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





By C.R. Hodges

TAMARA SAT ON A METAL FOLDING chair next to the furnace, her back straight, perspiring. At 11:58 a.m., Dr. Helmut Schmidt, creator of the most popular video game on the planet, limped down the basement stairs, his jet-black cane tapping each step twice. Tamara stood and smoothed her wool suit. “It is almost time, leibchen,” he said, ignoring her proffered hand.

It was past time. Her appointment had been for eleven. Trying not to let her irritation show, Tamara said, “I’m Assistant Building Inspector Wu. Where can I set up?”

The cavernous basement of Schmidt Tower was packed with people and instruments, including a telescope pointed out through a makeshift skylight. “Plenty of room upstairs,” said a woman with lime-green hair. Several snickers followed.

“I need to interview your staff about the incident. Glass does not break by itself,” Tamara said. Half the windows on the eighteenth floor had blown out for no apparent reason a week prior. After a video had gone viral showing the building rocking back and forth like a harbor buoy in a gale, she had temporarily condemned Schmidt Tower. All but the basement.

Dr. Schmidt said nothing, leaning on his cane, staring up at a huge flat-panel monitor suspended from the high ceiling.

“The condemnation hearing is tomorrow,” she said.

“Of course,” Dr. Schmidt said, still facing the monitor. Hundreds of employees, skinny geeks in skinnier jeans and gray-haired scientists in soiled lab coats, packed in around them. The air was dank, tinged with mildew and cheap cologne.

The room fell silent as a blue-bearded gnome wearing a pointy orange hat began prancing across the screen. “Eldo!” the crowd shouted in unison.

“My investigation is important,” Tamara said.

“So is this,” someone said, following with a cough. A single droplet of spittle inched down the back of Tamara’s neck. “Hope you can dance.”

It’s noooontime,” Eldo said in his high-pitched voice, echoing through the basement from surround sound speakers, “tiiime to wooobble.” Followed by those familiar bells, the most famous sound in the world since Wobble had become the cult game of the century.


Tamara wrapped her arms around her chest, pressed herself against a concrete pillar and tried to become invisible. “I don’t dance,” she said, but no one was listening. The mass of people moved like a chorus line in time with Eldo: three steps to the left, pause, six steps right, pause, three steps left. Spin around and shout Eldo. Repeat. Even underground, she could almost feel the room sway. Her stomach curdled, bile rising up her throat.

Dr. Schmidt ignored the Wobble for Mulla Meter, on which she knew millions of eyes were glued. Motion sensors above the monitor would have told Dr. Schmidt if he was out of step, would have cut his chances of winning. Her niece, who played Wobble daily half-a-world away, would have given anything to have his footwork score.

At twelve-fifteen the music stopped. Tamara put her hands on her knees. She sucked in a mouthful of musty air and exhaled slowly.

Eldo launched into his litany of the day’s winners. The reason for Wobble’s immense popularity was the money. Twenty-four million dollars a day were paid out, a million for each time zone on the planet. How Schmidt Studios made money on a free game that paid people to play was an enigma. Some crazy monetization scheme via social networking no doubt.

Dr. Schmidt collapsed into a leather-bound desk chair as old as he was. “How soon may we move back upstairs?” he asked.

“Not until the Department of Building Inspections deems it safe.” She sat down on the folding chair, clutching her briefcase.

“No one died.” He leaned forward, his breath like a jar of pickled herring. “Yet.”

Her spine straightened. “Are you ... threatening me, Dr. Schmidt?” Maybe it was time to call the District Attorney.

Dr. Schmidt’s head jerked backward so fast his chair rocked. “No, no, it is—”

She pressed ahead. “Seven pedestrians were injured by the falling glass. Had any of your employees fallen, you would be in jail right now.” You might still get there.

“No one fell.”

“My team needs to determine root cause.” Tamara didn’t actually have a team anymore—budget cuts—but she liked working alone better in any case. “In the meantime, your building remains closed.”

“We know what the root cause was.” He was writing on a Post-It while he talked, his fountain pen scribbling equations like it had a mind of its own. “Wobble.”

“The stupid dance game?”

“Yes, of course. How soon? The rooftop observatory is crucial to our research. A unique facility. Our scientists have not been allowed up there in days.” His equation ran off the Post-It and onto the desktop.

Tamara wasn’t listening; she was stuck on Wobble. “The game?” she repeated.

“Exactly, schnucki. We will not Wobble above the ground floor. The building will be safe, never you fear.” A CGI image of gigantic trucks wheeling back and forth, with a variant of Eldo behind the wheel of each, appeared on the monitor screen.

“You need to take this seriously.” Tamara stood. If schnucki meant what she thought it did, she’d recommend an investigation into his hiring practices, too. “People could have died.”

He stopped writing, his white brow furrowed, a few beads of sweat glistening on his temples. “Of course it is serious. If we cannot get more people to wobble, billions will perish.”

Yeah, right. More like you will lose billions of dollars. The lecherous geezer was as batty as the gnome. “Perish from what? Video game withdrawal?” She was surprised she had said that aloud, but her patience had expired.

Dr. Schmidt removed his thick glasses. His face belied his age—he looked to be at least ninety. “We are wobbling.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Resonant frequency. That is what caused the accident at Schmidt Tower.” He turned his back to her, manipulating a slide rule. “Read up on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. If you do not do your job, the same thing will happen to the planet.”

If he pulled out an abacus, she was so out of there. She had a civil engineering degree, however, and she had studied the Tacoma Narrows disaster. “How did Schmidt Tower hit its resonant frequency?”

“Wobble.” He mimicked the six steps with his hand like it was a puppet as he rolled his chair sideways to the adjacent workbench, one wheel off-kilter, rattling. He jiggled an ancient meter with a rusty analog gauge, then gave it a swat. Another tap, and another. The needle on the gauge bounced back and forth, erratic at first, but eventually moved in synch with his taps. “Do you understand now?”

"So your game almost brought down the building?”


The nausea from before crept back into her stomach. While the rest of her high school class had been at prom, she had been competing at the state math championship, but there was no way she could make the equations work in her head. “If Wobble can generate such catastrophic resonances, it needs to be banned.” She lowered herself back into the chair, using the opportunity to wipe her forehead with her coat sleeve.

“No, no, it needs to be played. Everywhere. Monster Truck Wobble will help too.”

She licked her lips, tasting salt. “Why?”

“Finally an intelligent question.” A toothless smile.

Tamara choked back a retort.

He pulled a dust-covered bottle from under a workbench, yanked the rotting cork out by hand and poured it into two stained coffee mugs. “Prost.”

She rotated the mug a quarter turn. “Drinking on the job is against city policy.” And the hooch smelled like it had been distilled in her grandmother’s bathtub.

“The Earth’s orbit is unstable. An asymmetric fluctuation in the inclination of the magnetic dipole. Almost imperceptible today, but increasing exponentially. In thirty-eight years, two months, and seventeen days, our orbit will begin to decay. Irreversibly. Eighty-nine years later we crash into the sun.” Dr. Schmidt looked at her for a moment, the leer gone, replaced by something between exhaustion and sadness. He tossed the murky liquid down. “And so we wobble.”

Tamara said nothing as she watched the monitor. A computer animation of the Earth spiraling into the sun played in a continuous loop.

“Fifteen minutes a day, each time zone in turn. If we can get eight hundred and seventy-six million wobblers, spread uniformly around the globe, wobbling in anti-phase to the magnetic-dipole oscillation, we will reverse the effect with ninety-eight-point-three percent certainty.”

“Why haven’t you made this public?” She reached for her cellphone.

His bony fingers grasped her wrist. “We cannot tell anyone. Mass panic would be asynchronous. All that kinetic energy wasted. It would only accelerate the orbital decay.” His knuckles were white now, his hand shaking. He shuffled to the farthest workbench, which sagged under the weight of a kiln covered with hazmat stickers. “Seven billion lives. Do you understand, Inspector Wu?”

She drained her mug in one long, slow draft. A cross between whiskey and motor oil, it burned like the fire of the sun as it went down. With a quick glance at the monitor, she hurried up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time.


Tamara stayed in the office all night, writing the partial differential equations out on a conference room whiteboard. She ran simulation after simulation until well past dawn, and then filed the paperwork to allow Schmidt Tower to reopen. At 11:57 a.m. she found the Wobble website on her laptop, took a deep breath and stood up in her cubicle. Facing south, she waited for the bells. END

C.R. Hodges recently won first prize in the Science Fiction category of the 2016 Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Award contest. His work has appeared in “Cicada,” “EscapePod,” “Electric Spec,” and other publications.


gawne 3/16


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