Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crowd Control
by Gareth D. Jones et al.

Blank Space
by David Wright

Robot of Dorian Graham
by Richard Zwicker

Seven Styles of Mortality
by Cathy Douglas

Lightning Strikes
by Sean Monaghan

2038: A Mars Odyssey
by Brian Biswas

Innovation Stopped
by William R. Eakin

Midnight in Absheron
by Edward Ashton

Full Fathom Five on Chemical Freedom
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Aaron Rasmusson

Shimmer and Fade
by Daniel Nathan Horn


UFOs: the Truth is Not Out There
by Eric M. Jones

Off on a Comet
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Crowd Control

By Gareth D. Jones, Aliette De Bodard,
Nancy Fulda, Deborah Walker, John Murphy,
and Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

AFTER A LONG NIGHT SHIFT THAT lingered well into the morning, the last person Slim Owusu needed to talk to was a salesman. He hated the way they always wanted to sell things to him. This one was peddling some kind of crowd control device, apparently, which the station governor had decided was highly important. So, even though he was security chief on Astropolis, he couldn’t get out of it. Slim yawned and rubbed his eyes before leaving the quiet haven of his office and stepped into the subdued hubbub of the security control centre.

In the midst of the wide, high-ceilinged room, the salesman stood out immediately among the grey-clad security personnel. He wore a crisp suit in emerald green with a midnight blue, round-collared shirt, and an excess of hair combed into a rigid quiff. He carried a slim portfolio under one arm.

Slim gathered his strength and introduced himself.

“Leopold Threspont,” the salesman responded, shaking Slim’s hand exuberantly. “Let me tell you about our revolutionary, non-physical crowd control system ...”

Slim mostly listened and stifled a yawn.

“A demonstration then?”

“Sure.” Slim led the way to one of the monitoring stations where one of his more competent sergeants sat. He nodded acknowledgement of her and turned back to the salesman. “What kind of situation are we looking for?”

“Let’s start with something simple.” Leopold flashed a blinding grin. “Say, a noisy, not necessarily angry kind of crowd ...” He scanned the array of screens. “Observe—the market section.”

Slim looked at the market on section 11. Dozens of small shops and stalls, a couple of hundred customers milling about, talking loudly, shouting, jostling each other. “Hardly a dangerous situation,” he said, recalling the section 62 riot caused by a faulty decompression alarm several years earlier. He pushed the market scene up onto the huge main screen and brought the volume up.

Leopold smiled again. He really was irritating. He pulled a compact processing unit from his portfolio with a flourish. “I’ll need to connect this to your master controls, with access to environmental, public address and monitoring systems, internal comms. Basically every system you have access to.”

The sergeant at the desk looked at Slim with a raised eyebrow. “That’s every system on the station.”

Slim nodded at her. “Go ahead, Agnes.”

She connected the salesman’s unit up to the desk. Leopold sat at the spare chair, opened his portfolio and ran his hands over the keyboard within.

Slim stared at the screen. Nothing much seemed to happen. Then he heard gentle music playing, barely perceptible over the noise of the crowd at first, but then stronger as the voices quietened down.

“Music?” Slim wasn’t overly impressed. It was very old psychology.

Leopold adjusted his collar and sat up straight. “I’ve also reduced the temperature just enough to suppress exuberance.”

Slim nodded, not persuaded it was very revolutionary.

“This is only the first stage,” Leopold said. “The system can be used much more subtly. We could direct the crowd to another location, isolate a small section and divide them off, even target individuals.”

Slim nodded along politely.

“I see you’re not convinced,” Leopold said, standing up. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Let’s make it more interesting. Pick five people. Tell me where you want them to go.”

“Five people? Any five people?”

“That’s right.” Leopold gestured at the array of vidscreens. “Take your pick.”

Agnes looked up at Slim skeptically.

“All right.” Slim glanced around, stepped over to the large central desk that displayed a plan view of the station. He flicked through the levels until he arrived at the lowest, panned across to section 22, highlighted a particular room. “The lower observation lounge. It’s down in a corner. You’d have to get people right across the station. It’s mostly full of old-timers whiling away the day.”

Leopold looked at the plan, smiled. “Very well. Choose your targets.”

Slim turned back to the vidscreens and started choosing from all round the station. A priest, a kid, an IT guy, a cleaner. He intended to be random, but when he caught sight of one of his own undercover security agents working a cafe, he smiled what could be described as an evil grin. Why not make it more challenging for the salesman?


It was the message that first alerted Charles. It came, blinking in his VR overlay: the relays said its origin was Earth, from deep in the Cévennes area of France. That meant Valérie; but her name wasn’t on it. There was nothing else beyond the origin; the rest of it was garbled nonsense. Charles ran several decrypting algorithms, just in case; but nothing coalesced into any kind of meaning. So he went to the lowest level of Astropolis to check the network architecture. Eleven a.m.: ten hours ahead of his shift.

And, so far, he hadn’t found anything that explained any of it. The intricate weave of transparent fibres that relayed communications from Earth seemed whole; the cables that took the comms and relayed them within the station all reported no problems; and there was no reason why this should happen at all, except a random fluke. As network administrator, Charles knew all about random flukes; they were rare, something like one in a quintillion. But it wasn’t the probability that counted; just the occurrence.

That said ... to lose an entire message, just like this? Possible, but ...

The message was still blinking in his overlay; he resisted the temptation to open it again, knowing it would be nothing more than garbage bits.  

Of course, even if he decrypted it, he would find it to be full of insignificant things: how Valérie’s schoolwork was progressing, how her imprinted languages were developing. She’d add little margin drawings with captions in Mandarin or Hindi; sometimes with puns so elaborate that Charles had to find Mei or Poonam to understand them—but it was all right, because he could see the education he and Thuy had paid for before his daughter’s birth; and the brighter future Valérie would have, brighter than any of theirs—brighter than Thuy’s, who had died of radiation exposure from a faulty suit and had been reduced to ashes, forever orbiting the home of her ancestors. Brighter than Charles’, who made enough money on Astropolis to support Valérie’s education; but not enough to bring her up here with him, despite the occasional job on the side he had taken on.

Charles sighed, massaging his temples, and took another look at the far end of the data room—where the cables plunged into the bowels of the habitat; where the messages were tagged with the ID of their recipient, and travelled into the station’s network to be delivered. There seemed to be nothing wrong there either: the bright dots of light on his VR screen showed a larger concentration in the corridors—it was late in the morning, a time when the entire sector came alive with people taking their shifts; when the place seemed to breathe and live, much like the newest commuter lines that crisscrossed the Cévennes; an unceasing ballet that reminded him of what kept them all connected.

For another moment Charles kept looking at the network node, but everything seemed to be nominal; and, at last, he had to admit defeat. The message was a fluke—one of the rare streams that had got snared on its way—and, much as he disliked the idea, he had to admit that the fluke had happened to him. On his next allotment of downstream bandwidth, he would write to Valérie at her boarding school and ask her to resend the message. Or, perhaps, if he spent everything that was owed to him, he might even manage a brief call—hear her voice and talk to her, as he’d done before. It had been so long since he’d last heard her voice ...

Charles put the matter from his mind, and disconnected from his identity as administrator. Then he headed towards the lower observation lounge, to enjoy a much-deserved breakfast while staring at the Earth he’d left behind.


Saskia was nothing if not decisive. Or so her ex-husband had told her.

She’d been sitting with her ankles crossed at a small glass table for nearly twenty minutes, absently fending off passes from the well-dressed smuggler who’d offered to buy her a drink. She was supposed to be leading him on. That was her job: flirting with the riffraff until they forgot themselves and confessed to something illegal. It was dangerous work, even for an undercover cop, and Saskia had been grateful more than once for the taser strapped to her thigh.

Today, however, she could not keep her mind on her work.

Her acute ears had picked up a conversation two tables over. Beyond the spiky outline of her admirer’s crew cut, Saskia caught occasional glimpses of a plump, distraught woman with a station phone clipped to her ear. A tired-looking man in dock workers’ overalls sat beside her, bouncing a child on his knee. Saskia had been listening to them for several minutes, ever since the words arginase deficiency had drifted across the room to snag her attention.

“Excuse me,” Saskia said, standing abruptly and slapping enough money on the table to cover the cost of her drink. “There’s something I have to do.”

The smuggler, interrupted mid-boast, gaped as she walked past him. She stopped at the table with the distressed parents.

“Shut down the call,” Saskia said.

The woman looked up and pulled the phone from her ear, but did not disengage the connection.

“I’ve been listening,” Saskia continuted. “You’re online with the station’s logistics department, are you not?”

“I’m trying to reach someone in authority.”

“It won’t do you any good,” Saskia said, gently reaching out and shutting off the earphone. “If a shipment was lost in transit, it will take at least three weeks to reroute the container. Interstellar transport is a slow business.”

The woman’s voice trembled. “We can’t wait that long!”

The dock worker cleared his throat. “Our son has a rare metabolic disorder, and his medication is in the missing shipment.”

“I know. I heard that part, too.”

Sadly, the flow of goods to and from Astropolis was sketchy at best. Between smugglers, pirates, bureaucratic errors and just plain poor planning, at least two or three shipments per week failed to reach the station’s docking ports on schedule.

The arginase-deficient toddler tugged on his father’s overalls and squealed in delight when the man’s knee resumed bouncing. The boy was perhaps two years old, with baby-fat cheeks and bright eyes beneath dark curls. He clearly had no idea that without dietary supplements, the undispersed ammonia generated by his digestive system would cause seizures, coma, and eventually death.

“How did your supply run so low?” Saskia asked.

The parents fell over each other in a babble of words. Their usual shipment had been delayed by border skirmishes at its port of origin. They’d requested an expedited shipment from a different supplier and had thought everything was all right, but now the second shipment had gone missing en route to Astropolis. Their son’s remaining medication would only last a few more days.

“I see.”

Saskia withdrew a roll of capsules from her belt pouch and slapped it onto the glass in front of the parents.

“Sodium phenylacetate nanocompounds,” she said. “Self-regulating. Once ingested, they’ll monitor your son’s ammonia levels and gradually release metabolic enzymes.” She hesitated. “This roll will only last you a few weeks, but it should be long enough to arrange an emergency shipment.”

The father shifted the child to his other knee. “How—?”

“I’m arginase deficient, too,” Saskia said with a forced smile. She held a finger out for the bouncing toddler to grab. “I’ve never met anyone else with the disorder.”

“But, don’t you need this medication yourself?”

“I’ll get by,” Saskia said.

Which was a lie, of course.

If she kept protein out of her diet, she might be able to hold off the disease’s progression until the next shipment of pharmaceuticals. Then again, given the state of interstellar commerce right now, she might not.

Saskia turned away from the table before the stunned parents had finished stammering their thanks. Behind her, she could hear another woman’s voice, calling anxiously for a missing child. Her shoulders slumped. She’d helped enough children for one day, risking her cover unnecessarily. Ignoring the voice, she strode into the hallway and paused, momentarily disoriented. The lighting along the corridor had taken on a blue tinge, reminiscent of the open skies of home. Colors jumped out at her in ways she would not normally expect.

She shook off the impression and kept walking.


Too hot in here, thought Francesco as he walked through the real-food market. It was always too hot everywhere, except his own room which Jesmond kept at a special temperature. Francesco’s arms were flexed and drawn tightly at his side. Occasionally his hands flapped with a jerky motion. Sometimes the weekly Green Ward market had baskets of live animals, chickens or rabbits, or boxes of crabs, although he hadn’t seen any today.

Francesco walked from stall to stall, smiling his wide-gapped grin at everyone he passed and trying to catch the eye of every stall holder. Not many people responded and Francesco thought that was a shame.

As he stood, admiring a display of onions, white, red, yellow skins arranged in a galactic swirl and dotted with bulbs of black garlic, the music from the public speakers changed. Francesco turned his head towards the speakers embedded in the ceiling. He’d never heard this kind of music before. He started to laugh. What wonderful, entrancing, strange music. “Excuse me, miss” he said to a pretty lady who was walking by. “Do you know what this music is?”

“What’s that love?” The lady was very pretty. Her eyes were glistening, and so black that they looked like circles cut out of space. She wore a very elegant dress that showed quite a lot of her bosom and her white shoulders which were painted with shimmering holo-tattoos. Francesco stared at her lips which were red and shiny, like cherries. It occurred to him that she might be one of the special ladies that Jesmond said he should never talk to.

“What’s this music,” Francesco said again, this time in a whisper. He felt something wet on his lips. To his shame he realised his tongue was sticking out of his mouth, which it sometimes did when he was distracted. Quickly he closed his mouth.   

But the lady was kind as well as pretty. She smiled and showed her teeth which, quite unusually, had been filed into points. She said, “It’s whale song, lovey. You know, from Earth.”

“Thank you.” Francesco walked away nodding his head and thinking about whale song. How marvelous! Were there still whales on Earth? He’d have to ask Jesmond. Francesco loved animals and hoped, one day, to work in Astropolis’ zoo. Although Jesmond had been talking, recently, about finding him a job as an exterminator. “It’ll do you good to get out of your room,” Jesmond would say. Francesco looked at his watch. His brother didn’t know that he came to the market. He needed to get home before Jesmond returned from work.  

As he walked he found himself stepping in time to the rise and fall of the whale song. And then he was dancing, swaying in the middle of the market to the undulation of ocean music. He knew that he shouldn’t be doing it; Jesmond had told him that he shouldn’t do anything strange to attract attention to himself. People were staring at him, but he just couldn’t seem to stop.

“Look at the freak,” called a voice. It came from a group of lads his own age, leaning against the habitat wall. They were watching him. Francesco recognized them from the year he’d gone to school. Tough kids, wearing the ceramic breastplates, copying the space privateers they idolised. Francesco was still dancing. He wanted to stop, he really did. One of the boys, Archie, said something to his friends. They laughed. Archie started to walk towards Francesco. All Francesco could do was jerk faster and faster to the time of the music. Archie was only a few steps away when Francesco felt a hand on his shoulder. To his relief it broke the spell of the music. He turned to see a priest, smiling at him.  

“Hello,” said the priest. “That’s some fine dancing.”

“Thank you.” Francesco was glad to see Archie slink away. He watched as the gang swaggered off.  

“What’s your name, son?” asked the priest.

“Francesco, sir.” The priest had a snow-white beard and a red face and he was fat. It would be Christmas, soon. But it doesn’t snow in space, which was a real shame. Except that they did have a hall with snow, but Jesmond always said that it wasn’t for the likes of them. Quite a few things weren’t for the likes of them. “Are you St. Nicholas,” asked Francesco shyly, wondering if he should ask such a thing, but pleased that he had remembered the proper name, not Santa, something a kid would say, but Saint Nicholas.

The priest laughed. “No, I’m not, Francesco. It’s a few months before he visits the station, isn’t it?”

Francesco nodded happily. “He doesn’t always bring you what you want, but Jesmond says that he brings you what you need.”

“That’s right. That he does. And Jesmond is?”

“My brother.”

“Of course.”

“And where is he?”

“At work.”

“I see. Well, Francesco, would you like to take a stroll with me? I’m heading to the observation deck. I hear that it’s a wonderful place.”

“I’ve never seen it,” said Francesco.

“Why, why ever not?”

Because the observation deck was not for the likes of him. Jesmond had explained it all. In places like the observation lounge there were quiet people, and Francesco shouldn’t want to draw his attention to himself. It was best to stay in the Green Ward where people knew him, and where he wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Francesco could have said any of these things, but somehow it seemed like a betrayal to Jesmond. So he just said. “I’m not sure.” But that was a lie and you weren’t supposed to lie to a priest. Francesco’s hands jerked. “I better go.”

“I really need a guide to get to the observation deck,” said the priest. “This station is so big that I’m hopelessly lost.”

A priest was lost? Surely it was Francesco’s duty to help him. Priests were good, no matter what Jesmond said about them. Francesco knew that they were good and should be trusted. On this matter he strongly disagreed with his brother, although he never argued with him, as he knew that he was Jesmond’s burden, and he tried as much as possible to lighten the load. “I can take you, sir,” he said to the priest.

The priest clapped his hands. “How kind you are, Francesco.” He held out the crook of his arm, and after a moment Francesco understood what he wanted. Francesco unbent his arm and slipped it through the priest’s. Walking arm in arm with the priest, Francesco smiled, as he walked to the sound of whale song to the elevators that would take them to the observation lounge.


Agnieszka pushed her steam mop across the glassy floor, reciting an ancient children’s rhyme to keep tempo as she dispersed the scuff marks and spills. Section 20 had turned chilly, her fingers felt stiff in the cold as she swirled patterns with the steam machine along the corridor. She turned it off and stepped to the side when footsteps came, her eyes on her rubber shoes. Agnieszka always took great care to keep clear of the higher rank staff.

She glanced up to see Professor Sittner walking with a young man she didn’t recognise. He must be from a different sector. He spoke at great speed. “... so the results are interesting, definitely, but we’re not clear about the long-term effects ...”

After they passed, Agnieszka flipped the switch back on and let the steamer’s gentle whir fill the corridor. She ran it over the professor’s path again to make sure not a trace was left. The breakfast rush had passed; she should be able to finish the floors and do the conference rooms before the next set meetings started. The spiral corridors were an endless task. But if she rushed, she could pick up the splast polish and do section 22 before lunch. She glanced at her digisplay. Half past ten.

The clatter of high heels made her sigh. More scuff marks. She was never going to finish this section. She looked up as Dr. Kosuga strode past on three-inch heels. The woman didn’t acknowledge her, probably didn’t even see her. Her suit was traditional Earth attire, a dark red skirt and jacket with big black buttons. It was very pretty.

Agnieszka hated the pastel green jumpsuits of the cleaning staff. Rank Three security wore plain grey, which looked almost nice. Higher rank staff got to wear whatever they wanted, of course. They could grow their hair out long and could wear heeled shoes, even really high stilettos like Dr. Kosuga did. Agnieszka wasn’t sure if she’d be able to walk in them but it would be fun to try. As the doctor disappeared around the corner towards section 22, Agnieszka heard a slithering sound and waited again. Sure enough, one of the blue people. She wasn’t sure how to refer to them politely: the other cleaners called them Schlumpfs, but that was rude. The blue people seemed nice.

Sometimes one of them would try to speak to her. They seemed not to grasp that she wasn’t part of the scientific team. That was always uncomfortable: her English wasn’t good and she struggled to explain that she was just the cleaner. They seemed to find this confusing. This one didn’t stop, just nodded at her in greeting as it passed. She didn’t respond, too worried that she might accidentally do something rude and get disciplined. She flipped the mop back on, running it over the centre of the passage before anyone else came along.

She turned towards the intersection. It was warmer here. She rubbed her fingers and looked longingly towards section 22. She should clear the conference tables and finish the floors first. But the main corridors were done; as long as she finished the conference room before lunch, no one would notice. Section 22 was the lower observation lounge. It was off limits to rank three workers but as a cleaner, Agnieszka was allowed to go everywhere. She loved to polish the viewports until they shone, looking down at the constellation of orange lights.

She had no recollection of Earth, even though she had been born there. Her mother came to work on Astropolis when Agnieszka was only five and her brother a year older, and it seemed the space station was all she’d ever known. Still, she felt a sense of peace when she looked down at the planet, as if there were a bond between her and her birthplace so far below them.

She rushed to the storeroom and stuffed a cloth and a splast bottle into her front pocket. The conference rooms could wait.


Denny left the elevator cautiously. He wasn’t supposed to leave his section without his parents, but it hadn’t asked who he was, just whizzed him all the way to the bottom. Section 22: the end of the line.

Section 22 was old. The metal wasn’t shiny, and the plastic was all scuffed up. He tugged his backpack straps and they hugged him tighter. Dirty or not, this was home now, so he’d better get used to it.

He strolled along the corridor. It was lighter than back home. That was dumb. He thought it over and decided that any gravity was enough. Zero gravity, that was dumb. He went through the hatch marked “OBSERVATION.”

“Wow ...” Denny said. On the other side of the hatch was a long room full of windows. On the other side of the windows was Earth: ginormous and all swirly with clouds. There was a big long couch under the windows, and a bunch of tables. Old people hunched over the tables, talking and drinking and playing games. A cleaner in green overalls stood staring out of the windows, one hand resting on the glass held a cloth, but she didn’t seem to be cleaning.

“Looking for a game, son?” The old guy in the gray jumpsuit and the army jacket looked familiar. He had short white hair and sat at a table, facing away from Earth.

“What game?”

“Go, an ancient strategy game. I can teach you.”

Denny crossed his arms. His backpack rode up and pulled his shirt out of his pants. “Looks boring.”

The old man shrugged. “You can stare out the window, but that gets boring, too.”

“What’s the game?”

“Sit down and I’ll show you.”

A couple of the other old people shot Denny dirty looks, but he ignored them. He put his backpack on the ground where he could see it.

“My name’s Frank, by the way.” He offered his hand, but seemed a little surprised when Denny shook it. “The idea of this game’s to claim territory.” Frank put two rattling boxes onto the table: they were full of black and white stones. He put a bunch of black ones onto the board. Denny caught one of the other old people glancing at them.

“We put down one stone at a time. Nothing fancy. The main rule is, you can only put a stone where there’s space next to it, where it’s free.” He glanced at Denny’s backpack. “You got ideas about freedom, I’m thinking.”

Denny looked down at the bulging bag. “Maybe.”

Frank nodded. “Well, when a stone has no freedom left, it dies. Two stones together share their freedom.”

He put down three white stones in a row, then started putting down black stones on each of the spots around them on one end. “Now,” he said, “If you’re playing white and you let me put one more black stone down, what’ll happen?”

“You’ll take them?”

“That’s right. But if you put your stone there, what happens?”

Denny picked up a white stone and put it down on the end. He stared at it. “There’s three more spaces.”

Frank grinned. “Yup. I’d need three more stones to take them. They’re stronger together, y’see? Wanna try it?”

Denny nodded.

“You’re just starting, so let’s just play on this part, OK?” Frank put some kind of army jacket on the board, covering up most of it.

They took turns back and forth for a while, putting stones down. Frank paused to stare at a priest who came into the room. Denny waited patiently until Frank shook his head and turned back to the board.

“You ever had a bad day, son?” Frank remarked, looking at the board.

“Yeah,” Denny said.

“Me too. Made me wish I could just crawl out of my skin and go someplace else. Ever feel like that?”

Denny found himself talking about the field trip to the zero-G park. About his teacher telling them to skip breakfast. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he told how his friends snuck a soda in and dared him to drink it, and how he felt really cool until it made him wet burp, and they all laughed—

“Wet burp? What’s that?” Frank looked puzzled.

Denny sniffed. “I felt funny, then the soda fizz made me puke and it came out my mouth and my nose and everybody laughed at me and it was awful and I’m never going back.”

Frank bit his lip. “I see,” he said. “Sounds gross. Did it hurt?”

“Yeah. It stung.”

Frank stared down at the board. “I had a bad day too, once. I made a bad decision and people died.”

“Was everybody mad at you?”

The old man laughed. “They were real proud of me first. Wasn’t until later that they got mad, after they forgot.”

“You see this?” The group of white stones he’d put down had two holes in the middle; Frank pointed at them. “These are eyes. Remember what I said about freedom? If you take away all a group’s free spaces, it dies.”


“What happens if you put a black stone down there?”

Denny tried, but took it back. “Can’t. No free spaces.”

“What about in the other one?”

Denny shook his head.

“So, this group of stones has got freedom on the inside. Even if it’s surrounded outside, can anybody kill these stones?”

Denny stared. All the black stones in the world couldn’t kill it. He thought about his friends around him, laughing.


He jerked his head to see his mom running toward him. She grabbed him up tight and kissed his head. “Everyone’s worried sick! Why did you leave school?”

Frank coughed. “Sorry to worry you, ma’am. I should have told him to call you.”

Denny’s mom looked up. “I—Don’t I know you? You ... oh my god. You’re Colonel Montain.” Her voice sounded funny. “Denny, get your things. We’re going now.”

Denny’s mom’s face was all tight. All the old people either stared at them, or stared away.

Frank just pointed to the staring eyes, then winked as Denny’s mom led him back.


Leopold Threspont was rather pleased with himself. The security chief thought he’d made it difficult, choosing an out of the way location, but in fact he’d given Leopold so many more options to play with. Block an incoming message from Earth and—surprise—the recipient starts thinking of Earth. Taking control of a lift was less subtle, but effective nonetheless. Music and lighting to remind people of their home planet got them thinking in the right direction, subtle temperature variations got them moving in accord with those thoughts. Subliminal messages on information and advertisement boards did the rest.

As the last of the five subjects entered the lounge—less than an hour after the operation began—he turned and smiled triumphantly at the security chief. The man was slumped in a chair, eyes drooping. Part of the reason he’d made the appointment at the end of the chief’s shift: a tired customer is a susceptible customer. The artificial pheromones impregnated into his hairspray and now wafting around the room would also help to sway the client. A big, fat bonus beckoned: the only thing he needed as motivation.


The priest strode the corridors of Astropolis swiftly, smiling at the irony of being caught in his own net. He had been rather nonplussed to find himself staring at the Earth with a grinning lad. He’d picked the boy up as an adjunct to his disguise, and partly out of pity, but would never have gone to the observation lounge of his own accord. The one person on Astropolis who knew his true past was often to be found there. He hadn’t been recognised, of course. The old man thought he’d left the station years ago. Three floors up and half a kilometre across, he entered his suite, slipped out of his padded robes and started peeling off the beard. When the door chimed twenty minutes later, the tanned, clean-shaven, broad man in nondescript civilian garb was unrecognisable. In this guise he went by the name Logan. He checked carefully before letting one of his aides into the room, a well-dressed man sporting a crew cut.


The man shook his head. “I’m pretty sure she was on to me, but she had no idea I was setting her up.”

“What happened, Szabo?” He sank into a plush lounge chair. Even with his other successes, getting a hook into undercover security would be invaluable.

“She just got up and left. Started chatting to some cute little family.” Szabo looked like he wanted to spit.

“So you got nothing?” Logan’s voice was calm, but still Szabo’s face stiffened. His men weren’t afraid of him exactly—that led to desperation and sloppiness—but they knew results were important. They also knew that Logan could reach everyone and everywhere on the station, that if they ever turned against him the consequences would be terrible. Szabo’s sister, for example, who’d never learnt English properly, not received a good education like Szabo, worked as a cleaner somewhere on station. She wouldn’t be hard to track down if necessary.

Szabo shrugged warily. “She’ll be back.”

“I’m sure she will. Please try harder next time.” He gestured at another lounger and Szabo sat down stiffly.

“Any new angles today?” Szabo knew his boss often wandered the station incognito, sniffing out opportunities. He had no idea what disguise Logan might be wearing though.

“The salesman you recruited seems to have fulfilled his role.”


“Correct. The system is due to be installed later this week.”

Szabo grinned. “Are we keeping him on?”

“No.” Logan disliked prolonged employments. “He’s booked on the evening shuttle to Earthport. Where he’ll find his new employers have vanished. Along with his bonus.”

“And security suspected nothing?”

“There’s nothing to suspect. It’s a legitimate product, and Leopold was a genuine salesman. He had no idea about the implant in the system.”

“What,” Szabo hesitated. “What exactly will the implant let you do?”

Logan shook his head gently. “No need for you to know. Not yet.”

Szabo hid his disappointment well, departed on his next errand.

Logan relaxed into his chair, drummed his fingers gently on the arm. Total access, total control. That’s what the implant would give him. He would be plugged into the heart of security, able to monitor their operations, divert attention from his own. It was a bespoke unit, put together by an unsuspecting systems admin who needed the extra cash to bring his daughter up to the station. The man had no idea into what system his link was to be implanted.

The thought prompted him out of his chair. He crossed to the back of the apartment and accessed the concealed door that led through to an unregistered access way between station modules. Here he removed the contoured jacket, coloured contact lenses and dark toupee, swallowed a melatonin-control pill and passed through a further door into his family apartment.

Now he had a different name, Alan Camberville, though even this was a fiction. His children would be home from school soon and shortly after that his wife Agnes would arrive. He would regale them with tales of his day as an importer and retailer of medicines, how yet another shipment had gone astray. And they would think his was a pretty dull life, but love him all the same.

Whatever happened, no matter what he dabbled with, he wanted them to live a normal life. He did not want them to live with the notoriety that could so easily come if anyone knew who he truly was, the kind of reputation that dogged his own youth as Tristan Montain, son of a mass murderer. The kind of danger they would be in if anyone knew them for the family of Logan, the mastermind of illegitimate dealings. It was all about control: information, systems, lives. And if nobody knew who was doing the controlling, if nobody knew there was any controlling going on, then this man at the heart of Astropolis was content to blend into the crowd. END

“Crowd Control” was written as a blind collaboration. Each author was asked to write a section with their own character ending in a particular location, with no idea of the plot. The sections were then tied together with an overarching story.


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bendayAbout the Authors

Gareth D. Jones is an environmental scientist from the U.K. He has published stories in over forty publications, including “Daily Science Fiction,” “Ray Gun Revival,” and “Nature.” Aliette De Bodard won the 2012 Nebula Award and Locus Award for Best Short Story. She has also won the 2013 Nebula Award for “The Waiting Stars.” Nancy Fulda is a past Hugo and Nebula Nominee and has been honored by Baen Books and the National Space Society for her writing. Her fiction can be found in “Asimov’s,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” and other professional venues. Deborah Walker started to write in autumn 2008. She's managed a few hundred acceptances since then. She writes all types of science fiction, horror and fantasy, poetry and short stories. Her work has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Year's Best SF 18,” “Penumbra,” and more. John Murphy is an engineer and writer living in New England. He is a graduate of Viable Paradise, and a member of SFWA and Codex. His fiction has appeared in “Crossed Genres,” “Daily Science Fiction,” and on the “Drabblecast.” Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is an American/ German writer of science fiction. Her short story, “Alive, Alive Oh” was a nominee for the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Short Story. She is also a licensed pilot.