Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Breeding Season
by Sean Mulroy

Personal Artifacts Lost
by Marilyn K. Martin

Lover’s Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

When it Comes Around
by Auston Habershaw

by Nolan Edrik

Shuffleboard on the Hubble Deck
by Iain Ishbel

This Perilous Brink
by JT Gill

Only a Signal Shown
by L.E. Buis

Shorter Stories

Thunder Lizard
by William Suboski

Blue Harvest
by Andrew James Woodyard

Heat of the Night
by Gareth D. Jones


From Oshkosh to Tomorrow
by Joyce Frohn

A Primer on Quantum Field Theory
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Lover’s Moon

By Ronald D. Ferguson

MARY LYNN HERRERA WATCHED the carnage as an abstraction of lights on the situation screen. At first, she had difficulty connecting death with a status beacon light changing color, but then the implications gripped her.

In rapid succession, three changes from green to red represented three destroyed pushers. A moment later, the beacon on the LS Wyoh turned red. She knew her friend Bud Stephens captained the Wyoh. Now, he was gone.

So many friends lost. So many deaths. First, the Earthers destroyed the De La Paz with the peace delegation still onboard, and now these young patriots. Was Lunar independence worth all this? What choice did the Lunies have? What other path had Earth left them?

Peculiar. She hadn’t seen an orange beacon on the situation screen before. She touched the orange spot for information. A tag appeared: an escape pod launched.

Mary Lynn attached an auto tracker to the pod. She hadn’t expected anyone could survive a nuke. Maybe it was Bud ...

A second tag popped up. The pod wasn’t from the Wyoh. This pod came from the Mycroft; the Mycroft beacon faded, reddened, flickered to green and abruptly popped out. Scrambled nonsense data arrived. Again the beacon flared, and then the signal disappeared. Where was the pod? The Mycroft flickered orange. What happened to the Mycroft?

She called Combat Information Center to confirm that they tracked the events. “Denise? This is the communication annex.”

“What?” An impatient voice snapped back. “We’re swamped here.”

“I have a damaged pusher. I think—”

“Not an emergency. Take care of it. The damned Earthers broke our beacon encryption. Now they’re mopping up on us. You supervise the rescue.”

The connection to CIC went dead.

Supervise the rescue? With what? She had no authority. There were no available ships, no one to send. Unless combat ceased, anyone on the Mycroft was stranded on the battlefield.

How badly were things going? Mary Lynn checked the situation screen. The five remaining green beacons seemed isolated from any battle. She rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours, and her drooping eyelids slowed her judgment.

First things first. The last location on the Mycroft was near the Lagrange point sixty-five thousand kilometers Earthward. Mary Lynn pulsed the pusher an encrypted packet warning any survivors that they would have to await rescue.

As she expected, no response. However, the Mycroft beacon flickered. Could someone still be alive onboard?

She summoned details on the Mycroft. Mary Lynn grimaced when the diagrams appeared on her screen. The asteroid pusher consisted of an outdated ion drive paired with a rocket bolted to four girders that supported a thousand square meter bulldozer blade. Completing the absurd contraption, acceleration dampeners slung the two-man cabin amidst the girders.

The Mycroft beacon blinked orange, and a status packet indicated the throttle was full-open. Did someone still operate the disabled pusher? The orange beacon faded then flickered red and went out. Computer-to-computer communication was unreliable. Mary Lynn enabled voice communication. Perhaps she could aim a tight signal to the Mycroft.

She beamed a narrow channel toward the estimated position of the Mycroft. “Lunar Base Gamma to LS Mycroft. Do you read? LB Gamma to Mycroft.” She filtered everything except pusher beacons from the situation screen. The screen refreshed.

The Earthers must have hit two more pushers since she last checked because only three pusher beacons still registered green. However, no new escape pods. Three pushers remained to carry the Moon’s hopes. If those were lost, then the Lunies had no recourse except submission.

Identity tags labeled each remaining pusher. Nearing the one hundred thousand kilometer fail-safe, two pushers still accelerated asteroids Earthward. The third label indicated that the imminent threat of a nuke forced the third pusher to disengage. Abandoning its asteroid to the Earthers’ nukes, the pusher headed home.

The Mycroft beacon flickered red and then orange. No signal or information packet followed. Another orange blink, and the beacon settled back to red.

The monitor image blurred. Mary Lynn rubbed her eyes. Depression added to her exhaustion, but she had to know whether anyone survived aboard the Mycroft.

She directed another narrow-beam packet at the Mycroft’s estimated location, but if the estimate were wrong, her message would miss. Her remaining strategy was to broadcast multiple pings over a narrow spread encrypted for the Mycroft.

“LB Gamma to MS Mycroft. Lunar Base Gamma to MS Mycroft.”

After a few repetitions, she had difficulty speaking. She set the beam on scan with a periodic repeat of the query packet. Then she sagged into her chair and held her face in her hands.

She would rest her eyes for just a minute. Instead, she slept.


The monitor detected a response to the automated query and sounded a buzzer that woke Mary Lynn. The communication light blinked on. When the computer converted from data packet to voice, the incoming signal crackled with emotion.

“I see the Moon, the Moon sees me. I love the Moon, the Moon sees me.”

Mary Lynn hesitated, rubbed her eyes, and took control of the communication console. “Mycroft? Do you read? This is Lunar Base Gamma.”

“Sally?” the voice asked.

“Not Sally. This is LB Gamma. I say again, this is LB Gamma. Identify yourself.”

“I once knew a girl named Sally. I met her in a dark alley. I forgot her face when I went into space but longed for a last chance to dally. Harry died, you know.”

“Harry?” Mary Lynn retrieved the Mycroft crew data. The communications officer was Harry Meisner. The captain was Jack Findley. “I’m sorry about Ensign Meisner. Are you injured, Mr. Findley?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. My head hurts. Just a demo, not vengeance over the De La Paz. Not really. I had the target in my sights. Now this. Vengeance is not what I thought it would be.”

“What happened to Ensign Meisner?”

“Bad luck, good luck, I don’t know, just luck.” The man’s voice shifted flat, as if he were reading from a data table. “We located a package, smaller than most, but symmetrical. After a few trial pushes, I calculated the mass at a quarter million metric tons and approximated the center of mass. We started the big push towards Bouvet Island—that was our assigned target. The smaller mass allowed us better maneuverability than the other pushers. Things went smoothly until we were about sixty thousand kilometers inside Moon orbit and accelerating. Bud Stephens followed me at five hundred kilometers back because his navigation was out. A nuke destroyed his ship. No shields, so the electromagnetic pulse fried our controls. Main engine hesitated. Auxiliary rockets twisted us loose from the asteroid. We drifted a hundred meters from the surface, then the Mycroft locked full throttle and crashed us against the asteroid. Fortunately, the dampeners protected cabin integrity. Harry wasn’t strapped down; the impact cracked open his head.”

“How far are you beyond the fail-safe? The EMP damaged your beacons. You’re invisible to us, and I’m guessing to the Earthers as well.”

“You sound like a Sally. Harry never met Sally.”

“Listen to me.” Hoping to gain control, Mary Lynn firmed her voice, but the man must be delirious. “Name and rank, soldier.”

“Ma’am?” The voice sounded completely befuddled.

“What’s your name and rank?”

“Lieutenant Findley, but you can call me Jack.”

“I need your report, Mr. Findley.” Mary Lynn kept her command crisp. She had to keep him alert if he was going to survive.

“Please call me Jack.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

She softened her voice. “I need your status, Jack.”

Mycroft is running full blast. Controls don’t respond. I don’t know where this package will fall. Not Bouvet Island. That was my target, Bouvet Island. Should be no people there. We may hit short of Africa. Maybe not.”

“Distance to target?”

“Maybe halfway to Earth. Maybe more.”

Damn. Not only was he ahead of the remaining pushers, he was already beyond the fail-safe. “Can you disengage from the asteroid?”

“No,” Jack said. “We’re just lucky with the radio. Everything else is fried. Don’t know my position. The escape pod is gone. My only exit is deep space, and I’ve got no pressure suit.”

“Stand by. I’ll get help.”

While the computer estimated the Mycroft’s position, Mary Lynn sent a message to CIC. Apparently, the Mycroft wasn’t an emergency, or else they were too busy to respond.


“Jack, I’ve located you with a laser tracker. One hundred-sixty-five thousand kilometers from the moon and accelerating Earthward. The Earthers destroyed our last pushers. Now, they’re working nukes to break up the packages. We can see the flashes from here. You’re the only one left. Stay with the tight-beam so we don’t attract their attention.”

“I’d hate not to deliver this package after all this effort. I’m sightless and ... Oops, Mycroft just juiced out. Hardly noticeable, but Earth’s gravity will get this rock up to speed. We can still show the Earthers we’re not completely helpless. Do you know our new target?”

“No.” Mary Lynn did not know what to say. What if the rock hit a populated area? She thumbed through protocol screens looking for options. Unless someone plucked Jack off the rock, he would have to ride it to the target. Did he know that?

Jack broke the uncomfortable silence. “I need a favor.”

“Certainly.” Mary Lynn straightened in her chair.

“Send a message to my sister at Lunar Base Alpha. She’s a med-tech at the hospital. Tell her what happened and tell her I love her. Maybe write a letter for me. I trust you to say the right things, things she would want to hear. It’s been tough for her since her husband died on the De La Paz ... anyway ... Also, turn off the recorder. I don’t want—”

“We’ll get you out of this, Jack.”

“I’ve done the calculations. Crude, but the numbers don’t lie, just one cold equation after another. I’m past the fail-safe. The Moon can’t rescue me, and no Earther will help a Lunie who’s crashing an asteroid into Earth.”

“Someone will think of something. We may be prisoners of the Moon, but we all have friends and relatives living on the Earth. Nobody wants an asteroid to crash indiscriminately into ...” She let her voice trail off.

“I’m okay now,” Jack said. “But I don’t know how things might go, when I get closer to the end. I don’t want recordings, and I’m not talking with anyone except you. History doesn’t need to know how well I persevered.”

“Regulations ...” Mary Lynn said, but she really didn’t care about such rules.

“If you don’t stop recording, I’ll turn off my radio. I don’t want to be alone, but I will disconnect.”

“CIC must know that one of our asteroids will hit Earth.”

“I suppose, but don’t tell them I’m onboard and still talking. They would clog the bandwidth asking me to do stuff that I can’t.”

“Okay, I’ll send word to your sister when security lifts. When this is over, I’ll see her in person.” Mary Lynn executed a macro. “Oops. The recording system malfunctioned. It’s just you and me. No one will ever hear what we say. I promise.”


After a few hours of sleep, Mary Lynn needed a change of clothes but settled for brushing her teeth. Almost alert, she sipped her coffee and pinged Jack. He answered after the second ping.

“You haven’t spoken in hours,” Mary Lynn said. “I was worried.”

“I’ve been thinking that Harry was the lucky one. Then I started feeling sorry for myself. Stupid, with so little time left. Drank plenty of self-pity before I’d had enough. I should have asked before. What’s your name? I know it isn’t Sally, but I just babbled on. I blame it on a concussion.”

“My name is Mary Lynn Herrera.”

“Mary Lynn. Nice name. It fits your voice. Are you married?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Being with someone when you die is more intimate than I expected. I never married or had a steady girlfriend, always saved that for later. My sister has a daughter and yearns to be an aunt. She nags me about carrying on the Findley name. Twenty-seven years old, I figured I had all the time ... Well, now is as late as it—”

“I’m not married.”

“Boyfriend? Someone special?”

Jack was easy to talk to. How could he sound so casual in this circumstance?

“Not really. Just friends.”

“Are you pretty? No. Forget I asked.”

“I’ve been told I’m pretty.”

“Ah, then you’ve had boyfriends.”

Mary Lynn was glad that Jack could not see her blush.

His voice lightened. “Do you remember our picnic in the arboretum at Lunar Base Beta?”

“What?” Was he delusional again? “Are you all right, Jack? Check your oxygen.”

“Work with me, Mary Lynn. I’m building my last memories. I want them to be good. I’m sure you remember our picnic.”

Make believe, like a tea party for a little princess, like a summer love story. She’d done it often enough before for much less reason.

Mary Lynn took a deep breath. “I can do that.”

“Then you remember our picnic?”

“Of course. I made fried chicken. You fussed because I cooked thighs and you prefer white meat.”

“Nice touch with the white meat. I like it. The weather was perfect—it had to be, we were indoors. Overhead, the Earth formed a quarter crescent almost filling the skylight. Too bright to see the stars, but we knew the stars watched only us. Very romantic. That was the first time we kissed. Remember?”

A tear filled her eye. “How could I forget our first kiss?”



Mary Lynn sent a third ping. No response. He would talk for hours and then go deathly quiet for longer. The last time he signed off, he sounded so depressed ... She pinged again.

Damn it, Jack, answer, but if you do, what can I say?

The speakers crackled.

“How long now?” Jack asked.

“Atmosphere in two hours. Where were you?”

“Restless. Hard to sit still. I’ve been imagining what happens when I hit the atmosphere. Mary Lynn, I don’t want a protracted death in flames. If I open the hatch before we reach the atmosphere, the vacuum shouldn’t take long to ... Would I disappoint you, if I didn’t fight to the end?”

Mary Lynn fought the tightness in her throat. She waited until she was sure she could speak. “You can never disappoint me. I’ve a message.”

“From my sister?”

“Security. I haven’t told your sister yet.” Mary Lynn couldn’t wait. Time was short. “This message is from Central Command—”

“I don’t want to talk to them. I haven’t time to listen to bravery crap. I didn’t do this on purpose. Why did you tell them I’m alive?”

“I didn’t ... Although the message is praise and commendation, it isn’t for you. They all think you’re already dead. Briefly, your asteroid is the only surviving package. Because of your broken beacon, the Earthers couldn’t track you. The prospect of the imminent, uncontrolled delivery of your package got Earth’s attention, convincing them to meet our demand for home rule. This is independence day, Jack, and you did it. I wanted you to know.”

“We won? What a fluke, but satisfying. That’s a story you can tell our grandchildren.”

“Oh, Jack.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “I can’t stand anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Jack said. “I’m really sorry. Lots of guys never forget the first girl they loved. For me, you are the last girl I will ever love. Real or not, you’ll always be that girl for me. Thank you for helping me make those memories.”

Mary Lynn turned from the console so that he could not hear her cry.

After several minutes, much longer than any transmission delay, Jack spoke again. “Mary Lynn, I need another favor.”

Mary Lynn gathered her resolve. She sat up straight. “Yes, Jack. I’ll do whatever is in my power for you.”

“When you do fall in love, when you find the right guy for your future, do something for me. Some night while he holds you safe and warm, remember me, then give him a strong hug and love him extra hard.”

“I—” She couldn’t think of anything to say, and she didn’t trust her voice to try.

“You know,” Jack said. “The last of my anger has washed away. Starting peace with a kilometer-wide hole in Earth after this rock falls won’t be easy.”

God, he had guessed. She had hoped not to tell him, but somehow he knew. “Jack—”

“While there’s time,” Jack said, “the best course is to give the Earthers my location. Some well-placed nukes should crack this rock into something the atmosphere can digest. Won’t short me more than an hour.”

“Jack. That was part of the peace settlement. Central Command already gave them the asteroid location. The nukes are on their way.”

The time to reply stretched far beyond the transmission delay.

“How long do I have?"Jack asked.

“Maybe ten minutes. I am so sorry.”

“Can’t be helped. I can’t speak anymore. I’m going to close my eyes. Talk me down, Mary Lynn.”

Mary Lynn choked back the break in her voice. “Talk about what, Jack?”

“Tell me how our kids are doing in school.”

“Our kids? Okay. Well, let’s see. John Jr. doesn’t start kindergarten until next year, but Diane got her first grade report card. All A’s. So I bought her a new pink dress. She was so excited and wished you could see her in it. She really misses her Dad. Did I tell you your sister is coming for dinner on Thursday? No? You know how she spoils her niece and nephew ...”

She continued talking long after the communication signal light blinked out. the end

Ronald D. Ferguson is an active member of the SFWA. His short fiction has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” “The Universe Annex,”,” and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and a dog near the shadow of the Alamo.


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