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



Bounded in a Prison Pod

By Alan Rader

HOW I ENDED UP IN THIS MISERABLE pod, that’s what I want to know. I have only a few moments to go over it all. Soon they will clamp the nightmare helmet over my bald head that they shaved, the bastards, and my follicles that they stunted to prevent hair growth over these miserable eons of hell I will have to suffer in animated suspension. And for what? For what!

“Tell me,” I shout at the guards carrying my pod to the courtroom. “I want to know what I am accused of! Say what I did!”

“They’ll say it at your trial,” says a boy not even old enough to grow a beard. The little shit, working for the man.

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, kid,” I say, “and already you—”

“Save it for your trial!” says a guard behind me as he twists my ear around in a circle, hurting me.

“Ouch! You cannot do that to me, you bastard! I am still a person!”

They’re laughing at my pain. A few more chuckles and then silence. Just the sound of their feet shuffling down the narrow corridor. One of them, the old one, the ear-twister, clears his throat with a cough and swallows the mucus.

“How much time you think they’ll give him?” he asks. I cannot even turn my head to see what he looks like. He is in back, and I am locked in this space capsule like a trumpet in a felt case, only my face visible. I can hear his age in his voice, though, slow and hoarse, jaded and hopeless. The kid is in front.

“I don’t know. Maybe fifty?”

“I’m right here!” I say. “Show some sensitivity!”

“I hope they leave him out there for good,” the older one says.

If this is about the dead clone, the old guard is right. They will put me adrift out there amongst the stars, my only friends, until by some stroke of luck either I fall into the sun or am smashed by a comet. Still, I cannot believe they’d actually prosecute me for killing a clone. There are nine more!

We shall see.


The ceiling is a glass archway. Beyond it I see another ship zoom past. It is probably carrying some happy family of tourists into the corona of the sun. They will get to play and be giddy, zooming amidst the solar flares and over the bubbling plasma of hydrogen and helium while I am judged and sentenced.

The double doors slide open in front of me, and I am in the courtroom. It’s on the top deck of the station. The ceiling is a glass bubble that shows where I’ll be drifting for the next eternity. I hope that the shields fail and allow some tiny piece of space dust to pass through, smashing the glass. It will rain down like razors on this courtroom, and the particle of dust will put a hole the size of my fist through the entire ship. Every deck in its path will be decompressed and emptied into the vacuum of space.

They carry my pod to the stand, an incline that puts me on display before an audience of spectators and television cameras. I can move my eyes and see most of the crowd. Lela, in the center of the third row, is wearing a black bonnet and a mourning dress. She cries, blowing her nose like a French horn. “All rise for the honorable Judge Harlon,” says a guard at the fore.

Several moments pass. People are whispering. Then Judge Harlon swaggers in wearing wrinkled clothes and wiping the sleep from his red eyes. His hair sticks up on one side and down on the other. He looks taller than on the TV.

Huuuuuuuuuuuoooouuuaaaaaahaa,” he says, stretching his arms on the back of his chair. His robe is there, too, from where he left it the week before, and he slides into it while mumbling inaudible gibberish. Then he sits and shuffles a stack of papers. He leans over and calls the guard. He whispers but I can hear it because the stand is right by his throne. “How many episodes are we shooting today?”

“Twenty-seven, boss,” says the guard.

“Jesus,” he says. “Tell the producers if you can I’m going to keep each one under a few minutes at most.” He looks scoffing back at his papers and then at me. “This one shouldn’t take long.”

I am well behaved, hoping that cooperation will win me some points come sentencing time. If I am lucky, they’ll program my pod to return to the moon after a century has passed, rather than leaving me out there forever. I have working in my favor the fact that he wasn’t even a real person but an abomination. I remember reading in the tabloids when Judge Harlon cheated on his wife that he is a hypocrite and a reform Muslim. Perhaps I can play up to his religious side.

A big screen TV lowers from the ceiling on the opposite side of Judge Harlon from where I am leaned over in my pod. The opening theme, an upbeat show tune with a full orchestra, is playing. It shows Judge Harlon wearing makeup to look young. First he is studying in a law library. Then he wears a graduation gown, smiling while someone who is supposed to be the dean of his law school shakes his hand and gives him a diploma. They both pause and turn smiling at the TV camera. Then come the highlights from his most memorable episodes. There’s the one with Samwise the Psychopath that won him an Emmy. There’s the one where he had to try his own grandmother for shoplifting a Felarbian housecat from an alien pet store. The judge looks away from the screen at his papers for that one. More highlights roll and finally the camera is on his face at his bench for the audience to see.

“You are now in Judge Harlon’s Court!” says the announcer in a perfect on-the-air voice.

“Welcome, people, welcome. And welcome to you, Mr. Rothswell. My-my-my,” says Judge Harlon. “We have got a special show for you today. We’ll not simply be deciding the fate of this young man here to my left. We’ll be setting a precedent, an important one. I ask you: what is life? What is consciousness? Must one be squeezed forth from mother’s womb, reared, weaned, and sent out into the world to be considered human? Or can one come into the world already an adult? What rights has such a one got? The right to live? We shall see.”

Judge Harlon nods at the guard, cuing him to swear me in.

“Mr. Rothswell, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do.”

Judge Harlon makes a show of reading my case file, looking up at me and shaking his head in disbelief and disapproval. Then he nods smiling to the left and right at the spectators

“Mr. Rothswell, I do not like you,” he says. He scans his papers again, marking his place with a finger on the middle of a page. “It says here that you murdered a man in cold blood.” Here he stops and looks at me, judging me with those big eyes, frog eyes, cold stones. “How do you respond to that?”

I am silent. The cameras are all trained on me. There is Lela, beautiful Lela, crying. The reporters in the back row wait holding their fingers ready over palm-pads. I think I see my dad. The son-of-a-bitch is out there.

“Mr. Rothswell, you are in danger of violating the ten second rule. I don’t like the rule, but I don’t make the rules, do I? I judge you according to how well you follow them.”

“Ahem ...” I respond to it by saying that I am ... by saying “I am innocent of that charge, your honor.”

As if on cue, the audience erupts in a fit of murmur and rabble-talk gibberish, a thousand grunting voices expressing disquiet.

“Order in the court!”

Bang. Bang. Bang.

“Order, I say!”

The murmurs drop to a low rumble and finally cease all together, Judge Harlon banging his gavel throughout. His cold gaze then moves from the crowd back to me.

“Now Mr. Rothswell, first degree murder, you didn’t commit that crime, young man?”

“No, sir. I mean no, your honor. I didn’t kill a man, your honor,” I say, stressing man to imply that another noun is more appropriate.

“We shall see. Let the court record show that the defendant has entered a not guilty verdict.”



They have stopped for a short recess and commercial break. The programmers in the sound booth behind the glass in the back scurry back and forth, giving thumbs up to crew workers who are busy setting up the prosecution exhibits. I see my work shirt with his blood stained on it. Oh God, that is my computer pad on the table, and I have a picture there of Lela on the desktop already exposed to the eyes of the solar system! Lela the slut, Lela the tramp, Lela who would not have me. I love her, I hate her. It is she who will fill up my mind in those first few centuries of nightmares. The two of them, him and her, have already invaded my subconscious.

The candy lady strolls through the aisles selling popcorn and soda. Mostly it is scooped up by fat mothers and their hateful-little-brat children. Sometimes a man will stand up and buy some for his date, smiling goofily for everyone to see. All of these people get popcorn if they want some, but never is any offered to the defendant. How is that fair? How am I to deal with it? With a whole universe of unfairness?

Judge Harlon enters the room through the back entrance. Immediately people swarm him for autographs, and he happily obliges, holding pens in both hands over his head, scribbling on as many pictures as he can, smiling all throughout. He picks up a mewling cabbage and poses for a picture with its mother. He points at random people in the crowd and smiles knowingly. Then he makes way for the candy lady and pulls her in close to whisper. Just then I see cameras flashing from the back of the room. Judge Harlon puts the palm of his hand flat on her buttock and stares wide-eyed at them as if caught mid-act. Now tomorrow the headlines all across the solar system will be aflame with news of Judge Harlon’s affair with the candy lady. There will be another press conference in a few days for him to deliver a public apology. Behind him his beautiful brunette wife will stand there in a blue business dress with pearls hugging her neck, silent, sad, her pouty, puffy lips arched slightly down. Then his ratings will quadruple for the next month. He may even make an on-air apology during the show, an afterthought to wrap up an episode. Perhaps one of these days he will try himself. Or perhaps when his ratings finally drop, someone else will try him for the series finale. Then he will join me out there in the cosmos, but he will have to kill somebody first.

A prerecorded voice erupts louder than the chatter of the crowd. It says, “Please take your seats. Judge Harlon will continue dispensing justice in two minutes. This is your two minute warning.”

I catch Lela looking at me. She has removed her veil, and now she sits there beautiful with her pigtails and her red, tear-stained eyes, but she cannot look for long. She closes her eyes and leans over into her hands, sobbing. I lose her in the crowd as the procession of fat ladies and grandmas and lunar-trailer-trash and widows and supermarket baggers and He-3 pump-men pass in front to their seats.

I would bury my face in my hands if they weren’t pinned at my sides in this pod.


“Prosecution exhibit one,” says Judge Harlon, “consists of surveillance footage taken from your place of work, Mr. Rothswell. What was your position at Luna’s Pass University Hospital?”

“My official position was—is—Facilities Technician 2.”

“Facilities Technician. So you are one of those non-specialized hacks somewhere between a tradesman and a degenerate. Now that we have established that you were indeed an employee at Luna’s Pass Hospital, I submit the following surveillance footage as evidence of your guilt.”

The lights dim for prosecution exhibit one, and the large screen where the opening theme played comes alive with footage. It shows me pushing a hover cart covered in a white blanket through a skybridge that connects Rickson Hall to University Hospital East. The gray, pocked lunar landscape meets the star speckled sky on the horizon in the distance through the windows.

“Mr. Rothswell, explain to the court the idea of covering this cart with a white blanket.”

“My tools are under the blanket, a thermostatic pulsating drain snake. It’s not sanitary.”

“So the blanket hides from patients and visitors the fact that you are carrying a disgusting piece of infectious machinery through the hallways of a hospital. Is that it?”

“It’s to prevent the contaminants from spreading ...”

Judge Harlon rolls his eyes and stares back at the screen.

I arrive at a door at the end of the corridor where my boss, Russell Antony, waits outside with a group of hospital administrators. They know what is on the other side of the door, but I had only gotten a call over the radio that a drain was clogged in the zero-g infusion room.

“Good, Ron is here. Ron is our best guy,” says my boss to the group of administrators. ”Ron has a master’s degree in classical mythology. Ron’s a real smart guy.”

I feel embarrassed again just watching it, standing there amongst a group of administrators who make fifty times what I make, each of them with master’s degrees in business administration or hospital management. Then I come along in a big blue dirty jumpsuit, pushing a tool cart with a nasty piece of equipment that has been balls deep in the most disgusting parts of the hospital.

“Get to it,” says Russell, and he slaps me playfully on the middle of my buttocks. Russell, who I had always thought to be a good, honest manager, turns chuckling at the administrators while I am facing away, and he smiles in disbelief and astonishment, and then he points his finger down his throat, his big, flat tongue sticking out, imitating the gag reflex.

The footage switches to a different camera which shows the inside of the zero-g infusion room. Passing through the doorway, I am adrift amongst big floating turds that mix and crash like boulders in the asteroid belt.

Many Western philosophies hold that life and humanity are generally good and honorable. Shit, as an abstract concept signifying anything undesirable, has no consideration in these philosophies. Their aesthetic is “kitsch,” or what Kundera calls “the absolute denial of shit.” I suppose that in the moment depicted in the security cam footage, we see the opposite of this, a room overrun with shit, not just stool but all varieties of human excreta. Big bubbles of it are sticking to the ceilings, a combination of dirt and chunks of stool and vomit and mucus and blood and toxic chemo-tainted piss all mixed together, a cauldron of what a witch might use in conjuring the dreaded shit demon, a monster that spacefaring parents warn their kiddos about to keep them away from mechanical decks. I pull down my personal protective gear over my face and buckle it in (and watching it on the screen in the super-present world of this trial, I think of the horrible nightmare helmet that they will put over my head and buckle on for all eternity; a big, sleek black mask sans eye lenses. The inside of the nightmare helmet is the last thing I will ever see, before sedatives are pumped into my bloodstream to put me in a state of REM sleep that will last forever).

The zero-g infusion room is a big room tiled in small ceramic squares like a restroom. I suppose that’s because the patients tend to lose their bowels and meals during treatment, and it is easier to clean ceramic tiles than carpet or vinyl flooring.

A large floor drain sits in the middle of the room. It is backing up. Occasionally, bursts of sewage swell up from within the drain and belch up into the room and bounce off the walls and each other and break into many smaller bubbles, multiplying like the various microorganisms that inhabit them.

What is most annoying about working in this room is the carelessness of the medical staff. A switch on the wall controls the gravity, and a laminated sign beside the switch says “please turn the gravity back on when not in use.” Custodians have to work in there; the logistics people have to deliver supplies; a maintenance person might have to come in here to replace a light or, God forbid, unclog the floor drain. But the medical staff does not care. They can push themselves off of the wall and float down the narrow tunnel to their office suites much quicker than they can turn the gravity back on and then walk out of the front door and down the hall. If you are anything below a nurse and try talking to a doctor, nine times out of ten he or she will pretend not even to have heard you. Other times you will meet a doctor who is so nice it is scary, overcompensating for the rudeness of his or her colleagues. It is best simply to accept the misfortune of being at the bottom of the hospital’s caste system.

The gravity needs to be turned on in order for the drain snake to work, but of course the room is overrun with floating shit. There is no way to avoid the disaster from turning the gravity back on. I do so and cascading shit falls to the floor from all of the nooks and crannies of the ceiling, splashing on the floor and grabbing at my ankles with grainy liquid hands. I am ankle deep in it, but that is no matter. It is an unglamorous job, and work orders like this one make me relish in the indignity of it.

In the courtroom I hear a little girl vomit and cry for mommy. A little boy tumbles out into the aisle and runs for the restroom. Dozens of voices at various decibels and intonations all make noises to express disgust. Most commonly I hear the universal “ewwwweee” from the younger crowd. The women all purse their lips and turn their noses up at the screen.

Order!” says Judge Harlon. “I will have order in the court!”

Looking up again at the screen, I am standing atop a platform on the hovercart, the big rotating cable of the thermostatic drain snake pulsating back and forth into the unseen drain beneath the raw sewage that has filled up the room. Shit splatters all over my face mask, all over the bare skin of my wrists between my gloves and the sleeves of my jumpsuit. I breathe heavily beneath my face mask and the plastic cover fogs over. I want to remove the mask and wipe the inside, but instead I have to look through the mask at awkward angles, turning my head and looking sideways through the parts not covered in fog. To the audience this looks awkward, like an epileptic twisting and turning his head.

The big drain snake, a steel cylinder painted in the orange and red corporate logos of the Lunar Wire Company, twists and jerks violently, then stops. The cable coiling up like a python ready to strike, it wraps around my torso and arms before I can hit the emergency stop button. But I manage to step out of its constricting grip and, uncoiling it, begin running the machine in reverse. It runs smoothly for a half of a minute and stops suddenly.

“Fish on!” I turn and yell at the administrators on the other side of the door. “Bringing her in!”

After another minute of fighting the coil, a large ball of fur with dreadlocked hair trailing two feet down and dripping with thick, nasty muck emerges from the cesspool beneath the hover cart. I grab the tip of the coil and hold it up like a trophy catch. The nasty sewer water falls into the drain, forming a big vortex and making loud sucking noises like an opened can full of wet dog food turned upside down in high gravity.

Near the door, I remove towels from the hover cart and clean the area in front of the exit. Then I step inside of the cleaned area and remove the dirty jumpsuit. Beneath it I wear blue jeans and a navy blue work shirt with the corporate logo of Luna’s Pass University Hospital above the breast pocket.

In the next moment I walk triumphantly down the hallway back to the workshop. My boss, Russell, says, “Man, great work in there, cowboy. You saved the day!”

“Thanks, Russell,” I say.

“I wish I could clone you,” Russell says.

“Hah! Me too,” I say. “That’d be awesome.”

The screen goes blank and the lights in the courtroom increase in brightness. The courtroom is loud with the unintelligible rumble of a hundred conversations.

Bang. Bang.

“Ooooooorrrrrddddeeeeerrr!” shouts Judge Harlon. “Order, I say!”

Silence falls and the judge shuffles his stack of papers. He grimaces at the audience. “We have to move along!” he says. “We do not have time for these interruptions. We have a lot of suspects to convict.”

The crowd is silent. Somewhere in there a patron shovels popcorn into his mouth and chomps.

“Mr. Rothswell, you said me too. Explain to the court what you meant by that.”

A loud buzzer sounds after a long pause.

“You are in violation of the ten-second rule. Mr. Rothswell, clearly you are expressing consent to your boss’ desire to have you cloned. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that by definition what you mean when you say me too?”

I am in violation again of the ten-second rule.

“Mr. Rothswell, one more foul and I will have you placed in contempt of court! That is an automatic conviction!”

I stumble for my speech. “It means that I am saying ... What it means is ...”

The clock is ticking in big red numerals on the screen. Eight, nine ...

“It means I thought it’d be cool to be cloned!”

The crowd explodes in chatter.

“Then you are in agreement with the court! You consented to being cloned!”


“Prosecution calls Lela Salomon to the witness stand,” says Judge Harlon. In silent dignity she walks with her lips tight and her head back. Her red velvet purse hangs around her right shoulder, and she squeezes a package of tissue papers in her hand and sits in an antique witness stand between the TV screen and Judge Harlon. Her eyes are moist with tears. I cannot believe that she’s crying for him. For him! Not one of them, no doubt, has she saved for me.

Gravity aboard the station is slightly less than Earth standard, so when she sits suddenly her large bosom bounces down then up and hangs lofty a moment or two. Her breasts are big and, though I wouldn’t know how they look undraped, beautiful. Oft I have noted the way that, despite their bountiful size, their bulk extends outward rather than down as happens with breasts of comparable mass. One of those tears she lets fall for him has splattered upon them and slides down between her cleavage. This could be the last time I ever sit so close. Though I will drift around the sun, for a time they will remain in this universe, her breasts, and perhaps we shall remain connected in spirit by quantum entanglement.

“Mrs. Salomon, I am sorry for your loss. We would like to swear you in now,” says Judge Harlon.

“Thank you, Judge, but it’s only just Miss. He was ... taken from me ...” Lela turns her head away from the court and, crying, puts a knuckle to her mouth. Judge Harlon stares at me stone cold in the silence. I look at the audience and see them with their wide-eyed vacant stares. Some small part of them seems conscious and stares judging me. Have you ever watched someone from behind a movie screen, staring vacantly, shoveling popcorn by the handful into his mouth? Have you listened to that disgusting sound, half breathing, half chewing, lips smacking together, while they stare dead ahead almost all blank like there is no person behind those eyes?

“Miss Salomon, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?” says the guard.

“I swear,” says Lela.

“Ms. Salomon, describe your relationship with the defendant,” Judge Harlon says.

Lela is incriminating my honor. Even now she is up there, blabbing away, a monologue of hate. I hear her now like a fading voiceover behind the rising gasps and grumbling of the crowd.

“Ms. Salomon, I understand you’re very upset,” says Judge Harlon, holding his hands together and twirling his thumbs. “Did the defendant ever expose himself to you? If he did, we could also convict him of that.” He shows his palms.


Judge Harlon grimaces, disappointed. “Describe what happened when you saw the defendant after the incident we just witnessed on the screen.”

Lela crossed her legs and clasped her hands in her lap. “Well,” she says, “we were friends then. I was sent up to see if he needed help, but when I arrived he had already fixed the problem. I said good work. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he asked me if I wanted to have lunch. It seemed casual, so I said yes. At lunch he asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him. I’ll take you somewhere real nice, he said. I said no and then he started crying. He said to have my affection would be a very valuable thing, indeed, unlike all of the other girls whose affections, he said, were worthless.”

“That is very shocking, Ms. Salomon,” says the Judge. “But we have here evidence that the two of you were more than just casual work friends.”

Judge Harlon nods at a guard. Taking his cue, the guard, a tired, bristly-faced old man, walks towards the evidence table. He takes up my computer pad and, holding it to his chest, stares at me, perverse, as if he is getting some kind of thrill out of this. This must be the guard who carried my pod, the ear-twister.

“Ms. Salomon, can you think of any reason as to why the defendant would have a picture of himself with you kissing his cheek on the desktop wallpaper of his computer pad?” Judge Harlon says. Batting his eyelashes indelicately, the guard holds up the computer pad for the audience to see. It is an image of the two of them on top of Olympus Mons, the red landscape of Mars trailing off in the horizon in the lowlands far below. The city of New Troy is so far away that it seems to be a toy atop some child’s desk.

“It’s not me and him!” she screams, loosing grip of her Kleenex. “It’s me and Vade! He stole it off Vade’s computer! He was always prying into Vade’s business, digging through his drawers, fumbling through his computer! He thought the fact that Vade was his clone somehow meant Vade had no right to privacy!”

“He emailed it to me!” I yell. “He himself sent it!”

Judge Harlon stood in his seat and pointed his long, black finger at me. He says “you will be quiet, defendant! You will be quiet or I will convict you immediately, and you will receive the harshest sentence imaginable!”

Everyone has seen Judge Harlon’s court and knows that it never turns out well for men in cases where a beautiful, seemingly innocent woman has been wronged. Guilty, innocent, indeterminate: it doesn’t matter. As all trials are now broadcast via live television, and because the television is a medium for entertainment, logic dictates that trials must be entertaining. Were it otherwise, viewers wouldn’t watch, and if viewers don’t watch then businesses don’t buy advertising space from the networks. That is why I see the giant peacock hovering over the sun on the emblem on the wall behind Judge Harlon’s bench; it is the symbol of the Solar Broadcasting Corporation. The pretty, frail little thing in the witness stand, too beautiful for words, must be revenged. That’s what the viewers want, so that’s what the networks give them. The hospital I worked for fired all of my coworkers (my friends) and replaced them with clones of me; they made me lead this bunch of abominations, this troupe of impostors, demons, but by God this pretty little woman loved one of them. Put it on television—that’s entertainment! I am so screwed. This trial has turned against me already.

“Roll the footage,” says the Judge.

The lights dim and the screen illuminates. It shows a video of me in my private bedroom on the Lunar Colony. I am holding my computer pad while I stand over the toilet. On the screen is the image of Vade and Lela on vacation at the top of Olympus Mons. “It’s me, not him,” I say over and over, pulling my pud vigorously. “It’s me, not him, not him, not him,” I am saying. I am squinting hard, visualizing some encounter in my mind, fucking her, but I cannot get it out of my head that I am actually just standing on the side, watching a clone do it, so I go limp and start crying.

“Turn that off,” says the Judge. “It’s disgusting. And add public indecency to the list of charges against the defendant. Ms. Salomon, you are excused. The court apologizes for your loss.”

Lela steps away from the stand and, stopping halfway to her seat in the third row, turns her head towards me and lunges with her arms outstretched towards my neck.

“You took him from me!” she screams, slashing her claws at my eyes. The Judge allows this to happen for a second longer than necessary. Always he does this. Fights are encouraged on this program and, in fact, expected. He lets her attack me and then, just a second too late, sends a guard over to stop her. The audience is all out of their seats, hooting and hollering, and I am bleeding from a scratch across my face.


We have just returned from another commercial break. Women dressed like maids, stewardesses of Earth Justice Station 1, have just walked through the isles attempting to sell calendars featuring themselves posing in skimpy clothes in front of exotic locales throughout the solar system. One of them, Miss Sol Justice, wears a plasma bikini on the craggy peaks at the Mercury resort, the giant eye of Sol blazing behind her. The words “too hot for Mercury” are tattooed on her pelvis in an elaborate English script.

There is no smoking on Earth Justice Station 1, so after shilling these calendars the women strolled throughout the isles selling nuclear cigarettes. They are known to cause radiation sickness and, as such, the cigarettes are always served with pills to treat it; irradiated tobacco rolls pleasantly off the palate.

I see now lined up in front of the screen the remaining nine of my clones sans Vade. We have just viewed footage of the lot of us working together throughout the hospital like a group of octuplets plus two. I don’t know the word for eleven genetically identical persons. I hate every one of them with a passion hotter than Miss Sol Justice suntanning on the craggy peaks of the Mercury resort. We plumbed entire buildings together; we installed new radiation shields and repaired electrical failures. We did preventative maintenance on fission reactors. We did everything.

Not a one of these clones has had to deal with the student loan burdens that I am stuck with. My education has left me paying a significant chunk of my earnings every standard month for the next fifty years. I could live a comfortable life on my pay otherwise. The clones, these ingrates, every one of them has inherited my intellect, my education, but not a one of them helps ease the crushing burden of this debt. How about the judge show footage of the time that I asked each of them to split the monthly bill with me? Split ten ways it’d be paltry, I said. They remembered these educational experiences like it was they themselves who had been there, and yet not a one of them was willing to pay even a single credit towards these expenses I am stuck with like an indentured servant for the rest of my life. Vade deserved to die. I could be said to have declared war on him, injustice and the like, but persons are not afforded the same liberties as corporations and the wealthy.

The Judge has introduced each of them, Wade, Shade, Blade, Nate, Chris, Mark, Cory and Rory. “Are you alive?” he asks. Each of them of course responds in the affirmative. But nevermind if they are alive; that is a thing that I have never doubted. The issue is whether they have a right to be.

“We have heard it from the murderer’s own brothers, ladies and gentlemen, that their brother Vade was alive. We have seen that the defendant consented in advance to their creation. We have seen the sad widow bereft of her lover. We have now only to show that the defendant is responsible for his death.”

I would like to say that I killed him, spare myself the pointlessness of this trial, but I am not on Judge Harlon’s good side. One more interruption and he will sentence me to death by explosive decompression.

The room darkens again and once more the television audience is staring at a screen within a screen. It shows the three of us (myself, Vade, and Shade) stranded aboard a work truck out near a remote research station; we suffered the meltdown of our engine and had enough spare oxygen tanks for only two of us to make it safely back to the hospital in an escape buggy. I sent Vade into the airlock under the pretense that he had to obtain a piece of equipment there, and I shut and sealed the room as soon as he entered it. Then I decompressed it, killing Vade. Shade and I used the oxygen and the buggies to make it back to safety. Presumably soon after our return, Shade reported me, because I was later placed under arrest for murder.

“Why,” Judge Harlon asks, “did you murder Vade, defendant?”

“He was just a clone! It was a choice between him and Shade! It could have been either one of them! What does it matter?”

“You have no right to send a coworker to his death!” screams the Judge. “You have a right to sacrifice yourself only, for his life was not yours to discard!”

“They’re not even people!” I scream, but the guards have already begun strapping the nightmare helmet upon my head.

“It’s not murder if it’s just a piece of property!” My last words to the world, and then I see only black.

“Then I also find you guilty of destroying company property!” says Judge Harlon. “Set his prison pod to infinity, guards! He shall orbit the sun until it swells up and turns the Earth into cinders! Then for the next five billion years, he will realize that his torment has only just begun when an internal fission reactor powers his pod long after the universe has grown cold and entropic. Forever and ever will he live the terrors of the nightmare helmet which he has won for himself!”

I can feel myself launched at several gravities into space. I am feeling sleepy and briefly lose consciousness. I see a giant volcano. Atop it dances Judge Harlon. Below him Lela and my clones dance as in a celebration, all of them newlywed in a big, group wedding. It is a reception. They are about to toss me in. END

Alan Rader holds an M.A. in English Literature from Portland State University. When he isn't writing, he works full-time in facilities maintenance at a local hospital in Portland. This is his first professionally published story.




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