Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Water for Antiques
by Robert N. Stephenson

by Sierra July

Skipper Jeremiah Dudd
by Mark Ayling

If You Could Choose One Day
by Simon Kewin

It’s the Martian Way
by Bob Sojka

Know, Oh Emperor
by L. Joseph Shosty

Abernathy’s Snowflake
by Aaron Polson

Lost and First Men
by David Barber

by Mark Bilsborough

These Undiminished
by Conor Powers-Smith

by George Sandison


Inside Death Valley
by Eric M. Jones

Is Global Warming Good?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Water for Antiques

By Robert N. Stephenson

THE NEED FOR CLEAN WATER DROVE everything for Dravid, his whole antiques business was centred on it. Today’s dig hadn’t been great but he had enough for trade. Most of the stuff was probably worthless but he could get a little for the metals and maybe some trade for the few ceramics he’d recovered. The shed came into view, rusted iron and steeply sloped roof so the dust wouldn’t settle. The cart was heavy and he ached. Dravid had to empty the cart before he could relax. He sorted the junk from valuables and noted what looked like a finger; a robot’s finger he guessed. The site he’d been excavating had been a war zone once; there were no wars in the BiNar system these days.

Dravid sat on his work stool and turned his attention to the finger, a very humanoid object, so something from a very long ago war. The thing had been detached at the top knuckle and shreds of what might have been artificial flesh hung from its tip. He examined it closely, noting the fine thread like cables and tactile circuits at the finger’s connector node; it would easily clip back into place on the hand, if he found it. Technically it was an android’s finger as such fine work was never used on basic robots. He searched out androids of war on some data cubes, which seemed a reasonable search request. A list of models flashed on the screen.

“Which one are you?” he said examining a number of androids. Dravid sat back, stretched out his back and scratched the tubules on his chin; a finger really wasn’t much to go on but he had already planned to go out to the hole again. The city sized crater wasn’t going anywhere. In the morning he’d haul a piston digger in the cart just in case he had to dig down in the hard soil any distance; if there was a finger maybe there was more. The fetching value of an antique finger was pretty good, but if he could find the rest of the hand, that could bring in a year’s worth of clean water; he could maybe even get someone to dig the rock nearby for a well of his own.

He ate some centuries old military service rations and settled in to sleep; his cot was on a hard, thick board he dug up from an earlier time. As he curled up on the hard surface he had to fight with bugs for his blanket but he was too tired to complain. The morning would bring harder challenges; the ten kilometre walk to the hole was okay but the trek back up the slopes to his shed drained him, especially after spending all day under the hot sun and the stinging bite of burrower bugs. Dravid closed his eyes and thought of the wars; which war had this finger come from?

The Valley of Fire was immense and supported hundreds of fossickers like himself. At the markets fine android parts like he had found were not too common. Robot sections, drives and joints were almost everywhere you dug and he had plenty of parts in the shed, but they were not humanoid, so he knew he had part of something almost valuable. He needed more he thought as sleep came, he needed more.


The piston shovel threw up clods of dirt around the place where Dravid had found the finger. He ran the machine on slow so he wouldn’t damage anything. By noon he’d found a few screws and several lengths of wire. If the android had been hit by a shell then its components could be scattered over a radius of several hundred metres. It could take a full six rings to cover half that and even then he’d have to stop when the rains came. The hole would fill with water, then the Valley of Fire would become the Lake Sea. He moved the digger along the ridge by five metres and powered it up again; the shovel head pushed slowly in and stopped, a red light flashed at the top of the control board. The shovel had found something hard, and it was only a few centimetres down.

Dravid withdrew the shovel and commenced digging with his own small spade. After a few minutes he hit something metallic. He dug first down then out and around for about a metre; it was an arm, a full android arm. He lifted it free of the ground, noting its weight with some effort. The arm had a hand, a full hand with all five digits; like the finger the flesh had worn away. He pulled his cart over and loaded the arm into the wire crate. The hand stuck up out of the end as if it were reaching for the sky. A full arm, Dravid marvelled. He hurried to pack up as soon it would be night and he had to get back to the safety of the shed.

The cart was heavy and if he thought the digger would be safe he would have left it behind until morning when he started excavating again. During the long walk back he had time to think about the find, there was another arm out there, he was sure of it, or he had the parts of two androids, which opened up even more possibilities. He could be rich; he might even have enough to leave the planet, maybe even leave the BiNar system entirely.

Night fell like a hammer blow as Dravid dragged his cart into the shed. He was too tired to eat, too exhausted to unload the cart and sort his finds. He dropped onto his hard bed and passed into sleep quickly.


The digger felt heavier today as he trudged down the hill, his track across the barren landscape easy to follow if anyone could be bothered. Everyone knew everyone in these parts; it was the world of the antique merchants.

With a widening of the search area Dravid found first the other arm with its missing finger plus a few finely tooled joints and components that might or might not have been from the machine. From the locations of both arms and some smaller pieces he determined he was in the right area to find the rest of the android. His possibilities expanded and he felt the skip of joy in his chest. The arms had been quite close together so he guessed other parts could be nearby. He positioned the digger between the two locations and set it to shovel. The first arm had only been a few centimetres down but the second had been almost a metre, which didn’t make a lot of sense but as the land spent half its life underwater he could easily understand some shifting in the mud. While the digger dug he collected springs, old boards from beside what might have been a roadway once.

When he returned to the piston shovel, he found it paused half a metre down, the red light on and a good sized hole dug. Dravid released the digger and allowed it to move back and away from the hole before he reached in with his spade and turned a little of the dirt over. The size of the torso was enormous as it lay embedded in the soil and there was no way he was going to dig it out before he had to head back home. He made the digger fill it in for another go in the morning. With both arms he might be able to determine the model and maybe which war the android had served in. He gazed up at the dipping suns. What if it was a royalist android? That would be something, really something.

“When did you fight, old friend?” he said, lifting the second arm up on the bench. The sun was almost gone and his light was reduced to a sputtering lantern. He grabbed a cleaning brush and a little dirty water from a bucket. He brushed and cleaned for most of the night. When he had finished, one of the arms looked good enough to sell at the fair, but now he didn’t feel like selling the thing by itself. There was a torso back at the hole, too heavy to lift by himself, for sure. If he could attach the arms he would have part of an actual android, and depending on its age he could be on a pathway to freedom.

In the dim light he moved the arm about, searching for numbers and codes, anything to help him identify the machine and find its place in history. The only thing he could find on both arms was the prefix of a very long number, BD2. Would it be enough? He brought up the data block’s android service records and searched for any prefix that matched. Nothing. The numbers could just mean arms in stock manifests. The arms probably required a whole unit number. He tried entering BD and came up with almost ninety matches and it was quite possible that all the arms for all ninety models came from the same supply factory. The BD referred to Brader Design and he was no closer to understanding what he had found.

Dravid ate a little, drank some water and went to bed, working up an idea for building a small pulley system to lift the android torso. It would be a true antique and he knew the last robot fought in battle over two centuries ago, but he hoped this one was older; when was the last human war? He found he could not sleep because of the excitement. He paced the darkness and thought of the future. He felt the happiest he could ever recall.


The sun burned, the day had been hot and made even more unbearable by the back-breaking work of lifting the torso out of its grave. The thing was made heavier by the fact it still had its head and the hip sections in place. The rough pulley system was working but Dravid was no longer young and battle androids were no lightweights back in the halcyon days of mega conflicts. This machine was different, everything about it, the design, the materials, the craftsmanship and even weight said five hundred years old at least, but he couldn’t be sure, not totally sure until he could cross reference some numbers. Did his records go that far back? Just how long ago did they stop building humanoid machines?

By early evening he had hoisted the whole body section onto his cart and started the journey home. Feeling tired, it would be a hard four hour journey, plenty of time for his imagination to play with the things he could buy with this war machine of deepest antiquity. As he trudged up the last rise, he was walking under the stars and the feeble crescents of the ring moons and wondered about the androids armaments. Were they still active? It would be very damaging to business to sell the unit only to have unused ammunition explode. He’d check on that in the morning when he was less fatigued. To be safe, he drew the cart into his room and wedged it against the door so no one could come in; no one had ever visited him before but the idea of having something so valuable with him made him strangely protective. Dravid couldn’t say he enjoyed this new feeling of apprehension.

Sleep didn’t come easy as he tossed and turned and thumped the hard bed with his fist; he worried about telling others who may be interested in buying the machine. Would they steal it? Force him to sell cheaply under the threat of violence? It was an unwritten code that all would trade fairly, but how many times had something this rare gone on sale and how much greed would there be? And how much did it threaten him?

He removed the head and set it aside for further investigation. There was plenty of dirt crusted inside the torso and being a military machine Dravid knew it could withstand a combination of steam and chemical cleans needed to get all the dirt out. The mud soon washed away to leave behind gleaming metal and dented and scarred panels. He poliantiquesshed the shoulder sections. The smoothed, grey, steely metal finely cut, not a sharp edge to be found, like a biological scapula it looked so natural and alive. The front section was solid, plate armour, a strange combination of metal and plastic going by its translucent appearance, yet it produced a hollow sound when he tapped it with the end of a bolt driver. Every part was held in place with magnetic fasteners and those components not held by them, like the square encased electrics, were sealed with some kind of slide fusing.

Dravid knew he should have gone back to look for the legs but his own legs ached and his back throbbed from the day’s lifting, so he settled in for some cleaning and reference finding. The first prefix he found inside the torso, an engraving on the casing he thought might contain much of the memory circuitry and operations functions—MIA or Military Intelligence Android—followed by a string of eight numbers. This alone gave Dravid a moment’s pause. Military Intelligence.

The ID number had been laser written, a sign of hand craftsmanship, unlike the latter press stamped work that started coming out as the wars raged on across the ten planets. He looked to the head on the other work bench, the dents over the brow, the two opened but lifeless human looking eyes, and the nose that served no real purpose but to decorate, along with the straight line of the lips. The jaw looked like it moved, so would it simulate speech as sound came from its audio system?

With torso and hips cleaned of all the gunk and dirt he inspected fluid tubes that supplied the extremities with liquids and found the tubing was made of the same type of metal plastic as the armoured plates, but instead of being rigid these were flexible; how could they get two vastly different properties out of the one material? An additive perhaps? It didn’t matter, he knew he wouldn’t have to replace much of the tubing with a patchwork of parts from his collection. Each component, when detached from the torso simply broke free of its magnetic bond and the lines popped suction couplings and sealed closed.

With the reconnection of the android looking easier by the day, he started to think of even wilder wealth. How much would a fully assembled android fetch at market? Dravid started to think of something else. What if he could restore its functionality, how much would a working machine earn? Could he start a bidding session so unheard of in the square? He rubbed his hands together as he stared at the partially assembled robot before him. The problem was going to be a power source. Amongst the many things packed into the metre and a half torso he could see nothing that looked like it could power the machine, with no true reference material, he didn’t really understand what he was supposed to be looking for. Maybe the power source was in the legs? He now became determined to find them. He needed a complete android.

The day had been lost to frantic cleaning and speculation so he spent the evening scouring data cubes, which didn’t help him with identification. While he could find some component references they were only ever individual part numbers, nothing directly connected to a complete fighting unit. So it was clear some parts had been in use for a very long time while many parts were redesigned and introduced into future robot armies.

He had no true records of the period this machine saw service; it was pre Empire War Two. Whatever he had, he felt it was time to start putting some pieces together. The head would be the easiest as it sat on top of a sprocket and gimbal combination with a thick electrical conduit running down the back into central feed and three hydraulic leads that popped into place with a simple click of the hose locks. Sitting on the bench, the machine started to look imposing but not warlike; then again, they didn’t need to build machines to frighten machines; they built them to look like humans to frighten the humans. The androids didn’t care, they didn’t have that fear response that made the human species second guess in battle.

If Dravid knew anything about the antique business it was the battles fought in The Valley of Fire. That was his first place of digging when, as a kid, he found most of his prized possessions and later easy trades. He had close on twenty thousand square kilometres of battle field and plenty of time to dig it.

Once the head was in place and the hoses connected, he searched about for what fluid could be used to flush through and then fill the vein-like system. He had bottles and containers of old fluids from many found machines, large and small plastic containers of green and even black goop he wished he’d taken time to label. The liquid would have to resist a little pressure, he thought as he opened and sniffed at the contents of one container filled with a reddish brown and viscous liquid; it looked clean enough so he located the reservoir for the fluid in the chest cavity and poured in two litres or more before pressing home the sealer cap and screwing back into place a seven fingered array of hoses.

He still had no energy source to drive the pumps which existed throughout the machine’s system, so he couldn’t prime the hoses and vent air but he wasn’t ready to start up just yet. He had to attach the arms and then go back out to find the legs. With the head on it looked less mechanical, less unnatural and disconnected from the world. Dravid had plenty of robot parts from late models, but they all just looked like machine parts. This robot looked like it could hold life; it was a work of art. He wondered why its appearance didn’t bother him. It wasn’t modelled on BiNars and should, by right, unsettle him; he supposed it was because it was old and he loved old things more than anything on the planet.

Assembling would take some organization and more brute strength he wasn’t certain he had. As he stared at the pieces, he could almost taste the fresh water from his own well and almost, if he imagined hard, see the inside of a spaceship. Before he could attach the arms he had to build a brace to hold the torso in place, then the legs needed to be attached, so he calculated the height he needed to heave the body from the floor. The android wouldn’t be able to stand by itself until he’d made sure the gyros in the lower chest and hips were working and the stabilizer built into the head was functioning.

His excitement made him rush and he dropped tools often and knocked his knuckles on the bench or on edges of the machine. He was going to be rich, but he needed the android working and for that he needed a power supply, an independent unit inside the carapace itself. Everything relied on power, the fine balancing act of weight and motion required a constant flow of energy. Once the android could adjust its own centre of gravity, it could be powered down to stand of its own accord. Until then he needed a sturdy brace, and with a junkyard of metal it took no time to build.

The right arm fitted to the torso neatly with only one of the hoses needing replacement. The shoulder cup, the protective dish of burnished bronze that covered the actual joint’s workings, was dented and holed where small projectiles had penetrated; some holes were big enough for him to poke a talon through. The other arm was not as easy to attach. The upper arm had a slight bend where it must have taken a sizable impact. The dulled, brownish metal showed scratches and small, pitted dents.

Again, he checked the lower arm for weaponry and after a long moment of bewilderment he delivered yet another shrug. He stepped back to review his handy work and was pleased with the robotic soldier before him. The head was at a tilt, chin down on its polished breast plate; the gimbal and socket wouldn’t find true levelling until power had been established and he didn’t want to force the head into a level position lest he damage something, which was a strange way to look at the machine, considering it had been designed for war.

In a small way it frightened him, the solidity and threat never far from the machine’s overbearing presence. Dravid knew in an instant it could kill him. He could miscalculate the power supply and the unit would explode, also killing him.

Not for the first time did he consider the cost of wealth. A few days ago it was fresh water he so desperately needed; today he stared at the promise of a spaceship and true freedom.

Standing before the android he could clearly appreciate its stature of over two and a half metres and the shoulder width of close to a metre. He measured the torso depth and was surprised it was only half a metre, he expected more just from his visual inspection. The hips were as wide as the shoulders, but they housed gyroscopes and would need the extra space to spin. Only now, looking at it partially assembled did he consider this machine a weapon of the other side.

Dravid climbed on top of the bench so he could examine the head a little more. He’d left the main board cover off so he could clean out all the dirt and to his disappointment the main board was split, damaged from long exposure to mud and time. Even if he had a power cell to fit, the android might start up its systems, but without a functioning processor it would all be just wasted energy. On the bench was a collection of coloured relay orbs he’d pulled and cleaned but he didn’t know if they worked; beside them was the small board proudly displaying its long-obsolete seventy-seven pin plug; even amongst his hundreds of scavenged boards he had nothing that long.

“Good looking scrap,” he said as he climbed from the bench. “If only,” he said. “An arm I could rebuild, but a processor?” He sighed and patted the machine on its broad chest. “The least I can do is find your legs.”


After half a day cleaning, the legs easily coupled onto the body. Dravid had found them almost fifty metres away from the torso site and it had taken him partway into the night to get the heavy components back to his shed. With the android complete, his appreciation for the workmanship rose.

The protective covers over the electronics, hoses and feed cables all carried fine engraving which he knew came from a hand held laser. The legs, just on the thigh, carried what appeared to be a coat of arms, something he didn’t immediately recognise but he could locate with effort in the data cubes. This would have all been covered by artificial flesh, so this coat of arms was a factory stamp of identification; the humans wouldn’t even have known this was a machine. Dravid ran his fingers over the intricate scrolled design with a sense of pride. His people had once been capable of many great things. For a moment he wondered if they still were. Being so isolated meant his entire view of his own civilization was antiquated.

With an audible sigh and a slow, firm drag of his hand over his face Dravid felt pleased at what he saw. The investigative work on the data cubes only delivered approximations with strong links to the Second Royals. Even in his guesses this android could be in excess of five hundred years old.

While the cube screen with its grime and years of claw scratches flickered and stuttered through the data, Dravid looked at the damaged processor board; it wasn’t very big, barely five centimetres from end to end and mostly the male part of the plug system. He had an idea. It had worked on his restoration of a communications network card; it might serve a purpose now.

He dug out a working fifty pin processor board and active processor; it would be a newer chip to what the android originally ran but he figured he could adjust programming easily enough. The pins on the new board were a silver foil moulded into white fibrous plastic, criss-crossed with a roadwork of pathways. Carefully he cut the extra twenty-seven pins from another board and, using liquid metal, attached it to the new board. The extra twenty-seven pins only fed directly into the original fifty but he hoped it would be enough to trick the old machine’s systems enough for him to gain access. Up on the bench again he pressed in the new board, making sure not to jostle the added pins too much.

With ad hoc access cable attached to the operations module in the chest he was ready, but he still needed power. While standing up at the machines head level he noticed fine lines running across the top portion of the burnished shoulders. With a talon he picked at one of the grooves, pressing firmly on what looked like vanes. With pressure, the vanes’ edges opened to reveal rows of glass cubes. The vanes were eased open a little more on a swivel; a fine rack shifting bar ran through their centre. Dravid pushed hard on the bar to reveal its secret. There must have been two hundred glass cubes beneath the thirty centimetre by sixty centimetre row of feather like vanes and he knew only one thing that looked like this; solar cells, very, very old photovoltaic cells. The great and heavy android had solar power, or at least was solar assisted. If he could open the vanes fully he might be able to test if the cubes still worked; of all power sources, glass cells were one of the most fragile. Viewing inside the shoulders of the machine showed a panel running thick, black cabling to what he hoped was the true power supply. If he traced the cable he would be able to locate the source and then work on replenishing this. A standard power cell he might be able to repack by pirating other units he had about the shed. Dravid felt joy at being so close to starting up the machine, so close to escaping the poverty of scrounging and just surviving.

The cable led to what he had originally thought were cooling veins inside the carapace, about two dozen wide and narrow pieces of metal that looked like a larger version of the cooling block on his data core reader. It only took the turn of a few torques to release the battery from its housing and a simple slide plug to disconnect the solar array. The writing in small lettering on the unit might as well have been in hieroglyphics, so all he could hope for was getting some sense from the numbers represented. The battery was alien in design, nothing like anything he had ever found. He gathered up newer gas-friction cells and started to manufacture something the same size and hopefully of the same output capacity.

Another day and a half was lost to manufacturing what he needed and with the time came more apprehension and worry, more trouble about security, and more dreams of not being able to sell the android because it was worth more than anyone on the continent owned. That night he slept with a small energy gun under his pillow, something he’d never done. The robot stood guard over him, its lifeless eyes staring down at the floor while he lay still on his bed, eyes fixed on the barred door and ears alert for anything that rattled above the buffeting of the wind. Dravid was so close to success he twitched at every small noise.


The refurbished power cell was ready and he had his data reader running live feeds into the brain box. As soon as the unit powered up, his translation programs would set to work in first understanding the language of the machine, then setting up a user interface so he could communicate and even reprogram, provided the brain wasn’t an AI.

“An AI,” he said, staring at the robot. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The android said nothing, its chin on its chest and eyes dead. Did they make AIs back then? Would it even have survived given the lack of power? Dravid hesitated. He looked to the cell’s connector sitting in its new housing inside the machine. He touched the arm of the robot, felt the coolness of the metal and smelt the tang of cleaning chemicals. He had come so far it would be a shame not to see if the thing worked. To be on the safe side, he decided to disconnect the arms’ and legs’ main power lines, leaving the rings of conduits hanging just outside of their protective panels. The vapour switch, a gaseous junction between two surfaces, crackled slightly with escaping power.

The head casing remained open so his ribbon cables could stay connected to the signal translator. Its seventeen tiny computers could translate most commands, but given the jury rigging of the card, he still needed physical connection. The closeness concerned him; as the cable was only two metres long it meant he would have to stand on the bench next to the android while he connected the power. He hoped the device didn’t have any self-protection devices activated.

With care, he pressed the dirty blue, frayed feed cable into the box in his hands, his long nails clicking as they gripped tight. One fine taloned finger hovered over the start icon, the tarnished silver space at the base of the device. He hesitated. Did he want to die? Had he really taken every precaution? The android would still be worth a small fortune even if it didn’t work. Dravid lowered the box; maybe he should be satisfied he had all the pieces back together and the machine was in good condition. He looked at the frightening human face, the open but blank eyes and wondered, not for the first time, what had the android been thinking the moment it had been blasted apart? He pressed the button and reflexively took a half step back along the bench, kicking tools to the floor.

Nothing happened. The screen on his reader came alive for a moment then blanked. He pressed the button again. He jiggled the connection. The screen sparked alive with a string of numbers and symbols, none of which he recognised. The computer would start the translation. After a few moments the eyelids closed. He held his breath; excited and uncertain. The data scrolled down the screen in thick cords, an old pattern, something just out of reach of his memory. He wondered what he would say when communications were established, what would be the first thing he’d ask it? Minutes passed and he felt the keen edge of panic forming. He waited for that moment when it would become aware. He wished he could stand further away. He thought himself trapped, trapped by a combination of unrest, desire and greed. Should he have stopped and appreciated what he already had?

The box screeched in his hands. The screen went white and he fumbled with the unit. The screen went black. The box grew hot and he threw it aside. The cable yanked from the back of the robot’s head and clattered first on the bench and then onto the floor. Dravid stepped away from the machine, walking carefully along the high bench top.

The head turned. The eyes opened and stared directly at him. They were living, human eyes. Dravid stumbled and fell from the bench landing on his side. Pain danced into his shoulder and across his back. He rolled over to face the floor and tried to get to his knees.

“It is unusual to see one of our kind within the battle zone,” the android said in a very deep, calm voice. “Are you here for the negotiations?”

Dravid pushed himself up to his knees and stared at the thing strapped into the brace. He was glad he disconnected the arms and legs. “You speak Royal?”

The head turned and surveyed the room while Dravid gathered himself, rubbed some of the pain from his shoulder, and stood. When the eyes returned to him he felt the strange fear that caused him to fall; how could a machine have such eyes?

“Are you here to assist the humans? Are you an envoy of the Royals?”

“There have been no Royals on this planet for many centuries, and no, I do not serve them in any capacity.” Dravid took deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

The eyes studied him with care. “Then you are a subject. What are you doing in this zone?” It looked to its arms.

“Your war is over.” He wished he’d actually taken time to prepare for this discussion. “The only people left on this continent are scavengers and antique dealers, people like me, BiNars.” Dravid stood before the machine and watched as it tilted its chin down to obtain a better look at him. “What is your designation? What battle were you in?”

“I request protection under the Article of War section twelve hundred thirty eight, article ninety, paragraph thirteen C.” The eyes closed briefly and when they opened there seemed to be concern in them. “I detect intrusions into my carapace and something troubling is wrong with my data card. Have you been attempting to extract information out of me?” The voice sounded angry.

“I have been repairing you.” Dravid held up his hand and flexed all seven of his talons fully. “I found you in pieces on the old battle field.

“I detect my appendages have been deliberately left disconnected. If you are repairing me, why would you do this?” As the mouth moved Dravid wondered if it too was modelled closely on the human mouth.

The time talking had settled Dravid and he was feeling more confident in how he should be addressing the android. “Please, I will connect your arms and legs shortly, I had to be sure I was doing the right thing when powering you up. I repaired your power system and I have even wiped your solar cells clean so they can better recharge.” He heard a whirring noise and knew the robot must be moving the vanes on its back. “I must ask what year you remember, what year do you think it is now?”

The eyes narrowed slightly but the head nodded with acceptance of the question. “Today is 3543, the fifteenth shining of the terminus.”

“You have been buried a long time, my friend.” Dravid checked his wrist and the sheen of the time reader. “Today is 4026 in only the third shining of the terminus. But we don’t really call it terminus anymore; it hasn’t had a visitor in nearly two hundred years.”

“Please connect my appendages.” It was polite.

“Let us introduce ourselves first. I am Dravid of the dealers Payne.” He pointed to himself, a foolish action but he hoped it would be seen as friendly.

“I am third councillor Agreva of the Royal palace Rhymold.”

“Were you in battle in the great valley?”

“The palace is on a hill. My last memory is in the third level basement securing supplies for the ensuing peace talks.”

He had found no relics of a palace in his digging around that area and even some of his deep resonate scan showed no hidden tunnels or subterranean rooms.

“Do you have weaponry? And is it active?”

“I cannot confirm or deny such things.”

“Do you believe me when I say I have repaired you after five hundred years of burial?”

“I will ask you this,” Agreva said. “What has become of the human race? What has become of the Earth men?”

“I don’t know.” Dravid knew of them. “They are part of history. I will need to read some data cubes to find out what has happened since your time.”

“So they are not here?”

“Only we are here. Not even in space are these beings. Only us men and some machines remain.”

“I have disengaged all systems. You will be safe to connect my appendages.”

It took time but he managed to get the lines all connected and primed properly so the android could move with some ease. When he released it from the restraints, it stumbled forward a few paces before it reached equilibrium. Like a child seeing its hands for the first time, it flexed its fingers before its face, examining every fine movement in detail. Dravid knew then what he had and now that he had given it its freedom he would not be able to stop whatever it chose to do.

“How do you feel?”

“Feel?” Agreva said, still deeply interested in the opening and closing of its hands.

“I mean are all systems ...”

“I know what you mean, Dravid Payne. I feel like I have been asleep for a very long time and that not everything is in the same functioning order that I remember.”

Moving away from the gigantic android, Dravid sat down at his desk. “What year did you say you remember?”

“I do not remember. I know without question.”

Maybe, Dravid thought, he could be wrong and profit could still be made. “What date do you know for a fact?”


He entered the date into his search screen and waited. The screen showed some references to palaces, large edifices of wealth and grandeur they claimed, and there were even a few images of these great buildings, none of which he thought were still standing today. He turned to Agreva, who had stopped watching his hands and was working on something inside his chest cavity; a front panel was on the floor, he hadn’t even noticed a seam for the thing when he was assembling the machine.

“What was the name of the palace?”


Dravid typed it into his general search buffer so it would immediately scan the cubes as he loaded them. “Anything you can tell me about the area you remember ... I mean you know?”

“The palace overlooked the orchard of green fruits and on a clear day, when the fighting was light, you could see the haze of the City Rancor from the top floor.”

He added Rancor to the search, these were names he didn’t recognize and he doubted many of the current history data would even know. While he loaded cube after cube, he mulled over the loss of his great profit and the loss of the future he had been dreaming about for the last couple of weeks. He knew the question had to be asked, it was law after all.

“Agreva?” he asked softly. “Who was your mother?”

Silence hung in the air like floating motes of dust; he could hear the dancing of small stones as they were blown against the iron sides of his shed and he thought he could even hear Agreva thinking.

“Millinar Syron.”

Dravid closed his eyes at the name. He didn’t actually know it but the fact Agreva had given a name was enough. He was a free will AI and closer to his kind than machine. As a free will, Dravid would have no claim on him unless Agreva agreed to some kind of recovery settlement, and as he was older than old this prospect was immediately unlikely.

“You know the laws of the Royals, then?” Agreva said.

“And you have no way of paying compensation?”

“I have holdings in Rancor ...”

“Rancor no longer exists.”

“That leaves us both in a difficult position.”

The data reader pinged a few times, it had found some of his references on the current cube. Everything it mentioned was gone. Was it possible that the twenty thousand square kilometres of the Valley of Fire was only the remnant of a giant crater? He studied the data, the images and even managed to read some of the accompanying text through the translator and it all pointed to the fact that five hundred years ago there was no great valley. Did the humans do this before being driven off?

“I don’t know what to do,” Agreva said, squatting.

“There is no war for you to fight, so I suppose you will just have to find something else to do.” Dravid scanned more images. The landscape was filled with towering buildings that looked like they were made of glass and metal.

“I do have a system that allows me to erase myself from this unit.” Agreva turned his face away as if in contemplation. “There is nothing for me here, is there?”

“No you don’t,” Dravid snapped, jumping up. “I just put you together, and besides, I don’t want your death on my hands.”

Agreva stood. “I can overheat my central mind core; it will be painful but quick. I see no point in being here if there is nothing to fight for.”

“So you take my word for it that the war is over?” If Agreva did die, Dravid could still make that fortune he dreamed of.

“No, I do not know you so why would I choose to believe you when all my senses say otherwise?” The android’s eyes looked sad, another disturbing attribute. “I have scanned for the networks, the military and civilian. I have searched out the secure lines of the royals. Almost nothing remains, and all the current chatter is date stamped as the date you have stated.”

“You do have value you know.”

“As what, what could I do in this new world of barbaric existence?”

“You are a living antique; others would gladly come to see you, to talk with you of the days of the second royals. Our history of the time is scant, and I can promise you I have many records here at hand and none of them comes close to elaborating on the past like you can.”

“This will not do. I am a high ranking official and I know many secrets that I cannot share ...”

“Agreva, nothing of the world you knew has existed for over five hundred years. No secret you have will matter now, as there is no one but you left who would know what it means.” He was helping the android stay alive, although it would be better for him if the android did expire. Dravid looked to his bed, its hardness. He was saying goodbye to softness and comfort.

Agreva closed his eyes and began to rock on his heels, his arms dropped to his sides and Dravid could sense something burning. He grabbed up a cube and threw it at the android, striking it squarely in the face. The eyes opened just as he was about to throw a second.

“No!” he said.

“I cannot stay. Everything I was is gone; everything I had ever hoped to be is no more and will never be.”

“I will help you.” Dravid didn’t immediately know how, but he had to do something. “I will teach you new things; I will teach you how to work like me.” That was the best he could offer.

Agreva was motionless, his eyes staring off into an unseeable distance. Dravid wondered if those human looking eyes could cry. He wanted to reach out to the machine, say everything was going to be okay and that he would take care of it. But in his gut he knew that wouldn’t be true; an ancient robot working the digs would cause a stir. Did he want to be bothered with the months of explaining it all? Agreva seemed to sigh, a slight rise and fall of the shoulder as if he were breathing heavily. This android was very good, Dravid thought, as he tried to fathom the lost technology that had made this wonderful machine, this mechanical life form.

“I will need to think about things,” Agreva said, his mouth moving in sync with the words. “I am military trained and fully designed to be human compatible, as I was one of the key negotiators for peace.”

“There is peace now.”

The android looked about the room as if he had just realised where he was. “Much of what I see is new to me.”

“I can assure you everything in my home is an antique ...” Dravid paused when he understood what he was saying. Agreva was by far the oldest piece in the room so everything would look modern to him; well, modern and decaying at the same time.

“You collect them?”

“Not specifically robots, but other things like old shell casings, metals, and I sell them to other collectors so I can afford clean water and food ...” he hesitated not sure if he should say the rest. “You see, I was hoping to sell you and get my own well drilled through the rock, and a water plant.”

“You changed your mind?”

“Your mind changed my mind. I couldn’t resist the temptation to see if I could make you work and once I achieved that goal ...”

“You discovered I am sentient.”

“Well, I can’t sell you now because you are your own being, but I don’t know what you could do in this place besides become a kind of tourist attraction and specimen for historians to question and study.”

It was some time before Agreva spoke. “And you will not allow me to die. Why?”

“I don’t understand why myself, Agreva.” He looked to his containers of water and the need for more. “I couldn’t have lived with myself knowing I could have done something and didn’t because of trade.”

“You are truly unlike the Royals I remember and the world I know ... I mean knew.”

“Even the Royals I know aren’t really royal.”

The android moved to the door, pushed aside the bed, and went outside. Dravid jumped up and was out quick behind him, hoping the machine wasn’t going to blow itself up. Agreva surveyed the landscape for a moment, its head swivelling back and forth as if searching for something. It moved away from the shed, kicked at the ground briefly before pointing down with its right arm. A beam struck out, sending dirt and dust up into the air; in moments a torrent of steam rushed skyward, soon followed by a fountain of water. Like standing in the rain during the wet season, Dravid was drenched. Agreva raised his arm and stepped away from the now burbling spring. Dravid drank of the water and looked up at the robot and smiled.

“I could dig wells,” Agreva said. END

Robert N Stephenson is an author, literary agent, publisher, editor, and professional writing tutor. His fiction has appeared in “Bewildering Stories,” “Interzone,” and “Aurealis” magazine. His latest anthology is entitled “We Would Be Heroes.”


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