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




Saving Time

By John Hegenberger

I HAVE A HARD TIME GETTING UP in the morning. My back feels as if a million ants with razor feet had spent the night on spine patrol. It’s not the dry cough in my throat, or the pulsing beat behind my eyes. I can take physical pain; my injured wrist proves that. It’s the feeling of loss, as if my life is almost over, that I had an opportunity to do things once, but now I’ve pissed it all away.

Karen acts as if she understands, but how can she possibly know what I go through each morning? She didn’t age fifty years in a minute.


I gather up my notes and set fire to them in the soldering furnace’s blackened well. The lab fills with smoke, and I remember to open the air vents, letting the gray clouds dissipate over the white Wisconsin snow.

Unmindful of the pungent odor, I pluck a hammer from the workbench with a clawlike arthritic hand and beat the hell out of the black metal programming unit.

I work up quite a sweat, gasping for breath in the dense, dark air. My heart beats against my scrawny ribs like a snared rabbit. I’ve trapped myself again.

Karen comes in and finds me among the debris. She calls me a “crazy old man.” It’s the worst thing she can say. I slap her full in the face, and instantly hate myself for the act.

In a rage, I slam a fist into the bracket holding the time machine’s recording computer and feel the flesh tear against its sharp metal edge. The pain blinds me into unconsciousness.


The mind is the most powerful force in the universe.

Remember all those time travel stories you read as a teen? They were full of strange paradoxes and terrible twists in the end for the greedy person who discovered the future results of horse races and stock market closings. The stories were like high-tech deals with the devil. Just when the hero thought he’d get everything he could ever wish for—suddenly, he got nothing but a trick of fate and eternal damnation.

I made certain that this would never happen to me. I had no ulterior motive for seeing the future. I just wanted to do something that had never been done before. Is it a crime to attempt the impossible? Why should I bear the fate of the trickster for wanting to advance a scientific principle?


I awake in our bed, more in pain than before, my arm in a makeshift sling.

“It’s not too bad,” Karen says, putting down her book. “You missed cutting the artery in your wrist.” She speaks quietly; making me wonder if perhaps my hearing is going, too. “I could take you to the hospital, but they’d want to know about your health insurance.”

“And we can’t have them wondering about that,” I say, inspecting the bandage. “I’m a non-person, now.” My mouth is as brittle and dry as the ashes in the furnace.

Karen holds out a plastic cup with a straw angled in it. I sip the cool water and accept another pain pill from her open palm. My head settles down into the pillows.

“You’ve got to control your temper, Sam,” she lectures me. I focus on the book she’s reading; Gleick’s “Chaos.” “You could have killed yourself in there,” she gestures toward the lab with her pert chin, “or set fire to the warehouse. You know the alarms don’t work.”

I smile faintly. “Another failure,” I muse. “Ever wonder what would have happened if I’d travelled farther than fifty years? What a failure that would have been.”

“I don’t want to think about it; and neither should you,” she clucks, tucking the blankets beneath my chin. “You’re still here and that’s all that matters.”

A large wetness gathers in my eyes. “The year would have been a little beyond 2040. Christ, what a way to have died. Aged in an instant.” She dabs at my tears, telling me to rest.

I float off thinking that the greatest irony of old age comes when you’re treated like a baby.


Because we weren’t working with explosives or radioactive materials, it had seemed unnecessary to place the time machine in an enclosed space. So, there it sat in the middle of the warehouse, a simple office chair with a standard adjustable back and swivel seat. It required no elaborate control panel or steering wheel as in the movies; we didn’t expect to drive it anywhere. An IBM clone set on a table next to the programmable controller and power source, but the real brains of the device rested on the top of the spine of the subject who would sit in the chair.

The working hypothesis was based on a 1927 technical paper by Otto Veblen published in The Journal of Neurology and Psychosomatic Medicine, entitled “The Correlations of Spatial/Temporal Dimensions to Aesthetic Reference.” I’d dredged the thing up from the stacks of the University of Wisconsin Psychology library, of all places.

Stated briefly, Veblen contended that there is an instant of timelessness when the mind switches from one interpretation of an optical illusion to another. During this time, the mind is completely open to the paradoxes of reality and can travel forward through the fourth dimension.

Geometrically speaking, the process worked something like this:

The point has no dimensions.

The line has one dimension: length.

The square has two dimensions: length and width.

The cube has three dimensions: length, width and height, But the mind knows that it is still seeing a two-dimensional figure on paper.

This new figure of a transparent cube has four dimensions: length, width, height and an optical illusion of existing in two directions at once. But, the mind still knows that it is seeing a two-dimensional figure.

This fourth dimension is the instant of time when the mind travels freely from one view to the other. Time, then, is an invisible “optical illusion.” The more complex the illusions, the more the mind is conditioned to travel uninhibited—almost in anticipation—directly forward. Backward travel in time is impossible. Period. What’s done is done. You can never go home again. All the paradoxes occur when you travel backward in time, not forward.

Working within Veblen’s subjective elasticity of time, Karen and I constructed the central part of our device. We scavenged an early version of an Air Force training helmet used by pilots to tele-operate an aircraft by presenting a series of convincing images through the video-display worn directly over the subject’s eyes.

By reprogramming the output to the goggle’s screens, we could fill the subject’s brain with a billion data-bytes of multi-level illusion information. This massive subliminal burst of timelessness would build to a critical point in the subject’s mind, liberating the consciousness from the present and driving it forward at an estimated rate of ten days per second.


Karen is alive with youth. Barely thirty, she moves with the grace of a child. Her auburn hair flows as if in defiance of gravity. It floats and gathers around her head in a pillow of soft russet curls. Her skin is smooth and quick to flush when I get her mad. Her eyes still smile out at me, reminding me of how I once held her attention. But now they hint at accusation, as does her mouth, and at times even her stance.

I’d be only a year her senior, if I hadn’t been so hasty. Some people go through a second childhood; I’m going through a second identity crisis.


“Did you read this article on hi-temp supercon?”

“Hmm?” I’d answer, trying to get a clear wave on the scope.

She’d push the journal in my direction with both hands. “Listen to me, Sam. I think this is important. This article. It says they’ve succeeded in achieving superconductivity for a nano-sec at room temperatures.”

I’d switch off the scope, letting the green wave fade back into nothingness and take the proffered technical journal. “How do you find all these things?” I’d ask. “I leafed through this last night and didn’t see—”

“That’s the trouble with you,” she’d say. “You leaf through everything.”

I’d grunt and scan the article.

“Haven’t you ever heard anyone say to take time to smell the roses?”

I’d look up, genuinely confused. “What do I care about roses?”

It never seemed to matter to Karen if I were a little absentminded. She expected that and helped me along with the mundane things in life. Except in bed, of course. There I’d act my age. A young bull who had her full attention. All my work and frustration would dissolve away like sugar in a spring shower, and I’d take her slowly and bittersweetly, the way she wanted me to, even then.

I was sure that Karen had been drawn to me because I represented to her a doorway to the realm of pure science. She would lock minds with me and we would soar into the strata of hyper-theory, always believing that what we supposed, what we invented, could, with enough faith and willpower, become a reality. Like children, we were never fearful of the results or consequences. Blind, innocent youth.


I used to think I was happier then. When Karen and I first formulated the underlying principle of Veblen’s theory, we were caught up in a dizzy dance of data and conjecture. It never bothered me that we couldn’t invade the past. That was somehow satisfying and reasonable. Who cares about the past anyway?, I thought. We’re buried in a sea of historical reference. We live so much in the past that it holds us down so that we can barely imagine the future. Anyone who’s lived has explored a piece of the past.

Faintly, I recalled growing up during the Cold War; the initial scientific drive to beat the Soviets to the moon. The Vietnam War had spurred the development of weapons technology. The Pill and AIDS had changed the country’s social structure. Genetic engineering. Superconductors, chaos theory and mini-computers all conspired to accelerate the growth of scientific knowledge during my lifetime. But that was all part of the past and the present. What I didn’t know, what nobody knew, was what would happen in the future!

I felt as if I were standing at the edge of a frontier! The thrill of the hunt tasted like fresh blood in my mouth. There was an uncharted, almost mystical, area of science ahead of us all, and I was determined to achieve a scientific satori, of sorts.


I work up a healthy sweat, barking the skin of my fingers on the painted steel brace that would hold the recording computer in place next to the mini-step transformer. It had fit together perfectly before I’d broken it and sliced my wrist in the same stupid rage.

I struggle with a vise-grip, crimping the sharp metal brackets into their former shape and place. The wrong tool for the right job. What I want is a solid iron hammer to blacksmith the damn things, but that’s how I’d gotten into this mess the first place. The right tool for the wrong job.

My knees cramp again, so I shift my weight. Karen comes over to squat next to me.

“Can I help?”

I hand her the clattering vise-grip and get dizzily to my feet.

“I didn’t mean you had to quit,” she sighs, watching me walk toward the bedroom. We are both dismayed, I realize, but for different reasons.

“I’m trying to avoid an argument,” I assure her, massaging my right knee. “I need a break. Call me when you’ve had enough.”

She studies the bent and paint-chipped brackets. I listen to the clicking of the grips as I lay on the cool, dark bed.


Something they never teach you in grad school is the value of patience. The academic world pushes you forward, always wanting you to publish more papers, write more grant proposals, hurry up and affect some results. But you’re a tyro, a young turk, recklessly ready to tackle anything and to show the world how brilliant you are.

So you rush about seeking grand results, skipping steps, not because you’re eager to cheat, but because your colleagues would never discover your lameness. I was afraid that if I dwelt too long on any part of the experiment, the whole thing would die on me, or worse yet, I’d get lost in the maze of detail. So, I forced the detail forward.

It was winter break. I was living full-time in the lab. Karen came home each night from her work at the neural research institute and we would throw ourselves into the fabrication and perfection of the device that would trick a mind into seeing the future.

Damn my youthful folly! It needed more analysis, exploration, and repetition until it became as common and boring as getting out of bed. But I wanted to impress her with my success. I wanted to save time.

How could I ever have thought that heat could take the place of light? That smoke was the same thing as fire? That I was immortal and could try the final experiment on myself?


I’m having more trouble with the machine. I never should have smashed it. My hands don’t always do what I tell them. And even when I do succeed in grasping things, often times they still slip through my fingers, even when I’m concentrating.

What frightens me most is that my mind might be suffering from the same ailment. I can easily recall events that occurred fifty relevant years ago, but when I try to remember what I had for breakfast, or where I placed a pair of needle-nose pliers, it’s all gone like smoke.

My glasses no longer suit my eyesight. I get fierce headaches whenever I try to read. My teeth are weakening, my back is more bent each day, my hair is falling out in brushfulls.

My liver must not be functioning properly; spots are appearing on my face and the backs of my hands. I wonder about my other vital organs. I know now that the cut on my wrist isn’t going to heal properly.


I’ll admit it: I took a terrible chance. But nothing of value is wrested from the universe without risk. “You’ve got to gamble a little to gain a lot,” I’d tell Karen.

I remember the acrid smell of soldering iron mingled with anchovy pizza. The television displayed a constant stream of VH-1 hits.

One snowy night in January, a forty foot semi-truck skidded out of control on the icy freeway exit ramp and took out the power substation, crashing the entire evening’s programming. I cursed, then killed a fifth of Scotch.

In the morning, I awoke in a painful daze. Karen had spent the night re-entering all the lost data, before heading off to work at the institute.

I cooked her favorite dinner that night, lasagna a la Ryan, and promised never to get drunk again.


I settled into the chair. The goggled helmet rested in my lap, its bunched leads trailing to the floor and over to the CPU. Karen was due home in twenty minutes. I wanted to share the experience with her, but I also wanted to be sure it would work before involving her further. Hell, I wanted to test it myself, that’s all. Plain and simple, I wanted to be the first person to see the future.

My palms were sweating. I discovered that I needed to go to the bathroom. I rubbed my eyes, the eyes that would wear the goggles, the eyes that would receive the computer’s onslaught of optical illusions. I thought about the magic, the misdirection, and everything else done with mirrors.

I flushed the toilet and went to the sink, running the water until it was good and cold. Karen should be arriving in ten minutes. I could wait that long, couldn’t I?

I drank a paper cupful of icy Wisconsin tap water and decided to write a note, letting her know what I had done—planned to do—in case anything went wrong. After the journey, I could always tear it up and throw it in the trash. Then, she’d never know that I’d gone ahead without her.

I sat back down in the swivel chair, hearing it creak with my weight. Everything seemed so hyper-immediate. You don’t set out for the future without taking full stock of the present.

I slipped the helmet over my head and adjusted the goggles to rest comfortably on my eyes. I was ready to see the future. Ready and willing. Karen would be here any minute. I groped with my right hand for the keyboard on the table beside me. I hit the Enter key twice and felt the high exhilaration of a roller-coaster passenger on the brink of the first deep plunge.

Exactly as planned, the images drove directly into my forebrain, flipping and flopping back and forth from one interpretation to another. The pace increased and I opened my mind to seeing opposite points of view in the same instant. I caught an updowness, followed by an inoutness and a backforwardness, a highlowness, a beforeafterness, a nowthenness, a bittersweetness, an everynothingness, a nothingeveryness, a godness, a meness, a oneness, a noneness, a widewhiteopeness ....


I take very small steps to avoid the pain in my joints. If I fall and break my hip or knee, it, like my wrist, will probably never heal properly.

My hands tremble occasionally. I see myself feeble, fumbling and frustrated.

I wake in the middle of the night for no good reason, unable to fall back to sleep. I doze in the big soft chair in front of the television almost every afternoon, dreaming of yesterday when I was so much younger.

The time machine I had built succeeded in fooling my mind. So, I am my own trickster, my own devil. The illusionary images freed me to accept the future. What I failed to take into account was how great the effect would be accelerated by my totally cooperative and hopeful attitude.

The mind is still the most powerful force in the universe. Positive wish fulfillment interacts with the subliminal program and increases the rate tenfold. I didn’t see the future, I became it, and time is not something you travel through; it’s something you collect.

“You are as old as you think,” the adage claims. My brain thinks that it has amassed more than eighty years of existence, and it has forced a psychophysiological effect on my body, telling it to be an old man.

At first, there was an enormous surge in my biological clock. I took on ten years each day during the first seventy-two hours. Gradually, the aging slowed and I’ve leveled off as a wrinkled and bent fumbler who can hardly concentrate past his immediate future.

Karen watches me in mute fear. I wonder how much longer before she’ll leave me, or I’ll die.


“I’m sorry,” I say.

“I know,” she answers. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does.” I point a shaking gnarled finger at the empty air. “If I hadn’t been in such a rage, the machine would still be in one piece. I hate being this helpless and I refuse to sit quietly, growing weaker and older by the day!”

“It doesn’t matter, Sam,” she says, taking my cold hand in hers. “In many ways, you haven’t changed a bit.”

I laugh dryly.

She sits beside me at the computer console we’ve jury-rigged back together. “What are you working on now?” she asks.

I tap a few keys to put the opening sequence on-screen. “If time is something you collect,” I say, “and you do it by being open to optimum input, it follows that you can lose time by going back through the same input, but acting deterministically, making clear and active decisions, avoiding options, choosing your way over and over until you’ve trapped yourself in a groove that will make you unaware that time is collecting.”

“But you get younger from this?” she asks.

“If you control all of your decisions—leaving no time for day-dreaming—time will pass, but you won’t be aware of it. I want to use the computer program to accelerate the process, to become disillusioned, caught up in a decision making process and unable to realize time is passing.”

“It sounds like word games to me,” she says. “But in a weird way, I think I see. You want to distract your thoughts away from the passage of time and hope to psychosomatically trick your body back to its original age. But travelling backward in time is impossible.”

“I used to think so,” I tell her, “but now I don’t know. It just seems that I deserve to get back to being thirty again. Maybe shedding years that you should never have collected in the first place isn’t the same as travelling backward in time. Maybe I can trick the trickster and get back to where I started. It’s worth a try. Will you help me?”

“Of course.”


I remember attending a performance as a child of the play, “Peter Pan.” In the middle of the third act they stopped the show and explained to the audience that Tinkerbell wouldn’t die if we all clapped our hands and believed. The audience responded by shouting and stamping their feet as well as clapping their hands until the little fairy burned bright again.

I am as determined now as I was then, alive with a resolve I haven’t felt in ... fifty years.

Lowering my bony body into the creaking swivel chair, I wait almost breathless as Karen adjusts the helmet on my balding pate. What was it Peter Pan used to sing? “I won’t grow up. I’ll never be a man?” Ha!

I feel a tingle of excitement. This is going to work, I think. Intent on making active choices, my mind will forget all about time. I concentrate expectantly on the screens before my eyes, prepared to make a billion conscious decisions, ignoring options, clapping my hands if I have to and stamping my feet until I’ve trapped myself in a groove of controlled positive reality over and over, losing time, leaving the future far behind me in the past, existing only in the eternal present.

“Are you ready?” Karen asks.

There is only one word in my vocabulary. Through dry and grimly pressed lips, I say it: “Now!


I have a hard time getting up again this morning. back is fine. Even the pain in my wrist is fading. It feels luxurious to lie under the warm blankets, like a kid playing hooky from school.

I open my eyes and stare at the dull gray ceiling, thinking for a moment that it had all been a dream. But then I see the dozen long-stem roses on the dresser and I know I’ve won my deal with the devil and will never play his game again.

I turn my head and feel no soreness, no throbbing, no stiffness in my joints. Karen is asleep beside me. The morning light plays softly on the down of her face. Her auburn hair lays fanned on the pillow.

She’s stood by me when I needed her most, and I won’t risk losing her again.

Her eyes open and she smiles.

I hover over her, moving my hard lean body into place with determination.

“You idiot,” she laughs. “We don’t have time for this; you’ll be late for your first day at the institute.” But she doesn’t resist me.

“It’s not how much time we’ve got that matters,” I whisper, as she matches my rhythm. “It’s what we do with it.” END

John Hegenberger is the author of the Stan Wade LAPI series from Black Opal Books. His stories have appeared in “Amazing,” “Galaxy,” “Darkhouse Books,” and Ace anthologies. He is also the author of the “Collector’s Guide to Comic Books.”


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