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




Full Fathom Five on Chemical Freedom

By Robin Wyatt Dunn

KNOW THEN THAT IT IS THE NEAR future. Chemical, “immersal” gaming is a trillion-dollar industry. It has been seven years since you needed to penetrate the skull for immersal. The newest models manage direct neurochemical stimulation from a distance of five millimeters.

Denton Schmidt is the most popular game designer alive.

And in the air above Shattuck Boulevard, immersal adverts run nonstop ...


Hologram on Shattuck Boulevard:

We lucked out in a Lagrange, turning and firing until my lover held me in her arms, promising what my reward would be. 50,000 kilotons of zinc and antimony, it turned out. And love amidst the stars.

I am still alive. Now, after our movements into republican space, we lose ten percent with every encounter. But you likely know nothing of this. Have you prepared to die before?

“Give me a sally, Martin, I can’t stand it any more,” my woman says to me.

I kiss her in the abyss―


“John, I’m going in!” She is sixteen, and beautiful. He wants her so much.

“Wait for me!” the young man shouts.

What death for us comes now so long recognized, to lodge at last in the secrets of our spine?

And her game is “Isolon.”

But there is water on the floor, and it is a cheap location. He survives the electrocution. She is a different kind of survivor. Like a koopa trooper on the eight-bit staircase, she’s getting one-ups now. Neurochemical, one, after another, after another.


Mr. Ratchetson swatted off the newspaper stuck to his thigh in the high wind. He was late. He summoned a hire-hovercraft with his remote. Human drivers had been outlawed for six years.

“Where would you like to go?” the computer asked.

“Uptown. The Paper Hat Building.”

“Thank you ... Mr. ... Ra-shitson.”

He had a headache. He relaxed his clenched jaw, activated his phone and waited for Rumi’s obnoxious hold-music to end.

“I’m on my way, Rumi,” he said.

“Andrew, where are you?”

“I’ll be there in ten.” He disconnected.

Denton Schmidt had been a good employee, if an erratic one. Unlike some of his colleagues, Mr. Ratchetson understood on an instinctive level why those with artistic temperaments deserved special treatment. But even his coddling hadn’t helped this time. Schmidt had resigned, in tears, sending in a video of himself the night before.

Rumi had said they could find a dozen replacements, and it was true, they could. But none of them would be Schmidt. Ratchetson avoided full immersals as a rule, but the 3D mockups they had shown him had always struck him as beautiful. Delicate. And funny as hell. Schmidt had single-handedly propelled the Sally Isham line to being the top global seller for fourteen straight quarters.

Not for the first time, Ratchetson contemplated an early retirement. He had not had a lover in over five years.

Over the ghetto, he looked down to see two men facing off in a crowd. They were shivering with need, their mouths twisted and hungry. They circled slowly, hurling insults. Ratchetson found this strangely sexual. He did not look away until they were blocked from view.


Janice lived in the People’s Republic. They were trying the goddamned yellow flags again. She had seen a bucket of them on the way back from The Bowl. They had outlawed hover vehicles within the city limits, and those who still atavistically drove four-wheeled automobiles from place to place did not always have their glorious aging chariots in the best repair. The theory was this: at crosswalks, yellow flags would be made available for pedestrians, so that they could pluck one up, wave it wildly into the street while standing on the sidewalk, and only then proceed to cross. But if the driver couldn’t see the yellow flag, were they really going to see you?

Janice was, occasionally, ashamed of her independent means, but she was eternally grateful to her now-dead lawyer uncle for what it allowed her to do: independent analysis of immersive systems, one of the few independent voices with the money, talent and persistence necessary to remain audible on various global networks.

Paramour Platforms had just released “Spiderbaby,” which was a sequel to the “Spiderbaby” of only a year before. They no longer bothered to rename sequels, even with an Arabic numeral. It was very good work. She had queried CommonSenseNet, a public domain network, to search for analogues for “Spiderbaby’s” red/sadness trope. The game used the color red quite a bit, and apparently (though Janice never immersed herself), in very red areas of the game it triggered a very complex kind of sadness, one which also kicked in with initial stages of grief and reward. It also had very little pre-set dialogue, opting instead for various elaborate grunting sounds throughout the spider lairs. If the beatniks of yesteryear had been able, with their “daddy-os” and “mans,” to inflect the language of successive generations, the game designers of the present now presided over strange pre-linguistic fads, as today’s youth commonly uttered various dipthdongs and glottal stops, apropos of nothing: sounds heard in “Spiderbaby” and then echoed during the teens’ languorous mall-ratting, perhaps while examining a “Spiderbaby” T-shirt.

Like most new releases, this version of “Spiderbaby” was chemically addictive, though you could load what was technically a non-addictive version for a hefty premium. You could hack the game, if you just wanted to play alone, but even this involved giving the game a part of your personal genome. It was extraordinarily popular. The new version had acquired 400 million users in its first 36 hours, and many millions of those were kids playing hooky from school. It was mid-September. Hikikomori, or acute social withdrawal—though it had technically gone down during the civil war—was on the uptick again. It was this war that had, to the strange and leery joy of the residents of the People’s Republic, finally led to de facto independence. Though their two pitched battles had been only minor offshoots of the continent-wide bloodbath, they were celebrated annually on Shattuck Boulevard. The People’s Republic, historically anti-war, felt with this contradiction a delicate and pleasing frisson in their frontal lobes.

“Ted, are you seeing this?”

“What?” He was painting, and panting, at the same time. It helped him concentrate.

“Look at those spikes!”

“Hmm.” He wasn’t looking.

“Right there!” She was pointing at readouts for the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that processed reward, addiction and pleasure.

“Did you get any first-person accounts?”

“You know how I feel about talking to gamers.”

“I know, but science can be conducted using interviews, you know. It is still the chief method of psychologists, for instance.”

“Psychology is quasi-science.”

Ted went back to his painting. He was married to a beautiful woman, and knew when it was a better long-term strategy to shut his mouth.

“Why would they pick red?”

Ted said nothing.

“They’re making me hate red,” she said, hands on her hips, staring at the graph.

“I think we should buy that game,” Ted suggested slyly.

She stared at him a moment. “That isn’t funny,” she said.


It was a slow fade, like stepping out of a hot shower and feeling the blood return to your head. This hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.

It was such a beautiful line. Iambic pentameter, that heartbeat rhythm, had served Denton so well for so long. Take heat, pain, loss, gamboge yellow and polyphony, mix in a well-coded four-thousand-bit game environment, and you could blow small civilizations apart, buh BUM, buh BUM, buh BUM, buh BUM, buh BUM. He shivered and closed his eyes. For design purposes he kept a small heads-up display behind his eyelids when he closed his eyes mid-immersion. All readouts were nominal. He was tempted to insert the catheters, something he hadn’t done for ten months, ever since he almost died and didn’t tell anyone.

He envied the Hikikomori. But he was still glad he was out of the womb.

He had been designing “Hamlet” for five years. 16th century Denmark. Would the Bard be proud of him? Some high school teachers had actually spoken out in favor of beta releases of the game, since Denton had opted to use no dumbed down versions of the play. Shakespearean English only. And the suits loved Shakespeare because he was so deliciously out of copyright.

That slow fade had got him. Before the guard of the watch came on stage. Before anything. Sunset in winter, in Denmark. He liked a little freedom at openings, and so he decided to feel a little happier than usual, happy in the face of this natural tragedy, in the face of this red that was like a hurricane, red like unknowable love, like the red of Poe’s lush masque. He squeezed his cock, and felt a shiver as the King’s ghost arrived.


Hologram on Shattuck Boulevard:

Jack didn’t make it. He didn’t even get to activate his Shofikhti device. We blaze in glory through these old star lanes, but not all die well. I killed five of them, after we burned through their hull, up close, as my vengeance. Maria, my woman, told me not to. It’s true that they were only hirelings, and we are short-handed, but I shot them anyway. She is a better person than I am. We’re going to see Earth. The world of my grandfather.


The orgasm of days, writ down to the cells of human women, lustrously lulling them to see that this cave, this tribe, and not the Romans—no not them—but the Sabines, it is the Sabines who are your proper men, no matter the tongue or the diet but that long cum, one only women know, where we presume it led to a cohesive nomadic group, it now impoverishes nations, feeds armies, launches rockets, empties oceans and rewrites history.

The female orgasm, like Oppenheimer’s Super, is coming for you. Duck and cover.

We can safely dispense with the male theorists who cunningly deride the evolutionary basis of the female orgasm, and sympathize with their ignorance: who truly wishes to acknowledge their own jealousy and terror?

“Isolon” was legal for sixteen weeks, available in public arcades in twenty-three North American cities, seven Australasian, and three in the Middle East. The first one is free, kid. Being free, the first game session invites in the user that most ancient of physiological responses: horror and grievous joy at the immensity of terrible choices available to the modern mammal abroad in the urban savannah. Free will, whither whilst, oh son, locked into your arcade heart, I’ll show you your destiny writ in cerebrospinal fluid, an inner poetry you will never utter to another.

In a sick, supposedly ironic gesture, some software pirates had after the fact released a version of “Isolon” set in precisely the universe of Jorge Furtado, the 20th century Brazilian filmmaker. The pirates used only a slightly less addictive coding regimen, that is, one that spiked only slightly less deeply into the human brain, and, perhaps, the soul. This too was quickly deleted from most public and private nets, but became of interest to some academicians and so was preserved, perhaps as a queer warning of what was to come.

The beautiful and horrifying short film of Jorge Furtado, “Island of Flowers,” depicted among other things the lives of homeless Brazilian peasants. Though they were not fed the good leftover tomatoes and lettuce like the pigs who “have owners” and are therefore fed first, these proud homeless families with brown skin wait till the pigs have eaten, and then enter in groups of ten to select their own offal to eat. As the English voiceover of the film says: "Freedom is a word that the human dream feeds on, that no one can explain, or fail to understand.”

Denton Schmidt’s predecessors in immersal design determined a workable approximation of chemical freedom, which in essence was only the icing on the gaming cake. No drug, however finely tuned, and no external stimulator, however ingenious, was capable of providing the human brain with the free-floating experience of freedom. But it could come close, and together with a rich simulation of freedom in a sandbfathom5ox game design, “Spiderbaby” could suck you away for years and render your pre-game life nil. The chemical formulae were delicate. A little chill at the base of your spine, a vague malaise that comes with the eternal burden of free choice in the world.

Lawyers argued that the deaths from “Isolon“ were unique, as though from excitement, rather than some innate nature of the particular release version of the game. They pointed to decades and decades of debates over the role of media and games in society, chicken, egg, chicken, egg, tomato.

But Furtado was no doubt tumbling in his Brazilian grave as those users logged into that virtual Island of Flowers, hypnotized beyond reason by the sight of a rotten tomato lying in that island dump, thrilled to their core by occupying, once again, the body of a bright-eyed and innocent child. Middle class and rich they logged in and were destroyed, neurochemically addicted to the hyperrush of poverty, the cosmic aesthetics of Marxist cinema circa 1989.

The (legal) sequel to “Isolon” was “Tlön.” It could make you cum for a week.


“So that’s what it’s like,” whispered some horny teenaged boy, grokking like his male ancestors had never been able to, to the physiology of the female orgasm. The boy gazed at his “lover,” a girl his age just emerged, like him, from “Tlön.” As she looked back at him, some quasi-feminist logic warred within the young woman’s brain: it was possible for a man to understand a woman too well.

Even without the strangeness of her young male friend having experienced a chemically analogous female orgasm under its influence, the young woman found “Tlön” deeply unnerving in ways she did not fully understand. But she was an intelligent woman, and began as her own cum faded to parse the logic of it: unlike a vibrator, “Tlön” was a whole world. Your brain could see how ridiculous it was to grow fond of electrified latex. But a whole world that triggered an orgasm, it was actually close to some kind of heaven. And it was hard to see it as ridiculous. Maybe Jesus wasn’t there, but God was. She stopped going to church the following week.


What scientific activities do AIs find most interesting? Mapping consciousness. What is consciousness? Assemblages of matter as far as they were concerned, it just depended on the construction. Build a body and you built a mind. Build a labyrinth and you’ve built a minotaur. They went together like dopamine and epinephrine. What do scientists never stop needing? Lab rats.


Hologram on Shattuck Boulevard:

Screaming towards Earth at a cool 5.8C, Martin the Martian (named for a planet he had never seen) twisted in the void, his body now a full visual spectrum, blood turning his eyes red, his skin yellow, his hands blue. And the purple flashed outside, flowers in blackness. They were detonating their way to another wormhole. It felt like being surrounded by Mom.


Slightly overclocked and with a recently upgraded short-term memory, Denton Schmidt’s immersar sinks him in, slow and sweet, mesmerized by the image of a small and weighty golden cone.

In his ears, amidst blackness, Schmidt hears the tuning fork chime. He sees flashes of gamboge flecked with viridian. And in his stomach he feels a silent pain, as though he were giving birth to a starved homunculus. At some level he knows it is exactly twenty-two degrees Celsius.

He hears a calm man’s voice saying to him: “a given pain, a given greenish shade of yellow, a given temperature, and given sound―these are the mantra and you are the mantra, you are the sound in the silence colored by your awareness, shooting towards the singularity ...”

And then he is dropped into lightning, sheeted in a canyon, absorbing exajoules of energy, and shot into the orbit of Tlön, where he has, for the first time, the revelation:

God lives.

God dies.

I am the dead God.

Clad only in loincloth, Schmidt closes his hand around his entrenching tool, and beneath a blood and amber sky begins to dig in earnest.


Hologram on Shattuck Boulevard:

What world dims to hold before our new eyes? The City of Our Lady the Queen. Burn your heart in the docking at her kingdom, and know that all your tragedies are hers, all your sufferings are hers, and when you die, it will be her death too, not only for her, but with her, in your last burning up in space ...


Denton Schmidt, dreaming of a ruined amphitheatre, hears in his head the Portugese-accented words, “All men, in the dizzying moment of coitus, are the same man. All men who recite a line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare.”

The boy Hamlet, weeping tears of blood, climbs calmly over a shattered marble pillar and pulls back the dog of his wheellock.

“Live sleepily in your old home,” says the boy in a hollow voice, and pulls the trigger. Schmidt can feel the bullet cleave into his skull.


Denton Schmidt awoke, clutching his forehead. There was no blood. He was in Los Angeles. He had quit his job, in a fit of pique. “Hamlet Uqbar, Prince of Denmark” was almost complete.


Hologram on Shattuck Boulevard:

The red woman can dance. She is in your arms. Scoot her ass left, and fling her back. Her eyes are wild and alive, locked on yours, and she shakes her hips lovingly, smooth and tight and wicked.

In your medulla a slow and quiet rage stokes a subconscious religious experience, the colors of the hall and the red woman’s jewelry suggesting some profound secret being revealed.

Fire. Fire it into your brain. What would you have, who would you be, eh? Be it now.

And you are spinning, a short arm of the galaxy, a kaleidoscopic dervish, firing colored triangles from your hands, skin a nauseating epileptic chameleon palette never still for a second, washed in silicon blood. You are on fire.


Who is closer? You, or the sun? The world, or your arm? You are hungry for gravity, your ego held in check only by the game’s careful coding.

The boss knows “Hamlet Uqbar” is Denton’s masterpiece. END

Robin Wyatt Dunn is a writer, novelist, and filmmaker. His short stories have appeared in “Third Flatiron,” “Voluted Tales,” and dozens of other publications. He is a member of the HWA. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in 12-JAN-2014.




peter saga


robin dunn