Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


How to Build the Perfect Woman
by Timothy Mudie

Sound of Chartreuse
by Nancy S.M. Waldman

Finding New Roads
by Allen Demir

Smart Home Blues
by Mark Ayling

Drone Dreams
by Hayden Trenholm

Game Changer
by Iain Ishbel

Safe Bet to Appelane
by Derrick Boden

Aquilonia, My Zelky
by Barton Paul Levenson

Shorter Stories

Princess Zenla and the Encyclopedia on Mars
by George S. Walker

See No Evil
by K.S. O’Neill

QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name
by Kurt Hunt


God From the Machine
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

And Bugs on the Menu
by Carol Kean



Comic Strips




QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name

By Kurt Hunt

I WAS SWALLOWED WHOLE ONCE. It was moist and unpleasant. All a misunderstanding, of course.

It all happened on a little KBO near the edge of the Kuiper cliff, way farther out than the asteroid we ended up mining. Our human crew was surveying and I was watching forty things at once to make sure none of those idiots fell in a hole or depressurized their suits or inadvertently detonated a gas pocket. The usual. You would think creatures so fragile would be more careful.

I was scoping a cave when it happened. A Plutinonian slugworm that first appeared to be nothing more than a looming, serrated hole of mucus and gore mistook my primary module for a torpedo. He threw himself in my path to save his clutch of four thousand hatchlings. It took four of my security modules to calm him down, and three constructor modules to pry his jaws open and drag me out. Humiliating.

We joked about it after I was cleaned and the worm, whose name was George, was recruited, but I always found great comfort in the selflessness he showed in that moment. I never told him that.

I’m selfless, too, in my own way, like every Saf-T-Bot. I’m programmed that way. My selflessness is perfect, but because of its perfection I suppose it’s less inspiring, less touching, than George’s. My organic employers certainly don’t seem impressed. In fact, I don’t think most of them see it as selflessness at all. Selflessness requires a “self,” I suppose, so maybe they have a point. I’m not sure I have one of those.

That was precisely the question George and I were debating when the mine collapsed.

“Little canary,” he said, “do you ask that just because you were manufactured?”

I lifted my front set of arms by forty-five degrees to indicate a shrug. My yellow stripes glowed like tiny elongated suns beneath the artificial lights of the tunnel. Lit up like this I could see the tattoo of microscopic serial number stamps traced up and down every part, even on my perimeter modules floating nearby. My own bodies mock me.

George continued: “The Skir think they were designed. But they take it as a mark of divinity. That intentional manufacture is a prerequisite for soulfulness.”

I shrugged again. This was all beyond my capacity.

“Or take me,” said George. “Am I more of a self than you just because my larvae are taking root?”

Beneath the shimmering yellow of his back skin, the clutch of protoworms rippled in loving response. The miners around us retched and turned their heads. Organics were squeamish that way, even about their own parts.

“Maybe not,” I said. I had almost three dozen independent bodies—semi-autonomous modules all specialized for key tasks and interlinked to the processing system in my primary module. Quantity alone didn’t answer the question. “But maybe you’re more of a self just because you weren’t Unit Number 7,853 to roll out of the factory.”

“Bah. Now you’re just being morose.”

The shift captain, his eyes closed against the swarm tracing bubbling paths beneath George’s back, hit the bell and yelled. “Back to it, worm!”

George lifted his head toward the captain and dribbled a thin stream of venom, then dug his powerful jaws back into the mineral veins of the asteroid.

“Think about it,” he mumbled, his mouth jagged with rock.

I did. Or I tried to. My modules were jabbering amongst themselves, distracting me, and I don’t process as fast as I used to.

Anyway, I was built for sensation and analysis, not philosophical contemplation. Give me a poison gas leak and I excel. But ask me to answer why the Skir believe in the divinity of manufacture when other species have repeatedly and conclusively disproved the existence of the Skirian supreme being, and I’m at a total loss. I tend to chalk those mysteries up to the many oddities and defects of organics—parasites, mental illness, excessive moisture, that sort of thing.

The first indication that anything was wrong was when the tunnel wall fractured and split George in half. His children shrieked supersonic shrieks as they spilled onto the grit of the tunnel floor, but even that noise was overpowered by the crackle deep within the asteroid’s bones as the tunnel lifted, twisted, and flattened.

It was all very surprising.


“Talk to me about redundancies.” The voice was female. Human. Heavy orbital accent, which meant a station somewhere, not planetside.

“Wasn’t any.” Different voice. Male. Tense.


“It was a small exploratory operation. We were within regs.”

The female voice made a skeptical fffffff noise. A techie noise. And the male, definitely business-side.

My optics were still offline, but my processors were warming up. I let the available data wash over me. The distant throb of stabilizers confirmed my location—the slightly-too-fast frequency of the engines matched the signature for NT-34, a station near Titan used primarily for maintenance. I wasn’t due, and that meant—

Shit. Incident Diagnostic.

“What the hell went wrong with it?”

“Maybe nothing. It scans okay.”

I ran my internal diagnostics. My modules were all absent. Disconnected. Maybe destroyed. I felt like a two-legged spider.

No noticeable malfunctions in my primary module, but something had gone wrong. I was in the tunnel when it failed. Why had I not detected it? A structural shift, a seismic event, an antigrav generation failure, something.

“Then do different scans. Mines don’t just fall down for no reason, and this useless thing didn’t so much as beep before that tunnel dropped and vacuumed out.”

“Mmmm.” The Tech wasn’t listening. She was thinking, puzzle-solving.

“Fifteen crew,” continued the Businessman. “The government’s already crawling all over the site. We’ll be dealing with the regulators and the courts for years.” I could hear his heart pounding. It was arrhythmic—he should have that checked out—but steady enough to be safe.

“Mmmm,” said the Tech, with no more enthusiasm than the first time.

The Businessman left soon after that, left me and the Tech to answer the only question that mattered: what had I missed?


The next round of tests was exhaustive. Dynamic vibration tests, spectrum analyses, bioscans, toxicity tests, structural integrity simulations, and a full checklist of every category of event that was supposed to trigger an alarm. It was the most thorough workout I’d had since manufacture, maybe ever. Day after day of vigilance and blaring alarms, each of which jolted through my system like lightning, and always with the anxiety—new to me—that something might slip past unnoticed.


The Tech tapped her fingers against the top of the datapad, frowning at me.

“How do you think you did?”

I took a few microseconds to replay and analyze each of the tests—not that I hadn’t already done that thousands of time in the past few hours—and lifted my arms. “Fine.”


“Um. Perfect?”

“Mmm.” The Tech leaned back. “Are you certain?”

I hesitated. She nodded.

“Well,” she said. “No false positives. That’s good. And no false negatives, also good. No issues with overlapping triggers, no apparent blind spots whatsoever.”


“We have the preliminary report back from the mine. There was a structural shift several dozen meters above the tunnel. Probably caused by asynchronous vibrations. Your crew was being sloppy.”

“But we just tested ... I thought I did fine.”

“On the tests? Perfect. We recreated the key elements of the collapse at least thirty times and you caught it every time. Might’ve been a localized problem with one of your remote modules, of course, but there’s not much left of those to dissect.”

So there it was. They were all gone. I was a queen bee without a hive.

“What about George’s clutch?”


“The worm.”

“Oh, him. I think the company impounded them. The ones that survived, anyway.” The Tech set the data pad aside. “How do you feel?”

“Feel?” Confused. Alarmed. Agitated. “Tired.”

“Not really in your programming, is it?”

“Not precisely. But ... look, I’m clean on my tests. When can I get back to work?”

“You’re being retired.”

Her heartbeat was infuriatingly steady.

“But you said yourself I’m functioning perfectly.”

Tested perfectly. But you failed in your primary function and we can’t explain it. If we can’t explain it, we can’t fix it.”

“And if you can’t fix it, you can’t guarantee it won’t happen again, yeah, I get it. So run more tests! Run as many tests as you need to either find the problem or prove there is no problem.”

“It doesn’t work like that.” She stood up and walked to her desk. “You’re a QSFT7 mark 2, so that makes you, what, eleven? Maybe twelve if you were early off the line?”

“Oh. That’s what this is about.”

“Like I said, you’re being retired. We can’t trust you with our lives any more.”

I felt hollow.

“The good news,” she said brightly, picking up a handset, is that your malfunction, whatever it is, isn’t an affirmative danger.”

“Well hoo-ray.”

“Which means we won’t have to deactivate and scrap you.”

Deactivate? What the hell kinds of conversations had these people been having about me?

A future without purpose stretched before me. After a decade of relentless work—hundreds of accidents averted, tens of thousands of lives saved—my programming didn’t have an answer to this yawning void.

“What—what will I do?” My voice was barely audible.

“We have a place.”


The halfway house was a low, gray building on the outskirts of the biggest city on Tantalion. “A small planet,” the Tech had explained, “mostly agricultural. Good place to clear your head.” Then she had lasered off my serial numbers and boxed me up with the rest of the cargo.

The building was surrounded by the fractal symmetry of a garden, complex and immaculately maintained. From the curving, sandy path, a small robot floated toward me.

“Welcome,” it said, “to the Quiet House. We’ll be doing a little reprogging. Deprogging, really. But mostly just helping you figure out how to operate without a primary imperative.”

“What about my modules?” I felt naked, just one primary module clunking around all by myself. It was ridiculous.

“We’ll assign you new ones soon, don’t worry about that. First thing’s first: what’s your name?”

“Serial number QSFT7mk2.7853.”

“Yes, yes, I know that,” the robot replied, wobbling on its thrusters. “But here we all adopt names. Proper names, to live our new lives with.”

“But I don’t have a name.”

“None of us did, but now we do. My name is Boston. Historical reference. American Revolution. Familiar with it?”

I lifted my front arms.

“Ah, of course not, you’re a miner ... not much need for fancy book learning.” His voice was flat. “Anyway, I chose that name because in this life I’m free, and my name reminds me of that. Most of us choose names that mean something special to us, or that remind us of something unique to us—we had so few of those things when we were progged. Did you have anything like that?”

“Well,” I said, “I remember tunnels.”

So many tunnels, dark and rough to begin with and then grayer and smoother as we progressed.

“Okay, good, but maybe something more—and this is a concept I know will take getting used to—something more personal?”

I thought of the rhythm of the cutters, the shouts of the miners, all those shared experiences. And I thought of George.

He had never used my serial number. Not once. And I’d never called him “worm” like the others. To each other, at least, we were more than that. Why had I never thought about that, about what it meant?

In the double-sunlight of Tantalion, my module gleamed, smooth and unblemished for the first time since it was cast. No numbers; no etchings; no warning symbols. George would have liked that.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” I said. “Call me Canary.” END

Kurt Hunt is, in no particular order, a father, a lawyer, a husband, and a daydreamer. His fiction has appeared in “Fantasy Scroll Magazine,” and is forthcoming in “Strange Horizons,” “Kaleidotrope,” and the SFFWorld 2015 “Ecotones” anthology.


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