Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Rules Concerning Earthlight
by Dale Ivan Smith and K.C. Ball

Waters of Lethe
by Ian Sales

Return of the Mayflower
by Gerald Warfield

Life Out of Harmony
by Rebecca Birch

Our Old Crossed Stars
by Travis Knight

Another Time in France
by Sylvia Anna Hiven

His Special Birthday
by Chet Gottfried

Sucks to Be You
by Tim McDaniel

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds
by Levi Jacobs

by Steve Rodgers

One-Way Ticket
by Milo James Fowler


Cool Facts About Cats
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Krell Brain Boost
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




By Steve Rodgers

CHOOSING WHAT THE NEW GODS will look like is a hell of a step up for civil servancy. There was a time when the best I could hope for out of life as a weak-chinned, bottle-bespectacled city clerk was promotion to office administrator, so I could afford real tuna for my household of cats and buy enough pierced lesbian tropical-fruit porn to keep me busy every night for a year. Maybe if I was really lucky, someone would jab a paper-clip through my eye, and I’d sue the city for millions.

Things improved briefly for old Harold Linkhart. For a while there, my job assigning neurons to our new overlords gave me more goosebumps than the chess club president at Mardi Gras. Every day, my chest puffed out as I surveyed the parade of neurocell wannabes marching through my office, each begging me to assign them to this or that Titan. I’d stroll down that line of fake smiles, blood rushing as I flexed the power bestowed upon me by the DC Municipal Authority— the power to decide who’d experience their neural nirvana within a respectable Titan like Arthurius, and who’d be swapping thoughts with the cross-eyed bozos of Idiotus. Some people in that line, the ones who looked at me sideways, or wore the wrong color shirt, weren’t going to get their cortex candy at all.

Those were the days. If it wasn’t for one Evan O’Doul, I’d still be milking my unique position at the Washington Department of Neuro-Network Assignment to keep my ego on full steroidal drip. But Evan, that bastard, forced me to look straight down the gift horse’s mouth. Like the Vegas showgirl squinting at her smiley night manager, I had to wonder why I was getting all the free bling.

It’s funny. Only twelve years ago, giant autonomous creatures made from networks of connected humans would’ve been the stuff of B-grade science fiction movies. Now they’re as real as my semi-hot girlfriend Susan, who actually requires a much bigger suspension of disbelief. And I can pinpoint the moment it all started: eleven years ago, I sat in the bleachers with my father at a Hive Soccer event, shoving peanuts in my mouth, not realizing I was on the cusp of history.

“Now, remind me how this works again?” I said, squelching my words through a thick sludge of beery peanut paste.

My ex-cop dad scowled, nose-hairs waving in the warm May breeze. Picture an angry hairy prune with sunglasses.

“Soccer with Tducs. What more do you need to know?”

That was the part I didn’t get. Thought Transducers were the latest rage in lie detection—giant hairnets with EEG sensors and other electronics that digitized and cross-modulated the brainwaves of two people until they were thinking the same thought. I’d discovered this on my visit to the bio-bank for new eyes, where they slapped a Tduc on me to see if I planned to hawk them on the black market. The whole thing turned out to be pointless; eyes cost an arm and a leg these days. But I did get to try on a Tduc, and they seemed about as related to soccer as credit default swaps.

I must have looked lost, because my dad shook his head. “Empathy, Harold. Just before I retired, the station started using Tducs. Slap one on the perp, another on the cop, and turn ‘em on.”

“Sounds like a good way to find out which pizza boy nailed the preacher’s wife.”

His scowl deepened. “You watch too much porn.” He tapped a cigarette out of carton, because there weren’t nearly enough wrinkles on his face. “The problem was, that made it impossible to prosecute. Cop has too much empathy.”

“Like when I get depressed because my cats want to go outside.”

My dad lit up and blew smoke in my face. “Nothing like that. Anyway, someone thought to fit Tducs on a couple soccer teams, and see what all that empathy would do for their teamwork. Hasn’t made ESPN yet, but they claim it’s the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. I had to check for myself.”

We both did, a minute later.

The first Tduc-wearing team ran out to the field like a giant centipede—completely in step as they curved around the goalpost, travelling as a single blob across the grass. A brief cheer went up through the crowd then died away quickly, as everyone absorbed the utter bizarreness of this display. I’m guessing no one had ever witnessed anything like it.

The second team moved just as cohesively, a single-minded aggregation of high-sock-wearing guys that zipped about the field in a way that was dizzying to watch.

The game itself was a hallucination. It was an exquisitely coordinated show that looked no more spontaneous than the musical gang-fight in “Westside Story.” Except that this hadn’t been practiced. It electrified the crowd. No one cheered, no one did the wave, no one gave a crap where the ball was. It was like we were watching giant creatures.

As it turns out, we were.

Soon afterward I heard that some Hive Soccer clubs were refusing to disband, apparently enjoying each other’s thoughts just a little too much. These bizarre networks began expanding exponentially, until pretty soon the world was filled with hundreds of giant creatures, each composed of hundreds of thousands of human beings, and each of which was far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

The Titans.

At first, everyone thought it was a fad. How cute, a half-million people wired to some giant thought network, like a cult without the groin-touching messiah figure. No one really understood that we’d left all that behind. These weren’t clusters of people, these were new life forms. These creatures communicated with each other, formed social groups, built structures that no one understood. People were merely brain cells, or neuron-clusters to be exact, but either way they were expendable. As we speak, about five percent of the world’s population is absorbed into a Titan, from the most powerful ones—Minnesotus, Arthurius, Pasteurius—all the way down to the bottom of the whiskey bottle—Tanerius, the Titan all the others laugh at. Or as we like to call him, Idiotus.

Being part of a vast brain network is breathtakingly beautiful, and I’m told it’s quite addicting. But joining the wrong one can be painful. Chicagus is a mordant pessimist; I’ve seen chipper morning people ejected from his network faster than a Yanni tribute band from a Country-Western bar. In some cases, folks have died; this happens when they’re clueless enough to join a Titan they have zero compatibility with.

And that’s where I come in.

In the name of public safety, the City of Washington D.C. has set up DoNNA—the Department of Neuro-Network Assignment—so that with just a quick, horribly intrusive psychological probe, we could ensure that every Titan braincell enthusiast wires their cerebellum to the right network. It’s all for your own safety of course. Never mind the underpaid, boundaryless public servant snickering in the back room at your answer to “please describe your biggest insecurity.”

The day I met Evan O’Doul was typical. He hobbled into my office pushing an old-man walker, making a giant racket as if I was supposed to notice him over the clock, which was reading decidedly close to 4:30. In any case, I was busy interviewing the guy ahead of him, a buzz-cut, blond fifty-something with gleaming eyes and a toothy smile that spoke of golf retreats and club soda.

“So why do you want to join a Neuro-network?” I droned, face buried in my sheet of questions.

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to become a cog in one of those magnificent creatures,” the man gushed, clasping two hands together as if he was begging. Normally I kind of get off on the power implied there, but today I was in a pissy mood.

“Uh huh. And would you describe yourself as a person who takes charge of their environment, or more of a passive observer?”

“Oh very much the former. Sir, do you think I could join Arthurius? I’m told being one of his traffic neurons is like witnessing the beginning of creation.”

I’d never really cared for dramatic statements like that, and his eyebrows were too transparent for me. I marked him down for Idiotus.

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Oh thank you, thank you,” said the man, practically bowing to me as he backed away.

I squinted at the last guy in the room, a tall, strikingly good looking fellow with chiseled cheekbones, piercing eyes, and an air of confidence I haven’t had since I got third best score on Tank Commander. Only his walker let me feel superior; at least I could ambulate on two legs.

I decided he could wait.

I turned around and began tapping my keyboard. I’ll give him one for patience, he let this continue for a full twenty minutes before finally piping up.


I pushed my glasses down as I turned away from the screen. “Sir, you’ll just have to wait your turn.”

He blinked. “There’s no one else here!”

“Clearly we have a problem—”

“—Look,” he said, grabbing his walker and stomping to the counter like some six-legged GQ beetle. “I know how you city workers operate. I’ve had electrical inspections; I’m probably supposed to massage your ego, acknowledge your power over me. Well, fine, acknowledged. Can we get on with this?”

I swiveled around in my chair, arms folded. “You know, honesty really isn’t always the best policy.”

“Listen, Harold, have you ever wondered why your department is under the city administration, and not the Feds?”

I stared. Mostly because I have no idea how he knew my name, but also because his narrow cheekbones reminded me of some well-crafted Manikin.

“I’m all ears.”

“It’s under city administration because that’s the way the Titans want it. If it were under the Feds, it would be subject to DOJ oversight, and that would put a crimp in their style.”

“That sounds pretty paranoid.”

“Really? Imagine you’re a creature with a million human brains at your disposal. What couldn’t you do, who couldn’t you influence? They’re thousands of times more intelligent than we are. Don’t you think they have tentacles all throughout our government?”

I realized this guy was an idiot. I’d heard all manner of conspiracy theories—the Titans secretly controlled society, ran the Freemasons, influenced which underwear we buy, on and on. It’s all crap.

“That’s all crap,” I said.

“Is it?” He leaned over the counter. “Interesting how Federal law limits Titan networks to five hundred thousand neurons, yet you’ve been wallowing in so much bribe money from neurocell thrill-seekers that some Titans have swelled to over a million. And no one’s called you on it. Now, why would that be?”

My chest grew very cold. “I think we’re done here.”

“Oh, relax. You’re just one of several, and none of the others have been caught either. Harold, you’re dancing on puppet strings controlled by the biggest Titans. They’ve played to your wants and needs, letting desperate people shower you with gifts so they can swell their networks.”

“You’ve got it all wrong,” I stammered, getting up and tripping over my computer’s power cord. I pulled myself up from the floor, hit my head on the overhead cabinet, and fell back into my chair. Damn, I hate getting flustered.

He waited until I’d composed myself. “There’s a reason Federal law limits Titan network size. They already have unparalleled intelligence; with another million neurons, the biggest will be God-like. And, Harold, that’s not good for humanity.”

I rubbed my forehead, unable to process all this. “Why should we care? They need us.”

“Not necessarily.” He handed me a card that read “Evan O’Doul, Traffic Neuron, Minnesotus.” I looked up, impressed—traffic neurons were the most prestigious positions within a Titan. Lying at the center of the creature’s cognitive array, those brain clusters held anchor positions in almost all the Titan’s memory and thought patterns.

“Join Minnesotus with me for a week and see for yourself. My number’s on the card.” He began clattering out with his walker, but halfway to the door, he stepped into a puddle of coffee and his whole body slid out from under him. For a second there, it looked like he’d slam his head against our tile floor, but he stopped his fall at the last minute by grabbing his walker.

I swallowed. “Holy hand grenade—”

Evan pulled himself to his feet and dusted his shirt. “Thanks, Brillius,” he said to the ceiling, then shoved his walker away, straightened his back, and strode from my office on his two legs.

I stared at the empty doorway for a very long time.

What the hell had I just witnessed?

The next day, I sat at the Polito outdoor café with my girlfriend Susan, watching as hundreds of Tduc wearing folks clogged the sidewalk, licking each other in the face. Wet, slurping sounds warred with honking and other traffic noises, while impatient pedestrians pushed through the clingy clusters on their way shopping.

I took a long swig of my beer. “Something I haven’t seen before.”

Susan grunted, staring at three lickers folded around each other like some old game of Twister. “Been done. There are at least four documented cases of Titans having sex.”

“I bet Titan orgies are really confusing.”

Susan’s lips pursed in that expression I see often on her, intensely deliberating whether to laugh or scowl. She was definitely out of my league—long, brown hair, thin body, an angelic face that came in stark relief to her smart-ass mouth, like a puppy with a Mohawk. After my bio-bank fiasco, all I could offer her was the possibility I’d someday get eye surgery to reduce the thickness of my coke-bottle spectacles, and the observation that my potbelly was proof I made enough not to go hungry.

Susan is writing a book on Titan behavior, which is how we met. Originally, I think she pinched her nose and agreed to coffee in order to pick my brain about what types of people join which Titans. Once that was over, I was sure she’d scoot faster than a meth cook from a trailer explosion. But inexplicably, here she still is a year later, and my best theory is that it’s a pity play.

I’ll take it.

“What I don’t understand,” I said after a moment, “is what the Titans gain from having their outlier neurons lick each other in the face. Sex is eventually about procreation.”

She shot me a look of respect, which made me want to say something else smart. Unfortunately, I was out.

“Good question,” she said, sipping her Malbec. “No one really knows, but the theory is that through facial touch, the neurons can determine if they’re compatible. Eventually, compatible ones may split off into a separate network. Voila, procreation.”

I shrugged. “You know, yesterday, I got an offer to join Minnesotus with a traffic neuron.”

Her face lit up, and she leaned forward. “Take it!”

“Well, I—”

“Harold, this is the opportunity of a lifetime! Think what I—we, you—could learn!”

Hmm. She didn’t know I pretty much had to take it, or Mr. Ken Doll would blab about my extracurricular activities. That meant I had leverage.

“OK ... you’ll take my cats for a week so I can focus?”

She made a face. “Sure.”

“And you’ll give Felinia her pill every night? And sing Bob Marley to them?

Her scowl deepened. “I guess so ...”


“Harold, if you don’t go, the only time I’ll appear in your bedroom is as some jack-off fantasy, after you’re tired of watching all those horrible movies you own.”

Point and match.


I opened my apartment door a week later to see Evan standing in the hallway wearing giant rubber boots with pink lightning bolts, as if he expected to encounter alligators in my living room. We’d made plans for him to stay with me for a week while we glommed into Minnesotus’ array; apparently traffic neurons were too valuable to waste on anything that smacked of physical activity.

I took a look at his boots, shrugged, and let him in. “I hope you aren’t allergic to cats, because—”

This was interrupted by a loud grunt, and I spun around to see Evan’s right boot embedded by a steak knife I’d left on the floor—the one that kept dropping from the hanging rack.

“Holy crap!” I said, running to him, but he was busy tossing aside the rubber boot as if getting stabbed by random cleavers was all in a day’s work.

“Nothing to worry about. Now, let’s begin. Take your Tduc and—”

“Oh no you don’t!” I shouted, still freaked out. “What the hell just happened there? First that walker saved you from a coffee spill. Now a rubber boot stops a steak knife. Even my cats don’t have that many lives!”

He sighed. “Ever heard of Brillius?”

“Is that some kind of scouring pad?”

Evan ground his jaw, making his hollowed cheeks just a little more chiseled. “No. Brillius is the most powerful Titan in existence, even if she’s never been acknowledged by the Agency. Her neurons consist of five million of the smartest engineers and scientists in the world—the next nearest Titan has only a million, with a much more average spread. Few people have heard of her, but there have been rumors.”

“So Brillius is trying to kill you?”

“No. Brillius works for us; it’s the other Titans who are trying to kill me. Brillius is anticipating their moves and blocking them. She gave me the walker, and the rubber boots.”

I scowled. “Uh-huh. You can’t control your dim-bulb Titans, but somehow Brillius is happy to be your lap-dog. And anyway, how could the Titans ever predict a coffee spill or a dropped steak knife?”

“Brillius has to help us. The government created her, and carefully ensured that all her Tducs can be flipped off whenever needed. She has no choice.” He leaned back. “As for the rest, Titan intelligence is stratospheric, almost unimaginable to human beings. Analyzing millions of variables, they can predict likely events. Do you remember why you left the steak knife on the floor?”

I stared. “I got a phone call just as I was going to pick it up ...”

“Yep. Your caller was probably nudged by some random event to call you at that exact moment. And that event was influenced by something else, and so on down the chain. If you look back far enough, you’ll see Titans at work.”

I felt a little sick. Free will suddenly seemed like an illusion conjured up by naïve primitives. “Who did you say was controlling Brillius’ Tducs, again?”

But Evan had gone to grab our Tducs, and he handed one to me. “We have little time. Please put this on.”

“What I don’t understand,” I said, fitting the hairnet over my head, “is how a gaggle of neuro-tourists can magically turn into a giant critter. Aren’t the Titans really just us?”

Evan snapped my Tduc chinstrap and turned those piercing blue eyes my way. “Your brain consists of billions of neurons, also living creatures. Hook them together in the right way, and you get something completely different from the sum of its parts. That’s called emergence.”

“Yeah, but whereas I can leave Minnesotus anytime, my neurons can’t opt out unless I kill them with beer.” I froze. “Oh god, tell me the Titans don’t use LSD!”

Evan sighed. “Listen, I’m going to explain things, and you’re going to pay attention.” He pointed at my bar stool, and I sat. “I work for a very small Federal agency, investigating the Titan threat to humanity. I’ve been picked because I’m very good at processing several thoughts simultaneously, a critical skill for traffic neurons. Our best chance to learn the Titan roadmap is to infiltrate their memory and cognitive centers, and only a traffic neuron sees enough of their thoughts to piece it together. Brillius has said you’ll be key in this process, though I have no idea how.”

“So how does that work, anyway?” I asked. “You just decide you want to be at Titan Central, and it magically happens?”

“No. The Titan’s brain constantly re-wires itself—once we’re hooked in, people like me with strong parallel processing abilities will auto-gravitate to the center of the network. After a couple days, I’ll be able to reach any neuron in a maximum of two to three hops. Most other neurons require at least seven hops.”

“Still enough to get to Kevin Bacon.”

His face remained solemn, an edifice of hollowed cheeks and jutting chin. Great, I had to make sure Susan never met this guy.

“Hebbian theory says that neurons that fire together, wire together,” he continued. “Even though you likely don’t have the same neuro-traffic skills as me, as long you transmit when I do, we’ll be connected very closely in the network. In effect, you’ll become a traffic neuron too.”

I’d probably started to drool, because he shook his head and reached up to the buttons on my Tduc. “Never mind, you’ll see. I’m entering our password and tuning us into Minnesotus’ network frequency now.”

What happened next was incredible. A rush of blood and my brain swelled to gargantuan proportions. My cranium flooded with new thoughts, a pulsating wave that enveloped me whole. I stood in the center of a thousand-spoked wheel, with some spokes empty, others filled by a kaleidoscope of ideas, too many to absorb. I wasn’t seeing any of this; but I knew it to be true. I closed my eyes, feeling my innards vibrate from the rumble of a million Tducs. Nearby neurons mostly shared my thoughts, but were lightly influenced by musings from more distant neurons.

“Pass it along,” Evan shouted, and inexplicably, I understood him. I was a dead-end node; all my grand thoughts were going nowhere. I fell backward into the river and let the input from my Tduc neighbors flow through my brain. Weaker ideas bounced off my shores like lapping waves, while the stronger ones rushed through me, a raging torrent that filled every spoke of the wheel—some with incoming thoughts, and other with outgoing ones. I began resonating to the steady beat of the giant creature.

And that’s when I truly felt part of the Titan.

There’s really no way to convey what it’s like. Imagine god-like intelligence, but with all the Grand Ideas just out of reach. My brain exploded from my skull, encompassed the entire network. Yet the final synthesis of those huge thoughts eluded me, like soap bubbles sailing over a cliff. It was terrifying, incomprehensible. But more than anything, it was thrilling.

Evan began waving his finger in rhythm, and I now understood what he’d meant by transmitting synchronously. I stoppered the information flow through my brain, held my incoming thoughts just long enough to release them on his cue. After an hour of this, I saw his Tduc through the tubes, knew we were being wired closer together in the network. And as I attained traffic-neuronhood, I became Minnesotus. In dizzying rapture, I caught glimpses of entire thoughts—agonizingly short flashes in which I synthesized the inputs of a million neurons into a coherent whole. For a heartbeat, I knew everything there is to know.

This perpetual cranial orgasm lasted most of the day. The Titan slept at night, and the spectacularly coordinated dreams of a million Tduc-wearing humans was as close to a religious experience as I’d ever had.

The next morning it started again. That day, I moved on autopilot, eating, relieving myself, the beauty of my Godhood pervading every motion. Never again would I use my petty powers to shuffle assholes down the Titan list—once you’ve gone through this, the other stuff just kind of implodes.

A week of this neuro-nirvana, then one morning, Evan reached up and pushed a button on my Tduc. Suddenly, there was nothing.

I fell out of my chair, almost weeping at the loss of the network. “What the—?”

“That’s enough for now,” he said, his perfect hair now slightly lifted. We hadn’t shaved for the whole week, leaving me with the scratchy beard of a van-dwelling serial killer, and him looking like a GQ model. That bastard.

“Now what?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“Now we sleep. And dream. For traffic neurons, dreams in the first two nights after exiting the network sometimes provide glimpses of the Titan’s larger thoughts.”

And so we did. The next morning, I tried to recall my dreams, fleeting images of germanium wafers, warehouse factories, and irregular-shaped blobs in briny fluid. Evan continued to occupy the second bedroom of my apartment, but stepped out early that first morning, saying only that he didn’t want to influence me in any way.

The second morning, I ran to him in the kitchen where he was pouring milk into a bowl. “My god!” I shouted, grabbing his arm. His bowl fell to the floor, spilling milk everywhere. “The Titans—they’re going to replace us!”

For the first time, Evan looked at me like I was more than a slow-witted mountain ape. He tapped his nose with his finger. “Exactly. I’m guessing the Titans will find uses for us once we’re no longer needed, but I doubt we’ll like them.”

I danced with excitement, almost sliding to my death on the spilled milk. “OK, you’ve convinced me, dammit. What do we do next?”

He ran fingers through his hair. “Next, we figure out how they’re going to replace us. For that, we move away from the Titan’s memory formation, and straight into its equivalent of a cortex.”

Our next neuro-safari was a whole different adventure. Before we submerged, Evan tried to explain Titan brain formation, and while I mostly stared slack-jawed, some of it filtered through. Despite superficial similarities, the Titan’s brain wasn’t really wired like a human’s. There were far fewer neurons, but each was billions of times smarter than the simple creatures that populate our craniums. This mostly leads to a different architecture, but the Titan’s brain does resemble ours in one critical area: the cortex. There, neurons are arranged in four layers, not unlike the human six-layer cortical burrito. At the bottom were the sensory neurons, people who went out in the world and did things. These formed bundles of sensory stimuli that fed the next column layer, which received input from its own sensory neurons and also those of its neighbors to provide pattern recognition. The next layer synthesized the patterns into high level concepts, and the last layer received strong inputs from its own column and weaker inputs from others to form the Titan’s conscious thoughts.

We were going to be on top baby, courtesy of Evan’s ability to ooze anywhere into the Titan’s grey-matter. Sitting straight in our chairs, we pushed our Tduc “on” buttons simultaneously and let the wild ride begin.

Instead of a spoked wheel, I now stood at the apex of a pyramid, with the strongest stimulation arriving from the neurons below me, and lesser intensity inputs from other columns. My column neurons provided input only; outputs were fed purely to other pyramid apexes, one of whom was Evan. These represented the Titan’s conscious mind, where all decisions were made. My head seemed to stretch in two directions—pulled downward by the cacophony of patterns and concepts arriving from the lower layers, and pulled outwards by my connections to other top layer cortical neurons. After a while, certain themes began emerging from that data deluge, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t become clear what Minnesotus was dwelling on: How to increase his connection to lab-grown neural tissue.

Holy shit. The Titans were trying to use bio-bank brains to swell their networks. I wouldn’t have known this without our earlier foray into the Titan’s memory patterns, but now, all those images of brains in briny liquid suddenly made sense. The bio-banks had hooked their lab-grown brain tissue into the network to monitor their vital signs, but that same connection allowed the Titans to use them as neurons.

I tried to communicate this to Evan, and got a brief acknowledgement before I heard his equivalent of a mental scream. I received a flash that we’d been discovered by Minnesotus before my brain exploded with colors and sounds that literally knocked me back in my chair, leaving me jerking on the floor at the onslaught of white noise.

It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever experienced. My brain was slammed by jet engine noise at ten feet, my skull shaken by unending waves of mental static. I don’t know if I screamed, but my feeble attempts to remove the Tduc were crushed mercilessly beneath Minnesotus’ full-out assault.

This went on for an agonizing minute before I stopped fighting and let the mental cacophony flow through me, watching the pounding waves rattle my brain on their way to downstream neurons. I knew I was going to die, but found I was able to retreat to some tiny corner of my mind to dwell on other things. And in those anguished moments of near-death mental hemorrhage, I'd like to say that I reconsidered my petty existence, or that I thought of Susan, or my dad.

But no.

The last adult movie I’d seen had been set in the Arabian nights, with a harem of female genies in see-through silk throwing some lucky caliph into a pile of gilded pillows. Man, that was a good one. I think there were implements like camel whips involved, though that could entirely be my own invention. This pleasant interlude is what occupied my thoughts, so completely that I didn't notice when the white noise stopped. In fact, nothing shook me out of this desert daydream until a very disgusted Evan yanked my Tduc off my head.

“You are a twisted little man,” he rasped. He sprawled onto my couch, cradling his head.

I massaged my temples, willing the ringing in my skull to stop. Then I sat up, grabbing a seat-cover to hide my midsection. “My little fantasy saved us, didn’t it?”

If ever a nod was forced, that one was. “Uh,” Evan said. “Your—visuals—held the nearby neurons in thrall, so they could no longer assault us.”

“Score one for twisted little men.” I stood up slowly. “So it looks like the Titans are using the bio-bank lab brains to swell their networks. Since when have the labs been growing whole brains?”

“A recent advance, no doubt influenced by the Titans. Brillius will decide what to do about it.”

I looked around the room, wondering how much of our technology had been inspired by Titanic intelligence. “Great. So I'm done here?”



“Harold, I’m offering you full immunity for your crimes. In return, you’re going to lead a unit that will enforce Federal law on Titan size throughout the U.S. Other countries are doing the same. You’ll report to HQ in the morning to pick up Brillius’ protection item for the day.”

“Protection item?”

Evan smiled, a beaming ray of schadenfreude. “Now that you’re in charge of limiting Titan network size, you’re going be their prime target. Stay on Brillius’ good side.”


Five days later, I sat with Susan at The Green, a pretentious fusion restaurant overlooking a golf course, describing the past two weeks while Susan tapped furiously on her lightpad.

“... And so they put me in charge of the Department of Neuro Network Assignment, Titan Size Enforcement Unit, or DoNNA TSEU,” I said, hugging my giant blue plastic timer. “Which is coincidentally the name of my Asian girlfriend in high school.”

Susan shot me a pointed look. “You had a girlfriend in high-school?”

I made air-quotes. “Well, she didn’t technically know we—”

“—Evan lied to you,” she interrupted. “There are lots of rumors surrounding Brillius, but consensus is she’s more than just another Titan. She’s to the Titans what the Titans are to us.”

I stared. “You mean the Titans are her neurons?”

“Yep. Think about it—layers of creatures, each forming a higher level organism. Tiny cells become our consciousness, humans become Titans, and now Titans become Brillius. Who knows how far it can go?”

My giant inflato-clock buzzed loudly, causing several restaurant patrons to twist around in their seats.

I stood up. “My instructions were to move to the next table when this alarm sounds.”

Susan cocked her head like I was some rare insect under a glass plate. “Bizarre.”

We’d just finished moving when a golf-ball hurled into the covered patio, through the space my head had occupied a minute earlier, and then back out to the grass. We spun around to stare at my empty seat, while I pondered the nearest place to buy adult diapers. Then a very excited Susan turned back to her lightpad, typing like she had ants in her bra.

I’ll say this for Susan: She’s never let a little thing like personal danger (or for that matter any other life event) get in the way of collecting data.

She finished typing and looked up. “So why do you think Brillius gave you that giant, conspicuous timer? Couldn’t she have just warned you not to sit at that table?”

I thought back to the pink lightning bolts on Evan’s rubber boots. “I suspect she has a sense of humor. I think I saw floppy red clown shoes and a ping-pong ball nose in store for tomorrow.”

Susan tapped her chin. “Hmmm. One thing I didn’t get: Who did you say was controlling Brillius’ Tducs?”

“Evan never really answered that.”

“I wonder if Brillius is really in charge of everything, and is only letting humans think they’re in control. She'd have an interest in limiting Titan network size so her neurons don't figure out how to eliminate her. Plus fewer humans per Titan means more available to form new Titans, giving her more neurons.”

I stared. “Absolutely devious. Only you are cynical enough to come up with that.”

She blushed. “You’re sweet. Well, it’s just a theory, but I might as well mention it in the book.” She turned back to her lightpad, but just as she did so, one of the ceiling-mounted lanterns dropped onto her hands, smashing her lightpad to bits.

“My god!” I shouted, but Susan just sat there smiling and staring at the broken glass.

“On the other hand, maybe I’ll leave that part out.”

I reached for my coffee, willing my hand to stop shaking. “Yeah, good idea.”

So there we have it. Is Brillius really in control? Beats me, but I’m a good boy now—no more bribe money, and no more treating the Titans like my own personal playground. I’ve seen what they can do, and if I never have to join another brain network, it’ll be too soon. All I can say is that if the Titans are the next stage of human evolution, here’s to hoping they never figure out how to be rid of us. END

Steve Rodgers is an electrical engineer. He has spent years researching brain network and brain function. His short stories have appeared in “Electric Spec,” “NewMyths,” Deepwood Publishing's "Ruined Cities" anthology, and in other online magazines.