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 Eric Del Carlo

WHEN THE TRANSTEMPORAL TRAVELER collided with Armando Frank’s psyche, Armando dropped gracelessly to one knee there on the polished concourse beneath the striated orange sky, and said aloud: “Damn! This’ll make me late for my appointment.”

Huh? Where—

But as Armando gathered himself, the full implications were just setting in. The remote possibility of this occurrence had been hovering over him all his life, over the lives of everyone. Anybody, after all, might become the repository of a combatant’s incorporeal being ejected forward through time. Since boyhood, Armando had known what to expect. He had also been strictly schooled in his cultural duty, which was to render all aid to the brave wayfarers. These soldiers had fought for the freedom of humankind; so history insisted. Therefore, future generations owed this debt.

What the hell—

Armando Frank again rose to his feet, but within he felt a terrible sinking. He felt also the presence of ... the other, just as he’d always heard it described: a separate entity existing inside the bounds of one’s own being. “It won’t be anything physical,” a teacher had once told a very young Armando. “But you will feel someone else living in your head with you. That is, if it ever happens to you.”

Well, it had happened, the one-in-billions chance. The reality of that, Armando found, was distressingly grim. Not only could he forget about his important business meeting scheduled for this morning, he might as well chuck all the plans he’d made for his entire life. Because it wasn’t his life anymore. Or: not just his.

What’s happened? I should have ejected!

Around him the stately concourse gleamed. The day looked to be a beautiful one. The few people out and about this early who had seen him stumble now backed away, smiling, as Armando indicated he was all right.

He drew a very long breath.

You did eject. Your transtemporal emergency unit has deployed. You have arrived in the future. The war is over. You are safe.

Who’s saying that?

I am. Your host. My name is Armando Frank and— For a moment the memorized speech froze in his mind; but he forced out the rest. And I will see to your needs. Welcome.

He sensed the alien stirrings. The emotions were volatile. It felt as though insects were crawling over his scalp, but Armando withstood it, teeth drawing blood from his lower lip as he bit into it.

Where is this?

Armando detected the confusion, even the anger. But he knew that this person had just come out of a battle. He was going to have to be patient.

This is Quixote.

The backwater mining planet? Incredulity behind the articulated thought.

It’s more than that now. Slowly Armando swept his gaze past the concourse to the magnificent aesthetic city which surrounded it. The entity within him would be able to see through his eyes, as well as experience his other senses.

Wow. Not how I remember it. How long have I been ... away?

Armando felt the tendrils of fear. He knew to expect this from a transtemporal traveler. Gently he asked the last date the soldier recalled. The soldier provided it.

One hundred thirty-four years have passed since then.

Holy shit!

Armando didn’t recognize this phrase, but understood the sentiment behind it.

The soldier was silent a moment.

Well, what happens now?

I will report this to the authorities. We’ll see about making you as comfortable as possible.

Okay. Wow. My name’s Mitchel Bartoszek, by the way. What was yours again?

Armando. Frank. My name is Armando Frank.


After the verification process, which proved that Armando wasn’t just making the whole thing up, a great fanfare ensued. Officials appeared. Tributes were staged. Much media attention was paid. Mitchel Bartoszek could not, of course, actually operate any of his host’s physical faculties, but he spoke his comments and his answers to the endless questions put to him to Armando, who dutifully conveyed the words.

As expected, Armando Frank’s life was no longer his own.

But, as was expected of him, he didn’t complain.

Having an independent psyche share his mental being wasn’t, after all, quite like another person living in his head, as it had been explained to him as a child. His thoughts didn’t overlap with Mitchel’s. Clear memories didn’t pass between the two of them. If Mitchel wanted to tell Armando something, he had to deliberately enunciate it. It was the same when Armando communicated with his guest.

What it was like, in fact, was having someone living immediately on the other side of a thin wall from him, such as Armando had experienced with the meager quarters at his university. He had often been aware of the other person, and susceptible to the noises they made, but they hadn’t imposed on him drastically.

Nonetheless, Armando felt as if he had been turned inside out, dragged over sharp stones, hung upside down, and flayed by hurricane winds.

His business career was effectively terminated. He had no time for the clients he had painstakingly cultivated for the past six years. He was kept far too busy with the interest lavished upon Mitchel, being shuffled from ceremony to interview to dedication to presentation. Besides, nobody wanted to talk to Armando Frank anymore, anyway. He wouldn’t be able to get through a meeting without someone wanting to know this or that about the transtemporal soldier.

His personal life had suffered the same fate. There had been two women he’d been seeing, both relationships fairly serious. Now he had no time for either of them. Regardless, the last occasion he had seen Faizah, she had beheld him with a disconcerting glittering stare, gazing past his own eyes, trying to see into his head. He used to relish their strolls in the park nearby his home on Quixote, with the scent of hyperbred black jasmine, the melodic calls of the lavender-tailed birds.

Since Mitchel’s arrival, it had gone with Armando’s friends much the same as it had with his lovers, even the comrades who made a concerted effort to treat him no differently than before.

It was no use. He was different.

The transtemporal technology had been employed by the military for a six month period during the heart of the fantastically violent Expurgation. Travel into the past had proven metaphysically impossible, but it was felt that soldiers deserved some guaranteed means of escape if they found themselves in a hopeless predicament. Generally unacknowledged was the secondary (or perhaps primary) reason for sending military personnel forward in time, which was that trained soldiers might be needed in the future if the war carried on. The psyches of these battle-tested fighters could, in theory, use whatever hosts they found themselves in to continue the galactic struggle.

But it was, of course, an imperfect technology and an imperfect plan. The travelers were catapulted no less than a century into the future, far overshooting the two or three years that might have actually aided the war effort. Also, once they had arrived, they found themselves quite helpless. Unlike the theories abounding during the hasty lab trials, no transtemporal entity could take true control of its repository being.

The wayfarers had started showing up shortly before Armando’s lifetime. So far, twenty-nine separate combatants had arrived, out of the two hundred sixty-six emergency units which were known to have deployed. The temporal technology had, at least, functioned faultlessly in seeking out only human hosts for those soldiers who had ejected during battle.

But the tide of the Expurgation had turned in favor of humanity, as history duly recorded, and the transtemporal program, with all its thorny existential implications, was abandoned. The future generations had dedicated themselves to doing right by the brave warriors who had secured freedom for the galaxy.

Armando Frank, in his own somewhat offhand, learned-by-rote way, had always endorsed this cultural obligation, at least in the abstract. But now that he was one of those very rare hosts ...

Tell me, Armando, what would you normally be doing right now?

Armando blinked, a little blearily. This wasn’t Quixote. They had whisked him away from his home weeks ago, and gone hopping from world to world. He had made appearances, reciting Mitchel’s speeches to rapt patriotic audiences who turned out to hear the soldier from the past speak about his war. On his own time in his young adulthood, Armando had traveled occasionally for pleasure; but nothing like this whirlwind, which was no kind of vacation at all.


Sure. If I hadn’t, you know, landed in you.

Armando was in a hotel room, lying on the bed with his legs dangling off the end. In twenty minutes the handlers were going to come for him. Armando blinked again at the metaceramic frescoes on the beige ceiling. Sometimes he and Mitchel conversed, but mostly Armando just relayed the soldier’s words to other people.

A long hoarse sigh escaped Armando. You realize that’s the first time you’ve ever asked me anything like this? Even he heard the note of bitterness in the mental statement. His expressing any part of his true feelings to Mitchel was also a first.

Mitchel didn’t pause before snapping his reply. Well, I’m asking now.

Very well. For one thing, I wouldn’t be on this planet. Whatever planet this one is.

It’s Kui. I remember the itinerary. This used to be a raggedy-ass rearming port.

Now it’s a resort world.

So it is.

Armando already knew that Mitchel was a rash personality—aggressive, willful, somewhat crude. The soldier’s emotions bled through that metaphorical wall which separated them, and Armando had absorbed a general sense of the other being who was cohabiting his brain. Mitchel Bartoszek was of another time, a violent era. Surely he had needed those assertive traits to function under the duress of war.

Things have changed, Mitchel.

’Course they have. You think I don’t know that?

The galactic culture is peaceable now. We have commerce, we have art. We don’t have warfare.

I’m glad about that.

You are? Even as he spoke this last, Armando knew it was the wrong thing to say.

He felt a hot surge of emotion. Of course I’m glad! Goddamnit, a soldier only wants peace. Above all else. That’s why we fight!

Armando closed his eyes, shutting off the view of the beige ceiling from both himself and his being’s other occupant. His head started to ache. He couldn’t begin to address the seeming contradictions in Mitchel’s last statement. He’d said far too much already.

After a moment in the softly aching darkness, the soldier spoke. You don’t like having me in here with you.


Well, what do you think it’s like for me, huh? I’m stuffed in here like a vegetable. Can’t move on my own, can’t do a goddamn thing! I was an independent person before, an individual. Now I’m, now I’m ...

Armando cringed against the force of the rage. He understood it, and accepted it. He had to. It was his duty. But perhaps Mitchel’s plight threw his own situation into a stark perspective: at least Armando had control of his body.

A new darker silence rose, crested, then fell away. Again, Mitchel broke it, his tone calmer this time.

So, what would you be doing right now if you were on your own?

Not getting ready to go speak to an auditorium full of people about the Expurgation, that’s for certain.

A disembodied chuckle sounded in his head. I’ll bet not. It’s not something I’m enjoying very much either.

This surprised Armando. Really?

Really. It was fun for a while, but ...

Well, what would you rather be doing?

A musing silence came. Armando waited. His bitterness had abated.

I’d like to go back to the battlefield. I would like to see where I ejected. One hundred and thirty-four years ago.

Armando sat up on the bed. You’re the hero, Mitchel. We can do whatever you want. I’ll go make the arrangements.

Rising from the bed, Armando felt an unexpected excitement at the thought of breaking what had quickly become an exhausting, numbing routine. Or maybe he was just sharing Mitchel’s emotions, which were radiating quite strongly just now.


God ... damn.

Armando stood on the cruiser’s observation platform, eyes wide, turning his head dutifully this way and that at Mitchel’s behest. But all he was seeing was dead vacuum, interrupted here and there by buoys, winking and silver and marking the historical site. A furious military engagement had indeed occurred here, one and a third centuries ago.

This is the right place? Armando knew the question was unnecessary, but he was starting to feel a squirming uneasiness; and didn’t know why.

Yes ... Mitchel could be impatient, pushy, even belligerent. But at the moment he seemed struck numb. Awed. Even humbled.

Armando stood alone on the platform, facing the long curving crystalline window. The cruiser’s personnel were all faceless professionals. This whole venture was being paid for by the government. As long as Armando was hosting the transtemporal soldier, every service would be provided free of charge. And, of course, Mitchel Bartoszek was with him for life.

It’s just dull black to you, isn’t it?

Yes, I’m afraid so. Armando gazed a moment more. What does it look like to you? How can you tell this stretch of space apart from another?

Mitchel rasped his by now familiar chuckle. The star pattern, for one thing.

Yes. Of course. Every region had its own constellations. It was a form of cosmic connect-the-dots that had never gone out of fashion during humankind’s spacefaring epoch. Armando knew this.

For another ... well, you just remember. I remember.

Armando put a hand to his abdomen. His insides felt active, slippery. For you, this just happened. You were just here. That fact, baldly stated, was rather shocking. Only a few weeks ago, subjectively, Mitchel Bartoszek had ejected during battle, with the blackness violently ablaze all around his military craft and wreckage spinning every which way.

It doesn’t actually seem that way to me. I don’t feel I was just here, I mean.

Really? Armando hadn’t expected this.

Something about the temporal process, maybe, giving some subconscious sense of the time passed. Or maybe I’m just getting used to how much time has gone by. I was expecting a couple years, not well over a hundred. You all right?

Armando patted sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief. You can feel this?

Sure. I’m riding piggyback on your senses. Remember?

Yes. I remember. Sometimes, though, I still get ... disoriented.

You and me both, brother.

Debris alight in the vacuum’s undying midnight. Metaplastic hulls twisted. Bodies whirling. The fireworks of discharges. Armando tried to imagine it.

Can you describe what it was like? The fight.

Mitchel issued the mental equivalent of a skeptical sigh. Sure you want to hear that? It wasn’t pleasant.

I do. Go ahead. Please. It didn’t matter that he’d already heard Mitchel’s speeches about his combat experiences. Those were stories placed in an epic context, strewn with incidents of obvious heroics. That was what people wanted to hear. The Expurgation had become a legendary struggle, humanity forced to battle the first spaceflight-capable species it had ever encountered, a warrior breed, with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance. The war had promised freedom or annihilation. It was kill or be killed.

There on the observation platform, Mitchel spoke the truth: the moment by moment, heartbeat by hammering heartbeat truth of the pitched battle which had occurred in this zone of space. It was an utterly personal account, without any allowance for the bigger picture. He told Armando only what he had seen, what he had felt in the immediacy of those terrible hours of combat, culminating in the awful decision to eject or die. It wasn’t history which he spoke; it was confession.

Incredible. Mitchel had finished several minutes ago and Armando still stared out, seeing the darkness anew. His stomach, he eventually noticed, had settled. It occurred to him, belatedly, that he might have been picking up on Mitchel’s own uneasy emotional state. There were volatile memories here; and now Armando knew what had created those memories.

The thinly constructed wall separating them within Armando’s being might not be a wall, after all. More of a membrane, perhaps. A porous skin through which the soldier’s essence might be seeping with a growing force.

This idea didn’t appall Armando, and that surprised him. Maybe he too was getting used to things.

How much longer do you want to stay here? Armando only wanted to give the star cruiser’s captain a time frame.

I’m done. Let’s move on.

Where would you wish to go?

Armando could almost hear the tick of Mitchel’s thoughts. Enough of ghosts. I’d like to see some flesh and blood. I never had children, but I had siblings, and I know they were busy breeding. I’d like it if somebody could find me a relation I might visit.

We can do that, Mitchel. We can do that.


Armando Frank, who was a fairly tall man, loomed in the low doorway. The planet’s atmosphere carried a vaguely metallic tang. The rusticity didn’t end there; rather, it permeated every aspect of this world. The peaceful and prosperous golden age hadn’t touched every part of the settled galaxy, it seemed. There was still a backwoods, and there still existed clutches of unenlightened, unsophisticated people.

“So, it’s really him. You. You’re really—him?” With heavy eyelids the woman blinked at him. She wasn’t unattractive, roughened skin and the drab hair lying lifelessly on her head notwithstanding.

But Armando felt not a flicker of sexual urge in her presence, despite that he hadn’t had a woman since Mitchel’s arrival. That was due in part to how busy he had been kept. But it was also because, inescapably, he no longer possessed even a shred of privacy. His senses were Mitchel’s. They shared everything, but Armando wasn’t ready for that level of intimacy.

“It’s me,” he said, there on the doorstep of the weathered farmhouse. “It’s Mitchel. Mitchel Bartoszek.” Armando was only conveying the soldier’s words. “Your grandmother is—was my sister Florence. We grew up together, her and me. And now here you are. Her granddaughter. That’s amazing.”

The woman knew this. The government had obligingly sent an advance party to prep her for this visit. Since Mitchel had stopped making regular public appearances, media attention toward him had waned. That, Armando realized, was the usual pattern which resulted from transtemporal arrivals: the frenzy of interest, followed by the subjects gradually withdrawing from view, apparently of their own will. This did nothing, however, to lessen modern-day humanity’s cultural contract with these soldiers from the past, which still obtained.

“Won’t you come inside?” the woman said. But the phrase was pronounced too precisely, like some adult expression a child had been made to learn.

Armando entered the house and was escorted into a sitting room. The sister’s granddaughter, named Matty, was around forty, older than Armando. She and Mitchel conversed, but to Armando’s ears the exchange sounded stilted, even false, as though Matty didn’t particularly want him here. Armando sensed Mitchel’s enthusiasm ebbing by the minute. Disappointment moved in to replace it. He hoped that Mitchel wouldn’t get angry. Armando wouldn’t enjoy hurling harsh words at this woman.

After a time, the two of them were just staring silently at one another. Armando wasn’t convinced that Matty completely understood the transtemporal process.

Suddenly Mitchel prompted him to speak. “What kind of farm do you have here?”

Matty perked up immediately. She ticked off the information with a keen exactness, holding forth on matters of livestock and planting. Not an unintelligent person, then, not by any means; and Armando felt a pang of guilt over labeling her as unsophisticated earlier. Matty had never known her grandmother, and the details of her family history evidently didn’t carry much weight with her. She was involved in the present, concerned with the firsthand problems of maintaining this farm on this rugged world.

Children came racing through the room later on, when Matty had brought out biscuits and coffee. The kids were Mitchel’s great-grand-nephews and -nieces, and they kept eyeing Armando’s “fancy” clothing, which was just a casual, almost nondescript suit, very unlike the elegant apparel he’d worn when he was still engaged in his business career.

They stayed to meet Matty’s two husbands when they came in from their labors, but Mitchel declined Matty’s invitation—recited, again, like something memorized—to spend the night.

Armando was driven to where the dropboat waited to return to the orbiting cruiser.

You thought she was a dumb hick, didn’t you?


Yes, you did. Dark emotions gathered behind the wall or membrane in Armando’s head. Mitchel’s disenchantment was almost palpable.

Perhaps a little, at first. But I was wrong.

The dropboat sealed, and the liftoff cycle started. A coruscating purple sunset lay over the rough, half-tamed landscape beyond the porthole.

Maybe you were. Maybe you weren’t. Mitchel let out a long sigh. It was stupid of me to come here. I barely had any contact with Flo after I enlisted. She believed in peaceful alternatives to the war, even after it was plain there weren’t any.

Armando nodded. The crewperson hunkered in the tiny hold with him glanced his way inquiringly. Armando ignored her. Lately, his skills with people had noticeably deteriorated.

I asked you once, Armando, what you would like to do. As I recall, you never answered. I’ll ask again: what do you want to do now? Where do you want to go? Who would you like to see?

Armando considered, but he could not get past the very first thought that had occurred him, instantly, and with surprising force.

I want to go see Faizah.


The lavender-tailed flying creatures rose against the striations of the lovely orange sky. It was good to be back on Quixote, at least as far as this familiar splendid scenery went. But Armando Frank didn’t feel settled. Anxiety filled his throat.

Mitchel kept silent, as if he had curled into a ball on the other side of their wall and gone to sleep. That barrier between the two of them remained flimsy, however, and Armando could still, figuratively, hear him breathing on his side. He knew Mitchel would be witness to everything that happened here today.

The arrangements had been made. All arrangements, when requested by the heroic soldier, were put into effect with all due speed. It was an awesome power. But Armando had never been tempted to abuse it. He would not ever, for instance, pretend to speak for Mitchel Bartoszek.

I’ve been wondering something. This conversation—such exchanges were more frequent now between them—had occurred on the journey back to Quixote, Armando’s home. Why didn’t you just ignore me?

What do you mean, Mitchel?

When my temporal unit deployed, and I woke up inside you—you could have acted like nothing had happened. Not reported the incident. Gone on with your life. I couldn’t make myself known independently of you, after all. I don’t just borrow your eyes and ears. I need your voice too. But you control it all.

Armando had been utterly horrified by the idea of withholding the news of the temporal traveler’s arrival. Such an act, such an omission, was blasphemous. It flew savagely in the face of the social contract to which every human in the galaxy subscribed. Mitchel sensed his strong reaction.

Sorry, Armando. Was that the wrong thing to say?

I can’t tell you how wrong! That is just so ... so repulsive an idea. The enormity of it—I mean, we feel a duty to those who fought— That’s terrible, Mitchel!

Still, I have ... well ... imposed on you. In the extreme. Maybe you think I don’t realize that or don’t care. But I do.

I appreciate that. But my obligation to you outweighs any personal considerations. So this conversation is pointless.

Okay, okay. Forget I brought it up.

Mitchel’s silence wasn’t helping him now, though. Armando’s nervousness only worsened as the time of the rendezvous approached—and passed. One moment slipped by. Then another. The pathway of the park remained empty. Armando paced the ocher pavers, feeling, for the first time in a long while, very much alone. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Suddenly he detected movement behind him, and turned; and just as abruptly the pervasive scent of hyperbred black jasmine washed over him, flooding senses that had been blocked to the sweet odor until now. His heart thumped against his sternum. Junie had been the other woman with whom he’d been romantically involved, but it was Faizah who had leaped first to his thoughts when Mitchel had graciously asked who he wished to see. Faizah. Exquisite Faizah. Long of limb, a supple body, her smile radiant when she chose to bestow it at full intensity. She had always enjoyed him, emotionally and physically. He was a fairly handsome specimen himself, with strong cheekbones and soft eyes. He loved Faizah. He always had, from very nearly the start of their relationship.

And she had agreed to see him ...

He hurried to her across the ocher paving stones. She smiled. The orange sky shone in her eyes. They embraced ardently. He held her and held her. He put his cheek to hers, and when he lifted it, it came away damp. The tears were his.

Faizah said, “It’s wonderful to see you. How have you been keeping?”

The smile stayed on her face as he pulled back to arm’s length. “I’ve been—well, it’s been tumultuous.”

“I would imagine so.”

“I’ve missed you, Faizah.”

“And I’ve missed you, Armando.”

Her words were precise. Quite clearly enunciated. Not a flicker of spontaneity in them. Faizah was no actress. But she, like virtually everyone else, was a loyal citizen of the human-administered galaxy. People did their duty. Warfare was no longer necessary; but the soldiers would be honored. So too, it seemed, those who were faithfully hosting the brave warrior souls.

The edginess he’d felt in his throat and chest turned to a gripping sorrow. He did his best not to let it show.

He said, “I was passing back this way, and I wanted to stop and say hello.”

He behaved as if this meeting were just casual and cordial. Armando didn’t know if he was convincing or not. Faizah went along. They talked for a while, and walked the same route they had often taken through this parkland. She spoke about the doings in her life; he heard nothing but the calls of the birds, which sounded cacophonous to him now, rather than tuneful and sweet. He was, however, aware of her occasional furtive sidelong glance, eyes still trying to penetrate his head, to get a glimpse of the other who resided inside there. She couldn’t help herself.

As soon as was seemly, Armando excused himself.

It would be no different with Junie, he knew. Neither would he indulge any impulse to look up his old friends. Everything which had to do with his former life was gone, lost to him. He had only one person now, the only meaningful relationship he would have for the remainder of this lifetime.

But Mitchel sustained his respectful silence as Armando staggered away from the park, some distant shattered part of him wondering where the two of them could go from here.


Despair followed the incident with Faizah, compounding what the visit to Mitchel’s grand-niece had started. Both men had been wounded by loss; both felt the bleakness brought on by the circumstances they shared.

I want to see the others!

The sudden vehemence startled Armando. He felt Mitchel’s excitement, which had surged without warning, surprising even the soldier himself, Armando thought.


Yes. Yes! I remember hearing that there were twenty-something other transtemporals who had deployed from my time—


Right. Twenty-nine! I want to see them. I goddamn well demand to see them!

It was like the rush from a high-grade stimulant. Armando’s hands shook. Mitchel’s volatile emotions were quite familiar to him by now; perhaps they had even soaked through into his own psyche somewhat. He felt the urgency of this objective: yes, yes indeed, find those others. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself?

But the arrangements weren’t as easily made as all that had come before, which dismayed Armando and angered Mitchel. Both of them had grown accustomed to the deferential handling, to instantaneous accommodations. Mitchel Bartoszek was an authentic hero, a celebrity, a galactic treasure. When his demands met with resistance, he spoke his mind vociferously. Armando conveyed his tirades word for bellicose word.

Some time later, the way forward started to open up—but only after the formal filing of applications, after arcane episodes of documentation, after several interviews with maddeningly vague officials. There were hints, now and then, that some if not all of the twenty-nine transtemporals were at a single location. Indeed, Armando couldn’t remember when he had last seen any of the previous travelers appearing before the public. But that was how it went; after a while, the soldiers from the past would just fade out of the limelight.

All of it bewildered Armando. Mitchel too. The bureaucratic process also infuriated both of them, nearly to the point of madness.

By the time they finally moved ahead toward what they sought, they were both wearied, wrung out, drained by the endless procedures.

They were delivered, limp and nearly defeated, to a pearly blue world of many oceans, lit with dazzling sunlight.

The dropboat landed and cycled down, sighing, and opened up to reveal the paradisiacal landscape. A trio of people waited, wearing wispy clothing, exuding a relaxed contented air. Even with just a first glance their serenity was evident.

“Welcome. You’re very welcome here. Both of you.” One of the two women in the little group had spoken. She was older, with a seamed face that appeared quite tranquil. She had used that phrase—both of you—without any awkwardness at all, as if it were the most natural form of address.

Armando stepped out onto the sandy soil. The boat had touched down nearby one of the many shorelines. Blue water, swirling with minerals, lapped quietly against the ivory sand. The planet had no moons; there were no forceful tides.

“Thank you ...” Armando said, breathing in the gentle tropical air, feeling a whirl of giddiness in his head, which he was sure Mitchel was experiencing as well. “We’re glad to be here.”

Behind him, at some distance, there was an abrupt crash. He turned, looking past the quiescent dropboat, out across the colorful sheet of water. Large turquoise clouds were amassing out there, flashes of orange electricity leaping among the thunderheads. So, this world wasn’t so peaceful as to be boring, then, Armando thought. He grinned, and it was as though Mitchel were pulling on those same facial muscles, expressing the same sentiment.

They turned back to their greeters. The male of the trio, black-haired and yellow-eyed, was gazing out over the ocean as well. “That’s heading this way. Going to be a real pisser, I’ll bet.”

The older woman spoke again. “Then we ought to get to shelter.” A ground vehicle was parked a little ways off, amid the tough pale fronds that grew beyond the shore’s sandy lip.

Armando hefted the single travel bag he had brought along. But he didn’t take a step toward the vehicle.

Ask her why it was so hard to get here.

But Armando didn’t need Mitchel’s prompting. He was filled with the curiosity; perhaps it was Mitchel’s stubbornness that made him dig in his heels now, with a serious storm moving in from the sea behind him, and say, “Why did you make it so difficult for us to find you people?” Because surely these people were responsible; they had put up all that barricading bureaucracy to guard their world.

The woman’s lined serene features quirked in a smile. “So that you wouldn’t try to reach us prematurely. When you think of yourself as we instead of I, then it’s time. My name is IvaBritt. This”—gesturing to the man with the strange yellow eyes—“is JermineAnja, and this”—a wave of her veiny hand at the second woman, younger, with a shaved head—“is CristaCarlo.”

Armando sketched something like a bow to all three, already feeling a belonging, a great waiting warmth here.

“My name is ArmandoMitchel.”

“As I said, you’re welcome here.” A fresh eruption of thunder sounded. IvaBritt squinted her eyes. “And as JermineAnja pointed out, we should get indoors before it starts pissing down on us.”

ArmandoMitchel slung the travel bag over his shoulder and followed his fellows to the waiting vehicle. END

Eric Del Carlo has been published in “Asimov's,” “Strange Horizons,” “Redstone Science Fiction,” “Shimmer,” and many other venues. His last story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUN-2015 issue and was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.


callahan 9/16




star run 4/16


also by Eric Del Carlo