Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


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

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

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


More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




My Parking Space is Near the Door

By Gustavo Bondoni


I’d left my car, a 1989 Dodge Omni which had absolutely no connection to the mindnet, the SecureNet, or even the Globabase, parked across two spaces. The plaques on the reserved spots held long titles, vice president of this, director of that. Even so, the spaces were still farther from the elevators than mine was.

The indicators above the spaces flashed red as the electronics in the system tried to ascertain what was occupying them. By now they’d probably concluded that it wasn’t a car—which car would have no capability to communicate with them, or not be occupied by a human? This left quite a number of possibilities: a load of bricks, a feral dog, a shopping cart that had been vandalized and had its electronics removed. My only worry was that the system, stumped by the mystery, might sound an alarm, but even if it did, it would take a lot more than a parking violation to get a human out here to do a check.

I walked quickly past my own parking spot, which sported a large blue icon of a stick figure in a wheelchair and reached the elevator. The lone button was also blue, and it held the same icon. I glared at it, remembering the day I started working here, and the fact that they’d had to shut down the whole system for an hour while they installed those buttons on every floor.

I ignored the lift and went for the stairs. At least that door had a knob, and besides, even if I had to climb thirty floors, it was still better than letting the system know I was here. I chuckled at the thought. Most of the building’s administrators would have been appalled at the thought of a handicapped person climbing up the stairs after they’d spent tens of thousands of dollars making the building one hundred percent compliant. I would have loved to see their faces when they found out. Of course, if this actually worked, I would get to see surprise on a whole lot more than just the administrators’ faces.

By the fifteenth floor I was exhausted, but anger kept me going. I could see perfectly well, hear better than any of them could. Hell, most of them wouldn’t have been able to climb these stairs, the lazy, obese bastards. And yet I was the cripple.

They would see how unfair it was, but this wasn’t about revenge. I wanted to show them that my life was no less rich than theirs. Once they understood, things could go back to how they’d been.


Before augmented vision—conveniently available in a tiny optic and aural nerve implant—and global networks with access to huge mainframes had made computers, cell phones, and every other portable electronic information device obsolete overnight.

Before it was discovered that a small proportion of the world’s people simply couldn’t take the implants due to immune reactions. Painful swelling, blurred vision, phantom ringing sounds.

Before Dr. García took me aside and told me, in his best, comforting bedside manner, that it wasn’t the end of the world, that we could cope, that not having enhanced reality should not keep me from enjoying a full life.

I snorted to myself as I passed the landing at the twentieth floor. Even then, Dr. García had known just how difficult it would be to survive without it. A normal person who passed another on the street would be given all the other person’s public information. Restaurant price lists were available simply by looking at a window, as were directions to the restroom, car specs in showrooms and nutritional info in supermarkets. All you had to do to call a cab or an elevator was to stand in the right place—conveniently marked out by a virtual yellow square which existed only inside your mind.

Unless your immune system had rejected the implants. If that was the case, you either had to wear an extremely cumbersome helmet—which was tantamount to placing a neon sign that said invalid on your personal information register—or you could do without—and represent, by the simple act of not seeing lines and arrows that everyone else could perceive, a danger to traffic, pedestrians, and yourself.

Well, that was a risk I was willing to live with, but I’d still been tagged with the handicapped label as soon as it became apparent that people who weren’t plugged into the system simply weren’t able to function in modern society. Restrooms wouldn’t flush. Cars wouldn’t start. Garage doors wouldn’t open for them.

Something had to be done.

So enlightened managers had decided that the solution was to make office buildings “inclusive,” which meant, basically, that even someone as crippled as I was could operate any system in the complex. It was inevitable that Coretech would lead the way—after all, they ran the entire system in the Cincinnati area, and most of the rest of the tri-state region as well. They offered me a job the very same day they received my application—and probably took only enough time to verify that I truly had rejected my implants before doing so.

I’d lived the past six years as an analyst, learning about all the wonderful advances in enhanced vision technology. How life was richer, safer, more entertaining, all thanks to Coretech’s innovations. My enhanced coworkers tried to treat me well, but I could see the pity in their expressions, the disdain in their faces. All because I couldn’t see a bunch of virtual signs in front of my eyes.

But I didn’t despair. I learned the technology, I adapted to the working conditions—it was strange being the only employee with a monitor on my desk, an old one which was beginning to show signs of wear, but which could never be replaced because they simply weren’t making them any more. I even worked my way up in the company hierarchy. How many augmented reality companies could say that their head of market analysis was a man who’d never even seen an augment?

For some reason I never understood, the heavy, cumbersome and sometimes overloaded servers were on the thirtieth floor, and I was panting as I pushed the door open.

At that moment, time became of the essence. It wouldn’t matter that my lack of implants meant the system couldn’t tell I was there; opening that door at two in the morning was going to set off some serious alarms somewhere.

I wasn’t supposed to be here, ever, so this floor wasn’t set up for handicapped use.

Servers hulked all around me. From here, trillions of tiny indicators told people that someone else was called Timothy Antonov, or that the lobster at McHenry’s Seafood cost seventy-five dollars. There were hundreds of them, with backups and redundancies, fed through two different power feeds and a third line for emergencies. No conceivable mechanical or manufacturing deficiency could possibly bring this place down.

That was the reason I’d brought a large, heavy axe.

I could attempt to destroy the servers, but it would really be no use. By the time I managed to do three or four of them, security would be all over me. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to start. With my luck I’d probably destroy a bank of accounting machines.

It would be much better to go after the power supply and the communications wiring. Despite the built-in redundancies, the cables had all been routed through the same hole in the wall, and the three separate transformers had also been placed side-by-side. It occurred to me that it wasn’t the ideal layout, as even a small, localized fire could wipe out the whole installation.

And it made the job much easier if you happened to be an angry man in possession of a well-insulated axe.

I hefted it, felt the satisfying weight of it against my shoulder, and brought it down on a bundle of cables the width of my forearm. I expected sparks, but the axe just embedded itself with a dull thud. It took two more swings to get through.

The transformers were much more satisfying. They shattered like kindling and bright white sparks flew in every direction as my strokes disconnected some of the coils and shorted others. Thick black smoke soon began to pour from the first, and I turned my attention to the second. As it broke apart, I noticed three separate fuse boxes clinging to the wall above, and attacked them.

Once the transformers and fuse boxes were scrap, I went back to the cables. I didn’t have much time left before security or the police came by and tackled me, but I didn’t care. The humming from the large metal boxes around me had ceased about the same time the smoke began. There would be no one in the city with working implants.

I hacked through the remaining power lines and then located the network cables. They weren’t quite as tough, and the wireless modems were cheesy plastic that reacted in almost comical ways when struck a solid blow.

I sat down to wait for the police, panting but strangely satisfied.


Half an hour later, I realized that something must be very wrong. Where sirens should have sounded on the street below and shock troops in body armor should have burst into the room there was only silence. I sat, ready and willing to accept my fate, but it didn’t come. Nothing at all happened, except that the lights in the room started to flicker.

That was a surprise. I looked over the damage I’d caused and confirmed what I knew already: none of the wires I cut had been connected to the lighting or the building’s everyday circuits in any way. The lights should have been unaffected. I shrugged it off. Maybe something had simply shorted—a likely occurrence when electrics are reprogrammed with an axe—and was causing the surge.

Then the lights went out completely and I chuckled. Probably a circuit breaker popping. The dim, battery-powered emergency lights came on a few seconds later.

Then I realized that there was not much light coming in from the single window, and I walked over to have a look.

The city was completely dark, illuminated only by random headlights—not all that many of them— in the distance. It looked like the authorities would probably have more important things to do than come arrest me right now, and I would be more comfortable if I waited for the long arm of the law at home. I headed down the stairs.

It was simply amazing how much easier it was to go down thirty flights of steps than it was to go up. I reached the door to the ground floor in nearly no time, and found, to my irritation that the door to the basement garage was locked. I thought I remembered that it was a safety measure in case of fire. The door could be opened only by people trying to get out of the basement, but not from above, in order to keep people from being trapped below.

I sighed. Getting a cab was out of the question—they could only be hailed electronically by people with implants or helmets—so I had to walk.

Then I chuckled. I’d just assured that no one in the city could call a cab. The implants wouldn’t be working now that Coretech’s servers had suffered “technical difficulties.” I would pay to see people’s faces now that they had to look at the world as it was.

I was beginning to think that I would actually enjoy the walk—it might be worth the years of jail time I was looking at. I wondered idly if jails were prepared for handicapped inmates.

The lobby doors, fortunately, were unlocked, and I walked into the warm night. It was about four in the morning—I’d had to leave my watch and cell behind as both were wired into the mindnet and would have given my presence away immediately. The streets seemed strangely quiet, but I supposed that was normal at that time of night.

I began to hike along the street, glad that the sidewalk was in decent shape and that the emergency lights from nearby buildings were giving off quite a bit of illumination. Despite the aches from my earlier climb, I was moving at a good clip—I had a long hike ahead of me.

Three blocks from the office, I encountered a wrecked cab. It looked as though it had run head-on into a building for no reason that I could make out. There were no other cars at the scene, and the cabbie and whomever passengers he’d been carrying were long gone. Strange, cabs almost never crashed— they were invariably equipped with all the best safety features for insurance purposes. Whenever they hit something, the investigations always found that the operator had either tampered with something, or found a new way to get around the safeguards. I shrugged and walked on.

I hadn’t even made two more blocks when I found three more wrecked vehicles, including a family sedan with its wheels in the air. My first thought was that these people had also left—or been taken—from the scene, and I was about to walk away when I spotted a figure seated on the curb, legs hugged against its chest.

“Hello, are you all right?”

The figure jerked violently and turned my way. A woman, no more than thirty, with hair that looked red in the dim light, but might also have been pale brown. “Don’t come any closer,” she said. “Who are you? Why can’t I see who you are? Why didn’t my sensors tell me you were coming?”

I stopped and held out my hands, palms outward, trying to look as inoffensive as possible. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Hah. Why should I believe you, sneaking up on people with all your e-locators turned off? Is that even legal? I’m sure you hacked the system.” She scooted away on her backside, but didn’t get up, didn’t run.

“Look, I think the whole system is down.”

“Down? Oh.” She obviously wasn’t thinking too clearly. I wanted to get closer, to try to see whether she was hurt, but it was pretty evident that she wouldn’t like that at all.

“Are you hurt?”

“I ... I’m not sure. I think I hit something, but that can’t be, can it? I mean, the augments would have picked it up and steered the car, right?”

“Look, I think you were in an accident. I’m going to come a little closer, to see if you’re hurt. Don’t worry, I won’t touch you.”

Receiving no reply, I inched forward a step, then another. She ignored me, cocking her head to one side and then the other, squinting and subvocalizing. It was almost as if she’d forgotten I was even there.

There was no blood anywhere I could see, and no bruising on her face, which was a good sign, at least. “Look, I need you to tell me if you feel all right. Does anything hurt? If you were inside any of those vehicles, you must have taken quite a hit.”

She looked back my way. “That’s my car,” she said, pointing at the upended sedan. Other than the fact that the shiny side was laying against the tarmac, it didn’t look like it had taken too much damage. From where I stood, it looked like the driver had simply run over a concrete lane-divider-cum-flower-bed in the center of the road just fast enough to tip the car over. It obviously hadn’t been a high-speed wreck, but it also made it hard to understand why, exactly, she would have driven into something that obvious.

“I can’t get my family on the line. My Incell isn’t coming up.” She was speaking to me again. “Could you call them? For me? I’ll give you the code.”

“Look, I’d love to call, but I already told you, the systems are all down. Without power, there’s no mindnet for cells to run on, and I don’t think it will be available again for at least a few hours. Where do you live? I’ll walk you home.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I suspected it might be more than a few hours before someone got around to fixing the augmented reality around here. I’d done enough damage that they would definitely need to bring parts in from off site. And, even worse, no one had made an appearance by the time I’d left the building. It could be days before these people got their normal, cocooned lives back, in which every approaching stranger was tagged and identified.

“Walk? Why can’t we just order a cab?” She paused. “Oh, yeah.” She tried a small smile. “You must think I’m a complete idiot.”

“No, but you do seem a little confused. Are you sure that you’re OK? No blows to the head?”

She laughed, a pretty laugh but completely unexpected. “Yes, I’m absolutely sure. I remember the accident exactly. I was moving slowly, avoiding that wrecked car over there. I remember wondering if it was a getaway car, and that was why someone had hacked it off the net, when I heard a crunch and the car just went over. It was like slow motion. I thought I would hit my head on the roof, but I had my belt on, and just hung there until I crawled out. I’m fine.”

“Then ...” She didn’t let me finish.

“It’s just all this,” she said, waving her arms around, and leaving me wondering whether she meant the city, the street, the crashed vehicles, or the blackout. “It’s just so strange without the info. What are those buildings? Which street are we on? Whose cars are these? I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so alone. There’s no network!” She shuddered.

In her helplessness, I saw the true fear behind the pitying looks I received every day. I saw why people who couldn’t function in the real world, couldn’t even find a restroom without a virtual yellow sign burning a hole in their retinas would pass laws that said that I was handicapped. They actually thought I rated a parking space near the entrance—even the guy in the wheelchair was one spot farther away. Well, tonight would probably go a long way toward showing them the error of their ways.

My resolve hardened. “Well, do you want my help or don’t you? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“No. Don’t go. Walk me home. Please.”

I couldn’t leave her. Even if she was just being a baby, and was perfectly capable of walking home on her own, I could tell that she was genuinely frightened. I held out a hand to help her up. “So, you’d trust me even though you have no idea who I am, or what my occupation is, and even though you don’t have access to my criminal record?”

“I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think I don’t need any of that to judge you. Your face makes me trust you. You don’t look like the kind of guy who would hurt anyone.”

I thought it was the first uncrazy thing she’d said all night, and that she was finally acting human. Of course, she needed a bit of practice reading people before trying to rely on that particular talent.

As we headed down the street, I wondered whether anyone had ever done her quite as much harm as I already had that night.


“Haven’t you ever been this way before?” I asked.

“I come through here every day,” she replied.

I said nothing. She was gawking like a tourist, fascinated by concrete facades and fading brickwork. She stood in front of one window for nearly a minute, just studying the dirty glass.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said.

I gave her a raised eyebrow, and she laughed. “All right, it’s dark and dingy and very, very boring. But I don’t remember the last time I just looked at things. I always want to know what it means, what lies beneath the surface, and what might come out to bite me. This is much more relaxing.” She turned away from the window and walked a few paces down the street. “Of course, I wouldn’t want it to be like this all the time. Are you coming, or is this as far as you go?”

“I’m coming,” I said. I wondered about her. I really did. I wondered how anyone could live inside that nightmare they called reality for days on end and actually miss it when it wasn’t there. I’d worn the helmet often enough to know that I didn’t enjoy the constant intrusion of the enhancements.

Of course, I’d not worn it anywhere near long enough to get used to the functional aspects of it, much less become dependent on them.

She walked self-consciously, carefully, as if fully expecting to run into something at any moment, despite the sidewalk being completely clear of obstacles.

“So what do you do for a living?” I asked her. I hadn’t meant to talk to her. Hell, it was probably a bad idea to speak to anyone right now. I should be finding a deep hole to hide in before the systems came back.

She took the question in stride. “I design adscreens,” she replied.

So, she worked for one of my employer’s suppliers, which probably explained why she was so immersed in the enhanced reality vision that she couldn’t function without it. Part of the job.

“How about you?”

Was I really going to admit any connection to the current situation? Of course not. “I’m an accountant.”

In due course, our meanderings brought us to her house. I had forgotten any temporary remorse I might have felt at having caused the night’s suffering when I realized that the society that looked down on me was not only unable to drive their cars without hitting obvious obstacles unless a huge network nannied them every step of the way, but that some perfectly productive, non-handicapped members of society were unable to find their own houses without a map. Only when she remembered the street number and let me navigate did we eventually come to a white house with a well-kempt lawn that she gleefully said was hers.

“Sorry about the way it looks. I usually have it a little more jazzed up for passers-by.”

Jazzed up. I shrugged. On those few days when I’d acceded to wearing the helmet, I’d never activated the function that allowed other people’s architectural taste to impose itself on my sight. “Looks all right to me.”

She smiled, barely visible in the emergency light from the corner. “Would you like a drink? Some coffee? Do you have to walk much farther?”

I raised the eyebrow again. She chuckled.

“Don’t give me that. If you’d wanted to try anything, you’d have done it already. I was helpless, and no one can come to my rescue. I wonder if the whole world is paralyzed?”

Nah, just the tri-state area, and paralyzed seems a bit much to describe people who are only missing the shining letters in their heads, don’t you think? “I could use some water, but then I’ve got to keep walking. Still a long way from home,” I replied.

She got me a glass of water from a nice cool bottle in her fridge, and stood looking at me. She didn’t seem worried by the fact that there was a man she knew nothing about standing in her kitchen. I thought that she probably wouldn’t have worried about a guy with a smoking gun and an unfriendly expression unless he was festooned with dozens of signs in neon colors that pointed him out as a threat. “Thank you,” I said.

She smiled. “What’s your name?”

“Gordon McLaren,” I said. The light of recognition shone in her eyes, but only for an instant.

“Do I know you?” She asked.

She’d probably heard my name over the newscasts when my condition had been diagnosed. There weren’t many people like me in the world. Fortunately, she seemed to be unable to place me immediately. “I don’t remember having met you,” I replied. “Maybe we’ve been in contact some other way. You still haven’t told me your name.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Lella Patrick.”

“Pleased to meet you, Lella, but the name doesn’t ring any bells.”

She shook my hand, but the speculation in her eyes returned. I suddenly wanted to get the hell out. “Gotta run.”

“I understand. Hope you make it home OK.”

“Thanks.” I was brusque, but the last thing I wanted was her pity.

The walk from her house to mine should have taken less than forty minutes. But almost as soon as Lella’s house was out of sight, the lights suddenly came back on in the city, followed by doors opening and people walking out of their houses with beatific expressions. It took me a few moments before I realized that they were checking to see that their beloved information was available outside their houses as well as inside. I was surprised by the number of them, by how many had been disturbed by a power and network outage at a time when most of them should have been asleep.

Maybe I’d touched more people than I’d realized. Maybe some of them would tell their grandchildren, plugged in to a system with better fail-safes and redundancies, about the day the augmented reality had turned into nothing more than reality.

Cars soon began whooshing up and down the street that had been deserted moments before.

I chuckled and shook my head. The sun was just poking its way above the horizon, and I left those dreams behind. Stark reality dictated that the only thing I ought to be thinking about was whether they would give me a regular prison cell or a padded room at an institution. I turned to walk towards my house again. What else could I do?

“Hello, Gordon.”

Lella was standing in front of me, a car—smaller and older than the one she’d crashed earlier—parked sloppily by the curb. I said nothing.

“I remembered why your name was familiar.”

“I can imagine.” I could, too. My face and my name and my tragic story were probably being beamed into everyone’s newsfeeds as we stood there. With the ubiquity of security cameras, it was only a matter of time until some piece of face-recognition software identified me, and then I would probably have a large red sign attached to me, or a yellow halo, or whatever they used to identify dangerous criminals in the augmented world.

“Maybe you’d better come with me,” she said.

“You want to turn me in yourself?”

“No.” Pause “Well, I’m not sure.”

“Aren’t you afraid of me?”

“Should I be?” Seeing that I wasn’t going to reply, she answered her own question. “I certainly don’t think so. You did everything you could to help me last night, even after you ...” she broke off in midsentence, exasperated. People were starting to turn our way. “Just get in.”

I did, and she drove back in the direction of her house.

“I’m sorry about last night.”

“It’s all right, I understand.”

No, you don’t, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud. “Where are you taking me?”

“Home. And don’t ask me what I’m planning afterward. I haven’t thought it through that far. All I knew when I left the house is that I couldn’t let anyone else get to you first. There are some pretty angry people out there.”

I laughed. I wasn’t worried about getting lynched by a bunch of people following electronic signs. Would they get a warning if I tried to defend myself? A small red square with the text approaching fist?

“So, have you thought about it now?”

“I don’t know. Can’t you call a lawyer?”

I just sat there, an amused smile on my lips.

“Oh. Right. Sorry. I’ll call one for you.” I could see her slowly coming to understand that taking care of me was going to be a bigger task than she’d thought. And then I saw her shake it off. She would help me to the best of her abilities. After all, I was handicapped.

I closed my eyes so she wouldn’t see the tears. That cell, preferably in solitary confinement, wasn’t looking too bad anymore.

At least they wouldn’t make me park near the door. END

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer of over a hundred published stories. He is a winner in the National Space Society’s “Return to Luna” Contest. His ebook novella, “Branch,” was published by Wolfsinger Press in March 2014.


winchester 11/16



crazy liddy 9/16