Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


A Breath of Aphrodite
by Rebecca Birch

An Undiplomatic Incident
by Paul R. Hardy

Deus Ex Parasitus
by Josh Pearce

Dust to Dust
by Richard Wren

Space Horses
by Diane Ryan

Mercy Park
by Patrick Wiley

Patient, Creature
by Andrew Muff

by Timothy J. Gawne

Shorter Stories

Turn Off, Tune Out and Reboot
by J.R. Hampton

Sky Widows
by Matthew F. Amati

Crottled Greeps
by John Teehan


This is the Way the World Ends
by Carol Kean

A Reason for Returning to the Moon
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips





By Timothy J. Gawne

THE FIRE WAS SPREADING quickly through the eight-story apartment building. The glass windows had shattered from the heat, and the heavy flames roared like a blast furnace. The fire department had arrived, and began the methodical process of hooking up their water hoses to the hydrants and determining a plan, but the fire was so advanced, at this point they were mostly worried about containing the blaze to just the one structure.

A television news team arrived. They set up their van a discrete distance from the burning building and the firefighters. They used the fire as a backdrop for the anchor, who recited what was known about the building and the progress of the fire to her audience.

At the top floor, someone leaned out of a window and screamed for help. It was a young woman. She had a small child in her arms, and another bawling at her side. The firefighters took notice, and moved to set up the extra-long extension ladder, but the fire was so intense that there would not be enough time.

There was the harsh crack of a sonic boom, and a purple figure was suddenly hovering in the air in front of the top floor window. It darted into the apartment building behind the woman and her children, shielding them from the flames with its body. A billowing purple sheet shot out from the figure, and enveloped the children while the figure took the woman into its arms. It floated out of the window and gently down to the waiting firemen.

“Here you go,” said the figure. It put the woman down, and the purple sheet gently unwrapped the children. “Safe and sound. Do you think that there might be any others left in there?”

“We’re not certain, Hyper-Being,” said one firefighter. “The fire was too well established by the time we arrived on the scene for us to sweep the premises. Maybe.”

“Then,” said Hyper-Being, “I shall go and check. Don’t let me interfere with your work.” The purple figure arced up and then back into the building. A few moments later a large purple balloon burst out of the side, shattering a hole in the burning walls. The balloon made straight for the firefighters, and when it touched down, it retracted into a cape hanging from the back of the neck of the purple figure. This revealed yet another child, perhaps eight years old. The balloon had shielded him from the fire.

“I found this one hiding in a closet on the fifth floor. There is nobody else left though, so no worries about that.”

“Thank you, Hyper-Being,” said the Captain of the firemen. “We could not have gotten to these civilians in time. You really saved the day here. What would we do without you?”

“Oh, come now, Captain, it’s you and your people that do the real work. Not even I can be everywhere at once. Now and then I get to show off but the serious job is what you do, running inspections, staying at the ready. I’m just happy that I can help when I can.”

The news anchor approached, camera crew in tow. “Hyper-Being, that was amazing as usual. Could I have an interview?”

The one called Hyper-Being laughed. Up close, he just looked like a well-muscled but otherwise normal human male, Caucasian with black hair and blue eyes, and wearing a skin-tight purple bodysuit with matching cape.

“I must have been interviewed over a thousand times already. Won’t I bore your audience?”

“You are always a ratings draw, Hyper-Being. Please?”

“Oh, very well, if you insist. So what do you want to know?”

“Well, where you came from, why you are here?”

“Oh that. Well, as I have said previously, I come from a planet in a star system many hundreds of light years away. You can’t pronounce its real name, but you can call it Sphere. Anyhow, my people had become very advanced both technologically and socially. We had not quite a utopia but it was a pretty good setup. Then we were attacked without warning by an enemy of overwhelming power, and—as far as I can determine—only I managed to escape.”

“Can you tell us anything at all about this enemy? Could it threaten us here on Earth?”

“That,” said Hyper-Being, “is the main question. I regret that I don’t know. It might be that the enemy just didn’t like my people, and you have nothing to fear from them. Or the enemy might be starting a crusade of universal extermination of all other life-forms, and before too much longer they will arrive here.”

“And what should we do?”

“As I have advised your governments, I would restrict transmissions of any kind into outer space. No sense in attracting attention when there are predators in the neighborhood, although I suppose that because of your early radio and television shows it’s to some extent a moot point. Develop your technology, and remain united as a people, so if the enemy does encounter you, you have a decent chance.”

“But how can we stand up to this enemy, when your people, who were more advanced than we are, stood no chance?”

“You can’t, not right now. You need to keep progressing, hopefully past the point where my people were when they were destroyed. Ideally to a level of power where you could defeat my people at their height, then you might at least be at parity with the enemy. Right now, that’s the plan.”

“Several government officials have complained that you are not very forthcoming about your technology. So how can you claim to be helping us?”

Hyper-Being shook his head. “No, you see, you need to advance beyond where my people were. I could give you all my secrets—and you could rise to that level very quickly—and then be stuck, because you would have lost the ability to make new advances on your own. I know that it is frustrating, but just giving hints about what might be possible is more valuable than most realize.”

“I suppose so. But to change the subject, why do you wear a cape? Doesn’t it get stuck in doorways and such?”

“Ah. Well, a cape would be foolish for an ordinary human, but I am so strong that if it got stuck in a door I would just tear the frame apart and not notice. Besides, it’s normally set at zero-friction, so it can’t get stuck. Here, try and hold onto it.”

The news anchor gripped at the edge of the purple cape, but sure enough, it slipped away so easily that she might have been grabbing at empty air.

“As you may have noticed,” said Hyper-Being, “my cape is also made of what we call smart matter—it is extensible, and can shield people, manipulate extended objects, change from reflective to camouflage or anything else. It’s almost a junior partner. I would never leave on a mission without it.”

“OK then, but why don’t you wear a mask? Don’t you have a secret identity? Aren’t you worried about a supervillain attacking you in your home, or something?”

“Hah! That’s what you get from reading too much bad science fiction. No conventional criminal can harm me. If some super-villain had a technologically advanced death ray, why, they would have the industrial base to start new industries—and why would a person of such talent and accomplishment waste their time attacking someone who is no threat to them? It’s a non-issue. But now let me change the subject.”

“All right then. What do you want to talk about?”

“Are you available for dinner anytime this week?”


Hyper-being walked into his studio apartment. The cape slipped off of his neck all by itself and fluttered over to drape itself across a chair. “Another date?” said the cape. It had once mimicked a human form when speaking, but had been informed by Hyper-Being that the effect was creepy, like talking to a person who was being smothered under a carpet. Thus the cape remained firmly non-human in appearance, and only vibrated a little in phase with its voice to give itself the appearance of agency. “Your social life remains quite active. Ever consider settling down?”

“Oh, don’t lecture me. I’m enjoying myself. Perks of the trade and all that.”

“What about that surgeon lady you were dating a little while ago? I believe that by your standards she was, quote, smoking hot, unquote.”

“You mean Sheila Lundgren? Yes, she was cute, but it wasn’t working out.”

“Too bad, I rather liked her. Well, maybe this one will suit you better. I presume that I am not invited along?”

Hyper-Being removed his purple body-stocking, and walked into the bathroom. He turned on the shower. “Yes, sorry, hope you don’t mind. You won’t be bored?”

“No, not at all. I think I may do some sightseeing. It’s a pretty day and I haven’t been out for a while.”

Hyper-Being stepped into the shower, and began soaping himself up. “Well, OK then. Have a good time, but don’t wait up for me. We’re going to a show afterwards and I might be late.”

“No problem,” said the cape. “Have fun.”

The cape undulated its way over to the window, opened the latch with one corner of itself, and slipped out into the air. It changed its surface color to a counter-shaded light gray underneath and a mottled urban brown on top. Hundreds of feet up in the air, if a human did catch sight of it they would just think it some random piece of plastic blown by the wind and not pay any attention.

The cape had a long alien name that no human could pronounce, so it had resigned itself to being referred to as “the cape” by its partner and good friend, Hyper-Being.

A long time ago, the cape’s ancestors had been thin sheets of organic matter floating in alien rivers. Their high surface-area-to-volume ratio had given them a great sensitivity to their environment, but also made them vulnerable. That was why the cape’s people had worked so hard to develop the nanotechnology that could allow them to survive in extreme circumstances.

When the cape had crash-landed on Earth, it had been badly injured. Somehow the human then known as Jules Menninger (now referred to as “Hyper-Being”) had found it, and decided to help and protect it, instead of turning it over to some brutal uncaring government agency. When the cape had recovered, it had rewarded Hyper-Being with some of its remaining spare nanotechnology. While Hyper-Being was not quite as strong as the cape itself, and didn’t have the cape’s anti-gravity power, by human standards he was essentially invulnerable.

The cape had once asked Hyper-Being if he ever missed his previous life as a meat-packer in Minot, North Dakota. It had taken Hyper-Being nearly a minute of snorting before he managed a coherent answer.

The cape floated over the central park of the city. If it straightened out, it could use its embedded photosensors as a synthetic aperture array, and see the world in a detail that humans could only dream about. Even waving around, its vision was far more acute than any vertebrate eye. And the cape’s ability to sense odors from its large surface area was vastly higher than even a terrestrial wolf’s. It caught the distant scents of hot dogs, and diesel fuel, and perfume, and horseradish. It was all wonderful. This was such a rich and vibrant planet.

The cape slid onto the front of a large billboard, and immediately took on the appearance of the underlying advertisement for a pharmacological treatment for male erectile dysfunction. Stretched out flat, the cape’s sensory capabilities were at maximum. It sniffed the air from an olfactory surface greater than that of fifty bears, and viewed the world from an eye that could have belonged to an eagle with a 100-meter wingspan. It watched street performers, and city busses, and cloud formations, and the subtle interplay of light around chrome hubcaps.

Once the cape had made the mistake of pretending to be a carpet on the floor of a train station. The cape was far too tough to be injured by mere human footsteps, but it had had to stay still for over twelve hours while people stepped over it, and the cape only got a view up their skirts/trousers until finally the foot traffic diminished and it could slip away unseen. Never again.

Eventually the cape decided to return home. It floated over the now-dark city, glorying in the view of hard-white streetlights and warm-yellow house windows. But then the cape’s attention was caught by a cluster of flashing blue police-car lights a few kilometers distant. If necessary the cape could coil up into a tight cone and go hypersonic, but this was close enough not to require that. Instead it made itself completely flat and rigid, and sliced down through the air like a thrown playing card, spinning slowly to maintain stability. It accessed the police bands via its inbuilt network of conductive fibers: apparently a group of four radical Bayesian terrorists had barricaded themselves into a house and taken hostages, and were demanding cash and a helicopter. Well, thought the cape, we’ll see about that.

Just before impacting the house, it rolled itself up into a solid rod just two centimeters in diameter. It effortlessly punched through a wall, leaving only a small round hole. Once inside it instantly unwound. It was in the kitchen, and there was a terrorist armed with a machine gun near the sink looking out of a window. The cape vibrated across its surface and, like a phased array radar, it generated a focused ultrasound pulse that stunned the radical Bayesian. The cape broke the unconscious man’s fall with a fold of itself, and then entered the next room by rapidly sliding under the door.

The cape reared up, and saw two armed Bayesians guarding three hostages. The hostages were kneeling on the ground with their hands tied behind them; they had also been hooded with pillowcases. The cape spun across the room and sliced through both machine guns with edges that it had made razor-sharp. The impact ripped the machine gun parts out of the hands of the Bayesians, and the pieces scattered across the room. The Bayesians started to react but, compared to the cape, they were too slow. It wrapped itself around one of them and applied an electric shock, like a taser, and the stunned man dropped. The other Bayesian was reaching for a back-up pistol but the cape snapped itself like a towel, and its tip knocked the gun away. It coiled itself into a tube about ten centimeters in diameter, and, like a constrictor snake, grabbed the man around the neck and choked him unconscious.

Pausing only to slice through the bonds of the kneeling hostages with its corners, the cape flashed through the rest of the house looking for the final Bayesian. It found the man on the second floor running down a central hall. The man darted into an open doorway—and was floored as he encountered a rock-solid barrier. The cape had covered the doorway with itself and mimicked the appearance of the room beyond; the man had knocked himself senseless colliding with its nearly invulnerable substance.

Now to make my exit, thought the cape. It turned itself purple, and billowed majestically in front of one of the windows.

“Attention police,” said the cape in its best imitation of Hyper-Being’s voice, “the hostages are safe, and the four terrorists have been rendered unconscious. However, they will likely recover soon, so you should move in now and arrest them.”

The cape opened the window and shot up into the sky, slow enough to be seen but fast enough that the police would not be able to tell that it was just a purple cape with no human figure attached.

Well, that was a fun workout, thought the cape. I may have shown off a little—I could have simply stunned all four Bayesians from outside the building, but I needed to practice my skills. I’ll have to remember to explain to Hyper-Being tomorrow, so if someone asks him he can make an excuse about handling it during a restroom break during dinner or something.

The cape lazily undulated its way across the sky and back towards home. It thought about the humans—their bodies were so limited! Two fixed legs, two fixed arms, such narrow senses. How could they stand it? Perhaps someday the cape would feel that the time was right that it could drop its pretense. Then when human technology became sufficiently advanced, perhaps a few would be adventurous enough to be reconstructed as planiform, like the cape. It would be nice to have suitably shaped companions.

It slid through a partially open window, and drifted into its apartment. The human friend/partner/symbiote “Hyper-Being” was fast asleep on the king-sized bed, along with the attractive female news reporter. The cape was happy, if only by surrogacy: it liked Hyper-Being, and wished him only good.

The cape sensed the air currents and scanned in the far infrared, and could tell that the two sleeping humans were cooler than they should be. Probably they would sleep fitfully, and wake up earlier than they would like. So the cape eased itself across them, and adjusted its thermal signature to a human optimum. It also adopted the surface pattern of a simple geometric quilt.

The cape felt the rhythm of the two humans under its care breathing and relaxed. If it could not be with its own kind, at least it could bring pleasure to others—which is a pleasure unto itself. Perhaps, thought the cape, it was going native. Certainly its dreams (and it did dream, as different as its physical structure was from a human’s) had become jumbled in the last few years, now including not just its own kind but also the human’s. Well nothing to be done about that. It was inevitable that, so long removed from contact with its own species, it would adapt and change.

It hoped that the humans would prosper, and avoid the mistakes that the cape’s own species had made. If it only knew what those mistakes had been. In the meantime, life was not bad. It absorbed itself into the rhythms of the two sleeping humans it was covering, and fell fast asleep. END

Timothy J. Gawne is an MIT trained engineer with a Ph.D. in physiology. He is the author of the popular “Chronicles of Old Guy” book series. He has also contributed to numerous scientific papers in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry.


winchester 11/16



crazy liddy 9/16