Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




We Are Parts

By Matt Zandstra

AS WE SHED FLESH OVER THE YEARS so we grew loud. We clacked and rattled. A caress which might once have slipped over soft skin now scraped. And we arrived at the main act with percussive force. We clashed and banged and screeched. Our bucking and thrusting rang with hollow violence.

We put on a hell of a show, Suzanne and I.

And I imagined the empty-eyed booths around the low stage filled again, each with its own solitary watcher, and each watcher applauding us in his or her own way. The mirror glass which once shielded our shy audience now allowed us to conjure them anew in our minds.


Some days Max came down from his pitch on the street to watch, and he chose a different booth each time. I liked that, not knowing if there were eyes behind any one of the mirrors. It meant in a way there were eyes behind them all.

I’ve known Max forever. All my life, I mean. He was my reception unit and his receptors, unmoving, unlidded, were the first eyes I looked into. He was old even then, though you couldn’t tell it from his smooth, barely-featured carapace. He went back to planetfall. And earlier, when SHIP was on her final approach, and CENTRAL just a mind in storage, Max worked reception then, too. He woke the first people. He even claimed, sometimes, he woke CENTRAL.

He had this idea. Units, and minds, and humans all have the same meat somewhere in them, he said, boxed or boned, and that made them all people. He woke them all, he said. They all mattered.

I stopped being sure about that after Suzanne and I had been performing to an empty room for a few years. And Max was up there on the street, calling it out to no one. Even the other h-type units in the district had stopped coming by. It was just Suzanne and me fucking, and Max up there tottering around in the sunshine and the rain, itemising our charms, our readiness, our willingness to no one at all.

“Why do we do it?” I asked him once.

He thought about that. “There’s a satisfaction, isn’t there? To have a choice, and still perform your assigned task, that’s a ...” he thought again “... a good thing. Besides. It passes the time.”

And that was true. We performed every day, and something in that held us there while the world went its own way. A thought might take a month, even a year, to blossom. A conversation could stretch and twist through a decade. Shows joined up like breaths or heartbeats until there was nothing else, really, but Suzanne and I working each other’s bodies, writhing, and linking, and, eventually, grating. Our lives were driven onward by climax the way engines once tethered combustion.


The day after we were born, Max took all of us to the observation deck in the top corner of CENTRAL and showed us the city. By then CENTRAL had long ago matured and left SHIP. It was no longer just a mind, but an entire building, a vast cube turned at a diamond angle and jammed at its lowest corner into the heart of the city. I didn’t know that then. I’d only ever seen my fab room and a coil of identical ribbed corridors.

I properly met Suzanne for the first time in the observation deck elevator, and she smiled at me. I learned then that my body has a whole involuntary life. I learned then about breath quickening, muscles tightening. I learned you can feel a touch before it reaches your flesh.

The city was a compact affair of only ten or so square km. It was a small patch, we saw, in an evergreen forest. The trees stretched away to a gathering-in of distant mountains on one side and a blue-green band of sea that sparkled on the other. You could still see a couple of the old terraforming stations thrusting up through the canopy, each one tethering its own clot of cloud, but other than that it all looked untouched. Perfect.

“That’s French District. Or just French.” Max said to Suzanne and me, pointing out a grid of rolling tree-lined avenues. “That’s where you’ll work, if you choose to. And that’s Old Town,” he indicated that district’s warren of twisting streets. Its houses and walls overhung the roadways, stepped into the hillside. He listed half a dozen districts. “New Tokyo, Beijing2, Fitzgerald.”

I reached out and felt Suzanne’s hand in mine. It was CENTRAL’s habit to make mates of its units. Even so, it felt like a kind of luck. A mystery. To reach out and not know who will take whose hand, and yet be sure your hand will be met.

“You can do something else if you want. You can retrain. You’re as free as any person in this city,” he said. “You are a person in this city. You understand?” I nodded. Suzanne nodded. We believed it.

We had thirty years local. Fifty standard. French filled up, and we got busy. We made friends with units and with humans too. By day we serviced clients, we performed. At night, Suzanne and I slept together. Even though we could simply have switched modes where were stood, it felt good to hold her hand in the dark. It felt right.


Then CENTRAL and SHIP fell out. Something made them stop talking.

“It’s bad,” Max told us. He was still working reception then. More people meant more units. Units for construction, for the service industries, units for comfort. And units for the units. Max was busier than ever before.

But the dropships went and stopped coming back, and SHIP closed down its channels.

“It’s bad,” he said again. “We all need SHIP. Even CENTRAL. SHIP grounds us.”

Suzanne and I didn’t pay much attention. We were busy, too. And happy.

CENTRAL rolled out the new power generators. There was an argument about that. People didn’t want them near the districts. They loved their twisty streets and artfully cluttered skyline. The generators were uncompromising dome clusters, like plasteel puffballs, and the plan was to plant them in the heart of each district. CENTRAL sent out units to clear space. Dumb things with no words. Then more came to begin construction.

CENTRAL closed down reception.

Max stayed on for a while and worked without mandate. But CENTRAL reconfigured half the fabs for new models, quick many-legged things that spoke only in silent purecom streams and regarded him with blank incomprehension.

We can handle purecom of course, it’s not new. But h-types think in words. We’re not shaped like purecom. It feels slippery to me. It’s intimate in the worst way. Like letting a stranger stick his tongue in your brain. Words are building blocks. You can make paths and castles with them, and share them, or hide in them. Purecom is like a window in your mind. It’s not strictly decent.

Eventually CENTRAL took against Max altogether and barred him from its structure.

“It’s SHIP. It’s because I belong to SHIP,” he said.

He became a barker, calling out to people on the street. “Birth then sex,” he said. “I guess I was made to herald the things that matter.”


Humans were fragile things. Prone to sickness and inexplicable moods, always disagreeing with one another. I liked them. I liked the way they never did a thing without noise or fuss. Not a moment went undecorated. Without them there would have been no French District, no twisting Old Town. Without them there would have been no club. If there was one thing they liked more than fighting it was fucking. Each other, us, inanimate objects, you name it they’d rub themselves up against it. And take pictures. Lovely filthy, dirty, bad humans. I miss them.

It took almost year for them all to die. We nursed them when we could. When we had to, we defended ourselves. Against their desperation, their envy, their anger. Old Town burned in the riots.

“An accident,” Max told us. “Something to do with the generators. They’ve been pumping out radiation for months.”

“What about us?”

“Metal boxes,” he said, and he tapped the back of his head. “We are a little more protected. Maybe it was enough.”


CENTRAL turned its attention elsewhere. It cut off power to the old districts. The repair units stopped coming. It refused to talk to us, using either words or purecom.

Even then, sometimes, I walked French District streets and it seemed like before. We weren’t the only h-type units left. There were hundreds of us, repairing, and serving, and selling. They came to our shows, too. A few took some pleasure with me or with Suzanne. Round the corner from us Harry tended a small restaurant. He was partnered with Karo who worked small construction jobs.

But somehow we all lost ourselves in process. Our assignments became our worlds. Years went by without my speaking to Harry at all. I’d walk past sometimes and raise my arm to him. I’d see Karo fixing up a broken window, and flash her a smile. But I’d not stop. There’d be that urge to get back to Suzanne. To our next show. And with that, you know, a kind of panic to think of us stuck. The only cure was to carry on.


Suzanne and I had always revelled in our bodies. Much more so than other units I should think. Physical perfection was part of our vocation, after all. We gave ourselves as gifts to our customers, to each other. We were lean and muscled. Suzanne was willow-thin with full hips and small, shapely, very sensitive breasts. I had a flat stomach, and just a little breadth in my shoulders. Not too much. Our bodies were built for inclusion, for sharing, and not to intimidate.

She would place her palm very flat, very wide, on my chest and run it down to my belly. Stop there and press her nails into the muscle, and then, very slowly, onward, downward. One day, as I brought my hand up to cover hers, I noticed asex bots creasing, a tracery of fine cracks in the crook of my arm. I had seen it before, probably, but this was the day it became real to me.

On Suzanne it began at her armpits, where I liked to nuzzle. I remember tasting the fissures. Tiny to look at, but deep against my tongue.

It took years after the accident, a hundred more years, for those small ravines to deepen and spread on us both. The flesh simply wore away. We flaked, and very slowly, we unravelled. We peeled like ancient fruit.

Eventually the mirrors depressed me.

“I like to see you, love,” Suzanne said, “I like to see you with me.”

But how could that be true? I could see myself, after all. The grin of me, the sink of my eye sockets, eyeballs unblinkable, fingers spindle-long. There could be no pleasure watching me anymore.

The changes in Suzanne never altered how I felt about her, though. Even as her lips peeled, even as I recoiled from my own face, she remained beautiful to me.

And she had none of my vanity, either. She found desire in our shredding. She incorporated our deterioration.

“We’re even dirtier now,” she said, “Look at us! We’re monsters!” and she laughed, pulled me into her.

She enjoyed our new bodies. She played her fingers along my spine so they went plink and ting against the vertebrae, and I felt the hum of it in my chest.

Time slowed for a while. One year seemed longer now than the previous ten. It repulsed me. It fascinated me. Not only the look of us, but the way we’d slept through our health and beauty. Why should we savour decay? Why wake up for this?


Then one day it all changed again.

We had just finished a performance, and we were clearing the low stage. There was a plastic flower, bright in a clear vase. On impulse, I plucked it out. I offered it and smiled.

She smiled too. A little rearranging of servos above her grinning jaw, with its perfect porcelain teeth.

She reached out. Then she said, “Oh.” Her fingers snapped together inches from the stem.

She tried again. She looked at it carefully. And she moved her hand toward it very slowly, following the motion with her eyes. And then she delicately pinched air.

“Oh,” she said again.

Gently, I placed the flower into her hand, and closed her fingers round it. “Here you are, my love,” I said.

“Thank you darling,” she said.

But we knew.


Suzanne failed fast. She reached for me—to slap or pinch or caress—but the shapes in her mind’s model no longer matched the solid world. She swatted at air, traced phantom shapes. Sometimes she swung her hand in a clumsy arc until resistance told her she’d found me. For her, though, the sensation of touch was elsewhere, floating above my back, or to one side. Increasingly, she trusted to her senses and stroked a fantasy of me. I took to holding her by the wrists and moving her hands about my body. I kept up a commentary for her. “Your hand is on my shoulder,” I’d say, “it feels good.

And then one of her arms refused to be guided. She could raise it and drop it, but there was no lateral motion. Just a click and a grate from somewhere deep in her shoulder joint. Her stuck arm pointed up at the ceiling as we made love and swayed with our movements.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said afterwards.

And she just looked at me.

I called for Max.

“You’re not responding to purecom.” he said. “When did you last feel a handshake?”

She shrugged with one shoulder. “I never liked it. It makes me itch.”

“But you felt it, right? The units nearby chattering. The automated carrier from CENTRAL?”

“I guess I blocked it out.”

“OK. Well I can’t make a diagnostic link. I’ll have to get physical.”

“You old dog.”

Max made a smiley shape. He still had a diagnostic kit. The kind he used when he worked reception. It used to be harder to get into a unit. There was flesh to slice. I remember the feel of the scalpel, and the sight of Max’s hand slick with serum.

But all he had to do now was rub away dust. He pressed a pad to Suzanne’s neck and thumbed a stud. She made a gagging sound, and tensed.

“Are you alright?”

“I ... I think so.”

The back of her head came away neatly enough. Like a new kind of undressing. A new kind of sex. I found myself wanting to touch inside her skull. To kiss her.

“There,” he said. Five or six moulded components filled the cavity he had opened. Each had indents in it for thumbs. I wondered what would happen if he pulled one out. If you mixed them in with mine, would we share a mind? Would we mingle?

He tapped the lower box. “Switching centre,” he rasped. “Take this out, and you’re a hatstand.”

“I like to be useful,” said Suzanne. I imagined hanging a coat, or a scarf on her arm, which stuck out now like the protrusion of a cartoon cactus.

He pulled up a wicked-looking needle. “I need to test each component separately. I can’t trust your self-diagnostics. This will feel ... strange.”

Afterwards he smiled at her again. “All done.”

She smiled back, a little lopsidedly.


Max beckoned me into a booth. We sat on the tip-up seats. They complained noisily. Outside, through the one-way mirror, I could see Suzanne moving props around with her one good arm. Half her face was still. Emotionless. On the other side, flesh clung around her eye which was open very wide.

“She’s scared,” I said.

“It’s no good, Sam,” he said. “She’s dying.”

“Which one? Which one of those things?”

He tapped the base of his skull. “Lower order motor skills. It’s ... infrastructure. There’s nothing I can do, Sam.”

“What if we got another one. What if we swapped another in? Or went to CENTRAL. CENTRAL could fix this, right?”

“Sam, CENTRAL isn’t talking to us. You know that.”

“Well. What about outside? There must be spare parts in the districts. There have been building collapses. Deaths. We could ...” I winced a little. “We could cannibalise.”

“They look separate, don’t they? Nice neat slots.” He placed a hand on my arm. “But these aren’t electronic systems. They bed into one another. Even pulling one for inspection causes damage. Possibly permanent damage. Maybe she could use a fresh component, something new, but she’d almost certainly reject anything that’s been in place for years. There’s nothing round here that would work.”

I went out anyway. Our street had long since fallen silent. Little jungles of foliage penetrated the middle of the road. They were forcing the tarmac apart, breaking it down. The old apartment building across the road was green with moss, and its roof had fallen in. Tree branches waved gaily though glassless windows and trailed little purple flowers like handkerchiefs. One day, I thought, there’ll be nothing left of the districts but buried steel bones.

I turned the corner. There was no sound but a moan of wind through broken windows. Last time I had been along here, I remembered, I had heard hammering, and music too, from Harry’s restaurant. So that’s where I went.

I found Harry sitting at one of his tables. A very dusty bottle of wine in front of him.

“Business slow?” I said, and took the seat opposite.

He stared at me with unfocused eyes. He was dusty, too. He had not moved for a very long time.

When I returned with Harry’s head in a bag I’d stolen from his kitchen, Suzanne was getting ready, and Max had arranged her arm so that it stuck out a little less.

I showed them my find.

Max reached into the bag, and touched the edge of the severed neck. There was a powdery residue on his fingers as he withdrew them. “It won’t work,” he said.

“No, Sam,” said Suzanne. “Let’s just ... carry on.”

Our performance was urgent. I made a virtue of it. I made her arm the star of the show. I posed her touching me, touching herself.

“We’re really monsters, now,” I said.

This time she didn’t laugh.


On the last day, Suzanne held my gaze, but her head jerked from side to side. Her remaining arm batted at me and I sat up, wanting to spare her.

“Don’t stop,” she said, angry. Her voice was still strong, but it issued now from somewhere in her throat, unrelated to the movements her jaw made. I didn’t stop. At the end she pulled me into an embrace. She held me tight, and pushed her chin up, reaching for the clash of teeth that was the closest we had left to a kiss. Then she stopped.

I’m not sure how long I lay there with her. It was dark when I wriggled out from under her arm, which remained fixed around a memory of my back.

Max came down and flicked on a light. He patted me, a careful gesture. It made a dry tapping sound. I nodded. We stood together and looked at her.

We left her there. Every day at the hour of our performance I sat in one of the booths and watched her unmove.

“And death.” I said to Max one afternoon.


“Birth, sex, and death. Your job.”

“I suppose so,” he said. “Yes. I suppose that is right.”


A month after that I left the club.

Max was at the corner, rasping out his litany. “Hot action! Girls for girls, boys for boys, boys for girls, girls for boys. Someone for everyone. Conjure your lover right here. As good as the real thing. Only bad. Very very bad. Join in or watch, direct the action, or let us surprise you. Come along in now, come along in! Oh. Hello.”

“I thought I’d see CENTRAL again.”

“It’s hard to get to. The district’s in a bad way.”

“You said.” I showed him a machete I’d pulled from the old lean-to at the back of the club.

He searched my flesh-stripped face. I looked back. His surprised eyes and letterbox mouth were much the same as they’d always been. What doesn’t move doesn’t wear.

“You know there’s no point,” he said.

“I’d like to see it. That’s all.”

“You’d do better to get back to work. Things will improve once you’ve got your routine back.”

“What routine?”

“We’ll work something out.”

He made a grating sound that stood in for a sigh.

“And then what? Sleep again till I fall apart too?”

“Hurry back. You’re our star performer.”

“I’m our only performer, Max.”

He thought about that for a moment, then turned away abruptly. “Girls for girls,” he hissed, widening his arms to the uncaring world. “Take your pick. Filthy girls and dirty boys dying for you, right now.”


The CENTRAL cube is, or seems to be, embedded deep enough into the ground that the structure claims a city block at its base.

It is set in a landscaped square, with cleanly clipped trees and pathways which meander through gardens. Here and there, benches offer pleasant views beside pools or flowerbeds. None of this diversionary municipal whimsy quite disguises the frank utility of the diagonal paths leading from three corners of the square, each to a hangar door that pierces a corresponding plane of the cube. A fourth path, larger than the others, leads to the main entrance, a transparent strip in the cube that glints in the sunlight.

Units of various shapes and sizes came and went, both on foot and in small wheeled transports.

The network was thick with purecom chatter. I checked the listing for CENTRAL’s public channel and attempted a handshake. Of course there was no response.

I took the fourth path, which was deserted. I reached the public entrance. A bank of transparent doors revealed an airy space inside with information terminals and vacant query desks. None of the doors would open.

I walked the ground-level perimeter of the cube, peering in at each of the bays. I stepped into the the third. I lurked, unremarked, among milling construction units, hundreds of them. They were piling tools onto transports and shipping out in tightly scheduled waves. The mood was focused and subdued.

The bay had many inner doors which slid open for authorised units. None of them would yield to me. So I chose one and waited.

When it opened, it wasn’t to emit a work crew. Just a single confused-looking unit.

He hovered at the doorway, tracking and cataloguing the bay’s expanse.

There was something in that look I recognised. It was, in manner and gesture, I thought, an outward expression of the way I had felt the day I first saw Max.

“Hey,” I said.

He turned to me, but said nothing.

“What’s your name?”

He thought about that. “George,” he said at last. He had simplified features. More expressive than Max’s, but nothing like the exquisitely detailed and nuanced faces with which Suzanne and I were born. His voice, though, his voice was deep and rich.

“Well George,” I said. “Pleased to meet you.”

He thought again. And then, slowly, he relaxed. He even smiled. “Are you ...” He shook his head, as if it were impossible. Then he tried again. “Are you my reception unit?”

It was my turn to think. “Well,” I said finally. “Why not?”


I felt a slight shiver as I left daylight behind and ushered George along a corridor that led, according to a faded sign, to Atrium 37.

“What do you do, George?”


“I mean what will you do? What were you educated for?”

“Oh,” said George. “Kitchens.”

“You build kitchens?”

“Luxury kitchens.”

“Who for?”

His brows sloped down over his eyes. Confusion again.

“Never mind. Like Max says, everyone has to do something. For you, it’s kitchens.”

“Yes,” said George. “Kitchens.”

I felt the tickle of a purecom handshake.

“Quit that, OK? We’ll talk.”

“About kitchens?”

It occurred to me then, that I knew almost nothing about reception. I remembered the need for it. A kind of ache for someone to come to me. But what then? Max had talked to us. He’d shown us things. But there was very little process to it. Most of my actual education had already taken place in Virtual, while I was little more than a head on a shelf. By the time we met Max, Suzanne and I already knew sex the way George knew kitchens.

Thinking back, the only real task I could pin down was ...

“OK. Follow me.”

We waited for the elevator. Someone had written “EARTH 274 LY” next to the door, with an arrow pointing upward. No one would be reaching orbit soon, though, not since CENTRAL and SHIP argued.

“Did you learn about the city during education? About people?”

“A standard kitchen comfortably accommodates four people. Two cooking companionably, and another two enjoying a leisurely read or chat at the supplied pine-look table,” said George.

Above the elevator control panel, numbers on the readout flickered. Seventeen. Eighteen.

“They all died, George. The people who use kitchens.”

The elevator stopped, and chimed. I wished I could offer George a world like the one Max gave us.

I felt a rush of relief as the door opened. Sunlight. It would be nice to see the forest again, and to the far north a range of mountains. The sea to the south.

George squinted at the light. He approached the nearest window with something like awe. His mouth was open as he scanned from left to right, and back again. “The city is big,” he said.

“You’d be surprised,” I said. “Compared to some Sol system cities, this is a village.” I joined him, and looked out. “Oh.”

There was no forest. The city stretched out as far as the horizon. The old districts, my neighbourhood included, were dun coloured with rot, or green beneath half victorious vegetation. But a new city gleamed clean, regular and boundless in the afternoon sun. I tried another window. City. And another. More city. Nothing but city. Every kilometer or so I saw a power plant, each one an identical cluster of spheres. They were spaced evenly, and connected by highways so they pricked out a grid, laid over the lighter tracings made by district streets. They looked like the rules you find on graph paper. And in the distance another CENTRAL cube. And over there another. Within every square, I saw the same shapes repeated over again. A low-rise office block, a parking area with retail outlets, a scatter of apartment buildings, a motel. I could pick out the parts of the pattern, and I could find them again, exactly the same elsewhere. But then I’d look at the whole and it all blurred into a kind of shiny beige tartan.

“Look.” I pointed. “There’s the French District. Where I live. Lived.”

George nodded. He looked from me to the view. And I knew then I’d got it right. This was reception. I was a reception unit. It occurred to me I could stay here and do this. I could be useful.

I watched it too. And all the Georges in convoy out to the edges. Off out to build malls, and roads, and fit empty apartments for no one. Not even for ghosts.

“There!” He said, suddenly bright and urgent, “There!” He pointed out at the horizon. “My kitchen is there.”

“Yes,” I said.

When I hit him with the machete, I was careful to sever the spinal column low down on his neck and to leave the switching centre at the base of his skull untouched.


It took me three days to get back. Without any decent tools, I had to hack George up as best I could. In fact, once I peeled back the flesh at the joints he came apart fairly easily. We’re made of parts, after all. Everything is designed to slot and click. Tongue and groove. Like Suzanne and me.

In an old warehouse beyond the park I found some heavy duty plastic sacks. I packed my hacked parts in that.

I’m not as strong as I once was, though, and I found I had to drag the bag most of the time, only lifting it to clear debris. It tore, of course, and I wasted a couple of hours hunting around. Finally I found a hand cart, the kind stores use for boxes, and the going was easier after that.

Max stood at his pitch.

“What’s this?”

“It’s help, Max. It’s parts.”

He peered into the torn sack, and into George’s open eyes.

“What have you done, Sam?”

“I found it.”

He reached down, and ran his finger below George’s neck, where my hacking had left jagged rents. It came back moist.

“It was crushed. A fallen building.”

“He was a person, Sam. A real person.”

“Yes, Max,” I said slowly, as if I thought he was stupid, “that’s the point. That’s what I needed. Look.” I delved into the bag and pulled out a pale pink cube. I’d wrapped it in paper. Serum had soaked through and dried, giving the cube a crinkled withered look. “I saved you the voice box.” I held it out to him. “It’s nearly new.”

He looked at it. Then he looked at me.

“What was I supposed to do, Max? Eh? CENTRAL’s churning them out. It’s puking them. And they’re barely sentient. They’re nothing. They’re ants. And in there,” I waved past him at the door, “Suzanne’s in there.”

“Everyone dies, Sam,” he said. “Everyone. Everything.”

He wouldn’t understand. It wouldn’t happen. I could see that. He had some ... I don’t know, a superstition. “But not her. Not yet. Please, Max. Just help me fit the part,” I said, “At least do that.”

He shook his head again, but when I pushed the cart through the club’s door, he followed.

When we slotted the component home, Suzanne spasmed. She thrashed, and we had to press her down to stop her from bucking across the floor.

“I told you!” Max grated. He’d have shouted if his ruined voice would let him. “Look what you’ve done. For this!”

“Just hold her. Wait.”

And then she went limp. No longer frozen in place. No longer a statue. But loose. Collapsed.

“Sam?” Suzanne stirred. “I can’t see you.”

I knelt and touched her cheek. “I’ve made things better.” I said.


It took a week to finish Suzanne. Max said very little but he helped. Finally, on the eighth evening, we were ready to perform.

I went up to look for the old unit. I wanted to make peace, and also to ask him to watch us. There was no sign of him at his post. I looked up and down the street. Nothing stirred.

Back downstairs, I found Suzanne waiting for me. I reached for her, tightened my grip on her broad builder’s shoulder. I ran my hand down her spine. She’d kept her hips, and I lingered at the small of her back before tracing her bottom. She smiled and clasped her fingers around my neck. I briefly imagined them clamping on faucets, and manoeuvring draining boards. So much the better to grasp me as we moved together. Better to fit me to her purpose. We are, after all, componentised, my Suzanne and I. We are parts.

“I was thinking,” she said, “about the act.” She licked my ear. “You know we do the office? And the Emperor’s court? I was thinking maybe a more domestic setting. Perhaps ... a kitchen?”

“A kitchen.” I let my hand linger briefly at her crotch, and then travel up to her chest, bulging with muscle. Small male nipples. The surprise of it was erotic. “Why not?” I said.

And then we didn’t speak at all for a while.

Later I looked for Max again. The street was still deserted. I checked in his room and found his few belongings gone. Everything, that is, apart from the voice box. He’d left that on his table, still in its wrinkled paper wrapping.

Outside something howled. It might have been the wind rising, but it reminded me a little of the sound the dropships once made as they dusted off. END

Matt Zandstra lives in Liverpool, England. He studied at the UEA Creative Writing MA program where he won the annual Curtis Brown prize. He has also written books and articles about computer programming, in addition to short fiction.


one year


star run