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




Too Much to Dream

By Richard Zwicker

MY HOLO GENERATOR RECONSTRUCTED me, a combination of light and force field, each morning at 6:00. The process was set at gradual to simulate waking up, and it took me a few moments to compartmentalize the data of the dream simulator. My deceased creator had thought it necessary I have one, but I found its scrambled alterations of the previous day’s events random and obscure. When I had the time, I kept trying to make sense of them, however. I stood in front of the mirror that dominated my Spartan two-room apartment and confirmed my lanky form, brown bowl haircut, and clean-shaven face. I was ready to illegally enter the outside world for another day.

I found two texts on my phone, both from Detective Sgt. Rhoad of D.C.’s second precinct. The first one, sent at 4:30 a.m., said “Call me” and his number. The second, sent an hour later, said, “Now.” It was like Rhoad to make an impossible demand.

I tapped his number.

“Boland, where the hell are you?” Rhoad said, infusing my name with all the disdain he could muster. He hated depending on non-cops.


“No, you’re not. I sent a uniform over and you weren’t there.”

“You broke into my apartment?” I asked, my program simulating fear.

“No, that would be illegal,” Rhoad said. “But if you dust your door you’ll find fist prints all over it. I don’t care where you spent the night. I need you here, now.” He sent the address of a Lewis Toler. I’d heard of him. Rich guy, made money from money, contributed to conservative causes. He had to be at least ninety.

“What’s going on?”

“A bunch of holos have taken Lewis Toler hostage. I’ve been standing outside his fancy house for the past four hours.”

“You have my sympathy, but what do you want me for?” I asked.

“I don’t, but the holos do. They refuse to negotiate with anyone except you. Why would that be?”

“I can’t say,” I answered truthfully. But if my own identity as a holo was to remain secret, I needed to find out.

“Biggest mistake we ever made, producing holos,” said Rhoad. “It takes years to mold children. You make a few mistakes, you have time to fix them. With holos, you just program them to be whatever you want. It’s too fast, too easy, too dangerous.”

I let that pass. Five years ago my creator had been dying of cancer when he made me. His last year he went into hiding. After I buried him, I emerged with his identity.

I slipped on one of my two energy amulets that allowed me to go outside for twenty-four hours. It had been holographically altered to look like a watch.

“I’ll be there in an hour.”


Toler lived in a sprawling, twenty-room mansion with eight gables to show up Nathaniel Hawthorne. Large homes didn’t appeal to me, but I could see how they might to house-bound holos.

I strode to the front door, where Rhoad and three other cops stood fidgeting and smoking. Already the D.C. heat weighed me down like a flak jacket. My creator had wanted me to be as lifelike as possible, programming me to feel such discomforts as extreme temperature. I wasn’t always thankful.

“I’d hate to have to clean this place,” I said, walking up to Rhoad. He stood like a misshapen bush in front of the stone steps. His bristly haircut added to the friction in the air.

“I’m sure the holos keep it tidy,” said Rhoad. “What else do they have to do, besides kidnap their owners?”

“Why don’t you just turn the power off?” I asked, it being the standard means of dealing with holo problems.

“Toler has a number of things wrong with him and can’t survive without being hooked up to life support. The holos assured me his excellent backup power source won’t come on if we cut the power, and he’ll die in minutes.” He tapped a number on his cell and handed it to me. “Why don’t you introduce yourself?” I did.

A musical female voice answered. “Yes?” I detected no hostility.

“This is Hal Boland.”

“Thank you for coming! If you ring the bell, we will let you in. Just make sure none of the other policemen enter. Otherwise, we will be forced to harm my brother.”

Before I left my apartment, I researched Lewis Toler. He had two older sisters, both deceased.

“It will just be me,” I said.

I rang the bell and the door slowly opened. A tall, angular man with a dab of gray hair at the temples appeared. He was dressed in black pants, white shirt, and black tie. He looked so much like a typical butler that he had to be a holo. Another giveaway was his slight flicker, a requirement of all legal holos, which left me out.

“Please follow me,” he said in a saturnine tone, leading me to a living room as large as my apartment. Inside sat three more holos. A balding man with a paunch like a kangaroo eyed me warily. A younger man with dark, handsome features nervously scratched his bare arms. A middle-aged woman with short dark hair and piercing brown eyes stood and offered her hand.

“Welcome to our home, Mr. Boland. My name is Sophia McCullough. I spoke to you on the phone.” She wore a long-skirted blue dress with a golden sash. She introduced the other two holos. Ross was the older man, Lou the younger.

I nodded. “So we have a conflict.”

“Yes, and we believe you are the best person to help us.” She emphasized person.

“You know my secret.”

She smiled. “I’m sure you remember May, the holo that helped you solve the murder of her owner four months ago? She’s hard to keep quiet but smart enough to speak cryptically and not at all to humans. But ...” Her smile vanished, replaced by a lined look of concern. “Let’s speak of why you are here. Lewis Toler, our owner, is dying. He has one daughter in California he cares little for who will inherit half his wealth. The other half, including this house, is going to us.”

It was not uncommon for humans to develop closer ties to their holos than their flesh and blood relatives. Bequeathing a house to holos was rare, however. Human heirs always fought it, and, so far, always lost.

“Sounds like you’ll make out well.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” she said. “Why do you think we were made, Mr. Boland?”

“Same reason I was. To preserve a lost life.”

“But if the slight changes in your online pictures are any indication, your original had the foresight to introduce an aging element to your program. Ours did not. We will exist unchanged forever. We have been sentenced to purgatory.”

“That’s better than an eternity of nothing!” Ross interjected, his short gray slacks exposing an unfashionable amount of his white socks and hairy ankles.

She glared at him. “Ross, this been discussed and voted on. If you want an eternity without the company of Lou and me, assuming we are successful, you are welcome to it.”

Ross turned away, muttering, while Lou watched Sophia.

Holo technology had existed for about twenty years, long enough to stir fear and jealousy among humans without solving the problems of holo termination once the owner died. A court order forbade simply turning holos off, and holos had an aversion to that solution, similar to how certain humans felt about suicide. The introduction of an aging subroutine was allowed, but only by consent of the owner.

“It seems to me your best bet is getting Toler to stand up for you. Is he still legally competent?” I asked.

“He has moments of clarity, but the years have made him not only frail but increasingly close-minded on the question of holo rights. He refuses to allow us to age. He wants us to be his legacy, forever. We want you to fight for us, find the best lawyer, and allow us to age and die.”

“That would be risky for me.”

Sophia shrugged. “If you were so concerned about your secret, you would have become a reclusive novelist. We could hire a lawyer ourselves, but our interaction with him or her would be limited. Mr. Boland, you understand us. This is going to be a long fight, not just for us but for all holos. We need you on our side.”

My creator had a strong sympathy for holos and intended I be a bridge between them and humans. He had also hoped I would carry on his holographic work. Unfortunately, by the time he made me, his cancer reduced him to a shadow of his former self. I received little of his tech knowledge. I decided I could do more for my kind as an undercover conduit. There was no question I’d try to help.

“Let me see Toler,” I said.

She led me to his bedroom, a place where he and time slept. Ross and Lou hovered behind us. I’d seen guys as bad off as Toler before, but they were all dead. With his wizened head resting on an oversized pillow, he looked like a half-exposed pea in a pod. I’d never seen a picture of him, but he looked slightly familiar. His breath came out harsh and arrhythmic. Souvenirs of extensive travel decorated the walls, among them a framed piece of papyrus from Egypt, a colored blanket from Peru, and a grotesque West African mask.

“Can we wake him up?” I asked Sophia.

“We can.” She put her hand on his shoulder and gently moved it.

This interrupted Toler’s jerky breathing and his eyes fluttered open. “What, what?” he gasped.

“Mr. Toler,” I said. “Your holos contacted me. My name is Hal Boland. I’m a detective.”

Toler coughed violently. “A detective? What I’ve lost, you’re not going to find. Get me some water.”

Sophia handed him a half-filled glass from the nightstand. With both hands he gulped it down, and passed back the empty glass.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

An explosive laugh rocked Toler’s chest, disintegrating into wheezes. “They refuse to let me go to the hospital unless I allow them to age. They have a weak hand, though. To win, all I have to do is hold.”

“Don’t give in!” said Ross.

Toler twisted his neck toward the exclamation like a bird. “Ross Hoffman, my nephew. He always speaks his mind, though he hasn’t much of a mind to speak of. I had him made for entertainment value.”

“I don’t get this, Toler,” I said. “You’ve bequeathed half your estate to the holos, so obviously you care about them. Why not allow them to age?”

He gazed at me, focusing his milky eyes. “You’re young, while I’m about to lose my life. I’m not satisfied with leaving just a footprint in the sand.”

That image hung in the air a moment, then he closed his eyes. His twisted mouth straightened, and he fell asleep.

“This will backfire,” I said to Sophia as we left the room. “Public opinion of holos is at an all-time low, but it will drop even further when people hear Toler died because you kept him from a hospital.”

“You heard him,” Sophia said. “He’s tired of life, and his only concern is his legacy.”

“Ten years ago he would have seen things our way,” said Lou, the younger male holo.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Because I’m the one who knows.”

I then realized where I’d seen Toler before. “Toler copied himself?” I asked. It was uncommon, me being the exception, and it rarely turned out well. We are our greatest critics, and most people found it intolerable to see their flaws paraded in front of them.

“He did,” Lou said. “And I am proof that when he was totally in control of his faculties, he would have wanted us to age.”

I frowned. “You’re an extrapolation of the person Toler was when you were made. That has no legal basis.”

“The law is often two or more steps behind the times. Hence, we must take measures to force the issue,” Lou said.

Though I didn’t want to die any time soon, aging gave me a sense of progression and urgency. Without it, existence would be an endless board game with no rules or object. By the same token, the possibility of being turned off permanently held little appeal, as if in the middle of the game a giant hand swept the board clean.

“I want to help,” I said. “But first you have to let Toler go to the hospital.”

“We can’t do that. This standoff is the only way anyone will listen to us,” Sophia said.

“You haven’t said anything yet.”

“Tonight we’ll release a statement demanding that all holos be allowed to make their own decision about aging.”

“When he dies, the standoff is over,” I said.

She smiled wanly. “No, because we have you.”

“So now I’m the hostage?”

She frowned. “Anyone with a secret is a hostage.”

Holos were just like people in one regard: they were on your side until you refused to do something they wanted. My problem was Toler. If he died, this case and my name would go viral. My other problem was Ross, who might decide to expose me to ruin the other holos’ plan.

“There’s only so long Detective Sgt. Rhoad will allow this to continue,” I said. “Let me go out and talk to him.”

“Can’t you text him?” Sophia asked.

“Of course, but he needs the personal touch. He might misinterpret a text. He’s not the best reader.”

She hesitated.

“I exist to help holos, but you have to trust me. Your knowledge of the outside world is based on someone who died fifteen years ago. You have my word I will come right back.”

She folded her arms. “Very well. You know what is at stake.”

I did.

When the butler opened the front door, I yelled, “Don’t shoot!” to Rhoad and his crew. They had to know their bullets could kill only Toler, but they were tired and irritable, and it would be just like them to squeeze off a shot at me. Then I’d have to explain how I’d survived.

“Where’s Toler?” Rhoad asked, his clothes formfitting with sweat.

“In his bed, clinging to life. I made a deal with the holos. They said they’d kill him unless I returned.”

“So now they’ve got two hostages. Not exactly progress.” Rhoad’s big hand clamped onto my shoulder. “Be careful. It would look bad on my record if I lost you and Toler.” I shook him off.

“I feel better already. How long would it take you to turn the power off?”

“Not long, but I told you that’s not an option. Toler would die.”

“Let me worry about that,” I said. “It’s now 10:15 p.m. If you don’t hear from me, I want you to cut power at exactly noon and storm the house. If you can’t do that, call me no later than 11:45.”

“Why noon?”

“Because that’s when I break for lunch. Just remember to call at 11:45 if you can’t do it, or I can’t guarantee the results.”

“Like you’re guaranteeing them now?”

I walked away and tapped a number on my phone.

“Who you calling? A real detective?” Rhoad asked. I didn’t answer. When I was done, I rang the doorbell again and the butler let me in.


Time passes slowly when you’re a hostage. Ross questioned my loyalty, demanding I share the technology that allowed me to go outside. I explained I hadn’t the knowledge to recreate it. Sophia pressed me for my intentions, but as they involved somehow getting Toler to a hospital, I said little. I did converse with Lou, however, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to know what kind of person Toler had been before age and impending death hardened him.

“I’m embarrassed my prototype is causing all this trouble,” Lou said as we sat at a table in a corner of the cluttered living room. “He’s scared. He doesn’t understand that unlimited life is too much for anyone. It’s too much to feel, too much to dream.”

“You get to watch your original sicken and die. So did I. Is that what you want for yourself?” I asked.

He thought for a moment. “We want boundaries and gradations. You’ve never known anything else, but that’s what gives life urgency and meaning. If there is a God, I totally understand why he made flawed mortals. To combat boredom.”

“How long have you existed?”

“We’re all about eighteen years old.”

Jaded at eighteen. It was possible. Human teenagers also thought they’d live forever.

“As promised, I will do what I can,” I said.

He nodded, and pressed something into my pocket. “This might help.” It was a blank check.

To pass the time and avoid further arguments with Ross and Sophie, I took a self-guided tour around the labyrinthine house. At 11:45 p.m. I announced I wanted to say a few words to Toler. No one tried to stop me, though Ross stood outside the door.

In his room, Toler was asleep. Without waking him, I spoke loud enough for Ross to hear.

“I have to say I don’t agree with your motives. There are only two ways you’ll be remembered. The people that know your name will think of someone so egotistical that he made a copy of himself, and the holos will remember you as their jailer. Is that the kind of fame you want?”

While I was talking, I inspected the machine that kept him alive. I fingered the amulet watch that allowed me to come this far, and waited for noon. I didn’t get there.

To my horror, I heard the power turn off with a clunk. I was alone in the house. I looked at my watch: 11:50. Goddamn Rhoad. I frantically tapped my watch, adjusting its shape and attaching it to Toler’s life-support. The machine came back on, as the sound of men crashing against the front door echoed inside. I hid Lou’s check between the springs and the mattress. Just before I disconnected myself from the amulet, I heard feet stomping on the slate-tiled floor.


With the power off, there was nothing for Rhoad’s crew to overcome once they got by the front door. They whisked Toler to the hospital. His condition was stable, though the excitement had caused him some mental confusion. It didn’t help the cops either, as no one paid any attention to the apparent watch that lay on the machine that had kept Toler alive. As for me, my apartment holo generator reformed me at 12:01 p.m., as I’d programmed from my phone when I’d stepped outside Toler’s house to talk to Rhoad.

An injunction on Toler’s holos kept them turned off until it could be decided what to do with them. Majority public opinion wanted them destroyed, but I hired the best lawyer I could find for the holos’ case. She was out of my price range, but not Toler’s. As Lou shared so much with Toler anyway, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to add the ability to forge his creator’s signature. Toler either didn’t care or wasn’t cognizant enough to challenge it. The lawyer was optimistic the holos would be allowed to age, but even if they lost, it was a start. Someday humans would get used to holos and be shamed into granting them the rights of sentient people.

Of course, because I’d turned myself off, I had to break back into Toler’s house and retrieve Lou’s check, as well as my watch amulet. I crawled in through one of the windows I left open while I’d been touring the house. After I pocketed the amulet from the old man’s machine, I raised the mattress and found the check also untouched. It appeared I’d pulled this off and I felt pretty good, until I saw a small electronic bug, no larger than a blood-swelled tick, on the floor. I picked it up, wondering who would have bugged Toler. Until I realized it had bounced to the floor, under the bed, off my disappearing back. Rhoad had put it there when I’d gone out to tell him to wait until noon.

I called him up and asked if we could meet at an overextended deli, with a booth in the far corner. He consented, and didn’t ask why.

“I have a few questions about the Toler case,” I said, as I sipped a coffee that had no effect on me.

“I do too, actually,” Rhoad said, wiping a blob of mayonnaise that had squirted from his roast beef sandwich to his face. “The holos told us they’d disabled the backup generator, yet when we got in, Toler’s life support machine was still on.”

“The holos must have been bluffing.”

“That’s what I thought, and in my team’s haste to get Toler to the hospital, no one remembered to check the backup generator. When I did the next day, the life-support machine was off and the backup generator was disconnected, just like the holos said.”

“It’s a mystery,” I said.

Rhoad frowned. “There’s another one. Where the hell did you go after we stormed the house?”

“I knew you’d want the credit. When you shut off the power, there was no one to detain me, so I left the back way.”

“I don’t know how. We had that place surrounded.”

“I always said it’s a shame how budget cuts have thinned the police force,” I said, waiting.

“By surrounded, I mean I had someone posted at the back entrance, the only other way to get out.” Rhoad flashed a smile devoid of warmth. “I know you’re a holo. What I don’t know is how I’m going to use that information. If I tell the world, I can’t use it anymore, so I’m thinking I’ll just hold onto it for now. With a job like mine, there’s always room for another person, or holo, in my pocket.”

“And I’ll hold onto my information about you using an illegal bug.”

He clasped his hands together. “There’s something soothing about everyone holding a gun to everyone else’s head.”

That night, an hour before I was set to turn off, I thought about dreams. Like anything, without limitation they become nightmares. By the end of his life, my creator had only one dream left: me. At some point, either by programming or the interference of someone like Rhoad, it would end, hopefully not before the holos won their rights. I‘ll keep fighting for them, I thought, as I activated my dream simulator. END

Richard Zwicker is an English teacher living in Vermont, with his wife and beagle. His short stories have appeared in “Perihelion Science Fiction,” “Penumbra,” “Fantasy Scroll Mag,” and other semiprofessional markets.


Frank Wade comp




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