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




Garbage Miners

By Sean McLachlan

GRANDPA JOE SAT ON AN UPTURNED plastic bucket listening to the eager shouts of the children trying to shoot down birds with their slingshots. He squinted at the lithe, blurry figures as they ran around firing invisible stones at the equally invisible birds. Grandpa Joe hoped they’d get one. A bit of meat was nice once in a while.

The adults of his group were all busy digging. He could see the closer ones as blurred humps bent over the old garbage dump. His ears, still sharp after seventy-eight years, could pick out each individual pick and shovel and tell who was working where. Alyssa, for example, had a hoe made out of flat piece of slate she’d found out in the wastelands. It scraped through layers of trash with a teeth-grinding screech. Tyrone, on the other hand, had scavenged the bent axle of some long-dead car and tied it to a wooden handle. He thunked into the trash, breaking up the hard layers to allow others to pick through.

“Clothing!” Melanie’s high, young voice rang out.

Grandpa Joe squinted. He saw one of the blurs stand up and several other indistinct forms gather around.

“Hey, these will clean up nice,” Tyrone said in his distinctively rich baritone.

Grandpa Joe grunted and tried to lift himself from his bucket. Pain jabbed through both knees and his lower back.

One of the children hurried up to him. Once she got close enough he could see it was Nora, Tyrone’s seven-year-old. She wore her mother’s red sweater, which had been cut in half, restitched, and given to two different children after the woman had developed cancer and died.

“Let me help you, Grandpa Joe,” Nora said.

He put a bit of weight on her skinny brown shoulder and hauled himself to his feet. Nora held his hand as he hobbled over to the group, kicking up plastic bags as he went. Grandpa Joe smiled. Holding a child’s hand was one of the few pleasures left to him.

Melanie had found a big bundle of old clothing. Garbage came in clumps; every garbage miner knew that. You’d dig through heaps of chicken bones and suddenly come across some old football equipment, or you’d pass through a layer of newspaper that you’d set aside for the night’s campfire, and uncover a heap of roofing tiles that you could use for your shack. You never knew what you’d get. Junk, mostly. Or old containers that would spew out their toxic contents and kill a little girl’s mother.

“Looks like a nice haul,” he said.

“Go sit down, old timer. You’ll get your share,” one of the young men, Derrick, said impatiently.

Grandpa Joe ignored him and peered more closely at the bundle of cloth Tyrone and Melanie were pulling out of the trash heap. They sorted out several tattered shirts and a couple of blankets that looked like they would clean up well enough.

His eyes went wide over the blankets. While he hadn’t seen snow since he was a child, the winters were still cold enough to chill an old man’s bones. Winter wasn’t far off. If he was lucky, he’d get through another one.

Melanie held up one of the nicer shirts and called out. “Thank you, oh ancestors, for this bounty.”

“Thank you, ancestors!” the group called out. All except for Grandpa Joe. He remembered too much to thank anyone from back then.

Melanie tore the shirt to shreds and let the wind take it away. Grandpa Joe grimaced. What a waste.

“I saw that look, old man,” Tyrone snapped. “If we don’t honor the ancestors, do you think they’ll help us find things like this? Go sit on your bucket and stay out of the way.”

Grandpa Joe slumped his shoulders and shuffled back to his bucket. Nora didn’t help him get back. She had already run off to play with the other children.

Honor the ancestors, what a joke! He was old enough to remember the last of the city-states. He’d been a sharecropper on one of the farms at North Cape. Twelve hours a day working the exhausted soil under the hateful eye of gun-toting guards who spent as much time watching the workers and keeping an eye out for raiders. The only break came was when they got to see a military parade and cheer whatever dictator was in charge that year. All he got in return for hard labor and false patriotism was two decent meals a day and sleeping space in the bunkhouse.

Still, it had been better than this.

But honoring the ancestors? He’d rather spit on their graves. The world had been dying and they had kept on killing.

Well, that was all in the past. North Cape had fallen like the rest of them. Now there was nothing but bandits, scavengers, a few fortified farmsteads on the last of the good soil, garbage miners, and fishermen. At least his people weren’t fishermen. Anyone had a better life expectancy than those poor bastards working in the sea.

A youthful cheer brought him out of his thoughts. One of the children was jumping up and down.

“Dorothy got a bird! Dorothy got a bird!”

Grandpa Joe licked his lips. He’d get a bite of meat tonight.

“All praise to the ancestors!” Tyrone called out.

“Oh, come on!” Grandpa Joe snapped. “What do the ancestors have to do with it? If it wasn’t for the damn ancestors we’d have a hell of a lot more birds flying around, I’ll tell you that!”

“Don’t be mean to the ancestors, you big meany head!” Nora shouted.

Grandpa Joe bit his lip. It was bad enough the adults disrespected him. He hated it when the kids did too.

“I say we don’t give him a share so the ancestors don’t get angry with us,” Derrick announced. He was bucking to be Tyrone’s second-in-command and liked making announcements.

“Good idea,” Tyrone agreed.

“Oh, Tyrone,” Grandpa Joe whispered. “If only you knew what some of the ancestors did to people who had skin like yours.”

“What was that?”


The group went on digging while Grandpa Joe sat on his bucket, alone and useless, lost in his bitter memories.

After a time, Nora came running up with a colorful piece of paper.

“What does this say?” she asked in that overly eager tone that children took as a way of apologizing. Grandpa Joe patted her on the head. He couldn’t stay angry at one of the few friends he had left.

“Well, let me get my glasses on and let’s see.”

Grandpa Joe fished out a single cracked lens from his breast pocket. He’d fashioned some wire in a loop so it would fit around his head. The lens was from an old pair of reading glasses. They helped with close up work but his long vision was still blurred. The world had drawn in on him. That was all right. The world was too ugly to be worth seeing.

The paper was an advertisement in a newspaper called “The New Republic Times.” He wasn’t sure which Republic that referred to. The date showed it must have been one of the later ones. There had been five, or was it six? He doubted he had ever known. They’d all been snuffed out in wars and coups in his grandparents’ time.

The photograph showed a little girl about Nora’s age smiling and standing in an impossibly green field. A lush forest grew in the background. A flock of birds flew overhead. Next to the girl was a heap of goods—an automobile, fine clothing, packaged food, and something he had heard was called a washing machine. Back in those days they had machines for everything.

“Ain’t that a sight,” Tyrone said, leaning over his shoulder and letting out a low whistle.

“Did the world really look like that?” Nora asked.

“Once. Long ago,” Grandpa Joe sighed.

“I love these old pictures. The ancestors really knew how to run the world,” Tyrone said.

Grandpa Joe snorted.

“What do these words say?” Nora asked, pointing to some lines under the picture.

“I really should teach some of you how to read,” Grandpa Joe said.

“Where’s the time?” Tyrone asked. “Besides, we have you.”

“And after I’m gone?”

Tyrone didn’t reply. Grandpa Joe was glad he couldn’t see his expression.

“What does it say?” Nora whined. Some of the other children and adults had gathered around.

Grandpa Joe adjusted his lens with an important air and read, “Reduce your consumption in order to provide for future generations.”

“What does consumption mean?” Nora asked.

“How much you use up. The same as eating,” Grandpa Joe replied. “What this is saying—”

“I knew it!” Melanie said. “Now it all makes sense. Why would the ancestors put all these good things in a heap out in some field? Why would they throw away perfectly good things? They were leaving them for us!”

“Well, not really—”

“You’re right,” Tyrone interrupted him. “I’ve always wondered why the ancestors left all this stuff. They must have known the seas and land would turn toxic, and so they left us big piles of their stuff all over the countryside to provide for us.”

“No, they—”

“All hail the ancestors!” the crowd shouted.

Nora’s bright eyes looked up at him. “So is this what North Cape looked like?”

“No, honey. The world was already poisoned by then.”

“But you must have known some of the ancestors. Like, when you were a kid and they were old, right?”

“Um ...”

Grandpa Joe felt Tyrone’s strong hand rest on his shoulder.

“Come on, old man. You always say we never listen to you about the old times. Now we’re listening. Did you meet the ancestors who made the garbage dumps?”

Grandpa Joe looked up at the man who had kept them alive through so many winters, who had helped them find dumps to mine. Even through his blurry vision he could see the deep scar across Tyrone’s dark face from a battle he’d fought with some bandits who had wanted to take what little they had.

Grandpa Joe looked down at Nora who, for the first time, was eagerly waiting to hear one of his stories. He sighed and rubbed his temples. More of the group gathered around, silently waiting to hear what he said. At last he looked at Nora and spoke.

“Yes, it was like this once. It was before my time but when I wasn’t much bigger than you, I met some old people. Much older than I am now. The ancestors lived longer, you see, thanks to all the nice things they had. But they saw the world was becoming poison. They tried to stop it, oh how they tried. When they saw that nothing they could do could keep the seas from getting oily or the animals from disappearing, they got together and made a plan.”

“To make the garbage dumps?” Nora asked.

“That’s right. What a smart little girl you are! They decided to help all the people who would come after. So they took all their nice things and buried them so we would have nice things too. Of course things got dirty and broken from sitting in the ground so long, but they knew there would be clever little girls like you to clean things, and strong men like Tyrone to turn broken old things into new things, like that pick of his. They called these things ... um ... Guarantees for Unborn Generations. Garbage, for short.”

“Guarantees for Unborn Generations,” Derrick said in a hushed voice. “So that’s what garbage means.”

Grandpa Joe hung his head, ashamed.

“Tell us more, old man,” Tyrone said.

“Oh, you don’t want to know,” Grandpa Joe mumbled.


He looked back up at Tyrone. This brave leader, this fighter, so desperate to believe. He looked as eager and innocent as Nora. If he could see the faces of the others staring so intently at him, he knew they’d all look the same.

Yes, they were all staring at him, weren’t they? Hanging on his every word. Grandpa Joe took a deep breath and reveled in the attention.

And so he started talking. He told them what they wanted to hear. About the ancestors. About green fields. About air so clean it smelled sweet enough to lick. About wise ancestors who fought all their lives to stop the world from falling apart, and then sacrificed their comfort in order to provide for their great-grandchildren. He told them what they wanted to hear, mixing in scraps from his childhood with half-remembered books and old films, photos from the Old Times and things he simply made up.

And they listened, enthralled as he was by this flow of lies that came so easily to him. He no longer felt ashamed. He was making them happy.

Why not? They had made up most of it themselves already. If he hadn’t finished the myth someone else would have.

And at least they were paying attention to him. He’d get that bite of bird meat at dinner after all. END

Sean McLachlan is the author of the ongoing novel series: “Toxic World” (post-apocalyptic science fiction) and “Trench Raiders” (World War One action). He’s also dipped into Civil War fiction with the novel “A Fine Likeness.”


screaming eagle


space trawler