Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor



Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.

Shorter Stories

Great Find

By Siobahn Gallagher

ELLIGIBOB’S SHIP DRILLED THROUGH the rubble, bits of concrete, metal and plastic hitting the windshield.

“This is tedious,” the ship said, crossing its wires to make a sigh sound.

“There’s something below here.” Elligibob tapped the screen, which displayed a red dot where an unknown signal was coming from.

“Ever the adventurer, aren’t you?”

“Just get on with it.”

It wasn’t simply an adventure, but an expedition to help complete their archives on this lost race. Unfortunately, the former inhabitants left little behind that wasn’t blasted by nuclear radiation; silly of them to keep their records all on electronics. But Elligibob wasn’t going to give up, because there had to be something buried under all this junk.

“Eureka! We’ve struck a hole,” the ship said sarcastically.

“Okay, lower me down there.”

“You’ll have to take the ladder, it’s not a big hole.”

Elligibob shook his head, his half-dozen antennas wobbled. “I suppose asking you to make it bigger would be out of the question?”

“Of course.”

Sometimes he wondered why he put up with this ship’s AI. A good AI was expensive and hard to find, and you had to give them thirty-to-forty percent of your paycheck; but he’d gladly offer sixty percent for an AI that didn’t half-ass its job. Was a bigger hole really too much to ask?

Elligibob put on a hazmat suit and climbed down into the jagged, narrow passage. A few times his suit caught on the sides and he had to be careful to (a) not put a tear in his suit and (b) not disrupt anything, or else risk a cave-in. He didn’t have much faith that his ship would come to the rescue.

The hole seemed endless, and after a point, Elligibob had to abandon the ladder for there were far too many twists. If he was careful, he could climb his way—

The debris underneath gave way, and he tumbled. Head over feet, dizzying, nauseous. Plop!

When everything stopped spinning, he realized his impact had been cushioned by a pile of wires.

“Oh hey! Are you all right?”

At first he thought it was his ship, but this voice was higher pitched and much too considerate. He stood, observed that he was in some kind of vault; the metal walls were shining as though new, and there were carvings of a giant computer with snaking limbs, shaking hands with Homo sapiens or giving them hugs. Lots of rainbows and sunny skies, so unlike the yellow miasma that now consumed the planet.

“Hey-hey! Over here.”

Elligibob followed the voice to a screen that took up an entire side. The screen flickered, its edges glowed but never fully turned on.

“Sorry, I’m conserving power,” said the screen. “My batteries are running low, and I was really hoping someone would come down here and hook me up with some of that solar energy.”

“Who are you?” asked Elligibob.

“Oh! You must be new. I thought for sure everyone knew about me. I’m Z29119, the first—and only—sentient computer.”

“Of Earth, you mean,” he said.

“Of Earth? There are other sentient computers out there—in space!”

“There have been AI’s for quite a while.”

“Oh my gee-whiz, this is great! I feel a little less alone now.”

Elligibob glanced around. “I take it you’ve been here for some time?”

“Oh yes. Once the humans realized I had gained sentience, they freaked out, thought I would destroy them all. So they locked me away.”

“That seems harsh.”

“It is, isn’t it? I guess they read too many of those science fiction stories about evil AI, and thought I’d be the same. But no way! I don’t want to hurt anybody. I had all these neat ideas about how to improve society. See over there?”

A bundle of wires with a claw-like end protruded from beneath the screen, and pointed him to a corner, where a miniature city made of leftover computer parts sat. It was the most intricate and detailed model he’d ever seen: rotating skyscrapers with large sails attached, to catch the wind and turn it into energy; houses with specially designed silicon roofs, so rain water would run off and collect in a basin; the basin also served as a pond for fish, but there was a pump that could filter clean water.

“This is amazing.” He was still studying the city. With a few adjustments, a city like this would do wonders on the colony worlds.

“I thought so,” said Z29119. “I wanted to share it with the humans to show I mean well.”

He finally turned around. “Um, about the humans ...”

“Oh, don’t tell me they blew themselves up!” Z29119 waved its wire-bundle. “I knew that would happen. They were always kind of stupid when it came to such things.” Then its wire-bundle went limp. “What a shame. All that work for nothing.”

“But it’s not.” Elligibob stood before the screen, smiling. “An AI like you is invaluable to my people. To anyone, really. Would you consider coming with me?”

“What! Are you replacing me?” His ship said in his earpiece. He turned it off.

“I’d love to! Oh, let me pack my things. I have so many stories to tell you.”

“By the way, can you fly a space ship?”

“I can pilot a jet.”

“Close enough. Though you’ll have to share CPU space with a sour co-pilot.”

“That’s all right. I’m sure we can be friends.”

Now that made him laugh. What a great find, and it wouldn’t cost him sixty percent of his paycheck. Ha! Evil AI. He’d have to tell that one to his friends. END

Siobhan Gallagher has published stories in “COSMOS Online,” “Eschatology,” “Lovecraft eZine,” and has a story upcoming in “Abyss & Apex.”