Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Fiction

Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan

Articles

Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs


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Editorial

Forum

Submissions

Comic Strips

Reviews

Addenda

Collector’s Item

By Doug Donnan

“I’LL GIVE YA’ A HUNDRED bucks for it,” old man Lattimer sighed as he studied the round, gray metal carcass of the little circular floorbot.

“A hundred bucks? Why that’s highway robbery,” Mandelbrite replied as he waved his pudgy hands aloft like some crazed televangelist. “I don’t think you realize the potential of this little robot.”

Lattimer snorted out a disdainful cackle. He reached down and began to push the thing back and forth there on the glass countertop a few squeaky times. “This silly little monstrosity couldn’t even clean the top of this counter on it’s best day, and that was quite some time ago. The only potential this thing has,” he snorted as he leaned over his glass display case, “is the potential to end up somewhere way back in my storeroom collecting dust on top of itself!”

Mandelbrite dropped his arms down and sagged noticeably just as an impossibly fat woman in a golden dress wearing obnoxious smears of way out-of-date Lady Gaga eye makeup passed by their discussion and down the faded black and white tiled pawn shop floor. She was toting a large purple earthenware urn that was festooned with yellow Inca-Aztec-like figures. She seemed extremely proud of it, and held it out in front of her broad bosom as if she were ceremoniously marching forward to present the obvious facsimile to the ancient high and mighty Emperor Quetzalcoatl himself.

“This is an original Roomba 564 ... the pet series!” Mandelbrite exclaimed as he ventured a head-shaking peek at the enormous, jug carrying maiden as she paraded just behind him.

“I found it up in the attic. I had forgotten all about it. It cost 500 dollars brand new. I’m sure I’ve only used it once or twice! It’s got all the extra brushes, the virtual wall lighthouse, and the wall socket battery charger that go with it,” he said impatiently as he raised his balding, bubble-shaped head and met the steadfast pawn broker’s empty, unimpressed gaze. “I even have the damn original box! It’s a robotic icon, a revolutionary antique, not just some meandering floor vacuum cleaner ... you old twit.”

Lattimer bent back somewhat and hooked his crooked thumbs through the rappelling straps of his red, white and blue suspenders. “Fifty bucks!” he now offered emphatically as if he would never allow himself to be insulted by the likes of some one such as this little whippersnapper. “Take it or leave with it,” he finished with the narrowing of his myopic blue eyes.

“Oh, hell with it then,” Mandelbrite sighed as he swept up his robotic floor warden and all its parts and pieces and headed for the flashing neon of the pawn shop’s front door. “You’ll see,” he called over his shoulder as he waited for the planet-sized Asian security guard to release him out the iron-barred glass door. “It’s a damn collector’s item! It’s probably worth thousands ... thousands of dollars I tell you!”

Mandelbrite drove home slowly in a spiking rainstorm. He had flung the Roomba and its cords and clutter of accessories into the back seat of the car. Every so often he shot a glance over his right shoulder at the circular contraption. As he carefully steered himself through and around all the ethanol guzzlers and bug shaped hybrids, he realized that his blind ambition to make some kind of jackpot by quickly pawning the silly little rover vacuum was not the prudent thing to do. He decided that the sensible thing to do would be to surf the many files and folders of the Internet and see what kind of prices and other particulars he could come up with for it. He ticked a smile as he rounded the street corner that led to his house. Mandelbrite, now quite satisfied with himself, made a mental note to inform Ms. Hazelton, his new rather persnickety automaton housemaid, of all this.

***

“A real Roomba?” Darrel Latimmer exclaimed excitedly as he confronted his father back in the claustrophobic confines of the little pawn shop office. “And he had all the parts and pieces to it ... including the original box?”

“Yeh, yeh,” Latimmer replied as he scanned some of the now monthly mail pieces with the new occupant friendly postal strobe pistol. “I never really minded opening the letters to read them,” he sighed. “This stupid Zippy-Ray gun takes all the fun out of gettin’ mail. No suspense left openin’ letters. They awta’ just close all the damn post offices. I mean what’s the point of—”

“Never mind all that, Pop,” Darrel cut in as he grabbed him securely by the shoulders. “Did you at least remember to get his name or his cell phone number?”

“Sure, sure, I got it written down out there somewhere. Why? What’s all the fuss about? It’s just a damn old runabout robo-vacuum cleaner. What in hell are we gunna’ do with that?”

“We’re going to sell it, that’s what,” Darrel sighed as he released his grasp and turned around to make his way out. “Sell it to the highest bidder. Hell, Pop,” he called over his shoulder as he made his way down the narrow hallway adorned with all the accumulated dust covered paintings, posters, brass and copper bric-a-brac, their individual histories and potential values long since forgotten. “It’s a damn collector’s item!”

***

“Hazelton!” Mandelbrite called out as he awkwardly sand-crab stepped through the front door with his treasured armful of robotic clean-up cargo. “Hazelton, are you there?”

There was still no response as he angled over to the kitchen and dumped the load there on the countertop. He kicked off his shoes and walked about the cool black basalt kitchen floor tiles. He opened the solar powered refrigerator and fished out a can of diet green tea Red Bull.

RoombaShe’s probably off into the den to her recharging station he thought. The Roomba’s green battery pin light was barely blinking off and on like a green firefly. Before he approached the den he decided to go ahead and set the little pleading vacuum down on the floor and plug it in for its own rejuvenation. “Okay ol’ buddy,” he said with a slight melancholy smile. “Here’s some juice for you, too.”

Soon, after Mandelbrite’s sympathetic attendance to the wants and needs of the now underfoot mechanical sweeper, the ancient little vacuum did in fact click and tik-tak into a lively whirling dutiful animation.

It was alive again!

It began to spin and rotate excitedly about the kitchen tiling in neat little concentric circles. The Roomba was now just shy of what one might describe as ... perky.

As Mandelbrite stood there sipping on his can and studying the mechanical beauty of the roving Roomba, a rather less than soothing, albeit now becoming more familiar, mechanized voice cut into his peaceful train of thought.

“You had a call sir,” Ms. Hazelton announced from far across the living room. “It seemed quite urgent ... from a Mr. Darrel Lattimer. You left your cell phone on the settee in the den. I am, as I’m certain you are aware, programmed to answer all incoming calls after a fourth uninterupted ring. If you are unable to—”

Mandelbrite tuned her out. He was startled out of his little Zen like moment by her cold brash presence and now rather curt announcement about her capabilities. She was in fact a hybrid result of the cutting edge of robotics. Part Japanese Actroid-Der and part HERB (Home Exploring Robot Butler), a state of the art sophisticated product designed by Carnegie Melon University of Intel Labs Pittsburgh. At first he felt happy to have her around. She relieved him of much of his domestic strife and related household chores. She seemed a godsend, but lately ...

“Will you be returning Mr. Latimmer’s call sir?” she inquired in a somewhat more urgent trance-breaking tone.

“Yes, yes I’ll get right on it Ms. Hazelton,” he snapped back as he headed around her for the den. “Whatever you say!”

“Please sir,” she responded mechanically, “Won’t you please try and refer to me as ... Esther?”

Mandelbrite froze in stride for a second and shook his head. He rotated around there at the entrance to the central hallway. “By the way ... Esther, where is Mr. Poochini? My dog.”

“I let him out sir,” she replied. “He was becoming rather ... impertinent.”

“Impertinent?” he called out. “He’s a dog. Just a puppy dammit. It’s raining cats and—it’s pouring outside! I’ll decide who or what is impertinent around here Esther. I want him back inside this house pronto ... now!”

“As you wish sir,” she stiffened somewhat and turned for the kitchen back door.

Mandelbrite steamed off the other way for the den to return Latimmer’s call.

***

The little Roomba, in all its revived mirth and vim, had managed to pop free from the wall socket it was plugged into. The robot was dragging its looping length of power cord and charger behind itself like a string of cans on a wedding car. Very soon it proceeded to roam about the house flooring with a programmed purpose that only it understood. It passed by and around the surprised Ms. Hazelton several times sweeping and spinning along with determined gusto as it patrolled its appointed rounds.

“What in the world have we here?” she cried out as she drew up her perfectly calibrated hydraulic arms into her angular titanium hips. Eventually she whirred her foot out to block its path, but the Roomba was undaunted as it ticked against her Sasquatch-sized instep. The pesky oval sweeper simply paused, adjusted itself accordingly, and went around.

“Well I’ll be ...” Ms. Hazelton sighed as she turned and watched it make its wayward charge out into the kitchen pantry.

The Roomba, with Ms. Hazelton hot on its wheels, stopped rather abruptly in front of the kitchen pantry back door. The scurrying floorbot had picked up a minute variation in its programmed floor plan. There was something changing on the overall vertical ground plane.

The doggie door had slanted open. There was a little dark, dripping snout poked inside. Ms. Hazelton had also pulled up short as she tried to assess the scene and situation. “Now what?” she sighed with a kind of metallic hiss.

It was, in fact, the ostracized miniature Dachshund ... Mr. Poochini!

“Alright little mister,” she exclaimed as she posted herself legs spread wide above the tipping hatch. “Come on in here then, but no mischief out of you or ...”

Poochini inched in, slowly. He briefly sniffed around the stationary Roomba. He tooted a series of rather odd sounding snorts over the robot’s housing and then began a circuitous route around them both and took up an elongated perch just at the foot of the slightly ajar basement door. He did whimper somewhat, but didn’t bark all over the place, apparently now having learned his behavioral lesson from Ms. Hazelton.

“Well good boy,” she exclaimed. “It seems as though we all understand each other now. Do you want to go down there?” she asked with a few mechanical steps toward the stairwell door.

Aarrrff!Poochini responded with a wagging tail and a floppy-eared head nod.

She pulled wide the basement door and snapped on the light that lit the stairs. The floor robot once again noticed a fluctuation of some kind in the angular periphery of his surroundings. He zipped off quickly with his long tail-like charger chord dangling behind him to investigate this sudden inconsistency in the angles and geometry of the pantry. Poochini, not to be left out of the burst of developing excitement, scratched and skittered his peppery little paws across the wet slippery kitchen tiles as he lit out after the maniacal, determined Roomba. The two floor friends soon performed some curiously suspicious circles around the shuddering, break-dancing legs of the shocked Ms. Hazelton. With Poochini’s now vise-like bite on the Roomba’s long electric cable tail, the wild twosome did soon manage to tie the wide-eyed android housemaid’s feet and legs together in an impossible binding tangle.

“Hey, hey there!” she cried out as she flailed her pinkish whirring motorized arms over her head in a fit of panicky desperation. “Stop ... stop it you two ...I’m falling ... I—Aayeeee!” And she slipped off the top step toppling and tumbling wildly until she hit the basement floor in a fractured heap. She lay there, now broken and shattered, the slit of her mouth agape in a mask of frozen fear. The charger cord was tightly draped about her impossibly broken ankles. Black oil and other gelatinous lubricants were seeping out and staining her previously perfect powder-blue cotton uniform.

***

Even far off in the den, Mandelbrite had heard all the fuss and commotion. He eventually meandered into the kitchen area and cautiously approached the backroom of the pantry. He was still on his cell phone as he came upon the scene of the crime. “What the hell happened?” he exclaimed as he stared down the basement steps at the maid’s twisted clutter of body parts.

As he began to survey the bizarre scene, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, the two escaping culprits as they skittered playfully away out the swinging little oblong doggie door. He spun about quickly and peeked out the backdoor curtain. The Roomba and Mr. Poochini were now scurrying down the length of the backyard deck seemingly in a cheery, carefree way. Now, apparently, the very best of friends.

“Well I’ll be damned,” he whispered with a wry smile as he watched them go. Mandelbrite soon detected the tiniest of a tickling vibration in the palm of his hand and with the little tremor a barely audible chittering sound. It was his cell phone. Darrel Lattimer was still holding, his impatience for an answer to his offer to buy the Roomba very apparent. Mandelbrite pulled the phone up to his ear.

“Mandelbrite are you still there? What do you say?” Lattimer asked excitedly. “I’ll give ya’ two thousand bucks for it! That’s my final offer.”

Mandelbrite smiled broadly as he watched Poochini step up on the top of the Roomba. They spun all around and about the breadth of the rain soaked boards of the deck. It was quite a sight to see!

“Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Latimmer,” he almost chuckled as he turned back and closed the basement door. “I’ll take a rain check if you don’t mind.” infinity

Doug Donnan lives in a one horse town along the Florida Panhandle. He has been writing fiction for over 30 years. His fiction has been published by: Aphelion Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orion's Child, Fiction Brigade, Flash Fiction World, Another Sky Press, Postcard Short Stories.

 

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