Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Astronaut Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Virus Smugglers
by Erin Lale

Clone Music
by Guy T. Martland

Adventure of the Durham Monograph
by Robert Dawson

by Timothy J. Gawne

Too Much to Dream
by Richard Zwicker

Tour de Force
by Richard Wren

by Stephen L. Antczak

Shorter Stories

Free Wi-Fi at the Bordello
by Santiago Belluco

Ambivalence of Memory
by Jamie Lackey

Welcome, Distant Traveler
by Andrew Vrana


Pandemic: Zika
by John McCormick

Descent and Ascent
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Tour de Force

By Richard Wren

THE GOLDEN SWIRLS OF JUPITER were an impressive backdrop, much appreciated by the audience of VIPs from around the system who were actually here in person to enjoy it. The hundred or so celebs, politicians, and tycoons sat in the Europa auditorium sipping cocktails and gazing up at the stormy scene, the sunset colours reflected in their own choices of clothing. The varied textiles and styles of each personality worked together with the overhead colours to produce a magnificent piece of community art—a fitting composition from such an eminent group of people. But they were not here to be a piece of art, they were here to experience the latest from the master.

At this distance from Earth, a virtual presence was impractical. The guests had to be here in real time to interact with the new installation in a visceral way. Exactly how Dyke Harrizon wanted it.

And visceral was just how the master artist felt right now. Although his guests were socialising and relaxing with their outrageously extravagant canapés, Harrizon’s guts felt as twisted and tortured as the clouds above. He hated these events and always had—the stress of expectation, the threat of ruin if the critics panned him. He’d had the same agonising nightmares with every single one of his unveilings. Dyke Harrizon, Head of the Worlds Academy and cult art hero, drained the remains of his Amalthea Sunrise and took a deep breath. In the next ten minutes, Io would be appearing around the limb of Jupiter and the unveiling would begin.

Dyke had managed to keep well-hidden so far during the proceedings. His absence had developed a nice aura of suspense amongst the dignitaries but soon he would have to go out and join them under the crystal dome of the auditorium.

“Nerves again, Dyke?”

“Oh for God’s sake, Dan! Don’t sneak up on me like that. I’m a wreck already.”

Daniel Purvis was a small, staid man in remarkable contrast to Dyke’s tall, thin frame and stylish look. Harrizon had often whimsically thought that they made an interesting composition together. Perhaps that was why he had kept Dan around all these years. No, that was unfair—Dan had been a good friend despite all their differences. An art guru hanging out with a doctor of a fringe subject like Physics had raised a few eyebrows in the media but to Hell with them. After all, Dan was the only person here now trying to reassure him.

“Can’t you get any treatment for these nerves?”

Dyke waved his empty cocktail glass but Dan grabbed it before the nano-assemblers in the glass could replenish the contents. “I think you’ve had enough. We don’t want a repeat of the Trojan asteroids, do we?”

Dyke relinquished the glass. When his tethered sculpture had been unveiled it had been the talk of the system—over a hundred asteroids bound together and spinning almost chaotically around their centre of gravity. His speech had been just as chaotic. Luckily the public were drawn to the classic image of the angst-ridden and erratic genius. On that occasion it had worked in his favour.

But tonight was bigger. Out there were the people that ran the worlds—media moguls, art critics and even the Premier. In an earlier, less stable age such a gathering would have been unlikely, purely due to the security implications. Nowadays, with an almost infinite supply of resources, energy, and computing power, such paranoia was alien. Every physical or emotional craving could be satisfied by the data processing and manufacturing systems that were now sown invisibly into the texture of society. With every whim catered for, the need to tame the physical universe any further was unnecessary. Interest in all the sciences had slumped centuries ago. Humanity’s greatest endeavours now were to create, and in the golden age of the artist, Dyke Harrizon was king.

He could feel the audience was becoming restless. They had already honoured him by coming out to Europa in person and many had been out of the main data networks for days. It was unfair to inconvenience them further. With a signal to his stage manager and a friendly slap on Dan’s back, Dyke Harrizon strode out onto the stage.

His image was projected from multiple viewpoints through the local network to the ImPlant units within each audience member. It was the most exciting stream they had seen in days and a spontaneous roar of approval swept around the curved glass auditorium. Dyke smiled and waved like a true professional, bowed to the Premier then positioned himself dramatically at the front of the stage.

“Honoured guests, may I welcome you all to the very special unveiling of my latest work.” More enthusiastic applause. Dyke let it ease a little before continuing. There was silence with his first words.

“Our timing is perfect. As Europa sweeps us around into the shadow of Jupiter, we will soon be followed by Io, the innermost of the large satellites. For three years I have been installing powerful electromagnetic generators into orbit around Io and Jupiter to enhance the naturally occurring aurora that connect the two. Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy The Hammer of Jupiter.”

There was a maze of technical issues in the work that Dyke had never understood and never needed to—the machines did that. By the same token he had no understanding of how to make a paint brush or canvas. Neither he nor the audience were interested. It was his vision they were here to see.

On cue, the sun fell behind and under the cloud streamers of Jupiter, colours cooling from yellow to twilight ochre. When the light had dimmed, there, beautifully framed, was the silhouette of Io. Between the Auditorium and the setting sun the little black dot was moving slowly in their direction with the last glimmer of sunset as a backdrop. The audience was utterly silent, sharing the exact same vision. Harrizon had closed down the local network—everyone would only see the artwork as he intended.

There were murmurs of surprise as the more observant onlookers made out unexpected details. A glowing tube seemed to link Io and Jupiter—the famous Io flux tube. As sunlight dimmed to nothing, it grew stronger as if to compensate. It was a pearly white and within were sparks that glided up and down from one world to the other, moving spirally around the sides of the tube. Everyone had seen it now and the white glow was also spreading out from the satellite along the little world’s orbit, creating luminous lobes before and behind.

While the audience watched enthralled, Daniel Purvis had sneaked into a side seat to watch the show. He smiled quietly to himself. Sulphur expelled from Io’s volcanoes would glow white in the intense interplay of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and Dyke’s generators. A lovely bit of Physics and Art, he conceded.

Something else was happening now. The glow was far more intense, and laced with streams of orange and lilac. “Sodium and potassium ions.” Dan muttered to himself.

Surrounded by the great and good of the solar system, now cheering and applauding like excitable children, Dan watched the Hammer emerge in all its glory. The light was so intense that it seemed almost solid. The flux tube handle rose out of the clouds of Jupiter, now wrapped in ribbons of royal purple. As the handle connected to Io, the head of the Hammer bulged before and after like a block of gleaming steel inlayed with gold. It was surely a tool worthy of the king of the Gods—a mighty hammer over thirty thousand kilometres tall.

There were tears, hugs handshakes and a solid wall of congratulatory noise as Dyke Harrizon, himself with wet eyes and beaming grin accepted it all. All memories of the Trojan asteroids were now forgotten. The networks were reopened and in a few hours the whole system would know what had happened here—the greatest work of art in the universe.

Daniel Purvis watched quietly as the bigwigs clustered around Harrizon to bathe in the reflected glory. Dan would add his own congratulations later. He stood up from his seat and stretched his legs in the low Europan gravity. Io had moved across a swathe of Jupiter now and Dan was not in a good position to see the Hammer. It was fading a little now, anyway. He moved away from the jostling crowds to the far side of the auditorium, finally stopping at the base of the crystal dome.

He tapped it curiously, wondering what it was really made of—so little information of this kind was known by people these days. In the substance he could see a reflection of the Hammer but, curiously the light was strengthening, not dimming. Was there some more of the show yet to come?

He turned to try and see the Hammer directly but there was no view of it at all now. His movement solved the puzzle. This was no reflection—it was a real patch of light up in the sky. An approaching ship? A searchlight? It was now a little larger and brighter. If it was a vessel it would hit the dome imminently. His rush of fear passed as it became obvious that the light area was getting larger, not nearer.

Others had noticed it and the Auditorium became quieter, while the look on Dyke Harrizon’s face confirmed that it wasn’t part of his performance. A few spectators had the pensive expressions of people communing with the networks. Even if Earth was too time-delayed, cameras in the Jupiter system could tell them something. Looks of shock spread through the crowd as, like Dan, individuals downloaded information. That expanding patch was nothing nearby, it was not even in the solar system. In a very real sense the sky was ablaze.


On Earth, Mars and the other colonies the response to the burning patch of sky was the same. Initial wonder became spiced with fear when the size of the phenomenon was realised, then a kind of paralysis. People had forgotten how to panic.

If they did start, it would be Premier Patel’s job to deal with it. Maria Patel had been Premier for four years and believed that she had done fairly well. Admittedly there were far fewer responsibilities in a job like this than there had been in earlier centuries—an advisory quantum computing Senate made major decisions—but as an example of behaviour, arrangement and poise she felt she had done her part.

Unfortunately, her three major operas and numerous sonatas had not given her the background she needed for this potential crisis. Reaching for a small bowl by the large window of her suite, she selected a rounded lilac crystal and, gazing out at the view, placed it under her tongue. Muse was the drug of choice amongst the fashionable in stressful situations and she certainly needed chemical inspiration right now. The Senate were still pondering the information available but the fact that their reply was not immediate was a worry.

Whatever that patch of sky was, even to her eyes, it didn’t seem natural. Her election manifesto had been based on maintaining the centuries of stability humanity had recently enjoyed, not confronting dangerous novelties. She was a manager, not a leader and still clung to the hope that this was a rare phenomenon that wouldn’t upset her cosy term of office.

“So, I’m hoping you might be able to give your view on the matter.” Premier Patel turned to them from her pondering of the glass.

Doctor Daniel Purvis stood nervously next to his taller, slimmer companion. “I’m not sure how much I can add. I’m not a specialist at all and this is ...”

“Doctor Purvis, you are the only Physicist within forty light minutes of here. I cannot have a practical conversation with those on Earth, so until I can I am asking you. If you don’t have any answers, guess. Your guess will be better than mine.”

The Premier’s abrupt tone unnerved him. Her suggestion wasn’t a sound scientific method but, under the circumstances, Dan chose not to comment. “Oh, yes, sorry. Well, the cameras up here were mostly built to capture imagery for compositions but some are able to see a wide range of frequencies. The light seems to be coming from both stars and interstellar dust, generated in a region about fifty light years from here. It’s mostly visible light, but how it’s produced I have no idea.”

Patel turned back to the window as if to re-inspect the phenomenon. Dan and Dyke joined her obediently. That almost perfect circle of white had continued to grow since its appearance only a few hours ago. Now Dan could only just cover the view with his outstretched palm.

Premier Patel asked the one question she really needed an answer to. “Is it a threat in any way?”

Dan had been wondering this since he had first seen it. “It’s producing light, nothing more. The region isn’t getting closer so there’s no reason to think it threatening. I just wish I knew what the damned thing was.”

“Is it my imagination,” Dyke noted “or are some stars in the middle now not white?”

The three peered outside while Dan consulted the cameras. “He’s right! Individual stars have changed—and their light is peaking at very specific frequencies.” The others looked at him dumbly. “I mean they’re particular colours—either a pure red or green.”

Quiet settled in the luxurious suite while the three thought this through. No one would ever know who concluded it first but Dyke Harrizon was the first to speak. “That thing is a piece of art!”

The statement was bold and caused the Premier’s guts to grind in a fearful knot. She reached to steady herself on a chair. “Art? But that would mean ... Oh God.” Her steadying arm gave way and she slid slowly down the side of the chair.

Both men hurried to help her up.

“Sorry to shock you ma’am, but I’m certain of it. Those patterns show intelligence.” He gazed back towards his discovery. “But why just a simple little disk? With those powers I’m sure I could come up with something more original.”

Doctor Purvis had been re-examining his data. “I think they have something much bigger in mind. I’ll bet anything that that disk is the section of a sphere.”

“So where’s the rest of it?” asked the Premier, still shaking.

“Its still out there but ...” Doctor Purvis took a deep breath. He was back in the lecture theatre. “Imagine you wanted to put on a really big show—the whole sky ablaze with light and patterns of coloured stars. You want it to hit your audience all in one go. So you somehow arrange for this blaze to start in a huge sphere with you in the centre. The light all gets to the centre at the same time to create your artistic impact.” Before anyone could interrupt, Dan continued. “We are not in the centre of the sphere so we see the light from the closest side first. We gradually see light released from farther around the sphere creating a disk in our sky. We will eventually see the whole show but out of sequence.”

“So how long will it take to see the whole thing?”

“It’s difficult to tell without better measurements, but certainly years.”

Dan felt obliged to add “I should point out that if it only takes a matter of years to see the whole show, it means that Earth is uncomfortably close to the centre of the sphere. Uncomfortably close to beings that could put on a display like this.”

The statement did nothing to help the Premier’s blood-drained expression and Dan tried to give some consolation. “At least these super-beings are artists, not warriors. And they may not even be aware that we exist.”

But it was too late. A very worried Premier Patel was helping herself to several more crystals of Muse.


The rooms of a Physics Professor were Spartan compared to the Premier’s, but still lavish by any other standard. He had just about calmed his nerves after the harrowing interview with the Premier and was cradling his second glass of brandy while cocooned in a deep sofa.

Dyke stood by the window. “You didn’t seem nervous” he observed while peering intently at the emerging patterns in the sky disk. “Once you got into teacher mode you seemed in control of the situation.”

“Don’t let impressions fool you—I was terrified. I don’t know how you can do it, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty all the time.”

“You know full well how nervous I get. Besides, you saw the Premier. Without her Senate to help, she was far more scared than you. I suppose science is all about facing the universe as it really is. I think we both adapted rather well, don’t you? He turned and raised his glass.

The gesture of praise reminded Dan of an oversight. “Sorry, old friend, I’ve realised—I haven’t congratulated you on your Hammer of Jupiter. I can’t believe that your presentation all happened just earlier today. I have to say it really was magnificent.”

“Thank you Dan. I appreciate that.”

After another gulp of brandy each they lapsed into silence, illuminated by the pearly sky glow.

Dan joined Dyke by the window. “Do you think they know everything?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You once said that when a civilisation understands everything about the physical universe the only thing to do is create. Art is the final expression of intelligence, you said.”

Dyke looked into his refilling glass. “Did I say that? I was probably drunk at the time. No insult to Physics intended, by the way.”

“None taken.” Both were feeling light-headed. “Your Hammer was a fine example.”

“And so is that.” Dyke nodded to the usurper. “Now that those coloured stars are developing, it’s obvious what it is. You said yourself that it couldn’t be natural and the use of colour and texture says it all. Shame we won’t see it all in one go.”

But Dan wasn’t listening. He was moving his head from side to side while peering intently out at the sky. “Is it the brandy or are there reflections of that disc in the window glass?”

First with amusement at his friend’s antics, then with concern, Dyke joined in with the bobbing, weaving observations. “They’re not reflections. Those are new patches. They’re all over the sky.”

While Dyke tried to peer out of the window at every angle, Dan consulted the room’s processors and the orbital cameras. “Each patch is like the first, but spreading at different speeds and with different colours.”

He paused in deep correspondence. “Hold on, I think I can predict how the patches will interact as they expand—assuming they continue as they are, that is.”

As a physicist, Dan rarely used the room’s projectors. They were more of an artist’s tool but they were perfect for what he wanted to do now. After a few more calculations and educated guesses, the lights dimmed and the room blossomed into a multicoloured fantasy. The prediction showed the discs, each with their own subtly different colours, growing like smooth poured paint across the sky. It was like being inside an opening flower with delicately etched petals of every hue expanding and sliding over each other. Where petals merged, interference patterns shimmered along the boundaries creating deeper levels of beauty in the composition.

Neither man was looking out of the window now. Both were transfixed by the luxuriant light show as the sheets of colour filled the sky, over and below them.

Dyke Harrizon’s mouth was hanging unashamedly open as he gawped in all directions. “Is this what it’s going to look like?”

Dan’s reply was hushed with awe. “Based on the initial information, it should look exactly like this but take years to run through.”

The two men stood like statues for minutes until the wonderful view faded, leaving a deep sense of loss.

“Wow” whispered Dyke. “And that was only a side view that we caught?”

Daniel Purvis was suddenly snapped out of his dreamy state. Scientific ignorance like that was infuriating. “No, Dyke, you don’t get it do you? Those effects are created by multiple spheres of light overlapping so we see that sequence. It’s not the one offset sphere like we thought.”

Dyke looked at him dimly.

Professor Purvis sighed. “You can only see the full effect here in the Solar System. That show is aimed directly at us!”

Now it was Dan’s turn to settle into quiet incomprehension. “Why would they send us a gift like that? I mean, what makes us so special?”

Inspiration always came when it was really needed, Dyke found. “Why would one artist dedicate a work to another? Because of respect, that’s why. That artwork, my scientific friend, is an invitation! Like an invitation to exhibit.” He posed in an appropriately triumphant manner.

“You mean like joining an Academy or something?” Dan whistled through disbelieving teeth. “I guess they must have liked your Hammer.”

Both men watched each other in silence, each considering all the possible futures now opening up for both art and science. Things were going to change.

It was Dyke who broke the thoughtful spell. “I wonder how much Muse the Premier brought with her on this trip?” END

Richard Wren has been writing fiction for the last twenty years. He runs an Environmental Field Centre in the U.K. and teaches biology and astronomy. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-MAR-2015 issue.


callahan 9/16


star run 4/16





bendayWorlds of Color

Nobody yet has any idea why Saturn’s rings and its smooth pastel bands and
Jupiter’s roiling turbulent bands are colored. Nor why Neptune and Uranus are blue, other than the fact that they reflect blue light. Jupiter should be gray because the bands should mix; Jupiter’s great red spot should be gray. Mars is red due to iron, but it isn’t multicolored. Venus is
yellow-white. Earth is Rayleigh-scattering-blue flecked with white clouds.

The artistic beauty of the solar system’s planets and moons are one of the
great gifts of space exploration, but they pose as many questions as they
answer. —Eric M. Jones