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 Aliya Whiteley

THE SEA OF KNOWLEDGE IS PALE and still, milky-white, and when people immerse I imagine impregnation taking place, the droplets of the ocean like semen, sliding inside them, drilling into each cell and making a new memory, a fresh little foetus of understanding.

All they’re actually doing is standing still, blinking, but I think that’s a lot less poetic than my version.

He says, “Taylor, it’s impossible to love you,” and he blinks. What is he searching for in his head? The best ways to dump your girlfriend? What’s the most passive-aggressive bullshit you can put on someone in one sentence? Or perhaps he’s tweeting this as he says it, with a hashtag to suit:


He smiles. I think of the tweets he’s receiving from his many followers:

Seriously? Lmao

Would raise a smile from him? Split that famous face? I hope not. Maybe it’s simply that his eyeballs have dried out in the ferocious air-conditioning of the hotel lobby, and he needs to rearrange his expression.

“It’s because I don’t have one, isn’t it?” I ask him.


“If I had one, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?”

“Yes, we would. Well, I might have emailed you instead, to be honest. You know how I hate public scenes.”

“I’m not making a scene!” I say. I consider throwing his coffee over him, but then the receptionist or the people sitting in the corner might blink twice and start recording this whole incident. Next thing I know, I’ll be on Youtube in a clip entitled:


And a billion people will see it and smirk whenever I pass by.

“You’re paranoid,” Jake says. “You think everything is about you. But I have needs, too.”

I have needs, too—6,700,000 hits


“I hope you asphyxiate,” I tell him, keeping a pleasant expression. “I hope you drown in that scummy sea of semen you like to flail around in. I hope your eyelids drop off from overuse and your brain gets fried in an electrical storm. And I bet your art is utter shite, with extra fresh smelly shite on top. I bet you’re utterly talentless in every way that it is possible for a human being to be talentless.”

He stands up and dusts the crumbs of his skinny muffin from his light canvas trousers. “I’ve got over five million followers who think otherwise.”

“They don’t think, though, do they? They follow.”

Jake blinks. Maybe he’s scrolling through a list of his disciples, trying to find one with a less than vacant expression. Or maybe I nearly made him cry. Whatever it is, it’s enough to spur him to walk away, out of the hotel lobby, on to the street, moving fast, putting as much distance between us as he can.

I watch him go. I don’t follow.


I was first diagnosed with IEHS in my mid-twenties. It’s a rare condition, and some people still believe it’s an imaginary one. The headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness, stomach cramps, fatigue, and mood swings started in Secondary School, when the routine keyhole implant was fitted to my ocular nerve, along with every other eleven-year-old in the country. My symptoms corresponded perfectly with the onset of puberty, and so my GP told me I was one of those sickly teenagers, and my body would grow out of it. She was still insisting that when I turned twenty-one and was spending most days in bed, jobless, lethargic, depressed.

My mother made endless tea and I headsurfed all day and all night, sinking myself into social networks, making a thousand friends without once feeling the need to meet any of them. I watched films, played games, held long conversations with strangers, until the day I came across an article about people who had rejected their implants, for various reasons. Some had religious objections—nobody should be inside your mind except God, that sort of thing—and some just liked to be different, retro. But there were those who said the implant made them physically ill.

The article stressed no medical evidence had ever been found. It still hasn’t, as far as I know. Maybe it’s been hushed up in the name of progress, I don’t know; I think to become a world-class conspiracy theorist you need to have an implant. It would take too long to piece it all together without instant access to a zillion statistics. Imagine researching something like that in paper archives. It makes you wonder how the human race got anything done before the arrival of the Internet.

I suppose that shows my true colours. I hate being different. I would have the implant back again this instant, if possible. If it didn’t trigger a migraine that left me incapable of doing anything than lying in a darkened room and making ow sounds.

I remember what it was like to have the world in my head, and I miss it. I miss knowing what everybody thinks about everything. 200,000 likes for the photo of the cake I baked for my aunt’s birthday party. 680 reviews of the new ebook from that author I like. I didn’t have to leap blind into any decision—what coffee shop, what colour lipstick, what food to give to the cat. The friends in my head made those decisions for me. If they hadn’t heard of it, then it wasn’t worth knowing.

Now I’m alone. And I have to be brave. I have to be the person that walks into the metaphorical party with the sneaking suspicion that her dress is rucked up in her knickers. That is my life, every minute of every day.

Wait. Not quite. Once a week I still have friends.


It’s half past five on a Thursday, and that means I can walk out of this hotel lobby and make my way downtown to my self-help group.

“Friends” has become a word of myriad meanings. Instead of defining “friends” as “people I’ve never met with whom I have formed an online connection based on similar interests and extended peer groups,” I define it here, traditionally, as “people who live in the same geographical area as me and are as miserable as I am for the same reason.” I think the original definition of the word is long dead, and nobody except me seems to be mourning it.

I reach the café a little late; I see my group from the outsider’s point of view, which is an unwelcome reflection on how stupid three people with their heads wrapped in tinfoil can look. I would take off my own, but it does cut down on the headaches, nausea and dizziness. Really, it does.

I nod to the barista, and he smiles, and blinks, and starts to make my decaf Americano which I really don’t need after the scene with Jake, but it’s hard to sit in a café and not order anything, particularly when all the other customers are staring at you and posting pictures of your tinfoil-hatted group on Facebook with a witty caption or two.

I sit down, and Len, dear Len, asks me, “How are you, sweetheart?” I blurt out my bad news, and then am unable to speak further due to a tight throat and the fear of bursting into loud, uncontrollable sobs. It may be a self-help group, but it’s always had more of a polite conversation vibe than a collective and open pooling of misery vibe.

“Oh no!” says Deb. “No no no. Oh dear.” She’s so lovely, always commiserating, and refusing to accept sympathy for her own large array of problems, such as diabetes, a slowly dying mother, and having to survive on a government-funded budget of sixty-seven pounds a week.

“He’s a moron,” says Tom, who is young and huge and pierced at regular intervals. Eliza throws him a suspicious look. Tom and Eliza have recently become a couple, in a tentative sort of way that’s painful to observe on a week by week basis. Occasionally they hold hands under the table and we all pretend not to be aware of it.

I let them wash me clean in their sudsy sympathy, and it’s quite a pleasant experience until we get to the rough towel-dry at the end, where I’m meant to stand back on my own two feet again and come out buffed from rebuff.

“I—we—always felt that he wasn’t right for you, Taylor. Maybe you’re really meant to be alone for a while.”


They all shuffle back in their seats, a collective response. “We all think you could do with some time to yourself,” says Eliza.

“The meaning of discussion group is not that you all take it in turns to discuss one of the members when she’s out of the room,” I tell them. “The meaning of discussion group is—” No words come to me. If I had a link, I would search the online dictionary and find an amazing answer, and spit one out with vitriol to look sharp and sassy and so in the right. But there’s nothing.

Len takes my hand and squeezes it. “Poor thing,” he says.

He’s right. I am poor. We all are. We live in an information poverty, where we can’t ever be as good as the people around us. We won’t get jobs, because they are all advertised online, and everyone applies in their head. We can’t complain to our MP because she only accepts tweets or emails. We can’t escape because the car tax system involves being registered under a valid username and the bus and train timetables are all PDF docs. Buying a ticket is done with the blink of an eye, anyway. It’s all a blink of an eye away.

I close my eyes.

Tom murmurs something, about how I’ll be fine, and I’m tough, and Eliza agrees with him, and changes the subject. Soon they’re having a normal conversation around me, as if I don’t exist. As normal a conversation as people wearing tinfoil helmets can have.


I lie in my four-poster bed that night, under my foil canopy, and think of Jake, and the digital interest he is no doubt generating at this moment. The clear lens of the world focuses on him, and he loves it. He probably told his publicist he was going to break up with me two weeks before he told me, just to make sure he’d get the most surftime from it.

And yet, and yet—what? Surely he is indefensible. But if his way of life was offered to me I would take it. Wouldn’t I?

Jake and I met at a deserted monument to the past—an art gallery. A Mondrian exhibition. We stood side by side, strangers, in front of “Composition 2.”

“The lines looked different in my head,” Jake said, and I said, “Nothing’s the same in anyone’s head.” I thought we were alone in that room, sharing a private moment. Later, in bed, he said to me, “You make life feel more ... personal.” That was what he loved about me—I was unaware that there were 3,000,000 people in our relationship.

And the reason I loved him? The opposite. Because I never felt alone with him. He was my clickable link. Through him, I connected.

I lie there, not knowing whether to punch the pillow or punch myself. I wish somebody would pop into my head and tell me how I feel.


I last three weeks without Jake, and then I make an appointment to have the implant on my ocular nerve refitted.

My group are aghast.

“You’ll kill yourself!” says Deb. Eliza and Tom clutch hands; they’ve progressed to above-the-table displays of affection.

“Maybe I’ve grown out of it. Like asthma.”

Deb sits back and crosses her arms over her chest. “If you really believe that, take off your hat.”

“These stupid hats are just placebos anyway,” I tell her, and reach for mine. I put it in the centre of the table, where it sits between our coffee cups like a new-age salt shaker. A speck of pain, a pinprick, pops into life above my left eye, but I ignore it.

“Please, please,” says Len, shaking his head, “You’ll make yourself ill.” I love Len dearly, but this time his compassion only galvanises my resolve. I put my share of the bill on the table.

“Goodbye,” I say. “I don’t belong with you any more.”

I leave my tinfoil hat on the table, and I walk away.

By the time I reach the tube station I can’t see straight. There are glowing white lines in my head, undulating in time to the pulsing pains running through my body. I’m at the top of the stairs, leading down into the dark, being pushed onwards by the people surrounding me, crowding close; I waver, give myself over to them, let them carry me along, down the stairs, through the white-tiled halls that lead to the edge of the track.

One small shove in my back is all it takes. I fall. I fall and see nothing but black. I hear a hundred voices calling to me, shouting, get up, get up. And then I’m gone.


“Terrible,” says a woman, softly.

I open my eyes. Ouch. Day nine in hospital and waking up is still unbelievably painful. I’m hoping that will improve at some point.

The woman standing at the end of my bed is definitely not a nurse. She looks rich. Her well-cut skirt and waistcoat in grey herringbone look great on her, and under her arm she carries a red ring binder. I haven’t seen one of those in years.

I’m guessing she works in media.

“No comment,” I croak.

She blinks.

Jake Qwerty’s ex-girlfriend, laid up in hospital. Tried to kill herself after the breakup. Look at her poor, broken body.

“I’m not here to get a scoop. My name is Marianne Klaus. I work with Klaus, Klaus and Hedder. We’re a firm of solicitors.”

“Daddy’s business?”

“Mine,” she says. “And my sister’s. We started it together. Hedder came along later and married my sister, but he’s a nice guy. Believe it or not, there are a few of those left.”

I feel ashamed of my ridiculous preconceptions. Perhaps I should apologise. Instead I press the button by the side of my bed and elevate myself to a sitting position with as much dignity as I can muster with two legs encased in plaster.

Marianne Klaus watches me. She doesn’t blink that much, which is reassuring. Maybe she’s on the level.

She points to the foil curtain that surrounds my bed. “I had that put up for you,” she says.


“You’ve been through enough. I’m glad to be here today to give you some good news.” She opens the ring binder and places it on my lap. The top page is a printout of an online article. The headline says:


The picture is of a body lying face down in a gutter. No. It’s a woman. On a Tube track. Me.

For a moment I can’t speak. Eventually I manage to find my voice. “This is good news?”

She turns the pages. The headlines pass through the days.




“There are videos too. The Daily Whip came up with a hashtag: #makeitbetter. It went global. Klaus, Klaus and Hedder were called in to manage the donation fund.”

“Donation fund?”

She turns the pages once more, to the final story.


“As of this morning there is a sum of over seven million pounds waiting to be transferred to your bank account. I’m getting a set of paper cheques made for you to enable your spending. That amount of money could be difficult to carry in cash.”

“I ... I don’t know what to ...”

She blinks. “You don’t need to say a thing. I’ve just taken a snap of this moment to circulate out on the web. Everyone will want to see it, if that’s okay?”

“Right,” I say. “Right.”

“So have a think about what you want to do with all your money and I’ll enable it. You’ve got at least another week before you can be released from hospital—I’ll come back in a few days once you’ve had a chance to come to terms with it all.”


“You’re very brave,” she says, abruptly. Then she turns, and leaves. I lower the bed back to a prone position and try to make sense of the world I can’t see.

I shouldn’t make any rash decisions. I could start a charity. Buy a mansion, cover it in tinfoil, take in other sufferers of IEHS. I could become a spokeswoman for my cause. Speak at the United Nations. Rail passionately against the unfairness of the modern age. I have been given an amazing opportunity. It should not be wasted, this chance to do good. I wonder if Marianne has opened a Facebook account for me. I wonder how many friends I have now.

I don’t know what I want.

But I know what I need.


I float in the sea.

It’s not a sea of knowledge. It’s not milky-white, and it’s not making a new sense of understanding within me. It’s just a sea, even if it is the Dead one.

It’s so easy to float here, easy to let myself go. There are no voices, no whispers, no expectations or assumptions. There is only me.

For the first time, I’ve made the choice to be alone.

I sort of like it. END

Aliya Whiteley has had stories published by “The Guardian,” “Strange Horizons,” “Kaleidotrope,” and many others. Whiteley’s short story collection, “Witchcraft in the Harem,” was published in April 2013 by Manchester-based Dog Horn Publishing.


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