Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Turning Humans On

By Antha Ann Adkins

“THESE HUMANS YOU BROUGHT ME are damaged,” said Patron Rastaban, tapping a grid of screens with the sharpened foreclaw on the end of its third tentacle. Each screen showed a motionless human lying on a dark floor. “At first they moved around their holding cells, making noises and feeling the walls. But after sixteen hours they started turning off, and now look at them.” Rastaban’s afteye glared at Nashira.

Nashira’s twelve tentacles went rigid, freezing Nashira into the shape of a starburst. Its bright skin turned a shade darker. Patron Rastaban needed to trade alien specimens with other patrons to build status. Nashira needed to provide interesting specimens to maintain its position as a scientist and not be returned to a slave ship. The humans were interesting—when they were on.

Willing its top tentacles to relax, it said, “They’re still bright, so they’re not dead. I’ll go figure out how to turn them back on.”

Rastaban shook five tentacles towards Nashira. The fore and aft claws at the end of each tentacle snapped in front of Nashira’s foreeye. “Good. We’ll reach Graffias and Ain’s starships in thirty-two hours, and the humans need to be functioning by then. I’ve described you as the best of procurers; I’ll lose status if you prove me wrong.”

Nashira preferred the term “scientist” to “procurer,” but now was not the time to argue. A five tentacle scold meant Patron Rastaban was giving Nashira a chance to prove itself before it was in real trouble. “I will succeed,” it said.

“You have sixteen hours,” Rastaban said, holding out eight tentacles with the claws separated.


Eager to solve this fascinating scientific puzzle, Nashira reviewed its trip to the human’s home world. It hadn’t seen any turned-off humans there, but the humans grew less active and entered their structures when their star was not in view. Nashira had seen them moving inside their structures when their artificial radiation devices were on, but it did not know what they did once those devices were off. Maybe they turned off naturally then.

Nashira had a hypothesis. If they turned off with no radiation, then there was a way to turn them back on: radiate them. Nashira could construct a radiation device fairly easily. Then all it had to do was carry the device into a human’s holding cell, and the human would turn back on.


Eight hours later, Nashira carried its radiation device to the holding cells and had the guard open one at random. The human lay on its side, facing Nashira. Other than the cyclical brightening of its nostrils, it was still.

Rolling inside, Nashira switched on the device.

The human did not respond.

Nashira’s upper tentacles drooped. It had hoped for some reaction from the human. It placed the radiation device on the floor and reached out a tentacle to poke the human with its foreclaw.

The human moaned and rolled onto its back.

Excitement filled Nashira’s tentacles. The human had moved! It stretched the tentacle further and shook the human again.

The human opened its tiny eyes, made a loud sound, and scuttled backwards.

Apparently the human could be a quadruped when it needed to.

When its head crashed into the back wall of the holding cell, it collapsed. A small device with a tiny curved stalk fell off its ear.

Nashira swore. The human had turned on, but then it had turned back off. The lack of radiation was not the only problem. Could losing the device cause the human to turn off? Nashira picked it up and examined it.

The guard rolled into the cell. “Patron Rastaban wants to talk to you.”

Nashira sighed. “I’ll be right there.”


Rastaban shook seven tentacles towards Nashira, clicking its claws.

Nashira’s tentacles stiffened. Patron Rastaban thought Nashira was failing and needed its help. Unfortunately, since Patron Rastaban wasn’t a scientist, that help was not useful, but Nashira would have to pretend it was.

“Could the human have been scared?” Rastaban asked. “Perhaps it thought you wanted to eat it.”

Nashira suppressed a scoff. How absurd. Of course it wouldn’t eat the human. “That would be impossible. We are biologically incompatible.”

“Perhaps it thought you wanted to mate with it.”

Nashira’s tentacles shuddered. “Don’t be disgusting. I don’t mate with aliens.”

“Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. It was protecting itself.”

“Curling up as a passive defense would only make sense if humans had protective exteriors. They don’t. They’d have to actively defend themselves. Which they can’t do if they’re turned off.”

“So make them turn on. You have seven hours to figure it out.”

“Seven hours isn’t enough time. We won’t reach the other starships for twenty-three hours. I need an extension.”

“Ten hours.” Rastaban held out five tentacles with the fore and aft claws separated.


While returning to its lab, Nashira seethed over Patron Rastaban’s suggestions. Rastaban should stick to being a patron and not poke its tentacles into Nashira’s science, which it clearly did not understand.

Nashira understood the methods of science—form a hypothesis, test it, form a new hypothesis, test that ... questions that could be solved in one round weren’t interesting. In fact, the most interesting results were the surprises. That’s when scientists learned the most.

The humans turning off was a surprise. Why did they do it? It seemed horribly maladaptive. When they were off, they couldn’t defend themselves against predators, consume food, or conduct scientific research. Their survival seemed to violate the laws of nature.

Nashira needed a new theory. Rolling into its lab, it remembered the device that had fallen off the human’s head. Perhaps the human had turned off because it lost the device. But why?

Nashira examined the device. Visual inspection showed a few bright spots, and a spectrum analyzer showed it emitted periodic bursts of radio frequency radiation.

As Nashira pondered its radiation, the device emitted sounds. Nashira listened closely. The device spoke like a human. Could it be a communication device that connected the humans to a group mind? Would losing contact turn a human off? Could Nashira reconnect it?

Nashira’s tentacles waved happily. It had a new hypothesis. It was time to test it.


Nashira rolled back to the holding cells with its spectrum analyzer. First, it visited the five humans it hadn’t seen before. Each lay in its cell, bright but unmoving. Each had a device on its head, and each device emitted periodic radiation. That radiation spiked just after Nashira left each room. The humans were communicating with each other; Nashira was sure of it.

Nashira returned to the first human. The human lay flat on its back, its head turned to one side, exposing one ear.

Nashira spoke in a tone it hoped the human would find soothing. “This won’t hurt a bit.”

Nashira reached down to place the device over the human’s ear.

The device made sounds, the human’s eyes flew open, and it clapped one hand to the ear with the device. Staring at Nashira, it spoke, and the device answered. It closed its eyes and let its head drop to the floor. Its hand slid to the floor in slow motion.

Nashira grew suspicious. When the human crashed into the wall, it turned off immediately. Now, after communicating with the other humans, it turned off in an exaggerated fashion, almost like it was acting. Could it be pretending? If so, Nashira thought picking it up and setting it on its feet would force it to respond.

The guard peered into the holding cell. “Patron Rastaban is calling you from its office.”

Nashira inwardly groaned. How could it solve this puzzle if Rastaban kept interrupting? But it rolled out to talk to Patron Rastaban on the screens outside the holding cells.

“What is the human’s status?” Rastaban asked.

“They are still off,” Nashira admitted. “But I have a new idea ...”

“No more ideas!”

“I have four hours left! I can test this in one hour, leaving plenty of time to prepare the humans for transfer.”

Rastaban tapped a foreclaw on the screen.

Seeing the claw pointing towards it was disconcerting, but Nashira continued. “The humans communicate through devices in their ears. I think they are faking being off. I think we can turn them back on by picking them up and setting them on their feet.”

“Could that damage them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then don’t do it. I want to give three humans to both Graffias and Ain. Giving one three and the other two would be construed as an insult, and my status would be seriously damaged.”

“Giving them humans that are on instead of off would give you more status.”

“Turning the humans on is not worth the risk. Prepare the humans for transport.”

Rastaban disappeared from the screen.

Nashira shook with frustration. It had a hypothesis, and it hated to hand the humans over to other Starbursts to figure out. This was its puzzle!

How much harm could it do to pick up the humans? Nashira imagined the worst case outcome: the human dead, Patron Rastaban furious, and Nashira demoted to slavery for disobedience. But Nashira didn’t believe lifting it would kill the human. Nashira believed it would solve the puzzle. Patron Rastaban wasn’t willing to risk its status to turn the humans on, but Nashira was.

Nashira slid a tentacle under the human and picked it up.

When the human was its own height above the floor, it screamed and started flailing.

As hope filled its tentacles, Nashira stopped and placed the human on its feet.

The human slowly backed towards the wall, regarding Nashira with its tiny eyes and chattering. It held out a hand towards the radiation device, which was behind Nashira.

Nashira reached aft, grabbed the device, and swung it forward to place it on the ground in front of the human.

The human grabbed the device and held it out to examine Nashira.

Nashira closed all its claws and stiffened all its tentacles so it looked like a starburst. It hoped it looked friendly.

Suddenly, Nashira realized what was happening. The human was on. Its tentacles waved with joy.

“Nashira,” a voice said from outside the cell.

Nashira’s skin brightened two shades. It was Patron Rastaban! Now it could show off its achievement. It waited for Rastaban to roll into view.

Rastaban appeared at the cell entrance. “What is the status of the humans?”

“Wonderful.” Nashira rolled to the side so Rastaban could see the human. “I’ve turned a human on.”

“Excellent!” Rastaban rubbed its tentacles together. “Then we will get all the status from this discovery. Graffias and Ain just informed me they do not want the humans.”

Nashira suspected Rastaban had maneuvered Graffias and Ain into refusing the humans so Rastaban would not lose status if the humans failed to turn on. Although Nashira found science much more interesting than patron politics, it felt obliged to pretend some interest. “Why did they do that?”

“I sent them the video from when the humans were off. Graffias and Ain thought the humans were boring.”

“Boring!” Nashira objected.

Rastaban rubbed its tentacles together. “Exactly. I expect our report on turning the humans on to be everything but boring. I assume you’ve figured out why they turned off and how to turn them back on?”

“The evolutionary advantage to turning off still puzzles me. I wouldn’t like to do it. But I can explain why they turned off in two out of three cases, and I know how to turn them back on.”

Rastaban waved its tentacles at Nashira. “You’ve explained two out of three events in just seventeen hours. I think you can solve the other event given a few more hours, don’t you? And then you can write our report, and we will grow in status.”

Nashira’s tentacles waved happily. Given a few uninterrupted hours, it was also confident about its ability to solve this fascinating puzzle. “And contribute to science,” it added.

Rastaban chuckled. “And contribute to science.” END

Antha Ann Adkins writes science fiction and fantasy, with a particular fondness for stories about space aliens. Her stories have appeared in “Interstellar Fiction,” “The Town Drunk,” “Goldfish Grimm,” and “Perihelion.”