Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




You Can Pay Me Now ...

By Arthur Carey

GENTLY, BUT WITH INCREASING insistence, the vibrating bed dragged Omar Singh from fitful sleep. He blinked awake, yawned, and winced. His head felt as if someone were pounding it like a drum, and his mouth was desert dry.

Singh glanced at the jumbled covers beside him. She was gone. Tamira? Marcella? What was the name of ...? Too much fizz and blow last night. Too much everything—as usual.

“Sky view,” he croaked. Shutters slid back and recessed into a wall, flooding the penthouse with dazzling sunlight.

“Meow!” cried the awakened clone cat, leaping onto the bed and rubbing against his silk pajamas.

“Sleep,” Singh mumbled. The cat retreated to a corner of the room and switched itself off. The animal was a copy of a previous pet that had died the year before; but the DNA match hadn’t been exact. The clone, an off-shade of orange, had an irritating tendency to activate when it wasn’t wanted. And its vivid color, processed through a hangover, was too jarring. “Cat, reprogram black and white,” he ordered. The cat came to life briefly, a roiling shade of changing hues, and became immobile again. Its new color clashed with the green pastiche wall wash.

Singh shrugged into a body wrap and stumbled to the rejuvenator bar. He poured himself a cup of koffeewake. Blowing on the hot beverage, he stepped down into the social area. “Screen up ... News,” he said. A large mural of the SanFranOak skyline at dusk coalesced into a giant tableau of competing images: explosions in the Mozambique terrorist triangle, finals of nul-grav hockey, and ribbons of stock and bond prices.

He licked his lips and savored the steaming drink, a scarce blend of koffee beans grown in Ceylon at a plantation about to be flooded by rising seawater. The cost was mind numbing, but what did he care? He wasn’t paying for it. He wasn’t paying for anything.

Two years before, at the age of twenty-seven, Singh had been diagnosed with a slow-acting, untreatable carcinoma of the lungs, fated to die within a few years. Because he was a low-paid reliability tester in a testosterone enhancement lab, the only remedy, a lung transplant, was out of the question. His priority for a free replacement was too low. He was young, a tech academy dropout, and lacked powerful friends to intercede on his behalf. And because he contributed little to society, society wasn’t about to pay for a transplant to prolong his unproductive life.

Buy one? Out of the question. Only the rich could afford to purchase a new lung, or liver, or spleen, or kidney, expensively bio-engineered to avoid rejection.

Singh’s diagnosis resulted in his being placed in the Population Readjustment Lottery, a euphemism for culling Earth’s population of twelve billion by eliminating criminals, the mentally incompetent, and people requiring costly, long-term medical care. And then his number came up.

But while unlucky in the lottery, he was at least fortunate in the end game. Thanks to the Survivor’s Final Rights Act, citizens facing involuntary termination received unlimited, Platinum Class credit cards to use for one year. Singh set out to take full advantage of the government’s largesse.

He chose to live out his days in a luxury skyscraper penthouse with all of his needs and wants provided for free. He hadn’t left his tower suite in months. Newly made friends and hangers-on were always available to join all-night parties lubricated with gourmet food, free-flowing liquor, and hallucinatory kish-kash.

“Calendar,” he called out. The full-wall screen flashed a date: February 7. Thick Xs were stamped over days gone by. But one date—the 23rd—had an ominous red circle about it. That was Singh’s termination date. His year of unbridled excess would be up soon.

“Financial status,” he ordered, and the screen changed to green with black letters. One of his daily pleasures was seeing how much his final days of life were costing the government. Under the line marked Credit, he read the words Unlimited. Under the line marked Debit, he read Minus 1,732,961 Eurmarks. That column was broken down by expenditure. He noted that his lavish party last night in the Sky Hi Hab, the tower’s nightclub, had cost 34,878 Eurmarks. Outrageous! Perhaps he should have inquired about the charge for the Tahitian fire dancers before requesting them.

His attention shifted to the lower right-hand corner of the wall where a yellow bar flashed insistently “Attention! Message!”

Singh frowned. Perhaps the fresh lobster from New Zealand he’d ordered for tonight had been unavailable—or the fine-grained Brazilian sand for the beach party. Now that his termination was only weeks away, each party took on greater importance. And what about a theme for the party after that? He was running out of ideas.

“Message” blinked the screen repeatedly.

“Accept,” Singh sighed.

The screen transformed into text with large letters that read “PRIORITY MEDICAL ADVISORY!” He scanned the message and gasped. He read it again to be sure. “Disregard medical advisory 372-AB4, Singh, Omar. Laboratory results invalid due to error. Prognosis is positive. Life projection: 72.37 years. Congratulations, citizen!”

The koffee cup slid from his nerveless fingers and shattered on the floor. He heard a whirr and stepped aside as the robo cleaner trundled out and began vacuuming up the spilled liquid and fragments of china.

An error! He wasn’t going to die soon after all! Singh walked to the window and gazed down from his 107th floor aerie at the tiny auto cabs shuttling back and forth on the glide paths below as less fortunate citizens scurried about their daily tasks.

“I’m going to live,” he murmured, relishing the sound of the words. “I’m going to live!”

The message bar flared again at 9:02 a.m. This time it was from the Population Readjustment Lottery. It congratulated him on having his life expectancy extended and informed him that he owed 1,732,961 Eurmarks for unauthorized use of a Platinum Class credit card.

Singh gasped. 1,732,961 Eurmarks! It wasn’t his fault that a careless lab technician had made a mistake with a test or that a machine had failed! Surely he wouldn’t be expected to pay for someone else’s error! Not that he could pay.

Singh hurried to the Vo-Fax-Com cubicle, dialed up the lottery’s Outernet answering service, which was located in a rain forest in Sri Lanka, and fought his way through confusing layers of unhelpful functionaries until he reached Final Review, which sounded ominous. He argued his case in detail, filed a plea for exemption from a charge of 1,732,961 Eurmarks, and waited, gnawing his cuticles. In 3:30 minutes, he received his answer: Request Denied.

Undeterred, Singh requested information on “lawsuits, citizen, public corporations, and wrongful action.” He downloaded the data, got a second cup of koffee, and sat down to review the file. At 11:12 a.m., he returned to the computer and filed a citizen suit against the Population Readjustment Lottery, alleging breach of contract due to negligence. He waited impatiently while the computerized court program reviewed documents, analyzed precedent, and reached a decision. The response came thirty-two minutes later: Appeal Denied.

Singh bit his lip. Now what? Surely they couldn’t expect him to pay the full amount. With his salary of 19,775 Eurmarks a year, the government would never be repaid—even if he never spent another Eurmark.

The light over the entry portal flashed and the sounds of Bach’s Symphony No. 9 filled the room. He switched on the one-way view screen. Two men in dark uniforms labeled Security stood outside. He ignored them until the door burst open at 12:07 p.m.

“It’s repayment time, deadbeat,” one said. He raised a cylindrical tube that projected a silver cord. When it touched him, Singh fell to the floor, senseless.

He awoke from a timeless sleep, suspended in a liquefied tank. Singh glanced down. A colony of tiny fingers grew where his left leg had ended.

He vaguely recalled a clause in the contract he’d signed to gain limitless credit stipulating that in the event of nonpayment for services rendered, the Population Readjustment Lottery could seize any and all of his possessions. Singh had wondered at the time why the word all had been underlined. Now he knew.

“I’m in an organ transplant farm!” he gasped. The words bubbled out of the place where his vocal cords had been. He wanted to scream about the unfairness, the unreasonableness of making him pay for someone else’s mistake. But as he listened to the muted burble of a pump and looked down at the ladder-like stitches on his chest, Singh realized he didn’t have the heart to do it. END

Art Carey is a former newspaper reporter and journalism instructor. A member of the California Writers Club, his stories have appeared in “Funny Times,” “Writers’ Journal,” “Golden Visions Magazine,” “Suspense,” and many other publications.




robin dunn