Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Stone 382
by Sean Monaghan

A.I. Oh!
by Tom Doyle

Castle of the Slave
by Aliyah Whiteley

Home From Home
by Mark English

Aliens With Candy
by Michael Andre-Driussi

A Cumdumpster Kid
by Rebecca L. Brown

Harmony, Chaos, and the Reign Thereof
by Kyle White

Potential Killer
by Fredrick Obermeyer

Cinderella's Holo-Wand
by Sarina Dorie

Ears, Eyes, Nose ... and Throat
by Jez Patterson


Cargo Cultism
by Eric M. Jones

Coronal Mass Ejection by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Castle of the Slave

By Aliya Whiteley

I AM WALKING TO WORK on legs that don’t belong to me.

That’s why my mind is so beautiful. I have polished and cherished my imagination, because only I can reap the benefits of it. My body, I don’t care for. I suppose it’s been a perfectly good body over the years. It has the right number of arms, ears, eyes and, yes, legs. But it is the property of the Ammon, and therefore it is a possession.

My grandmother used to tell me that the things we own eventually end up owning us. But then, she was fond of stupid sayings. Having grown up in the shadow of such mock wisdom, I have learned not to rely on any mottos or aphorisms.

Instead I have the Castle in my head.

But in real life, there is always work for the Ammon. I reach his headquarters, walk through the empty marble reception area and take the bulb-lit stairs down to the cold basement. The rows are only ever half full for the nightshift. It’s a long corridor of plastic booths, and the occasional body with nothing else to do but stare at me as I make my way to my place. I’m used to those blank, bovine expressions. There’s no ban on talking, reading or writing, but only the newcomers ever attempt such things, and that urge leaves them quickly. Within a few months they learn to simply let the time pass.

In the booth next to me, Tobiad is finishing up his hours. Everyone’s hours are staggered to ensure twenty-four hour coverage, but I’m glad I’m a nightworker. That means I have the living house to myself during the day, and I have become dependant upon solitude. I didn’t start out that way, but maybe we all come to love that which we start out detesting.

That’s the kind of comment my grandmother would have loved. It’s difficult to avoid thoughts of her when I’m not inside my Castle. I think maybe it’s the approach of old age; I feel it in my muscles, my bones, in the way my thighs rub together and my knees creak as I make my daily walk. I’m not old yet, not quite. But being old is a more elastic concept than my body. While the flesh sags, my idea of what exactly constitutes old age stretches easily.

“All right, Sue?” says Tobiad. He waves from his booth whilst he’s still wired in. That is unusual. He must have something to say. “We have to wear these now. Can you believe it?” He points to his forehead. I see nothing.

“What?” I say.

And then I see it. A fine filament wire, stretching across his head, from ear to ear. The thought of it produces an immediate queasiness in me. I’m used to being linked to the thermoelectric generators, but this is different. My head is my own personal property.

“It’s not like the other wires,” says Tobiad as he starts to peel himself out of the booth. “It’s for monitoring purposes, or something.”

He’s a young man, and he’s remarkably at ease with each change that gets thrust upon us by the Ammon. His adaptability must be considered a real asset. Whenever I look upon him, I’m certain that this system of slaves and owners will never change, even though I have studied history, and I know that every epoch comes to an end. But back then, people fought against injustice. Now they rely upon it. Tobiad is fed and his life is undemanding; apparently he does not want anything different.

“Monitoring purposes?” I ask.

“How much you’re producing, I reckon.”

“Human bodies all produce the same amount of heat.”

“Do they?” he says. He gives me a wink. To him, I must look very old.

I would argue with him, but my mind is calling me away. I climb into my booth, sink my body into the padded seat, and start to attach the wires. Then I fit the new wire around my head, hating it, aware of the cameras that sweep along the rows.

I have been building my Castle for so many years that it is easy to find it. Only moments could have passed, but I am already standing by the front gate, shaded from the full, fierce heat of a midday sun. This is my haven; the gate is made of dark, strong wood; the stones are huge, hewn by hand, yellowed and pitted from the storms of searing sand. I put my hand to the gate and it opens. I walk into my garden, and the desert of my surroundings blooms into an impossible grounds, lush and languid, with a flowing fountain of marble at its centre. There is the steady, calming sound of water; I dip my hand in, bring a cupped palm to my mouth, drink in the perfect, sweet liquid. The orchids, living, vivid, surround me with their colours, so vibrant, so real. I sit amongst them, feel the strength of the stones infuse me, lend me their power. I cannot be controlled here; I am the master of my thoughts, my feelings.

In my Castle, ten hours pass so very easily.


Days, weeks, months, years. These are definitions that do not matter because I am free in my mind. I ignore them, and do not pay attention to the patterns of time they leave upon my skin. My hair has turned lighter, my body is heavier. It is hard to climb in and out of the booth, and I’m sure the cameras have noticed this.

Tobiad ran away some time ago. I say that, but of course I do not really know what happened. I overheard a whispered conversation in the restrooms about a couple who took their four children and tried to make it out of the Ammon’s territory. Looking for a Castle of their own, I suppose. It could have been Tobiad. It upsets me to think that I don’t even know if he was in a relationship. I thought he was too young for all of that, but they all get younger and younger, and if they’re working here, they must be ripe for feelings of lust and love. I feel glad that has passed me by. I once fantasised about a man that I used to see on the end of the row. He always had the most serene expression on his rugged, homely face as he gave up his body heat to the booth; I think it was the contrast between the two that attracted me. I imagined he had created a wonderful place inside his mind too; I would walk so slowly, hoping he would open his eyes and realise I was a kindred spirit, but he never did, and after a few years he was gone. I like to think that he ran away too, and found a promised land. There must be something other than the buildings of the Ammon out there, but I’m happy to accept that I will never see it.

That must be strange to the younger ones. I’ve heard rumblings of discontent, something that always surprises me. But then, is change ever expected? Life will not stay the same after all. Retreating to my Castle can’t block it out completely any more.

I’m at the end of my shift. The young woman who works in the booth next to me has arrived, and is taking out her knitting. It’s a craze amongst the younger girls at the moment, long multicoloured scarves and jumpers with trailing sleeves and tiny little bootees for babies they haven’t yet had. Or maybe they have. I can’t think that my neighbour has, though; she’s got the tiniest figure. Beautiful, in a fleeting way.

I climb from my booth, stretch my aching back, and give her a nod. Then I start the long walk down the row.

The feeling of being watched is strong. I glance up at the cameras, and have the impression that they are all trained on me, but I tell myself not to be stupid, and I resist the temptation to stare up at them. It would not do to draw attention to myself. I reach the reception, that space of marble, clean lines and polished floor, and I am half way across it when I realise a man is standing at the revolving doors.

He is looking straight at me, and it is disconcerting. I can’t remember ever meeting a person who really looked at me as if they were seeing something worth looking at. Not since my grandmother, perhaps. Everybody is special, my grandmother would say. There’s beauty in everyone. What a ridiculous belief, but his eyes make me remember it, and how I felt when she said it.

I stop walking. He comes over, taking slow steps, the tap of his shoes reverberating, and says, “Hello Sue, how are you? Not too tired, I hope. I’ve got something to show you. Would you follow me?”

He turns and walks away, towards the archway reserved for entrance to the upper floors. I’m not allowed there, but nobody leaps out to stop me as I do as I am bid. It’s too early in the morning for any of the more important employees to be around; perhaps that’s how he can get away with this transgression. But then I take in the cut of his grey suit, and the way the heavy material drapes on his muscular form, and I know that only real money, old money, could buy such a suit, and I begin to suspect that he is not doing anything wrong by being here, because he makes the rules regarding right and wrong in the first place.

He doesn’t turn around to check if I am following, which suggests he is used to being obeyed. But it’s all I can do to keep up with him, particularly as we walk past paintings, giant murals, depicting grasslands with the eyes of wild cats hidden amongst the stalks, then an ocean teeming with strangely geometric, sharp-edged fish. We are walking past a cloudscape into which a rollercoaster track is woven when he suddenly turns left, and the corridor narrows into bare grey walls punctuated by numbered doors, 341, 342, 343.

He stops at 385 and winks at me. “Ready?” he says. There’s no reply to that; I have no idea what I’m meant to be ready for. His expression resembles that of a man about to reveal a surprise party to a much-loved relative. I’m getting the feeling I should know him, recognise him. But I don’t. I’m certain I’ve never met him before in my life, even though he acts as if we are old friends.

He opens the door and we enter the room.

It is a plain room, with white walls and a small window that looks out into the main street. I am surprised that the world outside has remained the same, but there it is. Nothing is different. I should be on my way back to the living house now, not standing here, trying to make sense of something inexplicable. I would turn around and leave, but the object in the centre of the room stops me. It is a small model, no bigger than a doll’s house. It is a model of my Castle.

“You won,” says the man. He is smiling at me.

I kneel down and stare at my Castle. It is exact in every detail. The base of the model has been sprinkled with sand, to represent the desert. The polystyrene bricks have been carefully streaked with yellow to represent age. Inside the dark wooden doors, tiny plastic orchids have been fixed, and a miniature motor somewhere makes real water trickle from the fountain.

“We’re reshaping the world. We want the most beautiful thoughts and ideas to redesign our open spaces, so that all of us—rich and poor—can enjoy this Earth. I said to my advisors, somewhere down in the depths there’ll be a twinkling diamond of a mind, and we will take it into the light. So they monitored, and then they brought me your thoughts, your dreams. Out of everyone, you have the best dreams. What do you think?”

“It’s mine,” I say.

“And now it will belong to everyone. There’s a change coming. Revolution. I’d rather ride the wave than go under it. Your building will be a new court of justice, hearing cases of unfairness, where grievances against owners can be aired. It is already being built. You’ll be at the launch, of course. We’ll call it the Temple of the Slave.”

“It’s not a temple. It’s a castle.”

“We can work out the details later.” He shrugs his shoulders in his magnificent suit. I can sense his exasperation with me. “The important thing is—you don’t have to work again, not in the booths. You’ve won.”

“Right,” I say. It seems important to state, “But I didn’t enter.”

I reach out my hands and touch the walls of my Castle.

There’s beauty in everyone, my grandmother said. She was wrong. There is no longer beauty in me because it has been taken out and made into something else.

Is this man the Ammon? Does he own me? I’m not sure. But it doesn’t make any difference. What I’m about to do will alter his plan, because my Castle is already being built, with slaves manoeuvring the bricks into place with giant machines, and carefully cultivating rare orchids in industrial hothouses, to be transplanted later.

For the first time I wish I had looked after my body. I need strength and speed for what I am about to do, and I probably don’t possess enough of it.

I form my wrinkled hands into fists and bring them down upon the model.

It doesn’t break on the first hit, or the second. Part of the gate comes off its tiny hinges on the fourth, and the walls begin to give way on the fifth. I continue to pound away, and they start to break down into sections, while the man shouts at me and presses himself against the window as if I am a danger to him. If he thought he knew me from looking at the inside of my head, he was wrong. He has taken a device from his suit pocket and is pressing it; I’m guessing others will be arriving soon, and they will not hesitate to lay their hands on me.

Once all the pieces are small enough, I start to eat them. I chew as fast as I can, and force my Castle back into my body, refusing to listen to the Ammon’s screams of his good intentions and my madness. My grandmother was right all along. I may be owned, but I will own this moment. I lived inside my Castle all this time, and now it must live inside of me. END

Aliya Whiteley has been published in lots of genres but is now concentrating on science fiction and fantasy writing. Her first collection of speculative fiction short stories has just been published by “Dog Horn Publishing.” She’s had stories published by “The Guardian,” “Strange Horizons,” “Kaleidotrope,” and many others.