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




Everybody Comes to Rick’s

By Tim McDaniel

THE CAFE THE SOCIAL CONNECTORS SENT her to was more crowded than she had expected. Tinny Mozart came over the large speakers on either side of the bar, and the place trembled with quiet conversation. She looked around as much as she could without moving her head, steered herself away from the bar and its line of stoolsitters, and sidled into a chair at a small empty table along the wall. There was a painting by Dali or Monet or someone—some flatpainter, anyway; art wasn’t her specialty—on the wall above the table.

She had thought about getting a cat, instead. Another creature sharing her home, there but not really there, content to observe and be observed. Would that keep the Connectors at bay?

A man in a small white apron approached her table. He smiled at her, and laid a plastic-covered paper menu before her.

“Hi,” he said, in English. “I’m Bob. I’ll be your servant tonight. Would you like some coffee or bubble tea while you consider your choice of what to ask for?” Bob had a graphite pencil behind an ear.

She’d always wondered what coffee tasted like, what its appeal had been. “Yes. Coffee.”

“That’s fine,” Bob said. “I’ll return with it soon.”

After he left, she looked over the menu. She had to admit it was well made. The writing advertised fajitas, beef pizzas, sushi, wines, Pepsi Cola, and salads. All in English, too, although there were Uninat translations next to each listing. Her gaze drifted up from the menu.

No one else in the cafe was alone, of course. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and everyone was dressed up. Men wore fedoras and suits, or jeans and plaid shirts, or belted trenchcoats. The women mostly wore ankle-length dresses or pastel pantsuits, and many had applied lipstick. One had even inserted a nose-ring.

Bob returned, and set down a cup of coffee in front of her. “Here you are,” he said. He pulled a small paper tablet out of one pocket, and the pencil from behind his ear. “Are you ready to make your requests, Miss?”

“I’m not really very hungry.”

“Maybe a donut or a tray of cold cut meats?”

She didn’t want to even think about what they might be using as meat here. “No. Thank you.”

Bob smiled again. “Well, if you think of something, just call me, is that OK?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Bob left. But as soon as he had done so, another man slid into the seat opposite her—a thin, colorless man wearing a tee shirt and jogging pants. An unlit cigarette dangled from his mouth.

“Hello. I’m Sean. I was on the contact committee with the museum, so I knew you’d be coming tonight. It’s a treat for us to have a person like you here.” Sean spoke too fast and held a little cup of coffee, little finger extended straight “You really should try some of the food here. It’s like nothing you’ve had before.”

“How long have you smoked?” she asked, nodding at the cigarette.

“Hah! Like it?” He held it up for her inspection. “What name are you using, doll?”

“My name is, uh, Julia.”

“Oh, dear. We’ve already got a Julia.” Sean started to put the cigarette back into his mouth, then placed it on the table instead.

“Can’t you have two?”

“I guess we can. If you have different last names.”

“That’s a somewhat safe bet.”

“Uh, yeah. I don’t know much about gambling. So, Julia. How are you enjoying your visit?”

“Everyone seems to be having a good time. I guess it’s true what they used to say: Ignorance is bliss.”

“Did they really say that? But you’d know. You’re an expert on the era. Wish I had access to my implant, so I could note that phrase. But not allowed, here. Not period.” Sean paused. “But what do you mean?”

“Your name, for example. In the target time, it was spelled S-E-A-N.”

“I know that. I took a course in reading English. What an orthography! But that’s where I found the name.”

“Yes. Well, you pronounced it seen. It’s actually shawn.”

“Really?” Sean looked troubled, then he laughed. “I guess I never bothered to check. Oh, and I was so proud of myself, finding the name when I was studying the writing system. I never checked it against my implant! But from the spelling—”

“Really. Also, only upper-class ladies and effeminate gentlemen held out their little fingers that way as they sip. And they did it while drinking tea, not coffee.”

“I see.” Sean’s little finger gradually retracted. “Yes, you really do know the period. You must feel like you fit right in.”

“I didn’t really come here to fit right in.” When Sean didn’t respond, she continued. “The only reason I’m here at all is that the museum thought I needed to come.” She laughed without humor. “Great idea. Just to listen to people like the ones at that table over there, talking about Vice President Clinton. None of the Clintons was ever a Vice President.”

“Hey, Harriet! Pablo!” Sean called to two people who had just come in. “Over here! Meet our new visitor!”

Harriet, a small, dark woman with enormously curled fake eyelashes jutting out of her face, and Pablo, a stocky man with short blonde hair, came over, all smiles. “Sean!” They pronounced it seen, too.

“Our new friend Julia—a new Julia—says my name is actually pronounced Shawn.”

Pablo and Harriet sat down, crowding Julia against the wall.

“Really?” Pablo said. “Well, they say that you would know!”

Julia sipped her coffee—so bitter; why had it become so popular?—while the other three discussed sports, movies, and the latest war. She pursed her lips several times, but said nothing, until she could contain herself no longer.

“Oh, for God’s sake. It was Ingrid Bergman who stayed behind with Rick to fight the Nazis in the Casablanca sequels, not Natalie Portman. Portman only played Ilsa once, in the original film.”

“Is that right?” Harriet said.

“Come to think of it, I seem to remember that, now,” said Sean.

“You’re a great source of information, Julia,” said Pablo. “I hope you come by often. Some of us have more enthusiasm than expertise, I’m afraid!”

“I don’t think I’ll be back.”

“Why not?”

“I—” speaking English suddenly seemed too ridiculous, and she lapsed back into Uninat with a sigh of relief. She leaned back and crossed her arms. “No offense, but I’m just not like you people, OK? I don’t need to retreat from my world, my time. I get enough of that at work. I’ve got a life!”

The others were silent for a moment. “I guess that’s the stereotype,” said Sean, also in Uninat. “The old Americans used the word nerd—”

“Or geek,” said Harriet. She held Pablo’s hand. Julia tried not to look.

“—Which captures the attitude better than anything in Uninat. But tell us something, Julia. Why did you come here?”

“The museum—”

“Yeah, we know. They thought you needed to interact socially more. Become part of a community, and they thought you’d enjoy being here with us. But they can’t really force you to come. All they can do is suggest. So why did you come? Just to sneer?”

“I thought it might be interesting, I guess. But I’m not the kind of person who joins groups. My social norms are point sixes, and that’s fine with me. I have a lot of things that I do.”

“I suspect you kind of like the idea of joining a group for some fun,” said Harriet. “Social norming is what I do in the real world, and a point six ... Well. Just try it for a bit. You might find something you need here. We watch old films, have an art circle, go bowling.”

“I have to go.” Julia pushed her chair back and squeezed past Pablo. She had to put a hand on his shoulder briefly to keep from falling over. She felt the muscle and bone under his shirt, and flushed. Touching another person. Then she was past him, and heading to the door.

At the door, she breathed again, and once more, then stopped just in front of the door.

A cat. Yes.

But would observing and being observed be enough? And they shed hair, and coughed up awful things. But here—here, she was the expert, the authority. Safely in the center.

Or maybe that was just her excuse, an excuse to take a step. And if an excuse was all that she needed, why hold back?

In the old days, she remembered, they’d had a phrase for when a shy person decided to make social contact. They called it “coming out of the closet.” At least, she was pretty sure that was the phrase they used.

“I’ve heard of bowling,” she said in English. She turned to face them. “I wrote a paper on it. But I never thought of actually trying it. And also—you know, maybe I’ll try Pepsi Cola.”

She’d have to get a wardrobe. END

Tim McDaniel has published stories in a large number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines, including “F&SF” and “Asimov's.” When not writing, he teaches English as a Second Language in his home state of Washington.


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