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




Subcasting the Pain

By Erin Lale

ONGREYA LANDED HER SHIP ON THE cheap side of the spaceport. She shut down the engines and all nonessential functions and pressed the button to pop the hatch, letting in fresh air. Or, reasonably fresh air, planetary air, contaminated with the usual mix of fuel residues that any large spaceport had at its docks. She unstrapped and climbed down the ladder, activated the computer, and put on her subcasting hat. There was a holocam in there, but it passed well enough for a piece of gaudy fashion, especially after she assumed human form. The holocam was mounted on gimbals that kept the picture relatively steady when she walked.

She tested the camera’s signal to the computer. All was well. Then Ongreya checked the Hobgoblin; the computer was transmitting the subcast to the holoweb. She was live.

Ongreya pushed the button on the computer that played her signature song, alerting her subscribers that her subcast was coming on. Most of them probably recorded it, as it came in at unpredicatable times, but a few of them might be watching right that moment.

“This is Ongreya the Psy Healer. I’m following the call of a troubled couple. Let’s see where we’ve landed.” She exited her starship and turned from side to side as if scenting the wind. “They’re arguing right now. Let’s drop in on them.”

Ongreya walked through the landing area, ignoring the jutting trusses of cargo ships and the clank of loaders. She flagged down a passing har-riksha and hopped into the canopied passenger seat. The driver flew at a tremendous pace, which was a very good thing because otherwise the cityscape would have been a little boring; it looked like most any other ordinary city, with midrise buildings and lots of moving billboards.

Ongreya directed him, “Turn here, now turn here, up there, now this way.”

The driver was annoyed, asking her several times for the address where she was going, but Ongreya did not know. She only followed the call.

Ongreya had him stop at an apartment building, and paid him off. She walked up the corridors, and she could hear shouting through the walls. “Hear that, folks? I think that’s our new patients.”

She knocked on the door and a male Hssthisian answered it. His species appeared lizard-like.

“I’m Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

The Hssthisian looked suspiciously for about four seconds. Then his eyes changed, responding to Ongreya’s Psy Healer power. He backed away from the door and let her in.

“What the narik are you doing?” the female Hssthisian shouted. “Don’t let that human in here! You, are you a cop?”

Ongreya turned her attention, and her power, on the female. “I’m Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

“Go the farking narik away you—” In the middle of her tirade, the female Hssthisian suddenly made an oh sound as if punched. She blinked and shook her scaly green head.

“Invite me to sit down and talk,” Ongreya directed.

“Of course. Sit down,” said the female Hssthisian. “Would you like some metchel bark tea?”

“Certainly, thank you.”

When they were settled, Ongreya asked, “What is the problem between you?”

“I’m not a real Hssthisian in my hearts,” said the male. “We were pledged as children, as our parents chose, but I’m in love with a Teluli.”

“You’re not in love, you oaf,” said the female. “You’re just another fan.” She turned to Ongreya and explained, “He thinks he’s in love with a dancer at the Humpkin Club. I bet she doesn’t even know his name.”

“Have you two ever talked about this?”

“Never,” said the male. His mate nodded affirmatively.

“That is why you need the Psy Healer. I help people face the truths they don’t want to face. That is the path to healing. Tell me all about it.”

For the next half hour, the Hssthisian lizard couple poured out all their dirt. This was the heart of the subcast, the part that Ongreya’s subscribers paid money to hear. All the salacious details of their lives went out to the listening ship, and up to the holoweb, and out to the subscribers.

When they seemed to be winding down, Ongreya said, “I can heal your hearts, and make you feel like a true Hssthisian again. All you need to do is let me in. Every being has natural mental shields. Some are stronger than others, but everyone has them. They are like a ship’s shields, except most people leave them up all the time. Imagine you’re on a ship’s bridge. You’re pressing the button to lower the shields, so the doctor can land and heal you. That’s all you have to do. Just lower your shields and let me in.”

The Hssthisian male blinked and shuddered, and Ongreya was in his mind. She did not remake him, no, that was not her calling. She merely removed the barriers that kept him from seeing the truth. The truth was, he did care about his mate. The stripper was more like an addiction than a potential lover.

When Ongreya was done, she backed out of his mind, and he shivered. “Now turn your shields back on. Press the button again and toggle them back on.”

“Oh, I’ve been such a fool!” the Hssthisian male wailed. He placed his forehead against his wife’s and said, “I love you, Werana. I love you! Will you forgive me?”

“Of course I will! I’m so happy! I love you too!”

“My work here is done,” said Ongreya. She left the apartment and walked back to the street. “This is Ongreya, signing off from another successful healing.” She shut off the holocam.

“That was a nice, easy one.” She was no longer narrating her subcast, but commenting had become second nature to her. Some of her healings took many sessions, over several days or even weeks. The difference was not necessarily in how complicated the problem was, although that did seem to affect how long it took to talk it all out. But some people were less susceptible to her power. She had to work at those sometimes.


Hareng fixed the helmet-cam to the side of the Halabala’s gleaming brass cheek-plate. He gave the warrior a slap on the back to send him on his way and then mounted the helmet-cam of his opponent, a Giant. The Giant snorted and rippled his muscles at the Halabala, and then settled down for Hareng. The two gladiators were friends outside the arena, but today they were psyched up for combat.

Helmet-cams rarely produced any useable shots, but even two or three in a finished subcast would break up the long shots from the fixed ceiling and wall cameras nicely. The cameraman who worked on the Slave Girls subcast used a lot of bot-controlled cameras, but then, the bots rarely got damaged when filming for the sex-heavy segment of the Sex and Violence Network’s customer base. Hareng worked the combat end. Besides the Gladiator show he was about to film, he had also worked on the recently cancelled Street Fight. The Network’s latest show was “Purple Tears Live,” which appealed to both sex fiends and the violence hounds, and Hareng was going to be filming for that show too.

Hareng took his place in the control room, tested the view from all the fixed cameras and the helmet-cams, and the one bot-operated camera, and gave three thumbs up to the director. From now until filming was done, his only job was to give advice to the camera bot, which moved the floating camera around the area, zooming in and out, panning from one fighter to another, moving with a fighter as he circled, and so forth.

After that Hareng would edit this Gladiator subcast together into a pleasing whole. That was one of the things he liked about working for a small subcasting studio instead of a big holodrama outfit; he was both the cinematographer and one of the two editors. Gladiator’s chief editor was a Gisel, a hermaphroditic alien who had no understanding of the sexuality of bisexed species, so they were no good with the Slave Girls subcast, or with most of the “Purple Tears Live“ segments. But they sure knew combat.

The Halabala in the red trunks and gold armor took his corner. He was carrying a slender javelin in one hand and a net in the other. The net was fixed to a handle and vaguely resembled a cat-o-nine-tails until it was in motion.

The Giant in the black and silver took the other corner, a tower of red muscle like a vision of Surtr from the end of the world. His broad-bladed sword looked superfluous.

The buzzer blatted and the gladiators moved to the center of the arena. They circled warily, testing each others’ defenses by poking with sword or javelin, or making abrupt movgladiatorsements. Hareng saw the bot was having the floating camera circle behind the Halabala’s right shoulder. It was a good, solid decision, and Hareng did not interfere.

Suddenly the Halabala made his move. He feinted high with the javelin, which caused the Giant to block upward with the sword. Then he tangled the Giant’s other hand with the net, dropped backward and kicked the Giant in the knee.

That just made the Giant mad. He ripped out of the net and swung a big clawed hand at the Halabala, but the agile creature was too fast for him. He had already bounced away like a coiled spring, recovering both his weapons and dodging to the left.

The Halabala jabbed the Giant in the side, and red-orange alien blood appeared pale against the dark red skin. The Giant roared. He grabbed for the javelin, closing his fist in a gesture meant to snap the weapon in two, but the javelin was no longer there.

Hareng overrode the bot’s attempt to get a good angle on the Halabala’s javelin as he lined up his next attack. Instead Hareng concentrated on a closeup of first blood. The fixed cameras would get plenty of vid of the fight’s “plot,” as Hareng thought of the action. The gore was what the subscribers kept coming back for. Major networks broadcast all kinds of fights. To stand out, subcasters had to provide something the big studios wouldn’t.

The Giant whirled his sword over his head with his right hand, a flashy move that looked good on holo but had no real effect on the fight. The Giant was showing off for his fans.

The Halabala sproinged at the Giant’s left flank, using the javelin as a vaulting pole. He landed two solid kicks to the Giant’s ribs and then spun away, swinging on the javelin. But this time the Giant’s big fingernails connected with the Halabala’s retreating shoulder, leaving three gashes in the Halabala’s dark pelt.

Hareng maneuvered the bot holocam and zoomed in close on the red lines. Then he let the bot take the camera back over as the Halabala moved closer and the focus blurred. The floating camera moved back and circled with the Halabala as he flashed past the Giant’s defenses to score another javelin hit.

The Giant thrust at the retreating Halabala and the sword went straight through the Halabala’s leg. The sword tip came out the other side of the leg. It ran with blood and gleamed from beneath the gore.

The Halabala howled and jabbed the Giant’s sword-arm with the javelin. The Giant retreated, pulling his sword free. The wounded Halabala was not so light on his feet now, and the expression in his camel-like face told the story that he was done playing to the cameras and was now about to get serious. Hareng carefully recorded that, too.

The Halabala swept out with his net, caught the Giant’s sword, twisted, pulled it away, and snapped the net behind him. The sword clattered to the floor.

Enraged, the Giant rushed forward, hands out like claws before him, roaring and showing his big grinding teeth.

The Halabala set the javelin with its butt on the floor and the Giant charged right onto it, like a cavalry mount brought down by pikemen.

The javelin penetrated the Giant’s chest where a human’s heart would be, but Giants kept their most vital organ a little lower. Frothy peach-colored blood blew from the wound, indicating a lung puncture.

The Giant tried to roar, but his breath sucked out his chest in a strange little whoosh.

The Halabala smiled, certain of his victory.

But the Giant had one more move left in him. He pulled himself up the javelin and it exited his back. He pulled the javelin out of his opponent’s grip, following up with his open right hand straight toward the Halabala’s neck, going for a crushing hold.

The Halabala ducked and danced back out of range, throwing the wounded Giant off balance.

The Giant fell in a heap. The Halabala had won!

Hareng saw the bot was moving the holocam in close to the Giant, so Hareng let the bot run. The fixed cameras would get good shots of the Halabala’s victory wave.

Hareng counted off ten timeparts and then turned to the director, “Full ten.”

“Shut down,” the director confirmed. “Med crew, go!”

The four-being medical team burst into the arena as Hareng turned off the cameras. After a trip to the med bot and a few weeks of recovery, the two gladiators would be ready to fight again.

“Marvelous upset,” the director commented. “The Halabala will have to advance. Maybe fight Kabar the Imbalo next.”

“And the Giant?”

“I loved that last move, sliding up the javelin, even if he did miss. He’s got a real fighting spirit. Think we could persuade him to fight the dragon?”

Hareng laughed. “They’re slaves. They fight who you tell them to fight.”

“That’s good enough for the Slave Girls; unwillingness is part of what the customers pay to see. But the Gladiators are a different breed. They need their hearts in the fight.”

Hareng made a thumb-twirling gesture which was his species’ equivalent of a shrug. “I’m going to go retrieve my helmet-cams from the med bay.”


Click. The peppy Psy Healer tune went out over the airwaves. It took over an hour for Ongreya to get from the spaceport to her destination, but that was alright. It gave the subscribers time to finish what they were doing if they wanted to watch the subcast live. Ongreya journeyed to a collection of buildings marked Observation Center on the sign out front. “We’re here to meet someone I thought could not exist: someone who has no mental shields. He’s in terrible psychic pain because he can’t block out the thoughts of others.”

Ongreya went into a building. She breezed past the uniformed woman behind the counter and tried to open the door, but it was locked.

“Do you have an appointment?” the woman asked.

“I am Ongreya the Psy Healer. Take me to the one whose mind calls out to me in pain.”

The woman made a sour expression. “That would be all of them, I think. So you’re the new doctor?”

“Yes,” Ongreya lied glibly.

“Dr. Demojon left these forms for you to fill out.” She handed over a thick packet of actual paper forms, not printout. The kind of thing that would end up in some legal archive. “You can do that later. I just need to get copies of your identity documents and license.”

“Oh, you didn’t receive the copy of my license I sent?”

“I’ll check.” She opened a drawer and leafed through it. “No, not yet.”

“Oh, I thought you had it. I left it in my apartment.”

“Oh. Sorry, but I can’t let you in until we have it on file. Liability issue, you know.”

“Of course. I’ll bring it this afternoon.”

Ongreya left the building and walked along the block. “I see this is going to be slightly more complicated than usual. I’m circling the block, and negating my human seeming. When I return, I will be an unrecognizable alien. But first I must go into this clothing shop and buy a disguise. New clothes, and something to cover all but the lens of my holocam hat.”

Ongreya explained her strategy on the way back to the building. “If I can’t get in, I’ll get him to come out. I know he wants to leave, even more than he wants help. He thinks he can’t escape. But there’s nothing more between him and freedom than a pane of glass. He’s just too scared to think.”

Ongreya went to the side of the building. There was a glass window, painted over so that some light could get in, but the patients could not see out. “Ah. Just as I thought. I can see the window in his mind. There are no shadows across it, from a grating or bars. And you can see, from here on the outside, it’s just a window.” Ongreya punched out the glass. It shattered and fell to the floor inside with a sound like a hundred clinking toasts with champagne in sparkling crystal.

“I am Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

The skinny human got up from his cot. His face was wet, and he was slightly bent over as if his stomach was churning so much he could not straighten up. He backed away from the window.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Ongreya. “Your nightmare is over. It’s time to leave.”

“I don’t believe in you. You don’t exist. You’re just another—” Then he blinked. Her Psy Healer power took hold of him. “Leave? I can leave?”

“Come on. Don’t be afraid of the glass. See?” Ongreya put a towel from the shop over the broken glass.

The young man eagerly climbed through the window, and accepted the poncho Ongreya handed him. He put it on over his patient’s gown, and the uniform of sickness disappeared from view.

He started to run, but Ongreya said, “Slow down! Don’t attract attention. Look like you’re supposed to be walking around out here.”

The youth fell into step with Ongreya. They crossed the broad lawn. She said, “Tell me of your pain.”

“I hear things,” he said. “I came here for help. But they don’t help people here. Nobody’s ever asked me how I feel until now.”

“What do you hear?” Ongreya asked.

“Voices. People talking. Not to me, mostly. Sometimes to me. I can hear the lady at customer service thinking how annoying I am while she’s smiling at me. Here, I could hear the intake clerk putting me in a category. But I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know!” He started crying again.

“Can you hear my thoughts right now?” Ongreya asked.

“Yes. You’re trying to tell me it’ll be alright because you can help me, and because I’m out of there now. But you’re wrong, I’m not safe. They’ll come for me. I can’t ever go home. My parents will send me back!”

“You don’t have to stay on this planet. There are lots of other planets out there. I’ve been on so many I don’t even bother to learn all their names anymore. In fact, I’m not sure which planet I’m on.”

“Arriba. This is Arriba.”

They stepped off the lawn and onto the broad pedestrian way below the aircar traffic, and started walking toward an air taxi stand.

“Hmm, odd, I thought the Arribans were more civilized than to lock people up just for being different. Well, as I said, if you don’t want to stay here, there are plenty of other places to go. But perhaps I could heal your relationship with your family as well.”


“Really. And you aren’t crazy. The voices you hear are real peoples’ real thoughts. You heard mine more clearly than my own species can. You are a telepath.”

“I’m not crazy?”

“No. All you need is mental shields. And I can tell you how to do that.”


The Acquisition Team cruised the Pepperwall nightclub. Laser glitter sprinkled from the ceiling of the entranceway, and multicolored lights came from all directions. The band played from cubes on the far wall, opposite the bar. The thump of the drums was as loud as a starship taking off.

In the center was the zero-gee dance area. It had been there for decades, through so many changes of name and ownership that the locals didn’t bother learning what name was on the sign out front, but just called it the grav bar. Many people, humans and aliens, singles, couples, and groups, whirled through the air to the beat of the music.

There were many young lovelies here for the Acquisition Team to choose from. As always, they concentrated on those who were here by themselves, looking lonely, even desperate.

“Check out that one. No, the blonde in the red number with the lights on the hem. Nobody wears something like that in antigravity unless she’s an exhibitionist.”

“Good choice. Young, pretty. Human or close enough. Dancing by herself. Got her purse strapped to her belt.”

“Yup. That means she’s got nobody to watch it for her at a table.”

“OK. Slime me.” He held out his gloved hands and his companion handed him a tube. He squeezed some of the paste from the tube into his left hand, capped the tube and put it away in a seal-case, and pocketed it. He worked his left hand to make the paste less noticeable. Then he walked to the floor beneath the dancers, stepped into the antigrav and soared up toward his target.

He got close to her, jostled and touched her bare arm with the left hand, as if unused to zero-g. “Sorry.” Then he moved away and waited. It only took a few seconds before she simply dozed off.

He collected her snoring form and pulled her off the dance floor. His companion met him where the gravity started and they moved her out of the bar as if she were merely drunk. No one challenged them. The bouncer at the door was there to keep riffraff out, not drunken women in. They got to their groundcar and the one in the gloves peeled them off, deposited them in a seal-case and pocketed that, too.

Then they took her to the studio, where Hareng was already preparing the cameras for a subcast of “Purple Tears Live.”


Ongreya flew her rocket through the endless skies of Kor. Wind flapped in her clothes, but even a gale could not stir her blonde hair, because it was not real. It was only the projection of her human seeming.

She landed on a small platform next to other bikes and hars. “We’re here to heal three people caught in a love triangle. Let’s drop in on them.”

Ongreya entered a bar called the Serpentine, favored by former hard rock miners who had migrated to the gasworks to follow the money. She went over to a table where a grubby male and female human sat nursing their drinks in sullen silence.

“I’m Ongreya the Psy Healer. I felt your pain call out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

The female said, “We don’t need your mumbo jumbo, witch. Get lost.”

But the male said, “Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you that actress who was in Eternity? Yeah, I know you! Sit down!”

The female said, “You idiot, Wembal. What would a holofeature actress be doing in the Serpentine? She’s some kind of con artist out to—”

Then Ongreya exerted her power, and the female sat blinking. “Of course, sit down. You can help us?”

Ongreya sat down. “Yes. Tell me of your pain.”

“I’m not sure who the father of my baby is. It might be Wembal, but it might be Trorian. And Trorian owes me my furniture back.”

Ongreya let them spill out all their troubles for the holocam. This was going to take several days, at least. She had to get the couple to a medical center for a paternity test, before they could be fully healed. Her viewers were going to eat this up.


The Hssthisian females locked their hands around each others’ necks. Their grips were slippery in the slimy cascade of purple from their eyes, flowing across their green cheeks and down their scaly lizard necks. One of them kicked the other in the stomach. The human male tried to pull them apart, but they ignored him, yammering at each other in their alien language.

Hareng directed one of the three bot-cams being used in this segment of “Purple Tears Live” to get in close to the females and focus on their jiggling anatomy. The floating camera got too close and one of the females let loose with one hand and smashed it against the bedframe. Scratch one bot-operated holocam.

This was not going as anticipated. The two Hssthisians had already been in a scene together in Slave Girls and had worked well with each other. But it was precisely the unpredictable nature of the primitive emotions of rut that were awakened by the Purple Tears drug that gave these live subcasts such great crossover appeal between the Sex and Violence Network’s two primary audiences.

One of the females bit the other on the arm, and alien Hssthisian blood joined the dark purple droplets on the white sheets. The other female let go her throat-hold only to head-butt her opponent.

The male abruptly lost his patience with the girl fight, picked up the downed holocam, and smashed one of the females in the head with it. She dropped like a stone.

The human male pulled up a corner of the sheet and wiped the purple chemical off his face, then settled down on the remaining female.

Hareng did not anticipate the Director would choose to try a threesome again. Hareng directed one of his remaining bot-cams to get a good angle on the couple, finally doing what they were supposed to do, while the other bot-operated holocam did a slow pass of the unmoving form of the losing female. Her skull was caved in. No trip to the medic was going to fix this. The Producer was not going to be pleased. Slaves were almost as expensive as bot-cams. Dead slaves had no resale value.


Ongreya found the couple in the park. Behind them roared a waterfall, sending up cool mist, white noise, and rainbows into the pink air. Trees bloomed yellow above the clipped red grass, and children of a hundred species laughed and played with aerial disks.

Ongreya walked up to them as they strolled along the trail. “I’m Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

“We don’t need any help, lady,” said the male.

But the female said, “Hey, I watch your show! This is great! Oh, wait, no! No! You bring out the dirt! It’s fun to watch but I don’t want be in the show!”

“I help people face the uncomfortable truths that would destroy their lives with secrecy and poisonous distrust.”

“No! Not that!”

Then the male said, “Hey, wait, Juluka, if you’ve got a secret like that I deserve to know what it is. We’re getting married!”

Ongreya exerted her power on the female, but left the male’s mind alone; he was going to co-operate without any prompting.

The female said, “But I don’t— Well, of course I want to share everything with you, Rey. And of course I want Ongreya to help us. I’m a big fan.”

Ongreya asked, “What is the truth you have been afraid of telling?”

“I had a sex change. I used to be a man.”

“What?” cried her fiancée. “You told me you wanted children!”

“We can have children!”

“I don’t want my DNA combined in a donor ova shell. I want real children. That’s it! It’s over!” The male started to walk away.

“We can have real children! This isn’t sculpture! I have ovaries and a functional womb! I had retrogenetic conversion, so I’m even genetically female now! Come back!”

Ongreya exerted her power on him. “We have not yet healed this relationship.”

The male came back. Ongreya got them seated on a park bench, and the show went on.


The Producer said, “It’s getting expensive to keep sending the Acquisition Team to different planets.”

The Director replied, “It’s not safe to hunt in the same place twice, since Purple Tears doesn’t block the victims’ memories.”

“I’ve got an idea. We pull male victims from the local population, don’t we?”

“Sure. They can’t go to the police. The way the laws are written, they’d go down for the rape. The private sector is great for having laws that haven’t kept up with the times, and for being pretty easy on businesses. That’s why we sited our studio here in the first place.”

The Producer nodded and said, “Saves us from the Imperials, for certain. The audience really loves the concept of taking victims at random, but let’s just do the male victims that way. We can use slaves for the women.”

“I think we can handle that. For Purple Tears Live we don’t want recognizable faces, but we could step up the buy and sell rate.”

“Cheaper than all those trips offworld, you think?”

“Probably. Let’s try it out and see how the numbers go.”


A human female opened the door and peered out suspiciously. “You’re not the delivery man.”

“I’m Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

“Another damn social worker. I’m not leaving, you hear me? I happen to like it in here. And you can’t force me. I make enough money on the Hobgoblin to pay my rent and buy the stuff I want, and it’s nobody’s business if I never go out.”

Ongreya extended her power. “You are a wounded soul in need of healing. When did you become so afraid?”

The woman stepped back a pace, the wrinkles of suspicion erased from around her eyes. “The war. The one before the last one.”

“You want to invite me in and let me help you.”

“Yes, of course. Do come in.”

Ongreya entered the recluse’s apartment. This was going to be a long one. This woman had a genuine mental problem. Nice and juicy.


“Who’s that?” asked the head of the Acquisition Team.

“I don’t know, but he does look familiar, doesn’t he? Some kind of minor celebrity.”

“Think he’ll do?”

“I don’t know. His face is kind of lopsided.”

“Botched reconstructive surgery. Probably done under wartime conditions. Hey Liria, what do you think, is he still handsome?”

“Sure,” the third member of the team, a human female, replied. “Forget the face, anyway. It’s going to be mostly covered in chemical goo. He’s got an athlete’s body. Not really great muscles, more of a gymnast than a bodybuilder, but good and fit anyway.”

“Pick him up. The marketing team can figure out who he is later.”

“You’re on, Liria.”

“I’ve gloved up, give me the contact lotion.” One of the few good things about formal evening wear was that women could wear gloves up to their armpits and no one batted an eye.

Liria got the drug onto her gloves and pursued the blond man. He spotted her almost as soon as she started trailing him, and Liria thought she might have to break off and go back, and wait for a chance at someone else, but then she saw him turn back around with a little shrug of one shoulder, as if writing her off as an expected part of this party.

They were at a reception for the announcement of some company’s latest cool gadget, and most of the guests were industry people, but there were also a few celebs mixed in to liven up the event and draw media attention. Liria figured the more experienced members of the team must be right, and he must be someone famous, because he was acting like he took being stalked by women at parties as a normal part of his day.

Liria decided to go with that angle, and instead of trying the old stumble routine, she walked directly up to him and tried to sound ditzy as she gushed, “Oh my heavens I can’t believe it, can I give you a big hug? Please?”

The blond man crinkled his eyes kindly at her, said “Sure,” and let her hug him. Then he looked over her shoulder, saying, “Excuse me please,” and went on. The man took two steps before his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped over.

Liria was ready. The man was neither very tall nor very heavy, and she had practiced variations on this move a hundred times. She stepped forward, half-turned him, and got a shoulder under his arm, and set her legs, so when he passed out completely in his next heartbeat, it almost looked like they were doing a slow dance together. She hustled him into a side corridor, and then the three of them got him out the back exit and into the waiting air car.


Ongreya was on her ship, plugged into virtual library when she got an exceptionally strong call. She started toward it, only to have the signal change direction mid-flight. He was on the move. She followed him to another planet, only to have him slip through her fingers again. Determined, Ongreya fueled up her ship and pursued her next patient.


The human male’s face was wild, a painted savage, wide-eyed and weeping. The purple flowing from his eyes obscured his facial deformity. He jumped on the human female.

“Oof! Is that a dej in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” The woman glanced at the camera only once.


Hareng walked through the vandalized studio and shook his head. “All the botcams, cut up like so much cake. It’d take an hour to slice through all that with a beam cutter. This is the work of a madman, boss.”

“No,” said the Producer, his face ashen. “It wasn’t a beam cutter. The guards weren’t killed with shop tools. One of the slave girls came back. She said she’d been freed by a Kirifo. That means military grade weapons.”

“Came back, huh? What, wanting her job back?”

“Why not? What else does she know how to do?”

Hareng made the thumb-circling gesture that served his species for a shrug. “So what now?”

“Now we clean up, and go on. Or, you clean up. I decide how to go on.”

“Right.” Hareng toed some of the wreckage. “How’d the Kirifo get into this, anyway? We’re pretty far from the Galactic Empire, and we’ve never hunted there.”

“What, didn’t you look at that last subcast while you were filming it?”

Hareng made the thumb-circling gesture again.

“Well, I guess the Acquisition Team didn’t recognize him either, or they would’ve had to be crazy to bring him in. I knew we were in trouble when the holocams went live and I saw who we had, but it was too late by then. On the plus side, marketing’s going to have a field day with this. Don’t worry about the equipment, Hareng. We’ll make it all back and then some.”

“Who was he, then, to merit the vengeance of the Imperial Guard?”


“What, the martial arts master? What would he have been doing at a product unveiling event?”

“Who knows. But don’t worry about the studio’s profits.”


When the ship was new, native planetary primitives had once called it the Pillar of Hell. It landed with a great fume and a blast of retrorockets.

Ongreya assumed human form. She checked her ship and gear, strapped on her hat-cam, and activated the subcast. She exited her ship to find herself in a paved landing zone in a plaza in a small park in front a tall building of translucent stone, topped by spires that turned icy clear at their narrow points. A few curious locals in white clothes gathered around. Some of them were human, some of various other species. None were her target.

Ignoring the assembly, Ongreya spoke to her listeners while panning up the imposing building. “We’re here to heal a crime victim. He was far from here when I first heard the call, last week. It was incredibly strong. Then he came here, and since then he’s suddenly grown powerful shields. So his voice has gone quiet in my mind. That implies he is starting to recover already, but I still have hold of the safety line his soul threw to me, and his agony is undiminished. Now it has merely become a silent anguish. Let’s drop in on him, shall we?”

Ongreya started for the building, only to be stopped by one of the locals. It was a Fii wearing a skinsuit, and over it, a sleeveless white robe from which her flipper protruded. A Fii in clothes; it was an odd sight. “What brings you here?”

“Pain brings me here,” Ongreya replied. “I am a Psy Healer. I go to the one who has called for me.”

“Oh.” The Fii floated aside. “I didn’t realize he’d called for help. I’m relieved. I’ll take you to him.”

“Thank you, dear, but it’s not necessary. I can feel where he is.”


Ongreya stepped into a grand hall. “That was interesting, wasn’t it, viewers? She didn’t question how I could feel where someone is. But she seemed to know how a Psy Healer is called.” Ongreya confidently climbed the stairs and arrived at a small chamber. She knocked, and a robed figure with a black hood pulled low over his face answered his door.

“I am Ongreya the Psy Healer. Your pain called out to me across the stars. I can help you.”

He was silent a moment. Then, in a voice of surprisingly youthful pitch, he said, “I didn’t think I was broadcasting. No one here mentioned any thought leakage. Then again, everyone has been pretty much leaving me alone, as I asked.”

“But you are still in turmoil. Invite me in.” Ongreya exerted her power.

The man’s hood moved a little, but that was all. “What was that?”

“You could feel that?”

“Of course I can feel it when someone tries to nanocast into my head.”

“Nanocast? No, it is the Psy Healer talent.”

“You know, the nanotech that broadcasts a short range wireless signal on the wavelength of brain waves.”

“Interesting. Trust me, then, if you can feel my power and do not fear it.”

“Huh. You weren’t expecting Kirifo? How did you get here and not know where you are?”


“Well. Alright, now I’m curious. Come on in.”

Ongreya entered the small, spare chamber. The furnishings were simple and comfortable, and many appeared to be military surplus. But unlike most military men’s quarters, there were no posters or souvenirs displayed to enliven things. It was like a monk’s cell. But perhaps there were keepsakes in the drawers of the various chests.

“Leave the door open,” the man instructed, sitting down on a metal chair that had a folded military blanket as a pillow, and gestured her to a similar chair.

“Tell me of your pain,” Ongreya invoked her power.

“Hey!” he whined. “Don’t try to witch my mind!”

“I wasn’t trying.”

He snorted, finding that amusing for some unfathomable reason. “OK. What do you know already?”

“I know something terrible happened. Your control over yourself was taken away from you.”

“Go on.”

“You feel horror. Self-loathing. Guilt. And you know that you should not. You are turning yourself inside out trying to transform your feelings.”

One of his hands briefly flicked up, in denial or self-protection. “But you don’t know any specifics?”

“No. Sometimes I can see through the eyes of my patients, but very rarely. Only with people who have little to no shielding. From you I only get emotions and vague impressions.” Ongreya did not try to use her power again, but she steered back on course. “Tell me your troubles. Pour it out, get it outside of you. And then I can heal you.”

“What are you hiding?”

“Many things,” Ongreya replied. “My true form, for one. The Psy Healer gift is linked to my polymorph abilities. I don’t absolutely have to be in my human seeming to use my talent, but it helps a lot.”

“And what else?” the cloaked man demanded. “I know you’re hiding something important.”

“Ah. I see this will be one of the longer and more difficult healings. So be it. Most Psy Healers charge money for their services. I have always felt that to be a betrayal of the gift, to only heal those who have the money to pay for it. Instead, my mission is subsidized by subscribers. Subscribers who keep an eye on what I do.”

“Keep an eye how?” It was not really a question, and the man’s voice had gone whispery without softening in the slightest: deeper, more confident, almost throaty.

“By watching the Psy Healer subcast.”

“Subcasting! That’s evil.” The man stirred in his chair as if about to leap out of it.

“Not at all. It’s simply a way to support my work. And a way to help a vast audience without ever even seeing them as patients. Many who subscribe to my subcast are people in need of hope. Watching people be healed, time after time, without fail, gives them the hope they need to go on living and face their own life’s problems.”

He settled back in his seat. “I can’t imagine how finding out what happened to me would give anybody any hope.”

Ongreya suppressed a smile. He was starting to open up to her. “There is more than hope necessary to healing. Relief of the burden of unearned guilt is very important for those like you, who have been victims of crime.”

“Unearned? No. I should have been able to stop it.”

“All crime victims feel that, from one degree to another.”

“You don’t understand!”

“Then tell me.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “I should have realized I was being set up, not just accosted by a fan. I should have realized she was trying to drug me.”

“Ah. And how long was it between when the criminals drugged you and when you lost control of yourself?”

“About two seconds, I think. Maybe three.”

“Listen to what you just said, and imagine what you would say to another crime victim in the same situation.”

“Nobody else is in the same situation! Sure, lots of people have been kidnapped that way, but none of them are me!”

“Hmm.” Ongreya made an encouraging noise. She had long ago learned not to nod while wearing the subcasting hat. “You are some sort of famous person, then, I take it? Just imagine how much it would help other victims to know their hero is facing the same struggle they are. And to see how you overcome the same problem.”

He stilled and leaned forward. Ongreya knew she had found the wedge. He was motivated by service, just as she herself was.

“Do you really think so?”

“I know so. Are you ready to show us your face?”

The man reached up and pulled back his hood. Purple stains on his slightly asymmetrical face spoke eloquently of all the details he had left unvoiced. He had light hair and rain-colored eyes.

He looked straight into the camera and softly said, “Of all the people in the galaxy, I ought to be able to defend myself.”

Ongreya exaggerated her shock for her audience. “Smoke?”

He glanced away in embarrassment. “In the flesh. The marked, tainted flesh. The stain is already starting to come off of my face, after a week, but when is it coming off of my soul?”

“Now,” Ongreya replied. “That begins now. That’s what I’m here for.”

“What do I do?”

“Tell me of your pain,” Ongreya repeated, not exerting any power this time. Now she could see why it had not worked on him. Of course she could not direct the mind of a Kirifo Master without his co-operation. The Kirifo were the most advanced martial artists in the galaxy, techno-monks who enhanced their mental and physical abilities with proprietary nanotechnology. “And when you have poured out your story, you will be ready to let me into your mind. Then I will heal you.”

“As simple as that?”

“This is not going to be simple. Or easy. Or quick, or even painless. But it is going to work.”

“I see. And what about ...” Smoke trailed off.

“What about who?” Ongreya prompted.

“Huh. I was sure I had my thoughts pulled in. But you’re reading me like I had no shields at all.”

“It is my talent. Who?”

Smoke looked away and gestured to his face. “This—implies another person. Her.”

“She has not called to me. Therefore she does not need me.”

“You’re sure?”

“I am absolutely certain. But other people do. People you’ve never met, and probably never will. You can be an example of hope and healing. All you need to do is let me help you.”


“Tell me your story.”

In fits and starts, the story came out. Ongreya asked to be admitted into his mind, and he dropped his shields. A few minutes passed while Ongreya narrated what she was doing in his mind for her audience.

Smoke suddenly bent and put a hand to his forehead. “Ow!”

Ongreya said softly, “That pain was you pushing me out. I realize this process can be a little scary.”

Smoke nodded.

“Let’s take a break, then. Would you like to see my ship?”

A ghost of a smile touched Smoke’s stained face. “That’s an appeal no pilot can resist.”

“Come then.” They walked out to the landing area.

The ship’s official name was something only the Zirua’a could pronounce, a souvenir of its days as an anthropological researcher’s ship. It was an old-fashioned, one-passenger, vertical design, slender and pointed as a needle, resembling an obsolete chemical-rocket missile. The cockpit was in the nose, and was reached by a ladder going up the ceiling of the sleeping compartment.

“I call it Old Pointy. It’s probably not the most elegant name for a healer’s ship, but the other names I’ve tried out just haven’t stuck.”

Ongreya had not had to do much to the holorecording and editing equipment to make it suitable for subcasting to the Hobgoblin. Nor had she had to upgrade the computer. Ongreya had installed one new piece of technology in her ship, though: the holographic navigation system.

Smoke climbed up the ladder and squeezed into the cockpit. Once in the seat, he was facing straight up toward the clouds like the earliest spaceflight pioneers. The pilot’s seat was so well padded it felt exactly like an acceleration couch, and Smoke wondered if Old Pointy actually took off like a rocket. He’d love to light the engines and take it for a ride.

Ongreya, clinging to the ladder behind him, indicated a tacked-on box to the right of the dashboard. “That’s the holo navcomp.”

Smoke turned it on and saw a photographic style representation of the galaxy, rather than the stylized map he had expected.

“To find the system I want, I reach in and grab it. Try it out.”

Smoke thought of Earth and reached in. Star systems magnified in size as he narrowed down the sector through which he moved his hand. He tried to grab the Earth system and missed. He tried again, this time reaching for Sirius, and missed again. “I can see this would take some practice.”

“Most humans find it confusing,” Ongreya said.

“So when you fly toward a call, you see a visual image of the world you’re looking for, but not the planet’s name or coordinates.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s how you managed to navigate to Gis without knowing you were putting down at the Kirifo Temple. And without smearing yourself across hyperspace.”

“Yes.” Ongreya sounded amused. Her natural form did not really smile, but it was there in her voice.

“You pick the system and the computer calculates the jump.” Smoke shut off the holo navcomp. “It’s really an amazing system. How does Old Pointy fly? Does it go bidirectional in atmosphere, like an old rocket ship?”

“It does. Would you like to try it?”

“I’d love to.”

“Let me tell you all about the controls, then.”

Smoke listened eagerly, picking up the concepts right away. Ongreya backed down the ladder and sealed the hatch, and cleared out of the way of the engine blast. Smoke flipped on the controls, ignited the engines with a roar and took off.

This was an entirely different flight experience than taking off in a gravity-controlled ship. It was like a fighter craft, but more so: more subject to the effects and feelings of takeoff, more primitively engaged in the visceral process, more exciting. Smoke laughed out loud when he cleared the atmosphere and the stars appeared, and he went abruptly weightless. Then he put the ship back down, flying backwards, tail to target and totally relying on instruments. Smoke let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding when he shut the engines down.

“Now that was a ride.”

He slid out of the cockpit and emerged to find most of his students and fellow teachers watching the landing area from a safe distance. Smoke trotted over to Ongreya grinning. “That was fun! Thanks, Ongreya. It’s a truly unique ship.”

“You’re welcome.” Ongreya’s voice sounded as if she wore a self-satisfied smile. Smoke was beginning to know and trust her; he was happy, for the moment; and he was re-engaging in one of his favorite activities, flying. There was more to psy-healing than the kinds of revelations her subscribers wanted to hear. This was important too. Ongreya was very pleased with her progress for today.

“Would you show me what you really look like?” Smoke asked.

“If you like.” Ongreya reverted to her natural appearance, which was bipedal like a human but otherwise vaguely froglike. “When I chose my Changed form, in childhood, I copied a holodrama actress from my favorite show.”

“And your telepathy evolved? It wasn’t engineered, like humans’ nanocasting?”

“It did. And now it will benefit you. And the whole galaxy.”

“Or at least the portion of the whole galaxy who pays their subscription renewals,” Smoke said with a dry little smile.

“Precisely.” END

Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She was the editor and publisher of “Berserkrgangr Magazine” and former owner of The Science Fiction Store.


star run


six questions