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




Potential Killer

By Fredrick Obermeyer

TO DATE I HAVE KILLED ONE HUNDRED and seventeen people for the Department of Covert Normalization, all of whom are still alive. If that contradiction confuses you—as I’m sure it will—please allow me to explain.

I never actually kill anybody. Instead I kill potential in people. Or to be more precise, I kill talents, abilities, gifts, skills. Call it whatever you like, but my job is to protect the future by murdering people’s potential in the present. I cull potential prodigies and saviors, future despots and revolutionaries. I destroy that which makes them special and leave them as ordinary people.

Many today complain that novels and movies are stale and derivative, that politicians lack skill, that people are “stupider” than ever. That is not a coincidence. Rather it is an explicit plan of the DCN. To prevent future catastrophes we separate the wheat from the chaff and then do our very best to turn said wheat into chaff.

But in any case, I digress.

Shelley Cale was my next target. She was a seven-year-old who lived with her parents and two older brothers on a farm in Vallensville, Minnesota. On the surface there was nothing strange about her, at least not to the untrained eye. She was small for her age, with brown hair in pigtails, and green eyes. She enjoyed Dr. Pepper and playing the piano. She loved all types of animals, especially her pet Collie, and hated to see anything bad happen to them.

And I was going to kill her potential.

After the DCN gave me my orders, I traveled to Vallensville, disguised as Edward McCawder, a traveling salesman for a condiments company. The Department had analyzed Shelley’s probable futures and found several possible threats. If Shelley were allowed to grow to her future potential, she could write political tracts that might help to incite another world war or develop a nanotechnological weapon that would kill billions. Or she could end up as a virtuoso concert violinist. Or a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

After several months of analysis, the Department determined that Shelley presented too much of a threat to allow her to remain at full potential. Therefore it was decided to normalize her. I was called in to undertake the mission.

I’m sure people wonder how I could destroy a person’s talent. I had often weighed the decision, especially with children. But then I thought, what if we could have normalized Hitler and prevented him from becoming leader of the Third Reich? Could more lives have been saved? Or what if by normalizing Hitler we paved the way for a more intelligent leader who could have won World War II for the Nazis?

What if we eliminated the next Einstein or the next Mandela? The next Beethoven? The next JFK?

What was the right course to take? Was there even one? I’m not sure, but I truly believed I was doing the right thing.

As soon as I entered the hotel room, I unpacked my briefcase and opened the false bottom. I removed the stealth suit and the normalizer kit. The bio-metallic web fit over a person’s head comfortably while they slept. The web penetrated the head and deactivated certain neural pathways in the brain that were related to skills and talent in certain areas.

Once these pathways were normalized, the web extracted itself and left an organic sealant behind that would dissolve in a day or two. Afterwards, the person’s potential would be gone and they would continue on their normal life.

Before heading out to the farm, I reviewed the files one more time. Once Shelley was normalized, she would graduate high school with average marks, then go on to college. Probably a technical school. The Department estimated an eighty percent probability of failure in school, followed by her quitting. Eventually she would end up in a menial job, probably as a cashier in a supermarket, a janitor in a local high school or a press operator in a canning factory.

And that would be it.

When I finished reading the file, I burned it in the bathroom and flushed the ashes down the toilet.

The Department had already rented a non-descript blue van with the fake plates, registration and necessary supplies inside it.

I waited till nightfall and then drove out to the farm house.

When I arrived, a new moon hung in the sky.

I parked near the farm, killed the lights and slid into the back of the van. The Department had provided me with the tanks of sleeping gas that I needed. I lugged them out on a carrier and pushed them along the gravel driveway to the farmhouse. None of the lights were on, but I didn’t want to attempt entry until I was certain the whole family was out.

Once I reached the nearest window, a dog rushed up to it and started barking. I slid up against the wall, my heart racing. A light went on, followed by footsteps. I heard their father, Dan Cale, shouting at the dogs, then a slap, followed by a dog yelp, then he trudged back upstairs. The light went off.

I waited five minutes and then resumed my work. I lugged the tanks over to the house’s ventilation system, hooked the hoses into it and began pumping the place full of sleeping gas. Twenty minutes later, I shut the tanks off and slipped on my gas mask.

I took out my kit and an injector gun with chloral hydrate, opened the window and slipped inside the house. The big mastiff was fast asleep.

I swept the downstairs rooms. No one around.

Once the first floor was secured, I darted up the stairs to the second floor and checked each room. Shelley’s two brothers were out in their beds and their parents were out in theirs. I crept down the hall to Shelley’s room and peeked in. She was out too.

I walked over to her, took out the web and brushed my hand through her hair. She was such a beautiful child. Her brown hair reminded me of my own daughter Naomi. Unfortunately she was long gone with my ex-wife Lisa, and I had no visitation rights.

Before I put the web on, I hesitated, thinking about all the wonderful and terrible things she could still do with her life.

And for one of the few times ever, I wondered, what right do I have to play God?

It wasn’t the first time I had doubts. I felt the same twinge of uncertainty when I normalized Patrick Shelderberg three months earlier.

I reached down and placed the web on her head. All it would take was one press of a button and it would be done. My finger hovered over the button, feeling leaden. Deep in the pit of my stomach, acid churned.

How could I destroy a child’s potential like this? I thought. How many future prodigies could I cull?

But what if she played a part in destroying the world? I thought. Even so, nothing was certain. Even the Department heads admitted as much. They were only making educated guesses based on analysis of alternate realities and probability figures and the patterns of history.

For several moments I agonized over pushing the button. If I failed to do so and anyone found out, it would be the end of my career. They would kidnap me and ship me off to one of their retirement islands. Worse yet, I would let down Director Bryce Meadows, my mentor.

Still, how could I normalize a child like this? What if it were my own daughter? Could I do the same to Lisa?

No, I couldn’t.

After another deep breath, I made a decision.

I took the web off Shelley’s head and crept out of the house. As I left, my hands started shaking and sweat stood out on my forehead. I would have to file a false report and pray no one would check back on it. In almost every case, the agency never audited my work. They trusted me to do my job.

I pushed the tanks back into the van, got in and drove away from the Cale farm, feeling like a traitor. Still, at least I’d have the pleasure of knowing Shelley could grow up to realize her full potential.

* * *

The next morning Bryce read my fabricated report. He was an old, genial-looking man with bright, blue eyes. He often combed his slim strands of white hair over his bald spot. I don’t know how many potentials he culled. Five hundred? A thousand? Even in the earliest days of the department, he was a legend.

“Very solid work, Nordenski,” Bryce said after he finished reading the report.

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

He closed the file and dropped it on his desk. “I was thinking of reassigning you to Frisco branch for the time being. But I think you deserve a break. Take a few days off and then you can report there.”

“With all due respect, sir, I have paperwork to finish here.”

“Fine. Finish it, then take a break. I’m sure that everything will check out once the audit goes through.”

A sharp icicle of fear burrowed its way into my spine. “Audit, sir?”

“Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you. The higher ups want to do another sweep of the recent normalized. Turns out one of their field agents, Doug Orcock, wasn’t doing all the normalization he should have been. He skipped out.”


“Tell me about it. Now we have to go back and clean up all the messes he left.”

I tried to push the fear down in my stomach.

“When will they check on Cale?”

“Probably by tomorrow. But you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Your work is solid.”

I felt like breaking down right there, but I kept my cool. “Yes, sir.”

“You can go now, Nordenski. And once again, good work.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I nodded to Bryce and left the office.

* * *

By the time I reached the parking lot, my stomach was churning with acid. I collapsed against the car, popped a couple of antacids and tried to calm myself. Every instinct told me to rush back to the Cale’s farm tonight and normalize Shelley. If I hurried up and did it, I might just be able to beat the audit. I already had a spare kit hidden in my car and I could get the sleeping gas. But another part of me hesitated.

What right did the Department have to destroy people’s futures? Even if they weren’t killing them directly, they were killing their potential. And wasn’t that terrible enough?

I got in the car, slammed the door shut and pounded my fists on the steering wheel.

What the hell was wrong with me? I thought. Since when did I develop a conscience? Was I losing my edge? Or was I gaining something else, like my humanity? No, I had done the right thing. And I would do the right thing.

Yet even as I started up the car, I wasn’t sure I had ever been doing the right thing.

* * *

I spent the rest of the afternoon racing back to Valensville. I only stopped twice. Once for a bathroom break and twice for five minutes to get some more antacid tablets from a pharmacy.

As night approached, I reached the road that led to the Cale farm. I kept my speed fast, but not so fast as to draw the attention of any lawmen.

Less than two miles or so from the farm, a chopper swooped over my position. At first I thought it was just a regular medical helicopter airlifting patients to another hospital. But the helicopter stayed on me.

I should have known something was fishy and turned back, but before I could do so a van raced out from the woods and blocked my path. I slammed on the brakes. My stomach burned and my bladder felt loose.

They had been watching me.


I put the car into reverse and tried to back up, but a second van rushed out and blocked my escape route.

Several agents with MP5K submachine guns burst out of the van. I tried to speed into the woods, but one of the men shot my front tires out.

“Shut your engine off and get down on the ground!” one of the agents said.

Desperate with terror, I tried to turn the car to the right and barrel away from there. Another agent fired a tear gas grenade at me. It smashed through the windshield, hit the backseat and sprayed tear gas all over the car’s interior. The horrendous smell struck me like a sock full of pennies. I took my foot off the gas and started coughing and hacking. The gas burned my lungs and eyes and tears spilled down my cheeks.

While I was incapacitated, a third agent broke the driver’s side window and sprayed me with glass fragments that cut me. He yanked open the door, dragged me out and slammed me to the ground. They frisked me, took away my gun and my wallet full of false ID. While I continued choking on the gas, they hogtied my hands behind my back with plastic cuffs.

The helicopter landed in a nearby field. Bryce and two other agents got out and ran across the field towards me.

I felt sick with despair as I watched them. In the chaos, my bladder had voided itself. My face burned with embarrassment and shame.

Bryce looked angry at me.

“How long did you know?” I asked.

“Since last night,” he said.

“Bryce, please. We don’t need to normalize her—”

“If it were any other agent, you’d be out right now.”

“Bryce, don’t do it to her! Please!”

“We’re sending you to the island, Greg. Be grateful that’s all we’re doing.”

“Bryce, no—!”

The agent dragged me kicking and screaming to one of their cars. One of the agents shoved a gag in my mouth. They opened the trunk and dumped me in. I let out a muffled scream and pounded the back as they closed the lid on me.

The car started up and they sped away.

My career was finished. Still, that didn’t anger me as much as knowing that Shelley would be normalized. Her whole potential gone in a second.

Unless I stopped them.

I reached down into my shoe to the false bottom, took out a tiny Swiss army knife that I kept hidden there and cut the bonds. Once I was free, I felt around in the dark. The trunk had a hard briefcase. My guess was that it held more weapons. After some feeling around, my fingers discovered a tire iron.

I gripped it, crawled towards the back seat and cut through the cushion and the stuffing. It took a few minutes to reach the front. When I did, I kicked outward and burst through the back seat. The agent and the driver looked shocked as I emerged. The tire iron got caught and I was forced to let it go. But I still had my hands.

The agent in the passenger seat tried to reach for the gun in his holster. But before he could draw it, I elbowed him in the temple and his head clunked against the window.

A second later, I jammed the knife against the driver’s throat and said, “Try anything funny, and you die.”

“Yes, sir,” the agent said, his voice calm.

“Pull over there.”

He did so.

“Keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

He did that too.

I grabbed his head and slammed it into the steering wheel. His nose broke and he cried out. I did it again and he crumpled against the door.

I got out of the car, opened the driver’s side door and undid the belt. He fell onto the ground.

As soon as he was out, I dragged him over to the woods and stripped him of his mace, his spring-loaded ASP baton, his radio, his handcuffs and his key ring. Then I ran back to the car, did the same to his buddy and dragged him into the woods. I considered stripping them, but it was cold out and I didn’t want them to freeze to death.

So I settled for handcuffing them to the nearest tree.

Once they were secure, I ran back to the car and hopped in. If I hurried, then I would still have a chance to save Shelley.

* * *

By the time I arrived back at the Cale farm, Bryce and his men had already re-gassed the house. I could see them moving in with their lights. I parked a few hundred feet down the road from the vans, popped the trunk and got out. I ran back there and opened the briefcase. Inside were more gas masks and tear gas grenades, ear plugs, flashbang grenades, a taser, a tranquilizer gun and two sawed-off shotguns with beanbag rounds.

I grabbed one of the shotguns, loaded some shells into the breech, slung it over my shoulder and pocketed a flash bang. I also put plugs in my ears.

Now fully armed, I ran low across the field. As I moved, my stomach burned and I felt like puking.

After attacking his agents, there was no way Bryce could let me go. At best, I’d receive a life sentence on one of their retirement islands.

At worst, death.

Still, somehow I didn’t care.

I ran up to the edge of the house and listened through the nearest wall. I could hear them walking upstairs to the second floor.

I looked around and saw a pipe leading up to the second floor window of Shelley’s bedroom. With no time, I hopped onto it and climbed as fast as I could. The metal creaked loudly as I reached her window and my stomach did flip flops.

As I reached the windowsill, two agents appeared below me and said something.

Shaking, I shoved open the window and tumbled into the bedroom. Five of Bryce’s men were running down the hall towards me. I took out the flash bang, pulled the pin, released the spoon and lobbed it into the hallway. The men skittered to a stop and I covered my eyes just before it exploded.

Despite protecting myself, the blast still hurt my ears. When I opened them, the men outside were fazed. I whipped out the shotgun, ran into the hallway and opened up on them. I pumped, fired, pumped, fired. Four times. The beanbag rounds knocked them down and kept them on the floor.

As I pumped the shotgun a fifth time, the last agent tackled me to the wall and forced me to drop the weapon. He grabbed at my face and squeezed. Pinned, I reached down, grabbed the ASP, whipped it out and struck him in the gut. He grunted, stumbled back and reached for his shoulder holster.

Just before he got his pistol out, I smacked him in the head with the ASP. He crumbled to the ground and didn’t get back up.

As I struggled to catch my breath, I took out the ear plugs. All the loud noise made my ears ring. Still, I heard two more agents rushing up from the kitchen.

I ran back into the bedroom, scooped up Shelley and threw her over my shoulder. I could hear the two agents calling for backup as they rushed up the stairs and into the hallway. I was too far away for the shotgun.

A china plate sat on the wall next to Shelley’s bed. I snatched it up. As the first man burst in, I hurtled the plate at his face. It struck him in the nose and dropped him. The second was so stunned that he staggered back.

I went at him with the ASP, smacked the gun out of his hand and whipped him in the face. He dropped to the floor.

Amazingly, Shelley and her family somehow managed to sleep through it all. If nothing, the agency had a good brand of sleeping gas.

Sweating profusely, I bolted down the stairs and out the door with her. I ran to the car, put her in the passenger seat, belted her in and then ran around to the driver’s side and got in.

After starting up the car, I sped away as fast as I could. As I raced, I wondered what the hell I was doing. Where could I go? How could I support a child when I never even had the time to take care of Naomi? And what if Bryce was right? What if she ended up destroying the world?

Somehow, I didn’t care.

I only made it a mile before the chopper swooped in. One of the agents leaned out and fired at me. Several shots stitched the car’s hood and tires and I skittered out of control.

In seconds, the car veered off the road and hurtled towards a tree. I swerved to avoid it and ended up crashing into a ditch.

The seatbelt caught me and I gasped. My ribs felt crushed.

Shaking, I tore off the belt. The chopper landed a few hundred feet away. Bryce and two other agents with rifles ran towards me.

I tore the seatbelt off Shelley, grabbed her and tried to run. I got a few hundred feet before a shot nailed me in the back. I crumpled to the ground and Shelley flew out of my hands and tumbled into the weeds.

I felt dead below the waist. Grunting, I tried to reach for the baton. But Bryce was on top of me before I could get anywhere. He tore the ASP out of my belt and picked up Shelley.

She awoke and moaned.

Bryce frowned and said, “Damn it.”

“Goddamn you, don’t normalize her!” I gasped.

“Who are you?” Shelley said. “Where am I?”

“Calm down, honey,” Bryce said. “It’s all right! I’m a police officer and this is a bad man!”

“Shelley, run!” I tried to crawl for her, but I couldn’t move more than a few inches.

Shelley looked confusedly between us, her face taut with terror. In a second, she turned and ran. Despite being paralyzed, I still felt joy at seeing her flee. Bryce took out a pistol from his shoulder holster and aimed it at her.

“Bryce, don’t!”

I tried to lunge at him, but my legs wouldn’t respond. He sighted down the barrel and fired.

The bullet struck Shelley in the back of the head and she crumbled to the ground. I screamed. For the longest time I screamed. Finally, one of Bryce’s men pressed his foot against my windpipe and shut off my air.

Bryce walked over to Shelley, pointed the gun at her forehead and shot her two more times. Afterwards, he walked back, collected the spent shells and dropped them in his suit pocket. I felt sick as the man took his foot off my throat.

How could he do this?

“She couldn’t know about us,” Bryce said,

“Goddamn you, you fucking bastard!” I said, weeping.

“You don’t understand. I just saved the world.”

“You killed her! You fucking killed her!”

“There’s something you should know, Greg. Her probability of potential was so high that even normalizing might not have fully corrected it. She was one in a million. A real potential worldshaker. And unfortunately I couldn’t allow her to live.”

My heart tightened.

“You bastard! Fuck you and the Department.”

Bryce holstered his gun. “I should kill you.”

“Then why don’t you?”

Bryce sighed. “You were my first.”

I blinked in surprise. “First what?”

“First normalized.”

In that moment I felt my whole world ripped out from under me. “No.”

“If I had left you as you were, you would have started a revolution that would have killed millions. You could have been a thinker to rival Locke and Einstein. But instead I molded you into this. In a way, you were almost like my son. But unfortunately, you failed me. And so there’s not much more I can do for you.”


I couldn’t believe he had normalized me. My stomach heaved and I vomited onto the grass.

“Why?!” I said.

“If I hadn’t done it, everything you know would be gone,” Bryce said. “But I guess I didn’t do a good enough job.”

“Kill me.” I gestured to my chest. “Please, kill me.”

“No, son. You’re being retired. MacMillian Island. The plane’s already waiting for you and I’ll have a surgical team standing by.” Bryce took out a cell phone, flipped it open and dialed a number.

I rolled away from him and looked at the stars. They held so much potential even as my life held none.

* * *

Today I am surrounded by other agents who have been retired, either by disabilities, age or psychological issues. Apparently I’m not the only one who had issues with normalizing children.

Lucky me.

My physio-therapist wheels me out to the edge of the beach daily and I sit and write this memoir, a book that no one will ever read, except for those on the island.

I look back at my life now and wondered what I could have been, where I could have gone, what I could have done. Would I have made the world a better place? Or a worse one?

And what about Shelley? Would she have saved the world? Or damned it? Or maybe both? Who can say?

I look at myself and my chair and it fills me with a rage that I can’t even describe, a rage at all the potential taken away from all the Shelley Cales of the world. We could be like Gods, but men like Bryce turn us into mere mortals. Or maybe it isn’t just Bryce. Maybe it’s all of us.

Bryce thinks that he’s locked me away in a box and destroyed all of my potential.

But now that he’s shown his true colors and taken away my life, he doesn’t know how much potential I really have. END

Fredrick Obermeyer lives in Cooperstown, NY. He writes science fiction, horror, crime and fantasy. He has had stories published in “Alternate Realities,” “Planet Relish,” “Fedora,” “The Fifth Di,” ”Forgotten Worlds,” and “Electric Spec.”


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