Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Clean Limbs of Robots
by Francis Marion Soty

Garbage Miners
by Sean McLachlan

All Comms Down
by Anne E. Johnson

Do Stand-Up Bots Dream of Electric Hecklers?
by James Aquilone

by Timothy J. Gawne

Human Faces
by Karl Dandenell

Charybdis Run
by Nathan Ehret

by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Halieis Anthropon
by A.L. Sirois

by Richard Zwicker

You Need to Know
by Michaele Jordan


Animated Pictures
by J. Miller Barr

by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



You Need to Know

By Michaele Jordan

“THERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU NEED to know before we start.” The interviewer folded his pudgy hands on top of the desk and smiled.

Robin smiled back, hoping the smile didn’t look too desperate, too needy. After eighteen months out of work, any job looked good—and this was not just any job; this was a great job. Robin smiled and smiled.

“I believe you have already been warned,” the interviewer continued, “That your assignment would be off-world.”

She nodded again. She tried to make it a simple, judicious nod, and not to betray her eagerness by rocking her head up and down like a bobble-head. Yes, they had told her downstairs that the job would be off-world and she’d been giddy and lightheaded all the way up in the elevator, just thinking about it. Ever since she was little she had wanted to go to Moon Base Prime. Low gravity was next best thing to flying! She’d seen a thousand thrilling pictures of all the goofy moon sports like kite-riding and long-leaping. And lunar architecture—Tall City was the ninth wonder of the solar system! And best of all was the Nature Chamber, with its weird, wonderful foliage, its six foot jonquils and its arbicola the size of trees and its glorious, heartbreakingly beautiful, golden waterfall, pouring down from the very top of the dome into pools a kilometer below the surface. Yes, Robin was aware the job would be off-world.

“And I believe you have also been told that our operation is still in development and your work would be subject to the strictest security?” Of course. She didn’t shrug. She nodded again. He smiled. “But you may not have realized just how tight security would be, or how that might impact ...” Robin schooled herself not to wince. She hated people who used the word impact as a verb, especially as a synonym of affect. That wasn’t important now. She wanted this job. Who cared how some Earth-bound bureaucrat mangled the language? She continued smiling and he continued talking. “How that might impact your move to an off-world facility.”

Her smile faded slightly and she cocked her head. “Beg pardon?”

“If you accept this position you will need to leave immediately.”

“Immediately? You mean today?” That was certainly unexpected. She had hoped to celebrate with dinner at a fancy restaurant, if she got the job. She glanced at her watch. Already 3:00. No dinner at all—she would barely have time to pack.

“You misunderstand me.” His voice had somehow gotten a little harder. “Not just today. Right now.” She stared at him in astonishment. “I cannot make you a detailed offer until you agree to this condition.” She continued to gape. “Do you agree to this condition?”

“But ... but ... you haven’t even told me what the job is!”

“We have several openings requiring skill sets similar to yours. We are prepared to negotiate which position might be most satisfactory to you, providing, of course, that you are prepared to accept any of them.” He flipped a data card across the desk to her. It showed several job titles, all accompanied by extremely general and uninformative descriptions of duties. Salaries were also included. The salaries were high. “But whichever of them you select, you would have to leave now.”

“But I need to pack!” she wailed.

“Not really,” he informed her. “Transport costs are—if you will forgive a little joke—astronomical. We have found that it is much more economical, both for the company and for the individual employee, simply to discard any freight that can be produced on site, and purchase replacement items upon arrival. You will, of course, be provided with a replacement allowance.” He aimed a pointer at the data card in her hands, and the display shifted to reveal the replacement-of-goods allowance. It was very generous. More than her existing possessions were worth. But still—nothing but the clothes on her back?

“My computer?” Somehow she knew before she even spoke that he was not going to let her pick up her computer.

He didn’t. With a smug smile, he reached into a drawer, pulled out a glossy tablet and laid it on the desk between them. “State of the art, I think?” He didn’t think, of course; he knew. “As soon as you place your right hand palm down on the screen, the i-slate will lock to you. It is then absolutely yours, invulnerable to theft or hacking.” She stared at it. She’d read about the i-slate. She knew it cost a fortune. And it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. “Once you accept it, it will automatically identify your home computer and cross-load your entire system.”

She didn’t mention that her entire system wasn’t worth the trouble anyway. It was junk compared to an i-slate—even her music files were scarcely irreplaceable. And to take that i-slate to Moon Base Prime ... It was with difficulty that she managed to whisper one last protest. “Can’t I even say good-bye to my friends? They’ll worry. They’ll ask questions.” Well, some of them would. Maybe.

He shrugged. “The whole point of making you leave immediately is to render it impossible for you to compromise security by contacting anyone. Once you accept the i-slate, you may log on to Facebook once, and post an update that you’re taking an out-of-town job and will be out of touch for awhile. I will have to see the message before you send it.”

“But it’s not really out-of-town, you said. It’s off-world.”

“That’s correct, but you are not allowed to say so. Our legal office will provide you with a temporary power of attorney that will enable us to close out your bank account and forward your funds to you on-site.” He chuckled. “Transporting electrons is cheap, at least.”

“But I get to keep the i-slate? And the job is off-world?” The tablet’s case was not plastic but metal, brushed nickel by the look of it. Her fingers curled possessively around the edge for a moment and then, with a sigh, she laid her hand palm-down on the screen.


It didn’t take ten minutes to figure out she’d been had. She knew it as soon as she clambered out of her transport capsule, still wet and barely conscious and shaking with what felt like the worst hangover in the world, although most likely it was just the transport drugs wearing off. But awful as she felt, she was alert enough to sense that she was definitely not in low gravity. If anything, she felt heavier than usual, but that was probably just fatigue.

They stuck her in a sick bay and refused to answer any questions, just smiled and shushed her and told her to rest. But she couldn’t rest; not when she had no idea where she was or what they meant to do with her now that they’d shanghaied her. And why go through the whole charade of space transport just to bring her back to Earth? She asked and asked and kept on asking until they shrugged and gave her a shot. After that, she rested, like it or not, bad dreams or not. And when she woke, she still couldn’t ask any questions because the nurse on duty didn’t even speak English.

At last she was up and fed, dressed and released—armed with a pamphlet in six languages—to make her way through featureless corridors to Administration. She stormed up to the brightly lit counter with the gigantic wall screen behind it and snarled, “This is not Moon Base Prime.”

And behind her, somebody laughed. “Man, we got a real Einstein this time!”

She paused to look back. There was a refreshment area off to one side where a gang of workers lounged with snacks. A skinny little guy in a jump suit nodded to her and raised a mug in mock salute. She turned back to the Administration counter. The woman behind it was small and stern. Her hair was gray and her eyes were steely. “You are quite right,” she assured Robin in a pinched, nasal voice. Robin knew the minute she heard that voice that this woman had never lost an argument in her life. “This certainly is not Moon Base Prime,” the administrator acknowledged. “This is the Lal-21185/sub 3/sub-sub 9 Facility Station.”

“We call it Lollypop 39,” contributed one of the workers in the lounge with a chuckle.

Robin had been ready to launch a loud and lengthy protest. But she found herself stalling on the name. Lal-21185/sub 3/sub-sub 9 Facility Station? What was that? Where was that? She shook her head. Not the issue. “I’m supposed to be on Moon Base Prime.” There was another chuckle behind her.

The administrator eyed her coldly. “I very much doubt that.”

The snooty manner really grated on Robin’s nerves. Which was probably the whole point of it. She pressed her lips tightly together and managed her own snooty smile. Extending her hand for an ID check, she said, “No reason to debate it. I’m sure the contract is clear. I think you’ll find it specifies I be assigned to Moon Base Prime.”

The administrator offered her an ID plate and she pressed her palm down on it. While it whirred, she remarked, “That would be rather remarkable. Seeing as the Company does not have an office on Moon Base Prime.” Robin knew a tiny instant of panic. She had read the contract carefully, and—now that she thought of it—it did not actually specify Moon Base Prime. But it clearly specified off-world. In three places. She was sure of that. So it had to be Moon Base Prime. Didn’t it?

“Ah, I see the problem.” The administrator savored the moment, smiling. Robin did not like that smile. Numbers scrolled madly down the wall screen, but it was the small screen on the ID plate that displayed Robin’s contract; a passage was highlighted for Robin’s perusal. “See, your contract does not specify Moon Base Prime.” Her smile grew broader. “Did you think it did?”

“But it says off-world!” The administrator continued to smile, and Robin grew a little faint. “This can’t be Venus,” she gasped. “It’s not big enough!” There was only a tiny little science station on Venus, not even as big as the Lollypop 39 lounge. Venus was nasty. Even most scientists didn’t want to go there. Mars? Could it be Mars? There was a colony there. Or at least there had been ten years ago. It was probably still there, even if no news had come out since the revolt. But the company certainly wouldn’t be maintaining an office there. “Just where is Lal-21185/sub 3/sub-sub 9 Facility Station?” she asked.

“Give her a break, Hilda,” called one of the voices behind her, and the administrator’s head whipped round.

“That’s Harriet,” she hissed. Robin watched the play of eyes, and wondered what the secret insult in the name Hilda might be. Harriet turned back to Robin and smiled an even more terrifying smile. “It might be simplest if I just showed you.” She pressed a button, and the gigantic wall monitor slid upward and out of sight, revealing a large window looking out into space.

The view really was amazing. The backdrop was utterly black, deep-space black. In the lower left corner a tiny spark was just barely visible, but no other stars could be seen. Which was only logical. Because over a third of the screen was filled with the glowing image of a huge, slightly stripey, red gas giant planet. Robin stood frozen, staring up at the enormous planet, unaware that her mouth had fallen open. Her heart seemed almost to stop. Her blood chilled in her veins. She stared and stared.

After a while, she felt the pressure of a warm hand on her shoulder. She turned to look. A short, pleasant-looking man with sympathetic eyes was giving her a wry smile. “I didn’t know the company had a facility on Jupiter,” she whispered.

“None of us did,” he answered.

“You’re not on Jupiter,” Harriet pointed out cheerfully.

“No,” sighed Robin. “Obviously we’re not actually on Jupiter. Or how could we be looking up at it?” Harriet’s smile grew even larger, which Robin would not have thought possible. Robin looked at her and hated her more than she had known she had it in her to hate. “Not what I signed on for,” she hissed. “I want to go home.”

“Try,” cooed Harriet. “Please. Just go ahead and try.”

The pleasant looking man led her away. “Don’t get into it with Hilda. Please—I’m telling you for your own good. I know. You hate her. We all do. She’s damaged. But you need to be able to work with her. She is all the Powers That Be. I’m Paul,” he extended a hand. “Robin, is it? Pleased to meet you.”

“I want to go home,” she told him.

He sighed. “So do I. But ... Well, you’ll need to spend some time going over your contract. I’ll think you’ll find that you just don’t have any options. You promised the company you would work here for five years in exchange for transport, food, shelter and a salary you can’t use because there’s nothing to spend it on. There’s no one to complain to except Broomhilda, because the contract contains a stringent no-outside-contact security clause. There’s no way to leave without company clearance, and if you refuse to work you’ll be charged for the food, shelter and oxygen—which are expensive if you don’t have a company allotment.” He took both her hands and smiled sadly. “I wish I could give you better news, and it would be great if you found a loophole that proves me wrong, but basically, you won't see Earth again for more than five years. Better get used to it.”

More?” She jerked her hands back and regarded him with horror. “You just said yourself it was a five year contract!”

He winced and turned his head away. “The five year contract includes transport.” She nodded eagerly. “One way transport.” He risked a glance at her face while she thought about one way transport, and winced again. “It’s not that bad,” he told her. “Or anyway, it wouldn’t be if we had a choice. They take good care of us—we’re comfortable, and we get good medical care. The food can get a little dull, but there’s always fresh greens from hydroponics—that’s a cushy job, by the way, you might want to put in for that. And Jackie is always tinkering with the kitchen programs. Not much to do in your spare time, I’m afraid, but, hey—you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a geek, right? There’s some very cool research going on here. So as long as you like to play with science, there’s plenty of entertainment. And when you do eventually get home you’ll be seriously rich.” He took her hand again, and held it with both of his, as if he could press some reassurance into her fingers.

She met his eyes and he was trying so earnestly to console her that she forced herself to smile just to ease his mind. His hands were warm and, strangely, his touch really was comforting. She still wanted to gag at the thought of the time she had spent in stasis just getting here; on top of that, she was bound to serve her contracted five years. She knew without even thinking about it that she would spend every minute of those five years trying to fight her way home. But it would be good to have a friend, while she was fighting. And just in case, well, if it was going to be five years, it wasn’t just good to have a friend; it was necessary.


It really was that long. And, as Paul had said, it wouldn’t have been all that bad—almost okay—if she’d had any choice about it. The hardest thing to get used to was the absence of the Internet. There was a local net—which was pretty interesting; there were a lot of exotic research studies going on and (for those with a less scientific bent) the personnel files were not as secure as they should have been. Plus music, games and videos, of course. But the local net wasn’t connected to the Earth system. Apparently the company was absolutely serious about prohibiting outside contact. Half the population of Lollypop had tried to hack their way past whatever security restrictions hemmed them in, but no one ever managed a link to Earth.

“I can’t even find a firewall to disable,” wailed one frustrated hacker. “It’s like Earth isn’t there.” Even Broomhilda claimed she didn’t have a link out; naturally everybody assumed she was lying—how could she run payroll without communicating with the home office—but that was her story and she stuck to it. So news from home was limited to word of mouth from the new arrivals. Every six months a supply ship docked, loaded with flour, sugar, booze, new entertainments and angry slave labor.

And every six months a few people who had served their stretch boarded the supply ships and disappeared into the information void, never to be heard from again. But not as many as Robin expected. The company offered exorbitant bonuses to stay. And after five years, a lot of people found that their rage had subsided and their memories of home had faded. Whatever their reasons, they took the incentives and stayed. Robin swore she would not be one of them.

She had been on the job three years when Paul’s contract expired. By then they’d been lovers for most of the time and married for the past six months, and the thought of losing him tore a hole in her heart. He offered to sign up again, but she couldn’t ask that, couldn’t have lived with herself if she’d asked that. And anyway, they would then just end up back in the same situation when her contract expired. They tried to negotiate a short term contract with Broomhilda, taking great care to address her as Harriet, but a witch by any other name smelled just as rank.

So he quit. He claimed his transport rights, but cached them instead of going back. The company charged him for board, even though he was living in Robin’s quarters. So Robin paid the board and he converted his unnecessary quarters to a workshop where he started building electronic gizmos. They were just silly toys, but Lollypop 39 was hungry for toys, and they sold well. Pretty soon he was making more money than Robin. They started talking about kids, even though they knew that had to wait until they got home. After all, it was only two more years.

When the time came, Hilda offered them enormous promotions and astronomical sums to stay; they took enormous pleasure in telling her no and watched over her shoulder while she reserved two outgoing transport capsules on the next supply ship. They arranged to sell Paul’s business and agreed they could go as they had come: with the clothes on their backs, and their now rather battered i-slates in hand. But Hilda just couldn’t leave it alone. The very day the supply ship was due, she called them in for a meeting.

She raised the wall screen and gazed out at the view for a moment, then seated herself and smiled at them across the counter. “There are a few things you need to know before you start,” she purred. Maybe it was the ominous echo from that long-ago interview, or maybe it was just Hilda’s satisfied tone of voice, but Robin suddenly felt a nasty chill creep up her spine.

Paul felt something, too. “What would that be?”

“Did you ever wonder about the name of this station? Lal-21185/sub 3/sub-sub 9 Facility Station?” The question was rhetorical. A thousand people had asked Hilda about that name. She had always declined to answer.

“We have,” admitted Paul politely. He was better at being polite than Robin was. “Everyone wonders why you don’t you just call it Jupiter Station, why the long complicated code.”

“There’s a very good reason why we don’t call it Jupiter Station,” smiled Hilda. “You see, long and complicated as the code may sound, it’s actually an ... abbreviation.”

Robin had to ask. “An abbreviation?”

“Yes,” declared Hilda coolly. The real name is Lalande-21185/sub 3/sub-sub 9 Facility Station.”

Robin knew what Lalande 21185 meant. She drew in all her breath, and did not breathe out for a long time. She sat frozen and stunned and—slowly—a tear crept down her cheek.

Paul took a moment longer. He looked at Robin, and then he looked wordlessly back at Harriet. Broomhilda was more than happy to elaborate. She gestured to the image of the gas giant in the window. “That isn’t Jupiter out there,” she informed him. “Jupiter-class but not Jupiter. And that tiny speck of light which is all you can see of the sun? That isn’t Earth’s sun. It’s a red dwarf star named Lalande 21185, in the constellation of Ursae Majoris. Eight point three light years from Earth. So enjoy your trip home. It’s going to take a while.” END

Michaele Jordan is an active member of SFWA. She is a novelist. Her recent “Blade Light” was serialized in “Jim Baen’s Universe.” Her short stories have appeared in “F&SF,” “Buzzy Magazine,” “Interstellar Fiction,” and elsewhere.


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