Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Watchman, What of the Night?
by Eric Del Carlo

Enemy From Nowhere
by Jeffery Scott Sims

Dance by the Light of the Moon
by Milo James Fowler

Continue Program?
by Seth Chambers

Perfect Blue, Scorched Black
by Rachael Acks

Catastrophic Failure
by David Steffen

Twice Upon a Midnight Dreary
by Richard Zwicker

Screwed by Frankie Frog
by Tim McDaniel

Infinite (∞) LDK
by Ryu Ando

by Sara Backer


Time in a Bottle
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Death Star
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Continue Program?

By Seth Chambers

CERTAIN PARTS OF LIFE HAVE DIED without ceremony. Like writing letters with pen and paper. People used to do this. They used to stuff the letter into an envelope, put postage on the envelope and drop it in a mailbox. Nobody does this any more. The mail still exists, but with so many modes of instantaneous communication, it seems pointless.

Nobody writes letters any more.

Or paints pictures.

Or dates.

In theory, there’s nothing stopping people from doing any of those things. It’s just that now there are more efficient ways of going about it all. Why write a letter when I can buzz whatever I have to say instantaneously?

Why splash paint on canvas when I can create Interactive Art, a medium without limits?

And why suffer the rejection, uncertainty and frustration of dating when I can simply call up Central and have all the physical stimulation and emotional satisfaction I want?

Friday, on my way to the studio, I see a woman on the transporter platform and briefly think about asking her out. She’s a redhead. I like the curve of her nose. But I don’t talk to her. A few minutes later I overhear another woman giggle about a comment her friend makes. I like the sound of her voice but I don’t try to strike up a conversation. I watch another woman hurry off to make her connection, her tight little ass twitching just the way I like.

At the studio, I lose myself in my art. I create worlds that stretch on forever. At first, it looks like an old-fashioned piece of canvas, but peer at it and your eye is drawn down streets and across landscapes. Whatever you look at comes alive. These creations have made me a wealthy man, but the real reward is seeing a patron stand mesmerized in front of my creations for hours on end.

I spent the day in my studio, creating art. In the late afternoon I caught a transporter home to my efficiency, popped a food capsule, and slipped into the pod.

“Contact Central,” I said, and sweet buzz-buzz crawled through my brain. I instruct Central to run a new program and moments later it all comes together: I’m with the redhead, the woman I spotted that morning, looking in her eyes, kissing her. She pulls back and her giggle is like that of the other girl and when I cup her ass, it’s small and tight.

Her name is Chloe. I don’t know how I know her name. It’s just dream-knowledge. But that’s all just surface. Beneath it is the feeling that she knows my most intimate secrets and accepts me as I am.

“Listen to this,” she says, and the most amazing music fills my world.

My heads-up display asks if I want the album and, with a couple precise blinks, I make the purchase. Chloe suggests we go out for Indi-Grecian and that sounds like a wonderful idea. I’ve come to appreciate these fusion places. We step out of my condo and are instantly on the street, in front of the restaurant. We jump over the mundane stuff because this is my dream, enhanced and strengthened by Central.

Conversation comes easily and is imbued with flirtatious banter. On some level I know this is all simulation. I know that incredible sexual release is guaranteed—at a nominal charge to my account—but this tidbit of knowledge is hidden from my conscious mind. A hunter thrives on challenge, after all, not on sure things.

We eat. The food capsule I swallowed earlier expands in my stomach as I dig in. The scene flickers once, twice, and the whole scene disappears and I’m back in the pod. The heads-up display asks: Continue Program?

I hate these interruptions, irritating reminders that my evening is nothing more than an enhanced dream. I snarl and tell Central to keep the program running and give me only the minimum required prompts.

Then I’m back with Chloe, only now we’re walking hand-in-hand down a sidewalk in what looks to be Rome. We talk. I tell her that I want to introduce her to my parents. She laughs and kisses me. She kisses this crazy thought away and we keep on walking, walking back to my place, which is now some sort of bungalow instead of my efficiency.

I am dimly aware that this is a controlled dream.

We go inside my bungalow, finishing each others’ sentences and laughing. It’s like we’ve known each other forever and yet the joy of discovery is endless. Our relationship is infinitely paradoxical.

We make love. It’s the weekend so we talk and make love all night. I feel a tickling inside my head. My endocrine system is being squeezed like a sponge.

Only once are we interrupted.

Flicker. Flicker.

Continue Program?

I’m in the pod, inside my efficiency, lines of drool hanging from my mouth. I wipe my face and tell Central to continue the damn program. A moment later I’m back in the bungalow with my beautiful lady.

Eventually we sleep.

I awake alone in the pod. The heads-up display is blinking. Continue Program? I ache for Chloe but tell Central to save the program for later.

I step out to the kitchen, make coffee and toast. My easel is all set up but I can’t seem to get started. The easel takes up a crazy amount of space in my efficiency. I can afford a bigger place but there’s something about an efficiency that appeals to me.

I stare at the canvas for a long time. It has been years since I actually painted. I want to paint but my hand, holding the brush, stops short of the canvas.

Eventually, I give up and sip my coffee.

After two cups I return to the pod and tell Central to resume the program, only no bungalow this time. I want Chloe right here in my cramped little efficiency.

Seconds later she steps out of my bathroom wrapped in a fluffy towel, hair wet from the shower. I’m on the couch. I know she’s an amalgam of my daydreams generated in conjunction with the massive computing power of Central’s cloudware program. I know this. But damn do I love her.

Sometimes I lose myself in the fantasy but never for long. I thought that, by having Chloe appear here in my efficiency, the illusion would fool me just a little more. But I still know what she is.

My pod is there. I look inside it, expecting to see myself, but it’s empty. I wonder what would happen if I got in this dream-pod and asked Central to run another program. Would I have a dream-within-a-dream?

Chloe interrupts my musings.

She flashes a coy smile and heads toward me. I want to take her out. Really take her out, not to Rome or Venice or Moscow, but to my own neighborhood. I want to introduce her to my friends—my flesh and blood friends—and to my parents.

I start to tell her this. She crawls on top of me, shedding the fluffy towel and leaning her wet face in for a kiss. I stop her. She pouts and I feel something tickle the inside of my head. Emotions well up. My heart thunders and my cock stiffens and I’ve never wanted anyone like I want Chloe right this instant.

For a time I forget that this is all hallucination. I lose myself to it. She is more real than anybody I know. She reaches inside my underwear, grabs me, strokes me. I’ve never loved anybody the way I love her. She touches my cheek and giggles and I’m on the verge of exploding. My cock throbs so hard it’s painful.

But I remember that this is a dream, a simulation, a hallucination, a fantasy, a flat-out lie. I scream for the program to stop. I throw Chloe off me and she disappears even as she topples from the couch.

Continue Program?

The message blazes in my sight and I tell Central to go fuck itself. The prompt disappears. I have no emotion left, it’s been expended. I masturbate to orgasm. It provides release but little satisfaction. I fall into a deep sleep.


Saturday we met up at a Thai/Japanese fusion place called Yokata. I told her I wanted to introduce her to my friends. Soon, very soon, my friends just “happened” to come by. Not my real friends, just some virtual friends. Who the hell has real friends any more?

At one point I stopped talking and let the conversation flow around me like a rushing river swirls and eddies around a rock. I could feel electric fingers poking around my brain, trying to stimulate me into a better mood. It wasn’t working. The scene flickered and disappeared, leaving me alone in my pod. A glitch. Annoying but tolerable. I thought about getting out of the pod and leaving the efficiency. Go out to the real streets and interact with real people. The notion didn’t last but a few seconds.

“Resume program,” I muttered. “But nix the friends. Just me and Chloe.”

Yokata flashed back into existence. Chloe waved goodbye as my friends sauntered off. The evening was still young and we could do anything at all. Whitewater rafting, skydiving, volcano-jumping. I could have three hot women doing kinky things to me right there in Yokata.

But I had been down those roads before and none of it filled the hole I often felt but rarely acknowledged. Chloe held my hand and waited for me to make up my mind. Chloe my dream-girl.

I said, “I want—”

Chloe waited.

“Yes? What do you want? I’m all ears.”

“I want for you—”

The program flickered, flickered. It knew what I was about to say. The wait staff and other diners froze in place. The heads-up display warned: INADVISABLE. I didn’t care. I said, “Chloe, I want to introduce you to my folks.”

She tried to deflect: “Okay, but first ...”

“No. Right here, right now.”

“But aren’t they in Arizona?”


The heads-up warned me again but I shooed it off with an override. Problems— glitches—always arise in the program when you tried to bring in people you knew from life. Subconscious expectations and all that. I didn’t care. I was burned out on extreme sports and orgies. I simply wanted to introduce the woman I loved to my parents. Even if the woman I loved happened to be imaginary and it would only be facsimiles of my parents.

I insisted. I felt Central interacting with my memories. Chloe smiled vacantly from across the table. I’m sure my account was being siphoned. I didn’t care.

They spotted us from across the restaurant.

“There you are!” my mother called, making a beeline for our table. My old man grunted and followed after her. I stood and hugged my mother and shook dad’s hand. They seemed fuzzy and vague. I could not tell how old they were. I introduced them to Chloe and we all sat and looked at menus and chitchatted.

Chloe said, “Your son is quite the artist. But I’m sure you already know that.”

My dad made a grunting sound, flagged down the waiter and ordered bourbon. They didn’t have bourbon. He said to bring anything with alcohol. Mom studied the menu. Chloe opened a portfolio that hadn’t been there a minute before. She pulled out one of my interactive images and presented it to my folks.

The title of the piece was Night Horse. When you looked at it, the shadow of a magnificent Arabian cantered through the narrow streets of a quaint Italian village.

“Nice,” said my dad, his lip curling in revulsion. “I’m proud—”

The program flickered and suddenly I was alone in my pod. A minute passed and I was back at the restaurant. My mother and Chloe were chattering away. The portfolio was nowhere in sight.

“Interactive images, huh?” said my dad. “So that’s what you do.”

We already had our food, even though I didn’t remember ordering. My father was downing saké like it was water.

“I suppose the whole world should just bow down and kiss your ass now that you’re some high-and-mighty big shot artist, is that it?”

Everything went blurry for a few moments.

“But you know what?” my dad went on. “All that art? It’s all shit. Just like this fancy-assed garbage we’re supposed to eat here.”

Flicker. Flicker.

“I’m proud of you, son.”


“So ashamed of you.”


“You done good, son.”


“Been ashamed of you from the day you were born.”

He seemed huge. Even as I stood, he loomed over me. Chloe said, “You’re wrong, Mr. Davis. You’re wrong about your son.”

Her voice came from miles away. I reached out, took her hand, pulled her away from the table.

“Yeah. Run off, you little shit,” said my dad. My mother was a ghost next to him. I could see right through her as she cheerfully waved goodbye.

“It was good seeing you again, son,” said my dad. “You disgust me.”

I pulled Chloe out of the restaurant and down the street. We ran smack into my old man at the first corner.

“Think you’re smarter than me, don’t you?”

“Leave him alone!” Chloe said.

“Yeah, that’s right, let your little whore fight your battles for you.”

My fist connected with his face even before I was aware of taking the swing. I hauled Chloe along, down the sidewalk, past shops and bars and cafes. He was waiting for me at the next corner.

“Tell you what,” he said. “You’re so damn smart? Reading all those books about rockets ’n’ shit? Tell you what. I’ll smother your little faggot ass. Put my hand over your face, smother you till your brain dies, then you tell me how smart you are. Tell me how much better you are than me.”

There was no getting away from him. No more glitches in the program, no more flickers. He was there in front of me and if I ran he’d be at the next corner and the next and the next.

Beside me, Chloe said: “Kill the bastard.”

I looked at her and looked at my dad. I could have hit him again, or choked him. But that would make me just like him. Instead, I simply looked at him while he threatened and swore and told me what a horrible, pretentious little art faggot I was. After a minute or so he was more like a cartoon than a human being.

Then he was a ghost.

Then he was nothing at all.

I walked down the sidewalk, hand in hand with the woman I loved.


I awoke thinking about pen and paper and paint and canvas. Those wonderful old things that have died from the world without ceremony. Nobody wrote letters or painted any more. And yet, the world would be a poorer place without the written correspondence between Freud and Jung. It would be a less interesting place without the paintings of Monet and Picasso and Renoir.

I set up my easel and prepared the paint. Dipped a brush in the ochre. With Interactive Art, there are virtually no borders. I was used to a medium without limit.

But was Shakespeare limited because he wrote for the stage?

I touched brush to canvas for the first time in years. It was awkward and exciting. It took some time but I began to lose myself in the process. A certain freedom can be found in limitation.

Somebody knocked on my door.

Nobody ever knocks on my door. Who would? That’s a thing of the past, like writing letters and painting pictures. And yet, somebody was knocking.

It was Sunday morning.

Who could it be? My parents? Hardly. Friends? No. Friends don’t visit each other. Not any more. I go to the door, still in my underwear, and call out: who is it? For an answer, the person knocked again, three solid raps. I stared at my door like I’ve never seen the damn thing before. Eventually, I opened it.

She’s there. Chloe. Tears running down her face. She sniffles and looks at her feet.

“You’re real,” she said. “I wasn’t sure. I thought you were, well, you know. An hallucination.”

“No. You’re the hallucination. You’re not real. I made you up.”

She shoved past me. I started to stop her but she dashed off for the bathroom and slammed the door. The sound of violent retching followed.

“I’ll be out of your place in a minute,” she shouted between bouts of puking.

I asked if she was okay.

“What do you care? I’m just a fucking image generated at Central. I don’t exist and what we shared—”

She stopped to puke, flushed the john, and went on: “—what we shared was nothing.”

I had never known an hallucination to puke. I asked if she was sick.

“Sick? No. Just upset. But I’ll be out of your life for good. Just give me a second.”

“Why upset?”

“Really? Really?”

She flushed again. I heard the water run and the sound of gargling.

“Hope you don’t mind, I used the last of your mouthwash.”

“Help yourself.”

She stepped out.

“Why am I upset?” she said. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with giving myself completely to somebody I just met, only to be tossed out like garbage come morning.”

“I thought you were just a program.”

“And yet, here I am. In the flesh.”

I told her to turn around. She glared but did as I asked.

“Your butt is different.”


“No. I mean, what I saw last night wasn’t you. You weren’t here.”

“But I was. Not physically, but we connected through Central. Through the ether. Our fantasies must have matched up just enough for us to bridge the gap. Or something like that.”

“So you’re real.”

“But with a big, fat old ass.”

“I didn’t say that. It’s just different. What we shared, though: that was real.”

“Imagine that. Dating a real person. A regular, old-fashioned boy-meets-girl love story. But that’s not what you want, is it?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You’re starting to repeat yourself. Stop telling me what you didn’t say and what you don’t want. Tell me what you do want. You want me to leave?”


“You want me to stay? You want that? A real girl with a mediocre ass who farts and pukes and sometimes has bad moods?”

I opened my mouth to speak but she snapped, “Stop! Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Give me a reflexive answer. An answer that feels right in the moment but isn’t necessarily the truth. Think about it first. I’ll sit here on your couch farting and sulking while you mull things over.”

So I mulled. A real relationship with an actual human being? Why would I want such a thing when I could have complete physical and emotional satisfaction with virtual women without the messiness? I could have the perks without the head games, temper tantrums and conversational lulls of a real relationship.

I had been in a real relationship before, back when people still did that sort of thing. Sometimes she drove me fucking crazy. Other times, I drove her fucking crazy. But we usually moved past that and our bond grew as a result. It wasn’t all amazing conversation deep into the night followed by toe-curling sex, but at least it was real. Sometimes it was more like a crackling flame in the fireplace than a blazing wildfire. But it was good. It was comfortable.

And I could have that again. I turned toward her and she must have seen the decision in my eyes, because she smiled. We leaned toward each other and our heads kind of bumped and our noses brushes together and it was awkward and wonderful. I kissed her and tasted mouthwash on top of puke.

She giggled and the sound wasn’t like the hallucination version of her; it was better. She leaned across me to nibble on my ear. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. It was so comfortable, so exciting, and so real.

“So,” she cooed, her warm breath tickling my neck. “Continue program?” END

Seth Chambers writes and tutors English in Chicago. His most recent publication credit is the novella, “In Her Eyes,” that ran in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of “Fantasy & Science Fiction.” His anthology, “What Rough Beasts,” is available from Amazon.


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