Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Ceres Beach Resort

By Paul Michael Moreau

THE OLD MAN AND THE SMALL GIRL crouched in the dunes certain it searched for them. They kept their heads low as the attendant skimmed the beach just two-hundred meters away, its reassuringly anthropomorphic body gliding over the sand with that quiet humming, so faint against the gentle lapping of waves. The machine’s corporate livery of soothing ocean blue and gleaming chromium now assuming a sinister and unnerving significance.

They lay in the hollow throughout the long afternoon, the old man occasionally looking out from the cover afforded by abundant beachgrass for any sign of movement in the nearby villas or amid the distant white buildings of the resort center. Nothing stirred beneath the flawless sky, not on the broad golden strand nor the curving promenade beyond the dunes with its quota of ubiquitous palm trees. The ranks of luxury hotels built along the promenade brooded in silence like the streets behind, all whitewashed walls and neon signs, crammed with lifeless bars, eateries, spas, souvenir shops, and malls. Even the vast central plaza, dominated by the Colony Casino and attached administration hub lay entirely dormant.

When he woke that morning still clutching the empty bottle, he climbed out of his nighttime hideaway to stagger over the ridges, crossing and recrossing his own subsiding footprints in artificially formed sand dunes dry and lifeless as impact craters. Confused by the stillness—by the absence of both fellow guests and the attendants programmed to cater for their every need—he wandered aimlessly.

Even those lesser machines bearing the Stern Starline Corporation logo were missing. He saw none of the autobuggies used to transport clients nor any of those dedicated to cleaning and maintenance, to bringing and fetching, and a host of other mundane tasks. Then he remembered the night before and grew fearful.

Now he lay next to the child in the bright synthetic afternoon tired and hungry like a hunted animal, any lingering hope for an innocent explanation or return to normality fast draining away like the strength of his sweat-soaked body. Desperate for water he looked again for the machine, to his relief finding it far off, drifting in the direction of the amusement park down by the promenade and soon disappearing amid the stilled thrill rides and the twisting loops of the roller coaster track.

The girl joined him, lying close by his side on the lip of the depression, peering through the grasses as he painstakingly scrutinized the vacant resort and searched along the fan palms marking the dead-straight spaceport road. The only movement beneath the vast blue-sky simulating dome came from pink flamingos wading contentedly in lagoons rich with shrimp and algae dotted between the orange groves and peach orchards of the hinterland. From the artifice of the sea horizon on their left to the distant and equally fake mountain peaks marking the far side of the dome, close to the spaceport where the essential industrial plants lay secreted, no other people remained.

“You must be hungry.” He spoke in a whisper for no reason in particular apart from trying to sound gentle, to keep her from feeling afraid.

“I’m thirsty.”

“Let’s try that nearest place, there will be water and we might find something to eat.” He risked standing, shielding his eyes to check for the attendant before dropping back into cover. “You lead on to the edge of the dunes and I’ll follow, keep close to the ground.”

If only he were back in Arsia Mons City having never taken this crappy retro vacation more bland than exotic. The flamingos waded and fed unknowingly but what if the life support systems shut down with everyone gone? The machines needed gravity so the mass generators would stay on, some minimum temperature requirement too, though not necessarily within human tolerances, but did they did not need air.

The resort maintained itself, making continual improvements to every aspect of its systems, even the development and production facilities on the periphery. A long-standing base for mining operations and ship repairs, the dwarf planet under the auspices of Stern Starline served as the major transport hub for Mars, the Moon, and Earth as well as a port for ships bound for the outer Solar System. Magnus Stern’s flair for innovation brought it artificial gravity, advanced asteroid strike protection and, finally, the Beach Resort Dome.

The old man lumbered along behind the girl unable to match her agility. As he watched the rapid crawling motion of her arms and legs, the fine downy blonde hairs highlighted in the glare of the false sun, the minor sand avalanches at every concentrated movement of delicate limbs, the promotional bullshit replayed in his mind.

Relax in the ultimate playground: an exotic and cosmopolitan destination where golden sands meet clear blue waters under glorious sunshine. Stay in gleaming hotels of glass and light or one of a range of condos and individual villas to suit every budget. Explore the glittering markets and designer boutiques before relaxing in a sumptuous spa, one of the many golf courses, or in the wide selection of bars and restaurants. At night take in a show or swim beneath the stars, as you have never seen them before.

They approached the landward boundary of the dunes, fine grains of sand sticking to the girl’s flushed skin, her legs working like pistons, keeping time to deep gasps snatched from the dry air. The promises of unlimited and abundant leisure, of refuge in an idealized past, omitted any mention of scrambling and slithering like a fugitive in fear of your life. After resting briefly amid the last cover and warily studying the mute villa, particularly the half-open doors to its porcelain-tiled courtyard, the old man steeled himself, then they ran hand-in-hand across the metallic access road and up the curving drive to creep inside, careful to avoid any movement of the doors.

A sparkling blue pool dominated the rectangular space, red float adrift in the center, tanning deck at the far end and the usual scattering of lounge chairs. Separate living spaces stood on either side, each with shaded courtyard decking, large ceiling fans running in near silence, and sliding glass walls giving access to the rooms. The old man headed towards the right-hand block, a large outside dining table indicating a likely source of food and drink.

They paused in the doorway while he looked over the spotless kitchen with its limestone floor, granite counters, and stainless steel appliances—double oven, gas cook top, and wine cooler. They ran a greater chance of discovery here but the dunes offered no sustenance.

“I want a glass of water,” said the girl, pulling at his sleeve.

“We can soon fix that, perhaps a bite to eat too.”

He hesitated, trying to decide between tap water and the large crated bottles at the bottom of the huge refrigerator. It all came from the resort so it really made no difference.

In any case, it must know of their presence, whether through entering the property, opening the fridge door, turning on a tap, or simply by heat signature. The resort lived, incarnate within its distributed systems from the atmospheric control through the attendants and other machines, the air-conditioned buildings, right down to bedroom minibars and alarm clocks. All one, all connected, constantly aware of every need of its patrons.

The old man set the girl on a stool at the table before rustling up a simple meal, selecting bottled water, some cheeses, cold ham, half a packet of crackers found in a cupboard. Placing his finger to his pursed lips, he left the courtyard with practiced stealth to explore their half of the villa.

The sleekly furnished Terrazzo floored living room gave access to the soft-carpeted master bedroom. The previous occupants evidently left in a hurry because wardrobe doors hung open and clothes littered the floor—a consequence of hasty packing but no indicator of violence or struggle. A large window looked out on an insipid artscape garden with sweeping mountain views over the adjacent golf course. The rooms making up the other block told the same tale of an unplanned and possibly desperate departure last night while he lay senseless amid the sands.

With dusk only an hour or two away and the possibility of help arriving from the spaceport by morning he put the tired girl to bed, speaking calming words of reassurance until she drifted off. Then he began his long watch. Those damn palm trees everywhere: lining the spaceport road, on the fringes of golf courses, planted beside pools in distant hotel grounds, the pattern of the planting forming a taunting semiotic cipher playing on every uncertainty.

Once the sun set he forced himself to stay awake, keeping as alert as possible by making strong coffee by the light of the open fridge door as if that provided any security, sitting in the courtyard thinking and listening, studying the impossible array of constellations, favorites from throughout the Solar System and beyond, displayed on the dome. He rose frequently, looking out from the courtyard doors in the direction of the illuminated resort center just the same as any other night apart from a total absence of activity. In the small hours he heard a distinct humming, that sound they make when moving, deeply resonant as if hundreds travelled in unison or some major operation progressed, yet he saw nothing, silence soon resuming its long reign.


It all started two days earlier when a fellow guest by the name of John Revik got drunk in Shanghai Mary’s. The now self-proclaimed undercover journalist became overgenerous with his credit account, buying just about anyone a drink to build an audience, holding court with the old man and a few other inveterate drinkers huddled around his corner table. Everyone dismissed him as a crank behind his back but happily accepted the drinks and listened for as long as his munificence lasted.

“You see I’m investigating certain unexplained aspects of this place, in particular the systems design and the subsequent disappearance of its creator Magnus Stern.” Revik spoke in hushed conspiratorial tones with frequent glances toward the attendants serving behind the bar thrown in for dramatic effect. “I intend to prove that, rather than being the safe haven promoted throughout the system, this resort is malign, sick if you like, and that something threatening lurks just beneath its polished surfaces. Now what do you say to that?”

Nobody said much at all, one or two murmured in their neighbor’s ear, others pushed their empty glasses forward in anticipation of another round.

“I tell you there is no record of Stern’s death,” Revik declared once the obsequious machine glided away with its empty tray. “His last arrival on Ceres is documented but that’s it, as far as I can discover, he just vanishes.”

The journalist kept on talking until closing time, making vague claims about Stern and the resort, repeating himself more than once; each time his voice more slurred, the finger jabbing more vehement until the lights dimmed and people began leaving the bar. He slumped back in his seat; finally running out of words, as one-by-one his audience drank up and left. The old man was last to go and, as he reached the door, Revik called out to him:

“I’m telling you! They’re nothing without organization and that organization is the resort itself, one unifying mind! What about assignation of additional tasks? Tasks not permitted by the approved design? Just think about it!”

The old man did not think about it for very long. In fact, he went to his bed unperturbed.

The news next morning of a guest found dead—the first in the resort’s ten-year history—spread fast. When an early riser who saw the fatality removed by attendants from a restricted area behind the casino identified it as John Revik, the rumor machine exploded.

The holiday atmosphere evaporated by noon, changed irrevocably by the fast-multiplying core of guests insisting the resort might not be safe and talk of leaving early began. The old man, looking down from his window in the Casablanca Grand, felt a growing sense of unease himself despite a loathing for the irrational, finding even the uniform whiteness of the buildings now disquieting.

The roots of this fear lay in the ultimately unknowable intelligence controlling every aspect of the vacation. In the unnerving way that each attendant—so approachable until this morning—spoke with human authenticity, complete with verbal hedging, subtly modulated voices creating illusions of individuality that masked a blank alien persona. Now that mask had slipped, leaving only a sudden sense of vulnerability.

He soon dismissed this nonsense but, by mid-afternoon, many guests returned to their hotels and villas to pack, others congregated in small huddles as far from their warders as possible. The cafes and bars, golf courses and swimming pools, the curving strand of the beach, all lay deserted. The machines themselves sensed some difference, no longer inquiring whether assistance was required or dispensing information, gradually withdrawing to the center of the complex and disappearing from view.

Everyone was packing by evening, all participating in a charade sparked-off by some drunken fantasist. Without the coincidence of the subsequent death, none of this would be happening. The old man took a full whisky bottle from his room and headed along the promenade to the sand dunes. He did not need to be around fools.

When he awoke late in the morning and soaked in perspiration to climb the nearest sand hill in a haze of confusion, he looked out over the deserted landscape a long while before accepting the possibility of being alone. Finally, he believed that they all actually fled during the night, swept away in some paranoid craze. Seeing no attendants either, he stumbled and slipped down to the road and began walking past silent villas half-expecting normality to reassert itself at any moment.

He saw the girl standing in a doorway: about seven years old, barefoot in shorts and tee shirt, hair all tousled and in need of a brush. She shrank back as he approached.

“What’s going on kid? Are your folks in there?”

“They’re gone, everybody’s gone.” Tears ran onto lightly freckled cheeks.

“What’s your name?”

“Chloe,” she replied, looking up with wide hazel eyes. “I’m named after my grandma.”

“From Earth?”


“You can call me Jack,” he said, stroking her hair, picking her up and carrying her into the living room. “Just tell me what happened.”

“We packed all our bags and walked down to the hotels in the night.” The girl sat in the center of a sofa while the old man kept watch at a window. “When we got there the people came rushing out, screaming and pushing to get through. Dad held my hand but we lost Mom and my brother Timmy in the crowd.”

“Were there any attendants there?”

“Yes, Dad told me to run and hide so, when they came, I ran and ran back here and hid in the wardrobe.”

So that was it, a mad flight in the night and everyone gone but was their egress assisted or opposed?

He gently lifted the girl’s face with a finger under her chin, saying: “It’s going to be alright but you have to trust me, do everything I say.”


The old man looked at the white buildings in the bright dawn seeing no movement or change. They would have to risk it—break cover and try to escape.

Why was there no intervention from the port authorities? The flight of so many holidaymakers must amount to a major incident unless, of course, those people never made it. With the scheduled changeover still not due for another three days, the dome, hermetically sealed from the harsh environment of the asteroid, functioned as effectively as any island prison.

He conceived a bold and simple plan, balancing the dangers of a direct approach against the unknown qualities of the hinterland. They will make their way down to the main complex, hide up near the central plaza and, under cover of night, take the spaceport road. Cutting across country, through a landscape designed solely for show, potentially impassable and containing heaven knows what peril, felt too dangerous. The main uncertainty lay in the many turn-offs serving the distant repair, development, and production facilities. They will need to remain constantly alert, ready to find roadside cover in an instant, hopeful that any passing machines have priorities other than detection.

Jack prepared Chloe’s breakfast—frosted wholegrain flakes and chocolate vegemilk—decanting water into two medium-sized bottles recovered from the trash as she ate in the courtyard, taking everything slow as he weighed their chances. If the machines remained, they must be aware of their presence yet, apart from yesterday’s solitary roving attendant, they took no action. Neither assistance nor challenge came, just inexplicable quiescence, a brooding atmosphere, hard to pin down yet pregnant with menace, real or imagined. Did that make them benign, hostile, or something else?

Even if this did not prove Revik’s incredible assertions, it did nothing to undermine them. Commonplace super-intelligent systems ran under strict and invariant goal structures as humanity’s neutral servants, firmly kept in their boxes with recursive augmentation capabilities long outlawed. Could the resort really did contain some transcendent power—a fully awakened intelligence with intentions and capabilities unfathomable to the feeble capacity of human intellect?


In the late afternoon, Jack attempted to straighten Chloe’s hair with his fingers, flashing his best confident smile and drawling:

“Let’s go kid.”

They walked briskly down the metallic road of abandoned white-walled retreats like vacant tombs onto the promenade, passing the skeletal amusement park.

“What happened to everyone, Jack?” Chloe spoke as if she had known him all her short life.

“They must be back at the spaceport.”

“Will Mom, Dad, and Timmy be there?”

“I expect so,” he said, knowing that the fragmentary data gave no firm hypothesis.

The old man navigated deserted tourist streets, taking the lesser thoroughfares until they reached the Casablanca Grand, entering by a side door from the gardens heavy with the fragrance of jasmine and roses.

“What if the attendants come?” Chloe hung back on the threshold.

“Then we’ll hide, we don’t need their help.”

The concierge, porters, and bartenders remained absent like all the machines but the Berber and Gnawa music still played and the elevators worked. Only the ambience of the boutique hotel—built to a mock Moorish design, the formal gardens with central pool and hot tub evoking the mystique and glamour of twentieth century Hollywood alongside that of a vanished and exotic North Africa—felt subtly different, taking on a faintly ominous air through its emptiness.

From the window of his fourth-floor air-conditioned room, the old man surveyed the plaza and the spaceport road leading out of it. Chloe lay sleeping on one of the matching queen-sized beds beneath floral tapestries of red and gold, like a disheveled princess, but this was no fairy tale and the old man grew increasingly unsettled. He saw nothing during his vigil save lights coming on at sunset and that vacuum, the continual sense of being alone and abandoned, ate at him.

Only the vast Colony Casino, five floors of first-class glitz designed by Magnus Stern himself and built above a sprawling administration complex, taking up three sides of the plaza, remained unlit. Their escape route exited from the center of the open and palm-lined landward side.

Just once he heard the faint sound of attendants moving unseen through the dusk as Chloe mumbled in her sleep but having not slept since he awoke from drunken stupor thirty hours ago, he no longer placed full trust in his senses. Once the transition of the inner dome from sky blue through blazing sunset to deep inky star bright night completed, he sat on the edge of the bed, waking the girl with a whisper and a hand on her shoulder.

They stole through the streets, creeping from one silent doorway to the next, staying in the shadows away from streetlamps and lit windows. The old man led, swiftly moving to the next cover, looking and listening before beckoning on the girl until they sneaked through a subway. The sparsely lit plaza, so much larger without the crowds, tables and chairs, the fawning robotic waiters whizzing back and forth, offered no cover. It obliged them to stick close to the frontage of the blacked-out casino wing on their right until they reached the open face and took the road. Yet some unbidden gut feeling, an old man’s experience, argued against that.

With the girl clutching his hand, he took the direct line, suddenly feeling the chill of night, a tingle of anticipation on cold clammy skin. The faces of the casino buildings, to either side and behind, remained inscrutable, their wide centrally placed doors of opaque unbreakable glass, firmly closed, the table game rooms, ranks of vintage slot machines shipped-in from the scrap heaps of Earth, the restaurants and executive suites in darkness behind blank windows.

The windows flickered as they reached the center of the plaza and the casino doors slid open, spilling bright white light that masked for a moment the movement of dark shapes within. The old man scooped-up Chloe, holding her close, rooted to the spot, unable to conceive any effective escape, transfixed by the sudden motion.

The machines surged from the doors with a humming cacophony, the sound of angry bees, swarming from each portal to form one unified mass. Hundreds of machines of every kind filling the square: attendants, road sweepers, porters, representing every function of the resort including the full fleet of autobuggies. Within their ranks loomed many new attendants, much taller and with more powerful upper bodies and limbs bearing new appendages—augmented for new duties.

The girl screwed her eyes shut and the old man, out of choices, stood his ground as the machines closed, threatening to engulf them from three sides as more poured from the doors. But they just passed on by as if he and she were not there, racing onward, forming one dense column as they approached the spaceport road until the last slower maintenance and repair units trundled by and the procession faded into the night as the casino lights blinked out leaving only silence.

Once they reached the road, walking between the palms with weary steps, Chloe snapped the old man out of his dark foreboding by tugging at his sleeve.


“What is it kid?”

She pointed along the road saying: “They don’t care about us.” END

Paul Michael Moreau is a former I.T. professional living on the south coast of the United Kingdom. His recent stories have appeared in “Morpheus Tales” and “Sanitarium,” with a forthcoming story in the “Raus Untoten” anthology series.


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