Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Remy’s Town
by Megan Neumann

by Andrew Hook

Her Robot Babies
by Brent Knowles

Beyond the Reach of Proof
by Seth W. Kennedy

Here Is a Fighter
by Eric Del Carlo

Invasive Species
by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Deciphering an ET Opening Screen
by Marilyn K. Martin

I Once Was Lost
by Edward Morris

by Melanie Rees

Respect of Headwaiters
by Tais Teng

Toy Soldier
by Leon Chan


A Case Against Saucers
by John McCormick

Atomic Light Bulbs
by Popular Mechanics




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Respect of Headwaiters

By Tais Teng

I WAS SITTING IN THE BACK of L’Alouette Dorée, next to the toilet: the place usually reserved for those foolish enough to think a French bistro caters to single persons. I didn’t complain. Between the serrated leaves of an ornamental palm I had a perfectly good view of the entrance.

Marcel, the headwaiter, was quite a mild-mannered man. He had to be, with half the patrons arriving drunk or stoned, the bistro being located in a side-street of the Zeedijk, Amsterdam’s red light district. Marcel had tentatively placed me as being of the criminal middle class, no two-whore pimp or pickpocket, but also one not overmuch interested in the vagaries of the stock market. He treated me with a friendly respect, which never became servile or condescending.

The headwaiter opened the door for a lank young man, whose green raincoat had been inexpertly mended with white duct tape. Not your usual customer of L’Alouette Dorée. He took a crumpled sheet of notepaper from his pocket and talked earnestly with the headwaiter. Marcel attended with a pleasant smile and nodded. Four times.

I stiffened. A customer for me? That dummy?

Marcel rubbed his left cheek, maybe a bit too emphatic, and I relaxed. Whoever he was, at least he was clean. Marcel’s ability to recognize plain-clothes cops at a glance bordered on the supernatural.

Marcel escorted the young man to my table. “Our friend here would like a word with you, Sir Roguet. If that suits you.” The way Marcel said that Sir made me feel like a real gentleman, a person of consequence.

“That’s all right. Sit down, my friend. What would you like to drink?”

“Port please. A dry port.” The young man stammered a little. He took off his glasses and started to polish them. At closer quarters he didn’t look all that young: bags below his eyes, crow’s-feet spider-webbing the corners of his eyes. Fluffy, already thinning hair.

“My name is Buddingh. Reinier Buddingh.”

I nodded and didn’t offer to shake his hand. “And what can I do for you?”

Marcel drifted in like the shadow of a cloud, placed a glass of port and a small bowl of peanuts on my table and vanished.

Buddingh folded his raincoat and put it, after a short hesitation, across the back of his chair. He wore an expensive tailored suit. No, I corrected myself, a suit that had been expensive. Worsted is almost indestructible, but the elbows and knees showed shiny spots.

“They said you would be interested in this.” He opened his wallet.

I raised my hand. “Excusez moi. Who said so?”

Buddingh frowned. “Is that really important?”

I nodded and studied my fingernails, not deigning to notice his opened wallet. Like I said, old habits die hard.

“Julien,” he said grudgingly, “Julien Remontre.”

I extended my hand. “Let’s have a look.”

Buddingh unzipped a bulging compartment of his wallet and tendered me three glass beads, each the size of the bigger marbles I used to play with as a child. They were clear as water and perfectly spherical.

I rolled one between thumb and index finger and smiled. How long would it take before a diamond, tumbling along a gritty riverbed, lost all its roughness? And became clear? Only impractically long and expert polishing might remove the scratches, the matte effect. But only theoretically. I couldn’t think of a single valid reason to spend so much toil on a diamond. It would be more labor-intensive than cutting and wouldn’t increase the worth of the stone at all. Still ...

I took the flower vase from the center of my table. It was my personal property, cut from an exceedingly tough quartz. The facets terminated in sharp points. One of my tools of the trade, it had often served me well.

I lightly scratched the marble with a facet and held it up against the light. A powdery track of pulverized dust showed. I blew. The surface of the marble remained unscratched.

Harder than crystal at least. But diamond was not the only substance to scratch quartz. Every year the chance became greater that someone would make me the worst kind of fool. New wonder-plastics, ultra-hard ceramics.

“Ten thousand,” I said. His eyes seemed to light up and he leaned a little closer. “Ten thousand euro,” I finished. I had almost said dollar, three times as much, but I didn’t have to. Buddingh clearly needed money. Urgently.

“Of course I can only pay a fraction of the real ...”

“It’s all right. I understand.”

And that was too easy, too soon. “Wait. Ten thousand euro. If, and only if, you let me assay the stone by an expert.”

Buddingh’s face fell. Doubt?

“Otherwise, well, I collect exotic stones. A hobby.” Which wasn’t a lie. Not completely. I don’t like diamonds very much: in their natural state they look like dull gravel and cut they are a bit too gaudy for me. For pure beauty I prefer a crystal-nest of headwaitersamethyst or a clump of rose-quartz. Diamonds are harder than carborundum and rather expensive and that is it.

Buddingh seemed to reach a decision. “Where do we find your expert?”

“Two, three streets away. A ten minutes walk.”

“This is not the kind of neighborhood I ...”

I pursed my lips. “I can’t say you’re completely wrong there. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Just around the corner you’ll find a branch of Singapore Exchange. They stay open till about one o’clock. They rent safe-deposit boxes, and believe me, nobody is gonna monkey with those boxes. Not when half the money there belongs to North Korean gambling houses. You leave two stones in your box. If your diamond is the real hundred percent Koh-I-Noor, I’ll most certainly want the other two, right? Does that take care of your objections?”

At the entrance I tipped Marcel a hundred dollar bill. Even for L’Alouette Dorée a rather extravagant tip and I was sure he would read the enclosed note and act on it in an appropriate way.


We strolled through the twilight. Most restaurants and pubs remained empty, the biting cold keeping most of the people close to their central heating and TV.

Half-frozen sludge crunched under my soles.

My car had already stood five days in the garage and the prognosis was not favorable. I prayed that those marvelous marbles were indeed diamonds. Money trouble had forced me to leave Antwerp rather abruptly but the trouble wasn’t half-a-million dollar big. Money heals all hurts.

Afterwards I could lie awake in a bed with silken blankets, wondering where in hell those diamonds came from and why they had been cut in such a crazy way.

Ten thousand guilders ...

Buddingh knew nothing about diamonds. Nothing!

They were all three literally as big as pigeon eggs, fit to grace the crown of an emperor.


Moshe had been one of Amsterdam’s most skilled diamond cutters. Until he found a second, much more destructive hobby.

Still, though his hands trembled uncontrollably, his eyes remained acute and as long as we took care to provide him with the powder that druggists seldom sell without prescription his other abilities remained unimpaired. It may seem strange that one can make quite a lot of money just assaying diamonds in a city where several labs exist that are willing to do the job for a fifth of the price.

Alas, the trade in diamonds is very closely regulated and too many of my stones didn’t officially exist or were much too prominently mentioned in dossiers of the Sureté.

No, we were quite willing to pay Moshe that little bit more.


Moshe’s house rose like a ramshackle fortress above a lake of gleaming cars. The other buildings had been condemned and torn down, but Moshe had been unwilling to sell. Now his home had ended up engulfed by the parking lot.

Most of his windows were gone, boarded up or provisionally repaired with sheets of black plastic. I rang the bell and he almost immediately opened the door. I suppose he had been observing us.

“Ah, Roguet,” he wheezed, “come inside. You’re a bit late. I have to charge you overtime.” Moshe liked to maintain a facade of business as usual.

“It’s all right, Moshe. Something came up suddenly.”

We followed him up the creaky stairs. The corridor smelled musty, as if the vapors of a thousand broiled cauliflowers had seeped into the wall. Since my childhood I have always associated the smell of cauliflower with unhappiness and poverty.

He stepped into his kitchen and opened a cupboard. He laid his hand on the massive brass disc studded with keys. His fingertips moved almost imperceptibly. A needless precaution, because not even an owl would have been able to decipher the combination, the kitchen was that gloomy.

Five electric locks snapped back, an abrupt rattling that echoed through the house. A part of the wall swung aside and revealed his workroom.

Old-fashioned fluorescent tubes lined the ceiling, an ice-cold glow that banished all shadows. His laboratory was painfully neat, not a single cigarette stub or wad of paper broke the clinical whiteness of his Formica work benches.

In an alcove, the small dull-black machine, which I had procured for him half-a-year ago, gleamed: Moshe’s roentgen camera. Six microscopes waited in a dustproof glass case, each in its own compartment. Moshe lived in his laboratory; his bed folded back against the wall. The rest of his house was just camouflage, meant to convince burglars that rifling his home was a waste of time.

He gave me a pitying look when I put my transparent marble on his workbench. “You take commissions from kids now?”

“Nice lab,” Buddingh said. “Say, is that a Wilbergh spectrograph?”

Moshe smiled. “Cost me an arm and a leg.”

“I can believe that!”

Moshe took a scratch-pen and pressed the titanium point against the marble. I winced. It was not like Moshe at all to act that careless. He held the stone against the light, placed a jewelers’ loupe in his right eye and grunted.

“Nothing to see I suppose,” I said.

“What isn’t might yet be.” He clamped the stone below his dentist drill and tried four drills before he gave up. If his other clients had seen him acting like that, this would have been the last stone Moshe would ever assay.

“The final drill was a Mohr eight,” he muttered. “Holy Moses, you would almost believe this is a real diamond!”

Moshe sat a moment with the stone in his hand, gazing at the dentist drill. He took a pair of tweezers, the flat kind stamp collectors use, and placed the diamond in front of his spectrograph. He seemed to regret his unprofessional behavior for he suddenly acted as if the ultra-hard jewel had changed into a brittle glass bulb.

Moshe pushed a switch, adjusted the intensity; two seconds later a laser ray speared through the marble, changing it into a miniature sun. Laser light of low intensity though; diamonds can burn after all and his customers would be quite displeased if Moshe returned their stones in the form of crumbled ashes.

The laser light died. Moshe took the wet negative that curled from the instant camera. Moshe distrusted all screens. Any digital device could be hacked he firmly believed.

He spread the negative and studied it for almost five minutes, oblivious of his surroundings.

“Well?” I finally asked.

“It’s carbon. Honest to God pure carbon. And the crystal-lattice, it’s diamond, no doubt. Only the stress pattern, I don’t understand it at all.”

Aside from the crystal structure, the stress pattern of a diamond determines how the stone will split. The diamond cutter has to know it very well, because an unexpected fracture plane can ruin the symmetry of the whole diamond.

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s no stress pattern at all!” He was angry. Very angry. He belonged to the class of experts who lean heavily on precedent and experience. He didn’t like surprises. And impossibilities even less. I heard him muttering. His hands balled into fists, relaxed, tensed again. He looked like an atheist who had just concluded that the water had indeed changed into wine and was immediately after introduced to Jesus Christ himself.

“Roguet!” He stepped in front of me and gripped me by the revers. “Where the hell did you get that devil stone?” His pupils were very large. For once I was sure it wasn’t an effect of the cocaine. I don’t think he really saw me. I was just a good object to grip and shake. He relaxed his grip and took a deep breath. I could hear the thudding of his heart, it was suddenly that silent.

“The NASA,” he said. “It must be! I’m right, am I? You stole a moon stone!” He talked very fast and triumphantly, stumbling over his own words. “Meteorites! They impact, impossibly hard. Heat, stupendous pressure. Enough to form diamonds, yes? Big diamonds.”

“Sorry,” Buddingh said, “they’re not from the moon.”

“No? Not the moon?” Moshe’s face fell.

“Moshe,” I said, “what’s eating you? The little stress pattern that wasn’t there?”

“No inclusions,” he wailed. “Nothing. Not even at a magnification of a thousand. Not a single impurity.”

For a moment I feared Moshe was talking to much. Impurities and inclusions are the bane of the diamond trade. They can spoil the biggest stone, make it worthless except for industrial use. A diamond that even at a thousand times magnification showed no flaws must be priceless.

I patted Moshe on his shoulder. “You did an excellent job. See you later.”

Moshe nodded, a sad gnome, and locked the door behind us.


I insisted that Buddingh put the diamond back in his wallet and washed my hands in the grimy kitchen.

There are other places where intense heat and stupendous pressure are generated. Just for a moment, microseconds, but perhaps long enough to form diamonds.

The half-life of certain radioactive isotopes runs into the tens of thousands of years. The first symptoms of radiation sickness are vomiting, loss of hair and teeth. It seemed like a good idea to leave the stones in the vault of Singapore Exchange. Until I had bought my own safe, preferably lined with lead.


Herman’s ancient Volvo waited in front of the bank. Marcel the headwaiter must have reached him in time.

I withdrew the agreed amount of money from my account and waited while Buddingh emptied his box. I had only four thousand dollars left, but I supposed I wouldn’t remain that insolvent for very long. Maybe I should ask Moshe to roughen the stones a bit to mask their improbable smoothness, but it wasn’t that urgent.

Buddingh proved to be a cautious man in at least one aspect—he promptly deposited his money in a newly opened account. It’s rather imprudent to walk the streets of Amsterdam with so much cash. Which was also true for diamonds. I signaled an employee and descended to the vault.


Herman called around three a.m.

“I followed his car, but he only went to a disco. The Bhagwan one. He danced with a couple of girls. He drank a lot. Man, that guy can drink! Like he just walked in from a desert.”

“Maybe he did,” I said, remembering the shining patches on his expensive suit, his inexpertly repaired raincoat.

“Ah, well, I kept close to him. He didn’t speak to anyone.”

“Not even to the girls?”

“They don’t count.”

I sighed. How very like Herman ... “Some prejudices are downright stupid. Even worse, bad for business. Remember Linda Parmentier?”

“Aw! OK, OK, I agree. Anyway, I found his house. An apartment at the Bandoengstraat. Didn’t look like much. Doesn’t have a lot of money.”

“A bit more right now. Not very much.”

“His name is Wesselinck. R.E. Wesselinck. I read it on his door. I suppose it’s not his real name.”

“Call me again the moment you find anything else.”


Herman was a leftover from Antwerp, the evil Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote. Herman didn’t like women, Negroes, migrant workers, and people who didn’t speak the dialect of his birth village. But his most virulent hatred he reserved for me, his employer. How he would have loved to bite the hand that fed him! Only one consideration held him back. I paid him. I paid him very well and his greed overshadowed his hate, which he felt after all for most of mankind.

I paid him well and, like Moshe, he prided himself on being an expert. His talent was a mole-like ability to dig in the dark past of my customers and enemies, unearthing the stinking treasures of their carefully hidden neglects and misdeeds.


I put Herman’s file aside and gazed from the window. A polystyrene island navigated the channel, rowed by three rhythmically chanting Tamils. On the top of the mast an antique lantern swayed, flashing a brilliant blue.

Perhaps it was possible to get used to Amsterdam, even to learn to appreciate her. Like it’s possible for a European to become accustomed to a real hot Indian curry. I’d rather not try.

I kept looking until they vanished below a bridge.

Three girls with purple stars on their brows and green hair strolled by on the other side of the channel.

“Mars,” Herman had concluded during our first walk through Amsterdam. “Man, we have landed on fucking Mars!”

I read my summary of Herman’s file again. Less than half a page against the sixty pages of Herman’s monumental report. I’m sure a frustrated bureaucrat is hidden somewhere deep in the recesses of Herman’s mind. His reports were always exceedingly thorough and close to unreadable.

Reinier Buddingh. In his nervousness, he must have used his real name in the bistro. Unemployed biochemist. His unemployment benefits had been cut off a month ago because, according to the Social Security, “in view of your failure to seek another job, your status of being unemployed can only be considered voluntary." It seemed almost like a sentence Herman had made up himself.

Keep on reading. No girlfriend. No friends at all. Finished his study cum laude at the University of Utrecht. Doctoral dissertation: “The Catalytic Properties of the Platinum-Cobalt-Beryllium Alloys.” Nine articles in scientific periodicals which were well-received. Worked three years for a metallurgical combine. Fired after a row with his director. Unemployed ever since.

I googled “platinum catalytic properties.” Half-a-million hits. Platinum was clearly a hot topic.

Two hours later I knew more about platinum than I had ever wanted to know. It proved to be a vital ingredient for hundreds of chemical reactions. Without platinum, the production of artificial fertilizers became economically unfeasible. The catalytic converters on the cars that kept the cities from suffocating would no longer function. Glass fiber, the nervous system of modern communications, would become a thing of the legendary past.

The monetary value of the metal itself was completely secondary to the host of vital industrial functions it performed. If I could believe the article, the West would grind to a halt inside a month if the supply of platinum was ever cut off.

It pivoted on two terms: “catalyst” and “heat-resistant." As a catalyst, platinum accelerated chemical reactions to hundreds of times their former pace, usually at an appreciably lower temperature and pressure. Combine this with the extremely high melting point of platinum: it could act as a mall or sieve at temperatures where other metals ran like water.

Heat, stupendous pressure, Moshe had said. Enough to form diamonds, yes? Maybe those temperatures and pressures didn’t have to be as high as we had always thought. If you used the right catalyst. But no matter how rapid and smooth the process would proceed, it would still cost energy. Lots of power. I phoned several power companies. The third was the right one.

“Yes, my name is Buddingh. R.E. Buddingh. I received a rather astounding electricity bill last month. I’m sure some mistake was made. If you could look it up? My address?” I had to riffle Herman’s report. “Yes, Bandoengstraat 67.”

It took a quarter of an hour before their computer grudgingly provided the right data.

Bull’s-eye! It’s pretty unusual for a private citizen to run up an electricity bill of six thousand euro in a single month.


Some abilities you never forget. I waited in the cafeteria on the other side of the street until Buddingh stepped in his car and drove away. My major complaint was that the wait forced me to consume two salted herrings and a portion of horribly greasy French fries. The Dutch cuisine is seldom mentioned in gastronomical guides and justly so.

The lock on the front door formed no obstacle: a Sony of the cheapest kind. What is the use of a retina scanner if there is a reset hole?

Inside, the house had been renovated by some slumlord, so it now combined the cheerfulness of a hospital with the solid workmanship of a refugee camp. The brick walls had been broken away to be replaced by plasterboard.

There was no laboratory. Somehow that shocked me. A steel workbench with a modern kiln, a rack with hardened glassware, six tongs and a soldering iron— that was all. I put my hand on top of the kiln and felt a tepid warmth. A digital thermometer in the lid gave the temperature inside: 400 degrees Centigrade.

I flipped the toggle on the kiln and opened the lid. I used a tong to lift the two retorts from the red-hot interior and emptied them in the sink. The cloudy liquid crept towards the drain and rapidly solidified. I ran the water till it stopped hissing and peered closer. A suspension of very fine graphite powder in molten plastic I finally decided. The seedling diamonds nestled in a cage of platinum thread. Two electrodes of an unknown bluish metal extended for about fifteen centimeters. I seemed to remember that it was possible to influence the growth of crystals with electric fields. The diamonds were, as yet, no bigger than small marbles.

Suddenly the impossibility of the whole arrangement hit me. Diamond formation at four hundred degrees Centigrade! In a retort that wasn’t even pressurized!

The melting point of diamonds is around 3,500 degrees Centigrade and they only crystallize under extreme pressure. I didn’t know the exact figure, but I seemed to remember it must be in the hundreds of atmospheres.

With Buddingh’s system, making diamonds became a kind of home craft, an innocent hobby most people would be able to afford.

Buddingh switched the light on and saw me sitting in his easy chair, a gun loosely held in my left hand. I usually dislike violence. The refuge of the incompetent and all that. Also, it is bad for business.

He didn’t even look shocked. He stood in the middle of the room and his shoulders slumped. He seemed even more tired than at our first meeting. The bags below his eyes looked like dark purple bruises. His necktie had become loose.

He sighed. “Roguet. I should have known.”

He sank down on the sofa and pressed his knuckles against his cheeks. He looked up, his eyes bloodshot. "How much, Roguet? A million, ten million?” He giggled, the sound of a deadly tired man. “Give me a week and I’ll build you a diamond as big as your fist. Hell! As big as an ostrich egg!”

“There’s no limit to the size of your diamonds?”

He sat a little bit straighter. “If they want to build kilns the size of football fields. Imagine, Roguet! Ocean liners with hulls of pure diamond, translucent skyscrapers still standing when the pyramids are forgotten! I can crystallize them in any form and shape: from combustion chambers for a space shuttle to cables that will hold a bridge from Gibraltar to Africa. Everything!” He shook his head. “And you think of gaudy glitter stuff. Playthings for bored heiresses. It’s a beautiful material, Roguet. Heat-proof, extremely durable and dirt cheap. Carbon, our planet is rich with carbon!”

“I believe you. Really,” I said. “Silver conducts a current a lot more effectively than copper, yet we seldom use it that way.” He didn’t hear me, gazing beyond the bare walls of his room. I think he saw his oil tankers drifting across the ocean like latter-day Avalons, breaking the sunlight into a thousand rainbows.

Perhaps I was one of the few men able to understand his feelings. I had watched in wonder while a craftsman sketched delightful arabesques into a plate of smoky glass, his diamond tipped pen skating over the surface with perfect assurance. I had seen the tiny diamond window of a space probe, meant to withstand the corrosive hell of another planet. I had seen the huge drill-head of an oil derrick, set with tiny black diamonds, eating in the hard granite as if it was no more than sandstone. Damned, I knew diamonds were never meant for the wrinkled necks of fabulously rich widows!

I shot him right between the eyes and I still believe that for Buddingh, dreams and death seamlessly blended into each other.


I had to leave my driving permit and pay a deposit of five hundred euro to hire an oxygen torch. The double handful of diamonds I had found in the apartment burned with a quivering blue flame. In the end, I was unable to distinguish their ashes from those of Buddingh’s notebooks.

I could have been fabulously wealthy, a Donald Trump, a George Soros, but I knew myself too well. I’m a very small trader in diamonds that are not procured in quite the usual way, and I like it when men like Marcel call me Sir and really mean it. More I don’t need. END

Tais Teng is the pseudonym of Thijs van Ebbenhorst Tengbergen, a Dutch science fiction writer, illustrator, and sculptor. He has authored more than one hundred books, for adults and children, and has won the Paul Harland Prize four times.