Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


On the Road Again
by Michaele Jordan

A Prince of Blood and Spit
by Guy Stewart

by Brandon L. Summers

Little Ships
by Harold R. Thompson

Road Rage on the Hypertime Expressway
by Ken Altabef

Bug Out
by Cas Blomberg

By His Jockstrap
by Eamonn Murphy

Tamera’s Engagement
by John Hegenberger

Shorter Stories

From the Other Side of the Rubicon
by Sean Mulroy

To Be Carved
by David Steffen

Final Frames of the Eldrisil
by J. Daniel Batt


About That Colony
by John McCormick

Tesla and Newton
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




On the Road Again

By Michaele Jordan

MY SKIN SNAPPED BACK like a gigantic whole-body rubber band. I didn’t scream—I’d promised myself I wouldn’t scream—but I did moan softly at the violent assault on my exposed nerve ends. Eventually I opened my eyes and sat up, but the effort exhausted me and I fell forward over my knees. Which left me looking down along my calves to my toes.

Such skinny little legs, like a teenager’s. I sighed, which wasn’t easy in that position, and pushed myself up and off the table to stand on the floor. In a real hospital there would have been an officious nurse to stop me but a real hospital would have wanted to see my citizen ID. Temp clinics, you were on your own.

I had to hold on to the table. Just like my legs, my arms were thin as an adolescent’s, and my chest as nearly flat. But—of course—my skin was taut. And I was bald. Oh, boy. Well, the hair would grow back, but still ...

The walls of the procedure room started to shimmer. It was getting ready to shut down, delete itself from existence and restart sterile and ready for the next client. I had to get out quick, clutching my hospital gown around me, stumbling past the log-in station and the line of waiting patients and out into the parking lot. Blinking into the blaze of light reflected up from the tarmac, I held up a hand to protect my eyes from the sun, while turning in a 360 degree circle looking for the van.

It found me before I saw it, sliding up from behind me. I jumped a foot. Jack had to help me into the back, where I sank into the cushions with a groan. Funny how the younger they made me look, the older I felt.

When I woke, the late afternoon light was soft and buttery. Outside the window, the road slid smoothly by, bordered by fields laced with long shadows cast by a windbreak of pines. Just ahead were the Company’s Airstreams, like so many chubby robot pranksters, gleefully fleeing the sunset down an endless silver ribbon. I smiled and stretched—a wonderfully pain-free process, despite sleeping so long in cramped quarters—and sat up.

I leaned in by Jack to kiss his ear and glance at the clock on the dashboard. “Late,” I murmured. “Are we going to make it?”

“Sure.” I heard rather than saw him grin. “We’re nearly there now. You’ve got half an hour to brush up on your lines, and then ten minutes to put on your make-up and costume.”

“What? But ...” I gaped at him, too fuzzy headed to articulate that I wasn’t exactly fit for duty.

He sighed. “You thought you’d get a sick day?” He handed my pad back over the seat. “Special request. We’re doing Twelfth Night.” I sighed. Twelfth Night meant Jack and me.

Funny thing is, we aren’t really twins—not even siblings, just second cousins. But we sure are look-alikes. I took the pad. There wouldn’t even be time for dinner.

We came around a bend, and there was the town. It was too small to bother with suburbs; an invisible line marked the boundary between densely occupied city streets and open fields. The road suddenly sprouted traffic lights and green signs and scurrying pedestrians. Up ahead, a huge sign announced:

The Avram Patterson Players
“Twelfth Night”

Patterson was the only name mentioned because he was famous. His old movies turned up on TV all the time. Funny how nobody ever put it together that he must be dead by now. Long dead. “He’s too old for the road,” we told anybody that asked. It made people think we were legit, owned and operated by a legal citizen. Somebody they’d heard of.

I zombie-walked through the show—I was too hungry to focus and the lights were so hot, they burned me blind. The temp clinic must have over-torqued my eyes. Even so, next day I had a fan. I’d sprayed a zigzag streak of hot pink over my new cap of shiny white lamb-curls (thank God for Quik-Gro!), so the kid at the diner took me for one of his own kind. I wouldn’t have noticed him except he waylaid my waitress. I got up to complain, but she reappeared with food.

“I ordered for you,” he said, sitting down next to me. “You gotta be careful here. Not everything is edible.” He’d selected a burger and onion rings. Heavier than I was supposed to be eating right after a procedure. Plus, I wasn’t supposed to let fans pick me up. But I was starved.

“You look real different without any make-up. I almost didn’t recognize you,” he informed me, like he thought I cared. “I saw you last night. You were mega-marv. I’m totally spliced on you.”

I swallowed and took care to sound bored. “Thanks.” I took another bite.

“How’d you get to be an actor?” he asked. “Did you have to go to a special school or something? And how’d your parents take it? Mine would never let me do anything so cool.”

I shrugged. “I’ve been doing this forever. I got my first part when I was three.” Which was true.

“That’s orbital!” He watched me eat for a minute. “Will you go out with me Friday night?”

I didn’t roll my eyes. “I work nights.”

“Saturday afternoon, then?”

Before I could answer, there was a sudden stab in my gut. I caught my breath, which was difficult with a mouth full of food. I was eating way too fast. “We got a matinee.” He opened his mouth, but I shook my head. “Take the hint, kid. It’s a no-go.”

He didn’t just look hurt—he looked utterly shocked. “Why not?”

“You’re way too young for me.” He didn’t believe me, of course. “Really. I’m older than I look.” He opened his mouth again. “Much older. Take my word for it.”

He still didn’t believe me, but didn’t dare say so. I kept on eating so he couldn’t take it as an opening if I stopped. But my stomach really hurt. He stared at me a minute, then broke into a grin. “If I bring my crew to the show, can I bring ’em backstage to meet you?”

Cunning child. If he brought his friends back to meet me, then they’d believe him when he said he was going out with me. Might boost ticket sales, though. “How big’s your crew?”

He hesitated. Just a couple of buds, then, but he could talk more into coming if he could get them backstage. “There’s twelve of us.”

“Sure,” I told him. “Maybe I can get you into the cast party. But no free tickets. And the party’s BYOB.” There wasn’t really any cast party, but there would be if they brought booze. His face lit up like fireworks. Dumb kid. Then my stomach lurched and threw itself on a knife. It hurt so bad I went over, clutching my waist with one hand, and scrabbling for my pad with the other. “Jack,” I croaked into it, “Come get me.”

The pad slid out of my hand. The kid put an arm around me and tried to hold me up. “You okay?” he wailed. “You okay?”

Jack must have been nearby—he showed up right away—and the kid turned to him and wailed, “She’s sick. Just keeled right over. I’m calling 911.” Fortunately he saw my pad lying there and reached for it, instead of searching his pockets for his own.

This gave Jack a chance to intervene. “No time for that. We’ll take her to Marcie.”

“Marcie?” The kid was thumbing through my contacts list, looking for an emergency number, and getting more and more bewildered. Citizen phones always have 911 built into them but road people have their own emergency systems.

“Our medic.” He saw how the kid was struggling, and added, “Just hit M.”

The kid nodded and hit the button. He was probably relieved how fast Marcie showed up with a gurney. After all, her trailer was just around the corner. And me, I was relieved, too.

I must have blacked out, but I couldn’t have been out long. When I opened my eyes, I was on Marcie’s table, but both Jack and the kid were still there.

“It’s not good, Jack,” she was saying. “All her nutrient absorption systems are in total shut down. The clinic must have failed to disconnect the drain. So she’s starving to death at high speed, right in front of us.”

“Can you fix it?” The kid jumped in so fast he cut off Jack, who’d probably been about to say the same thing. Marcie and Jack turned to stare at the kid, who backed off.

So it was me that brought them back on topic, “Well, can you?”

Marcie sort of nodded, sort of shook her head. “I’ve got you stable for now. I can keep you that way for awhile. But we’re gonna have to get you back to a clinic, soon.”

“That’s gonna cost,” I pointed out. “More than we got.”

She shook her head. “If we can prove it was their error, there’ll be no charge for the follow-up.”

“Can we do that?” I asked.

Jack waved that off. “That’s for then, this is now. How stable is stable, Marcie? Can she work tonight? We sold out last night.” Jack’s also our accountant.

“Sure, I can,” I told them, jumping off the table to demonstrate. Except when I hit the ground, I couldn’t stand. Jack caught me before I actually fell down.

Marcie shook a finger in my face. “Don’t do that again.” Jack and the kid put me back on the table. To Jack, she continued. “I can get her on her feet for a while, but ...” She bit her lip. Even Marcie bought into that whole show must go on routine. Especially when we sold out.

“Or maybe ... Remember when you got your last peel?” Jack nodded. I remembered, too. Fifteen years ago. “Somebody was looking for you, so we pulled a swap?” It had worked like a charm. I’d played Sebastian, and the cops had been all over me after the show. Only to find out that I wasn’t who they were looking for. “Sebastian’s a pretty small part,” continued Marcie. “I could maybe keep her going long enough for that with stims.”

The kid had been staring and gaping through it all, and now burst out, “You want to feed a patient stims? So you can maybe keep her going? Are you even a real doctor?”

Marcie turned on him with a look that had cowed bigger, older guys than him, then glanced back to Jack and jerked a thumb at the door. Jack nodded, grabbed the kid’s arm, and started hustling him out.

“I’m calling a real doctor!” he squeaked. “You’re not supposed to take chances with patients! It’s against the law!”

“Wait!” I said. Jack gave me a funny look but stopped. “Kid,” I said. “You can’t do that.”

He turned to me, still glaring. “Why not?”

“I’m not covered in your medical network.” I told him. “Your doctors won’t treat me.”

“But ...” He spluttered out, then tried again. “But everybody ...”

“No,” I said. “Not everybody. Just all citizens.” I let him think about that. “Really. You ask your doctors to treat me, all you’ll accomplish is maybe getting me arrested.”

“You’re not a citizen?” His face screwed up into a completely ridiculous expression. Jack’s face did the same, but on Jack, it meant what’d you have to tell him that for? I shrugged. It’s not like most citizens didn’t know we weren’t citizens. They just liked to pretend they didn’t know.

The kid was thinking hard, and his face did funny things, like he was thinking so hard he’d lost track of it. Eventually he said, “They can’t arrest you just for not being a citizen!” Uneasy pause. “Can they?”

Jack and Marcie laughed. I answered. “Technically, no. But once you’ve attracted their attention, they can usually think of something else to bust you for. Like trying to obtain citizen services fraudulently.” I let him think some more. “So don’t go trying to drag a citizen doctor into this.” I smiled. “Please. You don’t want to get me in trouble, do you?”

His face melted like candle wax. Because I’d smiled at him. Dumb kid. “I’m worried about you,” he whispered. “That woman’s not a real doctor.” Marcie’s lips tightened. “I want to help you.”

“Okay,” I told him. “You can help me run lines.” I dropped Marcie a wink, and she made a snarly face. “Here, give me your pad.” I held out a hand and Marcie took advantage of the opening to stick a tube in under my arm.

The kid’s pad was a very new model, smaller than most pads, but bigger than the usual ph’only, with functions and plug-ins even a three-year-old could handle. I fed the Script into his Reader. “I’ve already got Shakespeare on there,” he protested when he saw me selecting Twelfth Night.

“Yeah. But not a Script.” I hit, Run Lines, Sebastian and Support, transforming the text into his personal script. “It’s not a fancy app. But every actor has it.” He puffed up at that. Marcie shrugged and circled me with tubes and patches and sensors, all of which I ignored, because the kid was saying, “You want me to start at Will you stay no longer?” I nodded, and he went on, “Nor will you not that I go with you?” The archaic language didn’t faze him—he read it pretty well.

By your patience, no.” I answered. Even as I spoke, I was nervously scanning ahead. We all know all the shows, of course, and Sebastian would only get about twenty minutes stage time, but I hadn’t played the part in fifteen years. Marcie stuck something on my neck, and I relaxed. She’s got an amazing gift for mixing stims and softs—she could get a decent walk-on out of a dead guy. “Therefore I shall crave of you your leave, that I may bear my ills alone.” Nice little part. I’d be fine.


I woke up wishing I hadn’t. I hurt all over, from a splitting headache to cramping toes, surrounding a stomach twisted into a Möebius strip. A bad hangover, maybe? There’d been a cast party—how much had I had to drink? We’d been a huge hit. The kid had dropped hints all over town about a surprise ending, and a lot of people came just to see if we would really change the ending of a Shakespeare play. We sold so many tickets we had to move the show to the school auditorium.

We’d put Jack into one of the bodice-ripper gowns, and when we went out for curtain calls he pulled it open to reveal his bare chest, while I cooed and dimpled effeminately. The audience was appropriately shocked and thrilled, and gave us a standing ovation. Afterwards, they had showered us with food and drink and adulation.

Still, I hadn’t really partied much. Stims and stage-thrill had gotten me through my fight scene—which we’d staged with more emphasis on comedy than sword-play—but by the time they finished clapping I was trembling from the effort of staying upright. I couldn’t duck the party—too many people wanted to come over and see for themselves I was a girl. So Jack tucked me into a comfy chair and Marcie fussed around, playing mother hen, and everybody brought me drinks and food—most of which Marcie took away from me immediately.

I sighed. Not a hangover, then. I cracked an eye open. I was back in Marcie’s trailer, instead of my own. A bad sign. There were voices in the next room. Marcie arguing with someone at the door. She was still in mid-sentence when the kid bounced in. “Hey, you want visitors, right? We’re here to cheer you up,” he chirped and dragged over a stool. His face froze for an instant, then slowly fell. “Oh, man,” he breathed. “You look awful!” He called to the door. “Uncle Ben, she looks awful!”

Untroubled by Marcie’s protests, a tall, dark-haired man carrying a large leather bag came in. He peered at Marcie’s equipment with a knowledgeable air, before joining the kid at my side.

“You’re right,” he acknowledged. “She does look awful.” He made a shooing gesture at his nephew, and commandeered the stool, then gently pinched my cheek. With his other hand he extricated a pair of glasses from his pocket, and peered closely at the roll of flesh he was thumbing. “Wow,” he said, “More plastic than skin here. How often have you done this?”

“Get away from my patient,” snarled Marcie.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not treating her. I’m just here to keep an eye on Paul.”

“Why? Is he stepping on your lines?” I slapped his hand away from my cheek (I’d always hated having my cheeks pinched, even when I was a little kid) and tried to sit up. Uncle Ben pulled back and watched as I failed.

“Easier way to do that,” he murmured, and touched something on the side of the bed, which caused it to lift up into a recliner. Spinning on the stool, he looked up at some of the readouts behind my head, then reached for Marcie’s pad, still sitting on her desk.

“Seeing as you’re not treating her,” growled Marcie, “Maybe you shouldn’t be prying through her confidential information.” He didn’t even seem to have heard her, just went on thumbing through whatever he was looking at—my health record, I guessed—and his face got grimmer and grimmer as he read.

Finally he pulled out an old-fashioned pen and paper and scribbled a lengthy note. “Of course I’m not treating her,” he replied. “I’m not going to risk losing my license for a gypsy. But if I were treating her—just hypothetically, you understand—this is what I would recommend.”

Marcie’s angry look faded into guarded interest, and she scanned his note. After a moment, she snorted. “Right. Sure.”

She penetrated his distance at last. His chin jerked up and he opened his mouth, staring at her with astonishment. “Why not?”

She rolled her eyes. “You gotta be licensed to get this stuff.”

“Told you she wasn’t a real doctor,” hissed Paul.

“Hush, Paul. She’s doing the best she can.” Ben actually sounded sympathetic. “A temp clinic could probably get this stuff, if the customer knew to order it in advance. But you’d need real medical supervision for the work.” He gave her a stern glare. “Medical supervision, like you should have had last time.”

To my astonishment, she crumpled. “I know. Now, anyway. But access to the clinic overrides costs a bundle, and we thought it was routine.”

“Routine? Because she’s been through it before? That doesn’t make it safer. It makes it more dangerous.” Marcie just nodded and hung her head. “Well, you’re going in with her this time, whatever it costs. Because if you stick her back in an automated system, she’ll die. I guarantee it.” I was going to die? From a stomach ache? “Are you up to it?”

Paul started to shrill, “But she’s not a real ...”

Ben cut him right off. “I said shut up, Paul. A lot of these road medics are pretty good. They have to be. They just don’t have system access.”

“I can’t be dying,” I interjected. “I did a show just last night.”

“Yeah, that was seriously stupid.” Ben shook his head. “You show people are all crazy.”

“We got a standing ovation!”

He gestured toward the medical equipment. “And look at how much good it did you.”

I wanted to jump up and rage at him. But I could barely lift my head. To my acute embarrassment, I started to cry.

“Shit,” said Ben. “I hate it when they cry.” He rummaged in his bag, as if he were looking for something, casually laying a number of small hand tools and tiny bottles on Marcie’s desk in the meanwhile. Marcie looked at the stuff, glanced at Ben and back at the stuff. Then it all suddenly disappeared from the desk, as smooth and fast as water flowing down.

He must have noticed. He was sitting right there. Or maybe not. Marcie was the best magician in the Company. Finally Ben pulled out a horrible thing with prongs, input jacks, and neatly coiled protruding tubes. It looked like a parasite from an old time science-fiction movie. Whatever it was, Marcie’s eyes opened very wide at the sight of it.

Ben stared at it, like Hamlet gazing down at Yorick. “One of these would make a big difference keeping her stable until you can get a clinic set up.” He looked at Marcie. “Just out of curiosity, do you know how to black this out of system tracking?” She nodded. He pulled out his pad, and keyed in a text. “You better, because it’s been reported stolen.”

She nodded again and he handed her the thing. She had a look on her face I’d never seen before. She squeezed in between him and the bed and planted the thing on my stomach. I yelped. It was ice-cold, and the little prongs all started digging in to my skin. She looked back at Ben and whispered, “Thank you.”

“What for? I’m not here. I never was.” He stood up. “Come on, Paul. You’re out of luck. She really is way too old for you. Do me a favor, and next time fall in love with someone local.”

“But ...” Ben yanked on his arm, and they left. One of those prongs must have been a drug feed—I passed out in the middle of a thought.

I woke just as suddenly, with no idea where I was, and strapped down too tightly to look. Scary. But then I recognized the rumble. The song of the wheels, the unmistakable trembling of a vehicle in motion that no shock system ever built had completely eliminated. Back on the road already? I was too sick to drive, so they’d strapped me into the rear like luggage.

I closed my eyes with a sigh, and surrendered to the humming of the tires. Citizens think the road is dangerous. They’re always asking us why we’re not scared to be out there all the time. But they have it backwards. There’s no place safer than the road. It’s their nasty little towns that are dangerous.

When I woke again, I was in the van in a parking lot outside a temp clinic. Marcie and Jack were next to me. At first I thought I was on my way in, and then I saw Jack’s smile. Not worry. Relief. Marcie was grinning, too. Jack gave my hand a squeeze, then crawled behind the wheel, and drove us to some little town or other. The rest of the Company was still playing out our last contract—not Twelfth Night, of course. Julius Caesar. They didn’t need look-alikes for Julius Caesar or even many girls.

The three of us set up in a little local theatre, doing No Exit, while we waited for the Company to catch up with us. Not my favorite show, but it let me spend most of the performance sitting down. A pleasant break at my age, but I was still intensely glad to see our Airstreams trundling into town. I ran over to help set up for an under-the-stars-extravaganza of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And who do you think popped out of the door. Paul! Smirking like running away from home was something clever he’d invented. Dumb kid. END

Michaele Jordan is the author of “Mirror Maze.” Her novel, “Blade Light,” was serialized in “Jim Baen’s Universe,” and she has numerous shorter works scattered around the ether. Her latest novel, “Jocasta and the Indians,” is soon to be released.


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