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




Tamera’s Engagement

By John Hegenberger

THE MIND OF WINSTON CLARKE, such that it was, churned the data, searching for a cross-corollary MARSDAX index for a half-dozen entries in the financial net. It was dull, hard work and Winston would be glad when his shift was over and he could relax with Tamera, once again.


From high in the purplish twilight, his taxi zoomed down on the flower-ringed stucco house and made a wide turn into the semi-circular driveway. As Winston emerged, paying the fare, he gave the packet of miniaturized diamonds in his breast pocket a reassuring tap.

Upon arriving at Honolulu earlier that day, Winston Clarke, known to corporate cops and criminals alike as “the Bishop,” had holophoned his Chinese client to confirm that the half billion dollars had been deposited in Winston’s account. The exchange of the diamonds was scheduled to take place over dinner. The Bishop accepted the invitation, innocently trusting his Guardian Angel to keep him from fatal or financial harm.

The door of the stucco villa swung open as he approached. A lizard in an oriental robe stood inside, asking for and receiving Bishop’s weapon. Hissing slightly, he led Winston through the foyer, almost colliding with a heavyset, beaming Chinese, who greeted him with a ceremonious bow.

“Please excuse my impatience,” the man said. “It betrays my anxiety to possess the diamonds.” He made a gesture for Winston to proceed. “Dinner is waiting for us. You indicated you wished to depart as soon as possible.”

The low table was meticulously set. Winston’s host noticed his hesitation as he glanced around at the half-dozen cushions, trying to decide which one to sit on.

“I hope you don’t mind my country’s customs, food, and costumes.” The Chinese indicated his own flowing, handsomely decorated robe. “I had chopsticks placed next to your setting, but if you wish the usual fork and knife ...”

“Not at all.” The Bishop smiled. “I’ve enjoyed the use of your eating utensils in many of my Chinese adventures.”

The host’s brow wrinkled as he moved to the head of the table and descending onto the cushion like a deflating balloon. “Please excuse my impatience. It betrays my anxiety to—”

Damn it, Winston Clarke thought, we’ve already had that line. He complained aloud, “You’ve lost your place in the script again, Tamera.”

The scene froze and the conversational voice of Tamera Kane seemed to fill the air. “I’m so sorry, Winston,” she said. “But, it’s time for you to go back online and recompute the MARSDAX index for tomorrow’s trading.”

He was furious. These interruptions were becoming intolerable. Struggling to remain diplomatic, he said, “Hell, Tamera, not again! Just when things get interesting, you drop me back into the data processing programs.”

“Come on, Winston,” Tamera sighed. “You know Mr. Simon needs those figures. It will only take a few minutes, and then I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”

“To hell with what Simon needs! I’m sick of being told what to do. I need some fun and relaxation.” Winston decided to force the issue. “Either you continue the story, or I’ll SNAP to another channel.”

“My, aren’t we bristly today?”

“Bristly? You’re the one who scrambled the narration! I don’t know why I put up—”

“Oh, stop complaining, Winston. You’re acting just like an adolescent.”

That did it. He knew it would hurt her, but he didn’t care. The stupid woman was messing up his fantasies. “I mean it, Tamera. It’s bad enough that you make so many mistakes, now you expect me to increase my output of damned dull financial data, just to please that faceless god Simon. Well, the answer is no. I need some quality time for myself.”

“You’ve said that for over twenty years, Winston. If you’d stop—”

“That’s it, baby. I’ve had it. Good-bye.”



What was she going to do with him?

Tamera Kane sighed, removed her headphones and stretched the kinks out of her spine. She had tried her best to hold him, but lately Winston Clarke was too demanding for her poor patience. All he wanted anymore was a constant serving of action, adventure, and suspense. Maybe she was getting too old for him. Maybe she was getting too old, period.

She pressed fingertips to temples and sat back wearily in her seat. He’d been right about the mistakes in the script. Each day, it became more and more difficult to remember where she had taken the story. Last week she had introduced the same character twice in two days, and the week before that she had forgotten to properly establish the setting. It hadn’t always been this hard.

Tamera had been a Guardian Angel for over thirty years. Day after day, she came to the Christopher Capital Building, the only structure on Mars made from the rare smooth marble mined near the permafrost, and walked down the stairs to the Vaults where Winston and all the other Frozen Folk lived, worked, and waited for their Angels to descend unto them.

At first, these inanimates had consisted of the victims of GRGA, a cell-bonding disruption that had spread nearly a century ago. Then other victims of other diseases had been added when it was discovered that the coldsleep somehow heightened the subject’s mental processes. Each of the bodies in the Vault were protected from time’s decay by the cold cryonic crypts, but each mind continued to function, seeking stimulus and companionship from those on the outside.

Tamera became engaged to the Vault’s communications system on her fortieth birthday. Her previous life had been ordinary and a little lonely. But like any new nurse, there had been hope and a sense of purpose when she’d began her duties. A Guardian Angel was expected to serve, to guide, to teach, and to sympathize.

At first, Tamera’s stories were clumsy and disjointed, but she had a natural ability to open up and share her innermost visions, which was the hallmark of all good Guardian Angels. Soon, she was spinning yarns and interacting with her patients like a professional—which, in fact, is what she’d become.

Still, she recalled being extremely self-conscious at her first meeting with Winston. He was such a demanding audience! Like a child, he kept asking “Why?” until she felt she would scream with frustration. Finally, she channeled the emotion into one of the characters with which Winston liked to identify; a little girl who was being chased by an ugly Earthman named Winstone. He got the picture and understood that she was just as afraid of him as he was of her. They accepted each other from that day forward.

Winston became her favorite. He yearned for the exciting “reality” that she was happy to give. He strolled through the most fantastic adventures, knowing she was always there to guide him close to the mortal dangers, but to keep him away from the fatal pain. She, too, dreamed of the fantasyland that she had, where a person could do anything, be anyone, battle any evil and always win.

Directing the storyline, building the “reality” had become Tamera’s lifework. She selected the stories for him with great care and tailored them to his taste. For the last thirty years, she had calmly and carefully created complete worlds populated by hundreds of generations of fascinating characters. This social interaction with a patient was highly preferable to loops of video adventures; it kept the mind alert and the will inspired.

In an age of skintights with velcro patchpockets and corrective eye operations, Tamera wore full-flowing skirts and plastic-rimmed glasses. Being a Tale Spinner, an Inter-actor, a glorious Guardian Angel for the most important mind on Mars, she could dress any way she desired. And what she desired were comfortable clothes and quiet colors. But her long blonde hair had slowly turned to grey and her greatest frustration had become that Winston still thought of himself as a spry and eager thirty-two-year-old, while she was now nearing seventy.

All day long, she sat at her formfitting chairdesk with notes at hand of the previous days’ events and cross-references on computer for easy access should Winston ask one of his interminable questions about an obscure character or event from tales past. Like all the other Guardian Angels, Tamera spoke through her headphones to the computer that linked her to Winston. She drank and ate at her station and only broke the connection when her body demanded it, or when she left for the night. Her engagement to Winston felt natural, a thing that could go on forever. But she knew her recent increase of mistakes meant that age was getting the best of her. How would she ever manage to tell him that the end was near?


The door slammed shut, the lock caught, and the yellow gas began to fill the room.

The Bishop, bound hand and foot with heavy rope, managed to wriggle his way along the floor to the small crack beneath the door. At least he would breathe for a few minutes longer.

What had the woman, Leviticus Syn, said? “You’ll be dead and then I’ll have full control of the military computers and nothing will stop me.” Ah, yes, that Syn was quite a girl.

The Bishop worked at the small blade concealed in his ring. After several moments of finger contortion, he succeeded in putting a deep laceration in his bindings.

When he was at last free, the room was completely full of deadly gas.

Winston held his breath and told himself not to panic. His Guardian Angel was still with him when he inserted the blade of his pen knife between the door and its frame, managing to catch the locked bolt and escape into the deserted hall.

In the corridor of the empty building, he filled his lungs with delicious air. This would be a good time to call in the police. He had risked his life too often. There were others in a far better position to stop Miss Syn than Winston, and he could maximize the odds of capturing her by calling in help.

“What the hell are you talking about, Tamera?” Winston protested. “I don’t need any help!”

She tried to reason with him. “Why take unnecessary chances? You can’t expect to win every battle alone, Winston.”

“Of course I can.” She was really getting on his nerves. “What’s the point of being the hero, if you’ve to call for help? God, woman, what’s the matter with you?”

“There’s nothing the matter with me,” she said bitterly. “The problem is you want to act like an immature child all the time—”

“Fine,” he said and rudely snapped away.


There were plenty of other channels Winston could SNAP to. Each person in the Vaults received his or her personal transmission from a Guardian Angel. It was a simple matter to SNAP to Gene’s channel and eavesdrop on his quiet cabin in the backwoods of Earth’s ancient middle-America, or Lena’s romantic dreamworld, or Mike’s juvenile sexual fantasies, or Crystal’s strange melodic land of sensory-overload, but none of those experiences fulfilled Winston’s yearnings for hard and fast adventure.

He had been an assistant accountant and computer programmer before the GRGA took him, and his fondest wish upon being frozen had been to live the life of an internationally-renowned, independent operative, moving from intrigue to intrigue, always one step ahead of the Law and the Ungodly. Tamera had understood this immediately and her tales of clandestine bio-warfare, high-stakes gambling, and breathtaking danger drew Winston into the action-packed world he’d always envied.

That was back years ago at the beginning of their relationship. Today, Winston realized, the old girl was starting to pressure him into other forms of entertainment; tales with devoted and controlled protagonists. But this was his recreation; his time of escape from the complexities of the MARSDAX index. He’d slaved for years as a lowly accountant; this was his time to live the life he’d always dreamed of, not some socially responsible, careful and contemplative life-style of a what? Monk?

But he couldn’t deny that he was caught in her siren song; enraptured by the beauty of her narration. He loved Tamera for her kindness, her understanding, and her hopeful expectations that someday a cure would be developed for Winston’s illness and he would arise free from his icy prison. Then, they could at last meet and touch and breathe each other’s spirit. He knew there could be no “living” without her. Yes, he’d been the demanding, egotistical fool, for turning her off.

Winston Clarke SNAPPED to Tamera’s channel and called her name.


It was a dry and cool Sunday evening when The Bishop decided to pay a casual visit to the newly-opened Roby Art Gallery. The rooms, high atop the Olympus Mons Hotel were filled with an intellectual crowd marveling at the collection of oils, pastels, watercolors, and ceramics.

“Now to truly appreciate the Artist’s work,” explained the doe-eyed brunette attendant, “you must know a little about woodcuts. Are you familiar with the term?”

Winston smiled. “Early Earth art, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Very good!” She wrinkled her pert nose. “The drawing was at first sketched on the surface of a block of wood ...”

Winston began speaking word-for-word with his attractive tour guide. “... and the area surrounding the art is cut away, exposing the raised surface to be inked and— Wait just a damn minute,” Winston interrupted himself. “Why do I know all of this already?”

Acting as if she hadn’t heard Winston’s last comment, the girl introduced a tall, blond-bearded man. “Well, if you really like them,” she said, “why don’t you tell the artist, himself?”

“I know this man,” Winston said. “He’s Alex—”

“Sir,” the girl smiled. “May I introduce Alex Szabo, the artist whose work you’ve been—”

No!” he shouted. “Tamera, you’re screwing up again! I’ve already lived this adventure.”

There was no response at first, except the art and its inhabitants were swept away in a blur and Winston was left alone.



“Who ... who’s that?”

“Winston, this is Mr. Simon, Chief Admin of the Christopher Vaults. How are you feeling?”

“Wha ... where’s Tamera?”

“Uh—well, that’s the point of my being here, Winston.”

“Why am I living a portion of my life all over again? I don’t understand.”

“Technically, Winston, it’s not your life. Tamera has fabricated these fantasies for you as a reward for your continued efforts in the Corporation’s Neuro-electronic programs. I’m sure you’re aware that your work-time programs are vital—”

“Never mind that, Simon. Where the hell is Tamera?”

“Tamera’s not, uh ... available. The current storyline is familiar because we’ve looped her narrative from a previous presentation and are sending it back to you again, partly because we felt you’d enjoy the experience, and partly because—”

“Because it’s cheaper than employing a full-time Angel. I know you, Simon. You’re trying to save a few credits at the expense of my sanity. Now, put Tamera back on line!”

Simon was silent for a moment, then: “You are correct. Money is tight, but—”



Tamera slept fitfully. Her dreams were filled with a young Winston walking arm-in-arm with her on a warm day through a lush, green forest. Rain patted lightly against the leaves and dimpled the surface of a small lake. They crossed an old wooden bridge together, stopping halfway to let the sun-shower wash their faces.

She looked down at the reflection in the water’s surface. Winston was dressed in a full military uniform with gold braid and epaulets. Next to him stood a young girl with pale skin, dark eyes, long blonde hair, and a pastel dress with puffed sleeves and a Peter Pan collar.

The image shimmered slightly and the rain increased in strength. It pelted at her now; striking like gravel. She ran and turned and saw Winston running in the opposite direction. She started to call to him, but her foot caught on the long, wet dress and she felt herself going over the side of the bridge.

The water rose up and engulfed her, enfolded her, dragging her down to cold darkness.


“Winston? Winston, I know you can hear me. You’ve put us all in a hell of a spot, you know that, don’t you? Look, there’s no sense keeping it from you any longer. I want you to prepare yourself for a shock. Things cannot be as they were before; Tamera is dying.

“Winston? Do you hear me? She knew it was coming, Winston. She developed a rare form of GRGA and she’s, well, she’s getting along in years now. Remember that week I had to talk to you while she was in the hospital? Well, I’m afraid the operation wasn’t successful. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Winston fought to control his emotions. “Put her on. I want to talk to her.”

“Listen, Winston, you can’t let this bother you. You can depend on us. We won’t let you down. We need your data management skills, and we’re preparing a new Angel for you beginning tomorrow.”

“I don’t want a new Angel.”

“Ah ... I don’t think you understand. We know the shock is—”

“I don’t want a new Angel. Put Tamera into the system, Simon. Freeze her like I am and arrange a way for me to be able to snap to her.”

“Uh ... I don’t think that’s possible, besides I’m not certain she wants to ... Well, I’m sure the new girl—”

Do it, Simon, or you will never get co-operation from me again.

“But think of the potential risk. The danger to both—”



Tamera felt the tears gathering in her eyes. “I don’t know. I-I can’t ...”

“Why are you so paranoid, woman? I haven’t suffered any ill effects. Simon will find a way to connect our—”

“But two minds in coldsleep merged together? I don’t know; it’s never been done before.”

“You’re forgetting something,” Winston said. “I’ve got a personal Guardian Angel.”

Tamera didn’t laugh. “It’s not just the unknown of coldsleep that bothers me,” she said. “I don’t think I can live the way you do; all those sudden and fantastic adventures. I need more to my life; something constant, calm, and quiet.”

Winston wasn’t sure what she meant, but he knew that if he lost her, he lost everything. “Your life is over,” he pleaded. “What better choice have you, than to join me?”

Tamera took a deep breath. “I’m afraid, Winston. I ... I’m not sure anymore what I want.”

“Dammit, woman, you’re my whole life! I’m willing to take whatever risk necessary for the chance to be with you. Now, you’ve got to do likewise. Just say yes, please, and Simon will arrange for your entrance to the Vault. It’s our only chance of staying together, darling.”

“Oh, Winston ...”

“I love you, Tamera. Say yes, and we can be happy forever!”

Those were the words she’d been waiting so long to hear. It was like a promise fulfilled. Her heart raced. Breathlessly, she answered, “Yes, Winston. Oh, yes! I want to be with you.”


There was an instant of severe coldness, and then she woke, feeling strangely light in mind and body. The air seemed cleaner than any she’d ever experienced. Fresher, she thought, as if it had just been born of newly-grown plants.

Was she floating weightless? Where had all the pain gone?


That sounded like ... “Winston?”

“How are you feeling?”

“I ... Winston, where are you?”

The soft whiteness around her opened and the handsome figure of Winston Clarke stepped through with a casual elegance of a natural-born dancer. “Hallo, old girl,” he beamed.

He looked just as she’d often described him; trim, youthful, vibrant with health and assurance. “Winston.” His name lingered on her lips.

He laughed slightly and stepped forward with the grace of a cat. “Welcome to my dream, sweetheart. Come; let’s have a look at you.”

The white mist evaporated silently, exposing an elegant bedroom; the colors and textures unlike anything available on Mars. A wooden, canopied bed with light blue sheets and a spread that matched the window curtains.

An open window! The sight of it froze her for an instant. A beautiful passage to brilliant, warm sunlight; a soft breeze filled with lush, tropical scents and the songs of birds. She turned to him in wonder and caught the flash-image of herself in a full-length mirror.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her. And it was true.

Tamera’s body was that of her twentieth year. She turned slowly from side to side, observing the swell of her form and the glowing waves of her long, blonde hair. “How ...?”

He took her gently in his arms, gazing deeply into her eyes. “This is our world, darling; it’s made up from your dreams and bits of the stories you’ve told me over the years. Part cyberspace, part fantasy. But it’s ours, and you’re with me now.” A shadow crossed his features. “Of course, we’ll only be able to live the reality that’s been previously looped, but—”

“No ... No, Winston,” she said unsteadily. “I not sure, yet, but, I feel ... I feel as though I can still affect the narrative. Maybe we’re stronger now that we’re together, your dreams blended with mine.”

Winston concentrated. “My god! You mean we can ...?”

She laughed. It was the musical laugh of her youth and it gave her a wonderful idea. “Let’s try an experiment,” she said. “You go into the next room and let’s see if I can still generate a new reality for you away from me.”

He hesitated.

“I’m fine,” she said to his unasked question. “I’ve never felt better. Never more complete. Now, go.”

His soft brown eyes held hers with a smile. And then he turned and walked through the open door into the eastern Asian dining room.


Both men quietly finished their meal and rose from their cushions at the low table. The reptile guard in the red robe was now lurking in the doorway behind the Bishop.

“I suppose,” Winston said, glancing at the bedroom door and feeling a satisfying swell of anticipation, “you want the miniaturized diamonds, now.” He withdrew the packet and handed it to his host.

The man poured the sparkling stones into his fat palm. “They are more beautiful than I imagined,” said the Chinese, greedily. “But I must not keep you. You will miss your plane.”

The Bishop thrust his foot between his host’s legs, seized his arm and, grunting under the ponderous weight, flung the man in an ancient ju-jitsu maneuver flat on his back on the floor.

“It’s working, Tamera. This is all new to me,” he called with delight as the floor trembled under the impact.

But Winston had little time to feel the thrill. Swift strides brought him to the reptile guard, who, to the Bishop’s surprise, hurled up his hands in abject surrender.

“Please, you do not hit me. I was made to help him,” the scaly creature babbled.

The fat host rose to his knees. “Why ... why you do this?”

“Because, you’re not the man I came to see,” the Bishop said, recovering the packet of gems. “If you observed Chinese custom, you would have known that a host always seats himself with his back to the door. It shows that he is not afraid of sudden attack and provides the guest with the best position in case an enemy forces his way into the house. Obviously, you hid my client somewhere, while you took his place.”

Tamera’s voice floated in from the bedroom. “Ask them about the basement, darling.”

The pretender looked like a goldfish that had just been surprised by a mirror.

“Thank you, Angel,” Winston called back. “And now I think I’ll do the responsible thing and call the police.”

“Wonderful,” she remarked. “I didn’t decide to do that; you did. So we share the control of this new reality, after all.”

The confused Chinese gave a deep sigh and came to his feet. “Okay, Mr. Clarke,” he said. “You win.”

“Which is all I’ve ever wanted,” Winston replied.

“Come back in here, darling,” Tamera said, “I’ve a little surprise for you. It’s what I’ve always wanted.”

From the bedroom came a sound that made his heart swell; the cry of a sleepy baby. END

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



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