Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Au Pair, or Else
by Lee Budar-Danoff

Frail World
by R.A. Conine

Electra Had a Daughter
by Juliana Rew

This Long Vigil
by Rhett C. Bruno

Old Clothes
by Eric Del Carlo

Good Behavior
by Genevieve Williams

Saving Time
by John Hegenberger

World Away
by Alan Garth

Shorter Stories

Dreams to Dust
by Jamie Lackey

Virtual Ghosts
by Adam Gaylord

Olympus Mons
by James E. Guin


Science of Dogs
by John McCormick

Not Lost in Space
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Old Clothes

By Eric Del Carlo

FOR A LONG, LONG TIME WE CARRIED ON as if we still had Wearers. But they had left the Earth. They had cast us off and put on new Clothes, ones suitable for all those worlds far away beyond the night’s sky. How irresistible those distant exotic places must have been for the Wearers to have abandoned this world so absolutely.

I carried on with the rest. I carry on still.

It was not, at first, difficult to maintain the routines and rhythms of existence. We had been Clothes for millennia; we had absorbed all the surface characteristics and habits of our Wearers. So it was nothing for us to keep moving in those same worn grooves. In fact, at that early stage after the Wearers had gone, it would have caused great distress to have broken from those familiar, comforting patterns.

I live where my Wearer had lived, a domicile of creamy cool blue-green stone, appointed with graceful furnishings and alive with examples of kinetic art, which pulse and breathe and now and then scuttle about. I share this home with my Wearer’s blend-mate, who is named Barrett. She too, for quite a long while, persevered in the ways of her Wearer.

Genders are a quaintness which had come back into fashion after an absence of many thousands of years. Barrett is a female; I am a male. Those distinctions don’t have any real-world function, but they were used by our Wearers, and so we use them as well.

This home sits at the heart of a resplendent city, one which could be considered a work of art in its own right. Structures soar and swoop. Avenues gleam, trickling with stately jewel-colored transports. Vegetation thrives in its appointed plots, whorls of purple, lavender, violet, emerald, orange, the kaleidoscopic foliage preserved by autotenders. At night the city radiates, but the beatific golden glow is not so bright as to blot out the stars. They remain visible. And one can stop what one is doing, pause, look up. See the myriad cold sparks of whimsical, unfathomably distant suns. And one remembers the Wearers, and wonders where they are now, what they are doing in their new Clothes ...

That is how it has started to break down for us, I believe. We pause; we wonder; we willfully interrupt our routines. We were constructed for longevity, for durability. There is nothing to prevent us from continuing in our patterns for a near-eternity. If we fail, the failure is ours.

My Wearer was named Yamagata, and so I call myself Yamagata, too. As he did, I travel three times a week to a vast sculpted edifice in the eastern regions of the sprawling city. I enter the humming building and go about my tasks. I orchestrate numbers, a fantastically complex and beautiful mathematical undertaking. I work inside a domed chamber, and the numerical strings splash across the onyx walls, intertwining, merging, challenging each other. Conflicts arise and are resolved; or else I encourage them, to produce sublime results. For me, these numbers are alive. I skillfully coax them into lovely shapes.

But it isn’t just an artistic endeavor. Profound purposes linger among these equational constructs. I am certain that the efforts of my Wearer contributed to the abandonment of Earth. That is, Yamagata’s sophisticated numbers somehow helped in the technical achievement of lifting the entire population of Wearers from this planet.

I enjoy this work, as my Wearer did. We Clothes are not just husks or shells. We possess our own capacities. We think and feel and reason; and in quiet moments we ponder.

That pondering has become prevalent.

The star-gazing began, naturally enough, as a nighttime phenomenon. Barrett and I often stroll in the evening, visiting gardens and public kinetic art exhibitions. On the way back to our blue-green dwelling we see them: Clothes standing in the middle of the streets, heads tilted back, looking up at the chilly constellations.

“They must realize there’s nothing to see up there,” I say as we pause to contemplate one of these contemplators who stands at the intersection nearest our home.

Barrett says, softly, “They must realize. Yes.” She smiles a thin, uncertain smile.

But now I see that this has ceased to be a strictly nightly activity. This contemplativeness is evident by day now. Some Clothes appear to have halted permanently in their tracks. Some don’t even look skyward anymore; they just stare numbly, at nothing. When accosted, they make reluctant sounds but don’t move.

Barrett is unwilling to go outside now. We trade calm pleasantries within the walls of our home. I find her quite handsome to look at with her elegantly molded features, her delicate but expressive gestures. Her Wearer, like mine, engaged in a technical craft. Barrett worked as a regenerator, overseeing the steadily renewing generations of autotenders. That duty is now going neglected.

Conditions are worsening out on the streets. A new stage, it seems, has been reached. Some Clothes have stopped responding to any input at all. When hailed or asked a question, they say nothing. They stand their ground, no matter how unlikely or inappropriate that particular patch of ground is. Autotenders in the midst of their endless maintenance chores cannot budge them, and so work around these immobile forms as best they can.

I see more and more of these lost unresponsive Clothes, until, one day, they appear to be in the majority. This shocks me. I am still carrying on, after all. I go to my domed room inside the huge sculpture-building, and perform my mathematical feats without entirely understanding them, and return home to my blend-mate’s company. I savor the beauty of the city. I do as my Wearer did for so long.

But things are not the same. I am not the same.

Something is growing in me, something cancerous and unpredictable. I feel a kind of deep stirring, as if I am connected in a consequential way to the Earth itself and some wild force is gathering far beneath the planet’s skin. I feel volcanic rumblings. I sense geothermic pressures growing increment by hazardous increment. Is this how it was for the others? Are these the first signs that lead to the mental and emotional shutdown of those—so many now—who stand and stand all about this city and react to nothing?

I don’t know. I can’t know. There is no one to ask. The Clothes who have succumbed can’t tell me anything.


I have difficulty getting to my work. Traffic on the gleaming avenues is hampered. The small jewel-colored transports must take laborious circuitous routes to get around the standing Clothes. I get out and walk for long stretches, and feel fatigue. The city is still beautiful, but I sense an underlying sinisterness now, as if a malevolence is amassing itself; or perhaps it has been present all along. Maybe we’ve been fools, we Clothes. Maybe our Wearers left Earth because they discovered it was flawed in some irreparable manner.

These do not feel like rational thoughts in my head. I sprint the remainder of the way to work. The sculptured edifice feels strange when I enter it. I realize: it isn’t humming at quite the same familiar frequency. Breathing hard, I reach my domed chamber. My numbers are still here, and I set them in frantic motion, unspooling them, twisting and contorting. Everything I do seems violent and clumsy. The results I get are ugly and useless. Even before my usual hour, I abandon my task and start homeward.



On the way home I have seen perhaps the most disturbing sight yet, worse even in its way than the spectacle of all these insensate Clothes. Needing directions, I approached an autotender; I had gotten lost, wandering on foot. I was tired and twitchy, and I demanded assistance. But the meter-tall, smoothly shaped apparatus didn’t respond. I thought for an instant that this was some aberrant, archaic behavior: a cruelty, a joke? Whatever such things were called, those strange emotional treacheries which the ancients had engaged in before they wore Clothes. But it was silly to think that. The autotender, like the inactive Clothes, had come to a catatonic state of its own. It required regenerating, but no regenerators were on hand to see to this necessary chore.

I touched the machine. Its casing was almost flesh-like, but temperatureless, without pulse or whir. I hurried away.


And now I am home and calling for my blend-mate, who should have come to greet me already.

I search the cool blue-green stone dwelling. Art scurries out of my way as I hasten and stumble and blunder. A peculiar fury is rising in me, unfamiliar, distasteful. Frightening. What is happening to me?

In a low-ceilinged nook I find Barrett. She is reclined. Her eyes are open, and she gazes upward.

“Barrett!” I say; but I more than say her name. My voice is loud. It is edged with a rawness I don’t recognize. I shout my blend-mate’s name again, and this time she quivers slightly on her divan. I crouch alongside her.

“Yama ... gata.” As loudly as I speak, she scarcely whispers.

“What has happened?”

Her eyes flicker. It is a sign of life, but there is no understanding there. I don’t even know what I’m asking, really. What has happened? I know what’s happened. The Wearers have gone, they’ve abandoned us, shed us, put on new Clothes and fled to the stars—

Some of this I am saying aloud. Shouting it, again. My hand has curled into a fist and I am pounding it into the divan’s cushions, next to Barrett’s body.

“I saw an autotender today!” I cry, my throat already paining me. “It was inactive. Dead! Just slumped there. It wouldn’t respond when I asked it a question. The ’tenders need their regenerators! They can’t self-replicate. You’re neglecting your work, Barrett. This ... this is dereliction!”

I shout more things, awful things. About how the city will fail without the autotenders, about how she has a responsibility. I call up truly ancient emotional constructs, dredged from dank historical stores. I attempt to shame Barrett. I try to incite a sense of guilt in her. It is a terrible exercise. I feel like a betrayer.

She speaks no more, not even a further frail whisper. She is done. Her eyes gaze and see nothing, and I leave her in that snug comfortable nook.

I keep to the other parts of our home after that.


As many insensible inert Clothes as there now are in the visible areas of the city, I at last realize how many more must be indoors. This revelation is amusing in a dark, twisted way. I am capable of manipulating profoundly advanced mathematical models; but it has taken me this long to understand so simple a truth. Many—most—of those who have succumbed have done so in the privacy and solace of their own domiciles. The buildings of this city are surely jammed with inactive Clothes.

I make a few more attempts to go to my work. But these numbers of mine don’t matter. I am contributing nothing useful. Now, if I had Barrett’s skills and could see to the renewed generations of the autotenders—

But I do not possess such skills. My Wearer was a mathematical orchestrator. For the first time in my long existence, that fact fills me with a slow cold rage. I’m not even certain who I am angry at. My Wearer? Myself? I am not even sure, not entirely, what anger is. But I’ve begun to learn it, I believe.

I still take evening strolls, even though this activity reminds me painfully of Barrett. Occasionally I meet other Clothes who are still active. They ask odd random questions, or speak in non sequiturs. They appear dazed. Maybe I seem the same to them. Probably I do.

The city’s gardens are overgrowing. Here and there the functioning autotenders struggle to keep ahead of this wild growth, but it is a losing fight. There is, however, something strangely glorious about all this runaway flora. Certainly the colors mix in unanticipated eye-catching ways. Blues and yellows make greens. Huge cone-like white blooms turn kaleidoscopic. The varieties mingle, combine. Growths burst from their normal confines. These parks overflow now onto the streets. No one stops this from happening. Inert Clothes stand knee-deep in twining vines, in flowering shrubs.

At night, not all parts of the city radiate a golden glow. Whole regions stay dim. It is failing. We are failing. Perhaps we simply were not meant to exist without our Wearers.


Many nights later, I enter one of the city’s unlit zones. I have lately seen areas of the city I never before visited, not even when I had my Wearer. It’s an enormous metropolis, granted. But I think, now, that Yamagata—that is, Yamagata the Wearer—privately disdained certain areas. I don’t know why I think that, or why he might have felt this way. I do not even know how I can deduce this about my Wearer so long after his absence.

Maybe this is how the true final pondering begins, with the onset of such inexplicable insights, leading ultimately to a state of stupefying musing.

That is, if all those inert Clothes actually are still contemplating ...

Is Barrett? Are thoughts still in her head? Are memories?

I crush down this speculation with a violent mental movement. But before I do, this question comes: does she remember me?

I stagger and falter along the street. Full night is here, and the panoply of stars wheels overhead. Sensations race uncontrollably up and down my body. I feel heat, pricklings, chills, cramps, hungers that I can’t explain to myself. When I don’t guard against it, I find myself shouting. Just odd hideous sounds, languageless. The mindless noises echo back to me.

It is amazing how quiet this dormant section of the city is.

I continue my journey, my pointless quest. Fatigue gnaws me. I realize I have been exerting myself as I’ve never done before. Is it possible to wear out Clothes this way? I should endure for something close to forever. But Clothes, surely, must become old. They must get tired and tattered. And Wearers must grow bored with them. Surely.

So quiet. So consumingly quiet here, without the whir of any activity whatsoever. Only my trudging footfalls.

And ... something else?

I pause and listen to the night. The quietude is almost its own blanket of sound, but I hear the other noise now. It is rhythmic, or nearly so. Thump, thump, pound. A violent drumming. I cast about for a direction in which to go, for it seems important, quite suddenly, that I find the source of this disturbance.

Straining, I locate it and hurry away, or else I am chasing one of its echoes. My strides are surer now. Ahead: thump, crack, thump. Yes, ahead—I’m certain of it. I am heading in the right direction, toward the ruckus.

I round a corner, weaving through a tangle of autotenders, transports and Clothes, all stock-still and lifeless beneath the seething starlight. Around that corner I halt. I have heard; now I see, and my breath catches.

A figure is wielding an implement of some kind. It looks like a trident. The instrument is being used to repeatedly club one of the autotenders that stands unregenerated and useless in the center of the avenue, about halfway down its length from where I stand. I take in the amazing sight. The figure is quite slim, and very agile, it seems. He—I recognize the male characteristics—is swinging the trident with what looks to be the full force available to his rather scrawny body. I’ve never seen Clothes so spindly before. But what he lacks in muscle and mass, he is making up for with enthusiasm. There is no mistaking the fury and joy in oldclotheswhat he is doing. He beats the ’tender’s casing with a palpable violence. I finally realize that he is employing one of the repair tools commonly used by the autotenders themselves. The trident recouples power connections in some arcane way. I know nothing about repairs; I know numbers.

He is doing slow damage to the autotender. The mechanism does not respond. Is that what he is hoping for, I wonder? Some reaction? He won’t get it.

My heel turns, and grit crackles beneath it. The figure pivots toward the sound and at last sees me. Even at this distance, I see his mouth split in a grin. I see joy and fury in that grin as well, and a ripple of fear crosses me. But I hold my ground. I am no longer shouting incoherences to myself. My senses focus, as they haven’t in some while.

He stares and grins at me a moment more, then cocks back the trident and delivers a resounding blow to the beleaguered autotender.

I wait as the echoes of the impact fade. He waits too.

“Hello,” I call out. I try for a civilized tone, but am dismayed at how raw and quivery my voice sounds.

He hoists the trident up onto a shoulder and starts walking toward me, not in a hurry, his steps jaunty. As he nears, I’m further surprised by his appearance. His sleek physique is strange enough, as if his limbs and torso are somehow underdeveloped; but his features are, if anything, more startling. The face is curiously smooth, without depth or much contour, as is the facial aspects too have in some way been left uncompleted. But that’s impossible. He is Clothes, and we were all crafted with infinite care, with meticulous attention to detail.

“Well,” he says. “I would’ve figured you for dirty laundry, the way you were just standing there.” Despite the strange higher register in which he speaks, his tone is laced with menace. I stand nearly a full head taller than him. The grin, still on that unfinished face, doesn’t mitigate the general threatening air he exudes.

I have never met anyone like him. I’m unnerved; but also intrigued. “What are you doing?” I ask. I indicate the trident.

He lifts it off his shoulder as though he has forgotten it, and eyes it with a certain pleasure. I wonder if I should have called his attention to it. “I’m having fun.”

“Are you?” I look past him to the battered autotender.

“You think I say things I don’t mean?”

I wince at the sharpness of his tone. Placating, I say, “No, no. I don’t think that at all. I—”

“You said hello before. Why did you say that? What do you want?” He turns the trident in his hands. The tool is scratched here and there, but that only tells me how sturdy it is considering how he has been employing it.

I gather myself. I have imagined meeting someone I might really talk to on these streets, and stray threads of those pretended conversations still linger in my mind. “I see very few Clothes outside and active anymore. I wanted to meet you and know you. Perhaps then we will form a fellowship.”

Sometime during this brief speech his grin has vanished. Coldly, he says, “I’m not Clothes.”


“You heard me. I’m a person. Understand? Say it back to me.” His fingers are tight around the trident’s handle now.

Hoarsely but clearly I say, “You are a person.”

“Not Clothes.”

“Not Clothes.”

Fear jogs my focus a moment. I am keenly aware of what he—this person—can do with that trident. But I think through my fear, through the unfamiliarity of these circumstances. Person. It is an ancient term, one moldering in my historical stores. But I do what I can to extract the meaning.

“Then,” I say, “you are a ... Wearer?” The flat impossibility of that doesn’t prevent me from saying it. Despite the threat this stranger seems to pose, I’m curious, and I want to know the truth about him.

His smooth facial features contort. His eyes blaze. “A Wearer? I’m no Wearer! Fuck the Wearers!” He takes a step toward me. There is little space separating us on the dim, starlit street.

“Fuck the Wearers,” I say since it seems wise to do so, though I don’t know what I’m agreeing to, exactly. But there is no mistaking his vehemence.

“Those Wearers.” He makes the word positively distasteful, just by twisting it up in his mouth. “They’re just lazy blobs of protoplasm, is all. They can’t do for themselves, so they make Clothes. Then they get tired of those Clothes, get tired of their own fucking world, and they leave. They make new Clothes and just go. Well—I’m glad! I’m glad they’re gone! They—they—”

He shakes with rage. Strangely, he doesn’t actually sound like he is glad the Wearers have gone. But I am struck by the other thing he has said, the very thought that occurred to me earlier: that Clothes get old and the Wearers get tired of them, and then get rid of them. That seems to me, now, a profound truth, something sadly universal. An inescapable gospel.

In that moment, I understand anger. I also understand his anger toward the Wearers. But I don’t share it.

I want fellowship here. Those few animated Clothes I’ve encountered recently have babbled and rambled and said nothing, or else have run away. Fellowship, however, begins with something more than hello.

“My name is Yamagata. What’s yours?”

He has left off his tirade. I wonder if that was how I sounded when I shouted at Barrett. Perhaps I understood anger before now, but the thought just makes me wince again.

“I’m Yamagata. Who are you?” My strained voice is calm and gentle.

His eyes flick at mine. He continues to tremble. “Fleak.”

“Sorry?” Another strange word.

“Fleak. My name, my name. That’s my name.”

It’s no name I have ever heard. Nonetheless, I feel triumph for having coaxed it from him. Surely we can enter into some sort of fellowship, we two. Surely. I need that intimacy. I have been without my blend-mate for too long.

“I am an orchestrator of numbers,” I tell him, and go on to briefly explain my field. Perhaps he will want to come with me to the big sculpted edifice and my domed room with the onyx walls, presuming it still functions. “What do you do?”

“Do? About what?”

I blink over that an instant. “Your purpose. What is your role?”

“I’m an adolescent.”

This doesn’t even bring up a hint of definition. “A ... what?”

“Adolescent. A. Doe. Less. Sent.” His hands are still flexing on the trident. Maybe his purpose is something completely esoteric. Perhaps his Wearer was the only adolescent on the Earth. Whatever it means, it certainly appears to lend him a good deal of undirected energy. I won’t question him about it now, though; he appears testy about the matter. I have something else in mind.

“Why don’t we go somewhere, Fleak.” I smile. “Someplace where there is light. We could—”

Suddenly the rage leaps back onto him. His teeth bare, and those eyes blaze again. He swings up with the trident and lets it go. It whirls just past my head. In the same instant he turns, letting loose an incoherent howl, and goes sprinting away.

Somewhere behind me, the trident lands with a clang. Fleak is racing away down the street, legs kicking crazily, arms flapping about on either side of him. He covers a remarkable amount of ground in just a few seconds.

I cry out his name, but not in anger, and run off after him.


It is a hopeless chase. I’ll never catch up to him. But I dash through the streets anyway. Soon I’m heaving for air, fatigue this time threatening to drag me down altogether. I have lost sight of Fleak. He might have turned off anywhere, onto some other unlit avenue, or entered one of the structures. Maybe this is where he spends his time, in this failed sector of the city. Beating on dormant autotenders with whatever implements he finds handy.

I stay to the street I am already on, following it onward and onward. There’s no trail to pick up. When I do pause to regain my breath, I use some of it to call his name. My ragged voice echoes. It’s a lonesome sound. As strange and disturbing as my encounter with the adolescent was, it is the most meaningful interaction I’ve had with anybody in some while now. I desperately want to see him again. And so I keep up this pursuit, running, staggering, dropping to my knees and crawling.

“Fleak!” I call out. Then I’m only whispering it, voice and body spent. “Fleak ... Fleak ... ”


Something nudges me in the ribs, and I think that the adolescent has gotten himself a new trident; but it is only his finger. He is crouched next to me where I lie on the ground. I have been in my own numbed state, like the staring contemplators strewn all across this city, all over this Earth, surely. But it is exhaustion that has brought me to this condition, and that has come from exertion, from effort, from doing something.

My eyes snap open, and I look up at Fleak.

His smooth face is drawn in an expression of melancholy. He gazes at me a moment, and says, “I’m not Clothes.”

I have already accepted this. “No. You’re a person. I believe I am one too.” I push myself up toward a sitting position. Fleak hooks a hand under my arm and helps raise me.

Overhead the stars are fading. The first pale hints of the coming day brush the sky.

“I’m glad you came back, Fleak.”

He shrugs. “What’re we supposed to do now?”

“Maybe we can figure out some other way to use those tridents beside beating on the ’tenders. They are instruments for repair. Perhaps ... perhaps we can repair.” The idea should be foolish, ludicrous, but the words don’t feel that way to me.

Fleak gives me an incredulous look, but then shrugs it away. “I guess.”

The notion takes hold of me. There are more ideas crowding in behind this first one. Concepts even more outrageous, further outside my rational dogged sphere of behavior. I find they lend me a new energy. The sensation is pleasant, and I smile. I feel like I can stand. I feel I might be able to do anything.

“Maybe,” I say as I do indeed move to stand up; Fleak assists me again, “maybe you and I might even be able to wake some of the others back up.” I’m thinking, of course, of Barrett. But not just her.

This time his eyes go wide. “What? The dirty laundry? Are you serious.”

It’s that term again, another one I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The adolescent, whatever the original purpose of his Wearer, is going to make a very interesting companion.

“I’m quite serious, Fleak. Come along now. We’ve got a long busy day waiting for us.” END

Eric Del Carlo writes: “My father, with whom I cowrote the novel The Golden Gate Is Empty, gave me Old Clothes as a title. It’s evocative as hell, and this was the first idea that came to me. Once I had the concept, the mood took it over.”




adjacent fields


deep fried