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




Rim’s End

By John Walters

IN THE THIN CHILL AIR HALFWAY up the side of the mountain called Il Mostro, Spencer sat on the launch bar, flexing. The gleaming silver aerodynamic suit fit him like a second skin; hair-thin coils throughout glowed with warmth. He felt giddy, almost dizzy. He had refused oxygen enhancement—it was part of the show, the bravado he displayed as Earth-champion, soon to be intergalactic champion.

The ski jump on Rim’s End had been designed like no other: it was a double jump. Gravity was slightly less than Earth’s. Spencer estimated he could do over three hundred meters on the first jump and five hundred on the second. Such distances were inconceivable on Earth, but he had practiced over and over again in a simulated environment in every possible wind variation. He was toned and ready. He could do this; he knew it. This was why he had been brought here to this faraway place. About half a million spectators, both human and extraterrestrial, waited far below in the distant valley; hundreds of millions more waited via remote video link.

Never one to hesitate, let alone balk at the awe-inspiring drop before him, he rose, pushed off. Quickly picking up speed on the inrun, he reveled in the lighter gravity pull. He almost felt as if he could flap his arms and fly, but he resisted the crazy impulse, instead hunching down and trailing his arms behind him.

Never had he attempted anywhere near a jump like this one. The gut-wrench of vertigo threatened to overwhelm him, fear threatened to smother him, but he fought them off, as he always had. Courage is not the absence of fear but the conquest of it, he told himself.

Plus, he knew something that the audience did not. Out around the edges of both jump areas invisible grav-nets had been activated. If something went wrong he would be caught and gently lowered to the ground. So failure would be humiliating, nothing more.

He had no intention, however, of failing.

Spencer took off, leaned into his jump, positioned his skis in the standard V. He felt as if he would remain in the air forever, as if he were trapped in a skier’s limbo suspended between terror and rapture—and yet this was the shorter leg of his stunt. He focused on the red K line, his prime landing point, and he hit it, dead center. This was normally when he would slow up and raise his arms in victory, but instead he carried on, racing down the second inrun, poised for takeoff. Then he was again in flight, the second K line far, far below, so far that he felt as if he were in a dream. He tried to calm himself and concentrate on his form as he had hundreds, no thousands of times before.

But something went wrong.

It wasn’t the wind, some vagrant breeze that upset his equilibrium. No, the air was still, as if the sky itself had drawn a breath and held it.

Something, though, something—he couldn’t tell what—nudged him, caused him to lose control, to begin to drift sideways. He tried to adjust, to balance himself, to reassume proper form, but it didn’t work. He fell into a slow spin, as if in zero-g. The awful feeling of vertigo overwhelmed him. He had failed; he had missed the jump. In despair he realized his moment of intergalactic glory would pass him by. The nets would catch him and lower him to the ground as a might-have-been, rather than a true hero and celebrity.

But wait. He should have hit the net by now. Instead, he was still falling. End over end, faster and faster he plummeted, as he realized in terror he was not falling merely to his shame, but to his death.


Floating in a tube the size of Spencer’s thumb, the creature looked like a translucent amber squid, except its tentacles were needle-thin, and there were many of them undulating gently in the clear fluid.

“That’s it?” gasped Spencer in his new gravelly voice.

“That’s it.” The man holding the tube had identified himself as a lawyer representing alien interests about which Spencer knew nothing. He appeared human and was dressed in the archaic formal garb of officialdom: dark gray suit, dark blue tie, black shoes polished to a mirror shine. His hair was short, gray-flecked, greased so it appeared as polished as the shoes.

“Give me the terms.”

Lynne Frasier, his coach, rose to her feet. She had been at his bedside the last two weeks, encouraging, sympathizing, running errands. “You can’t be serious. We don’t know all the ramifications of nerve-slug implants. They haven’t been studied enough. They could be dangerous. They could have bizarre side effects.”

“Look at me now,” Spencer said. “Look at the side effects of my accident. For all practical purposes, I’m dead already. What have I got to lose?”

“You’re still an inspiration to millions ...”

“Enough, Lynne.” To the lawyer: “Go on.”

The lawyer nodded. “I understand your concern. I had them myself. Actually, I am implanted.”


“Yes. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was a teen. It was mild for years, all through law school and beyond. Then suddenly at my first posting I began to lose control. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, drooled constantly. Like death, it was. Until I accepted the implant.”

“Give me the terms,” Spencer repeated.

“Equal time-sharing. Both parties pledge to protect the body. No illegal activities. I’ll copy it for you so you can peruse it.”

“And my body will regain full function?”

“Yes. In fact, it will be enhanced. It will remain in optimum condition.”

“Will I still be able to ski or would that be considered too dangerous according to the contract?”

“Skiing is a normal activity for you. You are trained for it. I’m sure it would be acceptable. Stunt jumping I’m not so sure. These details can be worked out before the contract is finalized.”

“What happens to me when the slug’s surrogate has control?”

“You are aware of what’s happening but have no say-so. The same is true for the surrogate when you are in control.”


“It’s like being possessed,” his coach said.

“Lynne, please.”

“I mean it. You would never regain autonomy. This alien thing would be a part of you.

“What if it asserts full-time dominance?”

The lawyer shook his head. “That can’t happen. A computerized timer is implanted with the slug; every twenty-five hours control switches over, every local day.”

“Any machine can be hacked into and overridden,” said Lynne.

Spencer said, “I don’t think you understand where I’m coming from. When I woke up quadriplegic my first impulse was to kill myself. I have had the same impulse many times since. The only thing that has prevented me is the fact that I need someone else to help me with whatever I do—the very reason, ironically, I want to end it all. I was a god, for Christ’s sake. I was in the news; someone would always recognize me on the streets. People admired me, wanted to emulate me. What am I now? At best an object of pity. A failure. Helpless. No one even wants to think about me. I don’t want to think about myself. It’s depressing. I inspire despair, not hope.”

Lynne shook her head. “If you do this you’ll be a walking advertisement for the nerve-slugs. It’s not right.”

“I don’t care. Half a life is better than no life. And a hell of a lot better than this purgatory I’m in right now.”

“We’ve discussed alternatives—mechanical implants.”

“I’ve read the testimonies. Uncomfortable. Subject to breakdowns. Part of the skeletal structure is necessarily exterior, which would make me look like a freak. No. I want to be back to normal. My normal. At least I want to look that way.” To the lawyer: “Leave the contract. I will, as you say, peruse it, and let you know my final decision tomorrow.”

“You won’t be disappointed, sir,” said the lawyer. “And as a gesture of good faith, my client will grant you the first day.”

After the lawyer had left, Lynne said, “You never listen, do you?”

“If I listened to others I never would have become a pro skier. My father wanted me to take over the family business in Nowhere, Colorado. My mother wanted me to become a teacher, because she had been one.”

“Maybe you should have listened to them. Look at you now.”

“How about a little backup here? If you weren’t the best trainer I’ve ever known I’d ...”

“What, fire me? Right now I feel like quitting. You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, Spence, I guarantee it.”

“Maybe not. Maybe not. But I’ve never been one to shy away from giving something a try.”


When Spencer stepped out of the hospital into the bright winter sunshine looking as tall and blonde and blue-eyed and buff as ever, the small crowd that had gathered round for the occasion cheered and clapped. He smiled his crowd-pleasing smile (as opposed to his pick-up-a-woman smile or his you-and-I-both-know-I’m-the-greatest smile or his honest-mom or coach-I’m-telling-the-truth smile or the real smile of sheer delight when faced with a challenging downhill slope). The media had set up cameras and mics on a wide balcony overlooking the hospital courtyard where the onlookers had gathered. Below the hospital the main street of Winterview wound through a narrow valley. Having been designed by Earthlings bent on attracting winter-sportspeople, it resembled an Alpine village: synthetic wood, sharply angled roofs, large picture windows of double-paned Plexiglas. In the clean clear air, the colors of the snow-covered mountains, scattered evergreens, rustic village, and bright winter clothing of the crowd seemed to glow with vitality.

Spencer stepped up to the mics. No one knew of his deal with the alien’s lawyer, and he intended to keep it that way. “Thank you for your concern,” he said. “I feel great. I feel well enough to attempt that jump again, but they won’t let me. I wonder why?”

The crowd chuckled.

“But I do intend to take advantage of some of the great downhill skiing runs while I’m here. See you on the slopes.”

In the brief time he had spoken, Spencer had scanned the crowd carefully. He wanted to be sure all his “personal equipment” was running properly, and he craved a partner to try it out with. Sure enough, a woman with dark brown hair, dark skin and green eyes, dressed in a lime green ski suit, stayed in position as the crowd dispersed, obviously waiting for him.


Everything worked just fine. Spencer had asked the woman what her name was but then forgotten it almost right away; he couldn’t remember whether he had asked where she was from; he was sure he hadn’t bothered to find a way to get in touch with her again. Shortly after she left, he indulged himself in a big breakfast. It was all synthetic, of course, but it tasted like the real thing: eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes with maple syrup. It reminded him of his childhood on distant Earth.

Afterwards he did some limbering-up exercises on the white shag sitting room carpet. He seemed to be not only as good as new, but better. Perhaps he could have gone a few more rounds with what’s-her-name. Certainly he felt he could tackle any ski run anywhere. The more he stretched, flexed and did calisthenics the more he felt he could do. Strength, like white hot energy, surged through his system. He could win a cross-country marathon. He could make that jump he had missed. He could do anything.

The lawyer had given him a nondescript black sports watch with a standard digital display that had one added feature: it kept a running countdown of each twenty-five hour period during which he could control his body. Under the terms of the contract he was committed to eight hours of sleep out of the twenty-five; therefore he had seventeen practical hours at his disposal every two days. He had to make time for elementary bodily functions: eating, drinking, expelling wastes, bathing, and so on; in addition, as the original owner, he was responsible for maintaining legal and financial integrity, though the alien had to pay its own way during its period of use. It was a complicated, confusing agreement and would take some getting used to. Spencer wondered what people who met first one and then the other of his body’s users would think. Really, though, he didn’t care much. He considered himself a loner; he didn’t make friends easily. As long as he could still pick up women and maintain the adulation of his fans, he was content.


How does it feel to be taken over by an alien entity? To be there and not there at the same time. As if he is in a dream, but a dream under which he has no control. As if he is in a virtual reality simulator similar to that which he used when he practiced for his failed double-jump. As if he is a puppet whose strings are being pulled by an unknown master. He is an observer, nothing more.

He rises, dresses, goes out. In the street when he is recognized he smiles and nods. In a cafe he orders a croissant and coffee. He chews and sips slowly, savoring the sensation of taste. Yet for him, for Spencer, it is remote, numb, distant, as if he is hooked into an all-senses show, aware that whatever is happening is really happening not to him but to someone else.

Just as an experiment he tries to assert control, to scratch his nose. It doesn’t work. It is similar to when he woke up as a quadriplegic, except there is no accompanying phantom pain, only an abstract feeling of dislocation.

The alien presence is like a dominant authority figure one has no power to oppose: parent, police, priest. He has no recourse but to tag along. His first stop is a chateau with which he is unfamiliar. He rings a bell, waits, enters when the door clicks open. It seems to have been divided into apartments; one door is ajar.

Inside, to his surprise, is the woman with whom he had sex the day before. What was her name?

“Gloria,” his voice says. “How are you?”

“Thanks for coming,” she says. “I didn’t think you would.”

Of course he wouldn’t, thinks Spencer. What the hell is going on?

Spencer says, “I had a great time yesterday. Would you like to go for a coffee?”

“Sure.” She grabs her jacket and purse. Spencer holds the door for her as they exit.

This has got to be some sort of prank, thinks Spencer. This can’t be happening.

But happen it does. After coffee and small talk Spencer, or rather alien as Spencer, suggests skiing. He and Gloria head for a modest hill with ridiculously easy runs. They ride the chairs and take one run after another, and Spencer doesn’t attempt any of the crazy attention-getting tricks he usually does; he keeps pace with Gloria and even falls behind from time to time. They chat about trivia when they have the chance, and he doesn’t monopolize the conversation; he listens to her and appears genuinely interested in what she has to say. In the evening they dine together in a pseudo-rustic restaurant, and afterwards the Spencer-alien walks her home, kisses her goodnight, but does not accept her invitation to come in, professing weariness.

What the hell? thinks the real Spencer-psyche, the one along for the ride. What the hell?


The next morning Spencer woke up thrilled through and through that the body was his, wholly his to manipulate and use as he saw fit.

The comm-link buzzed. It was Gloria. He ignored it. He had no idea why the alien entity had followed up on the woman he had no intention of using for anything other than casual sex, and it galled him a bit that he couldn’t figure it out, but that had been on its time, not his. He had the day before him and would not waste it second-guessing events over which he had no control.

After breakfast he headed for the top of the most challenging run in the area, two-thirds up the side of El Monstro. It sluiced steeply through a craggy valley past scattered boulders, stands of evergreens, along the edges of cliffs. It took forty-five minutes to make it all the way down. Spencer felt strong, confident, in control. His concerns and worries whipped away in the icy air. This was what he was meant to do. This was what he was born for. Afterwards he found a new woman, a tall, dark, brown-eyed beauty named Rachel, born off-Earth in Winterview itself, and accompanied her back to her apartment for hours of energetic sex. He never liked to sleep over with his sex partners, however, so before he fell asleep he made his excuses and returned to his own abode.


And wakes again with no control. It is disconcerting to say the least, and frustrating to say the most. Already he is fed up with the arrangement. He is not used to sharing things, let alone sharing his very body, and he doesn’t like it. Maybe he didn’t think things through when he lay helpless on the hospital bed. But what choice did he have?

This time, on rising, he goes through a routine of stretches and flexes, some with which he is familiar and some not. He breakfasts on unfamiliar herbs and fungi.

Then he gets down to it again: he calls Gloria. He inquires about her health. They exchange pleasantries. He doesn’t arrange a date, but suggests they might see each other soon. Gloria seems satisfied with the communication, and they bid each other goodbye, amicably.

Afterwards he calls Rachel, and the rest of the day is similar to the day with Gloria: time on the slopes, a meal, an affectionate farewell.

By the end of it, Spencer is bristling. He wonders if the entity that possesses his body feels any of his anger but he doubts it. He realizes that when he controls the body he is conscious only of himself. But this creature, whatever it is, has no right to interfere in his personal life like that. Or does it? Spencer hadn’t read the entire contract; he had let Lynne, his coach, and a lawyer work out the details. But this is outrageous; it can’t be right.


As soon as he woke up he called Lynne and explained the situation. “What the hell is this thing doing?” he said.

“I don’t know. The contract doesn’t specify ... I guess we assumed ...”

“I trusted you to consider all ramifications.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll call their lawyer and arrange a meeting.”

“This morning. Right away. I’ll be there in an hour.”

The lawyer arrived promptly, again in gray suit, blue tie, and mirror-shine black shoes. “I see no problem,” he said. “There is no contract violation, no harm to you in any way.”

“I don’t want this thing inside me following up on my personal contacts.”

“Since that was not stipulated you can’t do anything to prevent it. He did not harm them, either; as a matter of fact he seems to have repaired damage that you caused.”

Spencer slammed his fist onto Lynne’s desk. “You have no right to pass moral judgment on me. What I do in my own time is my own affair.”

“Of course. But what my client does in his own time is his affair. You cannot interfere.”

“But he is interfering with me. It’s not right. He knows who I am but I don’t know what he is, or his background. I demand to know what I am dealing with.”

The lawyer shook his head. “That was not stipulated in the contract.”

Spencer turned towards Lynne, his face flushed with anger. “You’re fired. You were responsible. This is your fault.”

“How was I to know? How could anybody know? This was something new, without precedent. And it wasn’t my job to review the contract. You shouldn’t have asked me to do it.”

“Bullshit. You just didn’t think it through.” And to the lawyer he said, “So what’s the next step? What can we do about this?”

“I don’t know. My client is aware of our conversation, as you are aware of what he does when he is in control. Perhaps he will adjust his behavior, or perhaps not. I can’t really say. My responsibility as a lawyer ended when the contract was signed and the transformation implemented. I’m here on my own time, not on behalf of my former client.”


He thought, I’ll overwhelm the little bastard. Or bastards. It might be one or many. He still didn’t know anything about the alien he now considered his enemy. It might be a tiny little creature living inside him, physically linked to the nerve slug. It might be an immense being of some dreadful shape and appearance, psychically manipulating his body from a distance. Whatever it was, he hated it for invading him in this humiliating and intimate manner. He felt filthy, violated. He longed to rip out the slug and be himself again, but then he would come to his senses and realize that if he did he would once again be immobilized. He began to link his alien hitchhiker with this dilemma as well, and blame it.

So he came up with the idea of overwhelming it with his profligate behavior. Every other day, when he awakened, he slept with a new woman. Sometimes he wouldn’t even spend the whole day with one. He’d go for one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and sometimes yet another in the evening. His record was four in one day. He observed with glee that the alien would have to spend its entire waking day playing catch-up to his excess. It would speak with some women, visit others, comfort, reassure, encourage, but as the number of Spencer’s casual partners increased, the alien found it harder and harder to keep up.

I’m wearing it down, thought Spencer. It will rue the day it messed with me. It will get sick of the whole business and decide to forget it and take off on its own, live its own life, and leave me alone. Let it find its own women. Let it make something of itself.

But then about fifteen days into his debauchery Spencer realized that whatever was inhabiting half of his body’s space/time was adjusting and in fact was handling the situation quite well. In addition, Spencer began to become aware that Winterview was quite a small town. There was a turnover in tourists, true, but transport did not arrive every day or even every week. He was finding it harder and harder to constantly discover new women. One more factor presented itself: he was becoming weary of the game. He was becoming jaded, surfeited with the pleasures of the flesh, and more and more desired to be alone. As he slowed down, the alien was able to catch up and ameliorate the situation, soothe those Spencer had offended, consolidate friendships and trust. Spencer found that he could hardly go anywhere without encountering his past conquests, won over by the alien, smiling, trustful, thankful, desirous of his company.

There was only one thing to do: leave. Spencer planned it carefully. He knew he couldn’t do anything without the alien becoming aware of it, so he casually packed and settled pending business as if he were just cleaning up and tying up loose ends.

A new ship from Earth arrived, scheduled for a three-day stopover before returning. To keep up appearances, Spencer picked up some of the women who had just disembarked, had some fun with them, and then abandoned them, keeping the enemy hopping. On the day of the ship’s departure Spencer booked passage and got on board. It was expensive to do so at the last minute, but he considered it worthwhile. As far as he knew there was nothing in the contract to preclude a change of location. He even thought there was a chance he might be rid of the alien, if it had been psychically manipulating him from a distance.

But no. The day after departure the alien took over again. It wandered the ship, inspecting things, meeting people, being disgustingly amiable and sickeningly polite.

Spencer didn’t know how much more of this he could take. He had never treated people in such a fashion in his life, and even though he had nothing directly to do with it, he considered it hypocritical to do so now. What the hell was this alien’s game?

When they landed, it was the alien’s turn, and it wandered around the city of Denver, Colorado, as a tourist would.

When Spencer took over again he headed for his parents’ ranch in the hills. He would isolate the foul thing until it screamed of boredom and gave up. The contract stated that if one party no longer desired the arrangement it could opt out, withdraw into an artificial environment, leaving the body to the other. Spencer intended to somehow make that happen, by boring the hell out of it.

His parents guardedly greeted him. Since he had been a young teen he had never been close to them; he had gone his own way, exercising, skiing, chasing tail. His old room was still there, though, empty. They offered him the keys to the car, but he declined. Instead, he sat on his bed or at the kitchen table, biding his time, sipping coffee, reading the insipid local news feeds.


Then he wakes again, a helpless passenger in his own body. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, combs his hair. He goes downstairs to the kitchen and gives his mother a kiss on the cheek. As he eats, he complements her on the food.

His father enters the room. Spencer greets him. “Wherever I go, whatever I do, I always realize there’s no place like home,” he declares.

His parents, astonished at his unusual behavior, look as if they might cry. “We always miss you when you’re gone,” she says. “We’re always happy to have you back.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” Spencer declares, “but I know I haven’t always expressed my love properly. You’ve always been here for me and I thank you for that.”

Within himself, helplessly observing, Spencer wants to scream, to beat his head against a wall, to take a knife and cut himself open and rip out the nerve-slug, even if he became quadriplegic once more. The little beast has no right to mess with his life like that. Why doesn’t it go off and do its own thing when it has a chance? Instead, ever since the beginning, it has ridden on Spencer’s situation, interfered in his relationships, hopelessly garbled his lifestyle.


When Spencer awakened with control he set about to throw things back into natural balance. To do it, he figured he had to be particularly rude and blunt, just this side of downright malevolent. He soon had his mother in tears and his father in a rage. He didn’t stop there, though; he went into town, looked up old friends, and insulted and berated them until they either beat a hasty retreat or threw him out of their houses or offices. To top it off, in the evening he invited a former girlfriend for dinner and dancing, ridiculed her, slapped her, left her at the dance hall in tears and went home alone.

Try to patch this up, you alien asshole, he thought.


This time the alien doesn’t try to fix things. Instead, just before first light he prepares a pack with tent, sleeping bag, stove, two days worth of food, and his snowshoes, dresses in warm winter clothing, boots, gloves, cap, and parka, and follows the hiking trail leading from the ranch up into the hills. Spencer has taken this trail many times before, in all sorts of weather, and is as familiar with it as he is with the local ski runs. He’s used it in the past to begin cross-country skiing trips, hunting expeditions, wilderness treks.

The alien keeps up a brisk but measured pace, obviously chosen to go as fast as possible without unduly tiring the body. He takes frequent nourishment in the form of trail snacks as he walks, stops once for twenty minutes to prepare and eat a hot lunch, and once more for ten minutes in the early afternoon for a hot drink. At twilight, just before darkness closes in completely, he stops. In a clearing in a stand of spruce high up on the side of a ridge he sets up the tent, crawls into his bag, and goes to sleep.


Spencer woke up in the early morning chill stiff and sore. He hadn’t been exercising as regularly as he was accustomed to; he’d let himself go, and now he was paying for it. He realized with chagrin that the only thing he could do was hike back down the mountain; the alien had not packed enough food or fuel for a longer venture. Not only that, but he’d have to keep up the same pace as yesterday or he’d have to spend a cold, hungry night in the wilderness. His shoulders, back, legs, and feet ached as he trudged downward. At his break for lunch he finished the last of the food; soon afterwards, he became aware of a ravenous hunger. It was two hours after dark when he finally saw the lights of the ranch house.

When he burst into the kitchen his mother backed away, obviously frightened. Still, there was concern in her voice as she asked, “Where have you been, honey?”

Not bothering to answer, Spencer raided the refrigerator for leftovers and sandwich makings and proceeded to eat a great quantity of food. Then he could do little else but painfully climb the stairs and go to bed.


The alien once again gets up before sunrise. The first thing he does is proceed to the family computer terminal in the living room, pull a ski cap down over his face, and type a message. Spencer, unable to see the words, is not at all computer-adept enough to have any idea who he is writing to and what he is saying.

Then the alien takes off the cap and writes another message. This one is to Spencer’s parents, apologizing for his recent behavior. He explains that the accident traumatized him and that he is having difficulty overcoming its aftereffects. He requests forbearance and understanding, and assures them that he will do his best to be more kind and congenial. He lets them know he’ll be spending his time hiking to get back into shape.

Spencer, helpless to intervene, bristles within. It has no right to interfere like this, he thinks.

After this note is finished he leaves the screen turned on, eats a quick breakfast, repacks the backpack, and heads once again for the mountains.

No! Spencer’s mind screams, helpless to do anything about it. No!


The following night hours after dark Spencer staggered into the house too tired to eat and, unable to make it up the stairs, fell asleep on the couch.


The next morning the alien takes off into the wilderness again.


And Spencer spent the day returning.


And the next day. And the next. For twelve straight days the pattern is followed—the alien hikes up the mountain and Spencer hikes back down.

Spencer is getting frantic, forced as he is into a situation in which he can choose to do nothing but survive or perish.

On the thirteenth day, however, the alien does not go out. He sleeps in until almost noon, eats a huge breakfast of eggs, sausages, hash browns, and pancakes, and then relaxes at the computer reading innocuous newsfeeds. He greets Spencer’s parents politely, inquires after their health, but otherwise lays low. At dinner he eats another enormous meal of steak, potatoes, various cooked vegetables, and salad, and tops it off with a generous wedge of apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Then he goes to bed early and sleeps soundly.


When he woke up this time Spencer wasn’t sure how to proceed. He was tired of fighting the alien presence in his body. He wanted it to end, once and for all. He was on the verge of giving up, of legally ejecting the alien, of taking back his broken quadriplegic body. At least it would be his and nobody else’s; he wouldn’t have to share it.

He didn’t have to ruminate long. At just past nine the doorbell rang. It was the lawyer who initially negotiated the contract. In addition to his drab official-looking suit, tie, and polished shoes he was wearing a heavy winter coat. “Good morning,” he said. “May I come in?”

In the living room they sat opposite each other in armchairs. Spencer’s mother brought steaming cups of coffee and then vanished.

“So then,” the lawyer said, “how are things going?”

“Could be better,” said Spencer.

“I know that. Sorry, I was just opening with small talk. My client messaged me several days ago about the situation. I had to travel a considerable distance at short notice to get here so quickly. He knows you’re not satisfied with the arrangement and therefore neither is he. He wants to either find a solution to the problem or void the contract.”

“Can he do that?”

“It would be difficult and expensive, but if the situation is as he described it, yes, it might be possible.”

Spencer sighed. “That’s fine with me. I can’t take this anymore. He might as well get out and find something better for himself.”

“First of all, it’s not it but he. They have genders in their species as well. You need to understand something. He comes from a culture very different from ours. The concept of causing pain to another member of the species doesn’t even exist. They are totally community-oriented. They gladly sacrifice themselves for one another rather than cause injury of any kind. He is aged and unable to fulfill his duties in their society, so he volunteered to be, as we call it, a nerve slug so he could still be of value. At the same time he hoped to be able to experience the sensations a human feels and do a bit of traveling. Instead, he was shocked at the way you seemed to walk all over people, hurt almost everyone you come into contact with both emotionally and physically, and appear to have no concept of promoting the well-being of others. He never expected things to be perfect; he expected a period of culture shock, so to speak, but he can’t take it anymore. In his message he apologized in advance to you for taking you on those hikes, but he felt it was the only way to keep you from doing more damage to those around you until we could resolve the problem.”

“I can’t take it anymore either,” said Spencer. “I’ve been thinking about it too. I think he’ll have to pull out and find someone more amenable. But that leaves me a complete quadriplegic and of no use to anyone. I’m planning to apply for voluntary euthanasia.”

The lawyer pulled a computer pad out of his briefcase and activated it. “Perhaps that won’t be necessary. My client has another proposition. I’ve drawn it up in legalese. Would you like to read it or shall I paraphrase it?”

“Go ahead and paraphrase.”

“Briefly, my client is willing to give it another go if you are, but the contract will be drastically altered. He realizes that this one day on, one day off arrangement doesn’t work. He also realizes that you lead a diverse, active, sensation-filled life which would satisfy his craving for experience. Therefore he is willing to grant you fulltime use of the body, all choices made by you. That would include getting back into competitive and stunt skiing if you wish; as a matter of fact, he thinks it would be thrilling to be a part of it. He has only one stipulation which you must adhere to, and considering your past performance he doesn’t think it would be easy. Though he wants to emphasize that he doesn’t expect perfection, there would be regular assessments to be sure that you are complying with the spirit of the stipulation if not the letter.”

“What is it?” asked Spencer.

“He wants you to try to be nice.”


“He wants you to make an effort, a sincere effort, to be nice to humans, aliens, animals: every living being you come into contact with. He’d even like you to be respectful to plants; he says that many species have a modicum of intelligence after their own fashion, and more than a bit of self-aware sensation. He doesn’t expect you to go all radical and become a vegetarian or whatever. He just wants you to be nice to other beings you encounter on a day-to-day basis. If you agree to do this, the body is yours.”

Spencer’s habitual rebellion flared up. “He has no right to tell me what to do.”

“Nevertheless, those are his terms. If you would like some time to think about it, that’s fine with him, but he asks that you remain isolated until you come to a decision.”


It really didn’t take Spencer long to decide. After all, it was basically a choice between compliance or medically-assisted suicide.

It took considerably longer, though, to rid himself of his narcissism. At first he attempted to do it himself, without assistance, but backslid continually. He read books, took classes, underwent therapy. He received, via the lawyer, several warnings from his nerve slug.

Finally, though, he began to get the hang of it. It really wasn’t so difficult, once he got used to it.

Afterwards he could single-mindedly get back to what he was good at. By this time he considered it in the nature of a collaboration. They did things together, he and his nerve slug. He even talked to it sometimes, when he was trying to make decisions, though it never answered, at least with words.

When he was ready he returned to Winterview and Rim’s End on Il Mostro. No one else in the meantime had dared to attempt the jump which had cost him his injury. He made sure that the safety nets were fully functional this time, and made no secret of it to the media. In the oxygen-thin, dizzying air he surveyed the vista of the mountains around and the valley below. “All right,” he said. “Let’s do this.” And pushed off. END

John Walters is a member of SFWA. His stories have been published in “Kaleidotrope,” “Talebones,” on YouTube, and in a number of anthologies, including “Chimeraworld #6” and “Infinite Science Fiction One.” Learn more about John at his website.


Hardy Fowler




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