Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Quarantine Summer
by Rebecca Birch

Calling Time on Candy
by Mark Patrick Lynch

Revenge in Shanty Town
by Seth W. Kennedy

A Boy’s Apocalypse
by Eric Del Carlo

How to Be a Foreigner
by Karen Heuler

Could They But Speak
by David Steffen

Bob’s Day Out
by Mark Bondurant

Everybody Comes to Rick’s
by Tim McDaniel

Equations in the Mirror
by Therese Arkenberg

by R.W. Warwick


If We Find ET What Will ET Be?
by J. Richard Jacobs

Regarding Fermi’s Paradox
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Bob’s Day Out

By Mark Bondurant

RUMPIDDLE SAT IN HIS BUCKET, his great mass towering over Bob, his new human, humans all the rage on Senora, with his tentacles reaching over his tray, waving frantically at the turbut making darting passes at his lunch. “Dammit Bob, get it!”

“I’m trying, Master!” And he was, but the thing was devilishly fast and there was a limit to his reach. He narrowly missed bumping the tray, dodging to the side as the turbut took a swipe at him. Bob could almost swear the thing was laughing at him. The problem was that it had a pseudopod attached to the ceiling, which it was using to snap back after its grabs at the food tray. It didn’t help that the train kept lurching from side to side. If only Master hadn’t insisted on leaving the window open, the thing would never have gotten in.

“Master, I humbly request that you slip leash so that I can properly give chase,” said Bob. He had just managed to hit the thing with his fist, knocking one of its eyes askew, and was pleased to be rewarded with a burbling grunt from it.

“Yes, of course. Get it!” Rumpiddle loved nothing better than a good chase, as long as it was humans doing it. They even had a vid channel dedicated to it.

Bob felt mental control relax and stared up at the turbut with a wicked smile. “I have you now you little bastard.”

The turbut was sliding away from him, back along the ceiling, Bob ready to pounce, when the compartment door swung open and in walked the conductor, a Denebian. Denebians were so last year. “Tickets please,” it said. The turbut saw its chance and launched a pseudopod at the edge of the door and flung itself around in a lightning fast arc out into the corridor. Bob lunged at it, but collided with the conductor instead. Denebians, like Bob, didn’t take well to collision.

They sat sprawled on the floor, Rumpiddle laughing. “Don’t just sit there Bob, get it!” chortled Rumpiddle. Bob mumbled his apologies to the conductor as they disentangled from each other. Denebians really had too many limbs, Bob thought. Then he lurched towards the corridor to give chase. But the damn turbut was already halfway to the car door, swinging along the ceiling from pseudopod to pseudopod. Worse, the door was wedged open, and they were still wheeling in sloshing lunch trays for the other masters in their compartments.

Bob had almost caught up with it, and would have gotten it, too, if it wasn’t for the trays. He had to gently push them aside, lest they spill. “Careful,” called a server from an open compartment door. Bob could see in the door. There was an elderly master and his very cute attendant. Her look of surprise at his raucous passage only added to the eye candy. But this was not the time to ogle. Bob was on a mission. The turbut let out a flatulent squeak as the wind caught it on the bridge between cars.

Bob edged past the last of the trays and out onto the bridge. The turbut was trying to land a pseudopod on the far door, but the wind was spoiling its aim. The game was up and the turbut knew it. It spewed a string of indignant curses at Bob. Bob backhanded it, knocking it loose and out into the wind, which caught it like a wet rag and whipped it back from sight.

“Stupid turbuts,” Bob muttered.

Now he had a dilemma. He should be good and go back to the compartment, or—or he could check out what the train had to offer. No fool he. He walked across to the next car with a guilty sense of glee.

The first stop was the bathroom. Masters often forgot to give their wards breaks, so it was wise to never pass up the opportunity. Masters practically never went in their helper’s bathrooms either and so they were one of the few purely Senoran free domains a footloose human could count on. Bathrooms were a nexus of news and this one didn’t disappoint. There was a note taped up with several compartment numbers, compartments to avoid. This generally meant ill-tempered masters, but it could also mean disease or perhaps even just beings who wanted to be left alone.

Bob scanned the graffiti. There were a lot of comments about Conductor Tom. Perhaps more than he knew, because they had all been vigorously scratched out. Conductor Tom was somebody to be avoided. There were warnings, not just about the turbuts, but idjets and flembies too. Bob made a mental note to ask Master again to close his window. The facilities were clean and Bob tried to leave them that way. Humans had to stick together.

Back in the corridor, Bob started down the hallway. The masters were all either away or eating, so compartment doors were closed and he had time before tray pickup. Halfway down the corridor he heard a quiet “Psssst” behind him. Turning, he saw the face of a dark-haired woman peeking out from a compartment door. Bob had nothing better to do, so he turned back.

“What?” he whispered in response.

“My master’s away. Want a tumble?” she said with a smile.

She was older than Bob, with long dark hair, but Bob thought she looked nice. “How long we got?”

“At least half an hour.”

“Hell yah,” Bob replied with a grin.

She grabbed Bob by his shirt collar and pulled him in. When Bob finally emerged twenty-five minutes later, it was on wobbly legs and with a considerably lighter heart. Of course twenty-five minutes left him in the middle of tray pickup, so now the corridor was crowded with carts and trays. He glanced in as he passed open doors. The masters had all left for their after-lunch hosedowns. Strangely, there were no attendants to be seen, just servers. Where had they all gone?

At last, just before the door to the next car, a bath car by the way, he heard human voices from inside a closed compartment, so he knocked. There was an immediate hush and the door opened a crack.

“Yes?” said a male voice.

“May I come in?” replied Bob.

Holding the door almost closed, the man looked back within, “It isn’t him.”

“Aw,” came a chorus from inside.

The door opened to a clean cut young man, only a few years older than Bob. “Come on in.”

“We’re playing snork!” said a plump woman holding a hand of cards.

Bob entered quickly and the door shut behind him.

“What are you playing for?” asked Bob in an excited whisper.

“Dares!” said a pretty blond.

“Très schön,” exclaimed Bob. “Deal me in?”

There was an exchange of glances, then an elderly man muttered, “Next hand.”

Bob could only grunt his displeasure.

They all discarded cards and drew new ones. And then again.

“Hummm ...” said an Asian man. “You’re all chickens, I raise a dare.”

“Two dares it is,” said the old man.

“Nebun,” said an older woman, sitting cross-legged on a bed.

They all discarded and drew again.

“I’m out,” said the plump woman.

“Coward,” said the old woman.

“Pragmatic,” replied the plump woman.

“One down,” said the old man.

“Me too,” said the man who had opened the door for Bob.

“Oh, it’s too soon,” said the blond in a voice of exasperation. “I’m raising.”

“Such an obvious bluff,” said the old woman.

“Three dares it is,” said the old man.

“Three?” exclaimed the old woman, followed by a chorus of exclamations of displeasure. “This is out of the question. I’m out.” Several more folded until there was the blond and the old man.

“OK, old man, what’cha got?” said the blond with a vicious smile.

The old man squinted at her like she was a mess on a carpet that had to be crossed and tossed down his cards.

The blond leaned over staring at them and then squealed, “Triple!” She tossed down her cards, a clear win. The crowd began chanting in a whisper, “dare, dare, dare.”

The old man just leaned back, his palms on his eyes. “Triple,” he muttered.

“Triple has to be public, witnessable, and requiring a loss of face,” said the old woman.

The man at the door glanced outside. “It’s still full of carts,” bob dayhe said.

“It’s my choice,” said the blond. She pondered for a second and then said, “Naked rolling on a cart. Must be at least half the length of the corridor.”

“Too easy, ” said the plump woman.

“My choice,” said the blond.

The old man groaned and began stripping. They all began to whisper again, “dare, dare, dare.”

At the door, he looked hurriedly in both directions and then dashed for a cart, taking a running leap. He landed on top of one and sent it rolling down the corridor. Several servers glanced out doorways and rolled their eyes. Huffing back was such a sight that Bob couldn’t help a laugh.

Then the old man was in the compartment, pulling on his clothes. “OK,” he said. “Time for revenge.”

“Time for one more hand,” said the old woman. The masters were, if nothing else, punctual.

“You’re in kid,” said the old man. Bob sat down cross-legged and picked up the cards as they were dealt. He liked what he saw, the beginnings of a strong hand.

So they discarded and drew, and then again, then the blond said, “Raise one.”

“Double dare it is,” said the old man.

“Out,” said the old woman.

“Chicken,” said the plump woman.

Bob’s hand kept growing. “Raise,” said Bob.

The old man looked at him with arching eyebrows, “Triple dare from the new kid.”

“He’s loco,” said the doorman with a frown.

“Raise,” said the blond. Her blank face told Bob she was hiding something.

“What?” cried the plump woman. “Quadruple dare?” There was a general chorus of exclamations and the dropping of cards as everyone folded except Bob, the blond, and the door guy.

“Quadruple dare it is,” said the old man, shaking his head at his discarded cards.

They drew again. Bob had an antsy pantsy. To draw again would break it. He needed to end this now. “Raise,” he said.

There was a general exclamation. The old man looked squarely at Bob. “No,” he said.

“Raise,” said Bob. The atmosphere in the room went sour.

“Fold,” said the man.

Now, Bob thought, if the blond folded then the hand would be void. Everyone looked at her expectantly. “Call,” she said. People edged away, hit walls, covered their faces, and generally made noises akin to gut-wrenching pain. It was the blond against him.

It was now or nothing. Bob spread his hand on the floor. But instead of the look of fear he was expecting on the face of the blond, there was a leer.

She lowered her hand slowly. “Full stats,” she said. A hush settled over the room. There it was, balls high.

“Humiliating, with certainty of punishment,” said the old woman.

The blond looked at Bob like he was fresh meat and Bob cowered back towards the wall.

“Those are the rules,” said the old man, and the crowd began to whisper, “dare, dare, dare.”

“Naked, the length of the bathing car and back,” said the blond with a mean smirk. A bathing car full of masters.

Door man rolled back in laughter. Half the people busted up.

Bob’s blood just ran cold, but he knew something they didn’t. His master wasn’t in that car. He wasn’t in his area. His master was down at the other end of the train. Still they kept up chanting and Bob began to strip. Even without his master, this wasn’t going to be easy.

Looking back and forth with his head out the door revealed that the corridor was clear, carts and all. He crept out, the crowd following just to see the fun. The bridge between the cars was bloody cold and the wind whipped at parts of him rarely exposed to the breeze, but there was the door to the bathing car, the window fogged with steam. They were still behind him whispering, “dare, dare, dare.”

Bob had his hand on the door handle, desperately casting about in his mind for inspiration. Then he finally shook his head and just plunged in. The blast of steam was wonderful after the cold wind and there they were, stretched down the length of the car, in their stalls, attendants jetting them down with warm water.

And then, there it was. Inspiration. On him before he realized it was there. He began walking, padding along on his bare feet, glancing in each stall. An attendant stopped him abruptly as he passed the second stall. “What’s the meaning of this?” he said with scowl.

“Turbuts. It’s mating season,” he said, even though he knew it wasn’t. “We passed through a whole flock of them. They got in everywhere.”

The attendant was also nude by the way. The car was nothing but steam and water. Clothes would be stupid. The attendant stepped back in horror.

Bob looked him in the eye. “Yup,” he said. “We gotta check all the cars.”

“What is it?” asked the master in the stall, its tentacles quivering in impatience.

The attendant was on the spot. He couldn’t say turbuts or the whole car would be running for their compartments. “Routine train business,” he said to the master. Then to Bob, “Get on with it!”

So Bob checked the stalls at an easy saunter down and back again. As he neared the door, he could see the laughing faces pressed against it. Back on the bridge there were slaps on his shoulder and laughs. Even the blond gave him a begrudging smile. He was soaked and the wind was cold, but he stopped to shake hands.

In the compartment, they were packing things away, putting the bed back and picking up the cards. Bob pulled his clothes on quickly. The masters would be returning soon. One by one they ducked out the door to head back to their own compartments to await their masters, shaking Bob’s hand as they left. Shaking hands with him was good luck now, after all.

Bob was the last to depart, leaving only the man who had let him in. “Nice,” he said as he shook Bob’s hand and then shut the door. So there was Bob, alone in a corridor, a corridor about to be filled with masters. Common sense said that he should head back to his own car, but something inside Bob said go on! He would have to get past the masters first. He headed towards the bathroom and shut the door.

He didn’t have long to wait. He could hear them bounding and bouncing by the door. They were heading for their compartments, conversing in their own language, which sounded something like belching buffaloes under bowls of jello. When at last the corridor sounded clear, Bob ventured a peek. And there walking past, not three feet away was a conductor! Bob froze, still holding the door. He hadn’t heard Bob, but instead kept walking, probably doing the length of the train, checking to make sure things were as they should be. The last thing Bob needed was to tangle with a conductor.

Finally, he opened the door at the far end and walked out. Bob sank against the wall and let out his breath. That was close, he thought. It was important to remember, too, that once the conductor reached the end of the train, he’d be returning this way again. Bob was going to have to be nimble, eyes open.

Out on the bridge, he tried to look through the steamed window into the bath car, but he couldn’t see anything. So he opened the door and walked in. It was still steamy inside, but once Bob’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that the car was empty. The masters had gone to their own compartments. He loped to the other end and popped through the next door.

This bridge was just as windy and cold as the last. When he peeked in the window of the next car, all he could see were boxes and people moving around, steam, and the occasional flame. Bob had no idea what was waiting in there, but he stepped in anyway, the door clicking shut behind him. Inside there was pandemonium, with humans mixed in with beings from all over the galaxy rushing about everywhere, pulling down pans, dishes, and digging through boxes. Bob had found the kitchen and they were getting ready for dinner.

“What do you want?” said an out of breath cook assistant.

“They sent me here to help,” replied Bob, at a loss as to what else to say.

Oh Brezeln im Juni!” cried the man. “We need help like we need a colonoscopy.”

He looked Bob over and shook his head. Bob felt a bit slighted. “I’m not ignorant. I know basic Senoran cooking,” he said, which wasn’t true.

The assistant looked back at him like he knew Bob was lying, then turned in a huff of disgust, waving for Bob to follow. “Come on,” he said.

They wound around between boxes and steel stoves, refrigerators and power tools, until they came to a cage. The attendant pointed at it and said with firm, wicked sincerity, “into the pot.”

“Not gleep!” exclaimed Bob.

The assistant gritted his teeth, “In the pot!” Then he turned and walked away.

Bob stared at the cage. Inside were two dozen crab-legged mollusks, staring up at him with big eyes. Bob stared back. One of them bubbled up a timid “Gleep?”

To his right was a big pot on a burner, and there on the counter next to it was a mallet. He was about to walk away when one of them squirted him. It caught him on the hip, just a little ways away from embarrassing explanations.

Bob confronted the cage. “Which one of you did that?” he said. There was a general chorus of “Gleep?” like he was going to feed them or something! Bob rolled his eyes and then pulled open the cage top and grabbed one, its crab legs waving about trying to hitch on to anything within reach. “Gleep!” it cried.

Bob was in no mood to negotiate. He picked up the mallet, raised it, and looked into the critter’s eyes. “Gleep?” it said, as it stared back.

“This is hell,” said Bob.

But he was determined. He needed to bring the mallet down on its cranial lobe. However, evolution, being what it is, had designed the things to make this difficult, and Bob was holding it wrong. He’d hit his own fingers. So he put down the mallet and searched for a better point of purchase. As you may have guessed, the gleep was not inclined to allow this to happen. It grabbed on to the table top and then a pan, trying to pull itself out of Bob’s grip. He pulled it back, but it dragged the pan along with it, making a long shrill scraping sound. Heads turned in his direction, and Bob cursed to himself. One of the best parts of gleep are the legs, so as much as he wanted to smash them, poor Bob had to leave those intact.

Then the gleep got a grip on his shirt and wouldn’t let go. Bob didn’t have many shirts and he liked the ones he had so detaching the claws went slowly, the gleep staring at him all the while. In the end it was a standoff, Bob holding it at arm’s length, claws facing outwards, waving in the air.

He knew then that he couldn’t do this. He also doubted he could get it back in the cage. So finally he just walked over to the pot, dropped it in and stepped away. Two eyes on top of their stalks popped up and peered over the edge of the pot at him, followed by several bubbles that rose in the steamy kitchen.

“You stay there!” said Bob, frowning at the eyes.

Then one by one, Bob ran to the cage, picked out a gleep and tossed it in the pot, until there was a forest of eyes peering over the pot’s edge. They were all watching him. Bob edged over to the counter, the eyes following his every move, and picked up the lid in both hands. It was heavy and Bob grunted as he hoisted it up and lugged it over to the pot. There was no response from the pot but bubbles as Bob slid it on. He had to push down the last of the eyes into the pot before he could slide it closed. When he stepped back again, there was nothing to see but an empty cage and full pot. A job well done.

Bob wasn’t going to stick around for another assignment. At a quick walk, barely below a scamper, he headed for the next door.

“Hold it right there!” came a voice of authority behind him. “Where are you going?”

Bob turned around and there before him was a conductor. Not just any conductor either. His name badge said “Tom.”

“To the bathroom, sir,” Bob stammered.

“Well, you’re going to have to sit on it for bit. I require your assistance.” He was eying Bob like he was a piece of meat. Which, Bob thought, he probably was. “Follow me,” and Conductor Tom led him towards the door.

“We have a matter of some delicacy that requires a strong back and a weak mind. I think you’ll fill the bill,” said Tom. “Besides, if you screw up, you don’t strike me as someone anyone would miss, like if you were to fall off the train at the next bridge.”

“Y-yes sir,” stammered Bob as he followed.

Tom opened the door, letting in the track noise and wind. “It should be needless to say that discretion is paramount. If we hear anything, we’ll know where it came from.”

“Sir. Sir, I would never do anything to cause trouble.”

“Naturally. Because it will be the last time you do.”

Bob, like all humans, was born to trouble. He didn’t believe this guy for a second. But the need for discretion piqued his interest, and besides, Tom was taking him in the right direction. The last car of the train before the engine. He’d seen it all but this.

Inside, it took a second for his eyes to adjust, but after a blink or two he realized that this car was different. No corridor down the center this time. It ran along the side with a long row of doors to the left and windows on the right.

Tom saw him looking around. “The bathroom’s there,” he said pointing. “Catch it on the way back. This won’t take long.”

They walked down towards the engine past cabin after cabin. Bob wanted to look in them, but the curtains were drawn and he couldn’t peek with Tom there. Near the end, finally, they stopped at a door. There was definitely commotion inside. A master was in pain. Bob’s blood ran cold. “Dear Smenk!” Bob exclaimed in a harsh whisper.

Both Tom and he exchanged a fearful worried glance. This was serious.

“Get in there,” said Tom.

“Of course,” said Bob. Any of them would die to help a master.

He put his palm on the handle and opened the door. Inside was an infirmary and there in the bucket in the center was a master, his skin rippling in streaks of blue and green pain. Clutching him was his attendant, a pretty young thing with tears running down her face. She was wailing in time to his pain, telepathically linked. She’d be no help, Bob thought.

He’d seen this before. It was the lousy food on the train. He knew the cure and he didn’t like it. That damn Tom The Conductor knew it too, but was too big a coward to do it himself. Responsibility or not, there it was, a master in pain, so there was no time to waste. He grabbed one of the ventral tentacles as it whipped about. Then, gripping it, he fished around for the other. They were hard to hold on to, but patience succeeded. Then, steeling himself, holding tightly onto them both, Bob jumped up on the master’s back with and pulled himself down hard by the tentacles. He could feel the lump through his feet as he gradually worked it down through the master’s body.

The woman attendant screamed and wailed, the master was pure blue, quivering and thrashing in his bucket. But Bob didn’t give up. He pressed and pressed, walking down the master’s back, until finally he had pushed it as far down as it would go. It was time for the next and final step.

Bob jumped to the floor and crouched down behind the master. He breathed in and out several times then sucked in as much air as he could. Eyes bulging, face pink, Bob plunged his arm up the master’s anterior orifice. The world disappeared for Bob. There was nothing but his own heart beat and his hand feeling around. And there it was. The bolus. The impatient master had eaten his dinner, shells and all. Bob pulled and dragged at it, working it down closer and closer, until, with a great rush, it all came out. Right on top of Bob.

Everyone fell over in relief. It was like the whole room had relaxed. Everyone that is except Bob, who was buried under the pile fighting his way free. The cute girl was laying on her back laughing in relief, muttering “Thank you. Thank you. Master Blurbnutz thanks you.”

“The party’s over,” said Conductor Tom, who had come in with a hose. He was hosing down the master as Bob rolled away from the pile completely covered in filth. “Time for you to go,” Tom said, roughly.

“Hose me off,” replied Bob, in a harsh rasp.

Tom rolled his eyes, like this was a bigger favor than he was normally inclined to do, and gave Bob a perfunctory hosing down. Bob tried to make the best of it. “Out,” Tom said. And Bob staggered through the door and down the hall to the bathroom.

He looked at himself in the mirror. What a mess! Master was going to be really angry. Using all the paper towels, he scrubbed himself the best he could. But it was hopeless. Tom was banging on the door. “Don’t take all day!”

When Bob finally opened the door, Tom reached in and grabbed him by the ear. “Come on,” he said pulling him through the door. “Time for you to go back and get the punishment you deserve,” and Bob was really going to get it too.

Tom sent him stumbling back through the cars, sometimes dragging him, sometimes pushing him, until they reached Master’s compartment whereupon Tom threw Bob to the floor. “Worthless and pathetic,” he said shaking his head. As Bob was getting up, Tom opened the door to Master’s compartment and pushed Bob in with his foot, leaving Bob sprawled on the floor in front of his master.

“Ah, there you are,” said Master.

Bob heard the door slam and knew Tom was gone.

“Where were you?”

“Everywhere, Master,” he said.

“So tell me about it,” said Master with a deep scowl. He was rippling orange, which isn’t good.

“The turbuts were everywhere, we had to search the train. Then Conductor Tom made me work in the kitchen because they were understaffed. But that wasn’t the worst.”

“I can tell by the smell.”

“That conductor sent me to the infirmary! I had to uncork Master Blurbnutz!”

“Did you say Blurbnutz?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Blurbnutz corked?” Then he doubled over in laughter.

“Yes Master,” said Bob with a faint smile.

“Oh, this will be royal at the club.”

Then there was a knock at the door. Bob hopped up to answer. It was dinner, the server rolled in the cart, sniffing and looking sideways at Bob. “Your dinner, sir.”

“Well bring it over,” replied Rumpiddle.

“Yes sir.”

The server carefully lifted the tray up to the master’s receptacle.

“If there’s anything else, just call,” the server said, bowing out.

“Yes, yes, I will.” Rumpiddle eyed the tray with distaste and lifted off its cover. And there, staring at him at the top of two stalks were two blinking eyes and a familiar face.

“Gleep?” END

Mark Bondurant has been published in “Andromeda Spaceways” and is the author of two steampunk novels, “The Rose of the West,” and “Red Jacket.” He is also an illustrator. He holds several degrees. When not writing, he designs software.




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