says. “Welcome back.”

This will change everything, she is certain now. END

Fábio Fernandes is an alum of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. His stories have appeared in “Everyday Weirdness,” “Kaleidotrope,” “ StarShip Sofa,” and elsewhere. He is co-editor of the anthology, “We See a Different Frontier.”


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