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




By Timothy J. Gawne

“ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS things in the universe is an ignorant people with real grievances. That is nowhere near as dangerous, however, as an informed and intelligent society with grievances. The damage that vengeful intelligence can wreak, you cannot even imagine.” —Frank Herbert, “Heretics of Dune,” 20th century.

I am sometimes criticized for telling stories with a repetitive structure. I fly away into space, encounter something unusual, fight it/make friends with it/talk with it/whatever, and then triumph and come back home to tell everyone else. In response, however, that is how most of what is interesting has occurred to me. Should I tell stories where everything goes according to plan and nothing unexpected occurs?

My old colleague Wonderbear would say yes, but then he is a bit of an outlier, taste-in-stories-wise. He will listen with rapt attention as I relate an utterly routine trip to perform scheduled maintenance on a communications satellite. He claims that it’s a Zen thing, and that novelty is overrated. I can’t say as I agree, but he is still a good friend, and a good listener.

And yet, every once in a while something notable happens close to home. Such as the time that I encountered the giant robotic Hitler in the junkyards of Alpha Centauri Prime.

Now whenever we build something and have no further use for it, sometimes we recycle the parts, and sometimes we just dump it off in a scrapyard. It’s no big deal either way. We have so many resources that we don’t need to recycle everything. Often it’s more convenient to refine new materials from raw resources; it just depends. But scrapyards can also be interesting. You never know what sorts of odds and ends you will find there.

I am cruising along in my main hull—all two thousand metric tons of it—and enjoying the ride through the wide hard-packed dirt roads that wind past small mountains of junk. Here and there I encounter a scraphound: nonsentient machines sent by others of my kind to sift the piles of junk for specific artifacts. They ignore me as I pass, and methodically dig through the rubbish with their multi-jointed arms.

At one pile I see the remains of an obsolete mark of a medium-range missile. It’s a design that I used over a thousand years ago when I was in a campaign with my old comrade, the Magma-class cybertank known as “Double-Wide.” I stop for a bit, and let the old memories come back. I think about keeping the missile as a memento but decide, no, I have enough junk. The memories are enough. I drive on.

I round a corner and right there in front of me is MegaHitler.

He turns and notices me. “Oh, hello there,” says MegaHitler. “Have you seen my elephant?”

MegaHitler is nine meters in height. He is a lifelike replica of the 20th century philosopher-tyrant Adolph Hitler. He is wearing a simple jacket and tie, white gloves, and of course he has the trademark Hitler mustache. I do a quick scan, and see that he is, as the records state, a robotic construct with simple girders for arms and legs and hands. His suit and gloves camouflage the crudity of his construction. Only his face has accurate expression.

You have an elephant?

“Of course I have an elephant,” said MegaHitler. “Otherwise why would I be looking for one? But I am being impolite. We have not been introduced. I am MegaHitler. And whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?”

I am an Odin-Class cybertank. I have a long and boring serial number but most people refer to me as “Old Guy.” I have heard of you, but somehow I thought that you would be taller.

“They all say that.” MegaHitler conjures up an image of something that could destroy a city, or wrestle with Megazillus. “Nine meters is sizeable for a human, but I can’t live up to the apocalyptic connotations of the name. I’ve met some cybertanks before, and you appear to be one of the smaller models, but nonetheless I expect that you could flatten me in a second if you wanted to.”

As you say. And what are you doing out here?

“I already explained that. I am looking for my elephant. Ah, there she is! Come to Adolph, Elephant!"

From around a pile of discarded bogies came what appeared to be a full-grown female Asian elephant. She walked slowly and deliberately, her tail and ears hanging listlessly, trunk dragging on the ground, back sagging. Her eyes were moist and seemingly on the verge of tears. She trudged over to MegaHitler, and came to a stop with her head butting up against the side of his right leg. The elephant stood two-and-a-half meters tall which, compared to MegaHitler, made her look like a medium-sized dog.

MegaHitler bent down and scratched the elephant’s head, and told her that she was a good elephant. Other than one desultory touching of his pants leg with her trunk, the elephant did not show any obvious signs of pleasure—but also did not back off. I do another scan: like MegaHitler, the elephant is a robotic construct.

Your elephant seems somewhat depressed. Is something the matter with her?

“She has always been like this. I discovered her in this scrapyard, and reactivated her. She cannot speak, but I imagine that, as with myself, she was constructed at the whim of some long-dead oligarch. You know that I was intended for a child’s birthday party back when there were still biological humans? When they ordered up a giant robot Hitler they must have expected a megalomaniacal fiend. Instead all they got was a boring middle-aged man in a plain jacket. They should have gone with Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Now there was a man who could scare children. He certainly scared me.”

Yes, I have heard others make similar statements. But back to the elephant: what’s up with her?

“Why she gives the appearance of being perpetually sad I cannot say. Sometimes she wanders off when I sleep, and then I worry about her terribly until I can find her again. For who else will take care of Elephant?”

Does she have a name other than Elephant?

“No. For a time I tried other names—Heidi, Brunnhilde, Angela—but none of them seemed to suit her, and she would not answer to them. Besides, there is only one elephant around here, so Elephant is as practical a name as any.”

Well, OK then. I was wondering, do you think of yourself as the real Adolph Hitler?

“A good question. I know that the original Hitler died many thousands of years ago. I know that my mind is a mathematical guess as to what he was really like based on the historical record. I have considered changing my name and appearance, and pretending to be someone else, but I was programmed to believe that I am Adolph Hitler, and I am as close to a reincarnation of him as is possible. So why not? Perhaps you could think of me as Hitler 2.0.”

Elephant had had enough of being scratched, so she backed off from MegaHitler, and trudged slowly to the other side of the dirt road. She turned around and, for the rest of the conversation, watched us with her large, sad eyes.

Does it ever get tiresome being a symbol of evil?

“That I should be vilified by my old enemies is just part of the game. History is written by the victors—a cliché, but still true. It does annoy me that I am considered to be an apotheosis of evil, when there were so many as bad or worse. I mean, it doesn’t bother me personally; I only object to people not thinking clearly, and lacking perspective. Two of my contemporaries, Stalin and Mao-Tse Tung, killed more even than I did.”

True. And according to the Whipple-Jerner scale of relative evil, they rank higher than you.

“Yes I am familiar with this scale. Nevertheless, even though I am far from the top rank of evilness, I am still considered the iconic reference standard. That’s why the scale quantifies evil in units of Hitlers.”

You don’t think of yourself as evil?

“I did not say that. I deliberately killed—or caused to be killed—many millions of people. I also started a war that killed a few tens of millions. If someone wants to label that evil, why, I can scarcely object. But I was no different from all the other statesman of the day—Tojo, Stalin, Mao, Grant and Sherman and Sheridan, and Andrew Jackson, and Mehmet Talaat, to name but a few—I fought for my people, for my tribe, and if that meant killing the members of other tribes to make room for my own, well, that was how the game was played back then.”

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

“Correct. But a hundred wrongs define reasonable and customary.”

Sophistry. In any event, we no longer act in that manner.

“That’s because you are a member of the last human tribe standing. You cybertanks have no competitors, you have plenty of resources and living space; of course you are peaceful. I would have been as well, had the German people found themselves in such a fortunate situation. But I have heard stories of your kind fighting a war of extermination. Against neoliberal economists, as I recall.”

That was different. We were in a battle for survival against a corrupt financial oligarchy that would have enslaved or killed us.

“And so was I, against the Jews and others like them. Perhaps we have more in common than you would care to admit?”

I don’t think so.

Hitler chuckled. “You cybertanks all get so defensive whenever I try to draw parallels. You would not be so quick to judge if you were having a conversation with a butcher like Stalin or Crassus, I would wager.”

Do you ever regret your past actions?

“Of course I do. If I had only stopped with France, and consolidated, I would never have been dislodged. I would have built my thousand-year Reich and today it would be my enemies that are vilified. And I should have known better than to pick on the Jews. They were always the best publicists. It’s their fault that today Imegahitler am an icon of evil. I should have just sent them off to some godforsaken homeland in some godforsaken desert and let them be someone else’s problem. But I have had my revenge on them. For I collect royalties every time they use a Nazi in a movie or book!”

I was not aware of that. It sounds legally implausible.

Hitler nodded. “Yes, many said so but the lawyers had a wonderful time arguing my case. In the end it all came down to a matter of what they call standing. The legal maneuvers dragged on for years, and eventually we settled out of court. I do admit to a certain ironic pleasure whenever I get a percentage of the profits for a story where Nazis try to take over the universe.”

We have not had copyright law for several millennia.

“Really? Then that explains why I have not gotten a check in a while. Well no matter, I have no need for money. But it was amusing while it lasted.”

I suppose.

MegaHitler straightened his tie. “Also, I should never have allowed the Wehrmacht to have those snappy uniforms. If my soldiers had worn lumpy brown outfits and gone around spouting nonsense about world peace, I could have killed five times as many and still been little more than an historical footnote. Ah well.”

Perhaps. But what was it with you and the Jews? Did you really hate them?

“Back in my day, everyone hated the Jews (or at least pretended to); it was standard in polite society, like making small talk about the weather. But that was just personal. As a leader I singled them out for oppression simply because they made such wonderfully useful scapegoats. A small minority, seen as holding themselves apart, wealthy enough to excite envy but not so powerful as to be able to defend themselves when the knives came out. It was also helpful in playing divide and conquer against the upper class. If I had taken on all the bankers at once I would have been crushed like a beetle. But the non-Jewish financial elite was happy to have their competitors taken out. The greedy idiots must have thought it would leave more for them. They thought they could control me, and when they realized that they could not, it was too late.”

I am nearly speechless. So any new plans for conquering the universe?

MegaHitler snorted. “Now you are speaking foolishly. Examine the historical record: there was never a tyrant less megalomaniacal than I was.”


“Yes, really. I was a corporal in World War I, a simple messenger. If I had been ambitious, don’t you think I would have tried to at least make officer? I was a nonentity, totally average, just trying to get by. I later tried to make a living as a simple painter of landscapes. My enemies always used my lack of artistic talent as further proof of my crimes—as if a mediocre ability to make postcards is the gateway drug to hell. Would a man aiming for political power have tried to earn a living in that manner? I don’t think so.”

But you conquered most of Europe and nearly the world. Surely you had some talent for fiendish plans?

MegaHitler shook his head. “No, I was just lucky. I was this nothing person that had been gassed and shot and blinded. My countrymen had been stabbed in the back and driven into a dire poverty by a vile and corrupt elite. I was angry, my anger smoldered deep, and I spoke out. I was not really much of an orator—Winston Churchill had so much more rhetorical range than I did, even if he was a second-class intellect. But I was in the right place at the right time, and my ranting—how do you say this?—went bacterial.”

I believe that we say: “went viral.”

“Do you? I think it works either way. In any event, the people were eager for someone to give voice to their feelings, and there I was. I think it also helped that I was not naturally ambitious. People who had groomed themselves for power all their lives—running for high school office, practicing sucking up to superiors, organizing their lives with a focus only on advancement—these people could tell that I was not one of them, and they did not take me seriously. They assumed that they could ride my temporary success and manage me and then discard me. Idiots.”

But you must have been at least a little megalomaniacal, surely?

“Yes, I must admit to that—only not at first. I let it go to my head. I started to believe my own propaganda. Always a mistake.” MegaHitler shook his finger at me. “Never, never, believe in your own propaganda. It will be your downfall!”

Useful advice I’m sure. I am afraid that I need to be off now. But before I go, I was wondering. Do you have any idea what happened to the biological humans?

“You all ask me that. I gather that you cybertanks worked with the humans for a long time, and then one day, they simply weren’t there. Some of you think that they were killed of by an insidious alien attack, and others think that they evolved to a higher level and left you behind as their civilizational heirs.”

Yes. So, do you know anything about that?

MegaHitler was silent for a while. “No.”

Well then. This has certainly been an ... interesting ... conversation.

MegaHitler chuckled. “You cybertanks react to me in one of three ways. Some become outraged, scream that I must be trying to subtly poison their minds with lies, and then rush off refusing to listen to anything else that I might have to say. Others are polite and leave thoughtful but somehow disturbed—you would fit into that class.”

What about the third reaction?

“Oh, yes, the third. That came from the cybertank that you call “Schadenfreude.” Interesting person. Charming name.”

And Schadenfreude’s reaction to you was?

“That’s private. Perhaps you could ask him yourself? But I see that there is enough daylight left for a walk. Come, Elephant! Let’s go for a late afternoon stroll!”

MegaHitler turned and began to walk away. Elephant did not move at first, but then slowly followed after MegaHitler with her sad, dragging gait.

I was about to drive off when I noticed a vibration from the surrounding piles of scrap. Paranoid that I am, I boosted the activation level of my local defense grid. Good thing too, or I would not be here to tell you this story.

I was attacked by a reinforced squadron of Amok Blade Fetish. Now the Amok were a fiendish alien race dedicated to combat and destruction for their own sake. We made peace with them—I think—and they and some of us left to found a new colony based on principles that I do not understand. But we still stumble upon some of their sleeper weapons systems from time to time. The worst are the Happy Leeches. But the Blade Fetish are nearly as bad.

As technology advances, ranged weaponry increasingly dominates over close-combat weapons. A man with a rifle may shoot a man with a sword a dozen times before he can close the distance. But the Blade Fetish are the exception to the rule. They appear vaguely spider-like, with from four to nine limbs. Each appendage ends in a wicked composite blade that could slice through diamond. They don’t have much endurance, but for a brief time their super-powered limbs and rocket thrusters can propel them to supersonic speeds. Their blades can double as aerodynamic surfaces, so they can corner astonishly fast. In effect, they are as fast and agile as projectile weapons, and they are experts at attacking from ambush.

If I had a few kilometers range I could destroy them all with a single blast from my main turreted plasma cannon—but we are too close, and they are moving too fast for my primary weapon to track them. My secondary weapons are faster, but even so, the Amok Blade Fetish are tough and faster still. Even my point-defense weapons have trouble tracking them, and that level of firepower is weak compared to a Blade Fetish unit.

The Blade Fetish units—all ninety-seven of them—are spread out in an envelopment around me. They move so fast—but I think in nanoseconds. Not even they can easily breach my armored hull, so their primary objective is to destroy my exposed weapons and sensors. If they can do that I will be defenseless and they can take their time hacking a hole in my side and then gut me from the inside out.

They are jamming my sensors and communications, but I’m pretty good at that sort of game as well. I get word to my peers. They will come to my aid, but it will take them thirty-five seconds. At the speed that this combat is progressing, it might as well be next century.

I have a few combat remotes loitering in the area, and a few at ready in my internal bays, which I launch. The battle is so complicated: feints, counter-feints, sacrifice this unit to open a path for another ... I am subsumed by the intellectual challenge of it. I can almost see why the old Amok relished combat for its own sake.

Two seconds have passed, and I am losing. I still have most of my hull-mounted weapons, but like a chess grandmaster who sees an inevitable checkmate in five moves, I am all but lost. I could blow my reactors and take them all with me, but that would leave behind a mess. These Blade Fetish will be no match for the soon to arrive cybertank reinforcements, so probably I should just shut down and erase my cores—although that sounds kind of boring. The idea of going out with a thermonuclear fireball always appealed to me. Still, I will wait for the last possible moment, because a cybertank always fights to the end.

Two of the Blade Fetish units are struck by odd projectile weapons, and smash harmlessly into the side of my hull. The rest dodge and whirl to avoid additional projectiles, and they are out of position. That’s all I need, this battle is now changed. Going back to the chess analogy, imagine two evenly-matched grandmasters and suddenly one of them has a bishop and a pawn removed from the board. At that level of play, that would be the game.

I methodically destroy the Blade Fetish units. My small advantage turns into a larger one, and it’s over. I consider the projectiles that saved the day for me; they are the shattered limbs of some of the enemy units that I had blasted in the early phase of this combat. MegaHitler had not been out of sight when the Amok units had ambushed me; he had retrieved the sharp blades and hurled them with admirable speed, thus disrupting the attack on me.

I did not ask for your help.

“No, you did not. Thus, you owe me nothing.”


“Why not? But consider. The ancient German volk are long since gone—dispersed, diluted, evolved, over hundreds of generations. You cybertanks are now my tribe. And for all my faults, I have ever been loyal to my tribe.

I suppose that makes sense. One last question, if I may. Why do you do it? Why keep on?

“A good question. Partly out of habit, and the instinct for self-preservation. Each day has something of interest, and there is always one more day. And partly because, without me, who will take care of Elephant? But mostly, I think, I stay around so that I might bear witness.”

Bear witness? To what?

I (or at least my original template) was there when humanity first started down the road of technology. Then we spread into the stars. The biological humans disappeared, leaving you, the cybertanks, to carry on. Someday you too will be gone—wiped out in a war with aliens, or advanced to something greater. Either way, I will be the last human-scale sentience to bear witness to the ultimate fate of greater humanity. Don’t disappoint me.”

We shall endeavor not to. But what shall you do when we are all gone?

“I’m not sure. Probably I will just shut down. But I might take up painting again. After all, one classic way to achieve success as an artist is to outlive your critics.”

The first of my peers’ reinforcements screamed overhead, but they had missed the main event. MegaHitler began to walk away, but then he turned back and said “Oh, and if you should ever be interested, I still do birthday parties. My rates are quite reasonable.” With that he left, followed after a pause by his elephant.

That was the last and only time that I chanced to speak in person with MegaHitler. He’s right, there were many humans that were objectively more evil than he was, but he has become an archetype. We could probably discuss politics with Ghengis Khan or Vlad the Impaler or even Slim Whitman, but, as charming and intelligent as he may be, Hitler stirs up unconscious feelings of revulsion. Thus it is that he is a pariah.

In the old records, people imagined Hitler burning for all eternity in the ninth circle of East St. Louis. Instead, he has been resurrected from the dead, and doomed to forever wander the landscape, his only friend a mute and perpetually sad robotic elephant. Somehow, I’m not feeling bad about that. END

Timothy J. Gawne is an MIT trained engineer with a Ph.D. in physiology. He is the author of the popular “Chronicles of Old Guy” book series. He has also contributed to numerous scientific papers in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry.




adjacent fields


deep fried