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




Pink Adventure 87

By Gregor Hartmann

THE SUBWAY WAS CRAWLING with cops. Outside the station, on the platform, in the cars. Electronic message boards, which usually touted the health benefits of masturbation, tonight urged Chang to be on guard against subversives. He wondered what had happened.

Three cops bulled through his car. Chang tried to look innocuous. Just when he thought he was safe, they demanded to see his ID and phone. While they scanned his card and examined his apps, he braced himself. Fanatical about erasing, he should be clean. Had he overlooked anything? Please don’t bust me! he silently begged.

After hard scrutiny, they tossed his stuff back and moved on. Keeping his eyes lowered to avoid the stares of the men on the subway, Chang counted down the stops until he could escape.

The narrow streets around the Xiangfeng station were lined with food stalls selling fried dumplings and spicy fishball soup. His mouth watered at the smell, but he hadn’t been paid for two weeks, so Chang walked on. The sidewalks were full of young men. Restless, edgy. Willing to pick fights with strangers, anonymous in the gloom, rather than surrender to their dismal rooms. As he wove through the seething crowd Chang glanced at his phone, trying to find out what was going on. Offshore news sites were being blocked by the Great Firewall.

An armored limo drifted by, its motor so quiet the vehicle seemed to be coasting. Inside, the flash of a lighter revealed a beautiful face. Chang stared, oblivious to the bodyguard in the front seat. He saw a woman’s mouth, a man’s hand, the white dash of her cigarette flirting with the flame. The lighter closed and the apparition vanished. Driving away, the limo flaunted an official license plate. Probably someone high in the Party. Of course those creeps had women.

Eventually he reached his building. Somehow, despite shoddy construction, it had yet to collapse. He trudged up five flights of stairs, plodded along the spalling concrete corridor to his tiny room, collapsed on his unmade bed.

In college Chang had studied civil engineering. Unable to find work in that field, he was a telemarketer. He had spent all day on the phone, cold-calling names from a list, coaxing gullible citizens to invest in a “green energy” scam. It was a terrible job, a soul destroyer. The scammers hired recent college graduates because they sounded young and idealistic, but constant talking had made Chang hoarse. Not one close all week. He’d probably be fired soon.

Lying on his hard bed, he contemplated the water stains on the ceiling. The previous tenant of his room had committed suicide with pills and a plastic bag. Those overlapping brown rings were probably the last thing he saw.

Chang slapped his face.

“Snap out of it, mopey boy! Tonight, with luck, you have a date with one of the seven most beautiful women in China.”

He rolled off the mattress and knelt before a low desk contrived from two beer-bottle crates and a plank. He positioned his phone and flexed his fingers like a pianist warming up. The phone was an “Appel,” but it had the same Internet capability as a real one.

Chang went online. First, he activated a script that made the phone try a series of news sites. He had recorded an actual session so the timing was human-erratic and included typing errors. While the censors were lulled by that, he covertly logged into a VPN and tunneled through the Great Firewall. From a proxy server running in Singapore, Chang went to his favorite pirate site, Land of the Freek. The Goddess of Liberty on the home page was a dominatrix with eagle tattoos; she greeted his arrival by saluting with her riding crop.

Not wasting a second, he clicked to the file-sharing page. Yes! What he’d been waiting for had been posted. Quickly he downloaded all five versions of his quarry and went offline.

Chang examined his booty. According to rumors, bad files were showing up. He discarded two files that were suspiciously large, as if carrying hidden malware. He scanned the remaining files and deleted two that appeared to be OK but somehow made him nervous. He wasn’t absolutely sure about the one remaining file, PINK_ADVN_87.svx. Posted by an unknown username. But it was that or another lonely night. He turned his phone to landscape orientation, launched the video player, and opened the file.

The screen morphed into the right logo: two perfect, glistening, glowing-red lips. Curving toward each other like caterpillars making love. Chang’s spirits soared.

“Hi, Pandora. How was your day?”

He shed his Abercrumby & Fetch clothes like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

“Me too. The commute was awful. I almost got arrested.”

He squeezed lubricant into his palm and oiled his hairless torso.

“Oh, you like that smell? It’s peony. Organic peony.”

Hanging on a hook on the wall was his government-issued serenity enhancer. It had a rousing patriotic name, but everyone called it a happi. Resembling an infant’s onesie, the happi was sized to cover him from neck to crotch, leaving arms and legs bare. Chang put it on over his head like a T-shirt. He smoothed it down over his slick skin, tucked in his little brother, snapped the flap shut.

“What do you want to do tonight, honey?”

Although it looked like a onesie, the happi was an engineering marvel. The outside was a supple polymer substrate that held wiring. The good stuff was inside: thousands of tiny finger-like vibrators that could extend, retract, clamp together, spring apart—emulating the sensation of being touched. The patriotically designed happi was revolutionary red, with clusters of five golden stars in an undulating pattern. It could have been a one-piece suit for the Women’s Olympic Swim Team.

“An adventure? You bet!”

The final touch: Soni VR goggles. He connected them to his phone with a black cable. The screen in the goggles was active-matrix OLED, with a high refresh rate and zillions of pixels. When Chang connected the cable, the same pair of enticing lips appeared in the goggles. The lips puckered slightly, as if blowing him a kiss. A swarm of pink pixels did clever tricks, then spelled out Pink Adventure in a high-tech font.

The theme song played from his phone. He sang along.

“Guardians of China, we defend our native land ...”

Pink pretended to be a glitzy C-Pop band. Cute matching costumes. Upbeat songs about love, money, good times. Actually, the members of Pink were agents in a secret crime-fighting organization. In the last episode, Pink had foiled a Foreign Devil plot to sabotage the spaceport on Hainan Island. It was a great location for an adventure. The girls lounged on the beach in wicked bikinis, and raced through a coconut plantation on 1000 cc Vanguard motorcycles. After defeating the saboteurs, Pink celebrated with a seafood banquet, which turned into a shrimp-throwing food fight, which led to an orgy so hot it would have made a turtle blush.

“Shoulder to shoulder, we comrades grip our blades ...”

The government encouraged pornography because of the shortage of women. The stupid one-child policy, in a country of families who wanted sons, had resulted in too many males, not enough females. Bachelors needed a sexual outlet, so all restrictions on porn had been lifted. It was a poor substitute for a real girlfriend, but because there weren’t enough women to go around, Chang had to settle. The free porn the government distributed was crap, so he sought out Pink Adventure, high-end stuff produced by a private company for the elite. He couldn’t afford to subscribe to the day-zero release of a new episode. Instead, he waited for pirated copies to appear.

“Stained with blood, stained with tears, the five-star flag dispels all fears ...”

The final step was to use the control screen on his phone to tweak each character. The great thing about the svx format was customization. By moving sliders he could instruct the program how to render each individual. Female or male or ambiguous. Skinny or fat. Shorter or taller. He could change skin color and hair, give them fur or scales or leopard spots. Skimpy clothes or none. He could make them speak French, and enjoy bad subtitles. In his entire miserable existence, adjusting the porn controls was the only time Chang felt like he was in charge.

Hands trembling, he set the leader to his preferences. For the other six he accepted the female default settings.

“All right, girls. It’s showtime!”

He tapped play, strapped on the goggles, and lay down on the mattress with the phone near his head, cabled to the goggles.

The theme song crescendoed. The red lips opened and sucked him inside. Visually he seemed to be moshing through a tunnel of naked arms; the happi reinforced this by creating the sensation of hands on his body. The arms carried him into Pink’s dressing room, where seven lovely women lounged in exotic lingerie, unaware a horny ghost was spying on them.

The generic leader was a former PLA Air Force pilot, an expert in traditional weapons, and a sharp detective to boot. Chang had made her a gorgeous female named Pandora. Feedback sensors in the goggles tracked eye movement and triggered where and how the happi touched him. When his little brother stiffened at the sight of Pandora, the happi fondled him knowingly. There was a slider for that too, so he could control the feedback and set how quickly or slowly he came. First time through a show, Chang liked to take his time and savor every beat.

In Episode 87, Pink was performing a charity concert at the Beijing Zoo. Foreign Devil commandos had infiltrated the zoo, disguised as ginger yetis on loan from Tibet. When the pandora commandos tried to kidnap a pair of pandas, Pink slithered out of their evening gowns and went into action. The brutal commandos had Russian-made pistols and fired wildly, not caring if they hit schoolchildren. Pink, more conscientious and better skilled, fought with swords that left glowing trails.

(The trails flickered with bursts of colored pixels like fractal snowflakes. A defect? Sometimes cracking the copy protection degraded the image quality. The sparkles were pretty, so Chang kept watching. A new feature, maybe?)

The battle raged through the zoo. Pandora chased the biggest commando up onto the roof of the panda house, and they fought along the precarious ridgeline. The man had lost the head of his yeti costume; he was an ugly Caucasian with scars and a bad haircut. A pistol in each hand, he unleashed streams of bullets. Muscular Pandora whirled her two-handed Jian dragon sword to create a glowing shield. She deflected the bullets harmlessly into the sky. When the commando ran out of ammo he cursed and threw the pistols at her. Pandora batted the guns back in his face like ping-pong balls. As he cowered, she attacked.

Nude except for red bikini panties with gold stars, holding her two-handed sword over her head, exposing her beautiful little breasts, she leaped high and crashed down on the cowardly Foreign Devil in exquisite slow motion, frame by luscious frame, drawing out the moment. Sparkles of color swirled around her. She was a goddess wearing a rainbow. Death to the enemies of the Motherland!

The instant before her sword split the brute in half, the action froze.

Chang moaned. The file was defective. Damn! He’d have to download another.

Before he could act, a solemn woman walked into the frozen scene. She was wearing an old-fashioned high-collar jacket, dark blue, over a modest silk blouse. Like a professor at a first-tier university. Hair pulled back to show a high forehead. Sternly attractive. Chang blinked. A new character? This could be good. The ones who started out looking like schoolteachers usually turned into sex maniacs.

In the background, Pandora and her foe dissolved into swirls of red and gold, and faded to particles which remained in the background, randomly appearing and disappearing in an entrancing way.

The woman cocked her head. “Why would the Foreign Devils steal pandas? Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Chang blinked. She was addressing him directly.

Staring into his eyes, she made a clenching movement with her right hand. The happi tightened on his eggs. A wave of pain shot up his abdomen. Chang screamed.

“I said, isn’t it ridiculous? Answer.”

“Yes,” Chang gasped.

The woman smiled. She moved her fingers in a caressing motion, and the happi fondled his little brother. “You’re a smart boy. Do you know why the government lets this drivel be distributed?”

Chang was outraged. Despite his precautions, the file he’d downloaded had been altered. Someone had inserted a political message.

He wasn’t political. Being political was dangerous. Political people were disappeared. Somehow the subversives had infiltrated his beloved porn, his escape from the misery of his life. He decided to take off the goggles, delete the corrupted file, find another, and fast-forward to the orgy at the end of the episode.

One slight problem. Where were his arms?

Did he still have arms? He couldn’t feel them. Legs either. He seemed to have been pared down to a mind adrift in a black cocoon. Falling? Floating? He couldn’t tell. The woman filling the screen of his goggles smiled at his distress.

“Relax, darling. This episode has a special feature. The color signal is stimulating your central nervous system to produce neurotransmitters. Endorphins. They’re the body’s endogenous opiates. Do you know what endogenous means?”

Chang was stumped. She raised her hand in warning. “Natural?” he blurted out.

“Close enough. That’s why you can’t move. Your body is sedating itself. Now, once again. Do you know why the government lets this drivel be distributed?”

Chang thought frantically. The file he downloaded was running in his phone. It might be communicating with someone through a telecom link. Was he being controlled by a live human?

“Say again?” he asked.

The woman repeated her question with exactly the same words, exactly the same intonation.

“How was that again? Your accent ...”

Same exact response. No sign of irritation.

Aha! The repetition meant no human on the line. The program in his phone must be autonomous. It must be monitoring his answers through the phone’s mike, and responding with a preset subroutine. Maybe he could trick it.

The woman, who looked vaguely familiar, clenched her fingers. The happi gave his little brother a warning pinch.

“To keep me happy?”

She scowled and slashed the air. Sharp fingernails raked his chest. He yelped. “To keep you pacified! To drain off your energy, keep you in a sleepwalking state. If you admitted how miserable your life is, you would rebel.”

“I’m not a rebel. I’m a loyal citizen.”

Sadness softened her face. “I know. You are a loyal citizen. You want what’s best for the Motherland. That’s why I’ve contacted you. You’re a smart boy. You know China’s problems aren’t the fault of Foreign Devils. They’re the result of bad rule by corrupt officials. They are internal problems created by a parasitic clique.”

A memory from a history class clicked, and he recognized her. She was Qiu Jin, the feminist rebel who tried to overthrow the last imperial dynasty. Despite being raised in a wealthy family she had joined a secret society, taught martial arts, advocated equality and democracy, trained revolutionaries. She didn’t succeed. The authorities cut off her head while she was still young and beautiful—and inadvertently made her a national heroine. Whoever was channeling her was seriously subversive. He had to break free and delete the file before anyone caught him with it. Possession of stuff like this would get him hauled off to a black jail.

Wielding a virtual pointer like a cattle prod, Qiu Jin taught. She bombarded him with text, graphics, short video clips of shocking scenes that had been censored inside China. Afraid to look, Chang closed his eyes. The program detected that and forced him to watch. After each burst of information, she made him summarize, and rewarded or punished him according to how thoroughly he’d absorbed the lesson.

While responding, Chang doggedly thought about how to escape. He couldn’t see the phone, but it must still be near his head. Could he unplug the cord that connected them? The goggles would go dark, the program would be isolated in his phone, and eventually his neurotransmitters would go back to normal.

Chang tried rocking his head from side to side. He couldn’t tell if anything happened. It was hard to think straight, between the endorphin high, the barrage of information, the happi creating the feel of her hands wandering over his body. Every time he answered correctly, she rewarded him by playing with his little brother. In high school and college he had been forced to sit through lots of political indoctrinations, and he had to say, being kept sexually aroused by the indoctrinator really held his attention.

Finally the briefing ended. Chang had no idea how much time had passed. He was adrift in virtual space. The world consisted of her and her alone.

“Good boy,” Qiu Jin said. The stern face relaxed into a smile. “Now you understand the situation in China. Here’s your reward.”

Her clothing disappeared. Wow, was Qiu Jin that gorgeous in real life? Give her a catsuit and a motorcycle and she could ride with Pink. She made a hugging motion, and he felt hands on his back, as if she were embracing him.

“You deserve a girlfriend,” she cooed. “Why should evil government officials hog all the women? Is that fair?”


“Do you want to do something about it?”


“Are you ready to take action?”


Her face came close, dainty mouth open for a kiss. Her breasts touched his chest. Her irises spun in mesmerizing spirals. A blinding flash of light—

Qiu Jin vanished. Chang faced an ancient temple that had been allowed to fall into ruin. Like traditional Chinese culture. For 5,000 years, a beacon and model for the rest of the world. Now, neglected or crushed outright by the Party. The sight made him weep. He ached to restore the correct order of things. But how?

With a mechanical roar that rattled windows and set off car alarms, a main battle tank rumbled up the street and halted in front of Chang. Perched on it were the members of Pink, wearing only camo bikini bottoms, thigh-high leather boots, and ammunition bandoliers. Pandora emerged from the turret and smiled at Chang. She tossed him a rocket launcher. “Captain! Be a hero and come with us. We’re going to save the Motherland!”

Somehow he caught the launcher. An officer? Proudly he imagined himself standing at attention and holding the launcher diagonally across his chest in salute. Pandora winked and blew him a kiss. Her lips filled his vision, red as sunrise, red as blood, red—


As a result of the subway frisk, Chang was flagged for follow-up. Later that night, two patrolmen went to his building. Two young officers, assigned to the Northern District. Tall laconic Zhou. Short effusive Bao. At the sight of police uniforms, the men in the corridor abandoned their mahjong game and scuttled into rooms like rats diving into cracks in a wall.

When the suspect didn’t answer the door, the patrolmen broke in. They found Chang sprawled face-up on a dirty mattress, alive but unmoving. A floppy, not a stiff. Zhou being senior, he stood back and made Bao remove the goggles. Grumbling, Bao did as instructed. Chang’s irises were wide and black. Drool seeped from the corner of his mouth.

Holding the goggles at a safe distance, they replayed enough of the show to see what he’d been watching. The two cops whistled.

“This is political.” Zhou dropped the goggles as if they were a snake. He called Headquarters to report a floppy.

The dispatcher said the Metropolitan Intelligence Unit was working other cases, so they’d have to wait. That was a drag. On the bright side, all Zhou and Bao had to do was secure the scene until the Metros arrived. Once the Metros took custody of the suspect the patrolmen could split.

While they waited, they smoked Marlburro cigarettes to cover the smell of stale cabbage, moldy socks, a whiff of fresh shit. Neither man sat down. Not to protect the crime scene. To avoid touching anything in the hellish room.

“Ever watch Pink Adventure?” Bao asked. “It’s supposed to be dynamite. Makes official porn look like puppet shows.”

“On my salary? Yeah, right.”

“It sure did a job on this kid.”

“He was zapped by counter-revolutionaries, not pretty girls,” Zhou said.

Someone, somewhere, was using porn to spread anti-Party propaganda. If you watched a hacked show, it paralyzed you with a subliminal signal and delivered its payload like a wasp injecting her brood into a grub. The government was quietly panicking. It couldn’t issue a public warning because it depended on porn to pacify the hordes of frustrated young males. Whoever was behind the plot had not perfected their technology, because so far they were producing floppies, not fighters. Come the day they got it right ...

Zhou contemplated the sprawled figure. A macho TV cop would crack a joke. Not Zhou. When he read “The Stranger” in college he admired the coolness Mersault displayed. Back then he too had wanted to be detached, calm, amoral. Being a cop made that pose impossible. Every day he had to deal with sad people in heartbreaking situations. He had come to realize that he was not a suave French existentialist. He was an underemployed young man, with a job that scared people, trapped in a universe indifferent to human life.

“Who do you think is behind it?” Bao asked.

Zhou shrugged. Japan, his commander said. Not an unreasonable theory. Japan was still sore about what happened to Kyushu. But Zhou was skeptical of the Foreign Devil line. “Since the crash, China is full of smart guys with shit jobs or no jobs. That’s a volatile combination,” he said.

They exchanged a knowing look. Zhou had majored in philosophy. Bao had studied art history. The gulf between their aspirations and their current employment was too painful to dwell on.

“He looks happy,” Bao mused.

“Maybe he fried his eggs before he crashed.”

The stylish goggles lay beside Chang’s head like a pair of Armany sunglasses. Inside, the Pink Adventure logo was blowing kisses.

Bao said, “You know Wu? In the Evidence Room? He has to watch these shows, to log them into the database.”


“He’s watched a lot of them. Stuff that clobbers other people? Doesn’t faze him.”

“How come?” Zhou asked.

“He made a filter. See, the light coming out of the pixels has to be just right to mess with your brain. Wu covers the screen with a thin plastic film. A little crinkly, not smooth. The subliminal signal is blocked, but the content comes through.”

“You can still see Pink?”

“According to Wu, oh yeah.”

They sized each other up.

“You know, Officer Zhou, it would be good police procedure to make a copy of the file. Just in case the Metro assholes forget to share the evidence.”

“An excellent suggestion, Officer Bao. I commend your diligence. Can we do that without leaving a trace in the phone’s event log?”

“Watch and learn.” Bao put on latex gloves as ceremoniously as a safecracker gearing up. He showed Zhou how to covertly upload a copy of PINK_ADVN_87.svx to an anonymous storage site where they could retrieve it later. When he was done, he carefully replaced the phone where it had been, and disappeared the gloves into a pocket. Smoking guilty cigarettes, they observed Chang’s slow breathing as if he were a cryptic piece of performance art.

A call from the dispatcher broke the spell. Five minutes till the Metros arrived.

Zhou and Bao threw their cigarettes in the toilet and adjusted their ties. Cringing was sensible, given the arrogance and power of the Metropolitan Intelligence Unit. Zhou was as afraid of Metros as the average citizen was of him.

He thought of Sartre’s famous thesis: that everyone is impersonating an identity. So true, so true. At the university he had impersonated a freethinker. Long hair, progressive ideas. He even wrote poetry. Now he impersonated a policeman. He cut his hair short, followed sports, pumped iron. An act good enough to fool his superiors. But it chafed.

When could he finally be himself?

Zhou decided that when he got off duty he would put on his happi and goggles and investigate the Pink Adventure episode. He would use the sliders to adjust the characters to the males he secretly preferred: lean gymnasts with soulful eyes and big rough hands. Then he would watch the show, cautiously, through a filter.

While he was being entertained, at some point the hidden message would play, and he would find out what was really going on in China. His superiors acted like the stuff was a virus, that anyone who came into contact was infected. Could a thin layer of plastic protect him? Zhou was willing to take a chance.

Outside, far down the hall, he heard the Metros burst into the corridor, cursing about the stairs. To intimidate everyone, they pounded on doors with their batons as they stormed towards Chang’s room.

Facing the door, Zhou braced himself and nervously impersonated a loyal agent of the state. END

Gregor Hartmann is an active member of the SFWA. He has been a newspaper reporter, English teacher, video producer, and temp. His stories have appeared in “F&SF,” “Aboriginal Science Fiction,” and in Robert Silverberg’s anthologies.


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