Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Decoration Day
by Edward J. McFadden III

A Mother’s Touch
by Beth Cato

Breathing Space
by J.J. Green

Consarn Christmas
by Eamonn Murphy

Having Robot Sex
by William R.A.D. Funk

by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Morphological Understanding
by Jennifer Linnaea

Cloud Cover
by Eric Del Carlo

Abram’s Choice
by Jamie Lackey

by David Barber

Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Clayton J. Callahan


Ho, Ho, Holiday Giving
by Eric M. Jones

On the Antiquity of Man
by A. de Quatrefages




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Cloud Cover

By Eric Del Carlo

ZHER PARENTS TOOK ZHER TO BOKKON for cloud-skiing. What that entailed was zher mother and father enthusiastically setting off along the sculpted runs of vapor while Dircj let zherself be locked into a pair of gleaming ivorysteel skis, gave the novice course a perfunctory try, hated the whole experience, and dug in at the hotel for another miserable vacation.

Zhe hadn’t asked to go, but of course zher parents wouldn’t leave zher at home, not even with a watcher. Hell, they’d brought that along. It didn’t dog zher every splaystep at the hotel, but Dircj was aware of the thing hovering and skulking. Zhe hated it.

Such a peevish attitude was due to zher age, zher parents said, each time with a little less patience. Zher change was coming. What they implied with that dry comment was that Dircj’s change should perhaps already be here.

Zhe might be deliberately delaying zher Resolution. That was bad.

The hotel was a vast saucer atop a truly enormous metaplastic stalk. Bokkon’s surface was unremittingly hostile—pressure, brutal weather systems, maybe there were murderous ghosts down there too, for all Dircj knew. It was amazing how many resort worlds featured such hazardous aspects. On the water world Luashalla, living land masses could swallow a cruise ship. Often it was a narrow feature of the ecology of such planets which rewarded visitors with resplendent scenery or offered singular local activities. Like the cloud-skiing on Bokkon.

Dircj’s parents undertook these excursions for zher benefit. So they said. Zhe had zher doubts. And when zhe felt particularly petulant—like now—zhe was convinced zher parents were just using zher.

The period leading up to the Resolution was traditionally marked with such a tour. People of lesser means did it on a scantier scale. They maybe went from village to village back on the people’s homeworld. But Dircj’s parents were conspicuously wealthy. Zhe sometimes harbored the suspicion—again, when zhe felt especially beleaguered—that zher father and mother didn’t so much care if zhe was exposed to different environments and unaccustomed circumstances so to broaden zher appreciation of life. Zher worst thoughts made zher parents selfish creatures, eager to accrue status to themselves by parading their child lavishly through the worlds.

When Dircj contemplated such things, zhe blamed zher parents equally. Mother was no better than father. He was as culpable as she. So that would not bias zher decision with regard to the Resolution.

So the hotel was home for now. Zhe didn’t make the best of it because even that would be too cooperative with zher parents’ plans. But by this time zhe’d developed something of a routine for zher pouting. Zhe wandered the corridors and lounges. Zhe spoke to no one. There were lots of guests at the hotel, despite how upscale it was. Zher father and mother weren’t the only wealthy people in the Settled. But zhe saw only adults and children, no one zher age—not that zhe wanted that. The final horror would be meeting another person who was facing zher pre-Resolution time. If that happened, Dircj was quite sure zhe would just crumble.

Worst among the hotel’s guests, of course, were the elders. People so old they flaked right where they stood or squatted. They shot baleful expressions at Dircj, who didn’t dress in the traditional apparel of a pre-Resolve. Zher parents at least hadn’t insisted on any of that nonsense. Once, the period of change had been smothered in ritual. On some parts of the homeworld it still was, with every oldster in a village called upon to participate, imparting wisdoms and warnings, or else just venting their own perverse grievances. Powdery old-timers getting in their nasty fun.

The First War had muted many traditions, when the homsaps had overrun the Settled. The Second War had done the same, when the people had taken back the established worlds. But by then the two cultures had inevitably merged somewhat, each diluting the other.

There were homsaps on staff at the hotel.

Guests enjoyed the upsloping half of the saucer, which was rinsed in Bokkon’s thin sunlight. Dircj entered a lounge and, finding it empty, paused at the long bowed window. The view was throat-quivering. The celebrated ski runs fanned out in every direction, filigreed and fluted, masterfully shaped and lovingly manicured. The hard vapor swept majestically away to points unknown, promising adventure and panoramic vistas. The fragile daylight highlit the clouds with artistic subtlety.

Dircj found zherself taking a further step toward the window, raising a limb and grazing the glass. The interlaced cartilage of zher throat did indeed quiver, indicating zher reluctant awe. Zhe picked out the tiny dots of skiers. Some were solo, others moving about in pairs or groups. Some must be attached to instructors, as zhe had been. Dircj had given that hotel instructor very little cooperation. Zhe had intended to fail at the sport.

Now, looking out on the cloud-swept scene, zhe wondered if—

A sound from behind caused zher limbs to tighten. Zhe caught the reaction before zher joints locked, and turned slowly. Zhe expected the watcher. Zhe expected persons. Instead, a homsap in the hotel’s red livery worked a cumbersome device over the lounge’s floor. It was carpeted in finely cropped gumgrass, as were all public areas of the hotel. Zher splays gripped the grass luxuriantly as zhe walked. Dircj had never considered that the staff had to maintain its consistency. Zhe’d seen wild gumgrass on the people’s homeworld. For a moment zhe imagined how this hotel would look swarming with out-of-control tendrils, the pale purple shoots climbing the molded slate walls.

Zhe realized the homsap had stopped, and was aiming its primate eyes at zher. “I sorry myself. For disturb.” The mechanical trimming device had paused, having already worked the patch it currently hovered over.

It wasn’t annoyance that came to zher. Zhe didn’t really mind the “disturb.” Rather, zhe was grateful this wasn’t her watcher or other people.

“You don’t disturb me,” zhe said, enunciating carefully. “Carry on with what you are doing.”

The homsap remained frozen in place. The appendages at the ends of its forelimbs grasped the trimmer’s handle in a wild flurry of knuckles. The beings had so many puzzling physical characteristics. It was also difficult to interpret their emotional responses. Some people preferred to discount those emotions as simplistic, even barbaric. Some people, to borrow a homsap term zhe’d picked up, were assholes.

The people had won the Second War, which had decided final dominion over the Settled. They could at least be gracious to the beasts.

Dircj thought that this one here was terrified.

Zhe had seen no other staff trimming the gumgrass. It occurred to zher that maybe they weren’t supposed to do that in front of the hotel’s guests. Perhaps this poor homsap had committed a serious error. Zhe looked on the small creature with a benign, friendly expression that it too likely couldn’t interpret.

Again pronouncing her words with care, zhe said, “We will pretend this never happened.” Zhe started to exit the lounge, surprised and rather pleased with zher own forbearance. Ironically, zhe probably wouldn’t have been this understanding with a person, given zher current moods.

“Thanking this kindness. Anytime payback. Naming me Mahir.”

Dircj wondered if the hairy, long-armed, pidgin-talking being were male or female. Zhe had no idea.


Zhe might never have sought out Mahir—honestly, might not have remembered the being’s strange name—if not for the elderly horror who joined their family for the daily meal. Mother and father cultivated a wide assortment of business and political contacts. Their wealth wasn’t a static hoard. Both Dircj’s parents were active entrepreneurs.

Zhe had been exposed during social occasions to some truly obnoxious people. But this one belonged to a distinct category.

The elder talked throughout the meal, which was served in the hotel’s vast dining hall. Dircj was only vaguely aware of how meticulously the consumables had been prepared or how formally the courses were presented. People in staff livery did the serving. No homsaps, not for something so elaborate.

Dircj had thought the oldster repellent from the moment he squatted at the table. Zhe had been raised not to shy from the effects of age. It happened to everyone, zhe still remembered zher father telling zher in zher nestlebed as a child, when he used to sing to zher. But a person could employ some etiquette, zhe thought now, or at least try to maintain a shred of dignity. This one flaked everywhere without any apology. His joints ground noisily.

All of that would have been more or less tolerable, or zhe could have held zher gagger in check, anyway. But the meal guest, who was well older than zher parents, was a caricature, full of obsolete opinions and backward outlooks. Nor was he bashful about expounding on his views. He talked politics, social concerns, and wove his incendiary and irrational perspective into every issue. Apparently there wasn’t anything that had happened in the Settled during the past thousand cycles which couldn’t be attributed to the moral decay of the people’s culture.

Inevitably, he turned his attention to Dircj. Zhe was in zher pre-Resolution time, yes? Why did zhe not wear the proper vestments, the ychga on zher head, the fmdol about zher waist?

Dircj only stared at the powdering atrocity across the table. Zher mother intervened. “Our beloved child observes the spirit of this most precious time of zher life.”

She was afraid zhe would embarrass the family, Dircj thought darkly.

But zher father added, without any hint of defensiveness, “We don’t make zher wear those things.” He held the elder with a flat uncompromising gaze.

Dircj felt a surge of gratitude. It was like something recalled vividly from childhood, when things had been so much easier and warmer between zher and zher parents.

That would have ended the strained meal on a positive note, but the guest, with granules sprinkling so liberally from his surface it was a wonder there was anything left of him, had one more objection. Dircj shouldn’t have been surprised by it.

“These homsaps. They are still dangerous. We need a Third War, I say! Extermination. Eradication ...”

It was the stuff of parody. Even political extremists—the sane ones, anyway—didn’t talk like this. Dircj had no developed views regarding the primate species which had first conquered, then relinquished the valuable clutch of habitable and exploitable worlds which made up the Settled. But damned if zhe would let zher auditory tub be mired with this filth.

All at once zhe came out of zher decorous feeding squat. Zhe was the first to stand from the tables, and that drew attention throughout the hall, which zhe hated. But zhe hated worse this loathsome elder’s unchecked bigotry.

Dircj had never before walked out on a meal. Zhe did so now.

Why? zhe wondered. Why was everything so jumbled and awful for zher? What was it about being a pre-Resolve that made life unbearably difficult?

Zhe wished zhe could just hurry up and choose.

The homsaps didn’t have this problem, zhe thought as zhe exited through the dining hall’s doors. They were almost always born into a specific gender. It was an errant thought, just a stray flicker. But it brought with it an image of a particular hairy being, and a name. Mahir.

Zhe strode down the corridor. No person followed. Some tiny part of zher hoped zhe hadn’t caused zher parents any serious problems. Whoever the elder was—zhe couldn’t remember his position—with luck father and mother could get whatever favor or influence they needed from somewhere else.

At a junction of the gumgrass-floored walkways, zhe paused. A large smokestone fountain dominated the intersection. Pink liquid bubbled up amongst arrays of vibrant gold and white and indigo flowers. This was a luxury establishment, as were all the places zher family had recently visited. Zhe had scarcely availed zherself of the lavish amenities.

Dircj approached a help station on the wall. “Mahir,” zhe demanded of the interface. Zhe waited. When the homsap appeared a few moments later, hastening on oddly jointed hindlimbs, Dircj offered another friendly expression. It halted before zher.

Beyond where the creature’s forelimb joined its trunk, zhe caught sight of hovering movement, almost obscured by the floral bursts erupting from the fountain. It was the size and nearly the shape of a person’s skull, levitating at head height, with numerous extendable appendages dangling from the underside. It was zher watcher.

Zhe ignored it. Zhe looked at the homsap before zher, convinced this was the same one who’d been trimming the gumgrass a day or so ago. The strange features told zher little, but zhe didn’t think this time that the being was terrified.

“Mahir,” zhe said, “I want to go skiing.”


“Any wish of ski is to you,” Mahir said, gesturing upward with one busy-knuckled hand, even as the homsap continued to help zher into the skis.

They were in the hotel’s shadow. Without Bokkon’s sun on it, the saucer’s underside appeared quite drab. But Mahir was indicating the ornate guest runs overhead.

“I don’t wish to ski up there.” Dircj couldn’t fault the homsap for not fully understanding. Zhe wished to go cloud-skiing but didn’t want zher parents to know. It was silly. That didn’t matter. Zhe was a guest and would be accommodated.

“I ...” Mahir had brought zher to the hotel’s lower levels as zhe’d directed. The runs down here were out of the way, used by the staff. Also, zhe had hoped to elude zher watcher. The homsap continued, “I don’t teach.”

Dircj met this surprisingly direct statement with a patient expression. “Just show me what you know. To pay me back.” It was, zhe realized before zhe could stop zherself, how zher parents conducted business. Trading favors, coercing services.

Mahir fidgeted. Dircj didn’t know what emotional state, if any, this indicated. The homsap had stepped into an insulated suit, retrieved from the same equipment bin that provided zher skis. They stood now at the head of one of the staff runs. Unlike above, it was a plain course, the moldable hard vapor of Bokkon’s high altitudes left ungarnished.

The hotel staffer did as commanded, showing zher how to stand in the skis, telling zher in that pidgin talk how to lean, how to distribute weight. Mahir wore skis too, appearing perfectly at ease in them.

Finally, it was time to go out on the run itself. Dircj felt nervous, as zhe hadn’t last time. Then, though, zhe’d already given up. Now zhe wanted to succeed.

Mahir stayed with zher for every jerky meter. The higher, gaudier guest runs laid shadows over their path. Dircj was acutely aware of the hotel’s massive supportive stalk dropping endlessly through the mistier cloud layers below. They skied for over an hour, repeating the course. After the first few tests Dircj got better, locating zher balance points, letting the ivorysteel skis, not her limbs, do the work. No one interrupted them on the run.

An unfamiliar exhilaration had taken hold of zher by the time they paused. Zher youthful flesh felt taut, years—cycles, even—away from powdering. Zher respiratory sacs swelled. Beside zher, vapor plumed from the primate’s mouth.

Homsaps breathed what people breathed.

“I have a question.”

“Asking for anything,” Mahir said attentively. Tinted goggles attached to the insulated suit hid the creature’s eyes.

“Are you ...” Suddenly zhe felt awkward, as when a person questioned zher too directly about zher coming Resolution. “Are you a female or a male?”

The homsap went still, then erupted in a way that startled Dircj. Its teeth bared, and it put a hand to its middle as it heaved noisily and repetitively. Was this humor? Offense? Zhe didn’t know.

“Mahir boy. Man. Mahir is man, okay?”

Zhe looked at his glossy hair blowing in the wind, at the rich tone of his skin. A homsap male, then. “Okay,” Dircj said.


Farther out, the staff runs interwove. Mahir said some connected to other high-altitude establishments. Dircj kept up with him every time he reset to a faster pace. Zhe felt confident on the skis now and for the first time understood the allure of the sport.

They came to a wide juncture where several hard vapor courses met. Resting here, zhe felt a sweet soreness in zher joints. The hotel had shrunk behind them. Zhe was glad to be away. Every person there knew zhe was a pre-Resolve, and zhe didn’t want to hear any more talk about zher state from anyone.

Zhe looked closely at Mahir. Though alien, he had what zhe had to admit were pleasing physical lines. He was helpful, even friendly. Zhe wondered how his masculinity affected these traits, if at all. With people, the genders were culturally and psychologically complex.

And zhe would soon have to choose between them.

This thought, which hung always over zher, occluded zher present whereabouts a moment. When zhe returned, zhe was still scrutinizing the homsap. Zhe noticed that his throat—much stumpier than zhers—was moving, though he didn’t speak aloud. Subvocalized transmission, zhe realized. The staff spoke among themselves in this manner, zhe remembered a brochure telling zher.

Idly curious, zhe was about to ask to whom he was talking when an engine sound cut the crisp air.

Zhe turned to see the sled’s approach. The eccentric-looking contraption raced with nimble recklessness. Dircj backed off a step as it skidded up onto the plateau where they stood, but the driver halted it in the middle of a controlled spin. The motor wound down, and the top opened.

The emerging homsap wore a dingy uniform. Perhaps it was a mechanic or a cook, likely some hotel staffer who never came into direct contact with guests. The creature hopped down.

Surprisingly it bent at the waist toward Dircj, a movement which meant nothing to zher.

“Your carriage awaits!”

Mahir, fidgeting again, stepped between zher and the sled driver. “Tire maybe from ski? Would ride? I show ...” He gestured with his knuckly hand again, this time downward, where Bokkon’s miraculous hard vapor thinned.

Dircj didn’t understand. Zhe was uncertain about the presence of this new arrival. The creature was bigger and, zhe thought, older than Mahir. Most homsaps had hair atop their heads. This one’s face bristled with it as well.

It said, “My friend can show you a side of Bokkon I doubt you have yet seen. Quite spectacular.” It was as close to fluency as zhe had ever heard from a homsap.

Its capability with the people’s language annoyed zher for no good reason. “Who are you?” zhe asked it directly.

“My name is Keppinger.” And it made that flourishing bend once more. “Surely you must be fatigued by now. The sled can take you directly back when you are done.”

It radiated a forceful personality. Confidence. Mirth. Or perhaps Dircj was only ascribing the emotions to it. But homsaps did feel. Zhe wasn’t a person who discounted these beings.

Still, a problem remained. “I have a watcher assigned to me.” Mahir had helped zher elude it earlier, but zhe knew the device’s tenacity.

Keppinger reached inside the open sled and came up with a skull-sized chunk of damaged machinery in two hands. “It met with an accident.” Then the hairy-faced homsap held the watcher out at the ends of long forelimbs, let go, and kicked the contraption savagely, so that it sailed out over the lip of the plateau and dropped away into the vast yawning mistiness below.

Dircj could only stare, stunned.

Keppinger said, “You two have fun.”


It was fun. The venture also frightened Dircj, but in a good and perhaps useful way. Here, without doubt, was something new and challenging for zher. It couldn’t help but expand zher store of personal experience and, supposedly, give zher a surer basis for making the most crucial decision of zher young life.

Mahir commanded the sled. His hands stayed busy on the controls. He had removed his goggles. The interior was cramped, with Dircj’s audio tub atop zher head nearly bumping the canopy. Zhe was firmly strapped in, but zhe brushed against the homsap when the sled banked on a wild curl of vapor. They had taken several downward turns, dropping significantly in altitude.

“Safe,” he said. There was a line of dampness above his mouth that he swiped quickly away with the back of his hand. “Many ridings have I. Safe.”

“I feel safe,” zhe said. This wasn’t entirely true, but zhe had confidence in Mahir’s abilities with the vehicle. Still, they jounced and raced over broken trails, down below the runs where the fraying clouds were left unshaped. A wrong move would hurtle the sled out over the abyss. But that was no different from cloud-skiing.

“Do allow asking?”

Dircj sorted this a moment. It amused zher somewhat, deciphering Mahir’s meanings. “You may ask me a question.”

The concentration he gave the sled’s controls didn’t appear to flag, but he hesitated before speaking. Finally, “You ask of sex being what to me. What to you?”

It was even more of a shock than when the very hairy Keppinger had produced the disabled watcher. Mahir had broached zher privacy. No person would ask zher gender because anyone could see zhe hadn’t yet reached zher Resolution. And no ignorant goddamned—another alien vulgarity zhe’d assimilated; zhe liked their obscenities—homsap should ever have the audacity to—

Suddenly zhe rethought the creature’s clumsy effortful words. You asked me my sex. Why? Perhaps that was what he meant. Still, zhe needed to gather zherself before replying, “I was curious. Don’t be offended, but people have a hard time telling your genders apart.”

“Never offend.” That might well be hotel policy he was reciting. He made that strange heaving sound from earlier, when zhe had asked him his gender. “Yet funny. We call we people too.”

It shouldn’t have surprised zher. Homsap after all was slang, a careless run-together of their technical species name. Zhe found zhe liked that they thought of themselves as people. Zhe spoke no homsap, though zher parents’ parents had had a smattering, linguistic dejecta from the tail end of the Second War, when people still spoke their former conquerors’ language.

Maybe the future was here in this sled’s cockpit, zhe thought with some satisfaction. The Settled’s two intelligent races sharing a moment, communicating something like equals.

Mahir seemed a worthy homsap, a worthy being ... a worthwhile male. This last notion caused an unaccustomed stirring in Dircj.

Zhe hastily turned zher attention outward. Glorious scenery rushed past. It wasn’t the same meticulous, modeled skyscape of the famous ski runs. Down here beneath even the staff courses, striped with many shadows, the vapor was untamed. These were the last wisps which would support any weight, before the unique equilibrium of Bokkon’s high skies gave way to more conventional atmospheric conditions. Farther down, clouds were just clouds.

The sled shot along through this vaporous wilderness. The colors were silver and cream and silk and ice. Tufts and billows appeared, and Mahir always picked the correct path. The engine whined like something alive. The hotel by now was far behind, out of sight. This was even better than skiing, Dircj judged. Zhe still felt that peculiar fluttering, was still acutely aware of Mahir’s maleness and proximity.

“Do ...” Zhe felt a tremoring within now. Out of the emotional confusion of zher time of approaching Resolution zhe sensed something emerging. Something definite and solid. “Do your people”—how strange to use the word with a homsap; how unlikely the question zhe heard zherself asking, as if involuntarily—“desire the opposite gender?”

Mahir, like all homsaps, had tiny arches of hair over his eyes. These hairy lines moved dramatically. His primate features contorted in an odd way. Dircj guessed he was puzzled, but zhe didn’t want to rephrase the awkward question.

“Woman and man? Yes. Desire each other. Half of friends to me say different, though.” He heaved again repetitively. That was laughter, Dircj decided firmly. “Males and females do mate.” He turned and spread his mouth, showing bare teeth to zher. The expression was somehow winsome. This male ... touched zher.

An inexplicable giddiness commenced in zher.

Which was when zhe realized—

The hormonal cascade had begun, just as every text and educational visual and drama-play about the Resolution said it was supposed to happen. Suddenly Dircj’s every joint was loose. Sensations heretofore unknown to zher streamed through zher body. Zhe had decided, on the inmost level, the way one was meant to. Zher physical form was ripe for the triggering. The signal had gone out. The secretions and configurings and maturations were underway. Zhe had not been deliberately delaying her decision. Zhe simply hadn’t been ready to make it, until now. Now zhe was becoming ... becoming ...

Mahir must have realized something drastic had occurred. The sled slowed. They had been racing along precarious tracks of the hard vapor. He halted the vehicle on a stable point. The clouds above put them in shade.

Zhe wriggled uncontrollably against the seat straps. Mahir reached for zher, pulled his many-knuckled hands back, bit the lower edge of his mouth with his teeth. His homsap eyes had grown huge.

“What—what—I do—what do—” All at once he appeared to collect himself. He swiftly unbuckled the straps. Zhe continued to writhe, but it felt good to be free. “Time now come, right?” he asked.

He knew. Dircj looked into his eyes. He knew about people—zher people—and knew what time of life this was for zher.

“Me helping. Any way.” After having said this, his throat continued to move as if subvocalizing.

It felt terribly close under the sled’s canopy. The change was coming rapidly, picking up strength. Fear touched Dircj, a deep-seated, dreadful, perhaps perfectly natural fear. The thousand times zhe had imagined this event, it had never occurred in the intimate company of a homsap far away from zher parents and other people.

Zhe flailed a forelimb toward Mahir. His hand held her, tightly, reassuringly, and he did not let go.


The cockpit was humid and rank, the smells rich and alive to Dircj’s senses. But when Mahir pushed open the sled’s top to let in fresh air, it seemed like a good idea.

Dircj felt enervated. Muscles still twitched. The newly formed organs settled with the body.

Yet, she was steeped in a new energy, a confidence, a contentment. She had chosen, and her choice had been true. The ordeal was done. She had faced her special time of life, and now she would be ready to assume the first phases of adulthood. Pride radiated from her like a heat.

“I’m sorry I made a mess of your sled,” she said. Before, she had dreaded the aftermath of sticky discharge that came with the actual Resolution. But now she felt no childish embarrassment. The process was natural. It had happened quicker than she had thought. Or, more likely, her perception of time had gone temporarily askew.

Mahir grabbed a cleaning cloth from behind the seats. He showed his teeth to her again, and she suddenly recalled the words for that expression. A smile. A grin. It was a friendly look.

And he had been quite friendly, and she was grateful. Mahir was a homsap. He was also, in his way, a person, as she was now truly a person.

He mopped the seat around her and the sled’s footwell on her side. He stood to wring out the cloth over the open side. Dircj was looking up at him, coolly and maturely examining him for the physical attributes that made him a homsap male, when the right side of his face, just below the eye, abruptly caved in on itself. The brown flesh pulled violently toward that point, distorting the line of the mouth, malforming the other curious facial features.

An ugly bony pop followed. Mahir collapsed onto the bonnet of the sled, his crushed-in head thudding, then rolling on the metaplastic. Dircj looked into his remaining empty eye. The right one had been swallowed in the sudden brutal cavity which had consumed that side of his face.

Flitters came in, having noticeable difficulty navigating the wild aerial terrain. Still, they reached her rapidly enough. Bokkon security forces protected the scene. They hauled Mahir’s body off the front of the sled and into a long bag. They were all armed with imploders.

An officer leaned into the cockpit. “Are you all right?” When Dircj didn’t respond, the officer turned and said, “We need to get this woman to medical. Inform her parents that she is safe. The kidnapper has been eliminated.”

Dircj would remember it as the first time anyone referred to her in the feminine.


She tried to explain the tragic misunderstanding. It felt important to make the clarification. Though upset, she repeated her story several times.

The evidence against Mahir and the others involved in the conspiracy at first seemed flimsy to her. But when a record of Keppinger’s suspected past radical activities was presented to her, Dircj allowed in the possibility that this treachery might be real. Keppinger, who had espoused violent pro-homsap views in the past, was strongly believed to be the ringleader. Her watcher had been disabled by him, and she had been spirited away under his orders to unmonitored wilds, areas where police vehicles would have trouble maneuvering. She had been abducted.

The final proof, of course, was the ransom demand.

Her parents were at last let in to the medical recovery room, after a swift professional examination had pronounced her perfectly healthy. Dircj indeed felt healthy, and vital, and imbued with her new self-possession. Her reshaped body had firmed, adapting to its adult parameters.

She looked up calmly at her parents as they bustled to her bedside.

They were understandably overwrought. Their relief at seeing her whole was palpable. Dircj accepted their embraces and gestures of tenderness. She apologized for her own behavior before either parent could broach the subject. Before, she would have stubbornly resisted. But now, with the facts before her, she accepted the truth of the awful situation into which she had blundered. The crime, the security personnel said, had been one of opportunity. A loose version of the plan had been at the ready for some time among a select few of the homsap staff of the hotel. The scandal would be enormous, naturally. That a beast with so sketchy a past as Keppinger’s had been hired at all was outrageous. The homsap, a male like Mahir, had been captured alive. The resort hotel’s reputation would suffer greatly from all this.

Dircj’s father, once he had satisfied himself as to his child’s well-being, ranted about the hotel’s criminal negligence.

Her mother stayed more focused on their daughter and the fact of her completed Resolution. This caused Dircj to think that she had made the right decision for herself. Femininity suited her. Her mother squatted by the bed and held her forelimb gently. Dircj recalled the touch of Mahir’s hand when the calamity of the Resolution had overtaken her in that sled.

He was guilty, no matter that a thorough investigation would later hint at his reluctant participation in the crime. Dircj would never admit to anyone, and rarely to herself, that her attraction toward that homsap male had been the catalyst of the decision which had shaped her life forever afterward. END

Eric Del Carlo has appeared in “Asimov’s,” “Strange Horizons,” “Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds” and other venues. His latest novel is a collaboration with his father, Vik Del Carlo: “The Golden Gate Is Empty,” published by White Cat Publications.


six questions