Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Their Trailing Skies for Vestment
by Joseph Green
and Shelby Vick

by Nathaniel Heely

Mapping in the Darkness
by Siobhan Gallagher

Hard Passage
by Holly Schofield

by Linda A.B. Davis

In Therapy With an Alien Cabdriver
by John Skylar

Dancing in the Black Blizzard
by Devin Miller

by Michael McGlade

Don't Think Twice
by Jack Ryan

Two in the Hand
by Jeff Samson


A Force of Gravity
by J. Richard Jacobs

Gravitational Waves
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Two in the Hand

By Jeff Samson


It took Dougal a moment to realize the woman was talking to him.

In all the years he’d been treated by Dr. Rabinowitz, he’d never exchanged a single word with another patient. At least, not beyond the customary “Is anyone sitting here?” or “Are you reading that?” And that was fine with him.

He was surprised to find a lovely and youthful woman behind the husky, weathered tone.

Her kind eyes were set deep within her softly angled face. Her short, jet-black hair angled sharply across her cheeks, framing a broad, vital smile set off by perfect teeth. Her makeup, meticulously applied, imparted a misty sheen to her smooth skin and accentuated a pair of puffy lips that seemed about to burst.

She looked about forty to Dougal, which made her as convincing an example of age-reversing technologies as the cosmetics industry could ever hope for. And given recent breakthroughs in vocal enhancement, it probably wouldn’t be long before her voice matched her youthful features.

He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth as if to answer, but then pursed his lips as he always did when confused.

“I’m sorry?” he asked.

For an instant she seemed to mock him by mirroring his expression. But she quickly showed her teeth again.

“Your hand,” she said, gesturing towards him, “Is it new?”

Dougal looked down at his lap, where he held his right hand in his left, rubbing its palm with his thumb in slow, deep circles as if massaging a cramp.

“Oh,” he said, turning back to her. “No, not exactly. It’s, you know ... it’s been a few weeks, so ...”

Dougal trailed off. Her wide eyes and crinkled brow surely meant he was coming off awkward and inarticulate. He took a breath, shook his head as he exhaled, and smirked.

“The answer is yes,” he said. “Yes, it’s new.”

The woman laughed softly through her nose. Her grin brightened her whole face.

“You can always tell the new ones,” she said. She motioned with her head to the far side of the waiting room.

Dougal felt a chill course through him. He simply didn’t look at the other patients in Dr. Rabinowitz’s office. The thought of glimpsing a stretch of silvery scar tissue at the unnatural end of leg, or a gnarled, fleshy knot where a forearm should begin kept his eyes to himself. But something about this woman was compelling. And he didn’t want to seem rude.

She gestured toward a man sitting with his pant leg raised. The man was stroking the hair on his shin against the grain, looking on wide-eyed as the hair sprung back in the wake of his fingers.

“Mind if I ask what happened?” she said.

Dougal winced. He didn’t like talking about it. On most occasions, when he was asked, he’d politely but pointedly say, “Excuse me, but that’s none of your business.” But when he looked up at her face—her big, glistening eyes drawn slightly down at their corners, her browlines lifted in soft horizons and lips pursed in the subtlest of pouts—he found himself oddly at ease.

For the briefest of instants, a scattering of wild, impressive stories played themselves out in his head. He was a soldier on the battlefield, heaving a live enemy grenade away from his platoon a moment too late. He was a good samaritan, freeing a helpless little girl and her loyal beagle from a burning home, only to have the roof cave in on him. An innocent bystander to a suicide bombing. An archaeologist ensnared by a centuries-old booby trap. A renowned chainsaw juggler attempting a world record. Anything but some poor guy on the side of the road neglecting to put his car in park before changing a flat.

But the honesty shining in her eyes wouldn’t let him lie.

“I had an accident,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.”

With the tip of one finger, she brushed her hair from her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. “That’s all right. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. I’m sorry for bringing it up.”

“There’s no need to apologize, it’s just—”

“Well, then I take it back,” she interrupted, and smiled.

Dougal laughed and leaned back in his chair. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he felt relaxed. He stared into the woman’s eyes, her irises a shimmering blend of turquoise, emerald, rust, lavender and burgundy. An augmentation, he was sure. But the effect was no less captivating.

For a moment, neither spoke. And for once Dougal felt uncomfortable in the presence of silence. He was afraid that their conversation might have run its course. That he’d have to return, alone, to his thoughts.

“So,” he said at last, “Are you here for a follow up?”

The woman sat upright, drawing her shoulders back. She placed her hands in her lap. The gesture seemed girlishly debonair. She was clearly eager to talk about herself.

“A follow up?” she asked. “No, I’m shipshape in that respect.” She smiled widely and her voice shot up in pitch. “I’m here for a consultation.”

Dougal’s eyes widened. A consultation seemed odd for a woman with no visibly outdated prostheses or missing appendages.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s just that you’re not ...” He stopped himself, worried he was growing too personal.

“Not what? Missing anything?” she said, widening her eyes to mirror his. “Flipping through a magazine with a pair of steel hooks?”

Dougal laughed, but couldn’t disguise his discomfort at the thought.

“It’s all right, you know,” she said. “No need to be shy. I’m perfectly fine talking about such things.”

“Well, that makes one of us,” he muttered.

She laughed and shook her head. “Really, it’s fine.”

She uncrossed her legs, resting an elbow on the armrest between them and leaned in. “Without getting specific,” she said, lowering her voice, “I do happen to have a few bits that aren’t entirely my own. Some of which are more ... visible than others.”

She batted her eyes at him and smirked. Dougal felt his cheeks flush.

“But I’m here for something else.”

She sat back in her chair, raised her small, delicate hands to either side of her chest, and wiggled her fingers.

Dougal’s stare traveled from hand to hand, then back to her shimmering eyes. He waited a few moments for her to explain. But she said nothing.

“I ... don’t understand,” he finally said.

She drew a deep breath and spoke just above a whisper.

“I’m saying goodbye.”

“What?” he nearly shouted. “You’re leaving?”

She tipped her head back and laughed. “To my fingers.”

“Oh,” he said, his voice high and bright. But he still didn’t understand.

She leaned into him, smiling wide.

“I’m replacing them all,” she said. “All ten dainty little, fragile little digits. In two weeks I’ll have a full set of long, slender fingers.”

For a moment, Dougal considered that she might be joking.

But she continued. “You see, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano,” she said, eyes sparkling. “But I don’t have the hands for it. I mean, let’s be honest.” She held up her hands again. “You aren’t tackling Chopin with a pair of sorry paws like these.

“My grandmother, on the other hand, had these beautifully long, elegant fingers. And could she play. Oh, the hours I’d spend sitting beside her on the piano bench, watching her fingers glide over the keys, listening to the notes leap from her shiny, black baby grand and soar through the air ...”

As the woman continued, Dougal’s attention drifted. He tried to focus on what she was saying. But the thought of her voluntarily replacing a part of herself. The thought of anyone with the luxury of that choice, choosing that. Wanting that.

“... but as fate would have it, those strong, glorious finger genes passed me by, and left me with these cute little homages to my father’s side of the family. But nowadays, with all these new advances ...”

What he wouldn’t give to have that choice.

“... and from what I’ve read, with improved motor learning and muscle memory, I’ll be cruising through the basics ...”

To make that decision.

“... and working through symphonies and standards in a fraction of the time it would normally take ...”

To have his hand back.

“Dougal Kilmeister.”

Dougal whipped his head around to see Dr. Rabinowitz’s head nurse standing in the doorway leading to the examination rooms.

He turned back. The woman’s mouth was hanging silently open, her story cut off mid-sentence. He looked down at his hand.

“Dougal Kil—” the nurse started to repeat, looking around impatiently.

“That’s me,” Dougal said, raising his hand.

He turned back to the woman, seeing a glimmer of disappointment in her eyes —those wonderful, entrancing eyes. He tried to think of something pithy or funny to say. Something she’d remember. But he felt too flustered.

Without a word, he pushed out of his chair and walked toward the nurse.

As he passed through the door, he looked back. The woman made an exaggerated gesture with her mouth. He thought, for an instant, she had blown him a kiss. But then he realized he was wrong. That she was actually mouthing words.

“Good luck,” she’d said without a sound. Two words, plain and pure, no doubt intended to comfort. But which, in effect, unnerved him all the more.


Dougal sat at a brushed aluminum desk pushed flush against a seafoam green wall. He shifted awkwardly in a chair crafted from the same frosted metal—its bulging curves and simple, fluid lines typical of the style called Atomic. He knew the furniture was priced beyond what most people could afford. He stared at the checkerboard of onyx and howlite linoleum tiles at his feet, then at the pattern of Sputniks and boomerangs on the wall, then back again.

Dr. Rabinowitz sat sprawled back in his chair across from him, tripling his double chin. The doctor’s gut heaved over his belt like a mushroom cap. He peered at the tablet resting in his hands atop his swollen belly, tapping the screen with his thumbs.

Suddenly, a current of cool, charged air climbed up Dougal’s spine and kissed the back of his neck. His whole body shuddered.

“My apologies, Dougal,” the doctor said, somehow noticing Dougal’s fidgeting without looking up from his tablet. “Really, I’ll be just one more minute. Just ... one ... more ... minute,” he said, absently parroting his own words.

It wasn’t the first time Dougal had to wait an absurdly long time for the good doctor’s services. Once he’d stormed out to the receptionist, screaming, “How dare you treat me as if my time isn’t as important as yours!” If the woman had not been genuinely apologetic, he would have left. He was also often frustrated with the doctor’s dispassionate tone and curt delivery. It seemed to say, “I have more important things to do.”

But he couldn’t deny that Dr. Rabinowitz had always done right by him medically. The doctor knew when to aggressively pursue an emerging treatment and when to proceed slowly and with caution. He also never shied away from delivering troubling news. With Dr. Rabinowitz, bad news always came unvarnished and unedited. Dougal respected that tremendously.

It was also due to Dr. Rabinowitz’s generosity that Dougal could afford his new prosthesis. The doctor had called in a favor from a friend at Midgard Bionics, who gave Dougal a considerable discount. Otherwise he’d never had been able to afford the prostheses and accompanying surgery.

“All right, Dougal,” the doctor said, looking up from his tablet—his wizened face a mass of wrinkles, his bald head sporting a few scattered wisps of white hair, his eyes almost comically enlarged by thick horn-rimmed glasses. “I’m all yours.”

Dougal knew this wasn’t the case, but went ahead anyhow.

“Great,” he started. “Well ... ah ... I’m here because I’ve been having some problems with ...”

Dougal’s voice trailed off as he watched the doctor’s attention return to his tablet. He paused, not knowing whether to continue or wait for the doctor to raise his head. After an extended moment of silence, Dr. Rabinowitz looked up.

“I’m listening,” he said, his eyebrows lifting.

“Right, well, as I was saying—”

“Why not start with why you’re here?” Dr. Rabinowitz interrupted.

Dougal took a deep breath and continued. “I’m having some problems with the hand.”

“Oh? What kind of problems?”

“It’s hard to describe, but—”

“You know there’s an adjustment period, Dougal.” He stared down at his tablet. “We discussed this.”

“Yes, we did. It’s just that this is different from the symptoms we talked about. I’m not feeling numbness in the fingers or a burning sensation at the seam.”

“So what are you feeling?”

Dougal stopped to think for a minute. He was having a hard enough time believing it himself. Would the doctor be equally skeptical?

“Well,” he started, “I’m feeling things I shouldn’t be. Things that don’t make sense given what I’m doing. It’s like my hand is ...” He searched for the word. “Confused.”

Dougal paused while the doctor slid his fingers over the face of his tablet— watched while a series of images shuffled past in the deep, reflective blue of the doctor’s eyes. He looked like he was about to smile, but caught himself. He looked up at Dougal with a straight face.

“Confused? What do you mean, confused?”

“I mean I’m feeling sensations that don’t match what I’m doing ... what I’m experiencing. Some ... sometimes I’m not feeling anything at all and then sometimes it’s—”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Well, it started about a week after the surgery, these weird sensations, almost like the phantom itching and throbbing I had in the few months after the accident. So I didn’t think all that much about them.

“But a week later, I ... I ran my fingers through my hair, and it felt like I’d just jammed them in a door.”

The doctor seemed to go stiff for a moment. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “Go on.”

Dougal breathed deeply.

“The next day, I reached into a bag of potato chips and they might as well have been razor blades. Day after that, I go to shift gears in my car and, I swear, I thought I was going to open my palm and find the logo from the shifter branded there.”

The doctor squirmed in his seat, still watching Dougal through slit eyes.

“Other times the hand just goes numb. But not numb as in prickly pins and needles. I mean numb as in complete loss of sensation. Like it’s not even there.”

Dougal paused, recalling the first time this had happened. He’d been sitting in his leather recliner watching TV when a sudden whisper of sound caught his attention. A series of soft scrapes, so faint they barely registered.

The sound was rhythmic. Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, skritch. The fifth in the sequence ever so slightly longer and higher pitched than the others. He had glanced around the room for their source. And then he’d seen it. The fingers on his left hand had curled one after another in sequence, their nails dragging across the leather armrest. Pinky, ring, middle, index. Then a pause before the thumb clawed its way up to complete a tight fist.

He watched as the fist unclenched and the fingers splayed. Watched as the hand performed its sequence three more times before stopping abruptly in mid-routine, the middle finger seeming to hesitate. And watched as the hand slowly relaxed, and the cool smoothness of leather flooded into his fingertips.

The memory fresh and unsettling in his mind, Dougal took a deep breath and continued.

“Sometimes I even think it’s moving all by it—”

“Dougal,” the doctor interrupted, “I’m sorry but that’s ...” He paused, swallowed hard and cleared his throat. He set his tablet on the desk, and raised his hands as if readying to catch something.

“Look. I understand your concern. And I have no doubt that you might be experiencing some odd sensations, especially given the extent to which this new hand is woven into your neuroanatomy compared to your previous two prostheses. It’s a perfectly natural reaction as your body adapts to communicating with what is, essentially, a foreign body.”

Dougal slumped forward, faintly shaking his head.

“Odd sensations, yes,” Dougal said. “But these are way past odd, doctor. These are—”

“Please, let me finish,” the doctor said, his voice slightly raised. Again, he shifted in his seat, his eyes fixed on Dougal’s face. “But to suggest this hand is somehow operating on it’s own ... that’s ...”

“I know,” Dougal said in the trailing silence. “Impossible.”

“To say the least.”

Dougal felt his face flush.

“Doctor, I can only tell you what I’ve been feeling. And what I’ve been feeling is ...”

How could he explain? How to describe waking in the middle of the night to the soft touch of a hand upon his cheek? A hand that had moved searchingly over his brow and nose and mouth and chin in the manner of a blind man “seeing” the face of another. A hand that, when he’d gasped in surprise, had scuttled away down his chest like a startled spider. How to discuss any of this without being dismissed as mistaken or confused or flat-out—

“Crazy,” Dougal said, drooping his head and sinking into his chair.

“You’ve had it what, a month?” the doctor asked.

Dougal shook his head. “Three weeks.”

The doctor leaned back in his chair and sighed. His eyes told Dougal he was being judged unreasonable.

“Dougal,” Dr. Rabinowitz said, “you haven’t even given it a chance. Haven’t given it time to break in. Hell, even a high-end sports car needs a few thousand miles on it before it runs right. And make no mistake—that piece of machinery at the end of your arm is as high-end as it gets.”

Dougal knew this was true. The hand was far more lifelike than either of its two predecessors. The transition from organic to synthetic skin was literally seamless. He couldn’t distinguish the inner workings from muscle, tendon, bone and cartilage—he could even crack the knuckles. Its cutaneous and internal nociceptors were every bit as acute. And it responded to his central nervous system’s commands just as well as his long-gone original had.

The doctor leaned forward, smiling wide, and motioned to Dougal’s hand.

“You’ve got 250 pounds of pressure at your fingertips. That’s five times as strong as the average human hand. I’ll admit, maybe that’s a bit excessive. But better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Isn’t that what they say?”

Dougal lowered his gaze. He nodded slightly.

“Just as your body needs time to adapt, the hand also needs to learn how to interact with your neuro-vascular system and musculature, not to mention its external environment. That's what the embedded memory chip is for—it's constantly gathering information and translating that data into micro-adjustments to improve functionality. This is not a mere extension or add-on, Dougal. This is ... well ... a part of you.”

Dougal frowned at the word “learn” and kept frowning through the rest of Dr. Rabinowitz’ words.

The doctor sighed loudly.

“Look, Dougal, I hear how frustrated you sound. And, unfortunately, I can’t tell you when the sensations you’re experiencing will go away. I can, however, categorically tell you that they will go away. You just need to give it time.”

Dougal nodded, but said nothing.

“In the meantime,” the doctor said, turning to his tablet. “I’m going to give you a script for something to calm those nerves.”

He squinted at the screen, tapping, swiping, scrolling, all the while quietly muttering his selections to himself.

“There,” he said. “Should be ready for pick-up in about an hour. Dosage will be on the label.” He looked up at Dougal and smiled. “Anything else today?”

Before Dougal could answer, the doctor’s tablet awoke in a swell of luminescent color and haunting strings.

“Oh!” he said, “I’m sorry, Dougal, but I really have to take this.”

The doctor rose and rounded the desk, greeting the person on the other end of the line with a cheery “hello.” As he opened the door and stepped into the hallway, he turned back to Dougal with a half-hearted grin.

“Good luck,” he mouthed. And he hurried into the examination room across the hall.


Dougal stood in his kitchen, staring through the cloudy amber vial at the few dozen small pills inside.

He noted the dosage on the label, pushed and twisted the cap off, and shook two pills into his prosthetic hand. They landed with the barest of patters, and felt like two fat nails driven clear through his palm.

Dougal shrieked. He jerked his hands to his chest, clutching his new one in his old and launching the two pills he’d shaken out—along with the twenty-eight more still in the vial—over his shoulder. His screaming was peppered by the tiny pings of pills ricocheting off cabinets, skipping across counter tops and scattering over tiles.

“Goddammit!” Dougal barked. He pressed his thumb deep into his palm, as if to stanch the flow of nonexistent blood. He raised his hand to his face, half expecting to see two gory holes or charred-black burns.

Not only was his palm untouched, but the intense pain had completely subsided. Not even a faint echo of its fury remained. It was simply, utterly, gone.

He slumped onto a stool at the center island, gazing into his palm—his mind still reeling from the memory of pain. He clenched and flexed. Clenched and flexed. For all the hand’s intricacies and marvels—its uncanny artistry and semblance to living, breathing flesh—he could only stare at it in disgust.

His skin charged with icy rage, hair bristling with fear, Dougal’s mind flooded with wild, unsettling notions.

His eyes shot to the block of carving knives on the counter. His thoughts flew to the vice at his workbench in the garage, the hacksaw hanging on the perforated Masonite board on the wall. He imagined the thing flopping around on the kitchen floor like a dying fish, jittering, sputtering, grasping at the air—its guts spitting fluid in hot, inky gouts over the cool tiles.

But just as Dougal’s temper raced toward a fever pitch, it just as quickly slowed, ebbed and settled. His better sense dragged him back to reality. He knew he couldn’t do that, no matter how desperately he wanted to be rid of the thing.

He sat for a moment, gesturing with his prosthetic hand through its range of motion, waiting for another freakish burn or ache or throb ... anything. But none came. As his breathing quieted and his heart rate fell to its normal slow, restful rhythm, he shifted his gaze from his hand to two little pills perched at the edge of the countertop. They stared back at him like a pair of tiny, perfectly white eyes.

Dougal wanted to pick them up along with the others, plop them back in their vial and toss them in the garbage. But he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to put the day behind him. And he knew that meant putting his body and mind to sleep.

He filled a glass of filtered water and walked back to the center island. He snatched up the two pills, making sure to use his own hand, tossed them in his mouth and raised his drink.

The glass was level with his chest when it exploded in a firework burst of glittering shards and ice water.

Stunned, scared, too tired to react, Dougal stood motionless as tiny bits of jagged glass jumped and jittered across the floor, as drops of water splashed down and began navigating grout lines in orderly rivers.

A few moments passed before Dougal inspected the hand. Though it didn’t hurt, he expected to find it riddled with cuts and punctures, bristling with half-embedded bits of glass, oozing whatever blood-like fluid coursed through its artificial vessels. But there was not even the barest of blemishes.

He stared at the floor, littered with glass and water, scattered pills slowly dissolving in milky pools. He tasted the chalky bitterness of the two fixed to his tongue and considered swallowing them dry. But he spit them out instead.

Dougal was too tired to even contemplate cleaning up the mess. He carefully brushed the frosting of glass from his shirt and jeans, blotting the wet spots semi-dry with a dishtowel. He poured himself another glass of water, making sure to use his own hand, and tiptoed through the minefield spread across his kitchen floor to his living room.

He sank gratefully into the plush fabric of his couch and sipped his water. A heavy calm washed through him, as though the supple cushions were drawing out the tension from his nerve-wracked muscles and bones.

In the moments before sleep, his thoughts drifted to the woman in the doctor’s office. He thought of how she’d looked at him and listened—really listened. How her eyes had shimmered like precious stones catching sunlight. Of her silken face. Her smile, warm and calming. Her perfect teeth and too-full lips.

He imagined how those lips would feel caressing his. Her breath hot on his face. Her cheek soft against his hand. But not his new hand. His old hand. His real hand. To be whole. To have but a moment’s time with her—whole. To feel every inviting inch of her skin—warm, alive, electric—with his own flesh and blood hand.

His eyes heavy, vision blurred, he looked at the life-like thing at the end of his arm. But instead of his thoughts turning angry, they again turned to her. And flexing its digits, he wondered what beautiful music she’d make, dancing over the black and whites of a baby grand with her new ... long ... slender ... fingers ...


Dougal woke feeling groggy and weak. His head seemed shrouded in a fuzzy twilight.

He looked around the brightly lit living room. The television showed a dozen chefs embroiled in a cooking competition, struggling to prepare eggs in what appeared to be an anti-gravity chamber. Outside the room’s windows, the night was pitch black.

As he considered how long he’d napped, he became aware of a familiar, clammy warmth radiating into his prosthetic hand. He looked down to find his arm tucked beneath the waistline of his jeans.

Dougal felt his cheeks go warm with embarrassment. He remembered thinking of the woman from the waiting room before dozing off. And he recalled, quite clearly, his brief fantasy of the things she might do with her full lips and new fingers.

Dougal shook his head and moved to withdraw his hand from his testicles.

He did so just as he would have any other time—by first relaxing his hand and opening his fingers, then slipping his arm out from under his waistband. But this time he could not make his hand unclench.

Dougal could only laugh.

He wasn’t surprised the thing had seized up, perhaps for good. He shook his head and gave a soft, defeated sigh. With his free hand, he unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans and slipped his fingers beneath the elastic band of his boxer briefs. He worked his fingers into the dark, damp gap between his legs, grasped the thumb of his prosthetic hand, and pulled.

Dougal shrieked as the prosthetic, resisting its flesh and blood counterpart, tightened its grip.

It was more frightening than painful. The grip was firm but not fierce, the degree of pressure aiming not to inflict pain so much as elicit undivided attention. But it was no less alarming.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Dougal said aloud. “That’s ... that’s not good.” Slowly, he withdrew his free hand from his pants, careful not to disturb the thing.

Dougal knew something was very wrong. Sure his prosthesis had exhibited a number of confused sensations and spastic actions over the past few weeks. But they had all been fleeting. Though occasionally jarring, they had never amounted to more than frustration. They were, as Dr. Rabinowitz would have called them, side effects. Inconveniences.

A tremor of panic was growing inside him. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. As he let go of the breath, he concentrated, focused his thoughts, aimed and fired his every impulse toward his obstinate limb.

For an instant the directed energy seemed so palpable that he could sense it make the journey from head to hand. His fingers momentarily twitched with the arrival of the sensory command. But momentarily twitch was all they did.

Dougal started to sweat. His eyes darted around his living room, looking for something, anything, that might help him. He spotted his tablet on the coffee table. “I have to call Dr. Rabinowitz,” he thought as he started to stand and reach for it.

Dougal growled as the pressure on his testicles surged. Dizziness and nausea swelled with the pain, spinning the room. Only when he fell back into the couch did the hold lessen to a mere vice grip.

“Oh god,” he thought, panting hard, stifling the urge to vomit from the churning ache in his groin. “I need to get ...”

“Help—” he started to scream.

But the pressure surged again, cutting his cry short—the pain engulfing his whole world, adding tears to the sweat now streaming down his forehead in oily rivulets.

His body went stiff for an instant, then began quivering uncontrollably. His skin turned to gooseflesh, his blood seeming to course ice-cold through his limbs and core. His face, in stark contrast, felt like it was on fire.

Suddenly a hush swept across the overload, grounding live sensory wires, blunting thoughts, de-fanging emotions. And in the diminishing echoes of that maelstrom of fear, awe and hurt, he felt a new sensation emerge. An impression, chimeric, shapeless and wild, emanating from his prosthetic hand, surging up his arm and through his shoulder and neck.

It moved like a construct newly born, unfolded from its dark foundry, balls and sockets slick with an ichor of oil and grease, searching, discovering ... learning. It brushed his psyche with exploratory antennae, prodded and plunged the recesses of his brain with a clutch of feelers, sensors, pressure pads and feedback loops. It bit into the soft and giving grey with concentric rows of silver chip terminals. Bored into the base of his skull with striated wires, unleashing wave after wave of neuro-toxic bytes through thrumming polymer pumps.

There in Dougal’s head it shifted in a synesthetic flux, seeking form and meaning. It was a cascade of white noise, rattling the bones in his ears. A caustic sourness spilling over his tongue and palate, flirting with his gag reflex. A rapid-fire left, right, hot, cold burning in the soles of his feet, coursing up his legs, crackling through his guts, gripping his stomach in violent spasms. The smell of flowers, fish, coffee, cedar, bleach, parsley, smoke, rotting leaves. Strobing colors. Clamoring shapes.

And finding its voice at last, it made itself clear, morphing from rough, resisting fragments into sharp, crystal characters. It blazed before his mind’s eye as three simple words.

Let me goEND

Jeff Samson currently lives in New Jersey and works in NYC as an advertising copywriter. His stories have appeared in “Nature,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Every Day Fiction,” and other publications. This is his third story published in “Perihelion.”