Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor

Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.

Copyright © 2015 by Jamie Lackey.

Dreams to Dust

By Jamie Lackey

MARIE-ÉLISE PULLED HER SWEAT-DAMP stockings off and tossed them down the disintegration shoot. She trooped into the showers with the other dancers, exhausted and thankful for the limited supply of hot water.

“Hey, do you want a sprinkle of this?” Theresa asked, shaking a vial of glittering dream dust.

Dream dust worked like a reality filter—users saw the world with permanent rose shading. It was impossible to overdose—the more you used, the longer the effect lasted. It was a safe, cheap escape, if you didn’t have any other options. It dulled ambition, led to complacency and laziness. Marie-Élise shook her head. “You know why they call that stuff dream dust?”

“I’m all ears.”

“It turns your dreams to dust. And I’m still working to improve my reality.”

Theresa rolled her eyes. “Your loss, sugar. Working’s overrated.” She dumped the contents of the vial onto her tongue.

After the too-short shower, Marie-Élise dried off with a thin towel, daydreaming about endless showers and thick, fluffy towels. “You! Two-names!” Annette, her manager poked her head around the corner. “You’re wanted upstairs.”

Marie-Élise froze for a moment, then wrapped her towel around herself, suddenly uncomfortable with her nudity. She reminded herself that this is what she’d been waiting for. This was her chance for a better life. “How much?” she asked.

“Five hundred thousand dollars. More if you please them.”

Air whooshed out of Marie-Élise’s lungs. That would be enough to live on for a decade. She wondered what they could possibly be willing to pay that for, then reminded herself that it would only be one night. She could handle anything for one night. “When do they want me?” she asked.

“As quick as you can.” Annette scanned her, her dark eyes critical. “But take the time to make yourself presentable.”

Marie-Élise examined her patched and faded clothes. She pulled them on, then did what she could with her hair and makeup.

Her knees shook as she climbed the stairs. Halfway up, she wondered if she would have been permitted to use the elevator. She pushed out of the stairwell and onto thick carpet. The scent of roses enveloped her. “There you are,” a thin-lipped, dark-skinned woman snapped. “Follow me.”

The woman led her to a door. “In there.”

Marie-Élise reached for the knob, and the woman grabbed her wrist. Her skin was hot and dry. “Girl—be careful. These two—they are wild tonight.”

Marie-Élise nodded, her mouth as dry as the woman’s skin. She opened the door and stepped into a dark room that was larger than the apartment she shared with three friends. Windows lined the far wall, and the city twinkled below. Stinging smoke hung thick in the air, and she fought not to cough. “There she is!” a thick-necked man shouted. He pulled Marie-Élise onto his lap, and the stench of liquor on his breath overwhelmed the smoke. His hands were hot and clammy, even through the fabric of her dress. “Our lovely street rat.”

Marie-Élise kept herself from shrinking from his touch and forced a smile on numb lips. “Hello, sir.” She fought to keep her voice low and sultry.

A second man coughed. “Another eager one.”

The first man wrapped his arms around her waist. His skin was slick with sweat. “They’re all eager, Ray.” He shoved Marie-Élise out of his lap and flicked on the overhead light.

A woman was bound and gagged in the center of the floor. Her long, dark hair hung in front of her face like a curtain.

Thick-neck stood and pulled a golf club from beneath one of the couches. He held it out to Marie-Élise. “How desperate are you, little rat?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I want you to take this and beat her with it.” His tone was patient, like he was explaining something basic to a child.

It would be simple to take the club. Easy to move her body through the required motions. They would reward her if she did as they requested, punish her if she refused.

That was how it worked.

“This isn’t funny,” Ray said.

“No, it’s not,” Thick-neck agreed. “This isn’t a game. It’s real life. And I think we all understand that.”

Marie-Élise had taken this job, had danced till her feet swelled and her knees ached, for this chance. This was her ticket to a better life. The only ticket for someone like her.

“Take it,” Thick-neck said.

“What if I don’t?”

He shrugged and grinned and spread his hands. “I can get rid of two bodies just as easily as one.”

The woman on the floor looked up at her. She wasn’t one of the dancers—Marie-Élise had never seen her in the club before. Her top lip was already split and bleeding. Their eyes met and held. The other woman’s were bleak and empty, full of the knowledge that she would take the club and use it if their positions were reversed. She hung her head.

“I’ll make it quick,” Marie-Élise promised. It was the only thing to do, the only choice she could make.

Marie-Élise held out her hand, and Thick-neck slapped the club into her palm. She’d never held a golf club before. The balance was strange. She breathed in and out slowly. She imagined having the kind of power that the two men wielded—imagined holding lives and futures in her hands.

She looked back at the woman on the floor and realized that she already did.

She ran past the kneeling woman and swung the club, hard, at Thick-neck’s skull. It cracked like an egg under the heavy wedge-shaped head, and he crumpled to the floor.

Ray, the other man, gaped up at her. She choked up on the club. “I can kill you,” she said.

“This—it was all his idea,” Ray blubbered.

Marie-Élise untied the woman on the floor. The woman spat out her gag and recoiled. “What have you done?” she asked. She ran to Thick-neck and checked his pulse. Blood soaked into her ragged dress. “He’s dead.” She rocked back on her heels. “They’ll still kill us both.”

“No,” Marie-Élise said. “That’s not gonna happen, is it, Ray?”

“I—what—what do you want me to do?”

Hope bloomed in her belly. Maybe she could get out of this, after all. “Could you dispose of his body?” she asked.

Ray shook her head. “I—he—”

Marie-Élise recognized that powerless look. Her hope died, and she patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Take her and get out of here. Pretend you never even saw this place. Can you do that, Ray?”

“Why would he?” the other woman snapped.

Marie-Élise stared at Ray, memorizing his receding hairline and watery eyes. “Because it’s the right thing to do. And you want to do the right thing, don’t you, Ray?”

Ray blinked, then nodded.

Pity stirred in Marie-Élise’s heart. “That’s why he had you here—he was playing with you, too.”

Ray nodded again.

“Take care of her for me, Ray. Promise me you will.”

“I promise.”

“Go, now. Quickly.”

“Wait,” the woman protested. “You have to come, too.”

Marie-Élise shook her head. “They know me, know that I was here. I have to stay.”

“Why did you do this for me?” the woman asked. “I don’t understand.”

Marie-Élise shrugged. “If you don’t understand, I can’t explain it.”

“I wouldn’t have done it for you,” she said.

“I know.”

“I don’t even know your name,” the woman said.

“I don’t know yours, either, and it’s better that way.”

Ray took the other woman’s hand. “She’s right. We have to go, and we should do it now.”

They slipped through the door, and Marie-Élise was alone with the corpse. She glanced over at it. “This didn’t go like you’d planned, did it?”

She wandered through the room, trailing her fingers over the fine wooden furniture, staring out the window at the breathtaking view. She figured she had till morning before anyone checked on them. She just hoped the others would be far away by then.

She took a long, long shower, then dried off with a towel that wrapped around her three times. She rifled through the dead man’s possessions. Fancy suits, the rest of the set of golf clubs, an e-reader full of poetry. He carried a family portrait complete with a wife, two children, and a big shaggy dog in his wallet. He also had a whole suitcase full of booze and drugs.

A familiar glitter caught her eye. The bag of dream dust was the size of a small pillow—enough to put anyone into a happy haze for the rest of their lives.

In the morning, they’d arrest her. If she was lucky, they’d execute her. If she wasn’t lucky, they’d send her to one of the lunar work camps.

She thought about trying to run, wondered how long it would take for them to catch her.

She poured the dream dust down her throat in chalky handfuls. After the first, the taste dramatically improved. After the second, it was like tasting heaven.

When she was done, contentment sang along every nerve in her body. She wandered back over to the window and watched the city lights. The sunrise was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

She called for room service, and managed to devour a plate of chocolate croissants and a pot of coffee before the police arrived. She thought of Ray and the nameless girl and smiled. END

Jamie Lackey is an active member of SFWA. Her stories have been published in many publications including “Daily Science Fiction,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” and “Penumbra.” She last appeared in the 12-December-2014 “Perihelion.”






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