Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crystal Love
by Francis Marion Soty

A Little at All Times
by David R. Bunch

Bounded in a Prison Pod
by Alan Rader

Isolated Incidents
by Nick Nafpliotis

by Barbara Krasnoff

Kella Vector
by Henry Szabranski

Growing Pains
by A.L. Sirois

It’s the Last Ice Shelf!
by Anthony Langford

Time Out at the Café Metropole
by Guy T. Martland

Canvas of the World
by Frederick Obermeyer

by Louis Shalako


Science Fiction and Fidel Castro
by Ricardo L. Garcia

Ebola’s Deadly Path
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Crystal Love

By Francis Marion Soty

ANGELIQUE “TOOTSIE” DUMARI PRESSED her left palm against the admittance glass. The garage door rolled smoothly upward, and she stepped inside the isolated old remnant of a former factory building. A few meters away, across the open and almost empty interior, she saw Crystal doing something she knew he disliked; using the prosthetic hands she had designed and had made for him. He had no choice; a letter had arrived.

Good news seldom came printed. Almost all communications except formal legal documents and official government notices arrived via NetCom.

Suddenly worried, Tootsie crossed the concrete floor to stand by Crystal at the side of his chemical pool. She watched as he carefully maneuvered a small knife to slit open the envelope, one polyethylene hand gripping the letter and the other the blade. Each prosthesis had four two-segment digits, opposed two and two. Crystal moved the individual segments by creating small magnetic fields that pulled or pushed against permanent magnets inset at their fulcrum points. His movements were slow but very precise.

Tootsie waited patiently. Crystal’s species had evolved in a very different environment, and mundane tasks on Earth often proved difficult for him. He struggled to extract the contents of the letter, using the roughened inner sides of four broad fingers to grip the envelope in one hand and the two sheets inside with the other. He usually let Tootsie handle such difficult small chores, but once he put on the prosthetic hands, insisted on finishing whatever task required their use.

Tootsie watched as an extended arm of cloudy glass bent at its magnetic joint, bringing the two sheets closer to one of the two sets of visual sensors along Crystal’s horizontal hemisphere. His body, a globe of milky glass, reached just over a meter in diameter. Thirty-six glass cylinders in two sets—the larger equal to the body diameter in length and a tenth that in width, the smaller half the length and width of the larger—formed the limbs. All thirty-six had rounded ends. At present, sixteen of the longer limbs radiated outward from the central sphere like spokes in an upright wheel, and sixteen of the smaller size were set between their outer ends to form a rim. The two remaining large cylinders extended out from the upper hemisphere on each side of the body, with the last two half-size ones attached to their ends and pivoting freely at the contact points. The prosthetic hands were designed to fit over the convex ends of the smaller limbs.

Crystal controlled a complex system of magnetic fields which he generated and used without conscious thought, moving the spokes over the stationary central sphere to roll his body along, or extending his free limbs to touch or grasp. No limb actually touched another, or the central body; magnetically opposed fields kept them always a few millimeters apart. He balanced himself, and gained or lost momentum, by creating strong magnetic fields that pulled or pushed against that of the Earth.

This was Crystal’s wheel configuration, for mobility on land. He had another when soaking in the chemical stew where he spent half his time at home. Balanced erect, the top of the wheel extended a meter above Tootsie’s head. And like her African Abatutsi ancestors from whom she had derived her nickname, she was unusually tall, standing 183 centimeters in her bare feet.

Crystal finished reading the top page and passed it to Tootsie. A cover letter from Donald D. Hansom, Chief of Security at World University, it said that Crystal must report to the Security Office within three days for re-registration as a temporary resident alien. Crystal handed her the second sheet. A form letter from the United Earth Alien Affairs office, it provided official notification that Crystal’s application for citizenship had been rejected; he had failed to pass a security background check.

“I know this fellow Hansom,” Tootsie said, reading the first letter again. “He sat down at my table in the dining hall about a month ago. Short, a little stocky, but not bad looking. Very smooth manner. He told me what an important role security plays here at World U., complimented me on having the longest and most beautiful legs on campus, and asked me over to his apt—all in about ten minutes. Seems he’s had his eye on me for some time. I told him that I was committed, and he tried to put a little carefully worded pressure on me. I laughed it off, but politely. He’s called me once since. Why do you need Earth citizenship, incidentally?”

“Due to the recent takeover by Scarecrow forces of several disputed solar systems, a high probability exists that myself and other resident aliens from those planets will be incarcerated. Unless the authorities prove willing to provide for my special needs—an unlikely prospect—I would be forced to enter the withdrawn state, becoming essentially dead to you.”

“Dead? No no, you can’t do that!” Tootsie heard the panic in her voice. In a long conversation, over one of the many nights she had spent sleeping here, Crystal had told her he had the ability to become dormant for thousands of Earth years.

“Would it really distress you so much?” asked Crystal, and Tootsie thought she detected a subdued tension in the musical voice.

To communicate with humanoids, the only people he had known, Crystal had adapted his body during the growth years to create an ear and a voice. He produced sounds by vibrating in unison three small glass diaphragms, stretched across shallow hollows he had formed along his circumference. A fourth diaphragm received sound vibrations arriving through the air. He had modified one of his nineteen brain segments to transform those into electric currents, and another to understand their content, including words. Crystal had inherited radar, sonar and light sensors at birth. He would communicate with his own kind—if more were ever found—by built-in low-frequency radio.

“I think life for me would not be worth living if you were gone,” Tootsie said simply. She looked at him, the most unusual and physically divergent life-form humanity had encountered on a thousand inhabited planets, and realized that sometime during the past year, an already strong friendship had deepened, and grown into an impossible love.


The two most lonely beings on Earth first met at Teaneck, New Jersey, North America, in the space simulation dome at World University.

Angelique Dumari knew that she suffered from the most common type of loneliness. She could be by herself in a crowd, her body mingling with the student masses while her mind flew free and clear above, lost in realms of abstract thought. Tootsie saw herself as a hermit, hiding among the multitudes instead of in a wilderness cave. For her, the isolation seemed equally real.

Crystal, Tootsie learned after they became friends, felt lonely because of his complete variance from all other known life forms. The exobiologists thought his egg had somehow been brought to the Milky Way from another galaxy. Battery cells, which had to be frequently recharged, occupied the outer two-thirds of his central sphere. The inner third, divided into nineteen segments, formed the equivalent of a brain in an animal. He had been born with only four parts active; others awakened and became available to his conscious mind only after pre-set periods of time and growth. Some of these contained vast stores of inherited data.

Crystal’s unusual physical form alone set him apart from all other known life forms. But even a rolling wheel body made him less unique than his internal chemistry. Silicon instead of carbon provided the building blocks for all cells, and electricity derived from chemicals provided both internal and external energy.

Crystal had eventually confided to Tootsie that in his mind, his image of self, he did not feel all that alien. He had been adopted while very young and small by a crystalhuman family, and their value systems and psychological underpinnings became so thoroughly absorbed he could not be certain heredity had granted him any of his own. His thoughts, actions and acquired behaviors were those of the humanoid parents and friends with whom he had grown to adulthood.

When Tootsie entered the spaceship bridge, the last student to arrive, her gaze immediately focused on the towering glass wheel at the head of the classroom. Crystal held the rank of Teaching Assistant, and it was unusual for a T.A. to conduct such a high-level class alone. But he had unusually good qualifications.

Tootsie had seen Crystal on holovision several times, and expected to be impressed. But it was the beauty and strangeness of his musical voice that brought the first feeling of awe.

“Greetings,” Crystal was saying as Tootsie walked to the only vacant desk and sat down. The fourteen student terminals faced outward, arranged in an ovoid shape and surrounded on all sides by hologram screens of faintly glowing emerald. These met overhead, to leave them hanging in space two-thirds of the way down inside an oblong sphere. “You have imprinted and absorbed a great deal of mathematical theory, and it is time to see if you can apply that knowledge to real-life situations. This class will concentrate on navigation emergencies—visible space only.”

Tootsie quickly typed in her personal code and activated the terminal, while intently listening. The teacher’s voice turned spoken words into music, every note overlaid with little tinkling sounds, a pizzicato hum of secondary vibrations quickly dying away after each syllable. It was as though a harp of purest glass had been given human voice, each crystalline string vibrating in unison with distant little silver bells.

Tootsie took a moment to look around the large room. The students were a highly varied lot, of many apparent ethnicities, all young adults and about equally divided between men and women. The one to her left caught her eye, primarily because he had skin as dark as her own; and even seated, she could see he was slimly built and unusually tall. He seemed to feel her gaze, turned his head, nodded and smiled, as if he knew her. But she felt certain they had not met. She would have remembered someone who perhaps shared her own Abatutsi heritage.

A movable screen slid into place, hiding the door. The lights faded away into a green dimness. As Tootsie looked down, the glass floor vanished, leaving them suspended in space.

Tootsie watched Crystal, utterly absorbed, as he outlined the first emergency navigation problem, using an isolated portion of the larger semicircular surrounding screen. A series of lines appeared, radiating outward from the ostensible position of the ship. She listened to the most pleasing voice she had ever heard, precisely outlining a problem in spatial mathematics she could just conceivably program a computer to solve—and decided to explore the possibility that here, after two years of loneliness, she might at last have found a kindred spirit.

Tootsie glanced to her left, to see the tall student already pressing keys on his console, eyes intently focused on the screen, a look of desperation on his rather handsome face. It seemed clear that, for him, the problem appeared insoluble. Tootsie decided to check back, after saving the ship and all aboard, to see if she could help him.

The disturbing dreams began about two months after that first class.


Tootsie looked around at the interior of the old building Crystal had equipped to fulfill his particular needs. A group of abandoned small factories and decaying warehouses had been leveled to create the university site. Some old structures just outside the chosen area had survived. This concrete block building had a ceramic-lined containment pit in its center, a long-unused holding pool for mildly corrosive chemicals awaiting treatment. Crystal had leased the structure for a low payment, had a ramp built at one end of the pit, filled it with seawater enriched with certain minerals, and moved in. Now, except for rolling to the university next door to attend or teach classes, Crystal seldom left his quarters.

Tootsie knew it was necessary for Crystal to spend about half his time at home in his specially prepared bath, absorbing several compounds directly into his body and limbs. The most essential of these, ammonium chloride, provided him with power. His battery sections processed it to create electricity, his sole source of energy. Crystal had no need for furniture, and owned none when Tootsie first visited him at home.

Tootsie seated herself in the lone chair at a small table by the side of the pool, and opened the adjacent cold storage unit. She poured herself a carbonated drink, infused with a caffeine stimulant. Crystal rarely had other visitors. The few items of furniture had been installed primarily for her, and reflected her preferences.

“Shall we call up the Terkowitz file and get started?” asked Crystal. Before moving in he had installed a high-speed universal communications terminal, plus a good sound system—symphonic music was one of the few real pleasures human culture provided him.

Crystal had first invited Tootsie here because she stayed after class one day to ask him if he shared her interest in the mathematical games of Hugo Terkowitz. This dead genius had deliberately left seventeen extremely difficult puzzles to which apparently only he had the answers. His accredited work had been in probability theory, but games had been his means of application. It was a point of honor among mathematics teachers and students not to publish the results if one succeeded in working a Terkowitz puzzle. Only four were definitely known to have been solved.

Crystal had tried one Terkowitz puzzle two years ago, but given up when he realized it would require many hours of his scarce free time. Nevertheless, he had immediately assured this promising student that he enjoyed nothing more than attempting to defeat Terkowitz.

Tootsie nodded, and joined Crystal as he rolled to his terminal and accessed the central university library. He used only voice commands, ignoring his prosthetic fingers. As the first parameters of the current puzzle flashed on the screen, Tootsie looked, without turning her head, at Crystal’s central sphere. He had only one ear and speaker set, though his inheritance included two sets of visual and radar/sonar organs, along the circumference on opposite sides of his body. One of the twin sets of visual sensors faced the screen, absorbed ... but the second one seemed intently focused on her!

Tootsie tried to focus on the puzzle, but couldn’t concentrate. Her gaze fell on the milky water in the pool. And that brought back last night’s dream, the persistent one that had troubled her sleep for a month now. It was always the same. In her dream the pool had a diving board. She sprang off the end, slim dark naked body curving through the air and into the thick water. She swam to where Crystal floated just beneath the surface, his limbs gathered like pins in a cushion on one side, the other bare to the water; the battery charging mode, during which most conscious awareness brain segments were inactive. She ran her hands along the warm glass skin of the central sphere, feeling and caressing. But Crystal awoke under her touch, limbs thrashing the water, body and extensions swiftly transforming into a tall dark human form, white teeth smiling in a handsome face ... and there the dream always ended.

Tootsie did not need an analyst to tell her what the dream meant. She longed for the impossible; wanted Crystal to become a human being.

Angelique Dumari had grown up in antiseptically clean and sterile government-furnished housing in old Bujumburu, in one of the most densely populated nations on Earth, Burundi. An Abatutsi by birth, she attended school with the children of the ethnic majority who now dominated Burundi: the short, strongly built Hutu. Tribal prejudices died slowly on the most ancient of continents, and she grew up poor in all but pride. Her mother had died before her twelfth birthday, in a boating accident on Lake Tanganyika. Her father raised his only child alone. A schoolteacher, he encouraged the tendency he saw in her to explore the abstract world of mathematics, not realizing that, for her, the elegant proofs provided a place of deep retreat from a world she abhorred. Young Angelique learned to absorb herself in her studies for hours at a time, with no need for human contact.

Not until she competed for and won a full scholarship in mathematics at World U. did Angelique Dumari leave her home state. During her first year she tried several times to make friends with her fellow students, acquiring the friendly nickname “Tootsie” from her one and only boyfriend. Her father died shortly into her second year at school, and she had not gone home since.

Tootsie lost her virginity to the boyfriend, after long and persistent pressure on his part. He called two days later to say an old girlfriend, someone to whom he felt deeply obligated, had returned and needed his help. He expected to be very busy, and did not want Tootsie to waste her time waiting around for him. Then the few casual friendships she had developed faded away. One female told her bluntly that she was too different to ever fit in, too aloof, sharing nothing in common with the other young women at World U. Tootsie had agreed with her. She went back to the solitude and relentless work that had gotten her this far. Her burning ambition had become qualifying as a pilot in the Space Service and leaving Earth—hopefully, never to return.

Tootsie turned her full attention to the screen, and finally succeeded in focusing her considerable analytical powers on the problem ...

Crystal studied this very tall, slim woman with one set of sensors and part of his attention span, leaving those portions of his segmented brain that contained his extensive knowledge of mathematics to watch the screen and work the problem. He had first noticed her because, in height and build, she resembled the indigenous humanoids on the planet Bitter Sands, where he had been born and grew to young adulthood. Then it soon became clear that this aloof young woman was by far the best mathematician in his class.

Crystal had two close friends when he arrived with other Bitter Sands refugees six years ago, one a native of the planet and the second a human who grew up as a colonist there. On Earth the friends, both young adults, had used the cap to complete their formal education; imprinting knowledge directly into the brain, bypassing years of study and memorization. The two humanoids had completed the educational requirements for their chosen occupations within a year. But the machine could not be applied to Crystal. He had had to absorb a formal education in the old slow ways, and it took him two more years at World U. to earn his final degree. His two friends had joined the Space Service, and left Earth. That was impractical for Crystal, due to his size and physical needs. He had applied for and obtained a position at World U. This was his third year as a Teaching Assistant.

During his first several months at World U., Crystal had made tentative, sometimes painful efforts to cultivate friends among the other students. Nothing came of these attempts. Eventually he retreated into the clean, cool world of mathematics, spending more and more time on both assigned subjects and independent study while bemoaning the fact most humanoids could absorb data ten times faster with the imprinter.

Crystal had solved the current Terkowitz problem some days before. Very gently and unobtrusively, he guided Tootsie toward the answer. But suddenly, in one of those blinding flashes of intuition that always amazed him, she leaped far ahead, skipping the explication of several major steps, and reached the solution.

Tootsie rose and did a little dance around the edge of the pool, whooping aloud and throwing her arms about. Crystal watched, amused. He knew she would not have expressed her joy so outwardly if other humans had been present.

But then Tootsie saw the government letter lying on the table, and stopped her celebration. She picked it up and read it again.

“Failed a security background check ... how could you possibly be a security risk?”

“The Scarecrows controlled Bitter Sands throughout my formative years. It is possible the authorities believe that I am in some way still under their influence.”

“But that’s not true, is it?”

“No. I know the inner workings of my mind better than any human can possibly know his own. I am totally free of outside direction.”

“Then we’ll have to file a misclassification protest,” Tootsie said cheerfully. “I’ll go by the university security office tomorrow and get the forms.”

“Thank you.” Crystal wanted to say more, to express his gratitude. They both knew he disliked going into buildings where his appearance made him conspicuous, and his size difficult to move along normal corridors. “You are a good friend.”

Crystal knew immediately that his words were inadequate. Over the past few months he had developed strong feelings toward this brilliant, aloof, and normally withdrawn young woman.

Although accustomed to being alone for long hours at a time, Crystal had discovered as a youth that he had an inborn need for companionship. Since the age of five, all Crystal’s interactions had been with humanoids. He had developed the same sensitivities, feelings, and strong emotions as his friends. He felt fear, knew anger, experienced loneliness (earlier, he had had no name for it), and was certain his feelings toward his two male friends were a form of love. Now he realized that what he felt for them was similar to, yet different from, the emotions he experienced when around this unusually tall woman.

Each morning Crystal emerged from his low-activity absorption stage in the little pool missing her. A yearning sadness filled him until she reappeared—almost every evening now—at his poolside. Sometimes on weekends Tootsie spent the entire three days inside his building, sleeping on an air mattress by the edge of the water. Those were the happiest days Crystal had known since his two friends put on their blue uniforms and left for the spaceways.

Tootsie broke into his thoughts by saying, “Shall we get a start tonight on number fourteen?” Without waiting for an answer she called up the problem. One of the longer Terkowitz puzzles, they had briefly examined it earlier but left it for later. She studied the series of equations for several minutes.

“Crystal! I think we’ve been overlooking something! This seems terribly complicated, but in fact it has a higher percentage of knowns to unknowns than some of the shorter ones.”

Crystal had solved number fourteen two days earlier, at a time of extreme boredom, then not dared tell Tootsie. They were supposed to work on them together. Now that she had the essential cue, it would not take her long.

Tootsie keyboarded up an approach for Crystal to study. He pretended to do so.


The forms Crystal filed protesting his classification as a security risk were returned marked “unverified information.” Tootsie then tried for four days to learn specifically why Crystal had been reclassified as a security risk, and got nowhere. On the fifth night she did something she disliked but felt necessary; engaged in sex, for the second time in her life,

The first, with the boyfriend, had been physically painful and unpleasant. She felt subjugated during the act, and humiliated afterwards. When the boyfriend awoke after a brief nap and tried again, Tootsie refused him. She had lived celibate since he left her.

Last night, Tootsie had had no choice but to endure the unpleasant act several times. In return she had received the access code for the university’s security computer. Through that encrypted channel she reached the area military security computer in New York City. She could not open the file without the proper authorization, but did obtain the number, and took it to Crystal that afternoon.

Crystal was one of the best computer operators known, perhaps because his brain functioned in a very similar way. He managed to break through two separate safeguard systems and reach the actual data in the file. To the amazement of both he and Tootsie, he had been classified as a “security risk” because his mother was listed as a captive of the enemy Scarecrows.

“Is that true?” Tootsie asked when the screen faded to blankness. “I thought you were the only one of your kind.”

“I am the only living one. She died giving birth to me. When the Scarecrows found her body, they took it back to their home planet for study. But she is certainly dead, and there’s no way whatever the Scarecrows can use her to subvert me.”

“Then who gave security this information? And why?”

“It may be a wrong conclusion reached through lack of adequate data. They may believe her to be withdrawn, rather than actually dead.” But Crystal was thinking as he spoke, pulling information stored in the memory segments of his brain and examining them at a fast pace, seeking synthesis and solution. He finally made a logical, and now obvious, connection. “I see one possible personal motivation. There will be an opening on the faculty next term for an assistant professor of mathematics. The position carries continued contract status. I understand myself and one other T.A. are the primary contenders. If I am eliminated ...”

“Of course!” Tootsie knew immediately who Crystal suspected; a fun-loving, popular, outwardly pleasant instructor from Antarctica named Seaschel Boyd. “But I can’t believe she would file such a report, knowing it to be false.”

“As stated, it isn’t clearly false,” Crystal pointed out.

“No, but the conclusions based on it are. So we’ve got to change the original input. You’ve told me your adoptive father on Bitter Sands was the last governor there, before the colonists were returned to Earth. I think a statement from him that your mother was irretrievably dead when taken away would be enough to get your security classification corrected.”

“Possibly. He now lives on Delta Tau Vega.”

“We can send him a subspace message. It will cost a fortune, but I have the money.” She did not add that it was her final graduate tuition fund she was offering to spend.

“Thank you. I do not.” Crystal did not lavish money on the pleasures and pursuits of most people, but his physical needs involved substantial costs.

“And I think tomorrow I’ll have a short chat with Seaschel. I want to see if she can keep a straight face when I accuse her of filing that report.”


The next afternoon Tootsie waited for Seaschel Boyd in the hallway, after a class where she knew the T.A. assisted. Seaschel calmly and blandly denied having turned in the misleading security report on Crystal. She said it with a secretive little smile that made it obvious she lied, knew Tootsie was aware she lied, and didn’t care.

“And don’t spread any lies about me or I’ll file a formal complaint!” Seaschel ended the short but intense conversation by turning and walking away, shapely hips swinging in one of the tight short skirts she preferred, drawing the eyes of all passing males, as usual. Tootsie stared at her retreating back in helpless anger.

“Well that was interesting,” said a deep voice behind her. Tootsie turned to see Paul Kanimba. Apparently he had emerged into the hallway from Seaschel’s class in time to hear the start of the conversation, and stopped to listen.

Tootsie had met with Paul several times since first seeing him in Crystal’s space navigation class, helping him with the more difficult problems. Of Abatutsi heritage as she had suspected, he was not from Burundi but the neighboring country of Rwanda. He had transferred from an African university to World U. as a graduate student, primarily for the space-oriented classes. He had heard of the “math genius” from Burundi while still in Africa and tried to contact her, without success. Like herself, he planned on a career in the Space Service. Navigation was a required course.

For their third study session Tootsie had agreed to meet Paul at his small apt in downtown Teaneck. When she rose to leave after he finally understood the current problem, Paul had suddenly taken her in her arms and tried to kiss her. Tootsie had turned her head away, and frozen into a statue. After just a moment he released her, with profuse apologizes. Tootsie had accepted these with a smile, and explained that she was in a committed relationship; though that was not strictly true. And she had returned to his apt several times after that, without another incident.

“Instructor Crystal is in some kind of trouble?” asked Paul. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The offer seemed genuine. But Tootsie had recently overheard a conversation between two female students in the dining hall that indicated the tall and handsome Abatutsi had, in the few months he had been at World U., already run through sexual relationships with several women, including one T.A. Quite possibly what he really wanted was to deepen their casual friendship to that level.

Or he might simply be a nice person who genuinely wanted to help. Tootsie decided she lacked sufficient data on that question. But she did know it was best he not learn of their illegal activities. She thanked Paul, but told him no help was needed.

On that same day Crystal gathered some new data on Tootsie, primarily her financial status. He discovered she had enough insurance and grant money left to obtain her Ph D. next year, and no more.

Crystal had learned over the years that when humans behaved in illogical or incomprehensible ways, it was usually best to simply ask them why. That night he asked Tootsie what had motivated her to offer giving up her life’s ambition for him.

After a moment of silence, Tootsie finally said, “I really don’t know. I guess it’s because I love you.”

Once the words were said, Tootsie knew they were true.

It was Crystal’s turn to fall silent for a moment. His voice was unusually slow and hesitant when he said, “I know the meaning of friendship. I have two true friends, and each of us has proven he would give his life for the other two. I have had a family—two sets of adoptive parents, and the siblings of my human friend. And I had already realized that the emotions I feel toward you are ... similar, but different in kind, from what I feel for my friends. But I have no experience with love, other than the inherited familial.”

Tootsie suddenly threw her head back and laughed, a loud, raucous sound that reverberated from wall to rough wall of the old building. “Do you realize how absurd we are? An intelligent giant crystal wheel and a Abatutsi woman—in love?” She turned and looked directly at Crystal, aware that one set of his twin sensors was focused intently on her. “And yet I think it’s true ... and what do we do about it?”

For that, Crystal had no answer. He did manage to tell her that he could not accept her money for the subspace call, and that they must solve this wrong classification problem some other way.

When Tootsie left, Crystal rolled into his pool, totally submerged, and opened millions of pores to let his sphere and limbs absorb what they needed from the thick solution. Normally he would have lowered all brain segments except the never-sleeping monitor to that state of reduced activity which was as close as he came to unconsciousness. But tonight he had too much unassimilated data to process.

Toward dawn Crystal finally turned off his brain and let it rest, still without having reached any conclusions.

Tootsie, having satisfied some inner need to express her feelings aloud, slept like a baby that night for the first time in months, without dreams.

Next day Crystal decided to at least try the straightforward approach, and contacted World U.’s security office. He provided a media account of his arrival on Earth, containing the story of his discovery and youth on Bitter Sands. The article stated that the Scarecrows had removed the body of his mother, who had died years earlier after giving birth to him.

The World U. security office duly forwarded the request to the national office in New York. Three days later it was duly returned, marked “unauthenticated account, not acceptable for incorporation in records.”

Tootsie was at Crystal’s place when the message arrived. The rejection made her angry. “I think it’s time to stop playing their little bureaucratic game,” she said when she calmed down. “They make the rules, so they always win. We have to go around them.”

“I do not understand,” said Crystal, puzzled. To him the bureaucrats seemed to be acting quite logically, given their rules and necessary assumptions. News accounts were not authenticated data.

“It’s simple enough. We have to access the security records. We’ll create an official report verifying your mother was dead when removed from Bitter Sands, and change the rest of the entries based on the new information.”

“But that would be dishonest!” Crystal protested.

“No, it would be making the records accurate by unorthodox means. When the end result is the truth, don’t worry about how you reach it. Look, the obvious entry is a report from your human father, prepared when he was governor of Bitter Sands, saying your mother was absolutely and irretrievably dead when he adopted you. That would mean she had been long dead when the Scarecrows took her body away. Then we’ll refer to that official report, and change all the appropriate following records. We’ll direct the computer to forward the revised classification to the Alien Affairs office, and then you can reapply for citizenship.”

If the false entries were performed with sufficient skill, the scheme would work. It seemed very unlikely the alterations would be noticed by the computer operators.

Crystal decided to wait until after midnight to make the false entry and following changes, because the operating crew would be smaller and the machines less active. At one o’clock—Tootsie stayed over to see how it went—he worked his way cautiously through the two standard safeguards and made the input. It took over an hour after that to call up the associated entries and change them all to “favorable.” The final step, the corrected entry sent out to the issuing agency for citizenship, was on its way by 2:30 in the morning.

Too tired to walk home, Tootsie slept over. Next morning a persistent noise dragged her out of sleep. When she awoke enough to realize it was the doorbuzzer, she stumbled to the console and pressed the intercom key. An outside camera showed a familiar figure at the rollup door.

Crystal, completely submerged, had not heard the buzzer. “What do you want?” Tootsie demanded, not bothering with politeness.

“Ah! It’s my lovely tall sharin’ partner of a few nights ago, eh? I’d know that voice anywhere. Not surprised to find you here, my dear. Rather completes the picture, I’d say. Let me in, so we can talk a little business.”

Their visitor was Donald Hansom, World U. security chief and the man who had supplied Tootsie with access to the university security computer in return for one night of sex. He had gotten out of bed next morning complaining of feeling cheated, but kept his part of the bargain.

It seemed obvious their computer tampering had been detected. Tootsie walked to the pool and slapped the surface twice, telling Crystal to emerge, then returned to the console and pressed the key to open the door.

Hansom entered as Crystal rolled up the pool ramp, assuming his wheel configuration as he emerged from the water. The short, sturdily built man stared with interest at the wet, dripping glass wheel towering over his head as Tootsie introduced him.

“Ah yes, I’ve seen you on campus at a distance, ah, T.A. Crystal. Impressive ... very impressive. So is your ability to change secured computer records. Yes, yes indeed.”

Tootsie noticed an odd burring, crackling sound in his voice, and his outline in the dimly lighted warehouse seemed indistinct, almost hazy. He saw Tootsie’s puzzled look, and smiled at her. “Oh, wearing one of security’s little devices, my dear. Keeps my voice and image from being recorded except by very special equipment, which you don’t have.”

“There’s no recording equipment here,” said Tootsie. The thought hadn’t occurred to her.

“A little precaution on my part, when tending to sensitive business. Such as this. I’d like a thousand credits added to a certain savings account in the next three days. I’ll leave you the input number. Pity; if you’d told me what you wanted in the first place, I’d have done it for you with much less bother, and at my original price. Now that I know what a night with you is worth ...” he shrugged. “I prefer the money.”

Crystal had not said a word. He was busy assimilating new data with associated material already in his banks. Tootsie had not told him of the personal sacrifice she had made to obtain the secret security access codes.

The fact Tootsie had shared sex with this man did not arouse any strong emotional reaction in Crystal. But the look on Tootsie’s face, and a quick analysis of Hansom’s words, indicated it had not been a rewarding experience for him, and almost certainly a hateful one to her. He felt a deep and abiding regret that she had determined it was necessary to do something she intensely disliked for his benefit.

“And of course you already have the data about our tampering set up to be forwarded to National Security if you don’t get back and erase it by such-and-such a time,” said Tootsie.

“Ah, of course, my dear. An elementary precaution. This device I’m carrying doesn’t stop laser beams or bullets. Now I’ve checked your financial backgrounds, and the two of you can come up with a thousand credits. Remember—three days.” He turned and walked out the still open door.

After a long silence, Crystal said, “I can borrow against my salary for next year from the faculty credit union, but not more than half enough. And I have no money saved, nor any possessions of real value.”

“I know. We’ll have to use my next year’s education money.” Tootsie felt a growing anger, a dark tide of fury rising through her body like a gathering storm. She was almost shaking from the intensity of her feelings. But yielding to them could lead to making serious mistakes. She slowly forced herself back toward calmness.

“I think I’ll return to my room now, Crystal. There has to be a way, if only I can think of it. And this is the type of very human and dirty business where I doubt you can be of much help.” She collected the small number of personal articles she had brought with her, and left.

Tootsie skipped scheduled classes that day, concentrating with all her mental resources on what to do about Hansom. Late that afternoon an idea came, and she immediately went to her room terminal. The access codes she had obtained for the World U. security computer were still valid.

Tootsie worked far into the night, calling up and studying the security files of a large number of students. The research proved difficult because the entries she wanted were not coded under any similar nomenclature, and she had to obtain each one by perusing a great deal of sidelight material. But when she finally stumbled into bed just before dawn, she had a list of six names.

Tootsie fell asleep quickly, but despite her fatigue, the persistent dream returned. This time it had a different ending.


“I haven’t seen my second account take any, ah, sudden jumps lately,” said Hansom, voice crackling past his protective field. “So I presume you called me here because you think you’ve found some way to keep from paying, eh? I’m very interested in knowing what you plan to do. Yes, life is always interesting. Can’t understand why some people tire of it.”

Tootsie looked over at Crystal, balancing with massive patience by his terminal. She had not told him what she planned to do. He had some peculiar and often not very practical ideas on correct moral behavior.

“It’s really quite simple, Hansom. I too have a program on line and ready to enter the security network. It contains data that will cost you your job, your security clearance, and quite likely result in a jail sentence.”

“But ... but there is no such data!”

Tootsie smiled sweetly at Hansom. “No? In your efforts to protect yourself with technology, you’ve forgotten something. A sworn statement by a witness is admissible evidence in any court. I ran a search through your computer for female students who’ve had serious security problems that were eventually resolved in their favor. I came up with nine names. Two are still here at World U., so I disregarded them. I reached five of the remaining seven yesterday, and today three of them furnished me with sworn statements that you contacted them and offered to change the records if they would share a night with you. All three did, and you either corrected the slanted data you had inputted in the first place, or actually falsified new inputs to clear their records. My own sworn statement makes four.”

Tootsie turned to Crystal. “One of the two students still here is now a T.A. It’s Seaschel Boyd, of course.”

Crystal’s logic circuits suddenly loaded up with a frantic rush to correlate the new data. When it had been assimilated he realized it made an ugly but very logical package.

“I think Seaschel didn’t dislike her sharin’ with Hansom as much as I did. She came back a second time, when she wanted a favor.”

Hansom drew a deep and somewhat ragged breath. “Congratulations, my dear. You’re the first to have squirmed your way off my little hooks. Before you grow too ambitious, however, let me remind you that tampering with the security computer in New York is a felony, regardless of the fact my original entry was slanted. You will still go to jail if I report you.”

Tootsie nodded. “Understood. We go to jail, and you’ll be right behind us. So let’s just end it here. Now would you mind leaving? Looking at you makes me want to throw up.”

“Ah, very well, if you insist. But I think you should know that you’re the only one of my many reluctant but cooperative young ladies who got nothing at all out of sharin’ with me. You’re wrong thinking Seaschel came back because she wanted a favor. She never really left. We’ve enjoyed many nights together since that first forced one. There’s something very wrong with you, my dear.”

Hansom turned and left.

After a brief silence, Tootsie walked to the terminal and began idly playing with the current Terkowitz puzzle. Crystal saw that her face looked troubled. Available data did not provide an understanding of why Hansom’s final words had disturbed her, but clearly they had.

“He’s right, you know,” Tootsie finally said aloud. “There has to be something twisted in me, or I wouldn’t have fallen in love with a ... an overgrown glass wheel.” She smiled, but her eyes were wet with tears. She had saved Crystal from prison, and probably death. But now his problems looked easy compared to her own.

It hurt, being forced to admit she had fallen into a way of life that did not include other people. She had made a wrong turn while young, leading to an isolated adult with a crippled and inadequate emotional life. Mathematics, her refuge, had developed into a trap. And she badly needed to escape from it.

In that fatigue-induced last dream she had entered the water as usual, swam to Crystal as usual. But this time when she touched his smooth glass skin, it had been cold. And he had not returned to awareness and responded to her, nor had he changed into human form; instead, floating cold and inert in the water, as though irretrievably dead.

Tootsie drew a deep breath. “Crystal, I ... I’ve made a huge mistake. I’m a young woman, without much experience, but somewhere deep inside I know platonic love will eventually not be enough for me. I should never have let myself ... I’m so sorry. But I need to change, and ... and I think I know where to start.” She did not say aloud that she would be accepting Paul Kanimba’s offer of help, but it would be for her, not Crystal. Curing her sexual dysfunction was a necessary first step, and she believed Paul could provide better therapy than any professional analyst. Nor would he require some deep commitment. When she felt restored to fully human, she could move on.

“Yes, I think you have reached the correct conclusion,” Crystal said immediately. “You need more physical and emotional support than I can provide.”

Tootsie said good-night and headed for the door, but found herself walking very slowly, and looking back over her shoulder. Crystal stood, massive and motionless, between the terminal and pool. As the steel panel rolled upward Crystal said, “You are wise to return to your own biological kind. I love you, but know from inherited memories that someday I will experience an overwhelming desire for a mate of my own species. When that need arises, it will be so strong and compelling that I would leave anyone else to satisfy it.”

“Thank you for saying that, Crystal. But you’re not getting rid of me so easily. I’ll be back. And I’ll bring the current man in my life, and anyone else I can drag along. I don’t intend to let you get that lonely again. Besides—we still have seven Terkowitz puzzles to solve!”

The door closed behind Tootsie. Crystal slowly rolled to the edge of the pit and down the gentle slope, changing to swimming configuration as the water began to support his bulk.

Crystal had a major advantage over human beings When he turned off all his mind except the monitor segment, he could not be tormented by regrets ... and with that thought came the impulse, strong and demanding, to withdraw into the dormant stage now, this minute; to bury the current hurt and pain in the dust of a thousand years. He teetered on the brink, rolling back and forth in the water. But after long consideration, Crystal eventually discarded the notion. He could not do that to Tootsie. He would find peace, yes, but only at the cost of great suffering for her. Tootsie’s conscience would torment her unbearably for the rest of her short life.

Sex was a powerful human motivator, a basic of life. Tootsie had been both logically and emotionally correct in her decision. The only bond they could have that would endure was a strong friendship.

Crystal’s last thought, before he turned off his conscious mind for the night, was to wonder how much longer it would be before those last seven brain segments awoke, and he must find a mate, or die. For the first time in his life, he hoped that it would be soon. END

Francis Marion Soty specializes in science fiction stories of a satiric or tragic nature. His recent writings have appeared in “Analog Science Fiction,” “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,” and the short-lived “Starshore” magazine.


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