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 Nathaniel Williams

HE STOOD HIS GROUND AND GOT kicked in the face for the third time that night. His nasal bone snapped. An instant later, he heard the center judge shout that the match was over.

Rolle exhaled through swelling nostrils, knowing the real agony would come later, once the shock wore off. Delayed pain. Something to look forward to.

His opponent—the long-legged blonde who moved like liquid mercury—waved to the shadowed crowd. Sparse, polite applause came in return.

Thanks to the poor turnout in his division—the lowest of three—Rolle’d had to battle for second place with the girl who’d lost to the same guy who’d beaten him. Once on the mat, she’d baited him, letting him get an early point so he’d underestimate her before responding with a point of her own. Then, another. Then, the nose-breaker.

Third place with a losing 1-2 record. Not what anyone would call an accomplishment, he thought. But he’d get paid. Placing in the top three provided a share of cover charges and the sparbar’s entertainment budget, winnings most contestants in his shape would use for some walk-in rhinoplasty.

Rolle needed rent money more than a straight nose.

He stuck around until closing time to collect his cash, trying not to spend it before he had it. The last bout of the night was ending—two Division One sparrers so enhanced each point strike sounded like monster truck tires slapping together. Rolle knew that the patrons came—when they showed up at all these days—to see these Division Ones who sank every payback into new physical upgrades, becoming unbreakable, indefatigable brawlers. As the pummeling continued, Loudon approached Rolle with a gratis bottle of beer.

“Try not to have so much fun, man,” he said.

Rolle forced a big smile and wrapped his index finger and thumb around the bottle’s cold neck. He sipped. When he started this, he’d wanted to make a living from it—work his way up the local rankings, get offers in other towns for guaranteed money. Three years later, he wasn’t really “getting started” any more.

The chick who’d beaten him strolled past, her ponytail bouncing. No nod, nothing. Camaraderie be damned. Without her protective flak, she looked younger and skinnier. She spun around and fluttered her eyes at him.

“How do I find out when pay’s in?” she asked.

For a second, he thought she was playing dumb until he understood. She wasn’t like him. She was used to having everything retscanned into her baby blues.

“Chair up and wait,” he said.

They sat in tense silence until Loudon came around again.

“One for her,” Rolle said.

“Thanks,” she said. “Not many of the other sparrers buy me drinks, especially once they find out I’m ... I guess some folks don’t like my kind around here.” She laughed dryly and drained half the beer in two swigs.

“Don’t feel too sorry for yourself there, Second Place,” Rolle said, as Loudon passed along her winnings in cash.

Her cheeks reddened under the bright, white overhead lights. She got it.

“I’ve got no right to whine,” she said. “Sorry about your nose, man.”

“I’ll heal. See you around.”

Rolle watched her leave, stared a bit too long. Her shoulder was still pink from a fall in an earlier round. Slow to heal, like the other Division Threes. At a window booth, two of the nights’ Division One losers chowed down on some noodles with their girlfriends. Can’t even tell they’ve been sparring, he thought. In the bar’s center, a bouncer began to spray down the mats with disinfectant, the acrid lemon smell of closing time.

Loudon handed him seventy-five bucks. Rolle mentioned his little conversation with the blonde.

“She’s good. Not one of us,” he said.

“Look around, Eyesore. Hardly any of the new sparrers are.”


Rolle stepped out the door and into the humid, concrete parking lot. The place sat in a turn-of-the-century strip mall where empty bottles and white fast food sacks littered islands of unkempt grass. Sparbars were always the lone bastions of hygiene in these abandoned neighborhoods—filthy on the exterior but scrubbed to shiny whiteness inside, like the hospital classrooms he’d passed through during med school.

Over the entryway, where anyone else would have a flat-screen marquee, a big silver sign read:

Glass Joe’s
Competitive Sparring:
YOU Are the Entertainment!

“Damn right I are!” he said aloud to the night sky, fists above his head in mock triumph.

An acre of parking spaces stretched out like yellow tournament brackets along the asphalt. Across the lot, a bus stop beckoned.

He had almost walked the length of the parking lot when he heard a shout.


A shiny, yellow, electric sports car swerved down the street, its windows open. Rolle stopped. He knew what came next. Everyone he knew had had run-ins with teenagers looking for trouble outside of sparbars. They might just drive by and throw something. Or they’d stop, and if he didn’t act fast, he’d have more than a broken nose to worry about.

He felt the emptiness of the parking lot in his bones, dropped his bag and wriggled out of his jacket. The car sped toward him. Rolle crouched a bit, his muscles still limber from the night’s workout.

These poor saps couldn’t have picked a worse time to mess with him.

As the car slowed a few yards away, he charged. He heard cheers from inside as the driver slammed it into park and began to get out. Rolle’s front kick snapped the door shut, pinning the driver halfway in and halfway out, one arm dangling from the car. Rolle grabbed it and twisted the wrist until it snapped. Spiral fracture to the ulna. The driver howled. Doors slammed shut on the other side of the car and two passengers charged Rolle.

Rolle kicked the door once more, then spun to face his assailants. He straightened, showing them his full six-foot, three-inch frame, lifting his arms so they could see his bulk. He stepped into the tallest one’s oncoming punch, blocked him and kicked the back of his leg, pushing the attacker’s head into the concrete. A soft thud.

The last one charged him. Rolle dodged and delivered a jump side kick to the lower back. It felt like kicking the side of a house.

Enhancements. Somewhere, Rolle knew, this kid had parents who’d told him that only the strong survived, and that the world was tough and he’d have to be tougher, then paid thousands to give the kid artificial muscles and thickened skin. He’d never lack medical treatment and would rarely need it.

The driver had exited and was dragging the tall one back to the car, his left arm contorted. The last attacker turned.

“Eyesore prick!” he yelled.

Rolle’s leg ached, but he crouched down into an L-stance and raised his fists.

Light punches, he thought. Don’t break your hands.

Rolle delivered a quick backfist to the last guy’s jaw, keeping his left arm up to guard his nose. A fist slammed into his tightened stomach muscles.

Rolle clutched the assailant’s chin with his left hand, latched his right hand to the base of the skull, and spun, dropping to one knee. The big sap had no choice but to follow and land on the ground.

If life were like the mat, they’d have been done when Rolle landed his backfist. One point. Real life didn’t work like sparbars.

Instead it took two more moves exactly like the first. Give a punch, take a punch, grab him, drop him.

The car horn honked. The last attacker stood, then stumbled back to the car. He almost fell as it lurched forward while he had only one leg through the door. The car sped away. Rolle walked back to gather his stuff from the concrete, holding his injured side. Bus headlights appeared down the block.

On the ride back to his apartment, an older lady shouted to her companion about better days when buses still had TVs on them. Rolle sighed, mentally tallying his assets. Fifty dollars in checking. A flunky security job that left evenings free to spar and mornings eventless for recuperation. And that night’s winnings. He couldn’t afford his apartment any longer and didn’t have any friends who’d let him crash.

No matter what, he told himself, I’m not moving back in with Mom.


Rolle knew his mom wanted him to be a doctor even before she took him to Josh Rendina’s house to catch chicken pox. Rolle was seven. His mom called it a “play day,” and she drank coffee with Josh’s mom while the boys ran microcars up and down tracks made in the folds of Josh’s blanket. It had seemed odd to play with someone who wasn’t supposed to get out of bed. A few days later, Rolle came down with chicken pox himself, a fairly easy bout that left him with two tiny, white scars on his stomach and a lifelong immunity.

His mom didn’t lie about what she’d done. In fact, as she rubbed cool calamine lotion on his spot-infested shoulders, she told him how it had happened, and why it would be better to have it then rather than later. One thing about his mom, she always told the truth—at least partially.

Years later, Rolle learned that most kids received immunizations for chicken pox. Most moms took their kids to doctors who prevented diseases with syrups and injections rather than controlled contamination. He gradually realized that just because Mom wanted him to be a doctor didn’t necessarily mean she liked them.


“You’re always welcome here,” said his mother.

“Just a month,” he said.

He’d stashed his bag by the door. His pride was in there somewhere.

Her house felt cramped despite its Spartan array of white, plastic furniture. Rolle eyed the living room’s carpet. The vacuum cleaner had been broken when he last visited. It still must’ve been.

“I sold your bed in the yard sale last summer,” she said.

He hoped he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.

The air conditioner kicked on outside. At least the house had one convenience.

“It’s OK,” she added. “We can move the futon into your old bedroom.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“And try to lay off that Mr. Monosyllabic bullshit,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me all your secrets and dreams while you’re here, but please at least use some halfway intricate language when you speak to me.”

“Sure,” he said, just to push her buttons.

“Wiseass.” She smiled.

His old room had the same eggshell white walls and popcorn ceiling, but she’d moved his things somewhere—the microscopes, the slides, the fun stuff. He tried not to ask what she’d done with it. It was her stuff now, not his.

“I put all your things in storage.”

He shrugged. “Money.”

“Language, Rolle.”

“I wouldn’t want you to spend what you don’t have chasing an old dream.”

“Mine or yours?” she asked.

Yours,” he said. “You can pitch that stuff if it’ll save you paying for a storage unit. I’m not pre-med anymore.”

“You still could be.”

Here it comes, he thought. Her usual lecture about how the clinics needed him, how there should be more doctors who were Eyesores—although she wouldn’t use the word. Being a doctor wouldn’t be enough for her. She wanted him to be her kind of doctor, one who’d treat diseases instead of symptoms, who’d heal sick people without filling them full of chemicals to keep them from getting sick in the first place, who embraced illness and disability and death as natural parts of life.

“Not gonna happen, Mom,” he said.

But she knew as well as he did. If he really hadn’t cared about the microscopes, he’d have taken them with him to face all the deadbeat apartments and basher roommates, the late night wrestling matches and petty break-ins. He still cared, at least a little.

Later, he analyzed the job he’d performed on his nose in his mom’s bathroom mirror. Not bad for a med school dropout. He’d checked it for septal hematoma the night it happened. Not enough coagulation to divide the septum and the cartilage. He didn’t need medical training to know that—ideally, at least—broken noses healed themselves.

Broken careers didn’t.


Rolle inhaled the sparbar’s familiar smell of beer and ammonia. He took the bag of gear from his shoulder and sat it on the ground as he read the front chalkboard. Seven sparrers had signed up for his division. He’d drawn a bye in the first round. No serious beginning sparrer wanted to start in the semi-finals with a bye. It cut into vital exposure. More bouts meant more people saw you spar. But a bye put him closer to placing, closer to cash and a way out of Mom’s place. He searched the room. The same sparrers who had been at Glass Joe’s. The blonde. He took the bye.

Rolle killed time by stretching out and watching the first rounds. He also scanned the chalkboard to see if he could figure out the blonde’s name, but he knew everyone listed in his division. He didn’t understand until he saw her first match.

She’d upped a division.

Division Twos wore lighter padding, and everyone in it—Eyesore or not—had some kind of enhancement. Unless she’d done something really drastic in the last two weeks, she was freeballing against someone with a major advantage. And she beat him anyway.

His own match came quickly, against the big Korean called Pete. Rolle placed one bare foot against the cold mat and stepped into the ring. He slid his mouthpiece over his teeth, bit the plastic grooves that lined perfectly with his bottom molars. He’ll wait for me to do all the kicking, he thought, then come in strong later in the match.

When the center judge shouted “Go,” Pete cleared several feet between them and kicked Rolle in the ribs—a strike that would’ve fractured them were it not for the padding.

First point: Big Pete.

And Pete wasn’t just fast. He had more power and more finesse than Rolle, who particularly prided himself on the latter quality. He peered out into the crowd. The blonde was watching, arms crossed, face shadowed.

Time to ditch finesse.

At the next shout, Rolle didn’t even bother to block, walked directly into Pete’s kick, grabbed his leg, and tossed him on him ass. Pete had scored a second point, but now he’d start thinking.

They traded blows for two more points, with Rolle landing a two-point head kick and Pete scoring on a body punch. He knew Pete would come in close for the last point. Three-to-two. Pete just needed one punch to win.

Pete had speed and skill. Rolle had two years of medical training.

Rolle kicked. Pete blocked and moved in. An uppercut, Rolle thought. Here it comes. Pete’s right fist dropped slightly, taut for the quick point, exposing his arm just below the shoulder. Rolle punched hard into the bicep, right in the musculocutaneous nerve. A no-point punch, but one that hurt like hell. Pete backed up for a split second, just long enough to take Rolle’s two-point roundhouse to his head.

He won the next two matches without any problem, and considered himself well on his way out of his mom’s house.


He celebrated by drinking with Soosie. Any good sparring scene needed an obligatory, semi-crooked promoter, someone who’d let you get severely damaged if it meant a higher turnout next week. That was Soosie. But she bought him a top-shelf scotch. And introduced him to Grace.

“You two know each other?” she said.

“Yeah, she broke my nose once.”

He and Grace had won their respective divisions. She’d had a few drinks and was more communicative than before.

“There’s good sparrers in Division Three,” she said. “Better defense and better technique because they need it. But Two’s got more sparrers, and more money to go around if you win.”

“More bouts too,” Rolle said.

“Well, true, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You’d get bored sparring the same six Division Threes every week. So would the crowds.”

She had him there.

“The crowd is sparrers now,” Soosie said. “Look, if you’ve got some bright ideas about how to get more people to show up, tell me. I’m swinging and hitting nothing.”

Grace eyed Rolle cautiously, then launched in. “People want action—visceral excitement they can’t get on a video screen.”

He’d heard that line before. He knew what was coming.

“This has to appeal beyond just the regulars.” She meant Eyesores. Rolle could feel her thigh touching his under the table, compelling enough to make him shelve his standard rebuttal.

“So where’s your enormous cheering section tonight, Grace?” Soosie said. “Did they all leave without buying drinks?”

Grace smarted. “Hey, I’m still trying to get a following. But it’ll happen, especially in Level Two.”

“And then what?” Rolle asked. “Move up again if your crowd plateaus? Those Level One roughnecks—they’re healed before they’ve even felt your punch. How’s that interesting? Look, you’re obviously a good sparrer, and you decided to take a risk for bigger money—good career move and all—but long-term, that hurts the whole thing. It thins out the one division that anyone can relate to.”

“But,” said Soosie, “they’ve got to walk through the door first to see a match. Your idea doesn’t fill seats.”

He was losing. Looking dumb in front of Grace suddenly felt humiliating, but he wouldn’t quit.

“This stuff isn’t about people who can’t get hurt beating each other. When all this started ...” He paused to shoot a glance at Grace. “... It was about people who’d been given a raw deal proving that they were tough. It’s not about points. It’s about overcoming. About willpower.”

Soosie scoffed. “People don’t pay to watch willpower.”

Grace left, unconvinced, twenty minutes later.

“You like her,” Soosie said.


“Yeah, you do. And you hate that she’s right. We need more sparrers with her spirit. No sense in limiting them to spectators. You want to make money doing this someday, right? Well that’s how it’s going to happen. Remember, Rolle? Money. The green stuff.”

“Only for us. I don’t think that girl ever saw green money until a few weeks back.”

“How many times has someone held being an Eyesore against you? Tell me you’re not going to do the same thing to her.”


When he was twelve, Rolle tried to drink a Coca-Cola with his forehead. It happened while he was at a friend’s house watching TV, about a week after his mom put the ventilator into his room to clean the air. He thought he was bringing the can up to his mouth. He knew where his mouth was, and felt so certain of it that he spilled sticky cola down his face and front of his shirt. He could never quite explain it to anyone who wasn’t an Eyesore. Few Eyesores really understood how it worked. Some wire in the brain got crossed and up seemed down, left seemed right. At that moment, his forehead seemed indisputably to be his mouth.

A few more things like that happened. He got vertigo looking down a curb—from his perspective it seemed like a sheer mountainous cliff. After watching cartoons one afternoon, he tried to walk upside down, using his hands as feet. Then, he told mom. She took him to the doctor.

By then, Rolle already idolized doctors and aspired to be one someday. He felt special because the doctor talked to him in an actual office, a room with an oak desk and shelves filled with medical DVDs. He said flashing light caused it, and that sometimes things that didn’t look like they were flashing actually were—TVs, phones, ATM windows. Rolle had been exposed to something—like a virus—that would stay with him probably into adulthood, that had no cure. It could be managed, though. It wouldn’t hurt him as long as he didn’t look at flashing things too long.

Then his ever-honest mother explained things. How the ventilator worked. How the disability could be an advantage. How he could study with books instead of monitors, find other interests instead of video games.

Around the country, other parents put “ventilators” in their kids’ rooms, releasing the fine mist of psychophysiological disruption on their children. But only the crazy parents—the ones who quietly broke health laws to keep their kids free from medical treatments that they saw as needless, the ones who wanted kids who’d read books instead of play vids, the ones who thought that making their kids pariahs would stimulate them intellectually. The crazy parents.

The ones like his mom.

Rolle knew the excuses most parents gave, and he respected his mom for never making them. They said they didn’t think the results would be permanent. They said they wanted to give their kids an edge during the developmental years to keep them from becoming couch potatoes. They knew the kids would struggle. Brilliance came from struggle. Some day, the kids would appreciate the temporary disadvantage in the long run. But it hadn’t been temporary.

Still, Rolle knew there were others—parents who were actually pleased with the outcome. They’d helped slow down an accelerating world, preserved libraries and paper money. They forced society to accommodate for one more handicap. People hated them for that, no one more than their children.

Several years later, some of those kids whose parents wanted them to be future Da Vincis or Edisons took up karate, tae kwon do, or capoeira and started beating the living hell out of one another for fun, imitating the mixed martial arts fighters from televised bouts that their parents had rendered them incapable of watching. A scene was born.


“You always were a rebel, Rolle. Girls like that.”

“Sure. Twenty-five-year-old rebels who live with their mothers.”

Mom laughed. “So you didn’t ask her out because you’re staying here?”

“There are plenty of other reasons. She’s a little bit nuts.”

“Like attracts like.”

Talking to Mom about Grace made it painfully clear to Rolle that he had nothing better to do, that he’d read every book there twice already, that every friend he’d ever had was back at college or had left for another town where the sparring was allegedly better. But she’d hit on something.

“You’re wrong,” Rolle said. “I never sparred to be a rebel.”

“I wasn’t talking about sparring.”

“What? Med school?!?”

“I wanted a fighter, but I took something away from you to make it happen. I made you ...”

“Wait. Mom. You think I quit med school because I’m an Eyesore?”

She winced at the word.

“Mom, I quit because it was really stinking hard. It’s hard whether you take tests on paper or on a display screen. Those chumps even envied me—thought I got breaks that they didn’t get. Some of them dropped out too.”

“I always thought it was to spite me,” she said. After minutes of silence, she added “If preferring to clobber people for money over healing the sick is the worst thing you do to disappoint me, then you’ve let me off pretty light.”

Rolle shrugged. “Most sparrers I know would agree with you. But not me.”

“You forgive too easily.”

He thought of Soosie and Loudon. Of Grace. “A lot of sparrers I know would agree with that too. And they’d say that’s why I’m a pushover on the mats.”

He thought of every Eyesore sparer he’d encountered over the years. If he asked any of them “Why do we do this?” they’d say for thrills, for money, but always partly out of anger for what their parents had done to them. But it wasn’t spite. They were as wrong as his mother. Sparring was a gorgeous, violent distraction. They had chosen the easiest lumps—the ones that came fast and left real bruises—over facing the long-haul ones that could be truly devastating. The shitty parents. The failed jobs. The wrecked relationships. Compared to that, a kick to the face was nothing.

“You’re no pushover,” she said.

“You’re not forgiven,” he said.

She smiled.


The Bellringer did things right. Clean, but not sterile. Bright, but not overbearing. People without retinal dysfunctions might not even know it was an Eyesore bar which, Rolle noted, probably made the likes of Soosie and Grace happy. The mat was permanent—an enormous, yellow square on a hardwood floor surrounded by thick blue ropes—but they only sparred on weekends, drew the biggest crowds, and paid the most money.

He’d asked Grace if she was coming. She’d actually brought some friends this time, who sat and ate sprouts while they watched her stretch. Soosie was there with them too.

A promoter delivered the bad news. No other Division Three sparrers had signed up. Apparently, Miss Grace had started a trend. Several names Rolle recognized from previous bouts were on the Division Two board. Would he forfeit? Or did he want to up a level tonight instead?

Rolle thought of his scuffle with the enhanced kid outside Glass Joe’s, of Grace’s previous successes. He could handle the tougher division—hell, he’d beaten half them already. But he was about to contradict himself, to do something he’d criticized Grace for doing just a week earlier. It was one more punch to his pride than he could take.

He still said “Yes.”

Face the music now, he thought as he approached her. She was on the floor, mid-split, holding herself up by the tips of her fingers.

“Haven’t moved up to Division One yet?” he asked.

Grace smiled. “I thought I’d slum it out a while longer before I try that.”

“Looks like I’m slumming it too,” he said, “I upped tonight.”

She grinned wider, and he fell for her.

“Don’t make me break your nose again.” She winked.

He shrugged and smiled right back. “Half the people here have broken my nose, Grace. And they all lost to me next spar.”

“Sounds like a streak about to end,” she said.

“Only one way to find out.”

With that, Rolle moved to another corner and began to stretch. Even if Grace found his hypocrisy charming, he wasn’t comfortable with it. He didn’t want to spar Division Two.

Grace went up while he was still stretching. The other sparrer dwarfed her, a burly white kid with a red headband. He’d had some work done, too. At the word “Go,” she popped the guy in the chin for two. She put a fist in the air for the crowd, seemingly unaware that the redhead wanted her to make that kick, to get cocky. Rolle winced. Didn’t she realize he was pulling the same stunt she’d pulled on him the night they met?

Rolle stopped stretching and moved to the corner of the mats as the second round started, pushing past a few spectators clustered at the sides. Grace threw a combination this time, going for speed over power. Rolle felt the rush of air from each blow she delivered and heard the sharp crack of fabric from each of her kicks. But the big guy could block. Every kick she threw glanced off his forearms. He could swat her punches and still cover himself. They went for two minutes, up and down the mat, as she strained and he blocked. A ring of sweat formed on the back of her shirt. That’d look sexy as hell if she weren’t about to get killed, he thought.

The kick came—a brutal, precise axe kick to her clavicle, the kind of thing an enhanced sparrer would have padding for.

The corner judges moved in while the crowd cheered. Two of them raised her up to get her on her feet. Upper-division morons, Rolle thought. They heal up so fast they don’t get it. Grace trembled. Her gasps sounded like hiccups, growing in intensity and duration.

“Give her some air,” someone shouted.

“No,” he said. “She’s hyperventilating. Get a bag.”

Rolle faced her, his hand against the damp base of her neck. “Grace, I used to be in med school. Don’t turn your head. Try to look straight at me. We’re going to get you to a hospital.”

One of her friends brought a paper bag. He handed it to her, watched her fill it, in and out, in and out, growing slower.

Her cheeks regained color, dampened by more than perspiration. Tears without sobs. Tough gal. But she held his sleeve tightly, still shaking.

“I’m coming with you,” he said.


The hospital staff carted her away, after a barrage of forms and identification. Grace’s friends moved into a paneled-off waiting room where a television blared from their direction, a nice distraction for the unimpaired. Hospitals were Eyesore-friendly, probably because some law said they had to be. Down the hallway, Rolle found an old-fashioned corkboard wall mount filled with flyers. A blue sheet marked “Employment Opportunities” stared back at him. All the jobs he could do took more experience or more education than he had. Except for one.

Night-shift medical help. You can’t spar and work night shift, he thought.

The attending nurse turned out to be a guy he’d done pre-med with. A fellow dropout. He told Rolle they’d set Grace’s bone. He also complained about the number of sparring injuries they were seeing. Rolle thought of Grace’s new gambit.

“It’s just going to get worse,” he said. “Unenhanced sparrers are going against really big ones now.”

They wheeled Grace out, her arm and neck bound in black gel padding under a cloth sleeve.

“Want a hug?” he asked.

“I can still kick you,” she said.

“Let’s get your friends and get out of here.”

“Where to?”

He thought a moment. He’d said he would move out, win or lose. He’d done neither.

“Your place,” Rolle said. “I live with my mom.”


Grace blocked a front kick and responded with a right to the bicep, just like Rolle had showed her. Now score the point, he thought. She did. She and the other sparrer faced off again, Grace slightly askew with her left foot forward. Even fully recovered, she still favored the shoulder that hadn’t been broken. They’d need to work on that.

She’d been right, though. The tournaments had grown in recent weeks, more non-Eyesore sparrers and more match-ups between enhanced and non-enhanced sparrers. She knew he hated the David and Goliath stuff, joked that he just stopped by to watch her kill herself. Actually, it was just the opposite.

Rolle had turned down a few drinks that night from old sparrers who told him he was crazy, asking why he gave it up right as the sport began a resurgence. Each time, he politely shrugged his shoulders, knowing they wouldn’t understand. Only Grace, so sure of what she wanted herself, really understood. He’d ceased doing something that he no longer enjoyed, that he couldn’t change. When he watched the others spar, he didn’t wish to trade places with them.

Grace gave him a sweat-damp kiss on his cheek. “Nice of you to stop by,” she said.

“Just on my way to work,” he said. “Try not to visit my office later tonight, okay?”

“I promise not to get slaughtered until after you’ve clocked in so you can be the one to stitch me up.”

As he left the sparbar, Rolle tried not to worry for her. She knew what it would take to win and, for the first time in a long while, Rolle thought he did too. For him, it meant med school. Next year. Night shift pay going to applications money. It gave him hope. Hope that he’d be accepted to a good school in the fall. Hope that he’d get a job to pay off the loans when he finished. Hope that Grace would see fit to keep an Eyesore boyfriend around a few more months, maybe longer. It wouldn’t come easily, but he’d chosen the long-term battle over the quick ones. More delayed pain. He called it a victory by decision. END

Nathaniel Williams is an Associate Member of SFWA. His fiction has appeared in “Fantasy Magazine,” “Poor Mojo's Almanac(k),” Jay Lake and Eric T. Reynolds' “Footprints” anthology, and elsewhere. He was a panelist at Worldcon, San Antonio.


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