The Wreck of the Perihelion Siren
by Christopher Lee Kneram
part 1 of 2
On an extremely sunny, extremely warm day in late March, a lonely dead rocket tore through the main electric lines of the Perihelion Siren, paralyzing her a scant two million miles outside the sun’s corona.
The rocket, fired from a Nefarioso warship somewhere near Alcyone during the first Cellophane War over 17 million years before, failed to hit its target and continued in a straight line over 440-odd light years, its weapons-grade ununseptium slowly deteriorating until the rocket was nothing more than a very fast and pointy piece of inert scrap metal.
Nobody on board the Siren heard or saw the impact as the rocket finally obliterated both itself and all means of survival for the ship and her crew.
The interior of the Siren plunged into complete darkness. As a near-stellar research vessel, its windows were all blackened out, and the crew of the first Near-Stellar Research Vessel wound up blindly piloting their ship into the unknown reaches of space in search of some boxes with pinholes in them. They were never seen or heard from again.
When auxiliary power failed to come on, Cook’s Mate Third Class Punch MacElligot realized that the crucial mistake he’d made on the first day of the voyage would now definitely be discovered. An old tablecloth and a dash of cologne couldn’t hide the fact that he’d mixed up the auxiliary generator with a cube of crushed garbage awaiting ejection. The cold reaches of space had backup power, but the Perihelion Siren had nothing but a musty, rotten smell emanating from the engine room.
The resulting crash was eerily silent. No alarms, no shouting of orders, no spectacular view of the searing, blinding, endless sun rising and twirling up through the windows to meet them at a million miles per hour. Only a lazy, two-hour dive into the fiery deep as the Siren, unable to steer or stop, succumbed to Newton’s First Law and simply continued the course it was already on.
Most of the crew suffocated in the first minute or so; the galley, which doubled as a lifeboat and emergency habitat, had the great fortune of being equipped with a backup backup generator. Only the cook survived, as well as a chubby scientist no one seemed to like.
Two weeks later, an RS-34 rescue and salvage craft successfully linked with the Perihelion Siren to determine the state of her survivors. Despite the emergency habitat’s design, which enabled it not only to withstand temperatures of over 10,000° C but also to provide life support, food and water for a crew of twenty-six for over three months, the RS-34 found no signs of life.
Remote video scans of the habitat’s interior showed a number of astonishing things. The table was set, and appeared to have been left in mid-meal; however, there was no food on the plates, only more dishes, broken into pieces — some of the porcelain coffee cups were even chipped and scratched where someone had tried to cut them with knife and fork.
Upon the chair at the head of the table was a t-shirt bearing the image of an anthropomorphic, winking sun. The hatch leading into the lifeless bulk of the Siren was packed completely shut with a combination of salt, poultry seasoning and arsenic. Food supplies were otherwise full, life support was in working order, and the heat- and light-proof exterior hatches were all sealed and untampered with. There were no signs of violence and no bodies.
Underneath the long dining table were stacks and stacks of papers — thousands of pages, all handwritten and arranged alphabetically according to the third letter in the third line of the third paragraph.
Excerpt from Scombroidal Deformation of the Solar Perimeter, as observed from Surface and Subsurface Granules, D. Trellis, undated
“... and so it becomes clear, through meticulous survey of the Sun’s corona and photosphere, as measured with both salad fork and pickle fork, and with my bestest friend of all, the spork, that the Sun is not, as previously believed, spherical, but is instead shaped rather more like a mackerel.”
Ninety percent of the papers recovered were in the same vein: scientific studies of complete and utter madness. Topics included not only the true shape of the sun but its internal composition (creamy nougat); which superpowers it would most likely impart on aliens (in order of probability: flight, super-stretchiness, and marinara); and whether or not the sun could lay railroad faster than John Henry (it couldn’t).
The fact that the survivors of the Perihelion Siren’s wreck were trapped in a kitchen may have contributed to the culinary nature of Trellis’s madness, though it is difficult to say for sure. The remaining ten percent of the papers were largely notes to the families of the two men should the worst happen, various recipes for human flesh, and the cook’s personal papers.
For his part, Punch MacElligot wrote on a different topic, one that baffles to this day, and not only because of the language, a mix of contemporary English, 17th-century seafaring slang, complete gibberish, and the occasional snippet of what appeared to be poorly reproduced onomatopoeic bird calls.
The Life and Adventures of Punch MacElligot, of Her Majesty the Mother Earth, who Lived and Toiled a Thousand Years Alone on the Sun, His Shipmates All Having Perished due to a Wreck of Unknown Causes. Written by Himself. [translated into modern English]
The worst part about living on the sun is probably the heat, though the brightness is pretty bad, too. It hardly ever rains, and I wish there were more words for “fire.” The Siren was wrecked, and sank into the sea just as I got through the hatch. She went down two miles offshore, though when the sea is boiling, blistering fire and the beach is a billion red-hot pinpoints of fire, it’s kind of hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Clinging to a piece of debris, I shielded my eyes from the white-hot million-degree sky and paddled towards a flaming outcrop of fire in the distance. Luck was on my side, and I washed ashore, clothes singed and skin lobster-red, and sought shelter.
There was a cave of liquid hot plasma conflagration that looked nice, and so there I made my home. It was a bit on the hot side, but then again, wasn’t everything? The searing heat and light emanating from the walls of the cave were I guess slightly less intolerable than the searing heat and light outside, so it would have to do.
For ten long, burning, scorching, blistering years I lived alone in that cave, fearing to go too far lest I lose sight of my home, which of course being made of fire would blend in all too well with the fiery cliff it stood upon. The cliff, you must know, already blended in right and proper with the fiery backdrop of the sky anyway, so, there you have it.
Ten years is a long time to spend alone and engulfed in flames. It makes your mind start to wander in directions you rather wish it wouldn’t. There is no game to hunt on the sun, except a few small birds that were more or less identical to solar flares, and the occasional burning insect, which I understand are high in protein for all that they taste and feel like sparks.
Mostly I ate sun moss, which is bright red and orange and burns your mouth something fierce, but in the end I guess it’s enough to survive on, meager though it may be. To drink I found a little spring of sun water, a fresh, boiling fountain of it. Sun water is unique in that it is entirely composed of fire; however, I’m told it can cure any number of moisture-related maladies.
Embarrasing though it may be, dedication to posterity means I must tell you that I spent those first ten years crying and tearing at my own skin, and little else. To own the truth, however, it never occurred to me that I might be in Hell. I suppose Hell would have been a bit cooler and have less fire. After all, some percentage of Hell is made up of demons and sinners and torturous, inhuman pain — fire could not by any laws of physics occupy the same space as those things, and so it must be somewhat better a place than here, on the surface of the sun.
Sadly, it only took a couple of weeks for me to wish I were stuck in Hell rather than in this most grueling of ovens. At least images of Hell tended to be rather dark and bleak. I wish I’d thought to bring sunglasses.
The beginning of year eleven marked a significant change — that was the year I found the old man, and the year I found the other thing, too. I was walking along the beach as I sometimes did when the madness seemed to be at its worst, at those times when somewhere in the back of my heart I wished that I’d lose my home and wander into some deeper depth of delusion.
He was face down in the surf and appeared at once both older than the molten core of the Sun itself and also completely, utterly dead. I bent down to examine him more closely when he opened his eyes and sat up. I gave him a drink of sun water, and brought him out of the boiling fire of the sun and into the boiling fire of my cave.
The old man, whom I called Sunday, slept soundly on my sun sofa, draped in my most infernal quilt, for three days. On the third day, I returned home with a bucket of fresh plasma to find him awake, withered as a prune, tanned brown as a chestnut and eating a fire guava, and ready to talk.
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Lee Kneram