Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Go for the Dome
by Sean Monaghan

Quantum Rose
by Jude-Marie Green

Autumn’s Net
by Matt Thompson

Crawley, I Tell You!
by Tim McDaniel

In the Cave of the Silver Pool
by Peter J Larrivee

How Uncle Larry Became a Shape-Shifting Blob
by Marc Rokoff

by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow
by Brandon Ketchum

Shorter Stories

Robot Story
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Jeffrey Abrams

Dumb Luck
by Michael N. Farney


Xenophobia Destroys Science Fiction
by Carol Kean

Computed Cryptograms
by Sam Bellotto Jr.



Comic Strips





By KJ Hannah Greenberg

AS I WALK OUT THE DOOR, I note that both the sky and the Earth are wrapped in gray. The horizon has disappeared. Shrugging, I move forward. Tenacity’s my friend.

I muse over why my great-grandfather had rolled down our community’s tallest hill every spring. He made his descent fully naked because he fancied feeling all of the relevant sensations that awaited him at that hill’s base.

More specifically, the nettle patch at the bottom of the mound provided his aging nervous system with acute awareness, as well as delivering respite from the chronic arthritis that plagued his joints. In an entertaining way, he invited those plants’ barbs to inject him with healing chemicals.

I keep walking. After a span, the mist dissolves and is replaced by “edifices” of purple-pink haze. Those structures stand where the McMansions of my hometown ought to appear. I approach one of those constructions. When I reach to touch it, it recedes.

Black silhouettes suddenly appear on either side of me. Above me, two golden bodies blink.

Great-grandpa’s regime was no less arduous than that of Roman legionnaires, of men who used handfuls of trichome-covered stems to stimulate their circulation, especially when they were conquering frigid lands. Pricking themselves made those soldiers’ limbs feel temporarily warmer.

I walk farther. Keeping pace are both of my shadows. I swallow hard; usually, I cast just one. I stop and listen. I hear nothing.

I miss the whining children, the erratically operating garage doors, and the dogs that confuse sidewalks with designated pet runs, all of which are integral to my experience of suburbia. I would welcome the chance to hear just one garbage truck nick a parked car, or the opportunity to hear our neighborhood harridan screech “dinnertime!”

Contemporary herbalists, who suffer from impotency, strike their members with cruel, leafy wands. Those green healers claim that relative to their barbed forbs, the ever popular little blue pill has too many side effects. Plus, the pharmaceutic is less effective than the stingers. Nettle always confers enlargement and rigidity.

Sometime during my stroll, I black out. When I revive, I notice that the two formerly mauve-hued structures have phased to a dark purple and that the overhead, twin celestial bodies have dimmed.

What’s more, my opaque, inky shadows have become unmoored and seem to be floating, in micromovements, toward me. Behind them, some sort of flickering yellow and orange substances, too, are moving in my direction.

My head hurts. I think the ache is related to my pupils’ dilation. Objects go from out of focus to clear and back again.

Social urtication tends to be more painful than its physical kin. Verbal attacks retain bite even if their victims realize that such violence is “merely” an ill-adapted behavior springing from the stunted facilities of emotionally underdeveloped individuals.

Both misogyny and racism, for instance, grow from their perpetrators’ insecurities. Yet, even though society protests that persons wounded by hate must tolerate their aggressors, society doesn’t increase the clout of women or of people of color. Rather, collective happenstance dictates that if the wounded survive, fine, and if they perish, that’s also okay.

I hold my head and moan a little. Thereafter, I inhale and straighten. I imagine that I am facing Montgomery, my captain.

That man maintains authority over our ship by substituting bravado for authentic problem-solving. At the moment, though, I’d prefer his foolish countenance to this weird landscape.

If he were chastising me, I would be on our spaceship, not here. I don’t know where “here” is.

I knew where the ship was. I knew we had been at amber alert. An impasse had developed between some trespassers and us. Suri had found them in the quadrant facing our starboard side. It was a good thing she was on deck.

Yet, I recall no toxic fumes. I hark back to no shell-piercing artillery. In fact, my last memory of the command area was of myself fixating, not on my scope, but on how badly I needed a furlough.

I am due for shore leave in two, home-planet-gauged, lunar revolutions. Both my blood pressure and my heart rate had attested to the urgency of that vacation. Drugs were no longer maintaining my stasis.

Demographic-based prejudices are like the urticating hairs of tarantulas. Such organic nastiness will not kill a person, but will cause extreme suffering.

I pinch myself. It seems that my body tagged along to wherever my essence transported. It is unlikely that I was killed or uploaded to a new amalgamation. I can feel my throat swell. I can feel my core temperature rise. It is abnormally high. I must be incorporated.

I push my fingers into my jaw and then into my temple at pressure points known to relieve stress. My headache does not dissipate.

I inhale, again. I straighten, again. I walk, again, but more slowly.

I think about my childhood teachers, particularly the ones who drove fancy cars and who wore expensive clothing. As a girl, I had no idea how they managed such choices on civil servant salaries.

Nonetheless, as an adult, I became familiar with financially motivated, nonviolent crimes. The doctors in my ship’s dispensary are especially guilty of such ills.

A bitter scent wafts toward my face. It’s coming from the pocket on the outside of my uniform. I pause and sniff. It smells like fried wires or something similar.

I look and see smoke. Inexplicably, my communication device has heated up.

Instinctively, I toss away that undersized machine. When it hits the air, it explodes. Fireworks, not unlike this environment’s purple/pink/gray wisps, color the sky.

My headache notwithstanding, I run. Pyrotechnics continue, behind me. One small, malfunctioning device ought not to have generated so much power.

Then, without warning, the ground devours me. Instead of bedrock, I find myself in quaking sand. Particle by particle, I am being sucked down.

I vow to give up absinthe. I pledge to stop popping sympathomimetic drugs, especially while drinking. I pray that I am experiencing a nightmare and that I will soon wake. Despite those possibilities, I keep sinking.

Around the time that I entered university, my older sister got married. Shortly thereafter, she became a parent. She reported being happy dusting ceiling corners and cooking pot roast.

I can’t understand why she let domesticity define her. As a young woman, she earned degrees in nuclear engineering and in xenobiology from top schools, succeeded in publishing dozens of articles on her research, and received many offers for well-funded academic positions.

Ever more of my torso submerges. I shift my thoughts from my sister to some mountains I enjoy trekking. The granules spit me out.

My body sails toward the purplish fragments. As I fly, I look up toward the darkening suns and then across toward the obsidian shapes that continue to approach.

I wish for my mother, and for my childhood teddy. I wish, as well, for two fingers of good Scotch. Abruptly, I drop to the ground. My head and my throat still hurt. I’m still feverish. My respiration rate, too, is abnormal.

I begin to walk, again. I try to move in a single direction. I lack maps, compasses, cross-staffs, astrolabes, spars, and electronic navigation devices. Once more, I entreat The Universe to resolve this experience as no more than a vivid nightmare.

Sharp-pointed, hollow hairs of select plants and animals secret an acrid fluid. When those razor-like portions puncture another being, they usually detach and become lodged in the lesions that they created. It’s the act of breaking off that pushes their caustic liquid into their preys’ injuries.

That my decades have been full of adventure is certain. My job on the rocket requires coordination, dexterity, and strength. Command positions, like mine, require cognitive endurance, too.

Persons with suspected neuroses get weeded from the applicant pool early. Whereas I was an unhappy young woman, I was not clinically depressed, so I was not culled.

Nevertheless, unlike my sister, I never morphed into a woman worried about the correct direction in which to file nails or about the fashion statement, or lack thereof, made by housedresses. My concerns focused on who I’d work with in biochemistry labs and whether or not my partners might begrudge my gender.

I black out a second time. When I come to, I’m surrounded by darkness. I’m still feverish, still have a swollen throat and still endure a horrible headache.

In the near distance, the only entity visible is one of those murky, purple, fog-filled formations. It lifts up and away from me as I stand as though it is trying to avoid me.

Sighing, I close my eyes. I have no instruments. I have no protection from the environment. Perhaps I should stop walking. Maybe, somehow, I’ll find myself back at my command station.

I sit down. I close my eyes. I am sweating profusely.

I think again about my childhood. When I was small, Mrs. Tollyworth was considered our neighborhood gorgon. Although she screamed at her family, daily, from her front porch, to come in for dinner, she had a more reserved side, too. Unfortunately, most of our block’s residents did not experienced that part of her.

My family, conversely, had reason to embrace her; Mrs. Tollyworth’s ministrations had saved my sister from death.

Sis had eaten bad food and had gone into shock. Mrs. Tollyworth’s house was closer than the closest ER which was located a full county away. Moreover, providentially, Mrs. Tollyworth had known to give Sis lobelia seed pod tincture, warm water mixed with a touch of lemon juice, and a slurry of activated charcoal.

Although Sis made a mess of Mrs. Tollyworth’s kitchen, she survived. It’s a pity she left her opportunities behind to play housewife.

Loud Mrs. Tollyworth became a hero to me. Although Mother, who appreciated Mrs. Tollyworth’s lifesaving skills, thought it unnatural, even eerie, that a mature lady dallied with plants, I pedestaled the woman.

When encountering her on the sidewalk, Mother volleyed polite “hellos” to our neighbor, but Mother did not extend herself more. In contrast, I ran to hug Mrs. Tollyworth whenever I saw her and followed her around like a puppy.

Grandpa, who maintained his annual briar patch roll until he died, supported that shadowing. Whenever he’d visit, he’d admonish me to spend as much time as I could with Mrs. Tollyworth.

So, I offered to walk her dog, shovel her drive, or do whatever I could to be near her. Eventually, she invited me to regular, afterschool “dates.”

During those “dates” I’d sit silently in a corner of her treatment room where I’d watch Mrs. Tollyworth heal physical and emotional sicknesses. She was no fiend.

On my own, I figured that Mrs. Tollyworth allowed others to consider her a monster in order to maintain some privacy. I understood, additionally, why she used common, roadside weeds instead of exotic imports for her work. That wise woman intended to stay clear of our government’s ever-shifting medical regulations.

Compassionate Mrs. Tollyworth stewed Urtica for exhausted, pregnant women, and struck herself with that green friend whenever her chronic sciatica flared. I couldn’t grasp why Mrs. Tollyworth used pain to diminish pain, or why she preferred nettle to dandelion, chickweed, plantain, and other useful herbs. Even today, I can’t solve that conundrum.

I was away at college when she and her family moved to another town. If Grandpa knew why Mrs. Tollyworth had relied on urtication, he never told. I was stuck at the space academy when he was dying and never got to ask him.

Later, when I became an assistant starship commander, responsible for monitoring an entire crew and for supervising all alterations to a ship’s systems, I wished I had sought that answer. Under the duress I’ve experienced during our many operations, some of which my crew and ship ought not to have survived, I’ve become progressively reliant on catecholamines, especially tyrosine, to get me from one day to another. Maybe prudent, self-administered pain would be better.

I think I hear something, but am uncertain. I open my eyes and squint. The fog-filled formations have shifted in shape. They’ve coalesced into a kind of screen that inexplicably seems electronic.

On that abruptly illuminated surface, I watch a bridge being fabricated, a skyscraper being built, and a 1950s satellite being launched into space. Those images segue into a depiction of Suri peering through my ship’s primary scope.

I devoted all of the days and nights of my first vacation, while a spacer, to a course on ethnic modalities of healing. I hadn’t realized how vital alternative medicines could be to me, but I had remained intrigued by what I remembered of Mrs. Tollyworth’s practice of inducing wheals all over her body.

During that schooling, I learned several things. I learned that ashwagandha root could be tinctured and used to increase dopamine. I also learned that centuries ago, medicos tried to cure paralysis by hitting their clients’ afflicted body parts with stinging plants or with stinging animals.

As much as I dislike the nip of nettle, I would have been more shaken up by the sensation of a processionary moth being swung at my limbs or of an asp caterpillar being shoved against my cheeks. Envenoming critters can kill as easily as they can heal. Death by intracerebral hemorrhage was and is still awful.

In balance, it can be correspondingly damaging to find one’s self in an unidentifiable setting. Perhaps my going astray is a devastation meant to be therapeutic. It’s certainly unsettling.

As for my teachers’ much-acclaimed ashwagandha tincture, I failed to fathom that extra tyrosine might dangerously increase thyroxine levels, and, correspondingly, might lead to dependence, overdose, or death. When I learned of that herb, I was young and thus saw myself as indestructible. I wish I had better remembered Mrs. Tollyworth and Grandpa’s lessons.

The “screen” dissolves into nothingness. So, too, do the smoky essences. It’s become immaterial whether or not I close my eyes—all I sense is darkness. As well, my breath seems haltered.

I am no brane, that is, I’m incapable of moving through spacetime. The laws of quantum mechanics apply to me as equally as they do to the majority of the universe’s occupants. In spite of that, I’m becoming increasingly doubtful that I’m stuck in a bad dream.

My head throbs worse. I’m becoming more afraid.

My family didn’t think I could become a space traveler. They knew that I succeeded best at my electives; Media and Society, Social Values and Popular Culture, and Understanding Humanity. Although I passed all of my science and engineering courses, I did so without the ease my sister enjoyed when she was enrolled.

During the twenty or so years between my graduation from spacers’ school and my deployment on this current mission, Montgomery and I received a congratulatory communication from a high official. The bureaucrat linked to us to commend our escaping from a disastrous run-in with two-headed wildebeests. He was impressed that the hull of our ship stayed intact and that most of our crew still breathing.

After Montgomery signed off, the executive asked me to stay on the line. Privately, he told me that my acceptance into the space program, years earlier, had been based on the combination of my curt handling of my entrance interview and on the school’s desperation for “colorful,” female candidates. He added that because government mandates remain peculiar beasts, my place within the fleet was no longer guaranteed, my performance record notwithstanding. He said nothing of why he was telling an assistant commander of a damaged ship those data.

Truth being, I had been ignorant of why I was granted my status. I had only aspired to be an alien wildlife collector. When I discovered that the pilot program, unlike the xenozoology program, offered a stipend and free tuition, I changed my course of studies. I didn’t want to endure a decade of training without pocket money and without the certainty of repaying my education-wrought debt.

All things being unequal in simple minds, my mother celebrated my change in focus. She had worried that I might “catch” alien morphology, hence rending me and my lone sibling ineligible for marriage.

She ought not to have worried. While Sis was a simpering idiot, Sis was also an ace with numbers. Companies and partners would always court her.

More exactly, it was me, the daughter that glommed to unsophisticated things, like green remedies for ailments, and altruisms about interstellar travel, about whom Mom ought to have worried. It was me who had signed away her life to join a rocket crew that might never return home. It was me who had gotten addicted to ashwagandha. Finally, it was me who had unexpectantly found herself bounced from tenure.

I can no longer shut my lids. By the same token, I can no longer stand.

I search my pockets for green bits, but find none.

I am thirsty. I am hungry. I am tired. My head and throat hurt. Sweat pours from me. My eyes are beginning to feel irritated.

Flight school trained me how to function when transported to unknown climes, but not how to function when lost for unknown reasons. I never learned permanent ways to keep my mind and body anchored in objective reality. I doubt much of my life ever existed independent of my imagination.

I think I had a grandfather who was both stern and loving. I think I had a neighbor who acted similarly.

I’m pretty sure I went to pilot training. I’m pretty sure I served as part of the command unit of a starship.

I think I had a drug addiction.

The darkness has become palpable. It’s weird when color takes on texture.

I search my pockets, again. I know I lack navigation devices and have nothing with which to communicate to my crew. I am out of ashwagandha, too. I do, however, find my small utility knife.

There’s no need for arms on the command floor; guards, fitted with the best technology, watch over the pilots’ doings. Those underlings protect their leaders from almost all intrusions.

My heartbeat feels wrong. My respiration becomes unreliable. I intuitively respond to my condition by slicing at my forearm. The blackness abates a little.

I next slice the calf of one of my legs. The two suns, now sheathed in milky luminescence, return. I keep cutting.

By the time I reach to extract my heart from behind my ribs, color and sound have come back to this world. I am, though, slipping from it. I seem to have chosen the wrong form of urtication. END

KJ Hannah Greenberg lives and writes in Jerusalem. She earned her terminal degree from U. Mass, and was a National Endowments for the Humanities Summer Scholar at Princeton. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize.


callahan 9/16