Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Baby Wars
by Eric Del Carlo

by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Genocide in Three Acts
by Jenny Duptsi

Memory Farm
by Richard Wren

Schrödinger’s Suicide
by Daniel Roy

Chandler’s Hollow
by Sean Patrick Hazlett

Test Case
by Kris Ashton

Pink Adventure 87
by Gregor Hartmann

Shorter Stories

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Dropping Payload
by Mord McGhee

Breaking the 3 Laws
by Trevor Doyle


Sex and a Sensawunda
by Ann Gimpel

Sunshine 2: the Sequel
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Test Case

By Kris Ashton

THE BUZZER SHATTERED JEFF Albertsen’s slumber and he sat up with a jolt, the blanket scrunched in his hands. He blinked a few times and waited for his brain to come on line. The soothing ocean sounds that had lulled him to sleep only added to his disorientation.

When a second rasping buzz abraded his ears it all came back. He threw aside the blanket and stood up to look at the screen above the door to his cabin.

The security camera showed two men outside. They wore blazers fashioned from stout cloth, tight-fitting grey trousers and shin-high black boots. The helmets tucked beneath their arms were standard company issue except for the colour: luminescent blue and red instead of high-vis yellow. In a loop on each man’s belt was something not standard issue: a shock truncheon.

Corporate police.

Jeff stood gape-mouthed at the camera, his blood tinctured with adrenaline, as he tried to figure out what the police could want with him. The corporation Christmas party? No, he had been tipsy but not out of control and that was weeks ago. It couldn’t be an accumulation of civil infractions—his record was unblemished. He interrogated his memory but it offered up no other possibilities.

One of the police pressed the buzzer again, an out-of-patience double jab, and Jeff’s heart shifted into top gear. He reached for the OPEN DOOR button and found his hand trembling. He drew a deep breath, willed his hand to be still, and pressed.

He applied a smile to his face and looked from one cop to the other. “Something the matter, gentlemen?”

“Officer Morley,” said the biggest of the pair, “this is Officer Davis. You’re Jeff Albertsen, employee number nine-oh-nine-four-nine?”

Jeff licked his lips. “That’s me.”

“Sir, we have orders from the CEO to detain you under suspicion of rape.”

The bottom fell out of Jeff’s mind. He groped for the right words to refute the allegation. What emerged from his mouth was: “Rape?”

“That’s correct, sir,” said Officer Morley. “We see no need for restraints at this time. Please don’t make us change our minds.”

Jeff’s hands began to shake again, even though they were by his sides. “Just let me change,” he heard himself say.

Five minutes later, clad in jeans and a collared shirt, Jeff let the corporate police lead him away.


The holding cell was not unlike Jeff’s cabin, except it was smaller and the front wall consisted of inch-thick perspex. Also, the monitoring system had been reversed: the camera was now trained on him and sending pictures to some unseen observer. Otherwise it was comfortable in a clinical sort of way, with a newer bed than the one in his cabin and a much larger screen. He flapped his hand at the screen to scroll through the channels, but nothing could still his mind. Rape? He had always scolded himself for being too timid a lover and had never so much as removed a girl’s bra without asking permission. Not that the opportunity had often presented itself.

He had only been in detention twenty minutes when a baby-faced man in a suit and a corporate police officer approached the cell. The officer waved his gloved hand at a sensor and there was a heavy-duty click as four bolts slid back into a recess.

“Hello Jeff,” said the baby-faced man, offering his hand, “my name is Nate Proctor and I’m your legal counsel. Sorry you had to wait so long—they got me out of bed.”

“Me, too,” Jeff said. Nate’s hand was slender and girlish and a touch sweaty.

“First of all,” Nate said, drawing up the only chair in the room, “what do you know about the Corporation Justice System?”

Jeff remembered reading something when he had signed his contract eight months earlier, but it had been one of thirty passages of legalese in the document and little of it had stuck. “Not much,” he said.

“It’s the pointy end of legislation brought in two years ago to address the geographical realities of industry in space. When a simple objection could take fifteen minutes to arrive, it became clear Earth courts couldn’t hope to administer justice efficiently. So now any enterprise with more than one hundred employees must maintain its own micro-court system, with an independently appointed judge and one lawyer per thousand employees. Oh, and a corporate police force.”

“Yes, I’m acquainted with them,” Jeff said.

“The system is still in its infancy and we’re all feeling our way. To be honest, I was beginning to wonder whether the system was necessary at all. I’ve been here three months and this is the first case that has come up.”

“You must have a lot of spare time,” Jeff said. “Now how about telling me what the hell is going on? I didn’t rape anybody.”

“Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense—”

“Not in any fucking sense! Who is accusing me?”

Nate reached into his pocket and unfolded a screen. He tapped it a few times and then handed it to Jeff. “This is the statement she gave the police. Have a read of it first, then you can tell me your side of the story and we can decide how to proceed.”

“This is bullshit,” Jeff said, shaking his head, but he took the screen and began to read:




As Jeff’s eyes raced through the statement a sick dread filled his gut. The statement finished after two pages, but two pages were more than enough. He looked up at Nate with hunted eyes.

“She saw the simulation?”

“Apparently so,” Nate said. “In the terms and conditions you agree to before use of a public reality simulator, it is recommended that you delete any personal program afterwards.”

“Who the hell reads the terms and conditions on anything?”

“They are there for a reason,” Nate said, smiling. “As well as aiding consumer safety, tees and cees ensure litigation against corporations doesn’t—”

“Why am I even here, for God’s sake? It was a simulation.”

“I’m told there was a company meeting about the machine’s use, Jeff. The CEO felt you had a case to answer. Now, the technology is new, so that’s likely a grey area. What concerns me more is the incident on January 12th. Is she telling the truth about that?”

“It wasn’t an incident,” Jeff said.

Nate leaned forward in his chair. “Well, then ... please tell me your version of events.”

Jeff regarded his legal counsel’s boyish face for some time. He had a sudden and compelling urge to ask him if he was a virgin, or homosexual, or perhaps both. The urge passed as quickly as it had come. Jeff sighed and shifted on his cot until his back rested against the wall.

“It wasn’t an incident,” he repeated.


A by-product of mining an asteroid was egalitarianism: at lunchtime the Starfire CEO and the lowliest casual-rate miner shared a canteen. That had been the scene of Jeff’s humiliation—or the incident as Jeri called it.

When Jeff first saw the girl from logistics they were both present at a company-wide meeting. In an industry still dominated by men, she stood out like a diamond in a pile of coal. As the suits and the human resources munchkins prattled on, Jeff quietly fell in love with the pretty face on the other side of the cramped auditorium. She had shortish black hair and pale skin, out of which shined two eyes as brilliant as sapphires. He wondered whether she dyed her hair that colour, or whether such an exotic combination could happen naturally. Whatever the case, those eyes—sharp as chiselled ice—looked intelligent. Was she taking in all this blather about “maximising downtime” and “appropriate use of technology,” or was her mind wandering as well? What would a girl as striking as her think about?

By the time the meeting had reached its final throes, Jeff had decided he would ask the girl out. He knew his chances were slim—the ratio of men to women alone had seen to that—but it didn’t hurt to try. That was how he had hooked up with his wife. Well, ex-wife.

He began with a simple smile as the Starfire employees milled out of the auditorium. The girl smiled back and it was like someone had turned up a dimmer switch—her eyes blazed out of her face and Jeff felt a hot little tickle in his chest. From then on, he found any excuse he could to be in her vicinity; if he passed her in a passageway or went by her desk, he always raised a hand or offered a cheerful greeting. While laying that groundwork, he also hunted up her profile on the company intranet so he needn’t ask her name.

Then came the opportunity Jeff had hoped for. On Friday and Saturday nights Starfire opened The Hut, a bar separated from the rest of the offices and living quarters by a long tunnel. Jeff and a couple of his fellow miners met there after work one Friday, and Jeff had no more than slurped the foam off his beer before Jeri walked in. She was flanked by two others from the offices, a man old enough to be her father and a second girl (although she, with her pepper-pot figure and oily hair, made the burly females who worked in the mines look glamorous by comparison). Jeff waited until Jeri’s older companion had bought the drinks and then excused himself from his colleagues, who were engrossed in an argument about pay and conditions.

He made for the bathroom and then veered from that course when he happened to see her. In the two weeks since the company-wide meeting, Jeff had educated himself on the basics of Jeri’s job. Now he tilted his beer glass in what he prayed was a nonchalant greeting and said, “Hey, Jeri—how long until that super-freighter comes online?”

She turned those gemstone eyes on him and a small smile flickered on her lips. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”


“Well, Jeff, the beta testing of the life-support systems began this week. I’m informed the super-freighter should be ready to fly before the end of the month. But tell me ... why would a miner care?”

Jeff had anticipated this question. “Bigger single hauls will mean fewer overheads and greater profits.”

Jeri raised an eyebrow. “Maybe you should be in accounting.”

“You know, back on Earth I was an accountant.”

“That must have been exciting for you.”

“Not really,” Jeff said, “that’s why I decided to come and work for Starfire.”

The older man in Jeri’s trio put a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said. He showed Jeri something on a screen in his other hand. “We’ve got a bit of a crisis, Jeri. Looks like the weekend’s on hold for an hour or two.”

She scowled at the screen. “Damn it. I told them ...” She put her drink aside.

“Bad news?” Jeff said, but Jeri had already begun to walk away. She made a half-glance back at him, nodded her head, and then continued on. The older man and the homely girl trailed after her.

Jeff sipped his drink contentedly. Now she knows my name, he thought as he strolled back to join his workmates. And she smiled at me.

The following Monday, Jeff joined the service line at the canteen. He had just finished a midnight to midday shift in the mines and his stomach growled as the aromas filled his nostrils. Never had the congealed pasta and blanched vegetables in the steam trays looked so tempting.

Only when Jeff had decided what to order did he look ahead of him in the line and see Jeri’s unmistakable posterior shape. Open-toed high-heel sandals led up to tight-fitting black slacks that clung to every inch of her fine legs. Above that, a fitted jacket showed off her square but delicate shoulders—God he loved a woman with good posture—while her slender neck made a cream bridge between the collar of her jacket and her shock of raven hair.

Buoyed by the memory of Friday night’s encounter, Jeff picked up a plastic tray and slid it along the stainless steel bench so it clacked gently against Jeri’s.

She turned and fixed those ice-blue eyes on him.

“We meet again,” he said, smiling.

Jeri’s eyes narrowed, just a fraction, and then she gave him a curt nod. “Oh, hi, John. No, Jeff.”

Jeff made his hand into an imaginary gun and dry fired it at her. “Got it on the second try. Did you manage to sort everything out?”

Her eyes had strayed to the canteen menu and now they came back at him. “Huh?”

“You looked a little stressed when you left The Hut the other night.”

“Oh. No, we were in the office until about three in the morning.”

Jeff spotted his opening. “Well, can I help you make up for lost time with a drink after work? Just you and me?”

Jeri put her hands on her hips and said, “Are you for real?”

“I mean, uh, it doesn’t have to be a drink. We could—”

“No, are you for real?” Jeri said again. “You stalk me for a week, say five words to me at the bar and then have the gall to ask me out in front of everyone—in front of the goddamned CEO.”

She stepped to one side as she said it, and sure enough, there was the CEO, Mr. Olufson. Hearing his job title, Olufson stopped looking at the mashed potato the server was lumping onto his plate and his eyes met Jeff’s. They hung there a moment, darted to Jeri, then went back to Jeff.

“I didn’t ... I mean, I wasn’t ...”

“The answer is no, Jeff. You’re a creepy, sad little man and I wouldn’t go out with you if the life support systems failed and you were the only one with access to an evacuation pod. Can I make it any clearer than that?”

Those in line behind Jeff began to titter. People at the tables nearest the canteen looked up from their meals like meerkats. The CEO’s mouth fell open and his bushy eyebrows leapt higher on his head.

“No,” Jeff said, his cheeks flushing rose pink. He tried to meet Jeri’s gaze but shame weighted his eyes to the floor. “I guess that’s pretty clear.”

He began to burrow his way back through the line. He thought he heard Jeri say something else, but the blush had spread inside his ears and half-deafened him. Someone gave him an ironic pat on the back as he passed. His eyes remained on his bootlaces until he had escaped the canteen. Then he set off for his cabin and never chanced a backward look.


Recounting the story had been little easier than living it and Jeff’s cheeks bloomed with fresh roses. Nate was perched on the edge of the chair, his mouth open just as the CEO’s had been when Jeri delivered her retort to Jeff’s request.

“So it wasn’t an incident,” Jeff said, as Nate appeared too stunned to speak. “I mean, I guess it was, but not the way she means.”

Nate blinked twice. “You must have been angry, Jeff.”

“I don’t know if angry is the right word. I’d say humiliated. She didn’t need to treat me that way.”

“So how long after the incident did you visit the reality simulator?”

Jeff swallowed. Nate cocked his head and smiled. “I’m on your side, Jeff. But I need to know the truth if we’re going to make this thing go away.”

With a dejected nod, Jeff said, “Quarter of an hour. Maybe less. I went back to my cabin, but I couldn’t stand it. So I went to the reality simulator and ... well, you know the rest.”

“Which means Jeri is telling the truth about what she found in there?”

Sudden panic knifed Jeff in the chest. “It’s a half-truth! She’s taken it out of context. It’s not like she said. I mean it is, but ... Oh, God, how did it come to this? It was meant to be harmless.”

Nate patted Jeff on the knee. “If it makes any difference, I believe you. But Jeri thinks we have a case to answer and so does the CEO. The best thing you can do is keep a level head and tell me exactly what you did and why you did it.”

Jeff closed his eyes and prepared himself for a second bout of shame.


Two days later, Nate and the corporate police collected Jeff from his cell and escorted him to the court room. As they traversed the narrow and brightly lit corridors, Jeff found himself wishing he could wind back time and recant his actions. Or just one non-action would suffice: not asking out Jeri in the canteen line, not striking up the conversation at the bar, not letting his fancy run away with him in the company meeting. Hell, not abandoning his boring-as-death accountancy job on Earth would do the trick. But the quickest and easiest fix would be to return to the reality simulator and delete the program before he left the facility. That one small oversight, and now he was about to face a judge like a grubby, small-time crook.

When it wasn’t in use—which was most of the time—the courtroom doubled as a second boardroom. It was adjacent to the CEO’s office. As Jeff and his coterie passed by it, Jeff saw it was unoccupied. The corporate police stopped at the courtroom door and Nate guided Jeff to one of two desks that faced the judge’s high-backed leather chair. At the other table, Jeri sat beside a man whom Jeff had never seen and could only assume was the prosecutor. He looked like an older version of Nate, with salt-and-pepper hair and crafty eyes. He inclined his head at Nate and Nate raised his hand in what struck Jeff as a feeble return greeting.

Jeff dropped into his seat and reached for the glass of water on the desk. He took a short swallow, washing the water around his dry mouth. The courtroom was nearly empty, for that he could be thankful, but on the first bench behind Jeri and the prosecutor sat the CEO and two other men. Jeff thought the other men might have been the ones behind him in line at the canteen. When he remembered their snickering, Jeff’s cheeks wanted to flush once more.

He didn’t care to look at Jeri, but Jeff found his eyes drawn to her anyway. Had her face always looked so hard, so carved out? She remained beautiful; only passage of time would ever alter that. But it was a hard beauty, like a princess-cut diamond. She kept her gaze towards the bench and for that Jeff was thankful; he wasn’t sure what he would do if those cold eyes fell on him.

“All rise,” said a computerised voice. The meagre convocation in the court got to its feet and a door behind the judge’s bench opened. It admitted an old man who had a bald head and thick mutton-chop sideburns. As he took his seat, the computerised bailiff announced, “Starfire Court Case A420, Taylor versus Albertsen, Justice Hempel presiding. All parties may be seated.”

The judge reached into his robes and brought out a tattered leather glasses case. He propped the frameless spectacles on his turnip nose and peered at Nate and the prosecutor as if he had never seen them before. Then his squinting eyes went from Jeri to Jeff, lingering for a moment on the latter. Again he reached into his robes and this time withdrew a packet of chewing gum. He unwrapped a piece and popped it into his mouth.

“I have your official statements,” said the judge, “so I think we’ll forgo the opening remarks.”

“Your honour,” said the prosecutor, rising from his chair, “this is most irregular. In trying a case with such a serious accusation, I believe—”

“Sit down, Mr. Keaton,” Judge Hempel said, chewing vigorously in his direction. “If you want regular, fly back to Earth and practise law there. This is my courtroom and I’ll conduct it as I see fit without critique from you or anyone else.”

Keaton breathed audibly through his nose, but he resumed his seat.

“Ms. Taylor, if you would be so good as to take the witness stand. Mr. Keaton, you may question the witness first, Mr. Proctor you may then cross-examine.”

Jeri’s shoes clicked on the hard floor as she walked to the witness stand. Quite against his will, Jeff found himself admiring her physique— her posture—as an art critic might admire a statue. He forced his eyes to drop to the desk in front of him and tried not to feel guilty.

Jeri put her hand on a scanner in the witness box and when prompted by the bailiff stated her name and promised to tell the whole truth. As Keaton approached the witness box, Jeri’s eyes finally lighted on Jeff. In them he saw cold hate.

That was when it hit him. She believed every word of her official statement to the police.



KEATON, S: Thank you, Ms. Taylor. Now, can you please tell the court what happened after Mr. Albertsen left the canteen?

TAYLOR, J: Well, I sat down to have my lunch but I found I couldn’t eat. My stomach was all nervous. Mr. Olufson must have noticed, because he came over and suggested I might like to use the reality simulator.

KEATON, S: Can you please tell the court who Mr. Olufson is?

TAYLOR, J: He’s the CEO of Starfire Mining Concerns.

KEATON, S: Did he say why he thought it would be a good idea to use the reality simulator?

PROCTOR, N: Objection, your honour! Relevance?

HEMPEL, J: Overruled, Mr. Proctor. Please answer the question, Ms. Taylor.

TAYLOR, J: He said the simulator was good for relieving stress and that was one of the reasons Starfire had it installed.

KEATON, S: Had you used the reality simulator before that day, before the twelfth of January?

TAYLOR, J: No, it had only been installed a week or two earlier.

KEATON, S: Did you feel comfortable about using it?

PROCTOR, N: Objection, your honour!

KEATON, S: It goes to establishing the plaintiff’s state of mind, your honour.

HEMPEL, J: I’ll allow it, Mr. Keaton, but please take the shortest avenue to wherever you’re headed with this line of questioning.

KEATON, S: Thank you, your honour. Ms. Taylor?

TAYLOR, J: Yes, I felt comfortable using it.

KEATON, S: Even though you had never used it before?

TAYLOR, J: We had been given a full briefing on its use at a company-wide meeting.

KEATON, S: Can you confirm that the defendant, Mr. Albertsen, was present at that meeting?

TAYLOR, J: Yes. We passed each other as we were leaving the auditorium.

KEATON, S: Thank you. Now, can you please recount for the court what happened when you attempted to use the reality simulator.

TAYLOR, J: Well ... when I opened the door to the simulator I expected to see just blank walls. That’s what they told us it should look like at the meeting. But it wasn’t, it was some sort of park. I was about to delete it—

KEATON, S: Why would you do that, Ms Taylor?

TAYLOR, J: That was what they told us to do at the meeting. Always delete the program when you’re finished. Good workplace hygiene I think they called it.

KEATON, S: Thank you. Please continue.

TAYLOR, J: So I was about to delete the program but then I saw my face.

KEATON, S: You saw your face?

TAYLOR, J: It was poking out from behind some shrubs.

KEATON, S: What did you do then?

TAYLOR, J: I went to take a closer look.

KEATON, S: What did you find?

TAYLOR, J: It was me. A simulated version of me. My clothes were in a pile beside a tree and ... and I was naked.

KEATON, S: Can you describe what position you were in?

PROCTOR, N: Objection! Your honour, Mr. Keaton is failing to make a distinction between Ms. Taylor and her simulation.

HEMPEL, J: Sustained. Mr. Keaton, Ms. Taylor, this is uncharted territory. For now, please choose your words more carefully.

KEATON, S: Very well, your honour. Ms. Taylor, can you tell the court what position the simulated version of you was in?

TAYLOR, J: I ... well, it ... she had her legs open. Spread wide. I ... Oh, God. [sobbing]

KEATON, S: Just take your time.

TAYLOR, J: I could see she had been penetrated. And on her belly there was ... [sobbing]

KEATON, S: I know this is hard. Please, tell the court what you saw.

TAYLOR, J: On her belly there was semen.

KEATON, S: Thank you, Ms. Taylor. Now, can you tell the court what you did next?

TAYLOR, J: I asked the computer to identify the author of the current program.

KEATON, S: And what did it say?

TAYLOR J: It said the author was Jeff Albertsen, employee number nine-oh-nine-four-nine.

KEATON, S: Did you consent for Mr. Albertsen to use your likeness in this manner?

PROCTOR, N: Objection!

HEMPEL, J: Overruled.

TAYLOR, J: No, definitely not.

KEATON, S: Would you say you felt violated when you saw the simulation?

PROCTOR, N: Objection, your honour!

HEMPEL, J: Sustained.

KEATON, S: Thank you, Ms. Keaton. No further questions.


That final exchange lingered in the courtroom like a pungent smell. Had Nate not schooled Jeff on body language beforehand, Jeff would have put his face in his hands to block out the whole scene. Instead he looked to his lawyer, whom the judge had just invited to cross-examine the witness. Nate’s face was next to expressionless, and when he stood up and buttoned his suit jacket, the boy-man that had first come to visit Jeff in his cell had all but vanished.

As he approached the witness box a slight smile crept onto his lips. “Ms. Taylor, had Jeff Albertsen asked you out on a date prior to that day at the canteen?”


“Did he say something that could be misconstrued as asking you out before that occasion?”

Jeri thought about this and then shook her head. “No.”

“So that being the case, Ms. Taylor, could you please explain to the court why you felt it necessary to turn down his advances in such a vehement and belittling fashion?”

Keaton shot out of his chair like a bottle rocket. “Objection your honour!”

The judge chewed his gum three or four times, his eyes darting from one party to the next. “No, I’m going to allow this one. Overruled.”

“Well, Ms. Taylor?”

Some of Jeri’s composure had melted away. Her shoulders twitched a little as she answered. “It ... it was in front of everyone. It was unprofessional. The CEO was right next to me.”

“It had nothing to do with you believing you were out of Mr. Albertsen’s league?”

Keaton objected—Jeff sensed the prosecutor wanted to bang his fist on the table—and this time the judge sustained it, telling Nate to keep the ad hominem attacks out of his courtroom.

“Very well,” Nate said, “let me put it to you this way. Do you think your response was exaggerated given it was the first time he had asked you out?”


“Would you say your response was insensitive?”

Jeri’s eyes narrowed. “No more insensitive than him asking me out the way he did.”

Nate raised his eyebrows, then turned away and folded his hands behind him. He took a short stroll from the witness box before turning back again. “Ms. Taylor, let me ask you this. Why did you not delete the program the moment you walked into the reality simulator?”

“I did.”

“Evidently you didn’t, because according to your own testimony you took a closer look.”

“I saw my own face. What would you do if you saw your own face in a reality simulator?”

“What I would or wouldn’t do is irrelevant,” Nate said. He smiled at the judge. “As I’m sure his honour would agree.”


“Sustained. This is not a playground, Mr. Proctor.”

“Of course not, your honour. I apologise.” He walked to his desk and picked up something. “This document presently displays page eight of Starfire’s company policy on the safe and ethical use of the reality simulator. Ms. Taylor, would you please read for the court point four under the heading Respectful Use.”

He handed Jeri the document. From the look on her face, it might have been a used sheaf of toilet paper. Her lips tightened. In a monotone voice she recited, “All simulation programs should be considered private intellectual property and treated accordingly.”

“Thank you, Ms Taylor. Now, on the day you chose to use the reality simulator, had you read this document?”

“No, but I—”

“Thank you, Ms. Taylor, no need to dilate. You say you decided to investigate the contents of this program rather than treat it as private intellectual property because you recognised your face on the simulated woman. No doubt, then, you remember the expression on this simulated woman’s face?”

Real displeasure twisted Jeri’s features. Jeff wondered what venom might spew from her lips had the exchange not been taking place in a courtroom. “Yes, I do.”

“Would you please share that information with the court.”

The muscles in Jeri’s jaw began to work. “She was smiling,” she said.

“I see. Thank you, Ms. Taylor.” Nate took a few steps towards the defendant’s table and then spun on his heel. “Oh, one more question, Ms. Taylor. You claim you saw the simulated woman’s legs spread apart.”

“That’s right.”

“Did you notice any signs of trauma? Any bruising on the labia or around the inner thighs?”

Jeri made no response, only looked at him. Jeff half expected Nate to combust on the spot.

When five seconds’ silence had passed, Nate’s eyes went to the judge. The judge leaned towards Jeri and said, “Please answer the question, Ms. Taylor.”

“No,” she said. “There was no bruising.”

Nate paused, letting that final phrase rattle around the room. Then he said, “No further questions.”


Public speaking was not Jeff’s forte, but as he made his way to the witness stand he thought a crowded courtroom might be more tolerable than an empty one. Any eye contact he made was real eye contact, not the happenstance kind that might occur in a room of two hundred people. He wanted to look at his hands, at his shoes, at the ceiling, anything—but Nate had drilled him on the importance of exuding confidence, which meant looking his interrogator in the eye.

Before asking the first question, Keaton walked in a semicircle around the witness box, like a shark sizing up its prey. He stopped right in front of Jeff and said, “Did Jeri Taylor consent to have sex with you?”

Jeff could feel the urge to jabber crouching behind his tongue. “Well, no. But—”

“Thank you Mr. Albertsen,” Keaton said. He arched an eyebrow at Nate. “No need to dilate.”

Nate did not react. Keaton returned his attention to Jeff. “Is it true you asked Ms. Taylor out on a date while standing in line at the canteen on January 12th?”

“That’s correct.”

“And she turned you down?”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Jeff said.

“Please answer, yes or no.”


“How would you describe your state of mind following Jeri’s refusal of your advances?”

“I was embarrassed. Humiliated.”

“Would you say you were angry?”

“Objection!” Nate shrieked. “Leading the witness.”

“Withdrawn,” Keaton said. “By your own admission, Mr. Albertsen, you were too agitated to remain in your cabin and you then visited the reality simulator. What were your intentions when you entered the simulator?”

“I just wanted to get away from the real world for a while.”

“That’s interesting. Can you explain what it was you wanted to get away from?”

“Jeri had just humiliated me in front of half the company. I wanted to escape it all.”

“I see. Could you explain for the court, then, why you chose to run a program that featured the woman you claim you were trying to escape?”

Jeff mentally blessed Nate’s cotton socks—he had predicted this question. “She’s a beautiful woman and I wanted to have sex with her.”

Keaton’s mouth opened. His eyes, even though they didn’t move, suddenly looked hyperactive. It lasted a second, perhaps two, and then composure returned to his face. “So you admit, Mr. Albertsen, that you wanted to have sex with Ms. Taylor against her wishes?”

“No,” Jeff replied, “I wanted to have sex with her in accordance with her wishes.”

“She has already stated under oath that she did not consent to sexual intercourse with you.”

“And we didn’t have sex,” Jeff said. “Why do you think I was in the reality simulator?”

“Did you ask Ms. Taylor’s permission to use her likeness in the simulator?”

“When would I have done that?”

“Please answer the question, Mr. Albertsen.”

“No, I didn’t ask for her permission.”

“Do you know what rape is, Mr. Albertsen?”


“Would you be good enough to share your definition of rape with the court?”

“Sexual intercourse without consent.”

“Would you agree you had sexual intercourse with Ms. Taylor without consent.”

“No. I had it with a simulation of her.”

“Did you—”

“I’ve heard enough,” said Judge Hempel, his rich baritone rumbling through the empty room. “This line of inquiry only promises to go around in circles. Mr. Keaton, do you have any questions that are not a variation on the ones already asked?”

Keaton breathed in and exhaled slowly through his nostrils. “One, your honour.”

The judge chewed a few times and slumped back in his chair. “Let’s hear it.”

Keaton folded his arms and stared at Jeff. His eyes drilled into him. “Did you create the reality simulation program featuring Ms. Taylor as an act of retribution?”

Jeff went to speak, hesitated, uttered a nonsense half-syllable, then put his hand over his mouth. He looked from Nate to Jeri and then back at Keaton.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do it partly for revenge,” he said.

Keaton nodded, as if something had fallen into place.

“Your witness,” he said to Nate.


The rest of the hearing, Nate said when he and Jeff were back in Jeff’s holding cell, had been a by-the-numbers affair. Nate had asked Jeff questions that allowed him describe his actions in a favourable light and imply he was being persecuted. Then the CEO took the stand and began to explain why the reality simulator had been installed—(“We live on an asteroid, Mr. Olufson, I think the reason is clear to us all,” said the judge before Olufson could get warmed up.)—and what policies had been put in place to safeguard employees. Judge Hempel then permitted Keaton and Nate one minute each for closing statements. Based on those, Jeff thought it had been a tie. Court had then adjourned until ten o’clock the following morning.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed, Jeff said, “How did we do?”

Nate shook his head. “Impossible to say. As the judge said, we’ve been blundering around in unmapped legal territory. There’s not even an applicable precedent.”

“And how did I do? On the stand, I mean.”

“On the whole, pretty well.”

Jeff gave him a wry smile. “Except for the revenge question.”

“You handled it okay. The main thing we needed was the judge’s empathy—and who hasn’t been turned down by a woman before?”

Jeff nodded. He bet his boy-man attorney had seen plenty of rejection. He looked at his watch. Five past four in the afternoon.

“So, what happens if ... if we don’t win tomorrow? I know you said before the trial that I could be looking at jail time, but ...”

“The sentence will be based on the laws of the state where Starfire has its head office. Which might have meant the difference between life in prison and execution if you were accused of murder, but on a rape charge the difference will be negligible. If you are convicted, you’ll either serve the time in a remote penitentiary or an Earth prison, whichever is closer. Any idea where this asteroid is in its orbit?”

“None,” Jeff said, images of prison life plastering themselves across his vision in an ugly mural.

“Anyway, you’ll be transported there under guard in one of Starfire’s runabouts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. No one has been convicted of simulated rape before, so that’s in your favour.”

Somehow, Jeff didn’t feel reassured.


By nine-thirty the courtroom bulged with rostered-off Starfire employees. “Looks like this lonely old rock has a water cooler,” Nate muttered as he and Jeff took their seats. Jeff had time to lament his earlier preference for a full courtroom before the bailiff adjured all to stand for Judge Hempel.

The judge seated himself, then began to unwrap a stick of chewing gum with great deliberation. The puffy flesh beneath his eyes had the grey cast of cold ashes. He popped the gum in his mouth, chewed a few times, and then looked around the courtroom as if to remind himself why he was there. He tapped the document on the desk before him and wrinkled his nose at it.

“I’m supposed to read a summary of yesterday’s proceedings,” Judge Hempel said, “but I’m going to assume we all remember them well enough. Any objection, gentlemen?”

Nate and Keaton glanced at each other and then shook their heads at the judge.

“Good,” Judge Hempel said, “because I would have overruled you anyway. Now ...”

He closed his eyes for a moment—the duration of three or four chews—then opened them again.

“The concept of rape is as old as civilisation itself, and yet the agreed legal definition of rape has changed in accordance with social mores. In the reality simulator, we have technology that allows a person to experience a false reality that is so close to the real thing as to be indistinguishable. Mr. Albertsen used this technology to take in fantasy what he could not have in reality.

“While I personally find his behaviour in bad taste, I cannot in all conscience call it rape. The reality simulator is only an extension, another dimension if you like, of dreams and fantasies and imagination, which constitute the cornerstone of what it means to be human. What Mr. Albertsen’s use, or misuse, of the simulator has done is externalise his internal thoughts and desires. As a result, he has suffered a form of humiliation previously unknown to mankind—albeit due to his own carelessness. The ability to keep secret our innermost thoughts is critical to our continued existence as a species.

“Ms. Taylor, while I do not doubt that you suffered some mental anguish upon finding a likeness of yourself in the reality simulator, that likeness cannot be legally considered an extension of your person any more than a photograph or video footage of you could be. Had you walked in on Mr. Albertsen masturbating to a photo of you, it would have been disturbing, perhaps, but not actionable by law, and the only difference I see in the case brought before me is the technology in use.

“Mr. Albertsen, I hereby find you not guilty of statutory rape. You will, however, review in full the Starfire policies on appropriate use of the reality simulator and submit to me a summary of it by this time next week. Do I make myself clear?”

Jeff half stood, then sat again. “Uh, yes, judge. Um, I mean, your honour.”

“Good. And Mr. Olufson—I will leave it to you to decide whether Mr. Albertsen should receive an official warning, but either way I strongly recommend your company exercises some additional self-regulation in regard to the simulator. Perhaps you and Mr. Albertsen should have a brainstorm on the subject. If Ms. Taylor were to seek damages in a civil court, you might both find yourselves before a judge disinclined to leniency.”

Jeff nodded vigorously and the CEO said, “Yes, your honour.”

“Very well. Mr. Albertsen is free to leave, as are the rest of you. I believe you all have a mining operation to run, so go and run it.”

Relief sluiced through Jeff like ice-water. He slumped in his chair and a goofy grin smeared across his face. His fingers were numb as he shook Nate’s hand. Behind him he could hear the gallery filing out, their shuffling feet and low utterances suggesting disappointment with an anti-climactic verdict. As Nate gathered up his reference materials, Jeff stared blank-eyed at the front of the room, unable to believe the past couple of days had been real.

Keaton and Jeri left a few moments later exchanging some kind of whispered conversation. Perhaps about a civil suit, Jeff thought. But not even that prospect could sour his moment of vindication. Then, as Jeff turned to Nate to thank him, the door to Judge Hempel’s chambers swung open again.

“One thing more, Mr. Albertsen,” the judge said.

Jeff scrambled to an upright position, his heart hammering and his mouth tasting of old coins. “Yes, your honour?”

“A smart teenager hides his pornography from his parents to avoid humiliation.”

The judge retreated into his chambers once more, and the door closed on the case of the misappropriated reality simulator. END

Kris Ashton is an Australian speculative fiction author. He has published two novels and more than twenty short stories. His recent work has appeared in “Andromeda Spaceways,” “Grand Mal Press,” and “Dark Moon Digest.”


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