Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Silicon and Solitude
by Shane D. Rhinewald

Expedition of the Arcturus
by JZ Murdock

Nude Bargain
by Olga Godim

Dirtsiders on Cinnabar
by Patrick Lundrigan

by Tom Tinney

History of Humanity’s First Alien Contact in the Year 2023
by Eric M. Jones

Space Cadets of the Apocalypse
by Dave Fragments

Illegal Alien
by Betsy Streeter

A Tangle of Brilliance
by Charles Barouch


Playing a Role in Science Fiction
by Clayton J. Callahan

Prof. Pickering’s Practical Plan
by The Editors




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Silicon and Solitude

By Shane D. Rhinewald

GRANDPA UPLOADED THE DAY after the doctors diagnosed him with terminal cancer. He said he’d rather have a silicon and metal form than spend one more second in a body rotting from the inside. “I’ve seen too many friends wither and turn to husks, but not me, no. I plan to live forever,” he said with a smile the day he went to the transfer site. Grandpa went in a man and came out a microchip—just a bunch of transistors and circuits on a card the size of a soda cracker.

Two weeks later, despite having a clean bill of health, Grandma made the decision to join him. “That way we’ll be in the facility together,” she told me. I begged her to stay with us for a little while longer, but she said, “Don’t cry. I’m not dying, darling. They’ll put your Grandpa and me in machines that let us see and talk and communicate. Come visit us often, Emily. OK?”


On my fifteenth birthday, I mustered the courage and went alone to visit my grandparents in their new residence—and new forms. They lived in a facility that looked like a cavernous locker room, except instead of places to stow books and gym shorts, it contained rows and rows of computer terminals, thousands of them. I had to remind myself that each unit represented a person—or still was a person in some sense.

As an aide guided me through the maze, I heard snippets of conversations. Nothing about the weather, though.

“What do they talk about if they can never go outside?” I asked.

The aide shrugged. “The past. Their memories. Who knows?”

“That sounds like it would get awfully boring,” I murmured.

“I suppose, but everything has a price.”

The aide took me up three flights of stairs and directed me to my grandparents at the end of a long hall. Their terminals faced each other so they could interact. Both had blinders mounted to each side of their screens, providing some form of privacy. However, they did little to drown out the nonstop conversation that echoed through the hall. I could hear one unit yelling at the technician trying to fix his speaker.

“Step more to the right so I can see you better,” Grandpa said, his voice tinny. It was his voice, though, or at least a near perfect re-creation. I relaxed my shoulders and stepped in front of his sensor, which blinked red.

My grandpa had a stranger’s face. Sure, it had been him once, long ago, before I knew him. He had chosen a picture of himself as a young man fresh back from the war to represent himself. His avatar appeared on a monitor, and when he talked, his face twitched, smiled, and nodded in real-time.

“You look good, Emily,” he said. “Beautiful like your mother. It’s those green eyes. Don’t let the boys chase you too much, you hear?”

“Turn so I can see, too,” Grandma said through a speaker that squawked. Her sensor fell over me, and she smiled, tight creases at the edge of her mouth. She had chosen an avatar from later in her life—one with familiar wrinkles and her trademark permanent. I put a hand on her cheek but only felt plastic.

“I would have bought you a present for your birthday, dear, but they don’t let me out much,” Grandpa said with a laugh. It sounded hollow, nothing like the rich laugh that his human body had emitted.

I turned back to him. “Are you really alive in there? It’s so strange.”

I knew how the technology worked, of course. After all, it was big news in those days. The computer chips in the terminals replicated the human brain with almost flawless precision using silicon circuits that could mimic synapses and neurons. All the memories that people had and their experiences—their very essence—could be transferred to a chip, much like dumping information from one hard drive to another. Unfortunately, the process of doing so destroyed the tissue of the brain.

The wealthy, I’d been told, could purchase metallic bodies to go with their chips that allowed them to interact on a limited basis with their environments. My grandparents, however, could only afford the most basic transfer.

“Oh, I’m in here, darling,” Grandpa said. “I still have all my memories, like that time I took you fishing at Lake Pontioca and you couldn’t get that worm on your hook to save your life.”

I laughed. “It wouldn’t stop wriggling.”

“And I make new memories, too. When the tech came last night to back up my data, we chatted about baseball. Our team is doing well this year. And just wait until Ramirez heats up again—then it’s really time for the rest of the division to watch out!”

“You seem happy about that,” I said. “So you feel emotion, too?”

“Certainly. Emotions are just chemical reactions, or so I’ve been told. The computer system can replicate them through other processes. Of course, they’re not quite as potent as the ones ...”

“Don’t worry the poor girl with that,” Grandma said.

“So you like it in here?” I asked. I pulled out a stool between the two and sat where their sensors could see me.

“Better than rotting from cancer or ceasing to exist at all,” Grandpa said. “And I’m glad to be rid of that damn arthritic knee.”

“And we like getting visitors,” Grandma added.

“Are you bored when you don’t?” I said. My parents had only been to the facility twice since my grandparents’ transfer because my father called it creepy.

“Well, we don’t eat or sleep. We’re conscious around the clock, so there’s nothing to break up time. So visitors are nice, different. It gets a bit monotonous. Plus, your grandmother and I run out things to talk about. It’s hard not being able to go places or see a sun rise or reach across the aisle to touch the woman I love.”

“Stop,” Grandma said. “I said don’t worry the child with that. We’re here to see her grow and should be thankful for that. Better this than the alternative. It’s cold in the dirt.”

Grandpa’s avatar smiled with little conviction. “Enough about us. Tell us how you’ve been, Emily. How’s school?”

“School’s going well.”

“Do you still want to be an engineer? Maybe some day you can build me some arms.”

I shook my head. “I’d rather be a doctor.”

And so we talked of school, careers, and everyday things, though questions about their new existence still lingered in my thoughts. I hoped maybe the aide would help answer some on the way out.


My younger sister, Isabelle, never made it to upload. She was twelve and healthy and it made no sense for her to give up a perfectly good body for a computer chip. But then a freak accident stole her from us. The driver of the bus said he never saw her crossing the road to the mailbox, and he hit her so hard that we never found all her pieces. By the time the paramedics got her head to the hospital, it was too late. She no longer had brain waves; the information there had been destroyed. Not even the finest upload technicians could have salvaged her memories, her essence.

Isabelle’s death sent my dad into a depressive spiral. He drank daily and talked often about uploading early so the same wouldn’t happen to him. As much as the storage facility unnerved him, death scared him more. He had a fear of the unknown, of the idea of nothingness. Not even the booze helped.

One year to the day after Isabelle’s death, my dad made the decision to upload. He didn’t tell my mom or me, but just confided in Grandpa and Grandma. They later said that they had tried to dissuade him and had urged him to enjoy his flesh for as long as he could. But Dad could be stubborn, and when he made his mind up, no one could change it.

One night I went to bed with a warm, blood-filled father who liked to give hugs. The next morning I woke to find him gone. At the age of forty-eight, he gave up everything—including me—for an avatar and a handful of sensors. The upload technicians reduced his six-foot-four frame to a two-inch square.

Mother lost her mind after that and chain smoked from dawn until dusk. She wanted to follow Dad to the facility but knew she couldn’t leave her only child alone and penniless. So she worked two jobs to support me, and once a week, we went together to visit our family members in the facility. It was the only time Mom seemed to smile anymore. She and my father had been together since high school, just two peas in a pod as they liked to say.

They put Dad on a different floor than his parents, so I had to run messages between them. Grandpa seemed more despondent as time passed, though Grandma tried to downplay the change in his mood. Dad would just grumble about everything when I saw him—Isabelle’s death, the loss of his body, my mother’s sour moods. I often found Mom sitting on a stool before him, neither saying anything, rings of smoke above her head.

I hated that silence.


During one of my visits to the facility, I left my mother chatting with Grandpa and went to my father alone. The technicians had recently installed sliding curtains around the terminals that worked much like those on an antique voting machine. I pulled them closed and sat before my father. He had been calmer during recent visits, and Mom said it was because he had finally settled into his new form. To me, he seemed more like a boxer collapsed on his stool before the twelfth round—exhausted, maybe even defeated.

My father had chosen a face with his familiar gray-flecked hair. Every time I saw him it transported me to those carefree days just a few years earlier.

His sensor fell over me. “Emily. How’s school?”

“Mom keeps talking about uploading,” I blurted. “She hates that you’re here, and she’s out there.”

“Tell her not to,” Dad said. He shook his head.

“I tried. She knows she has responsibilities, but I’ll be eighteen next year, and I think she’ll transfer soon after. I’ll be an adult then. She won’t feel so guilty. And maybe it won’t be so bad if she does. At least I can come see you both, and maybe they’ll put you across from each other like they did with Grandma and Grandpa.”

“Tell her not to,” Dad repeated with static in the speaker. He sounded adamant. “I’ll tell her again, too.”

“But what if she doesn’t listen?”

“She should enjoy her body more and not worry about me,” he said with what sounded like a sigh. “I made a mistake. Isabelle’s death ... it confused me. I can’t enjoy a good cup of coffee in here. Or a beer. Or feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I don’t even have a face, just this damn moving picture. I’ll never know your mother’s kisses now. Or the joys of sex. Sorry, that’s odd to say to your daughter.”

“It’s OK,” I whispered. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

“I even miss itches. I just want to scratch something.”


“It’s not your fault. I wasn’t thinking straight, and neither is your mother. Tell her it’s not worth it,” Dad said. He closed his eyes, though his sensor still blinked red. “Make her know that. Whatever it takes. Please.”


I tried to do as my father said, but Mom wouldn’t listen. The day I turned eighteen, she kissed me between the eyes, told me to visit often, and went to the facility to transfer. I followed after her, tears blurring my vision, and tried to make her stop, even tugging at her arm as she walked into that back room. Aides pulled me away though and told me not to interfere. She was an adult who could make her own decisions and the law allowed it. They had no qualms with destroying the perfectly healthy brain of a forty-five-year-old woman and dumping her consciousness into their machines. Not as long as she paid them.

The next two years turned into a blur. I had an entire family in the facility and yet I had no one to comfort me when I cried myself to sleep. I worked three jobs to save enough for college and fended for myself in a world of ghosts. I often wondered if Isabelle had the best fate. I told her as much whenever I stood over her grave where the grass grew green. How cold could that dirt be, really? The sun fell on it every day.

I told my mother my thoughts on Isabelle during one of my visits. She cursed at me for saying such blasphemous things and said life always trumps death. Later, when she had calmed down, she explained that human nature makes us want to live forever. It’s hard-wired into the brain to strive for immortality, no matter the cost. There was nothing wrong with what she and Dad did, she said.

Even if it left me alone.

Dad, however, didn’t agree. He seemed full of remorse and spoke little.

Grandpa and Grandma spoke even less. Grandpa just murmured about the boredom and monotony, despite Grandma trying to cut him off each time. The aide said they only fought when they talked with each other now, and neither had an escape. Day after day they faced each other, just two combatants waving their swords on opposite sides of a field they could never cross.

During one visit, Grandpa whispered to me, “It’s a prison. An eternal tomb. A living cemetery. Worse than Hell could possibly be.”


I went to see my family less and less in the years that followed. I had my own life at that point, one that included Thomas, who I met while taking classes part time at the local community college. I could touch, smell, and taste him. He was someone I could grasp onto and who could carry me through life. My parents and grandparents had become unpleasant drones, more machine than man.

On the rare visits I made to the facility, I tried to take Thomas but he always refused. I told him that he should meet my parents, especially if he wanted to marry me someday, but he said I had no parents as far as he was concerned. His own parents had chosen to go into the dirt; it’s where they’d come from, after all.

Thomas and I did marry, eventually. True to his word, he never went to ask my father for permission. Three years later, I bore him a healthy, happy son that we named Jacob. I hoped the baby would bring cheer to my family, but when I took him to show off, no one said much. Grandpa complained that he had missed the birth; Grandma tried to shush him; father yelled about something incoherent until the man in the terminal next to his complained to the aides; and mother cried so hard she overloaded the system. A tech needed to adjust it.

I went home that night and crawled into bed beside Thomas. “You were right. Those aren’t my parents. I don’t want to go see them any more.”


For three years I avoided the facility. Only strangers lived there now, and I had my own growing family. Jacob reminded me a lot of Isabelle, mischievous and energetic. He seemed so happy, so vibrant. But despite its beauty, the human body can be a fragile thing. Thomas had convinced me to pursue my dream of being a doctor, and I was two years into medical school when Jacob became ill.

The fever burned through him for more than three weeks. It almost stole him from us, and even Thomas, who opposed uploading, wondered if we should transfer whatever thoughts Jacob had. I still find it funny how quickly fear of death changes things. I felt that fear, too, the fear my father must have felt after Isabelle died, the fear of the unknown.

Luckily, the doctors saved Jacob. The human body can be frail—but it can also be resilient. Still, after the scare, I decided I needed to face my family again.


Grandpa and Grandma refused to talk to me when I finally went to visit. The aide said they hardly talked to anyone anymore, not even each other. Mother seemed so warped, so twisted, that I hardly recognized her. When I asked the techs about it, they said that the computers mimic the brain so well that they can even become unstable. They claimed there wasn’t much they could do to fix her.

Only my father wanted to talk to me. I went inside and pulled the curtain closed around us.

“How’s Jacob?”

I blinked. “You don’t want to yell at me for not being here for three years?”

“It’s been that long?” he said. “Time makes no sense here. I know it was a while, but three years? Really? You do look a bit older. But in a good way, Emily. You look happy.”

“I am. Thomas is a wonderful husband and father. I wish you could meet him. And Jacob’s growing up so fast. He was sick though, and it gave us a good scare. I’m sorry.”

“About what?”

I swallowed. “For blaming you and Mom for uploading. I felt the fear you must have felt. It was overpowering. Even Thomas contemplated uploading Jacob’s memories.”

“The will to live makes us do insane things,” Dad said. “But I’ve had enough of this ... whatever it is. I’ve already lost your mother. She makes no sense now.”

“I know. That’s not Mom over there.”

“I just want this all to end. Please. Help me.”

I felt the tears on my face and tasted their salt on my tongue. “Why don’t you just ask them to shut you off?”

“I have. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. But they can’t and won’t. Before we transfer, we sign a document saying that no matter what comes out of our mouths ... or speakers ... they have to keep us running. It’s to prevent rash decisions from leading to decisions that might be regretted later. Mechanical suicide, they call it. They also don’t want to be sued by family members for pulling the plug.”

“I can try to talk with them.”

He shook his head. “It won’t work. Will you help me, though?”

“What can I do?”

“The tech will come tonight to make a backup copy of my memories. There’s always an extra on file in case of hardware malfunctions. When he comes, I need you to take that copy and smash it on the floor. Crush it. Destroy it however you can.”

My eyes narrowed. “Dad ...”

He continued, “And then I need you to break the hardware inside this terminal. Tear it out. Shred it.”

“I can’t kill you, Dad,” I said.

“Kill me? This isn’t life. I’m already dead.”

I wiped the snot from my nose. “That’s what you really want?”

“You were right. The thing you told your mother about your sister. We all thought poor Isabelle had the worst fate, but sweet Isabelle is free. I want to be free, too. So will you help me? Please, Em?”

I nodded. “Yes. If that’s what you want.”

“I do. And I love you. I’m sorry.”


I waited four hours for the tech making copies to arrive, and when he did, I snatched the back-up out of his hands. He was a tall, gangly young man, and despite his best efforts, he couldn’t manage to wrestle the data back from me. I smashed it against the floor and ground it to bits with the heel of my shoe. The tech shouted for security and ran off, arms flailing.

“Good,” Dad said. “Now hurry.”

I stood before my father’s screen and touched his face. It looked like I remembered it but felt nothing like it used to—just coarse and cold. That helped prepare me for what I had to do. I picked up the stool and held the seat cushion to my chest.

“Go, darling. Do it.”

“I love you, Dad. If there’s something after this, say hi to Isabelle for me.”

“And if not, that’s fine, too,” Dad said. “The unknown’s not so scary anymore. And tell my grandson about the man I used to be, not this machine. Tell him about that time we hiked up to that cabin in the Adirondacks and how I carried you on my shoulders half the way. That was a good body I had. A strong body. Six-foot four! I hope he gets my height.”

“I’ll tell him,” I said.

“Good. I love you.”

I jammed the legs of the stool through the monitor and pushed it down into the guts of the circuitry. After, I plunged my hands into the gaping hole and pulled everything out. When I finished, I slumped back to the floor amid the broken pieces of my dad. Security found me some time later, on my knees and crying beneath my mother’s monitor as she stared at me with no recognition. I wished I had done the same for her and vowed someday I’d return and free the rest of my family, too.


The laws in those days might have allowed a person to sign a few documents and willingly give up his or her body for a microchip, but they had not evolved to the point of considering the result of that transfer a person. Even today, the courts continue to debate and fine tune their legal definition. I’m sure my Dad would have had a lot to say about that.

They could only charge me with property damage for destroying Dad’s form, and when I told the judge my story, he nodded like he understood why I did it. Still, he warned me never to go back to that facility. The judge’s words, a hefty fine, and a year of probation didn’t stop me from returning, though. I could be as stubborn as my dad.


Jacob’s a grown man now with children of his own. Thomas died last year, but he faced the end with bravery. We buried him on a small hill just like he would have wanted and his grandkids pile flowers there every week.

Six months later, doctors discovered the cancer on my pancreas and said nothing could be done. When they asked if I wanted to upload, I said I’d like a pad of paper and a pen instead. I’d make myself immortal the old-fashioned way.

And so as I write these final words, I think of Isabelle, Thomas, and my family, all free, all off in the unknown. infinity

Shane D. Rhinewald is a communications professional by day and writes speculative fiction by night (except when there’s hockey on TV, of course). His fiction has appeared several times in “Daily Science Fiction,” as well as in “Flash Fiction Online,” “Every Day Fiction,” “Plasma Frequency Magazine,” and many other venues.


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