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




Gift of Nibelung

By Olga Godim

“THE WAR WAS OVER,” Katya said, glaring at her former friend Stacie. Nobody was a friend anymore, not after her mother’s ship had exploded in the Vergacians’ unprovoked attack. Nobody would look her in the eyes. Nobody understood. “It was already over,” she repeated, swallowing a lump in her throat. “The time box confirmed it. The treaty was already signed, but they just shot Mom’s ship. The gray bastards!”

“I know,” Stacie said quietly. “I just thought ... it’s been two months. Maybe you could, you know, push it aside for one evening and come to the Rings tonight. Forget. Everyone will be there. It’s Nibelung’s Centennial, one hundred years.”

“You mean to celebrate the station’s anniversary after the Vergacians vaporized my mother?”

“Katya, you should let go.” Finally, Stacie lifted her eyes to Katya’s face. “They said it was a glitch. They apologized.”

“Apologized? They killed my mother and all her crew. The gray murderers knew. It wasn’t a glitch. It wasn’t even a military ship. It was a trader; defenseless against their guns.”

Stacie sighed. “I’m sorry about your mom, we all are. We miss you.”

“Just go and celebrate,” Katya snarled.

Stacie lowered her sad eyes and hurried away. Katya stared after her. The traffic along the concourse of the Nibelung Space Station was sparse. All the stores were already closed. Most people were getting ready to celebrate the Centennial.

Last year, Katya and her mother had celebrated the station’s birthday, one of the biggest holidays on Nibelung. They had gone to the Rings of Nibelung, the wonderful multi-tiered park, the biggest park on any of the space stations in the galaxy, and stayed there all night. There were computer-generated fireworks, and free treats, and arts competitions.

They had had so much fun together. She shivered and dragged her feet towards home. She couldn’t possibly go to the Rings tonight and celebrate as if nothing happened. Her gaze stumbled on the Vergacian embassy across the concourse. It rose two levels high, and she hated every inch of those levels. She started trembling, her lungs struggling for air.

Not for the first time in the last two months, she wished she could kill the gray butchers. “Gray beasts,” she muttered, although she had to admit that with their soft gray skin, large heads, and small flexible horns, they didn’t look like killers. They looked like undersized clerks. They were smaller than humans, but it was all a charade. They had killed her mother and they deserved to die.

If she had a bomb, she would stride inside the embassy and detonate that bomb. She would die, too, but she would take as many of them with her as she could. No, that wouldn’t work. Most of them probably were not even there. All the alien embassies on Nibelung closed for the holiday. No, she would sneak into the building at night and override their door lock with the top-secret security code Stacie had shared with her last year. Stacie’s father was a general, and his code supposedly overrode any door lock on the station. That conversation had happened a lifetime ago, when they were still friends, when her mother was still alive; but now she would use the code to get in, set her imaginary bomb with a timing device, and detonate it when most of the embassy employees came back in the morning. Yeah, that would show them!

Of course, she didn’t have a bomb. She probably wouldn’t know how to set a timing device either and wouldn’t have the guts to detonate it, but it was therapeutic to fantasize. She grinned as she stepped into the elevator, but hesitated to choose her destination. She didn’t wish to go to her empty home. What would she do there? Watch some repulsively cheerful movie or the reportage of the celebration in the Rings on the station net? Cry? Make up horrible scenarios for the Vergacians to die? Maybe she should write an essay on the subject? Or a horror novel? Or maybe she should go to the deserted old park and make some decisions?

She pressed the button to the lowest, oldest section of the station. The little cabin’s doors slid shut, and the elevator started to descend. In the barred window, the levels flashed up past Katya’s eyes. She knew all these levels, had visited them all with her mom, for one reason or another. She bit her lip and bunched her fists helplessly, just as the elevator stopped and the door slid noiselessly open.

She stepped out, and a tall man in an orange maintenance uniform and a ridiculous wide-brimmed hat concealing his face hastened in, almost knocking her off her feet. Probably rushing to his own celebration. What was a maintenance worker doing here?

This level contained only the original docking bays and the power collectors, both built a hundred years ago, when the station first went operational. In their glassy sheaths, the power collectors stuck out of the end of the station like a bevy of shining bubbles. All the school kids on the station went on a field trip once a year to watch the collectors from outside. Every four hours, as the station rotation brought its tail of collectors out of the asteroid’s shadow, into the direct sunlight, the plasma inside the collectors absorbed the energy, sparkling and oscillating like waves of cosmic art. Katya had never seen anything so beautiful, so full of colors. From a distance, the entire cluster of collectors looked like a luminescent, gleaming mass of fantastic feathers, a tail of a magical firebird.

Was one of the collectors malfunctioning? They still supplied the station with all her power, although the docks had gone out of service long before Katya was born. She glanced around, expecting an emergency crew and their machinery, but the corridor was empty. A few cheap shops were already closed for the holiday, as were most of the former docking bays, now warehouses. Only one bay was always open—the number twelve. The park. Taking a deep breath, Katya dived into its fragrant, green refuge.

She often came here to think. Before the Rings welcomed its first visitors, the station’s botanists planted a small park here. Afterwards, the project was abandoned: it was too small for the expanding station. By that time, the watering and nutrition systems had already been in place, so the multitude of plants grew as they liked. Some died. Others flourished and multiplied. The bay resembled a jungle, ariot with wildlife.

Sometimes local kids came here searching for adventure. Their abandoned toys littered the floor: a pile of building blocks of bright colors, a plastic gun, a bouncing ball, and a tin sword, broken in half. Katya kicked the silvery sword pieces out of her way and wandered among the greenery, sniffing in appreciation. It was dark in the bay, although the peacock tail of power collectors had already begun glittering, visible through the glass wall where it wasn’t overgrown with vegetation. The station was heading out of the asteroid’s shadow. Soon, sunlight would flood the bay.

Absently, Katya dragged her fingers over the fronds of a huge fern. A muffled thumping emerged from behind her. Startled, she turned but could see nothing except the dense foliage blocking her view to the wall. She frowned. It was probably some technical irregularity. Maybe that’s why that technician in the hat had been here? She moved away from the annoying noise, deeper into the bushes, but the mysterious sound seemed to follow her.

Impossible to ignore anymore, it emanated from behind a thicket of tall, leafy grasses, almost as tall as the bay’s ceiling. The leaves sported thin white spikes. They looked sharp, ready to prickle anyone daring to touch them. In the receding dusk, Katya couldn’t see behind the grasses, but she knew there was a hatch there, leading to one of the power collectors. A couple years ago, when the grasses had not been so thick, one could still see the hatch.

Was someone trapped behind the hatch? How did he get there? Maybe from one of the outside emergency ports? Nobody entered this hatch from the park anymore. The grasses, sturdy and plump, seemed untouched. She glanced at her watch. The sun would rise in about thirty minutes. If anyone was there, he would fry alive in plasma.

The sound started again, an insistent thumping, following a pattern. One, three, five. One, three, five. Definitely someone alive, determined to attract attention. Frantic to help, Katya dived into her pocket for a comlink, to call security, but it wasn’t there. She probably left it at home. Anyway, no rescue team could arrive here in time. Everybody but her was celebrating. She was the only one close enough to make a difference.

Everyone on the station knew how to operate emergency hatches. They drilled it every week at school. Katya slapped a handful of grasses aside, to push her way to the hatch, and hissed in pain. She forgot about the thorns. She licked her bloody palm, and her eyes fell on the toys scattered among the floor-level planters. She grabbed the broken sword and started hacking at the bloodthirsty stems, but it wasn’t much help. The sword was dull, and the stems resilient. They lashed back, scratching her arms.

Fine. She would force her way in. She collected the building blocks and paved a path, stomping on the stubborn stems with her boots. They cracked as they submitted to the rainbow-colored blocks. Her watch showed fifteen minutes till sunrise.

A couple minutes later, she stood in front of the hatch, staring through the transparent wall. From the other side, a small Vergacian stared back. Its horns pulsated up and down. It stopped thumping on the hatch, just stared, waiting for the rescue. Its gray hands oozed some yellowish substance. Vergacian blood?

Katya pursed her lips. Someone had lured it there, probably that man in the hat. Had he lost a wife in the recent war? Or a son? She was going to finish his job. She wasn’t going to do anything. Let the Vergacian fry. They killed her mother. Finally, one of them would pay the price, and she would watch. Nobody would know. Nobody knew she was here. She wouldn’t tell anyone. It would be her own private revenge. The Vergacians deserved it.

Katya’s arms smarted from all the scratches she acquired fighting the grasses. The broken stems lay beneath her path, paved with multihued children’s blocks. The Vergacian seemed to guess her thoughts. It started pounding on the hatch again. Its mouth opened, but Katya couldn’t hear the words. She could see it clearly though, its middle bloated like a gray balloon. It looked like a gray caricature of a human.

A very pregnant caricature. The damn creatures were unisexual. They propagated by budding. This little guy carried a huge bud with a baby. And the baby would fry too. She imagined a fried baby Vergacian, crisp in a plate of baked potatoes, and felt sick.

She couldn’t leave it there. Whatever the gray monsters had done to her mother, this baby wasn’t responsible. Hurriedly, Katya punched the emergency release code on the key panel, but the hatch didn’t open. It was too old. Maybe the mechanics had rusted or something. Or maybe the code was wrong. Desperately, she punched it again. Nothing.

She jerked at the opening lever. “Move! Open!” It didn’t.

The Vergacian stopped pounding. Katya couldn’t decipher its facial expression, but its gestures were clear. Its horns shrank. It gave up. It shook its head, hugged the bud with the baby, and sank down on the floor in front of the hatch. Farther down the passage, at the end of the collector, the plasma glowed like a sequined cloud. A few more minutes, and it would dilate, rushing towards the hatch, feeding energy to the station, burning the little gray creature alive. It would leave nothing behind, not even bones. The remote sun was rising out of the shadows.

Suddenly she knew what to do. That secret code Stacie had told her about. It had been a year ago, but maybe it still worked. Hastily, she punched in the code. Did she remember it correctly? Would it open the old hatch? Breathless, she pulled the lever. It opened.

Inside, the plasma started to inflate towards them. The Vergacian, huddling on the floor, didn’t move.

“Darn it!” Katya grabbed a hot, thin arm and dragged the little guy through the hatch. Its limp and surprisingly heavy body bumped into the threshold and stuck. “Bad time to be unconscious!” she shouted. “Wake up, you idiot!” Angry at the unyielding mass of the Vergacian, she yanked harder. Her stomach ached from the effort. The air on the other side was too hot. The hair on her hands sizzled, and she felt the sting of the burns. The gray skin of the Vergacian was turning red. She kept on pulling. She had to close the hatch before the plasma reached it, or the burning gas would fill the entire bay. The park would burn. The station would burn.

The hatch clicked shut moments before the plasma touched it. The transparent wall had already darkened to protect the plants. Katya panted beside the gray creature. Both of them were covered in red blotches. Her hands and arms stung.

The Vergacian whimpered and opened its round eyes. It stretched its three-fingered hands, the fingers swollen with blisters, grabbed Katya’s hands, and put her palms on its bud. The bud pulsed, cracked, and split open. Katya flinched. A tiny pinkish thing climbed out, peeping like a toy. It fastened on Katya’s hand with its minuscule paws, opened its mouth, and tickled her palm with its tongue.

Marvelous! Now she was a godmother to a baby Vergacian, born on a human station, while her friends celebrated the Centennial and exchanged gifts. She should’ve gone to the Rings after all.

The baby squealed and crawled into her lap. It smelt of lemon. Her own Centennial gift, Katya thought absently, caressing the baby. Its skin felt faintly slimy, its little horn-antennas rotating like two crazy microscopic dreidels. Katya lay down beside its moaning sire and started laughing. Or maybe she was crying, she wasn’t sure. The ferns swayed above her head. The baby sprawled on her stomach and sucked her finger. END

Olga Godim is a writer from Vancouver. Her novel, “Eagle En Garde,” won an Epic's eBook Award for 2015. Her stories have run in “Aoife's Kiss,” “Bewildering Stories,” and elsewhere. Her previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-MAR-2013 issue.


hugo noms





jamie noble-comp


bendayIt’s a Puzzlement

Here are the solutions to last month’s brain teasers by Terry Stickels.

Hungry in Orbit: 14 days

Solve for N: 5

Doing Time: 11-11

Dinner is Served: D

Counting Cubes: 96

Hanging Around: 20, 60, 50

An Alien Puzzle: DECHABFGI

Commuter Calc: 190.91 kph

Shell Game: D

Ecology on Mars: 6 bees,
                    5 spitweeds

Battle Stations: 65/81