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





When it Comes Around

By Auston Habershaw

YOU AIN’T BEEN THERE ’TIL you’ve clocked a knife-fight in zero-g.

Sphere-jockeys will cast you that boarding action is a lot of bullets and grenades, like in the vids, but that’s not to spec. Scans well in the vids—all them explosions and pops and bangs and circuits frying—but they’re not reading the regs on that action top-down. Sure, you can pump slugs up and down the insides of a can and make slop outta the poor chumps that tagged their sign to belay that action, but you gotta recall this: you make slop outta the can, too.

Priority A-number-one in the Big Empty is to dock your aft in a working can—air, water, food, heat, fuel, propulsion—the whole shebang. You fuck that up on your board and you haven’t got a working can; you’ve got tow payload. Tow payload eats fuel to hup it to salvage, and fuel is more precious than air. Yeah, you can work that tow action—done it plenty—but you’d rather not, affirm? So, if you’re not hupping waveguns or sonics (and that last one only works if they haven’t vacced your asses) and you’ve set a course for some Big Empty piracy, you scan the specs on how you stick a chump with a blade while floating.

Ran this action a long time back, in another life: big can, some kinda cargo transport. Skipper was a shit-top dickhead, gave us the bitch-chat something mean on the comms. The course laid out by our skipper said no fucking up the ship, so’s we EMP-ed her and then boarded. This is no smooth action, affirm? If our stick-jockey wasn’t shit-top fine, we’d’ve choked out something fierce, but as it was we were running green and feeling mean when we cut the bulkheads. Crew’d gone hull-down, ship had no accel, only back-up lights were coming online. There I am, flying solo, as I drift up the spinal corridor, pinging the length of the ship.

Don’t know how the chump got behind me—my sensor rig’s a piece of scow-trash, most like. Big guy, probably security, comes coasting outta some vent and spears me. My head smacks the bulkhead, rattles my HUD and makes me bite my lip. This has me runnin’ red since I’m gonna have blood gooping up my visor in a few minutes, affirm? I give the chump a good push and pull my knife—a carbon fiber deal fifteen cm long, more pointy than cutty.

The chump is shit-top pissed as he sails away from me. Dumbass sphere-jockey chumps are used to weight; fig if they’re one hundred kilo for some damned reason they’re supposed to be harder to manhandle in micro. This fig is a sorta-kinda; knocked the wind outta me, sure, but I ain’t no micro-mass and can push as well as can be pushed, affirm?

If there’s one thing you don’t want in a zero-g fight, it’s to be flying around. Keep a hand planted on the bulkhead, affirm? Keep your velo under control, don’t spin, keep your peepers targeted. This chump hits the opposite wall about as hard as I hit mine and then bounces, like a real dumbass. He’s got a knife out, yeah—a mean-looking utility number, used for sawing and slicing and a little stabby, too. Looks meaner than it is, affirm? Blade ain’t triangular, which means he’s just as like to get his sticker wedged in my suit as not. While he’s sweating that action, I can poke him in five places with mine.

Anywho, chump is in a clockwise spin with a twenty-degree wobble to boot. He’s trying to get himself running green, but I can see from how he’s jerking that he’s about fried his chips. I fig I’ll get one pass at him; I don’t lay in a course that has me grappling for much—his arms are longer than mine and he’s probably studied some way to break my bones that might transfer to zero-g action, affirm? I track his course and launch so’s I land on the spot where he’s about to crash but doesn’t know it. A nice easy glide, my blade ready—smooth action. Spots of blood are filling my visor from my busted lip, but I’ve been sucking down as much of the red stuff as I can to keep my view clear. I hit my X and am ready.

Chump sees me, takes a swing at me with the knife. I can’t really duck, so I gotta block it, and this fucks up my course. We go spinning, me and him, floating out into the center of the corridor, a tangle of knees and elbows and foul language. I orbit him, he orbits me, a pair’a ugly-ass moons doing the cosmic do-si-do. Between the two of us, I’m the only one knows my course, affirm? He flails and I let him, but I clip my harness tether to his web gear. Yeah, yeah, I know you scan me for crazy, but now I’ve got him tethered and he can’t get away. More he spins, the more tangled he gets as I let out the line. I pick my moment and I stab—abdomen. Mostly heating elements there, plates a bit less dense to give you mobility, not too thick. My knife slides through like a needle. Give it a twist and pull out. The blood comes blooping out in big red bubbles.

Guy pushes me, I fly back and let the tether out again. When I hit bulkhead, I catch myself and watch him twist like a big catch on them fishing vids. He’s losing a lot of blood; area around him starts to look like a rosy raincloud. He doesn’t read that it’s over, affirm? When he’s blown his tanks a bit and stops flailing, I reel him in. After that, putting him out is smooth action. Like poppin’ a balloon.


That was about it on the board, affirm? Rest of them corporate chumps cut their bitch-chat soon as their security was algae-food. We scoped them out with a two-hour tip-to-tail scan; easy action, but shit-top boring. You probably wonder whether we vacced them or not. If this was the vids, maybe we would—slot the chumps in a lock, blow the seals, and let the Big Empty suck our troubles away. That’s not the course you set for real, though, which is what most chumps don’t scan top-down.

We didn’t kill ’em. We froze ’em. Sphere-jockeys forget just how much is for sale out here in the Big Empty—ten jump-chumps running green on all their lights is some shit-top cargo, affirm? Any that’s got themselves fancy sci-tech degrees would sell for a duffel fulla cred for each of us. Women sell for extra, too.

Yeah, that’s some pretty evil shit; I’m not here to argue the regs, affirm? Was a mean tour. If you’d cast me at the time, I’d probably say I wouldn’t trade it. From my fig then, coasting free and loose in the Big Empty beat the shit outta sweating it out on some sphere, hupping scow-trash duty for some chump so’s you can breathe your air for free. Me, I wanted to pay for what I wanted, when I wanted to. Sometimes that meant being a shit-top mean bastard. Sometimes that meant sticking some chump with a knife. That was what freedom was. Maybe that’s what it is.

Anywho, after that board we were bound for Arcturus, which was the shit-top X for pawning sketchy cargo at the time. We popped our donut, spun-up the Cubbie-dive, and slid out of there. Now, I don’t remember our precise X at the time, but I do remember we was about eight or nine light years outta Arcturus and our refitted scout-ship could only make about 2.3c with the distort maxed all the way. Skipper dialed her back to about 1.7c to prevent us from blowing the donut over the red-line, which meant about five years travel time, affirm? Now, Cubbie-drive don’t dilate time, so unless you’re slotting yourself to starve, a long jump like that means going into stasis.

Don’t ask me how stasis works, affirm? I don’t know the specs, just the kinda-sorta. Basically, they embalm your ass in a little tube, kinda like you was going to be floating in some sci-tech lab waitin’ for your turn under the mircoscope. Your brain? Uploaded into the ship’s data core and put on ice. Spacers like me cast it as “freezing,” but there ain’t any actual frozen water, affirm? Just your empty body drowned in nano-tech nutrient goo and your brain caught in some feedback loop forever and ever—dead, basically. Yeah, it does suck. It sucks a lot. Here’s the specs on that report though, chief: turns out you can get used to a lot of suck.

For us pirates, we would throw us a stasis party. Last time to get drunk, affirm? Last time to screw. Last time to hear your buddies bitch-chat and laugh and fuck around. This particular party was the shit-top best of my life. The skipper, Marudo, broke out this case of vodka from that cargo ship we just rolled and starts passing out genuine cigars. The ship’s pAI patches us into a simul-holo of the cargo ship’s salvage crew, so those guys are basically there, too. There’s all twenty of us, smiles plastered on our faces as we suck down that shit-top sphere-side booze and play poker and listen to Marudo’s old recordings of some twenty-second century Manila rap group called “Transubstantiation.” They rocked the ward room, affirm? Whole place was pumping with it.

There I am, running hull-down on a flush, leaning back in a padded chair against the one-g accel of our ion drive, a cigar stuck in my teeth. I’m playing with Marudo, Wu the engineer, and Marta, our pilot, but she’s more interested in Wu than poker and just keeps folding. We’re betting for shares of the salvage, affirm? When the salvage crew carves up that cargo ship at the dock and pawns it from bulkheads to rivets, the whole thing’s value gets shaken down into shares. Skipper rates the biggest share, then the officers, then move on down until you get to that chump Gonzaga who ain’t spec’d to do anything but piss, chow, and swear in Portuguese. Me, I’m rating a six share outta one hundred. Run the numbers and that’s somewhere around sixty-thousand credits in my duffel, affirm? You can live off that shit for years, chief. I weren’t planning to take it that far, though—I got a course laid in to piss that cred away on booze, hookers, and meat from actual animals. Easy come and easy go.

Marudo sucks his teeth, which don’t rate shit as a tell, but he uses it to sucker the chumps. “Eh ... I raise point-oh-five share.” He slides the chips out like he’s selling his kid or some shit.

Bet goes to Wu, our engineer. He’s got Marta’s hands in his lap, though, and she looks pretty busy down there. He’s got his eyes closed as she nibbles his ear. “Fuck.” He grunts. “Fold.”

Marudo laughs. He winks at me. “Think maybe we should tip her?”

I blow smoke and shrug. “He had shit anyway.” I throw my chip in. “Call, Skip.”

He laughs and throws down his cards. Two-pair, aces and fives. I lay out my flush. His smile slips away and he curses in Tagalog. “What are you going to do with all that credit anyway, Scull? Score some real-estate? Buy an ID?”

I smile as I rake in the chips. “Maybe I’ll see if I can buy Marta off Wu.”

Marta flips me off and then drags Wu to a bunk—about as private as it gets in the Big Empty, affirm? You get used to that shit or your balls shrivel up. Anyway, they start having a good time—Marta’s a screamer, so it makes for a show. Me and the Skipper watch, passing back and forth a bottle of that vodka. He was outta the Philippines, but I don’t know how old. Hard to get a fix on age when you’re slotting ten years in stasis on the regular, affirm? Anyway, I fig I knew the guy as well as I’d known anybody, and right then I knew he was running green as he ever had been. We’d slotted the optimal, affirm? Hell, with this much credit in our duffels, we could even do a few legit cargo runs into Hubspace and back without SPIT-NET vaccing our asses. I blew out the cigar smoke and watched the air-cyclers suck it up the vents.

“Scully?” Marudo says, tapping a half-empty bottle on his head. “You know what?”

“What?” I ask, not looking at him.

He doesn’t say anything. We let “Transubstantiation’s” mean dub throb through our bodies for a minute, listening to Marta and Wu squeal, watching the rest of the crew mess themselves up. In the middle of that noise, it felt still, affirm? Me and him, fixed in space, side-by-side. Us against the fucking universe. “Yeah.” He said, slurring. “Fucking A.”

I nodded. I read what he was laying down. Had to be there.


When you’re down in the stasis tube, you don’t dream, affirm? You’re in a loop, chief, slotted to run whatever protocol was your last-and-only for however long you’re in. That’s why we run a party—you remember you and your crew, still drunk, shooting zingers and laughing, or maybe that girl or guy you did the bop with. You remember it for five years running, like you just ran that action. Makes being half-dead a lot better.

When I’m in stasis, I can’t give you the best sit-rep of what I’m thinking. You get confused. You ain’t plotting the course, you’re being piloted. The pAI is trying to keep you fresh, so’s when it’s time to thaw, you’re ready to go. Time was there’d be a year of rehabbing your thinker—teaching you to walk and talk again and shit. I guess, though, you’d get to dream your own dreams, affirm? You get five years of untangling your own wires, so maybe that’s worth something. Probably not, though.

On that stint in the tube, all I remember thinking was how we—Marudo and I—were running our own course for once. The Big Empty is full of long hauls and unalterable courses, chief: velocity, momentum, orbits, gravity. All that shit runs your life; sooner or later, you’re gonna choke out on some dead can or make a crater on some dark planetoid you didn’t scan in time. Nothing to be done, affirm? Gravity has your ass, and it never lets you stop. Sphere-jockeys are screwed even worse and they don’t even scan it—one hunk of rock, down the bottom of a well, spinning into the Big Empty, waiting for that shit-top big meteor to make splashdown.

At least, when you slot a course with pirates, you get to see the meteor comin’. That’s the protocol, anyway.

Thing is, doesn’t always turn out that way.


I wake up face down on the floor of the stasis room, pulling at least 4.5g. The butler-bot that’s supposed to be helping me run the checklist on my re-booted brain isn’t there. It isn’t fucking anywhere, affirm? I feel like I weigh over 250 kilos and my body’s twitching as my brain is running diags down all my major nerves. I’m puking up the stasis gunk from my gummed-up lungs—thick, like cold oatmeal—while the world is spinning.

As my ears come online, I hear the maneuver alarm sounding and a proximity claxon screaming over the intercom. Those two together add up to one course, affirm? Something is about to fuck us up.

Maneuver cuts out and, all at once, I’m floating. My puke flies off the floor and drifts around the room in little yellowy globs. Gets all over me. At this point I couldn’t give a shit. I try to remember where my hands are.

Other chumps are popping from stasis, too. The pAI has run the protocols and come back with one fig: need more crew. She’s thawing them out at double time; no nice, smooth defrost with butler-bots and towels and shit. Negatory on that, chief—time to wake the fuck up and run your emergency protocols, priority alpha-fucking-one, affirm?

Standard protocol is to thaw the captain and crucial personnel first. That this is happening means Marudo, Marta, and probably Wu are already dead or too fucked up to run a station. That 4.5g burn was probably their last F-U to whatever is inbound. A feeling—maybe grief—starts to fill my belly, but I ain’t got the time to run blue. I target my peepers on my own course.

At this point my hand works. I slap a command station. “Report.” I gargle some more stasis goop. It’s leaking out my nose in two little streams that drift up past my eyeballs.

The ship’s brain—a pAI (“p” for “partial,” affirm?)—casts me the sit-rep. We were outta warp, donut still popped, running at 286 klicks per second velo (approx) relative to Arcturus, which puts us on an intercept course for Arcturus II that’ll score a rendezvous in about sixty shifts. That part is all running top-down. The ship didn’t thaw me for this shit.

The other part of the sit-rep goes like this: we’re reading fifty-seven class 2 hull breaches (that means they’re between one cm and ninety-nine cm wide, affirm?) dispersed in a regular pattern across all forward decks. If this were a dust cloud or a debris field or something like that, the dispersion wouldn’t be regular—dust clumps up, debris is irregular in size. That all them holes is the same size and spread out the same way means one thing: an attack. Someone lit off a spiker in front of us and we flew right through and let it eat us up.

Just then, I hear a bunch of pops. The lights flicker. “Shit.” I kick off to the forward lock and try to cycle it to get to the bridge, but either the chips are fried or we’re vacced on the other side and it won’t budge. “Shit!”

Some chump grabs my ankle. It’s fucking Gonzaga. “Scully! What’s going on?”

I could probably cast him the sit-rep if I had an hour and a datapad for him to take notes on, but I don’t, so fuck his dumb ass. If he can’t scan how fucked we are, then I fig he probably weren’t going to live too long, anyway. “Suit up!” I cast him and kick him away.

Some more pops. Those’re submunitions, affirm? A shit-top spiker will blow in two waves, basically. Wave one is just flak—dense little spheres of depleted uranium or something—to put a bunch of holes in your forward armor. Second wave comes microseconds after the first. These are little spheres, too, a little smaller than the flak, but these little fuckers are timed to explode. The idea is that the flak softens up your armor and a couple of these little grenades slip in through the hull breaches and explode. Maybe ninety-nine percent of them don’t make it—they just blow up on the outer hull and cause more external damage—but that one percent that get inside? Those ruin your life, chief. Some are incendiaries, some are corrosives, some just spit out even more flak. All of them do a lot more damage blowing up inside than they ever would outside, and these ones are inside, otherwise I wouldn’t hear much of anything at all. Right now I’ve docked my aft in a can that’s being eaten from the inside out.

My own advice to Gonzaga reads as quality, so I push off to the emergency suits clamped to the walls in here and start suiting up. I shout questions to the pAI as I do it. “We got incoming?”

“Passives read no pings on the set course, sir,” she replies. Sometimes I wish I could be a computer—they never fry their chips, even when they should. They always sound like they’re in the green.

“Active scan forward, one-eighty arc, affirm?”


By this point, everybody in this stasis pod has been thawed out. There’s so much puke in the air, you can’t breathe without sucking down some chump’s juice. These are the grunts—Marudo used ’em for raw labor, muscle, an extra set of hands. A lot of them come up the well from Hubspace and barely scan their aft from a socket wrench. I tell them to suit up, too, but less than half can run that action top-down, affirm?

I get my helmet clamped on by the time the ship gets back to me. “Three objects on intercept course. Composition: synthetic alloys.”

“Shit shit shit.” I check my seals. All around me, chumps are flailing with suits, losing gauntlets, jamming zippers. Gonzaga floats by, wrestling with Marco for a loose helmet, their eyes bugging out. My HUD is up now. The ship feeds me the nav info. I’m not a pilot, but I can scan the report well enough to know the score. The ship’s course is a green parabola and there are three other little parabolas drawn so’s that they’ll cross our X at three different points, each a minute apart exactly. This shit ain’t coincidence.

“Activate point defense!” I yell at the pAI.

Negative. Point defense targeting offline.”


Estimated time to intercept is nine seconds.”

Fuck me. Fuck us all. “Maneuver sixty mark zero, thirty second full burn!”

Warning: structural stress may ...”


The maneuver alarm sounds. Hear that and you’ve got five seconds to make an accel couch before the fusion thrusters ruin your day. We don’t have time for it, though. Nine seconds are almost up. “Override alarm! Burn, now!”

The maneuver cuts out and the thrusters fire, first spinning our can sixty degrees off our current course and then blasting the fusion drive into full burn. Full burn on a can like this is ten gees. A suit berth like the one I’m in is rigged like an accel couch, so the force of the burn falls on your aft and the suit works your body to keep blood from slipping from your brain too fast. It happens anyway, though. My vision blurs; I blackout for a while.

Reality kicks back in when the burn is over. All those chumps who had been floating around are now bulkhead paste on the “floor.” The puke in the air is joined by blood. Guys are screaming, hugging broken arms, legs, shoulders—you name it. At least a few of them are dead. They float around all limp, heads flopping the wrong direction.

“What the fuck, man?” Gonzaga yells. His arm is in the wrong place—dislocated shoulder. The dumb fuck still hasn’t got his suit on. “Why you cancel the alarm, man?”

I’m not really reading his bitch-chat, though. I’m back in my HUD, straining my sore eyes to scan the telemetry data. I just changed our parabola, and suddenly, too. Objects one, two, and three ain’t on the right course for intercept now. Number one has overshot us by fifty kilometers. If it’s just a mine, that’ll be the end of it. I watch those three blue parabolas. I hold my breath.

All at once, the three blue parabolas light up red. I start shouting. “Bandits are live! Bandits are live!”

Everybody, even that chump Gonzaga, knows the specs on that call, affirm? Suddenly broken bones ain’t that big a deal. Everybody is blowing their tanks to get their suits on; a few are running red—no way they’ll do it in time. On my HUD, the red lines of the bandits have shifted course to match ours. The new ETI comes back as two minutes out for Bandit-2 and three minutes out for Bandit-3. “Maneuver sixty mark fifty, fifteen second, full burn on my affirm!”

“Negative. Fusion drives offline.”

Fuck! “Ion drives, then!” Some thrust is better than no thrust, affirm?

“Negative. Ion Drive Control inoperative.”

“Scully!” Gonzaga floats past my visor, grabbing me by the harness. He’s mostly in his suit, but his helmet isn’t on. “Scully, you gotta help me! I can’t seal the helmet, man! I only got one arm! I can’t seal the helmet!”

I ignore him. “Blow dorsal locks in compartments two and four!”

“Compartments two and four are already decompressed.”

I look at the ETI clock for Bandit-2. Forty-five seconds and falling. No maneuver, no point defense—the fucker is gonna hit us. I know its specs, affirm? Not a spiker—a rad. Oldest action in the regs—first you spike ’em, poking holes in all that radiation-insulated outer armor, then you light off a bloom of neutrons and fry everybody inside the can like bacon.

Everybody who isn’t wearing a suit, anyway.

The collision claxon starts up, and everybody starts screaming. Gonzaga has tears leaking out his eyes in little droplets. “Please, Scully—don’t let me fry! Don’t let me fry, man! You are my brother! My brother!”

I look back at this moment and I think I shoulda let him fry, affirm? Hell, I shoulda let myself fry. Going out on top—flipping off those jackboots in SPIT-NET one last time. No trial. No me in no white jumpsuit docked before some judge. Just old Scull Rodgers—another set of bones rattling around the Big Empty in his dead can. Me and all my crew.

I don’t do it, though. I unstrap and I help fucking Gonzaga with his fucking helmet. The shithead. He’s even got the wrong helmet—different model suit. He hasn’t sealed his torso all the way. He’s got a gauntlet all cross-threaded. It’s a shit-top horror show.

On the HUD, ETI is now at thirty seconds.

I seal the torso locks he missed. I push us off the wall, sending us across the compartment, through clouds of blood, puke, and flailing chumps. “Find a helmet with a flat top, affirm? This is the wrong one!”

Gonzaga points. “There!”

It’s Marco, Gonzaga’s wrestling partner from earlier—big Brazillian, dreadlocks. His helmet don’t fit either, since we’ve got the one he needs. Gonzaga and I hit a wall and he pushes off towards Marco. “Hey! Dá-me esse capacete, otario!”

Marco is doing a ten-degree wobble as he spins towards a wall. This don’t stop him from cursing Gonzaga out. I don’t speak Porto, affirm, but I get the gist.

“Puta!” Gonzaga pulls a pistol from his leg holster and puts three in Marco’s chest. Even with the collision claxon, all the screaming, and the sound dampening in my suit, the sound of the caseless pistol is loud enough to make me jump. I was working on fixing Gonzaga’s cross-threaded gauntlet, but I lose it in the bobble. The recoil from the pistol sends us backwards, away from Marco, who is now leaving streaks of blood in the air as he sails back to the opposite wall.

ETI fifteen seconds. There is no saving this chump. I slap his stupid gauntlet back on and push off towards the helmet anyway. He’s hugging me with his good arm, pistol still in his hand. He’s all smiles. “I’ll never forget this, Scull! You are my brother! My brother!”

I heard him say the same thing about Marco, once.

ETI five seconds. We get to the helmet. Now that Gonzaga has popped heat, nobody is setting course with us, affirm? Everybody is either in a suit or ain’t gonna be. There’s a knife fight happening somewheres—I catch the motion from my peripheral vision. “Stick your X, chump!” I tell Gonzaga and slap the helmet on his stupid head. I ring it and seal it even as the rad pops on my HUD.

At this point, I close my eyes.

You ever see somebody cook under 10,000 rads? You don’t want to. Like sticking a whole person in a microwave, but with seizures and popping eyeballs and every liquid in their system evacuating every port. Happens pretty fast. I fig you can get used to a lot out here in the Big Empty, but you can’t get used to that. Hope not, anyway.

I kept my eyes closed even after Bandit-3 hit—an EMP, killing our systems dead. We coasted on that course for a couple hours, breathing suit-air, before we were boarded. Me? I laid in no courses and just let it happen, affirm? I just floated there and listened to that chump Gonzaga dry heave inside his suit. Over and over and over.


You want the after action? Scan it, chief: turns out we had a snitch virus docked in our core. Musta picked it up from that cargo can, and once it went active, it started pinging our X and all the naughty things we done to any chump inside a couple light hours. SPIT-NET listening stations musta caught the message, and they laid us a little trap for when we dropped from warp. Knew it was them from the action they ran, affirm? Only SPIT-NET don’t give a shit about fucking up cans, and they fucked ours good.

SPIT-NET ships are fast, affirm? They laid those four missiles on our probable arc and went hull down probably an hour or two before we came by. Now, sphere-jockeys might think that, seeing how the Big Empty is so big and fucking empty, laying traps like this is hard to do. What chumps don’t scan is that, even if you can go anywhere in the Big Empty, there are only a couple places rate actually going to, affirm? Those places are big-ass spheres in gravity wells that have colonies or supply stations or even just water. Sometimes they’re planetoids or asteroids that have caches of chow left behind by pioneer types from the way-back. Anywho, point is that nobody is going to waste fuel and food and water to run some ass-backwards course in-system. Those spheres and stations and shit are moving, affirm? They’re moving at a shit-top velo, too, and if you aim to land on ’em, dock with ’em, or orbit ’em, there’s only so many ways you can plot that course, affirm? If you know a can’s X (which they did) and their destination (which they did), catching ’em with their thumbs up their afts is smooth action. Hell, we pirates do that for a living, affirm?

Each SPIT-NET fleet is two or three destroyers and one big cruiser. The destroyers are quick—all teeth, small crew, boarding party, and all the latest tech, too. The cruisers kit for sphere-side ops and also act as a prison and portable courtroom. Destroyers fuck up your can and haul in survivors, and the law-squawks on the cruiser’s court deck fuck up your life.

I can’t remember what the judge said to me then—all this shit was years ago, affirm?—but I do remember they hauled me up there alone. No Gonzaga or any of the half-dozen other chumps who’d made it off our can alive. Maybe they were still docked in med bay. Maybe. Don’t rate as all that important anyway, affirm? Point is that they ran me on the standard course.

I coulda bitch-chat the judge something hard, affirm? I scanned that action before, chief—chumps that wanna go down with a blaze or are too shit-top stupid to read their sit-rep top down. There ain’t no point to that, though. Maybe I coulda begged—a pole opposite of the bitch-chat groove—and got down on my knees and cried like a baby and run old vids of my mamma saying ol’ Scull’s a good boy. That didn’t sit right, neither.

They ask me to stand (they spin the court deck to one-g so you can do this exclusive thing—crazy) and enter a plea. They got me on murder, piracy, extortion, theft, and a duffle fulla other shit I don’t have the specs to read, affirm? Could space me right there and no priest would bitch-chat ’em one word. Question, though, was clear: do you, Scull Rodgers, affirm that you’re a murderous pirate bastard?

For me, don’t take long to decide. “Guilty.” I say.

“To all charges?”


Think that surprises them, chief, because they have a little private chat over it, leave me standing there for a while. This is not standard protocol. Finally, the judge says, “We will now proceed to sentencing. Do you have anything to say that might mitigate the court’s punishment?”


Another pause. “Nothing whatsoever?”

“No, ma’am.”

That was it. You know the funny thing, chief? They didn’t kill me. They just slid me down a well and stashed me in this sphere-side prison. Been years now, coolin’ my afts with the chumps, and I’m still surprised I’m here. The way I fig it, though, it’s like this: everything is in motion, affirm? Everything’s got a course to run and, sooner or later, you’re plotting an intercept with something bigger and badder than you. Yeah, you can burn a shake-and-bake rally and alter course, but that don’t make a difference. Sooner or later, you are gonna hit something. You can fight it, but you gotta read when your tanks are blown and your chips are fried and the rads are clocking up to the fry-line. Then, you gotta let gravity do its job, affirm?

Me, I’m a bad man. Or was. Or whatever. Point is I’m just running my course, chief. No sense in fighting against the Big Empty. Be like all them other spheres—spinning, spinning, spinning into oblivion. I made it a hell of a spin. I been there. No regrets. END

Auston Habershaw lives and works in Boston. He has published stories in “Analog,” “The Sword and Laser Anthology,” and “Stupefying Stories.” His debut novel, “The Iron Ring (Book 1 in the Saga of the Redeemed),” was released early last year.


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