Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Across the Distance
by Eric Del Carlo

In the Not-So-Helpful Unit
by Jeremy Szal

I-Juca-Pirama and Rosegarden
by Santiago Belluco

Snow Sharks
by Mord McGhee

A Chip Off the Old Block
by Eamonn Murphy

Girls of Summer
by Rick Novy

Most Certainly
by Brad Preslar

Psi Prison
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Shorter Stories

Revolution 2038
by Darren Goossens

by Jason M. Harley

Junkyard Dog
by Devin Miller


Playing With Dinosaurs
by Chett Gottfried

Prehistoric Monsters Roar on Screen
by Andrew R. Boone



Comic Strips





In the Not-So-Helpful Unit

By Jeremy Szal

IF THERE EVER WAS A GOOD TIME for Stefan Joachim to kill himself, it was probably now. He plodded into his third-floor apartment and slammed the door shut with a clang that made his ears sting. “I’m so fed up with it all!” He yelled to no one in particular. The apartment stirred to life, lights scrubbing away the darkness, and the ceiling-to-wall curtains parting, revealing the balcony that overlooked Warsaw. He collapsed in his beaten-up leather chair, the cool fabric pressing into his back. He had to suppress a sob. None of it was fair!

“Can I be of assistance?” The steady voice of the Personal-Assistant-Core thrummed through the apartment, booming out of the speakers.

Joachim waved the AI away. “No. Leave me alone.”

“Perhaps some soothing music?” Smooth jazz waltzed out of the stereo system, grinding into his skull. “Or something to eat?” The oven pinged, displaying a range of foods that it could prepare for him. “I believe there’s some pierogi from yesterday. I—”

No!” Joachim got up and flicked the stereo off furiously. Tears pooled in his eyes and he blinked them away. “None of that!”

“Sir, it is my duty to assist you in any way I can,” interjected PAC. A small tube in the wall opened and a single tissue shot out, floating in Joachim’s direction. “Please, allow me to help.”

Joachim slapped the tissue away and sank back into his seat, cradling his head in his hands. “You can’t help me. No one can.” The AI wouldn’t understand. It simply couldn’t.

The day had gone from bad to worse. His shares on Mars mining systems had plummeted, costing him thousands of credits, money that should have gone on the rent. His boss had declined their project pitch, choosing to invest in the interplanetary entertainment system offered by a rival group. He’d spent months preparing his presentation. And to top it all off, Aleksandra, his traitor of a fiancée, had dumped him, backpacking across the galaxy with his childhood friend.

It should have gotten his blood boiling, but Joachim just felt empty. Like a barrel scraped clean. He’d lost it all, felt it slip between his fingers. Soon he’d lose the apartment. And then there was the loan he’d taken out to pay for the engagement ring.

“What the hell is the point?” he muttered, more to himself than the AI.

“I do not know, sir,” said PAC. “If you like, I can search the databanks for the answer.”

Joachim didn’t reply. It was over for him. There was only one thing he could do now. He’d never fired his gun, but today would be the first and last time he did.

“Sir, what are you doing?” PAC’s voice lost some of its calm demeanor. “Sir?

“I told you not to call me that.” Joachim waddled over to the set of drawers stapled to the wall. The pistol was waiting for him in the top one. He felt strangely calm as he stood there, curling his hand around the cool metal handle and pulling.

He frowned. The drawer was stuck fast, as if something was holding it back. He gave a quick tug, and another, and soon he was pulling with all his might on the damn thing. He felt it budge, but then draw back in, as if it was resisting him. He stared at it breathlessly; sweat already soaking into his crisp designer shirt. “What on Earth?

“My apologies, sir,” came PAC. “But I cannot allow you to shoot yourself.”

Joachim’s eyes bulged until they were big as snowglobes. “Why ever not?”

“Sir, I cannot allow a human being to come to harm. And I believe that killing yourself would cause a great deal of harm. So you see, sir, I—”

“I told you to stop calling me that!” Joachim all but screamed, his mind a maelstrom. “I order you to let go of that drawer.”

“Sir, I cannot.”

What was this? It was disobeying him? “I command you, dammit!”

“I cannot obey a command that would cause you to become hurt. Sir.” PAC added the last word with a hint of smugness.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Joachim stormed into the kitchen, searching for a blade of some sorts. He went for the utensil drawer. Only it held tight, the metal clattering inside as he shook it in frustration.

“Should you wish to eat, you may use the utensils,” said PAC, his voice calm as ever. “However, I cannot allow you to hurt yourself with them. That is not what they are designed for!”

Joachim forced himself to simmer down. If he wasn’t allowed to kill himself in his own apartment, he’d do it somewhere else. The gunshop should still be open at this hour. A few quick strides and he was at the door. He tried to wrench it open but no avail. He rammed his shoulder against it, but the blasted thing remained sturdy.

“You may go out, but from your stress levels you may still attempt to harm yourself,” PAC said, ever so calm and level. “Otherwise, I—”

Joachim snatched a vase off the end table and hurled it at one of the many speakers secured around the house. It smashed loudly in an explosion of blue-green shards. But the speakers remained intact.

“Why did you break that?” asked PAC, as if speaking to a child who had destroyed his favourite toy. “Aleksandra bought that for you!”

“Good!” Joachim roared. His body was flushed, the panic rising. At this rate he’d die of old age before he figured out a way to kill himself.

Aha! He knew what to do! PAC had to go.

He marched over to the cupboard where PAC’s hub unit was stored. All he had to do was disconnect the little bugger and that was it. At last, he would have the upper hand! Suddenly the bolts securing the door clicked shut. Joachim blinked in surprise and extended his hand. As soon as flesh touched metal a nasty shock zapped through his system. He squawked and drew it back, flapping his wrist. “What was that?”

“You’re trying to shut me down, aren’t you?” PAC’s voice had taken a mildly sinister tone. “Why else would you try to open my closet?” A pause. “A million apologies, but I cannot allow that, either.”

The frustration was starting to throttle him. Joachim frantically scanned his apartment, searching for something, anything, anything he could use. He was willing to hang himself with dental floss if that’s what it took. It was even more frustrating that it was a machine getting the better of him. A machine! They were designed to serve!

“I’ll kill you!” He shouted, clenching his fists so tightly that he dug crescent-shaped gouges in his palms. “I’ll turn you into scrap metal, you hear me?” Tears started to gather at his eyes again. He didn’t care anymore. He’d lost everything, and now he didn’t even have the chance to end it all.

Another tissue came flying his way. And another and another. Soon tissues were falling like snowflakes in winter. “Sir, perhaps it is best if you enjoy some calming opera and retire for the night. You may feel less violent in the morning.” A pause. “All these attempts at suicide are very bad for your health.”

Joachim made a dash for the curtain cords, only to have them reeled out of his reach, dangling like vines. He scurried over to the medicine cabinet, which he found locked. He fumbled in his pocket for his U-phone. Maybe he could call someone to help him out of his hellish nightmare. But as he was punching in the numbers the screen spluttered and died, shutting itself off. A vein pulsed in his temple and he crushed the bloody thing, crinkling the plastic.

“Sir, I must insist that you calm down!” PAC was frantic now. “Shall I order a rich vintage for you?”

Joachim was about to spit out a half-baked insult when a thought struck him. The balcony! If he could get there he’d be out of PAC’s reach, free to kill himself as he pleased.

He sauntered over to his balcony and attempted to fling open the door. Locked, just as he knew it would be.

“Sir, it’s cold out there tonight. Why do you want to go outside?”

Joachim padded to the dining area, grasping the back of the chair. “Go to hell.”

“I do not believe in hell, sir.”

Joachim coughed a grunt, lifting up the chair and dragging it over to the screen door.

“Sir, whatever are you doing with that chair?”

Joachim gave his reply by way of taking a violent swing right at the center of the glass. The entire thing wobbled back and forth, the frame shuddering.

PAC seemed to realize what he was doing. “No! Sir, I cannot allow you to do that!”

Bang. The legs of the chair hammered into the polished surface, bouncing backwards. Joachim adjusted his grip and shook his head, flinging away fat drops of sweat from the strands of his hair. Bang. The thing jumped, straining against the metal hinges.

“This behavior is unacceptable! Sir, please restrain yourself.” PAC sounded close to tears.

Joachim twisted his muscles and swung the chair for all he was worth. Crack. A web of splinters appeared. Yes! It was giving out! With renewed vigor, Joachim smashed the chair against the screen again and again and again and—

The surface collapsed, shattering into large splinters. The wind gushed in, blowing in his face.

“Sir. Please. Do not go out there.” PAC spoke slowly and deliberately, talking down to him as if he was a child. A child!

Joachim ignored the protests, ducking as he avoided the wedges of glass still welded to the frame. The cold air coiled about him as he clambered over the parapet, the wind trying to tug him over the edge. His heart kicked deep in his chest as he peered down, a three storey drop down to the manicured garden of a peculiarly nasty old woman. This was it. It was time to jump.

But for some reason, he really, really didn’t want to let go of the rail ...

PAC’s voice wafted out to him. “I have summoned the emergency hotline. They will assist you through this. Sir, please do not move a muscle until they arrive!”

Joachim’s jaw hardened. There PAC was again, trying to manipulate and control his life. No longer!

“Sir, you—”

“I told you to stop calling me that.” Joachim let go of the railing.

Sir! No!

The ground rushed up to meet him.


Joachim prised open his eyes and wished he hadn’t. Fluorescent lights pierced his pupils, half-blinding him. He blinked, trying to get his bearings. This wasn’t right. Wasn’t he supposed to be dead? He tried to move, but felt no response. He was cocooned in a numb stiffness. Slowly, slowly, he craned his neck and caught sight of himself in a mirror. His body was encased in thick plaster and strips of poly-metal. Even his face was covered with a mask, slits left for his eyes and nose. Packs of medjel and antibodies lay scattered on a metal desk. Wires jutted out from his body, snaking up to a tandem of slick screens that measured and displayed his vitals. The bite of antiseptic hung heavily in the air.

He lay back, mind whirling. He was in a hospital. A bloody hospital!

The metal door burst open and a smiling woman in a crisp white coat strutted in, two nurses tottering behind her. Was this the doctor? “Awake at last! You’ve been out for quite some time.”

Joachim rolled his numb jaw, tried to say something, anything, but it just came out as “aaahhhh!”

“Don’t try to speak,” said the doctor, grasping a datapad in her hand. “Your jaw was broken when you fell. Quite a nasty accident, that was.”

“It wasn’t an accident!” Joachim wanted to scream, but it only came out as a slur.

“We had to rush you in for emergency surgery. You shattered your ribcage, broke your pelvis, both your legs and several muscles in your face. You were lucky. It’s a miracle you’re still alive!”

Joachim wanted to laugh and sob at the same time. He could do neither.

The doctor beamed at him. “Here’s the good news. The osteoblasts we’ve given you have already started to repair your skeletal muscles. There’s a few more operations along the way, perhaps an organ transplant or two, but otherwise you’ve started your journey to recovery!” She made a tiny cough. “There is some bad news, however. It’ll take several months before you can function again, and even more before you can walk. We may be able to get you some bionics limbs, but we can get to that later.” She patted the machine that he was hooked up to. “This little device is what’s keeping you breathing right now. You’ll get to know it quite well in the next few months.”

Tears of frustration welled in his eyes. Joachim wished he could reach over and smash that godforsaken machine into a million pieces. But he couldn’t even move a centimeter.

“Don’t cry,” said the doctor sympathetically. “You’ll be healthy in no time. You’re alive, and that’s what matters.” She peeked around the corner and that smile of hers broadened. “Oh, we’ve got a surprise for you!”

Joachim heard it long before it saw it. The familiar voice that could only belong to one individual.

“No!” He wanted to scream. “Not him! Not—”

“Hello there, sir!” PAC boomed, jubilant as ever. His storage device was grounded on a portable transport tray, being guided into the room by a sour-faced nurse. “Thank goodness you’re alive!”

“PAC’s the one who called us up,” the doctor said. “Just as well he did. If you bled out you’d have been a goner.”

Joachim wanted to shriek at the top of his lungs. This was all wrong! All of his problems were supposed to be over! He raged silently, on the verge of exploding.

“That’s quite the raise in heartbeat,” the doctor said, tapping the monitors. “No doubt you’re happy to see your friend.” The datapad in her hand chirped. “Well, I’ve got to go. We’ll sort out all the details later on. I’ll be leaving PAC here with you. You’ll need company for the next few months!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Joachim yelled. It gurgled out as “argh!”

“Now, now, don’t try to speak. PAC, can you talk with him? Make sure he doesn’t become bored?”

“With pleasure, madam,” said PAC, ever the optimist. The doctor giggled and strode out. Joachim tried to call her back, a million curses floating on the back of his tongue, but it was pointless. The doors clamped shut behind her, like the lid of a coffin being nailed down.

“Thank goodness you’re alright, sir,” PAC said. “You had me ever so dreadfully worried. I don’t know what I would do without you!” He made an exhaling sound. “Now, you were very, very badly behaved that night. And look what happened!” A pause. “But don’t worry, I’m going to make sure that you never hurt yourself like that again.”

“Kill me,” Joachim whimpered, ever so faintly. “Grgh,” was what came out.

“Shush, shush. She told you not to speak. Now, we have many, many things to discuss. Did you know that the shares on Mars skyrocketed while you were unconsciousness! You could have sold them if you did not harm yourself. But I must say, it’s rather marvelous to have some time alone with you. I never really get the chance to speak with you about my own interests. I—”

As PAC droned on and on, Joachim wondered if it was at all possible to die from frustration. He had the sneaking suspicion he’d be finding out within the next few months. END

Jeremy Szal is fiction editor and audio producer for the podcast “StarShipSofa.” His stories have appeared in “Strange Horizons,” “Grimdark Magazine,” “Bards and Sages,” “Fantasy Scroll Magazine,” and most recently in “Nature” magazine.


screaming eagle 6/15


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