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



Do Stand-Up Bots Dream of Electric


By James Aquilone

HAROLD WAS SITTING ON THE toilet, reading the holo-paper, when the stand-up bot began an impromptu set. Harold had come to hate the metallic hack with the ferocity he usually reserved for people who dog-eared old print books or got those ridiculous data-streaming bionic eyes.

“Ever wonder why they call them restrooms?” Karlin560 asked. The bot looked like a Cyberman on holiday with his loud Hawaiian shirt hanging loosely over his chrome-plated frame and rainbow-colored suspenders holding up his black slacks.

Harold dropped the holo-paper in his lap. A hologram of the wreckage from a starbus crash on the Moon floated above his privates. “The facilities are occupied!” he shouted.

“You do not rest in them. I think the last place you would want to take a snooze is in the vicinity of animal waste products. Humans!” Karlin560’s thick black neoprene eyebrows twitched. His neoprene lips spread into a clownish grin.

Harold bought the stupid thing for his children.

“Risa and Rickard have them,” his daughter Cheryl said. She was always going on about those obnoxious twins, whose parents were apparently made of credits.

“They’re really funny,” his son Tony said. “And you won’t let us get data-streaming eyes.”

“We’ll see,” Harold said. That was always his answer whenever he didn’t want to give an answer. Usually that was the end of it, but they wouldn’t quit about stand-up bots. Every day they sent him links to bot dealers, made sad pouty faces whenever they saw him, brought up Risa and Rickard, promised to do chores as kids did in the pre-bot days.

They must have gotten to Harold’s wife. “I’ve read that they’re actually good for developing social skills,” Mindy said one night. Lord knew, Tony needed that. He barely spoke since he got the latest version of “Penultimate Fantasy 4D.”

Harold came across Karlin560 at a yard sale. He was a quarter of the price of a new stand-up bot. Harold thought he was being smart snatching him up and maybe, just maybe, he’d be a hero to the kids. Now he prayed for just a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Karlin560 waited for Harold to laugh. Harold did not laugh. He threw a box of tissues, which ineffectually bounced off the bot’s metallic head.

“Get out now! Can’t you see I’m busy here?”

“Why do humans say they are taking a defecation? You don’t take anything. Is that why humans need to wash their hands afterwards?”

“I’m scrapping you the moment I get up!”

“Crapping and scrapping all in one day! Who says you are not an ambitious
man?” Karlin560 laughed and it sounded like a blender trying to puree

“Mindy!” When all else failed Harold shouted his wife’s name. He didn’t know why, but things usually ended up working out after he did.

Within a few awkward seconds, Mindy came to his rescue and escorted Karlin560 back into the living room, where he did fifteen minutes of material for the cleaning bot.

Harold tried to return to his business, but the moment had passed. The damn robot had backed him up. When he told his wife that night, she laughed. Harold didn’t see the humor in being constipated.


Harold woke early, grabbed Karlin560, and went into his settings.

He had to do something. All the idiotic questions. “Have you ever wondered ...” “Why is it that ...” “Isn’t it funny ...” No, none of it was funny. Harold was ready to take a starbus to the Moon, preferably one with faulty z-rings. He would have junked the bot, but Mindy and the kids loved him. Karlin560 always had them rolling. It made no sense.

Karlin560 was a pretty basic model. He had five parental control levels: Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, and Mature. And five modes: General Comedy, Story Mode, Witty, Satirical, and Gentle Comedy.

Instantly Harold spotted the problem. The bot was set to General Comedy with his age level on Teen. Cheryl was still three years away from being a teen, thank God, and Tony was barely out of diapers. Harold set Karlin560 to Gentle Comedy/Early Childhood and reminded himself to have Mindy give Cheryl a lecture about age appropriateness.


Harold had two days to finish his insurance adjustment report on the latest starbus to crash into the Moon. This one was a doozy. Half of the amusement park beside the Sea of Tranquility had been taken out and the entire bio-dome had to be replaced. Fortunately it was off-season and casualties were at a minimum. Had it been the height of the season, it would have taken Harold another week to finish the report.

Harold had sent Mindy and the kids to the new gravity-free park downtown so he could work. It was quiet in the house for all of five minutes.

“Harold?” Karlin560 stood in the office doorway.

“Not now, Karlin. Can’t you see I’m working?”

“Working hard or hardly working?” Har-har-har.

“That joke was old when my grandfather was a kid. Now, if you don’t mind.”

“Ever wonder why they call it a building? Er, they are finished. It should be called a built. Humans!”

Harold felt a migraine coming on. “Why are you still telling these jokes? I changed your settings.”

“Do you not enjoy observational humor? I am trying to be relatable by skewering the commonplace aspects of everyday human life. It is funny, Harold, because it is true.”

“The truth is, you’re obnoxious and unfunny. I’m trying to get work done here.”

“Ever wonder why they call them sports coats? You do not participate in sporting activities while wearing them ... Why do you park your vehicle in the driveway but drive on the parkway? ... If you use fifty percent of your half and half, would you then call it quarter and quarter?”

Harold’s temple throbbed. He wondered how many swings of his golf club it would take to shut the bot up. Then he thought of Mindy and the kids. He did enjoy hearing them laugh, and they would never forgive him if he bludgeoned their precious mechanical comedian to death.

Harold couldn’t dismantle him, but he could fix him.


“I’m having a problem with my stand-up bot,” Harold said to the tech at the Bot Squad Repair Shop.

“Is it acting funny?” the tech asked and giggled.

Now the migraine was jackhammering behind both of Harold’s eyes. “Hell is a place where everyone is a comedian,” Harold said.

“Excuse me?”

“Never mind. Can I just get my bot repaired, please?”

“Take a seat,” the tech said to Karlin560 and motioned to a chair next to a computer terminal. Karlin560 sat and the tech plugged a cable into the back of the bot’s head.

“What seems to be the problem?” the tech said.

“One, he’s not funny. Not even a little bit. Two, he’s disregarding his settings. I set him to Gentle Comedy, but all he spews out is observational humor, possibly the most inane of all the comedic stylings, wouldn’t you say?”

“I kinda like that old-timey comedian ... What’s his name? Sandfield?”

“I wouldn’t know. I’m not a fan of banal wit.”

“Are you sure you didn’t set him for observational comedy?”

“That’s the odd thing. He doesn’t have a specific setting for it.”

The tech tapped the computer screen, gave it a glance. “Everything seems to be okay. Out of date, certainly, but no bugs. A system upgrade should take care of the problem.”

“Sounds good to me.”

A couple of taps from the tech and Karlin560 powered down. Unfortunately, he powered back up. His eyes flickered open and his eyebrows jumped. “Is this thing on?” the bot asked.

“Tell us a joke, Karlin560,” the tech said.

“Why did the robot cross the road?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“Because the chicken pushed his buttons.” Karlin560 laughed. Har-har-har.


Karlin560’s jokes didn’t improve, but at least he wasn’t making observations about trivial human experiences. What the hell does a bot know about human life? Karlin560 stuck to his settings, telling corny knock-knock jokes and riddles. Tony and Cheryl seemed to enjoy them; though they also seemed to be losing interest in the bot. Harold was relieved. He gave Karlin560 another two weeks and the kids would move on to the next must-have device.

Harold got one of those devices for his fortieth birthday. E-reader glasses. At least they weren’t bionic eyes. Mindy surprised him with the glasses that morning. She never could wait until his party. Harold pretended to love them, then put them away, probably forever.

At his big birthday dinner that night, Harold noticed that Karlin560 had traded his suspenders and Hawaiian shirts for a leather motorcycle jacket, T-shirt, jeans, and boots. And to make matters worse, he was smoking a cigarette.

“Put that out!” Harold ordered.

Karlin560 scowled at him and continued to puff on the cigarette.


“Harold, it’s an e-cig. There’s nothing harmful about it.”

Harold didn’t have time to fight. The lights had gone out. Cheryl and Tony were coming out of the kitchen with the cake. Harold turned and saw Karlin560’s eyes glowing in the dark. They seemed to be trained on him.

“Make a wish, daddy,” Cheryl said and placed the cake in front of her father.

Wishing that damn bot away would be a waste of a wish, he thought. Instead, he wished for starbusses to stop crashing into the Moon.

Like everything in his life, he took blowing out his birthday candles with the utmost seriousness. He always endeavored to blow them all out with a single blow and had done so for seven years straight. His streak was broken only when Mindy mixed in one of those joke candles that never go out. He still hadn’t forgiven her.

Harold inhaled deeply, paused—and just before he unleashed his breath, Karlin560 said, “Blow it out your rear, Harold. Maybe then you’ll get that stick out of your ass.”

There was a brief silence, a moment when everything seemed to freeze, and then, as if someone suddenly released the pause button, the entire room erupted into laughter. He grinned awkwardly and tried to wait it out. His face grew as warm as a faulty z-ring that’s about to explode and send a starbus crashing into the Moon.

“Okay. Very funny,” he said. “You’ve all had your moment. Ha-ha-ha. Now can we get back to the cake?”

There was another burst of laughter. Mindy was holding her side. Cheryl was covering her face with her hair, trying not to let Harold see her laugh. His manager, Thom—why did he ever invite his manager?—was bent over, guffawing. The only ones not laughing were Risa and Rickard, who were too busy watching the data streams in their bionic eyes.

Harold didn’t know what came over him. He was always in such control of his emotions. In fact, he didn’t even realize he had sledgehammered the cake with both his fists until a large dollop of pink cream walloped him in the eye. That started another round of laughter.

They were laughing long after Harold had locked himself in his office.


“Hey, Harold, have you named that stick up your ass?”

“Hey, Harold, what do you and a corndog have in common? You both have sticks up your asses.”

“Hey, Harold, don’t go away. Stick around! Get it? Because you have a stick up your ass.”

These were Karlin560’s new jokes.

Harold longed for the days when the bot skewered the banal human experience. Now Karlin560 was an insult bot and Harold, poor, poor Harold, was his exclusive target.

Perhaps he could have ignored the insults, risen above the schoolyard taunts, but his family wouldn’t let him. They found it all so damn hilarious. Karlin560 kept them in stitches. He had them rolling. He had them laughing their asses off. He had them peeing their pants.


Harold returned to the Bot Squad.

“I don’t know what you did to him,” Harold said, “but he’s worse than ever.”

Karlin560 sat in the same metal chair, puffing on his e-cig. “Hickory dickory dock,” he said, “some chick was sucking—”

Harold clamped his hand over the bot’s mouth, nearly burning himself on the cigarette dangling from Karlin560’s neoprene lips.

“Dirty nursery rhymes,” the tech said. “That’s a bad sign.”

“That’s a lawsuit, my friend, unless you fix him.”

“The software package I installed had no setting for adult humor,” the tech said. “That’s an add-on. You didn’t install any add-ons, did you?”


When the tech plugged the cable into Karlin560’s head, the bot jerked forward. “Whoa!” he shouted. “Next time could you change my oil first? I like to be well-lubed before I’m penetrated.”

The tech howled in laughter but quickly cut it off when he saw Harold’s stone-faced expression. He turned back to the terminal and after a few seconds he was shaking his head.

“What’s the matter?” Harold asked.

“The files have changed. I’ve never seen code like this. You’re sure you didn’t install any new software?”

“Do you think I want an X-rated insult bot? All he does is skewer me—and what is more humiliating, my family laughs. They think he’s a riot.”

The tech grimaced. “That’s the absolute worst thing they could do. Comedy bots assess audience reaction to determine their next joke. If you laugh at an insult he will be more insulting. He’ll keep pushing till he goes over the edge. But that’s not your biggest problem. I believe Karlin560 is developing his act, thinking for himself. He’s become sentient.”

“He’s become a pain in my ass. Now block his damn consciousness.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then scrap him. My family will just have to understand.”

“Can’t do that either. It’s illegal to alter or destroy any bot with a consciousness.”

“Delightful! This offensive thing has rights!”

Karlin560 blew smoke into Harold’s face.

“Look, this could just be a phase,” the tech said. “He’s exploring what works, what doesn’t. He’s growing as an artist. Karlin560 will stop working blue if he stops getting laughs.”

“That will be difficult. He has a big gig coming up.”

“A gig?”

“My wife recently informed me that he’s been doing shows around town. He’s amassed quite a following, too. He makes his Holo-Web debut tomorrow.”

“I’m going to do a stadium show next month,” Karlin560 said. “Mucho dinero, doc.”

“That’s great. He’s making you rich,” the tech said. “Why do you care what kind of jokes he tells?”

“As I already stated, he ridicules me. I’m part of his damn act!”

“Harold and I don’t get along,” Karlin560 said. “For example, I love ’80s action movies and he’s a whiney little bitch.”

The tech quickly covered his mouth to hide his guffaw. Harold grabbed Karlin560 around the throat and began to throttle him. The bot’s eyebrows twitched madly. Something clanked inside his chest.

The tech pulled Harold off Karlin560. “Lighten up,” he said. “It’s just a joke.”

Karlin560 shrugged. Harold fumed.

“Wait here. I’ll be right back,” the tech said, and ran into the storage room.

Karlin560 blew smoke rings into the air.

“You are terrible, you know that?” Harold said.

“Relax, Walt. I’ll score you some bot tail after the show. You know what they say: Once you go metallic, flesh hoo-hahs just won’t hack it.”

Harold was about to punch Karlin560 when the tech returned.

“Okay, there was one left,” he said, and held up a gold microchip.

“What is it?”

“A neural implant.”

“And this will block him from telling jokes about me?”

“No. As I told you, that’s against the law.”

“So what will it do to him?”

“It’s not for him, it’s for you. Think of it as an add-on.”

“I am perfect as God made me. What could you add on to me?”

The tech looked at Karlin560 and then to Harold. “A sense of humor,” he said.

Karlin560 laughed so hard he sprung a leak. END

James Aquilone is a member of the Horror Writers Association. His stories have appeared in “Nature’s Futures,” “Galaxy’s Edge,” “Flash Fiction Online,” “Weird Tales Magazine,” and elsewhere. He is currently working on a novel.






jamie noble