Pleasant Valley Christmas

the perihelix cover

Pleasant Valley has one main city – Walton City.  It’s supposed to be a rough, tough, frontier type of town.

I felt I hadn’t emphasised this enough, so when I did the second edition of the Perihelix I had Lars and Pete go out on the town.

It’s Christmas, both there and here, so I thought you might like to be reminded of how that night went. (950 words)

Christmas on Pleasant Valley

The beer was flowing in the Irish Bar. Krismas was a festival celebrated in sufficient systems around the galaxy to make it a common cause for feasting. Different customs clashed on occasions, since anyone from over Lyra way tended to treat it as a formal occasion, whereas the New Donegal, Centauri and Praxis systems tended to use it as an excuse to get drunk, dance, and play games involving tests of strength. Pete and the Swede joined some other miners on a bench seat and played some good-natured games of peanuckle before a red-faced humanoid from the planet Grapple took a swipe at the Swede, connected with Big Pete, and promptly challenged him to a duel.

“Duel! Duel!” The chant was taken up by enthusiastic miners who knew all about Pete’s speciality. 

Pete reluctantly got to his feet. “I choose arm-wrestling.”

The Grappler roared with laughter, rolled up his sleeves, flexing his biceps in Pete’s face, which involved stooping, since he was a good twenty cents taller than Pete. Then he pushed a guy off his chair at a centre table and yelled at Pete to sit opposite.

Pete stopped for another sip of his beer, wiped his moustache, and took his seat opposite.

“Best of three?”

“Nah—is for sissies! One out, all out!” roared the Grappler.

Pete shrugged and put his elbow on the table. The Grappler raised both arms, stretched, roared a war cry akin to a strangled ox, spat on his hands, rubbed them together, and spat on the floor for good measure. Lars passed Pete a handcloth.

“Wha?” The Grappler looked confused.

“More hygienic,” Pete explained.

“Bah!” He grabbed Pete’s hand, accepting the cloth, dropped his elbow to the surface and squeezed.

Pete squeezed back, arm rigid and ready.

The Grappler strained to push his arm over.

Pete pulled some faces for show, but although his shoulder muscles swelled with the additional work, his demeanour remained relaxed.

A circulatory vessel in the approximate location of the Grappler’s temple started to throb. Beads of sweat exuded from his nose pores. He grabbed the edge of the table with his other hand. The onlookers roared their disapproval and he took it away again. He started to move Pete’s hand across, and smiled. “Hah! Not so easy now, eh?”

Pete watched his hand as it moved into the losing sector. Steadily, slowly, it sank to thirty degrees from the table. Bets were being laid and taken against him. Lars took a few to win several drinks and a couple of hundred credits. He put his head down to Pete’s. “Make sure you win, partner, I’ve got money on you.”

“How long do you need to take some more?”

Lars shrugged. Pete’s hand sank lower. The Grappler’s eyes were bulging. Pete wondered if he had red blood or some other colour.

The barman called over: “Hey, guys, hurry up will you, it’s nearly midnight.”

“Oh right,” said Pete, calmly, his hand less than three inches above the tabletop. He snapped the Grappler’s arm across to his own winning side, with an audible slap on the table, and stood up. “I win, I think.”

Lars grinned and collected his winnings. The Grappler staggered off, strong-armed by his cronies, who made sure he didn’t do anything he would regret.

“Next time pick on someone your own size!” one of the miners called after him. The Grappler lurched back towards him, but the barman stepped in, and let off a shower of sparks.

“It’s Krismas! Happy Krismas, everyone!” The room erupted in cheers and backslapping, hugging and toasts.

“Do you think Zito’s still got some food on? That’s made me hungry.” Pete rubbed his hand and picked up his mug of beer, draining it as the refills came round again.

“Probably. Or we can pick up something at the corner and take it in, he won’t mind. Oh, you won this lot.” Lars handed over the winnings he’d taken from the bets.

Two of the hostesses came over and linked arms with them. “Oh, guys, you’re not going, are you?” The blonde was perky, red-lipped and in a full-bodied costume. Pete happened to know that appearances could be deceiving, and in her case, definitely.

“Fraid so, Sana’a, we only got in today.” Lars said. “Besides, I’m injured—I could never do you justice.”

“That’s not what I hear, Mr Swede,” the other girl put in. 

“New around town, aren’t you? Where did Zito find you?” Lars took in her dark sleek hair and brown eyes, the smattering of freckles across her nose with a practised eye.

“Oh, well, it was a sort of fair exchange. Fair for my ex, unfair for me.”

“Ah. Where’s he now?”

“Poof! Who cares.”

They extricated themselves from the girls and sidled back to Zito’s. 

“I reckon she’s stayed ten gallons high since he sold her.” Lars looked back over his shoulder.

“Probably for the best. I heard her man got killed on this trip.”

“Before or after he sold her?”

“After. Maybe he actually cared about her. He went solo.”

It was a sobering end to the evening. ‘Going solo’ was a euphemism for going out on a trip on your own simply to end it all. Very few miners worked alone.

They resumed their imitation of drunken, hard-bitten miners by rolling into Zito’s, smashing a few (empty) glasses on their way through to the bar and tipping Zito the eye so that he encouraged them to call it a night. You had to keep up appearances if you were an asteroid miner. Hard, tough, and rich. Or hard, tough, and poor, depending on which end of a vacation you were.

The Perihelix Ch 2

© J M Pett 2018


Christmas in Spacedock

I am in the process of rewriting the first half of the Perihelix following my editor’s comments.  So I’m  jumping about a bit for stories for you.  For your Christmas treat this year, I thought I’d go back to something with the girls, give them some backstory for a change.

Christmas in spacedock

Dolores slapped another pile of chips on the table in front of the Arcturan.  He leered at her cleavage and swept them into his pouch.  “Mebbe I spen’ time with ya later,eh?”

She smiled her dealer’s smile at him.  “You passing?”

“Nah.  Deal!”

Dolores dealt, calculating the odds on another 21 coming up in the next four hands.  High.  The odds of her getting through this night without getting detailed for overnight ‘escort’ duties were correspondingly low.  Arcturans were adept at spotting sleight of hand, so no point in fixing the cards.  Maybe she could get the shy Transmutium boy to join in.


So far, so good. The Arcturan bust that hand, and waved to one of her colleagues for a drink.

“Why not get one for your companion?”

“Companion?”  The Arcturan looked around at the assorted spacers and hangers-on who were watching the game.  “Any o’ ya losers gonna join-in?”

Dolores smiled at the Transmutian and a couple of others.  Three sat down, and pushed forward an id for some chips.  “Raises the ante,” she commented, flirting with the Arcturan.

He responded by swaggering his shoulders.  The action always reminded Dolores of bum-waggling in some companion animals she’d had in her childhood, however much she tried to suppress the memory.

Expecting a 21 in this round, she dealt, face impassive. What would be, would be. It wasn’t exactly work, since that implied some element of choice. As slavery went, it was cushier than some assignments although the requirements were more degrading than some of the physical labour options.  Then again, nobody was safe from overseers taking their pleasure.  She was clean, fed, and could wear nice clothes. As long as you could keep your own mind, you could survive.  For a while longer.

The Banksian turned up the 21.

“Hey! Look guys, I’ve won!”  Back-slapping and joshing followed.

The Arcturan scowled.  “You fixed!”

Dolores ignored him.  “Your deal, sir.”  The Banksian had been distracted, and hesitated.

“I’ve never been dealer before.”

“That’s okay, I’ll deal the cards and sort the bets for you if you prefer.”

“Yes, please.”

Manners, that was a change.  These guys were on vacation, and it was probably a novelty for them.  They were in dress clothes, no insignia, but she suspected they were from one of the Imperium ships currently in spacedock.

The Arcturan pushed in, grabbed her shoulder.  “You fixed!”

“No, she didn’t,” one of the Banksian’s friends came to his rescue, since the Arcturan was pushing his face in his pile of chips.  Two of them moved either side of the hulking form and pulled him upright.

“What’s your problem, matey?”

“She fixed ma cards!”  He took a swing of one of them, but they both held firm and he simply lost his footing in his aborted turn.

“Our friend turned up 21, how does that count as a fix?”

“It was mine!”

“It was his!”

Jed and Vic, two of the master’s bodyguards, appeared on either side of the Arcturan and picked him up bodily.  He kicked his feet in frustration, catching one of the Banksian’s friends in the thigh.  Dolores admired their restraint as they let the security personnel deal with the problem.  Professionals.

She exchanged a glance with the barman, and Sophia arrived with nine glasses of synth-ale.  “Compliments of the house,” she said, setting them in front of the card players, and handing the others to the rest of the Banksian’s friends.

That loosened the Banksian’s party up, and they started spending their wages, with small enough bets to win a little, lose a little, until they were the last relatively sober ones left in the joint.

The master came over.

“I hope you’re enjoying yourself, gentlemen.”




They were laughing and chatting, and for them the night was young.

“It may be time to move onto other entertainments.  Perhaps you’d like to take advantage of a private suite for the rest of the evening?”

“You mean..”

“What, gambling suite or — other things?”

“Whatever your choice. The entertainment of your dreams, or simple home comforts, or anything in between.”

The guys went into a huddle.

“Can you do Christmas dinner with all the trimmings?”

The master smiled.  “Of course.  Turkey or macadomia?”

“Turkey!”  The guys chorused, then added other ideas, building their perfect feast.

The master started to usher them away, listing other treats.

“Can she come too?” The first Banksian looked over his shoulder at Dolores, who stifled her yawn and turned it into a sweet smile.

“Of course.  And a few more ladies to entertain you, perhaps?”

“Can we watch them cook?”

“Help with the pudding?”

“Lick the bowl?”

“Of course.  There will be something for everyone.”

For Dolores, Marci, Fenestra and Poppy it was a strenuous assignment, cooking in the nude and attending to the boys’ interest in their private parts while at the same time producing a four course traditional Christmas banquet.  But considering some of the other options, it was probably the best Christmas dinner any of them had had since their planets had been over-run, whether by the Federation or the Imperium.

As for the seven Imperium space cadets, losing all their money, and their virginity, was a small price to pay for the best Christmas dinner any of them had ever had.

© J M Pett 2016

A Christmas Story – Easy Come, Easy Go

Your seasonal story this year may or may not make it into Book 2 of the Viridian System series.  If you’ve not read Spaghettification on my blog, you won’t know that they have been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, which is pretty much uncharted territory, as far as the Alpha Quadrant inhabitants are concerned.  The art installation that crops up in this was also in an earlier short story on my blog – The Gallery.

Easy Come, Easy Go


It was Dolores’ turn on watch.  With three pilots, they could work shift patterns so there was always someone alert for strange events in the Delta Quadrant.  Marooned there after going through an unstable wormhole, they had been on a slow, looping path towards the centre of the Galaxy for three months.  This shift, everyone else slept.


Dolores looked up from the viewscreen where she was reading a story set on an ancient world. She’d been immersed in the politics and family squabbles, thinking how modern it all sounded: infighting to seize power, sending troops to subdue peaceful agrarian communities and take their corn, and obscene decadence rife in the palace.  Claudius sounded a wimp, but he was a clever man, hiding behind his weaknesses.


The noise was from the upper left screen, one she didn’t know much about.  It dealt with engineering aspects of the ship; she had not even opened the engineering manual yet.  She was still working on inter-stellar territorial laws and guidelines.

She tapped the screen, and a row of digits appeared.  She looked for a widget to unscramble them, there was nothing.  Frowning, she checked the time.  05:27 ST.  They kept the ship on Standard Time, and their dates on the Viridian calendar.  She keyed in a question to the computer, not wanting to use the Vvoice system, since the ship was in quiet mode for the ‘night’.

“Engineer required: seek expert assistance,” was the computer’s on-screen response.  Dolores sighed and slipped out of her seat to wake Pete.


“I have no idea,” Pete muttered, having checked the string in the engineering manual, and in the original version of the software codes. “Is there anything about it you recognise?”

Dolores turned the number over in her mind, her eidetic memory being one of her most useful assets. She sat straighter and raised her eyebrows as she spotted a partial match.

“The central part is the code on the Imperium trans-warpdrive that was in that art installation.”

“Ah.  Oh.  Let’s transfer it down here.”  He tapped some tabs on the viewers and the number appeared in the hepactive screen in front of them.  “Where does that number start and end?”

Dolores showed him.  The section she recognised was sandwiched between an eight figure cluster in front, and a 9 section alphanumeric string at the end.  “It’s missing its last four digits, though.”

“The warpdrive’s last four digits are signatures; they aren’t that important.  Those eight figures at the start look like a time or space reference.”

“The nine section has part of Zito’s handle embedded.”

“Zito?  Why on earth?”  Pete pulled at his earlobe, a sure sign he was worried.

A disturbance behind them signalled the arrival of Lars, wrapped in a bedsheet, which trailed behind him.

“What’s up?”

“Strange engineering complaint.”

“Huh.”  Lars usually left most engineering problems to Pete, although he did the manual labour needed.  He yawned.  “Need me?”

“Always, Lars, but no.”  Pete’s reply reassured the Swede, and he staggered back to his bed.

“Ah!”  During Lars’ visit, Dolores had searched the eight-digit code.  “I have some options for you.  On Arcturus, it is the date of the founding of Phrygia; in the Centauran system it marks the death of a founding father; on Corsair it is the establishment of the High Council; on Terzlan E it is the celebration of the Prophet; and on Viridian it is the first Amberson Trophy.”

“Local years, I take it.”

“I think so.”

“Anything for ST?”

Dolores checked a few more filters for the data.  “The Terzlan E is ST, the rest are local.  Although Arcturus, Centaurus and Corsair use PE, so those all took place at the same time.”

“Makes sense. I can’t imagine this is to do with the Amberson.  I won’t be able to give them the trophy back to award this year.  I’ll be in the doghouse.”

Pete sounded glum.  It was a painful reminder of fun days on Pleasant Valley, where he had won the fliers’ race a few days after Christmas the previous year.

“How about the Corsair connection?”

Pete shook his head.  “We never bothered with that sort of thing. We did Christmas, with trees all decorated, and a slap-up feast, especially as it fell at midwinter, strangely enough. What prophet does Terzlan E celebrate?”

“Someone called JayZee.  Why strange?”

“Only because Christmas refers to a midwinter celebration on Old Earth.  Given that it’s the PE date, it was quite something for Corsair to keep the PE calendar, even down to the seasons.  I still keep the Corsair calendar, in my head.”

“So, when is this Christmas?”

“It’s about now.” He checked his personal log and chuckled.  “Happy Christmas, Dolores,” and he kissed her.

“Thanks!  You, too.  What do you do to celebrate?”

“Well, Lars and I usually went to the Irish bar on Pleasant Valley and got drunk with the rest of the miners.  Except we usually kept sober so we could get away the next day.” He smiled to himself.  “There was one year, we’d just come back with our second good haul of orichalcum, and Zito was looking after it in his safe.  We were over at Paddy’s, and everyone was teasing us about beginner’s luck, because we weren’t letting on we’d found more.  It’s unusual, you know, finding good asteroids on consecutive trips.”

Dolores nodded.

“Anyhow, we stood our round of drinks, and the Porrhic fella stood his, and then the Gunnerian, Bardic, started saying that we should stand another.  There was a vote and it went in our favour – everyone thought Bardic should do the next round, for his cheek.  He said he would if he lost the arm wrestling.  He was a massive fellow, imagine twenty cents taller than Lars, with my build.  Well, the barman organised the arm wrestling on a knockout basis, and thirty-two of us said we’d do it, which meant five full rounds, so Paddy drew the lots and off we went.  Bardic drew Lars in the second round, and Lars made sure to lose, but also made sure to buy him a nice big drink before he got to the third round.  Everyone was buying him drinks to help him through to the next round.

“Well, by some accident I got through to the final, and who did I meet?  Bardic of course.  Paddy said we should have another drink before we started (straight after the one for winning the semi), and Bardic glugged his down, so I did too.  Only I’m not affected by Talian brandy, or not much, so I’d been drinking that and was still pretty sober.  Bardic was at the roaring and singing stage by now, so I got him going on an old Viking number they sing on Brahe, and meanwhile I sat at the table, waiting for him.  He eventually lurched over, and well, I put in a lot of theatrics, but it was dead easy.  He was in no condition to wrestle by then, and I’ve always been good at it.  Anyway, he lost, and afterwards he went round town saying yes, but the other guy was huge… and with every telling, his opponent got bigger.  And that’s how I got called Big Pete among the mining community.”

Dolores laughed.  “But I thought Lars said it was your nickname at college?”

“Yeah, it was, but I’d lost it by the time I met him at Excelsior.  So I sort of regained it that night on Pleasant Valley.”

They sat, lost in memories, thinking of celebrations of the past.

“It’s a locator,” said Dolores, out of the blue.

“The Zito bit?”

“No, the warpdrive.  Those four numbers at the end threw the decoding program out when we tried it before.  Look – it’s a group here – and here – and here.  Computer…”

She did not need to instruct the computer to locate the point in space, Pete had already done it.

“Bloodworts.”  It was an unusually strong swearword from Pete. Dolores leaned over.

“Where is that?”

“Terzlan E.”

“So, why has the engineering system thrown up a random code at us, on Christmas day, about an event on this day at Terzlan E, which just happens to be pretty much at the centre of the galaxy?”

“I have no idea, but if we’re ever going make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, our best bet is to go towards Terzlan E to spare our resources.

A rustle behind them indicated Lars’s presence once more.

“I’m not going back to Terzlan E.  He’ll probably kill me.”

Pete turned to Lars with an enquiring eyebrow.

“My father,” Lars explained.

Christmas_Tree_small_size“Look on the bright side, Lars,” said Maggie, emerging behind him with two mugs of steaming spiced cordial in each hand. “If we don’t get to Terzlan E, we’ll probably die out here anyway.  Right, Pete?”

“Too right, Maggie.”

“Ah, well, happy Christmas everybody,” Lars said, raising his mug cheerily and smiling at them.  “Easy come, easy go!”

© 2015 J M Pett

Christmas tree by Mary Katrantzou via