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




Another Time in France

By Sylvia Anna Hiven

THERE’S A FLASH, LIKE HARRIS said there would be. Then I’m where the magistrate sent Susie.

It’s someplace hot, someplace where the air is layered with odor, someplace where people on the cobblestone street bump into me, one after the other, and where I don’t understand what they’re saying at first.

Eventually, I catch on to the curve of the words, the melodic intonations, scatters of je and non and ou, the tirades of confusion at the man who just appeared in a bright flash in front of them, out of thin air, Mon Dieu!

They sent Susie to goddamn France?

Yet another man bumps into me, and my gaze lingers on his sloppy cravat, his coarse linen coat, his mud-splattered hose. I shrink away, my back against the rough wall of a building. More people pass by. Looking at their dusky skirts and coats, their garish teeth, the spray of unabashed grey in their hair, I know I’ve gone back further than I ever expected.

They sent her back five-hundred years? Six-hundred?

I look at my wrist band. The timer is counting down: bright orange digits flash at me to get moving. I only have ten hours to find my wife and bring her back home. And while my mind knows it’s the law for her to die here, in this foreign place in some unfamiliar time, it’s not something my heart can accept.


The day after Susie’s twenty-eighth birthday, she was convicted to life in temporal excommunication.

We were both designed offspring. Our parents met at a gene-matching party and thought we would make a good fit. My genes were geared to make me athletic, and Susie’s intelligence was off the charts. I wasn’t disappointed when I met her. She was radiant—a ballet-slender girl with a mother-of-pearl face punctured by black eyes—but beyond her shell, things were different.

There were parts to Susie she’d hid from me and I felt powerless when I learned about those dark slivers of her: how her aggressive gene augmentation had caused irrepairable damage to her health; how despite her bright mind, her mental state was shaky; how her parents’ expectations had wrecked her confidence.

At her accounting firm, she took shortcuts and turned a blind eye to many things. I felt no surprise when she admitted she’d been pressured into signing off on inconsistent earnings reports. When the fraud was exposed, and she was arrested along with a dozen others, I watched my wife’s brittle composure finally shatter apart.

On the day her sentence was carried out, I was allowed to say goodbye in a bare, slate-grey room. So small in my arms, in her black prison jumpsuit, Susie’s breaths were short and rapid—her asthma bothered her all through the trial and she wheezed her way through most days as she’d waited for her sentence.

“I’m so sorry, Jack,” she hacked out between breaths. “I should’ve ... paid more attention. I should’ve asked ... questions.”

“It’s okay,” I said, kissing her forehead. “You don’t have to say you’re sorry to me.”

“I can’t bring my inhalers ... my medicines. I don’t know where they’re sending me. How am I gonna survive?”

“You will survive, Susie. Wherever you find yourself, you’re strong enough to handle it.”

I tried to say it with conviction, for both her sake and my own, but neither of us believed what I said. There was no hope in Susie’s china-doll face—just an expression of waxy terror.

“You’ll get me back, right?” Her fingers, nails bit down to the flesh, dug into my arms. “We can try and get ... the sentence reversed?”

“Niko’s already working on it. I’ll get you back home.”



I went numb when they took her away in shackles, tears drizzling down her terrified face, her chest heaving for air. The magistrate wouldn’t tell me where they sent her. Niko did his lawyerly thing—expensive lunches, tickets to the lunar opera, courtside seats at the dreadball games—anything to get Susie back. After a few months, he met me for lunch to tell me he’d exhausted all venues.

“Sent away for life,” I said to Niko when the news had sunk in. “How is that fair? She’s not a killer or a rapist.”

“Financial crime is serious.” Niko’s voice was sad, but firm. “Many shareholders were affected. Rich shareholders, Jack. She earned herself the wrong set of enemies, even if all she did was turn a blind eye to discrepancies. This was a high profile case, and the magistrate had to be firm with everyone.”

“She was used.”

“Those rich bastards don’t care. They want everyone to go down in flames.”

I hated to ask, but I had to. “What’s the worst place they could send her?”

“She’s not a murderer, as you say. Those usually are sent to pre-civilization times, left to fend for themselves. In Susie’s case, I would guess early civilization. But that’s just a guess. They always look at each case differently. It’s this new rehabilitation approach. Wherever is the best place for each convict.”

“Bullshit! The best place for Susie is here with me. Sending her to some medieval nightmare is punishment, plain and simple.”

“The court disagrees.” Niko paused while the waitress filled his water glass, giving her a quick, appreciative smile, before his face became granite serious again. “They’re not going to tell us where she is, Jack. All we can do at this point is guess.”

“Is there no way to not have to guess?” I paused for a moment. “If I have to hitch a ride with a temporal tourist agency to go to wherever Susie is, I will.”

“Temporal prison zones are quarantined, just like significant event zones. Tourist agencies don’t have the right to go near them.”

“So find me someone who will.” I clenched my fists beneath the pristine table cloth. “I can pay whatever I have to.”

Niko looked at me coolly. “I don’t have to remind you that it’s illegal to break out temporal prisoners, do I? That if Susie’s sentinel reports she’s gone missing, it will put you under immediate suspicion, and you could be sent off someplace even worse yourself?”

“She’s my wife, Niko. She’s sick!”

Niko turned his gaze down and shuffled the butchered remains of his steak around the plate, shaking his head. “But she’s a criminal, too.”

I wouldn’t relent. “There are temporal escape artists for hire,” I continued. “I know there are. There’s no way you’ve not dealt with them before, or at least know how I can find one. I don’t care what the risk is. I can’t leave her to die in some Stone Age village.”

Niko was silent for a few seconds, then sighed. “God help me.” He drank his wine in a few gulps. “I’ll introduce you to Harris.”


As I walk out of the alley and onto the narrow street, French words winding in and out of each other all around, I try to remember what Harris told me before he executed the temporal transfer. You’ll have ten hours before the rift collapses and the timer sets off the return transfer to our time. Locate Susie’s flash point. Ask if someone remembers her stepping out of the burn circle, and where she went, so you can find her.

Blend in. Avoid the sentinels. And when you return, be ready for a life on the run.

I walk by my own flash point. It’s hard to miss; the dirty cobblestones are melted and still flaring red from the heat. Susie’s flash point will be within a two-mile radius, Harris said. Easy enough, I thought then—but now, on these filthy streets that twist around the grey-plastered buildings like rotted serpents around a corpse’s leg, the area seem impossible to cover in ten hours. And that’s just finding Susie’s flash point, not Susie.

I remind myself of Harris’ instructions. A translator. Blend in. I finger the lining of the nondescript black coat he gave me to wear. The unfaced gold coins—a currency of worth in any time, at any place—are sewn into the fabric, ready to pay for local garments, translation, transportation, bribes, anything.

I wander the streets for an hour or so. Above the uninspiring buildings I see the square towers of Notre-Dame—two masculine blocks heavy in the cloudy sky—but my mind rushes past the revelation. I’m too busy trying to not look conspicuous, my eyes scanning the ground for burn marks and for a shop where I might find clothes. But this isn’t my own time: there aren’t any network stores where I’d tap a few selections and garments would be customized to my measurements and mailed to my apartment. There are no malls, no charming boutiques or even tailor’s shops. Finally, as I walk through a particularly cramped back street, I find an undershirt of some sort and a pair of cotton leggings that hang to dry on a rack in a window. I strip right there and pull the dank, itchy clothes on. I stare with regret at my sneakers before I decide to go barefoot.

The sentinels are crawling all over the zones. They know to look for modern shoes, out of time haircuts. Harris cut my hair to my scalp before he transferred me. If the locals are dirty, get dirty. If they smell, smear yourself with cow shit. And God help you if it’s Africa, where you’ll stand out like a grain of salt in a peppermill, no matter what you do.

I stop for a while to think about what else Harris told me to do. I know I’m supposed to find a native who speaks English—which in France might be possible. But as my bare feet slip around on the slick cobblestones, and the ill-fitting pants cut into my groin, my mind is paralyzed on one thought—where in this grimy place could my wife be?

What did she do when she arrived? Where would she have gone? Nobody knows what really happens in prison zones—they’re indistinct times, insignificant places, where the future can’t be affected by the convicts. Did the sentinels take her to a work camp? Have they tossed her into the Bastille? Does the Bastille even exist yet? Or is she just wandering the streets on her own, forced to find a way to survive?

I remember how her asthma would get bad when she got nervous, and how even an airway transplant and bronchial thermoplasty hadn’t stop the attacks. The air is a commotion of hot odors, crumbling plaster, sour piss. As I stagger at the stench, I trip over a dead dog in the gutter, flies feasting in its ragged coat.

I shudder and wonder where, in this twisted and filthy Paris, they take asphyxiated bodies.


I don’t know how I manage to stumble into a Brit, but when I do, I feel some sort of hope.

His looks don’t stand out much in the crowd: he’s skinny like everybody else, with unwashed ashy hair tucked behind his ears. He’s just another hot, sticky body I bump into—another man whose odor makes me want to vomit. But when I hear him curse in jagged-edged English, I realize I’ve stumbled on exactly what I need.

“Excuse me, sir, I need help,” I say, grabbing the scrawny man’s coat sleeve. “I’ll pay in gold.”

He looks at me, his leathery forehead crinkling. I guess it’s my accent that throws him off—my rounded American twang shouldn’t even exist yet.

“What manner of help do you want for gold?” he asks in a stilted, yet understandable, English.

“I need to find a woman. My wife. Do you know the streets around here?”

I thrust coins into his hand. He stares at them.

“Not Louis, these.”

“It’s gold. Isn’t that good enough?”

He looks at the coins, turning one over a few times, and slips them into the pocket of his tattered vest. He puts his arm around me in sudden camaraderie, leading me down the street.

“Tell ’bout your missus, then,” he says. “What she look like?”

“Let’s talk about the streets first. Have you seen a mark on the cobblestones anywhere around here? Melted stone, black burns, anything like that? In a circle?”

He stops in his tracks, and his tone changes. “Oh, Christ. You are one of them. You bloody quarantine breakers!”

He moves quickly and something hard is shoved into my side. It’s a too-familiar, too-modern, stun wand. So much for blending in.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I try feebly.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you do.” He sighs. “How much gold do you have?”

“Maybe another twenty, twenty-five coins. Why?”

“If you want my help, Yankee Doodle, you’ll hand all of it over.”

“For all of it, you better be able to lead me right to the flash point,” I say, tired of the charade.

“Better yet, I’ll take you to yer missus. She’s a cracking brunette, right? Excommunicated a month ago?”

“Yeah.” My heart, if possible, thrums faster. “How do you know?”

“I’m a sentinel. Susie Briggs’ in my watch zone. And you, Mr. Briggs, just broke about twenty temporal laws.”


He is from London, Smith tells me as he leads me away down the street, his stun wand poking into my side.

“It’s not bad, really, this job,” he says. “Another six months, and then I go back home for a year off before my next zone watch. With a lot of gold from all you buggers who won’t stay on yer side of the bloody fence, at that.”

“Just tell me where Susie is,” I say.

He shakes his head. “You people think you have it all figured out. That you’re the wronged ones, that you can ignore the law and do as yer own bloody arses see fit. You don’t think.”

I want to shout at him, yell that he doesn’t know my wife’s conditions or circumstances, beat him down into the gutters and crush his nose on the cobble-stones, but the stun wand still jabs into my side. We may look to others as a pair of friends wobbling down the Paris streets, casually drunk way too early in the day than what is appropriate, but despite this man’s vulgarity, his hold around my arm is like an iron vice. So I batter my anger down and keep quiet.

He leads me around the twisting alleys to a larger street, where we come to a neat row of white-plastered houses with tile roofs.

“So you think Susie Briggs is in chains someplace,” Smith says as we approach the last house. “That we’re making her work in a mine or a quarry, and that she’s scraping the number of days on the walls of her cell, so she can remember how much time passes before you save her from her own squalor. That right?”

I know when I’m being led, so I say nothing. The sentinel points over a low stone wall and into the rear garden of the last house. I see movement behind the lush greenery, and hear a buzz of voices.

“Susie lives there with a few zone mates,” he says. “If you can walk up to her, and find her bursting into yer arms and begging you to bring her home, then you can take her. How’s that, Mr. Briggs?”

His lips are pursed, but I’m pretty sure a contented grin is threatening to split his weaselly damn face open. I’m sure his offer is a trap, but I don’t care. Not if Susie is on the other side of the stone wall.

I look through the bushes. The back of the house is splashed with sunlight, and slithering trails of morning glory and ivy climb up the facade. A man and a woman hack away at a plant bed. The man sees me first, and he looks at me with bewilderment, saying something to the woman. I can tell before she turns around that it’s Susie: I know the curve of that back, the swirl of dark hair at the nape of her neck, the dancer’s grace of her narrow shoulders.

There are many things I expect to see in her face: puzzlement, joy, relief. But all she rewards me with is a light smile tinged with polite indifference.

“Susie?” I say, stepping closer.

Her indifference deepens into confusion. She looks at the man next to her, and he shrugs.

“Susie, it’s me.”

“Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas.” Her voice flows forth the words like they’re made from honey—as though she’s never spoken another language in her life.

A hand slams down on my shoulder. It’s Smith. “She doesn’t understand you, mate. She doesn’t know English anymore.”

The world sways before my eyes. “What did they do to her?”

“Come to my house, and I’ll tell you. And don’t worry about Susie.” His next assertment chills me. “Miss Tabula Rasa here is not going anyplace.”


Smith lives in a house a few doors down. Everything is cramped and small and the ceiling is low. The floor is covered with straw, but it doesn’t stop the earthy dampness from seeping up into the house. A woman with a cherub-fat face is in the kitchen. She smiles at Smith and he kisses her on the lips before sitting down at a table.

“Your wife?” I ask, sitting down also.

“Louise? She thinks she’s the love of my life, but not really. Got a real missus back home. Louise’s more like a benefit of the job—free housekeeping, free handjobs.”

He grins. I find it distasteful.

Louise puts tankards in front of us. The wood is rough against my lips and the drink tastes odd—rich and thick. I sip carefully at the unfamiliarity. Smith puts no such restraint on himself—he downs it in one go.

“Susie doesn’t remember English,” he says. “And she doesn’t remember you, either, Mr. Briggs.”

“The magistrates wiped her memory or something?”

“The Tabula Rasa Initiative. It’s a part of the rehabilitation for lifers.”

The roiling anger I pushed down earlier comes roaring back. “Why would they do something like that? Take away their pasts, their recollections of their loved ones? Leaving them without memories? That’s an insane punishment!”

“You don’t get it. It’s not about punishment.”

He mumbles something to Louise, who disappears out of the room and returns with a stack of papers—they’re too crisp, too modern for this place, yet it is an ancient sight for me. He digs through the pile and pulls out a few pages.

“Let’s see. Susie was sort of in shambles back home, wasn’t she? Not just with her criminal history, I mean.”

“What do you mean, shambles?”

“It says here she’s a designer kid gone wrong, botched her cytology. She’s had a few cancer cleanings, preventative masectomies and a hysterectomy. She was a regular in stem-cell therapy but seems she just can’t keep up.” He reads on and raises an eyebrow. “She had her lungs fixed, and Christ, she can’t even get rid of asthma.”

“Her parents seriously fucked her up when they augmented her IQ. It’s like there was nothing left for the rest of her body.” I imagine the rough wooden table is crawling with germs, and I withdraw my hands from it and put them in my lap. “It’s a miracle she is still alive here, in this disgusting city.”

“A miracle, you think so?” Smith flips the subject in a different direction. “Did you know Susie studied French in high school? That it was her favorite subject?”

I shake my head.

“Did you know two weeks before her excommunication, she told her lawyer she’d always wanted a rose garden?”

I shake my head at that, too.

The sentinel leans forward, his face serious. “The magistrate really does believe in rehabilitation, Mr. Briggs. Sometimes, for people to find out who they really are, they have to get a chance to forget what the world has turned them into. Here, she doesn’t remember she’s supposed to have asthma and be sickly. Here, she can be something different.”

A slow breath escapes my lungs in a shiver. I reach out for the tankard and empty it in one go. The taste, again, is bitter and different, but I decide it’s not bad.

“You fancy it?” Smith says. “The beer?”

I stare at the tankard. “This is beer? I normally hate beer.”

He smirks. “A different time, a different place. You’re a different person here, maybe.”

I get his point, but I fight it. “Susie asked me to come and get her. She doesn’t remember me now, fine, but she made me promise before the magistrate took her memory.”

Smith shrugs. “I’m not stopping you from seeing her, mate. She’s right outside. Let her show you her life. Then ask yourself if she’d be better off here, alone, and fighting off a few germs, or going back home to a place she doesn’t know anymore with a man she doesn’t remember.”

The sentinel gets to his feet. He digs in his pocket and gives me a few coins. They’re not flat and perfectly round like mine, but smaller and uneven, and stamped with a big-nosed portrait. “Why don’t you take her to the market, spend some time.”

“You’d let me do that? You think I won’t just take her back with me?”

“You’re not the first husband to show up here. There have been wives, sons, daughters—even a fellow from the Calima cartel looking to break out his brother. You’d be surprised how many of them went back home alone. How many of them listened to reason.”

Smith walks out into the sunny afternoon. I remain in the kitchen for a few minutes. Louise puts away the scattered papers and clears the table, humming a low tune. It’s not a melody I recognize.

I don’t want to consider if I like it.

If the magistrate could wipe Susie’s memory—erase her parents, her childhood, her crimes, and me—then someone back home can do it again. Harris will know somebody who could make her forget Paris and her rose garden, and then I can explain everything to her. I can show pictures of our wedding: the trapeze waiters, the translucent roses in her bouquet, our wedding night in the subterranean diamond resort. She must remember eventually.


Smith is with Susie and Jean, who seem to be giving up on their plant bed for the day. Susie wipes her hands on her skirt and smiles at me, still tentatively, but at least it’s a smile. I haven’t seen one on her lips in forever.

“Suzette,” she says, tapping her chest.


I look for any sign that she recognizes the name, but she doesn’t seem to know it. She just nods and then hurries into the house.

“I’ve asked her to go with you to the market,” Smith says, shoving something cold into my ear. “You don’t speak French, but this will translate for you. And don’t lose it. I’m going to need it back.”

“Okay,” I say.

He grasps my gaze with his. “I’m going to need her, back, too. Don’t skive off and make me send the infantry after you, mate. You don’t want to end up in the cretaceous zone with the rapists. No sentinels there to watch out for yer arse.”

Susie returns with a basket and a shawl around her shoulders. She hooks her arm with mine. “Allons-y,” she says and smiles. “J’ai besoin de pommes!”

The ear bud translates perfectly in a low, unemotional voice. I muster a weak smile back, and let Susie lead me away. I throw a glance over my shoulder at Smith, who watches us go with a trusting gaze. Nausea blooms in the pit of my susiestomach. I feel like I’ve turned from a one-man rescue party into a lawless kidnapper in a matter of an hour.

I push those thoughts away. She’s your wife, Jack. She asked you to bring her back. Can you live with letting her down, even if it’s a promise forgotten?

We walk to a small square nearby. There’s a sprawl of vendors—some have chunks of still-bloody meat on their tables, courted by a thick swirl of flies. The fish stand shimmers waves of odor into the air. Thin dogs slink around our legs, and even thinner children tug at our sleeves for coins. It’s a filthy, crowded chaos—the sort of place that would have made Susie shrink back into herself had she ever encountered it back home.

But this Susie moves through the market booths fearlessly. She argues about prices for apples and potatoes and leeks. She dips her nose into a basket of fragrant straw and inhales the scent, and then scratches the flea-infested ear of a whelping dog. And not once, no matter how briskly we move between the booths, or how heavy with vegetables and fruits her basket becomes, does she seem bothered by her breathing. Not once does she complain that her chest is hurting, her bones aching, that she is scared. Not once does she look unhappy.

My observation of her is interrupted when the one-hour warning trills from the timer on my wrist.

Susie looks at me with raised eyebrows. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” she says, grabbing my hand curiously.

I shake my head and pull my sleeve down over my wrist. She frowns again, but then her forehead smoothes and she winks.

“Mystérieuse. Comment fascinant."

Her black gaze lingers on me. So does her hand, for just a moment too long. It’s odd to see her look at me like that, because even though I’m sure she doesn’t know who I am, it seems she might want to know.

I exhale and curse Smith’s name under my breath.

When Susie lets go and moves on to the next booth, I glance around to make sure nobody is paying attention to the too-tall, too-pale stranger in their midst. Then I take the timer off my wrist and drop it on the ground, kicking it between a few baskets. I also remove the bud from my ear and put it in my pocket.

After all, French can’t be that hard to learn. Nor can gardening. Maybe Susie can teach me both over a tankard of beer. And maybe though her mind is a blank slate, some things might remain written in her heart. END

Sylvia Anna Hiven is a writer of speculative fiction from Atlanta. Her stories have previously appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “EscapePod,” “Stupefying Stories,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” and more. She claims to be a podcast addict.




ad rates


adjacent fields