Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Mortality, Eternity
by Joseph Green

Absolute Pony
by Alisa Alering

Quisic Smith and the Russian Puzzle Doll
by Sean Monaghan

Clever Bubble
by Antha Ann Adkins

by Matthew Wuertz

To Walk the Earth
by Rebecca Birch

Five Stages of Future Grief
by Gary Cuba

Lost Planes, Lost River
by Michael Hodges

Funny Money
by Chet Gottfried

Insanity Machine
by Lawrence Buentello

Ten Minutes
by Eamonn Murphy


A Quantum Mind
by Eric M. Jones

What is Science?
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Clever Bubble

By Antha Ann Adkins

PROFESSOR HOUMA GLARED at Will from all of the hab monitors. “I don’t care who your aunt is. I’m sending you back to Port Dome on the next supply rover.”

Alone in his hab, Will held out his hands to the nearest monitor. “But, Professor, while I was fueling the rovers, I saw something enormous leap out of the sea. I had to tell you and Professor Ericson right away! That’s why I skipped the reentry cleansing.”

“You had a radio in your suit.”

Will blushed. I’m not impressing Professor Houma today, am I? He looked directly into the monitor. “I’m sorry. I forgot.”

“And because you forgot, we missed the chance to record whatever you saw, and you’ve contaminated your hab with local dust and life. So, while the teams are out on field expedition, you’ll be cleaning up your mess.”

Will saluted. “Yes, ma’am.” Because Goran had its own biosphere, microscopic particles and life were considered a hazard. But he had a plan. He’d clean himself and quickly wipe down the hab. Then with the teams gone, he’d grab this opportunity to study the sea life. Professor Ericson would let him make them his dissertation topic, it would be brilliant, and he would be invited to join Aunt Polly’s First Contact team. Smiling, he rubbed his hands together. This would work out in his favor.

Professor Houma gave him one last glare and cut off her camera, leaving Will alone.

He entered the cleansing rooms, removed his bodysuit, and put it in the washer. He blew air in every crevice of his tall body, scrubbed cleanser into his pale skin, and doused his curly red hair with water.

Suddenly, the hab shook, as if something had rammed it from the rear.

Will’s heart raced as he grabbed for the closest handhold. When the hab did not shake again, he pulled on some red plaid boxer shorts and ran to a monitor to find an external camera view.

Professor Houma’s angry face appeared on his monitor. “Will! What are you doing?”

“Trying to see what’s happening outside.”

Professor Houma’s eyes widened, then narrowed as if she didn’t believe him. “So you’re not causing this ruckus?”


The air quality alarm went off in the other hab, and she yelled, “Look up!” before she disappeared from the monitor.

Will looked up.

A triangle of three eyes in a blue face half as wide as the hab itself stared at him through the clear ceiling.

Mesmerized, Will stared back. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

The face slammed into the ceiling and breached it, making the air quality alarm blare. Goran’s air was breathable, but it had a lower oxygen content than optimal for humans.

Shit! My research project wants to eat me! Will took a deep breath and sprinted for the only way out, the back of the room.

The creature lowered its head into the room, and its giant circular mouth opened into a black hole that blocked the way.

Will skidded to a stop and backed towards the greenhouse door.

The creature blew a clear bubble.

Will’s heart pounded as he watched it grow. He felt for the greenhouse door, but it was sealed shut. He frantically shook the door.

The bubble grew bigger than he was.

He looked around for another way to escape. “Help! Help!” he choked out.

The creature blew the bubble towards him.

Terror froze Will.

When the bubble reached him, the front surface stopped and the sides and top flowed past to envelop him.

Will unfroze and kicked at it, but moving his feet just allowed it to seal itself together underneath him. He pummeled it with his fists.

The bubble’s inner surface distorted with his attack, but his fists did not even reach the outer surface.

The bubble’s wall must be over ten centimeters thick. How the hell do I get out of this thing? He felt the surface for any feature that he could use to pull the bubble open, and he found a vertical partition that appeared to connect the inner and outer surfaces. Is it a doorway? He pressed his fingers in next to the partition and pulled.

The partition bent with his pressure, but bounced back into shape when he released it.

He spun around, pulling against other partitions, to no avail. “Let me out!” he yelled.

The creature started sucking him back towards its mouth.

“No, no, no!” he shouted at the creature. “I’m not edible! Our biology isn’t compatible!”

But the black maw opened, and Will rolled in.

“I’ll make you sick!” he screamed.

This is stupid. It doesn’t understand English. He made one last desperate rush at the bubble wall.

He remained trapped.

The creature held him in its partly open mouth as it lifted its head out of the broken hab and slithered towards the sea. Once in the water, it accelerated across the sandbars and dove down.

Two other blue creatures swam in front of it. Each looked like a giant arrow with a spherical head, a straight body, and a tail sporting three symmetrical fins. When Will's creature caught up to the first arrow, it turned to look with its triangle of round, white eyes. In its circular mouth was a bubble containing Professor Houma. She noticed Will. She pointed at him, then pointed down.

Will looked down. Is she commenting on my boxers? He looked back at Professor Houma and shrugged. “So what?”

Shaking her finger, she scolded him. She appeared military in her black boots, black pants, and black jacket. All she needed were some medals.

Throwing up his hands, he turned away from her. Okay, so boxers aren’t appropriate first contact attire. “What do you want me to do about it now?”

When he turned back, his arrow had passed Professor Houma’s arrow and reached the second arrow. It had Professor Ericson in its bubble. He was sitting in the lotus position wearing a Goran University T-shirt and shorts.

When Professor Ericson saw him, he turned his hands palms-down and pushed them down in a “stay calm” motion.

Will tried to slow down his breathing. He did not feel calm. “I don’t want to die!” he yelled.

Aunt Polly always said the first goal in a first contact situation was to observe the aliens. The second was to survive long enough to report what you saw. Will used to think it was funny survival was second on her list. Now it was first on his.

The light grew dimmer as they descended. Flashing yellow lights appeared ahead of them that resolved into spherical globes with lights along their lines of longitude.

The arrows planted their three bubbles above the globes.

Professor Ericson removed his Goran University T-shirt and started to sketch on it. Professor Houma unzipped her pants pockets, pulled out a camera, and took pictures. When she finished taking pictures, she pulled her phone out of her top pocket.

You’re not going to get a signal down here!

She pointed at Will and mimed typing into her phone.

Will pointed at his boxer shorts. “No pockets.”

She dismissed him with a wave.

Will wanted to stamp his feet. “I am not useless!”

He had to prove his worth. Professor Houma and Professor Ericson were taking care of the first goal: observing. He would take care of the second: survival.

A globe almost as big as his bubble drifted up next to him. Longitudinal ridges topped with lights covered it, and a wavy yellow line went around its equator. It separated into two parts along the wavy line, and the two halves drifted twenty centimeters apart. Two other globes floated up beside him and separated into two parts, and another glided in above him. Will spun around to find another behind him, its lights blinking.

He tried to find a meaningful pattern to the blinking lights. The lights were sharp in some directions and blurred in others, but that was due to the partitions in the bubble.

Suddenly, he was bumped from above.

Shaking, he gripped a bubble partition. “What now?” he yelled at the globe above him.

The top globe hit him again.

He had to do something. Aunt Polly’s third goal was to show the aliens humans were sentient and deserved respect. Can I bump them back? He pressed against the different bubble sections. Nothing happened until he hit the ceiling and the bubble rose and bumped against the globe above him.

The globe bumped him back.

This game is going to get boring fast. Will pressed against the top section again and noticed a water line on one of the sides. It reminded him of a submarine. When he hit the upper section, the compressed gas there entered the side section, forcing out the water and causing the bubble to rise. To sink, a submarine would open vents to let the air out and flood the tanks with water. He pushed against another top section, and he descended. With no globes below him, he had nothing to bump, so he left the circle of globes.

The globes oscillated between closed and open.

Will worried. “Is that good or bad?”

One of the arrows caught him in its mouth.

“Bad?” yelped Will.

His arrow dove deeper into the sea, followed by the arrows holding Professors Houma and Ericson. The light grew dimmer. They entered a forest of long, kelp-like plants. Coiled around the thick stipes of the plants, more arrows watched them with their triangles of eyes.

Seeing all the eyes in threes instead of in pairs gave Will goose bumps.

They swam into a kelp-free clearing, followed by a school of globes. Three other arrows, each with a bubble and a group of globes, also entered the clearing, and they met in the center.

Each of the three new bubbles held a different creature. A small green creature with many hands bounced randomly from place to place inside the first bubble. A yellow starfish-shaped creature clung to the ceiling of the second bubble, and an eight-limbed black creature that looked like a cross between a chair and a spider filled the third bubble.

Are we groceries? Specimens? Trade goods? Aunt Polly’s fourth first contact goal was to determine how humans could fit into the alien’s world. Will didn’t like the idea of being merchandise. Or a snack.

Professor Houma made a bubble shape with her hands and moved it up and down. She opened up her hands and shrugged.

Will made a bubble shape with his hands, touched the up vent, and made his bubble shape move up. He touched the down vent to demonstrate down.

Professor Houma jumped in a failed attempt to reach the vents.

Will gave her a thumbs-up. Because Professor Houma had such a forceful personality, he had forgotten she was a lot shorter than he was.

Professor Ericson had also seen his demonstration, and he took off in his bubble. As he ascended, an arrow grabbed him.

“No!” Will shouted.

Three arrows grabbed the three alien bubbles, leaving Will and Professor Houma behind. The four arrows positioned themselves with their faces on the corners of a vertical square and their tails extending away from the square. Professor Ericson’s arrow was on the top side. Each arrow spat out their bubble, and groups of five globes surrounded each of the bubbles.

The globes pushed their bubbles sideways. Professor Ericson’s bubble reached the opposite arrow, and the globes settled into one plane below him, oscillating between open and closed. He looked frozen.

Will gasped. Where they offering him to the other arrow as some sort of sacrifice?

Professor Ericson’s globes oscillated more slowly. One of them rose to bump him up, then returned to its plane.

“They want you to move your bubble,” Will muttered. But if he moved it, he might get eaten. Maybe he shouldn’t move. Will looked to see if the other bubbles had been eaten.

The chair-spider’s globes had positioned it above a bottom arrow and had formed a plane above it. One of them bumped it down, and the chair-spider pressed the vent to descend into the arrow’s mouth. Its globes vibrated even faster, and the top parts of the globes jumped in a circle around the bottom parts of the globes.

They looked like they were celebrating.

The arrow with the chair-spider bubble traded places with the other bottom arrow. Professor Ericson’s arrow swam over to Professor Ericson, bit open his bubble, and spat him out. His arms and legs windmilled in the dark water.

Horrified, Will screamed.

Professor Ericson’s flailing limbs slowed down.

Will pushed the vent to move his bubble up. He would not just sit and watch his advisor die. Maybe he could push Professor Ericson to the surface.

The arrow grabbed him and moved him to the top corner of the square.

Will beat on the bubble walls. “No, no, no!” he yelled.

Professor Ericson was still.

Will’s heart stopped. He was in the same position Professor Ericson was mere minutes ago. If he didn’t figure out what the globes wanted, he was likely to join him.

The arrow spat him out. The globes, oscillating very slowly, surrounded him with an opening in their formation below him.

Shit! What do I do? He pressed the down vent, dropping a little.

Oscillating more quickly, the globes followed him and pushed him across the top of the square. They reached the other arrow and formed a plane beneath him.

Will’s heart raced. Just like with Professor Ericson, they wanted him to go up. Are they playing a game? Is this how I score? Taking a deep breath, he ascended into the arrow’s mouth.

His globes danced in celebration.

The arrow spat Will out, and his arrow swam over and grabbed him.

Will breathed out in relief.

If this game was something like soccer, he was the ball. But he was an intelligent soccer ball, a clever bubble. The globes could move him sideways, but they needed him to change the buoyancy level of the bubble to move it up and down.

Will decided to try to keep score. So far, he and the chair-spider had scored once.

Soon the globes encouraged him to sink. As he descended towards one of the bottom arrows, the chair-spider team scored across the bottom side of the square.

Shit, now we’re behind! Will it pop me this time? Will braced himself and held his breath, expecting the arrow to pop his bubble, but it only took him to a top corner.

Will breathed out.

After the arrows switched positions, the globes moved Will to the side. The chair-spider team ascended quickly towards the same arrow. Suddenly, the chair-spider’s bubble stopped. The chair-spider pressed against the ceiling, but it did not rise any further.

Hope filled Will’s chest. It had run out of air. With the chair-spider stuck, his team could catch up. He ascended into the arrow’s mouth.

His globes danced.

Will danced with them.

The arrow bit open the chair-spider’s bubble and spat it out.

Will screamed, expecting to see another death.

The chair-spider’s legs bicycled as it oriented itself. The arrow nosed it out of the playing area, where it floated, its legs slowly spinning.

Of course! These are sea creatures! Opening their bubbles won’t kill them.

If he wanted to avoid having his bubble bitten open, he had to win. His bubble could also run out of air, but he had a theory about where the air came from. He thought the bubble generated oxygen for him and used his waste carbon dioxide to re-fill the air tank. If the bubble could handle a higher flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide, he should be able to fill the tank faster by exercising. He started running in place, lifting his knees to his chest and pumping with his arms.

His arrow moved him to the lower level.

He ran. Sweat beaded on his upper lip and forehead.

The globes pushed him to the side and indicated he should rise.

He pushed the up vent as he kept running. He scores! The human team is ahead!

The globes started to dance.

The arrow carried him to the center of the arena and deposited him there.

He stopped running, put his hands on his knees, and panted. Sweat poured down his face. When he wiped it out of his eyes, he noticed he was surrounded by celebrating globes. He choked on a sob. “Did we win?” he asked. “Am I a clever bubble? Can we go home now?”

They had made progress on three of Aunt Polly’s goals. They had observed the aliens, they had shown the aliens they were intelligent, and they had fit into the aliens’ game. Now they needed to accomplish her second goal: to survive to transmit what they had learned.

They needed the aliens’ help to get home. Professor Houma was too short to move her bubble, and he hadn’t discovered how to open his.

If he were a clever bubble, he would figure out how to tell the aliens he wanted to go home. He didn’t know how to communicate with the arrows, but the globes showed when they were pleased by bobbing up and down, and angry by holding still. And his bubble could do the same thing.

His heart started racing before he even started running. He’d need more air.

When he thought he had enough air, he looked out at his globes. “It’s time to play a new game called take us home.” He pressed the up vent. After rising a few meters, he pulsed the two vents several times to bounce the bubble up and down.

He sank a meter and sat still. “I don’t want to stay here,” he said, hoping they would get the message.

He ascended another ten meters and bounced up and down. “Come on, guys, get my message,” he pleaded.

He sank a meter and sat. He counted to sixty twice.

No one had chased him yet, either to retrieve him or take him home.

He rose another ten meters and bounced.

A sudden strong current blew his bubble to the side.

He stopped bouncing.

A hill rose from the sea floor. On the side of the hill was a single enormous eye looking straight at him.

Will was mesmerized. Was this the creator of the bubbles?

Two tentacles rose from the hill and caressed the outside of Will’s bubble.

Will’s heart pounded.

The tentacles grabbed Will’s bubble and carried him to the surface. They hurled Will’s bubble through the air.

Will screamed.

Will’s bubble hit the beach in front of the habs and popped.

Will jumped out and looked for Professor Houma.

She was stuffing her camera back into her pocket. She pointed towards the rovers. “Will, run for the nearest rover. Skip the reentry cleaning and get it going. I’ll be right behind you.”

Will ran. He opened the quick entry hatch on the front of the rover and swung himself up into the driver’s seat, leaving the hatch open for Professor Houma. He turned on the rover, and his heart rate slowed as he checked its status.

Professor Houma climbed up next to him and closed the hatch. Settling into the passenger’s seat, she said, “Skip the checklist. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Will put the rover into gear and drove towards the road that switch-backed its way up the cliff behind the habs. “Do you really think they’re coming after us? I thought the tentacled creature was responding to my request to send us home.”

“Why would you think that?”

Will explained his theory about the globes’ communication. “I think Tentacles set us free. In fact, I think it uses the arrows, bubbles, and globes to investigate other life forms. If so, maybe we can establish a treaty with it.”

Professor Houma nodded. “You have an interesting interpretation, but we’ll see what the experts have to say.” She pulled her phone out of her chest pocket. “Good, I have a reply to my messages.” She tapped on the screen, read, and nodded. “Stop and turn around when you reach the top of the cliff. We’ll watch the sea from there until the first contact team arrives. Your Aunt Polly is on her way.”

“Aunt Polly is coming?”

She tapped on the screen. “Yes, and I’m recommending you for a spot on her team. You did a good job out there today. Congratulations.”

Bitter joy filled Will’s heart. He had won the game, their release, Professor Houma’s respect, and a slot on Aunt Polly’s team. But Professor Ericson had not survived first contact. Will vowed to do something amazing in his memory. After all, he was more than a clever bubble. He was a clever human. END

Antha Ann Adkins lives in Friendswood, Texas with her husband, two children, and an ever-growing collection of books. Her stories have previously been published in “Interstellar Fiction,” “Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi,” and “The Town Drunk.”


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