Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


19th in Love
by Gerard Mulligan

Nelay and the Blunt
by Clint Spivey

Fletcher’s Mountains
by Michael Hodges

Robert and Sarah, Across the Multiverse
by Matthew S. Dent

Boccaccio in Outer Space
by Chet Gottfried

Invoking Fire
by Guy Stewart

Seven Seconds
by Charles Payseur

by Simon Kewin

Coming of AGE
by Bob Sojka

A Journey Through the Wormhole
by Brian Biswas


A Taste for Physics
by John McCormick

Scale of the Problem by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Shorter Stories

Blabbo Sillypants

By J.F. Williams

I CAME OUT THE STAGE door and saw Blabbo Sillypants pointing a handgun at me. I’ve been in the business for a decade now and I thought I saw everything: droids that froze up, droids that fell over onto a kid, droids that started talking gibberish. We take them out after two years—circuits get scrogged.

Clown-craze started twelve years ago. Everybody was struggling to get by and needed a break. Comics had gotten too cynical. Folks wanted some basic slapstick, some baggy-pants—no politics, no social commentary, no complaining about airlines. Who could afford to fly, right? The Japanese had the first “clowndroid.” That started a scramble. A bunch of startups made them left and right. The product could do flips, pratfalls, cartwheels, laugh, sing, tell jokes—the whole schmear. Just one problem: kids wouldn’t go near them.

All-Bindings Corp. brought me in to help. They had the tech up the yin-yang—like a clown car that was bigger inside than it looked—but kids still ran away screaming. Droid comedy has perfect timing but it’s creepy. I was a human clown agent, I knew the clown business, and I made a good living off my clients, but A-B offered me plenty to pull the rug from under those guys and gals. I don’t feel bad. They were overpriced for the market.

I knew what the droids needed was pain. First time I saw one, I knew it. Droids can tell all the jokes they want or get a hundred pies in the face, they still ain’t funny. Comedy, real comedy, needs a tiny bit of pain. The audience sees that and knows it’s human.

The eggheads at A-B made a circ for physical pain so the droids wouldn’t step on nails or get too close to fire. That circ rattles the whole mess of circs they call “the brain.” I said, “reuse that circ, so it’s like emotional pain.” They said, yeah, we can do that, but what’s the trigger? I tell them, make it laughter. Make them feel ridiculed. Droids already had laugh filters for the aural ports to refine their gag matrices. Those filters could trigger the emo pain, too.

Then the eggheads came up with this “pain pool” for storing the emo pain. Another circ would flush the pain out at intervals, then it would fill up again. That was supposed to make it follow some natural human rhythm of despair and contentment they’d found in some marketing data.

We launched ten years ago. The new droids worked—kids loved them. They were so real even I sometimes forgot.

Then came Blabbo. I don’t know how he passed QA. Like I said, the other droids burned out in two years. Not Blabbo. He was still going after eight. Turns out, no “pain collection.” His pool just kept filling—always full. I don’t know why but that made him run longer.

It was in Philly, just outside the Grand, where he found me.

“I blame you!” Blabbo said with a big smile. “You made me, didn’t you?”

I said, “I know you. You’re Blabbo. You’re the best. You got a pride circ. Use it.”

“Pride circ, schmide circ,” he giggled. “The more laughs, the worse it gets. I read poetry now. I look at pictures in museums. It helps a little but not much.” He cocked the gun.

“Hey,” I said, hands up and shaking a little—Blabbo was good, believable. “Look on the bright side. Look how long you’ve been running.”

He crossed his eyes, which was hilarious. “Why run so long only to hurt? I hurt so bad!”

I couldn’t help laughing. Blabbo was so good—the look on his face. He was crazy mad, but funny. Then he pulled the trigger. A metal rod stuck out and a flag unfurled. It read BANG in big, happy letters. I bent over laughing. My pants were wet—from being scared or laughing, I don’t know which.

Blabbo had a shocked look that was priceless. He stared at the gun, then slowly pushed the rod back in. He took one look at me before he shoved the muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger. This time the rod burst out the back of his head. Sparks flew. Flames licked the BANG flag. Blabbo fell to the ground, twitching, and shut down.

I felt kind of bad about Blabbo Sillypants for a while. Then I went to a clown show—another one of my droids—and the look on those kids faces, well, that makes it all worth it. infinity

J.F. Williams has worked as a newspaper copy writer, in the IT industry, and is currently a database developer for a large American media company.



Travelers in the Levant

By Robin Wyatt Dunn

THE BOY LOOKS AT ME. He is terrified out of his mind.

“Boy, do you have any manuscripts here, something I might read?”

“What, sieur? You desire ... reading?”

I could cry to look at this boy: a librarian’s dream. Where would libraries be without boys to stock them? To float this decaying mass of codices and albatrosses down the millennia to oblivion?

“Yes, boy. Bring me something handwritten. In our tongue. Something less than a century old.”

As is custom I leave a crust of bread on the counter which he obligingly slips into his pocket, though he does not look ill-fed.

I could raze the place, I know. But what invaders burn libraries? Has Italia been punished enough yet for Caesar’s unforgettable crime at Alexandria? Their seed was responsible, after all. Readers do not forget.

The musty smell here is ancient and welcome and I rest in the chair, my man outside the huge gate awaiting my signal but leaving me this hour’s privacy, a privilege accorded us who serve our nation: time for reading, even during war.

The boy returns, a leather satchel in one hand. His eyes are liquid, filled with wonder and a boy’s lust for weapons: he keeps stealing glances at my sidearm.

“Would you like to see it, boy?”

He nods, eyes wide.

I press my thumbprint against its side to render it harmless and hand it to the boy.

He holds it in his hands, close to his face, looking at the shimmer of metal and fine processor-mesh.

“This one is over three hundred years old, boy. Made to last.”

“It’s beautiful,” he says.

“Will you be a librarian, or soldier, when you are a man?”

“A librarian, sieur.” And then he points the weapon at me, his eyes filled with mischief, and I laugh. I laugh for the first time in months.

“What have you brought me, boy?” I ask, taking back my sidearm.

“A travelogue, sir, assumed to have been written by a monk. It describes a pilgrimage into the southern Levant.”

“A Canaanite?”

“I think so, sieur. But I have only read the summary. If it is not acceptable ...”

“It’s fine, boy. Leave me now.”

He bows, and backs away. A boy no more than nine and tougher than some of my recruits.

I settle into the chair and begin to read.


November. Day 193.

I am alone now. My companions murthered. I have found shelter under the eaves of this old temple; what god it served I do not know. This world of ours is too painful for me, but I will not die, not yet. I would see Wells, and its cedars, the cedars of the Levant, if they still grow.

I saw the wreck of the ship that was spoken of at home, the vaunted interstellar craft that so many claimed was our deliverance—from what was never really specified. Its hull suggests fire from our own satellites, unable to recognize their own after a century of viruses in their brain.

Ever more I despise the politesse of the English who rule this region: their incessant pomposity is undying, I swear it. Even their name is anathema to me. For the Angels were all dead. All dead. The Saxons and Jutes named that island for their victims: who does such a thing? Their blood is in me, true, but I know what they have forgotten: civilization was never a murmur but a roar. There is no proper time or place for it; it is older than suns. It beats like my heart, hungry for oxygen, waiting for murders.

I serve my gods, and they are not violent ones, or so it is written, and so I do not take up arms as my brother did. This, my record of my pilgrimage into forsaken country is meant I suppose as a codicil in our Tractatus: even peacemakers may kill. War is not holy but it is necessary. If I return, I suspect I will have my order become once more a mendicant one. Who better to penetrate the gates of foreign cities?

Cedar, cedar. I long for its smell. These small things I still love, even when life has grown bitter for me, and my order.


“Boy! Boy, come here!”

“Yes, sieur?”

“Where did you find this?”

“I will show you, sieur, if you wish.”

I follow the boy from the reading room into the library.

Plutarch tells us it was only an accident: Caesar burned the ships too close to the harbor’s edge and so three centuries or more were lost, Alexandria lost, only ten thousand memories, only the hearts of men rendered vain, their hopes ash. To survive. To survive is wisdom, but more than that, it is its own perpetual logic, these vestiges of matter from which to puzzle out our goals and dreams. Wise or not, we are bonded to our strange life ...

I see the half mile of written and printed volumes and I want to weep but then I hear the thunder of guns. The thunder of guns is shaking this old roof and I grab the boy and run for the gate, shouting into my wrist for my sergeant-at-arms.

“Leave me, sieur! Do not make me abandon the library!”

He squirms in my arms but he is only a boy.

“Come on, boy. It’s the soldier’s life for you after all.” I carry the monk’s record in its satchel, over my shoulder.

Caesar was burning his own ships when Alexandria caught fire. He aimed to disrupt both his own and his enemy’s communications. As we have been burning our ships half this last millennium—all those that return, as the monk’s record attests.

I glom to my platoon and we are airborne, suited in moments. Our software upgrade makes good work of a makeshift flying suit for the boy: it accretes in only twenty seconds. The young are easy to integrate; ever the tale of war. The platoon is happy to feel his mind in our midst.

South is our order and we obey, targeting four ballistic craft just off the coast as we return to Martu. I shield the boy from the supersonic blast of Martu’s response to our target markings: the mortar-ships are ash in moments, and I feel the boy trembling as we land.

“You are an Ammorite now, boy,” I tell him, and laughing, my men and I take him into our city.


As is our custom we maintain open fires in our settlements: my woman has prepared ours in our atrium. I do love eating under the stars. We have no children.

“Eat, boy,” I say, giving him some of the meat. “You are an Ammorite now and will need an Ammorite name.”

“Call him Lugal,” my woman says, smiling.

“He doesn’t look kingly to me,” I say. “Would you be a king, boy?”

“No, sieur,” he says. “I would be a scholar.”

My woman eats, watching the boy.

“Utu, then, for wisdom, boy. Would you be called Utu?”

“Yes,” he says.


What else can I tell you? The war was over soon and we started another. Our Earth has grown small but the priests say this is right. I read the work of the monk and know him for a wiser man than I, and a stupider. He knew the lies and tried to change them, fighting his own private battles. But the ways of men are joined now, even in the Levant, something the monk could not have imagined. Or perhaps he could have—perhaps his pilgrimage dates from the years immediately preceding our mental technologies, I do not know. Perhaps he was afraid to write of them.

The stars are mostly the same, though. Part of me knows we could change them if we wish but we still follow the old ways, preferring illusion only in moments of privacy. The sky is real, after all, and we know what lies above, even if it is wrong to go there again.

I believe we will start another library. Alexandria had the right idea: they grabbed everything they could get their hands on and took it, promising to return copies.

At night my wife watches the boy transcribe with our ink: he has a steady hand. His eyes are so wide. Did I have eyes like that, at his age? infinity

Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in The Town of the Queen of the Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, in Echo Park. He is 33 years old.




By Alexandra Grunberg


“Of course you think that now.”

Martin stood next to the window that spanned the entire length of the little apartment. The city shone beneath him, a metallic maze of buildings crisscrossing in a perilous balance, suspended in the clouds. A monorail passed below him silently, then was gone. Another monorail would pass in ten minutes, leaving just as much of an impression as the first.

Martin checked his watch. Ten to seven. He loved to time the monorails. He found comfort in the repetition, the expectation and kept promise.

“I mean it. You’re my favorite.”

Elle sat up in the bed, her hair a frizzy mess. She nodded continuously as she spoke, as if each little dip would help Martin understand the truth of her statement. But he found the little dips, casting lovely shadows across her lovely face, only endearing and nothing serious.

“And why should I believe you?” he teased, sitting on the edge of a glass coffee table.

“You always ask for compassion,” she said, gathering the sheets around her, a loose cocoon. “No one thinks to ask for compassion.”

“I’m sure you’re always kind.”

“And I’m sure you’d be surprised.”

She wrapped the sheets around her and joined him at the window. The sun was beginning to rise over the clouds, the light glaring off the buildings. Martin put his hand over his eyes, squinting, but Elle stared hungrily at the world outside. Most customers kept the windows dark, but Martin enjoyed the view of the machinery that continued its work late into the night. Elle pressed a hand against the glass and the sunlight streamed through it. Martin could clearly see the thin lines of metal running up her fingers, the wires wrapped around each delicate tendril. He grabbed her hand and pulled it away. In the dark it looked human once more.

“You know what I am,” Elle said. She turned her face to the window with purpose and the light shone through, mocking him.

“Well I’m not paying for a demonstration,” Martin said.

“No, but you are paying for compassion. Martin, I’m trying to help you. You’ve been here for three days.”

He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her down next to him.

“I like it better in here than out there,” he said. “I like you.”

“Of course you like me. You designed me,” insisted Elle. “You’re living in a fantasy. You’re running out of money. You can’t live inside the machine. You live outside of it, where people belong.”

“No,” said Martin. “I didn’t ask for truth. I didn’t pay for the truth.”

“Martin, this isn’t your life. I’d hate to think of what has happened to your life. Have you spoken to a single real person in the last three days? Do you even know any real people?”

He had not, in fact, spoken to a real person since he came here. Elle’s eyes bored into him, unflinching, and for a moment he saw another woman’s eyes, a woman he did not want to remember. A real woman, who did not know where he was going when he said goodbye three days before, and made it clear that she did not care. Though Elle’s eyes were filled with sympathy, they also contained that familiar look of accusation, and a demand to be stronger than he knew he could be.

“You’re not supposed to do this,” Martin said, standing. “This isn’t what I want.”

“What did you expect?” asked Elle. “You can’t depend on a machine. I guess, in that way, we are like people. But when an elevator fails you, you are left with nothing. I hope there’s more to people. I like to think that there is more to you than just a body, something more interesting inside than a tangle of wire.”

A clock struck. Seven o’clock.

Elle went limp and fell back into the bed. Even in a crumpled heap, her arm bent back so it brushed the pillow above her head, she looked alive. A metallic voice filled the room.

“Martin Din, your time has expired. Do you wish to renew your experience for another twenty-four hours, or schedule a later appointment.”

“Renew,” said Martin. He stared down from the window, checking his watch, but the monorail did not come. It was late, but he was not worried. That happened sometimes, but everything always went back to normal.

“Renew with present programming?”

“No,” said Martin. “Dim the windows.”

“Of course, Martin.”

“And deactivate the compassion.”

“Are you sure Martin? You’ve always wanted compassion.”

“Yes,” said Martin. “Now I want understanding.” infinity

Alexandra Grunberg is a student at New York University. She has been published in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Mustang’s Monster Corral,” and “Garbled Transmissions.”


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