Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Mickey A. Goes to the Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

To Make it to Hilion
by Dori Peleg

Deep Down Here
by Kathryn Michael McMahon

by Eric Del Carlo

Run Program
by D.K. Latta
and Jeffrey Blair Latta

Between Two Worlds
by Bill Suboski

Radiance in a Dark Lens
by Derrick Boden

Those Golden Years
by Chet Gottfried

Shorter Stories

Earthly Hosts
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Fried Chicken You Can’t Refuse
by Peter Wood

by Richard Wren


2075: A Day in the Life
by Curt Tigges

Forensics Under Fire
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Deep Down Here

By Kathryn Michael McMahon

TONIGHT THE MONA RIFT off Puerto Rico is calm. Three thousand meters down, Sonia’s sub prowls through a sea cave without so much as a blip flickering on the sensors. The cabin is nearly dark except for the soft red glow from the switches illuminating her pale face and buzz cut.

“I bet they’ve got tentacles,” she says. It’s the game we play, pushing each other to imagine the most horrific monsters we can. If we do that, it won’t be so scary when we finally find them.

I smile. “I bet they don’t have eyes.”

“I bet they’re telepathic.”

I like it down here, the deep silence, the dark. Sonia.

We’re part of the Dome, a deep sea mobile operating unit. The Dome goes all over the world wherever oceanic disturbances pop up: bloops, red algae blooms, jellyfish swarms, enormous great whites washing up on shore chewed to bits. Especially disappearances of known hydrothermal vents, like here in the Mona Rift. We’re looking for curiosities that might indicate something not local to our planet.

The liquid constellations are out, little fairies of death twinkling at each other. “I could look at these forever,” I tell her. “Though, sometimes they remind me of the electric arc from my hyperbaric welding days.”

She looks me up and down and raises an eyebrow. “How’d you get into that?”

“I was saving up to go to grad school in chronobiology and it was a hell of a lot better than teaching Scuba to honeymooners in Miami.”

There are about one hundred and fifty of us in the Dome: paleoceanographers, geologists, engineers, biologists, astrobiologists, and a few of us underwater welder types. The policy has always been that first contact should have a human face. I am one of those faces, one of the “ambassadors” out there with their sub pilots combing the ocean floor around the Dome; men and women with high tolerances to water pressure, electric shock, and extreme conditions. From conversations we’ve had in the canteen, I know some of the others are in it for the money, some for the solitude, but I put up with the project because I never got into grad school.

She laughs and my stomach flutters. I have a self-destructive thing for strawberry blondes. Her soft brown eyes narrow as she leans in.

“Last week, I took the sub past Vieques Bay where all these tourists were splashing around in the sparkly blue bioluminescence and this big shark slid right under them. It was too low to stir up the algae, so they couldn’t see it. But I could.” She grins at the distress on my face and slides her hand up my thigh. “Don’t worry, Natalie, nothing happened.”

I contemplate shaking her hand off, but who am I kidding? A week ago Sonia and I had a professional relationship. Then we were on San Juan for R and R, sitting on the beach eating cuchifritos made from more parts of a pig than I can name, when she took my hand, led me back to the car, and we drove up to Arecibo. In the forest looking into the bowl of the telescope, we broke a few crew regulations. But with her fingers twisting in my long black ponytail, I could forget what we were looking for. I could forget why I was there.

I lean back, my eyes lingering on Sonia’s hand. “That’s life, isn’t it? It’s not about a silver lining, it’s about a shark against the goddamn glowing blue.”

She withdraws. “You’re always just a little pissed off, aren’t you? Too good for your job, but not as good as the Ph.D.s.”

That stings. It’s the first time we’ve argued. “Well, how about you? You never really talked to me until a week ago and then look what happened. You just like the thrill of knowing something nobody else does. That makes you feel invulnerable, doesn’t it? You’re worse than the shark.”

She turns away from me. I probably shouldn’t have said “worse.” Now the cabin might as well be full of methane ice. The only sound is Sonia flipping the odd switch and my stomach growling for dinner.

Greg’s voice comes on the radio. He’s finished his shift on the sub and taken over operator duty. “Deep Breath, seismometers are picking up a five-point-eight quake due south of you guys. Go check it out.”

“Roger.” Sonia adjusts our ballast tanks and the thrusters whir, propelling us forward as we sink. My stomach knots and hunger evaporates. Is today the day?

I extend a peace offering. “Hey Sonia, I bet they have a patriarchy.”

Nothing. Not even a snort.

A weird buzz, like tiny mosquitoes, rattles inside my ears. I adjust the hydrophone and find it—not the moan of a whale or hiss of static—cracking. The sound fills the cabin and sets my jaw all funny.

Frowning, Sonia picks up the radio. “Dome-1, we’re getting a boom at ten Hertz. Can you verify?”

“Affirmative. Get Natalie prepped.” Greg sounds annoyed, but he’s probably jealous. A lot of people want to be in my hyperbaric shoes.

Sonia looks at her screen, puts her hand back on my knee and squeezes. “The epicenter is point-six kilometers away,” she tells me. She sets the sub to neutral buoyancy and I climb to the back. My suit is clamped into the rear chamber, ready to fill with seawater and eject me, then swallow me up and drain when I return. Atmospheric suits only go down to a thousand meters, but electrified, the polymer of my suit displaces water, effectively wrapping me in a bubble so I don’t burst. They jammed an MMI in my skull so I can move by controlling the amount of electricity the biocables utilize. The suit is tethered to the sub and hooked up to a camera and sensors, feeding back to Sonia and the Dome.

The cracking hasn’t stopped. Discordant, arrhythmic. Our hands shake as she helps me put on the suit. “Maybe they’re part fish, part hamster,” she says.

I laugh and swallow the bile rising in my throat. The Dome Chief, an astrobiologist, thinks our guessing game is childish and she says we can’t predict what the aliens are like just yet. When those washed-up, chewed-up sharks were more closely inspected, it turned out they were more licked-by-acid than they were bitten to death.

We go through the checklist. I’ve done loads of test runs with her and other pilots, and of course there have been false alarms, but something tells me this, this is it. Sonia grips the back of my neck and kisses me hard before clipping me into my helmet. She gives me a tiny half-smile as she seals the chamber. In pours water, which I find weirdly comforting. I switch on the suit’s electrical current and it makes the hairs on my skin sing. Then the stern hatch pops open and I bubble out.

Now I can’t hear the cracking so much as feel it.

The ocean is so heavy down at four thousand meters that even with my bubble, I can’t tell if I’m hot or cold. My thermometer reads three degrees Celsius. Cracks pass through me and I simultaneously feel like I have to pee and sleep at the same time. I clench my teeth and think forward. My suit jogs along at a few meters a second with Sonia on the cord behind me following just over the sea floor.

The temperature outside my bubble reaches three hundred degrees Celsius. They must be somewhere in front of me. “Is there supposed to be a sea vent right here? My heat sensors are picking up something, but I don’t see anything.” Chief Legaspi calls the aliens “Magmacs” because she has reason to think they might feed on minerals in the magma.

“According to old satellite data, you’re right—but there’s nothing on sonar, either.”

That doesn’t surprise me. The Chief has a hunch they can hide from it by collapsing cell walls to change size and move by inflating them with water. And she thinks they draw nearly all the energy from the vents, thereby obscuring them. Her guess may be more on target than “aquatic hamster.”

The closer I get to the quake’s epicenter, the more the cracks jar my teeth. The back of my neck prickles. I have an odd feeling those cracks are them talking about me.

“All right, it’s officially too hot for me. I’m nesting the sub in these rocks. How’s your bubble?”

“Doing fine.”

“Your heartbeat’s getting irregular. Be careful.”

“Thanks.” As if I could do anything. “Hey Sonia, look how vulnerable I am now.”


In front of me, the sea floor is there and not there.

Then I see it. Them. Purple. They are a purple that doesn’t belong. Purple, the color a brain makes when the wet darkness doesn’t make sense. Flat purple, then pinching, flickering, folding. The Magmacs are graceful and bulky, solid and stringy. They take the adjectives for form and movement and crap all over them.

“I win. No eyes.”

On the radio, Sonia and Greg inhale.

A Magmac approaches me. It shrinks to the size of a sea sponge, then stretches long and ribbony before consolidating into a cartoon mouse shape.

“Can you see this? I think it’s trying to communicate.” I suck in my breath. “They’re intelligent; it’s forming the molecular shape for H-two-O.”

“It could be a random configuration, or at least non-symbolic,” says Sonia. I doubt she really believes that. There’s a reason we’ve planned for human contact.

“Can you get a sample?”

“What! Now?”

There’s a commotion on the line and I hear the crisp alto of the Dome Chief. “Natalie, do it. We don’t know when they’ll turn up again.”

The water molecule Magmac is there/not there and I feel like it’s waiting for me to respond to its watery message. My stomach twists. How to say, “Please sir, I want a sample?”


It floats completely flat and when I move to the side of its plane, it’s nearly impossible to see. I reach out, pinch an ear, and have to yank. It’s not rubbery like a ray, but stickier.

As a piece of another world comes off in my glove, something slams into my ribs.


I wake up in the Dome’s infirmary with electrodes slithering over my head and chest. Sonia’s sitting next to me on the bed.

“You’re awake.” She smiles and pets my cheek where the electrodes haven’t managed to leech on.

“What the hell happened?”

She takes a deep breath. “The Magmac’s howl stopped your heart. If it weren’t for the suit, you would’ve stayed dead. The suit injected you with lipid soluble O-two and compressed your chest, restarting your heart while it zipped you back to my sub.”

I try to sit up, but vertigo spasms through me. “Did I get the sample?”

She laughs dryly. “Oh, yes. Yes, you did.”


She bites her lip. “We shouldn’t have taken it.” She brushes her thumb over my mouth. I think that means sorry. I grab her hand. “Turns out the Magmacs don’t eat minerals spewing from the vents or anything even half-normal. They feed on the heat itself—directly—and use acid and sound for defense.” She squeezes my hand. “And no, our biology is definitely not related to theirs and no, we don’t know where they came from. But we do need you to go back out there.”

“Why can’t you send someone else, like Greg? I bet he’s falling all over himself to go.”

She frowns. “We tried ... That’s how we know they use acid as a defense. Greg is dead.”

My mouth dries up and yet I feel the weight of the ocean pressing into my chest.

She looks at the floor, tapping it with her boot for a moment before she takes a deep breath. “You got them angry. They know you, so you need to be the one to go out there and make amends.”

I can’t breathe and I can’t let go of her hand.

She smoothes the sheet and a bitter, nervous laugh escapes. “Turns out soundquakes are bad for the economy.”


The cracks are not as powerful as the one that killed me, and my teeth hurt less and less each time I visit. There are more of them here than there used to be and they make new shapes, new molecules. I’m beginning to understand what the Magmacs are saying. Sonia sits in her sub and thinks I’m imagining things, and the Chief and crew don’t believe me, either. But they keep forgetting.

I’m an ambassador. the end

Kathryn Michael McMahon writes speculative and literary fiction from her home in Vietnam. Her hard science fiction stories have appeared in an assortment of markets, including “ Subtopian,” “Wyvern Lit,” “Devilfish Review,” and elsewhere.


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