Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make
by J.R. Johnson

by Molly N. Moss

Archimedes’ Gambol
by Eric M. Jones

Cynthia 2246
by Mark Ayling

Where the Rivers Meet
by Vincent Knight

A Woman’s Place
by Guy Stewart

Mindship Decommissioned
by Karl El-Koura

Anna Who Reached for the Stars
by Janis Zelcans

Mad Dogs Raid Mars
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Blissful Twilight
by Jessica Payseur


A Case for Nukes
by John McCormick

Nuns in Space
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Blissful Twilight

By Jessica Payseur

IT IS COMPULSORY TO SIGN OFF and disconnect for break; I have no choice. Steve directs us just as we do the world, and there is no resisting. I am too old to struggle, anyway, and I want to see Jenni again, on level five of the Blissful Twilight Geriatric Complex, located among the cornfields of Illinois. Visiting has been allowed for 88 years, since 2095, through legislation none of us had anything to do with. Entering this facility strips a person of most rights, signed away when we accepted our chances for living longer, and any now allowable were given to us slowly over a number of years, like a trickle of precious water.

For a moment, that sounds good in my mind. A trickle of precious water, reminding me I’m not all missing. I smile briefly as I enter level five and proceed to room 5.6, Jenni’s room, where I can hear the relentless sounds of an ocean lapping playing in the background before I even pass through the door. I find Jenni as I always do, laying propped up in bed, eyes fixed forward somewhere into ceaseless nothing where the waves have driven her, body hooked up to the various machines that make her life still worth living. Her hair has all gone now, and her face sags with wrinkles and age and the lack of anything but basic existence. I love her. I tell myself this. I don’t know why; such a thing has failed to have any meaning for me for at least 90 years now, but some things just don’t matter. That’s the kind of wisdom you get with old age.

I sit by Jenni and take her hand; she doesn’t react. She rarely does. It’s difficult for her, not having received the kind of brain enhancements I have, to do anything any longer. She traded her life, body, and soul away for the kidneys that would save her years ago, experimental technology then, artificial and unimaginably expensive. And, like the rest of us here, the procedure left her indebted to society. There was never any way any ordinary American could repay the cost for such a thing. And so here she sits, kept alive by various sciences, using her advanced, durable replacement organs to filter dangerous substances for the good of society out there, somewhere, beyond the cornfields.

“I love you, Jenni,” I tell her. Vague memories tell me that is what is done when one visits the bed of one who cannot rise, and so I tell her this every day on break. My voice is bad, but I doubt she can hear it; few of us receive any kind of hearing aids. She never responds. It makes no difference to me.

I wander the halls back to my sleeping room, shared with eleven others, trying to wonder on my own humanity and what I exist as now. My skin hangs from me like melting cheese, but I can barely feel it, or anything. I used to feel, I think. But that is difficult to remember. My mind is constantly whirring, and I can find words as I walk, ideas and concepts, but these are from too much time spent linked up to the world. I have been here since I was 91—whatever I was on entering this building has faded in the 96 years I have been here. They have replaced most of my brain, bit by bit, with their life-sustaining mechanisms. And I live with that.

“Edward,” says Madison as I enter the room and lay down on my bed with difficulty. “I have to talk to you. Later.”

I nod at her. We don’t so much hear or see each other communicate as we feel it as an observation, a transmission, in our minds. Madison, two years older than I and with more advanced replacements, is on the same team as I am; we are connected together, along with the others in this room, during our shift. Some of that connection remains when we have a break, minute electrical currents through the air become readable enough with time, and that’s all we have.

The attendants would take it from us if they could, though. We know that. Since it has become law that every citizen must work for two years after turning 18 in the service of their elders, people who have no desire to assist at all tend to us. They fear our enhancements enough not to outright abuse us, usually, but they are late with our nutritional rations, sharp with their words, forget to bathe us. They fail to understand such things have no effect on a person who is mainly an unfeeling machine.


I sleep and wake, and proceed to the lower level to begin my shift with the others. We sit in our metallic alcoves, shining technological monuments surrounding the main control here, Steve. Steve is constantly hooked up and linked in to the world; he ascended to the position after many years of sitting where Robert now sits, participating in the tasks our team handles. He no longer sleeps, no longer eats. He controls everything, synchronizes the country. And we, led by him, assist. They need us. We are those who patrol the Internet, combat viruses, sweep away information no one should see, keep the clocks the rest of the world outside beyond the cornfields uses to stay on their regular schedules. At the Blissful Twilight Geriatric Complex, there are three teams of us, all equally important, but no one as influential as Steve.

His body will give out soon. We have known this for a year. His body will give out, and be shipped off to the foremost center of research to be studied, hooked up to more machines, the knowledge dumped, the technology recycled, his body dissected and analyzed. He is at 203 years very old, and of interest to those younger, more human versions of ourselves, but we all will end where he will, in a laboratory somewhere, providing information, as we all agreed to long ago when we first accepted our technological replacements for ailments we can no longer remember.

Madison is being trained to replace Steve when he goes. A new member will be added to our team, and existence will continue.

I do not really feel my shift passing. I monitor the time precisely; one of the earliest modifications to my brain has enabled me to track time with perfection, but everything follows predictable patterns. As we disengage from the link to the rest of the world, I find myself wondering for a brief instant on my nature, then realize immediately that it does not matter. It never did.

Madison is trying to approach me as we leave the basement level, but so is an attendant with an angry step. He says my name and stops in front of me, far in front of me, leaving two meters between us. He has a message for me; he transmits it directly to my mind through the handheld device he has. Communication with us is too difficult for the young, and they long ago had been forced to adapt. The directive transmitters can send us messages, or activate any mechanical part of our bodies they find necessary. The message informs me I have a relative waiting in the visitation chatroom to speak with me.

I do not understand this at first. I have not used the chatroom in years, not since my children came to visit, and their children, briefly; but they eventually stopped. I vaguely remember being told I was not who I claimed to be. I vaguely remember that I thought there was emotion I couldn’t quite comprehend. But nothing like this makes sense now.

“Who?” I ask as Madison stands behind me, picking up the transmission signal and listening in on the message. My lips move as I speak, but I know the attendant is looking to his handheld device for a translation. I do not know whether my voice functions, I realize. I do not know whether I hear it or think I hear it. I decide, as I always do, that it doesn’t matter.

“Your thirteen-year-old great-great-great-great-granddaughter, Eyfia,” the attendant tells me in reply, then, right before turning, “Now.”

Madison tells me to go, she will talk to me later. I follow the attendant out and walk, slowly, along the corridor behind him, the distance between us growing as I move. My joints, while long ago replaced, still don’t function as well as his. I try to remember what unrestricted motion was like, how movement without struggle felt. I fail. I don’t care.

I am the only person in the visitation chatroom, a small room filled with computer terminals and chairs, when I enter. I sit at the nearest and connect to the computer smoothly. It’s about the only thing I can do smoothly any longer, but it is meaningless to me. It is what is done. I enter into the monitored chatroom, knowing somewhere multiple people are watching what I’m doing, listening to my communications, Steve among them. If I do not act in an appropriate manner, it would be unfortunate for whoever was on the receiving end. I know this, have known this for years, but it is not easy for me to let slip anything. There are too many failsafes in my mind; I’d have to fight past them.

I sit in the chatroom and wait. For my relative, it’s all virtual; for me, it’s an extension of reality. I can sense, read, the pulses and signals around me. I wonder what it is like to be unable to notice them.

“Are you Edward?” asks a voice, voiceless, from the chatroom, and I am linked with a young presence. Very young.

“Yes,” I say, and there is a pause, very long. Those without the technological additions respond much more slowly in this kind of setting; I had forgotten. I wait.

“Good. I have to do a history project for school on 9/11, and Mom says you have firsthand experience. I’m going to record this.”

I find I am unsure how to respond to her. Her words are odd to hear. They contain a request that is a demand, but in some sort of manner I am not used to hearing. Eyfia has confidence, but not any kind I’m used to—it must be more human. I wonder what she looks like. She has entered this place without any images to accompany her.

“What do you look like?” I ask. Her response is harsh.

“Ugh, you’re a creepy old man. I just want help with my project, but if you’re going to be like that I’ll find something else to do for my assignment.”

“No,” I say immediately, not knowing how I had upset her. She would not have long skin. She would have hair. And teeth. And a smile. Maybe. “Don’t go. What help? I can send you all the records and research on that point in time that you want.”

There is a tingling in my mind, mechanical, rattling my fragile skull. Steve, or someone instructing him, does not want me to do that. I will be restricted. I wait for Eyfia’s response.

“I can do research myself,” she says, some kind of feel or tone about her words that is distantly familiar. She is ... annoyed, or unimpressed, I think, but I only vaguely think so, and am not sure if my remaining memory has confused emotions I can not longer properly feel.

“What?” I ask.

“I just want you to tell me what you remember about it, okay? I did the math, I know you were alive then. You were five or something. So what do you remember?”

I pause. I do not know how to respond. I try to think of a reply; I can’t.

“I don’t,” I say. “That was too long ago. I don’t remember ... much.”

“I knew this wasn’t going to work,” says Eyfia. She is preparing to leave.

“Wait,” I say. She is my first outside contact in more years than I care to acknowledge. I know somewhere I am still human enough. I still have flesh, however useless and degraded it has become. “I need time to think. It was so long ago. I am different now.”

“I know you serve our country now instead of dying,” says Eyfia. She has aborted the process of exiting, at least for now. “Dad says it’s a stupid idea, that no one except young people or desperate parents ask for replacements anymore, and he doesn’t think they should. But I think as long as none of you break out you’re okay.”

The tingling returns; Eyfia will be monitored from now on; her father too. People beyond the cornfield don’t know just how easy it is to observe those who challenge the country’s decisions. With the advances that keep me and the others like me alive and functioning, nearly anything can be done. The world now has the limitless imagination and ingenuity of a human, the relentless speed and perfection of a computer, all bundled up in the declining members of its civilization. I know this is the only way we are not dangerous. I wonder what Madison wants to say to me. I wonder if my mechanisms need repairs or calibrations; my thoughts do not normally race in such a random fashion.

“I am thinking,” I say to Eyfia, and I concentrate on whatever lost feelings and images I can still produce. I remember the sun first, real sunlight, and work backward from there. There are humans, looking alive like the attendants here, though without the unpleasant expressions on their faces. I have a wife or lover, and children. I have siblings. I have parents. There is a kind of buzzing in my mind as I force myself to remember, and I feel my temperature rising with the struggle.

“Well?” asks Eyfia. She is preparing to leave again.

“I have a mother now,” I say.

“You’re crazy,” she says, but pauses to listen.

“She is crying. The television is on. Someone she loved ...” I cannot keep the memories. They struggle so much; they hurt, somehow. I think I know what pain is. I let them go. Forever. I will never find them again. My temperature starts to go down, and the buzzing recedes. “Do you know what love is?”

“Of course,” says Eyfia. “You’re stupid if you don’t. That’s all?”

I want to ask her to tell me. Do I love her? She is related to me, after all. I sense I am supposed to feel something toward her, but I don’t even know what she feels toward me. She is 13. That I understand.

“That’s all,” I say.

“Well, that’s crap. I thought you’d know more. You have that super-brain and all, don’t you? But it doesn’t matter, I think I have enough anyway.”

I wait while she leaves, not wanting her to go, not knowing why. We were both finished. I think I should visit Jenni. I stand and leave the chatroom to do so.

“Edward,” says Madison. She is waiting outside the room for me. I stare at her, what little I can see with my old eyes. She is two years old than I, but she has aged better. She still has a few wisps of white hair. She might have something in her eyes that did not make her look completely removed from life.


“Follow,” she says, and I do. For all her looks, though, I can walk faster. I think it is likely she wants to go someplace farther from Steve’s reaches, or the attendants’ rounds. I do not know why I think that; it does not make sense. When we reach a deserted corridor few utilize, she stops and turns to me.

“What?” I ask. I feel my lips move as I do; I hear her request to not use them, feel her desire to have this interaction on a frequency that is difficult to tap. I struggle out of our normal lines of communication and she waits, patient. She is better at it than I; she must have done it more than once.

“I can trust you,” she says, and I agree. “I remember something, somewhere, in my mind about a ship of wood. Does new wood do something to that ship? I think there was an answer. Do you understand?”

I turn over the words in my mind with difficulty, struggling to retain the strange frequency, to understand what is happening inside me, somewhere where there are no organs, only electrical currents and very old, unsteady synapses. I think I remember what an erection feels like. I look down at myself and know that my mind is tricking me. Is it my mind? Should this be my body, or am I something else? I think I know what Madison is asking.

“Who is more human?” I ask in response. “Me, or my great-great-great-great granddaughter?”

“There is no answer,” she says. “We know that.”

“There has to be.”

“No,” says Madison. She is shaking her head before me as she speaks into my mind. “This is what Steve knows. We all know it. There is no answer to this question. Search.”

I search. I try to dredge up memories; I let most of them go, so there is little to navigate through. Glimpses of feelings, old years of questions, or curiosities. I desired to live so much, once, that I asked for technology to supplement myself. I had ... a stroke, maybe. I could smile again afterward, after the replacement. Someone had told me I was only half myself after that. I let those memories free, too. They weren’t useful here.

“There is no answer,” I say, I agree. “But ... I think, long ago, something was different. Time was different. I would not have chosen here.”

“None of us would have,” says Madison. “I don’t know. Something about ships. I never was a ship. But I want to leave. I know that, even if I don’t feel it.”

I don’t pause.

“I want to leave also. But the cornfields ...” I try to remember something about cornfields. They should matter, but they don’t. Were they given upgrades as I had been? My mind says yes, but I do not know whether to trust it. I have been thinking too much recently. It is a strain.

“Good. You will join us.” Madison has regained her rigid confidence. I trust her. I think I always have. I should stop thinking unless I am on my shift. “I have found a way to hack through Steve’s restrictions. I will initiate a brain shutdown and destruction on our shift tomorrow. There are six of us that want escape, and there is one way out of here.”

“Suicide is against policy,” I say. I do not know the punishment for the attempt. The knowledge was never given to me.

“Do you wish to leave?” asks Madison. I tell her I do. I agree to what she calls a pact of peace. She leaves.

I stand in the corridor alone after she leaves, waiting. I do not know what I am waiting for. I know I should be feeling something. I want to start a countdown in my mind, but know it is unwise. I want to feel something. I go to visit Jenni.

She is as she always is, staring, the sounds of water driving whatever mind she has left to madness. I sit next to her bedside and I take her hand. She barely blinks, but I tell her about what Madison has planned. I tell her I will no longer be visiting her. She is 198 years old, and I want her to understand what I am saying. I tell her not to feel more than I do, and my absence will go smoothly. Then, suddenly and yet slowly, her hand turns over under mine. Her frail fingers struggle to grip my hand and fail; she does not turn her head. I try to understand her.

“Do you still know what emotions are?” I ask, but the only reply is another attempt to take my hand. I tighten mine around hers. “I will be gone. You can come too, if you want.”

Jenni’s head does not turn, but her mouth opens, and I lean forward as much as my shaky body will allow to try to see or hear what she is trying to do. Her lips move, and some sort of noise comes out, but I can’t understand it. I think it is a vowel. I squeeze her hand again.

“I will tell Madison,” I say, and stand. I will not return here. “I love you, Jenni.”

Her mouth is still open as I leave, lips still moving. Her hand still twitches on the bed. But I can’t sit with her any longer. I need sleep. I return to my room with the others, most of whom are already stretched out on their beds, sleeping.


I wake at the same time as I always do, but notice no attendant has seen to my nutritional needs for the day as was supposed to have been done while I slept. I do not know how much that matters, now that Madison has made her pact of peace with us. I will not need any further nutrition soon.

I sit up and stretch slowly, painfully, as I do every morning. There is time before my shift, so I go down to the records office to update my will. All I am allowed to leave to relatives are memories and messages. Years ago I had made up a large file for my son—I think it was a son—to inherit upon my death. That would no longer work; he would be long dead. I spend the time before my shift updating the information, adding any last memories I can pull from my mind that I haven’t already freed to nothingness. I leave one last message, blunt, a kind of thanks, for Eyfia, and then have the records changed so that she will inherit the information I leave behind. I think she can maybe use some of it for a project. There is a possibility she would even be interested in it. It is not much, but it is all that will be left soon. I finish and proceed to the basement level.

I see Madison in the corridor as I go, and send her Jenni’s name to include in her pact of peace; she does not react to me, but I think she should understand. I do not know when she will slip through Steve’s defenses and initiate our deaths, but I can easily wait. Both speed and patience are part of me.

We enter our alcoves and begin our shift. I do no want to give anything away, so I behave normally. My pulse rate begins to climb, and I wonder if I am feeling anything. Apprehension, fear, excitement, any of these I could be feeling. I try to decide which it is, then give up. It is unimportant. I do not need to know. But I like the feeling of my quickened pulse in my old, stretched veins.

Suddenly I can hear Madison’s breathing, and it’s loud. Steve is grunting, and he shouts something so loud I think I can hear it across the room, some kind of old swear I have not heard in years. They are struggling. I stop my simultaneous monitoring and organization to wait for the outcome, and notice others do the same. The dim lights around us turn red, and a siren goes off as one by one we neglect our duties in the system. The attendants will be here soon; I wait for Madison to make her move. If we are dead by the time they get here, we will be free.

But I can hear Steve laughing now, and Madison is transmitting a message. There was damage, much damage. I am hearing this, and I know everyone in the room is hearing this. Steve breaks in on the same frequency. He has discovered it, has discovered everything. He sounds weak; he claims to be strong, and I listen, as we all listen.

“You’ll fail,” he says. “The world needs us. We were given a gift we have to use. You all know that. We’re the only thing keeping humanity from dying out. Your interference is insane; I’m disconnecting all of Madison’s followers from this terminal.”

I feel my link broken, but I am still connected to Madison, and the others listening in. I hear her let out strange noises, not on a transmission. Crying. She is feeling pain. I wonder if that kind of feeling was one that could come back to you, even after years.

“He’s infected me,” says Madison into our minds. I can feel the rotten twinge of a debilitating virus in her transmission, and I know the others can, too. It’s tearing through her mental systems; it will kill her. I feel others break their connection to her to save themselves from contracting the devastating illness, but I don’t. We came here to thwart Steve, to thwart everyone, to die. I decide to hang onto the connection, to infect myself. At least two others join me.

“Only she will die,” says Steve, and I feel him trying to disrupt our links with Madison. Her screams have stopped, but she is still alive, although soon to be dead. There is pounding outside the door to this room, but someone, Madison or Steve, has sealed it, and none of the attendants can enter. I struggle against Steve only to find he is weak. He is dying, too; he pulls back at my knowledge of that, concentrates on another person.

“We need the rest of you,” says Steve, and I try to strengthen my connection with Madison when I hear another communication. Somehow I know who the person is, allow her access to my thoughts, though I have never heard her before. Her frequency is beautiful. I know what that is. I don’t stop to ask how.

“Edward,” she says. “I am sorry. He knew you spoke with me. They gave me a very small device, to access what I knew.”

“Your mind is fragile, Jenni,” I say, and I think I feel something strange, soft like a pillow.

“I want you to hold my hand,” she says. I reach out to her with my mind, with the technology whirring in my skull, driving my temperature up. But it doesn’t matter if I cook whatever brains I have left. All I know is I have to hold her hand one more time, even over the distance, even only electronically. I don’t understand the need, but I feel it.

“Come with me,” I say, feeling the virus starting to invade me. Maybe I can still save her from the sounds of the ocean. Her mind struggles to grasp my insubstantial hand more tightly. I can feel the pain Madison must have felt now, but she is gone. I lose the connection to her and strengthen the one with Jenni. It is difficult to think now that the disease is claiming my mechanical systems. There is not enough of my original brain left; I think I hear myself scream with pain.

Steve is trying to break between me and Jenni; we tighten our grasps and I feel the virus striving to reach her. Steve is angry, and I know what that is now, too. But other things, basic knowledge, how to count, dates and times, procedures, are melting from me. I think the inside of my skull is boiling my brain to nothing, the technological marvels overheating, buzzing, screaming as I die. But I won’t let Jenni’s hand go. She’s being infected now, too. Steve has failed; I have saved her. I open my mouth to tell her what I always told her as I sat by her bedside, my hand on hers. I fail. END

Jessica Payseur has had fiction published in “ Mustang’s Monster Corral,” and most recently in“Every Day Fiction.” One of her short stories was featured as a semifinalist in the 2012 Wisconsin Public Radio Ghost Story Flash Fiction Contest.