by Mary E. Lowd
Enzz’rr’kk was a junior officer whose pin-feathers had barely come in. Only a few months before, he’d been covered in downy speckling instead of regal raven black with bursts of purple on his elbows and cranium. Now he was a full-fledged warrior, complete with the tools of his trade — pliant octopus tentacles to extend his reach and capabilities.
Unfortunately, his octopus had been injured while fighting the fuzzy brown creature on the spaceship his squadron had been sent to secure. It had lost several tentacles, and the pain the octopus felt was distracting. So when Enzz’rr’kk saw the two octopuses on the galley table — one mangled beyond use but the other in perfect condition — he decided to trade for an upgrade.
He didn’t worry about the difference between Earth octopi and Jovian ones. Though he should have. His superior officers would have, but Enzz’rr’kk was young and foolish raptor. He didn’t think to worry about the silver tentacle either. He simply lifted the silver-tentacled octopus into the harness on his shoulders, and plugged her brain into his, like he’d done with dozens of octopi before.
Such small choices are the hinges the universe turns on.
Enzz’rr’kk had felt the minds of the octopuses he used for their tentacles bleed into his own before, but their lives were small and manageable, easy to forget, easy to ignore. Raised in aquariums, kept as slaves, their lives were a quiet noise that he’d learned to shut out. Also, although he didn’t know it, the Jovian octopi, trained in their servitude, had practice hiding their thoughts from the raptors who enslaved them.
Emily had no practice shielding her mind from raptors.
Emily had no practice managing the whirlpool of memories pulling herself down.
Enzz’rr’kk was totally unprepared to be pulled down into millennia’s worth of octopus lives with her.
Drowning in memories together, Enzz’rr’kk and Emily sensed each other — each of them infinitely young in comparison to the silver tentacle — and clung to one another, trying not to lose their individual selves entirely to the tentacle’s wealth of being.
Wave after wave of memories hit them — love affairs, rivalries, great discoveries, and the minutia of day-to-day life that wouldn’t be worth remembering except for how it howled out in contrast — each inheritor of the silver tentacle looking backward and being startled by how the previous generations had lived, the technologies they didn’t have and the ones they did, the customs and beliefs that seemed immutable and yet gave way in time to new inviolable laws.
Through it all, a story became clear: the silver tentacle had enslaved raptors, run from them, and hidden on Earth, deep in the oceans. It spoke for octopi. It led octopi. It was octopi — it had been so many of them, and now it was Emily, and she was scared.
Enzz’rr’kk was scared too, and through the molasses of time, he found his own feathered body again and reached with his taloned arms to remove the whirlpool of memories inside the tentacles sprouting from his shoulders like wings. He threw the ball of tentacles away from him, and in the thick watery atmosphere of this strange alien ship, the octopus who he now knew as Emily floated there, still lost in the memories of the tentacle, and stared back at him with yellow eyes that during the eons of memories they’d shared had become the eyes of his friend.
Enzz’rr’kk reached out to Emily with talons that could have shredded her soft flesh to tatters and gathered her tentacles delicately, tenderly against his feathered breast. He rocked her like a new hatchling, knowing nothing else he could do to save her from the memories that roiled and bubbled inside her.
For her, there was no escape; the silver tentacle was part of Emily now, and she was part of it. She’d live forever, but she’d never entirely be herself again. Enzz’rr’kk knew all of that from the time he’d spent in the whirlpool of memories with her. The only comfort he could imagine for her was returning her to the small fuzzy creatures she loved — the gray striped one and the bushy brown ones. They’d been taken captive, but they were safe. The raptors weren’t interested in killing mammals; they hardly registered, and certainly didn’t seem threatening, as they’d been nothing more than scurrying feral mice and shrews when raptors last lived on Earth.
It was the octopi they’d been afraid of; their gods who had uplifted and enslaved them.
But apparently, the raptors had nothing to fear.
The octopi of Earth had retreated and become small. The vessels that had begun to sprout outward from the raptors’ old homeworld belonged to the harmless little mammals, not the tentacled intergalactic travelers of old. No eldritch horrors needed to be razed from the oceans. Earth could be left in peace.
Now if only Enzz’rr’kk could convince his commanding officers…
Continue on to Chapter 32…