Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate 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.

Copyright © 2014 by Jamie Lackey.


Abram’s Choice

By Jamie Lackey

ABRAM HUDDLED BEHIND HIS MOTHER’S heavy, black skirt and clutched at his father’s farm-calloused hand. His mother’s knees shook, and father’s palm was sweaty against his.

The blue, bug-like aliens that had conquered Amman Colony had herded everyone on the planet together and forced them into a long line.

A small alien—a child, maybe—walked down the line, poking colonists with its segmented forelegs. It reached Abram’s family, and pointed at him. Abram ducked behind his mother, but hard, strong legs grabbed him and dragged him out. The small alien considered him, then said something in its high-pitched, piping language.

Abram cried as the aliens dragged him away. His mother screamed and reached for him. His father cried out in rage. The sound of hard exoskeleton impacting soft flesh filled Abram’s ears, and his parents’ voices fell silent.

He looked back, but he couldn’t see his parents. He screamed and cried. He needed to know that they were okay. He kicked one of his captors as hard as he could, and something snapped in his toe.

One of the aliens threw him over its back.

He never saw his parents again.


They put something in his head so that he could understand them, and something else in his throat so he could speak their language.

All slaves got the first implant. Very few got the second.

The small alien skittered back and forth in what must have been the headman’s own bedchamber, before. It was far nicer than Abram’s tiny house. Bookshelves lined the wall, and a huge fireplace dominated one corner. A canopied bed sat in the middle of the bright, hand-woven rug. The aliens destroyed as little as possible—they seemed to enjoy living in their slaves’ former homes.

Anesthesia fogged Abram’s mind. He fought back tears and tried not to think about his parents.

Finally, the alien stopped pacing. It looked at him. “Would you be my friend?” it said.

Abram felt like he’d always been able to understand its language. It was strange, and it made him dizzy. He wondered if they’d done anything else in his head.

Abram did not want to be the alien’s friend. He wanted his parents.

He’d lie, and escape when he could. Or maybe his parents would rescue him. He forced a smile. “Yes, I’ll be your friend.” The words came out as a long creak. The sound felt tight and uncomfortable in his throat.

“My name is Krit’t.”

“My name is Abram.”

Krit’t bobbed up and down. “I’ve never spent time with another child before. Our children are few, and special,” it said.

“There are lots of kids on Amman Colony.”

“Shh! If Mother hears you call our home by that name she’ll be very angry. She might make me choose another companion if you make her angry.”

Abram didn’t care if Krit’t’s mother was angry.

“I chose you out of all the children to be my companion. That makes you special, too,” Krit’t said.

Abram didn’t want to be special. He wanted his life back.

Krit’t tapped Abram’s hand with his hard foreleg. “Let’s play a game.”


Abram taught Krit’t how to play checkers. They spent hours in the garden, playing tag and catch. They built a makeshift fort, spent hours trying to catch fish in the garden stream. Krit’t was much better at it than Abram.

Alien laughter started to sound normal to him—started to feel normal in his throat.

He stopped forcing his smiles. No one came for him, and he didn’t try to escape.

He couldn’t remember the color of his mother’s eyes.


Abram uncurled from his customary place at the foot of Krit’t’s bed. He hardly fit anymore—humans grew much faster than their Masters. Krit’t would still be a child when Abram died of old age.

He slipped off the bed in the gray predawn light and fetched the breakfast tray that waited in the hallway.

Miriam stood over it, arranging the single wooden spoon. Dawdling. Waiting for him. Her simple dress hung loose around her thin shoulders and narrow hips, but her face was mysterious and beautiful in the shadows.

“You’re going to be in trouble again,” Abram whispered. It was hard for him to switch to the human language. It sounded flat to his ears, felt thick in his throat.

Miriam was the only human he ever talked to. The only one who would talk to him. The others either silently obeyed or spat on him in defiance. None of them would meet his eyes.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “What will they do, enslave me? Take away my family and my culture?”

Abram glared at her. She was a few years older than he was—she remembered more of the time before. It made things difficult for her. “They could put you in the fields.”

The Masters worked humans to death out in the fields, harvesting grubs from huge leafy plants. Krit’t’s father was one of the head overseers.

Abram tried not to think about it.

“I wouldn’t be much use out there,” Miriam said.

“You’d be dead within a year,” Abram snapped. “Get out of here before someone realizes that you’re slacking off. Again.” He would have said it better in the Masters’ tongue—wouldn’t have sounded so harsh.

Miriam kissed his cheek. “I just wanted to see you.”

Abram sighed and pushed one of her dark curls behind her ear. “I’m sorry. You know I worry about you.”

A tiny smile played at the corners of her lips. “Get back in there, the young Master will be wanting his breakfast.”

Abram nodded and took the tray. Krit’t was still sleeping, curled on top of a nest of blankets. Abram placed his pitcher of crushed grubs and boiled leaves on the bedside table and dug into his own tasteless gruel.

Krit’t stirred, stretched, and reached for his breakfast. He slurped it down in one long pull, then handed Abram the pitcher. Abram returned the tray to the hall.

Krit’t rolled out of bed and started to pace.

Krit’t only paced when he was nervous.

“What is it, Master?” Abram asked.

Krit’t kept pacing. “My mother says that you are almost a third of the way though your useful lifespan.”

Abram wasn’t yet twenty. The mistress’ estimate of his usefulness seemed a bit short to him, but it wasn’t his place to say so. “We do age much faster than you do.”

“I do not wish to replace you. You are my friend. But she suggested that it would be wise for you to breed, so that your child can be my companion. Later.”

Krit’t stopped pacing, and his body locked into place. Abram had enough practice reading his Master’s body language to see the resolve there. “I will not force you to take a mate.”

Abram sagged onto the bed. Krit’t was willing to stand up to his mother for him. Gratitude warmed his belly. “I wouldn’t mind taking a mate,” he said.

Krit’t bobbed his head with relief. “My mother has selected a pool of candidates.”

Abram wasn’t interested in a pool of candidates. He fought to keep his tone even. “I’m in love with Miriam.”

“Miriam is contentious, disruptive, and resentful. She could be a negative influence on your offspring.”

Abram crossed his arms and looked away. “That’s your mother talking.”

“My mother is very wise,” Krit’t said in a flat, warning tone. He would protect Abram from her, but he wouldn’t hear a word against her. It was a hard line for Abram to tread.

“Maybe having a family would help Miriam settle,” Abram said.

Krit’t bobbed up and down. “Perhaps.”

Abram bowed his head. He hated begging. But it was effective. “Please, Master. I wouldn’t be happy with another mate.”

Krit’t gave a whistling sigh. “If it is what you want, I will arrange it.”

Abram hoped it was what Miriam wanted. He wished he’d asked her.


There was no ceremony. Abram was given one night per week when he was free to share Miriam’s bed instead of sleeping at the foot of his Master’s.

Miriam seemed happy enough to have him.

They both knew that she was safe from the fields, now.

She traced patterns on Abram’s bare chest. “I want to tell you something,” she said.

“I’m listening.”

“I need your word that you won’t tell the Masters.”

Abram stared at her, aghast that she thought she’d need his promise to trust him. He didn’t acknowledge the part of himself that was aghast that she wanted him to keep secrets from Krit’t.

“I promise.”

“I have been hearing whispers of rebellion.”

Abram rubbed his eyes. There were always whispers. “You know what happens to rebels, Miriam.”

She turned away from him. “It could be different this time. There are so many more of us than there are of them.”

“Promise me that you won’t get involved.”

“Everyone else thinks that you’re a traitor to humanity,” she whispered. “I don’t want them to think that I’m one, too.”

“Do you think that?”

Miriam didn’t answer.

Abram rolled out of bed. “I love you,” he said. He turned to leave.

Miriam curled up under the sheets, still not looking at him. “I’m pregnant,” she said, just as the door closed behind him.


Abram went to the library. The room was musty and unused—the Masters had no need for books. They stored information in pheromone tubes.

Abram pulled one down from the shelf. Reading wasn’t forbidden, but he doubted that Krit’t’s mother would approve.

He’d lose himself in a book for a while, until it was time to go back to Krit’t’s room.

But he couldn’t focus on the pages.

What if everyone was right? Was he a traitor to his species? But struggling against his place seemed so futile, and he was so lucky. Krit’t was good to him. He was safe from the fields, and he’d managed to save Miriam, too.

He couldn’t save everyone.

It wasn’t his responsibility to save everyone.

He wondered if his parents were alive.

He wondered if they would be ashamed of him.


“I want to go on an adventure,” Krit’t said. “There’s a cave to the south. Mother said we could go.”

Abram thought of Miriam’s rebels, and wondered if they’d be in any danger. But he remembered his promise. “I’ll pack some things.”

“We’ll need adventuring gear!” Krit’t said. “I know where to find some!” He led Abram to the pantry. Dusty preserves in glass jars covered the shelves, and the floor was covered with other unused tools. The Masters apparently had shoved anything they didn’t see a need for in here. Abram wondered how Krit’t had found it without him.

He glanced at a jar of strawberry jam covetously and wondered if it was still good. He still missed the food from before—the gruel was enriched and nutritious, but it was bland and boring.

Krit’t pointed out various dusty pieces of junk while Abram collected a coil of rope, a crowbar, a canteen, a trowel, and a first-aid kit.

Abram put the items in a canvas backpack. He grabbed a lantern, filled it, and strapped it to his bag.

He picked up one of the jam jars. “Master, may I have this?”

Krit’t tilted his head and examined it. “Yes.”

He’d give it to Miriam. Maybe it would help smooth things over.


They hiked out just after noon. The sun beat down on Abram’s face, and he struggled under the weight of his pack. Sweat trickled down his back.

They reached the cave after a few hours, and Abram followed Krit’t inside. The cool air was a welcome relief. Krit’t scurried ahead, and Abram fumbled for the lantern.

Krit’t stopped in front of a cave-in. “Do you think anything is behind this?” he asked.

Abram examined the rocks closely, then shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

Krit’t bounced. “There’s only one way to find out!”

Abram pulled the crowbar out of the bag and started digging. He wasn’t used to physical labor. His fingers ached, his palms blistered, and the rocks didn’t move in ways he expected.

But eventually, he moved enough rubble to see the smooth metal door behind the rockslide.

“What is it, what is it?” Krit’t asked.

There was no way to hide it from him, so Abram stepped aside so he could see. “A mystery door,” Krit’t cooed. “Let’s open it!”

Curiosity pulled at Abram’s belly. It didn’t look like anything else in the colony. Had they found one of the Master’s ships, buried somehow in these caves? Or was it a human vessel, abandoned when the colonists arrived on this planet to live simple lives, free of technology? Either way, why was it here?

Abram attacked the rockslide with renewed enthusiasm. Once the door was completely uncovered, he thrust the crowbar into the thin crack to pry it open.

It didn’t budge.

“Do you need help?” Krit’t asked.

Abram nodded. He pulled, and Krit’t pushed, and eventually the door gave with a metal shriek.

A human skeleton clattered at his feet. A puff of stale air followed it, and strange white lights flickered on.

The skull landed on his boot and rolled. Abram stared at it in grim fascination.

He stepped inside. The floor was dark metal. The walls seemed to be the same material, but lighter. The ceiling glowed overhead. In front of them, a second doorway stood open.


“What made that sound?” Krit’t asked. “What did it say?”

“It said hello,” Abram said. The voice seemed to come from the walls. He switched to the human language and called out, “Who’s there?”

“I am the ship’s computer.”

“What is a computer?” Abram asked.

“I am a created personality. I have stores of information. I also do math. Quickly.”

Abram stored that information away to think on and asked the more important question. “What kind of ship?”

“I am the spaceship Demut.”

“Why was there a dead man at the door?” Abram asked.

“Captain Yoder was a woman. She perished after the cave-in that damaged my systems and trapped us here, ten years, four months, and six days ago.”

That had been during the war. “What was your mission?”

“Originally, I was a repository of technological information. I am also able to shuttle those too sick or injured to survive with the colony’s limited technology to the home planet. However, after the invasion I was repurposed. My new mission is to escape, report our situation, and bring rescue,” the ship said. “We were unable to send a distress signal because of the jamming field around the planet. The jamming field is gone now, but I am incapable of sending for help without authorization. Will you help me?”

Krit’t poked at the skull. “What’s it saying?”

Abram hesitated. “It says it’s a ship. And that it’s trapped here.”

Krit’t scurried inside. “A ship! Let’s explore!”

They wandered through empty hallways. Their steps echoed. “Do you think the ship voice knows where the human home planet is? My father would be very pleased if I found it for him!”

Abram’s stomach lurched. Miriam’s words rang in his ears. He couldn’t let Krit’t learn where the home world was.

“Oh, what’s in here?” Krit’t darted forward.

There were two more skeletons in a tiny room lined with bunks built into the walls. They were curled together on one bunk. “How did they die?” Abram asked the ship.

“Starvation. I disabled my cold sleep pods and did not have adequate supplies of food.”

Abram didn’t know what cold sleep was, but that didn’t matter if it didn’t work anymore. “Why didn’t they dig themselves out?” Abram asked. If he could dig in, they should have been able to dig out.

“I acted according to my mission parameters and sealed the crew in. If the invaders captured any of the crew alive, they could find me and use the information in my memory banks.”

“Including the location of the human home world?” Abram asked.


“Do you have information that could be used in a rebellion against the Masters?”

“I have weapon schematics, formulas for chemical agents, and a comprehensive list of the aliens’ weaknesses in my memory banks.”

Abram stared at the twined skeletons. They had died to keep this ship from the Masters. And he’d led one in. His fingers tightened on the crowbar.

He had to kill Krit’t. One strike with the metal point, right at the back of his head should do it.

Krit’t raised himself on his back two legs and looked down at the bed. “Do you think they loved each other?”

“Yes,” Abram said. “I’m sure they did.”

“Like you and Miriam?” Krit’t asked.

Abram nodded.

“Do you think it hurt? When they died?”

Abram imagined starving to death. “Yes.”

Krit’t shuddered. It was a human gesture—one that he’d picked up from Abram. “When you die, it will not hurt. I promise.”

Abram put the crowbar down. “Thank you, Master,” he whispered. Krit’t danced to one side, then the other. His version of a smile.

“Come on, let’s see the rest of it.”


Abram had always known that his feelings for Krit’t were complicated. Their relationship was uneven—they were master and slave before anything else—but they had grown up together. Even though Krit’t was still a child.

And, Abram admitted to himself, he loved him.


They wandered into what the computer told him was a “science lab.” The room was filled with broken glass and smelled faintly of sulfur. The claustrophobic “engine room” was filled with silent machinery.

The “bridge” was lined with switches and buttons and what looked like black windows. After a moment, the windows flickered and came to life. Information streamed across them.

“Is it showing you the human home world?” Krit’t asked.

Abram shook his head. “I don’t think it remembers the way to the home world,” he lied.

“That’s too bad,” Krit’t said. “It talks a lot. Does it say anything interesting?”

Abram shook his head. “Not really.”

Krit’t bobbed. “Silly human thing. My father says that humans always talk too much but never say anything interesting. I’m glad you’re different.” He peered at one of the buttons. It blinked insistently. “What do you think this does?”

“That will allow me to send a message to Earth,” the ship said. “Please push it.”

“Will they send help?” Abram asked.

“Yes. But it will take a long time for them to arrive. Amman Colony was the most distant human colony ever founded.”

“How long?” Abram asked.

“At least ninety years.”

“And the other humans could free us? They could fight the Masters?”

“With their technology, certainly.”

“Will they win?” Abram asked.

“That is less certain.”

Abram stared at the button. If he pushed it, he would start a war that might help free humanity.

But he wouldn’t live to see it.

But Krit’t would. He would just be coming into adulthood. Effectively the same age as Abram, now. And Abram’s great-grandchildren would be serving him.

He wondered if any other human on the planet would hesitate.

“Let’s find out,” he said to Krit’t, and pushed the button. It stopped blinking.

They waited a moment. Nothing happened.

“This place is boring,” Krit’t said. “Let’s go home.”

“Give me a moment, please, Master.”

“I’m going to explore the cave some more. Catch up soon.”

Abram sat down in the deep padded chair. He imagined himself leading a rebellion—freeing his people, becoming a hero. Seeing pride in Miriam’s eyes.

But the image wouldn’t stay.

Maybe if he had run away as a child, and found the ship then—maybe he could have been the hero his people needed.

He wished someone else—anyone else—had stumbled into this mess.

He thought of the people dying in the fields. He remembered his parents. He examined his memory—tried to determine if the Masters had killed them or not.

He couldn’t.

His life was easy, and he was happy. His wife was pregnant and safe. He loved his Master.

He didn’t want to sacrifice that.

It was enough that help would come eventually. It had to be enough.

“Is there some way for you to destroy your maps?” Abram asked.

“Yes. Now that the message to Earth is sent, I can erase all of my memory banks.”

Abram thought about the weapon plans—about what help they could be in the hands of Miriam’s rebels. “Do it.”

The information windows flickered, then died. The glow from the ceiling faded.

Abram sat in the dark.

He told himself that he’d forget, eventually. He was good at forgetting. The guilt and shame would fade.

Eventually, he got up and followed his Master. END

Jamie Lackey writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories. She is an active member of the SFWA. Her stories have appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” “Penumbra,” “Stupefying Stories,” and other publications.




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