Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


You’ll Always Have the Burden With You
by Ken Liu

by Aliya Whiteley

Adventures of Doria Quinn
by Joe Occhipinti

by Nathaniel Williams

My Soul to Keep
by Eric Del Carlo

Voices of { }
by Sean Eret

Foggy Planet Breakdown
by Peter Wood

Subcasting the Pain
by Erin Lale

Expansion of Space
by Brian Biswas

by Simon Kewin


Journey to the Bottom of Nothing
by Eric M. Jones

Giving the Gift of Science
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips





By Simon Kewin

NEWER DELHI CENTRAL STATION, 14:02 India Standard Time.

Ronan Mistry half-stepped, half-fell from the jump gate at Newer Delhi Central. His stomach lurched like someone had spent the last minute whirling him around blindfolded. A heavy pain thrummed through his head. He hated the damn jump networks. The headache was a new thing but the gates always made him nauseous.

He’d promised himself before, but this was definitely the last time he used them. At the very least he’d pay for a private network next time. It wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. It was this affectation of being a regular person. His humble beginnings; try as you might you couldn’t stop being the urchin from the back streets of Delhi. From now on he’d use some of ShivaTech’s wealth and get around in a little more comfort. He was old enough to remember the days when aeroplanes still flew in the sky. It took hours to get anywhere—which always amused young people—but at least your body wasn’t smashed to a stream of bits and reassembled each time you wanted to travel.

“Morning again, Mr. Mistry.”

A security guard in a saffron-coloured turban looked like he was about to step over to help. Ronan didn’t recognize the man, despite the apparent familiarity. He waved and managed a smile to say he was fine, didn’t need assistance. The guards were there to look out for jumpjackers hitting travellers as they emerged from the network, not to lend a hand to travelsick old men.

Ronan tried to walk off in a straight line and failed badly, tried to stop himself vomiting and just about managed it. He swallowed down bitter fluid that suddenly filled his mouth. Tens of thousands of people thronged the station, dashing to and from the gate array, barging aside anyone in their way. He bounced off more than one of them, mumbling an inaudible apology. He found a stone pillar, its cool solidity welcome. He waited for his head to stop swimming, standing there panting like an old dog.

He watched as a group of uniformed soldiers pushed through the crowd: not private jump network guards but proper IndPol military officers, bristling with tazers and lasers and who-knew what else. There must have been an incident. Perhaps some unfortunate traveller had been jumped as they stepped from their gate. Ronan watched to see what would happen, whom they would arrest. He hoped there wouldn’t be serious trouble. He was in no state to run.

There was a moment of horror as the truth of what he was seeing hit him. The soldiers weren’t running towards the gates. They were running towards him. His stomach lurched in panic.

It was only then he saw Sageeta, his wife, hurrying along behind the soldiers, her sari trailing behind her like gossamer wings. She looked angry. She was never angry. The soldiers ran up to him then stopped, parting to let her through.

“Ronan. What in all the hells is going on? What are you doing?” Sageeta stood in front of him, hands on hips. The soldiers surrounded them now, a ring of steel pushing the swarming crowds back. They didn’t appear to be arresting him. They looked outwards, like they were protecting him. But from what? He didn’t understand anything that was happening.

“Sageeta. It is good to see you. I’m feeling a little ill.”

“Never mind that, you old fool. What have you done? What is this madness?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean. I’ve just come from my meeting in Capetown about the new Europe contracts. I haven’t done anything.”

“Stop playing these games,” said his wife. “You’re going to explain everything right here and now.”

“Explain what?”

A looked of worry flashed across his beloved wife’s features. She spoke again, in a low voice, as if afraid people would overhear. “Explain why half an hour ago you transferred one billion rupees from ShivaTech to some no-good accounts I’ve never heard of. The company is ruined, Ronan. We are ruined.”


“One billion rupees! Our entire holdings gone in a moment.”

“It’s not possible. I ordered no such transfer.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Did you think you wouldn’t be seen? You made the transfer from a bank in London. IndPol have the images of you arriving at Euston Jump Node. And the images of you getting here an hour ago, when that oh-so lovely young woman stopped to help you. Is that what this is all about? Have you come to this?”

Ronan waited for some of his wife’s words to make sense, but they utterly refused to. What she was talking about? What young woman?

“This is all madness,” said Ronan. “I’ve just left Capetown.”

His wife shook her head, as if pitying him. “Then tell me, Ronan, what the time was when you left Capetown.”

“About one o’clock our time.”

“And the time now?”

“Obviously, about one minute later.” But as he spoke he also consulted the clock plugin in his brain, just to check. The response came back immediately. The time was now a little past two o’clock. Somehow, impossibly, an hour had by passed since he’d left Capetown.

It made no sense. Ronan tried to speak, but no words would come from his mouth.


Newer Delhi Central Station, one hour earlier ...

Ronan Mistry half-stepped, half-fell from the jump gate at Newer Delhi Central. His stomach lurched like someone had spent the last minute whirling him around blindfolded. A heavy pain thrummed through his head. He hated the damn jump networks. The headache was a new thing but the gates always made him nauseous.

A security guard, recognizing him, nodded his turbaned head.

“Morning, Mr. Mistry.”

Ronan managed only a mumbled response. The pain in his head grew sharper, like something solid being hammered into his brain. The great hall of the station lurched around him, a blur of colours and blaring sounds. He leaned against a pillar, the stone cool on his hands.

“You don’t look well, sir. Why don’t you sit down?”

A young woman had stopped beside him, concern clear on her face. There were still one or two good people in the world. He tried to explain he was OK, that he just needed a moment. He sank to the ground, his back against the pillar.

The woman put a gentle hand on his shoulder and knelt beside him so that her head was level with his. The bindi on her forehead was animated in the modern fashion: a swirling red spiral. She spoke quietly into his ear. “Listen to me, you fucker. You are not going to recover from this. You are going to feel worse and worse. Soon the pain in your head will become unbearable. And do you want to know what that pain is? It’s the feeling of your mind being eaten, old man. Do you fucking understand me?”

Ronan stared up at her. The young woman continued to smile, the worried look clear on her beautiful face. Had he imagined her words?

Her grip tightened painfully. “Do you understand me?”

He didn’t, not at all. He shook his head. “What is happening?”

The young woman glanced around, making sure no one was too near. “Tell me how many children you have, Ronan Mistry.”

“What? What does that ...?”

“Just tell me. How many?”


“Boys or girls?”

“Girls. Grown women, now.”


“They’re called ...” He stopped. For some reason he couldn’t recall their names. Both had waved him goodbye just that morning as he left for Capetown.

“What are their names, old man?”

“I don’t ... I don’t know.”

“And what do they look like? How tall? What colour are their eyes?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What was their favourite flavour of kulfi when they were young?”

He shook his head. He didn’t know. The pain filling his brain was a fog. A fog through which he could see nothing.

The young woman nodded her head, as if he had done well, given her the right answers.

“Very good. Now let me explain what is happening to you. A small alteration to your neural matrix was introduced as you rematerialised at the jump node. An artificial algorithm hidden amongst your normal brain patterns. Right now it is chomping its way though your memories. Soon you won’t be able to remember you even have children. In a few hours you won’t know your own name. A few hours after that your brain’s autonomous functions will start forgetting how to function. Your heart will stop beating and your lungs will stop pumping.”

“No,” said Ronan. “That’s not possible.” He knew it wasn’t possible. You couldn’t just alter people as they rematerialised without introducing major flaws. The ensuing corruption was always fatal. The brain was too dynamic, too fluid. The technology was years away.

“Oh, it’s possible, old man,” said the woman. “And it’s happening to you right now. No doubt you are experiencing an excruciating pain in your head? That is one side-effect.”

Was that true? The networks were a well-known trigger for migraines. Perhaps she’d just struck lucky. “No. I don’t believe it.”

“Then let me ask you this. What does the name Arvan J. Stanton mean to you?”

“He’s ... just someone I knew once. Years ago, at university. Why?”

“Did he ever give you any advice? Any words of wisdom?”

“Actually, yes. I remember very well. He told me that whatever I did in life I had to believe the young woman with the red bindi when she stops to help me at Newer Delhi ...”

He trailed off. His memory of those words was very, very clear. But why? It was years ago. It made no sense. And why would his old friend have even uttered such nonsense?

“Yes, you understand,” said the young woman. Arvan J. Stanton did not exist. Another alteration we made to your mind. An implanted memory.”

“I don’t believe it. This is hypnosis. Autosuggestion. Nothing more.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“Even if you have done this,” he said. “Even if such a thing is possible, why? Why would you want to destroy my memories?”

“Oh, not destroy, old man. We aren’t mindless thugs. We are artists. Your memories are all still there. Just encrypted. Locked away in your brain with a key only we know. And when you’ve paid us the two billion rupees, we will give you the key and you can have your brain back.”

“Two billion rupees?”

“That’s the price. ShivaTech can afford it. A man of your wealth really shouldn’t use the public networks, you know.”

The fog was lifting a little in his head now. He saw the obvious flaw in her proposal. And making deals, striking bargains was what he was good at. “So when I pay you this fortune, you’ll just drop round and fix up my brain for me? Set everything straight?”

“You’ll need to make another jump. We’ll spot you in the network and put everything right. There’ll be no need to meet again.”

“Yes, but why would you?” said Ronan. “Once you’ve got your money you’d be better off leaving me to die. Then all the evidence goes away. It’s a perfect crime.”

The young woman smiled. “You’ll just have to trust us, won’t you? You’re hardly in a position to bargain.”

He could see the faintest hint of worry in her eyes. You learned to read people. “Actually,” said Ronan, “I think I am. They’re certain to post mortem me. I’m willing to bet your hacks to my brain—if they exist—will show up. That will raise suspicions. People might follow a trail that leads back to you. And I don’t think you want to take that risk.”

The brief frown of annoyance that flashed across her features told him he’d hit the mark. She nodded her head from side to side, trying to suggest indifference. “We’ll take that chance for two billion rupees, old man.”

He considered. He still didn’t believe her. But if there was a chance she was telling the truth ...

“I’ll make you an offer,” he said. “One billion rupees and I don’t send the money until I’m fully restored to health.”

“That’s not going to work, old man.”

“Ah, of course, because you were also planning to wipe all my memories of this conversation, weren’t you?”

“Obviously. You’ll be in no state to sanction further payments. You won’t know anything about them.”

“Then I’ll give you half the money now and place half in an account in your name but which you can’t access for twenty-four hours. That will give you time to restore me.”

The woman studied him for a moment, looking for the flaws in the plan. He just had to hope she didn’t know everything ShivaTech’s systems could do. Finally she nodded. She’d might not get all the money, but she’d decided even half a billion would be enough. As Ronan had calculated she would,

“Very well,” she said. “But not in my name. Use Arvan J. Stanton, understand?”

“As you like. I’ll have to jump to London to arrange everything.”

“You remember your non-existent friend’s old contact number?”

“For some reason, yes, I do. Very clearly.”

“That’s the account number for the first half of the payment. Make sure the new account is in his name, too, and we’ll see it. And remember: in three hours time you won’t recognize your own face in a mirror. So don’t fuck up.”

She smiled and stood up. She lifted her scarf over her head to cover her features. “Oh, and be careful in the jump network, Ronan Mistry. There are some bad people out there.”

She turned and strode away. He soon lost her in the teeming crowds.


Doctor Kay Alvarez was engrossed in an analysis of the fractal equations from her latest tests when her boss staggered in. She hadn’t seen Ronan for nearly a year; these days the owner of ShivaTech didn’t travel so much. Her delight at the sight of her old friend was immediately tempered when she saw the state of him. He was clearly struggling to stay upright.

“Ronan? What has happened? You look terrible. Shall I get a doctor?”

“You are a doctor, Kay. That’s why I’ve come to see you.” For a moment she caught a flash of her old friend’s humour. Then he sank into a chair and held his head in his hands.

“We need to get you to a hospital,” said Kay. “You know very well I’m not the right sort of doctor.”

“Actually,” said Ronan, “you are exactly the right sort. I need you to scan my brain and look for ... anomalies.”

“What do you mean anomalies?”

He appeared to be having trouble getting the words out. He was clearly in great pain. “Please,” he said. “There isn’t much time. I need you to do this now.”

With anyone else she would have insisted on the hospital. But, as she’d come to learn over the years, Ronan generally knew best. “OK. Come with me.”

Ten minutes later she had the live feed of his brain imaging in front of her. She sifted her way through the 3D map, looking for these mysterious anomalies. What was he expecting her to find? A tumour? A clot? A bleed?

“Anything?” he asked.

“Nothing. No damage at all. Wait. What the hell? That doesn’t look right.”

“What do you see?”

“These neuron patterns here in the hindbrain look almost ... random.” She turned to Ronan. “Is this what you mean? This corruption?”

“Is it spreading?”

She turned back and zoomed in. It took only a few moments to see it. She watched as more and more of the connections between the neurons realigned themselves. They switched from normal, organic arrangements into broken, disjointed fragments.

“It is,” she said. “Advancing rapidly. Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on here, Ronan? Frankly, it’s incredible you’re even walking and talking.”

Ronan nodded but didn’t reply.

“Ronan? What has happened? What is this?”

With great effort, as if having to drag up ancient memories, he began to tell her the day’s events.

When he’d finished she was silent for a moment. If she hadn’t seen his scan she wouldn’t have believed it. “Ronan,” she said finally, “I’m so sorry.”

He shook his head. “No. You don’t understand. This is an incredible opportunity.”


“Whoever these people are, however they’ve done this, we need this technology. They’re years ahead of us.”

“It must be experimental,” said Kay. “For all we know it only works one in a hundred times. One in a thousand. You’re incredibly lucky just to be here.”

“Yes, but think what we could do if we had this capability. If we could reliably edit people’s images. We could cure diseases, do anything. We have to pursue this.”

“Always the idealist, Ronan. You can’t go ahead with this; you’re going to get yourself killed. Somehow we have to stop the encryption of your neural matrix. Restore you somehow.”

He shook his head. “The thing is, I’ve already instructed the bank to transfer the money.”

“What?” she said again. She was beginning to doubt his sanity now. Was this the corruption in his brain speaking? “Ronan, this is madness.”

“No, Kay. Listen to me. Listen while I can still think straight. OK, perhaps they’ll talk their half billion and run. And then I am in serious trouble. But there’s a chance they’ll do what they said: intervene again to fix me so they can get the rest of their money, yes?”

“There’s a chance,” she said. “There’s also a chance they’ll zap your brain completely to cover their tracks.”

“No. It will look too obvious. They’re clever. Who knows how often they’ve done this? We need to stop them. You need to stop them.”


“You’ll know where I am in the jump network. You can track me among all the billions of images?”

She shrugged. “Sure, that we can do.”

“And when they intervene—if they do—you’ll be able to see it, yes? They must be using a hacked jump node. You’ll be able to get a physical address. We’ll be able to get to them.”

She studied him for a moment. He was serious. He really meant to do this. “Ronan,” she said, “this is a whole series of ifs and slim chances. It’s not going to actually work.”

He smiled through the pain. He actually smiled. “Maybe. Or we’ll put a stop to a bunch of evil hackers and acquire technology ShivaTech could work wonders with.”

“If by some miracle it works and they do wipe out your memories of all this, you’re going to be pretty confused when you emerge from the jump network. You won’t have a clue what’s going on.”

“I’ll manage.”

She shook her head. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

“Then it’s a good job I’m the boss. Consider all of that an order.”

“Ronan, you haven’t given me an actual order in thirty years.”

“Then I’m asking. Please, Kay. If it goes wrong it hardly matters at this stage, does it?”

She studied him for a moment more, then relented with a sigh.

“Oh, and Kay?”


“Please hurry. My head feels like it’s going to damn well explode.”


Ronan now lay on the hard floor of the station concourse. He couldn’t make sense of anything. The same fragments of thought kept circling around in his brain. Somehow he had lost an hour of his life. And one billion rupees. And now, it seemed, he was losing his mind too. He was finding it harder and harder to recall names, details, places. The pain in his head was a vast weight, crushing his memories beneath it.

Figures milled around him, their faces occasionally looming over him to ask him questions he couldn’t hear. His wife was there, the anxiety clear on her face. For some reason he couldn’t recall her name. That was bad. Paramedics buzzed around, shining lights in his eyes, giving him oxygen, checking his blood pressure. There were also soldiers. Lots of soldiers. Some stood in a ring around him, their black boots filling his vision when he opened his eyes. A group of them had just charged off for the jump gates on some suddenly-urgent mission. He didn’t know why.

None of it made sense. Ronan groaned and closed his eyes.


“Can you see them? Have you got the trace?”

The IndPol officer stood over Kay. It was hard to concentrate with him standing there. These things required focus, concentration, not some armed grunt breathing down her neck.

Her hands moved through the display, sifting through the almost limitless threads, each representing a single person’s journey through the jump network. She would only get one shot at this. They had to be careful. If the hackers saw they were being traced they would be gone and that would be the end of Ronan.

“There. That’s them. This gate here.”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. That’s why I said it.”

“OK,” said the soldier. “We’re jumping there now.”

“And I’m coming with you,” said Kay.

“Sorry. No. This is a dangerous military operation. We can’t be worrying about civilians.”

“And I’m sorry, but I am coming,” said Kay. “It’s vital we recover the technology these people have. You do your job and we’ll do ours, understood?”

The IndPol officer looked like he was about to argue, then backed down. Turning away, he began to bellow out orders to his troops.


Someone was touching his cheek, trying to rouse him. Ronan flicked open his eyes. He expected to see Sageeta but another woman’s face was there. A woman he recognized.

“Kay? What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at work in London. I’m not paying you to just galavant around the world.”

“Long story. I’ll explain later. Right now I’m going to scan your brain for anomalies.”

“You’re going to do what?”

“Just be quiet. This is the first time I’ve done this in a public jump station. Turn your head to the side then don’t move.”

Ronan did as he was told. He’d found that was best with Kay. Through a forest of soldiers” boots he could see the jump node he’d emerged from en route from Capetown. More of the soldiers were surrounding it. He watched as a squad of them emerged, escorting some prisoners. Two women and a man. One of the women—young, a bright red bindi on her forehead—turned to look directly at him. She scowled. Ronan couldn’t understand why. He’d never seen her before in his life.

He could hear Kay and Sageeta murmuring to each other, something about the readings on the brain scanner.

“Well,” he said. “Would you two like to tell me what is happening?”

“There’s good news and bad news,” said Kay.

“What’s the bad?”

“You’re the same stubborn old man you were this morning,” said his wife.

“OK. And the good?”

“Your brain is clear of anomalies,” said Kay. “The decryption as you jumped worked. You’re in the clear. And with IndPol’s help we’re recovering the technology they were using. It looks pretty incredible.”

“And the money,” said Sageeta. “We got that back, too.”

“Technology?” said Ronan. “What technology? As usual I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ronan levered himself up onto his elbows. The room wasn’t spinning now. He thought he could probably stand. The pain in his head had subsided to a dull throb.

He looked back over at the gates. Damned jump network. They always made him sick. This was definitely the last time he used them. END

Simon Kewin is a science fiction writer from Herefordshire, in the U.K. His recent novel, “The Genehunter,” is set in the same fictional universe as “Jumpjacker.” He is a member of Codex and is signed to December House and Morrigan Books.