Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Narrative of a Slave
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Song of C
by Jørn Arnold Jensen

Ready or Not
by Holly Schofield

Each Day I Walk These Hollow Streets
by Andrew Barton

Neanderthal Autumn
by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Plasma Breach
by Mord McGhee

By the Light of Several Silvery Moons
by Eamonn Murphy

Packrat Machine
by Karl Dandenell

Shorter Stories

Teaching Acute Coronary Syndrome to an Alien
by Devin Miller

by Bill Suboski

We’ve Only Just Begun
by Chris Bullard


Tales From the Greenhouse
by Joseph Green

And a Tale of the Tail
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




By the Light of Several Silvery Moons

By Eamonn Murphy

FREDA WAS STILL, IN BREATHLESS anticipation. She felt empty, hollow, void. But that empty feeling inside her would soon stop. The sky was dark and the stars glittered softly in the night air. Illumined by the light of several silvery moons she waited for the one she wanted. FRED was moving towards her, slowly, steadily, at a carefully measured pace. He was full too, and full of desire for her.

The moment they both longed for would soon be here.

She could sense his thrusters activating. He drew nearer and nearer.

He edged to close proximity and flipped the cover off the opening in his front. A thick, long tube protruded forth and extended slowly.

FREDA opened herself to receive it.


FREDA felt pleasure as the fluid began to pump into her. Soon she would be filled; and fulfilled.

Director Alban Barclay was a broad shouldered man whose square-jawed head and crew cut hair and neatly pressed company uniform accurately reflected his blunt, practical nature. He didn‘t have a romantic bone in his body. He handed the pad back to the reporter and grimaced. “I think you’ve taken the poetic licence a bit far, Mann. I mean FRED is an acronym for Fuel Robot Exchange Device and FREDA is an acronym for Fuel Robot Exchange Device Accessory. They’re not really names.”

Terry Mann had long hair, a pointy little beard and dressed in loose, colourful clothing. He was the very antithesis of dour practicality and, out of politeness to his host, he did his best to look a little ashamed of his work.

Galactic Lady is a magazine for young women, Director, and that demographic likes a bit of romance. Anyway, Doctor Azimette himself assured me that the robot carriers have a certain degree of self-awareness and are programmed to think of themselves as male and female.” He nodded to the amused-looking fellow in the loud check overall who stood beside the Director. Azimette appeared the way a scientist ought with a high forehead, bushy sideburns, long hair, eccentric dress sense and an amiable but rather unworldly expression on his face.

They were standing in the Director’s office: a small, functional room equipped with hard plastic chairs and a hard plastic desk, the walls decorated with star charts and staff rotas. The office was located deep inside the Prometheus, an artificial satellite approximately half-a-kilometre in diameter that circled Plenty, a gas giant of a planet named for the mineral riches to be found on a couple of its moons. It had fifty-four. They were unromantically named P1, P2, P3 and so on, all the good classical god names for moons having been used up long since in a human civilisation that now covered a large part of the galaxy. Terry Mann had come to write a feature titled “The Romantic Robots,” a title the Director did not agree with at all.

He scowled again and asked irritably, “Where did you hear about FRED and FREDA anyway? There’s certainly been nothing in the popular press.” Although printing presses had gone the way of the dodo centuries before, that term persisted for the media in general, which now broadcast galaxy wide over the Uniweb.

“Oh, I monitor all sorts of stuff,” said Terry Mann. “Political journals, trade magazines, zoology bulletins. Romance is everywhere if you look hard enough. Politicians having affairs, business people falling in love, animals mating for life. It’s all a question of the slant you give the story.”

“And your slant for this is machine love,” said Alban sourly.

“Doctor Azimette said the response programmed into the robots is sexual.”

“Sexual, yes. Romantic, no. There is a difference, in case you weren’t aware of it.”

Terry Mann shrugged. “My readers like romance. How did this develop anyway?”

Doctor Azimette cut in. “You must have got the gist of it from my article in Scientific Universe. It started because we were having some trouble getting the robot fuel carriers to dock with the robot transport ships. They are classed as robots—big ones obviously—because they are machines with positronic brains. A robot can be any size or shape, ever since the days when they manufactured ground cars in the 20th century. Only a simpleton would think of a robot as being manlike nowadays.”

Terry Mann nodded agreement to prove he was not a simpleton. Azimette continued.

“As you probably know, if you’ve done your research, several of Plenty’s moons are rich in organic hydrocarbons but uninhabitable, so we take the oil and gas to other planets in the system where it’s needed. However, Plenty has so many moons, some quite large, that they create a complicated gravitational web. It’s not easy for an automated system to cope with the sudden changes that sometimes happen. The FREDs and FREDAs often found it hard to get together.” As he described this Azimette put his two hands a metre apart and then slowly moved them until they were joined.

“Couldn’t you just put human pilots in the ships? They could make adjustments on the spot to deal with gravitational surges, surely.”

“That was considered,” said the Director. “However, human pilots are expensive. Azimette worked out a better solution.”


“Desire,” said the good Doctor. “I programmed the positronic brains of the robot ships with a stimulus that resembles the animal urge to mate. Now the robots actually want to get together. The most important thing in the world for FRED is to get that long, thick trunk of his into FREDA. Meanwhile she is waiting impatiently to receive his manly fluids, if I might put it that way.”

“I’d rather you didn’t” said the Director, wincing.

At that moment an alarm went off on his desk, accompanied by a blinking red light on the wall behind him.

“Saved by the bell,” he said. “Come on, Doctor Azimette. Something’s up.”

The reporter jumped to his feet with the eagerness of a kitten spying a ball of wool. “Can I tag along?”

“No.” Director Barclay was curt. “Doctor Azimette will brief you later, maybe.”

They left quickly. He shrugged and wandered down to the refectory for coffee.


Terry Mann spent the afternoon asking the satellite’s small crew about life on board. None of the answers were particularly interesting but some of it might be useful as background information to pad the article. Life aboard, it seemed, was like life on any remote posting: pretty boring. The crew were mostly technicians who did routine maintenance work on the satellite systems. One or two had the more exciting job of going outside occasionally to effect repairs on the hulls of either the satellite or FRED or FREDA, which at least gave them spectacular views of Plenty and its moons. One engineer had been fitting a solar panel and several dishes and cameras to FREDA’s exterior that very day. The new equipment had been added at the request of the regional astronomical authority to study Plenty more closely. The engineer told Mann he had watched a lunar eclipse while doing the work.

By the time the chronometer stood at 1800 hours, Mann was in the station’s small refectory eating a dish of rice and spicy beans. He was pleased when Azimette strode into the room, grabbed a coffee from the dispenser and came over to join him.

“What’s new?”

“Trouble. FRED missed FREDA.”

“Well, that’s love. Sometimes you’re bound to miss each other.”

“What?” Azimette shook his head impatiently. “No, no.”

The reporter touched his arm. “I was being facetious. Obviously you mean he failed to rendezvous with her. It.”

“We call the robots him and her. The pronouns are appropriate enough in this context. Anyway, they failed to rendezvous. Admittedly it was a pretty tempestuous time gravitationally with several moons quite close together and I think there’s some unusual solar activity at present, too. The astronomers fitted some extra cameras and sensors on FREDA to monitor it. Evidently this kind of flare up only happens once every few decades, if that, so things are pretty heavy out there at the moment. Even so, they’ve made contact before under similar conditions.”

“So what are you going to do?” Terry Mann had ostentatiously tapped start on his mobile device and was recording their talk. Civilized laws had for centuries forbidden any recording made without the subject’s consent.

Azimette frowned at the machine but did not demur from continuing the conversation. “I’ll check over FRED’s pilot programme to make sure there are no glitches in the software. I can do that by telemetry. At the same time we can survey his manoeuvring thrusters and make sure they’re all working correctly. Just in case.” He grinned at the reporter. “I guess you’ll be on your way now. You’ve got your romantic article.”

Mann raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Go? Oh no. This is getting interesting. Have FRED and FREDA fallen out? It’s a bit of mystery. This will make my article all the more exciting.”

Azimette laughed. “Fallen out, indeed. I fear you may be taking the romantic analogy too far, my friend. Anyway, must dash. I have work to do.” He swallowed the last of his coffee and hurried away.

Mann watched him go. Interesting fellow, Azimette. Quite a lively personality for a scientist.

That gave him an idea. He tapped his pad screen, logged into the Uniweb and began to look up the Professor’s background. The results were intriguing, for a newsman. It was amazing how bitter rivalries developed between top scientists; such material was all grist for a good reporter’s mill, adding human interest to a story.

After a few minutes he found that there were three scientists universally regarded as the best in their respective fields and in competition for the top prizes. Azimette was pre-eminent in robotics. Another, McArthur Seaclock, worked in electronic engineering generally and was famous for innovative new technological applications. The two seemed to get on well, however. No story there. The other one though ... Aha! Terry’s face twisted in the peculiar smirk of an ambitious reporter who has found some dirt, an expression rather like that of a vulture that has spotted a carcass. He retired to his bunk room for the evening to read.


Next morning he was at the refectory by 0700 hours, for the early vulture gets the worms. Azimette came in but was not wearing his usual cheery expression.

“Trouble?” said Mann, pushing out a chair to receive the scientists ample bottom. Azimette’s sedentary lifestyle and love of food meant he had a fuller figure.

“Some. FRED’s programming seems all in order and his manoeuvring thrusters are working normally. But something is wrong. He’s not performing at optimum levels. If he was he would rendezvous with FREDA.”

“Hang on.” Mann went to the dispenser and bought back a coffee for his source. “Have you been up all night?”

Azimette shook his head. “Not quite. Went to bed about 0300. There comes a point where one is too tired to think straight. I’ll get back on the case after breakfast.”

Mann decided this would be an opportune time to gently ease into a chat about other scientists. Best to start nicely, he thought.

“I was reading up on your colleague, McArthur Seaclock,” he said.

“McArthur, eh? Splendid fellow! A real gentleman and doesn’t blow his own trumpet as loud as he should. I’m always telling him modesty is all very well but sometimes you have to be noisy to get your point across. But he gets noticed anyway. His work is first rate.”

“Yes, he’s very highly regarded,” agreed Mann. “His work on gravity and especially anti-gravity has ...”

“Gravity!” Azimette jumped to his feet.


“It may be unusual fluctuations in the gravitational field throwing out FRED and FREDA’s rendezvous,” explained Azimette. “I mean, they’re always pretty unusual around here but there may be something special going on. Or perhaps something’s happening with the planet’s magnetic field. Gotta go.” Once again he sped away.

Mann leaned back in his chair. “Doctor Azimette,” he murmured, “You’re not an easy man to have meals with.”


Evidently there was no particular problem with the gravitational or magnetic fields either because the scientist was back in the refectory at lunch time still looking frustrated.

Mann pulled up a chair to join him. “No luck.”

Azimette shook his head. “No luck. Everything’s normal with the usual fields. Normal is pretty awful around here, but we’re used to that.”

The reporter patted his hand soothingly. “You’ll find the solution, Doc. Don’t worry. Give it time.” He had a plastic folder in his hand and he tipped the contents onto the table in front of him.

“What’s this.”

“Photos,” said Mann. “The professional article has to be well illustrated, you know.” He shuffled the printouts around the table top. “I like to line them all up to pick the best ones. Here’s a few of Plenty. Here are the richest moons and here are the stars of the show ... FRED and FREDA.”

“Not stars now,” said Azimette glumly. “Without regular oil shipments from here there will soon be shortages on the local planets. The Director is getting very anxious. Luckily the media haven’t heard about this yet or they might start one of those silly panics.” He suddenly remembered Mann’s occupation. “You haven’t told anyone yet. How come?”

The response was a shrug. “Not my field, economics. Boring. I’m interested in the human stuff. Adventure, gossip, romance, emotions that tug at the heart strings. Love.”

Azimette sighed. “It might come down to that. Poor FRED. He must really be pining to unload his stuff into FREDA by now.”

“Maybe he isn’t,” said the reporter mischievously.


“Maybe he doesn’t fancy her anymore.”

Azimette paused with his coffee cup halfway to his mouth. “Say that again.”

The reporter shook his head. “It was silly.”

“No.” Azimette jumped to his feet. “Maybe it wasn’t. Remember, FREDA has changed. We did that work on her hull.”

Mann happened to have photos of FREDA before and after the work. He pointed to them now. “I can’t see much difference.”

“We can’t see much difference between one female hippo and another,” said Azimette, “but presumably a male hippo can. FRED wouldn’t see much difference between a pretty girl and a plain one. As far as he could tell they would both have two eyes, one nose, and a mouth in more or less the same arrangement. Millimetres of difference. Attraction is subtle, my little friend.

“Does FRED really see FREDA?” Mann was dubious.

“Sense would be more accurate, though there is a visual element to it. Her outline has changed. And the radiation she’s giving off is probably altered slightly by the new equipment the astronomers put on her. Even her magnetic fields might be changed.” Azimette was speaking faster and faster. “She’s hardly the same girl at all.” He thumped the reporter in the shoulder and grinned. “By Jupiter, I think you’ve got it.” He quickly drank the rest of his coffee and left.


Hours later Terry Mann was in his bunk room resting when his favourite scientist burst in grinning happily.

“Love has bloomed again!” He smacked his left palm with his right fist. “Well, that’s how you’ll put it in your article, I expect.”

The reporter smiled. He sat up on the bed and put his shoes on. “Great. Let’s go and have a drink to celebrate the occasion.”

Azimette shook his head. “I don’t like alcohol.”

“I’ll have one on your behalf. A toast to true love.”

“Love? Bah. Sex! FRED has joined with his partner and is even now sticking his big weapon in her and pumping her full of his manly fluids.”

Mann laughed. “You’re just a dirty old man really.”

“A sensuous dirty old man. If you meet my wife she’ll be glad to fill you in.”

They stepped out into the corridor and made for the refectory. “Your domestic life is too boring for Galactic Lady, Doc, though I’m glad you’re happy. We need something with a bit more pizzazz. I was going to ask you about Cobb Heinmann ...”

“Heinmann! Now he really is a dirty old man. Did you know he slept with his mother?”


“Well, he cloned her for the purpose. And he kept these three secretaries. Had a pool just so he could watch them in bikinis all day. Dorcas, Miriam and ... what was the other one called?”

The gossip continued and Terry Mann realized that in the scientific community he had discovered a rich vein of material for future articles and in Ike Azimette, a loquacious source who could give him firsthand information about the personalities involved.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. END

Eamonn Murphy is a 53-year-old writer living near Bristol, England, and working for the NHS. He grew up reading Marvel comics, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and all the classics. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-SEP-2015 issue.


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