Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peripheral Hope
by Derrick Boden

by M. Luke McDonell

Penal Eyes
by Frederick Obermeyer

Tells of the Block Widowers
by Jez Patterson

Cretaceous on Ice
by K.C. Ball

Some Quiet Time
by Eric Cline

Three Breaths
by Karl Dandenell

by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

Left Hand Awakens
by Beth Cato

Laws of Humanity
by Alexandra Grunberg

Aggressive Recruiting
by Drew Williams


Remakes, Sequels Sizzle in 2017
by Joshua Berlow

Calderas: Doomsday Underfoot
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





By Kathleen Molyneaux

“THAT’S GROSS.” SUSIE WAVED a hand at the mall billboard, but it flickered to the next advertisement before Comdang could point an eyestalk at it.

“It’s just ying,” Comdang said and tried to coax the girl to resume ambulating. He assured her the station’s retail district was full of exotic wonders, but his ward kept staring at the basket of brown lumps displayed on the holo-screen.

“It tastes like what your people call fish sticks. You’d like it.” In Comdang’s experience, Susie liked any food that was first coated in a carbohydrate-based paste and immersed in boiling plant oil. Comdang’s own mouth parts were not suited to solid food. He preferred his ying liquefied, chilled, and sipped through a straw.

“Not that. I’ve had that.” The corners of Susie’s mouth parts had taken a downward turn. That often forecasted yelling and sometimes a shower of salty liquid from the creature’s flat, blue, single-lensed eyes. Susie was young by her species’ standards and unaccustomed to being three hundred light-years away from home.

“You’re not listening to me. You never listen,” she said. As expected, the liquid started oozing from her eyes.

“You said something disgusted you?” Comdang unconsciously dropped his voice into the range used to communicate with only the youngest spawnlings, the ones that were still semi-aquatic.

“Those insects. Do people really wear them?”

The billboard had cycled to an advertisement for living jewelry. In the video, a perky sales creature described how simple it was. You just painted your integument with an attachment pheromone and applied one or several of the vividly colored insects. The model on the screen sported multiple bugs on her forearm creating what looked like a beaded tattoo.

“It’s symbiosis. A frivolous, but hardly disgusting example. Judge with your neural node, not your digestive organ.”

“My what?”

Donovian maxims didn’t translate that well into Galactic Standard. Comdang tried again. “Don’t think with your gut. That ornamentation is normal, even desirable to some.”

“They’re gross. I don’t want them on me. Do you see any?”

“They only attach to beings that can afford them. High-status individuals.” Humans, particularly preadolescent ones adored fashion. Susie should have been intrigued. She wasn’t.

“Is that a high status individual?” Susie pointed to a tall, shambling figure. “It’s covered in those bugs.”

“I don’t see any bugs.” The entity was wearing so many layers of fabric that Comdang wasn’t even sure what race it was. It looked and smelled like a walking mound of unwashed laundry. Comdang’s digestive organ contracted slightly, an embarrassing reaction for a Denovian whose job title could be loosely translated as One Who Values All Things Strange.

“Pointing isn’t polite, Susie. Let’s get your school supplies.” He gently towed her into a shop advertising accessories for the young, hip hominid. The distraction worked. The girl relaxed into shopping mode. She giggled and picked up nearly everything in the store before solemnly selecting a lime green mPad, a handful of matching hairclips, and about two kilograms of other such “necessities.” Comdang sighed, bought it all, and lugged out most of it. Susie, herself, carried only her shiny new mPad. She’d insisted on taking it out of the box and stared at the screen while she walked.

Her inattention caused her to crash straight into the shambling laundry thing that had been loitering outside the shop. The being jostled the girl, nearly knocking her down. Then it pushed past. Comdang caught only a brief glimpse of the entity’s face before it vanished into the crowd. It appeared human, but hairless; its lips, chin and cheeks encrusted in shining black lumps.

Comdang dropped his bags and rushed back to Susie. She was shaking, and her eyes were about to leak again.

“It smelled. It bumped me.”

“It was rude, yes. But gone now.” Comdang made soothing noises.

“Did you see the bugs? Did they get on me?” The girl brushed her clothes.

“Stand still, please.” Comdang had seen the bugs clustered on the creature’s face. He hoped the poor thing hadn’t paid too much for the cosmetic modification as the effect was far from attractive.

“My hair. Are they in my hair?” She raked her fingers through her ponytail, then pulled the elastic out and shook her head.

“I said stand still. I can’t check you when you’re jumping about like—like—name an Earth thing that jumps.” Comdang figured thinking about home would calm her down.

“Rabbits.” The girl’s smile was tentative, but at least she’d stopped twitching.

“Tell me about this rabbit.” Comdang checked the girl while she rattled off the characteristics of the beast. He saw no insects. Not surprising because the ones that were used for ornamentation only released when given the right chemical signal. “I see nothing in your hair or on your clothes. We should return now.”

Susie nodded, pocketed her mPad, and helped gather up the bags. She was quiet during the walk to the docking garage and during the ride back to the residential sector. She usually pestered him with questions about the space station or begged to drive his ship. Today, she stared out the cockpit window, the light from the gas giant Carina giving her blond hair and pale skin a weird, bluish cast.

“Would you like to run the docking sequence?” They were in the shadow of the station now, but the girl didn’t look any better in the orange light from the open bay. Her silence was starting to worry Comdang.

“Thank you. No.”

“Are you well?”

“I’m cold and this place is strange.” Susie paused for a moment and then mumbled that she was worried about school.

“You will have no trouble in school. You are very smart. You know all about rabbits and things like that.”

“Rabbits don’t matter here. I don’t matter here.”

Comdang had to concede that rabbits were irrelevant in space, but humans were not, a fact reflected in the many names the Denovian’s had bestowed on them. Translated into Galactic Standard their first contact name was simply The Tan Bipeds but that had quickly morphed into They Who Buy All Things, and then finally, Consumers of Worlds.

Comdang helped the small consumer of worlds out of his shuttle. “You matter very much my dear,” he murmured, but Susie had spotted her mother and wasn’t listening.

The ambassador greeted her daughter with a hug. “All ready for school, I hope?”

“A most informative trip. Your daughter has her feet firmly placed on the ladder of knowledge,” Comdang replied.

The ambassador snorted, but the position of her mouthparts indicated more amusement than disgust. “You did take her to the mall, correct?”

“Of course, Ambassador. But consider the opportunities. Multiple races, their languages, their products, their very societies on display. The ethics of choice. The proper apportioning of resources.”

“And did you enjoy apportioning some of our resources?” The ambassador smiled down at her daughter.

Susie shrugged. She seemed distracted again.

“Your daughter yearns to excel in her studies. You can see it in her thoughtful expression,” Comdang said.

That roused Susie enough to roll her eyes. Her mother’s smile deepened and she ruffled the girl’s hair.

“Just do your best, love. And remember to ask for help whenever you need it.”


Susie woke up screaming for help on the first day of school. Her mother tried to comfort her, but the girl kept yelling. The ambassador eventually told her secretary to locate the tutor. “She can’t go to school carrying on like this. That Denovian needs to fix it, or make up for whatever content she misses.” With that, the ambassador kissed her daughter and ran for the door.

Comdang was enjoying breakfast when the secretary’s call came in.

“The girl is infested,” the man said. “The ambassador expects you to fix it.”

The term infested was enough to make Comdang wince. He’d seen the laundry creature, and at the memory his digestive organ nearly spewed up the ying he’d swallowed. He couldn’t let something like that happen to his ward. He dropped his straw and rushed to the ambassadorial suite.

The minute she spotted her tutor, Susie held up her left arm.

“See! I told you they got on me.”

Comdang considered the limb and flicked a glance at the secretary. “This is the infestation?” Comdang took Susie’s arm and prodded the single shiny lump. The thing looked like a jet bead about one centimeter in diameter. The head and legs were invisible, buried in the girl’s pale skin. There were red streaks radiating out from the attachment site.

“Did you scratch it?”

Susie nodded.

“Does it itch?”

She shook her head. “I tried to pick it out. I need it out.” Her eyes were red and wet. Her nose was red and wet. All symptoms of a major emotional breakdown.

“After school, we’ll visit the cosmetic counter at the mall. They’ll give you the detachment pheromones.”

“Can’t we go now?” Susie wailed.

“It’s harmless. School first,” Comdang said firmly.

“But what about the other kids? It might spread. They’ll hate me.”

“There’s only one and they normally require specific conditions in order to attach.” Comdang was puzzled about how this one ended up on Susie. He would need to check product information while she was in school. See if the safety warnings included spontaneous transfers.

Susie started scratching the lump on her arm and wouldn’t stop until Comdang located the human’s first aid kit and applied a pink adhesive bandage.

“The other spawnlings will see that you’re brave now.”

Susie still insisted on wearing a long-sleeved blouse and sweater before letting her tutor walk her to school.


“Where is your sweater?” Comdang asked when he picked her up at the academy.

Susie frowned. “I’m not sure. It was hot. She said I could take it off.”

Comdang recited the Denovian mantra of patience for what felt like the fifteenth time that day. He’d had to invoke it several times in his search for information about the insects. It had been easy to find the number for the retail center, but the staff there had referred him to the company’s local network page where he’d learned that:

“Living jewelry is a safe and traditional product utilized by the Akami race for generations. Living jewelry is more than beautiful; it is life affirming. It increases energy, speeds reflexes, builds strength, enhances breeding performance, and insures a long and happy life.” Then in very small print “physiological effects vary by race. Inquiries should be addressed to Cosmotique Inc. 55 Cancri d. Cosmotique—We bring health and beauty to the cosmos.”

Sending a message to 55 Cancri d, the human designation for the Akami homeworld, would take a wormhole courier requiring a lot of time and money. Comdang opted to focus on the more immediate problem. “Let’s ask your teacher about your sweater.”

“She said I can get it tomorrow. We can go home now.”

“You know we need to stop at the mall first. This morning, you couldn’t wait.” Comdang exhaled through his spiracles.

“We don’t have to go to the mall. She told me it’s okay.”

“She? You mean your teacher. She told you that bug is safe?”

“She’s not a bug!” Susie yelled. “She’s my friend! She’s sorry she scared me, and she couldn’t talk to me this morning. I wasn’t ready.” Susie cradled the arm where the insect was attached.

“That creature spoke to you?” Comdang was an expert on human facial expressions, but he couldn’t make sense of Susie’s at the moment. If only she had eyestalks. “You’re playing a joke on your tutor, aren’t you?”

“She’s talking now. I hear her. Why can’t you?” The girl’s face was red again, but there were no tears. Her eyes looked like blue slits. “Listen!” The girl held up her arm.

Comdang listened. A pair of students were talking, complaining about homework. Someone’s mPad buzzed. Beneath it all, he could hear the susurration of the station’s air vents. He reached out and took Susie’s hand. “I think we should go to the mall. Now.” Comdang tugged, but Susie twisted her hand and pulled away leaving Comdang stunned. He’d never seen a human move so quickly.

He licked his palps and essayed a smile, an expression most Denovian’s were unable to manage. “Please, child. I’m trying to help. You were scared this morning.” He cautiously extended his hand again, this time waiting for Susie to take it. “And don’t you want to learn about your friend? The Akami at the mall can tell you all about her.”

Susie hesitated, started nodding, then turned that gesture into a head shake. “No. She says there’s no reason to talk to them. She says they’re stupid, mean, and ugly. Do we have to go?”

“Your mother wants you to go.” Comdang really hadn’t conferred with the ambassador about this, but felt confident the woman would want the insect removed from her daughter’s arm, especially now that Susie was claiming the thing spoke to her. “I mean she loves you and wants you to be safe.” That at least was factual.

Susie sighed but took his hand. “Okay. Jezel says I may as well, but we need to be careful.”

“The insect calls itself Jezel?”

Susie nodded. “Queen Jezel Iliari Seb Secem III.”

“And Her Majesty thinks the Akami might harm you?” Comdang had never heard of the Akami harming anyone. The Denovians called them The White Bipeds but unlike the humans, the Akami had never done anything to earn a more descriptive name.

“Oh, they won’t hurt us,” Susie said, “but they’re certain to lie to us.”


The Cosmotique store was staffed by a human and two Canids all modeling the insects. Refrigerated glass cases displayed the ones available for purchase. When he asked about product safety, Comdang was immediately referred to the store manager.

“Please wait, sir. I will bring it to you.” One of the Canids scampered into the back and returned with an Akami.

“It looks like a walking dandelion,” Susie whispered then giggled.

Comdang didn’t know what a dandelion was, but if it resembled an Akami, it must be a seven-foot tall biped with stick-like limbs, dead-white skin, and a tiny head completely covered in sensory filaments.

“How may I assist you?” Its fluting voice emerged from a slit in the Akami’s long, slender neck.

“This human child was infected by bumping into someone wearing your jewelry. We would like you to remove it.”

“Actually, I like her now. She’s nice,” Susie interrupted.

The Akami shrugged, the gesture sending a ripple of light off the scarlet jewelry beading its shoulders. “May I look?”

Susie cautiously extended her hand. “Her name’s Jezel.”

The Akami pointed to the counter and Susie rested her arm there. The alien lowered its head and skimmed its sensory filaments over the girl’s skin. Then it straightened back up and snorted.

“This is nothing but a cheap forgery no doubt planted by a company trying to discredit our business. First, it has no serial mark. Second, it is poorly shaped, too large, and the color non-uniform. Were this product to arise in one of our vats, it would be destroyed.”

“Can you remove it?” Comdang was afraid Susie might protest, but the girl didn’t move. She was staring at the Akami, a curious little smile on her face.

The alien reached under the counter, brought out a small atomizer and spritzed Susie’s arm.

“That won’t work on Jezel. She’s not one of your slaves.” Susie was smiling more broadly now.

“Susie!” Comdang scolded.

The alien shrugged again. “I am not offended by the words of a child. Nor am I surprised the pheromones failed. Our competitors no doubt have their own formulations.”

“Where can I find them?” Comdang asked.

“How should I know? I own a legitimate business. I have no criminal contacts.” The Akami’s sensory filaments were rigid with annoyance. “I suggest getting help from station security. This is an unregistered biological product that might prove dangerous to its host.”

Comdang nodded, reached for Susie, and then paused. The tray in the case beneath her hand was empty. When they’d come in, that tray had been full of blue, purple and metallic green insects. Susie slowly lifted her arm and gasped. Every single bug in the case had swarmed to the top. They now formed a writhing arm-shaped clump on the glass beneath where the girl had been leaning. Comdang picked Susie up and fled from the store.


“She says I should rescue them. Do you think my mother will let me buy them all?”

Comdang had taken Susie back to the ambassadorial wing. He hoped to speak with her mother before notifying the station police.

“No. I do not believe she will.” Comdang checked his mPad.

“But you saw how the Akami keep them? Refrigerated and drugged so they can barely move. It’s horrible.”

“The ones in that case moved quite well,” Comdang replied. The ambassador still hadn’t responded to his message. He flipped his mPad shut.

“They recognized Jezel. That gave them hope.”

“Was that what it was? Seeing their queen?” Comdang sighed. He’d let this go on for too long. “Freitas’ theorem states that self-awareness is dependent on the mass and total number of processing units in an organism. Ergo, that creature is too small to be self-aware let alone the monarch of a complex society. And frankly, an absolute monarchy is a ridiculous system of government for a race of parasites.”

The girl was silent for a second, no doubt stunned by Comdang’s application of logic. Then she smiled, nodded, and replied, “She says I should tell you they’re a constitutional monarchy.”

Comdang pounded his forelimb on the table. “Where do they keep their constitution then? Or is it memorized and passed down as oral tradition?” He immediately felt foolish. No teacher should speak to a student with such impatience. No teacher should lie, even a lie of omission which was what Comdang had done in invoking Freitas’ theorem without mentioning the concept of neural efficiency. He told himself he’d been trying to keep things simple in deference to her age. “I’m sorry, child. Fear has made me foolish.”

“You don’t have to be afraid. She likes you even though you don’t know anything about biology. The Akami though. Now they might want to be afraid.” The girl smiled coldly and clenched her left hand into a fist.

That display did little to settle the creeping feeling in Comdang’s digestive organ. He reached for his mPad again and sent an amendment to his original message.

“Your daughter has either discovered a new race or is the victim of a sophisticated biological attack. Either way, I feel it best to take her to the clinic.”


The ambassador arrived at the clinic just as her daughter emerged from the body scanner. “Is Susie okay?” the woman demanded. “Can you get that thing off?”

“I don’t think it would be prudent to remove the insect at this juncture,” the doctor said. “There is an invading nerve bundle that runs from the insertion site, up the girl’s arm, through the foramen magnum and into her auditory cortex. It’s not surprising she hears something she interprets as speech.”

“You mean she’s hallucinating?” The ambassador looked horrified.

The doctor shrugged. “What’s a hallucination? A sound she hears that the rest of us don’t? But that’s a given with the efferent fibers running directly into her brain. So why say hallucination instead of conversation? And a very rapid conversation at that. Our instrument is calibrated for a normal conduction rate of 100 m/sec. Those impulses are off the scale. It’s amazing.”

“That’s my daughter, not a science experiment. You remove that thing or I’ll have you removed from your post.”

The doctor made a placating gesture with his hands. “Please. Give me some time to find a safe way to do this. We can afford the time, right? The thing hasn’t hurt the girl. It just talks to her. There’s no evidence of other neural tampering.”

Comdang opened his mouth to bring up Susie’s unusual reaction time, but the girl spoke first. “Mom, I’m fine.” Susie smiled, her pink mouth parts turning up like a perfect little bow. “Jezel is my friend. She only wants to help her people. Can we buy them and let them go?”

“Oh, Sweetie. That might be expensive.” The ambassador hesitated. “And that thing probably just wants you to think it’s your friend. How do you know it’s telling the truth?”

“’Cause lies sound different, silly. But if they’re too expensive to buy, can you talk the Akami into letting them go? In fact, that would be better! We can save them all.” The girl clapped her hands. “You can convince the council, can’t you?”

The ambassador stared into her daughter’s shining eyes for a long moment then shrugged. “Umm. I suppose I could look into it. I mean I’ll do my best, but this is awfully complicated.”

The girl shook her head. “No. It’s simple. When you see evil, you stop it.”

The problem, for the ambassador, was in the seeing. When Susie was safely out of earshot, her mother demanded they find a way to remove the insect. The doctor had to remind her several times that simply pulling the thing off could be dangerous. “We could burn or cut off the bug, but that would leave the nerve fiber behind. It would become necrotic. Do you want to risk damaging your daughter’s mind?”

The ambassador closed her eyes, swallowed and shook her head. “What do you suggest I do?”

“I’ll look into it,” the doctor said. “Susie is healthy at the moment, but contact me if you notice any physical or behavioral changes. Otherwise, let her keep to her routine.”


Three weeks later, the doctor arrived at the embassy. “How has Susie been?”

“She finishes her homework on time, eats well and has joined the science team. Otherwise, she seems completely normal,” the ambassador said.

The doctor shrugged. “I ran some volunteers through the scanner.” He produced his mPad to show the pictures. “They all had living jewelry, but as you see, no nerve bundle. Only a few fibers that don’t go anywhere.”

The ambassador nodded grimly. “So this thing is different from the Akami insects and this story about them being enslaved is garbage. Have you found a way to get it off my daughter?”

“Were the volunteers human?” Comdang normally wouldn’t interrupt his employer, but her assessment did not seem scientifically sound. “Were any of them children?”

“It wasn’t an exhaustive study, no,” the doctor admitted. “Some Canids and one human adult. But neural scans are costly. I thought I might try another approach.” The man pulled up more pictures on his pad, numerous graphs with overlapping red and green lines. “I compared a microsample from Jezel and the living jewelry. One hundred percent match on every isozyme tested. They’re the same species at least.”

“Well. Maybe.” The ambassador skimmed the graphs and her shoulders slumped. “Okay. Definitely. But what about their sentience? Susie kept nagging at me so I finally spoke to the Akami envoy. Asked about the origin of the jewelry. Hinted that they may have inadvertently harvested and were selling a self-aware race. A race that simply hadn’t been able to find anyone to speak for it yet. I reminded it that the Galactic Compact has rules for its member states restricting the exploitation of non-technical civilizations. The Akami went all puff-ball on me and suggested that perhaps the things we call chickens might not have found the right person to speak for them yet.” The ambassador sighed and ran a hand through her hair.

“At the very least, sales of the insects should be banned until the issue of their sentience is resolved,” the doctor said.

Comdang nodded vigorously. He knew the gesture needed to be vigorous to convey the right level of agreement, but his vigor was lost on the ambassador. She threw up her hands. “I can’t do it. Not quickly. I could bring the motion in front of the council, but that will take weeks even if they agree. And they won’t. In matters of trade, they like proof first, restrictions later. Then there’s the aboriginal tradition clause that prohibits the banning of practices integral to the racial identity of any member state. Living jewelry is part of the Akami caste structure. Sales outside Akami space might be restricted, eventually, but the council won’t interfere within their borders. Even if the damn things are sentient.”

“So you won’t do anything?” the doctor asked.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get that insect safely off my daughter,” the ambassador snapped.

The discussion was interrupted by the sound of a bedroom door slamming shut.

“Muffin?” The ambassador called. “You awake? Go to sleep, sweetie. It’s all boring grownup stuff out here.” When she didn’t get a response, she turned to Comdang. “Could you check on her, please? She hates it when I barge into her room.”

Comdang eased open Susie’s door. The girl was in bed feigning sleep, but her posture was too rigid to be convincing. Comdang swallowed his unease, whispered a good night and gently closed the girl’s door.


The unease Comdang had swallowed last night grew into a full-fledged panic when Susie failed to meet him after school. All he got was a message on his mPad: “Going to mall with friends. Back soon. Love, Susie.” Comdang confirmed with the academy that the girl had been in class until the last bell.

“Good student, that one,” her Physics instructor said. “Maybe my best. Deserves a little jaunt. Said some parents were going to give them a ride.”

Comdang thanked the Canid and ran for the door. Susie’s last class had ended only fifteen minutes ago. Fortunately, the station was large. It would take nearly an hour using the elevators and public transport tubes to navigate between its residential and commercial sectors. Comdang should be able to cut her off with his shuttle, but when he got to the docking bay, his ship was gone. He wasted a few seconds raising and lowering his eyestalks as if getting a better vantage point would make the thing reappear. Then he grabbed for his mPad.

“If I find you have taken my ship, you will be grounded! You hear that.” Privately, Comdang hoped that would be the only repercussion. After sending the message, he consulted the station directory for the number of a transport rental service.


Comdang stepped out of his rental ship and surveyed the mall docking berths. The rental had cost him nearly a week of his salary, but the thing was sleeker and faster than his old clunker. Or at least, he’d driven it faster. When the haze from the docking process cleared, he was able to spot his ship, neatly hitched with nary a scratch on its dull grey finish. Unfortunately, Susie wasn’t inside, but a red message light blinked on the dash. He punched it and the video screen brought up his own face repeating, “Please stop,” with dire punishments predicted if the girl did not reply. The first vid was followed by numerous similar messages. Comdang got tired of hearing his own voice and was about to hit stop when the screen fuzzed out, replacing his green face and silver multifaceted eyes with the flat beige face of the little girl.

“Sorry I took your ship. I didn’t hurt it.” The girl in the video patted the dash. “Jezel’s people need help and they shouldn’t have to wait. And I know you and Mom think they may not be people and it’s complicated and there are treaties and everything, but really it’s not. There are right things and wrong things, and you stop the wrong ones. Right? You make a difference. This is me, making a difference.” The girl in the video grinned and gave a thumbs up. The video went black.

Comdang reached out and gripped the edge of the viewscreen. It wasn’t a bad speech, but was it the girl speaking or was someone speaking through her? Granted, the girl in the video sounded like just that—a girl, acting on her own convictions, convictions that Comdang found difficult to argue with. The enslavement of an entire race was evil but had that happened? He raced for the nearest lift and punched in the floor that harbored the Akami shop.

He stepped out of the elevator in time to see the front of the jewelry store dissolve in a wall of fire. The pressure wave slammed him into the back of the lift, and his vision dimmed. It took him seconds to register the fact that his eyes were fine, but the station lighting had gone out. He stumbled out of the elevator. The emergency light strips revealed a hallway full of smoke and water from the ceiling sprinklers. He ducked low to keep his breathing spiracles out of the worst of the fumes and crawled towards the ruins of the shop. He passed a few bodies. They all had too much fur or too many limbs to be Susie. Outside the shop, an Akami lay motionless with its sensory filaments burned away. On the floor around it was a swarming mass of insects. Comdang couldn’t let the Akami, living or not, be mauled. He reached out to shield the body, but the bugs streamed down the hall, vanishing into the air ducts.

Comdang looked back towards the shop. There was a figure in the shattered doorway now, a small biped, the amber emergency lighting flickering off her blonde hair and her eerie blue eyes. He cringed away from the creature.

“Comdang?” Susie asked.

Her voice brought him back to himself. She didn’t sound like a consumer of worlds. She merely sounded young. “I’m here to help,” he said.

“I already helped them,” she whispered. “I made a start.”

Comdang stood up and reached for her. “I mean you. I want to help you.”

“I’m good,” the girl said, “But I would like to go home now.” She said that like home was infinitely far away. She said that with the smoke wreathing around her, her hair loose and streaming in the breeze, a breeze that hadn’t been there seconds ago. Comdang blinked and lunged for the girl. Susie shrieked, but Comdang couldn’t hear it over the sound of the depressurization alarm. The mall was located in the skin of the station, and the explosion had been enough to weaken a seam. The emergency lights strobed, the sirens wailed, and behind him sounded a horrible grinding noise. It was station protocol to seal off the corridor closest to a breach. Comdang clutched the girl and ran for the vanishing gap. It already looked too small for him, but he might be able to shove the girl through before the partition closed. He gritted his labial palps and prepared to toss his ward down the corridor. Susie foiled that by wrapping her arms around his neck. Comdang barely managed to skid to a stop before crashing both of them into the newly materialized wall.

“Breathe slowly,” Comdang said.

“You breathe slowly,” the girl retorted.

It had been a short sprint, but his spiracles were whistling. It was embarrassing. The mantras said physical prowess was the bedrock of mental perfection. The mantras were crap. “You could have gone through. Why did you grab me?” Comdang snapped.

“It felt like you were going to drop me.”

Comdang set her down. “Not drop. Throw. To safety. Now we’re stuck.” He was breathing easier now, recovering from the sprint. That meant the leak was slow. The emergency staff would have time to get to them. He just needed to notify them there were at least two living citizens and one criminal trapped in the sector. He leaned his head against the partition. “Did she tell you to kill them?”


“Jezel. Did she make you kill them?”

The girl was silent for so long that Comdang wondered if she’d even heard him. Then she kicked the partition. “No! Jezel said she could wait, wait a long time if necessary. We argued. I told her I was the one with the legs and hands. She had to agree then. All she did was help me with the chemistry. Help make a charge that would only do a little damage.”

“Is that only damaged a little?” Comdang waved a limb at one of the bodies just as the Canid whined and sat up.

Susie looked toward the creature and frowned. ”We’ll get him out. We’ll all get out. Right?”

Most of the assumed corpses were showing signs of movement now. Only the Akami remained still. The rest of them were chirping, warbling, or barking in alarm.

“Hush!” Comdang couldn’t help snapping at the small group of shoppers and staff. “Be still. They sealed this section for a reason.” And that reason seemed to be getting worse. The breeze in the corridor had matured into a full-fledged wind. Comdang could hear popping and creaking from the jewelry store.

“I can blow up the bulkhead,” Susie volunteered and reached for her backpack.

“I think you’ve blown up enough for one day,” Comdang replied. “Anyway, a rupture in the bulkhead would expose a larger section of the station to decompression. We either make and reseal a gap or seal the original breach. What exactly did you do in the store?”

“Converted a spot on the back wall to energy. It was a small spot.” The girl made a circle by touching her forefinger and thumb together. “Lots of energy though.”

The crowd noise changed from a mix of anxious sounds to a steady growl. The nearby Canid edged closer to the girl and bared his teeth.

“Please. The girl was controlled.” Comdang grabbed Susie’s arm and this time was prepared when she tried to wrench it away. He locked her elbow, pulled the arm higher and pointed at the black lump. “That’s your criminal. Right there. Not the girl.”

All Susie could do was stomp her foot and shout. “This was my idea! Mine!”

That information didn’t placate the crowd, but it had a profound effect on Comdang. He hadn’t been listening. He’d assumed the parasite was manipulative and malign, assumed Susie’s actions confirmed that, and refused to take the girl’s statements at face value. It was high time he tested his assumptions. He bent his eyestalks down to the level of Susie’s forearm and directly addressed the insect. “Your Majesty, your friend has taken rash action to help you. Rash, because according to her species, she has not lived long enough to make well-reasoned decisions.” Comdang had to clamp the girl against his side. She was trying to wriggle out of his grip. “You see these entities?” He waved at the muttering crowd. “Did you mean to hurt these entities? Susie says no. She calls you a friend. She calls you good. Show us.” And please make it before the air runs out Comdang silently added.

Susie stopped wriggling and jerked upright like a puppet. Comdang released her, and the girl turned toward the barrier. She knelt and ran her fingers along where it joined the floor pausing at a rough spot. The partition had come down onto some debris. It had sealed, but not entirely flush with the floor. The girl worked her fingers into the tiny gap and strained, every muscle in her body bulging with the effort. The wall, the impossibly heavy wall inched up, and a stream of wind whistled through the gap followed by the sound of sirens from the newly breached sector. The crowd whooped and lunged at the barrier, all grabbing and heaving.

“Just enough. Just high enough to roll through. And quickly,” Susie commanded. It was not the voice of a girl. It was deeper, more resonant, and without any trace of strain. Comdang took his place next to her, but it was difficult to lift and study his ward at the same time. Her skin was flushed and splotchy, the veins standing out like ropes, and her upper lip moist with nasal secretions. The humans called it snot, and Susie normally wouldn’t stand for it. Comdang’s impulse was to wipe her face, but he and Susie were the only beings left on this side of the barrier now. He had to hold on until the girl got through. Susie nodded at the gap. Comdang shook his head. “My people do not abandon our wards,” he gasped.

“Is that due to affection or pride? To your pride I say, we are stronger than you.” The girl punctuated that by shifting her grip and heaving the barrier out of Comdang’s numb hands. “Go!” She shouted. The snot trail on her lip was tinged pink now.

Comdang recoiled from the voice and from the blood. “You’re killing her,” he whispered. He could barely breathe, but there were now hands and paws reaching for him, trying to pull him through. He couldn’t leave, couldn’t face the shame of letting his ward hold the wall. “No,” he wanted to shout, but it came out as a wheeze. The hands pulled him to safety, to air. He was able to stand again. He told himself he could help her from this side

“I’m through. We are holding. Get out!” His voice was barely audible over the sounds of tearing metal and howling wind. Comdang pulled. They all pulled, and the Canid whined and panted. When the girl released her hold, the barrier came down like an avalanche shuddering to a stop a bare twenty centimeters off the floor. Comdang risked snaking an eyestalk into the gap. The suction threatened to pull it off his head, but he had to see. Susie was there wedged between the barrier and the floor. She was on her back pushing up with her small hands. Comdang reached for her and tugged. It was useless. She was caught tight.

“Lift! Damn you all! Lift!” Comdang screamed, but it seemed like Susie was the only one who listened. Her smile was calm, eerie almost, but her eyes bulged as she forced the barrier up off her chest.

“When the wall leaves our hands, pull,” the girl said, and then forced her arms straight with enough speed to toss the barrier into the air. Comdang grabbed her by the collar and yanked. Susie slid forward, and the wall slid down, almost taking off the girl’s toes when it slammed into the floor. Comdang said a silent thank-you to the designer for making human children so small and compact, but the thanks died on his palps. Susie hadn’t gotten up. She was breathing, quick and shallow, but they were all breathing like that. All waiting for the station’s air system to restore circulation. No, it wasn’t the girl’s breathing that unnerved Comdang. It was her twitching, pallor, and blank-eyed stare.

“Susie?” Comdang said and touched the girl’s hand. His fingers came back bloody from where she’d worn the skin off wrestling with the heavy barrier. “Jezel?” He tried again and flinched when the girl spasmed. “Shh. Shh.” Comdang tried to hold her. “You’re safe now. Safe. Your Majesty saved us.”

The girl flailed her arms giving Comdang a brief glimpse of Jezel. The black lump was no longer flush with the girl’s skin. It was dangling, attached now only by a nest of blood-streaked grey fibers retracting from the girl’s flesh. Susie moaned and wrapped her arms around her head causing the insect to vanish into her hair.

Comdang reached for his ward’s arm. He couldn’t let the thing get away. He had too many questions. Was she queen or criminal, master or slave? Was she a friend like Susie claimed, or a weapon aimed at the Akami? One thing for sure, she was no simple parasite. None would risk its host like this. “Susie helped your people escape,” he hissed. “At great personal cost. You cannot vanish with no explanation.” Comdang grabbed for the moving black speck, ripped it out along with a handful of wet blonde hair, and stuffed the entire mass into a pocket. With the queen secured, Comdang picked up his unconscious ward and cradled her until station security arrived to escort them all to medbay. He hoped the girl would live to forgive him for the chunk missing from her hair.


Comdang and the ambassador sat vigil on opposites sides of the girl’s bed even though the doctor told them to go home, told them that Susie would sleep for days. “She burned through a year’s supply of cortisol. Amazing really, but it’s going to set her back a bit. She’ll have fatigue, muscle weakness, maybe even delayed puberty—” he paused when the ambassador made a noise. Despite his training in human vocalizations, Comdang was unsure if that noise was a prayer or a sob.

The doctor cleared his throat and continued. “But the good news is that there’s no sign of neural damage even with Jezel pulling out like that.”

Comdang had explained how the alien had saved them using Susie’s body and had then detached and followed her people into the station air vents. “I think she finally realized it wasn’t right to use a child like that.” Comdang neglected to mention his own qualms about the ethics of keeping a sentient being confined to a glass jar in his room. He told himself he was simply holding onto her until Susie recovered.

“She probably achieved her goal and didn’t need us anymore.” The doctor sounded wistful. “A new race with that kind of processing power living in cracks on the station. Security is having a fit. And of course the Akami are demanding their products back. They want the girl to be tried.”

“My daughter is not going to trial. She’s injured,” the ambassador growled.

“She’ll get better. Then what?” the doctor said.

“Then she’s a minor and clearly not responsible for her actions. Let them find and convict that damned insect.”

Comdang winced. Susie had claimed to be the mastermind. He had used that information to convince Jezel to help. Or maybe the creature had merely been acting to save herself. The whole situation was muddier than a Canid at an Acturan spa.


It got even muddier a week later when the girl finally woke up. The first words out of her mouth were, “I hate you.”

Liquid welled up in the ambassador’s eyes. “I ... I,” the woman stuttered. “I was slow. I was irresponsible to bring you here. I was a poor parent. But you’ll get better and I’ll get better. Right, Muffin?”

“Not you,” the girl said. “Him. I hate him. He made Jezel leave.”

Comdang looked away and licked his palps. “It was her decision.” At least Comdang assumed that had been the case. He’d merely asked the queen for help. “And anyway, is it not better to be alive and full of hate, than dead and loving me forever?”

Susie sniffed and crossed her arms. “That’s stupid. If I’m dead, I can’t love anyone.”

“How fortunate that you realize that.” Comdang turned to face the ambassador. “Is my work done?”

The woman hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry. She’ll be going back to Earth now. At least until this incident blows over.”

At the mention of Earth, hope and irritation chased each other across the girl’s features. For a moment, the irritation won. “When I grow up,” Susie declared, “I’ll go everywhere. Even into Akami space. I’ll help them all. You’ll see.” She yawned and her eyelids drooped. “Then my friend, my best friend will come back to me.” She drooled that last word into her pillow before falling soundly asleep.

“Oh Sweetie, you’ll make new friends back on Earth,” the ambassador murmured. “Better friends. Ones who won’t try to use you. And there’ll be boys, sports, music, and school. All the things you should be thinking about.”

“Spawnlings shouldn’t think about justice?” Comdang asked.

“They shouldn’t try to fix things they don’t understand,” the ambassador snapped.

Comdang could only nod at that and excuse himself to go look for the aforementioned understanding. Back at his apartment, he turned the jar around in his hands. “We should talk,” he said to the silent black speck still nestled in Susie’s hair. He opened the jar, hesitated, then eased Jezel onto his wrist. He panicked when he felt her small hooked legs dig into his skin. Would he become a superbeing like Susie or a mindless incubator like the laundry creature? Regardless, his calling demanded the risk. “You saved us,” he murmured, “and you let Susie go. For that, I give you trust. For that, I will listen to your story.” END

Kathleen Molyneaux holds a doctorate in cell biology. Her first semi-pro sale was in the 12-APR-2015 issue of “Perihelion.” Since then, she has published a flash piece with “Every Day Fiction” and contributed several stories to anthologies.


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