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




Dumpster Dive

By Clint Spivey

“WHERE ALL SIN BELONGS,” SAID THE bald man, tossing the pleasure-drone into the dumpster. His friends nodded while all three peered over the steel walls. The unit, inky black from cranium to stilettoed foot, was face down, gathering what power her batteries retained to turn over.

“That’s a Shard,” one man said. “We should sell her.”

“That’s as bad as screwing one,” said another. “If it wasn’t for the cops we’d burn it.”

“I guess,” the enterprising one said.

“Let’s go,” said the bald one. “Pastor will wanna know.” They departed.

The Shard, finally righting herself, looked up. Color glowed at her eyes alone, now a faint white as she conserved her dwindling charge. Delicate fingers scraped at the metal sides, but without power, she could do little more than scratch lines in the encrusted filth. She sat, dialed down her functions, and stared at the purpling morning sky overhead.

A face emerged. The one with the bald head. He looked at her, and grinned.


“Get up.”

Ward had little time to register the command through his waking before a boot buried itself in his stomach. “Get the hell outta here before I call the cops.”

Ward hurried to avoid further footware, retrieving his charging phone from the electrical socket before departing. He rushed through the stacked washers and dryers, exiting the 24-hour landromat through automatic doors and into the early morning.

He turned into the alley beside the building, and, after a dozen yards or so, sat against the brick enclosure of a dumpster to try and salvage a little more sleep. He had maybe an hour before twilight gave way to morning proper.

A medium-size dog, black with grey spots, trotted to Ward’s side from farther up the alley. Ward patted the dog’s head, leaned against the brick, and closed his eyes. Slumber had just reasserted itself when he heard it.

“Excuse me,” a tiny female voice said from closeby. “Is someone there?”


“Dumpsters are no good,” Ward said. “Even when pissin’ down rain.” He wiped grime from the Shard’s shoulders and arms, faint rainbows rising opalescent where his hands brushed the black-as-jet, plastic shell.

“Take it from me. You’re better in stoops, even if you’re ran off every hour.”

The Shard watched him with pupil-less, oblong eyes that flashed through varying degrees of blue as she processed his words.

“I was put there,” she said in a soft, feminine voice.

“Can’t imagine someone would trash you. Name’s Ward.” He held out a hand.

“My memory’s been deleted. I only recall my model. Shard 336 LE.”

“Shard it is, then. Howdy. Anyone I can return you to? Preferably someone out posting flyers with your cute little face on them and a hefty reward beneath?”

“My memory’s been deleted,” she repeated.

“Ah, well. We’ll figure something out. In the meantime. You’re likely better company than The Earl here.” He gestured to the ragged, Aussie-shepherd beside them.

Shard looked at the dog, who watched her with its mouth closed.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ward said.

“At less than ten percent charge. Must choose even my words with care. Can’t walk much.”

Ward frowned in concentration. “I might know a place. C’mon.” He tossed her thin arm over his shoulder and lifted. “We’ll get you sorted. Boy. You’re light.” They departed up the alley, Ward’s dangling white hair stark against her inky-black shell. The Earl accompanied beside. Neither saw the car parked at the alley’s opposite end.


Where we at, Shard?”

“Eighty-nine percent.”

The park, with its unguarded electrical outlet, had been ideal for her depleted batteries, at least until the police drone chased them off.

“You sound chipper,” Ward said as they put the park behind them.

“I’ve got a decent interaction suite when charged.”

“Got you walking at least. Where to?”

“Told you. I was wiped. Don’t even know where I work.”

“You’re a ... you know ... pleasure-drone, right? I can think of a few places. At least ones that would be interested in your ... abilities.”

“Anything to avoid the lost and found.”

“What’s it like? Your job, I mean.”

“Without any memory files, all I have is my architecture programming.” Her voice dripped sultry as her eyes shifted red. “You looking for some action?” She ran a seamless black finger through the white tangle atop his head.

“Kid, I ain’t looked for that kind of action since before you was injection molded. Naw, me and The Earl here’s long done with that, ain’t we?” The four-legged royalty beside cocked his head.

Shard’s eyes faded back to white, her voice returning crisp. “I see.”

“I’ve got a buddy runs a pawn shop. Might be he can help. First though, we need to get in line.”

“For what?”



Connor watched them enter from his car. Some bleeding-heart den for junkies and whores where once there might have been a respectable business. Now it was just one piece of refuse among many in the decaying strip mall. The bum and the Shard, Connor’s Shard, vanished inside the shelter.

Connor unclenched his jaw. He had a location now. Out of which no doubt this hobo operated. Locating him again wouldn’t be difficult. He pulled away from the crumbling asphalt parking lot and drove off.


“Please tell me you’ve got her pink-slip,” the clerk said behind a glass case filled with knives, jewelry, and other trinkets from the vicious to the benign. The walls teemed with old computers, older video games, even a few DVD players. The shop was an ordered assortment of the discarded but not quite dead.

“Stay,” Ward said as The Earl sat outside. “Hey, Leroy. What’s shakin’?”

Shard stepped to the counter beside the gray haired man.

“The hell you doing with that? I know it ain’t yours.”

“This is Shard. Shard, Leroy.”

“Hello,” she said.

“I can see it’s a Shard,” Leroy said. “What’s her designation?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out.”


“Nothing on any of the forums,” Leroy said, at the computer in his back room. The Earl, given the privilege of entry, was lying at the locked front door, beneath the flipped CLOSED sign.

“No one reported her missing?” Ward said.

“Doesn’t look like it. You sure you don’t have any backup files of the last few days?”

“Besides that dreadful sermon I was forced to endure, no. Whoever dumped me made sure to wipe everything.”

“Does that mean you can buy her?” Ward said, eyebrows arching.

“That means I don’t want nothing to do with her. No offense, sweetheart, but something like you ain’t exactly fun to have around when hot.”

Shard’s voice fell as her eyes struck crimson. “Is that what you’re looking for, baby? Something hot?”

“Stop that,” Ward said. “He meant stolen.”

“I see.” Eyes and voice cooled once more.

“Ward, where did you find her?”

“In a dumpster.”


There were no beds. Following the two-hour hike back to the shelter, they’d been lucky to even be allowed inside. Shard, draped in his overcoat sitting on the floor beside Ward, was invisible in the darkness but for her eyes.

“Will your dog be alright?”

“Don’t worry about The Earl. Shame he’s not allowed inside. About as dangerous as a hamster. But rules are rules.”

“Will your friend find anything on me?”

“Leave it to Leroy. Just cuz nothing popped after a few searches doesn’t mean nobody’s looking.”

“You’ve been so helpful.” Crimson pierced the dark. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can ... do?”

“Would you stop. You want this whole place sniffing at you for a session? I had enough trouble getting them to allow you in as it is.”

The glow about Shard’s face cooled to blue. “OK. Still, I hope you get something for your troubles.”

“Those men,” he said. “The ones who tossed you after that sermon or whatever. Do you have any memories of them? Files or something?”


“Well? What were they like?”

“White. Well-dressed but casual. Three women in attendance but the rest were males. Nearly thirty of them.”

“What were they preachin’ about?”

“Sin. Abomination. Lust. Giving life to man’s depravity. I could recite it if you wish?”

“I don’t. I’m just thinking is all. Unit like you ain’t exactly cheap. Hell, it’s why I got you wearin’ my coat. Hopefully offers a little cover from prying eyes here that might be a little too enterprising. Sorry for the smell, by the way.”

“I’ve disengaged my primary olfactory wafer.”

“Right. Like I was saying. Unit like you. I doubt you belonged to the local high school robotics club.”

“If privately owned, then, yes. I agree I likely belong to someone with at least moderate wealth. The more likely alternative is a bar or club.”

“Yeah. Only a thousand of those we could check.”

“Either way.” She laid a slender hand over his, an almost oily texture to it that seemed to absorb his very flesh. “Thank you.”

Footsteps, loud and bespeaking confidence came from the stairwell, accompanied by softer ones.

“It’s over there,” said a woman whose voice Ward recognized from the shelter staff.

“Oh, thank God,” said a man, hurrying over in the dark. “Where have you been, Mint?”

“What’s going on?” Ward said.

“Your robot’s ... owner is here,” the woman said, uneasy with the implied relationship of the man and the pleasure-drone.

“Where have you been, Minty?” There was concern in his high-pitched voice.

“I can’t recall,” Shard said. “This man has been helping me.”

“Thank you so much.” It was hard to see in the darkness, but Ward didn’t discern much gratitude in the large man’s expression.

“Do you have some kind of ... I don’t know ... title slip or something?”

“It’s at home.” he said, inspecting Shard with probing fingers. “Where did you find her?”

“In a dumpster. Tossed there after some fundies made her part of their sermon.”

The man was silent while continuing his inspection.

“Well,” the staff member said. “I’m in no position to intervene here. This is a dispute for the police.” Her tone indicated she’d be glad to be rid of them.

Ward gritted his teeth while watching the man run his hands over Shard’s inky shell. Something had set Ward’s senses tingling. He wished for The Earl by his side to confirm it with a growl. The dog was seldom mistaken in such matters.

“I’ve had the police after her for days,” the man said. “Should I call?”

Ward sighed, his shoulders slumping. “If she’s yours, then I’m glad you got her back.” Ward knew how a visit by the fuzz would likely go. Several scenarios, none in favor of a homeless man weren’t difficult to imagine.

“Thanks,” the man said rather quickly. “They take forever. Really can’t thank you enough.” He grabbed Ward’s hand in both of his and shook. “C’mon Minty,” he said while hauling her to her feet. Eyes lit cerulean in contemplation caught Ward’s as she cast a glance back on the way out.

In Ward’s hand was paper. He held it up to the feeble light from a street lamp entering a window. It was twenty dollars.


“You don’t know how glad I am to see you,” Connor said into his rearview mirror. White eyes greeted him from the back seat. “I’ve been thinking about nothing else all day.”

“Do you have any backed up memory I can download at our destination?”

“Sure, sure.” It had been ballsy offering to call the police, but he figured the street trash would avoid that. What was Connor if not a man who knew when to risk and risk big. He’d done it. He had his Shard back. A Shard! The flimsy units he was used to were incomparable to what this one offered. He sped up as a thought occured.

“Give me your hand.” He jerked her forward between the seats and put her hand on his crotch. A crimson glow lit the interior.

“Oh.” Silk draped her words. “We getting started already,” she said while rubbing him through his pants. It was going to be a good night indeed.


“You just let her go?” Leroy said over the phone the next morning.

Ward sipped dollar coffee at a local diner that was generous with the refills. He wasn’t about to see the jerk’s twomp go to waste. The Earl watched from the other side of the window beside the table.

“What was I supposed to do? He was gonna call the cops.”

“This isn’t good.”

“You found something?”

“Yeah,” Leroy said. “Had to do some digging. It wasn’t exactly on flyers tacked to telephone poles, but I found it. One of the underground clubs by the waterfront. Not the most savory of characters. And they want it back.”

“I guess they’re missing their earner.”

“I hear Shards are quite adept at that.”

“You hear, huh?” Ward sipped his cooling coffee.

“I may or may not have experience in that field.”


“Like you didn’t get on them Asian bots over in Nam Deuce.”

“The Vietnamese didn’t have any and the Chinese sure as shit didn’t bring them to the front. Anyways.” Ward shook his head. “Is there any way to find her? I don’t like the creep who took her.”

“How should I know. You met him.”

“Don’t they have ... I don’t know, tracking devices or something. Robot LoJacks?”

“You’ll have to ask the owners.”

“Can’t you?”

“A bunch of gangsters runnin’ an illegal sex club?” Sarcasm congealed his words. “Yeah. I’ll run right over.”

“Fine. Do you have an address, then?”

Ward scribbled the info on his receipt while feeling the wad of bills in his pocket. How many would survive the bus fare? He signaled the waitress for more coffee.


Ward tossed the hotdog to the ground before leaning against the back alley wall and sliding to a sitting position. The Earl sniffed the reprocessed meat and looked at Ward.

“Sorry it’s not fit for royalty.” He unscrewed the cap of his own lunch, taking a long pull from the paper bag. Two-dollar swill sent him cringing. “It’s that or nothing, dog.”

The Earl cocked his head before nibbling at the hotdog with polite, aristocratic bites.

The meeting could’ve gone better. Though it had hovered near worse for several tense seconds.

“So. Talk.” The slab of beef wearing black had dragged Ward through the downstairs club and slammed him to the backroom floor. Ward had a moment to take in the neon club as he was dragged through. Drones milled about, a few skin types; walking, talking sex-dolls approximating humans. A lone john at the bar watched Ward being hauled through without interest.

“I might have found something of yours.” Ward should have seen the kick coming, his smarting ribs chided him.

“And what would that be?”

“Chad, please.” A new arrival said. His silk shirt was open to the second button, a black suit coat over it. “How’s he supposed to talk with you kicking him?”

Ward sat up, wishing for his youth back to offer more challenge to the man.

“Please,” Suit said. “Continue.”

“A Shard. Found her in a dumpster.”

“What’s a Shard?” Suit shrugged.

“She had her memory wiped. Guy came and claimed her. Said she was his. He wanted to call the cops.”

Suit looked at Meat.

“And you’re telling me this because?”

“She seemed nice.”

“Nice? Where is she you fucking hobo?”

“I told you. Some guy took her. Bald, preppy lookin’ dude. Whiny voice despite being built like your girlfriend here.” Ward was done being friendly.

The two looked at one another.

“She was nice? You take my property for a spin did you?”

“Kid, I ain’t never needed a spin on a drone. Had enough of the real thing during the war. If this is the kind of thanks I get for trying to return something of yours then go back to your brojobs with Chad here.”

“So, what? You want some kind of finder’s fee or something?”

Ward stood. “Like I said. Just trying to help.” He walked towards a back door when Meat grabbed his shirt.

“You think we need your help?”

“I think you need to chew on some deodorant.”

“I keep telling you,” Suit said. “You know your fucking breath stinks when some wino calls you on it. OK, Mr. Military. You wanna help find what’s mine. Go ahead. Might even be something in it for you if you do.”

“You got some way to track her?”

“If we had that,” Meat said, “Don’t you think we’d be using it?”

“Shut up,” Suit said. “Christ you talk a lot.” He turned to Ward. “You wanted this job. You got it. You better find her, or else I’m gonna find you.” The switchblade was loud even with the music thumping next door. “Don’t look so bummed, bum.” Suit smiled at this own joke. “You walked in here, remember. You better get me some results and fast.”

Asphalt embedded itself in Ward’s skin as he went palms down to the alley outside the place.

“Now get the fuck out,” Meat said. “Take that ragged mutt with you.” The metal door slammed shut.

Now, several streets away, the half-empty bottle of swill chasing away some of the ache, Ward wondered about his strokes of never ending luck. Seemed chatting with the amiable drone had been the only pleasant thing about the past two days.


Crimson light spilled across the floor in erratic motions. Shard’s cranial cowling ground lines in the hardwood while Connor grunted from behind.

“You dirty, plastic trash,” he said. “You like that, don’t you.”

Broken parts from other, cheaper drones were strewn about the living room. He wanted her to see what trashy little slut drones had coming to them. In due time. Her fleshpot suite was like nothing he’d ever experienced. Something this valuable, he wondered why he didn’t keep it around longer? The question died on his thoughts. He knew what would happen, just like all the others, when his guilt grew too great.

Pastor was right. These things were sin. “It’s all your fault,” he said. “I fall because of you. The way you look at me. Lustful, glowing eyes. You bitch.” He grabbed the back of her head, the oily skin threatening to drink his hand through some 3D printed trickery. He slammed the head to the floor while climaxing inside her.

She did this to him. Her, and those like her. That’s why she would end up like the others.


“See why I didn’t want to tangle with those cats?”

“Yeah, Leroy,” Ward said over the phone. “I see why.”

On his second bottle of whiskey, he’d meandered from the docks too late to make the shelter. It would be a night huddled close to The Earl.

“Remember what she said yesterday?”

“No.” Ward took a drink. “What’d she say?”

“C’mon man. The sermon. She said whoever took her were preachin’ about robots and what not.”

“Preach it, brutha.”

“Christ. You’re worthless right now. Thing is, maybe it was a church. You oughta look around where you found her. Might at least get some idea of who has her.”

“My old Lieutenant was one a them church types. Always wantin’ to kneel before patrols. As if Chinese bullets gave a shit about prayers from—”

“Ward. Shut up. Sleep it off. I’ll call you in the morning.”

“The ultimate American absurdity. Back to Vietnam. Only fightin’ there on behalf of ’em and against the Chinese.” Ward spoke for a full five minutes before realizing Leroy had hung up.


“Leroy says this is the best bet.” Across the four-lane street, bathed in hangover-enhanced noonday sun, was the The First Fundie Babtist.

Ward, sitting in the shade with The Earl, waited.

The Earl always made for a patient companion, and if the Army had taught him anything, it was how to wait. The life of a city passed right by. Ward wasn’t filthy enough to warrant disgust, but shabby enough to deflect the gaze of passersby. He was effectively invisible.

He wondered not for the first time if he ought try and look for work again. He still had the P.O. Box, and his phone number. He could conjure an address for a residence if need be, despite the fact of not having one for months. He hadn’t considered rejoining the world in years. Why now?

The Shard. With him and The Earl, there was little looking out to be done. The robot had required it. Tossed aside then taken again, he was thinking of it less as property and more as a person. He’d been checked out of reality for awhile now. Were their issues with humans getting attached to their drones?

His thoughts drifted to the war. To the girl.

He liked to believe she was being coerced. That Chinese infiltrators had crossed into Vietnam, kidnapped some family member, thus forcing her to lead his squad into that ambush. She couldn’t have done it herself. The Vietnamese despised the Chinese on a level he would have found incomprehensible until seeing what they did to their prisoners. How a local girl could have willingly gone to bat for the ancient, hated adversary during that war, he would never accept.

He scratched behind The Earl’s ear. A single eye opened then drifted closed. What did it matter about the girl? The village was likely still craters to this day. Different kinds of drones had seen to that. Why did Shard, some pleasure-bot, remind him of a real girl pummeled to ash a decade ago?

His thoughts faded as a car arrived at the church. A man exited with broad shoulders and a gleaming bald head.

“Our first catch. Let’s see.” Snapping a photo of the license plate was simple enough. Ward hadn’t counted on the plate being tagged.

“You are photographing a member of the Life Block Network.” A voice chirped from Ward’s phone.

“Shit.” Ward stood. “C’mon, dog.” He hurried away but not before the bald man came bursting through the church doors.

“Client has been notified of your activities,” said his phone.

“No shit.” Ward was trying to e-mail the photo while looking for an alley to escape into. His shitty pre-paid phone wouldn’t last long against some protect service’s attempts to delete the tagged image from his HD.

“Get over here!” The voice was shrill as its owner sprinted across four lanes of traffic.

Ward tore into an alley, his olive overcoat fanned out behind him like a cape. The Earl’s tongue lolled in the joy of this new game, happy to be running beside his master.

“We ain’t playing,” Ward said, leaning against a wooden fence to catch his breath while navigating for the correct email address.

“Damn these touch screens.” He scrolled in search of the photo attach function.

“You?” Massive shoulders rose in breaths far less tortured than Ward’s. Ward wouldn’t have thought that high voice could manage a growl. As comical as it sounded, murder burned in his eyes. “She’s mine you methed out bum!” He spat the last word with venom.

“Never touched that crap,” Ward stalled. The email bore its paperclip."Whiskey or nothing for me.” The Earl growled while stalking forward.

“Get that shit dog away from me.”

“That’s no way to talk to royalty.” Why was this taking so long to send?

“Give me that phone!” He rushed them. The Earl lunged for the leg.

“Send, godammit.” White knuckles gripped the phone, so reluctant was he to drop it and perhaps interrupt the precious transmission.

“Mother fucker.” There was a yelp as Baldy landed a kick in The Earl’s bony stomach, sending the poor creature flying several meters across the broken asphalt.

“You son-of-a-bitch.” The phone fell forgotten into Ward’s pocket. His wild haymaker was blocked easily by Baldy, who planted a left jab square against Ward’s jaw.

People assumed a tour and a war made one tough. Maybe it did, but it didn’t quite mean one knew how to fight. Ward landed a couple blows, but for each he gave he got bonus ones in return. Baldy was half his age, twice his size and, despite long days and nights tromping through a jungle in full battle-rattle, the bald man was just plain mean. By the end, Ward was balled on the ground against the incoming kicks.

“This is what you get. You and your fucking dog.” The Earl yipped once more as a sickly soft sound came from another kick.

“Dog,” Ward said. Crunching gravel announced Baldy’s withdrawl. Ward, his own side flaring in agony, cringed while he approached The Earl.

“I know, pal.” The Earl licked Ward’s offered hand in quick slurps. “You should have let me handle him. Why you always gotta be the hero?”

The Earl closed his eyes. I don’t know why either, he seemed to say.

Ward retrieved the phone. The message was there. The paperclip attached to it was gone. Baldy’s protection service had deleted the photo.


Connor slammed the door behind him and headed straight for the closet. Cerulean eyes glowed in the dark.

“Come here.” He flung her by the neck into the living room. Green replaced blue as Shard attempted to formulate a response.

“Are you looking for submission?” she said, trying to match the rough treatment with what her programming allowed.

He shoved her to her knees. “You stupid, slut. This is all your fault. You make me this way.” His strike bounced her head like a child’s punch toy.

Her left eye strobed the spectrum. Flashing through colors at a dizzying pace.

“My chassis is not designed with such durability.”

“Shut up.” He hit her again.

“Those filthy eyes. That filthy oily skin. Everything about you is sin. Good for only one thing.” Holding her head back with one hand, he grabbed his belt with the other.

“Ease up there, tough guy.”

Connor turned, dropping Shard to the floor as he stared stunned at the two men standing in his entrance hall.

“Shawna, geez,” the man in the suit said. “This shithead do that to you?”

“Get out of my house.”

“Not without what’s mine. Get her.”

The burlier of the pair pushed Connor aside and, with surprising gentleness, lifted Shard and draped her arm across his shoulder.

Connor dashed for the bedroom. If he could get his gun—the shot pinged from the floor, sending chips of hardwood flying.

“We ain’t finished, you and me.” Suit’s pistol pointed straight at Connor’s chest.


“And how will you be paying for this?” the young woman at the veterinarian said. She had the youthful looks of someone who couldn’t discern through Ward’s clothing the futility of that question. “Your little man back there is going to be fine. Poor guy was banged up pretty bad.” A slow realization spread across the unblemished face. She picked up the phone. “You can pay, can’t you?”

Ward sighed.

Starless evening settled over the city. Ward couldn’t remember the last night he’d spent without The Earl. Even in the shelter, blue eyes always awaited him from the sidewalk in the morning. He pulled wadded bills from a pocket. Eight dollars. Enough to put the next two days to blur. He headed for a liquor store.

A car pulled beside him.

“Get in.”

“So where’s the pup?” The meathead asked after Ward was seated in the rear.

“Back at that hospital.” Ward couldn’t see the man’s eyes behind the aviators that covered near a third of his face, but he saw them glance to the rearview.

“What happened?”

“Does it matter? I couldn’t find your drone. Let’s just get this over with.”

Ward didn’t have to look to see where their course led.

“After you,” the man said after arriving at the club.

“Welcome back,” the man inside said. Did he ever change his suit or simply pull from an identical wardrobe?

“Didn’t think you’d come through.”

“What?” Ward was without any will to resist. The Earl was likely to be put down after whatever period existed without payment. He wasn’t much interested in what these men had waiting.

“This guy been hittin the box-wine already?” Suit asked. Meathead just shrugged before leaning down and whispering something. “Really? What happened to poochie?”

“Your man kicked the shit out of him when he caught me snooping. Right before he did this.” He pointed to the swelling shiner under his eye.

“He ain’t my man yet,” Suit said. “But we’ll get there. Shawna!” The club door opened behind Ward. A hand rested on his shoulder.

“Hey, soldier,” a silk voice said. “Nice to see you again.”

“This is Shawna,” Suit said. “A little memory backup and she’s good as new.”

Ward turned. Crimson eyes cooled to green.

“I really can’t thank you enough,” she said. “You won’t believe what that prick was up to.” She gestured to a door resembling a broom closet.

“I’m confused,” Ward said, knuckling both eyes despite the pain.

“Wasn’t hard to track that asshole’s license number. Quick thinking getting the photo off before his surveillance block chased it down. Guess you army types are pretty useful, even on the sauce and the sidewalk.”

“Didn’t think it went through.”

“Almost didn’t. But we left a little something on your phone the last time you were here. Gave us all the access we needed in case we had to find you. Helped us get that photo despite Mr. Clean’s blocking service.”

Ward looked to the closet again. “He’s here?”

Suit turned and looked. “I can neither confirm nor deny that.”

“Look,” Ward said. “I don’t want any part of this. Can I just go, please?”

“Relax, pal. Ain’t nothing gonna happen to you. Or him. Well, I can think of a few things gonna happen to him, but not like you’re thinking. See, I gotta eye for talent. And I can spot a drone-head when I see one. Putting that bald squeak under my thumb will be cake. And if he don’t like it, well, we can always send some photos to his church buddies if he gets outta line.”

Ward looked at the floor. The Shard’s hand was warm on his shoulder, its reactive coating radiating comfort through his jacket.

“Ain’t good business to just dump everyone who crosses your path,” Suit said. “Much better to get ’em workin’ for you.”

He turned to his large accomplice. “Get back over to that hospital and take care of the General’s pup. Then bring it back here with some kibble, whatever the hell it eats.” He looked at Ward. “Never was much into pets. I grew up around enough shit to know I didn’t wanna pick it up after some animal, know what I mean?”

Ward nodded, not sure if he trusted this guy any further than The Earl had been kicked.

“It’s much better to have friends,” Suit said. “And it’s a good thing to be my friend. You come along if you ever need something. And, who knows, maybe I’ll do the same. Now, Shawna. Take our friend here to the red room.” Suit stood. “On the house.” He departed into the club before Ward could protest.

“This way,” Shawna said.

The red room wasn’t very red. It was dim with a lot of black sofas. Shawna sat next to him and poured a whiskey.

“I can listen too, you know.” No crimson in her eyes. “Lots of guys like that.”

Ward drained the two fingers from the glass. It burned better than any he’d had in years, chasing away the pain on his tender face. Shawna refilled his glass without a word.

“There was a girl,” he said. “Never did find out if she really was Vietnamese or a Chinese spy. Didn’t matter in the end. The drones took care of her village quick enough. Christ. We didn’t even know who the bad guys were when I first got there.” He drained his second glass while Shawna placed a hand upon his. The reactive coating drank up his skin through whatever technological trickery her design possessed. He refilled his own glass, and told her of the war. END

Clint Spivey is an English teacher and graduate student in Japan. He also writes science fiction. His work has appeared in “Electric Spec,” “Bastion,” and “The Lorelei Signal.” His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JUN-2013 issue.


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