Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Running Tangent
by Dale Ivan Smith
and K.C. Ball

Food, Glorious Food
by Joey To

by Dave Creek

by Siobhan Gallagher

An Island in Your Arms
by James Patrick Riser

Rim’s End
by John Walters

by Holly Schofield

Ooze Love
by Andrew James Woodyard

Shorter Stories

Deus Ex Machina
by Erin Lale

It’s, Like, So Boring at the End of the World
by Amy Sisson

by Robin Wyatt Dunn


Making Sense of it All
by Libby McGugan

Is There Life in Space?
by Peter Cawdron



Comic Strips




An Island in Your Arms

By James Patrick Riser


I wanted her to help me stop dreaming about smoke, crushed and twisted metal, and rain. About how steam coiled into the air as the drops beat on the remains of my vehicle. About how I saw the silhouette of her head through the spiderwebbed windshield. Each night, it became harder and harder to pull myself awake. When I did, I reached for her side of the bed or lay still to see if I could hear her calm breathing or smell her strawberry shampoo. I began reading her diaries.


April 13th, 2010

He was sitting at the bar near campus tonight: The Pirate Rock. He was completely adsorbed in whatever he had on the screen of his tablet. Every once in a while he would poke at the screen and sigh. I don’t know why I kept staring at him, but his concentration intrigued me. After a while, he would take a sip of what I think was Scotch—expensive Scotch from the way he was drinking it—conservatively. He looked important dressed in his suit, and his shiny black shoes, maybe not an undergrad, or even a student. I could tell another woman across the room was looking at him too, trying to catch his eye, but he wouldn’t look up from his work. Or maybe I’m just imagining that. I’m still thinking about him. Maybe he’ll be there tomorrow.


In real life, there would have been buildings and lights and people and storefronts gliding past the car’s windows, blurred by speed. But I dreamed of blackness outside the car. When I’m awake I remember her face, trying to smile as the lights shuttered by. When I’m asleep, I can’t see anything but a silhouette. Two bright circular lights pop into existence on the horizon in front of us. I can see them in my peripheral vision, but I can’t stop looking at her. I think her mouth is moving and so is mine. I think she’s crying.

I wanted to look out the window of the boardroom, but the blinds were drawn closed. Instead, I glanced over the faces of the men sitting around the long table. Most of them rested their chins in their hands and gazed up at the fluorescent lights with lax expressions. Derek Holloway, the head of New Light Technology’s R&D department and my boss, prepared a presentation for the Phineas Project at the head of the table. A hologram keyboard materialized itself underneath Derek’s fingers and he began to type. He stood in front of a wall-sized video screen.

I was the lead designer for the project, but found my own eyes lost in the lights as well. Derek’s idea was to revive the personalities of long gone geniuses of academia. Derek charged me with constructing a virtual profile of Sigmund Freud for the presentation.

He cleared his throat and we all focused our attention on him. He stood with his arms crossed; the top of his shirt had the first two buttons undone.

“Thank you for coming, everyone. I’d like to present the Phineas Project. With it we can virtually bring anyone back to life.” He turned toward the screen and produced a small remote from the breast pocket of his dress shirt. “The project is in its early stages, but I hope you’ll be excited as I am to move forward on this.”

Derek pressed the single red button on the remote. The lights dimmed and the video screen clicked on with the sound of a sharp inward breath. A green light drew itself on the black screen. My boss looked over his shoulder toward us. I saw him wink at me in the muted light and then sit at the edge of the table instead of his assigned seat. He crossed one leg over the other. “Hello, Mr. Freud.”

“Hello? What’s this?” The thick Austrian accent filled the room and the green line quivered with the tone of the AI’s voice. The two went on to converse about elementary psychoanalysis; I had programmed the AI to know all of the psychologist’s life and work, including the work of any of his contemporaries that he might have read. All questions were filtered through a system of algorithms and formulas to create a response typical of the person programmed.

The discussion eventually devolved into a vaudevillian back and forth about cigars and phallic images. I sighed and rubbed my temples.

“Well, thank you, Dr. Freud.” Derek pressed the button again and the screen snapped off. The lights brightened. Derek turned toward the board members with a self-satisfied grin. No one shared his enthusiasm, retaining the same bored expressions throughout the entire presentation.

“Does anyone have any questions?” Derek frantically searched the faces for some form of validation. Sweat shined on his face, and his smile became increasingly plastic.

A man in the back of the room coughed and raised his hand. Derek nodded in the man’s direction.

The man adjusted his thin wire frame glasses. The lenses and his balding head both caught a glare from the overhead lights as the man sat straight up in the cushioned chair. He looked like he had just woken up when the lights turned back on. “Yes, Mr. Holloway, I only have one question: Why?”

I heard scattered chuckles throughout the room as Derek’s smile melted and his entire being seemed to deflate.


April 25th, 2010

I had my first date with Michael tonight. We went to an early movie, had dinner and I took him to a poetry reading. It was on campus in a coffee shop basement. I explained to him that poetry was like a science. The rhythms, the words, everything has to be chosen deliberately and carefully or the whole thing won’t work. He told me about his progress at NLT with coding programs. He’s passionate when he talks about things he likes, and I love to listen. I’ve never been into computer programs or coding, but when he talks it makes me interested all the same.


Dr. Rick Allen’s office smelled like old paper. Like the library-turned-museum near my apartment. It almost felt like I was there if it wasn’t for the carpeted floor; the museum had tiled floors and your footsteps would echo throughout the building. Marissa would have loved it. There was an entire wall of book shelves and opposite that there was the obligatory collection of medical degrees. A shelf containing old bottles of an amber liquid stood in the corner of the room. The computer sitting on the doctor’s desk seemed out of place. The unit was standard NLT tech you could buy at an electronics outlet; with only a monitor, and a cord that plugged into the wall. The keyboard and mouse manifested themselves as holograms when needed.

The door opened and Rick stepped in. “It’s good to see you, Michael. I didn’t know you’d be here.” He took several quick steps and sat behind the desk and unbuttoned his blazer, took it off and draped it over the back of the chair. “It’s been a while, man, how’s work?” He rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt as he talked.

“Everything’s fine. Right now, I’m working on something called the Phineas Project. It’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

The doctor pushed the monitor and it easily slid out of the way. He leaned forward and his brow furrowed. “I’m not really a technology guy ...” He ran a hand through his black hair streaked with threads of silver.

“That’s why I’m asking you. In a nutshell, the project creates an AI version of a person who is dead. Right now, our focus has been on programming constructs of famous people, but I personally think that only has novelty value. We’re doing it because there’s so much material to work with, but the board doesn’t seem too excited about the prospects. I’m afraid I have to agree with them. I want to take this in a different direction.”

“What were you considering?” Rick rested his chin on his palm.

“I also want to create an AI out of a person’s memories, but I think it’s wasted on famous personalities.” Rick nodded for me to continue. “My wife wrote in a diary almost every day. She saved most of them. I think it’ll be more productive to use the technology to construct personalities of loved ones, instead of people there’s already so much material on. It might be useful for your practice, to help patients cope with the death of loved ones.”

“Doing that is a double-edged sword. It can bring closure to certain people, but it can also hamper it, depending upon the person. It’ll have to be handled very delicately, by the right person.” The doctor steepled his hands under his chin and turned his chair. He faced the wall and looked at me sideways. “How long has it been since the accident?”

The lights explode through the windshield and I see her face amid a slow moving shower of shattered glass and rain. It’s raining now. Her face is white, skull white, with dark, puffy flesh forcing her eyes closed; for a brief second she looked like my mother. And then I don’t know her. Her hair is shadows. She stays like this for a long time as the shards of window create a network of cracks as they embed themselves into her suddenly glass skin.


August 30th, 2015

The wedding was wonderful. It was small and only our close family was there. Michael has a small family anyway, so everything worked out. His parents and brothers were present. The rest are out of state, and he didn’t even bother to let them know about our marriage. His mother looked beautiful, but his father was somewhat agitated to be around so many people. Then again, that seemed to be his usual mood.

I feel silly about bringing a diary on the honeymoon, but I can’t leave without it, never could. I got this diary as a wedding gift from Rick. Come to think of it, Rick might be Michael’s only friend.

Michael tells me that I’m going to have boxes and boxes of these things eventually. I already have a couple going. I still haven’t unpacked all of my things; they’re in cardboard boxes on the floor of our new place.

This is my first time being out of California, and it’s wonderful. Hawaii is great. I love this man.


“Did you go to therapy after Marissa’s passing?” Rick stood up and walked to the shelf of bottles and produced two cups from the cupboard underneath. He filled the cups with two fingers of liquid from one of the bottles. After sitting back down he placed one of the cups in front of me and kept one in his hand.

“No. Not everyone needs therapy to cope with death.” I took a sip and swirled the liquid around in the glass as I let the alcohol burn my tongue. “Scotch?”

Rick took a sip and nodded. “Yeah, from one of my patients after a successful recovery. I usually don’t take gifts, but, you know, it’s good Scotch.” He took a bigger sip and put the glass down in front of him. “But as I was saying, it’s worth it to ask yourself if you can do this objectively.”

I nodded and drained the rest of the glass. I let the doctor’s words hang in the air for a handful of moments as I attempted to subdue the oncoming grimace caused by the bitterness of the drink. After a light cough, I asked: “Are we made of memories?”

Rick smiled, drained his glass and set it down. “That’s a hard question to answer. It’s something we’ve all been thinking about forever, man.” He laced his hands behind his head and leaned back. The leather from the chair complained loudly. “Let me ask you this. If you take away some major events from your life, some major memories, or as I would like to say, experiences, would you still be the same person you are today?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would you be here if you didn’t have that car accident?”

I shrugged.

“This is all speculation, of course. There’s no possible way of knowing that unless we figure out how to cut memories out of your brain and see how you are then. Or develop time travel. You might well be the same person, but I’d bet you wouldn’t be. It goes the same for your project. If you take something out, you might not even be re-creating the same person you want, you’ll just be making a ghost.”

I nodded and rose from the chair. “I’ll send you some stuff after I’ve started working on it. You tell me what you think.”

Rick didn’t answer, but instead got up to refill his glass.


Sometimes when I would come home from work, Marissa would sit down with me and read poetry. At first I humored her and pretended to pay close attention until I figured out that the lines of poetry were like lines of code.

In high school I used to program simple games on my desk console instead of paying attention to the instructor. It felt good when codes figuratively lined up and locked into place and came alive as something other than numbers and symbols. It never happened on the first run. I started to imagine poetry in the same way. Poets pick and choose specific words and phrases. If anything else was there, the entire thing would collapse. Eventually I was able to speak with Marissa in an entirely different way. More importantly, I saw the world and my work in an entirely different manner. My chest felt lighter, and there weren’t any knots in my stomach like before Marissa, where I would sit alone with my work at a bar too many times a week. I needed this feeling to last forever.

The subdued lighting in Derek’s NLT office gave me the impression that it was empty. I turned to exit before I heard a voice from the chair: “How can I help you, Michael?”

Derek turned the chair around to face me. “Everything okay?”

I explained. “The board isn’t too excited about the project. They don’t see any profitable applications. After the Port idea was submitted and handed off to another team, this was the last thing. I’m out of ideas.”

His openness caught me off guard. His shirt was completely buttoned up and the plastic smile had morphed into a stone mask. His hair fell haphazardly over his forehead. The rest of his features were obscured by the darkness. It took me a few moments to remember what I wanted to say, but Derek didn’t look at me expectantly, as usual. Instead it seemed like his eyes had focused on some indistinct point on the ground. I coughed to clear my throat. “That’s what I came to talk to you about. I think I found a use for it. We could construct AIs of loved ones that have died. I’m talking with a psychologist friend of mine and there may be use for it in therapy sessions for people who have issues coping or moving on. For people who didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“I’ve never been so embarrassed at a board meeting before. He made me look like a fool,” Derek said to himself more than me. He swallowed and looked up at me with shivering eyes, “No. It’s over. We’ll think of something else.” A shade of a smile passed over his lips for a moment. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“But, Derek, I think this has potential.” My legs wanted to tremble. “Just let me make a prototype AI to show you what I mean.”

Derek shook his head and turned back toward the office window behind him. “Tomorrow’s a new day, Michael.”

“Yes. Have a good one.” I left his office and went to mine.

My computer and laptop sat side by side on my desk next to a few framed pictures of Marissa and me; wedding photos, honeymoon, beach trip, and so forth. The calendar that hung above my console was still on February; it was actually March. I turned on the computer and brought up the keyboard with one hand and opened the laptop with the other. It took several minutes for the program code of the Phineas Project to transfer, but I knew Derek wouldn’t be stepping out of his office anytime soon. The code for the program itself wasn’t a large file, but when the profile was compiled, it grew. As the code transferred, I jogged down to the storage closet and grabbed a couple of external hard drives. Usually, everything, even terabytes worth of data, was stored on NLT’s massive cloud, but I didn’t want what I was working on to be kicking around on the company servers.

The transfer finished by the time I returned to my office. I grabbed the messenger bag hanging on the door’s handle and stuffed my laptop and the hard drives inside. Before shutting off the light, I took a last look at my office. I wasn’t sure if I was ever coming back.


January 29th, 2018

I fell in love with him that night at the bar. He seemed so absorbed and ambitious. I love how he carries that ambitiousness into our relationship. I love how he reads me poems now after he comes home from work, and we always have dinner together. We usually tell each other everything about our day; it never bores him to hear about my day as a teacher’s assistant in the creative writing department. But something seems off lately. We talk less and when we go for a drive, he drives faster, runs red lights as if his mind isn’t even there. I hope everything is okay.


The Pirate Rock Bar was buzzing. It was enough noise to keep me locked in my head. The Scotch began its work on my finger tips and lips and I let my eyes glaze over as I stared at the television set hanging above the bar. The football players running and tackling each other became a series of colorful blurs. The bartender with the nose ring came over every so often to refresh my drink and ask me if I needed anything else. I didn’t make eye contact and shook my head.

I thought about the first argument I had with Marissa after we got married. That’s why I don’t drink too much, because I think. I finally told her that I was offered a promotion as the head of the R&D department, but passed it up. She wanted me to take the promotion. I accused her of wanting me to make more money, of wanting more money. I knew that wasn’t true. I only said it because I didn’t know the truth; It doesn’t make sense now. It might soon.

“Haven’t heard from you since you sent that email,” a voice said from behind me. I turned to see Rick occupying the stool next to me.

“Been busy.” The waitress came by again and we quieted.

“Anything else, sir?”

“Yes, bring my friend one of these.” I lifted up my glass and swirled the Scotch around. She nodded and walked off.

“Thanks. I tried calling your house, and then your office. Your boss said that you haven’t been to work for a few days. He didn’t sound happy.”

After the waitress return and left, I said, “I’ve been working on the project. I sent you some stuff.”

“So, you got authorization to work on it?” Rick took a sip of his drink and grimaced.

“Not exactly. Did you read it all?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what to say because I don’t have the entire archive. But there seems to be some stuff missing. You said that she wrote in her diary almost every day.” He let the sentence linger.

“It’s not done.” I drained my glass and raised it in the air to get the waitress’ attention.

“You’re not doing this for my practice or NLT, are you?”

I didn’t answer. I waited for the girl to fill my glass and walk away.

“You’re going to lose your job. Why do this?”

“To stop the nightmares. To know why this happened.” My spit started to taste like tears and my eyes burned; there’s so much else I need to know, but I couldn’t say what, only that it swam on the edges of my thoughts and skidded away like a frightened fish whenever I reach for it.

“There are better ways to get past this. Accidents happen, Michael.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Can you tell who Marissa is without saying my wife? From the work so far, I can’t.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I’ll let you know if it works.” I got up and walked out of the bar. Am I only her husband?

The car rolls, everything rolls. My stomach rolls and her head rolls. I see her head bouncing into unseen barriers with a crunch. Her face finally shattered, releasing a storm of book pages crammed with small, unreadable type.

The car stopped rolling and the sounds of screams and sirens swelled in the distance. I know I’m crying. Then there’s the smoke and the rain and the metal.

There was only one message on the machine when I got home. Derek was giving up on me.

“One message. March 4th, 2020. 5:00 p.m.”

Derek spoke with exhaustion, with the cadence of someone reading from a script: “Michael. You haven’t been to work. We know you took the hard drives and a copy of the Phineas code. I know you heard this before, but in an effort to give you a chance to explain yourself, and to make sure I get my point across, I’m going over this again: You may have programmed Phineas, but it is company property. Using it for anything unauthorized by me or any of my superiors will be considered theft. The last couple of years have been hard for you, I know. That’s why I’m giving you one last chance. Stop what you’re doing and return to work with the code and anything you made with it on the hard drives and I won’t call the authorities. I’ll even fight for you to keep your position, for whatever that’s worth to you. Otherwise, I’ll report you. It’s about five o’clock right now and I’m heading home. I’ll be in at about eight a.m. I’ll give you until the afternoon to get over here. Good night.” I thought I could hear the phone slam down on the receiver, but I may have just imagined that.

I deleted the message.

I looked at the computer, but my head was too fuzzy to work. Derek’s and Rick’s words kept circling through my thoughts. Marissa wasn’t nearly finished. I didn’t know if I’d be happier with my wife or her ghost. I didn’t know what would help, or if I should just go to Rick. Did he ever have nightmares as vivid as mine? It would be selfish to think that I’m the only who who has. Selfish. That’s what I was: selfish and made of nightmares. That’s the only way I could think to describe myself; I was lost for any other words, and for some reason, I felt hollow.


January 5th, 2020

We had the same argument again. I asked him how work was and he just sat on the couch and started reading. I asked again and he looked at me with this hard, steely look. An expression that I’ve been seeing a lot lately. He told me that he got offered a promotion and he turned it down. That’s when the argument started, he said he didn’t want the extra responsibility. He used the same excuse of wanting to spend more time with me and not have to be at work so much, but we’re not going to be able to go any further with our lives on our salaries. I’ve been working harder at the university, trying to finish my thesis, hoping to progress, but he’s willing to stagnate. It not about the money, it’s about how he’s so unambitious, satisfied with a basic level position. I want better for him, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying. I miss his ambition and passion. This is the third time we had this argument, and I’m thinking that he’s not going to try anymore.


I didn’t feel better after finding this out, and I don’t know if the accident was my fault, but I didn’t have the nightmares for once since the accident, even though I still felt like there was something I needed to know. My chest didn’t feel lighter and my stomach tied itself into knots during my entire walk to NLT, but I did not care.

The sunrise flooded my sight and the streets with a soft orange tint as it peeked over the buildings crowding around the the city. The light washed down the sides of the skyscrapers and the NLT tower, which was more or less in the center of it all; it was taller than most of the other buildings and bright blue lights installed on every other story lit the cylindrical tower up at night and cast a ghostly glow on everything around it.

My footsteps clicked throughout the empty hallways and matched the rhythm of my heartbeat. It was six a.m., well before anyone would be here for work. When I reached my office, it looked exactly how I left it. I placed the messenger bag on my desk next to my computer. It contained the hard drives and my laptop with the Phineas code. The backpack slung around my other shoulder contained a copy of the code and Marissa. Mine. Untraceable.

Down the hall, I slid a envelope with Derek’s name written on it under his office door. Inside was a letter of resignation with my office pass card. I waved to the maintenance man after he let me out. I had no plans of ever returning to NLT. As long as they feel they have the code and all my work, I’m no longer a threat to anyone. I needed to get a job somewhere else, but that was the last thought in my mind at the moment. I still had another month before I had to live in my car.

By noon, I found myself walking down the street, weaving in and out of the lunchtime crowd, trying to find a liquor store to duck into.

Can you tell who Marissa is without saying “my wife?”

Rick’s words came back to me and eclipsed my other thoughts. Pretty soon, my feet were moving on their own. I couldn’t answer this question, and I wasn’t sure who I was.

The first memory I can recall is lying in my bed as my mother read me fairy tales, but suddenly I’m in a car seat in the back of a minivan and my mother is singing songs from the radio to me. Whenever she looks back, her pony tail bobs up and down. The music drifts like a fragrance into my senses. Then it’s Marissa singing. I blink and I’m back in my bed. My father, thin wire frame glasses on the edge of his nose, reads me “The Raven” out of a large, worn leather book. Marissa appears at the door telling my father, “stop reading that to him.” My father slams the book closed. I blink again, but can’t remember anything else.

After walking for almost an hour I stepped into an alcove. I turned to a shop window, and saw the reflection of my face, slick with sweat and somewhat flush. Beyond the glass was the interior of a book shop: wooden floors, wire stands stuffed with paperback books, and sturdy shelves filled with leather editions. I went inside. The musty fragrance of aged paper filled my senses, and I smiled. My footsteps thumped heavily across the floor.

A haphazardly piled collection of diaries, next to the cash register, caught my attention. The clerk, absorbed in a paperback, didn’t notice as I walked up to the counter. I took a diary from the pile and thumbed through it. The blank pages had yellow age stains on their corners and around their edges; several pages had small tears. I closed the diary and placed it on the counter, startling the clerk out of his stupor. He ran a quick hand through his graying hair and offered me a lopsided smile, “ready?”

Several messages awaited me when I arrived home. I unplugged the phone from the wall and sat at my desk. I removed the hard drives from my backpack and placed them in front of me in a neat row. Most of them were marked, “Marissa.” The last one in the row bore no label. Unused. I wrote my name on it and placed it next to hers.

I pushed the whole lot aside and took out the diary. I opened it to the first page and wrote on the brittle paper with a black, ballpoint pen.

I am Marissa’s husband.

I am my parent’s son.

I am ...

I put the pen down for several moments and peered into the dark corners of my apartment wondering what the shadows would say about me. I shook my head and blinked hard; the knots in my stomach seemed tied together by the last question. Eventually, I picked up the pen again and began to write about my earliest memories. END

James Patrick Riser is the author of “Syndrome” and “Falling Sky,” both published by Wild Child Publishing. His poetry has appeared in “4 and 20,” “Pif Magazine,” and “Dead Beats.” He currently lives in Colton, CA. He blogs at Robots and Coffee.




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deep fried