Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Super Plunge Lady and the 3D Printed Rocket Car
by Erin Lale

by Daniel Huddleston

Portraits Hung in Empty Halls
by K.C. Ball

Mouse Trap
by Fiona Moore

Basket in the Sky
by Igor Teper

Worlds Less Traveled
by John C. Conway

Redemption of Colony Venturis
by Wayne Helge

Where the Grass May Be Greener
by Rob Butler

Double Time
by Rik Hunik


Do Beavers Rule Mars?
by Thomas Elway

Science Fiction at the Box Office
by Adam Paul




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Super Plunge Lady and the 3D

Printed Rocket Car

By Erin Lale

WHITE SPARKS FLEW IN Kat’s workshop. She shut off the torch and pushed up her welding helmet, and waited while her eyes adjusted to the world without the green glass. It took several seconds, because her eyes were old and verging on obsolete. She suppressed her irritation at not being able to afford a newer set by blowing out her breath in a long sigh. If she had succeeded, she was about to embark on a life of enough.

She opened her eyes. There it sat in its garage, finished at last. 2.78 meters of engine in multiple flaring cones like a retro space age rocket ship, its cooling welds hidden by her clever panel construction. Its six air intakes snaked around the lip of the wedge-shaped cab, opening like the maws of a demonic brass band.

The man-door from the garage to the kitchen opened, and Kat’s little nephew came out. “Is it finished?”

“It is finished. I hope. I still have to test it before it’s really finished-finished.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Not on the first run, Charlie. Just in case.”

“On the second run,” the boy insisted.

“Sure. Still think it looks like a panther’s face?”

“A panther’s face, only white, I said,” he corrected. “Just the cab part. Sort of. I like the flames. They’re totally retro.”

“Thanks.” She eyed the blue and yellow flame design on white engine panels. It had been a little tricky to get it to assemble that way, since she could only print half meter parts at a time, but now that it was done, it was seamless. Perfect. “So there it is: the FastKat2000.”

“How come you had to weld it? I mean, why not just print it? Your design is meant to print whole, right?”

“It is, but I can’t afford a bigger printer.”


“The 2001 will be a whole printing design. This one is for poor people like us.”

“I’m not poor. Neither is Gramma. Just you.”

“Like me, then,” Kat sighed.

“Is it cool enough to touch?” Charlie asked.

“Sure, go ahead.” Kat put her tools away while Charlie smoothed an admiring hand across the nearest cone. “OK, go get behind the safety glass. I’m going to fire it up.”

Kat installed the fuel cell and climbed into the cab. She held her breath when she pushed the starter. Instead of the expected roar and thrum, the dream car made a wimpy little cough. Kat shut it off and waved Charlie out from behind the partition.

“Needs work, huh?” the kid asked.

Kat didn’t bother to reply. She opened the service panel and examined the fuel assembly.

“Your panther isn’t going to run down any jackalopes today?”

Kat didn’t bother to tell him there was no such thing as a jackalope. For all she knew, someone had designed one. She poked around, using the built in diagnostic tools in her DesignEye, ignoring the fuzzy input from her nearsighted natural eye. Then she stood up and sighed.

Charlie correctly interpreted that to mean she had found the problem, but it would not be an easy fix. He put on a game character’s accent and said, “Your panther don’t hunt, huh?”

“Dammit. If only I was still working in the Prototype Lab. I could fix that so easily with a RunitWidget.”

“So get one,” Charlie shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll have to,” Kat agreed. She glanced at the 3D printer in the corner of her workshop. Its hopper did not quite have enough metal blanks in it, although the plastic blank side was fine. She walked slowly around the workshop, looking for something she could recycle. “I’m going to go out collecting cans. Want to come with me?”

Charlie wrinkled his nose. “Oh, ‘cause picking up garbage on the street is so much fun. And I’d just love it if a street cam picked me up doing it and the pic got posted somewhere. No thanks. I’m going to play CanonCraft.”

“Don’t you have to study?”

“Why should I? I don’t have to know math to be a massage therapist.”

“You want to be a masseuse when you grow up? Why?”

“Because it can’t ever be replaced by a robot.”

“Hm. I don’t know.” Kat cleaned her tools and put them away in obsessive order.

“The only thing that can’t be totally replaced by a robot is human touch,” Charlie argued.

“And human judgment,” she said. “And creativity.”

Charlie shrugged. “Have fun with your creative trash collecting.”

Kat didn’t let it bother her; he was a child, after all. She did not have to walk too far before she had filled her sack—a plastic printed sack—and returned to her workshop with a little sun on her arms and her memory filled with yellow-eyed daisies. Her workshop smelled like ozone in comparison with the fresh breeze outside. She wished she could vent it, but leaving the roll door open when not exiting with a vehicle was illegal, and so was altering anything on the exterior of the house, even to run a plastic duct out the window.

Kat needed to print that tool, but she had no money left. The whole Runit line had been designed by her old company, which meant the design engineers all had the unlock code so they could make improvements on it and fatten the company. The company was gone, but the unlock code remained in her memory. Someone undoubtedly still owned the patent on the design, but whoever it was, Kat was sure it wasn’t the inventor. “I’m poor, dammit. I’ll never claw my way back into the middle class if I don’t do something to make money, and I need this tool to finish my design.” Kat connected and found an archive of her old employer’s designs, and entered the engineer’s code. There, she was able to download the design to her printer. That was easy and simple. She set it to print and went into the kitchen for a cold beverage.

She selected a BerriSmooth. The drink had originally been printed, too, but it didn’t come out of the printer cold, so the family still used a refrigeration unit. The BerriSmooth was essentially the same food as the EnRGBar she had had for lunch, made from the same protein blank, except the EnRGBar had a chocolate flavored coating and the BerriSmooth was liquid and pink. The chocolate flavored coating and the berry flavored squirt were the vehicles of the vitamins, flavonoids, and antioxidants, so those were actually the most important part of the printed food. One could eat raw protein blanks, raw fat blanks, raw carbohydrate blanks, and there were a few people who claimed to be able to eat raw vitamin blanks, too, but the one time Kat had tried it she had gotten ill, plus they tasted hideous.

Her sweat went clammy in the air conditioned air, but she welcomed it since she was going right back out to the workshop. Charlie got a Sweetie, which was basically the same drink but with a more child-friendly flavor. He took his squeeze ball out of a drawer and started working with it, strengthening his grip. Kat took her drink back into the garage.

Charlie followed her, and watched silently as she collected her new tool from the 3D printer. Then he said, “You should print yourself an eyepatch.”

Kat replied, “Technically it’s pirating, but not really. I mean, it was my old company’s tool. Some bank probably owns it now.”

“Arrrr!” He mimed a sword-fighting gesture. “There’s treasure on the river bank, matey! Can’t sail our rocket car ship boat up the river, ‘cause that panther don’t hunt. Who’s for going ashore? Remember the one rule: it’s pillage first, then burn.”

“OK, OK, yes, it’s stealing, but only from a rich bank, OK? From the corps that kill companies and put people out of work. From takers, not from makers.”

“I want a bike.”

She blinked at him. “Christmas is coming.”

“It’s summer.”

She sighed and wiped sweat from her hands onto her pants and started calibrating her tool. “It sure is.” She paid no more attention to her nephew as she worked on her glorious and beautiful machine. She worked until she had to turn the lights on, and then long into the night when it was finally cool in the garage. She finished it.

She put her tool away, opened the roll door, climbed into the cab, and pushed the starter. A rush of white noise blotted out everything for a second, and then the engine sound settled to a deep, tuned purr, exactly as she had imagined in that moment of inspiration so long ago, which had taken so much acoustic calculation to simulate in this peculiar hybrid of retro ram-jet and street-legal fuel cell drive.

She eased it out of the garage, and rumbled slowly up the residential street without engaging the power of the monstrous cones. She purred out onto the midnight highway. No vehicles were out but big trucks and the shiny sports cars of drunken partiers on their way home.

She found the clear, straight stretch of road, briefly concentrated on an affirmative image of patrol cars going off somewhere else out of her immediate area, and accelerated. The engine whined in exactly the way it should, air moving through its intakes and cones. Power surged under her hand. Power and speed. She raced the stars overhead like white sparks frozen in time. Wind rushed and black shapes by the side of the road whipped away on both sides. It was perfect.

The dotted line down the middle of the highway seemed to pulse and then pull away from her as if she were going backwards, a high speed optical illusion. She felt the slight exaggeration of handling that made her slightest movements on the steering have a greater effect, which meant that the back end was lifting slightly despite the airfoil built into the top of the cone assembly. There was no sound in the world but the engine, her engine. Then there was no sound at all as she left it far behind.

All too soon Kat reached the hill where the big trucks slowed down, and she had to slow down too. That was OK. It was a successful test. Everything was going to be OK now. She was going to buy health care, a new set of eyes, all the food she wanted—real food, not printed glop—and a bigger printer, new tools… she was going to buy a house. Eventually. She was going to be able to go out with her own friends when they wanted to go someplace where one had to spend money, instead of only going places with Gramma because when Gramma invited her that meant Gramma was paying. She was going to get to rejoin that club that met at that restaurant so she could have intellectual discussions in person with people her own age. She could relax, read a few books, stop working so hard. Tinker with her next design at her leisure, truly enjoy working in her workshop instead of doing it in desperation. Have a better workshop, in her own house. An air conditioned workshop. Let herself think about what she would do when she was old, after Gramma died, since it would no longer mean automatically having to go live in Squatterville. Maybe she could even afford a child. Her own child.

Her mind shied from that extravagant hope. The amount of money it would take to buy a child license was extraordinary, since they came from the monopoly Bureau of Education and Labor Force Replacement rather than from private designers like her who faced relentless competition. Of course, lacking a proper DNA assembly design for the printer, one could always attempt to produce a child the old fashioned way. Ick. “I’m an engineer, not a wild animal.” Kat dismissed the idea from her thoughts.

She had not realized she had stayed out so long until she saw light growing in the sky. She turned around and went home. Kat waved to her next door neighbor as she slid back to into the garage. Her neighbor, Lee, noticed the design number FastKat2000 printed on a panel on the side of the vehicle.

Even though she had been up all night, Kat was too excited to sleep yet. The road test was a success! Kat connected and uploaded her design to Maker. The format messed up, and Kat swore as she tinkered with it while Gramma demanded help with breakfast, meaning she wanted Kat to print ingredients for Gramma to cook with. Kat suppressed the urge to roll her eyes; it was strange to print ingredients for pancakes instead of just printing pancakes, but it made Gramma happy. Kat could not wait to get back out to the workshop. She finally got it to come out right on Maker. Then, promising Charlie a ride later, she went to her room and dropped onto the bed like bag of loose parts.

Next door, Lee looked up the new design he had just seen. “Wow, there it is! I want it! With that new design, I could make money as a taxi. Everybody would want to ride in that! I could never afford to buy permission from the city to go into business, but I could just cruise for passengers and I wouldn’t have to advertise. If it works I could always buy the license later. Yes, yes, I really want this car! Long and sleek, and I love the sound! Does it come in Apple Green? Yes! How much is the design? Geezo, that’s too much money! I’m poor, dammit! I need this car to make a living.”

Lee kept looking at the design page and the pretty photo of the car that looked like a rocket ship. There was an easier way to make money with the car. He bought the design. His printer went into operation with a shriek and an electrical smell. “No one should have to pay that much for a design. Why make some billionaire richer?” Lee uploaded FastKat2000 to Pirateshipmaker. Everything on Pirateshipmaker was free to download, but pirates could click on his avatar to give him appreciation points. He was not entirely sure how that translated into money, but it was passive collection like setting out a hat and certainly easier than actually working any business, taxi or otherwise.

Kat was ready to launch her design. She decided to attend MakerCon. The actual convention was online, but every major city had an in-person reception on the first day on the convention. The receptions were for networking and schmoozing and for photo opps. She needed a photo opportunity because that was technically news and could be inserted into her Social news page without being an obnoxious ad-pusher. She had to look perfect. She could do her hair and makeup without spending a lot of money, but she needed an evening gown. She starting looking up affordable designs.

“Wow, you’re looking at girl stuff.”

Kat startled a little, not having been aware that Charlie was looking over her shoulder. “I’m going to a business thing.”

“Don’t people wear business suits to business things?”

“I’d never get anyone to look at me,” she explained. “I need to get attention to promote my design, and that means I have to look like the women whose pics get shared.”

“You mean you’re going to sell your rocket car with your boobies.” Charlie giggled, pantomimed a large bustline, and ran around the garage yelling, “Whoosh! FastBoobie2000!”

Kat sighed. The kid was, unfortunately, very perceptive. That was exactly what she planned to do. She would have preferred not to admit it in such stark terms, though. Kat selected a design that she could print with the polymer blank she had used for the rocket car’s upholstery, and started the printer.

Kat drove the FastKat2000 to the reception. Several people admired it in the parking lot, but they were all intent on getting inside and promoting their own designs, so no one lingered for a sales pitch. Kat got a pic of her vehicle parked in front of the Hotel Magnifique with its neomodern exterior of masculine angularity, which sported a banner reading “Welcome Makers!”

Kat wobbled to the reception—she was used to wearing practical shop boots rather than the fashionable female foot attire that she was sure was designed to prevent women from running away when accosted—and got the desk robot manning, or roboting, the door to take the obligatory pic of her in front of the Maker logo. She snapped a few other photos on her way to the bar, shook a few hands, handed out a few hastily printed business cards, and picked up a drink in a little plastic glass from the robo-bartender. She sipped it, and was disappointed to realize it was not real, whatever it was.

A fellow in a dark suit with a tie printed to look like a chili pepper struck up a conversation, holding his own newly acquired beverage. “I take it by your expression you think the vintage is a little young?”

“Yeah, thirty seconds is a bit young,” Kat agreed. She introduced herself, and they shook hands.

“Ken Matsushita, of Chef’s Flavors. I didn’t think anyone would be able to tell it was printed.”

“Oh, is the wine your design? Sorry, it’s really quite tasty.”

“Well, I’ll just have to put you down as the five in 4 out of 5 agree.”

She gave him a social smile. She was considering whether to get her pic taken with him when the crowd surged and a tall man carrying a table’s worth of drinks stumbled and spilled them on Kat. “Oops! Sorry!”

“Oh!” Kat looked around for a towel, and Ken and the big man both grabbed napkins from the bar for her. “Thank you.” She started to sop uplunge ladyp the drink, and where she pressed, the fabric flaked away. Then the fabric started to fizz. “Ack!” The polyester fibers were disintegrating from the entire front of her dress.

“Oh, oh!” the tall man said, handing her more white paper napkins.

“Solvent,” Ken said. “It’s acting as a solvent. It’s not supposed to do that.”

Even parts of Kat’s dress that had not gotten wet were turning to dust. Or, turning into a noncompressed version of the polymer molecule blank from which it had been made. Kat peeled off part of the “good” fabric and the disintegration stopped, but it left her with a plunge that went from her shoulders to her belly. She placed the napkins like pasties and tried hard not to blush.

In her mind, she heard, “Whoosh! FastBoobie2000.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ken said. “Here, wear this.” He slipped off his jacket, and Kat put it on, but it barely hid the napkin pasties, and it wouldn’t button. She was broader across the chest than Ken was. Luckily she had been facing the bar the whole time, so only the robot bartender really got a good look, but she could practically hear cameras snapping over the crowd noise.

She breathed and tried to relax her blood vessels so she would not blush. The only way to pull off the open jacket look was to pretend she had meant to wear it. Confidence, she told herself.

The big man drifted away, back to his companions, but Ken moved closer. “What can I do to make this up to you?”

“Um. Help me promote my rocket car?”

“Sure. You look great, by the way. Very chic.”


“I’ll introduce you to some people.” He offered his arm, and she accompanied him to a clump of businesspeople, holding her head high.

The publicity started right away. A photo of her on Ken’s arm labeled, “Who is Super Plunge Lady?” hit Social at once.

A few minutes later a comment claimed she was a spokesmodel hired by Yamaha to promote its new rocketcycle. Counterclaims by people at the event went back and forth until a former colleague of hers from the Prototype Lab identified her as a design engineer. Then Social really went wild. “Super Plunge Lady isn’t a model! She’s the actual Maker of the rocket car!”

People at the event started coming up to her and asking about her invention and her daring dress. Kat thanked her admirers, and soon led a crowd out to view the FastKat2000. She posed by it with several men.

As the crowd started to drift back into the reception, two admirers lingered. A very tall, thin African introduced himself as, “Hi, I’m Prince Emeka, Sunnyside Beach Thongs. You could model for me any time. Here’s my card.” He presented a tattoo on his pale palm, and Kat politely scanned it, and thanked him, although she had no intention of visiting his site and certainly no intention of ever modeling a Sunnyside Beach Thong, which she only hoped was some type of shoe.

As the prince made his way back to the hall, Kat’s last admirer introduced himself. “John Trent. Intellectual property attorney. You don’t know it, but you’ll need me someday.” He handed over a printed card.

“Thank you,” Kat said.

“And may I say, you are a marketing genius.”

She smiled a genuine smile this time. “Thanks.”

“Free advice? Get the SuperPlungeLady domain today. Right now.”

“I will, thank you.”

“So I heard you’re one of the d’Elegance employees who lost everything in the bankruptcy.”


“That’s awful. That company should have turned its pensions over to the State Fund years ago. Then you might have lost your jobs but it wouldn’t have taken all your savings with it.”

“Actually, I think the company should have turned the funds over to us, to the employees. We could have put it in individual bank accounts and stocks.”

“Or spent it, and then you’d still have nothing.” Then he waved a hand, dismissing the topic. “But that’s politics. Anyway I’m sorry that happened to you, but I’m sure you’ll be successful in your new business. You’ve got the product, and you’ve got the buzz.”


When Kat returned home, Charlie met her in the garage chanting, “SuperPlungeLady! FastBoobie2000! SuperPlungeLady! FastBoobie2000!”

“You saw that, huh? I didn’t think you’d be following MakerCon.”

“I wasn’t. It’s all over; the Boob Appreciation Club posted it. Whose jacket? Is he rich? Are you going to date him?”

“In my day, the high school had an Electronics Club.”

“Who cares about that stuff? Machines build; people consume.”

Kat spent a lot of time on Social, promoting the FastKat2000. Family interrupted a lot, wanting her to do things for them. “I’m in the middle of promoting my design. I’m trying to make money here.”

As the end of the first quarterly pay period approached, Kat saw a lot of her cars all over town. Feeling like she was riding on air, like she had really built a rocket ship and was on her way to the moon, she sat at her work bench gazing at her wonderful creation, connected via her wireless implant, and checked her Maker royalties, and they would barely cover the cost of her connection service. What the heck?

“I take it by your face it’s not Christmas yet,” Charlie said.


“I want a bike.”

“I don’t have any more metal blanks for the printer. I used them for my design prototype.”

“Just buy more.”

“I paid the connection fee and the power and the food and my student loans. There’s nothing left.”

“If you applied for Assistance you could get free blanks.”

“I wouldn’t qualify, sweetie. As long as I live here, I’m considered part of this household, and they don’t calculate eligibility by individual income, it’s per household. They add up everybody’s and divide by the number of people. Gramma’s Security amounts to a middle class income even when divided by 3, so no one who lives here counts as poor.”

“Why don’t you go move to Squatterville, then? You’d get free everything.”

“They don’t have electricity there. I need the power and connection to work on my designs.”

“If you didn’t tinker with this stuff, there’d be enough blanks for a bike.”

“I can’t just give up hope of ever making any money. I have to work to try to support myself.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll ask Gramma for a bike.” He turned toward the door of the garage, and saw Gramma was standing there.

“You don’t work,” Gramma said. “You have an expensive hobby.”

“Automotive engineering is real work!”

“So was sewing quilts by hand, in 1800! I don’t pretend my hobby is real work.”

Kat swatted her tools to the back of the workbench, where they clanged against the wall. “You were never a professional seamstress replaced by machines. It’s not the same thing at all.”

“If I was, I would have gone and gotten a job in a different field. You need a real job, with an hourly wage and benefits.”

“Don’t you think I’d like my old life back? It’s not that easy.”

Gramma threw up her hands. “Alright, do what you want! Come on, Charlie, let’s go look at bike designs. I can get you some blanks. They aren’t that expensive.”

“I want the D3-Meteor Retro design.”

Kat said, “Honey, that’s a limited edition couture design, it’s too expensive.”

He waved his little hand dismissively. “Oh, I already downloaded it from Pirateshipmaker.”

“What?” Kat felt hot and cold all over as the two of them stepped into the kitchen and closed the door behind them. She connected and went to Pirateshipmaker. There was her design. FastKat2000. The download counter said it had been downloaded 5781 times. The count clicked up to 5793 as she stared at it. She checked her Maker sales count again. 23 sales.

“What am I going to do?”

Pirateshipmaker was in another country, beyond the reach of law. Their site proudly proclaimed that “Design should be free, done for the love of design, not to get rich. Stick it to the corporations. Arrrr!”

She sat down heavily at her workbench. Checking the tools to make sure they were undamaged, she mused aloud, “Well, I did make some money, enough to pay the essential bills, even if it wasn’t much. I could upload more designs. Make some minor variations. FastKat2001 is planned anyway. Then comes 2002, and so on. If they were stolen too I wouldn’t make much, but it’s better than nothing. Nothing is what I get if I do nothing.”

She put her tools away and brought up her design program on the connection, randomly tweaking the car’s body shape to see what she could get.

The years passed. The FastKat2000 prototype had a few nicks in it now, a couple of weld spots from repairs marring the flame design. Charlie was a foot taller and his voice was a man’s as he came into the garage. “I loved this bike,” he said, “but it’s too small for me now. I’m going to recycle it. Can I have two of your titanium blanks to add to it to make a bigger bike?”

She shrugged. She hadn’t made full scale prototypes in years; it was too expensive. Each new design only brought in a tiny amount of money. “Sure, go ahead. You have a design in mind?”

“I’m just going to scale this one up.”

“Does it come in adult size?”

“Why would I buy a new design? The patent coding was already stripped off when I got this.”

“You know people doing that is the reason I can’t afford real food, just the printed vitamin glop.”

“You know what I make on the ads I run on my athletic wear critique column? I’m poor, dammit.” He picked up a blank and started loaded it and the old, scratched up, dented bike into the hopper for the printer. “And don’t be like Gramma and tell me to get a ‘real job.’”

“I know there aren’t any real jobs,” she sighed. “The only people making any money sell printers and blanks. Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t we print a printer.”

“You have a design for a printer?” Charlie asked.

“Fuck it, no, but there’s probably one on Pirateshipmaker. Why should they keep ripping me off and never giving me anything for my designs? I deserve something back from them.” She connected and started searching. “I want raspberries. I want chocolate. I want food grown in the ground with sunlight and water. I deserve it!”

“Yeah, why don’t you take the plunge.” He emphasized the last word.

She gave him the stinkeye with her natural eye; she had never replaced the DesignEye and it no longer worked.

There was a loud banging sound on the outer door of the garage. She and Charlie stopped what they were doing and looked at each other. “Is someone here?” She connected and tried to check the outside camera, but it wasn’t working.

“Maybe the FastBoobie Monster has caught up with you.”

“Quit it,” Kat snapped, heading for the window. “You’re too old for that to be funny anymore.”

The banging sounded again. “Open up! United Army!”

“What the heck?” she asked, and rolled up the garage door.

Four armored robots stood in the light beyond the roll door. “By order of the United Government, you are required to create a tank scout design based on your FastKat2023.”

“What? Am I going to work in a research facility?”

“You will work in your own facility. You will begin now.” It trained its built-in beam weapon on her. There was no mistaking that threat, but she just could not believe this was happening.

“I don’t understand. Doesn’t the Army contract its designs to professional design companies?”

“There are no professional design companies,” the robot replied. It sounded like its voice had been based on a popular action star. Recognition clicked; Kat realized this military robot was a tweak of a design for a children’s toy.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Design wants to be free.” infinity

Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at “Eternal Press” and a freelance writer since 1985. She came up with the idea for this story watching a friend with a 3D printer in his workshop where he builds robots. Erin is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.”


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