Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Discord in Paradise

By Leslie Lupien

SPLETZER MADE UP HIS MIND TO DO the once unthinkable after he thwarted Celia’s third attempt to commit suicide. But first he had to talk to her.

“I can give you half an hour,” the medical diagnostician, stiffly correct behind his desk, told Spletzer. “She is very weak. And under restraint.”

“I assume we will have privacy,” Spletzer said.

The diagnostician looked at him sharply. “Of course. But I need to know the nature of your interaction.”

“I will let you know,” Spletzer said, tongue-in-cheek.

Celia frightened Spletzer by her unnatural pallor as she lay stretched on the Easyrest hospital bed. Her hands, contained in plastic cuffs, rested on her chest just above the wound.

“Is she sedated?” Spletzer asked the nurse.

“Lightly,” the nurse whispered. “Please don’t say anything to upset her.”

Spletzer dismissed the nurse and smiled at his long-time partner. “I’m so happy to see you,” he said.

Celia did not smile back. “Why? Look at me. Look at yourself. Old, empty people. Damn you, Cliff, for stopping me. I’m back to no future.”

“I’m going to give us both a future,” Spletzer told her.

“How?” A little color, probably from anger, seeped into her cheeks.

Spletzer leaned over and whispered. “We’ll both pass through the veil. We’ll have new lives. We’ll have Frederick back. Augustus will arrange it.”

“No! Not a brain-computer interface.” Celia’s face contorted in a way that alarmed Spletzer. “And why should Augustus do it?”

“Because he loves us.”

“He can’t bring our son back. Frederick’s dead. And I don’t want an avatar.”

Spletzer wanted to tell Celia, You’ll never know your original son’s dead. You’ll have no memory of this world. But he dared not upset her further. So he said, “All right, love, as you wish.”

Celia’s pallor returned. She managed a small smile. “Thanks for coming, Cliff. I know you mean well.”

He tried to carry on with small talk, but Celia became listless and drifted into sleep.

Spletzer had to believe that the diagnostician had planted no listening devices. Some of his remarks to Celia, if clearly picked up, could expose him to criminal indictment. Naturally he would not repeat them to the diagnostician.


Spletzer had worked with Augustus Felix for ten years inside the glass facade of the unmarked building that housed the Federation Defense Department’s most secretive experiments. Augustus had grown very close on and off the job. Spletzer knew Augustus’ home in Ottawa as well as he did his own.

Augustus met Spletzer at the door of his modular house on a bank of the Ottawa River. He did not look happy. Spletzer followed him through a parlor in which Augustus’ youngish new wife Jeanne sat reading a magazine. He only nodded at her when she looked up and smiled. He and Augustus hurried into a shuttered, heavily-carpeted room with a mahogany table in the center holding a row of computers. The closed closet for sequestering mindless human bodies stood in a corner of the room. A defense technician’s lair identical to Spletzer’s.

Augustus buttoned the door shut and gestured toward a hard-backed chair near the shutters. “Sit down,” he ordered.

Spletzer sat with his back to the shutters. He silently thanked Augustus for sparing him a view of the river that had swallowed up his ten-year-old son Frederick.

Augustus pulled up another hard-backed chair and sat facing Spletzer. “Celia tried again? How?”

“An old handgun. She missed her heart—just. Luckily, I was working at home. I heard the shot, ran into the bedroom, saw her bleeding and unconscious. Damn lucky, I had one intelligent bandage in the bathroom. I slapped it on the wound to flood her with mycelia. The ambulance crew arrived in five minutes and put her in their stasis machine.”

“Does Celia still insist she was responsible for Frederick’s death?”

Spletzer took a long breath. “Yes.” A malfunction of the automatic control had caused the roadster to plunge off the road, knock out Celia and throw their son into the river. Spletzer had paid a mechanic to explain that to his partner. “She won’t believe it was an accident.”

“Why not?”

“She insists she should have overridden the automatic.”

Augustus looked very grave. “You’ve thought this through?”

“Yes. I can’t trust my luck again. Celia’s determined to die.”

“She still believes in an afterlife and that Frederick will be there?”

“Yes. I can’t talk her out of that.”

Augustus’s thin lips parted in a parody of a smile. “So you want me to play God to deliver her to paradise?”

“Yes. Simulated reality and the Christian afterlife—what’s the difference?”

Augustus shrugged. “What indeed?”

Spletzer had no doubt that Augustus could infallibly handle a brain-computer interface to create a simulated reality. They had watched it evolve from primitive twenty-first century interfaces used to produce virtual reality. Government technicians had developed more and more sophisticated simulated realities in the service of “national security.” The Federation military depended upon them to create crisis scenarios it could study and to train special services personnel.

“Where is Celia now?” Augustus asked.

“Home. But only for a few days. Her diagnostician wants her for observation and therapy. Useless, I believe.”

“Will Celia accept a permanent simulated reality?”

“No. She thinks it’s an affront to God.”

Augustus hung his head.

“Surely, a committed atheist like you ...” Spletzer dreaded to learn that Augustus still harboured doubts.

Augustus looked up. His painfully bright eyes startled Spletzer. They reflected the agony of indecision. “I’m not worried about God, but what I will do to Celia and you.”

“Aug, we’ve been through this,” Spletzer told him. “You agreed to do it if it became necessary. It’s necessary.”

Augustus closed his eyes. “I keep asking myself, especially on sleepless nights, if I want to accept the frightful responsibility for separating Celia and you from the real world forever Most people think it’s the same as murder.”

Spletzer sighed. “Aug, we went through that. You’ll probably just move us from one simulation to another.” He had fallen back on the hypothesis, still not refuted, that our “real world” was a computer simulation produced by an unknown technician in another “real world.”

“I don’t know if that’s true,” Augustus said. There’s no way to know.”

“You going to fail me, Aug?”

“Cliff, Celia’s personality won’t change. Are you sure a brain-computer interface will solve your problems with her?”

Spletzer nodded vigorously. “Yes.”

“You must love her very much.”


“And I love you both. Bring her.”


Celia fell asleep in the roadster, nestling her head on Spletzer’s shoulder, because of the sedative he had slipped into her dinner wine. He had no trouble carrying Celia. Her fragility had increased with each suicide attempt.

Augustus had arranged for Spletzer to slip his roadster into the garage so that no one could see Celia or him enter his home. He was waiting and guided Spletzer with the precious burden into his lair.

Spletzer glanced around. “You’re sure—”

“Yes,” Augustus told him. “I don’t depend on government screeners. I’ve been over every square inch. There are no unwanted eyes or ears.”

Spletzer deposited Celia gently on the small sofa that Augustus had placed alongside the mahogany work table. She breathed easily. He dared not look at her face.

“Go into the parlor,” Augustus directed. “There’s coffee ready if you want it. Go.”

Spletzer turned to escape gratefully. He had many times placed men and women into stasis in preparation for a brain-computer interface. But all of his subjects knew they would be restored by brain transfer to their bodies, which he had placed in protective liquid. Celia and his bodies would be completely destroyed by Augustus.

Spletzer turned at the door. “Does Jeanne know?”

Augustus shook his head. “She has no involvement. I took her to her mother’s.”

Spletzer understood why Augustus had not involved Jeanne. The Federation considered any unauthorized mind-computer interface a capital crime.

He could not resist a last glance at Celia. She lay, still fully dressed, on the sofa with her back turned. How flaccid her pale arms looked.

“Get out of here,” Augustus said. His voice shook.

Spletzer sat on Jeanne’s upholstered settee and closed his eyes. He did not touch the coffee, hoping to doze. But he couldn’t with anxiety knotting his belly. So what was his problem? He knew all about what lay “beyond the veil.” He had visited a few of his own simulated reality creations to check on them. He could have made corrections such as revising or even eliminating avatars, but had never felt the need to do so. August would resurrect Celia and him as much younger versions of themselves. He would resurrect Frederick as an avatar to appear just as he was before his death. Their circumstances would be different, but favourable. What they made of them would depend upon their decisions as in the “real world.” Still, Celia and he would leave forever the reality they knew. The thought appalled him at a level below reason. He felt relief when Augustus’s hand fell on his shoulder.

“It’s time,” Augustus whispered.

Spletzer squinted at his friend. Augustus looked terrible: gray skin, clenched lips, haunted eyes. He shuddered as he followed Augustus into the lair.


Spletzer knew that he must take action after what had happened—or might have happened—two days before when Frederick knocked himself out in the swimming pool of their home. From his office in the Urban Renewal Department he called a friend in the Department of Social Services. The friend arranged for an interview with a Behavioral Ph.D. the same afternoon.

Dr. Althurst, a lanky, youngish man, impressed Spletzer at once with his upbeat manner. No barrier stood between them in Althurst’s modest office. They faced each other at touching distance on identical contour chairs.

“My partner is also a high-level employee in our department,” Spletzer said. “May I depend upon you for confidentiality?”

Althurst smiled. “Of course. Tell me what brought you here?”

“Two days ago my ten-year-old son hit his head on the bottom of our swimming pool and did not get up. The next door neighbour boy, Stevie Atkinson, was in the pool when Frederick fell. He could not pull him out and ran in the house to ask my partner, who was at home, for help.”

Spletzer paused, uncertain about the truth of what he had to say.

“Please continue,” Althurst said gently.

“My partner, Celia, did not offer to help. Stevie had to beg her. Frederick was still unconscious when they got him out of the pool. Celia would not call for an ambulance until Stevie begged her. The ambulance crew revived Frederick. He was close to death.”

“Stevie told you all this?”


“Do you believe him?”

Spletzer stirred in his chair, licked his lips. “I would rather not believe him. He’s thirteen. But in the past I have always found him truthful and reliable. He was obviously reluctant to say what he did.”

“Have you discussed this incident with your partner?” Althurst asked.

“I dare not. She is very sensitive.”

“How does she get along with your son?”

Spletzer did not answer. He did not want to go into that.

“Mr. Spletzer ...” Althurst frowned and his tone turned sharp. “I cannot help you unless you’re open with me.”

“I understand.” Privacy be damned, Spletzer thought, I need help. “My partner’s attitude toward our son bothers me a lot. Correct always. But ...” Spletzer could not find the words.

“Detached? Cold and harsh?”

“Sometimes, yes. How I see it. And there’s something else: the river.”

“The river?”

“My partner takes our son to school and back along the riverbank. Her roadster tows him by a cable attached to a motocoaster. He’s crazy about the coaster like all the kids. I hate it. If it skidded off into the river ...”

“I have seen that cable,” Althurst said. “It is very strong.”

“But what if ...” Spletzer couldn’t finish the question.

“Mr. Spletzer, do you really suspect your partner might detach that cable?”

“I don’t know.” Spletzer floundered. “I don’t know what to think. Should I be afraid?”

Althurst did not answer for several moments. Finally, he said, “I cannot answer your question without an opportunity to do a neuroimaging of your partner.”

“She would never agree to that. Is there any way—”

“Only with a court order. And that would require a verified overt act.”

“Good God man! I can’t wait for that!”

“I understand.” Althurst leaned over and placed a hand on Spletzer’s shoulder. He picked up a paper file off his desk. “I see your partner and you both hold responsible government jobs. You’re like family to us. We’ll do all we can to help.”

Spletzer sensed he had heard blarney. Althurst probably wondered how he could get rid of this paranoid character without giving offense. “So what will you do?” he asked.

“Refer your case to the PSD,” Althurst said.

Oh, shit, Spletzer thought. The Personnel Security Detail had a reputation for firing, not helping employees. Althurst wanted to pass the buck. “What can the government cops do for me?” he asked.

“Provide protection for Frederick. Don’t ask me how. The PSD works in the shadows.”

Spletzer began to feel ill.

“Don’t look so glum,” Althurst said. “Your son will be safe. Make an appointment to see me again. We’ll talk more about your partner.”


Spletzer and Celia watched Global News on the holoviewer while Celia checked on the progress of their dinner in the food dispenser with a hand relay. They had sent Frederick to practice on the basketball backboard that Spletzer had built for him in the front garden.

Frederick, breathing heavily, burst into the family room.

Celia swivelled her chair around and frowned. “What’s the matter?”

“Dad, there’s a strange man watching our house,” Frederick said. He sounded agitated.

“What’s he look like?” Spletzer asked.

“Kinda tall. Not young,” Frederick told him. “Staring all around. Kinda scary.”

“What’s so scary about that?” Celia demanded.

Frederick flushed as if he knew he had received a put-down. “Well, he looked strange to me. And he came across our lawn and asked me questions.”

“What questions?” Spletzer asked, suddenly alert.

“My name.” Frederick glanced at his mother as if seeking her permission. “And then—”

“Sounds like he was just being friendly,” Celia said.

“Please!” Spletzer said sharply to his partner, thinking the stranger might be PSD. “What else did he ask?”

“How many people lived here. Were they my mom and dad. Were they home now.”

“Did you tell them?” Spletzer asked.

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to. I was getting more scared. I think he could tell. He said thanks and went back to the sidewalk.”

Spletzer jumped up. He wanted very much to see and talk to the stranger. Celia followed him outside after saying to Frederick, “You stay here.”

The stranger standing on the sidewalk looked as Frederick had described him. Tall and middle-aged. He wore an open-neck blue shirt and frayed Tudor trousers. Nondescript really. Probably one of the PSD’s close-to-retirement agents. He advanced across the lawn. His gaze struck Spletzer as highly focused.

“Can I help you?” Spletzer asked.

The stranger held out a hand. “I’m doing a survey of the area, so I asked your son a few questions.”

Spletzer did not take the hand. “What kind of a survey?”

“For a security service we’re developing. We can talk more if you’re interested.”

Spletzer couldn’t resist a smile. So disingenuous. Of course the agent couldn’t say PSD. The detail worked under cover. “Maybe later. We’re about to have dinner. How can I get in touch with you?”

The stranger held out a blue, embossed card. “Glad to meet you both. I’m always available.”

Celia reached out and took the card. The stranger smiled, turned abruptly and retreated across the lawn.

Spletzer felt relief. He had misjudged Althurst. The Ph.D. had kept his word about providing security for Frederick. “What’s the card say?” he asked Celia.

Celia squinted at the card. “Trident Security Service. Then a name and phone number.”

“What’s the name?”

“Funny one. Felix. Augustus Felix.”


Spletzer broke his appointment with Althurst and called Trident Security Service from his office. Felix appeared on the visionphone screen at once. He agreed without hesitation to meet Spletzer the same afternoon.

“Come in. Come in,” Spletzer invited when Felix appeared in the door of his office. The PSD man’s prompt response delighted him.

Felix spent several moments taking in the impeccable and utilitarian setup of Spletzer’s small office. “Just what I expected, Cliff,” he said.

The remark puzzled Spletzer. Why should this stranger expect anything about him? And wasn’t his immediate use of Spletzer’s first name a bit presumptuous? But he hastened around his desk to offer Felix a padded contour chair.

Felix settled carefully into the chair and hunched over the desk to confront Spletzer. “So how can I help you?” he asked.

The sudden presence of Felix at such close quarters made Spletzer flinch. Something about the man—perhaps an unnatural intentness—disturbed him. He did not answer.

“So how can I help you?” Felix repeated and smiled as if sensing Spletzer’s uneasiness.

Spletzer resisted the urge to lean back. “It’s about my son.”

“It relates to your partner, the boy’s mother, doesn’t it?” Felix asked.

The question did not surprise Spletzer. Althurst told him, he thought. “Yes,” he answered.

“I’m afraid I must pry,” Felix said. “Does your partner sometimes appear to regard your son as an unwelcome stranger, an intrusion into her life?”

Spletzer sucked in a deep breath. He had never wanted to see Celia’s attitude that way. But Felix, damn the man, had probably described it accurately. How could he know? To cover his confusion, Spletzer said, “Drop the mask, Mr. Felix. I know what you are. Dr. Althurst talked to you about my situation.”

Felix frowned. “I don’t know what you think I am. And I don’t know any Dr. Althurst. But I do want to help you. Did your partner do anything that upset you?”

Spletzer hesitated. Felix might be lying. But he would play along because he needed the man’s help. He gave Stevie Atkinson’s account of the incident at the swimming pool. “I’m not sure it really happened just that way,” he concluded. “After all, the neighbor boy is thirteen.”

“Even with the uncertainty, I think it’s cause for alarm,” Felix said. “Anything else bothering you?”

Spletzer explained his worry about Celia’s towing the coaster with Frederick in it. “That’s why I want surveillance,” he added. “Can you arrange it?”

“That would not solve your problem,” Felix said. “I saw your young and beautiful partner. How do she and you get along?”

Spletzer bristled at the question. “Fine,” he snapped.

“How is your sex life?”

Spletzer’s irritation turned to outrage and anger. “None of your damn business!”

Felix hunched forward as if to emphasize that he would not be put off. “How much do you love your partner? Could you forgive her for anything?”

Spletzer found both the man’s question and manner intolerable. “Can you give me what I want? Yes or no?”

“That would not solve your problem.”

Spletzer jumped to his feet. “Get out of my office!”

Felix sagged back in his chair. His eyes registered hurt. “Very well, Cliff. You’ve told me what I need to know.”

Spletzer clenched his fists, ready to strike. “Don’t Cliff me. Get out.”

Felix spoke over his shoulder as he exited the office. “I will help you.”


The final shock to Spletzer’s equanimity happened three days after Felix’s visit. Celia burst into the kitchenette as he sipped the last of his coffee and rose to leave for work. “Where’s Frederick?” she demanded.

Spletzer blinked his surprise. “Why ask me? Didn’t you wake him up?”

“He wasn’t in his room. His bed looks like it wasn’t slept in.”

Spletzer felt no concern. “Oh, he must have got up to do some homework in the den or walk in the garden. Let’s look.”

Together they searched every room in the house, the garage, and the environs without result. Anxiety stirred in Spletzer’s belly as they stopped on the front steps of the house. “Where could he go?” he asked plaintively.

“Why should he want to go anywhere?” Celia sounded annoyed.

Spletzer looked directly at his partner. The words slipped out without conscious volition. “Why indeed?”

Celia’s face flushed. “What the hell does that mean?”

Spletzer turned away, determined not to answer the question. “I’m going to call the police.”


Celia ran out of the kitchenette where she was checking on their dinner. “I heard your voice,” she said to Spletzer. “Who called?”

His partner’s impatience did not surprise Spletzer. They had practically lived in anticipation of visionphone calls for what seemed an eternity. “Yes,” he said dully. He hated to give her the message.

“Well, who the hell was it?”

Spletzer glanced at the visionphone screen. The caller had disappeared, having nothing more to say. “The executive assistant to the Ottawa Police Chief,” he answered.

“Again? What’s he want now?”

“Nothing.” Spletzer took a deep breath. “The police have given up looking for Frederick.”

Celia wiped her hand on the towel she was holding. She doesn’t look distraught, Spletzer thought. But how is someone supposed to look distraught?

“Already? It’s been less than a month,” Celia said. “I don’t think they looked very hard.”

Spletzer said nothing. But he believed her criticism was unfair. What could the police do? Celia and he could give them no help. They both saw Frederick walk into his room to go to bed about eleven o’clock at night. Next morning, there simply was no Frederick. The police could not develop any evidence such as an article of clothing or a possession of the boy’s. No member of the public had responded to a holoviewer plea to come forward with a sighting of Frederick.

Color flooded into Celia’s face. “Say something! Don’t just stare at me!”

“I’m not staring.”

“Yes, you are. You think I had something to do with Frederick’s disappearance.”

Spletzer ran forward and put his arms around his partner. “Stop that. Frederick will turn up someday. Until he does, we have each other. Let’s not spoil it.”

“Okay.” Celia’s face softened. She held it up for a kiss.

Spletzer granted the kiss. He did not believe that Frederick would ever turn up. Did Celia have something to do with his disappearance? That he would never know. Felix had asked him if he could forgive Celia for anything. He had refused to say. But that enigmatic man seemed to have a gift for empathy. He must have known the answer was “yes.” END

Leslie Lupien is an American immigrant to Canada. He has had stories published in the Canadian SF magazines “On Spec” and “Neo-Opsis.” Leslie has received two certificates as semi-finalist in Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest.




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