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




By Aaron Rasmussen

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU OF ALL PEOPLE are in a simulation cult,” Timothy said as Lucas turned onto the D46 outside Morlaix. The little rented Renault C4 minivan sped smoothly along toward the coast and the Cairn of Barnenez.

“How much farther?” Lucas asked.

Timothy checked his mobile, “About fifteen minutes, do we need to get there before dark?”

“No, it’s not important, a little after dark might not be bad,” said Lucas. For a moment, there was only the sound of the tires on the asphalt. “And I’m not in a simulation cult. Simulation cults are for simpletons who spend all day arranging logs on the beach, or factoring primes, trying to ring the bell.”

“Ring the bell?” Timothy asked, happy to have gotten Lucas to engage on the subject. Lucas had a habit of ignoring questions and gazing intensely into the distance, which seemed to be an affectation exclusively afforded to people with excellent cheekbones and powerful builds. As a practicing ectomorph, Timothy wasn’t part of that club.

“Ring the bell—signal the species prime. They think if they hit on the right symbol, the species that put us in this simulation will reveal itself. Maybe they would be raptured up into the next reality, and maybe only the ones who sent the signal would be worthy.”

“If we’re in a simulation,” said Timothy.

“What do you mean if? There are always going to be more simulated species than reality species. Look at us. Every year computers become more powerful, we simulate more and more virtual worlds, eventually our simulations will be sentient, and ninety-nine percent of our simulations are games to amuse children. If we’re simulations creating simulations, for all we know we’re one of thousands of simulations on the same level, and there may be levels above us and our species prime may be a simulation just like us.”

“So you’re saying reality is a pyramid scheme and you think it’s unlikely we got in at the ground level.”

“Yes,” Lucas said, without even a hint of humor.

Timothy glanced down at his phone, “Take the Route de Saint-Antoine at this roundabout and then on to the D76.”

Instead of answering, Lucas turned on his right blinker.

“So, if you believe we’re living in a simulation, how are you not in a simulation cult?” Timothy said.

“The same way you can believe in your baggage getting through Heathrow but not be in a cargo cult.”

“Then why did I take a bus for five hours from Paris to come meet you here?”

“Because I have a theory that I’ve spent the better part of the last year developing, and most of my life savings pursuing, and you said you’d be up for a little adventure,” Lucas smiled. “It’s better than a theory.”

Timothy waited for Lucas to explain, until it became clear he wouldn’t, “And what’s that?”

“The Earth is only 7,000 years old.”

“Oh no. That better not have been a dinosaur saddle that you put in the trunk,” Timothy feigned horror. Lucas had been a serious computer scientist since the first day of undergrad at Carnegie Mellon when they had met, and despite his later doctorate and descent into academia, Lucas wasn’t likely to have gone off the rails into creationism.

“The Earth appears to be much older than 7,000 years, but about 7,000 years ago was when the simulation was started. There are certain restrictions on the amount of processing power our species prime wants to use on our simulation. They just roughed out the first 4.5 billion-odd years, and hit play right around 4,800 B.C.”

“Besides severe head trauma in the year since I saw you at Dean’s wedding, what evidence are you basing this on?”

“Because, that’s where the gaps start in the fossil record, in proto-writing complexity discontinuities, and genome combinatorics. The resolution of our reality is lower before about 5,000 B.C.”

The mobile attracted Timothy’s attention again, “Left on to Barnanez. And, being your star student at the moment, I’m going to guess that it’s not a coincidence we’re headed to the Cairn of Barnenez, the oldest known structure.”

“Want to guess how old it is for extra credit, Tim?”

“7,000 years?”

“Close. 6,814. I’ll give you the points regardless. It looks like we’re here,” Lucas turned off the engine while popping the trunk. He hopped out of the van. Timothy had known Lucas long enough to recognize any level of multitasking as ultimate excitement, even without the support of the proper facial expression.

Timothy hurried to follow, and he found Lucas strapping on a huge black backpack. An olive drab backpack of similar design was balanced against the bumper of the van.

“Can you take that?” Lucas asked. Timothy shrugged and hoisted the pack onto his shoulders. Something extremely heavy and cylindrical dug into his back.

“What’s in here?”

“You’ll see.”

“So, why are you looking for the start of the simulation?”

Lucas didn’t answer, he started off toward the Cairn of Barnenez, a megalithic passage grave. It was a large, roughly rectilinear mound of stones almost a football field long and nearly three stories tall. Even in the fading light, it cut an impressive notch in the horizon. Timothy slipped on his woolen gloves and zipped up his peacoat.

Lucas led on, past the sign announcing that hours for tours and legal access to the monument were long passed. Timothy supposed this was why Lucas had called him. In school, Lucas had been almost fearfully respectful of rules, while Timothy had relished forcing him to break them. Then again, that’s why Timothy had found niche success as a fashion designer and Lucas had opted for the rigid structures of academia.

For some time, Timothy listened to the crunch of his leather shoes on the gravel and smelled rocks, moss, and mold. He couldn’t help but think that this place felt old and significant.

“We are going to start on the far left chamber. Cairn One is the oldest part of the structure, and with any luck what we’re looking for will be in the first chamber,” Lucas rarely talked while walking, but clearly these were unusual circumstances.

“And what is it we’re looking for?” Speaking made Timothy acutely aware of how the cold had numbed his face.

“I’ll know it when I see it. Check out these symbols. What do you see?” Lucas shined a flashlight on a slab emblazoned with ancient figures.

“Rows of dancing men?”

“I see the numbers four and six,” Lucas said. There were four figures in the first row and six in the second. Timothy furtively looked around to check if anyone could see them trespassing, but the cars passing on the road were far away.

Lucas continued into the dark channel that presumably led to the first chamber. The walls were close to fifteen feet high and made from slabs of granite. The passage was primarily uncovered, letting the first stars of the evening shine in.

“And here,” Lucas said, “what do you see?” Lucas was pointing his flashlight at the left wall. Six U-shaped scratches had been worked into the wall almost seven millennia before.

“The number six?” Timothy asked.

“Yes, notice anything about the numbers so far?” Lucas asked and continued to walk forward.

“I really hope there’s a third six somewhere, and we’re actually here to summon the devil?” Timothy knew Lucas would answer logically, regardless of what he said.

“No, none of them are prime.”

“Oh, no. It’s dinosaur saddle time.”

“Just wait. We’re not beaming Fibonacci sequences at the stars yet.” Lucas stepped into the darkness ahead. Timothy turned on the light on his mobile and used it as a flashlight. They had arrived at a chamber eight feet in diameter, open to the stars above. “Here!” Lucas was standing in the exact center of the chamber. “This is it!” He was pointing the flashlight at a carving on the floor. It was a rectangle with lines drawn out of one side in various arcs. Timothy frowned at the drawing. There were thirteen arcs in total. Timothy crouched down and traced the lines with his fingers, feeling the grit roll against his skin. He woke from his reverie to the sound of metal scraping on stone. Lucas had set a portable Honda generator up on the floor of the chamber and was flipping switches and pushing levers. Battery-powered lights would be more practical, Timothy thought.

“Hand me your backpack,” Lucas said, while pushing the ignition button on the generator. It started without fanfare and settled into a low hum. Timothy swung off the heavy backpack and handed it to Lucas, who retrieved a mid-sized jackhammer from the main compartment.

“Whoa, I’m all for a little breaking and entering, but ...” Timothy trailed off.

“You can leave at any time, Tim, but I wanted you to be here for this. It’s the single greatest discovery in the somewhat short history of mankind.” Lucas plugged the jackhammer’s cord into the generator and placed the chisel tip in the center of the rectangle.

Timothy sighed, “I think I would’ve been into this about five years ago, but go ahead.” Almost before Timothy finished the sentence, the jackhammer filled the chamber with the loose metallic clanking of reciprocating hammer on stone.

The jackhammer made slow progress against the stone floor, but soon it became clear that there was an empty space below the stone. After a few minutes of hammering, the chisel tip popped through the stone into the chamber below. Lucas heaved the jackhammer out of the hole and let it clunk onto an intact piece of the stone before starting it up again and repeating the process. The percussive soundtrack of the breaking stone and the rising dust combined to create an almost meditative atmosphere; maybe more accurately a ritualistic one.

Timothy didn’t know how long he had spaced out. He realized the sound had stopped and Lucas was leaning against the hammer staring at him.

“My arms are jelly,” Lucas said and pulled a water bottle from the backpack. He took a swig and offered the bottle to Timothy. Timothy shook his head, but felt like he had to say something in response to fill the void the jackhammer had left.

“So why is it called ringing the bell when you signal the species prime?” Timothy asked over the ringing in his ears. Jackhammers probably weren’t meant to be indoor toys.

“After the cholera epidemic, many people intensely feared being buried alive, so in the late 1700s all the way through the late 1800s a number of designs were patented for safety coffins. They usually had some sort of signaling device to let the outside world know the buried person was still alive. In many cases, it was a bell on the gravestone with a rope descending down into the coffin.”


“Well, when Johns Duns Scotus’ tomb was opened in the 14th century, he was found not in his coffin, but against the tomb door, his hands torn to pieces from clawing at the walls of his prison. You want to run the jackhammer?”

Timothy considered the image for a moment. Well, he was in this far.

“Sure.” Timothy hefted the jackhammer onto the stone and positioned the chisel tip on one of the lines marking the rectangle scribed on the floor. He squeezed the handle switch. The jackhammer bounced pleasantly and fragments of granite ricocheted off his jeans. Every minute he had to lift the machine out of its new carved divot and move it along the line of the rectangle and restart. The impact of the jackhammer was surprisingly minimal, but Timothy could see how after an hour it would become almost uncontrollable. He fell into a trance of hammering, lifting, and shifting. He was working on the last corner, and could see what was left of the stone beginning to wobble when he heard voices.

“Stop! Que faites-vous?” a short, French police officer yelled again. His hand jerked down to the butt of his black automatic pistol. He stood in the entrance of the chamber.

“Don’t stop, Tim, we’re almost there!” Lucas had his hands in the air and was staring right at Timothy. Timothy looked at the jackhammer, and then at the officer. What was he doing? He dropped the jackhammer and stuck his hands in the air. The policeman drew his gun, but before he could get it leveled on Timothy, Lucas reached back and pulled a revolver from his waistband and fired two shots. The blasts were deafening, and the shots poorly aimed. The policeman ducked into the hallway and returned fire. Lucas must have fired back because, as the echoes of the gunshots faded beneath the ringing in Timothy’s ears, he could see the crumpled form of the policeman folded over, face down in the passageway. Lucas burned himself on the barrel of his revolver as he fumbled to open the chamber and eject the shells. He was reloading the gun, one cartridge at a time. Tim stared blankly, trying to comprehend what had happened. The pieces weren’t fitting.

“It doesn’t matter, Tim, it’s just a simulation. Nobody is getting hurt. Keep going, I’ll hold them off. I think more are coming.” Lucas finished reloading the revolver, closed the chambers, and cocked the hammer. Tim peered dumbly at the jackhammer like it was an alien artifact.

“Now, Tim!”

And this is where Lucas always got him; maybe it was the cheekbones and presence, or maybe it was a weakness of Timothy’s, but he was abysmal at saying no, especially to Lucas. Not knowing what else to do, he picked up the power tool and began hammering again. Hammer, lift, shift. Hammer, lift, shift. When the first gunshot boomed in the chamber, he didn’t even turn to see what was happening. The chisel tip bounced up and down, almost in slow motion, cutting off the final corner of the rectangle. Boom, boom, boom. Something stung Timothy in the cheek. He knelt down and worked his fingers into the channel around the stone. It was only three-quarters of an inch thick when he picked it out of the floor and set it on the carved arcs next to the hole.

Timothy turned to see Lucas crawling toward him, dragging his leg behind him and yelling something lost in the echoes and ear damage. Another French officer was at the entrance to the chamber pushing a new clip into a Sig automatic pistol. Timothy activated the LED on his mobile and shined it into the hole. Lucas gripped the edge of the hole and dragged himself over to see. Inside, there was only a thin layer of beige dust.

Lucas looked back at the officer and fired at him, left-handed. Timothy stared at the empty space they had just given everything to reach. Lucas reached in and brushed away the dust to reveal a red button. It didn’t even look particularly expensive, just a silver ring around a gently concave red button. Lucas’ hand jerked away from the button as he curled into a fetal position, trying to reverse the two bullets the policeman had fired into his stomach. Timothy pushed the red button and caught Lucas’ eye. He was smiling.


“Shit,” Gene swore.

“Oh, what now?” Hannah asked. They were the last two in the computer lab.

“Someone in the Earth simulation just rang the bell,” Gene said, studying the screen on the side of the huge quantum cubeputer.

“Fuck, we are never going to graduate if we can’t finish this stupid sim before Friday.” Hannah kicked her chair away from her desk. “Why won’t this thing make it past 2020 without someone in there figuring it out? There’s no way the other teams are building any further back than 7k at full sim.”

“Bad luck? I don’t know. I’m exhausted,” Gene reached behind the cubeputer, found the power cable, and yanked it from the wall. It went dark. “Let’s just reload from backup, randomize, and restart.” He waited the full ten seconds for the qbits to phase out, then plugged it back in.

“I’ll start the data dump.” Hannah began prepping the load sequence on her console with a few keystrokes.

“Why don’t we just let it run past the bell?” Gene asked, watching the panel on the cubeputer as it ran through its startup diagnostics.

“I forget, I read some paper on it. Once they know they’re in a simulation, it destabilizes the whole thing. Some stop believing actions have consequences, blah, blah, blah, war, chaos. The bottom line is the sim gets inaccurate.”

“Boring. Anyways, want to start the dump and we can grab some Chinese food? It’s going to be a long night,” Gene continued in a suddenly awkward tone.

Hannah smiled. “Sure, let me get this loading first.” END

Aaron Rasmussen is an established video game developer and entrepreneur. He wrote the script for the award-winning science fiction game “BlindSide.” He has recently begun writing science fiction. This is his first professionally published story.