Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
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From Ares To Ishtar

by Gregory Cioffi

Note: This story is a "spinoff" style sequel to a 2017 piece entitled "Lineage and Legacy" which was first published here at Aphelion (issue 218). While you can certainly read this piece as a standalone adventure, the former story would indeed expand upon the mythology and background of this universe. Enjoy! 

             The blanket of blackness was eclipsed only by the blurry opening of his eyes, as Xander was once again aware of his own existence.

            His surroundings transformed from indistinct colors and shapes to a focused reality.

            He looked out of his viewing window and observed a yellowish-hued region. He took notice of the rusty-colored ground, where dirt was being kicked up and small rocks were being pushed around.

            Xander impulsively smiled at the sight.

            Hull breach imminent. Structural damage is nearing critical levels. Please evacuate immediately.

            A stream of red fluid slid down his check and veered off towards his chin. He placed his hand on the sensation and traced its source up to his forehead. 

            He pulled his hand away and placed it in front of his face. The crimson liquid caused his eyes to enlarge and just like that, Xander was smacked out of his cloudy obscurity and transported to the impending calamity before him.

            His head darted back and forth, assessing his status as recent memories came flooding back. He looked down to see if he sustained any further injuries but quickly deduced none were grave.

            Xander catapulted out of his cockpit seat.

            Hull breach imminent. Structural damage is nearing critical levels. Please evacuate immediately.

            The pilot made his way towards the back of the small ship, swaying back and forth from a whirling sensation in his brain. He ripped open a locker to reveal a formidable looking exoskeleton suit.


            The wrecked ship slept motionless on the rockbound ground as deceptively docile winds created the only modicum of movement.

            The craft’s door suddenly snapped off and Xander speedily jumped down. He sprinted away from the ship as he could hear its fading dire warning one last time.

            When he felt he was a safe distance away, he turned. Xander could see the craft’s shields withering. As soon as the final flicker dissipated, and the safeguard expired, Xander beheld a most intimidating sight. Without protection, the vessel gave way to the planet’s air pressure, which instantaneously crushed the ship, forcing it to implode, its layers folding into itself in an immediate inward burst. The ship that had recently traveled through the solar system had now been reduced to oblivion, decimated beyond recognition in a mere matter of seconds.

            The morsel of remains began liquefying, as the temperature proved so hot, the metal melted into nonexistence.

            Your suit’s shields are currently operating at full capacity. Atmospheric compositions are highly toxic: 96.5% carbon dioxide, 3.5% nitrogen. Current temperature: 866 F.

            Xander’s knees grew weary from the spectacle of devastation. He turned to look out at the surface of Venus.

            While he could adequately see in front of him, making out the small upcoming hills, the gargantuan structures in the distance were opaque and perhaps wouldn’t be noticeable at all if the sun were not shining through the haze.

            Xander peered out at the uncertain and threatening image, knowing only one thing for sure: he could not stay put, it was time to trudge.  




            Her eyes could light up the deep, dark, depths of cold space. That was Xander’s initial reaction to the exquisite woman sitting alone at a table overlooking Ares’ first ocean.

            She wore an azure dress as aquamarine stones dangled from her ears. A sparkling wine sat in front of her, straddled by her thumb and pointer finger. In her other hand rested a book, an old antique physical version of a book.

            Her level of focus was unbreakable as her eyes glided from word to word, line-to-line.

            “Would you like something to drink?”

            The waiter broke Xander’s concentration and, wondering if the server noticed his ogling, he embarrassingly answered, “Uh, yes, thank you, I’ll have a Blue Sunset.”

            “Right away.”

            Xander watched the waiter hover off and when he turned his attention back to the outside dining area, he found his infatuation staring directly at him.

            His instinct instructed him to look away. He darted downwards, pretending to fix his napkin.

            He agonizingly contemplated whether or not he should have taken cover like that. He caught her staring after all. Or did she notice his stare before her stare unbeknownst to him? Was she only staring because he had been? The complications were endless.

            “Your drink, sir.”

            As Xander looked up to accept the cocktail, he discovered the azure-colored-dress-wearing idol standing in front of his table. He felt his stomach hastily retreat and worried that he would soon collapse inward altogether.

            “A Blue Sunset,” the waiter confirmed. “I’ll be back in a few moments to take your order.”

            “Thank you,” Xander mumbled.

            “Blue Sunset, huh? Haven’t seen many people order one of those.”

            Her articulation was silken, her utterings tender.

            “It seemed fitting,” Xander replied.

            “Yes, the yellowish-red sunset of Earth hits differently, doesn’t it?”

            “It does. Though I think I prefer the one here on Mars.”

            “I’m sorry to bother you..”

            “…It’s no bother,“ he blurted out.

            She smiled and a universe of joy revealed itself.

            “I was just wondering if I could borrow your Flame? I noticed you had two and my table doesn’t have one.”

            Xander looked down to see his two Flames, which he had not noticed previously. 

            “Oh, yes, of course. Enjoy it.”

            “Thank you!”

            She carefully scooped up the ever-ignited flambeau with a grin of gratitude.

            Just as she turned to head back, Xander summoned a galaxy’s worth of gallantry and gracefully asked, “Are you dining alone?”

            She looked back, the candle burning brightly in her hand, and answered, “I am.”

            “I am too, though I would very much enjoy some company and I was just wondering if, perhaps, you felt the same?”

            She peered back to her table, where her book rested soundly, and then back to his.

            She thought for a moment before concluding, “My table has the view. I think we’re better off there.”




            Xander plodded through the yellow haze, following his augmented compass.

            With the fate of his ship in the forefront of his mind, Xander was fully aware of the hazards presented and the importance of the armored technology enveloping him.

            He ascended over a small uprising when he heard a slightly familiar noise.

He looked around but noticed nothing that could account for the sound.

            He continued to walk and continued to hear the steady melody until it suddenly dawned on him to look in the only direction he had yet to examine.

            Xander escalated his head and looked into the Venusian sky. It was there that he found the source of the audible enigma.

            Falling from the distant clouds was rain. The droplets shot down but evaporated before ever reaching the surface.

            His biotechnological advancements allowed him to hear the downdraft of the storm, the sounds of the droplets carrying the air with it, from afar.

            Xander knew this was an ideal situation, as the shower consisted of sulphuric acid rain, not exactly something he would like to physically encounter.

            The droplets, while still in the orange sky, decomposed into water and sulphur-dioxide. Xander recalled his education well and knew these gases subsequently rose to feed the clouds of Venus.

            As he looked back down at the landscape of the planet, Xander wondered what the already-eroded surface would look like if the corrosive downpour were to reach the ground as well. The thought itself soon evaporated into the dimness of his mind as he refocused to concentrate on the dangerous hike through the looming, rough terrain.




            “It’s beautiful here,” remarked Xander while soaking up the environment.

            “Guess they were wrong when they said Mars had no atmosphere.”

            The joke, coupled with her crooked countenance made him chuckle.

            “Shall we get the obligatory questions out of the way?” asked Dytee in a tone that melded enthusiasm with a contrived sense of danger.

            “Rapid fire!” Xander responded excitedly.

            “What’s your name?”


            “Is that a first name or last name?”

            “It’s my only name actually.”

            “Fascinating. I’m Dytee.”

            “Dytee,” Xander repeated. “Beautiful name. Where were you born?”

            “I was born on the Moon, actually. But my parents hailed from Somalia.”

            “The richest country on the continent that is the political center of Earth.”

            “Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound aristocratic. Where do you come from?”

            Xander swiftly answered, “I’m originally from New Harlem.”


            “The farthest thing from it. I’m a military instructor.”

            “Should have known by the way you said rapid fire!”

            “What brings you here?”

            “Much needed respite. You?”

            “Also on vacation,” Xander parried.

            “What do you think of Mars so far?”

            “Amazing to think how it used to be dry and cold here. Now it’s warm and wet.”

            “Sounds to me like it got a divorce.”

            Dytee’s eyes enlarged as she fleetly put her hand over her mouth.

            “I’m sorry! I just blurted it out!”

            Xander had erupted in laughter, causing Dytee to giggle in afterthought.

            “Okay, focus, Dytee,” she self-instructed. “Round two. Go!”

            “What do you do?” Xander asked.



            “I think so. What’s your sign?”



            “I don’t know. I don’t believe in it.”

            “Good answer. How is that even still a thing, right? Where do you live now?”

            “Actually, come to think of it, I don’t really have a home.”

            The cadence of the expeditious back and forth broke as Xander inadvertently retreated into his mind.

            He continued, “I sort of just go from ship to ship, space station to space station. Wherever they assign me.”

            Dytee leaned in and surmised, “Well, we’re all floating in space one way or another.”

            His spirit lifted at his dining partner’s capacity to brandish philosophy and pragmatism concurrently and he responded in the only way that seemed appropriate.

            “I’ll drink to that.”

            Dytee picked up her bubbly as Xander raised his mixed drink. They clinked glasses and consequently indulged. The liquids slid down their throats and nourished their desires.

            As they put their glasses back down, Dytee looked into Xander’s comfortable, cushioned eyes and commented, “Some traditions are worth keeping.”




            Xander had been trekking for nearly six hours without rest and his pace hadn’t slowed.  He found himself traversing over and through vast ridged plateaus, fissures, and clefts. The solid surface proved to be a worthy challenger to placid travels.

            Xander took hold of a solid jutting-out rock, and he securely placed his foot on a stable foundation, allowing the majority of his weight to be on his feet and lower body.

            He took a deep breath and repeated the pattern.

            Xander kept his straightened arms close to the rock, so that his muscles were not constantly engaged.

            “Breathe,” he reminded himself.

            He took a deep breath from the inside of his helmet, inhaling from his nose and exhaling out of his mouth. His suit’s constant monitoring and automatic readjustment of temperature and air moisture content prevented any fogging up.

            Xander grabbed a boulder just in reach.

            “Balance and stability,” he whispered.

            He felt a foothold and boosted himself up further while prudently engaging his core.

            His sensory upgrades allowed him to clearly hear the scrapings of his foot against every loose broken fragment. He reminded himself to keep his feet as quiet as possible.

            He looked up to see the significant scaling still left. 

            “I can do this. I can absolutely do this,” he reassured.


            Xander placed his hand on the top of the mountain and hoisted himself up to solid ground, standing triumphant.

            He looked back to see the extraordinary distance he had gone, and how far down he would go if he faltered.

            Xander turned and assessed that his immediate future would at least be filled with relatively flat land.

            He put one foot in front of the other and tried not to think how much distance he still had to span when he heard it.

            He looked to his sides.


            Had he imagined it?

            He heard it again; it was faint.

            He looked ahead but didn’t see anything to claim the crackling noise.

            Xander turned. Behind him, in the far distance, he saw them.

            Out from the sulphuric acid clouds came-forth multitudinous strikes of electricity. Furious flashes lit up the Venusian sky as jagged streaks of lightning

erupted across the horizon.

            Xander marveled at the sight, something he didn’t think he would ever get to experience. The magnetic storm almost calmed the traveler as it reminded him of the days of his youth.

            All tranquility soon dispersed, however, as Xander recollected that lightning on Venus was continually caused by volcanic eruptions.




            “And now for the good stuff!” Dytee exclaimed.

            “I’m ready!” Xander countered vigorously.

            “Have you ever had any pets?”

            “One, when I was a kid. An oculudentavis.”

            “The lizard bird looking thing?”

            “That’s the one.”

            “Did they revive that just for you?”

            “I should hope not.”

            “What was its name?”


            Dytee exploded in mocking laughter.

            “Perfect, right?”

            “Perfect,” Dytee assured.

            “What book were you reading?”

            “The greatest science-fiction novel of all time.”

            “Brave New World?”

            “Starship Troopers.”

            “But of course. Are you a family person?”


            “Safe to assume you don’t want offspring then?”

            “Very safe.”

            “Do you like surprises?”

            “As much as I like kids.”

            Xander smiled an unstoppable smile and continued, “What do you do for fun?”

            “Lead on handsome men who eat alone at restaurants.”

            “Poor bastards.”

            I think so. What is a word that you pronounced wrong for the majority of your life?”

            “Apparently there’s no second r in sherbet.”

            “Wait. Really?”


            “You’re lying.”

            “I am not. If you were a Commercial Brawler what would your name be?”

            “The Helium Hooligan.”

            “You answered too quick. You’ve thought about this before.”

            “Absolutely not.”

            “Who’s the liar now?” Xander poked. “Best present you ever gave someone?”

            Dytee stalled for the first time in the conversation. Her eyes left the table and Xander wondered if he had asked something he shouldn’t have.

            “The best present I ever gave someone,” she repeated, “Would have to be a cutting board.”

            “A cutting board?”

            “That’s right. I gave my father a cutting board and it was engraved with the recipe for barbecued meat and maize porridge. It was the last meal he made for my mother before she died.”

            Xander delivered a compassionate countenance and stated, “That sounds like a lovely gift.”

            “Yea. It was,” she responded with a touch of sorrow.

            They locked eyes, consuming the totality of one another. Just as they inhaled themselves in the inescapable black holes of their natures, their robotic server drifted over and placed their meals in front of them, breaking their transcendent force of attraction.

            “Tartiflette au Reblochon for you.”

            “Thank you,” replied Xander as he placed his napkin on his lap.

            “And your Fillet of Uzboi.” 

            “Thank you very much.”

            Xander peeked over at her fish and asked, “Is it local?”

            Dytee prodded her meal around with her utensil and precariously answered, “I really hope not.”




            The change in the systemic time zone was beginning to bring about a temporary disruption in Xander’s semi-biological body as one day on the Venusian surface equated to 243 Earth days.

            Despite the disorientation, the lone journeyer relentlessly continued through the sunny-colored lands.

            The ground had become increasingly craggier and thus more difficult to walk.

            Xander emerged out of a gloom that greatly reduced his visibility and took notice of a considerable formation up ahead.

            Outside temperature is steadily increasing. Shields are still functioning at maximum capacity. Systems are fully operational.

            He could make out a cuplike crater at the summit of the approaching structure, deducing it to be a mountain of some sort.

            Xander halted to observe. The ridge appeared to be a rupture in the crust of the planet. He looked down. Xander noticed subtle swellings on the surface floor.

            He looked back up to see fumes rising out of the vent; gasses glissaded out and sinuously caressed and encircled the top of the rock.

            His feet began moving involuntarily. He looked back down to the trembling and quivering terrain.

            Warning: volcanic eruption imminent.

            Expletives abound, Xander dashed towards the edge of the bluff. The intense rumbling superseded all other noise as he galloped and jumped over the breaking and cracking Venus.

            As he neared a forthcoming precipice, he could hear the explosive eruption. He took a quick peek at the radiant red lava spraying up from the volcano.

            Outside temperature: rapidly increasing.

            Lightning strikes suddenly lit up the sky, followed by sweeping, strident, clamorous claps as speeding magma chased Xander towards the cliff’s overhang.

            Warning: lethal brink approaching.

            The upper atmosphere provided extremely short, brilliant bursts of light, seemingly in synchronization with the hurdler’s feet.

            Xander could feel the molten fever at his back, seeping through his overburdened body suit.

            As he arrived at the mountainous edge, he did not hesitate. Somehow summoning speed that was unbeknownst to even him, he dashed right to the very end.

            Xander sprung clear off solidity; he jumped.

            For the first time, he saw the tremendous depth of the ground below and understood that it was a long, insufferable, way down.                               




            “Have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?” asked Dytee as she peered out at the rolling tides.

            “I have,” Xander countered while staring directly at her.

            Dytee could feel his gaze upon her and turned to him with an impressed look.  She inched a little closer and inserted her hand into his.

            They were strolling along the beach at sunset, seesawing with the shifting shoreline. 

            “So, any big ventures you are working on?” asked Dytee.

            “Project Swarm actually.”

            “The sphere that harvests all the energy output from the sun?”

            “That’s the one.”

            “That undertaking worries me.”

            “It should worry everyone. It’s no small matter.”

            Xander froze and looked up and out while exclaiming, “Those moons are majestic, aren’t they?” as he motioned to Phobos and Deimos.

            “They are.” She took a deep breath, as she logged the memory into a sacred folder. As they continued their leisurely walk, she added, “The God of War has been tamed at long last.”

            “Took a while.”

            “Terraforming isn’t easy. I should know.”

            “Are you partly responsible for this?”

            “Nope. But I will be partially responsible for that,” she revealed as she pointed to a bright star in the sky.

            “Earth’s Twin?”

            “Certainly not identical twins, but that’s right. Also, the only planet named after a female god.”

            “You are working to modify the atmosphere of Venus to make it habitable like they are doing here?”

            “Correct. Should be no big deal. We just have to shift its entire orbit, bring over some comets for water, capture the carbon dioxide, remove the carbon dioxide, you know, the easy stuff.”

            Xander snickered and commented, “Seems a little risky for a person to be there – even one with advancements. No wonder you’re worried about Project Swarm. You’ll be on the second planet from the sun.”

            “Yeah, if something happens you just might have to come and save me,” she jested. “The bots will do most of the heavy lifting, that’s for sure. But they want a human presence there as well. I’m not sure if it’s political, cautionary, out of pure glory or a little of all three but they have created a small base in Ishtar deemed livable as long, as we never leave it. Never know when a repair might be needed, and they’ll save time on the transport by having us there.”

            “Sounds dangerous.”

            “It most certainly is. Taming Mars is one thing. Taming the goddess of beauty, love, and desire – well – that’s another story entirely.”

            “I can imagine.”

            “Can you?” she asked as she stopped in her tracks, her eyebrows interrogatively mounting.

              Under the Martian sky the two courters beamed at one another, partially unaware that they were ineluctably inching closer, as if the curvature of space-time itself willed them nearer. This irresistible force of nature consumed their trepidations and impelled the two bodies toward one another.

            “I think I’m going to kiss you now,” Dytee whispered.

            “I think I’d like that.”

            Their lips gravitated and their hearts fluttered. As their event horizons passed the point of no return, their frontiers collided.  

            Standing on a sandbar, Xander could feel her frame push up against his as the waves around them devotedly rolled in and out, encircling them in response to the forces exerted upon them by the moons and sun, fervidly driving more water onto the shore.

            An enrapturing exploration of new worlds triggered their neurotransmitters as a heavy dosage of dopamine cascaded and outpoured, submerging and drowning their usually reserved dispositions.

            The connectivity surged and energized the affected circumference, galvanizing a congruence of the universe, with all its incomprehensible phenomena.

            The current retreated as the kiss came to a fateful close and with it, the acme of wonder and awe.

            Dytee couldn’t conceal the colossal smile that adorned her face.

            Xander breathed in the moment, wishing to never let it out.

            “That was nice,” she reported.

            Xander nodded his head, hoping what had just occurred could be infinite, that their amorous orbits would never decay and spiral away, back to the comparably mundane happenings of a solitary life.

            “I’m going to remember that,” she continued.

            Xander wasn’t sure what to say. He searched for words, an urgent address, an appeal to their senses; he found none.

            “I know,” she soothed, her palm caressing his face. “I know.”

            Xander liberated his nerves in the form of a blush and revealed, “To be honest, I’m feeling a bit terraformed myself.”

            Dytee bottled her eagerness in the form of a laugh.

            “So, what do you think?” probed Xander.

            Dytee investigated her stirrings and sensations as a prosperity of passion pervaded her.

            An unuttered truth suddenly and completely spoke to them both: it was a reminder that they would very soon be literal worlds apart.  

            Dytee removed each strap of her dress and let the totality of material fall onto the warm sand.

            Xander stood stunned as the moon’s lights illuminated sectors of her nude physique. He did only what seemed appropriate; he mimicked her actions, petrifyingly removing all remnants of his clothing.

            Dytee observed the uncharted regions of his bareness.

            Their eyes locked as the electric currents of their yearnings gave way to the magnetic moment. They interlocked, holding the other in a galactic droplet of delight.

            As they infused, an oceanic-sized smile rolled in the water and the eyes that were moons guarded the momentous moment, as the man of war and the woman of beauty mightily brought forth all things celestial. 




            Xander stepped foot onto solid ground as the gliders retracted back into his suit. He turned to see the erupting mountain miles upon miles in the distance.

            As he went to pivot, he noticed numerous insect-sized machines traversing the land before him. He knew they were the bots designed to seed the planet as a means to solve the carbon dioxide dilemma.

            Xander rapidly turned to behold his destination: The Venusian Geo-Engineering Base.


            The structure’s shields are currently online.

            He stood in front of the station, an iota more hopeful. 

            Xander walked through the shield without issue due to his military clearance and approached the exterior wall.

            A door dematerialized in front of him and he entered.


            The station was dark; the emergency lights were flashing.

            He removed his helmet and yelled, “Hello!? Is anyone here!?”

            Xander made his way down numerous corridors while checking various rooms.


            He opened lockers, wardrobes, closets, cabinets; any container he deemed open-able, but found nothing of interest.


            Xander found himself in the command center, which remained pristine; there were no signs of panic or struggle.

            “Computer,” Xander called out.

            Green lights lit up around the room.

            Greetings, Instructor Xander. How can we help you?”

            “Download the base’s logs into my neural cloud.”

            “You would like us to download all account history?”

            He hesitated for a moment but then answered, “Affirmative.”


            Xander suddenly had cerebral access to a plethora of information.

            “Download complete. May I assist you with anything else?”

            Xander did not respond as he immediately started sifting through the reports. The green lights eventually dimmed and Xander took a seat on the central chair.

            He scrolled through to the end, choosing to encounter that which he halfheartedly wished to avoid: the final entry.

            Through his mind’s eye, he activated the log.

            Her voice permeated his consciousness.

            Dytee’s tone was alert and controlled.

            Xander found himself leaving Ishtar, his thoughts reaching out and grasping onto remembrance.

            He could smell her naturally perfumed scent as she revealed they lost contact with all off-planet communications.

            He saw her inquisitive eyes, dancing in the ballroom of curiosity as she reached the determination that they could no longer stay on Venus.

            She tasted like an intoxicating breath of fresh air, exhilaration incarnate, as she stated there was an emergency escape shuttle.

            Xander felt the warmth of her aura retreat as she lifted her head from his chest for the last time while she asked whoever was listening to wish them luck.

            He heard himself say the three words he didn’t mean to say while noting her silence.

            The log had ended.

            Xander leaned back in the chair and sighed. As his ship had been destroyed in the crash landing, he found himself the sole living being on a perilous planet with no means of escape.

            In a way, he was happy he didn’t find her as he imagined her somewhere safe, soon to be on a beach with good food and warm sand between her toes.

            Xander suddenly noticed how dark his surroundings were.

            Exhaustion, hunger, and dejection came colliding down in a trinity of torment as the realization of his doom dawned.

            His world began to lose its brightness, its vividness, its very color.

             He didn’t know if it was by choice or by virtue of the threshold beyond awareness, but Dytee’s face, the senses that came along with her, and the unfathomable feelings she furnished, seemed ever-present, as if they were a guide lulling him back to harmony, back to serenity, back to the shores of Ares.

            The blurry closing of his eyes was eclipsed only by a blanket of blackness, as Xander was once again unaware of his own existence.


2022 Gregory Cioffi

Bio: Gregory Cioffi (SAG-AFTRA, AEA) is a professional actor and a published writer. His works have been published in The Feral Press, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Little Old Lady (LOL) Comedy, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Fleas on the Dog, The Five-Two, Aphelion, Paumanok: Interwoven/Transition, and Allegory Ridge. Many of his stories have been archived in numerous libraries including Yale University’s Beinecke Collection (Rare Books and Manuscript Library). His poem Confined But Commemorating, written about Memorial Day during the pandemic, won third place in the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society Poetry Contest. Greg’s film, The Museum of Lost Things, won awards at The Long Island International Film Expo, Global Shorts, and The Madrid International Film Festival. Be on the lookout for his next film – The Concertgoer! You might have noticed him on the stage or screen in The Irishman, The Godfather of Harlem, Transit: A NYC Fairytale, AMC’s The Making of the Mob, or in Tony n Tina’s Wedding where, for the last 7 years, he has been married hundreds of times nationally and internationally. Greg is an Adjunct Professor of English at Long Island University, an Associate Professor of Literature & Composition at Post University, and he also teaches Creative Writing, Poetry, and Basic Acting at Nassau Community College. http://www.gandeproductions.com/

E-mail: Gregory Cioffi

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