Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Conversations With a Garbage Truck
by Margret A. Treiber

Freshly Brewed
by Preston Dennett

by Barton Paul Levenson

Gift of Nibelung
by Olga Godim

by Fonda Lee

Send in the Humans
by Harold R. Thompson

Rhythm of the Rain
by Samuel Van Pelt

Worms of Titan
by Brian Biswas

Shorter Stories

by C.R. Hodges

by David Steffen

Fast Time Machines at Ridgemont High
by Fred Coppersmith


Madness of the Winter Soldier
by Erin Lale

Resistance Fighters
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





Freshly Brewed

By Preston Dennett

IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE. “Do you smell that?” I asked Bat. I let my nose lead me down the corridor. “It’s getting stronger. Please tell me you smell that.” I had always been blessed with a superior sense of smell. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a blessing on ship. More of a curse, really.

Bat’s face lit up. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Coffee. I can smell it now.”

“I told you,” I said, quickening my pace. “Somebody has a stash and they’re not sharing.”

Bat bobbed his head. We were both aching for a good cup of java. Hell, everybody on ship was. We were aching for anything from Earth. We were on our return trip from Vega, and all the food we had taken with us was long gone. We ate only what we could grow; and coffee didn’t make the list.

Or so I thought.

“If I find out that this bastard has been hoarding all this time,” I said, “I’m going to—”

“It’s coming from in here,” said Bat, and he turned to the left. “What’s down here?”

I frowned. This corridor led to the animal husbandry rooms. I was certain I would find the source in the agriculture sections. But sure enough, Bat was right. The smell was unmistakable.

It was still early morning, shiptime, so most people were asleep. Bat and I were assigned morning security watch. It was pure dumb luck that we had run across the faint but recognizable odor. We were supposed to patrol only the corridors, and now we were risking getting in trouble by entering the animal husbandry areas.

I didn’t care. I wanted a cup of coffee and I was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

Feeling like a bloodhound, I wandered up and down the stalls containing the various animals collected from Vega. There were all kinds of strange creatures I had never seen before. Weird combinations of furs and hides, scales and tentacles, claws and paws and odd-looking whirligigs. I had never been an animal person, and seeing all these strange monstrosities, my feelings were reinforced. Animals and I really don’t get along. Even now, they were making weird noises and looking at me as I walked past.

The smell was so strong now, I could taste it. And there he was, standing at the end of one of the corridors. Baxter, I recognized him instantly. He looked up in surprise at our approach, and quickly tried to hide the cup of a dark steaming liquid in his hands. Too late.

“Busted!” I said. I rushed forward. Sure enough, there was coffee in that cup.

“Busted!” echoed Bat.

“What?” said Baxter, trying to look innocent.

“Where did you get that? Baxter, right? I know you from poker.” He was one of the biologists hired to take care of the Vegan animals. We had run across each other several times on the ship, in the workout rooms, at mealtimes, and in the entertainment rooms.

“Right,” he said. “You’re Stebbins?”

“Right,” I said, nodding. “So ... what gives, Baxter? You holding out on us?” I motioned to the coffee.

He shook his head. “It’s not what you think.” He took a smug little sip.

“What? That’s not coffee?” I said. I leaned forward and sniffed it. “Smells like coffee to me.”

Baxter didn’t answer.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Cut me and Bat here in on the action, and we won’t tell anyone. What do you want? We can pay.”

Baxter looked at me sympathetically. “Promise not to tell anybody?”

“Scout’s honor,” I said, crossing my heart. I elbowed Bat, who quickly imitated me. “We promise.”

Bat nodded enthusiastically.

Baxter looked slightly skeptical. We both knew how difficult it was to keep a secret on ship. Sooner or later, everything got out. He sighed.

“Fine, wait outside and I’ll bring some to you.”

“Really?” I said. “How much?”

“Free ... as long as you don’t tell anybody. And please don’t ask me where I got it.”

“Deal,” I said, and I shook hands with Baxter. Bat was staring at one of the strange creatures: a mountainous blob-like creature covered with nasty-looking pimples, boils, and protuberances. A thin sheen of slime covered it, and some of its boils looked like they were leaking. It was so huge that it took up the space of three stalls. It was the ugliest, most disgusting creature I’d ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I elbowed Bat. “Shake the man’s hand!”

“Oh,” said Bat, and he stuck out his hand. Baxter shook Bat’s hand, but gave me a look that said: You better take care of your buddy.

He didn’t need to worry. Bat wasn’t the brightest bulb on the ship, but he was a good kid, and I watched out for him.

Baxter waited for us to leave. I didn’t dawdle. I was too damned excited.

Baxter appeared moments later with two steaming cups of java. Columbian or French roast by the smell of it. Dark, rich, bold—it was perfect.

“I hope you like it black and unsweetened, because that’s all I got.”

“That’s fine,” I said.

And it was. I took a long sniff and then a deep sip. I was in heaven. It was the best bleepin’ coffee I could ever remember having. Nearly brought tears to my eyes. I could see that Bat was equally affected.

Baxter smiled, enjoying our astonishment. “You like it, then?”

“Where the hell did you get this?”

Baxter waved his finger. “Ah-ah. Don’t ask,” he said, and he disappeared into the animal rooms.


Baxter didn’t seem surprised to find us there the next morning. “Who the hell is this?”

I grinned guiltily. “Sorry. You know Steve, right? He’s our dorm-mate. We didn’t tell him. He found out on his own.”

“It’s true,” said Steve. “They tried to protect you. But Mac here owes me a favor, and I’m cashing in.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I promise, nobody else knows.”

Baxter snorted. “Uh-huh,” he said, and ordered us to stay outside. He popped outside a few moments later with three cups of steaming hot coffee.

“Maybe I should charge you,” he said.

“Hey, like I said, I’m willing to pay.”

“Forget it,” he said. “Just don’t tell anybody else about this.”

“Scout’s honor,” I said. Bat nodded along with me.

“Jesus Christ,” said Steve. “This is terrific. Where the hell did you get this?”

“Don’t ask,” Baxter and I chorused together.

“Don’t ask,” repeated Bat, as he sipped his coffee.


“Aw, shit! I bleeding knew it!” Baxter was not happy to see me. “And who are these guys?” He looked at me accusingly and over at the crowd of a half-dozen men and women behind me. “Never mind. Just give me five minutes.”

He returned with a tray of coffees for everyone. “Won’t tell anyone, huh?” he said, looking at me.

I shrugged. “What can I say? They smelled it. You can’t hide this forever, Baxter. Do you have a secret hoard? Why don’t you just share it?”

“I am sharing it,” he said.

I shook my head. “You know what I mean.” There was a code on ship about hoarding. It was not tolerated. Everybody shared, and that was final.

“I’m not hoarding,” he said.

“Then tell us where you’re getting it.”

He shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” I asked. The guys around me echoed my question.

“Please, I just can’t. You don’t understand. Just trust me, I’m not hoarding.”

We were all too happy drinking our coffee to complain much. Still, I knew the situation couldn’t go on as it was. Despite Baxter’s protests, he was obviously a hoarder. There was simply no other explanation.

We found no sign of any coffee plants in agriculture. We had checked that out first thing. And of course we searched every inch of the animal husbandry rooms. We couldn’t find a thing. We even broke into his dorm. Nothing. Wherever Baxter’s secret cache was, it was very well hidden.

If the guys discovered it, and found evidence that Baxter was hoarding, it would not go well for him. I just hoped he came clean before it was too late.


“Aw, hell!” said Baxter. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

This time I brought only one visitor: the captain.

Despite Baxter’s attitude, I remained entirely professional. After all, this was Captain Horner. He was a good captain, but he ran a tight ship. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react. For all I knew, Baxter, my buddies, and I might all end up in the brig.

We stood at the end of one of the corridors in the animal husbandry room. On either side, the Vegan animals cawed and clicked and growled and snorted.

“Baxter, right?” asked the Captain.

“Yes, sir,” said Baxter, resigned. He flashed a look of anger at me.

Captain Horner caught the exchange. “Don’t blame Stebbins,” he said. “I pride myself in knowing everything that is happening on my ship. I have to say, Baxter, you had me thinking I was going crazy. Kept hallucinating the smell of coffee. Turns out, I wasn’t hallucinating, was I?”

“No, sir.”


“Sir?” asked Baxter, confused.

“He wants to try it,” I said, stating the obvious.

“Oh, yes, of course. I have the urn right here.”

Captain Horner raised his eyebrows.

Here we go, I thought. But Horner remained silent and watched Baxter like a hawk as he filled a fresh cup of coffee.

“Here you are, Captain.”

Captain Horner sniffed it and a look of surprise passed smoothly across his face. He sniffed it again, and looked at me.

“I told you,” I said.

Captain Horner sipped the coffee guardedly. He rolled it around on his tongue, then smacked his lips. “Jesus, that’s delicious.” He took another big sip.

“Thank you, sir,” said Baxter.

“Where did you get it?”

I coughed to suppress my laughter. I couldn’t wait to hear this.

Baxter gave the Captain a pained look, and then looked over at me. I made no effort to hide my grin from him.

Baxter turned back to the Captain. “I’ll show you,” he said. “But not him.” He pointed at me.

“Hey!” I said.

The Captain looked at me sharply.

“Scram, Stebbins,” he said. “This is none of your business.”

The hell it isn’t, I thought. But I knew better than to disobey. I scrammed. But not before I snaked a cup of coffee for myself.


It was a stupid thing to do. I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. I had to know.

I waited outside the room sipping my coffee until the Captain came out. Only moments later he appeared alone, without Baxter. He looked pale and slightly shaken.

“Are you okay, sir?”

“What’s that? Yes, of course,” he coughed. “I’m fine.”

“Well?” I asked.

“Well, what?” he said, frowning at my impertinence. I had the feeling he was stalling for time.

“Sorry, sir. I was just wondering, did you find it?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. He stared me down. “You want to know where the coffee came from, don’t you?” Still stalling.

I nodded dumbly.

He hesitated, seemed about to speak, then shook his head. “Don’t ask. You won’t like the answer.”

“He’s hoarding, isn’t he?”

“No,” said the Captain. “He’s not.”

“He’s growing coffee plants somewhere?” I offered.

“No, no.” The captain took off his hat and palmed his head. “Fine. I can see that this is going to come out anyway. Come on, let’s go.”

Captain Horner turned his heels and headed back into the animal husbandry rooms. I followed dutifully.

We found Baxter where we had left him.

“Tell him,” said the Captain.

Baxter looked faintly amused. “Yes, sir. If you say so. Come on, Stebbins. And please, try not to get in my way.”

I nodded and followed Baxter to one of the stalls. It was the giant stall that held the mountainous blubbery-looking, pimple-covered thing. It stood there, taller than me, oozing from its orifices. I looked down at the coffee in my hand and got a really bad feeling.

Baxter opened the door to the stall, motioned me inside, and followed me in.

I held up my cup. “This isn’t coffee, is it?” I felt my stomach turn.

“I tried to warn you,” said Baxter.

He walked over to the creature and began caressing its surface.

It quivered under his touch and began to moan slightly.

“Hand me the bucket,” he said, pointing to a small plastic container hooked on the bars.

I numbly handed him the bucket and watched in disgust as he reached out and grabbed one of the giant boils. He held the bucket underneath and then squeezed. A dark pungent liquid squirted out. He was milking the damn thing. I almost puked right there.

“Holy crap,” I said. “You mean?”

Baxter swirled the contents of the bucket and refreshed my cup. He was beaming with pleasure. “Don’t worry,” he said, laughing at my expression of horror. “It’s freshly brewed.” END

Preston Dennett has been investigating UFOs for nearly 30 years. He also writes speculative fiction. His stories have appeared in “Allegory,” “Andromeda Spaceways,” “Black Treacle,” “Cast of Wonders,” “Grievous Angel,” and many other venues.


screaming eagle 6/15


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