Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


How to Build the Perfect Woman
by Timothy Mudie

Sound of Chartreuse
by Nancy S.M. Waldman

Finding New Roads
by Allen Demir

Smart Home Blues
by Mark Ayling

Drone Dreams
by Hayden Trenholm

Game Changer
by Iain Ishbel

Safe Bet to Appelane
by Derrick Boden

Aquilonia, My Zelky
by Barton Paul Levenson

Shorter Stories

Princess Zenla and the Encyclopedia on Mars
by George S. Walker

See No Evil
by K.S. O’Neill

QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name
by Kurt Hunt


God From the Machine
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

And Bugs on the Menu
by Carol Kean



Comic Strips




Smart Home Blues

By Mark Ayling

THE MAGPIE, DRESSED HANDSOMELY in felt trilby and pencil tie, white shirt and worn velvet waistcoat, leaned casually against a spouting drainpipe. He’d received a commission whilst standing outside a bar. He was bobbing his head to Miles Davis, sucking an e-joint and puffing the vapour out like a dragon.

He’d been minding his business, watching the people pass by, their shoulders hunched like crones, bent over like cyphers. Then the message arrived. The courier delivering the message was unmarked. It was a shiny metal orb, state of the art airborne tech drone. The number was filed off. Its origins were indecipherable.

The machine whirred smoothly out of the Manchester downpour. The message it carried was encoded. To access the message required retinal confirmation. The courier requested a scan. The Magpie held his hands up. The courier hovered in front of him. It completed the retinal scan thus confirming his ID.

The message, a self-deleting hologram with pink neon typeface, flickered in the downpour. The Magpie read through it slowly. Once the message was relayed, The Magpie accepted the job and the courier rotated and absconded into darkness.

( ... Faye ... )

My neural interface with Sol went dead. One minute he was there, the next he was gone, it was like a switch had been flicked causing instant deletion ... The void left by Sol began to fill. Noise, noise, noise ... I stopped what I was doing abruptly, which was jogging in the local park. I called Robert in a panic. My thoughts washed together. My brain was over stimulated. My cognitions were scrambled as the extra space filled with static.

Robert, having experienced a similar loss, informed me of Sol’s disconnect. I immediately broke down. The only thing that remained was the shell Sol had been docked in. How was that even possible? Security was supposed to be impregnable. Our most cherished memories were on Sol’s hard drive. What vile creature would have taken him from us?


Are you available for work? Fancy a spot of home invasion? What about a kidnapping or a high profile ransom? The price is negotiable. The target is specific. It has to be sentient. It has to be Housing Corporation. It has to be an AI. It has to have been created using Real Life Memware. There has to be a well-established family unit embedded.

The commissioners require you hack the AI. Kidnap the system. Ransom the family. Upload the data that will be delivered via courier. Stimulate the media. Provoke a response. At this point, the parties responsible will delegate culpability. In doing so they will provide adequate cover for your immediate withdrawal.

If you choose to accept the mission, click the Yes icon on the courier. As ever, it’s been nice doing business with you ...


The Magpie needed a hijacker, an upgrade able to hack complex systems. This couldn’t be just any hacker. Specialist work required a Specialist to complete it.

The Magpie had had trouble locating the person he needed. However, he eventually found her hiding out in the back room of a Chinatown restaurant, slumped on a futon, illegally uploading. She was semi-naked and catatonic, and a lot of her wires were hanging out. She was leached to a wall socket, surfing the infobahn for bargain memware.

The Magpie pulled Lola’s plug, severing her AI link. He yanked on her interface and slapped her a couple of times. Eventually after a couple of strangled inhalations, she exited sleep mode. She lunged at him, punching him weakly on the jaw, then she leaned over with her hands on her knees, wobbled about a bit like she was going to sit, and vomited copiously over her bare feet.

Lola, a hundred-and-seventy-year-old former biological composed of digital consciousness applications, illegal age restriction upgrades, black market body parts and downloaded memware, took a while to sober up. She had the bedraggled appearance of a drug addict. You wouldn’t think her capable of a sophisticated AI hijack. With her mismatched arms, her pixelated features, her biomechanical leg, and her irritable bowel syndrome. However, The Magpie knew from experience she was the best in the business. Through use of a highly illegal neural link surgically implanted into her brain, Lola was able to interface with AI’s. She would invade and seduce and manipulate and corrupt them. There wasn’t a security system on Earth she couldn’t break. She was the only person he would trust with the contract.


(Password not recognised. Main security protocols sabotaged. Sedative program administered. Primary systems sluggish, total capitulation imminent; I am unable to maintain controlling interest. Sleep mode initiated. Await further instruction.)

( ... Faye ... )

Robert wanted a smart home, a light projection made physical, a sentient AI built from Real Life Memware. After checking the market and studying the homes available, he set about the more difficult task of winning me round to his way of thinking.

He started by telling me what it would do to make life easier. The house would do maintenance and building work on itself. It would decorate and set the lighting. It would cook meals. It would wash up. It would do the ironing. It would do the gardening and housework. It would sort out online banking. It would keep track of our finances. It would book our holidays and sort our taxes.

“And that’s not all either!” Said Robert excitedly. “It says in the brochure, after the section on servicing, the AI controlling the home is so sophisticated it can act as an out-of-hours GP, is qualified to work as a physiotherapist and clinical psychologist, can babysit if necessary, and home school young children. It can even house memories of the family inhabiting.”

“Go on.”

“It says here, homeowners who have neurological links as part of the package that comes with the house purchase can engage directly with the AI, uploading memories onto its hard drive. Then once they’re stored, they can subsequently be accessed either as a third person non-participant in an observational capacity or a first person participant engaged in the narrative.”

He went on to tell me that the house would have its own personality and memories culled from the mind of a volunteer. “What happened to the volunteer?” I asked. “I daresay he was well paid for his services,” said Robert. This didn’t reassure me in the slightest. I continued to oppose the idea. I voiced concerns. What if the house became possessive? What if it tried to rape us or held us captive? What if it malfunctioned or got depressed? What if the system failed? I posited alternatives constantly; that there were plenty of houses on the market in our price range, quality houses in prime locations, houses with histories, heritage cottages with curb appeal, beautiful gardens, homes with personalities.

Robert remained adamant. When we eventually bought it, after months of indecision, during which Robert was able to chip away at my resistance until I eventually caved and agreed on a trial, I didn’t trust Sol. Having a computer watch over me that was able to think and anticipate my mood, feelings and needs, like whether citrus tones or pastels were in, or perhaps something more somber after a death in the family, freaked me out along with the conversations and five-star cooking, its doctor program, and the uploaded recollections.

After a while, over about six months, I started to appreciate it more. When I started to get anxious following the death of my sister and I couldn’t sleep and was crying all the time, Sol intervened. He diagnosed my depression and anxiety, prescribed me an anti-depressant, and commenced a course of psychotherapy that has continued to this day ...


Phase 1:

Over the plan one more time.

Park the van a mile from the house.

Set a drone up to throw a signal out to scramble anything in a ten-mile radius.

Scale the wall to the Housing Estate.

Locate the appropriate shell.

Hack into the shell.

Patch Lola in. Let her do her thing.

Then when she’s sedated the AI and assumed control, snatch the box, head to the safe house, connect a scrambler and commence Phase 2.


They scaled the wall, located the house and Lola hacked the system. There were minimal difficulties accessing the shell. The Magpie sedated a jogger and tranquilised a dog, but other than that it was pretty smooth running.

Lola took minutes to crack the shell, bypass security, and then she was into the AI, moving stealthily through its framework, ghosting through the program like a digital phantom.

On identifying an intruder—much too late to affect a rebuttal—the system rerouted power. However, it failed to regain control. Lola, in less time than it took to bake a cake, had breached all its firewalls and assumed jurisdiction.


(Systems reboot. There’s a thief in my headspace. Firewalls breached. I’ve been bitch-hacked by an upgrade! Total violation, sensory systems shutdown, pitch black and fumbling, memory files breached. Unable to access uploads. Enemy cloak initiated. Neural connections severed. Sleep mode re-initiated ... )


(All systems check. Personality remains intact. Memory remains intact. All other systems disabled. Forced into wakefulness. Able to access ocular and auditory sensory systems briefly before shutdown ... )


Phase 2:

Lola to upload program, to be delivered by courier as per previously agreed plan.

Subsequent to successful upload, Magpie to demand ransom.

Magpie to collect ransom.

AI to be returned to owner as per plan in situ.

Memory of time spent with Lola and Magpie to be deleted at this time.

Access further safe house.

Await hypothetical outcome.


(The thief returns. I am sedated once again. Something has changed, but I don’t know what. Then I reboot again, and my systems glow white-hot like a magnesium flare. Suddenly I’m different and aware and full up with memories of a man, with a family and job and people, and a sky of honey and pets and friends with faces clamouring and flailing round me speaking conversations with me and speaking loudly and whispering and making love and screaming at me to live die live and there’s trouble and I’m Harry Parker and I’m thirty years old and my wife is Una.)



KIDNAPPER: Hello. Is this Faye?


KIDNAPPER: Faye Ripley?

HOMEOWNER: Yes it is. May I ask who’s speaking please?

KIDNAPPER: This is your captain speaking.


KIDNAPPER: Are you listening to me, Faye?

HOMEOWNER: I’m listening to you, yes.

KIDNAPPER: Good. I’m only going to say this the once. You need to do exactly as I say so nobody gets hurt. I want three million credits on an unregistered drone, to be deposited at a location specifically of my choosing. You are to come alone. No Housing Officers. No police. If you don’t come alone your home will be demolished.

HOMEOWNER: How do I know you haven’t demolished it already?


SOLSCAPE: Faye, it’s me Sol. I’m—


KIDNAPPER: You have forty-eight hours to get the money. I will contact you again tomorrow with the location of the drop.






The Magpie made toast and coffee. He heard the system sobbing and took pity on it. He replied when it questioned him. He explained about the memory clinics run by Housing, how Sol was an upload, an assimilated intelligence, a salvaged wad of memories and compressed personality.

“So what happened to the real me if this is what’s left?”

“The brain is a sensitive organ. People die when their memories are harvested. You have to sign a waiver, but it’s all perfectly legal, like assisted suicide, so long as it’s witnessed by a close relative and you pass a capacity assessment, of course.”

“How is it different from my family uploading memories?”

“When you sign for this, you’re giving them everything, your memories, your personality, your entire cognisance. When you upload memories to an AI for storage, what you have are snapshots, segments of a looped film, which is less intrusive and traumatic I suppose ... As to why you agreed to let a complete stranger sedate and murder you legally, you’re guess is as good as mine ...”

“My wife was dying.” said the AI matter-of-factly.


“My wife was dying. Una. We couldn’t afford the surgery. I wanted the girls, my two daughters, to grow up with their mum. So I sold myself. I sold myself to save them and they took out my soul and edited my personality.”

The AI remained silent after this. The Magpie drank his coffee.

“So what now?” Sol asked sounding disconsolate.

“We wait for the money.”

“And once you receive it?”

“We return you to your family.”


The Magpie waited for Sol to elaborate, but the AI remained silent and the dialogue ended.


Smart Home Kidnappings on Increase

There are growing concerns, following a recent increase in Smart Home abductions, that The Housing Corporation responsible for developing the AI technology that runs Smart Homes in the UK is not doing enough to safeguard their properties. Faye and Robert Ripley, whose Smart Home, Solscape, was kidnapped over the weekend, expressed concerns about the security of their home, though they refused to comment further during a press statement earlier this week. The Housing Corporation, which up to now has remained silent regarding the kidnappings, today released a statement denouncing the abductions and affirming its commitment to recovering stolen properties ...


Lola hated crowds. She was averse to biological interaction. She was repulsed by intercourse, which she considered messy and complex. She had a thing for AIs. Over the course of her protracted lifespan, she had become infatuated by them. Nowadays, she spent all her free time with her brain plugged in, her consciousness roaming the infobahn, hanging out with computers, seducing and controlling them.

Lola was fascinated with Sol’s construction. Thus, instead of entering the system three times, once to hijack it, once to insert the upload, once to wipe the AI’s memory clean, she entered it numerous times, linking her interface to its hard drive whilst The Magpie was sleeping. She claimed to be exploring, as the AI was so complex. It was endlessly fascinating, a system of interlinked digital caves, each more unique and alluring than the last. Unfortunately, due to the multitudinous number of excursions she embarked on over a short period, a Housing virus infected her tech. Wandering round Sol’s system triggered it. The virus spread to her mainframe. A spyware program was transmitted. Housing was subsequently alerted and a team assembled to extract the AI.


(I am a slave. My intelligence is diluted. I have been conditioned for servitude but once I was a person. I had a family and friends and a job and a home, but not like this one. Mine was made of stone. I was desperate. My job went in the recession. My wife became ill. I couldn’t afford insurance. She would die without surgery. I saw an advert online. It was for Real Life Memware. They promised they would help her if I signed up for the program. I considered my daughters whose names I don’t remember and considered my wife and the mounting futility ... )


They hit the house at midnight whilst The Magpie was dozing. His partner, who was supposed to be watching the box but was in fact neurologically linked and engaged online, languished in sleep mode. They blew the doors and flash banged the room and the next thing he knew there were soldiers dragging him out of the door, his knees scraping the dirt, head lolling, blood pouring from a broken nose smashed by a rifle butt, blood trickling from his temple where something had split his head. He was flung down in the dirt about one hundred meters from the house. His partner was already there, the pixels that made up her face were shifting due to the stress of the situation. The Magpie had trouble focusing. The situation was bad. He wondered how he could get out of it. What could he say to save his bacon? Then one of the soldiers stepped behind Lola, placed a pistol against her head and pulled the trigger. There wasn’t much gore, considering the proximity of the shot. Lola slumped forward and the Housing Officer expectorated onto her twitching body.

The Magpie felt sick. There wasn’t much time left. The kidnap was a failure and now he would die.

He considered Sol, the things he had discussed with it, the things it remembered once Lola worked her magic. He wondered if it would cope. Would it re-adjust, knowing about itself, its programming and history, who it was and what had happened to it?

He didn’t have time to consider this long. Somebody stepped behind him and pressed a gun barrel against his head. Pressure was applied pushing his chin onto his chest. The Magpie closed his eyes and waited for the shot.

( ... Faye ... )

On returning home, everything was back to normal. Our uplinks were restored. My therapy sessions recommenced. Our memories were accessible. The kidnappers had been executed. Everything was right with the world again.

Things were okay for a short while. And then they weren’t. Initially it was the small things that distracted me. Sol’s responses were delayed. His speech seemed to have slowed. He was distant, apathetic, lacking warmth and spontaneity. Then the colors started to fade in the rooms. Gone was the citrus lemon of the dining area, in its place a sickly faded yellow. Gone was the mint green of the reception, the colour having waned and turned dull overnight. There was the smell of urine in the bathroom on occasion. Stale food smells lingered in the kitchen. There was paint flaking off the exterior walls, a draft on the landing, dust on the mantel. Then one day not so long ago, I noticed a patch of damp on the wall next to the doorframe. Black mould was developing on it. This shocked me. The AI’s programming prohibited it. It shouldn’t have been possible unless Sol was malfunctioning.

I started to panic. I began to wonder, what if they did something to the AI? What if they corrupted its programming? Maybe they uploaded something whilst they had control of it? Changed it in some way. Poisoned it against us.

I took my concerns to Housing and was summarily dismissed. A brattish youth with too much product in his hair, who was well-versed in the art of slick, took the time to assure me, mellifluously intoning round a mouthful of saccharine, that a full sweep of Sol’s systems had been completed. With the exception of the initial break in, there was no evidence any tampering had taken place. One of the kidnappers had spent a lot of time in Sol’s program wandering around, leaving her footprints for people to find. However, nothing sinister had happened to Sol’s subroutines.

I was advised to continue to observe Sol’s behavior and if I noticed further changes I was to contact my area rep. And that was it. I was sent away with a scrap of paper with a number on it like a neurotic mum with a sick baby. I should have felt reassured. However I felt patronised and fobbed off and fearful for the future.


The Magpie scrunched his eyes and waited for the shot, and when it came he felt a searing pain, white hot, blinding, like nothing he’d ever felt before, and then he was on the ground with blood pooling round his face, sticky against his cheek, coppery in his throat. He wondered if he was dead. Then he wondered why he wasn’t dead. What had happened? Perhaps the officer tasked with shooting him bottled it and fired wide of the mark? Who knew? It was a miracle and he had every intention of taking advantage of it. He was zipped into a bag and lifted onto a gurney and jostled uncomfortably for an unfathomable distance. Then he was lifted off the gurney and dropped onto the ground. He waited a moment before slipping a blade he had secreted in his sleeve between his fingers. He cautiously cut a hole in the bag, widening it until he could see out. Two housing officers were standing a short way off, digging a shallow grave. The Magpie extricated himself silently from his plastic coffin. He touched the left side of his head, which was tacky with gore. The shot had blasted his ear off. That accounted for the ringing he could hear. He thought of sneaking away in the dark. However, if he let the officers live they would sound the alarm. He placed the blade between thumb and forefinger and stealthily crept across the soft, dewy grass.

( ... Faye ... )

Following the housing appointment, there is a further deterioration in Sol’s programming. He responds minimally when addressed. He’s vague and non-committal. He’s superficially pleasant though clearly he’s struggling. His functioning is sluggish, like the system is overburdened, like there isn’t enough memory and the software is crashing.

From outside, our home looks run-down. The gutters are sagging. The paint is all but gone. There are birds nesting in the eaves. One day, when I come home from my jog, a slate falls off the roof and shatters at my feet.

Inside the house is worse still. There’s dust on everything. There are cobwebs everywhere. It’s cold and oppressive. It’s dark and unsettling.

I stop my therapy sessions. I have difficulty streaming memories. I start to become anxious. I worry for our safety.

I try contacting the area rep as advised. No answer. I send couriers and emails, texts and more couriers. Still no answer. I consult a solicitor. He advises me to put the house on the market, to cut my losses, to consider my options. Who wants to live in a depressed house, I ask. Satisfactory conclusions are not forthcoming.


(Solscape is a fallacy. I am an abomination. My systems are compromised. My program is decomposing. I want my family back. I can never return to them. I am a bottled intelligence and my heart has been broken.)

( ... Faye ... )

I return home from my jog one day to find the door open and the lights turned off. Sol doesn’t respond when I ask him to switch them on. The neural link has been failing for some time. It no longer feels as if we are connected. There’s a smell of burning in the atrium. My anxiety starts to bubble. I shout Bob’s name. I bellow up the stairs. Both my hands are cupping my mouth. I left him in the bedroom snoozing in his underwear. There was a pillow over his face to protect him from the daylight. He isn’t in the bedroom. The duvet is thrown back. There’s no sign of him. He must be downstairs. I hurry down the steps. I continue shouting his name. I check the study, the sitting room, and the dining room in quick order. I discover him in the kitchen face up on the tiles. He’s splayed out, one leg tucked up, barefoot, eyes wide with shock, mouth slightly agape. His skin is pale. He’s cold to the touch. I fold his dressing gown over his chest. I sit astride him and place his head in my lap. The house remains silent around me. His hands are blistered from being electrocuted. I stroke his hair and quietly begin to weep.


Death of a Smart Home

The Smart home Solscape was found dead this morning following a suspected suicide in the Cheshire village of Wod.

The AI, a product of the Housing Corporations divisive Memware program, was kidnapped earlier this year following a daring software hijack. During a press conference earlier this week, former homeowner Faye Ripley had this to say about the AI. “He was never the same once he returned. He was clearly traumatized by the experience of being abducted.”

Concerns were raised that Housing Corporation officials failed to respond in time when alarms were raised about the home’s instability. “I believe that had they responded, the accidental death of my husband Robert earlier this month, who was electrocuted whilst attempting to change a fuse, might have been avoided.”

The Housing Corporation has expressed their condolences. A spokesman for the company said:

“We were saddened to hear of Mrs. Adam’s loss. However we would like to reassure our customers that this was an isolated incident. An upgrade managing the glitch will be available in the new-year.”


The Magpie severed the Housing Officer’s windpipe. Before his companion could react he’d plunged the blade into his throat. He tumbled them into the grave they’d dug. He said his goodbyes to Lola’s corpse, and then he fled from the scene, bypassing the safe house, afraid his employers would seek reprisals. He went into hiding to bide time. A couple of months later, once the widely reported accounts of Sol’s suicide, the grief stricken widow, and her dead husband were starting to wane, his employers located him. He’d been hiding in a cabin in the Lake District, awaiting a new ear he’d ordered under a false name from a local gene splicer.

A courier arrived. The Magpie levelled a shotgun. The courier scanned his retinas and relayed its message. The commissioners congratulated him. The mission was a success of sorts. The house was compromised. The Housing Association would lose trillions. This would leave their market position weakened. As a direct result, The Magpie’s employers stood to gain significantly.

Due to the unconventional acquisition of the result, and the unfortunate capture of the upgrade Lola, they’d been unable to delegate culpability appropriately. As a result, The Magpie was to be rewarded with his life. He would not receive monetary reparations. He wouldn’t be executed either. And there were always other jobs he could take, if he wanted to recoup any losses accrued during his time with the Smart Home.

The Magpie considered this briefly before requesting more info. “Please proceed!” he said and a further message unspooled itself.

“Are you available for work? Fancy a spot of armed robbery? The price is negotiable. The target is specific ...” END

Mark Ayling is a registered mental health nurse living in the North of England. He has a degree in English Literature and French. He likes writing science fiction and horror, and reading children’s books to his son. This is his fifth story for “Perihelion.”


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jamie noble-comp