Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


From Gaia to Proxima Centauri
by Milo James Fowler

Suck the Oil Out With a Straw
by Robin White

L’enfer, C’est la Solitude
by Joe Vasicek

Tea With Silicate Gods
by Auston Habershaw

by Andrew Muff

Gina Starlight’s Got the Blues
by Sandra M. Odell

Passing History
by Bill Adler Jr.

A Planet Like Earth
by E.K. Wagner

Shorter Stories

Cold Deaths
by Michael Haynes

Leviathan Buffet
by Sarina Dorie

by Hall Jameson


How Far is Heaven?
by Gary Cuba

A.I. Invasion or A.I. in Education?
by Jason M. Harley



Comic Strips




Gina Starlight’s Got the Blues

By Sandra M. Odell

THE TECHNICIAN BUFFED MY FACE, swapped my blue eyes for green, and lubed my joints. She polished my chest and used the reflection to touch-up her makeup. “There you go, Ms. Starlight. Wha’d’ya think?”

I pranced and dipped in front of the mirror on the back of the dressing room door. “I think it’s showtime, babycakes!”

I grabbed my wrap and headed out front.

Onstage, Big Eddie Flashpoint did me right in that lady-loving baritone of his: “Luscious Ladies and groovin’ Gentleamps, it’s that time again, time for fast beats and slow heat. Put your hands together for the The Joystick’s Stainless Steel Siren, Miss Gina Starlight!”

Bright searchlights swept over the audience, catching neon silk suits, the chrome curve of bare shoulders. The boys came in on three, and I exploded onto the stage in silver and gold. I opened my arms and owned the house, every last erg. “Twilight Madame,” “Gearing Up For Love,” “Spark and Shine, Be Mine!” Sal Ballastern, bless his faulty pump, would have cried himself rusty to hear “Sweet Silver Sassy” for my second encore.

Benny Gracenote, the club owner, waited in my dressing room after the set. “Gina! Sweetheart! You were terrific!”

He came at me arms wide, all puckered up.

I wasn’t having none of it. “Hold it right there, grabby gears.” I gave him a palm to the chest. “We need to talk.”

He bumped against the vanity table, rattling my polishes and oils. “Talk? What? Huh?”

“I want a new chassis.”

Benny rolled his eyes. They clicked and popped in their sockets. “Gina, sweetheart, we’ve been over this be—”

“I want a new chassis.”

“Times are tough all over. Money’s tight, and—”

“Don’t you give me none of that money’s tight malarkey. I pull them in six nights a week, pack the house, double the drinks, right? Right?” I crossed my arms over my chest, better to show off the goods and hide them at the same time.

“Well ...”

“You know I’m right.”

Benny dropped his arms and looked away. “About that ...”

He started in. Fewer customers, fewer receipts at the end of the night, tough times all around. I stamped my foot and demanded to know who did he think he was? Who did he think he could get that could sing half as good as I could? It’s not like I was ever going to be—

“Replaced?” My hair snarled and rerouted. I pushed him into the vanity again. “What are you talking about? When? By who?”

“Gina, listen, sweetheart, it’s not what you think.” Benny reached for me and his handkerchief at the same time.

I brought my four-inch heel down on his instep. “Who?”

“Ow! Patsy—ow! ow!—Patsy Bellbottom.”

“That factory knock-off?” I sat down, cleared my throat. Benny hurried to push in my chair. “What’s she got that I ain’t got?”

“Gina, Gina, it’s not what you ain’t, I mean, don’t got, it’s just that Patsy is, you know ...”

“Lighter? A newer model? Has bigger heat sinks?”

All the above.

Patsy had a spiffy new composite chassis that needed less bracing under the stage, which meant lower insurance rates. Her heat sinks, well, word had it they was something to see.

“I was thinking of expanding and wanted, you know, fresh oil to liven up the place. And with your contract coming up, I just figured you might want a break, and the audience might want—”

I gave him my angry profile. “A body so tight it’s got the plugs for the plays?”

“—something new.”

I sniffed. I fingered a bouquet of copper carnations on the vanity, a gift from a sweetie in the audience. Sal used to bring me flowers after every show until his wife found out he was rewiring me on the side. “After all I done for The Joystick, that you should treat me this way.”

“Sweetheart, don’t be like—”

“I signed on when this place was nothing but a plank bar and a fistful of stripped wires. I’m what keeps the customers coming back.”

“Well, now—”

I grabbed my comb. “I done you a real favor, you know? All I’m asking for is a new chassis.”

Benny put his hands on my shoulders. “It’s business, Gina, nothing personal, you know that.”

I made like I didn’t know I was leaning against him. “Big deal.”

“And, hey! I got great news. Me and some friends, we put our heads together, and I got a new opportunity for you.”

I sat a little straighter. A new opportunity? I loved The Joystick, but Benny knew some big names with bigger marquees. Maybe an upgrade, my name in lights. Maybe his way of making up for being such an insulated jerk. I combed the sparks into my hair. “Where?”

“The Cathode Ray!”

That was my last wire. I threw him out on his ear.


I was so mad I couldn’t see straight, and not sure who I’d shoot if I could. Has-beens and never-beens begged for scraps at the Cathode Ray.

Yeah, I had a cross-seated seam here and there, and my heat sinks were loose. My left knee froze sometimes, and I’d snagged a couple wires under one arm. Didn’t mean I hadn’t done my good turns. Early on when I needed a backup so’s I could update my voice box and digitals, Benny asked if I could maybe do with a discount neural suite instead of going to a shop and I said sure. Sal had taught me some tricks with neural suites from his days in the upgrade industry, so I didn’t mind too much. I’d even taken a pass on my share of the box some nights just so’s Benny could pay the band.

He wouldn’t really drop me for Patsy Bellbottom, would he? I mean, I was the Stainless Steel Siren.

Saturday afternoon, Benny’s girl sideboard pinged me on my way out the door to The Joystick. Said Benny was giving me the night off, that I could take it easy, maybe scope the Cathode Ray and chat up the band. Said he had someone else lined up, not to worry about it. Catch you later, toots.

I blew a gasket. That lout. That lousy, two-bit heel with a gap-toothed gear for an operating system! I stormed back up the stairs, made for a quick change of clothes, and headed back down to hail a cab.


Some new guy with a brass weave worked the door and let me by without a fuss. Maybe it was the hat and veil, or maybe he just pretended not to recognize me.

I found an out-of-the-way table. It took three tries before a waitress came my way. “Forty-weight and tonic, straight.”

Five minutes later, she finally made it back with my drink. “Took you long enough,” I said when she dropped my change on the table.

She shrugged, rolling back and forth on one of those new wheel upgrades. “Sorry about that. We got a new act tonight, so it’s a full house.”

I packed the house, too, but nothing like tonight’s wall-to-wall. The quick headcount and crappy service ground my gears. “Do you know who I am?”

She didn’t bat an eye—“Should I?”—and rolled away.

Life sure looked different from the audience pit, not near so luscious and bright. No one noticed me. I wanted to shout, “Hey, you rubes! I’m over here!”

I sipped my drink and tried to forget the waitress’ smart mouth. Tried not to think about the postage stamp stage at the Cathode Ray.

When the lights finally dimmed, Big Eddie Flashpoint stepped through the curtain, all smooth silk and sleek chrome under the spotlight. He snuggled up to the microphone. “Ladies and Gentleamps, we have a specimotortown songbirdal treat for you tonight. She is sweet, she is smooth, and she’s here for what we hope is the first of many shows. Put your hands together for the luscious Motortown Songbird, Miss Patsy Bellbottom!”

The room went dark and quiet. The boys came in on four with a low, honey-sweet bass and a cymbal sigh. A single spotlight, my spotlight, pierced the gloom center stage and there she stood, Miss Patsy Bellbottom, in a green sequined gown that hugged her curves like a factory floor lover. Copper hair, polished skin, tight chassis, heat sinks out to here. No one said boo, not a one, then she lifted her head and began to sing.

The Motortown Songbird, that’s what Big Eddie called her. She melted the room with Carter Bulbwright’s “Turn Me On, Baby,” then set the night moving with “Overcharged.” “Little Copper Hen,” “Gearshift Boogaloo,” “Sparkler.” She tied the tunes up in a bow and gave them to the audience. Her voice shot through the roof on its way to the stars. It dipped itself in the shadows and painted mercury kisses on every cheek. She had my voice from twenty years ago, modulated in ways I could only dream of anymore. She only stopped singing long enough to let the jackhammer applause die down, then went right back to it.

Me? I sat and watched. I couldn’t do nothing else. Who needed the Stainless Steel Siren when the Motortown Songbird owned the room?

I caught sight of Benny stage right, all smiles and glad eyes. I wasn’t being replaced, I was being sold for scrap.


Of course they’d set her up in my dressing room. I waited until all the factory boys went back up front for drinks, then I turned the knob and walked right in like I did after every set. I could have used the old service corridor that opened into the back of my closet, but the Stainless Steel Siren don’t take the backdoor for nobody.

There were flowers everywhere—on the shelves, the vanity, tucked in the coatrack. They’d even tossed the pillows off the couch to make room for more bouquets.

Patsy didn’t look up from applying her jeweler’s rouge. “Listen, I’m about to go on again, so if you don’t mind—”

“Hello, sweety.”

She dropped her makeup brush and whirled around on the chair—my chair—eyes wide. “Oh! Miss Starlight.”

I gave her my stage face, all smiles and bright eyes. Never let them see you leak, that’s what Sal always said.

Patsy stood, smoothing her dress over her hips. “Sorry about that, I didn’t, um— Come in, come in.” She cleared off a space on the couch, setting the flowers on the floor. “I mean, this is your dressing room and all so I really shouldn’t tell you what to do.”

“Thanks, but I’m not staying long.” I straightened the wire-link doily on the edge of the couch. “I saw your show.”

“You did?” Her eyes didn’t have none of her smile.

Neither did mine. “You’ve got quite the chops on you. Nothing like mine, of course, but you could make it big someday.”

“Of course.” Her hands fluttered at her elbows, around her hair. “The Joystick’s a big step up from the Cathode Ray, but Benny says the stars the limits. He said I was going to be a regular here.”

That grimy, loose-chained, two-faced rat Benny. I locked my lips in a smile so’s none of that slipped out. “Mmmm.”

My lip lock must not have held, because she ducked her head and added, “Of course, we’d share stage time for a while.”

So’s that’s how it was going to be. I smiled again without so many teeth and made myself comfortable on the couch.

Patsy perched her pretty little self on the chair. “So.” She let the word out slow like a low whistle. “You liked the show?”

I set my hat and veil beside me on the couch. “Little Copper Hen was nice. Overcharged wasn’t bad; could have been a bit tighter.”

Her smile faltered. “I have some of my best tunes coming up.” She looked at my clock ticking its tock on the dresser.

“Yeah, but you got to wind them up tight right off so’s they’ll stick around.”

That put a dent in her ego. She pursed her lips and swiveled her sleek little shoulders. “Benny swears I’ll knock ’em dead.”

“Sure you will.” I’d show him knocking someone dead. “How’d you meet Benny, anyway?”

Patsy must have figured I wasn’t that much of a problem. “He started coming to my shows at the Cathode Ray and we hit it off. One night he bought me a drink, and—”

A sharp knock, and the door opened. “Patsy! Sweetheart! Two—” Benny caught sight of me on the couch and all that schmarm went right out his tubes. “—minutes.” He stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He straightened his tie. “Hey, Gina. Wasn’t expecting to see you here. Thought you’d be home, you know, resting.”

I wanted to rest his face against the wall, the lousy cranker. “Resting or at the Cathode Ray?”

“The Cathode Ray’s not that bad,” Patsy said quick like. “You’ll love it. They’ve got a great band.”

Benny gave her a look, then turned back to me. “Now, Gina, don’t be like that. I just thought you’d want a night off is all.”

“That’s all, huh? Funny—” I cut a look at his new pigeon. “—I thought I was going to have to share a stage.”

This time they gave each other looks.

I stood and picked up my hat, giving Benny a good look at what he was letting go. When I came up, I could tell he’d liked what he’d seen. Patsy’s pout told a different story. I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow night, right?”

Benny cleared his throat like an engine with a bum ignition. “Well, I thought Patsy might stay on for the rest of the week.”

All the good will I’d ever had for Benny filtered right down the drain. He must’ve seen it in my face because he brought his hands up like so’s to make amends. “Gina, sweetie, don’t be like that, huh? It’s business is all.”

I brushed by him on my way to the door. “Yeah. Business.”


Benny never pinged to apologize. Not once, the lout. After a couple of days, I got a little tight in the head; I started to believe he was right. I mean, I was just a rundown singer, right? He handled the business.

One morning, I took a taxi downtown to drop in at the Cathode Ray for a look-see. The cabbie pulled up to the curb outside the club. “Here you go, lady. You want me to wait?”

“Sure.” I set my hand on the handle, but couldn’t open the door. Rust, broken bottles, and bits of wire littered the sidewalk. The marquee had chipped enamel and missing bulbs. The shops on either side had been boarded up, the walls covered in technicolor binary.

The cabbie looked at me in the rearview mirror. “You getting out, lady?”

“What do you care?” I said back, my face pressed against the window. “The meter’s running.”

An older model in a trench coat huddled by the front door, a sign propped against the stump of his third arm: WILL WORK FOR WASHERS. I could smell the desperation of the street, like smoked metal and burnt insulation. I knew that smell from way back.

That’s how Benny wanted to play it? Fine. Back in the day, Sal made his bankroll in the upgrades industry, pretty pennies and patents to burn. I didn’t know business, but I knew enough. Time to show Benny how we did things on the other side of the cabling.

I sat back against the seat. “Take me home.”

The cabbie shrugged and pulled away from the curb.


That night, I stopped off at the florist for a bouquet of gold-rimmed daisies, cheap like Patsy. I had the cabbie drop me off a block from The Joystick, and hoofed it through the back alleys to the service door.

The dumpster smelled like an oil pit, and a load of empty cans was set out beside it for the morning recycle. A look at my watch said Patsy should be on stage another five minutes, seven tops. I’d have to work fast.

I eased the door open and slipped into the dimly lit sink room. Busy kitchen drilling and clanging came from the door straight ahead, but the one I wanted was tucked behind the push brooms and mop buckets on the right. Quiet as I could, I moved everything to the side and jimmied the latch. The hinges creaked, and I locked, listening. The kitchen clatter didn’t stop. I opened the door a bit more and slipped inside.

The corridor smelled like dust and dried metal polish. A bare bulb above my head showed the grease and skids of what had been The Joystick’s start and now wasn’t nothing but forgotten.

I hurried to the end of the corridor, and put my ear to the small door that opened into the dressing room closet. I listened hard. Nothing. I listened harder. Still nothing. Good.

I slipped into the closet, and eased the door shut behind me. Dresses, shoes, boas, doodads, none of them mine. I pushed to the front, listened again, then cracked the door. It didn’t look like my dressing room no more. My clock, my shoe rack, my widgets, all gone. Didn’t smell like mine, either, all cheap synthetics instead of my imported lubricants. Patsy lived there now. Benny had better not have dumped my things or I’d show him a thing or two about being dumped. I checked my watch and headed out of the room.

The hall was showtime clear. I made it to Benny’s office, knocked on the door, and slipped inside before anyone saw me. Benny looked up from his cast iron desk, and blinked in surprise. “Gina? What are you doin’ here?”

His office was cozy with fancy chairs and cabinets. He was alone, just him and his ledgers. I clutched the strap of my bag, gave him my best smile, and shut the door behind me. “Heya, Benny. Long time no see.”

Benny sighed and closed his book, marking his page with a scrap of aluminum. He came around his desk without so much as a smile. “Yeah, you’re lookin’ good. Have you been by the Cathode Ray? Dickie’s been expectin’ you.”

I kept it cool. “I’ve been busy, you know, thinking and stuff.” I held out the daisies. “I wanted to apologize.”

The words stuck in my craw, but I said them with a smile.

Benny eyed the flowers like he expected a bee or something. “Listen, Gina, don’t do this, okay? You don’t got to apologize for anything.”

“Sure I do. Last time I had my wires in a twist, and that ain’t no way to say good-bye. This is good-bye, right?”

He didn’t look so proud anymore, but he didn’t look sad like, either. “Yeah, yeah it is, but no hard feelings, right? It’s business is all, and I think you’ll be a good fit for the Cathode Ray.”

I set the daisies on the desk, and palmed a glitcher out of my bag at the same time. “I figured as much.”

He looked at my shoulder bag. “What do you have there?”

“I need to get rid of some things to make ends meet. Maybe you’d be interested, you know, for Patsy.” With my free hand, I reached for the clasp.

His lips curled in a quick smirk, then settled back into a frown. “That’s fine, but maybe you should be going.”

I brushed my hair behind my ear, setting the electrode between my fingers. “Is she doing okay?”

Benny locked a moment. “Fine.”

“That’s good.” I took a half step towards the door. “She’s a good kid, you know? Stage work can take a lot out of a girl.”

“She’s fine. Listen, I really do need to—”

“Tell her to flash a bit of thigh every once in a while. That’ll hold ’em for the next set.”

“Fine, fine. Listen, you need to go. Talk to Barry at the bar, tell him I said to give you a free drink. Two drinks if you want, huh?”

He brushed by me on his way to the door, and I pushed the glitcher against the back of his head. Benny twitched and fell into my arms before he even got his hand on the knob.

I locked the door, jammed a chair under the handle so’s it wouldn’t move, then dragged him to the center of the room. Voices in the hall and a look at the clock said the first set was winding up. I didn’t have much time.

The neural suite came out of the bag, and started up with the sharp smell of burnt circuits. I bought it used years ago. It was an off-brand and way past its warranty, but I couldn’t afford to be choosy now. I might not get another chance.

Still, I had a bad case of the what-ifs. What if the magnetic leads reversed and crunched my processor? What if someone broke down the door and pulled my plug before I finished? What if? What if?

I stared down at Benny with his big-money suit and upgraded shoulders. He owed me big time for all I done for him. With a body like that, I could do what I wanted. I wouldn’t have the music, but I’d be the one shining the spotlight. I’d show Benny the business all right.

Took a bit to find his pop-switch so I could get at his processor. I searched under his hair, down his back, and finally found it behind his left eye. One press and I opened Benny’s head. I poked around with a bobby pin to suss out his wiring. Leads, crossovers and splits, inputs and feeds. His processor flashed like crazy, but he couldn’t so’s much as bat an eyelash to stop me.

I struck gold at the bottom of a copper crease, or I hoped so anyway. I never got good with figuring blueprints. I set the bobby pin against a tiny silver plate and leaned over so’s I’d be the last thing he ever saw. “Bye-bye, Benny-boy.”

I pressed the bobby pin against the plate until I heard a click. Benny’s body gave a ten-second jerk, then the light went out of his eyes as I purged him from his own system, easy-peasy. I could hear Sal laughing all the way to the bank.

Now came the tricky part. I wired myself to the neural suite and did the same to Benny. The connections didn’t want to seat in his sockets so I hammered them in with my shoe.

Someone knocked on the door. “Mister Gracenote? We’re out of solder, and there’s none in stores.” Knock-knock-knock. “Mister Gracenote?”

Of all the lousy—!

I made the last connections with a kiss and a bit, then stretched out on the other side of the box. I could feel my pump in the soles of my feet, I was that tight.

“He in there?” another voice said.

“I thought I heard something, but nah. Probably out front.”

Footsteps, and then nothing.

My pump chugged right out of my chest. I hoped this worked. It had to work. It would work. I threw the switch.

The world tucked and curled down the tubes. Spinning, spinningingingingspinning. My toes got sucked through the white noise of my head into my time time pump exploding out my fingers along the roof of door sole of my feet tumbling hairing my hear my hairhear where wear—

Knockcrickocking. A voice slar-away, far and a dayway: “Mushtor Greezhot? Buzz?”

Two hands lifted, mine?, which?, mine? Backforward which? Process slowing. Processing, process ... ing ... pro ... cess ... ing ...

I ripped the wires out of my head, and the world went black.


I came to with all my fingers and toes in the right place, and not.

Someone knocked on the door. “Benny?” Rattle-rattle went the knob. “Benny? You okay?”

Patsy Bellbottom. The Motortown Songbird.

“Is something burning?” Knock-knock. Rattle-rattle. “Open the door.”

Burning? Insulation. Old circuits sharp like a knife carving me a new nose.

I turned my head to the door, and stared at a slab of metal dressed like me on the other side of the neural suite, wires streaming out of its head.

I lifted my hands, cleared my throat. “Hold on.” Benny’s throat, Benny’s voice. My voice now. I could’ve burst out singing. “Hold on.”


I got to my feet with no problem at all. In fact, I felt right at home. Lucky thing, too, because I had to do something with my old body. I picked it up and gave it a long look, crossed seams, bum knee, and all. So long, Gina Starlight. Hello, Benny Gracenote.

“Benny?” Patsy sounded kind of sulky on the other side of the door.

“I said hold on.” I pushed the neural suite under the desk with my feet, then eased the old me into the oil cabinet without popping any cans. I set a pin through the handles to be safe. I’d dismantle myself later. Weird thought, made me kind of kinked. I shook it off and headed for the door.

Patsy gave me the side eye and her bottom lip. She wore a gold sequin shrug and not much else, hot from the stage. “About time. What’s that smell?”

I stepped out of the office like nothing was wrong, pulling the door shut. “My book press went hinky.”

“Is that why you weren’t there after the set?”

A pack of admirers waited a few feet down the hall, ready with their flowers and smiles and compliments. Let them wait. I was in charge now, I was the one running the show. Maybe they didn’t need the Stainless Steel Siren no more, but they needed Benny Gracenote because I had what they wanted. I had the Motortown Songbird.

“Yeah.” I pulled her to me, and kissed her cheek, put an arm around her waist. I’d learn the books and maybe show her the ropes. I could get used to this. “No worries, babycakes. It’s business is all.” END

Sandra M. Odell is an active member of the SFWA. Her work has appeared such venues as “Jim Baen’s Universe,” “Crossed Genres,” and “Daily Science Fiction.” Her short story collection, “The Twelve Ways of Christmas,” is from Hydra House.


Frank Wade comp






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