Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Fiction

This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day
by Alexandra Grunberg

Mycelium
by Fábio Fernandes

Sixteen Tonnes
by Robert Dawson

It’s Not What You Think
by Davyne DeSye

Dreams of Clay
by J. Rohr

Mundane Applications
by Philip Margolies

Cohabitant
by Eric Del Carlo

My Parking Space is Near the Door
by Gustavo Bondoni

Shorter Stories

Clothes Make the Man
by Peter Wood

For All Time
by Simon Kewin

You Belong to Me
by Tom Borthwick

Articles

More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick


Cover

Editorial

Comic Strips

Reviews

Feedback

Submissions

It’s Not What You Think

By Davyne DeSye

“HOW DO YOU FEEL?” Dr. McPherson asked. It seemed like a stupid question because I didn’t feel any different than I had thirty seconds before when she told me to close my eyes and relax. Of course, I thought she was stupid anyway. I thought this whole idea of therapy was stupid. If she only knew how much I wanted to smash her face. If it weren’t for these restraints, she’d find out.

“Fine,” I answered. And then I knew. I knew I was no longer in my own fleshy body because it was not my voice that answered her. “Huh,” I grunted—and even that sounded machine-generated—and then repeated, “fine,” by way of experimentation. I drew the syllable out just to hear the way it verbalized.

“You can open your eyes,” she said. For a moment I hesitated. I wasn’t at all sure I would be able to control the robot body to which I’d been transferred, and I was afraid of discovering my helplessness to move.

“Go ahead, Rink,” she encouraged, and I could hear her smile in that smugly pleased tone of her voice. I wanted to bash that smile off her face.

I opened my eyes. There she sat on her stool, just where she had been sitting when I’d closed my eyes, only she didn’t look the same. The colors were all wrong. Her short curly black hair looked purple and the greens in the blouse she wore under her lab coat were distinctly red. The once-white light from the ceiling was orange.

“Can you see me?” she asked.

“Yeah, but you look funny. It’s not right.” I hated the machine-like quality of my voice. I couldn’t bring myself to move, not even to look down at the robotic body I wore. I knew what it looked like, anyway.

A small frown replaced her smile and her forehead furrowed. She picked up her notebook and hurriedly tapped at the screen.

“In what way?” she asked briskly. “How is it not right?” She was no longer looking at me. Correction: at the “it” that held my mind.

“The colors are all wrong.” I would have said more, explained as she clearly wanted me to do, but I really hated the sound of my voice. I could hear the way I should sound in my mind, but the strange voice that came out of my—mouth? speaker system?—did not match up.

“Ah,” she said, and her sweet, loathsome smile returned. “We wondered about that.” She tapped a couple of more times at her notebook. She looked up at me before speaking again, and her voice had that didactic, clinical tone she slipped into when she was trying to show that she was smarter than me.

“We theorize,” she said the word slowly as though I might not understand it, “that over a period of time your mind will adjust to the input of the visual sensors and the colors will return to what you consider the correct colors.”

She cocked her head at me in that way that always made me wonder if she was trying to be cutesy or simply studying me like a bug under glass. “You will, of course, inform us if and when that occurs.” It wasn’t a question.

Normally, I would have answered with a surly, “sure,” or if I was feeling particularly angry, with a “yeah, right.” I didn’t speak at all. I didn’t want to hear that strange voice again.

“I would ask if you can hear me, but clearly you can.” This was her way of commenting on my failure to respond. “Do you detect anything strange with your hearing?”

I didn’t, but I was torn for a moment as to how to answer. I didn’t want to answer her verbally, but I also didn’t want to shake my head and discover how strange movement would be in this robot. She cocked her head at me again and lifted one purple eyebrow in an expression of now-don’t-misbehave.

“Rink?” she prompted.

“No,” I blurted. As a state mental ward patient in the violent criminal ward, I was her prisoner, whether in my own restrained body or in this mechanical monstrosity. Of course, they couldn’t medicate my robot body like they could my real one when I didn’t behave. That was a plus.

“Why don’t you try to move? Don’t trying ambulating—um, walking—just yet,” like she had to search for a simpler word because I wouldn’t understand what ambulating meant. Boy, I really hated her. “Please just move your head or arms. I would not want you to fall down.” She jabbed another small smile at me.

Why not? Because you’re concerned I’ll hurt myself? But then I realized the reason for her concern. She didn’t want to have to rustle up a couple of goons to lift me upright again. More important than her concern or inconvenience, I didn’t want to be in that helpless position.

I would have bitten my lip in my anxiety if I had teeth or lips. Refusing to think any more about my helplessness, I lifted my arm and shifted my focus to the outstretched limb before me. I had a kinesthetic sense of where my body parts were.

I turned the plastic palm toward me, brought it closer to my face—the robot’s face? No, I may as well use the personal pronoun—and flexed and straightened my fingers. I half-expected to hear a B-movie-style creaking mechanical noise as I did so, but the movement created no sound. Other than the color being wrong, the limb looked just like I already knew it would. A geared joint connected my upper arm to my lower, another connected my arm to my hand, and three more gave each of my fingers flexibility. The plastic “skin” had a distinctly orange cast.

She tapped away at her notebook again and I could imagine what she was entering: Adduction of right elbow adequate. Adduction and abduction of fingers of right hand adequate. I hoped she wouldn’t try to tell me what she was entering because she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from explaining the “big” words to me. Little did she know how much I wanted to curl my adequately adducting and abducting fingers around her throat. Or maybe she did. My past attempts on her were the reason I was always restrained.

Only, I wasn’t restrained, was I? I turned my head slightly to where I knew my body still lay and quickly looked away. I looked worse than helpless hooked up to all the IVs, electrodes, monitoring machines. I looked dead.

But I, this robot body I wore, was not restrained.

No sooner did this thought cross my mind than I took my first step toward her. I moved slowly at first, one leg, then the other, feeling my way into the motion. With one part of my mind, I noted that my movement was strong, smooth, without any of the jerky spasms I expected. With another, larger part of my mind, I imagined her throat caught in the strong, robotic fingers of my still outstretched right hand. My intolerable feeling of helplessness was evaporating quickly.

“Oh, excellent,” she said, looking up at me, and this time her smile seemed to express genuine excitement. That would soon change. I strode to within a little more than arm’s length from where she sat and I suddenly stopped. Not because I’d willed myself to stop. The damnable body I was wearing just quit moving. My arm stay stretched before me. I rotated it to assure myself that it, at least, was still working. She gazed up at me over the tops of her glasses and her mouth pulled into a more predatory smile.

“What are you thinking, Rink?” She blinked her lashes at me twice with a look of innocence that clashed with her grin. I took a step backward—I could do that—and then another forward again. But I could go no farther. Damn this machine! Why did it have to stop working just when I was about to engage in a perfectly satisfying power move against this woman?

“Rink, please, be honest. What are you thinking?” Her eyes remained locked with mine.

There was no point in not answering her. I’d told her often enough that I wanted to kill her. “I’m thinking of wrapping these fingers around your throat and squeezing until you are dead.” I closed my eyes the better to picture the deed. “I suppose I would miss feeling your pulse in my hand and the muscles of your neck strain against me, but I would still enjoy watching your face turn—whatever color it would turn—and the capillaries bursting in your eyes.”

“Why don’t you?” she asked sweetly.

I tried again to make myself move the last little bit toward her. “I can’t!” I growled.

“Yes, I know,” she answered in a sing-song voice. She was laughing at me with that voice. Hot anger joined my simple desire to overpower her. She pushed her stool back and stood before me. She tucked the notebook under her left arm and raised her right hand to meet mine.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said as she shook my hand. I had the barest sensation that her hand was in mine, but no real feeling of contact. I squeezed my fingers as tightly as I could, wanting to crush her hand, but I could sense only a slight tightening of my grip. Without any conscious volition, my arm moved up and down in a perfectly civilized imitation of a handshake.

If I had been in my own body, I know I would have been breathing heavily from the effort of making my body respond, and from the anger that was quickly building to rage. As it was, I had no reason to breathe. No breathing mechanism. No heated pulse beating in my ears. I hadn’t noticed the lack until then.

She dropped my hand and turned her back to me. She was deliberately showing me my inability to harm her. My helplessness!

“You understand, of course, that your mind has been converted to an electronic version of itself for transfer to ... Rink Jr.” She laughed at her joke and turned to face me again. “You knew this was an experimental form of therapy. What may not have been adequately explained is that the electronic form of your mind has been overlaid with a matrix—a book of rules, if you will—that you cannot break. If you attempt to do so, your body will not perform that action. You can think all the thoughts you normally think, but you cannot act on them. Do you see?”

I couldn’t speak through my horror. I couldn’t move other than to drop my arm helplessly to my side. It did not swing as a real arm would.

She took her glasses off, wiped them on her lab coat, and returned them to her face. “Test the premise,” she continued. “Turn around and walk back the way you came. Walk around the room. You will see that your legs function adequately.”

I didn’t want to walk. I wanted to smash her head. I willed lifting my arm to do the deed. Nothing happened. I thought of an innocuous motion and following my thought, my arm lifted obediently, fingers curled into a fist, and I rapped my knuckles on my head. I heard the thunk-thunk of the tapping, not inside my head as I would have if I was in my own body, but as an external sound picked up by my ears.

She actually laughed in my face. “Knock knock,” she said, and mimicked my motion, although she didn’t actually rap. “You begin to see, I think,” she said, as she sat again. I had the palpable desire to flop into a chair, although no feeling of exhaustion or weakness that would make it necessary.

“This is inhuman,” I said.

“Some have said the same of you,” she answered. She leaned toward me and painted a look of compassion onto her features. “I, of course, understand that you are merely a product of your biochemistry and environment. You may not realize it yourself, but you would rather not be as you are. We are here to help.”

Help, my ass. Then I thought again of strangling that expression of feigned concern from her face. Unfortunately, I was just as restrained in this body as I would have been in my real one.

“You see, as Rink Jr., you can interact with people, interact with society. You simply cannot harm a human through physical violence, or knowingly break a law. We are hoping that through reinforced habit, you will learn to curb your inappropriate impulses even when in your own body.”

I recognized the ruse for what it was. They would never let me out in society in my real body if they actually believed I was a product of my biochemistry. My biochemistry won’t have changed. I just stood there staring at her. She kept talking, warming to the subject.

“There were some who argued that the matrix overlay should also disallow physically harming any living member of the animal kingdom, or of verbally harming a human being, but the prevailing decision was to leave you the most possible freedom of choice and action.” She wrinkled her nose as an apparently distasteful thought occurred to her. “I suppose that means you could try to satisfy your impulses by killing a dog, or some such. I personally would find that most disappointing, but you retain the choice.”

“I like dogs,” I said. There was never any question with a dog of where the power lay, so why would I want to hurt a dog? She obviously didn’t understand me at all.

“Yes, of course. I understand,” she said, as if she did. “Good. Then dogs will be as safe as humans with Rink Jr.” She smiled brightly in a manner that made me feel like she had just said, “good boy,” and patted me on the head. Like I was the helpless dog. I stood frozen as I tried to act on the impulse that entered my mind.

“Now, what would you like to do?” she asked. I knew want I wanted to do, but couldn’t. “Would you like to take a walk? Go outside perhaps?”

For a long moment, her words would not gel to coherency. After replaying her question in my mind a few times, I asked, “Outside?”

“Yes, trees, grass, blue sky?” she asked. “Although perhaps it will not be blue to your new eyes. You will have to tell me what color it appears to you.” She stood and gestured to the door. I followed her dumbly. Like a dog, dammit.

She rang the buzzer and the door opened from the outside. “It is quite alright,” she said to the ubiquitous goons. “Please ask John to come in for on-site monitoring of Rink’s body while we step out.”

She gestured for me to follow, but I couldn’t. I was frozen again as I pictured fighting the goons for my freedom. And for the pleasure of it. She gestured again and it occurred to me that I was standing in the way of my own freedom. I put all thoughts of the goons from my mind and, after a moment, stepped from the room.

There were several times on the way through the corridors that my body froze as I thought of closing violently on the diminutive Dr. McPherson as she strode before me, but as we crossed the main lobby and approached the doors to the outside, my excitement cleared my head of any desires against my jailor/escort and my pacing not only remained consistent but gained on hers. I focused on the opening of the doors and forced myself not to think of her proximity. I braced myself for the smell of fresh air for the first time in years.

I breasted the threshold like the winner at the finish line and willed a deep inhalation. Then remembered. No breath. No inhale. No sense of smell associated with a sweep of air entering my body. I felt the crude smile that had temporarily lifted the corners of my mouth and cheekbones—they gave this stupid body that ability—slump to its neutral position. I froze where I stood and, despite wanting so very much to cast my eyes over the pampered landscape before me, turned my eyes to Dr. McPherson.

A disappointed furrow creased her brow. “Now, Rink, if you could just manage to not to think those things, you would stop freezing up so often.”

“It’s not that,” I said. I still hated my voice, but I had to explain the feeling of betrayal. I stepped toward her to prove my statement. “I wanted to smell it. You know, trees, grass, blue sky.” I used her words even though the sky was a shocking pink. I decided not to tell her that.

“Ah, well, you also cannot taste,” she said. “Or feel much of anything at all. Rink Jr.”—I wished she’d stop calling me that—“is a prototype, and it was felt building in those senses would cause unnecessary complications. Perhaps in the future ...” She turned toward the lawn, the trees in the distance, the gravel drive, and gestured as though presenting them to me.

My eyes followed her gesture. “But ...” I didn’t know how to express my thoughts, “but, enjoying a meal, feeling the sun or the rain on your skin, smelling the damned fresh air!” I didn’t describe the other desired sensations that were flooding my mind. As long as I wasn’t trying to make this body act on them, I could still think about them. “Those are what make us human!”

“Ah, are we going to philosophize on what makes us human?” she asked, cocking her head at me and bending her lips into her most condescending smile. She turned away from me and walked down the broad steps that led to the drive. I didn’t follow her.

“I don’t want this,” I said. “I want back in my body.” I wanted more than anything, even more than doing violence to her, to be standing here in my own body with the opportunity to walk these grounds, to breathe the fresh air.

She turned and flashed a disappointed look at me. “Really?” she asked. “Does your desire to act on your impulses outweigh your desire for freedom? You won’t be able to act on them in your body either, you know. You will still be restrained.”

“It’s not that,” I answered. I didn’t know how to explain it. “I want the freedom to move, touch, taste.” It sounded ridiculous even to me. The only movement I was free to make in my real body was around my cell after they had released my restraints; the only touch, that of the walls of that cell and my bunk; the only taste, that of the overly bland meals they sent in twice a day. But I wanted it.

I wanted my own voice back.

I wanted to breathe.

She cocked her head at me again as if considering how to proceed. Then, lifting her arm to me in invitation, she said, “Our therapy session is not yet finished.” I stood there. “You can remain there for the rest of your session, of course, or you can walk with me.”

I thought through my options. I could stand there. Or I could walk. But I would not get back to my body any sooner either way. Much as I had, in the past, calmed myself and placated her in order to avoid being medicated, I decided to placate her now. I descended the stairs to meet her. She turned from me and walked across the drive to the grass. I walked beside her. I even managed to put out of my head any desire to beat her as a prelude to choking her to death. If I was going to walk, I wanted to walk freely, without all the interrupting freezes I had suffered on my way through the corridors.

As it turned out, walking outside was pretty damned nice.

***

So maybe biochemistry had something to do with who I was after all. As much as I didn’t like not breathing, not sensing anything much with my robot body, I did like being able to go to the community room and play pool. I did like watching TV. I did like—much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself—my walks with Dr. McPherson. I don’t know if it was being away from the chemistry of my body, or whether Dr. McPherson was right that this therapy was giving me new habits of thinking, but I found that the intrusive thoughts I used to relish, the thoughts of showing my power by choking someone to death, came less frequently—even when I was in my body. I began to look forward to my time as Rink Jr.

I admit, when the robot therapy first started, I rebelled against my feeling of helplessness by saying the cruelest things I could imagine to anyone around me. (I wonder if Dr. McPherson ever started rethinking the consensus to allow the robots the freedom to hurt verbally?) But, as the weeks passed, I stopped lashing out with words at those around me. It just didn’t satisfy. On the contrary, I actually began to feel ashamed of the hurt expressions that occasionally broke through the façade of indifference worn by those who worked the ward.

Then came the day when I saw another of my kind. Another robot full of thoughts of violence or murder. Dr. McPherson and I were on one of our walks, moving along the smooth path beneath the sparsely spread trees toward the back of the grounds. As I looked about, I saw my twin walking with an overweight man garbed in a lab coat and recognized the jerky style of walking. I heard the sound of my own metallic laughter.

“What is funny?” Dr. McPherson asked, looking up from the path. Her smile didn’t strike me as directing amusement at me. It was a warm smile.

“That robot,” I said through another chuckle. “Look how it’s walking. It’s absolutely helpless.” I truly thought it looked ridiculous. If only the poor idiot had enough self-control to restrain himself.

“That is Simon Jr.,” she said. She drew to a stop to watch it walk and I stopped with her. I felt my cheeks lifted into the position my face assumed when I smiled. Dr. McPherson turned to me and said, “You don’t feel helpless when you are Rink Jr.?”

Before I knew what I was saying, I answered, “No. I’m not helpless. I’m in the power seat!” I leapt for a branch several feet above my head, swung once and pulled myself up to a standing position atop the limb.

Effortlessly, I jumped from the limb and landed before Dr. McPherson. I couldn’t have accomplished that gymnastic feat in my real body—especially because it was slowly weakening from all my time outside of it.

I brought one hand to my stomach, placed the other hand behind my back, and bowed in a grand tah-dah manner. My audience clapped her hands. Delightedly, I thought.

***

It was months later when I was discussing all the things I would like to do outside of this ward—fine furniture carpentry, learning to play the piano, maybe even something that would make use of my immense strength—that she showed me just how much I had changed.

“Rink?” she asked. She had stopped calling me Rink Jr. after I explained that the appellation made me feel that my robot body was not “myself.”

“Yes, ma’am?” I answered.

“Honestly, please, when was the last time you thought of killing me?” she asked.

I was mortified; first, with her suggestion, and then with the remembrance that I had, indeed, repeatedly thought of strangling her. The recollection of the strange hunger-like need that accompanied the desire embarrassed me, especially because I could so viscerally remember the craving.

I ducked my head to show my embarrassment. If I had been in my old body, I might have flushed with the emotion or sharply inhaled, but those responses were beyond me.

“I was sick,” I said. “I see that now.” I said this partly because I knew it was what she wanted to hear and partly because I was beginning to think it was true. When she didn’t say anything more, I realized that I hadn’t answered her question. I raised my eyes to hers and she blinked at me, waiting for my response.

“I—honestly—haven’t thought of hurting you, or anyone, for ... months, at least.” Still she didn’t say anything. “It makes me feel sad that I spent so much of my life thinking and doing the things that I did. I could do something constructive with my life now, for myself, for others.” She smiled tentatively and cocked her head to one side. I finished in a burst, “I don’t suppose you can tell if I’m lying or not, but it’s true.”

“I believe you,” she said. Her eyes crinkled behind her glasses as her tentative smile grew into something genuine, affectionate. “I’m proud of you.”

I imagined my eyes watering at her words; I imagined the sensation in my head and chest, but my eyes were not built to tear. There were some things I missed about my old body, but as far as I was concerned, she could keep it. As it withered, it would be a disintegrating memento to the person I once was.

“I’ll start working on a probational release for you,” she said, looking at her screen. “This release would be in the robot body, of course.” She glanced up at me. “I assume you would like that?”

It was happening. I had achieved my barely imaginable goal. I stood and walked to the window. I looked out at the grounds we had walked so many times. I looked beyond the trees in the direction of the city to the few buildings I could see. “Yes,” I said. “Very much.”

She tapped at her screen a couple of times as I stood with my back to the room. She spoke as she worked. “You never told me. Did the sky ever turn blue?”

“No,” I said. “But I don’t mind the colors any longer.”

She tapped a bit longer as I fantasized about how much my life was about to change, how different it would be from the one I led before coming to this place. Then, almost absently she said, “Our session is over, Rink. You can go if you want.”

“Thanks,” I said. I no longer had an escort through this place. I could go where I liked.

I walked to the open door of her office, and turned back toward her. I was on the verge of thanking her again, when—apparently thinking I was gone—she sighed, lost her smile, and muttered two words I am certain I was not meant to hear.

“Next victim ...” she said and tapped again at her screen. I imagined she was calling up the requisition for another robot, another inmate. But she hadn’t said “inmate.”

Victim. She was talking about me. A helpless victim.

I’m glad she didn’t look up and notice me there. I’m glad she didn’t see my body jerk to a stop as I tried to move toward her. Tomorrow, the next day, next week, and I would be free.

Then I could start trying to find ways around the inhibitions of my new body. END

Davyne DeSye is a member of SFWA. Her stories have appeared in “BuzzyMag,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Tomorrow,” “On Spec Magazine,” and other venues. One of her stories was listed on the Tangent recommended reading list for 2013.

 

hugo noms

 

mariotti-7/15

 

 

 

jamie noble-comp