Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


On the Road Again
by Michaele Jordan

A Prince of Blood and Spit
by Guy Stewart

by Brandon L. Summers

Little Ships
by Harold R. Thompson

Road Rage on the Hypertime Expressway
by Ken Altabef

Bug Out
by Cas Blomberg

By His Jockstrap
by Eamonn Murphy

Tamera’s Engagement
by John Hegenberger

Shorter Stories

From the Other Side of the Rubicon
by Sean Mulroy

To Be Carved
by David Steffen

Final Frames of the Eldrisil
by J. Daniel Batt


About That Colony
by John McCormick

Tesla and Newton
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips





By Brandon L. Summers

IT WAITED, STILL AND SILENT, its intense red aura blazing in the darkness like a star in a void.

For a century it had considered its mission complete, and had no reason to exist in any other state.

Its digit curled then, and it whirred to life.

Something had awakened it.


Jansen fussed with his cards as the applause died down. He cleared his throat, no less firm in his conviction that the hundred or so people in the audience staring at him, their eyes filled with great expectations, were simply not there.

The first card read: the question.

“Well. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Jansen Tucker,” he said. “There is only one question we are concerned with here tonight. What is a robot?”

Next card: the answer. He inhaled deeply.

“The answer is simple,” he continued. “It’s a mechanical device, right? It is something we build to perform a specific action. We see examples of this every day.”

He turned, and looked at the giant screen. The blazing ProtoTech logo was replaced with a series of images.

“Self-propelled vacuum cleaners. Skyscraper window-washers. Solar-powered turbines. Each performing a single, simple action,” he said. He faced forward, his gaze returning to the surly, empty university theater. “Now, I can hear you saying, those are just ordinary machines. That’s not a robot!

“Why does a machine have to look like us, though, with arms and legs and a mouth? And more importantly, why does it have to think like us?”

Murmurs erupted across the theater.

Jansen glanced at the only person in the room for the conference keynote—his friend and business partner, William Denning. He shared the man’s encouraging smile. Denning ran his fingers through his wild brown curls. It was going well, Denning agreed.

Next card: sassy bots.

“Consider the average assembly line worker. Does this person need to be able to process advanced calculations? No. Does such a person require twenty-four-hour access to the global info-net? No. He only needs to screw a bolt or hammer a nail. All simple actions, demanding only simple instruction.

“Now. Imagine,” he said. His heart raced. “A machine that performs the simple actions of all laborers.”

Next card: the big introduction.

“At ProtoTech, we have spent the past five years developing the first true robot. We call it Kiloton.”

The company logo was again replaced, this time with the striking image of a tall, boxy machine. Its silver body, in two segments resting atop treads, had two prehensile arms ending in tactile clamps and a spherical head filled with circuits and sensors. And at the center of its chest was a chamber filled with red light.

“Kiloton is a versatile construct capable of performing the same delicate tasks as any human,” he said. “It is an empty shell, awaiting programming specific to your company’s needs. Construction. Security. Sanitation. Kiloton has no limits.”

For the rest of the hour, Jansen explained how it functioned, how its interchangeable CPU meant it could be easily reassigned to other tasks, and how the safe and secure chamber housing its radioactive generator provided it with a near-eternal fuel source.

It was everything he had accomplished in his young life, summed up in a mere forty-five minutes.

“It doesn’t think like us. And like the ideal laborer, it doesn’t possess a capacity beyond its station.” The audience chuckled. “Best of all, it never tires and it never dissents.

“What is a robot?” he asked. “It is a machine that serves us. Thank you.”

Jansen nodded to no one and left the stage, aware of the enthusiastic applause and cheers following him.

The day, he decided, had been worth the sweat collecting on his forehead and wetting his hair after all.


Jansen had never felt such rage in his life. Everything stilled, and his hands clenched in tight fists at his sides.

“How could you?” he shouted. “How could you?! Five years! We did it, man! It’s done! And they liked it! Every single one of them liked it! You didn’t have to sell Kiloton to the military!”

Jansen rubbed at his temples, where his dark blond hair was already going white. It was late, and his desk was covered with stacks of papers. Not research, but an ever-growing mountain of internal analyses and bank statements.

“Damn it, Jansen!” Denning shouted back. “Who did you think we were going to sell this to? Who did you think could even afford something like this? Some non-profit? You knew! Every day you worked on this project you had to know what was going to happen, and still you invented the greatest robot of our time!”

Jansen exhaled, calmed. The man before him was not an enemy, he realized, but his best and only real friend.

“This is a betrayal of everything we worked for,” he said.

Denning also calmed. “Don’t think of it like that. Kiloton can still do good.”

“They will use my robot to do terrible things,” he said. “Oh, God! My legacy will be the deaths of, no, not thousands. Millions!”

At that moment, Jansen had an incredible vision of ash falling like black snow on a world touched by death’s hand. And it chilled him.

“They’re not unstoppable,” Denning said, wearily.

“But, they are! Nobody is going to shoot at something with a damn nuclear reactor in its chest! And if they do? And if they do, William! That’s it! Don’t you see? Thanks to you, I’m this generation’s Oppenheimer!”

Jansen walked away, only to stop at the threshold. He turned, trembling.

“Do you want to know why I’m really angry?” he said. “Because to sell it to the military, you had to promise them stronger armor for combat. And that means you had specs done behind my back.”

“Yes, I did,” Denning said, standing. “I am in charge of this company. And we’ve gotten by on our applications and patents. But the cost of this thing will end us. We can’t affect the kind of change we want if there is no company!”

“No,” Jansen said. “But at least we wouldn’t be making the world a worse place. And it is going to be so much worse now.”

The young scientist left the office and the building then, and sped purposefully across town.


Jansen sat in the warehouse, out of reach of the single light shining down on his creation, and stared ahead at the silver robot.

It was six feet tall, eighteen inches wide, and weighed eight hundred pounds. Its hands, a trio of pneumatic clamps, could cradle an egg or bend steel. There was nothing like it in the world, and it was born of his mind.

He hiccupped loudly, and glanced at the empty bottles next to him. He had consumed all four root beers in the small box.

“I never had a girlfriend,” he said. “I just didn’t care. There was never time for it, anyway. There was always something new to learn about programming and engineering. I always had something new to build. Lots of people have girlfriends, I told myself. But they could never create something like you.”

He stood, and circled the robot. Each of his steps tapped loudly in the deep silence of the vast space. He remembered when each of the machine’s components was first assembled, and each day he made those breakthroughs. It was nearly one year ago to the day when he installed its first CPU, and had it perform its first task.

It swept the entire warehouse floor, from one end to the other, and then stopped. When twenty-four hours had passed, it swept again.

“Kiloton,” he said. “I chose the name because of your atomic core. Now, it’s going to be because you kill a ton of people.” He sighed. “I don’t know how to stop this. The papers have already been signed. The government probably has your designs by now. And I’m sure the no-bid contracts are on their way to the top brass’ golf buddies. There’s nothing I can do.”

Jansen looked up at its dark, transpari-carbon sphere, into his own reflection. A long strip of individual sensors drew a line along the middle of the robot’s head. It was his proudest accomplishment. There was no video output, as it only needed to measure distance. Anything else depended on its program.

“There is a way to stop this,” he said. “I just have to think it through. Yeah, I can do that. I’m smart!” He smiled, delighting in the challenge of a new puzzle. “Okay. Sabotage? But they know you’re possible now. I’ve proved you can exist. The path has been laid for lesser minds to follow.”

He paced around his creation, his gaze distant as he let the torrent of ideas wash over him.

“What will stop you?” he said. “Nobody will listen to one man. People love to hate one man, especially some know-it-all egghead. Liberal, they’ll shout! It has to be the will of the people. Fear. That’s it! They have to fear you!”

He nodded quietly as he considered the concept. His fingers snapped to the rhythm of his accumulating thoughts, the tempo increasing.

“Fear of a weapon won’t work. You can shoot down a whole school full of children, and gun sales will actually go up. But give people an enemy, a threat, and they will demand the government go to war against it! They’ll even fight it themselves. People love to hate! That’s it! That’s the key!”

Jansen stopped abruptly, and his smile disappeared. He turned toward the robot, and put his hand against its glowing red chamber.

“I’m sorry, Kiloton, but I’m going to have to corrupt you,” he said. “You are my greatest achievement, and even though you’re a machine, I really do love you. You had such great promise. You were going to build hospitals for the poor, cultivate farms for the starving. It should never have been this way.”

He stepped behind the robot then, pulled out its processor deck and got to work. He had already conceived each step of what had to be done, and estimated it would be completed within eight hours.

He snickered. It would be done in time for the start of business hours.


It was a normal day.

Thousands of faceless people filled the sidewalk, on their way to work or to do their daily shopping, a cup of coffee in one hand and a mobile device in the other, texting and bopping in stride to the latest synth-pop sensation.

They were all too preoccupied to hear its deep whir as it emerged from the parking garage and onto the sidewalk, its polished chrome gleaming in the morning sun.

With a digitized voice, it roared, “KILL!”

Those around it gasped and jolted. Others slowed to marvel at it, while the people coming up, a safe distance away, laughed with incredulity.

Nearly everyone had their phones raised, recording it and taking pictures.

“This is a joke, right?” someone declared.

Suddenly, the robot’s arm whipped out, grabbed a man’s head and then, with a hiss of air, crushed it in its powerful clamps.


Screams erupted from the panicking crowd as the robot charged forward. People toppled over each other trying to escape, scrambling away. Its treads ran over a woman’s legs as it grabbed a man and flung him into the brick wall. It pivoted then, grabbed another man from the ground and ripped him in half.

By the time it reached the end of the street, its silver body was covered in blood. And still, the robot shouted.



General Zebulon Chisholm pounded his fist on the metal desk. Jansen neither winced nor looked up at the scowling old man. He only giggled after a beat.

“Your little toy’s already killed thirty people, Jansen!” he growled. “That’s thirty dead in a little under an hour!”

“Are you disappointed because that’s not nearly enough for your tastes, or because they were the wrong color of civilian?” Jansen asked.

He glanced up. No one in the room, not the general or the dozen federal agents along the small, concrete room’s wall, was smiling.

“Lighten up, people. It’s just a joke.”

“Damn it, boy. Now I’m done playing games with you,” Chisholm barked. “What is the kill code?”

Jensen laughed. “Kill code? What makes you think I would kill my darling? If you want it stopped you’re going to have to destroy it yourselves.”

A humorless man in a black suit stepped forward, hands in his pockets.

“We can’t destroy Kiloton without instigating a significant nuclear event,” he said, in a dry monotone. “But you’re well aware of that, aren’t you?”

Jansen shrugged. “I guess it’s just going to keep killing, then. The outcry to stop the killer robot must be very annoying. You’re a child of the ’50s, General. Killer robots should be your bailiwick! Or is that giant lizards? In any case, you’ll have to promise the public that this sort of, just, horrible thing, will never, ever happen again. Here or abroad.”

Chisholm snarled as he leaned over the desk, toward his prisoner.

“You think you’re smart, don’t you?” he said.

Jansen responded, “I am death, the destroyer of worlds.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before,” the General said, leaning back. “You know, I may not be able to build a fancy piece of machinery like the one you’ve let loose on my country. But I’m really good at lying. We’ll capture your toy, and make it our toy. The public will see a scrap of scorched tin and trust we did our jobs right. Heck, we may not even show them a pile of tin. They’ll take our word for it, because there won’t be a robot anymore. Out of sight, out of mind, and on to the next thing.”

Jansen instantly stopped smiling, and suddenly the room became much smaller.

“You’ll need me,” he said.

Chisholm laughed so hard that he keeled to one side. Jansen tensed, the sight a deeply disturbing one. The man’s amusement was genuine. The agents along the wall smiled and sniggered with him.

“That’s where you’re wrong, son,” he said. “There’s all kinds of smart kids on their way up who’re wanting their share of money and prestige. Not only will they do your job for us, they’ll be knocking down our door for the opportunity. And I doubt they’ll have your particular compunctions.” He laughed more. “Need you? There’s a laugh!”

The General, still chuckling, left the room then, followed by the agents. The metal door slammed shut after them, and locked loudly.

Jansen trembled in his solitude, uncertain now about his future.



Chisholm looked across the vast assembly floor, at acres of robots building robots. They rolled off the assembly line one-by-one like good soldiers. He smiled, his smoked glasses hiding the twinkle of pride in his eyes.

He slapped the back of the young man in the white lab coat standing at his side. William Denning winced, standing quietly behind the two.

“Damn fine, job,” the General said. “Look at them. The future! No one will dare to stand against us now. And you? Hell, you’re a living historical figure!”

“It certainly is gratifying, General. Aren Shelley, inventor of the first robot soldier,” the young project manager, only recently graduated from college, said. “Very nice.”

The new design was Shelley's alone, as dictated and approved by the General, his advisors and the government. They were narrow and angular, with black carbon casing and stiff armaments at their sides. More importantly, these robots looked nothing like the one that menaced the public one year ago.

To make them less cost-prohibitive than a human, the least expensive materials were used. Even the chamber housing the core was less shielded than Shelley preferred. And the problems from its over-complicated programming remained a headache. But, as the General constantly told him, “Think offense.”

One question still nagged at him, though.

“Did we ever find the prototype, General?” he asked.

“That publicity stunt that went all kinds of awry? No,” Chisholm said. “My thinking is, Jansen took that sumbitch apart and disposed of the core. Our prisoner won’t concede defeat, so we don’t rightly know as yet.”

“Maybe if we stood him before one of our robots?” Shelley joked.

Chisholm laughed, a harsh, barking sound, and intentionally glanced back to catch the beaten look on Denning’s face.

“In one month, the first wave will be deployed abroad,” the General said. “Robot sentries defending our interests. Subsequent waves will be deployed here at home shortly after, to help maintain the peace. It’s like I always say, think offense!”

Shelley only half listened, monitoring the automated factory floor via his tablet. No more than five units could be together at a time, or the radiation levels became hazardous.

He had heard this speech before, anyway.

Then a lone robot soldier wheeled up to them, noisily. Their reflections were cast against its dark-tinted sensor-dome.

“I. Am. Kiloton,” it announced, with a firm, but non-threatening, masculine voice.

“And what are your orders, Kiloton?” Chisholm said.

The robot responded, “Protect. And. Defend.”

Denning shook his head, refusing to even look at the machine.


Jansen lay on the stiff cot, hands folded on his chest, alone in his eight-by-ten concrete cell. During his two years at the federal prison, he had learned to value serenity. He had nothing else. He kept his cell bare, deliberately avoiding inspiration, knowing anything he drew would be appropriated and put to use. All he read was poetry.

He did, however, read one year ago about a military robot assigned to a nearby consulate. Crowds gathered to watch as it tirelessly circled the perimeter, new and powerful. He only sighed, shook his head at the so-called news.

The officer who had exposed him to that much of the outside world was dismissed on the spot.

Jansen responded, “It’s okay, you know. I called this years ago! These robots, they’re not designed to help anyone but uppity, bigoted generals.”

For that, the former scientist was given three weeks in solitary confinement.

He hoped that, over time, if he chose not to remember, he would forget all he ever knew. But the knowledge always crept back into his mind, and he despaired.

“Kiloton lives.”

Then, a flash of whitest light filled his cell. He sprang up, looked through the narrow slit in the wall. Beyond the concrete yard and barbed wall, the white dissipated, replaced with yellow fire that rocketed into the sky and spread out.

It would not reach the prison, he knew, but everyone in the city, in that instant, was dead.

“It finally happened,” he said, eyes wide with horror. “That was just the first. And I made it possible.”

The prison was evacuated one week later. By then, two more robot soldiers had ruptured, and Jansen had committed suicide.


The chamber opened, and all three students looked into its darkness. The icy wind pushed against them, tossing acidic snow onto their faces and identical navy-black bodysuits.

They lifted their black goggles in unison.

“Are you sure this is it?” Dugan asked. “It’s awfully inauspicious.”

Ajax smiled. “I sent a drone over this exact site five times, my friend. I was more than thorough. The substructure must have finally weakened enough for the signal within to be detected.”

The teen surveyor removed a glow-sphere from his pouch and clicked the broad button at its top, brilliant light illuminating the space ahead.

“You know the plan. We retrieve the radioactive material, and become as rich as kings. Yes, even you, sister,” he teased.

Gillian scoffed at the comment, already frustrated from their fifty-mile hike.

“You never did explain why such a rare element would be here, in a place like this,” she retorted. “This sector isn’t exactly considered a gold mine, brother.”

“Why did they do anything back then? It was primitive times,” Ajax said. “Let’s just get it and get gone.”

Dugan grumbled, “There’s got to be an easier way to make a fortune.”

All three entered, surrounded by the glow-sphere’s light. Beyond it, there was only dark. Each step they took echoed loudly in the void, over the turbulent winds howling at the distant entrance. Both Dugan and Gillian stared at the micro-tablet in Ajax’s hand as it guided them forward. Then, something glimmered and emerged from the darkness, like a creature from the deep.

Gillian screamed and skittered back. Ajax boldly took another step, and thrust the glow-sphere before him.

“What is it?” she said. “Ajax!”

“It’s an automobile,” he said. “And it’s in extraordinary condition!”

“Huh,” Dugan said. “This place must be an old parking garage. Cities had those.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Gillian said, embarrassed.

They continued ahead, awed by the different colors and styles of vehicles, having only ever seen pictures on their data-pads in school.

“You know,” Ajax said, looking at his micro-tablet. “I’m beginning to wonder why such a rare element would be down here, too.”

He stopped then, and Dugan and Gillian stared ahead with him. In the darkness, there was a blazing red spot of light.


“There’s no power in this sector, hasn’t been for a century!” he said. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that is!”

“It’s coming nearer,” Ajax said.

The light grew, and with it came a deep whirring sound. The students cowered, uncertain about what they should do.

Then, it wheeled into reach of the glow-sphere. The light gleamed off its round head, and its red-stained silver body shined like a star.

“It’s a robot!” Ajax shouted. “A damned robot!”


Its digitized voice boomed around them as it grabbed the teen’s head and crushed it effortlessly in its clamps. The glow-sphere fell from his grip and rolled away. Dugan ran, screaming. Gillian just stood there, paralyzed even as the robot gripped her throat and squeezed. The girl choked and thrashed, and finally went limp. It dragged her along for several feet more before releasing its grip. Dugan escaped into the snow.

Kiloton followed after the youth, and for the first time in more than a century, and only the second time in its life, emerged into the light of day.

The scorched city ruins were buried under snow and ice, the perpetually gray sky hidden by rolling black clouds. The robot rolled forward, along the brittle snow, flecked by acidic flakes, in pursuit of its new target. The intense red of its nuclear chamber blazed against the infinite white.

It had been programmed to attack only once, to capture and crush anything within ten feet of its reach and then go into hiding after thirty minutes. It was set to attack again only if it was approached by anyone other than its creator.

The kill code remained: Kiloton. END

Brandon L. Summers is a newspaper reporter in Iowa. He has most recently been published in Bete Noire Magazine's anthology “All That's Left of Yesterday.” His novella, “Servants of the Living Forest” is published by Less Than Three Press.


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