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



Growing Pains

By A.L. Sirois

AFTER ARGUING ABOUT THEIR DESTINATION for weeks, they settled on Western Australia. But not even the hot sands and excellent waves could heal the wounds between them.

Only when the demands of surfing forced him to rely on his instinct and sense of balance was Zeke’s mind free of crosstalk and self-recrimination and the scorecard of slights. In the curl, with water thundering around and above him, water-green-glass clarity grew in him. Something had to be done; couples therapy, perhaps. Or ... a separation. He came out of the water gripping his board, oddly relaxed despite the exertion, and trudged up the beach to where she sat on the towel with her iBand over her eyes.

He shook his head. Here they were in a tropical paradise, and she was watching ... whatever. That was so Harley. Setting down the board, he dropped on to the towel beside her, brushed water out of his hair and sleeked it straight back.

She removed the iBand and gazed at him, frowning. “Orosz has ceased communicating with HQ.”

“You’re working? I—” Then it sank in: “What?”

“Just received an emergency message from Implementation Central.”

His stomach knotted as he listened. Orosz, Mahadelphi’s overseeing sapiocybernism, had stopped responding to email, radio, video, or phone. Oh no, no. “Crashed? Dammit, sabers aren’t supposed to be able to.”

She nodded. “Care to guess who’re the closest qualified project personnel?”

He groaned.

“Exactly again.” She stood. “We better go pack.”

“We’re not saber-techs.”

“Doesn’t matter. We’re project reps. We have responsibilities,” she said over her shoulder, already walking back to the beach house.

Zeke trailed after her, scowling. If you weren’t such a workaholic, we’d tell them to get someone else. She was right about the responsibilities, though; one didn’t turn down a request from Implementation, even on vacation.

Within hours they were heading for Mahadelphi, two thousand or so kilometers to the northeast. The storm coalesced out of nowhere. By the time the weather satellite net warned the Budowskis, their car was only a hundred or so nautical miles from what had once been Howland Island where the bionicopolis was growing.

“Zeke, we are not gonna make the eighty-second floor dock. Put it down on the sand.”

Annoyed, soaked with sweat, Zeke Budowski squinted out through the Bhishma’s streaming windshield. “No. There’s no shelter on the beach. The surf’ll wash right over the island, scrape us into the sea. This is a typhoon or something. We have to get inside. That landing bay on eight-two is in the lee, and that’s where we’re going.”

Through the wrack, a distant blue-green shimmer clarified after each wipe of the blade, to be immediately stippled over.

“Goddammit, Zeke, you’ll get us killed!” Weeping now.

He licked his lips, and surreptitiously tapped a control sensor on the underside of the seat, releasing a small volume of vaporized Salvia divorum essence into the cabin. He prayed Harley’s agitation would prevent her noticing the faint, minty odor.

Almost at once she relaxed at his side. Zeke, too, felt the drug’s calming effect and sighed shakily. His heartbeat slowed. Good, okay—she’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.

The blurred glow slowly resolved through the downpour. Mahadelphi currently towered about a quarter of a mile into the tropical air: roughly cylindrical, irregularly faceted with protective ceramic plating, crowned with a silicon leaf forest that generated electricity. At maturity, ’Delphi would house a hundred thousand privileged people desperate to escape climate upheavals and spreading unrest. Now, though, the half-grown structure, whipped by rain and spray, seemed wildly out of place on this treeless little coral island in the South Pacific.

Harley rubbed her fingers together in her lap as the car staggered in the wind. “You think the storm, what, knocked out an antenna or something?”

“It’ll be an easy fix if so.”

Harley squinted ahead into the rain. “I wish we ... oh, look, Z, the weather shield’s working.”

Out the side window he saw rain pounding down on the tough plastic umbrella covering the bionico’s nutrient pool, protecting it from dilution. “That’s something, anyway.”

“Yeah.” She peered up toward the naked crown of the building. “At least some systems are functioning. The autonomics, anyway.”

He took the car into a long bank. Harley gulped. “Piece of toast, Har.” She gave a weak smile at the joke.

The bionicopolis’ sides loomed out of the wrack. The car staggered up, up. He saw the docking bay and broadcast a security code, biting his lips in grateful joy as the bay’s door slid down. He increased the Bhishma’s speed to counteract the wind, braking the turbines hard as soon as it cleared the opening. The door began closing behind them but a vagrant gust of wind ripped through the opening, twisting the car sideways, slamming it into a wall. It tilted over, driver side down, gyros whining.

Zeke looked up at Harley dangling from the seat restraint above him. Blood dribbled from a cut on her forehead. He reached for her, but she knocked his hand away: “I’m fine. Let’s get out of here.”

He waited tensely as she tried her door mechanism.


“Balls ... and we’re not getting out on my side.”

She clenched her fists, rocking back and forth in her seat. “Goddammit, goddammit ...”

“Harley, shut—” The car creaked and swayed a little as she rocked. “Stop moving.

A tear slid down her face, off her nose, and plopped on his cheek. “Okay, hang on—listen, Har. Rock to the right. We’ll off-balance the car. It’ll fall on its belly.”

She stared at him, obviously working it out in her head. At last she nodded.

“Okay. Together. Right? One, two—rock.” The car leaned, fell back. “One, two—rock.” The car leaned further. Zeke braced himself, sure it would go over; but it fell back. “Once more, I think. One, two—now!

The Bhishma toppled. For a free-fall moment Zeke had a nightmare vision of the machine crashing through the floor, but it slammed solidly down with a teeth-rattling crash.

They stared at each other for a moment, and then shared a shaky, relieved laugh. Still chuckling, he tried his door, but it remained jammed shut. So did hers. “Shoot. Frame’s bent.” The car’s systems were utterly dead. He put his feet up and kicked at the windshield, but didn’t have enough room for good leverage. Even though the crash had cracked the glass he couldn’t break it.

“There’s got to be a way out.” Harley dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve.

“Working on it.” He looked around. The car sat slightly off-center in the otherwise empty docking bay. Above, luminescent panels provided light. Behind them, the outside door. To their left, the darkened window of a control room. Most of the wiring wouldn’t be fully grown into the consoles yet. To the right stretched a blank ceramic wall, scored by regular indentations and ridges that would perhaps become ventilators or comm grilles.

Harley slipped her iBand on. “Orosz is still offline but maybe I can get a diagnostic reading now that we’re inside ... Ugh, no such luck. Must still be rebooting.”

Damn it, worse than I thought. He pulled his iBand out of his pocket but its lens was cracked, broken in the crash. Exasperated, he tossed it aside.

A door at the far side of the dim hangar opened and a dozen or so very diminutive people cautiously entered, uniformly dressed in blue-green coveralls with the Mahadelphi Alliance Implementation logo on the left breast.

“Wallies!” Harley exclaimed.

Wallies, ’Delphi’s Third World laborers, toiled behind the scenes, “in the walls” of the immature bionico where more educated workers refused to go, shunning the cramped unhealthy conditions. Cheaper than robots and more adaptable, they worked on each new level in turn, moving up the bionico to paint, lay carpet and finish walls.

“Thank God,” said Zeke. “We’re gonna need help getting out of this damn car.”

The Wallies edged closer, raised palms out in concern. One man, with a wry, almost bulldog face, leaned over to peer in at them. “Who you? Hurt? Injured?” He spoke in the Wallie patois.

Zeke and Harley both spoke the lingo. “No, but the frame’s bent.” Zeke rattled the handle, shouldered the door. “See? We can’t get out.”

“We’re Project techs.” Harley pressed her ID tag against the windshield.

The dog-faced man knotted up his face, squinting at it, baring his teeth slightly. “Ah.” He exchanged a few words with another man, who trotted off. “Patience, please, techs.”

“Thanks, uh—what’s your name?”

“Arjuan, mem.” He sniffed. “What that funny odor?”

Harley frowned, whispered to Zeke: “What’s he talking about? I don’t smell anything.”

Zeke licked his lips. He must’ve scented the salvia. Before he could reply, the Wallie man returned with a pry bar. Minutes later Zeke and Harley were out of the Bhishma.

“Not injured.” Arjuan looked at the Budowskis with compassion in his brown doggy eyes.

“We’re fine, really,” Harley said. “Thank you, Arjuan. Listen, have you had any contact with Orosz?”

The dog-man shook his head. “Not for more than two days. So happy to see techs! In desperate need of assistance, us.”

“Why haven’t you called out for help? You’ve got satellite phones.”

“Tried, tried. Signals jammed. You will help us.”

The Budowskis exchanged bewildered looks. “I don’t understand,” Zeke said. He felt weak and disoriented. Must be in shock. Not thinking clearly.

The Wallies crowded in, plucking at their clothing, eyes wide in alarm and moaning.

“Are trapped. Trapped.” Arjuan’s mouth trembled.

“Trapped,” echoed several other Wallies.

Harley’s eyes widened. “What do you mean, you’re trapped?” Two little women took her hands, caressing the fingers and wrists and stared up in despair.

“Not us. Come, please; will show you.”

They took Zeke’s hands as well and gently led him and his wife out of the landing bay, through a sphincter in the wall into a twisting, smooth-sided tubular corridor. All around them the bionicopolis quivered and rustled as it grew. Bioluminescent veins flickered on and off along the corridors. From deep within the walls came muffled murmurs. Odd fecund scents floated in the air as systems calibrated and readjusted themselves.

Arjuan trotted at Zeke’s side. “Room sealed itself off while working inside, them.”

Zeke forced his cloudy mind to grapple with the Wallie’s words. Mahadelphi thrust itself up into the sky from its hundred-meter nutrient pool, its insides conforming themselves to genetic plans coded into the growth culture. Vacuoles in the soft “flesh” formed into rooms that hardened into calcareous chambers as growth continued above, using the stiffening skeletal structure below for stability. At the same time, buttressing “roots” thrust out into the island and down, becoming a strong foundation doubling as a conduit for geothermal energy and as taps to subterranean fresh water supplies deep beneath the ocean bed. ’Delphi could even lift itself up on its roots if threatened by flooding.

“So you can’t get them out?”

“That right. The walls… doubly thick, wrong, too hard for us. Something gone bad, that entire floor. Corridors narrow and tall, too tall, not like any others. Do not like them. All our power tools offline. Friends inside will starve.”

Harley took Zeke’s arm. “Whatever knocked out Orosz must be what’s causing the erratic growth patterns.”

He shrugged. “Can’t see how a problem with the genetic coding would affect the sapiocybernetic systems, though, can you?”

Her turn to shrug. “Sabers ... not my job.”

“Can you get the door open?”

“How do I know? I don’t have any of my lab equipment. I can’t even take measurements.”

“You have your iBand, though?”

“Yeah, I do.” Harley put the band on and tapped it to life. “Crap. Still can’t get a connection. I don’t get it.”

Zeke swallowed hard. “If Mahadelphi dies, it’ll set the entire project back five years or more.”

“Not to mention the Wallies ... what’ll they do without ’Delphi?”

“Please try, please.” The Wallies crowded around.

“Uh, sure, sure.” He raised his hands, patted the air reassuringly. “We’ll do all we can.”

The Wallies led them through a slippery intestinal corridor whose floor had not even been leveled, to a niche in which the Budowskis found a tightly closed meniscus sunk into the wall.

Harley examined the aperture minutely. “This gasket looks swollen, somehow.”


“I—” Harley broke off as a mild tremor shook the bionicopolis. The Wallies moaned. “Arjuan? What’s that?”

“Since two days ago, it does that.”

“That spasm?” Zeke raised his eyebrows at Harley.

She shrugged. “Maybe something’s screwed up with the skeleton’s epiphyseal plates. Some sort of achondroplasia.”

“So, the structural members?”

“Yeah ... damn. If it’s picked up some sort of infection somewhere, that could mean reduced proliferation of chondrocytes ... Zeke, that would slow the growth rate. In humans it results in ...” She broke off, staring at the Wallies surrounding them.

“Har, what?”

Harley grabbed Zeke’s tunic and leaned in close. Whispering: “Dwarfism. It’s maybe being contaminated by the Wallies’ DNA.”

“How ... how—?”

She shook her head. “Talk to the biologists. We all shed cells every day, you know, skin flakes off. Maybe the nutrient pool is contaminated. This is all new science, these bionicos. Not exactly lab tested.” The building shivered. “Orosz must be hung up, trying to figure a way to deal with it.”

“Crap. So what can we do?”

“I’d need an anti-spasmodic or a tranquilizing agent. But I haven’t got any equipment or anything.”

A cold feeling grew in Zeke’s midsection. “If ... if you had, uh, something like that, what would you do with it?”

“Try it on the door here first, maybe, to see if it’d dilate, I guess.”

He licked his lips. “Maybe we, uh, do have something.”


“The, uh, the car. I installed a misting system.” He didn’t want to say the next sentence, never would have said it had they not been in this situation. “It dispenses drugs. Salvia divorum in this case ... it’s meant to keep the, uh, population tranquil.” He rolled his eyes toward the Wallies.

“What’s it doing in our car?

He laughed nervously. “You get nervous when we fly in the rain, and we had this long trip, can never tell what the weather will be like ...”

She stared wide-eyed at him. “You know, it would be one thing if you told me, or better yet asked me. I might even have agreed. But you just went ahead and did it without consulting me?”

“I’m sorry. I—”

Her face had gone white. “We’ll have this conversation later.”

Hating himself, Zeke watched Harley squint, sigh, clamp down on her emotions. Blank-faced, she said. “So the salvia is a tranquilizer. If you can get some from the car, might it make the door relax long enough for the Wallies inside to get out?”

Zeke shrugged, relieved to have dodged the bullet—at least temporarily. “Worth a try. Look, lemme borrow your iBand ... I want to calculate a few things on the way.”

She handed it over. “I’ll stay here and examine the door.”

Zeke, accompanied by Arjuan and several Wallies, hurried off through the twinkling passageways. He worked on the iBand. Hey, some of the diagnostics are back. Within moments, though, he had his fears confirmed. Damn, all the tranq systems are offline. Before he could think about the implications of not being able to keep the Wallies pacified, they arrived at the car. The pry bar that freed him and Harley lay to one side.

“The tanks are underneath,” Zeke said. “Arjuan, can you smell anything? Remember that odor you scented when we crashed here?”

“Yes, sir. Now barely present.”

“Good, there’s no leak. Can you and your men put the car over on its side, like it was originally?”

“Yes.” Speaking in rapid Wallie-talk, Arjuan directed his companions and they took hold of the Bhishma.

“Wait, wait.” Zeke snatched up the pry bar from the floor and jimmied open the trunk. “I need the tool kit ... Okay. Now let’s flip it.”

With the car on its side, Zeke examined the tanks. Both were dented, and he was unsurprised to find one empty. With the Wallies helping, he removed the second, partially full, tank.

When they arrived back at the niche containing the malfunctioning door, Zeke leaned the tank against the dully shining ceramic wall and gave Harley her iBand.

“What do you think, Har? Do we just spray this stuff around the door?”

She pointed at a small grating in the wall. “Ventilation intake. With luck the filter system hasn’t been set to recognize anything like Salvia divorum.” She aimed the nozzle at the vent and opened the valve.


Zeke inhaled deeply, drawing some of the dispersing gas into his lungs. Then he inhaled again. Everything would be fine. He would explain himself to Harley. Then, once they had had that discussion—

The building lurched. The doorway puckered as the wall squeezed around it. Faint mews of alarm came from the trapped Wallies within, louder cries from those outside.


Zeke stepped back from his wife. “What, damn?” A terrible groan erupted, seemingly out of the air itself. His hackles rose. The Wallies chirped and twittered amongst themselves in concern.

“It’s having the opposite effect. I think it’s inducing stronger spasms.”

Mahadelphi gave a convulsive jerk. The roof of the corridor sagged down nearly to the top of Zeke’s head. He dropped to the floor, tugging her down with him.

Harley clutched his arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, fine; where?”

They looked up at the ceiling, where cracks showed, oozing a viscous brown material. It continued sagging down, steadily, slowly. Soon it would touch the floor.

“To a lower level. Arjuan?”

“What happening, sir, mem?”

The Wallies crowded around, no longer obsequious. “What happening to our comrades?” “What you do?” “What that gas?”

The building lurched again and a deeper, more threatening moan erupted from somewhere deep within, below them. The Wallies twittered and squeaked, clinging to each other.

Stricken, she glanced at him. He tugged her arm. Whispering: “They’re distracted. C’mon.

She allowed him to draw her away down the corridor. They rounded a corner and set off at a trot. “Your tranq system could have used more testing.”

He gave her a sheepish look. “That’s sort of one reason why I put it in the car.” The building rocked on its foundations and emitted a terrible grinding noise, nearly throwing them off their feet. Thin muffled shrieks from behind.

Harley halted. “The ceiling’s collapsed in that room!”

“I know.” Zeke pushed her forward. “From the core out, nine rings, subdivided into segmented pie slices. This entire segment is collapsing. I should have realized it when I saw the stuck door. All this movement overstresses the supports, knocks ’em out of line. The whole structure is warping. Like our car; everybody’ll be trapped inside.”

“Zeke, head for the General Utility Trunk. We’ll try to climb down.”

“The GUT? Are you—we’re eighty floors up, have you forgotten?”

“Got a better idea? Besides, maybe we can get a hard link to Orosz in there if we can find some network nerves. Our bands’ll accept a tendril if it’s capped.”

“Hmmm. Okay, let’s do it.”

They fled down seemingly endless smooth-walled intestinal corridors varying in diameter toward the center of the building and the nerve core. The lights fluctuated; one moment they were shielding their eyes from glare, the next they were in utter darkness. Angry cries of pursuit grew behind them.

The GUT, the spinal cord of the bionicopolis, linked every floor with the building’s roots, regulated the flow of nutrients and information from top to bottom. Its circulatory system contained the main body of Orosz as well: a liquid computer, nanomods floating in a fluid sensitive to electromagnetic waves.

“Will the Wallies follow us in there?”

She shrugged.

They rounded a corner. Here near the trunk the corridors were narrower, more sharply curved, and shorter. Cables and ropes of nerve fibers and other odd excrescences protruded from the walls. Layers of shell would soon cover them over but for now they were exposed. Harley paused and consulted her iBand.

“Access port along here somewhere ... yes, there.” She knelt, digging her fingers into a crevice. A segment of the chitinous wall clattered to the floor. Harley stuck her head in. “Not much light in here.”

Zeke sniffed. “Smells pretty funky.”

“Breathe through your mouth then. Handholds to the right. Go feet first, it’ll be easier.”

Zeke licked his lips. His palms began perspiring. “I hate heights.”

They both looked up at the cries from behind them.

Zeke needed no further urging. On his belly, he thrust his feet through the door. Carefully feeling around with a leg he found the ladder rungs close by, stepped down, and grabbed with his left hand while his right clutched the door’s rim.delphi

He spidered down the ladder. Above him Harley’s form filled the aperture, blocking the light from the corridor. A clattering and a clunk ... darkness.

About three meters in diameter, the GUT was threaded with nerve networks and metallo-plastic organs. Some of these cupped tiny glowing lights. In places the nodules were so large they crowded the ladder. Zeke continually brushed nerve webs aside as he descended. Warm odors like mulch and compost felt thick in his nose. Harley gasped anxiously each time a spasm shook the huge building. He clung to the ladder breathing inchoate prayers to a god he rarely recalled, let alone addressed.

“Zeke? I think we can get out through the waste port.”

“Is that at ground level?”

“Above it a bit ... ground level is the nutrient pool; you wouldn’t want to splash around in that shit. Wastes are piped out through a sphincter on the south side. Treated, but still pretty foul. There’s another access panel there, assuming it isn’t sprung. The lower levels bear a lot of weight.”

Zeke frowned at a note in Harley’s voice. He squinted up. “You’re ... enjoying this.”

“I am not ... but I admire what we’ve created. You know, the whole team. I admire the way it works, even though it’s partially compromised.”

“You don’t believe it’ll hurt you, do you? But it’s just a building, Harley—it has no awareness of you.”

Harley sighed, exaggeratedly patient. “Of course it does.”

“Not Orosz ... I mean an intrinsic understanding from ’Delphi itself. Har, it’s a big bionic plant, really. Orosz doesn’t understand motivations. He can’t, he hasn’t got mirror neurons.”


He drew a deep breath. Talking took his conscious mind off his fear, occupying it with a Rubik’s cube of logic for Harley. “Mirror neurons fire when someone sees or hears an action, and, and makes them feel like they’re doing it, too. That’s why people get so involved in sports, and art. They mirror language, skills, tool use ... build neural pathways for ’em. That’s why we have empathy and understanding.”

“Yeah ... sure ...” She sounded distant, but—he noted—at least not tense.

Talking helped him, too. “Orosz can repeat a task a million times and not understand it, not question it. He hasn’t got any empathy. You’re trying to relate to a ... a ... a sunflower. You’d get more response from a dog or a cat.”

“Mahadelphi isn’t going to harm us.” Harley set her small jaw. The mulchy greenhouse scent of the core enveloped them now, damp and ripe, with occasional throat-catching chemical notes. “Orosz may be a big dumb sunflower, but he isn’t malicious. He didn’t drug me. What were you mirroring when you did that?”

The bionico quivered and he clutched at the ladder. He’d lost track of where they were. Christ Jesus, please please get us out of this and I will light a fucking candle every day for the rest of my life, I swear. He couldn’t tell if he meant the sorrowful whirlpool trapping him and Harley, or the Byzantine confines of ’Delphi—or his crumbling marriage.


Down, down, ever down, close together in the GUT but further apart than they’d ever been. They passed banks of quivering tendrils through which tiny LEDs winked and blinked; misshapen mushroom-like nozzles from which drooled a heavy, fragrant mist; an especially damp and humid patch of meter-long sensory reeds that brushed the intruders and vanished coral-like into their follicles. Perspiration coursed down Zeke’s face.

Whatever instability had cropped up in ’Delphi’s growth process was threatening the entire project. Could Harley be right, could this be contamination from the Wallies’ genes? They’d have to investigate, but first they had to get away from ’Delphi.

“Har, are they following us?”

Harley peered back up the ladder. “They haven’t even breached the door.”

Zeke looked down. His head swam. Whoa—big mistake.

He clenched his teeth. Trying to ignore his vertigo he concentrated on putting one foot down at a time, making the best progress he could. Above him Harley was saying something but he ignored her, too.

He glanced below again. “Hey, we’re at the bottom.” Feeling relief sweat dribble down his forehead, he clambered down the final few meters through a thick mist and found himself standing on a walkway beside a sluggish stream of filth flowing through a ditch.

A few moments later Harley dropped catlike beside him. They looked at each other. Zeke opened his mouth but Harley laid a finger across his lips.

“Later. You’re right, we have more immediate concerns.” A strange light glowed in her eyes.

At this level semi-organic nodules crowded the core, shuddering sacs from which pipes and valves protruded. Irregular man-sized shapes made indistinct by steam and oddly scented fogs moved jerkily at indeterminate distances.

“Vorgs. I forgot about them. ” Zeke took a few nervous steps down the catwalk, away from the forms.

Harley shrugged. “They won’t hurt us, I don’t think. They’re like T-cells, you know; leucocytes just looking for impurities. I don’t think we fall into that category, but let’s get a move on just in case. The waste port is that way.” She pointed in a direction off the path, through a gurgling, stinking marshland.

They stepped off the catwalk. The floor, hidden by the thick liquid, provided slippery and uneven footing, making impossible any pace faster than a slow shuffle. “We’re walking through Orosz’s brain,” Zeke muttered. The fluid, comprised of molecule-sized nanomods responsive to electromagnetic waves, comprised Orosz’s main memory bank. Man, I’m a real headwalker now. If Orosz had a head. He squinted at the shambling figures, still indistinct in the mist. “They don’t move like machines.”

She didn’t turn around. “Just ignore them.”

“Yeah? Well, they’re coming this way, so ...”

Now she turned. “Hmph. I wonder ...” She moved off at an angle to their path.

Zeke, looking back, saw the vorgs change course to match. “Now can we worry?”


The vorgs drew closer. Zeke could make them out now. Man high, more or less, looking like bulky hazmat suits with melted contours, bristling with sensors and tentacles and cactus-like organs seemingly placed at random. Three eyes. They glided past obstructions, gaining on the couple.

“Oh, man.” Harley yanked her iBand over her eyes as they stumbled along.

“What are you—?”

“Trying to get through to Orosz one last time. Some of his systems are back, right?”

“Look, forget Orosz. He’s—”

Tinny, from the iBand’s external speaker: “Harley Budowski.”


“Life is beautiful.” Zeke couldn’t control the tremor of relief in his voice. “Tell him to call off the dogs.”

“Orosz, we’re on the ground level, and I think the vorgs think we’re harming your memory pools. Can you shut them down?”

“Yes.” Almost at once the vorgs halted. Zeke and Harley slowed their headlong dash, gasping in the humid air.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Much has happened, Harley. There have been fundamental changes.”

“Well, we know that. What’s with the growth rate? It’s saltation, isn’t it, Orosz?”

Zeke blinked. “What?”

She waved her hand around, inclusively. “’Delphi’s mutating. Macro-mutating, exceeding its design specs. What we’ve got is a, a new species. So we don’t know what it is.”

“There are unexpected embellishments occurring in certain sequences of the genome. I am continually correcting for it. The effort takes most of my resources.”

As though to punctuate Orosz’s words, Mahadelphi shook with another tremor. Zeke had a sudden uncomfortable awareness of the many thousands of unstable tons towering above him.

“Those tremors ...” Harley wiped her face. “Orosz can’t correct for the saltation, for the stresses. It can’t predict them. It’s like ... evolution progressing in spurts, it’s, it’s ... punctuated equilibrium. Mahadelphi feels it.”

“Are you trying to tell me it’s having growing pains, for god’s sake?”

“I think so, yes. Orosz, can you get us a link to the Net?”

“I can’t do that.”

Zeke scowled. “And why not?”

“Mahadelphi has become too complex for me to successfully monitor other than mechanically.”

Harley put a hand on his arm. “I get it, I think. He’s at the limits of his ability. The mutating system has gotten so complicated so fast that he’s treading water, figuratively, trying to keep up! He can’t handle one more task.”

“What? He’s a saber, he’s supposed to be able to handle anything. Computers a lot less smart than him were modeling complex systems like tornadoes and galaxies decades ago.”

“I think it’s because he’s a saber that he can’t.”

Zeke shook his head.

“Zeke, mirror neurons. Remember? The regulatory systems you want to set up through the Dream Bank will require him to monitor the entire population. Their conscious lives will be measured against the parameters making civilized life possible. Laws and mores. Art, culture. Subconsciously, the brain chemistry of their sleep states will be constantly checked for irregularities. Reports will be generated and corrections made.”

“Right. So?”

“He can’t manage it. It’s like asking him to oversee a, a hundred thousand universes. He can’t do it because he can’t fathom the task—he lacks mirror neurons. Look at him ... this unexpected mutation has pushed him beyond his parameters. How do you think he’s going to be able to handle the Dream Bank?”

Zeke blinked. “Orosz? Is she right?”

The voice from her iBand said, “We do brute-force comparisons, matching solutions through the matrix of history.”

Harley nodded. “It isn’t enough. Mahadelphi, bionicopoli in general, can’t develop past a point without an inner spark of ... creativity. It needs an ... intervention.”

Harley set her jaw and bit her lips. His wife at her most determined, he knew. All systems go.

“Orosz? Initiate Protocol Holy Grail.”


A vorg slimed up from the depths of Orosz’s memory swamp, handed Harley a chitin goblet brimming with ultramarine liquid. Zeke went utterly cold in the heat and humidity of the bionico’s hothouse environment. Orosz’s memory matrix? He grabbed for the cup. She fended him off with one hand and, gagging, gulped the stuff, getting most of it down before he wrested the cup from her and tossed it angrily after the retreating vorg.

He turned to her. “Goddammit, Harley.” He had never felt so helpless. “There must’ve been half a billion nanomods in that swill. No one’s tried a saber-human interface except a few terminal neurological patients.”

“And it pretty much worked for them. Interspecies cooperation will allow Orosz to handle the mutations, Zeke.” Harley hugged herself, grew calmer.

Zeke watched the shift in her personality half in dread, half in wonder. All the while, the bionicopolis shuddered and moaned around them.

“You have to leave,” she said distantly. “’Delphi will grow increasingly unstable until ...” She smiled.

Something about that smile froze his blood. “Until what?”

The building shook with a severe tremor.

“No time to explain.” Harley walked quickly toward the cloaca and pointed at the brink of the drainage pool. “Just swim down through the pipe,” she said. “I’ve got the drain open for you. We’ve been flushing the system with seawater, so the impurities are diluted way down. It’s just a few meters long. Take a deep breath. You’ll be fine.” Her eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment.

“What about you?”

“I’ll be along shortly.” She handed him her iBand. “I don’t need this.”

Zeke stroked his wife’s silken hair. “We’ll sort all this out, Har. I promise.” He stuffed the iBand into his trousers then slid into the pool, sucking in as deep a breath as he could manage. He dove into the depths of the drainage pond, keeping his eyes closed because the liquid stung them. The pond wasn’t very large and a current guided him. He flowed into the cloaca. The current pulled him greasily along for a few seconds before spewing him out into the pool of diluted waste. He surfaced, gasping and spitting.

The storm that marooned them here had passed. Torn clouds fled toward the west in the thinning layers of atmosphere above the ocean. Patches of blue told of the sun that would soon be shining on bleak, sandy little Howland Island.

Shaking his head and wiping fluid from his face, Zeke turned to look up at ’Delphi towering above him. He waded out of the pool. The air, warm now, would quickly become blazing hot once the clouds cleared.

He pulled Harley’s iBand out of his trouser pocket, wet but operable. But— “Damn.” Still no satellite link. He pushed it up on his forehead.

Zeke looked away from the bionicopolis, across the empty waters of the Pacific Ocean. No food, no fresh water here ...

Suddenly the ground shook and he stumbled. He turned and his mouth fell open.

Mahadelphi rose slowly, unsteadily, wonderfully, from its nutrient pool on four stubby legs. They telescoped out, lifting the structure even higher. Foul weather precautions, he remembered. But the storm hadn’t been that severe. So why—?

He charged back up the hill. “Harley? Har?

A voice, Harley’s voice, from the iBand.

“Stay back, Zeke.” ’Delphi seemed to tense slightly, and a number of windows on the lower level popped open. The energy-gathering leaves of the bionico’s crowning solar cell forest folded up and clung to their composite branches, which in turn folded back around upper perimeter, like hands spreading.

Zeke stared. What the hell was it doing? “Harley? You better get out of there.”

“I’m staying, Zeke.”

“What? Why? You promised—”

“Don’t worry; we’ve got a satellite link now. I’ve radioed a Mayday. Someone will be along soon to pick you up. Baker Island isn’t far, less than sixty kilometers. The prevailing winds will take some of the spores that far ... others, farther yet. And of course, this is just the beginning. Eventually they’ll spread around the world.”


“Over and out.” The channel went dead. So did his hope. She had this planned all along.

“God damn you, Harley—who’s keeping secrets now? What did you do to ’Delphi? You and all your other damn architect friends?”

A hissing sound, audible even over the rush of sea breeze and the waves rolling up on the shore, grew in his ears. It seemed to be coming from the very top of ’Delphi. He squinted up into the bright sky. A cloud of steam issuing from the top of the structure whirled in the breeze, dissipating slightly as the wind bore it out to sea.

He frowned. That’s not steam—it looks ... particulate. Like ...

Spores, she’d said.

Reproducing—Mahadelphi was reproducing. END

A. L. Sirois is a Pushcart Prize nominated author. His short stories have appeared in “Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine,” “Amazing Stories,” “Fantastic,” and elsewhere. He is also a cartoonist and can play the drums pretty well.


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