Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Quarantine Summer
by Rebecca Birch

Calling Time on Candy
by Mark Patrick Lynch

Revenge in Shanty Town
by Seth W. Kennedy

A Boy’s Apocalypse
by Eric Del Carlo

How to Be a Foreigner
by Karen Heuler

Could They But Speak
by David Steffen

Bob’s Day Out
by Mark Bondurant

Everybody Comes to Rick’s
by Tim McDaniel

Equations in the Mirror
by Therese Arkenberg

by R.W. Warwick


If We Find ET What Will ET Be?
by J. Richard Jacobs

Regarding Fermi’s Paradox
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Could They But Speak

By David Steffen

CURSING, DANIEL POUNDED ON Gunther’s dressing room door. “Gunther!” He tried the knob. It turned freely, but the door wouldn’t budge. Gunther must have shoved in the wedge. The wedge had been Daniel’s idea, a bad idea in retrospect. The dressing room doors had locks, of course, but the knobs were too high for Gunther to operate. “You’re supposed to be on the set in five minutes. This is live TV, you know. You don’t get another chance.”

The door rattled as Gunther pulled the wedge. “Kommen Sie herein,” Gunther called out in singsong tones, especially grating when combined with his atrocious faux German accent.

Daniel leaned in the door and peered down at Gunther. He looked sharp, or as sharp as an overweight Dachshund could ever manage. “Come!” Daniel said, waving him out into the hall.

Gunther raised one eyebrow in an expression that still looked out of place on a dog.

“Sorry.” Old habits died hard.

Gunther’s Awakening procedure, one of the first of its kind apart from research subjects, had been more than a year before, evolving Gunther from an ordinary dog to his current canine form. Seemingly disparate advances in induced neuroplasticity to aid recovery of stroke victims had been combined with artificial voiceboxes to produce the Awakening procedure that allowed most animals to speak human languages. The detractors mostly shouted that Awakening was “playing God,” as if the same accusation couldn’t be made of every scientific advancement in human history. The supporters were interested for a variety of reasons but most of them were people who, like Daniel, simply wanted to know what their pets were thinking.

Daniel was still getting used to their new relationship. “Please come. You’re on in ...” He checked his watch. “Three minutes. The public awaits. Do you want to get people thinking about animal rights, or would you rather sulk?”

Sehr gut.” When he spoke, Gunther’s teeth showed purple with stuffed animal fur.

“You’ve been defuzzing.” Gunther’d had the defuzzing habit long before he was Awakened, but recent stress had only exacerbated the problem.

Francisco, slim and dark with spiky black hair, caught Daniel’s eye from down the hall, and waved them along. Daniel held up a finger, to tell him it would be another minute.

“You know I’ve kicked the habit,” Gunther said. “Why the accusations?”

“Because you’ve got a pound of fuzz sticking out of your mouth, you idiot. That’s your second plushie this week. I’m not buying you another.”

“You’re in no position to threaten my finances. I could cancel your check card. Do you know why I hired you?”

“Because it was either me or the mailman?”

“No, Daniel, and I don’t appreciate your tone. I did it so I could be the Alpha in some contexts. Honestly, human social hierarchies are so sloppy, I don’t know how you’ve survived this long.”

“Thanks for the sociology lesson. Well, sir, let me get that for you.” Daniel picked the fuzz out of Gunther’s teeth. “Now, please, come on!”

Danke schön, Herr Carter.”

“And lay off the German, would you?”

Gunther snorted. “I don’t ridicule your cultural heritage.”

“Knowing the first page of a quick translation guide does not make you German,” Daniel hissed.

“Remind me again: who exactly named me Gunther?”

Francisco the stage manager rushed up. “I’m sorry, sir, there’s been a last minute schedule change.”

“What schedule change?” Daniel asked.

“Due to an unexpected circumstance we’ve had to juggle the lineup to allow the Holly Parker Show to cover it.”

“Okay ... So when will Gunther go on?”

“Not today, I’m afraid. We’ll call you to arrange a date.”

“Come!” Gunther snapped as he wheeled around, back to the dressing room. They grabbed their things from the dressing room, ignored by the staff bustling around the building like a hive of bees. Daniel and Gunther stormed out of the building, as quickly as a Dachshund could storm.

Anger always made Gunther hungry, so they headed to their favorite restaurant, a sports bar a few blocks away. After he ordered his usual, a medium rare hamburger hold the bun and toppings, Gunther glanced up at one of the silent TVs ringing the dining area and muttered, “that witch!”

The Holly Parker Show was on, with the caption “The Queen of Pop: Pregnant?”

“I just lost my appetite,” Gunther said. “What are you going to do?”

“There’s not much we can do, Gunther.”

“You’re my agent. Dealing with this kind of screwup is what I pay you for!”

Daniel threw his hands in the air in frustration. “We were lucky to get the booking in the first place. The only reason she’d talk to me at all was that you look like her fat little puppy, Snoogums.”

“Shut up.”

“It’s true,” Daniel said. “She brought Snoogums on the show last week. She’s adorable. She had a little pink sweater. Look, she’s not taking us seriously now, but she’ll let us on the show. It’s this or nothing.”

Gunther snorted and looked away, pointedly ignoring Daniel until their food arrived and his eyes lit up at the sight of his juicy pink burger.

“Thanks,” Daniel said.

Gunther refused to acknowledge the waitress, not so much as looking at her.

“Why do you do that?” Daniel said once she walked away.


“You never acknowledge waitresses, unless they’re taking your order.”

“So what?”

“So it makes you seem like an ass, that’s what.”

“The one with the money in a capitalist establishment is always the alpha, so I am acting the part. An alpha doesn’t care if he seems like an ass.”

“Shouldn’t I be the one who’s alpha?”

“If you don’t step up then the role’s vacant. There’s that sloppy hierarchy at work again.” Gunther stopped chewing and stared at his plate. “Something’s wrong with my burger.”

“It’s your imagination. Eat, so we can go home.”

“Look at it.”

Daniel spun Gunther’s plate around. There were little black things embedded in the pink meat. His first thought was beetles. He grabbed his spoon and scooped one out, peering more closely at it.



“I’m sure it was just a mistake.”

Gunther snorted. “Yes, a mistake. Because it’s so easy to work a box of raisins into a hamburger patty, and then serve them to the only customer whose species they are toxic to. By accident. I knew this would happen some day.”


“An assassination attempt!”

“Oh, please.”

“It’s true!” Gunther looked around the tables. “This was someone’s attempt to poison me. This has a cat’s pawprints all over it.”

“You’re jumping to conclusions.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense. Who else would want me dead?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Religious fanatics, hunters, policemen, the Chinese. Our waitress. Shall I go on?”

“It was a cat.”

“And how exactly would a cat get the raisins into the burger without the cooks noticing, and without getting hair on the burger?”

Gunther just stared back stubbornly. “The burger smells strange, too.”

“It’s the raisins.”

“I know what raisins smell like. It’s something else; I can’t quite place it.”

Daniel signaled the waitress as she passed by and opened his mouth to speak, but Gunther cut him off.

“Do you keep a cat in the restaurant?”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Does the kitchen have a window opening into the alley?”

Daniel interrupted. “Excuse my friend. The hamburger he ordered came with raisins in it.”


Daniel gestured at the burger. “It’s full of them. He didn’t order it that way.”

“That’s really strange. I do apologize. We don’t even serve anything with raisins. I’ll get you another burger right away.”

“Raisins are toxic to dogs!” Gunther barked. “You’ll lose your job over this!”

“Gunther, down!” Daniel said sharply. “I am sorry about him, but could you please bring the manager out?”

The waitress nodded and rushed off to the kitchen. At the same time, Gunther jumped down from his chair.

“Where are you going?”

Gunther walked out the door and down the alley beside the restaurant. Daniel followed behind him, glancing back to see if any of the staff would chase after them with the check. Gunther walked along the muck, and stopped in the middle of the way, just beside the dumpster. “Cat prints.”

He was right. There were wet paw prints in the dirt, leading out of a puddle beside the dumpster.

“Any prints on the top?”

“Yup. Leading up to the window.”

“I knew it!”

“Just because a cat has been in this alley doesn’t mean it tried to kill you.”

Gunther said nothing, only put his nose to the ground and sniffed, pacing around and around the alley, front to back and side to side. Finally he stopped. “Too many cats have been through here recently. I can’t single out any of them. Do you know what this means?”

Daniel sighed. “That this is no different than any alley behind any restaurant?”

“It means that I’ve been targeted by a feline conspiracy.”

“Can we just go home? I’ll make you a hamburger there.”

“Well, I am still hungry. But this isn’t over.”

Inside the waitress rushed out from the kitchen to greet them. “We are so sorry about the mix-up. I left a gift certificate on your table. Let me grab it for you.” She rushed off to the table to grab the card.

“We don’t want it,” Gunther said when she came back with a little cardboard envelope. “A gift certificate isn’t going to smooth this over.”

“Shut up.” Daniel handed her his business card when she came back, ignoring Gunther’s growl. “In case you need to get hold of us.”

As they headed back to their car Daniel peeked in the envelope. There was a note inside, which read “7:30PM Tonight. 1220 Prentice Street.”


“You do the talking. I’m just going to be a regular dog. If he doesn’t know about me, maybe I can sniff around while you’re asking questions. Be the alpha.”

Daniel knocked on the door of the nondescript little house on Prentice Street.

A middle-aged man opened the door. He was bald on top and had a pushbroom mustache. His stomach strained against his buttoned shirt, which was tucked into his trousers.

“Ah! Mr. Gunther and friend. Come in, come in.” He opened the door wide and waved them in. “Please, have a seat.”

Daniel picked his way over the piles of detritus scattered across the carpet: rawhide bones, animal toys of various sizes, piles of birdseed. He hesitated at the sight of the couch covered in a thick mat of animal hair, but he sat and lifted Gunther up beside him.

Animal sounds of various kinds emanated from the mostly closed door to the next room. Dogs barked, birds squawked, rodents chittered, pigs oinked.

“Would you like a soda?” their host offered. “Biscuit?”

Gunther’s ears perked up, but no more. He really did mean business. He snuffled his nose, no doubt picking out all the animal scents.

Daniel pulled the crumpled note out of his pocket and held it up. He spoke loudly to be heard over the racket. “We’re here about your note, Mister ...”

Their host cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled into the next room. “Quiet down in there!” The animal sounds stopped abruptly. A single parrot with vivid green plumage flew in from the other room and landed on the man’s shoulder, eying the visitors with one beady black eye. “Mr. Gregory. Michael Gregory. I know, two first names. I always got crap about that at school—”

“Please, Mr. Gregory. What did you want to meet about?”

“Perry!” the parrot said.

Mr. Gregory laughed. “Yes, yes, sorry. And this bright little fellow is Perry. To be honest, sir, I wanted to meet your Mr. Gunther here very badly. I read every interview, every article. He’s a hero of mine, you see, breaking social boundaries that have been in place since prehistory. We humans are just another kind of animal, no more, and it’s about time the general public was convinced of that. There’s no work more important.”

“I don’t need another fanboy,” Gunther said. “Unless you have something of substance to say, we’re leaving.”

“Wait, wait! I saw what happened at the restaurant. Not that I was following you or anything. I mean, you’re my hero, but I’m not a stalker. It’s just that I happened to stop there for lunch. They have the best spaghetti and meatballs in the city.”

“Meatballs!” Perry the parrot interjected.

“And?” Daniel said.

“And, well, I’ve been stopping there every day for lunch, you see, and I talked to one of the cooks as he was out on a smoke break. He really hates dogs. Well, specifically, his neighbor’s dog that poops on his lawn every day, but he seemed to dislike dogs in general.”

“Would you say he’s a ... cat person?” Gunther asked.

Daniel groaned.

“He did mention he had a cat. I remember because he pointed out that cats used litter boxes instead of crapping all over the neighborhood.”

“Aha!” Gunther said, looking up at Daniel. “I told you. A cat!”

“Right. Well, we’d better be going—”

“What was his name?” Gunther asked.

“He didn’t say. He had a distinctive look: very short, with a blonde crew cut, and a mole on his cheek. Strong jaw, deep voice.”

“We’ll check it out,” Gunther said.

“So one employee doesn’t like dogs,” Daniel pointed out. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“You’re right. We need rock hard evidence. Maybe we can get him on an animal cruelty charge, at least. Let’s go.”

Rising to his feet, Mr Gregory said, “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

“I will.” He shook Mr. Gregory’s hand.

Back in the car, before Daniel turned the key, Gunther said “Wait. I just made a connection. We need to go back.”


“Remember how I said the hamburger smelled funny, and not of raisins? I figured out what it was. Parrot.”

“The cats are conspiring with a parrot now?”

“No, no, no. No cat conspiracy. Will you let that go already? But that hamburger smelled like parrot. We have to go back in and find out what’s going on.”

Mr. Gregory answered the door on the first knock. He said nothing, his unfocused eyes pointed over Daniel’s shoulder.

“Where’s your parrot?” Daniel asked.

“Parrot,” the man echoed, unmoving.

“The parrot.” Gunther said. “Where is the parrot that was riding on your shoulder when we were here?”

Mr. Gregory’s eyebrows drew down in deep thought. “Here,” he said. “Beer, sear, tear.” A bit of drool ran down his chin.

Daniel and Gunther exchanged a glance. “Mr. Gregory, could we ask you about your parrot?” He laid his hand on Mr. Gregory’s arm, pushing him gently back. Mr. Gregory smiled and allowed himself to be guided back. They stepped inside and Mr. Gregory continued to stand at the door, staring outwards expectantly.

“What’s wrong with him?” Gunther asked.

Daniel shrugged.

Perry the parrot flew out from the partially open door to the next room and landed on Mr. Gregory’s shoulder. It leaned in close to his ear and spoke too softly for Daniel to hear.

“You’re not welcome here,” Mr. Gregory said in a voice vacant and unemotional. “Leave now.”

“You’ve got an interesting bird there,” Gunther said. “Where did you find it?”

Perry leaned in and whispered again, and Mr. Gregory spoke. “Get out. I know my rights. You’re trespassing. Get out, out, out now.”

“Mr. Gregory,” Daniel said, “are you all right?”

The feathers on the parrot’s head ruffled up in a crest and it opened its mouth, but instead of speech or bird squawks, it barked like a dog three times, deep and threatening woofs.

“What the—” Gunther managed before the colossal snout of a Great Dane poked its head through the doorway. The big dog pushed through the door alongside a Saint Bernard, and another big dog of mixed breed. They all tried to force themselves through the doorway at once, filling it with an ungainly tangle of dog legs and snapping teeth.

Gunther let out a shrill bark and Daniel turned to grab him and run, but he caught quick motion in his peripheral vision and ducked just in time to dodge a roundhouse punch from Mr. Gregory. Daniel risked a glance toward Gunther and saw his tail disappearing into the space behind the couch. The bigger dogs untangled themselves and galloped across the room after him.

Daniel turned and ducked another roundhouse from Mr. Gregory. “Mr. Gregory! I don’t want to fight you.”

The man turned, his face slack of any expression, and swung again, the same roundhouse punch for the third time, which Daniel ducked easily. Clearly there would be no reasoning with him. He jabbed the man twice in the gut, producing only a small grunt.

He looked toward the couch again; the big dogs were too big to fit into the small space behind the furniture. All at one end of the couch they forced the gap wider with the weight of their bodies. Gunther’s head poked out from the other end.

“The parrot!” Gunther cried, and Daniel saw the bird flying through the air toward the open front door. Daniel took his attention away from his opponent for just a moment to punch Perry out of the air. Daniel saw stars, then black.


Daniel opened his eyes. His head pounded with pain, and his eyes took too long to focus. The first thing he saw was Gunther’s long face. The second thing was Perry’s green-feathered body, neck clutched between Gunther’s teeth. Gunther whined at him, sound muffled by the bird’s body.

Daniel touched the back of his head gingerly. Already a lump was forming.

“Geh uh!” Gunther said, or tried to say. “Geh uh!”

Daniel staggered to his feet. The big dogs just stood there, tongues lolling contentedly. Mr. Gregory looked like just one of the group, standing dull eyed and panting.

“Cuh ah!” Gunther said, and began to drag the parrot across the floor toward the front door. Daniel ran outside and opened the pet carrier in the back seat of his car. He came back for Gunther, holding him carefully so he wouldn’t accidentally jostle the bird loose from the dog’s jaws. Gunther eased his head into the pet carrier, and let go, pulling his head back as Daniel slammed the carrier shut.

Immediately the parrot started barking again. The sound carried out through the still open car door. Daniel slammed the door shut, running around to the driver’s door and slamming it behind him. The three big dogs came charging out of the house first, followed by Mr. Gregory. Tires squealed as Daniel slammed his foot on the gas.

“Why have you been trying to kill Gunther, Perry?”

“If your dumb dog succeeds in his mission, then they may decide that any animal who talks can have rights. With rights come responsibilities. You have to get a job, pay taxes.”

“You’re just lazy?”

“Not lazy! I know my place in this world, and that place is to be worshipped. Look at my subjects. They would do anything for me.”

Their pursuers were small in the distance now, and Daniel took a few random turns to make them harder to follow.

“What did you do to them to make them act like that?”

“I’m not telling you!”


The sound of a dog barking startled Daniel, and he shook his head to clear his fogged mind. He was sitting on the floor of his bathroom with no memory of how he’d gotten there, his back against a cabinet. A measuring cup lay on the ground with birdseed spilled out onto the floor.

A soothing murmur made him want to go back to sleep, but somewhere in his mind alarm klaxons were blaring that something was wrong. He looked around. In the corner a few feet away sat a green parrot in a wire cage. It was the source of the murmurs, but when it saw him looking, it began to yell a steady stream of obscenities: “Rancid heap of donkey dung! You smell of rotting pustules!”

“Daniel!” Gunther shouted through the door. “Daniel, come!”

Daniel’s memories returned in a flash. “It’s okay, Gunther. I’ll be there in a sec.”

Perry’s cursing continued as he scooped the birdseed up and dumped it into the cage, careful to keep his fingers out of range of the bird’s beak. He ducked out of the bathroom as soon as he was finished.

“What were you doing in there?” Gunther said.

“I ... I don’t know.”

“Do you want to end up like Mr. Gregory, that bird’s witless pawn?”

“Of course not.”

“Then leave it to starve. It almost had you this time.”

“I can’t leave it to starve in a cage.”

“Why not? That’s better than it deserves!”

Daniel’s cell phone rang, and Daniel welcomed the interruption. “Hello?”

Perry’s squawking tirade on the other side of the door changed; he switched voices, mimicking Daniel as he shouted even louder. “Look here, dog turd. I’d rather jump off a bridge than talk to you again—”

Daniel covered the mouthpiece with his hand and walked down the hall, with Gunther trailing behind. He breathed a sign of relief when he pulled the door shut and his own voice was muffled. For good measure, he walked a ways down the hall and shut himself in a spare bedroom.


There was a long pause. “Mr. Carter?”

“Speaking. Sorry about that noise. I think we crossed signals with another call.”

“Hello, Mr. Carter. This is Francisco, of the Holly Parker Show. We are very sorry about the sudden change of plans last week. You’re in luck! One of tomorrow’s guests cancelled his appearance. The slot is yours if you want it.”

“Yes! Yes, we’d love to take it.”


A knock sounded on the dressing room door, interrupting the nervous and jittery silence between Gunther and Daniel. “Five minutes, Mr. Gunther.”

Daniel swallowed the last of his soda in one gulp. “Ready?”

Gunther nodded. “Ja, ja, Ich bin, uh, ready.”

The doorknob turned without resistance, but didn’t unlatch the door.

“I should have seen this coming,” Gunther said gloomily.

The door opened outward, so he couldn’t just pop out the hinge pins, and there was no place to slip a credit card to jimmy the door open.

“They boot me off the show once and now I’m locked in my dressing room? What, is this place run by monkeys?”

Knock, knock, knock. “Mr. Gunther, are you ready to come with me? Three minutes until you’re on stage.”

“I’m not coming on stage! I won’t be appearing on the show and I’m never coming back here again!”

“He doesn’t mean that!” Daniel called through the door. He crouched and spoke to Gunther in a lower voice. “Like it or not, we need this.”

Through the door: “Is there a problem, Mr. Gunther?”

“No problem my lawyer can’t solve!”

Daniel groaned. “Gunther, please!” Louder, he said “I’m sorry, Gunther’s in a bit of a temper because we’re having trouble opening the door.”

The knob spun and rattled, spun back the other way. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll sort this out. Back in a minute.”

“I’m not going on the show.”

“Yes you are. Holly Parker is the only host who’ll have you. If you want TV time, this is your only shot. Just go on the show, get your message out there. Don’t blow this. We won’t get another chance.”

“I’ll sue them.”

“No one is suing anybody. Even if you had a case, the Holly Parker Show could bury us in legal fees and make you a laughingstock. Don’t talk about lawsuits again where anyone can hear you.”

“Mr. Gunther?” said the same voice from the other side of the door. “I’m back, and I should have you out of there in a sec.” The fumbling sound of metal tools on metal, then a rasp, followed by another, and the door was lifted away from its frame, revealing Francisco on the other side with a pliers. “I’m sorry for the delay. Are you ready?” He gestured toward the set.

Gunther stalked along without a word, head and tail held high.

Francisco touched a hand to his headset. “Holly, we’re on our way.”

As they approached the set, they could hear Holly’s voice on nearby monitors. “And without further ado, I’m very happy to introduce you to Gunther.”

The on-screen Gunther trotted out, looking good until the caption popped up and blocked him from view: “Gunther: Wiener Dog Activist.” He was only blocked for a moment until the camera panned down a bit, bringing him back above the caption.

Gunther hated to be called a wiener dog. But for now, what he didn’t know couldn’t make him lose his temper.

Gunther climbed up the small set of stairs set up for him and onto the soft chair by Holly’s desk. “Thanks for having me on the show, Holly.”

“Thank you for coming. Well, Gunther, you’re the voice of talking animals everywhere. You got the operation a year ago? That must have been quite an experience. How did it feel to be smart all of a sudden?”

“It’s not that I suddenly became smarter, Holly. The procedure simply increased the neuroplasticity of certain areas of my brain with the use of special chemicals, allowing parts of my brain to be repurposed for language centers. The selected areas of the brain were specifically chosen because they are areas not considered important for the life of a modern domestic dog—instincts and behaviors that are only important in the wild. That, combined with synthetic vocal apparatus to allow articulated speech is all that’s needed. I’m not really any smarter than I was, only more expressive and, of course, more able to learn now that I can tap into vast human knowledge sources.”

Gunther went on, his angriness melting away in the speech, laying out his plans for advocating animal rights, Awakening and interviewing stray animals, protesting at humane societies against euthanasia. He called stray dogs the “forgotten minority,” a bold phrase that would no doubt raise eyebrows and arguments wherever it was heard.

“Holly?” a man’s voice sounded over the speakers, interrupting Gunther in mid-sentence.

Gunther narrowed his eyes and stood, his outrage returning in a flash.

“Holly, you have a caller with a question for Gunther.”

Daniel turned to Francisco, who looked as surprised as Daniel felt. “The contract specifically stated no viewer or audience questions.”

“We didn’t even open the lines for today’s show.”

Holly smiled at the camera. “I’m very sorry, caller, we can’t take any calls just now. The call shouldn’t have come all the way to the stage; we must be having some technical difficulties.”

“What do you mean the lines aren’t open?” Daniel asked Francisco, who was striding from area to area backstage, giving orders over his headset.

“The lines shouldn’t be open. Someone’s tampering with our equipment.”

“Hello, Gunther,” a woman’s voice said over the speakers. “Mr. Gunther, oh my God, it’s such an honor to speak to you. You are an inspiration and a saint for what you’re doing for animal rights.”

Gunther said nothing, looking back and forth, his tail sunk between his legs. Daniel looked away from the screen for a moment, the busgunthertle of activity backstage continued as staff members searched for the source of the voice.

“I’ve been a member of PETA for twenty-five years and I have been appalled at how my fellow human beings abuse and neglect our fellow living creatures. It’s time we realize that animals are people too!”

Daniel’s heart beat faster in his chest. A worse person couldn’t have gotten through. Gunther didn’t want all animals to have rights. If cows gained human rights, then Gunther could hardly eat hamburger patties anymore, to say nothing of how he felt about cats.

Holly interrupted the voice. “Again, I appreciate the call, and the sentiment, but we can’t take your questions today. Maybe we can cut to commercial while we sort out these problems.”

The voice continued as though the woman hadn’t heard Holly. “What I don’t understand is why all of your interviews are focused only on Awakened dogs? Why aim for just one animal, when there are so many more species out there that need your help? Why not cats, and horses, and cows—”

The voice silenced abruptly, as Francisco approached. “Someone did quite a number on the PA system, splicing in another line with a microphone. We had to cut its power entirely to bring it down.”

“Who did it, do you think?”

“I don’t know. Nothing like this has ever happened before. We didn’t see anyone suspicious. Security’s on high alert.”

The “live” light came back on, and Holly’s voice sounded from the monitor. “And we’re back, hopefully with our difficulties behind us. Gunther, I am so sorry for the interruption. You were talking about the forgotten minority.”

As Gunther began speaking Daniel heard what he thought was a fluttering of wings and looked up to see a flash of green disappearing from view behind some stage rigging. A few seconds later it moved quickly atop another spotlight.

“Look, up there,” Daniel pointed so Francisco could see.

“What the ... A parrot?”

“An Awakened parrot who hates Gunther. It’s tried to kill him before.”

Francisco cursed and rushed off, giving orders and raising the flurry of activity. On stage Gunther was back in the swing of his talk, and the parrot was perched on a spotlight directly above Gunther’s head. Perry was moving, doing something that Daniel couldn’t discern.

The spotlight shuddered suddenly. Perry was trying to bring it down on Gunther’s head!

As loud as he could, Daniel yelled “Gunther! Heel!”

Gunther jumped off his chair and charged toward Daniel’s voice. Halfway there, Gunther stopped, realizing that he’d just obeyed a command, no doubt angry at Daniel for giving him an order on live TV and angry at himself for responding.

“Gunther?” Holly said. “Are you okay?”

The spotlight fell, bounced on the soft chair where Gunther had been sitting only moments before, and hit the ground with a crash.

Everything went silent for just a moment as the audience and the staff tried to understand what had just happened. The silence was broken by the shrieking green blur diving from the rafters. Security guards rushed out on stage and Daniel rushed out with them. Someone in the crowd screamed, and everyone started shouting.

The parrot was attacking Gunther at center stage, clawing with talons and tearing at Gunther with his beak, swearing and ranting his hatred for the dog, then darting away as Gunther’s teeth snapped shut in the air where the parrot had been. Gunther was already bleeding from a dozen small wounds, staining the floor of the set red.

The security guards grabbed for the bird, but Perry was too quick for them, darting around their questing arms. While they kept the parrot busy, Daniel pulled off his jacket, and when the bird flew his way he used his jacket like a net, catching Perry. He rolled the jacket up, folding the ends in so the parrot couldn’t escape. The jacket wiggled and strained against him, but he held it tight until a security guard brought out a rolling trash can from backstage and Daniel dumped the parrot, jacket and all, into the can and slammed the lid shut.

The audience applauded wildly, and Holly ran over to shake his hand in both of hers and she introduced him on TV as a hero. They took another commercial break, just long enough to bandage Gunther’s wounds, and the interview continued with both Daniel and Gunther relating the story of their earlier encounters with Perry the parrot.

In the end Holly invited them to come back in a few months to share the progress of their cause, and they received a standing ovation. Despite comments about “stealing his thunder,” even Gunther was in good spirits by the time they departed. They left the parrot in the custody of the show’s security staff, to turn over to the police. The special encore episode replaying the attack and the interview generated huge ratings, and Gunther’s popularity skyrocketed overnight.


Only two weeks passed before they saw Perry the parrot again. Daniel was sorting through the growing pile of Gunther’s fan mail (pre-screened by a security contractor for poison and bombs) and channel surfing when he happened across the channel of Perry the parrot’s brand new show, named simply “Perry.”

“Gunther!” Daniel shouted, and Gunther trotted in from the next room. They watched together without a word.

The set was simple: a cherry wood desk in front of a blue curtain, topped with a perch where Perry stood and spoke into the microphone on the desk in front of him.

“I was the first animal trial for the Awakening. Before the procedure I was content with life as a parrot, happy to eat nuts and mimic words spoken to me. These scientists, these sadistic would-be gods, dragged me up from the depths of my ignorant bliss and remolded my mind in their own image.

“All in the name of progress, they said. For the animal’s own good, they said, but they cared nothing for my welfare. They cared only for patents, and for publications, and for profit. They called it the gift of intelligence, but it is anything but. It has brought me nothing but misery and pain, torn between my natural animal urges and higher reasoning that conflicts against them at every turn.

“Proponents of the procedure claim that it changes nothing significant about the animal, other than the ability to learn language, but this could not be further from the truth. It opens up the door for any number of psychological disorders, not to speak of the social inequalities that Awakened animals are now forced to recognize and endure.”

“What a bunch of crap!” Gunther said. Daniel shushed him.

“They kept me in the lab until they’d published their paper, and then one of the scientists brought me home as a pet. He would invite people to see me, like I was a carnival attraction. It was a terrible thing, to have a voice but to go unheard, to have a mind but to be dismissed as a dumb animal. I asked to be released, to find a life of my own, but time and again I was denied. No matter how I debated, how eloquently I spoke or how sound my reasoning, people only laughed at this clever parlor trick and silenced me with crackers, leaving me confined to my wire prison.

“In the last two weeks many have asked if I meant to kill Gunther, that self-proclaimed animal rights leader. I’m not proud of it but, yes, murder was my intent. Every day as I was ignored I heard news of the dog’s escalating campaign of cruelty. I was cornered, desperate, and in my desperation I tried to murder him. Ironically, I can not be tried for this crime because in the eyes of the law I am property and so I am considered incapable of crime.

“I am not proud of what I did that day on the Holly Parker Show. Those moments will haunt me until the day I die, but I do not regret them. I am now in a position to help others who suffer as I do. Today I begin my campaign to make this world a better place. I didn’t ask to be Awakened, and now the sin cannot be reversed, but I vow to make the most of my condition. I will oppose Gunther at every opportunity. I will speak out against the Awakening procedure. I ask you: would the pre-Awakened animals have chosen to give up their happy lives for this? I think not! Of course, they can’t speak for themselves, so someone must speak for them. I am that person. I will be the voice of the voiceless, so that they need not become what I have become. I will do everything in my power to ensure that no animal is ever inflicted with the cruelty of intelligence again. This, I vow.”

Daniel turned the TV off and they sat there for a moment, processing what they’d seen. “Well, that was garbage, eh?” Gunther only continued to stare at the blank screen. “It’s just more garbage on TV. It’ll probably be cancelled in a few weeks.” Still Gunther stared. “Even if it isn’t canceled, it’ll just be one more show nobody watches in the sea of crap that is cable.”

Finally Gunther moved, turning his head toward Daniel. “I want a show.”

“What? We were lucky just to be a guest on Holly Parker.”

“You’ll get me a show if you’re worth anything as an agent. That stupid little bird is a genius, using the attack to launch a TV career. The public’s going to gobble up his lies like kids at Halloween. The cruelty of intelligence, my tail. He loved his life before, and he’s going to love the spotlight even more. Well? What are you waiting for? Shouldn’t you be on the phone? Try Animal Planet first.”

“Yes, yes, I’m right on it.” Daniel scrolled through his phone memory, grinning. With some hard work, Gunther might be able to save the public from Perry. But who would save the public from Gunther? END

David Steffen writes computer code by day and stories at night. His work has appeared In “Escape Pod,” “Drabblecast,” “Daily Science Fiction,” and more. He is also the co-founder of The Submission Grinder, an always-free fiction market llisting site.