Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Fiction

Uses of Nirvana
by Mark Silcox

A Place for Oysters
by Sandy Hiortdahl

Chrysalis
by Steven Young

A Switch in Time
by David Steffen

Arena
by Richard Wren

Mostly a Question of Molecular Bonds
by Steve Bates

Panic Button
by Seth Chambers

When the Robots Struck
by Eamonn Murphy

John Cochran’s Amazing Flight
by J. Richard Jacobs

Multimart
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Vegan State
by Mark Ayling

Articles

Mining Data on UFOs
by Preston Dennett

Trip the Light Fantastic
by John McCormick


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Vegan State

By Mark Ayling

I ATTEND MY GYM SESSION in the morning, though when the alarm on my phone goes off I seriously consider throwing it across the room. I have a lukewarm shower, inject breakfast and get dressed. Then I make the journey on an antique bicycle. My petrol allowance has been used up. I’m unable to use my scooter to travel until next month. I can’t afford a hydro-car. Once the monthly fuel ration is gone the bicycle is my only mode of transport.

Gym sessions are three times a week. I log in at the door. This is to prove I attended. I place my ID in the mouth of the gym bot. Its eyes flash red. It begins to talk to me. This is around a mouthful of ID plastic.

“Welcome to The Fitness Hub, Anabelle! Please acknowledge previous non-attendance!”

I reach forward to remove my ID. There’s a queue forming behind me. I glance over my shoulder to apologize. A creatine ogre is ogling my arse.

I remove my card and yank the receipt from the bot’s mouth—a 50-credit fine the day before payday! The scanner debits my account. I check the receipt, which updates my infringements. Skipped meals, dodged gym sessions, failure to recycle appropriately, accumulated illness. There’s a notification in small print. If I fail to comply with my life plan, if I dodge a gym session or forfeit a carrot soup at meal times again, I will have to attend a hearing. A hearing will mean an investigation. I will be scrutinized. My private life will be under the microscope. That is unacceptable. Given the kind of company I’ve been keeping, the sort of social life I’ve been enjoying lately, the last thing I need is the state paying attention to me.

Health fascism is trending. It is an age of enforced vigor. Unhealthiness is outlawed. Fitness is mandatory. It’s the middle of the century and boredom is endemic. You can’t have sex without a license. An illegal pregnancy carries a mandatory ten-year sentence.

Dietary laws are ridiculous. The penalty for eating meat is a mandatory life sentence.

***

I met Carly St. John by chance one night. We were attending a music event in the city; the only drinks available were organic juice. Health officers monitored the event. All music events are monitored like this in the city. There are occasionally substances on offer, though dealers are reluctant to trade due to the penalties incurred if they happen to get arrested.

I was seated in a chill out area where the music was ambient. I was having a breather away from the lights and blazing music. Carly and her friends were seated nearby. Carly with her ten percent body fat, her bioluminescent skin, watching me intently.

After a while she gestured me over. Disinhibited Carly, under the influence of something, taking me into her confidence, seducing me with her pheromones. We began to discuss the government and meat and how I’d not eaten meat since I was five years old.

“Would you like to?” She asked a tad flirtatiously.

“Be serious,” I said, nervousness making my voice crack.

“I am.” She put her arm round my shoulder and continued to murmur in my ear.

I felt like I was part of something; like the French resistance fighters during the great war of the last century. She told me she would be in touch with further details though I promptly forgot about the invite and went about my day-to-day activities as if we’d never even spoken.

That was a year ago. Since then I’ve attended a number of dinners, spread across the North West. Carly and her friend Eve arrange them. Another associate, a chef by the name of Barney procures the meat and prepares the menu. It’s a very select group of foodies that attends; a zealous, well-organized bunch more interested in beef Wellington than kick-starting a revolution. Still, with the government clampdown on illicit dinners in force, I wonder how long it’ll be before we’re shut down.

***

It’s the first Saturday of the month. I’ve been off work for the last week, relaxing and forgetting to attend to my life and health plans. I used to be a good civilian. I used to adhere to all the rules and regulations. That changed when I met Carly. It changed for good when I tasted my first kebab.

There’s a dinner planned for later this evening. A couple of regulars have sent their apologies. They are unable to attend due to work and family commitments. There will be eight diners in attendance. They will be sent a text prior to the meal. This will be sent two hours before service. It will inform the diners of the event’s location. There will be directions for those not familiar with the area.

I finish my evening meal, and then I sign for it on my computer. I dim the lights in my crappy apartment, with the busted sofa and empty fish tank and the gas fire and the temperamental dishwasher. I put on my headset, upload a pirate radio transmission from The Chef, self-proclaimed voice of the disenfranchised and unhealthy, listen to him for a while, ranting about the recent increase in government fines for obesity and other health plan infringements. Then, when I can no longer stand the tedium and my eyes are closing and I no longer think I’m going to get the call, I receive a text via my headset.

I forward the text to my computer. Once I’ve decoded the missive, (all communication is encrypted since interception by the wrong person could cause a lot of trouble,) I scribble the address on a bit of foolscap. I delete the message. I get changed and rush my shower due to there being a water shortage this month. I wear a dress and heels and grab a coat on my way out; this is in case it goes cold later on. I hail a rickshaw and commence my journey. The meal is to be served in an abandoned hall. The hall was once an old lad’s club in Walkden. According to the text, the hall is a solitary building near to woodland and will serve admirably as a cantina for the night.

***

I arrive at the hall thinking I’ll be first. However, Maria Carter, with her beehive and black chiffon dress, her perfect makeup and designer cigarettes, has arrived ahead of me. Her beehive is slightly wonky. Her hands are fidgeting nervously with her bag strap.

Maria sees me. She fixes her smile in place. She rights her beehive. Her hands become still. She gestures me over. She’s slightly older than me, somewhere in her mid-thirties. She’s an extremely elegant lady with a taste for fine dining. She greets me as I draw near. She puts her arm through mine and we enter the building together like sisters meeting for brunch.

The foyer smells of damp. There’s mold on the ceiling. It’s dank and unseemly and radiates neglect. Not the most auspicious start I think. I cough due to the plaster dust I inhaled as we entered.

After a moment of loitering with neither of us commenting, Maria smoking a cigarette and me picking my fingernails, the grand doors leading to the hall—the only handsome feature we’ve encountered thus far, are opened from within and Carly steps forward.

Carly, looking as ageless and spectral as a Victorian ghost child, dressed in a luminescent wraparound and wearing contact lenses that make her eyes shine, ushers us into the hall. Nobody speaks. The moment is a magical one. The hall has been theatrically lit. Variably sized candles flicker and dance. It’s a complete contrast to the foyer, which was a shudder inducing derelict. The hall is clean and romantic, permeated by cooking smells, warmed by a log burner that crackles in the fireplace.

We attend our seats, which are identified through name cards. I order a glass of red wine and await the starter. The other diners arrive after us and take their places around the table.

The menu is as follows:

Fois Gras toasts served with a fig chutney and salad, followed by a mixed game pie served with roasted seasonal vegetables. Finally, dessert is a white chocolate torte served with raspberry coulis.

It’s a wonderful meal, cooked to perfection. The company and conversation is excellent. I feel relaxed and sated. Any nervousness I may have been feeling has been dissipated by the food and wine.

Everything is running smoothly, like clockwork. It’s during dessert when it all turns to shit. The doors to the hall explode off their hinges. Carly, who is closest to the explosion, is flung sideways out of her chair. A jagged wooden shard protrudes from her throat. She crumples in a heap on the sanded wooden floor. Blood jets up the wall behind her rendered doubly grotesque by rifle-mounted torch beams.

NOBODY MOVE. EVERYBODY DOWN. EVERYBODY DOWN. DOWN ON THE FLOOR NOW! DON’T MOVE MOTHERFUCKERS. DOWN NOW! GET DOWN. HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK ...

I exit through a window in the confusion. I manage to get out unnoticed. I stumble into an officer guarding the perimeter as I jump down from a window ledge. The officer dodges. He tries to club me with his Taser but hits the wall instead, jarring the Taser from his grasp. This gives me enough time to take advantage by retrieving it and firing it into his chest. The noise from the house muffles the sound of our encounter. This enables me to limp from the madness, under cover of darkness into the woodland nearby. I wait for the chase to commence, but nobody comes after me, which is just as well given I’ve been temporarily deafened and my ankle hurts where I twisted it escaping ...

***

I withdraw as much money as possible following the ambush. I know that my accounts will soon be frozen.

I wonder what my next move will be. What happens once the money runs out? I will have to leave the country, but first I need shelter.

I quickly go to ground. I take a room in an anonymous hotel. It’s the sort of place criminals and prostitutes frequent. People’s faces blur when you try to focus on them. Convenient I think, given I’m wanted for eating meat and assaulting an officer of the law. I download podcasts and pick up radio transmissions from The Chef. I think of Carly. I wonder how the police managed to find out about the party. I turn it over in my head, over and over, piecing events together such as who the guests were, what was the seating arrangement? Where was everybody when the door was blown? Was anybody behaving oddly in the run up to the police arriving?

I try to remember who was missing when the door was blasted. Carly and Eve seated at the head of the table furthest away from me, a bloke called Darren who was relatively new to the right of them. Barney had come in from the kitchen and was seated opposite trying to converse with Darren. There was Robert the librarian with his tie askew. His wife Blossom who was from Spain was also present. Finally there was Maria and myself, Maria with her relentless chatter, talking about pork and jogging and perfume.

I visualize the hall. The person missing when the door was breached was Maria. She’d gone to use the bathroom. She was the only one of us not present. Before the meal, too, I think, when I met her outside. She looked uncomfortable, flustered and anxious.

The question now is what do I do next? Make a bid to get to safety or attempt to confront Maria. I know where she lives. I’ve been there before. Planning meals and meetings. Composing menus. Think! What would Carly have done under the circumstances?

I check the streaming news and journals and find myself in a number of the dailies, grainy black and white from my student days, mug shot taken at a local health office, breach of the peace, something like that, demonstrating against government cuts; now I’m accused of attacking an officer during a dinner party. Not very flattering, I think, and I clearly forgot my makeup ...

 

Officer Attacked!

Officer Damien Ripley, aged 25 from Monton, was attacked and grievously injured after responding to an illegal dinner party in Walkden at the weekend.

Officers were called to the scene at a building in Walkden after reports from neighbors of suspicious activity.

Annabelle Jones of 51 Chapel Street is being sought for questioning in connection with the attack. A local resident positively identified the waitress on a nearby street following the incident.

Colleagues at The Lentil Palace restaurant where Jones had recently been working were shocked to hear of Miss Jones’ involvement in illegal dining.

Miss Jones was due to return to work this Monday after a week off. However she has yet to report for duty. Neither friends nor family can confirm her whereabouts at this time.

***

Seeing my photo splashed over endless web pages and news items explodes my paranoia. I purchase a blonde wig, glasses, and sandals. I dress poor, ripped jeans and a winter coat purloined from a washing line that makes me look muscular. I sit in a launderette across the street from Maria’s flat. I watch for a few days and observe the comings and goings. No officers enter or leave. Nobody looks out of place. There are no uniforms. There are no cameras covering the alley. I may have missed something. It could be a trap. Or perhaps, and this is the more likely rationale, they believe I’ve made a run for it and am no longer in the city. Perhaps they underestimated me? In doing so they’ve provided me with a clear run to the traitor who sold us out.

I exit the launderette. I cross the road and duck into the alley round the back of the flats. I loiter there for a while, taking cover behind some empty crates. I wait for a resident to come out to dump trash. It isn’t long before my patience is rewarded. An athletic thirty-year-old man pushes the door open. A tanned arm swings a bag of refuse into a Biffa bin. He lingers for a minute and checks there’s nobody about. He snatches a couple of puffs on a cigarette. The minimum sentence for smoking is a two-month custodial, a fortnight of rehab and a three hundred credit fine. Chuffing smoke, he flicks the cigarette in my general direction. The lit fag end fizzles out in a puddle. The door eases closed behind him. Once he’s out of sight I step from my hiding place and follow him in. He doesn’t notice me. I wait until he’s entered his flat. I listen for any residents on the stairs. Then I head up the stairwell. Maria’s is the only apartment on the third floor. I check the door and find it unlocked. I step in the flat, the smell of environmentally friendly polish back drafting as I enter. I pull the door closed after me and await her return.

The flat is minimally furnished. No character. Mismatched furniture and hardwood floors. The centerpiece of the lounge is a bespoke coffee table. This is made of pine with an ornamental sundial protruding from its center.

I crouch beside a lampshade with oriental writing on it. I await the arrival home of the woman responsible for my friend’s death. My patience is rewarded a couple of hours later. The front door opens and closes. There is a bit of shuffling, a coat and shoes being removed, a bag being dropped.

Following this, Maria floats into the living room borne up on a cloud of perfume. It precedes her into the lounge, informing me of her presence. On entering the room, Maria claps twice. The lamp beside me casts my shadow across the coffee table. She’s dressed in an expensive sheathe dress. Her long auburn hair flows down over her shoulders. She freezes on seeing me. Fear creases her features momentarily. She stares at me for a moment. Neither of us says anything.

After a moment I break the silence.

“Why did you do it?” I ask

“For the money.” She says.

“How much?” I ask.

“Enough.” she says. Her smile is a crimson slash. It opens her face up like an ugly knife wound.

“Carly’s dead.” I tell her through gritted teeth.

“So what?” she shrugs. She flicks her hair like she’s auditioning for TV.

Then she rushes me. The plan was to tackle me I think, like a rugby player. In her haste she trips over the couch. Shock widens her eyes. Her hands come up to protect her face but they’re no protection against the coffee table with the fake sundial protruding from its center which pierces her left eye socket and kills her instantly. I stare at the point of the sundial protruding from the back of her head. I have time to wonder at the brain and scalp stuck to it. There’s mess everywhere. I step away from the demolished coffee table to avoid the blood reaching my sandals.

I search the flat quickly for any valuables she might have stashed. I hit the jackpot when I find a make up bag stuffed with credits in her underwear drawer. I retrieve an overnight bag from under the bed and fill it with dresses and clothing. I’ll get changed before I leave, she was about my size, should be okay. I’ll steal a hydro-car and skip town. I’ll head for the hills using the B roads. I’ll lay low for a while and hope it all blows over. Maybe they’ll find me. Or maybe I’ll be safe.

Before I leave I stuff a credit note in Maria’s mouth. I rummage in her handbag and come up with a red lipstick. I use it to scrawl a bloody message on the bedroom mirror.

RIP Carly St. John.

I ease out of the flat. I make my way down the stairwell. I slip out of the fire exit. I pause in the alley. I anticipate arrest for a moment, amplified voices shouting, the sound of shots fired, a storm of bullets, a violent death. The only sounds are those of a plane overhead. I stare at it a moment. I watch until it vanishes. I adjust my sunglasses and then step out of the alley ... END

Mark Ayling is a registered mental health nurse living in the North of England. He has a degree in English Literature and French. He likes writing science fiction and horror, and reading children’s books to his son. This is his third story for “Perihelion.”

 

Yellow Glad Days

 

         

 

mystic doors

 

duotrope