This story was published in the mid-1970s, probably in F&SF, I remember it in a magazine, not in a book. It is told from the perspective of a U.S. military unmanned, artificial-intelligence starship with a smart-aleck personality, launched as part of an international armada (he complains about Russian ships and their Cyrillic alphabet) to fight a malevolent alien force for which he has a dismissive nickname, like "spacelees" or something. He is orbiting 1970s Earth (supposed to be ours). He has difficulty making contact as the U.S. space program has been shut down and its facilities are now museums. Just by luck museum staff were monitoring the radio. He then realizes not only is he in the past, but in an alternate timeline -- he refers to the U.S. founding fathers, "Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and our first president, Schwartz," (or something like that) and is surprised when the USA he is talking to has a different history (ours). He then realizes that this non-spacefaring Earth will be a sitting duck for the aliens and must decide what to do.

  • Please accept the answer, assuming it works. I just downloaded the Galaxy issue and read it last night, and it fits your description perfectly, include President Schwartz. This helps other people who are reading this question.
    – NomadMaker
    Jun 6, 2021 at 22:27
  • Thank you I just accepted it. I saw the issue online but went ahead and ordered the "Best of Galaxy Volume IV" one of the many anthologies in which it appeared. The cover art is a great painting of two starships by Patrick Woodroffe, which was reproduced over a page and a half in Steven Eisler's 1979 coffee-table art book "Space Wars, Worlds and Weapons" -- having that on a book cover was just too tempting. Thanks again everyone.
    – K-man
    Jun 7, 2021 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


I believe the story in question is "Helbent 4" by Steven Robinet "I was programmed by the NASA contingent. They speak English, I speak English. Never did get along with those Ruskie-speaking ships."

Here are the covers: https://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/titlecovers.cgi?51699

  • 1
    Yes, that's the line! Now I can track it down. Thank you very much. Forty year mystery solved in 21 minutes.
    – K-man
    Jun 5, 2021 at 23:30
  • I remembered the story and I remembered reading it in a book with a spaceship on the cover. But that doesn't exactly narrow it down in this genre. But you said you'd read it in a magazine so I pulled out "Best of" anthologies for all the mags and there it was. Glad I could help. Jun 6, 2021 at 1:06

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