Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor



Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.


Au Pair, or Else

By Lee Budar-Danoff

THE DOORBELL RANG EARLY. A head of dark, curly hair bounced down the hall as Angela’s daughter Maddie hopped to answer the door. Angela closed the file on her laptop and followed.

“Mom, it’s Mrs. Flores! And a tall man, in a dark suit,” said Maddie as she jumped up and down. “Hi, I’m Maddie, I’m eight and I like to bounce. Who are you?”

Angela reached the door and pulled Maddie back. The last thing she needed was a visitor whose suit announced I’m-from-the-government-and-I’m-here-to-help-you bounced on by her excitable eight year-old. At least Mrs. Flores, the au pair counselor, knew her kids.

“Sorry about that,” Angela said.

The man said, “Dr. Martinez? I’m Lawrence Smithson from the State Department.”

Angela asked. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” said Mrs. Flores. “I’ve found a new au pair for you.”

“Come in, come in,” Angela said. For a moment she’d worried their last au pair, Françoise, had registered a complaint with the State Department. Maybe for being overworked.

In the living room, the Christmas tree was still up. The triplets whizzed around, showing off their toys and insisted on demonstrating their new mini mag-lev trains which circled the tree. Angela brushed cheese cracker crumbs off the sofa.

“Gabriel, Gerardo, Guillermo, please slow down,” said Angela.

Maddie put her gaming glasses on Mrs. Flores. “Want to play Kart Race 20?”

“Cheerios,” announced Maya from the kitchen, who at age ten was more responsible than most sitters. The kids dropped their toys and stampeded out.

“Such active children,” said Smithson.

Mrs. Flores double-checked the sofa cushion before sitting. “That’s the main reason the Martinez family has had to rematch four times.” She stared over her glasses at Angela, “Inga described Maddie as a poster child for ADHD. Michako claimed the triplets had mastered the terrible twos.”

“My kids are good, really,” said Angela. “Every au pair you sent had a sudden family emergency back home and left.”

Mrs. Flores said, “My agency is working with the State Department to place a special exchange visitor. They asked for you.”

Angela licked her lips. What interest could the government have in her child care issues?

Mr. Smithson said, “Would you consider an au pair not from your list of host cities?”

“Of course. As long as she, or he, can drive.” Working from home wasn’t the same as being at Sea World. Now was not the time to be picky.

Smithson said, “How about Tau Ceti?”

“Any city, really,” she said with relief.

“No, Tau Ceti the planet.”

Relief turned into disbelief. “You want to place an alien, in my home, as an au pair?” She turned to the counselor. “We haven’t tried anyone from South America yet. Brazil, maybe?”

“Not a chance. Aux pairs talk; your kids are legend,” said Mrs. Flores.

Smithson said, “The Cetians are ready to send their first ambassador to Earth. But before she takes on diplomatic responsibilities, they insist she participate in a total immersion program with an Earth host family.”

“My kids shouldn’t have to be guinea pigs for interplanetary relations just because we struggle to find responsible in-home caregivers.”

“This is a unique situation,” said Smithson.

“Shouldn’t there be parades first? Official welcomes? Paparazzi? Why us?”

“You have extensive experience hosting foreigners,” said Mrs. Flores.

Angela said, “Human foreigners.” With zero success.

Smithson pulled out his tablet. “The water-worlders cited your work as a cetacean biologist. Their ambassador is anxious to meet Earth’s marine mammals.” He looked up at Angela. “You have coastal bottlenose dolphins and calves at Sea World right now, yes?”

Angela huffed. “I don’t need an au pair for the calves. I also have two pregnant, hungry gray whales who need my attention.”

“She wants to meet the whales, too. And porpoises. The State Department will pay your au pair costs, and is offering a substantial grant in exchange for your cooperation in furthering relations with the Cetians.”

“I’m not an Alien Activities Director,” Angela said.

But her first impulse to refuse died. Sea World had shipped in boatloads of Baja lagoon-bottom, but other mammas-to-be had filtered out half of the seafood she’d hoped to provide to Maris and Venus. The new bill for tons of shrimp, mollusks, and fish would drain her budget.

“You’re bribing me?”

Smithson tried to reel her in. “You get help with your kids, we get our ambassador, she gets to swim with Earth’s sea creatures, and your program gets funding. It’s a quadruple win.”

“Can she really take care of my very human children?”

Mrs. Flores sniffed. “Obviously. We provided a training course. Coral passed the exam and was issued a J-1 visa.”

“But she has no actual hands-on experience with human children?”

Smithson handed Angela a card. He’d written down his cell number. “I’ll be available to you anytime.”

Instant access to help, day or night. Angela wondered if he knew how to change diapers.

“She’ll arrive later this afternoon,” he said.


The idea was ridiculous. Not that she had anything against aliens. If only Robert was around to help, but her husband’s posting at Aldrin Station on the moon made that impossible. Maris and Venus could give birth any day now. She needed someone home with the kids, and was out of options. Both Smithson and Mrs. Flores had made a clear case. Angela couldn’t flat refuse the offer when it would enable her to return to work. Besides, what if her boss heard she’d had the opportunity to obtain funding to feed the whales, and had turned it down?

“The dolphins can’t go to her,” said Angela.

“So she is coming to the dolphins,” said Smithson.


A sledgehammer punched through the wall between the bathroom and bedroom at the back of the house and Angela swore.

“You said minor plumbing work. What’s that?” Angela asked Smithson as men walked up to the house with a huge crate on a hover-dolly.

Smithson glanced at his tablet. “Saltwater jet bath.”

“What?” Angela flung her hands in the air. “Why on Earth does she need a Jacuzzi?”

“Because she is on Earth,” said Smithson.

“Did you do this when the Eridanis came? The Proxites?” Angela remembered the fanfare over their arrivals. New York City and The Hague shut down for a week. The visits were declared successful when the aliens weren’t assassinated by xenophobic terrorists. The achievement of non-lethal wormhole travel brought many changes, but the average San Diego civilian wouldn’t be ready for alien delegations. Though aliens probably weren’t ready for the Martinez family.

Footsteps pounding on stairs heralded the kids who ran up from the playroom.

“Mommy, what happened? Did the house explode?” Maddie wrapped her arms around Angela’s waist. Gabriel slipped past. Angela grabbed him before he was renovated.

“No, nothing blew up. Let’s go in the kitchen.”

Angela focused on the positive. They were getting a new Jacuzzi.

“What’s going on, Mom?” asked Maya.

Angela handed out chocolate chip cookies and poured herself some coffee. They all needed a treat. “We’re getting a new au pair. Her name is Coral, and she’s special.”

“Special how, Mommy? Special like me? Does she have her own doctor too?” Maddie’s questions came garbled from her stuffed mouth.

“No, honey. Coral is from the water-world Tau Ceti. She’s an alien.”

Maya dropped her cookie. Gabriel started to cry. Gerardo and Guillermo joined in.

Maddie clapped her hands. “An alien? That’s so cool!”

“No, it’s not,” said Maya. “An alien won’t know anything. What if she trashes the house and eats all our toys?”

Angela clung to her coffee mug like a life preserver.

“You can teach her everything she doesn’t know. I’ll stay with you at first.” She’d watch Coral before leaving the alien alone with the kids, no matter her agreement with Smithson.

Maddie said, “And we can make a sign, like we did for the others, can’t we Maya? I’ll get my glitter glue.” She ran out, her cookies forgotten.

“So,” Angela took Maya’s hand, “feel like giving the new au pair a chance?”

Maya shrugged. “At least, if she doesn’t like us, it’ll be a lot harder for her to fly home.”


Two SUVs with dark tinted windows escorted a long black limousine up the driveway. A chorus of “aw” from the kids met the woman who knocked.

“She’s not an alien,” said Maddie, stomping her foot.

The fit blonde in jeans and a silver blouse said, “I’m Natalya, one of Coral’s bodyguards.”

“Bodyguards?” Angela’s voice weakened. “Nobody mentioned bodyguards.”

Natalya smiled. “If everything goes smoothly, you won’t see much of us.”

A tall figure wearing a long coat, gloves, and a wide, floppy hat stepped out of the limousine. An actual alien was about to enter their home. Anxiety bubbled up in Angela like jellyfish on an incoming tide. A hand slipped into hers and Maya squeezed tight. Once they were all inside, Coral removed her hat and coat.

Even Maya expressed amazement. Coral’s smooth skin, peachy-pink, shimmered like fish scales. The lack of hair on her narrow head added to her exotic allure. Along her neck, past her recessed ears, Angela could see slim tubes that snaked under her clothes. Dressed as she was in an Indian-style sarong, Coral still wouldn’t pass for a local. Visions of a media circus swam in Angela’s mind.

Coral stared at them with wide-set eyes, then removed her gloves. Her hands were long, and webbing extended half-way along her fingers.

“Hel-lo, An-ge-la,” she said, emphasizing each syllable.

Angela shook her hand; it was cool and soft. A strong maternal instinct washed over her.

“Welcome to our home, Coral,” she said.

“Sea World?” asked Coral.

“No, this isn’t Sea World,” said Natalya.

Angela said, “This is Maya.”

Coral leaned over to take her hand. Maya yelped and pulled her hand away.

“What’s wrong?” Angela asked but Maya laced her fingers behind her back.

“When I touched her, she spoke in my head.” She hid behind her mother.

Angela frowned. “How is that possible?”

Natalya cleared her throat. “No one mentioned her telepathy?”

“Why no, no one did.” Angela rubbed her temples.

“Telepathy is the Cetian’s main form of communication,” Natalya said. “The ability is a close-kept secret. Imagine protesters carrying signs warning about alien mind control. While Coral learned to speak English on Tau Ceti, she must touch you to establish the telepathic link.”

Coral wiggled her head back and forth. Angela thought it was her form of a nod.

“Forgot ask,” Coral said in her slow tone. “Earth family need touch-thought.

The single word in Angela’s mind caused her to flinch. But she nodded permission.

“Hi Coral, do me, do me! I’m Maddie!” She held out a hand speckled with glitter.

Coral took Maddie’s hand, then jerked and let go.

“Fast mind,” said Coral.

Maddie sniffed. “She doesn’t smell like a fish.”

“Not fish,” said Coral.

“No, honey,” said Natalya, “Her people didn’t evolve from fish. You’ll also note she has legs. Coral presses them together to swim, or holds them apart to walk on land.”

The boys each got a turn with Coral, and poked at the webbing between her fingers.

Angela showed Coral her room, and she sensed pleasure emanating from the alien. The bodyguards brought two titanium trunks inside. Natalya pressed buttons on the Jacuzzi touchpad to start it filling with warm salt water from the new tanks installed behind the house. Coral pulled at her clothes and Angela hustled the children back to the living room. Natalya followed.

“She forgets nudity is not the norm on Earth,” said Natalya.

Angela considered putting a reminder note about clothes in Coral’s room.

“What are the tubes along her neck?”

Natalya said, “They help her breathe in our less humid atmosphere. The salt water baths help prevent dehydration and skin desiccation. She’ll welcome trips to the beach, and is eager to visit your Sea World facility.”

“I’ve heard that,” said Angela.

“Here’s the tablet for recording your observations on Coral and her interactions with you and your children.” Natalya handed a slim silver tablet to Angela. “Not from a scientist’s perspective, but that of a human and mother.”

Despite her directions, Angela was sure Smithson was taking advantage of her occupation to learn more about the Cetian race. Not that she wasn’t curious, but until now her studies focused on animals that didn’t talk back. Coral was a person, an alien person, and nothing in Angela’s background prepared her for a switch to xenobiology.

After the bodyguards left for the evening, Coral emerged from her room swathed in a fresh sarong. Angela could feel her contentment.

“Me to play with children, you to make dinner,” said Coral.

Prickles crept up Angela’s spine as Coral picked that desire from her mind. She showed Coral the playroom in the basement. The au pair sat in the middle of the floor and the kids stared at her, then their mother.

“Show toys,” said Coral.

Maddie brought over a doll. “This is Annabelle.”

Coral took the doll into her lap and stroked her hair. “My world, hair on plants, not people.” She reached out to stroke Maddie’s dark, tangled curls. “Look,” she said.

“Oh, I see them,” said Maddie. “Purple hair floating up from a reef. I want purple hair!”

The boys toddled toward Coral, encouraged by their sister’s brave start. Maya had stayed back but flushed as her siblings fearlessly interacted with the alien. She searched the room and grabbed a plastic horse.

“We ride them,” she explained. “Do you have horses?”

Coral patted the toy and wiggled her head. “No big land animals. Big plants, yes.”

Guillermo dragged over a globe. “Where are you from?”

“She’s not from Earth, silly,” said Maya.

Gerardo slapped the globe. “Point, point.” His brothers joined in on the chant.

Coral reached into a fold of her sarong and pulled out a gray ball. She squeezed it and it lit up, shining pins of light onto the ceiling. Maddie squealed. The triplets quieted and lay back on the floor, mesmerized by the pretty show.

While Coral entertained the children by explaining which star was the sun and which star was Tau Ceti, Angela sneaked upstairs and made dinner in rare peace. She cooked mahi in olive oil and lemon juice with almonds, prepared brown rice, and wilted spinach in a hot pan.

“Dinner,” she called downstairs.

The kids attacked their plates. Coral sniffed then poked at the mahi with her fingers.

“Use a fork,” said Maya.

“Is something wrong?” Angela was sure she paid attention to the instructions regarding Coral’s diet. But she could feel Coral’s distress mixed with embarrassment.

“No, An-ge-la. Practiced cooked fish.” She wrapped all four fingers around the fork and stabbed the mahi like a fisherman with a spear.

Angela bit her lip. “Oh, you eat your food raw.” She’d forgotten. The kids dropped their forks. She would have to ask Natalya how to deal with Coral’s emotions spilling over and affecting the children.

“All ocean food eat natural. No?”

Angela shook her head and hoped she wouldn’t cause an interplanetary incident, or lose another au pair. “I can order raw fish, sashimi, for you.” Could she bill the State Department?


Robert’s freshwater aquarium attracted Coral’s attention after the children went to bed.

“Why keep fish in box?” Coral asked.

Natalya had warned Angela this might be a problem. “They’re a traditional pet, and beautiful to watch,” said Angela. “In the open, they might get eaten. Instead, we feed them.”

“You captor and servant?”

“In a way. The fish don’t mind.”

“How know?” asked Coral.

Angela pressed her lips together. “I guess I don’t.”

“You keep dolphins, whales in boxes.”

“In huge sea water tanks, and only temporarily, to heal injured animals or to study them.”

“You keep me in glass box?”

“Of course not,” Angela said. “We don’t keep people in boxes.” Except for jail, but she wasn’t ready to explain the criminal justice system to a legal alien.

Coral pressed against the glass walls. The aquarium light shone through the webbing on her hands. “Why humans dominant Earth species? Why life in seas not evolve like Cetians?”

“Humans did originate in the oceans, a very long time ago.”

Coral turned from the aquarium to study Angela. “You not look like it.”


The sound that woke Angela was not her alarm, or hungry toddlers, but her phone, blaring far too loud and early on a Saturday morning.

“Dr. Martinez speaking,” she said, too bleary-eyed to read the caller I.D.

“Maris is behaving in a peculiar fashion,” said the tense voice of her assistant.

With a shove, Angela sat up. “What happened, Ted?”

“She’s swimming slow circles in her tank. Her color is off too.”

Angela swore under her breath. The whale’s timing wasn’t good. “Okay. Be right there.”

She showered and dressed before getting the kids up, to allow them a bit more sleep.

“Maya, Maddie, help the boys. Something’s wrong with Maris so we’ll all go see her.”

The girls changed fast and got the boys ready. Angela ran downstairs, found juice boxes and granola bars and stuffed them into the diaper bag.

Then she remembered. Coral. She couldn’t leave the alien. Angela knocked on her door.

“Coral? Are you up?”

Splashing sounds met her question, and then a dripping Coral opened the door, strange to behold in a simple cotton bathrobe. Water dripped off every surface of the room.

“Yes, Angela.”

“There’s an emergency at work. Please get dressed to go outside.”

Coral stretched her lips into a grin that Angela suspected was not natural for Cetians. “Oh, yes. Wish to meet dolphins, whales.”

By the time Angela had all the kids at the door, Coral was ready. A long-sleeved, full-length dress disguised most of her body, with the boots, gloves and hat doing the rest. An odd get-up for San Diego, even in January.

“Don’t forget your sunglasses,” said Angela.

Coral held them up in one hand. “Breakfast?”

“How about a banana?” Angela grabbed a bunch from the counter.

“Yes, tasty Earth plant,” said Coral, who took all of them. She tore one off and bit down.

“No, silly,” said Maya, exasperation in her tone, “you have to peel it first.” She took the banana from Coral and showed her what to do.

With a head wiggle, Coral accepted the peeled banana. “Forgot skin.” Then she stuffed the whole thing in her mouth before starting on another.

Angela herded everyone to the hovervan. Coral held on to the sides of her floppy hat as the wind blew in the windows. The only positive about the early morning departure was the lack of traffic through Point Loma Heights and on the highway. In minutes, they cruised over the bridge and along Sea World Drive to Angela’s private space at the marine biology building.

“Not a sea world,” said Coral after removing her sunglasses to look around. Ripples of disappointment touched Angela. The boys and Maya frowned.

Maddie giggled. “It’s an amusement park. With rides and stuff,” she said. “Don’t be sad.”

“Not understand,” said Coral. “Water where?”

“The sea water tanks are behind the building,” said Angela.

She led them to her office on the main floor where Ted waited.

“Maya, take Coral on the tour,” said Angela. “Show her the dolphins and calves.”

Coral said, “Maya, show?” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Oh, circle tanks, pit stop, pig out ice cream—pig out?” Coral laughed with breathy hoots. “Oh, cannot eat ice cream. What pig out on?”

Angela waited with Ted while Maya led the others off.

“That’s your new au pair?” His eyes were as wide as Coral’s.

“Yes,” said Angela, “but what about Maris?”

“I’ll show you,” said Ted.

At the whale tank, Maris made slow circles. The gray whale blew tired spouts from her double blowhole. Venus, the other pregnant whale, circled with Maris to act as her nurse.

“Close to birthing, if she’s conserving energy,” said Angela. “At least Venus is swimming with vigor. One whale birth at a time is enough.”

While they watched Maris for signs of distress, laughter drifted back on the breeze.

“Eat another one,” said Maddie as loud as she could.

A sense of satisfaction emanated from Coral. Angela walked along the path between the tanks and found Maddie tossing herring from one of the dolphin’s pails to Coral who ate the fish whole. Maddie shrieked with joy while Maya mimed gagging sounds. A dolphin flipped in the air and Maddie tossed him a herring.

The sense of satisfaction turned to dismay. Angela stopped halfway to the kids, doubled over with cramps.

“What’s wrong?” asked Ted.

Something made a loud splash. Maya and Maddie gripped the railing and stared over the edge. The boys, strapped in the stroller, wailed to get out.

“Oh no,” said Angela, clutching her stomach. Where was Coral? The cramps came on again, for no good monthly reason.

Ted pointed. “Your au pair just went for a swim.” Coral’s clothes littered the ground.

“Why did Coral dive in the whale tank naked, Mommy?” asked Maddie.

Angela shook her head. The wave of pain stopped and Angela gasped. She shouted down but Coral wasn’t swimming on the surface. The water was warm, with a high saline content to help the whale calves float after birth. She hoped it wouldn’t hurt Coral.

I’m fine. Maris is about to give birth, said Coral. I can help.

Angela jolted at hearing Coral’s voice in her head. Why am I the one in pain? she asked.

A sense of apology spilled into Angela’s mind, and the new wave of cramps disappeared.

Sorry. I let you feel what Maris is feeling. Sensing her labor allows you to know when or if she needs assistance.

Able to breathe deep once more, and grateful she wasn’t a whale gynecologist, Angela said, Your English is much improved.

The telepathy enables your brain to interpret my thought-speech in your language. Just as I’m hearing you speak Cetian.

Have you ever seen a real whale?

Coral said, Only pictures, but I have helped a similar species on my planet. Trust me.

“Coral wants to help Maris have her calf,” Angela told Ted.

Ted stared into the tank. “Is that a good idea?”

“Yes,” said Angela, Coral’s confidence filling her.

“Should I get your scuba gear?”

“Too late for that,” said Angela. “Watch the kids. Don’t let them jump in, too.”

Go ahead, Angela told Coral. Can you show me?

Angela gasped as she saw the mottled belly of the pregnant whale through Coral’s eyes. Coral swam alongside Maris, stroking the long rake marks along the whale’s side, evidence of the orca attack from which Angela helped Maris recover. Venus swam above, nudging Maris to keep moving whenever she slowed.

Easy, Coral said. Angela listened to the alien speak to the whale’s mind. Maris moaned low, flipped her tail and thrashed her body in the tank. Blood clouded the water.

Get ready, Coral said.

Angela heard her children squealing as they got soaked from Maris’ antics, but ignored the salt water shower as she watched Maris give birth to her long, pink-gray calf. Venus and Coral backed away so Maris could nudge her baby to the surface to take his first breath. When Coral reappeared, dizziness struck Angela as her own vision returned.

“Hooray,” Maya and the others shouted, clapping as the baby whale rested on his mother’s back.

Sunlight glinted off the water and Coral’s skin as she floated near the whales.

That was amazing, Angela thought. Thank you. I’m glad both Maris and Venus accepted your presence.

Coral grinned, showing her pointed teeth. You’re welcome. I’m sorry about the clothes—I don’t swim well wearing them.

We’ll get over the shock of a sea person swimming in her natural state, said Angela.

Venus’ time is soon. Can we do this again? Maris might not be much help with a nursing calf attached to her. Coral’s excitement filled Angela. My people will teach telepathy to your whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Won’t it be wonderful to hear them speak to you?

Could Earth’s marine mammals become sentient beings like Coral? Angela shivered at the possibility and the implications. The complaints and the demands. Less Pollution! More Fish! She looked at Maris and her newborn calf, with Venus in attendance. Exactly who was Coral planning to establish diplomatic relations with on Earth?

Instead of answering, Coral dove down then erupted out of the water, somersaulted in the air and dove back in. The children clapped when she returned to the surface. From the dolphin tank came excited whistles.

“Mom?” Maya tugged on Angela’s hand. “Is Coral in trouble?”

“No, why?”

Maya smiled. “The dolphins like her. The whales like her. She’s better than a mermaid. That makes her the coolest au pair ever. Besides, if she can handle them,” Maya pointed to the whales, “I bet Maddie and the boys won’t be any problem and she won’t make up some reason to leave. After all,” she dropped her voice to a whisper, “Coral can read their minds and stop problems before they happen.”

From the water, Coral wiggled her head.

Angela squeezed Maya. “Let’s keep that our secret.” END

Lee Budar-Danoff is a former teacher of history and English. She plays guitar and enjoys sailing. She is an alum of the Viable Paradise Writer's Workshop. Her short science fiction has also appeared in the April, 2015, “Diabolical Plots.”


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