Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Narrative of a Slave
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Song of C
by Jørn Arnold Jensen

Ready or Not
by Holly Schofield

Each Day I Walk These Hollow Streets
by Andrew Barton

Neanderthal Autumn
by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Plasma Breach
by Mord McGhee

By the Light of Several Silvery Moons
by Eamonn Murphy

Packrat Machine
by Karl Dandenell

Shorter Stories

Teaching Acute Coronary Syndrome to an Alien
by Devin Miller

by Bill Suboski

We’ve Only Just Begun
by Chris Bullard


Tales From the Greenhouse
by Joseph Green

And a Tale of the Tail
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips





Song of C

By Jørn Arnold Jensen

“IT’S SAD TO SEE HIM GO,” said Kristian, freshly showered after an evening jog outside the research centre, his workplace for the last two months. The biting winter remained in his bones, producing a slight shiver as he passed Gupta, the night supervisor. The man didn’t respond, just sat staring into a bank of screens and mumbled curses about a bad Internet connection.

“C, I mean.”

“See what?”

Kristian made a face, punched in the door code and entered C’s living room, the preferred term for his containment area. Or hers. Whether the creature was male, female, both, sexless, or other, was impossible to figure out. At any rate, people had started to think of C as he not long after the military handed him over sometime in the early nineties. By then, C had spent the best part of twenty years at Area 51, in Block C. It wasn’t actually a block; more of a bunker thirty meters below ground, and that’s what he got his name from. How he had been treated, no one knew, but it was generally assumed the specially constructed facility here in New Hampshire was a far, far better place for him. In addition to C’s tank, it housed state-of-the art laboratories and monitoring equipment, all tucked inside a defunct fallout shelter carved into The White Mountains—anonymously situated and explained away as a geological gauging station to the nearest community, a small cluster of houses some sixteen kilometres distant.

Are you not yearning for me and longing to join me, to become me and become waves? Not puny ocean waves; no, all-encompassing waves! The waves everywhere!

At first mistaken for an oversized jellyfish, caught in a trawl off the coast of Oregon, C was near four meters in diameter. His bell-shaped top wasn’t gelatinous at all; it was in fact tough and tenacious, as were the tentacles underneath; arm-thick, without stinging cells and efficiently built for propulsion and gripping. His ability to speedily move around, and to manipulate and play with objects was impressive, restrained as he was by the tank’s six walls, each four meters long and six meters tall. Three of the walls faced the observation floor and were made of reinforced glass, the others of glazed concrete.

Until a few weeks ago, C used to swim up and down the tank, and spent hours crawling along the sand-covered bottom. The long periods of activity had looked to Kristian as deliberate efforts to keep in shape rather than the frenzied pacing of a caged animal. No one seemed to agree with him on this, but then again, they seemed unwilling to agree on anything suggested by a thirty-something xeno-psychologist forced on them. The idea that C might be of alien origin—and not simply a hitherto-unaccounted-for species from extreme depths—sounded more like high-strung fantasy from the days of cold war and UFO sightings.

True, C was exotic and well worth studying, by marine biologists, zoologists, geneticists, oceanographers. But all assigned experts came to the same conclusion once their newcomers’ enthusiasm waned: yes, C was a strange blob, mysterious in many ways, but for all practical purposes, just an overgrown jellyfish. Moreover, he soon became a tediously boring overgrown jellyfish, even when deftly arranging toys and construction blocks laid out on the sandy tank floor. He organized them into groups according to colour, shape, or size, which maybe showed efforts to communicate, or maybe, and just as likely, an inherent urge to systematize; a mere reflex. Nonetheless, any meaning or intent had eluded the regular staff as well as the occasional linguist, code specialist, or behaviour expert dragged in—all sworn to secrecy, of course.

Resisting only feeds more energy to the waves, into me! It is the way of the waves. So resist, or submit; you shall nevertheless be overcome!

The arrival of Kristian, engaged from a European university (some said in England, or maybe Scandinavia), and whose field of expertise was the study of alien life (would you believe it), only seemed to reveal the desperation of the project management and how meaningless the project had been all along. To the satisfaction of a growing number of demoralised staff members, Kristian admitted that after two weeks of careful study, he too was no wiser than the rest.

The uncomfortable truth was that C had never lived up to expectations, whatever those might have been, even if his body, enticingly enough, had proved to be much more than connective tissue and muscles. The semi-translucent ovoid held what was determined to be a vast number of brain cells—although spinal cord, cerebellum, hemispheres, and other brain characteristics were completely missing. Cell samples had crudely (and probably at considerable pain to the animal) been extracted by military doctors in the early days of C’s captivity. Luckily, the samples were stored well enough to allow genetic analysis later on.

To the consternation of all involved, less than one percentage of C’s DNA was shared by other known organisms. Even fruit flies share thirty-six percent of the human genome; for bacteria, it’s around seven. C, on the other hand, shared zero-point-two with people, and zero-point-six with gelatinous zooplankton, which logic would dictate to be his closest marine relatives.

In spite of neurons and synapses in abundance, it was impossible to find out if the huge amassment of neural tissue made C smart—say, smarter than cetaceans, as his brain weighed in at two or three kilograms over the eight kilos you would find in a sperm whale. More or less ingenious efforts to communicate were made, all of which C completely ignored—or as speculated by some, gave the appearance of ignoring. On the other hand, a total lack of anything resembling vision or hearing organs in or on C’s body made hopes of contact seem pretty dim.

Impacting him with strong sound waves in structured frequencies and pulses led nowhere. Likewise, flashing strong light in patterns, recognizable to any sentient being with a semblance of communication skills, it was thought, caused no other effects than shudders of irritation. The rather ill-advised use of electric currents caused even more pronounced convulsions and was quickly abandoned.

You are scared, and rightly; you should be, considering the suspicious and watchful nature of your species. But there is no reason for fear! Once you are one with the waves, and ride them together with me, seeing all and everything, on and in the waves, you will forever be above fear. You will instead be filled with the joy of waves, and the waves will reveal themselves to be what you have always longed for!

What eventually interested scientist more than measuring a hypothetical intelligence were C’s eating mechanisms. His uncannily modest intakes of plankton suggested a metabolism so superefficient that prying out its secret took over as raison d’etre for studying him further. Better ways of converting sea organisms into energy could revolutionize a lot of things, of which feeding humanity was only one. Finding alternatives to fossil-based fuel was another, even more importantly so. Useful finds failed to materialize, however, and government patience with the project had deteriorated to the point where pulling the plug, as it were, loomed close.

Thus the deterioration and likely imminent death of C came at a not too inconvenient time, allowing the decades long, tax money-consuming project to end—without anyone actually having to sign the closing order.

The first indication of C’s demise was a sudden lack of appetite. The tank water took on a brownish colour, caused by the build-up of organisms no longer absorbed by C’s enigmatic metabolism. They had no choice but to stop feeding him, and for the last few days, he had been floating near the ceiling, blobby body and tentacles barely responding to the currents produced by freshwater inflow.

An uneasy quiet settled in the research centre, partly caused by people starting to worry about future employment prospects, but also by sympathy for the suffering animal. Kristian felt the gloom, too, and started having dreams about C. They were turbulent dreams, from which he woke up sweaty, unwell and dizzy. The dreams were of C swimming around in improbable environments, sometimes inside dark, flooded woods, then in cloud-filled skies, among stars at night, and even hovering in city streets, a few meters above traffic. Wherever C moved, Kristian was close by; as an observer or bobbing along, he couldn’t quite tell. Normally, it wouldn’t have taken Kristian long to put the dreams behind him, but somehow the unsettling mind state they induced lingered into the day.

Kristian preferred to spend his periods with C alone, as he was now. Video cameras and recording equipment were lined up close to the tank’s three front glass panes, as were chairs and work desks. There were even reclining chairs for longer watches, and out of habit, Kristian had chosen one of them.

The many fruitless observation stints had worn on him and after a while they only served to confirm that he wasn’t getting anywhere. More and more, he avoided the living room, and instead tried to dig out useful information from earlier studies. If he had to be honest, it was not only the observation periods, but C’s proximity itself that had become uncomfortable, not unlike the depressing childhood visits to his grandmother before she passed away from advanced Alzheimer’s.

A spasm or ripple went through C’s passive body, startling Kristian. It was repeated twice before it regained the state of immobility. For a minute or so, waves from the seizure sloshed back and forth in the small air pocket under the tank’s roof. Kristian rose from the chair, wanting to make sure the monitoring devices had recorded the event. But before he was able to reach any instruments, he started swaying and then his knees gave way. He managed to put his hands protectively on the floor tiles just as his face hit them and things went black.

“What happened?” he asked, the effort of speaking intensifying a splitting headache. He looked around and found himself in a little-used sick room near the tunnel entrance.

“You slipped on the floor, or had a dizzy spell, while alone in there,” said Bill Carlton, the centre’s physician. He was standing with his fingers around the door handle, looking annoyed, probably because of being called after hours. “I wanted Gupta to sit with you for a while, but since you’re awake it probably won’t be necessary.”

Kristian tried to swing his legs off the bed, only to have his head spin.

“I was going to add, as long as you stay in bed. I’ll have him look in on you regularly, and tomorrow we’ll run some tests to see if the concussion caused damage other than knocking you out. And before you ask; you weren’t out more than a minute or two. Gupta saw you on the monitor right after you fell and rushed in to help.”

Carlton opened the door; then hesitated before entering the corridor.

“Oh, and I wouldn’t pull any jokes on Gupta right now. He’s completely worked up about this Internet failure. All signals are blocked or down or something; we can’t even get the cell phones working properly. A technician will be here in the morning, but as for now ...” He shrugged and left.

Every now and then Gupta saw to the scientist, preventing Kristian from falling into deep sleep. Instead, Kristian drifted in and out of a new dream about C, more disturbing than the previous ones.

In the dreams, the captive animal had launched itself at the glass wall; the containment tank split open and water gushed out up to Kristian’s shoulders. As Kristian was struggling to keep afloat, C attacked, pushing and shoving, wrapping his body and tentacles around Kristian, who managed to slip away every time. But Kristian was running out of strength and in the end had the sensation of being swallowed into the creature’s voluminous body. To avoid suffocating, Kristian had to keep shoving away brain mass.

By the time Carlton returned the next morning, Kristian was completely exhausted, but his dizziness and nausea were gone. The doctor looked him in the eyes, measured his pulse, and drew a blood sample. Although he didn’t speak throughout the procedure, Carlton seemed satisfied and put his instruments back into his bag.

Then he looked at Kristian and broke the news: “C died an hour ago. The zoologists will do an autopsy; the rest of us are to pack and go home. They are closing us down as soon as they can.” He paused and added: “Good news is the Net and the phones are working again. So I was able to arrange a check up on you down in Manchester. I know this neurologist; he’s really good.”

Now, at last, it starts coming together. The waves are in perfectly sync with me, and they are about to match your tiny receptor currents. I can feel it, we are so close; you are so close; so close to hold and reinforce.

Within a week, Kristian was back in Copenhagen, still having a handful of days left of his leave. The C debacle had receded to the back of his mind, to a degree where it almost seemed not to have happened. At the same time, something nagged him, as if an important insight had been lost or an unfinished task waited to be completed. Though he couldn’t quite tell what it was, he had a vague idea about where to start looking. After a few hours of frantic web search, he found a lead, then another; pieces started to fall in place. His small bachelor apartment soon became the victim of neglect; the kitchen corner filling up with dirty dishes; teabags, beer cans, coke bottles, and empty pizza boxes cluttering his modest living space. He forgot about his jogging regime, the only exercise consisting of brisk walks to various libraries. Otherwise, he stayed indoors, diving into piles of books or the web, sleeping in bouts of no more than an hour or two. So when Ilse rang the doorbell he was totally unprepared for her.

“You live like this? For how long?” she asked, after having stepped over books and litter to open the window facing the building’s backyard. She shoved books out of his only armchair and slumped into it. Kristian had not uttered a single word since she had entered, standing as if frozen, arms halfway out from his body.

“I thought the two of us ... still were ... an item,” Ilse choked out. “You didn’t want to be disturbed in New Hampshire. Secret work, you explained, and that was all right. But not a word about coming home ahead of schedule? Nothing! I heard from one of the faculty staff that you took out more leave. And me; sending tons of text ...” She teared up and added: “Fuck you!”

As by reflex, he reached for the phone abandoned on the kitchen bench. Dead, and not charged since he had returned. What a strange thing to do, he thought. No, not strange at all! It had to be this way, because his mission was clear, he shouldn’t be distracted from it, and the time had come to begin.

“You must leave,” he said, in the croak of a long-since-used voice. “Leave now, and then maybe later ... we will see.”

She took a long look at him, and fright almost paralyzed her. She managed to rise to her feet, understanding there was no room for arguing, telling herself to get away and do it now.

“Yes!” she shouted back as she stumbled down the stairs. “Yes! We will!”

Then, muffled, behind the closing street door, Ilse heard Kristian continue: “I will therefore go out! And I will make disciples of all. Then I will teach them everything, to the very end of the age!”

Before the door had closed completely, Ilse stopped for a final glance up at the apartment, before running farther on. Maybe she imagined it, or maybe she really heard him one last time, a chuckle, and then a wail, “All, they shall all see! See!

Do you now grasp the beauty of waves? Let the waves permeate and lift you, and join! END

Jørn Arnold Jensen is a communications adviser with Aptum Kommunikasjon in Norway. His novella, “Sergei,” won an Oslo Shadowcon story competition in 2006. His story collection, “On the Road to Epilog,” is published by Vigmostad & Bjørke.


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