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




Anna Who Reached for the Stars

By Janis Zelcans

WHEN ANNA COMES HOME FROM SCHOOL, one look is enough for me to know what happened. Her cheeks are dusty, except where tears have left a clean path on their way down, which means she came across the bullies. The bruised knees tell me she tried to run away and fell several times. She couldn’t escape. You don’t exactly stand a chance if you’re an eight-year-old girl with a rare genetic disorder that makes your legs feeble and frail as matchsticks.

I step outside, swinging the front door wide open in anger only to see a few boys scatter around the corner like a pack of hyenas. One remained: their chief, Tommy, who defiantly stares at me through his curly black hair from a safe distance. We both know I won’t chase him down to teach a lesson, or I’ll be sorry. Kids have more rights than adults. And sometimes, kids have more rights than other kids. Tommy smirks at me, as he walks slowly, his head raised high, then joins his buddies.

When I come back, Anna sits on the floor, arms folded. She stares forward with a detached gaze.

“I’ve got an idea,” I say, sitting down next to her. “I know someone with an officer’s uniform who might have a word with Tommy. That will knock some sense into him, unless he wants to go to jail.”

“He’s too young to go to jail,” Anna says solemnly.

“He’ll think again the next time he tries to lay a finger on you.”

“Dad, you know it won’t work. You can’t help.”

She’s somewhat right. Every punishment has diminishing returns. The cruelty seems to build up tolerance.

“What if we try something else,” I say. “I’ll speak to his mother again—”

“I said it doesn’t work!” Anna shouts and turns away from me.

I sigh because I know how the conversation will go. I will desperately try to help her, but in the end we will agree on nothing, find no solution, and just pretend everything is fine again. And then tomorrow she might show up with new bruises or something more serious if the bullies have become bored with their current methods. Thinking about it, something heavy presses on my chest, about to burst out. I clench my fists, thinking how to solve this. There’s only one thing we haven’t tried. And I’m afraid of it.

I take a magazine from the top of my desk, the contents of which I’ve studied so many times.

“Take a look at this,” I say as I place it in front of her.

She looks down curiously. On the left side, there’s a picture of a young couple running on a cinder path. A generic picture that could advertise everything from sport shoes to health insurance. But the real product is displayed on the next page below the title “New movements and life with BodyPro.” There’s an illustration of what is supposed to be the inside of the young man’s leg, consisting of complicated mechanical and biochemical structures.

“Is this some kind of new therapy?” Anna asks.

“I’m afraid it won’t get better, sweetheart. We’re lucky the disease affected only your legs so far.” I immediately realize how harsh this sounds, but she doesn’t seem to notice. False hopes are more cruel than honesty.

Anna looks at the picture from a distance as if she’s afraid something will jump out of the page.

"Then these are prosthetics?" she asks, her voice lowering as she realizes something. “It means they will cut off my real legs?”

“I’m sorry. Forget about that. It was a silly idea.” I hide the magazine under a pillow and hug her. “Remember, I’ll love you no matter what kind of legs you have. We’ll think of something else.”

We sit in each other’s embrace until she starts to snooze peacefully. I put her on the couch, cover her with a blanket and walk to the kitchen to fix something to eat. When I come back with Anna’s favorite cheese sandwich, she’s awake, reading the same magazine.

“Would you love me if I had fake legs?” she asks.

The plate almost falls out of my hands.

“I’ll love you no matter what.”


I sip a cold beer outside the house, watching a one-on-one basketball match between Anna and Tommy. It’s a friendly game between the former archenemies, who have now been good friends for about seven years.

Anna has a speed advantage as she spins around, feints, and outplays Tommy in just a matter of seconds. She runs forward, then comes to a full stop, sending particles of dust in the air. Her legs are not just prosthetics, but natural extensions that she uses to the limits. She throws a shot and scores. I cheer as she takes her turn to defend.

Before they begin, Anna collapses on the ground.

She didn’t just fall, it’s more like as if the strings that moved her had all been suddenly cut.

“Anna?” Tommy drops the ball and hurries over.

I run over and bend down to start CPR while Tommy gets the phone. The minutes it takes the ambulance to arrive seem to last for hours. The friendly game has turned into a tragedy and ironically the passersby are more interested in the latter.

Even when the ambulance arrives, I want to help somehow, but all I can do is stare at Anna’s limp body as they carry her away.

“We’re going to Saint Bernard hospital,” is the last thing I hear from the EMT, then they drive off, sirens wailing.

As Tommy drives me to the hospital, I try to calm down my shaking hands, but all I can think of is please, not yet.


Anna has been conscious for almost an hour, but still doesn’t look like herself. Half-awake, half-asleep. Perhaps it’s the drugs, but she looks older now.

“I got pretty scared back there,” I say.

“So did I. Last thing I remember, I focused on the ball, and then I was in the ambulance, breathing through an oxygen mask.”

“You would have won that match.”

She tries to sit up, as memories come back. “Where’s Tommy?”

“He’s sleeping outside. It’s been a long night for all of us.”

“Can I see him?”

“I’ll tell him you’re alright. You have to rest now.”

She lies down again, but is too anxious to sleep.

“How long will I be here?”

“The doctors will need to take more tests. Then we’ll see how serious this is.” I try to sound reassuring.

“Dad, we both know the diagnosis,” comes the grave statement. I realize she not only appears, but acts older for a teenage girl.

“Fine,” I say, relieved that I don’t have to lie. “Your heart has already lasted a year more than they expected. You’re not going to leave the hospital without a new one. The good news is that we already knew this would happen, so the replacement is on its way. You have to rest now.”

I get up from the chair, but Anna seizes my hand in a weak grip.

“I’m afraid to sleep. What if the next time I wake up, my heart’s gone?”

I gently stroke her hair, “It won’t matter. You’ll still be Anna and I’ll be with you.”

Outside, Tommy is napping in a chair. I let him sleep.

I’m about to doze off myself, when I see a doctor approaching. Having been in hospitals for almost two decades, I know that it’s not going to be good news. Doctors never bother someone with enough worries already ... unless there’s something worse.

“Can we talk for a minute?” His concerned look through the thick glasses only confirms my suspicions.

“Is there a problem? They couldn’t get the replacement?”

“No, in fact, it’s already here. However,” and now I feel comes the bad news, “we made some scans while she was here. Here’s a list of operations and replacements we will have to do next.”

He hands me a clipboard, but I can’t force myself to read it. It’s enough to see that there are two full pages.


Anna paces around the room angrily while Tommy and I sit on the couch, keeping a respectable distance between each other. I already forgot who first touched the painful subject of body transfer, but now the dinner has become a full-blown family scandal.

“Dad, you know what happened the last time at the airport? The metal detector was going crazy on me, so they poked and searched me like I was some kind of freak. And my husband was so ashamed that he ran away and left me alone. Can you imagine how humiliating it was?”

“Listen, this is our relationship. There’s no need to involve your father,” Tommy says.

“My dad is part of the family, and he’s got something to say about it, right?”

I feel embarrassed to be here, so I mumble, “It’s your body, so it’s your decision.”

She strides around, breathing heavily through nostrils. Hardly anyone can suspect that beneath her firm breasts are mechanical lungs that inhale oxygen and a mechanical heart that circulates it to the brain. Some may be terrified to find out that she doesn’t even have a pulse.

“Listen,” Tommy tries one more time, “I understand you perfectly that—”

“Do you really?” Anna interrupts. “Do you know how it feels to be half machine?”

Tommy raises his hands in surrender. “Fine, I don’t. But I think you’re about to throw away your humanity.”

“You had no objections to my prosthesis. Or when I had my heart and liver replacements. When exactly did I cross the line? Where is that goddamn line?”

Tommy stares down at his feet, looking puzzled. I can again see the young boy outside our house, unable to express his feelings.

“Listen.” I try to be the voice of reason. “Anna’s disease is spreading, shutting down body parts one by one. She’s lucky it hasn’t reached the brain. Much of the body is already mechanical. If she doesn’t make the decision now, there’s a higher chance of losing her.”

Tommy grimaces. “Please Anna, think about this one more time. I can’t imagine how our relationship is going to be after all that.”

“It’s about sex, isn’t it?” Anna stops pacing suddenly. “You’ll be disgusted to touch me?”

She takes a deep breath.

“Ok, I understand now. But I won’t look like a robot from the ’80s movies. The brain will be transferred to a new biomechanical body that is going to be a perfect replica of my current one. Even my private parts will be fully ...” she closes her eyes as if imagining I’m not here, “functional.”

“Anna, please!” Tommy hides his face in his palms.

“What’s the matter, Tommy?” Anna’s anger resurfaces again. “You don’t like what I’m saying? You don’t want me to become a piece of steel, is that what you mean? I say that you’re just a piece of meat. Only far more insensitive than I am!”

“You don’t know what it feels like to be with someone like you.” Tommy growls. “You’re tearing yourself apart in front of my eyes and expect me to say nothing about it? I don’t even know you’re the same Anna I married.”

Tommy walks out of the room without looking at us. I hear how he slams the door and a moment later his car speeds off.

“Well, that settles it then.” Anna says turning away, “Divorce and a new body. Would you like more wine? I sure do. Should enjoy this while I can.” She pours herself a large glass.

I approach her from behind and place my hands on her shoulders while she washes the dishes. After a short while, her shoulders start to shake as she starts to cry uncontrollably. She turns around and buries her face in my chest.


I’m at the crematorium, watching Anna’s still body in the coffin. She’s dressed in a long white dress and holds a red bouquet.

At the same time, Anna stands next to me regarding her old self. She’s dressed in black. It’s surreal, seeing the two girls as Yin and Yang next to each other.

“I wasn’t that bad looking after all,” Anna says, looking down at her mirror image.

“You’re still beautiful,” I say, touching the synthetic skin on her shoulders. “But I will miss that black raven hair. It reminded me of your mother.”

“I’m wondering what she would say, if she saw me now.”

“She would be proud. You’ve been put through so much but remained strong.”

“I struggled because she died, giving me life. And because you too sacrificed so much.” Anna puts her head on my shoulder.

“It was well worth it.”

“How do you feel? It’s me. And your flesh and blood down there.”

I shrug. Anna’s titanium alloy skull feels heavy, “You’re here. Not in that coffin.”

“Perhaps. What if some part of me is here and some part still there? What makes us living beings?”

I sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’m just a human like you.”

She smiles and tugs me away to the exit.


The first visit to Anna’s new home leaves me with an impression of graceful simplicity. She worked especially hard on the living room. It’s bright and breezy with huge windows that overlook a grassy meadow. The high ceiling and minimalistic furniture make me feel as if I’m floating in a retro video game. Strangely, it’s not far from the truth.

As I walk around, exploring the spacious interior, I notice how my hands tremble as if I just came inside from the cold. Anna, however, seems to move through the virtual space with smooth motions that resemble dance. It’s no surprise, because it’s her world. She’s both hung the paintings and coded the physics engine.

I pick up a random book from the bookshelf. As I flip through the pages, the letters appear from nowhere with a few millisecond delay.

“Are you generating all of it yourself?” I ask, placing back the book.

“Of course not. I’ve got subroutines to do all the monotonous work.”

As soon as we sit down, I ask the question that has been burning my mind all these days, “Anna, where exactly are you now?”

She shrugs, “Technically, somewhere in SpacePro databanks. In the microchips and data transactions. But I like to think that I’m here with you.”

“So where are you when you’re alone?”

“In fact, here. Otherwise I wouldn’t spend much time to set up this place. Of course, I have to visit the low-level interface to do my job. But it’s ...” she tries to explain something with words that don’t mean anything to her anymore. “Cold. I don’t want to get used to it.”

“There’s lots of work?”

“Plenty. SpacePro is expanding through the solar system. They need someone to control all the assets. Soon, we’ll launch the first probes to the stars. I’ll be their only passenger and sync the data, taking into account the theory of relativity.”

“Sounds complicated,” I say.

“It is. But it’s also beautiful.”

“You really like your job. Is that because you can’t ...” I trail off, realizing my indelicacy.

“Of course not. I can do whatever I want. SpacePro has one of the fastest networks in the world. And, by the way, I’m seeing Tommy again. But we’re taking it slow. The job is really challenging. I want to accomplish something.” She lays back in her chair, looking pretty satisfied.

“I’m already proud of you. Just know that you don’t have to spend all your life at work.”

Before she answers, a jolt of pain comes through my head and I wince.

“How are you?” Anna asks concerned.

“Just old. That’s all.”

“It’s not only that, is it?” She takes my hands and I see how they tremble, even when I sit still. I quickly hide them behind my back.

“We have a lot of resources. If your brain scans are fine, we can arrange a transfer for you. Imagine that you could live with me, here.” Anna gestures around.

“I’m going to be fine. It’s just this simulation.” I tell her, as I wave my hand indicating the entire apartment

We don’t mention health or work anymore. After all, we both know the diagnosis.


When I wake up, there’s medical equipment of all purposes around my bed. When my eyes start to register the surroundings, I feel that I’m not alone. Everything hurts as I slowly turn my head to look around the room.

“Don’t move. Take it easy.” Anna’s voice comes from somewhere.

“It hurts,” I manage to say through the breathing mask.

She doesn’t answer but, after a while, a warmth flows through my veins, washing the pain away like waves destroy drawings on the sand.

“Feeling better now?”

“Yes,” I say, trying to find where the voice comes from. There’s a blur and as much as I try, I can’t recall for how long have I been here.

“Dad?” comes her voice. I feel a touch on my hair.

I turn. It’s not Anna who strokes, but a hospital android. It smiles as I stare, puzzled.

“You’re not Anna.”

“No, I’m not,” says the robot. “And I am at the same time.”

“Where are you?”

A television screen across the room turns on and Anna’s face appears.

“I’m in the android. In the matrix of this screen. In the control unit of all the life support devices. And I’m somewhere in space, on my way to Alpha Centauri. But most importantly, I’m here with you.”

“Thanks for coming,” I say.

“Listen, I know we spoke about this a long time ago, but it may be still possible to save your mind. Everything else in your body functions perfectly, but it’s no use if your mind is failing. I have to warn you that the result might be hazy, like a tuned out channel. But you’ll be alive. We could travel to the stars together!”

“Anna,” I say, “you know it’s too late.”

The android leans down and puts its arm on my head. “Sleep. Rest. I’ll take care of you.”

“I’m afraid that the next time I wake up it will be in the haze you told me about. I won’t be able to do anything or even understand what is going on.” I take a deep breath. “You have to let me go.”

She doesn’t answer; everything in the room has become silent.

“Anna, I want you to—”

“I heard you,” she says firmly, “I can’t do it.”

“Anna, I don’t want to live like that.”

“I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t,” I whisper, “You’ve changed so many times but still remained my Anna. Now, something is about to change in me too.”

Memories surface from the functioning parts of my brain. I’m taking Anna to school, teaching her to play ball. I see how she grows up from a small, fragile girl to a being that spans beyond the solar system. Once again, I feel a warmth coming through my body.

“Where do you think we go after we die?” I ask, closing my eyes for the last time.

“I don’t know. I’m still just a human like you,” comes her comforting voice. END

Janis Zelcans is a computer software developer from a small peninsula in Latvia where he lives with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat. His fiction has also appeared in “Bewildering Stories.” This is his first short story professional sale.


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