Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


A Breath of Aphrodite
by Rebecca Birch

An Undiplomatic Incident
by Paul R. Hardy

Deus Ex Parasitus
by Josh Pearce

Dust to Dust
by Richard Wren

Space Horses
by Diane Ryan

Mercy Park
by Patrick Wiley

Patient, Creature
by Andrew Muff

by Timothy J. Gawne

Shorter Stories

Turn Off, Tune Out and Reboot
by J.R. Hampton

Sky Widows
by Matthew F. Amati

Crottled Greeps
by John Teehan


This is the Way the World Ends
by Carol Kean

A Reason for Returning to the Moon
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Deus Ex Parasitus

By Josh Pearce

THE JOB TO CUT OUT CREEK’S brain is going perfectly well until it all goes completely wrong. Dex looks across the hammered scrap metal operating table at the two other men. Portland is the fat one. Philips is the tall, thin one. And the man on the table between them is Creek, a vice-president of chemical smithing for Uman Chemicals, Incorporated, a humpbacked fortyish man in a meticulously-tailored suit that does well to hide his deformity. Usually he can be found touring the back alley labs of UCI that are scattered across the city, engineering new chemicals to be sold in upscale boutiques to professional athletes and to supermodels draped on the arms of senators. But at the moment, he is tranquilized in the basement of some anonymous office building. Still making chemicals, though—digestive juices, bile, neuro-conducting acids.


Seven months before, Portland and Philips came up behind Dex at a burrito place, flanking him one to a side, and tapped him on the shoulder. “Benjamin Dexter?” the fat one, Portland, said.

“Yes, coppers?” Dex said, wiping his hands off on a napkin, but not turning to face them.

“We’re not police, but we’d like to talk.” They seated themselves at his table and he sized them up quickly. The cost of just one of the custom-made designer pistols tucked under their shirts, he judged, would be enough to pay a year’s rent on his shitty compact apartment. They would have identification scarring, he was sure, also under their suits. Corporate intelligence.

“You’re from which? Not UCI, I assume, unless you’re here on a loyalty test. More likely one of our competitors. Kyodo? Quadra/Hydra? There aren’t that many companies in our line of business with the money to send two mid-level intelligence men to talk to a peon from UCI.”

“Who I am,” Portland said, “is someone with an offer for you, a job, treason against your current employer, in which you would play a small, safe, significant part. Should you reveal this to UCI, evidence of your collaboration would reach the police, UCI security, and other future employers you may seek, and of course would result in reparations, both legal and extra-legal, from several parties.”

“But we have been authorized to offer payment,” Philips added, placing a manila envelope on the table, “to secure cooperation.”

Dex looked at their faces for a moment, judging their sincerity. “Looks like you’ve got me.” It was a good place to hold such a conversation. Lots of covering noise. “What’s the scam?”

Portland took some of his chips. “Creek.”

Dex shook his head. “That guy is plutonium. Instant death if you go near him. Security is insane around Creek. He’s responsible for all of UCI’s laboratories in this city.”

“Just leave that part to us,” said Philips.

“We’ve had partial intelligence on Creek for a while. Which labs he’ll be at and when. A few passcodes. And such.”

“How could you even get that much?” Dex asked, impressed like they wanted him to be.


“You have access to his food supply? That’s unlikely.”

“Aerosolized worm eggs,” Portland clarified. “We blanketed an entire city block to make sure we got him. You might have caught the edge of that, sorry.”

“Sick,” said Dex. “Which breed are you using?”

“No idea. I’m no parasitologist. The eggs hatch, the worms migrate to the brain, where they live out their lives, sipping juices. Short lifespans. They die, pass into the bloodstream, leave the body in stool. We find it easier to screen the sewage coming from Creek’s place than to actually bug the building. Then we dig the worms out and analyze the chemicals they absorbed in Creek’s brain. From that we can reconstruct neural pathways, estimate Creek’s thoughts.”

Dex had never heard of it before, but then, he was no engineer, either, just a lowly assembler. He looked at his chips. “I hope you washed your hands afterward.”

Philips chimed in. “Data from worms is limited. We want everything Creek knows, so that’s why we need you.” He tapped the money. “This is a retainer.” They stood. “We’ll be in touch.”


In the hasty basement lab, Dex watches the men prepare Creek for the surgery. Philips uses a device to draw worms out of Creek’s brain, through his ears. Portland assists by smoking a cigarette and watching. The worms curl up when they come near air and Philips uses a long hooked needle to dig them out of the ear canal like balls of wax. He puts them all into a plastic vial, caps it. Dex picks it up and shakes it at eye level, watching them rattle around. Creek hasn’t been in for a security physical, then, else UCI would have caught the parasites that have been breeding and dying generation after generation in his body, ever since this caper started.

The lazy arrogance of the top of the food chain.

“Peripherals are done,” Philips says as he fires up the autosurgeon. The machine is a cluster of articulated arms with lasers at the ends, capable of making hair-fine, cauterized precision incisions. Capable of completely bloodless procedures. “Mr. Dexter, give me a hand here. Roll him over, onto his stomach.”


Five months before the heist, Dex was at his girlfriend’s apartment, standing naked before her bathroom mirror. The tiles around the mirror were cracked and stained, grout blackened with mildew. The tub was pink with some type of slippery mold and the sliding shower door wouldn’t open without falling off of its rails.

“Are you almost done in there?” Handa asked through the plasterboard.

“Yeah, yeah.” He wrestled with the bathroom door—it stuck and any use of force on it would just snap it in half. “Jesus,” he said, getting through the door, “you need to get out of this dump.”

“Oh my god,” Handa said, looking at him. “Those elephantiasis commercials weren’t kidding, were they?”

Dex looked down at himself. “Yeah it’s a little overkill, I think, but it doesn’t hurt like those wasp stingers. Remember that? The things I do for sex with you, rubbing wasp stingers on my dick, shit.”

“Hey,” she said, “it worked. And you only stayed swollen for a few days. It’s ancient wisdom, Kama Sutra and all.” She reached out her arms and laughed. “Come here. And bring your hypergonads with you.”

It took some adjusting to find a workable position because Dex couldn’t close his legs, straddling his own genitals, but they figured it out with the help of the user’s pamphlet that came in the box of male enhancement pills. After they finished, and after Dex took the reduction pill (“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small! The new line of lovemaking aides from Quadra/Hydra!”) Handa said, “You want some food?”

“Naw, I don’t get hungry anymore. I got a photosynthesis trait about a month ago.”

“Really? You don’t look too green.”

“It’s still taking root. My appetite is cut way down but I won’t be fully green for another week. Remember the bonus I got a few months ago? I went down to the trait shop and bought a few mods.”

Handa sighed. “I wish I was rich. I’d mod myself all over. Biolum my nails. Get those fishscale eyelid implants, the tropical ones, you know? Maybe a tapeworm, to burn off a few of these pounds.” She pinched her waist. “Take a vacation to some island and live like a drunken sex monkey star.”

Dex kissed her hip and said, “You look fine. But with all the money I save on groceries, we can buy you something nice. And in a few more months I’ll be up for another bonus. A bigger bonus.”


Philips cuts up the back of Creek’s expensive jacket with a pair of shears, then stands aside to let the autosurgeon run its program. The three arms work together in a perfect braid to pick at the edges of Creek’s skin, lifting away to get at the brain matter underneath. The autosurgeon lifts off the skin, takes the brain up in its three arms, and places it in a shallow tray of salt water like the cheap stuffed animal prize in an arcade claw game.

The three men watch the tissue quiver in its tray. Whenever it moves to the edge of its tray, Portland pokes it back to the center with a rubber spatula. “Christ, this thing is ugly.”

Philips checks the wall clock and says, “Where is she? We’ve got to get this thing taken out of here before the chemicals bleach out and we lose all the data.”

Dex hears a noise behind him, a footfall, perhaps, but there is no one there when he checks and, just as he turns back, two women come into the room. Philips sighs in relief. The woman in front, in a razor-crisp business suit, strides over to the table to examine Creek. Satisfied, she turns to Portland and Philips, nods, says, “Gentlemen.” Then she sees Dex and says, “Who is this?”

“Ah, Ms. Van Frank,” Portland says, “ma’am, this is Mr. Dexter, our asset inside UCI, who gave us access to Mr. Creek.”

Van Frank scowls. “And why is he here?”

Portland says, “Well, actually, er ... see—”

At the table, there is a splash from the saltwater. Van Frank looks at the other woman, who moves with calm efficiency over to the operating table. “Dr. Harris,” Portland says. “A pleasure to see you again.” To Dex he says, “Dr. Harris is a marine biologist.”

Van Frank steps between them. “Please. Continue to explain why Mr. Dexter is part of this highly sensitive intelligence mission.”


Yesterday, Portland and Philips sent, by private courier, a plastic thermos mug to Dex’s apartment. It was a child’s thermos, a cartoon clown on the side and a red screw-on cap that doubled as a cup. Dex opened it. Even through its vacuum walls he could feel the bite of cold on his fingers. Four button-sized objects fell to the counter top and clattered like polished wood. They were ticks, each about as big around as his thumb knuckle, and cold to the touch when he picked them up. Cryogenic.

Dex left them on the counter overnight and the next morning they were only slightly below room temperature and still unmoving. Dex made breakfast next to them, pushing them aside with the flat of a butter knife as he made toast. Light from the kitchen fell through a crack in the bedroom door and across Handa’s bare legs while she slept. All that could be seen of her otherwise were her fingertips, glowing with a bioluminescent trait that shined in a row of white squares like teeth grinning in the dark room.

Just before leaving, Dex took the ticks into the bathroom and placed them, two to a side, between his lower eyelid and eyeball. In the mirror, his skin bulged, normally deep-set eye sockets swollen. The cold touched his optic nerve. It hurt to look.

At Uman Chemicals, the front guard said, “Damn, Dex, you look like you haven’t slept in years.”

“Yeah,” said Dex. “Just can’t stop thinking, you know? It gets under my skin.” He stripped off his clothes, put them in his locker, and stepped into the screening booth.

“You know the drill,” the guard said. “Hold your breath, plug your nose, close your eyes.”

The tiny booth filled with pesticide and Dex ran his fingers through his hair. There was a flash of ultraviolet light that killed the top layer of Dex’s skin, flared against his photosynthesis trait, and eliminated any bio-tagged bacteria that might’ve attached to him. UCI didn’t take many chances, not after ’12, when Kyodo developed a highly volatile fungus and began infecting the employees of its competitors. The fungus was designed to grow and spore within three hours of contact with human skin, turning the victim into, essentially, a very large dust bomb. Some strains of the fungus simply exploded. Others released very finely-tuned hallucinogenic spores that ended in an intelligence coup for Kyodo.

UCI lost many of its best labs in ’12.

Dex took deep breaths from a respiratory mask, filling his lungs with a mild toxin. Mild to humans, toxic to most micro-organisms. Then the suppository. Then he was allowed to put on the ugly green scrubs that UCI assemblers wore.

In the short walk from the security gates to Dex’s lab, the few minutes in which he was unobserved, Dex poked at his lower eyelids and popped the ticks out of their nesting places. Two came out easily, into his hands, legs just starting to wiggle, thawed by the warmth of his eye socket. Then he picked the third one free, but the fourth tick slid away from his finger and got trapped to one side of the socket like a contact lens. He was fast approaching the lab and couldn’t reach the last bug, and it wouldn’t dislodge no matter how much he rubbed at it.

The overwatchman looked up and said, “Goddamn, Dexter, what is wrong with your eye?”

Dex imagined how red and swollen it looked. “Um. Allergies.” An infection of any kind would have been a poor excuse and would trigger security fears of a contagion. He sat at his table. An assembler’s job was very simple—take a handful of ticks from the central box, airbrush their backs, and roll them up in protective adhesive tape for distribution to the customer. Today the paint was metallic blue, so the ticks would look good in the black lights of nightclubs, glowing against silhouette skin. Designer parasites for socialites. Each workstation had a tin dish for discards, for ticks that were malformed, asymmetrical, or too large, all qualities avoided by the supermodels who were UCI’s clientele. The product must be matched to the customer. Basic business.

For most of the shift, Dex worked silently in the row of painter after painter, each faceless behind surgical masks, their fingers in rubber gloves constantly moving along the table like the greedy foreclaws of ocean shrimp combing for tidbits.

Creek came in, dressed in one of his suits that could only fit a body like his, trailing a wake of white-coated assistants. Dex looked at the clock—it was the exact time that Philips and Portland had promised, Creek’s schedule lifted straight from his own mind by worms. Creek was a very hands-on chemist, stopping by every workstation. It was inevitable that the three monstrous insects in Dex’s discard tin would catch Creek’s attention, that he would stop to pick them up.

“What have we here?” Creek asked, dumping the contents of the tin into his hand.

Dex shrugged, didn’t look up at Creek’s face. It was not his position to engage a vice-president in conversation, so he kept his airbrush going and sneaked glances. The ticks in Creek’s hand moved their legs feebly. Watching them made Dex’s eyes tickle, and he blinked. Creek turned to his assistants and said, “Do these look unusual to you?” Beneath his jacket, Creek’s hunched back crawled, and the edge of a tentacle slipped out around the collar. Dex blinked again.

One of the assistants replied, “They look ... drugged. Perhaps something went wrong during the gene sequencing.”

“Here, try one,” Creek said.

The assistant took the second-largest of the proffered ticks and put it to his neck, where it sat for a long minute, doing nothing. Dex felt the stirrings of something behind his right eye just as he saw the parasite on the lab tech’s neck suddenly move.

The ticks awoke.

A hiss of breath escaped from the assistant’s lungs and he threw his head back when the tick bit into his throat. All attention was on the assistant, which meant that nobody saw Dex suddenly tense, rock back and forth in his seat, knuckles going white under their chlorophyll. He looked, alarmingly, a little green. Sweat beads popped out all over his skin and glinted in the harsh laboratory light like the silver shells of beetles. Dex was enough of a veteran of the chemical industry to have done his share of designer drugs, but never had he had a bug inject one directly into the veins of his eyeball, straight through the vitreous.

“Well?” said Creek. For one paranoid second, Dex thought that he was being addressed.

But the assistant said, “Ah, ah, it’s just DX. A lot of it.”

Ah, yes, DX, thought Dex as it flooded his system. Grants a person mildly god-like traits such as the ability to see in different parts of the spectrum. Immensely popular among concertgoers, who claimed that they could see angels coming out of speaker banks. Creek attached the largest tick to his own jugular and pocketed the third bug. Injection ticks were not just one-off shots, to be discarded immediately after pumping a burst of drugs into one’s bloodstream.

No, it was UCI that first developed the genetic modification to create injection ticks, UCI who still had the patent and therefore a significant market edge on its competitors. UCI had replaced, in the insect, its internal chemical factory that allowed it to drink blood, turn that blood into Lyme disease and other unpleasant toxins. Instead, genetically altered injection ticks took in blood, sloshed it around their tiny little bodies for a while, and decanted any number of drugs back into the human host. They did this constantly, never sleeping, always feeding, always chem-smithing, limited only by their shelf life. In nature, a tick could feed off of a host for months. UCI had their products expire, at most, within a week, and often much sooner than that, to drive up consumption rates. And profits.

Although there were, and Dex had seen, injection ticks available for the elite, ticks with life spans longer than a human’s, ticks that gorged themselves for decades, that grew to the size of small tumors and acquired pet nicknames from their hosts, all the while feeding off of the human body until it dried out in a husk and was laid to rest. Even then, the tick was often interred with its host, inseparable even in death, a bond deeper than marriage.


Van Frank says, “Well?” She is standing very close to Dex, looking directly into his eyes. She is wearing perfume, and it fills Dex’s head. She asks him, “Do you know who I am?” He nods, mute. The smart perfume is so powerful that it’s affecting his vision. Airborne chemicals latch onto the proper receptors in his brain and text crawls across his eyes. It says, “Krista Van Frank, Chief Intelligence Officer, Kyodo Laboratories,” followed by a telephone number, and hovers just to one side of Van Frank’s face.

“I want you to tell me,” she says, very calmly, “why I shouldn’t have Philips shoot you in an alley.”

The smell of perfume seems to be growing, clouding his thoughts. Dex can see—past her upswept dark hair, past the simple golden hoops in her ears, over the shoulder of her expensive suit—the rest of the room in surprising clarity. Philips, packing up surgical tools, and Portland keeping a wary eye on the people in the room. Dr. Harris lifts up the cuttlefish that Creek had used for years as an external brain, a symbiotic hard drive on which to store the vast amounts of chemical data involved in his genius. The worms had burrowed into Creek’s human brain easily, but couldn’t get through the barriers of his external memory drive, where all the really juicy secrets were kept.

Harris puts the cuttlefish into a Styrofoam cooler filled with water, closes the lid, and says, “We’re all set.” Picks it up smoothly. She is stronger than she appears. There is a shadow behind her that doesn’t belong to anyone.

Dex says, “Please. I need protection. I need you to get me and my girlfriend out of the country, far away. Somewhere that would be too much effort for UCI to send someone after me. Somewhere tropical.”

“What makes you think that they’re after you, Mr. Dexter?” She isn’t buying it. She’s going to have Philips shoot him in the head.


Only an hour ago, Dex stumbled out of the UCI laboratory, his face aflame with pain and drugs, and into the crowded city street where he was swept away by the crush of human bodies. Out here his green skin and swollen eye didn’t look suspicious. Here he was only one pixel in a swarm of color, just another green guy. He saw bodies in all shades of green, from olive, to lime, to soylent, to Starbucks. Also red bodies, blue, orange, gold. People modified either for biochemical reasons or just for the look.

The DX in his system brought out the colors and images of the street. Everyone who passed him trailed heat ghosts in his infrared sight. Shop fronts and vehicles glowed in the last remnants of the sunset’s ultraviolet, like an artery of neon.

But underneath the DX was the taste of another drug that the tick produced, a hypnotic. The drug pulled him with the beat of his own pulse to an alleyway where a white work van was parked. Its sliding door opened and a man came at Dex with outstretched arms. He was blurry in Dex’s eyes, as his arms went around Dex’s neck. Dex went into the back of the van, falling on two other bodies.

“That’s all of the ticks,” said a familiar voice. Dex looked around the van, saw Creek and his assistant sprawled on the floor. Philips crouched beside the bodies. Portland was behind the wheel.

Philips pried the DX tick off of Creek’s throat and replaced it with a smaller tick, painted yellow. “That will keep him out.”

“What about this guy?” asked Portland, reaching to lift the lab tech into a sitting position.

Philips swapped parasites on the lab assistant’s neck as well, this time using a garish red insect. “He’s about to have a fatal overdose. Dump him outside.” They opened the door just wide enough to roll the assistant into the alley, his limbs already twitching from the lethal amount of narcotic coming from the tick.

Portland slammed the door and focused on Dex. “Same for him?”

Philips hesitated. “No. Seven months to develop this deep of an asset. We take him with us.” Portland put the van into drive and pulled out of the alley. Dex was a little jittery from the DX, jumping when something knocked into the van from the outside. Portland muttered about potholes. Philips had a bright orange California poppy in his hand and pressed it to Dex’s face. “Deep breath.”

Dex inhaled and a calming scent washed over him. The harsh glow of the flower faded in his vision to a more realistic shade, and his pulse slowed. “What was that?”

“I gave you mono,” said Philips, throwing the poppy away. “Just a mild tranquilizer. It’s an accelerated strain, so it’ll burn itself out in about an hour. How do you feel?”

“Tired,” Dex murmured. His eyelids drooped. At a stoplight, Philips used his fingertips to spread Dex’s eyelids apart, inserted a hooked needle into the space between socket and eyeball, quickly fished the fourth tick out of Dex’s head.

Portland stopped the van in another, a different, back alley. He and Philips slung Creek between them, dragged him to the basement without a word to Dex. Dex followed them to the basement surgery suite. His eye was returning to its regular size, losing its red, irritated look. He rubbed at it with a knuckle.

Dex looked across the hammered-scrap metal operating table at the other men.


He says, “We were followed the entire time.”

Van Frank spins on Portland and Philips. “Is that true?”

Portland says, “I didn’t see anyone.”

“Of course not,” Dex answers. “UCI vice-presidents have a constant shadow guard, tailing from a distance. They’re in full camo and trained to keep their distance until they have you cornered. Then they call in backup.”

“You couldn’t have said something on the way here?” Portland says.

Dex shrugs. “I was on drugs. And I did warn you when you first told me you were going after Creek. Instant death, I said.”

Van Frank says, “Suncat.”

Dex says, “What?”

And the unattached shadow in the corner of the room pulls off its head to reveal a blonde woman in skintight octopus camouflage, her hair pinned up tightly to fit beneath the suit’s hoodmask. “Jesus,” Dex says. “Have you been here this whole time?”

“As you see, Mr. Dexter, we have our own shadow security,” Van Frank says, smiling tightly. “What’s the situation on our perimeter, Suncat?”

The blonde security woman is calm, cool. “I have point men at every door to the building, and electronic systems beyond them. We should be secure.”

Just then, the lights go off, and the windowless basement goes pitch black. In the dark, Dex pockets the small bottle of worms pulled from Creek’s mind. His hands also go quickly through Creek’s coat and find the last tick Dex had smuggled into UCI. It bites him and the DX shoots through his body. Now he can see everybody in the room from the heat they give off in the infrared—Harris, Suncat, and Van Frank. Portland, Philips, and Creek’s body. Also, clinging to the ceiling like flies, three more bodies. They are inching closer to the group, but Dex cannot move, afraid of running into furniture.

With a click of circuits, the lights come back on. Suncat has a submachine gun tucked under one arm and Philips and Portland have their own weapons in hand. Nobody else can see the three UCI assassins crawling on the ceiling, hidden by octopus skin, except for Dex. Suncat says, “We have a helicopter on the roof. Let’s go, now.” She stays close to Van Frank and to Harris, who has the brain.

“They’re already in the room!” Dex shouts, pointing at the ceiling where two of the camouflaged men detach their gecko grips and drop to the floor. Suncat pulls her hood back on, invisible once again. All that can be seen of her is the muzzle of her gun, pointing to the same place as Dex’s finger.

The commandos from UCI are fast. One stays attached to the ceiling and triggers his octopus suit. It flashes in bright, fast, confusing patterns of dots and swirls, blinding and captivating. Suncat, Philips, Portland, and Van Frank, well-trained intelligence professionals, cover their eyes and turn away. They fire their guns blindly, mostly into the ceiling. Suncat grabs Harris by the arm and tries to guide the doctor to the stairway door. Harris’ eyes are rolled back in her skull, her knuckles locked tight around the handle of the Styrofoam cooler.

Dex, too, is caught in an epileptic episode, which feels much like a very extended rush of the DX when it first hits the nerves. He is frozen in place, with flecks of foam dotting his lips, and there is no one near enough to take his arm. In the glow of infrared he can see the invisible men run towards him. One stops for two seconds, directly before him, just long enough to punch him twenty-six times in the chest with those modified reflex muscles, enough force to cave in Dex’s sternum and stop his heart.

He falls, backwards, onto the ground. Thermal images cross his fading vision. Two of the UCI officers stay in the room while the third chases after the others, up the stairs. There’s a rattle of gunfire down the concrete stairwell, and then silence. The two men in the room with him look at each other and say, “Check the body.” One bends down and feels for Dex’s pulse, but finds nothing. The other hefts Creek’s bulk over its shoulders and says, “We’re good. Let’s get clear.”

And then his sight goes black.


Twenty-four hours later, Dex rides the subway home with a smart bouquet in his hand. The train clatters along the rails through the tunnels like a cup of dice and comes pouring out onto an elevated track. He can see the rooftops of the city just starting to pink with sunrise.

After his heart stopped, and after the Uman Chemical, Incorporated, soldiers left, Dex laid on the cold basement floor, clinically dead. A clock on the wall ticked off loud seconds, three hundred of them, and then Dex sat up. His heart still didn’t beat, but he got up off the floor and, with the bottle of worms in his pocket, left the basement. His breathing was labored, because of the blunt force trauma done to his chest, but his blood still circulated. Deep where his stomach used to be before the photosynthesis splice, Dex held a small electric pump, a backup heart to keep himself going until he could reach medical help.

The train stops at his station and he kicks his way down the stairs to street level, walking through an empty city still asleep. The air is clammy with fog that sticks to his hands, to his nose, his cheeks. He walks and remembers how he stumbled into the Quadra/Hydra lab with only minutes of battery life left on the electric pump.

But they’d been waiting for him. The Q/H officer to whom Dex had spoken three months before, setting up the escape plan, his name was Roper. Roper took him down a back hallway in the Q/H lab to an operating suite, and the rest was a haze of anesthesia and autosurgeons, programmed to repair his heart and rebuild his chest.

When he woke up from the surgery, Roper was seated beside him. “How do you feel?” he asked Dex. “Lucky break, that, the UCI men striking your chest.” Roper mimed a pistol at Dex’s head. “What if they’d killed you some other way?”

Dex sat up and looked at the binding wrapped around his torso. “I worked there for how long? It was easy enough to keep ears open and mouth shut and pick up on secrets.”

Roper held up the bottle of worms. “Like these secrets? Good lord. High-level intelligence, a severe setback to UCI’s labs, and the erasure of Kyodo’s top intel officer. We couldn’t have planned it better if we’d trained you ourselves. I have to say, you were certainly worth the investment.”

Just as the sun comes up, Dex turns onto his street and jogs up the stairs to his apartment, where Handa is still waiting. The investment that Roper mentioned is wrapped in a tight roll in Dex’s pants pocket, not quite enough cash to take off for some tropical island like Handa dreams of, but at least enough to move out of her crummy apartment.

The money is payment for Creek’s memories, chemically read off the worms, providing Quadra/Hydra with formulas that they can quickly spin out into market profits.

And after the industrial intel was removed, all that remained in the worms were Creek’s personal memories, which Dex claimed as the second half of his payment. All the memories Creek had of being rich, of flying private corporates jets, of daily meals in extravagant restaurants, all the high-class parties, and of course the Caribbean vacations. All the chemicals that encoded these experiences; Dex had the Q/H lab grind up the worms, extract Creek’s memories, and encode them into a smart bouquet.

The scent from the flowers is strong enough to reach deep into the brain and implant the memories so that the brain would never know it hadn’t had that meal, had never been to that tropical island.

Handa hears him coming up the stairs and meets Dex at the door with a scowl. “Hi,” Dex says to her. “Sorry I’ve been out of touch, but I brought you these.”

He gives her the flowers and watches the anger melt from her expression as she says, “Ooh,” and buries her face in the petals. the end

Josh Pearce is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and poet. His work most recently appears in “Eye to the Telescope,” “Kasma,” and “The Colored Lens.” Find him on Twitter: @fictionaljosh or at


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