Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Trusting What I Smell
by Kenneth Schneyer

Taking Flight
by Peter Wood

Dumpster Dive
by Clint Spivey

To Die a Great Death
by Stephen L. Antczak

A Taste of Oranges
by Jacey Bedford

Athena’s Children
by Travis Heermann

Sinking Holes
by D. Thomas Minton

Free Range
by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

by Douglas J. Ogurek

Out of Her Head
by Amy Power Jansen

Icarus and Daedalus
by Sean Mulroy


Hearts on Demand
by Anthony J. Melchiorri

Internet Undercover
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Trusting What I Smell

By Kenneth Schneyer

I WAS SHADOWING AN UNFAITHFUL husband when my eyes jammed. I’d been parked across from his mistress’ apartment building all night—at least the client thought the woman was his mistress—and I’d zoomed in at maximum to recognize him when he came out. I’d caught what might be sexual noises through her closed window although, when you turn up your gain that high, the sounds from the street are murder.

I got a close-up of his face, but it didn’t tell me much. Not even his lips showed extra warmth on infrared, so maybe he hadn’t kissed her goodbye. He got in his car and drove off, and I turned to my pad to make the time entry.

That’s when I found I was stuck at telescopic. This close up, one corner of the screen filled my whole field of vision, a complete blur. I repeated the eye-rolling action that’s supposed to bring you back to ordinary focus, but no luck. I smacked my palm against the steering wheel and swore by six different names of God.

You can’t drive with your vision at maximum. I had four choices: I could stay here until my eyes decided to cooperate, walk the six miles home, call a cab, or ask Marty to pick me up. I rejected the last choice: Marty was still pissed about the last time I made him drive out to get me, and if I woke him at four a.m. I knew I’d never hear the end of it.

I sighed and told my phone to call a cab I couldn’t afford. Naturally my focus cleared up twenty seconds after it dropped me at home.


Someone was running sandpaper over my cheek. No, that was my own stubble, and it was the back of a hand moving against the grain. I opened one eye. Marty grinned and gave me a kiss. “Morning, sleepy.”

“What time is it?” My voice sounded like an old air conditioner.

“Seven-thirty. I’m going to work.”

“Aw, shit, Marty, you know I didn’t get in until late.”

“Grouchy, aren’t we? Grouchy Gus.” He threw his leg over mine and kissed me again, his hands roving.

I made sure he knew I appreciated the kiss, then pulled back and said, “Honey, I feel like garbage and I have to piss. Besides, you’re all stressed out.”

He lost his smile. “How do you know that?” I didn’t answer. “You smelled it, didn’t you?”

I hadn’t meant to. I was half asleep, and sometimes I switch on the olfactory without thinking about it. Like a reflex, you know? I killed it immediately.

He didn’t move, not even his hand that was still on my hip. “You know how I feel about this.”

“Yes. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“You said that—” He bit his lip. “Okay.” He patted my butt, then got up. “I really do have to get to the library now. I shouldn’t have started what I can’t finish.”


By noon I was feeling halfway human. I showered and had two cups of the strongest, hottest coffee I could make, then actually got the eggs and bacon out of the fridge before sighing, putting them back, and getting out berries and yogurt. Marty was on a Save Gus’ Health! kick. The things we do for love.

Before anything else, I needed to see Val. I went out into the sunlight; you could feel October in the air, although the street smelled disgusting even with the sniffer switched off. Val’s was too far away to walk, so I caught the #43 bus and was at her shop in a half hour.

The bell jingled when I walked in. Val’s place was just like a hundred other tech shops, dentist’s chair and surgical couch with a dozen fancy probes and tools hanging from the ceiling, all in no-nonsense gunmetal grey.

Val bent over a workbench, all concentration and irritability. All I could see was her thick black hair, tied in a pony tail that went halfway down her purple lab coat. Without turning around, she said, “Just sit down; I’ll be there in a minute.”

I lay back on the dentist’s chair and almost dozed off, but before too many minutes had gone by, she let out a breath and said, “Well, that’s done, anyway,” and shoved whatever she’d been working on into a sterile packet. Then she turned round to look at me, pulling off the latex gloves. She still had the surgical mask (also purple) over her face and a jeweler’s loupe over one eye. It always struck me funny that, despite her line of work, Val never wanted any tech of her own.

She grinned through the mask when she recognized me. “Why, if it isn’t Augustus Marro, my favorite tech-tec. How’s it hangin, Gus?” She pushed the loupe up onto her forehead and pulled the mask down to her neck.

“Not so good,” I said, as she did her best to crush my hand. It was a joke between us, and she mugged how much effort she was putting into it. I pointed to my eye. “I locked at telescopic last night; couldn’t reset for about an hour.”

Val nodded. “Seems to me I told you to expect that, didn’t I?” I raised my eyebrows and she scowled. “You know I did. I said, Gus, you don’t get a replacement on that thing, it’s gonna start going wonky on you. The last time you came in here?”

I lifted my palms. “You said that.”

“Mother knows best. Your whole setup is, what, ten years old?”


“Twelve, shit. You’re lucky I can even get parts.”

I said, “I can’t afford new tech. You replace one part of the system, you have to replace the whole thing, right?”

“Yeah. Interfaces go to hell otherwise.”

“Well, the olfactory unit alone is more than I clear in six months. The whole system, there’s no way I could swing it.”

“Fancy a rebuilt?”

“Look me in my malfunctioning eye and tell me that you’d honestly recommend that.”

“Nah, I guess not.” She grimaced. “So, it’s duct tape and chewing gum again, eh?”

“Guess so.”

“Anything else go wrong?”

I thought about it. “I’ve been having trouble distinguishing isomers, and pheromones sometimes get mixed up with alcohol-based scents.”

“How’s the hearing?”

“Fine, so far as I can tell. It’s just, you know, the distraction from extraneous sound.”

“Can’t do anything about that unless you get the directional installed,” she said. “As I told you—”

“I know, you told me.”

“Okay.” She pulled the loupe over her eye and got a new pair of gloves from a dispenser at the workbench. She pulled up her mask. “Lean back and we’ll see what we can do with a bit of string and some toothpicks.”

Val clamped my head into the padded restraint and sprayed an anesthetic/antiseptic on my eyes and into my ears and nostrils. She brought down one of the hanging gizmos and fitted it over my face. It formed a seal, and I could hear the whir and clicks as she took the eyes apart. It left me blind, of course.

I heard clicks as she ran the eyes through her diagnostics. “Yeah, the focus response is shot. I can replace the discs and relubricate, and meanwhile see what I can do about the subroutines.” Hums and a scraping sound. “Lessee, sensitivity’s decent—for this model, anyway—down to the four-photon level.”

A few minutes later my eyes were back in and I could see. Then the world went silent as Val disassembled my inner ears. When she came briefly into my field of vision, I could see that she was still chatting under her mask. She knew I couldn’t hear her; she just liked to talk.

When my hearing came back, she went to work on my nose, running a battery of isomer, pheromone and complex compound signals through the interface and asking me to blink to confirm them.

“Well,” she said as she pushed back. “Your interface is fine, but the intake processor is losing acuity. I’ll clean the internal surfaces and baby the software a bit.”

It took a few more minutes to verify that everything was locked back into place; then she removed the external hardware and the head restraint and took off her mask.

“How do you feel?”

I ran through my standard routine for testing sight, hearing, smell. There was a UHF transmission coming in at about chest level through the far wall. Val’s hands were warmer than usual because of all the work. I identified a few insects by wingbeat and then verified visually. Nominal.

Then I caught an unexpected sharp whiff and looked up. “You been under some stress lately?”

She snorted. “Sure. You?”

“Hell, yes.”

She pursed her lips. “Look, Gus—it’s none of my business, but with tech as old as this, are you getting as much work as you want?”

I looked at the floor. It had been three years since I was last eligible for contract police work, though thank the seven hells I still had my PDB Interface License. Without access to their DNA records and prior investigation reports, I’d be worthless. But most of the big-money clients were hiring guys with the latest upgrades.

“What am I supposed to do, Val? Are you going to give me new eyes on the installment plan?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Well, I was gonna say—I know a guy at McKinley ILP. As a favor, he might throw you some business, then maybe you could make a down payment.”

McKinley Indemnity, Life & Property had never given me the time of day, even when my tech was new. “That’s a hell of a favor. I’d sell your grandmother for work like that.”

She winked. “I hate to see a friend getting all rusty.”

“Won’t they mind the wonky tech?”

“Nah, not while it holds together. Just—when you can afford it, buy the upgrade from me, okay? One hand washes the other.”

As I was leaving Val’s shop, my phone notified me that I’d received a parking citation back at my stakeout site, asking whether I wanted to authorize transfer of funds or go to court in three weeks. It was my fifth ticket this year, and I had to pay a bonus. I glumly authorized the transfer, thinking of my nearly-dry bank account, and what Marty would say.

I didn’t get to talk to him until the next morning because I had another night of following Mister Fidelity. When I told him, over his shoulder while he was shaving, that I might be getting a few cases from McKinley, he said, “That’ll help a bit.” But he didn’t smile.

“What’s the problem?”

He shrugged. “Another few years goes by and you’ll need another upgrade, right?”

“That’s the way it works.”

He soaked a washcloth in hot water and covered his face with it. When he emerged, pink and blinking, he said, “I was thinking ... maybe you could find some work that doesn’t require machines in your body.”

I sighed. I knew why he didn’t like the tech. “Marty,” I said gently. “Even if I got another job, I don’t have real eyes or ears anymore. This is who I am.” I didn’t add, You knew that when you married me. What would be the point?


My first job from McKinley came three days later. Their insured, Rutherford Gallery, had been burgled the night before, with eight paintings stolen, insured at $750,000. The gallery elected to have McKinley do the investigation privately; police investigation fees for local businesses had been rising. I wasn’t cheaper on an hourly basis, not at the rates McKinley paid, but I was only one guy instead of a whole team.

It turned out to be a cinch. I got swabs from around the areas where the paintings were hanging and sent them to the lab. Three hours later, my phone told me that the DNA traces matched two guys in the PDB with impressive larceny and receiving records. Once I had that news, the cops were glad to get a warrant and make an arrest, and they found the paintings when they busted down the door.

So my dicey tech was never an issue. Of course I used it on the scene—I had to—but I was still worried that I’d screw up, let Val down after she’d gone out on a limb for me.

The fee wasn’t going to be enough to buy the upgrade, but it was a start. When I called my handler at McKinley to give him the good news, I asked whether they might have other work for me.

“That depends on my manager,” he said. “Why don’t you come in this afternoon and ask him?”

The McKinley Building was only about four years old, all red moldings and black floors. The elevator up to the 25th floor looked like a miniature art gallery, and the receptionist wore a suit that would cost me a month’s income. As I was standing by his shiny desk looking out the window at the amazing view, someone behind me said: “Gus, it’s good to see you.”

I’d have known that voice after one syllable, spoken two miles away in a windstorm. You don’t forget the ex who broke your heart and stomped on it. Not after eight years, not ever.

“Peter,” I said, and turned around.

He hadn’t changed at all—not the pheromones, not the heartbeat. His pores were still immaculate, his hair still golden, his shoulders still beautiful. I scrutinized him with every bit of tech I had; I knew it wouldn’t bother him. Peter loved my tech, maybe too much.

He smiled, making those crinkles around the mouth that I used to find irresistible, and moved like he was going to hug me. I must have backed away an inch or two, because he checked himself and stuck out his hand. He was the manager I’d been sent to see.

“How are you, Gus? How’s the pretty husband?”

I swallowed. “He’s still pretty, thanks.”

“Good, good.”

In his office, which had a view of both the river and the mountains, he offered me coffee and croissants, both of which I took; I was starving. I hadn’t had better coffee in weeks. It gave me something to look at other than Peter’s pale eyes with their dark flecks, his long fingers.

“I’ve been tasked with lowering the costs of investigation and recovery,” he explained, although I hadn’t asked. “Hiring solo investigators instead of teams, and at a reduced rate—”

“This is a reduced rate?”

“It is for us, yes. I think it would be to our advantage to put you on retainer and have you do more investigations for us.”

I paused. I wanted this. The money was tempting; the prospect of the upgrade I’d soon be able to afford was tempting. But Peter was also tempting, and that wasn’t good.

“My tech is pretty old,” I started to point out.

He smiled, that big, warm smile that could melt a bar of chocolate at twenty feet. “I know exactly how old your tech is, Gus. I remember buying it for you.”

That wasn’t a direction I wanted to go. “But you could start out with someone who’s already upgraded. Why me?”

“I didn’t know it would be you, Gus.” His heartbeat sped up, and his long lashes hid his eyes for a moment. When he looked at me again, his pupils were dilated by twenty percent. “When Tom told me he had a cut-rate tech-tec to try out—” I didn’t wince. “—I said to give it a whirl and see what happened. But you did a good job, and maybe this way I can make up a little for things I did in the past, you know?” His hand slid forward as if to take mine, but he stopped it. “Anyway, I’m doing my job.”

I tried thinking of my bank account and not Peter’s shoulders. “With that much, I’d be able to afford an upgrade within a few weeks.”

He nodded. “All the better for us, unless your rates go up too much. Although I do have a sentimental attachment to the old tech.” He smiled that smile again.


I had another evening of following the Model Husband, so I didn’t get home until Marty was asleep. The next morning, I got up early and made coffee and eggs. He was amused when he saw it. “What’s the occasion?” he asked.

“Fine thing. A man slaves all day over a hot stove—”

He snorted. “Yeah, I guess this qualifies as all day for you. Seriously, what’s up?”

“Eat your eggs.”

He did as he was told, smirking while he chewed. I sat down next to him and rubbed his leg.

“I got a steady retainer from McKinley Indemnity that’ll pay enough to get my tech replaced with new stuff.”

He put down the fork and grinned. “That’s great!” he said, then leaned over and gave me a kiss full of egg and cumin. “Didn’t you tell me that the big insurance companies either use their own in-house investigators or hire a name firm, like Argus or Bloodhounds? How did you swing it?”

“Val got me a case with them, and they liked my work, and they’re trying to reduce costs.” Too late, I realized what I should have told him first. “Peter Belmonte works for them, and he did the hire.”

His face went completely neutral, like a painting. After a few seconds, he repeated, “Peter Belmonte.”


“Doing you a big, big favor.” His voice was soft and smooth, never a good sign.

“It wasn’t like that.”

“No? What was it like?”

“He didn’t even know it was me when they gave me the first case.”

“But he was really happy to take you once he knew. Jumped at the chance, didn’t he? And now he’s going to upgrade that machinery he put into you, that hardware he loves so much.”

I took a deep breath. “It’s been eight years, Marty.”

“And you’ve been missing him the whole time.”

There was no talking to him when he got like this. Marty can spiral himself into a pit of jealousy and self-loathing like no one you ever saw. If I tried to reason with him, or talk about it at all, everything I said would just confirm his worst fears. Only two things ever worked to break him out of it, and I never knew which one it would be.

I leaned over, put my arms around him, and kissed him.

He pulled back, looked away, and shrugged himself out of my arms. He stood up and took his plate over to the sink.

“I need to go to work,” he said, and left.

I’d guessed wrong this time.


It took Val three hours to complete the upgrade. A simple swap wouldn’t have been that hard, but the new units had a different neural interface, so she had to bring in help, a tall, blonde medtech named Alice who was covered in tattoos with quotations from holy books.

Alice put me under sedation for her part of the work, which involved messing with my actual flesh. When I came to, Val was alone at her workbench, dumping the wrappings and gloves and washing up. As usual, she didn’t notice anything behind her while she was concentrating, so I cleared my throat.

She turned around and grinned at me, more chipper than Val usually is. “Morning, Captain! How does it feel to be a Whole New Model?”

“It feels like I’m still strapped into this chair. Where’s Alice?”

Val came over and unbuckled the head restraints. “She’s got another job today and wanted to get lunch, so she left when she finished the neural connections. I didn’t need her for the hardware and programming anyway.”

“I slept longer, too.”

“Yeah, she must’ve given you too big a dose.” She reached behind her and got her pad. “Okay, let’s run you through your paces. We’ll start with the vision, different magnifications and sensitivities.”

The control cues for this model were mostly the same as my old one. There were still a few moves I had to learn, and the olfactory processor was sensitive to a whole range of compounds I hadn’t already learned to sniff; those would take time and rote practice. Val gave me a “sniff kit” with samples of all one hundred thirty-five of the new compounds so that I could memorize them.

The new vision let me go both more microscopic and more telescopic, brought my sensitivity level down to one photon per millisecond, and expanded my EM range. Sound frequency range increased as well, and I now had the directional isolation Val had been nagging me about.

She still nagged me. “Now listen: This is not your old set-up. You need to give it time to adjust, no matter how easy it seems now. Mother knows best.”

“You’re so sexy when you say that.”

She snorted. “So long as you listen.”

When I got home, Marty didn’t want to hear about the new tech. Never mind that it would make me eligible for police contract work; never mind that it would double the income I could bring in, and get me more interesting cases. All Marty could see was Peter. He barely said a word through dinner, and stayed up watching vids when I went to sleep.


I’d just mastered the new olfactory codes, about two weeks later, when Peter called me with a job. It was another burglary, this time a jewelry store on Clarendon called Unexpected. That’s a lousy neighborhood, and this was the third time the shop had been burgled in two years. The missing inventory this time was somewhere near two million.

Clarendon is a dead-end, and Unexpected is near the end of it, isolated enough to be an easy target. Smashed glass lay all over the place, in front of the store and in the display case. Of course it had a burglar alarm wired directly to McKinley, so the relay should have gone right to the police. But apparently the relay at McKinley had been messed up, set to “hold” until an in-house investigator was brought in. This made the case more urgent for McKinley, because if the insurer’s negligence had contributed to the loss, then there was no way they could avoid paying the claim, and possibly a bonus.

I interviewed the owner, a glum woman named Jenny Niantic, who recounted her own movements, as well as more details than I really needed about the two earlier robberies. While I listened, I took a sniff to make sure that I’d recognize her scent in the shop to distinguish it from anyone else’s. I could smell her anguish, and also the echo of some booze—in the sweat, not the breath, so not too recent.

Infrared showed nothing. Microscopic picked up some fibers of what might be intruder’s clothing; I took a sample. I swabbed, but I could smell latex, and figured that these guys had worn gloves and maybe respirator masks; there wouldn’t be any DNA. But I could also smell that they’d worn wool, had been near someplace that roasted coffee shortly before they broke in, and someplace with brick dust before that, but for much longer. I double-checked on microscopic but couldn’t find any trace of red grit. The fabric fibers I’d found were wool, but therebignose wasn’t enough for me to tell whether they were a match for the compounds I was smelling. I’d never caught chemical traces after so long with no solids or liquid to maintain them; this tech was superb.

At the time of night they broke in, there weren’t any coffee shops open—but the JavaNauts roasting facility, about a mile from here, worked all night. And the Garabedian Brickyard was a half-mile further in the same direction. Meanwhile I also picked up a distinct combination of cologne and sweat; I was positive I could identify it if I smelled it again.

When I accessed the PDB, I found that there was an ex-con working at Garabedian named Michael Tulane. The next day, I went to interview him, and I sniffed the exact mixture I’d picked up at Unexpected. I called in the cops.

Tulane denied any involvement but didn’t have an alibi. DNA turned up clean, as I thought; his sweater might be the same as the fibers from the crime scene, but that was inconclusive. My testimony alone probably wouldn’t put him away, although the D.A. was going to give it a try. Still, McKinley would be satisfied that this was a genuine burglary, which was all they really needed.

Peter was delighted with me and insisted on taking me out to lunch at Bianchi’s. He ordered the most expensive stuff on the menu—oysters, caviar, boar with truffles—and champagne. It was as if I was an important client instead of a contractor.

“You solved the case in less than a day,” he said. “At the rate we’re paying you, once we start using you regularly, that’s going to save us a ton of money.”

“It won’t be this fast all the time,” I warned him.

Peter paused to swallow an oyster and wash it down with champagne. “Averages, Gus. Over time, it mounts up. Trust me, this is what I do. Mother knows best.”

I got a sudden knot in my stomach. I didn’t look up at Peter, which was a good thing because my vision suddenly went dark, although my tech was fine, so far as I could tell.

I brooded all the way home. Never, not once in my entire career, had I tracked down a perpetrator just by matching olfactory data; and this was such a good match! Could the change from my upgrades make that much of difference?

Sure it could. Twelve years is two or three generations in that business. But then there was Peter’s slip of the tongue, if that’s what it was. A common enough expression; it could be a complete coincidence. It could be.

I pulled over and took out my phone. I hadn’t caught her last name, but there weren’t many medtechs named Alice in the city. I got her on the second try.

“That’s Gus, from Val’s place? How’s the upgrade?”

“I’m a new machine. Thanks so much for your work.”

“A pleasure. We like to have satisfied customers.”

“I’ll give whatever testimonials you want. Put my picture on advertisements. Say,” I added in my best offhand style. “I was sorry not to see you when the procedure was over. I slept through the whole thing.”

“Really?” She sounded surprised. “I gave you a pretty light dose of the sedative. You must be really sensitive to it. And yeah, I left early because Val asked me to. She said I’d distract her if I was just hanging around. Such an artiste, she must be alone to do her Great Work.”

I laughed as I was supposed to. “Do you know any other good techs in the area? Who else do you work with?”

“Are you unhappy with Val?”

“Not in the slightest. But she’s sometimes overbooked, you know? And I’d like to make recommendations to friends.”


Muhammad Chehab was a slim, precise man in a traditional white lab coat. He was also tech’d to the gills, including eyes, ears, nose, and fingertips. He had me in his chair in five minutes, opened my olfactory assembly, and within ten more minutes he whistled.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this in a sensory unit,” he said. “But I think it’s a remote relay.” I couldn’t respond, but he continued. “You’ve been altered to receive signals from another source. It functions normally under ordinary conditions, but when a signal comes through, it resets itself to interpret information in a predetermined way. I think someone has been feeding you data.”

Chehab examined the vision and hearing tech as well, and discovered the same thing. When he released me from the chair and the locals had worn off, I asked, “Is there any way you can replace this stuff now?”

He shook his head. “But if you could wait two days and Alice is available, I could do a complete replacement.”

“Can you disable the receivers or relays?”

“Not without rendering you deaf, blind, and unable to smell.”

I didn’t have enough money, so soon after the last upgrade; I’d have to find a way to pay for it somehow. “Try to get Alice, and let me know.”

I walked back to the car, working it out. Jenny Niantic arranges the Unexpected robbery herself; Peter sabotages the McKinley alarm relay, then feeds me false data framing Michael Tulane. Peter and Niantic split an easy two million—after giving Val a cut, of course.

I was angry at being a patsy and a dupe, but not as angry as I was confused. None of it made any sense. Getting an airborne sample from Tulane at exactly the right moment to convince me that Tulane had been in the store must have been tough to manage; it was the sort of trick you couldn’t pull more than once or twice without being caught. And a share of two million bucks, big as it was, wouldn’t support Peter in the lifestyle to which he was oh-so-accustomed if he had to drop out of sight as soon as he earned it.

Which meant either that Peter and Val were a lot less smart than they seemed, or there was something else going on. It crossed my mind to confront one of them right away, demand why the hell they’d done this to me. But they had no incentive, besides shame, to tell me, nor the police either. And the moment they got the word that I was onto them, whoever else was involved in this scam would fade quickly into the wallpaper.

I needed to investigate this case right now—and for two days at least, I couldn’t trust my eyes, ears, or nose.


When I got home, two hours later than he expected me, Marty was fuming. He had that look that grew on him when he’d been pacing up and down by himself, his skin temperature was nearly a degree below normal, and he stank of anger.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You know perfectly well what’s wrong,” he said. “You were with him.”


“Peter fucking Belmonte,” he spat. “Lola Zhang recognized you both in Bianchi’s.”

“Lola Zhang gets around,” I said, as calmly as I could. Now that I thought of it, I’d caught sight of Lola as I walked in the place. I’d meant to say hello, but was distracted when Peter greeted me.

That’s what you have to say for yourself?”

I wanted to defend myself, even though I’d been tempted. But there were other things to say. “Marty—you were right not to trust Peter. I think he’s up to something.”

“With you?”

“Not exactly. Or maybe that too. I don’t know. But he’s been dealing dirty, and I need to find out why.”

“Call the police.”

“There’s something going on, Marty. I have to find out what.”

“So you’ll need to see him again.” He looked at the floor.

“Jesus, what do you want? Don’t you trust me to talk to him even to investigate a case?” He didn’t answer. I grabbed his hand. “Marty, if you want me to give up the case, swear never to be in the same building as Peter Belmonte, I’ll do it, even though I think it’s dumb. But I don’t think it will help, because Peter isn’t the problem.”

“No, I’m the problem,” he said.

“Marty.” I held my arms open. He held back for a moment, then knocked the wind out of me with the force of his embrace. I felt him shaking as he sobbed into my shoulder. I said softly, “Sweetheart, I’m yours. Always, forever yours. Count on it.”

He nodded, but didn’t say anything. But he held on tighter.


That night, I did another scan of the PDB and found that some of Michael Tulane’s priors were connected with the Edna Kalouris organization. Kalouris was ostensibly in the restaurant business, but every cop and detective within five hundred miles knew that she was really in the identity-theft business. She had a team of software and hardware monkeys who were always one step ahead of the industry when it came to decrypting passwords and building phony credit kiosks, and another team of impressive muscle that erased anyone who got in her way. But the crimes were often never discovered until months or years later, and her complex, multilayered organizational structure made it impossible to link anything to her.

I interviewed Tulane at the lockup the next morning; he was about to make bail. The cops had concluded that he was connected to Kalouris by inference; there was no solid evidence, and he hadn’t rolled when he was arrested or imprisoned. It was the same now. He glared at me with his arms folded and barely said a word.

“So, Michael,” I asked. “Is there anyone who’d want to frame you for this burglary?”

“Sure. The cops and you.”

“Anyone else?” He snorted at me, then yawned and scratched his nose. “Does Edna Kalouris have a reason to want you put away?”


“Edna Kalouris.”

He smiled. “From what I know of the lady, I think she’d have other ways of getting rid of a guy.”

“What do you know of the lady?”

“Reputation. It’s everything in the restaurant business.”

“The D.A. might help you out if you cooperated.”

He shook his head, grinning. “The D.A.? The D.A. has nothing, and you know it. The expert testimony of one tech-tec. Go away, Marro. Go sniff for one of Kalouris’ restaurants. She might give you a lot of money for detecting bad fish.”

As I was walking out the door of the interview, I got a message from Peter with another insurance case. This was a pharmacy. The thieves had timed it perfectly, the night after a new delivery, and made off with pills worth four million on the street. Somehow they’d managed to shut down the elaborate alarm system before it went off. I checked it out on microscopic; someone had changed a connection within the alarm box, so that the power stayed on and the status lights glowed, but the actual alarm function never worked.

I caught a clear, unmistakable scent pattern as soon as I sniffed for it, just like in the jeweler’s. This time, though, it was a peculiar combination from somebody in bad health. I smelled tooth decay, compromised liver function, and even trimethylaminuria. On top of that, there was a whiff of sea air and a low-tide stench that I associated with Mendlesohn Bridge on the other side of town. A search for guys with criminal records who worked near the bridge turned up only a few names. One of them had a connection with Edna Kalouris, and I guessed that he’d be the one who stank.

When I showed up at the do-it-yourself electronics store three blocks from the bridge, Daryl Joseph was shelving circuit boards and semiconductors. He was short, thin and nervous, with thinning hair and a pallor; he was also really sick, exuding each and every compound I’d sniffed at the pharmacy. His hands shook as he worked.

I sidled up next to him and started flipping through the packets of resistors. “Hey, Joseph.”

He jumped and nearly lost his balance. “Who the hell are you?” I could hear lung damage in his voice, and his breath was like a morbid, complicated fugue. His hands shook more violently. No way did this guy pull off a slick, skilled burglary the night before.

I looked intently at the resistors. “I think Edna’s got it in for you.”

He coughed, an amazingly rich, putrid sound. “Says who?”

“You surprised?”

“Yeah, I’m surprised, and I don’t believe you.”

I looked over at him. “Then I guess you really were at City Center Pharmacy last night, emptying out their supplies.”

He coughed again. “What the fuck are you talking about?” His skin temperature and heartbeat didn’t change, although they weren’t normal to begin with.

“Somebody went to a lot of trouble to set you up as the fall guy for a burglary last night.”

He looked hard at my eyes. “I hate you tech’d-up guys, all of you.”

“You know anybody else who’s tech’d?”

“Just Betty Steiner.”

I searched my memory. “This is the Betty Steiner who works for Kalouris?” He nodded. “She’s got tech like mine?” He nodded again. “Since when?”

“A few months.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“Yesterday afternoon, after work. She followed me all the way home, the bitch. Spying on me, just like you’re spying on me.”

That was it; that’s how Peter got the samples to fool my tech. Steiner would take a good whiff of fall guy, somehow recorded it, then that signal got re-sent to me at the right moment. But why? It still didn’t make any sense.

“Joseph, are you sure there’s no reason Edna would want to get rid of you?”

“I wouldn’t be hanging around town if there was.”

I warned him that he’d better skip town anyway, because I’d have to finger him in order to avoid letting Peter know I’d caught on.

On the way back to my car, I mulled it over. These two jobs were too risky for what Kalouris, Peter or Val could hope to get out of them. So they weren’t the real target, and if Joseph was right, then Kalouris wasn’t just using a convenient way of getting rid of her unwanted help. In fact, these two cases were so close, so nearly identical, that it was almost as if they’d been repeated on purpose.

As if they were tests.

I spent the rest of the day sifting through all the records I could find related to Kalouris’ business. She had networks of wholly-owned subsidiaries of companies in a dozen countries in which she wasn’t a shareholder, but somebody who allegedly followed her orders was. The ownership and influence was impossible to prove, and half of the stuff the cops thought they knew about her ownership or control was just inference.

Peeling away layer after layer of misdirection and plausible cover, I found that, over a six-month period early last year, seven of these puppet companies, at different times, made separate purchases amounting to a thirty percent share in Sensorium Paragon, Inc. Nobody would have noticed, as these buyers had no surface relationship to each other, and none of them had more than a seven percent share. But that thirty percent was, altogether, just barely enough voting power to tip the balance in electing directors. In the intervening shareholder’s meeting, their proxy votes had replaced most of the board, and at the next board meeting, the board replaced the CEO and the Chief Research Officer.

Sensorium Paragon was the leading manufacturer of sensory enhancement tech like mine.

So I was a test: they had to know whether the alterations would fool a professional. But the plan wasn’t to defraud one insurance company or ruin the reputation of one detective. Gradually, over the next three or four years, these hacked interface units would be in every tech’d police detective, insurance investigator, research biologist, doctor, chef, civil engineer. If Kalouris was patient, if she didn’t get too greedy too fast, she could strategically mislead the right people at the right moment to make not millions, but billions.

But all this was conjecture. I needed evidence, and, ideally, a witness. The only hard evidence was my own tech: once Chehab removed it, it would prove that Val had committed criminal battery and grand fraud, not to mention seven or eight state and federal regulatory violations. Once they had her, the D.A. might be able to get her to spill her guts in a plea deal, giving them the direct evidence against Kalouris.

I finished all this research at around five in the afternoon. Marty was still out, and I thought I’d call the cops, cook him something tasty, and try to make things up to him. Then, tomorrow, I’d go to Chehab and get my tech replaced.

My phone didn’t work; I couldn’t get a signal. When I scanned the room for anything electromagnetic coming in, I got a bright-as-hell point source blasting at just about 1900 MHz, plenty to jam my mobile. It was just behind the front door, and there was a person-shaped infrared source there too. I realized I was in trouble and stood up slowly, reaching under my arm for my weapon.

At that moment, everything went black and tasteless. My vision and olfactory sense were entirely gone. I heard the front door open, and footsteps (about one hundred forty pounds, small feet, probably a woman) coming toward me.

I raised the pistol in the direction of the steps. I could also hear breathing and a heartbeat, and the directionals allowed me to aim pretty well.

“Don’t come another step,” I said. The footsteps stopped. The heartbeat sped up.

“Put down the gun, Gus,” said Val.

There was no one else with her, at least not within my considerable earshot, but who knew how long that would last? She might have Peter already on his way—or, worse, some of Kalouris’ thugs.

“The ability to control the stream of data to your tech includes the ability to cut it off altogether,” she said.

I heard her weight shift, and one foot came down softly on the floor in front of her. “Don’t move.”

“Gus, if you shoot me, or if I walk out of here, your eyes stay shut off. Piss me off enough, and I’ll shut off your ears too. Then what will you do?”

“Piss you off? Jeez, what do you have to be pissed off about?”

She said, “I left your hearing on so that I could talk to you.”

“Let me see you, and I’ll talk to you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You might not even really be here, right, Val? Right now you could be standing twelve-point-six feet in front of Betty Steiner, and just sending me an echo of what she hears.”

“I’m here. Betty doesn’t know you, and your friend Peter doesn’t know what you’ve figured out yet.”

“But you?”

“Alice mentioned that you called her, that she referred you to Muhammad Chehab, that you made an appointment for tomorrow. It was obvious.”

“What do you want, Val?”

“I want your tech.”

“What good is that going to do you?”

“Evidence. You’ve got very little, without the altered tech. I take it out, then I go away somewhere. With no real case against me, nobody bothers to track me down.”

“You’re not the one the D.A. will want.”

She laughed harshly. “You want me to roll on Edna Kalouris? I’d survive for about three hours. Let me take the tech, and I’ll just leave.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“We’re friends, Gus.”

“The hell we are. You set me up.”

“It was just supposed to be a test. If you hadn’t found out, I’d have given you a reason to come in, and swapped it out clean.”

“You’re not taking anything.” I heard a whisper of what was probably her hand going into and out of a pocket or bag. “I said, don’t move!

“I’ve got a gun too, Gus, and I can see you. Put yours down and let me take the tech.”

I heard no sounds that sounded like a gun, but how could I tell for sure? If the safety was already off? If it was a plastic gun or a pen gun? I had no way of knowing.

I heard a car door slam, and footsteps outside. Even without the enhanced hearing, I recognized Marty’s step.

Val’s feet moved, as if she was turning towards the door. At that moment I lost my hearing, and with it, my last chance to track anything. If Val moved, I’d lose her. If I waited the few seconds it would take Marty to get to the door, I might hit him instead. If she had a gun, she might shoot him.

I fired twice, in the last position I remembered Val. I felt the vibrations and the recoil, but never heard a thing. In one motion I flipped on the safety, put the gun back in my holster, and lunged forward—a really stupid move if she was still there and fighting.

But she was on the floor. I felt Marty’s hands on my arm. He’d probably been calling my name, scared out of his mind.

I said, “Marty, I can’t see or hear.” Or that’s what I tried to say. He squeezed harder and led me to the couch.

Sometime later, I felt the door open and the vibrations of many footsteps. Marty sat down next to me and stayed, holding my hands while what I guessed were cops investigated our home. I explained to him, as well as I could without hearing my own voice, what had just happened. I told him they should look for some kind of a control that handled the cutoff for my senses.

It took nearly an hour, what with everything else, for them to find the right device and figure out how to flip the signal. The world came back to me all at once—Marty’s worried face, the sounds of the cops making measurements and reporting to the station, the smell of Val’s blood. By that time, she’d been taken to an ambulance, but she died on the way to the hospital. The cops got the news after they took my statement, and they arrested me for manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm. There was no sign, they said, that Val had ever really had a gun.

They arrested Peter for fraud, conspiracy and accessory charges related to battery and burglary. As to Kalouris, without Val’s testimony the linkage was too slight; there were no arrests within her organization. But the cops alerted the FBI, which raided the labs of Sensorium Paragon and found plenty more tech that was altered like mine. There may be some arrests within Sensorium, but I doubt that any of them will lead to Kalouris.

They took my tech as evidence against Peter and for the ongoing investigation against Kalouris and Sensorium, giving me municipal rebuilts that barely work. Everything sounds tinny or smells like pine, and it takes me a full second to refocus from far away to close up. My bail bond and the retainer for my lawyer drained our resources, and it’s going to be a while until I get decent tech of my own.

The D.A. hasn’t decided whether she’s going to seek an indictment against me. She understands shooting to protect Marty, but it was crazy to fire without being able to see or hear, and I’m not sure she believes me about Val’s claim to have had a gun. But my lawyer’s hopeful.

I think Marty’s going to get his wish. I can’t see or hear without some tech, but I’ve lost my taste for the super-enhanced kind, and for work that requires it. If I stay out of prison, I’ll find something else to do. END

Kenneth Schneyer is an active member of SFWA. He received a 2014 Nebula nomination and was a finalist that year for the Sturgeon Award. His fiction appears in “Analog,” “Strange Horizons,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” and elsewhere.


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