Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips




To Live if it Kills Me

By Andrew Darlington

HE DOESN’T COME OUT AND SAY “all the other kids at college have Crests, why can’t I?” He wouldn’t say that. He knows better. He knows all too well about our circumstances. But I can see it scrawled across his face. I know it’s there somewhere inside his bright intelligent head. He won’t hurt me by asking it, but he’s thinking it.

If some get welfare like it’s a lottery win, then they didn’t issue me with the game rules. You see them flashing it on the skeds. Maybe you need the correct ailment, the right qualifying physical disability? They get it all. We get base minimum. Fridog through Shatterday, I harangue and get blanked with nothingness. If there’s a code they don’t tell me, if there’s a keyword I can’t figure it, or maybe there’s a secret handshake? Whoever’s writing my script has left voids in my dialogue, omissions in my vocabulary.

And all the other kids have Crests. No wonder he’s falling behind. No prompts. No cerebral-leads. No access. Of course he’s disadvantaged. And it’s down to me, my status, my pathetic inadequacies. I’ve done nothing, and nothing beyond nothing. Ermintrude got took in that unfortunate grinder incident during the block-riots. I’ve never been able to walk past a “Soylent-U-Like” kiosk since. Just me and Jeddie now. And I’m not good.

I’m squatting where the big multipanel vids are blood-washing across the precinct, spieling about the big choice. My choices reducing. Under the walkways the rodents are always hungry. No matter how hard you whack them they keep coming back. Same thing here. No matter who takes office, we’re always here. Always hungry. Barry Madrigal is a known quantity. Same corruption. Same inefficiency. But that Metharon, he’s dangerous, preys on people’s fears.

And all the other kids on the block have shiny new Crests stitched into their right temples. Flash and sexy. He never asks me why. He never accuses me. But there’s nothing he can say I’ve not already called myself. Sometimes I feel it breathing in my ear, all itchy-creepy sinister. The cough-cough and spit. The bloody stuff that hacks up out of my throat, leaving me weak. It’s inside me, gnawing away at my guts.

The Trip Palace is a studio of gleam and shine, emerald and gold.

“Hubert Marlowe?” The faint daemonic underglow from the screens lighting him. “You already gave. You know it’s not advisable to release so soon.”

“I know what I’m doing. I’ve thought it through.”

“And demand for your ... shall we say, body type is strictly niche.” He’s haggling. It comes as a fully-wired reflex action. Of course oldsters go for young sex-bodies, it’s only natural. When you’re pushing your 120s, even a walking corpse patched together from transplant-organs gets into tired malfunction, and a thirst to feel nubile flesh around them. Even the dead still live in hope. And it’s not as though there’s a shortage of willing body-rentees in that demographic. But on the same unprincipled principle there are apex-kidults out there who wanna cruise in on squalor-thrilldom too, surfing wretched bodies they can stretch and pump full of vileness, just for the yukky horror of it. I have my uses.

He shrugs. “It’s your body to use and abuse.” And he ushers me in. How long ...? On a sliding scale. The longer I vacate my body and the uptown joy-trippers pilot it, the more negotiables I get. But the worse the comedown. And I’m still aching from the last one. They use narcs on me that I’d be terrified to use on myself. They do all that creepy-crawly stuff with my body that scares the shit outta me. But I’ve got nothing else to trade. This is it. And Jeddie needs a Crest.

I drink the DreemyKreme. The spikes go in. If what they’re doing is not real, so define “real.” Feed me your conundrum, baffle around and within me. Twitch when you coma, sweat through the session, fingers jerk with flame against the restraints. A colony of electric eels quivers up and down my spine. Pain lancing my skull like the slow rhythmic insertions of a grotesque sewing machine puncturing a carpet needle underneath my skin. Stitch this. Again and again. I’m disintegrated. Disunited, blown from nowhere to nowhere from plasma-drift into waveform. Into a nothingness so empty that even the quality of darkness is absent. Until you wake up in fits and startles. It’s hard waking. There’s a taste in my mouth that’s no taste at all; there’s not an organ in my body that’s not been pounded. What the hell have they been doing to me while I’ve been having my out-of-body excursion?

There’s a rad-storm blowing in. You feel the microwave pinprick tingle on your skin. As numbness recedes, replaced by ache, I take a slideway to the underworld. Into the realm of half-life. I confess to a scary shiver. These are death-saturated levels. I’m descending into zones of darkness, trespassing into a forbidden hell where freaks wage turf-wars and blast each other to messy pools of pulp. Law barely skims here, too timid to intrude. For these places have their uses. I hunch up into my hood, eyes down on vomit-spattered pedway, shrinking into myself, to present a reduced target, attempting invisibility.

I’ve been here before, until I’ve nothing left to pawn. So my idents gain me admission to Winslip’s fortified unit, jammed from ceiling to floor with hocked merchandise. From chiller units to tri-vids, from hover-sleds and gyrodynes to personal body-augments. He’s behind his grille, scowling is his natural expression, but he recognizes me and waddles out to meet and greet, noshing at a big wedge of soy-pizza at the same time. There’s a rumpled old-fashioned cut to his dark suit. He doesn’t much care about clothes. But he lives well, considering. Feeding off others desperation, pawning at stupid rates, selling off what can never be redeemed.

“Hubert Marlowe as I live and breathe. To what do you owe this honour ...?”

“Hey, Horace. You know how it goes,” attempting a casual jauntiness I don’t feel. “What do you know about Crests?”

He whistles low. “I hate handling guns so very much,” his eyes half-shut, faintly amused, “but in my line of work they’re a necessity.” Just to let me know he’s packing. Not that I’m likely to try. “And Crests ... well, they don’t come with no bargain price-tag. Them chip-buddies are prestige for sure. Best forget it.”

He rummages around in a set of security-boxes. “See here ... these are recent-generation trade-ins.” He holds one up. A slim aquamarine crescent, less than a raised eyebrow of tech. “This’ll set you back more than your own body-weight.” He’s right. Even for the cutdown price he’s asking, I’d have to rent myself into permanent-vacation to cover the deposit.

“It’s for Jeddie, this is serious, Horace. He’s the only kid at college without one. They already pick on him, I’m scared they’re gonna whomp him raw.”

“I sympathise, I really do. But there’s only so far good will can take you, Hubert. Don’t you believe me?”

“Didn’t say nothing about believing or not. But I do have negotiables.”

“How much you talking?”

He tries not to smile when I show him. He does the “hee-haw” thing, which is all part of his technique. “Tell you what I can do. I like you Hubert, you’ve always been straight with me. And that Jeddie, he’s a decent kid. Respectful. Not like the scum around here. So maybe, just maybe ...” He leads me through. His stockroom levels are ident-seal organic-gated, and crammed with junk. There’s more rummaging and wheezing as he hefts this out the way, and delves deep into solcrates. Then comes up brandishing a dull slug.

“Military-surplus. Those guys have deep pockets. They get the best.”

I look dubious. “How old is that thing?”

“Yes, it’s bigger than new models, but most of it is subcutaneous, so no one can tell. Yes, it’s old, and it’s not subject to new upgrades, but it’s still direct cloud-wired. It does the do. And I tell you what—this is the clever bit, keep up Hubert, keep up, this is the essential guts of the Crest, but what I’ve also got is an empty new model shim to clip over it. See?”

“How old is it, exactly?”

“Are you and Jeddie voting?” He’s deliberately evading. Assumes it’s a done deal. “That Metharon’s a nasty piece of work. Cutting welfare, increase crackdown policing, repatriate Muties to the radlands. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against Muties, most of them are OK sort of people, not their fault their grandparents DNA got frazzled in the thermo exchanges. Some of them trade in stuff here. Is Jeddie voting?”

He scans the sale into his account.

“First time for him. We’ve talked around it. But hey, how much do these kids know?”

He nods sagely. “Any problems with this, don’t come back. You didn’t get it here, right?”

Jeddie’s not too sure when he first sees it. But once it’s positioned, and after the initial embedding sting, he brightens up. Voila! it’s good to see that expression on his face. Makes it all worthwhile. He stays in his room most of the evening, exploring his way around it, and eventually pronounces it good. We hug. Parenting can have its rewards, despite all the bad stuff. And things are on the up for a couple of superfine days. My abused body heals, the rectal bleeding stops. Still coughing up phlegm, but that’s pretty normal for me. But I’m a fatalist. I can never accept this will last. It will go wrong. It always does. There’s even a certain degree of morbid curiosity about it, a nervy anticipation of what exactly the fates are conspiring for me this time. And although there’s a new external appearance of self-assurance and coolness possessing Jeddie, I suspect it’s thin—a shell of self-defense ready to crack under no great impact.

And then it cracks. I can tell something’s wrong the moment he comes in. But I say nothing. Instead, he beckons me across. He shows me a feed from the Crest, looping it onto my chron. I’m watching, through his eyes, from his viewpoint. No sound. He’s walking the sked. He cuts right into an alley. That’s where they’re waiting to jump him. Probably not specifically him, not Jeddie in particular. Just someone who takes the shortcut through. I guess once, way back in some rural idyll, young sporty guys went out hunting in the great forests, trapping bears and deer and beavers and all those other things you see in museums. That same instinct persists here, in the cities, but gets inflicted onto any unfortunate who happens along. Sport. There are three of them, blocking his path, and another behind, blocking his escape. My guts tighten.

His ears burn, his cheeks flame, then an icy coldness seeps into his limbs. His teeth snap shut, his fists clench and unclench, then clench again. Cause and effect, delinquency and punishment. Simple equation. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. He drops. His right boot lashes out, impacts the lead hood’s knee, it bends back grotesquely, I see the shattered bone protrude through ruptured flesh. At the same time, he spins, takes the one to the right, two fingers in the eyes that pop and drool down his cheek like messy tears. The one to the left is startled and takes a pace backwards. Jeddie grabs him by the jacket-front, lifts him physically and hurls him at the guy to the rear. They go down in a tangle of limbs, and Jeddie is on them, stomping his boot into face one, then face two. They’re squirming and bleeding and scrabbling with broken nails at the floor. If there was sound, it’d be unpleasant to hear.

Jeddie stands back. His chest heaving. The hardness leaves his face, replaced by a look of terror. Not at the threat, but at his own actions. He looks at me. This is not my Jeddie. He could never do this. We both know it’s the Crest. They can rewrite behavior. Some people totally immerse in them, a narcotic of games, sims and stims. Others use them as plug-in prompts, auxiliary info-feeds, and mood modifiers to edit behavior, eliminate a stammer for example. But this is more than that.

Well—what would you do? We plead, swear, argue and protest. We do everything short of coming to blows; I’ve seen him enhanced-active, I know better than to do that. And I promise to sort it out.

Later, as he sleeps, I sit for a long while staring at the illuminated slats on the ceiling where blood-red light spills across from the street. Siren-alerts blip-blip-blipping, spiraling across the block levels. Introspection is a deadly thing that glooms me, but the darkness fits my mood. So many things have been placed in the world simply to make life tough for us. It’s not fair.

Sundog, Election day. Barry Madrigal facing off against Metharon. Me? I’m jerky, worried and irritable, my stomach a tight knot full of snapping crawlers, I’ve got overriding urgencies above and beyond politics. More in a mindless state than a state of mind. When Jeddie heads off for college, I vis Horace Winslip. His face lights my screen. “Tell me, this Crest, where’s it from?”

His eyes are evasive, as though he’s chewing over options. Then it’s like he’s come to a decision. “You’re a good guy Horace, you’ve always been straight with me. I owe you that much. We can’t talk where listen-in spooks abound. So come around. I’ll expect you.”

I nerve myself. It seems like such a long and hazardous traipse. I do it in no time, and I’m there again face to facing him. I tell him what’s occurred. In detail.

He fumbles and mumbles. “I told you, you never got that Crest from me. I sold you and told you nothing ... right? If you say you heard this from me, you’re a liar. But I feel, a degree of ... say, responsibility. So I’ll tell you what I know, which might be lies anyway. Bunch of Muties brought these things in. Told me they’d been scavenging down the rad-well crater, y’know, where the bio-nukes took out Crescent City during the East-Block exchange? It’s what they do to get by. No-one else dares enter those zones. They’ve nothing to lose. They found three Crests embedded in the skulls of three skeletal remains, way down ...”

“Are you listening to the words coming out your mouth? You’re saying the Crest is toxic?” in nothing more than a fierce whisper.

“No, no man, I checked them out, they’re clean of contaminants. They’re military, but obviously old. They’re opaque to new downloads and upgrades—and there’s a perfect storm of uplinks going on now, but it has autonomous survival protocols. They were outlawed and rewritten fifty years ago, but that’s what triggered your Jeddie. Believe me, it’s on his side, when he has enemies, it destroys those enemies. That’s what it was made to do.”

I’m out there almost before he’s finished. I don’t stop until I get to college. I track him with the Crest tracer. Right to the room which is red with bloody entrails. He stands there at the centre, distraught, a spattered blade in one hand, a broken-off stanchion messy with brain-stuff in the other. Taking and adapting non-permanent fixtures for expedient use. Identifying and targeting the one-hundred-and-seven vital human body-points where a blow can inflict maximum damage. The others are not only dead, but butchered beyond recognition, eyeballs and limbs, stomachs ripped open, skulls staved in. The stench is sick. How many ...? Ten, thirteen ...? Impossible to tell. He looks across at me. There’s terror in his eyes, he’s trembling with aftershock. He’s not under threat, he is the threat.

We head out immediately, before the repercussions begin. Dry-douse in the level facility to cleanse away betraying blood-spurts. Then lose ourselves in the thronging student body even as the sirens howl and the droids and drones get a fix. We take a hover, not exactly mine, but I’ve got enough access. That’s sufficient. The big multipanel vids are vivid-washing across the precincts, spieling Metharon’s shock-win with a surge in the younger first-vote demographic. And it all fits into place in my head. Metharon’s promo-team are utilising the Crests, upgrading those ubiquitous lozenges with new prompt-imperatives, to coordinate his electoral coup. The city’s about to get a whole lot nastier. Out of the network, interpreted by Jeddie’s Crest, those actions equate insurrection. One guy comes at him with evil intent, it identifies a new enemy. It also has its imperatives.

On the orbital loop out towards the east-ramps and the rad-wastes beyond, we call off at a “Soylent-U-Like” kiosk for a last burger. Sorry, Ermintrude, but it’s finally time to cut loose and move on. Heading out east beyond city jurisdiction, following that watery and indistinct sun. I’ve a feeling that Jeddie is more than capable of dealing with whatever we meet out there. END

Andrew Darlington has had masses of material published in all manner of strange and obscure places, magazines, websites, anthologies, and books. He’s also worked as a Stand-Up poet on the Alternative Cabaret Circuit. He blogs at Eight Miles Higher.




adjacent fields


deep fried