Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Astronaut Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Virus Smugglers
by Erin Lale

Clone Music
by Guy T. Martland

Adventure of the Durham Monograph
by Robert Dawson

by Timothy J. Gawne

Too Much to Dream
by Richard Zwicker

Tour de Force
by Richard Wren

by Stephen L. Antczak

Shorter Stories

Free Wi-Fi at the Bordello
by Santiago Belluco

Ambivalence of Memory
by Jamie Lackey

Welcome, Distant Traveler
by Andrew Vrana


Pandemic: Zika
by John McCormick

Descent and Ascent
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips






By Timothy J. Gawne

I ARRIVED AT THE APARTMENT building promptly at two in the afternoon. I took the elevator to the third floor, and arrived at a heavily paneled walnut door at the end of a long and poorly lit hallway. I knocked, and a speaker crackled into life.

“It’s me, professor,” I said. “Alvin. Alvin Accipeter.”

“It’s unlocked. Come on in.”

I opened the door and walked into a narrow entryway. Along the way I caught my foot on the carpet and nearly fell.

The entryway opened up into a large space that was packed with such a clutter of paper notes, electronics and machine parts that the room could more fairly be called a nest.

“Ah, hello, thank you for coming, Mr. Accipeter” said the professor. “Please, have a seat.”

I sat down next to him on a shabby but surprisingly comfortable chair, and started taking notes on my compact dataslate. He looked just like his old photographs: pale, thin, wisps of white hair receding in defeat from the dome of his head, rumpled gray suit, and clear gray eyes.

“Thank you sir,” I said. “It’s been years since you have granted anyone an interview. I’m honored.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “They always want to talk about my Nobels. I grew tired of the repetition. I have something new, but I need the right person to tell it to. I have followed your journalism career, and decided that you might be suitable. So what did you think of the statue in the entrance? Nearly tripped over it, didn’t you?”

I looked back at where I had entered: I didn’t see anything.

“What statue?” I said.

The professor flipped a switch on his crowded table. “Look again.”

I did, and right in front of the entrance was perhaps the ugliest statue that I had ever seen. It was some sort of ancient fertility god. It was painted bright green and yellow and had grotesque features.

I was puzzled. How could I have missed such a thing? There was only a little space between the statue and the walls on either side. I would have walked right into it ...

The professor observed my confusion with what appeared to be admiration. “Very good. You are disoriented, but you do not make excuses or denials. You may do.”

“I don’t understand what is going on,” I said.

“Of course you don’t,” said the professor, “but I will explain. Have you ever heard of the term neglect?

“You mean, to fail to pay attention to something?”

“No, I mean the clinical syndrome. Patients suffering from what is termed hemi-neglect are blind in one half of their visual fields—usually to the left—but what is truly devastating is that they are unaware of this blindness.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well,” said the professor, “if a patient is merely blind to the left, they can simply turn to the left and bring what was to their left to their right, but a patient with hemi-neglect cannot do that, for they cannot even imagine that anything to their left might exist.”

“It’s hard to understand what that feels like.”

He nodded. “Indeed. But it does not feel like anything at all. These patients, they are not perturbed by the fact that half the world is missing, because they cannot conceive of it any more than we can imagine the fourth dimension. Tell me, have you ever heard of Anton’s Syndrome?”

“No,” I said. “What’s that?”

“If the part of the brain that analyzes images is damaged, a person will be blind even though their eyes are normal. However, if the part of their brain that tells them if they can see is also damaged, they are unaware of their blindness.”

“Don’t they notice when they walk into objects?”

“Surely. But they confabulate. They walk and hit something because they are blind, but that makes no logical sense to them because they believe that they can see. So their brain makes up a story that is consistent: oh, I was distracted and didn’t notice, I meant to do that, whatever it takes to fill in the narrative gaps.”

“I didn’t know that. It sounds weird.”

“You need to understand that all of our perception is an illusion. The brain takes in conflicting and partial data from the real world, and comes up with the best guess for what is out there. It’s usually very good at this, typically better than any existing computer. Thus the brain’s guess is mostly in sync with reality. However, given corrupted data, or interference with its operation, then the brain’s guess may be wildly off.”

The professor stood up, and walked over to the statue. He pointed out a fine mesh of wires and small lights that covered it. “I have determined how to induce neglect in normal subjects. When you walked in you were not aware of this statue and you stumbled into it—so your mind made up a story, maybe that you tripped on a shoelace, or caught your foot on the carpet, whatever could explain it away. Now the field is turned off. Most people would get angry at me and make up another story and leave, but not you. You have enough insight to realize that something strange has happened.”

“Isn’t this like the Somebody Else’s Problem force-field that the science fiction author Douglas Adams wrote about?”

“I am familiar with the reference,” said the professor. “It was mildly amusing. The difference is that I have actually created one.”

I thought about that. “This is incredible, but also dangerous. In the wrong hands ...”

He nodded vigorously. “Yes, you immediately see the consequences. However, what if someone else has already figured this out?

He stood up and walked to a section of wall that was covered with hardcopy printouts of satellite photographs of the city, all joined edge-to-edge so that it created a single tattered map. “This is a mosaic of images. We forget just how large a major city is. You could spend the rest of your life exploring it, and never enter every room. You could hide anything here.”

“What are you looking for?”

“Anomalies. If there is something that people are being forced to ignore, it will create anomalies in the traffic patterns. There will be a section that people don’t walk through, or park at, even though it would be convenient for them to do so. Subtle changes in delivery patterns. I believe I have identified such an area.” He tapped a place on the map where the city had only light industry, low run-down industrial buildings, empty loading docks surrounded by rusted barbed-wire fences. “Here. In this location, something is going on. Shall we find out what?”


I don’t know how I let the professor talk me into accompanying him on his little exploration. I worried that if someone was using a neglect field to shield a section of the city from the public, there might be a good reason for it, and this someone might be powerful and dangerous. But he pooh-poohed my objections—“Aren’t you a journalist? Where’s your passion to investigate?”—and won me over. Although it wasn’t that hard. I do have a reputation for sticking my nose into places where it doesn’t belong, which is obviously why he picked me.

We ate a lunch of iced tea and home-made chicken salad sandwiches (which were really very good), and then set off. We drove in his car, an antique red Dodge Chrysler minivan so old that the fabric on the roof had delaminated, and hung down in folds like a nomadic tent. We had a surprisingly hard time navigating to our destination: we kept missing the turnoff and ending up back on the main road.

Eventually the professor parked nearby, and announced that we would walk the rest of the way.

When people think of industry, it usually conjures up images of titanic factories and kilometer-long conveyer belts and armies of industrial robots. These sorts of places exist, of course, but as a journalist I have learned that most industry resides in rundown-looking zones spread across countless square kilometers. The long, low sheds are rusty and dilapidated, with faded signs dating from decades before: no customers come here, so there is no reason to keep things up. The roads are pitted and dusty, the sidewalks cracked and weedy.

We walked for a bit, but as we came to one section I found myself becoming strangely anxious. We were the only people around, and it was quiet. I was overcome with fear.

“I don’t think we should be here,” I said.

The professor looked at me strangely. “And why not? This is a public street, and there are no signs saying keep out.”

I looked around, trying to find an excuse to discontinue our adventure. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t think we should be here. Let’s head back.”

The professor nodded. “Yes, I feel it as well. The reaction has been generated by the arrangements of the buildings and roads. It is very subtle, and very powerful. It’s beyond my art, that I can tell you. But still, we have come this far.” The professor put his hand on my arm. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

With his encouragement, we proceeded on. As we covered more ground I found that, while I still felt a sense of unease, I could control it better.

“You know,” I said, “people are much braver in groups. Is this why you had me come along?”

“You are perceptive,” said the professor. “I did not lie when I said that I wanted your skills at reporting, but yes, I also wanted your company. For support.”

I thought about this for a while. “You’ve been here before.”

The professor looked surprised. “Yes, I have. I just never managed to make it this far, alone. You are indeed perceptive, Mr. Accipeter.”

We passed by a two-story gray metal building whose peeling sign announced that it was the Amalgamated Scandentia Gimbal Corporation. There were an even half-dozen truck loading bays facing the street, but they were all closed up.

“Did you ever consider,” I said, “that whoever is capable of doing this might be powerful? Might be, perhaps, not wise to mess around with?”

“That is always a possibility,” said the professor, “however, if they were truly dangerous we’d be dead by now. I also think that anyone capable of such sophisticated tactics might be not altogether beyond polite discussion. In any event, if they do prove to be overwhelmingly powerful I expect that the worst that will happen to us is that they will make threats that they are obviously capable of carrying out, warn us to keep away from their business, and send us on our way. On the other hand, they may be pleased to be visited by people capable of penetrating their deceptions, and we may learn many interesting things. We will only find out by trying.”

I looked skeptical.

“Relax,” said the professor. “You’ve been watching too many bad science fiction movies. In the real world most people are reasonable.”

I wondered at that. Was it actually possible to watch too many bad science fiction movies?

We continued on. At last we came to a place where the pressure of fear was almost gone. Perhaps I had adapted to it, or perhaps it was more of an eye-in-the-center-of-a-hurricane sort of thing.

The professor stopped, and looked around. “This should be the epicenter,” he said.

I did not notice anything out of the ordinary. Same cracked sidewalks and blank cinderblock and metal warehouse walls that we had passed for the last several blocks.

“I don’t see anything here,” I said.

“Indeed,” said the professor. He took two pairs of bulky glasses out of his coat pocket. “Here, these are anti-neglect glasses. They use subliminal flashes of light that have been carefully timed to disrupt any neglect-inducing systems. Theoretically.”

The professor and I put the glasses on. They were heavy and had thick rims, so that they narrowed my field of view. At first looking through them was strange, claustrophobic, and they gave everything a sort of metallic sheen, but I quickly got used to it.

I noticed a gaping hole in the middle of one of the buildings. It was about fifteen meters across, circular, and headed down into the earth at a gentle angle. Smoke was coming out of it—no, I quickly realized, it was condensation. The air wafting up out of the tunnel must be extremely humid. How could I have missed it?

The professor gestured towards the tunnel. “Shall we?” he said.


We wandered around in the tunnels for some time. Many of them were like the entrance: round, smooth-walled. Others were more human: rectangular, lined with cinderblocks or ceramic tiles, with metal conduits running along the lengths. The air was slightly cool and heavy with humidity. The walls were slick with a thin film of water. The dim light came from widely spaced fluorescent lighting fixtures which gave off a greenish glow and buzzed threateningly.

We came to a place with a small alcove containing an ancient vending machine. Behind its faded plastic windows there were only a few desiccated candy bars remaining, but the machine was dead and could not vend them in any event. I don’t know why, but the machine horrified me.

As I examined it more closely, I realized that there was no writing on the machine at all—and what I took to be candy bars were something else entirely, possibly mummified rats, maybe something else. It was hard to tell, gazing into the dark recesses of the machine through faded plastic. I could also identify no screws, no obvious access panels ... the more I looked at it, the less it looked like a vending machine at all.

We continued on. Several times we encountered objects that seemed normal, but on closer inspection revealed an unsettling bizarre nature. There was the mop stuck in a bucket—except the mop head was a mass of worms, the handle of the mop was a pipe bolted into the wall and that was slowly leaking fluid into the bucket.

There was a bookcase full of books—but they weren’t books. They were rectangular slabs of gristle, all slightly different sizes, jammed into slots. Some of them oozed yellow liquid.

I looked up at the buzzing lights. Superficially they resembled standard fluorescent light fixtures, the kind you can still find in old laundry rooms. On closer inspection I saw that they were also something else: each fixture had a pair of glowing greenish-white tubes, certainly, but there were other pipes and mechanisms spread around the tubes like tree roots, whose purpose I could not identify. These mechanisms moved slowly, but only if I was looking away. It was as if the fixtures could tell that I was looking at them—or perhaps it was an optical illusion. Either way, the effect was unsettling.

There was a small room with a white porcelain toilet in the center, but that was just the first impression. It had no seat, and the lid was a full meter across and a meter above the floor, and folded in odd ways. There were multiple deep openings in the bottom, and something dark sloshed back and forth in one of them.

The professor said nothing at these odd displays but only nodded and continued walking.

We were in one of the circular tunnels when I heard something coming towards us. I instinctively ducked into a side alcove, but the professor stood his ground.

Hey, professor,” I whispered. “Don’t just stand there in the open, come over here.

“Nonsense,” he said. “If you skulk around like a criminal, you will be treated like a criminal. I have nothing to hide.”

The something I had heard came nearer and nearer. It made a low sound that was hard to describe: rumbling and sucking at the same time. The professor backed out of the main tunnel to crouch next to me.

“I thought you said to stand in the open,” I said.

“I might,” said the professor, “have been wrong. Let’s try skulking for a bit.”

We pushed ourselves flat into the alcove. The thing was preceded by a wave of stink that I find hard to describe. In books one often comes across the term smelled like a charnel house, but nowadays most civilized people never experience such a smell. The worst that they might encounter is a baby’s diapers, or a carton of spoiled milk. Well, I now know what a charnel house smells like, and it is more of a physical assault than a mere odor.

Then it came into view. It was vaguely cubical, but only in the way that a person’s head is vaguely spherical. It was five meters on a side, and moving like a snail on a pulsating foot. It left a slick trail of mucus behind it as it passed. But what was most terrifying was not its shape, or mode of locomotion, or even its smell, but what it was made of.

There is a kind of tumor called a “teratoma”—a wild growth of all possible tissue types. If you have never seen a picture of one don’t bother searching, they are truly disgusting. Teeth, hair, fingernails, eyes, genitals, muscles, brain, all jammed together with no plan. This entire five meter-wide thing was like a single teratoma, a writhing mass of every kind of body tissue imaginable.

The worst were the eyes. They looked human, but they were spread around it at random, and stared out at odd angles with insane unblinking intensity. Some of them must have been pointed in our direction as it went by, but it gave no sign of having noticed us.

Finally it passed and disappeared down the length of the tunnel.

“You don’t need to say it,” whispered the professor. “We should leave.”

We began to retrace our path back to the entrance, more quietly than when we had entered. I began to hear footsteps from the tunnel behind us. They could have been the footsteps of an unusually large man, but the rhythm was off, there was no set pattern to them. This was more disturbing than it sounds in print: try walking with no rhythm. I turned and caught a glimpse of something tall and shiny ...

The professor ripped the anti-neglect glasses off of my face. He was pale, and trembling.

“I’ve made a mistake,” he said. “I’ve been so stupid. But without the glasses you should be safe—if you don’t see them they won’t target you.”

At that point I had only an indistinct impression of blurred shapes and vague motions, and an acute sense of terror. Now most people who have never faced real peril feel that, deep down, they are intrinsically brave. As a journalist I have learned that, faced with physical danger, most people are cowards. I am no exception. I panicked and ran through the tunnels looking for the exit. At one point I slipped on the wet floor and fell heavily on my back, but quickly regained my footing and headed up towards the light and the outside.

Then I was alone on the sidewalk. What had I been doing here? It didn’t make sense. A tunnel heading into the ground? I examined the nearby buildings: no tunnels were in evidence.

A Nobel-prizewinning professor? There was no professor here. I noticed that I had been taking notes—something about hidden tunnels, and the neurological syndrome of neglect? It read like the plot of a science fiction short story. Yes, of course, and I was here trying to get inspired to write about what it was like to walk through a run-down industrial park. Anyhow, I really needed to get home. The place was creeping me out.

I re-read my notes—maybe not so bad after all. I wondered if I could get it published somewhere?


As I started to walk out of the industrial park, I noticed that I was drenched with sweat—probably because it was so hot. But it wasn’t hot, it was quite cool: why had I thought that it was hot? As I walked further I came across a parked red Chrysler minivan. I glanced into the windows: the cloth covering the inside of the roof had fallen down, just as I remembered from my—fantasy? What?

I caught a taxi home. Once there I noticed that my left upper back was beginning to ache: taking off my shirt I saw that it was wet and slimy in the patch where I had—slipped and fallen? I examined my calendar, and saw that I had indeed made an appointment to see a retired professor earlier in the day, and the time-stamps on my dataslate entries were consistent with an interview.

I slept fitfully that night. In the morning I took another taxi to the professor’s apartment. The hall and the doorway were exactly as I remembered them—I had been there before. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. The door was locked, and there was a small glass spyhole in it. Trying to peer through it yielded a few distorted details; I could tell that there was something bright and yellow in the foreground, and a hint of clutter beyond.

Back home I used the Internet to check the satellite views of the area I had walked out of: it was a decrepit industrial park, with no surface traffic, just as I had remembered.

I thought more about what the professor had told me: the great power of a neglect field is not that it makes you ignore something, but that it causes your mind to edit its own memories to explain away your ignoring something.

People lie. Memories lie. Physical evidence—it may be misinterpreted, it may mislead, but it does not lie. Even amongst my fellow journalists I have a reputation for skepticism, for never letting a lead go, for being a pain in the ass. I am not going to drop this.

There are surely surveillance videos of me walking to the industrial park, as well as position tracking records for my cellphone and dataslate, credit card receipts for my taxi rides, and logged records of my checking the satellite scans of the industrial park. If this was some secret government or megacorporation project I should already have been arrested, or at least threatened. Why not? It can only be because whoever or whatever is behind this is so arrogant that they have no more concern about a single human than a human has about a single ant.

As my name is Alvin Accipeter, I’ll have to see what I can do about that. END

Timothy J. Gawne is an MIT trained engineer with a Ph.D. in physiology. He is the author of the popular “Chronicles of Old Guy” book series. He has also contributed to numerous scientific papers in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry.


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Also by Timothy J. Gawne