Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


When Every Song Reminds You of a Dead Universe
by Karl Johanson

Side Effects of Yeah- Yeah Pills
by A.J. Kirby

A Breederax for Dalia
by Janett L. Grady

by Byron Barton

One of Our Starships Is Missing
by Terry Savage

Help Desk
by Robert J. Mendenhall

Toca la Guitarra
by Wayne Helge

How to Travel Through Time & Space
by Allen Quintana

by Kevin Gordon


Bracing for a Brave New World
by Hunter Liguore

Sizing Things Up
by Eric M. Jones





Comic Strips




By Kevin Gordon

SHE NEVER LIKED WHO she was. No one asked her out on a date, no one whistled as she walked by, no one held a door for her with a lingering smile. If she were a meta, she would have been rated merely as serviceable, and that is why she decided to put a mortgage on a new persona.

“Why do you wanna get one of them?” Her mother pleaded with every tool at her disposal—the wide open eyes, the wringing of her dry and wrinkled hands, the nervous rocking back and forth. She oozed an anxious sweat that made the room smell closer and fouler that it really was. “I’ll never understand what—”

“No, you wouldn’t understand,” interrupted Liz, her usual lilting voice now near-monotone. She refused to feed into her mother’s hysteria, to get into another shouting match. She had always tried to be the calm against her mother’s storm, the base to her acid, and throughout her life her patience was sorely tested. “Times are different; you never liked the TMSD, never liked to chronicle. But those are what we are of, in this time.”

Her mother flopped back in the same beige and gold fabric chair she had been flopping back in since Liz was a little girl. It was a solid old thing, made of hard, thick red wood with cushions that were firm, unyielding, and dependable—just like her mother. Liz could remember her mother flopping into the old chair when her father would try to get his way, if even for a trifle. It was a throne from which she could dispense edicts on morality and conduct that rarely could be overturned. Her mother would never, could never relent. She had to hold guilt over any who opposed her, no matter if they were her mother, her husband, or her only dear daughter.

“Now listen, Lizzie, listen! I’ve seen what that persona crap’ll do to good people—honest people. Why, Frannie’s girl got one, and within two months, two months, her own mother didn’t recognize her!” She took a deep breath to refuel in-between her hysterics. Liz was about to get a word in edgewise, but she hesitated, and lost. “And you know how close Frannie and Daria were, and here Daria’s broken her mother’s heart for good.”

“Oh mom.” She capitulated, throwing her arms around her mother, who was now beginning to cry.

“I mean, you’re gonna spend all that money, take out a loan on your future, on something you can’t even see?” Her fat body positively trembled with anger and frustration, as sweat pooled under her ample bosom. “On something you’ve already got? So you ain’t joined, so you don’t have the best job in the world; would it really change?”

“I’m not joined, and I’m not going to get joined at this rate.” Her expression got an icy coolness to it, one that her mother never could figure out where it came from—her father was one of the warmest, kindest, forgiving people anyone could ever meet, and her mother felt she surely didn’t deserve this treatment from her only daughter. Liz pulled back her stringy red hair, tying it absently into a knot, like she always did before a confrontation. “No man’s gonna to speak to me—not like this! I’m all natural, and these days, it gets you a fifth-grade suite in the lower levels of an old habitat with a menial programming correction job. I’ll be all alone, mother, can’t you see? I’ve been alone all my life, and I’ll have another eighty years of going to work, coming home, plugging in my TMSD and watching someone else’s damned AV lives. Watching everyone else get somewhere, be someone, but me!”

Her mother still shook her head in disbelief. “What’ll happen if everyone did this, girl? If everyone got one of those artificial personalities, and got to be something special, finding a man who was great and rich. Who would be left?” She lumbered out of the chair onto her comically small feet to make one last appeal to her only daughter, whom she loved more than anything on the globes. “You’re all I’ve got, Lizzie. I hate to be selfish, but your father’s dead, and I’m all alone. And believe it or not, you’re all you’ve got too. Once you trade yourself in, for something newer and flashier, what’ll be left? When you get all that lottment, who’s will it be? Can you tell me that?”

Enough!” Liz screamed like she never had before, clenching her thin little hands into balls of hate at her side. All Liz’s life her mother had badgered her into what she wanted her to do, cajoled her away from anything special or dear that she wanted. Liz secretly knew her mother badgered her father to death, and decided this time she would not win again. “I’m doing this, and that’s final. I love you mom, but I’ve got to think of myself, now.”

Her mother watched as Liz stormed out of the house, stomping her feet on the wood floor, her heart black and cold. She leaned back in her chair, and picked up a holo-image she always kept near her, one of her husband and child, taken what seemed to be an eternity ago on a vacation around the massive planet Celd. She always knew her daughter would be different; with her thin, gangly body, pale skin, and decidedly homely features, she would never win a beauty contest. She was a socially awkward thing, who never had but a few distant friends and boys that would rather try to use her than honestly love her. But in her heart, she thought her daughter’s differences would make her a happier person, make her something special in a world of the polished and perfected mundane.

I only wish you were thinking of yourself.


Dozens of old women hung around outside of the OLMAC Nu-Ego Enhancement Center, flanked by OLMAC troopers dressed in grey fatigues. It all seemed utterly surreal to Liz, as just overhead flew the brilliantly garish banners advertising the Persona Enhancement Procedure, complete with holo-testimonials from hundreds of successful, satisfied customers. She waited in a long line full of the eager and desperate, all clucking like a line of ducks about what they were going to do once they were upgraded; a few feet away, heavily armored troopers with thick emdec rifles stood guard. Liz tried not to care, tried to just concentrate on pushing forward, getting it done, before her doubts revoked her commitment. But she couldn’t help but notice a few sobbing souls drawn to those old women who looked more like vultures, and how a few even walked off with them, as the guns of OLMAC kept their sights and barrels trained on those who remained.


It was a weird feeling, to look out of your own eyes, yet not recognize the image in the mirror. She faintly remembered her broker at Nu-Ego told her not to look at her reflection for at least a week, though he told her a lot of other things like the term of the mortgage, the initial grace period, and the penalties of foreclosure, but she was too enamored with the images of all the pretty men she could meet to care much about all the annoying little details. Out into the world she boldly flew, eagerly discarding the debris of who she was. Into a box she stuffed her old clothes and keepsakes, and over to the incinerator it went. She dropped the box with a few other things in front, happy to be free of what was before.

She went to a “meet and greet” function for those with new personas. The old Liz would have worn some kind of long dress, a flowing blouse with clever patches knitted along the sleeves like flair, an open entreaty to attractive men to ask about her. But this new Liz, whom she now thought of as Beth, wore something tight, red, and low cut in the front and back. She seemed like a different person, a different species, as she gazed at herself in a reflection along the way. The world no longer seemed immense and foreboding; rather, it seemed small, and under her control. She had purpose to her gait, focus in her eyes and those who were smaller and weaker moved out of her way as she bolted through the streets. She felt a euphoria that never seemed to end, fueled by a reservoir of confidence and hope.

When the door was opened revealing hundreds of attractive men with broad shoulders and broader smiles, and an equal number of women laughing out loud as they stroked their finely coiffured hair, Liz would have demurred, feigned sickness, and found somewhere else to be. But Beth eagerly jumped in and swam with the best of them. She feasted on the treats dangled before her, eagerly nibbled and munched on the varied plethora of options. She could smell their desire, and it aroused her incredibly, stoking the flame of conquest inside her. Within an hour she had her prey pinned with a confidence she didn’t think twice about. He was tall and eager, with a rapport that was easy and free. They lay with each other, loved, and within a few short weeks became joined, getting a large suite far from her mother and memories of her past. For a few years, Liz thought her life was finally on track, and all she had to do was relax and let a very capable pilot fly her to her future.


“Dear, you’ve got another bill.”

“Another what?”

She snatched the envelope out of her husband’s hand and ripped the gold seal open. She scanned down the paper, which warned her of a delinquent account that needed to be addressed, or OLMAC would begin foreclosure proceedings.

“How can I be delinquent? I thought they just downloaded their payment out of my lottment.” She scanned the other letters he had just put down. “You don’t get any bill, do you?”

“Nope, not a one,” he replied absently, as he slipped into his black satin jacket. “I’ll be home a little early tonight, so I’ll make us some dinner. I got another promotion, so I’m in the mood to celebrate! Still want that roast kayevka?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Suddenly she recalled how many times he had come to her with the same good news. Another promotion, another roast kayevka. “That’ll be good ...”

He fixed his tie in the mirror, as she watched him from within a smoldering grey cloud of doubt. “Don’t worry, just go down to the mortgage center, and see if you can’t straighten it all out. Probably just some tech problem.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” she said, brightening. Suddenly she caught a whiff of his cologne, musky and sweet, and quickly she dispelled the thought of the letter from her mind. “Maybe I’ll be home early too.” She pulled him in for a kiss, grabbing him firmly in her hands. She whispered softly in his ear. “You better be good tonight.”

“Yes ma’am!”


A few weeks later, another envelope came. This time, it was black.

It wasn’t that she had forgotten about the bill, or that she was ignoring it. She just didn’t think of it as real, that it really mattered to her. She had a good job—not a great one, but one that allowed her to keep economic pace with her friends. They vacationed well, had tasteful dinner parties with the latest wines and cheeses, and bought the most sophisticated TMSD’s. If there was a problem, she thought that surely her account would have reflected it.

But apparently there was a problem.

“What’s wrong?” asked her husband, as he came home to find her standing stock still in the foyer of their suite, pale and forlorn. “Got another bill?”

“Yeah, and this one’s a doozie.”

“What does it say? What do they want?”

She snapped out of it, and hurriedly folded it over. “Nothing you need to worry about! I’ll take care of my own problems.”

“I hope so,” he replied, with a little more strength than usual. She had an incredibly strong persona, one that always dominated him, but for a moment, she felt distinctly small and meaningless under his gaze. “It would be a shame to lose you.”

She desperately wanted to slash at him, claw at him, bite off something precious, but she meekly nodded instead, knowing he had, for now, the disgustingly distinct advantage. Liz got up early the next day, as she barely slept during the night. Her mind was consumed with anxiety over the bill, over the possibility outlined in the final clause.

If the mortgagee becomes excessively delinquent, the created persona may be foreclosed on at any point in time.

The day was filled with brilliant sunshine, but all she wanted to do was hide. Even with the Beth persona in control, she dreaded the thought of facing her finances, of begging for anything. She utterly hated to be in the wrong, and if she thought for a moment, she would have realized exactly how much she had in common with her mother, whom she had barely seen over the past few years.

Liz went down to the Nu-Ego mortgage center, and to her surprise, the long lines outside were filled with men and women with the same anxious, terrified look she had. The same vultures she saw outside the Enhancement center were also outside the mortgage center, but this time the OLMAC troopers patrolled in tight circles around them, arresting a vulture and their prey without warning in the middle of a conversation. Something about the way the vultures interacted made her think of them as salesmen suiting for prospective clients in some underhanded, nefarious scheme. She couldn’t tell why some got arrested while others walked away unmolested, but she was glad she didn’t need to know.

After a few hours of waiting, she sat in front of a thin, tired-looking man who apparently couldn’t care less about her.

“So, what’s the problem?” He slumped on the desk, tired and bored.

“I ... got this bill,” she said, pulling out the black sheet of paper with grey words printed on it. “I don’t see how I’m not making the payments!”

The man nodded absently, as obviously he had heard it all before. “Did you read your contract?”


“Your contract; the one you signed when you got your custom-built persona?”

“I ... I skimmed it, but I didn’t quite read all.”

“What you have been paying is the rate at the initial percentage,” he stated, abruptly cutting her off. He then rattled off a speech she knew he had probably given hundreds of times before. “That initial percentage was based on the possibility of your potential for future employment. It is also based on a certain number of promotions during a set period of time, a certain income of a new spouse, and extracurricular earnings from investments and savings.”

She did a double-take, utterly confused. “What?”

He sighed again, this time swinging a round an old, beige terminal and cuing up an empty screen. “Your name?”

“Beth ... uh, Elisabeth Tate.”

“Id number?”

“25D-7869YH, uhh, 396W.”

He keyed in her ID, and glanced through a few fields. “OLMAC has only been taking out your initial rate, because if we took out the necessary amount, it would be in excess of your weekly lottment.”


He scanned further down. “Apparently, this has been going on for the past year. Your persona broker even extended the initial grace period, as a goodwill gesture, but lately we’ve been required to enforce collections on delinquent accounts.” He faced her, with a trace of compassion on his face. “I’m sorry, but at this rate, without several promotions and positive salary adjustments, we will need to foreclose on your persona.”

She clasped her hands together in her lap, struggling not to shake herself apart. It took all her willpower to hold back the tears, and to keep her voice from breaking. She took a deep breath, and instantly Beth’s full strength surged in her mind. Adrenaline was activated, endorphins soothed her mind, as her face suddenly turned placid and calm.

“What will that mean?” she asked, in a flat, even monotone.

“The first stage is denial of access to the new persona. Your mind will revert back to its prior persona—your root ego. If after a small grace period your account cannot be brought back up to date, then you will be asked to return to the enhancement center for persona eviction. If you refuse, you will be arrested, and the persona forcibly removed from your mind. We regret that the removal of your persona may also result in a loss or demotion of employment, but again, all this can be avoided if you bring your account up to date.”

She nodded, with a thin smile. “How long do I have?”

“Two weeks. Longer, if we feel there is sufficient positive movement in your financial portfolio.” He leaned forward. “Listen, no one wants to wreck your life. But a lot of people got those personas when you did, and are having a tough time paying them off. There’s a great deal of competition out there—a lot of people in your situation, who also are trying to keep what they’ve got.”

“I know who I am,” she said, with great certainty, “and what I am capable of! I can do this, like I can do anything!”

As she walked out, she couldn’t help but look closer at the vultures who seemed to take a greater interest in her. One of them even grinned as she broke into a quick run.


The next day she marched promptly over to the human resources office of her company, demanded a promotion and raise, and was promptly refused. No matter how convincing her argument was, how persuasive her speech, the woman before her flatly turned her down. As she returned home, after a long day at work, she thought of the last thing the woman told her.

You’ve done good work, just not exceptional work. Do you know how many people have those new personas? I can tell you got a good model, with a strong persistence algorithm and even cross-gender seduction traits, but the power players nowadays have personas that cost twice, if not three times as much as yours. They went all out, double or nothing, and it paid off. Ten years ago, you would have been something special. But now, you’re just average.

Now, I’m just average? She hung in front of the bathroom mirror again, knowing in the core of her being that she was something remarkable and special; a woman who could conquer the world if she so chose.

She sat down with her husband for dinner, maintaining a brave facade as they ate yet another roast kayevka. He laughed and joked, utterly carefree, as her mind was boiling and stewing. Finally, as he mopped up the last of the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread, she managed to ask a question.

“So, would you leave me, if I lost this persona.”

He ate the bread slowly, licking the oily gravy off his fingers, savoring the texture and taste. “The question is, would you leave me, if I lost my persona?”

“Of course,” blurted out Beth. It was a knee-jerk reaction, and Liz stammered afterward, trying to take it back. “I mean ... I don’t really know who you were, and, well, we’d have to see.”

He nodded, with a carefully comical smile on his face. “Yes, I believe we would.”


Later that night, as she lay sleeping next to her perfect husband, in their perfect bed, Beth went away. A black curtain unfurled slowly over her mind, smothering the strength and confidence that was there before. Her eyes bulged as she sprang awake, her hands pulling at the satin sheets as if she could somehow pull Beth back. The room loomed around her, suddenly a monstrous behemoth that utterly terrified her. She saw a projection unit that was big and bulky, a bed oversized, overstuffed and brazenly gaudy, as if even in sleep its owners could proclaim their wealth. She slowly got out of bed, hoping not to wake her husband, and stole into their bathroom to the tall mirror, to look on a woman she no longer was.

Is this ... me?

She ran her fingers along her face, along skin smoothed and moisturized twice a week. She felt along eyebrows that were full and lustrous, under eyes that gleamed with perfection. It all felt like a mask she could no longer live up to, a life she couldn’t begin to manage.

“Everything alright?” asked her husband, groggily, leaning on a pillow. “Still can’t sleep?”

She tried to remember how she would speak to him, how she could still possess him. She had the memories of this other self, knew what words would have come out of her mouth, but no conviction to make them reality.

“I ... I’ll be back in a minute—ok?”

She caught his expression in the mirror; a cold, icy stare that seemed to go right through her.

“Ok,” he answered, lying back down.


That would be the last night she would see him.

The next day she woke up to an empty bed, in an empty room. It was long past morning, and the sun hung high in the sky with light flooding the bedroom. His clothes, his possessions were gone. She felt a soreness in her arm and knew she was probably drugged, so she wouldn’t wake up and interrupt him, or worse, plead and beg to try and stop him.

“Why?!” she screamed, beating the bed with her fists. “I’m not so bad!” She bolted out of bed, and went to the mirror, to look on this known yet unknown person. Already her red hair seemed thinner and stringy—more chaotic. The cool confidence was gone from her eyes, veins bulged in her neck and hands as anxiety dominated her mind. Her bedclothes hung akimbo on her mousey frame, as she no longer pushed out her bosom or tensed her arms to make every moment, every motion, perfect. “Why did you take it away?” She banged her fists on the mirror. “Why did you come back? I was finally rid of you ... finally happy with who I was ...” She pounded her head against the mirror, shedding hot tears into the sink. “Why, why, why?” Again and again her flesh and bone met the unforgiving plane of glass, until a crack ran down the length of her reflection, echoing the river of red coursing down her face.


Another letter was waiting for her at the door.

This one was grey, and it echoed the despair in her soul. It spoke of how she had two weeks, how OLMAC knew she was denied her promotion. It stated that if there was no forward progress to her financial portfolio, that she should voluntarily report to the download facility for full repossession of her persona. It went on to state that any tampering with the sealed off persona would be regarded as trespassing, and would result in criminal prosecution.

The letter fell soundlessly from her hand as she withered in the wind, unsure of what to do or where to go. Something drew her eyes to the lone picture of her mother, sitting in her favorite chair with Liz standing reluctantly beside her.

I can’t ... I can’t go back! It was a picture of how she used to be, dressed in an old, second-hand pale yellow dress with scraps of different fabric sewn on. Her head hung low, her gaze averted from the camera. Liz turned to look at her reflection in one of the plate-glass doors. She was dressed for work, in the hypersexual, powerful clothes of her other ego, but now she slouched in them, her bosom sagging, her eyes limp and fearful. All she wanted to do was rip it apart and sew together a new one, something unique and special, that only she could make. A part of her screamed, laughed in a muffled voice, that while she may have thought that people thought she was special, in truth they thought she was strange, and purposefully avoided her. The voice roared with glee at how socially inept she was, how woefully inadequate she was to face the new life she now owned. Liz knew if she went back to work that everyone would see through her in an instant, as her husband did in the darkness of night.

Where can I go? What can I do?

In an instant, she remembered the vultures outside the clinic and the mortgage center. She remembered the expressions on those who spoke with them, who went away with them. It was the same expression she now saw on herself.

They lost themselves, and knew they had to get it back. She nodded to herself in the mirror. I need to get myself back. I won’t live like this. If this is all there is, then I don’t even want to live.


It rained in slow, thick sheets, drenching those waiting in front of the Nu-Ego mortgage center. And yet they waited, ambivalent to the downpour, determined to see their destiny through. The vultures stood outside with the same determination, in spite of the rain, in spite of the black emdec guns leveled at them by the patrolling OLMAC troopers.

Liz strolled languidly around the periphery, stopping to admire this or that banner, as she surreptitiously watched the vultures and those who interacted with them. The old women were all dressed almost alike, with tall dirty boots, long grey overcoats, and thick knit caps pulled down over their foreheads. White, ruffled scarves covered long thin necks, on which a bony head perched, with lips drawn into a perpetual sneer. Their eyes seemed to float out of their skulls, searching for both prey and predator. They held nothing; their hands were shoved deep into their pockets, and they remained silent unless spoken to.

Some potential clients would linger in line for a while, glancing back and forth, debating to themselves before they ventured over to the old women. Others came straight to them, bypassing the line for the mortgage center all together. They all wore the same misery, breathed the same terror, and had the same goal. As Liz moved in closer, she overheard many conversations, all with the same common thread.

“You should come with me,” a vulture would say. Liz noticed the clients all had doubts, like her, and were unwilling to trust someone without some guarantee. They would hem and haw, asking “is it going to get me in trouble?” or “what will this cost me?” She could read the depression and hopelessness of their faces, but also a hesitation about doing something completely illegal. As she passed by another couple, she heard a client say:

“... but can you give me back my persona?”

In an instant, two OLMAC officers sprang into action, guns drawn, and arrested both the vulture and her prey. Liz then understood what the conditions were, and what she could and couldn’t say.

So they can’t act unless it becomes obvious what one is looking for.

She decided to take this opportunity as the troopers were involved. She walked up directly to one of the old women, as anxious fear knotted her stomach and choked her throat.

“I ... I need a friend,” Liz said slowly, and carefully.

The vulture in front of her squinted her wrinkled eyes, examining Liz’s face with great care. She pulled her coat up tighter, and shifted from one foot to another, as if she were sizing up her prey.

Her husky voice was full of gravel and phlegm.“Why do you need a friend?”

“I ... I ...” she was confused, scared of saying the wrong thing and of saying not enough. The old woman backed away, her eyes darting to and fro in case this was a trap.

“You should figure out what you need, before speaking to someone!”

“Wait! I ... I need help.” In that moment, Liz collapsed emotionally. She couldn’t bear the thought of doing this again and again until she got it right, and yet, couldn’t stand the idea of going back home, and letting the one good thing in her life be taken away, just because of technicalities and legalities she knew nothing of. Liz knew her mother still waited for her, waited to tell her how wrong she was, how she was over her head, how she should have listened in the first place. She knew her mother wouldn’t gloat, wouldn’t laugh, but that if she returned home, beaten, that her life would surely be at an end. She didn’t cry, but for an instant, all her hopelessness and despair was made plain for anyone to see. Her hope for the future died inside, as the vulture before her smiled gently, taking Liz by the hand.

“You should come with me.”

Liz nodded, and they went off together, the OLMAC guards coming close, but leaving them unmolested as they blended into the midday crowd.


Through the crowded and cramped streets of Novan they flew, boarding one trans after another, the vulture pulling and yanking at Liz to make her go faster. They moved silently, not uttering a word to one another, while the whole world around them seemed to be chattering and yakking about the most inane trifles. Liz swore she knew where she was, where she was going, and kept trying to wait for a moment so she could get her bearings. She wanted to reach out to one of the garrulous spectators, and ask about where she was, and how long it had been since they had spoken. To her, it seemed as though every face was turned to look at her, welcome her, and congratulate her. And as she passed by the homes of the poor, she swore she could see some echo of her childhood through the open windows; that she could see a father, like hers, cheer his daughter who screamed with delight. In other windows she could see a mother whipping her child mercilessly, censuring the child’s abhorrent behavior, screaming over and over again that it was for the child’s own good. In some windows the images were so blurry and confusing that Liz couldn’t make them out, while in others the scene was all too clear, yet much too terrible to see. After the fourth trans she trailed after the vulture with a giddy, lunatic smile on her face, bouncing from street to street, wanting to embrace her fellow citizens in a pathetic show of goodwill and love.

Finally they turned down a narrow, dark street, walked quickly over mounds of uneven, wet cobblestones, and passed through an open door at the end. Liz was yanked up three flights of stairs, tight and slippery, stumbling over their uneven planks as the vulture cursed at her clumsiness in the dark. She was almost thrown through a portal of brilliant light into a large room filled with people.

Is this ... it?

She saw dozens of couples lying on cushions on the floor, engaged in what appeared to be an erotic embrace. But as she looked closer, as the vulture took her though the room, she saw that clients like her lay on the ground, seemingly asleep, their heads in the lap of another. This other person worked some silver device attached to the client’s head. She could see others manipulate a holo-input, typing furiously through dozens of screens. The whole room oddly smelled of flowers, as if they all lay in a garden after a spring rain. Liz beamed with joy as the vulture shook her arm, and motioned her to an empty cushion around which a very young man sat.

“So, you want your persona back?” casually asked the man, leaning back on his elbows. He was almost too young for Liz’s taste, and his voice carried a haughty arrogance that Liz just couldn’t stomach. But her mind was untethered and loose in a building storm, and she knew he was probably her only hope. “It is still in foreclosure?”

“Yeah,” muttered Liz, hanging her head low. “They haven’t yet repossessed it.”

He grasped her hand, and smiled with a compassion Liz wasn’t used to. He drew her down to her knees, adjusting the straps of her dress with a smile. They were always coming off, falling from her shoulders, but in her current state of mind she just couldn’t seem to remember to fix them.

“It’s alright—you’re not alone,” he said gently. “Everyone we see is in the same situation—they just can’t pay off the mortgage. OLMAC lied to all of you, telling you your life would be a sweet dream after enhancement. What they didn’t tell you is that they don’t have one model, but over seventy-five, and with each passing year they add more and more to the personas. Right now, you’re paying more than your persona is even worth, more than you could ever hope to earn.”

Her shoulders sagged, as she wiped her hair from in front of her face. “That’s what ... my company told me.”

He sighed, still holding her hand. “Are you sure you want to do this? There are reports that the government is holding sessions about the Nu-Ego Crisis. The Novan economy is collapsing under the weight of the immense amount of debt our people have, and possibly they will offer the ability to renegotiate your payment parameters—even the value of your persona!”

She glanced up at this man, who seemed to be a lot like the old Liz, the true Liz. He struck her as honest and caring, with eyes warm and inviting. He didn’t dress like someone who mattered, who was about lottment and power; rather, he appeared as one who cared, who knew what life was really about. For a moment Liz doubted her path, questioned if she really wanted to go through with this. He could read the doubt on her face.

“This isn’t a sure thing,” he whispered, coming close to her. “I’m good, but there’s always a chance that your mind will be fragmented, that something will go wrong, and won’t be corrected. Take a minute, and really think about this. You might like yourself more than you realize.”

She was about to, when howling laughter came from her mind. She knew it was Beth, her voice muffled by the black curtain drawn over her.

Do you really want to live in a place like this? With a man like him? Do you remember how it was with me, the things you did? Bring me back, and together we can take this whole world and devour it for our enjoyment.

She struggled with Beth, trying to push her way, trying to take a deeper breath, for what was “Liz” was surely suffocating and dying. In her mind Beth was as a tyrant, strong and sure, unshakable in her determination. Liz felt Beth surge forward, through the curtain and inhabit her mind as a thin smile drew across her face. She tied her hair back into a knot, as a look of disgust and derision clouded her beautiful brown eyes.

“Let’s get it over with.”

“Fine.” The man nodded, as he handed a device for Liz to put on her head. A tremor of conscience rumbled once more through his thoughts. “One last thing, there have been reports of a survival instinct in the personas, that cause—”

“Don’t worry,” she viciously spat, “let’s just do this!”

He guided her to lay on her back, with her head in his lap. He pushed aside her hair, and fastened a spherical device on her head, pressing a few leads into her skin. He flicked a switch, and she could feel the device on her head begin to hum. It smoked a little, smelling like lilacs, and rain, and freshly trampled wet grass. It brought a smile to Liz’s face, as Beth receded again in her mind.

“Just ... give me, five ... minutes,” he said haltingly, as he typed furiously on the holo-interface. “Your persona exists as a separate entity, but it is still integrated throughout your brain. When they go into foreclosure, they lock out the persona at five junction points. Once I crack the security algorithm, I can permanently disable those junctions.”

Permanently, raced through her mind. To be forever, this thing, that I don’t even know. Memories of her childhood came flashing back, of happy times with her father. He was a massive mountain of a man, but so gentle and tame with her. She could remember when she almost got run over while they were waiting for a trans, and how he used his massive bulk to stop the behemoth, just as it was about to crush her. He groaned, but smiled, as he glanced down to see she was alright.

I’ll always be there for you, Lizzie.

She began to cry, as she remembered the years after he died. She was committed to a facility for a while, as she wasn’t emotionally strong enough to stand up to her mother alone. Her persona collapsed under her weight, without his intervention. As she recovered in a hospital high in the snow-capped mountains, she understood how many times he had absorbed her blows, deflecting her mother’s vicious, needy demands.

With me, you’ll never be hurt by her again, whispered a voice, which steadily grew stronger in her mind. With me, no one can hurt you again.

“Just two more minutes,” whispered another voice that she knew to be the man’s. She could feel Beth taking over more and more of her mind, surfacing like a raging inferno, purging what was Liz from every corner, every dark recess of her consciousness. It was as if Liz was being drained from a network of pipes, and flushed into oblivion.

Suddenly, shots could be heard.

“OLMAC troopers!” yelled a faint voice. She could dimly feel his hand on hers.

“I’ll get you through this,” he yelled, though it sounded like a whisper. “I promise!”

“All of you, cease and desist!” yelled another voice. “Break your linkups—you are trespassing on OLMAC property. You—shut that terminal down!”

Screams could be heard from around the room.

“Just hold on!” he cried, “just hold—”

Two shots rang out, one silencing the man, the other Liz’s mind.


The day turned to night under sheets of rain, bending and twisting the faint rays of the sun in to a prism of heaven, casting forgiveness and absolution on all living creatures below. Liz sat in a small chair beside her mother’s throne, in the only home she’d ever known.

“Now, say thank you.”

“Thank you.”

Her mother smiled, positively beamed, as she wiped some spittle from Liz’s mouth. Feeding always took a lot of energy, as she had to help her daughter chew. But it always gave her a good feeling to know her daughter was well-fed, even if she was gaining some weight.

“You need to always thank me, my sweet joy! After all, without me, they would have put you to sleep, and you would never have woken up.”

Liz’s head lolled to one side, and she could see her mother stroke her long red hair, and daub one last remnant of food from her cheeks.

“At least we have the lottment now. You’ll be taken care of for a very long time.” Her mother sat back, wheezing a little as she shifted her weight. “If only you’d have listened to me! I knew it wasn’t going to come to any good—I just knew it! And you got into all that trouble for nothing. If you had just waited, just given me a call, you could’ve gotten one of those new loans or spoke to one of those debt-rehab people, and been just fine.” She managed a smile, and reached over to hug Liz tightly. “But in my heart I’m glad. At least I’m not alone anymore. You’ll be with me until the day I die.”

Her mother pulled over a large cardboard box that Liz faintly remembered.

“You’re lucky I didn’t incinerate this!” She pulled out swatches of silk and satin fabrics, packets of semi-precious gems and thread of all the hues of the rainbow. Old dresses came out next, sewn with care by Liz’s little hands, held up pridefully by her mother. “I had a feeling you might come back to this, to you. After all, I know my sweet Lizzie!”

Liz picked up a few pieces, and beamed from ear to ear, as she broke down and cried. infinity

Kevin Gordon is a musician, artist, and writer living in Bensalem, PA. His novel, “Last Man in Heaven,” has been published by DDP. He has sold stories to a number of publications including “Twilight Times,” “Absent Willow,” and “Escape Velocity.”