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




Good Behavior

By Genevieve Williams


I wake at five a.m. I sit up in bed in my one room, turn, put my feet on the floor, stand, walk to the shower. Hose down. Pull on my underwear, jumpsuit, and the shoes they gave me with the extra-thick soles to protect my feet from the nastier things I might potentially encounter on the Street. Kitchen. Coffee, the watery commissary issued stuff, but at least I get it. I’ve been good. Breakfast. Ersatz but edible. Even the eggs.

To the door. I put my palm on it and wait. There’s always that moment of wondering whether I’ll get to go out today. They could tell you when you wake up. But no. They’ll let you wonder, and hope, and even expect. Then the buzzer will sound and the red light will come on, and you’ll find out there’s a security breach or some con made a run for it or you’ve committed some infraction they didn’t tell you about until just now. Lockdown.

But today the door opens and I walk out into the hall. A yellow line hovers above the floor, as if I didn’t know the way to the elevator after all this time. No one else in the building sees the yellow line. Cons are dispersed throughout the city’s residential units. Keeps us from conspiring.

I take the elevator one floor down to the Street level. Cons mostly get assigned the lower stories, with the stairwells and elevator shafts going directly to the Street. Ironic, since so many of us start there.

Through the lobby, which is just a place for the elevators to open onto. Then out onto the Street. It’s a nice day, so far as I can tell from down here. High up above, where the superskyscrapers finally end, is a ribbon of blue sky criss-crossed by maglev rail lines, slidewalks, skybridges, and the occasional dirigible. Nobody walks on the Street unless they have to. It’s dank and dark and parts of it never see daylight at all.

They’ll drop their crap down here, though. And every day, me and my pod of five—unless one or more of them’s been consigned to isolation, which means staying in and staring at the wall or some mandated educational improvement program—go out to clean it up.

They could get robots to do it, of course. But that’s not the point.

Today I only recognize two of the pod, though the ambient ensures that I know all of their names: Sally Paulsen, public vandalism; Josiah Matthews, aggravated assault; Spooner Isiahson, solicitation—couldn’t afford the license, I guess—Judette Thornton, fraud—I’d love to know how she did it, nonexistent foster children is a tough racket to pull off these days—and Nikolay Romanov, identity theft. Which doesn’t really describe the scope of Nicky’s accomplishment, an entire operation of fake masks with complete profiles good enough to fool the best checks the ambient had for years.

He might even have made mine. Though if he did, he owes somebody a refund.

Most of the light down here comes from loglo, heavily drenched with red and AR-enhanced by the ambient. Though we get few enhancements of any kind. The lack of constant advertising bombardment was refreshing for the first several weeks. Then deeply weird, watching people around me react to something in the ambient that I couldn’t perceive. Now, it’s actually kind of lonely.

The cart trundles up to us. It’s a robot—nobody human would be tasked with carrying our brooms and mops and trashpicker claws; at least they give us those—and it stops and waits with the eternal patience of the automaton as we grab our tools. We already know our beat for the day. If we meet the allotted goal, nothing happens. If we exceed it, we collectively get our sentences reduced. If we don’t meet it ... well, a number of things could happen, from additional duty to lockdown. We won’t know until the end of the day.

But because of these conditions, there’s little chatter as we set to work, even though I’ve been paired with Spooner and Nicky before. It’s not that we can’t talk to each other. It’s that everything we say goes into the ambient to be analyzed, processed, and interpreted, and next thing you know the damn crimjuice has decided there’s a conspiracy going on.

I start sweeping along one of the seams where a wall meets the Street. The Street has some sort of slightly spongy surface that’s better for walking on than older materials, not that the Street sees all that many pedestrians at this hour of the morning. I’m glad of that. Cons are tagged, and part of our punishment is having people look at us like we’re lower than the dirt we’re sweeping. That’s one thing you don’t get used to. And down here, you can’t wear a mask.

Nicky tried, back when I first met him. That was a year into my own sentence, the projected length of which varies from day to day. He was a maskmaker and good at it, so he said, and he got tired of people looking at him like they’d scraped him off their shoe. So he made a mask. A simple one, just a fake name and a filter on the convict tag.

I saw him again six months later and asked him where he’d been. Four weeks in solitary. I’d done three days, myself, for trying to run off at the end of my shift instead of following the green line back to my flat. People who say it can’t be that bad to be locked up in your own residence for a few days have never had to endure it.

Anyway, there went my next idea for how to beat the crimjuice. I’d been set up, but crimjuice wasn’t interested. Running a boutique data storage service that offers complete privacy and anonymity means you have to be aggressively disinterested in what your clients are storing. But that’s no defense when what they stored was an ambient virus, and then tricked you into triggering it. I still get headaches from the backlash. And while I’m not the one who created a hyperreplicating neural-wetware virus that proliferated across the ambient so fast that it nearly caused a complete shutdown, I’m the one who paid the price.

As to who created it?

They don’t know. I know they don’t because of how they kept asking me.

So here I am. The Street’s pretty clean considering how much crap drops on it from two-hundred-plus-stories above, but there’s still stuff I’d rather not think about accumulated at the bottom of the wall. I sweep, and I sweep, scooping up the detritus into my little pan, and don’t make eye contact with the occasional person who comes along, biking or rolling in one of the little trolleys or humming past in a car—tinted windows are in again—or even, occasionally, walking.

I don’t meet any of their gazes. Don’t even look at them, or at my companions. When I look at the passers-by, I see their disgust. When I look at the other cons, I see what they see. Our jumpsuits are gray and dingy, as if we could fade into the background. We can’t. Anyone can see us, and many of them do. Many more choose not to. We’re easy to filter out.

And then there’s this guy, who makes today different.

Street level has a lot of alleys, tunnels, passageways, you name it. Some of them are preserved from when Seattle was a much smaller, not to mention shorter, city. They open up partway down a block or in some other unexpected space. None of them reach all the way to the sky anymore. Sometimes we’re tasked with cleaning them out, and that’s just nasty. Alleys stink, and they’re poorly lit. I’ve never been so grateful for crimjuice-issued boots as the days we have to do them.

There’s a guy lurking in the mouth of one, watching us.

People don’t do this. Kids stare sometimes, but there aren’t a lot of kids on the Street. Adults don’t look or just glance, even the ones who are disgusted. They don’t ... watch. I can’t help looking back at him, out of the corner of my eye, though I keep my gaze on the ground as though the wet crap I’m sweeping into my little dustbin-scoop is the most fascinating thing in the world.

He’s a tall white guy dressed in black: pants and jacket, though his shirt is white and he has on a red cummerbund. I think he’s bald, though he has a top hat on, and I can’t really tell without looking more closely than it’s safe to. It looks like formal wear from another century. It might be, but crimjuice throttles our ambient access so it would be like sipping Karo syrup through a straw to find out.

But the thing that really weirds me out are the dark lenses covering his eyeballs, so that they’re all black: pupil, iris, and white. There’s not enough light down here to necessitate his doing that and no other reason for it that I can think of except to look creepy, which it does. Perhaps because despite those flat black discs that make it impossible to tell exactly what he’s looking at, I’m quite certain he’s watching me.

Some cons try to run a game from the inside. Seems easy, since all but the most psychotically violent of us are out in the world, trying to prove that we don’t need crimjuice’s regimented schedule and constant surveillance to keep from reoffending. It’s not easy. Crimjuice’s surveillance is total; it can tell I’m looking at the man more than I should. I stare down at a fruit peel fallen from gods know where like it’s the most precious artistic masterwork in the world. Then I sweep it into my dustbin and move on.

I don’t really notice the shift in the ambient. Or rather, I do, but I mostly ignore it. My whole connection is so attenuated anyway that it’s more like a distant memory than the instant knowledge the ambient is supposed to be. But when it passes, the man’s standing right next to me. I never saw him coming.

“Demetrios Arbacauskas,” he says, like an invocation. His voice is a caress and I shudder. I don’t even dare look around to see who’s watching. People aren’t supposed to harass cons, and if it goes on long enough enforcement’ll show up. If crimjuice decides it’s harassment.

I don’t dare look at him, either, nor send a tickler in the ambient to find out about him. If he’s running a con and I give any appearance of collusion, I could get into very deep trouble. “Who wants to know?”

“Relax,” he says. “We have a little over a minute.”

I think of that ripple in the ambient, and nod. Local filter, has to be. I just hope it’s a good one.

“You’re the one convicted of spewing that virus.”

This is readily knowable to anyone who looks at me, so I just nod again.

“You don’t know who gave it to you.”

“Stored it in my facility,” I correct him.

“Oh, let’s get semantic!” he says. “Did you ever find out who your client was?”

I shrug. “Got a name. Didn’t mean shit.” Some nobody, like me, who no way in hell could have created something like that.

“In other words, no.” He pauses, and I know the hook is coming. “I could tell you.”

“You could,” I agree. “But you won’t, unless ...”

“I need a sample of the virus.”

So that’s what he wants. “It’s gone. Ambient’s wiped clean.”

“Right. But your facility was quarantined and locked down as evidence. Means it’s still in there.”

“Some part of locked down and quarantined mean something different to you than it does to most people?” Now I’m starting to get pissed. And I’ve just got his word for it that crimjuice isn’t recording. They can get behind my eyes, how can they not see all of this?

“You ran a data storage service and didn’t leave a back door? Tsk, tsk.”

“Maybe I did.” Of course I did. I’m not always a gullible moron. “But I don’t see what’s in it for me.”

“That’s easy,” the man says, and something in his voice makes me look at him for the first time. Data crawls across his lenses, visible from this side. Antiquated ware—these days, the ambient simply stimulates your visual cortex to make you think you’re seeing data or a balloon or directions back to your apartment—but the effect is creepy as hell and I suspect that’s the real reason he’s doing it. “I can make you disappear,” he whispers.

And then I’m standing there, looking around at the Street that’s empty except for me and my pod, who are all looking at me like I’ve just been reciting poetry or babbling nonsense at the empty air the way the Street bards do. Possibly I have.

Or else none of the others saw him. I realize that he never did tell me his name. I didn’t try to grab it from the ambient, either, but when I looked at him directly he didn’t have a single tag. Not a one.

Nobody in the world has no tags. Nobody.


It’s days before he comes again. By then I’ve worked myself into such a state it’s a wonder I haven’t been put in lockdown. Crimjuice monitors my vitals at all times, and my heartrate’s been up since he disappeared.

Spooner’s with my pod again today. The others are all different. The crimes are, depressingly, pretty much the same. One’s a drug offense, very rare since most of them are now legal. Stealing drugs and then making an ass of yourself under the influence aren’t, though, and Amelia Struthers did both. Dumbass.

We sweep the Street. Today the ribbon of sky is dull gray. Direct sunlight doesn’t reach the Street. But the rain does. This time, when the ripple in the ambient comes, I notice it and am not surprised.

“I can’t do this too many times,” he says. “Or for too long. Yes or no?”

“Who are you?” I ask him.

He laughs a little. It’s not a pleasant sound. His voice is sort of nasal, like he’s got something stuck up there. “You can call me Doktor Dog.”

This is surprising enough that I look at him. Now he’s got a tag with that name so I know how it’s spelled. Wasn’t there before. “I can, huh? But you know my name.” Not my wittiest rejoinder ever.

“I do. I also know who set you up. And I’ll tell you. You know my price.”

“If you already know, why do you need the virus sample?”

“I can’t prove it. I need evidence. The virus will have a maker’s mark on it.”

“They’ve gone to considerable trouble to disguise its origin. What makes you think they’d be dumb enough to do something like that?”

“Because they have no choice. The marks are integrated into the culture beds used to create ambient wetware. And you are using up your time asking questions.”

“Give me the name.”

“Give me the key.”

“The name first. Think about it. What would I do with it, in my position? I’ve already been convicted.” But something’s shifting inside me. My life hasn’t been my own since whoever did this set me up.

“You won’t believe me.”

“Try me.” I’m ready to believe almost anything at this point.

“Teleia Holliday,” he says.

He’s right. I don’t believe him. Not because I don’t think the bitch is capable of it. Holliday Enterprises built much of the local Seattle ambient and has its fingers in most of the data transfer that takes place within it. The CloudSpire, both Holliday corporate headquarters and family residence, a white ovoid poised at the tip of one of the city’s tallest towers, has been the city’s most iconic landmark for years. The Hollidays are evil in the way that any company that big and influential has to be evil. I just don’t believe that they’d bother with a bit of plankton like me.

By the time I’ve recovered my composure enough to tell Doktor Dog this, he’s gone, and Spooner is staring at me. His yellow hair’s still spiky all over his head, making him look perpetually surprised.

“Who the hell was that?” he asks.

“Who?” I ask blankly. The good Doktor is nowhere to be seen.

“That guy. Who was talking to you. Like he knew you.” Spooner’s tone is hostile, his hip thrust out in an oddly aggressive posture. His lip curls a little.

“Manic street preacher,” I say, and walk off to put my broom and bin away.

The answer’s legit. We have them, down on the Street. Crazy people who spout whatever the ambient feeds into their heads. They’re also called bards. And Doktor Dog might be one, who knows?


Another day. Five a.m. Stand, stretch, shower, jumpsuit. Breakfast. Door.

It doesn’t open.

It’s been so long since this happened to me that I just stare at it. I even think, wildly and irrationally, that there must be some mistake. I put my palm to it again. Nothing.

Then the little light comes on, at eye level. Red. I lean against the door, where my palm rests on the touch panel, but now I’m not expecting it to open. And it doesn’t.

<<Mr. Arbacauskas>>

I recognize the voice, of course. Crimjuice. Not any one individual; in fact, the voice is a little blurred, as though a multitude were speaking in unison. I don’t respond. Just stay there, head bowed, with my hand pressed against the door.

<<Mr. Arbacauskas. You will remain confined until we learn the nature of your conversation and the identity of the man you spoke with yesterday>>

I blink. How can they not know? Everything’s in the ambient. Everything. Doktor Dog’s hack, whatever it was, obviously wasn’t good enough. Just like Nicky’s. Just like the one the people who wanted to transfer their data to me manually gave me. To preserve mutual anonymity, they said. The data was sensitive and needed to be kept secure.

Of course it had smelled like bullshit. It had also smelled like money.

“Just a bard,” I say. Of course crimjuice doesn’t believe that or it wouldn’t have locked me in. My flat is tiny but this is the first time in awhile that I’ve really felt its small size.

<<That’s not what we hear. Have a seat, Mr. Arbacauskas>>

I comply, sitting down on the bed facing the enormous window, which isn’t a window at all—not in this place. Most apartments, it’s either a window or a video screen depending on the tenant’s inclination, but not in the ones crimjuice keeps for its guests. Most of the time, it’s a flat gray panel.

Now it lights up. A head appears on it, and shoulders, against a plain white background. The face is a white guy, jowly, thinning hair. Suit and tie. He fills the screen, ten times larger than life. This is deliberate.

“Good morning, Demetrios,” he says. Despite the courtesy, the voice is not kind; it’s just layered some worn, threadbare velvet over its customary edge.

I sigh, slumping at the edge of the bed. I know how this goes. They’re going to dig around in my head until they find my memories of Doktor Dog and our conversation. The good Doktor might’ve been able to mask us from the ambient, but I remember our conversation quite clearly. He couldn’t, or didn’t, prevent that.

And if I ever see Spooner again I’m going to fucking kill him. Idly, as the interrogator begins, I wonder what he got out of the deal. Better work assignment? Shorter sentence? A day’s respite from getting fucked up the ass?

It’s over quickly. Though not quickly enough. When my eyes can focus again the head-and-shoulders are still there, watching me. They stay there for the rest of the day. No matter what I do—curse, argue, shout, cry, flip him off, piss with the bathroom closet open, try and fail to ignore him—he doesn’t say anything else. I even try masturbating, but I can’t get hard with his creepy eyes looking at me, and I give it up. There’s nothing in my apartment to look at except the screen, with his face, and after awhile I’m pretty sure I’m looking at a recorded loop; there’s a periodic tiniest of hitches in his minute motions. It’s still creepy as hell. I tell the lights to go down, but they don’t. They stay on until I fall asleep, and then he watches me in my dreams.


I wake to the sound of my door opening. Instantly I’m sitting up, staring at Doktor Dog, still wearing that ridiculous getup and those blacked-out lenses. “Good evening, Mr. Arbacauskas,” he says, and his tone, though not his voice, is so much like that of the man on the screen that I’m taken aback.

My gaze flashes to the screen. My watcher is still there, and even if he’s a recording, crimjuice can look in here anytime, through the screen.

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” the Doktor says, coming into the room. The lights have gone dim, as they do automatically when I fall asleep. It’s 7:37 p.m., so sayeth the ambient which rules our lives. I’m hungry.

“What did you do?” I ask. The door slides closed, shutting out the harsh, somewhat brighter light in the hallway outside.

“They can show you a loop. You can show them one, too. It’s easier because you’ve been sleeping.”

I bark a laugh, watching him cross the floor toward me. His black eyelenses shine in what light there is. I feel like I should offer him a drink or something. Not that there’s anything but water and shit coffee.

“So what is it this time? Last time we spoke got me put in solitary. Next time they’ll put me in the real lockup with the psychos.” The people that none of crimjuice’s observation-and-behavioral-encouragement methods can touch, the ones that raped and murdered and tortured. Charming guys. Just who you’d want to be locked up with.

“That won’t happen,” Doktor Dog says. “Not if you grant my request.” He’s standing right by the bed now, looking down at me. At least, his posture suggests he is. Who the hell knows what he’s really looking at.

I laugh again. “What’ve I got to gain? I can’t fucking touch Hollidays even if you are telling the truth. And once my sentence is up not a lot changes. They’ll watch me for the rest of my fucking life. They’ll do more than watch if I help you and they trace it back to me, which they will.”

Doktor Dog shrugs. “I could just hack your system.”

I grin at him, leaning back on my hands and crossing one leg over the other. “Then you don’t need me.”

His lips tighten a little, his teeth clenching behind them. Suddenly I’m afraid. If the surveillance is really off, we’re alone here. He could kill me and rack my brain. Hell, he could rack my brain without killing me, and he’d be to the watcher what a Roto-rooter is to an eggbeater.

“I’d rather just ask you,” he says softly.

“I’d rather you just asked me too,” I say, mostly managing to keep the fear out of my voice. “But I still don’t see what’s in it for me.”

“I already told you,” the Doktor says. He raises one hand, then turns it palm up, waving it outward with a flourish, like a stage magician. “I can make you disappear.”

“I’ll bet you can.”

He jerks his head a little to the side, wrinkling his nose. “Not like that. I mean you can drop out completely. Vanish. I can set you up with a new identity, I mean completely new. Crimjuice’ll never see you again.”

I look at him. “Who do you work for?”

He smiles, baring his teeth. “You’ve already gotten the answer that will most profit you. But you might ask yourself what Hollidays stood to gain from their little trick. Quite a demonstration that the ambient isn’t as secure as we’d all like to think, isn’t it?”

“So you’re, what, anti-Hollidays or something?”

“Or something.” The smile again. It’s unsettling. “And that’s all you’re getting. Now. Yes or no?”

“One more thing.”

That doesn’t make him happy. “What?”

“You can make me disappear. That’s great. But there’s something else I want.”

“Yes?” This comes out more slowly than the previous question.

“I want Spooner.” I’ve had time to think about this, today—plus, it’s just too fucking obvious. “He’s why I’m in here instead of enjoying the luxury of sweeping the Street.”

“I can take care of that for you too, if you like.”

“No.” Somehow, I just don’t want to end up owing this guy. “I’ll do it. You’ll see that I get away with it. Just give me a chance at him and a blank slate. That’s all I want.”

“Don’t you want anything after you’re free? Your old identity will be gone.”

“No, I don’t want anything else from you. No ID, no mask. I don’t trust them anymore. I don’t even want you to be able to find me. I want to be no one.”

He looks at me a moment longer. Then he slips a hand into a pocket I hadn’t noticed was there.

“Suit yourself,” he says, and takes his hand out again. Now there’s something in it that glints in the faint light. “Here. Put the key to your data warehouse’s back door on this. When you’re done tomorrow, there’ll be an alley near you. Go down it. The one nearest you. By the time you come out the other end, there’ll be no trace left of Demetrios Arbacauskas.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“That’s what you asked for. What do you say?” He holds the object out to me.

I take it. It’s heavier than I expected, though of course hard storage can look like anything. “Looks like a shiv.”

He smiles. “It is a shiv. It is also a hard storage device. Remarkable time we live in, don’t you think?”

And then I’m lying in bed in the near dark, with just the face on the screen illuminating the room. Doktor Dog is gone, the door is closed, the lockdown indicator still engaged.

But I’ve got the shiv. I keep it in my hand, under the blanket, in case crimjuice is watching.


I wake at five a.m., just like usual, and sit up slowly as the lights rise. I keep hold of the shiv as I head into the shower, the one place I’m reasonably sure they aren’t watching, though who the hell knows? Afterward, I palm it into my jumpsuit pocket and drink a jittery cup of coffee. The eggs taste like sandpaper. I’m almost startled when the door opens and the yellow line appears on the floor of the hallway. I follow it to the elevator, and down to the Street.

Spooner’s in today’s pod. The shiv is heavy in my pocket. I’ve never killed anyone before. Do I really want to do this? All he did was what anyone trying to buy a little less misery for themselves would do.

And thanks to him, I might be locked up in my room, with crimjuice staring at me for the foreseeable future if it weren’t for Doktor Dog.

It’s another rainy day. The Street is wet and shiny, not slick; whatever that spongy surface is, it soaks up the water quickly enough to keep it from pooling. But the stuff that’s fallen on it, not so much, and the stretch we’re cleaning today looks like it hosted a party last night. There are shop fronts along the Street, which there aren’t always; some parts of town, nobody ever comes down to Street level at all. But this is a party stretch, though all the bars, cafes, restaurants, and theaters are closed.

And quite a party it was: there’s an upended wine barrel in the middle of the Street, the remains of a number of bonfires, ivy garlands sagging in the rain, not to mention discarded clothing, cups, masks, drums, drug guns, and all manner of other things. The Street’s mostly soaked up the spills, but there’s still a smell of booze in the air.

“Damn,” Spooner says, not looking at me. He seemed surprised when he saw me. I know our assignment is no accident. Even if crimjuice would’ve chosen to let me out after only one day, no way would they put me with the guy who sold me out. “Must’ve been one hell of a party. Sorry I missed it.”

I want to say something to this, something mean-spirited about his unlicensed profession. But I don’t. I feel almost protective of him, now that I’m planning to kill him. I take a mop off the cart and start swabbing down the nearest patch of Street. The solid bits of where someone puked up last night’s fun didn’t soak into the surface with the rest. It’s fucking disgusting.

We work for an hour or so, not talking, as the sun strains to penetrate the clouds during its brief passage across the top of the canyon above. I find myself thinking how my life hasn’t really changed all that much. Some days I never left my apartment anyway, doing all my work in the ambient. Making clients, checking the storage integrity, upgrading security. At least now I get outside.

Abruptly I recognize why I’m thinking this way. There’s an alley to my right, not far away at all. But there’s alleys all along the Street. How do I know Doktor Dog meant this one? “When you’re done tomorrow, there’ll be an alley near you. Go down it. The alley nearest you.” How’s he going to know which one I’ll use?

I know how. And there’s no way to tell him I’m reconsidering, no way without tipping crimjuice to what I’m doing. It’s dangerous even to think about.

I think about luring Spooner into the alley. But that’s pointless. The ambient’s everywhere. I just have to do it, and trust that Doktor Dog will make me a nonentity just like he said.

He’s got to, or he’ll never get the backdoor key.

And I’ve got to, or crimjuice will follow me for the rest of my goddamned life. Ain’t that ironic?

I mop the street, working my way closer to Spooner without being too obvious about it. The alley opens on my left, and before I have a chance to really think about it, I drop my mop, grab the collar of Spooner’s jumpsuit, and drag him into it. He lets out a startled shout and struggles, of course, but he’s skinny, hardly more than a kid really, and I get him in there and pull the shiv out of my pocket.

“Hey, what the fuck, man?” He’s probably trying to sound tough, but he’s sniveling. “Is this cause I spilled on you, man, come on, you’da done the same thing, you know it—”

“Shh.” I jam the hand holding his collar up under his jaw, stretch out his throat, pop the blade on the shiv and it’s done, just like that, just that easy, and none of the rest of the pod have come to see what’s happening or so much as made a sound. The blood is warm and slick on my fingers, but quickly becomes cold and sticky. I wipe my hands and the shiv on Spooner’s jumpsuit, then stand there and look down at him, feeling like I should say something. “Sorry, kid,” is all that comes to mind. Then it occurs to me that I’d better get going. The alarm is ringing across the ambient and if Doktor Dog doesn’t hold up his end of the deal, I’m dead meat.

I walk off down the alley, fast. As I walk, I find the space that the shiv occupies in the ambient and open a connection. Then I copy the knowledge of the key from where I stored it—it feels like remembering, but that’s not it exactly—and drop it into that ambient space.

The object in my hand flashes a tiny red light. I look at it and fold the blade back in. I keep walking.

As I walk, the dozens, hundreds, thousands of tiny filaments that are my existence interwoven with the ambient begin to snap. I can feel them: like someone plucking hairs free, one at a time, except that it doesn’t hurt. As they go, the ringing alarm in the ambient that is Spooner’s death fades away, and in my head, all is quiet. The ambient is still there, but the constant habit- and preference-driven input recedes like waves falling back into the sea. As I walk, the past sheds from me like cobwebs blown away by the breeze from an open window that’s been shut up for years. I remember things, like my name and where I grew up and the face on the wall in what is now no longer my apartment that stared at me and asked me questions, but it’s all getting vague, like something that happened to someone else. None of it applies to me anymore, not even the name.

The alley is a tunnel now, dark and damp and chilly, and I walk in it for a very long time. Finally a gray smudge appears ahead that might be my eyes playing tricks. But it’s not, it’s the other end, and Doktor Dog is waiting there and he holds out his hand.

I put the shiv into it and keep walking. Now’s the moment for him to kill me, if he’s going to.

He doesn’t.

Night has fallen and the Street has come alive. Unfiltered, anonymous, I move through it and it doesn’t touch me. There was a death in an alley not far away, earlier today. Nothing to do with me. Lights, noise, music, laughing faces, lovers, drunkards, bards. I’m empty and I let it fill me up. Until I come to a large intersection, and a casino that fronts on two streets, its gold-lit entrance and sweeping staircase opening onto the corner. Above the door, rendered in glowing lights, are a golden cap with wings, and a tall staff or walking stick, also surmounted with wings, with serpents twining up and down it. Beneath these is the name of the place: Eriounios.

Good fortune, that means. I smile. Erased, anonymous, broke, empty, I cross the intersection and start up the steps. END

Genevieve Williams is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories have appeared in “Asimov’s Science Fiction,” “Strange Horizons,” and the anthologies “Beyond the Pillars” and “Eight Against Reality.”






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