Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Mickey A. Goes to the Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

To Make it to Hilion
by Dori Peleg

Deep Down Here
by Kathryn Michael McMahon

by Eric Del Carlo

Run Program
by D.K. Latta
and Jeffrey Blair Latta

Between Two Worlds
by Bill Suboski

Radiance in a Dark Lens
by Derrick Boden

Those Golden Years
by Chet Gottfried

Shorter Stories

Earthly Hosts
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Fried Chicken You Can’t Refuse
by Peter Wood

by Richard Wren


2075: A Day in the Life
by Curt Tigges

Forensics Under Fire
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





By Eric Del Carlo

MOST ADULTS, AIDEN MILICH HAD observed, were unhappy. Worse than unhappy. They were bitter, crushed under, spiteful. Certainly his parents were like that. Dad gave Mom endless wounded looks, and she manufactured elaborate blames with which to snare him. Aiden was nine before he’d figured out—because no one would just tell him anything—that grownups felt that the Earth had been conquered by the Akkabii.

His mother had a touchy thing about history. Her own mother, Grandmama, had been a historian. Or an historian. The an got trotted out when Mom’s cheeks were visibly hot and she was expounding—sometimes to Aiden, sometimes to Dad, sometimes to an empty room—on the importance of a reliable record of past events.

Aiden was twelve now, proud of the age. Being a tween was way better than being a child, just like teenagehood would beat tween status. He was sure it would.

Right now he had school to deal with. At school he was excelling in only one subject: history. Even this didn’t make Mom happy, and twelve years of age meant he was old enough not to have expected it to. This was the time of the Cohesion. And that meant, among lots of other things, that Akkabii history was taught in his school alongside human history.

“The Cohesion—hah! More like the Coercion!” He remembered his dad saying that, but other adults said the same, in and out of Aiden’s family.

Cohesion. Coercion. Big words, and freighted with adult irony. Aiden had been too young to understand the bitter “joke.” Now he got it. But he didn’t agree with the sentiment.

Campus was a tidy strewing of eco-integrated buildings, pathways, greens. The instructors were earnest and anxious. Akkabii students attended, of course. Aiden had had Akkabii schoolmates all his life. It was hard to imagine a time when they had not been in the school system, or even on Earth.

Naturally he understood that the species had arrived on this planet, but it was something like knowing that nomadic peoples had crossed a prehistoric land bridge into what would become North America. It was a fact, but distant, almost abstract.

Yet history was his subject. He had a sense for such semi-intangible realities, probably a hereditary knack. He was particularly good with Akkabii studies.

Mr. Nuñez came and found him between lessons, on a play area of soft maroon stone where one could bounce a ball. The surrounding structures were roofed with energy-absorbing oxygen-releasing vegetation. Pinhead raindrops filled the noon air. Nothing like the torrential rains Mom and Dad talked about from their own childhoods, when the climate was still in its runaway state. They never told their stories together, though. They couldn’t agree to do that.

“Milich,” Mr. Nuñez heaved as he staggered onto the field. He was in terrible shape, bloated, untidy, exuding bad health. Aiden had watched him jog the path here. “Aiden,” he said when he had more breath.

“Yes, Mr. Nuñez?” He bounced his yellow ball. Classmates were elsewhere. It wasn’t uncommon for Aiden to find himself playing alone. He didn’t think this man a terrible teacher, but he had that harried adult air.

“I need your help with something.” Nuñez had small dark eyes he couldn’t keep still.

Aiden bounced the ball once more, caught it and held it level with his concave chest. “Okay.” He heard the wariness in his own voice.

If Mr. Nuñez detected it, he gave it no consideration. “An Akkabii in your history learning group. It needs help. It’s going to fail.”

The Akkabii were genderless beings. They didn’t require a fancier pronoun than it. But there was a courteous way to say the word, something Aiden and his contemporaries did reflexively. Adults, even teachers apparently, spoke like they were describing an object.

“Which one?” Aiden asked.

“Uh, Gishtopo.” The little dark eyes darted back and forth.

Aiden knew the Akkabii of course. “What do you want me to do?” He remained wary. He didn’t want any extra schoolwork after all.

“You know this stuff. Hell, Aiden, you grasp it better than me. Help Gishtopo. I’ll make you its tutor. I’ll pay you.” Mr. Nuñez’s breath was short again, like he’d jogged the path all over.

Aiden’s fingers tightened on the yellow ball. This was very unusual, to say the least. But payment sure sounded interesting. He had never actually earned any money in his life.

Was it really so important to Mr. Nuñez, though, that Gishtopo not fail the history class?

After a moment of watching the instructor squirm, which was kind of fun, Aiden said, “How much’ll you pay me?”


You couldn’t pretend an Akkabii wasn’t a nonhuman. And there was no reason to, even according to the precepts of the Cohesion. Aiden didn’t need rules like that. He’d grown up with Akkabii inhabiting every part of society. He knew they weren’t human beings. He also knew a cat wasn’t a dog.

Gishtopo wasn’t very smart. No, that wasn’t fair. It just kept tripping up on the same material, which was starting to frustrate Aiden. For the very first time he realized how exasperating trying to teach could be.

But he had Mr. Nuñez’s money. The numbers were right there on Aiden’s mobe. He had thought of ten things he could spend his windfall on, but knew he wouldn’t do any of them. He would save his capital for something good.

Nuñez had paid half now. The second part would come when Gishtopo got a passing mark for the quarter. Mr. Nuñez hadn’t wanted to give Aiden anything up front, but Aiden had recognized his advantage. He had something the adult needed. He didn’t have to give in to just any old terms. Besides, the harried instructor had seemed happy to compromise, happy to foist this problem off on anybody else.

And Gishtopo was a problem, no denying.

“Vefflof, Cobinc, Frapolo,” Aiden said. They had pushed two desks together, one a human could sit at and one fitted for an Akkabii’s shape. Student art decorated pastel walls. The room was vacant but for them. “They each led an Eminence. Every Eminence had nine Presidings. The Presidings could be one of four different kinds ... Say the names, okay? Vefflof, Cobinc—”

“Aren’t you sick of this?”

Aiden stopped. His Akkabii classmate was roughly his size, a little larger, and naturally arranged differently. Akkabii had torsos and limbs, and heads full of sensory apparatus. They didn’t look like anything else on Earth, except that they were on Earth, a part of the normal landscape of Aiden’s life.

Adult Akkabii usually communicated through cybernetic devices. Younger ones like Gishtopo mostly spoke fluent Eng, the worldwide language that was part of the Cohesion.

“Sick? Why would I be sick of it?”

“It’s not even your history.” Gishtopo spoke in a bored, pouty tone.

Aiden blinked. He felt vaguely insulted and wasn’t sure why. “Because this didn’t happen on Earth?” There was always a fear that others knew more than him or were more sophisticated. Maybe it was why he didn’t gather many friends to him.

Gishtopo gave him a withering look. Aiden knew how to read the knolls and corrugations of an Akkabii face. “What do you care what happened on Akkaba so long ago? Eminences. Presidings. Dank old names.”

“It’s basic social history. Vefflof, Cobinc—”

“—Frapolo. Right.”

Despite the strange contentiousness of the moment, Aiden was gratified that the object of his tutoring had managed to get a name of one of the important historic figures correct. But it was in a small voice, looking down at his desk, that he said, “You think historical events on Akkaba have nothing to do with me.” He’d meant it to be a question.

“Well ...” Gishtopo had been born on Earth, Aiden knew. “I guess I don’t really mean it like that. But come on, even I don’t care about this stuff.”

Aiden thought a moment, then looked up. “You don’t have to care. It’s school. But you got to learn it.”

This was, he realized, a crux, where things could go either way. He wanted to succeed in tutoring Gishtopo. He wanted the other half of that money.

Akkabii had generally dark hides. Gishtopo’s flesh was mottled with flecks of beige. Its head tilted, indicating it was giving Aiden’s words serious consideration.

Finally it said, “Okay. I’ll try.” It made an Akkabii chuckling sound. “What’re you getting out of this, Aiden? I mean, you’re doing Mr. Nuñez’s job.”

Aiden hesitated. He’d been secretly proud of the idea of making money. Now for some reason he felt embarrassment. Would Gishtopo get mad if it found out?

But he wasn’t a good liar, so he just said, “He’s paying me.”

“Cool. I’ll try not to screw it up for you, then.”

They got back to work, and it went a little better now. An hour later Aiden called Dad on his mobe and said he was ready to be picked up. On the ride home he didn’t say anything about the tutoring.


Aiden Milich had never had an Akkabii friend before. He wasn’t totally sure Gishtopo was his friend now, and in the way of twelve-year-old awkwardness he couldn’t quite ask it.

They spent time together two days a week after classes. Gishtopo still wasn’t really getting history—they’d moved on to more modern events on Akkaba—but it had bluntly memorized enough key information to probably pass the next quiz.

“History is like foundation stones on a building that goes up and up and is never finished.” Today’s tutoring session was done, and Aiden was about to phone his father.

Gishtopo regarded him with amusement. It no longer pouted during lessons, for which Aiden was grateful. “Where’d you come up with that?”

His mom had said it many times, but it probably came from Grandmama, who was only a dim memory for Aiden. “My grandmother was a historian.” He hadn’t talked about his family with Gishtopo, and it hadn’t said anything about its parent. Akkabii reproduced asexually. Aiden finally understood what that meant, and wished grownups had explained it more clearly when he was younger.

“Historian?” Gishtopo asked a little incredulously. “Somebody who just knows history for a living?”

“Sort of, yeah.”

It laughed. “Hey, let’s get out of here.” It stood from the desk.

Did it mean for him to come with it? “And go where?”

“Anywhere. Someplace. Come on.”

That was definitely an invitation. Aiden found himself rising, eager to go along.

They left the campus. Young Akkabii were athletic, but Aiden, despite his scrawniness, was able to keep up. The afternoon turned into a minor madcap adventure. They traipsed together through surrounding ornate neighborhoods, climbing on things, expending energy in random ways. They played; and Aiden realized it had been a while—too long—since he’d played like this, with someone else.

He wouldn’t have ranged about the city this way on his own. The Cohesion had rules about travel. His family lived on the city’s rugged outskirts, where the foundation of the old containment wall could still be seen. Occasionally when his dad picked him up in the electric cart, they were stopped by police on the way home.

Nobody bothered him while he was with Gishtopo.

After about an hour they were both panting, Aiden grinning and Gishtopo doing the Akkabii thing which was the equivalent of grinning.

“That was fun, huh?”

“Yeah,” Aiden said with such honesty it sounded solemn.

Gishtopo’s beige-mottled skin had darkened from exertion. Aiden swiped a palmful of sweat off his forehead. “Well, I should probably get home,” it said.

“Me too.” He reached for his mobe and paused. “Can we be friends now?” He wasn’t sure where he’d gotten the courage to ask.

Gishtopo gave him another incredulous look. “We’ve been friends, dummy. For a while.”

Aiden grinned anew, and called Dad.


“So you do what—let him decide when he feels like coming home?”

He wanted to alert Dad to the trap. But he’d seen Mom like this too many times, enough to kill that warning instinct. He pressed one toe of his shoe atop the other, and stood being talked about as if he weren’t there.

Dad let out a long beleaguered sigh but answered in a reasonable tone. “I wasn’t watching the time. Maybe I would’ve called him and asked what was going on.”

“Maybe?” Mom scooped the guts out of the word. She was a stringy woman, with brittle hair. She spent all day in a sealed medical sample vault. The Akkabii side of the Cohesion meant minor adaptations by the species to Earth’s rescued environment. The younger generation of Akkabii was well integrated.

Dad worked on a nearby reforestation project and had a healthier physique than Mom. “He’s home for dinner, Barb.”

“He needs discipline.”

“He’s got that. We’ve all got—”

“Don’t change the subject!”

Their home was small and efficient, like all the housing in the area. Aiden knew if he tried to just walk away from this scene, he would suddenly become visible. He wanted to go to his corner of the family bedroom. He didn’t want dinner.

Somehow he knew what was coming, and winced ahead of his mother’s angry pronouncement. “There will be a curfew.”

Aiden saw his dad wince—flinch, really. After a bilious pause he said, “Honey, that word ...” Dad didn’t say honey unless things were bad.

A curfew. That was an old word, a historic one. Part of the pre-Cohesion world; but the Cohesion was making everything better, bringing Akkabii and humans together, though as far as Aiden saw it, they were already pretty well blended. At least in his age bracket.

He understood what a curfew would mean for him personally, however. It might cancel his time with Gishtopo. No tutoring, no money. Plus, now, no further time to play with his friend.

Aiden wanted to protest, wanted to step between his parents. But Dad apparently meant to stand up for once, and had another good word to use. “You want to just keep him here in the ghetto? Huh, honey?”

Mom said nothing for a long while.


Gishtopo got a passing grade on Mr. Nuñez’s next quiz. The teacher had looked nervous announcing the test, Aiden thought, and had snuck glances at the Akkabii while the learning group hunkered over their tablets. Aiden wouldn’t get the back end of his payoff until the end of the quarter, and then only if Gishtopo got a good enough mark in history.

But he felt a certain pride in his friend’s accomplishment, and so did it.

“I still don’t really care about this stuff,” it said after class, looking pleased anyway.

“Caring’s got nothing to do with learning.” Aiden’s grandmother would have said differently, he was sure from how Mom spoke about the old woman and her dedication to a precise accounting of historic events.

The next thing for the group to study was the Cohesion itself. Aiden was confident he could guide his friend through the facts. It was nice to feel confidence in something, in himself. He and Gishtopo went to see a joyglow show after school. His friend enjoyed the Akkabii art form; even wanted to try its hand at it someday. Together they took in the coruscations of happiness, the bursts and whorls, all of it erupting from a large bowl shape in a darkened theater. It was a pretty good show.

He stepped outside ahead of Gishtopo afterwards. A cyber-voice said sharply, “You there. What’re you doing here? Prepare to identify yourself.”

Aiden went still, stiller than when he’d invisibly watched his parents fight the other night. This was a luxurious part of the city where he wouldn’t have ventured alone. The police approached, clinking with gear and oozing with that special authority that always broke a sweat on Dad’s face whenever they got pulled over. Aiden knew to wait to be told to produce his mobe, which had his identification. The two officers asked him questions through their cybernetic interfaces.

A few others patrons coming out of the theater lingered, but it was Gishtopo who strode right up.

“Why’re you bothering my friend?” it said boldly.

The police turned and Aiden stayed frozen, but it wasn’t anything like what might have happened if he had spoken that way. The incident was over a minute later, the police moving on, and him standing with his Akkabii companion in the slanting daylight.

“I don’t like how I saw them talking to you,” Gishtopo said.

Aiden shrugged bony shoulders. “It gets better every year. We don’t have to live behind a wall anymore.”

“I guess but ...”

“And when the Akkabii came, they saved the planet from being destroyed by the climate.” They would be covering all this in the learning group.

“Yeah. Grownups still suck, though,” it said decisively.

Aiden didn’t give it an argument.


This, then, was the conquest. It had taken him so long to realize how so many human adults really felt about the Akkabii. But when you looked at the facts, like his learning group was doing now, you saw what the Cohesion was: the necessary integration of two species. Humans had been wrecking the planet. The Akkabii had arrived and used their technology to fix the climate. They had also, in a way, helped humans to fix themselves. Old governments didn’t work. Greed and corruption were harming human beings. By blending the two social orders—one native to Earth, the other here from Akkaba—everyone benefited. There were no more wars. Nobody starved anymore. And bit by bit humans got more freedom, as they learned to work with the Akkabii.

How was that conquest?

Gishtopo, over these past several weeks, seemed to have developed the needed capacity for memorization. He could recite back key points from Mr. Nuñez’s lessons. Aiden’s friendship with the Akkabii had grown at a faster, stronger rate. Gishtopo even talked some about its parent. Their relationship was ... quarrelsome. Aiden didn’t say too much about his mom and dad. Gishtopo didn’t show any problem grasping the concept of males and females. Adult Akkabii, though, it said, got into fits about that sometimes. Stupid stuff, in Gishtopo’s opinion.

It was night. Sleep hadn’t come easily to Aiden. Excitement tried to keep him awake. With how his friend was performing, the rest of Aiden’s tutoring fee was practically his already. He still wasn’t sure what he’d do with the money. Excitement over the possibilities had gotten mixed up with the thrill of having a close friend, making his blood pump faster and his fingertips tingle. It felt good to be alive.

Restless sleep vanished. Something was tapping Aiden, not gently, on his head. He started fully awake, backing instinctively away from the contact. In the dim of the family bedroom he saw his mom standing over his bed. He rubbed his skull.

She held his mobe; must have been knocking a corner of it against his head.

“Why’s that Nuñez giving you money?”

Nothing came out of his mouth but a sticky choking sound. His heart beat fast again, but from fear.

Mom’s brittle hair worsened her silhouette, made her witch-like. She was mad. Real mad.

“What’s that fat perv making you do, Aiden?” Whatever it was, said the awful tension winding through her voice, he was partly to blame for it.

He tried to look past her, to Dad in their bed on the other side of the room. Even over the roar of fear in his ears he could hear the man’s grinding snores. Call out to him? Not a smart idea.

Aiden wasn’t a good liar. He told her the truth, but at least he spoke without apology. He could stand up to her that much. He was tutoring an Akkabii classmate. There. It was out.

He expected to be hit again. That had used to happen more, but as the Cohesion bettered things for humans, so, too, somehow conditions had improved here in their little home. All he had to do, he’d figured, was outlive all the adults. Then Earth would be as it was supposed to be.

The silence had been long from Mom. Aiden braced himself. But she said quietly, “What are you teaching it right now?”

She meant Gishtopo. She had even said it with something approaching courtesy. Wary of traps Aiden answered, “We’re up to the Cohesion.”

“And what is that?”

A ridiculous question, a snare question. But backed up against the wall by his bed, he nonetheless held his ground. “The integration of humans and Akkabii for the benefit of both species.”

Another silence. Aiden was glad now he couldn’t see his mother’s expression. Finally she said just as quietly as before, without bitterness, “Winners’ history. Fat Nuñez knows he better pass every Akky.” She dropped the mobe on the bed. Aiden resisted the urge to immediately snatch it up. She turned back toward her side of the room.

However, he couldn’t stop himself from blurting, “Gishtopo is my friend!” He might as well say everything.

Dad’s snoring hitched right then. At the same instant Mom’s steps froze. Then she returned to the bed, and Dad resumed his guttural noises. Aiden rubbed his head again and lay down.


When Gishtopo got its passing quarterly grade and Mr. Nuñez’s final payment was dutifully transferred, Aiden Milich decided in a flush of good feeling and camaraderie what to do with his money.

He purchased the hand-sized joyglow starter kit at an upscale hobby shop. At home he opened the box and handled the dense ceramic-like bowl with its funny controls at the edges. He didn’t imagine he could make the device gush with fertile feelings and tactile light, but Gishtopo wanted to learn how. Imagine, his friend wanting to learn something. Aiden snickered to himself.

He didn’t bring it to school. Too risky transporting it. A police officer might confiscate the toy. He’d even managed not to let his parents see it.

His mom hadn’t said anything about him having an Akkabii friend. She wasn’t any more or less angry about things in general, but she never broached that subject. Maybe she had made peace with the idea.

“I want you to come to my home,” he said. The sky above the campus’ greenery was a gentle blue, fluffed with just the right amount of cloud.

Gishtopo peered at him. “Out where ... you live?”

Instantly Aiden felt insecure. He hoped when he was a teenager he would stop being so anxious about everything. “Yes.” He did that nervous toe thing, stepping on his own shoe.

His friend sensed his discomfort. “Hey, I’d like to. Really. I’ve wanted to invite you over, but my parent ...” It waved a limb in a helpless gesture. “It’d be okay with your folks?”

It would probably be all right with his father, and he could give Gishtopo the present and send it on its way before Mom got home. Dad didn’t answer when he called, though, so Aiden texted, received an acknowledgment, and he and the Akkabii went out to the curb to wait.

A while later the cart pulled up. His mom was driving.

A bolt of dread went through Aiden.

Mom regarded the two of them. No introduction needed. She knew who this must be. From the open-air seat she said, “Your father’s working late and I was off early. Does your friend need a ride?”

Somehow Aiden got his locked jaw to work. He pushed out the words, again not backing down, “I want my friend to come over.” Beside him, Gishtopo watched silently.

“Well, get in.” Mom only sounded tired. No bitter fury, no glowering looks. Her hair was tied back with an old-fashioned scarf, maybe one of Grandmama’s.

Aiden and Gishtopo climbed into the cart, onto the passenger seats. The vehicle hummed softly. Mom drove them away from the school.

After a few blocks Aiden let go of his surprise and anxiety at his mother’s unexpected appearance, and started really anticipating giving his gift to Gishtopo. His friend, he was sure, would be delighted. And that would make Aiden happy. He was truly glad for the first time about his knack for history. It was what had started all this.

The cart was picking up speed. Seconds later, he realized it was going much too fast. Mom gripped the controls, knuckles whitened. She looked straight ahead, a terrible vacant expression on her face. He started to reach for her, but the cart turned sharply and threw him the other way. He and Gishtopo were both belted in, but the velocity was very alarming.

The vehicle flung forward even faster, cutting recklessly through sparse traffic. The elegant neighborhood blurred by on either side. Someone would alert the police.

But that wasn’t going to matter, he saw. Mom had aimed the cart directly at a building’s wall of high red stone, wringing every last bit of speed from the machine. Aiden threw out his hand again, but this time it was to hold onto Gishtopo. His friend’s differently configured hand caught his, and held it, tightly.

The impact came.


Dad didn’t have anyone to give his wounded looks to anymore. He didn’t even try them on Aiden, not that his son, thirteen at last and a real teenager, was home much.

Aiden felt bad that he’d used to tell himself that all he had to do was outlive all the adults. He hadn’t done that. But he had outlived Mom. He cried some for her, but it got easy to stop crying when he reminded himself she had been trying to kill his friend, and maybe even him too. Instead, the two had walked away without serious injury. The police report stated she had committed the collision deliberately. That was the history of the incident.

Gishtopo’s parent at first only tolerated Aiden being around its home so often, but it later seemed to warm. The place was lavish and big. Gishtopo was almost good enough now to move on to an advanced joyglow kit. One day Aiden joked that its parent was starting to be nice to him because he, too, now only had one parent. Gishtopo waited to see if it was really okay to laugh, then gave a chuckle. END

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


hugo noms





jamie noble-comp