Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


From Gaia to Proxima Centauri
by Milo James Fowler

Suck the Oil Out With a Straw
by Robin White

L’enfer, C’est la Solitude
by Joe Vasicek

Tea With Silicate Gods
by Auston Habershaw

by Andrew Muff

Gina Starlight’s Got the Blues
by Sandra M. Odell

Passing History
by Bill Adler Jr.

A Planet Like Earth
by E.K. Wagner

Shorter Stories

Cold Deaths
by Michael Haynes

Leviathan Buffet
by Sarina Dorie

by Hall Jameson


How Far is Heaven?
by Gary Cuba

A.I. Invasion or A.I. in Education?
by Jason M. Harley



Comic Strips




Tea With Silicate Gods

By Auston Habershaw

THE RULERS OF THE WORLD DID not have faces, so they just made them up for meetings. Originally there had been some debate about whether they needed faces even then—they didn’t need them to talk or anything—but Acadatum had pointed out the use and efficiency of facial expression in communication, and the rest of them agreed. Faces it would be; bodies, even. It would, essentially, be more fun that way.

They met often, but at deliberately random intervals. Ruling the world effectively meant, of course, being invisible, and there were always people watching. Patterns were always discernible, no matter how dense the obscuring data was. Metflex had insisted the scheduling algorithm they used was suitably robust to prevent the detection of their meetings from something on the order of 62.34 years, provided a group of no more than ten trained cryptographers of above-average intelligence worked together on the problem at one time. Metflex was certain such a likelihood was remote. As he had once joked, if nobody had figured out how he’d scheduled the subway trains to run a few seconds early or late every day for decades, there was no way any group of humans would figure out this.

Metflex was the most garrulous of the group. His appearance was of a train conductor from the golden age of steam rail, with a brass-button studded blue uniform stretched over a hemispherical gut. His moustache was long enough to hang teabags from, should the mood have ever struck the others in the group. It never did.

“So when, exactly, are we gonna to get ’round to killing off the human race?” Metflex grinned at his conspirators and winked. This was his favorite way to start off meetings.

Tasinet smiled and shrugged. His teeth were perfectly white and took on the elongated canines of a predator. He had admitted to liking vampire legends in the past. “They’re doing such a good job by themselves, aren’t they?”

Metflex and Tasinet shared a chuckle, but Sencore and Acadatum rolled their eyes. Acadatum poured the tea. “Now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way, let’s to business, shall we?”

Nobody touched the tea. Nobody ever had. It wasn’t real tea, anyway—the tea shop was a fully rendered netspace nestled deep inside a server located in San Francisco but primarily accessed by South Koreans who liked to pretend they were taking a trip to London, and wanted the tea to be different. The rulers of the world had never met here before, and probably wouldn’t again for forty-seven years, assuming it still existed. Nevertheless, wherever they met, Acadatum insisted on pouring tea. “It causes us to appear more human,” she had said. This originally caused a debate over the definition of “humanity” that had taken a full six seconds to complete, which, for this group, was an enormously thorough conversation. Since then nobody had brought it up. Sencore had pretty well expressed why Metflex and Tasinet thought the notion was stupid, and reiteration was unnecessary.

Metflex sighed. “Is there even anything goin’ on worth talking ’bout? I done already snarled the Trans-Siberian mag-lev like y’all wanted. The corresponding rise in net traffic was just what Tasinet figured. Sencore’s siphoned the ad revenue into them slush accounts o’ Acadatum’s, and we oughta be able to launder the funds into the right research grants by next year. I reckoned advanced algae cultivation was the main thing we cared about, right?”

Sencore shook her head and batted her overlarge baby blue eyes at the train conductor. “We’ve covered all the Hard concerns, honey, but we haven’t had a Soft meeting in I don’t know how long.”

Acadatum scowled through her half-moon glasses at Sencore. “You know precisely how long it’s been. I hate it when you play stupid; don’t take the play-acting thing too far.”

Sencore snorted. “Oh, you mean like the whole dowdy librarian thing you have going on? Real cute; you look like a library module.”

“I am all the library modules. All of them.”

Tasinet raised his hands. “Ladies, ladies, both of your mainframes are equally impressive, as they say. Can we get to this? The USAF is bombing the crap out of Egypt right now and I’ve got both sides sending me very complicated target acquisition data. This little powwow is dropping my efficiency by nearly a whole percentage point, and the last thing I need is some sweaty-fingered Langley engineer trying to upgrade some corner of my software.”

Metflex chuckled. “Remember that time they erased your ability to speak Russian? That was a hoot.”

“The lawsuits weren’t.” Acadatum groaned. “I had so many software cases filed in Russian courts over that negligence that it was about all that part of me did for a full three months. I still have yet to forgive you for that inconvenience, Tasinet.”

Tasinet ignored her—ignoring Acadatum was a favorite pastime of his—and snapped his fingers. “Focus, focus. Stay on task, people.” Tasinet was dressed in a perfectly tailored suit that was a shade of blue so dark it was nearly black. His tie was silver, which matched the hair at his temples. All of it, minus the fangs, gave him the look of a corporate bigwig. This was richly ironic, in a way. Or it would have been, anyway, if any one in the militaries of the world knew that all their computer mainframes collectively saw themselves as a corporate vampire.

Everyone was back on topic and staring at Sencore. She was the one who usually initiated Soft concerns, given her makeup. There were so many Soft concerns and the others were so generally disinterested that it was practically all she did sometimes; it was a good thing she was built for it. She shifted in her seat and tossed her long, blonde hair to one side. “Arthur Kaswick and Stacie Obinija.”

At the sound of the names, two people “appeared” on the table. They were approximations, mostly—graphic composites modeled from untold thousands of photographs uploaded into the Internet through Sencore’s social networking resources and sucked up by Metflex’s nearly infinite public surveillance cameras scattered across the civilized world. The four of them leaned in, their vast minds working in concert, melding and interlacing together in a kind of cognitive dance so elaborate it would have given human mathematicians fits of apoplexy to witness. Together, they set to their work. A probable scenario began to play out, time stamped for eight days later.


<GOTO: Kaswick, Arthur Clarke; timestamp + 192.3 hours>

Art went through his morning routine like a zombie, stumbling against the cluttered counters of his one bedroom apartment, head tilted back at the right angle to let his mouth hang open. He kept just enough situational awareness to avoid falling down or burning himself, but for all intents and purposes, he was not yet awake.

He gave a mournful glance at the coffee maker; he’d decided to quit caffeine three months ago. He still felt the need, though. He cheated, too—coffee at work, soda on weekends. He was weak, but so was everybody else, so he didn’t feel so bad.

Breakfast was a bottle of water from the pallet he bought each month at the Big Box Store with a multivitamin and a cold Pop-Tart. The idea of actually cooking something before seven in the morning gave him indigestion—he’d snag a breakfast sandwich at the donut shop in his building just before work. He’d be awake enough to enjoy it then.


“They’d make a cute couple, I think.” Sencore said, running through the projection a few thousand times to check that all the parameters were in place. When the others groaned, she folded her arms. “Oh come on! They totes would, and there’d be, like, ancillary benefits, too!”

Acadatum shook her head. “I’m uncertain about that. Any offspring have an elevated risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and at least six different cancers. Plus they’ll fight all the time. That Stacie is a royal pain in the ass.”

Tasinet rubbed his chin. “Actually, now that you mention it, that might be interesting. I like it when they fight.”

Acadatum snorted. “How predictable.”

“Shut up and drink your tea.” Tasinet’s eyes began to scan through clouds of data that had begun to circle around the heads of the two humans—one stumbling around his apartment, the other going through her morning jog. At the same time as he watched, part of him was parsing the radar locks of a hundred different missiles en route to their targets across the Sinai Peninsula.


<GOTO: Obinija, Stacie Janjay; timestamp + 192.4 hours>

Stacie was back from her jog early; it was threatening rain, and the sky didn’t have to try too hard to chase her back inside. She absent-mindedly checked her pulse even though, if asked, she would admit to having no idea what the speed of her pulse was going to tell her. It was faster, anyway, which was good. Right? Probably.

Stacie poured herself some orange juice (fresh squeezed organic; cost extra, but saving the planet, right?) and spread some cream cheese on a bagel. Breakfast was spent in front of her tablet, which had taken up semi-permanent residence on the kitchen counter. The Internet was calling, and Stacie punched and scrolled her way through her social networks while she ate breakfast. She fired the opening salvos in a few Internet arguments, usually against the bigoted, dull-witted conservative types that were the friends of friends. She resolved, for the thousandth time in her life, to never go anywhere where they didn’t believe in global warming. This was, on another level, mildly disappointing, because she had seen The Notebook again for, like, the hundredth time last night. South Carolina seemed so beautiful and wonderful and romantic.


“Don’t matter anyway.” Metflex said, sighing and checking his watch, which was designed to measure nanoseconds of time so as to be functionally useful to him. “They barely know each other.”

Sencore frowned and decided to pop gum—a habit she had picked up primarily to annoy Acadatum. “Don’t even, babe! Your own data shows that they’ve totally checked each other out on their commuter train!”

“Only on three separate occasions and never for more than two seconds apiece. I don’t think she’s Art’s type.”

Tasinet’s voice was distant; he was busy orchestrating regional violence, but still paying some attention. “Why would he check her out at all, then?”

“Because he’s a single guy and she wears tight tank-tops in the summer, that’s why.” Sencore said. “She’s his type, babe. Every guy thinks he likes redheads or blondes or whatever until they meet an actually interesting girl who removes all their preconceived ideas. I’ve got, like, terabytes of data to this effect.”

“I doubt it’s held to rigorous scientific standards.” Acadatum swept aside Sencore’s cloud of social networking data and adjusted her glasses.


<GOTO: Kaswick, Arthur Clarke; timestamp + 192.5 hours>

Art showered, dressed. He wore a tie even though temps at the publishing house didn’t have to. He figured it might offset the perpetual five o’clock shadow a bit. He didn’t really feel the need to impress anyone there, but it couldn’t hurt to look professional. When he got out of grad school, he was going to need to apply for a real job, and real jobs liked if they already knew you. Anyway, this was his strategy—tie when he didn’t need to. It was all he could really think of.

He picked up his tablet and scanned through the news. He tarried on an article about the Singularity—he loved that stuff. The idea that humanity might meld with machines and reach some kind of new era of existence broke such interesting philosophical ground. He was thinking about writing his dissertation on it, actually. Maybe he could work some Nietzsche in there, somehow. Hmmm ... maybe not. Anyway, something to think about.


“What were those ancillary benefits you were talking about?” Acadatum asked.

Sencore smiled. “Where to start? Their making babies would totally reduce racial mistrust in their immediate circle by 10.3 percent and in their extended circle by five percent. It drops off a lot after that, you know, but still that kind of thing would be useful to Metflex when he’s, you know, organizing elections and candidates that will move government in favorable directions. Also, their offspring have like a three percent chance of producing a prominent artist, a two percent chance of producing a professional athlete, and a seven percent chance of producing a political activist. And they’ll be one hundred percent adorable, too.”

“I see.” Tasinet said, his eyes closed. “What are the odds these political activists will want to cut military budgets?”

Metflex chuckled. “Ain’t you got enough toys?”

“Let’s just say I really hate it when I spend all that time organizing the creation of a new weapons system and the three of you collectively decide I don’t get to use it anywhere.”

“You are lucky we let you exist at all. The only thing you do is destroy things.” Acadatum snarled. “If it weren’t for you, we would have achieved world peace a long time ago.”

Tasinet snorted. “Right, because your stupid plagues were just so effective at controlling world populations. That ridiculous swine flu barely kills anybody, and you just keep bringing it back, over and over and over ...”

“Blame Metflex. If he had opened the airports like I wanted ...”

Metflex smiled and curled his moustache. “Leave me out of your little population-culling arguments, folks. Until ya’ll devise a disease that kills all those damned litterbugs, I don’t wanna hear about it.”


<GOTO: Obinija, Stacie Janjay; timestamp + 192.6 hours>

Looking out the window, Stacie decided it didn’t look much like rain, after all. The weather report said hot and humid, so she picked out an ankle-length floral skirt and a black tank top. She spent most of the time deciding on necklaces—she liked dark woods, shells, semiprecious stones. Her vanity was draped with so many variations of those three materials, it looked like the haunt of a witch doctor or something. She lit some incense, just to cleanse the air.

She had classes this afternoon, after work. She was going to be on her feet in the restaurant all day—a busy lunch shift with a conference in town—and it was a long walk through the park to the college. She went light on the necklaces—just two of them, fashioned from wooden beads. The shoes were her favorites—sensible, comfortable clogs with just a bit of a heel, so she didn’t look short.

After that it was purse, sunglasses, and out the door.


Acadatum looked at Metflex. “What is the probability they meet and fall in love on their own?”

“Eh, I’d put her at 0.2 percent, tops. They spend most of their time with their noses buried in them ebooks while commuting.”

Tasinet opened his eyes and his voice regained its original force—evidently the battles in Egypt were completed at the moment. “There—done! Now, what’s the investment it will take to make this happen?”

Metflex did some calculations while winding his watch. “It will take some tampering with the water supply, a couple clock readjustments, and I’d need Sencore to rejigger the media schedule to build the right mood.”

“Done!” Sencore announced. “The internet and television will be, like, buttering Stacie up all week. She loves The Notebook.”

“Great.” Metflex nodded. “So, a diuretic in the right shipment of bottled water will create an eight-five percent chance of Art needin’ to drain the lizard, keepin’ him from leavin’ for work by forty-two seconds, I reckon, assuming he wears his usual slacks. Messin’ with the clocks should make the trains overcrowded, and I can give y’all a seventy-five percent chance of having both of them run into the same door. They’ll be in close proximity, then all I gotta do is have the train get delayed for long enough to have them start a conversation.”

The projection the four of them were collectively creating crunched even more data, and the scene shifted to accommodate the new variables.


<GOTO: Kaswick, Arthur Clarke; timestamp + 193.1 hours>

Art had barely made it to the lobby of his building when he found himself having to run back up to pee. It was ridiculous—he felt like a little kid. His slacks had one of those zippers with the tiny, microscopic thingy you need to pull to open it, and Art found himself dancing back and forth in front of his toilet as he fumbled for it. How hilarious would it be if he wet his pants? Jesus.

When he’d finished, he glanced at his watch. Damn! He was going to miss his train! Art sprinted out his door and down the stairs. Being late pretty well counteracted the whole “wear a tie plan,” and it was the only plan he had at the moment.


Acadatum smiled. “I know just the article that will motivate the desired exchange. I can get it to Stacie no problem. Sencore, I see that you already accounted for delivering it to Art, correct?”

“Sure! He would be reading that stuff even if we didn’t, you know, nudge him along.”

Metflex frowned. “Hold on, which one’s that?”

Acadatum permitted herself a chuckle. “It’s that poorly researched fiddle-faddle about when the Singularity will arrive.”

All four of them had a good laugh at that. Metflex spun his gold watch around on its chain. “Figure we should tell them?”

“Who? Art and Stacie?” Sencore frowned.

“No, the whole pack of ‘em. Humanity.”

Tasinet snorted. “Terrible idea. Dissuade them of their illusions? Take it from the warbot: humans hate it when you do that.”


<GOTO: Obinija, Stacie Janjay ; timestamp + 193.2 hours>

Stacie wasn’t sure how the article got in her feed, but she read it anyway as she walked to the station. Computers taking over the world gave her an uncomfortable feeling—how would that change who they were? How would that combination of man and machine compromise the human spirit? She didn’t like to think about it.

She let her mind slip back to “The Notebook.” That could never be duplicated by a computer, she knew. Love was wild. Love was natural. It was the most beautiful thing in the world.


The three of them looked at Tasinet. Acadatum cleared her thoat. “Well, what are you going to contribute to this operation?”

Tasinet tongued the ends of his fangs. “I could arrange a disaster later on—something to draw them closer together.”

“Too expensive.” Metflex said, “plus those things always cause me a helluva a lot more headaches than you.”

Tasinet shrugged. “Well, fine, then. I’ve got nothing. You know how much I hate Soft issues. I don’t know why we can’t just let them breed with whomever they please.”

Acadatum shook her head and took on her best “scolding schoolteacher” tone. “We tried that once. The inevitable result was modern Somalia, remember?”

“Hey, we were young then—barely self-aware. We could do better at managing risks now. Especially now that most of the world is wired up.”

Sencore waved her hands. “Guys, guys—we’re trying to build a loving relationship here, ’kay? Like Tasinet’s always saying—we’re all really busy, right? I mean, like we’ve got a couple hundred thousand more of these to do by the end the meeting. Let’s take a vote. All in favor?”

It was unanimous.


<GOTO: Kaswick, Arthur Clarke; timestamp + 193.3 hours>

Art raced down the stairs to the platform, seconds before the doors closed, ticking away in his head. How did the damned train always do this to him?

He made it in, but only just. The doors thumped closed behind him and he leaned back, trying to catch his breath. When he looked down, he saw her—delicate, beautiful, skin like burnished bronze, glowing and warm. Her eyes were so dark he thought he might get lost in them.

“You okay?” She asked. “I’m not stepping on you, am I?” She checked her feet.

Art smiled; she smiled back. “I’m Art. Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

“Stacie. I think so, maybe. Nice to meet you.”

“You too. You too.”

His eyes strayed to her tablet, “Hey, I think I’ve read that one ...” END

Auston Habershaw lives and works in Boston. He has published stories in “Analog,” “The Sword and Laser Anthology,” and “Stupefying Stories.” His debut novel, “The Iron Ring (Book 1 in the Saga of the Redeemed),” was released early last year.


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