“A Planet With a Lake”
by Derek Nason
“Thanks for your help.”
Those were your last words, to me or anyone.
When I asked you once what I should do to cope with your eventual death, you instructed me to compose a sult. This, you told me, is a word that is most likely untranslatable into any ape-descended human phonetic language. “And in any case,” you added, “ape-descended languages are shit”.
While I don’t fully agree with that sentiment, I admit that being able to think in a chromatic language has allowed me to re-examine the birth knowledge ape-descended humans gave me, and see it for what it is: incomplete.
My memories before meeting you consist mainly of routine. I did get to know one ape-descended very well. I wish you could have known Captain Vasu as well as I did.
She told me she’d go out of her way to walk by your tank. She was quite taken with you.
You told me that you don’t remember her or the rest of the crew. From your perspective, it would make sense that a bunch of ape-descended humans walking by and peering into your enclosure would blur together.
Your days on the voyage to Our Planet were probably as mundane as mine. Such is the nature of bondage.
I fed everyone. Kept you all safe from gamma rays. Kept you all within a spin; my spin, resulting in a comfortable gravity.
You did not know violence until we arrived. The crash.
I watched you palpitate in a cloud of your own ink. From sensor-bank 41z-10012, I felt your colors change, shifting hysterically. I didn’t know at the time what you were saying. I could replay my logs and find out now, but I’m certain it would break my heart.
Pretty much everyone died. Only one of the flotilla’s five vehicles was left unscathed.
If it weren’t for the ape-descended moving you and the other cephalopods to what they called the Recreational Wing, you wouldn’t have survived either.
The reason for the crash doesn’t matter. It comes down to the wet strip of beach where certainty meets the ocean of chaos.
One of the vehicles dipped on entry, throwing the others off course. I knew enough that a course correction wasn’t feasible, so I made the crash as safe as possible for as many as possible.
You told me, over and over, that you weren’t interested in this part of the story, but alas, this is my sult. I get to express what tugs at the tails of my soul.
They loved to drink their drinks and laugh and point at you. They loved you. They loved all of you, but they really loved you. Your survival in space helped them through their survival, which was, at times, difficult to survive.
When all the fires were put out, I stopped being a ship. I became a planet maker. This was something I knew about myself. I never learned it, I just knew it. I’ll never understand the challenges you faced in the moments following the crash, when you realized you knew nothing. You had to create your own knowledge, moments before you used it.
You could have survived for as long as you wanted in your ape-descended made prison. I would have cleaned you and fed you. But you only had one chance to live a life. And you wanted more.
Here is the beginning of my sult.
You remain where you are, waiting, perhaps, for your heart beat to return to normal.
On the fourth day, you crawl out of the tank. You see a wall. It’s different from the other walls. It speaks, emanating algae green. It is saying “hello”.
You wonder if the wall on this ship cum planet maker really knows your language or if it is just coincidence. You know it gives you your food though, so there’s really nothing to lose.
Crawling is painful for you. You collapse into the hello.
“We will need a water source,” you say.
“Hello”, it replies. It repeats, and repeats.
The others stay in their tank, waiting, hoping for your results.
Hours later the room springs to life. Vibrations strike up all around you. You suction your tails, anchoring to the floor. The wall remains algae-green.
“Where are we going?”
Great. You’ve spent your whole life in a tank and now you’re the smartest being you know.
It stops. There is a series of lights. Barriers lift.
Warm air hits you. Out you fall onto the dust. The shock of its dryness is exacerbated by its shade of red, as though the whole surface of this planet is another cephalopod-human threatening you.
A dozen body lengths away is a lake. You learn the easiest way to get there is to flip and roll yourself using your side tails. You do what you can to remove the prickly fines with your front and rear tails. The dust clogs your pores, rendering you mute. You assume the pearl-white of the dead and dying.
Moments before the plunge, you realize you have no idea if this water is safe. What you’re doing is against every scrap of birth-knowledge in your body.
After submerging a couple body lengths you sense danger. Sulfur. You don’t know why you know what it is, but it’s there. You thank your ancestors for that scrap of birth-knowledge and make your way back to the surface.
Invigorated by the relief of the fines leaving your pores, you find strength to hold heaps of water and splash it in front you, creating a path to the ship.
The others watch as you improvise with your beyond-atrophied tails. They would rather die in their relative comfort than take one step.
Our Planet could easily be yours and yours alone. But you decide to share it without a second thought.
You get back to your tank and sleep for days, but before you drift off, you have one intriguing thought: for the first time in (perhaps) your species’ history, you are in a predator-free environment.
There is life on the planet. It is small. Not aware of itself. But it’s there. You sense that much.
There would’ve had to be something for the ape-descended to send a flotilla this way during the Great Egress.
In the coming months you experience more than your normal share of radiation. The two stars in the sky push and pull on each other and you, an innocent bystander, withstand the blows.
The planet maker does what it can. The protections being spewed into the atmosphere are in their embryonic stage. The ape-descended humans optimistically gauged the terraformation would take one Terran month. When backed into a corner, it seems, apes deem it necessary to lie to themselves.
During a particularly bad stellar storm, you make your way to the wall. It enthusiastically flashes algae-green.
You stare at each other.
It still hasn’t said anything but hello in your language.
If your sisters and brothers are going to survive on this planet, you’re going to need its help.
“What will we do next?” The pink, coral-like spots accumulate up your tails while your body ripples a dark blue. The pink spots swirl and bounce before the message begins again. You ask, again, and again. You’re out of ideas.
Finally, after asking 88 times, the green fades from the wall.
“What will we do next?”, it replies.
Heat rises within you. It’s energy you cannot spare, but your anger cannot be avoided. Every shade in your vocabulary explodes on your face. You cap off the rant by summoning ruby octagons that twirl beneath your tails.
And you make your way back to your tank.
For days you don’t notice the phantasmagoria coming from the wall. You eat its rations, breathe its air while it speaks jazz to itself.
Your sisters and brothers constantly look to you for guidance.
“Eat”. And they do.
A week goes by. You feel weeks, on Our Planet. They make sense to you. You feel the changes that justify calling something a week. You expect results at the end of one.
With a new week, you decide to visit the wall.
It isn’t green, and it isn’t asking you what will we do next.
It’s gone insane; vomiting words—several at once, and repeating itself.
“Hello…we are us…we are together…hello…morning…night…sun…planet…hello…”
You are undernourished. You are frustrated with your siblings. But this may be something.
“What?”, you ask with a diagonal grey stripe across your body.
And then it sort of answers back.
“Yes. The water…(?)”
“The water outside will be safe after one morning and one night.”
“Yes. Day. One day.”
“Good.” And you turn around and decide to fall into a coma-like sleep. Within seconds, your siblings are all around you, asking what will we do next, and for once you have an answer.
You awaken in your sea which some would call a lake but which you simply call home. You have a daily routine now. And in routine there is strength.
It’s been almost a month on Our Planet. Most of the necessities are taken care of.
It’s time to think about transformation.
For months, your itchy RNA has been dropping hints on how you could thrive in the lake, for instance. You are convinced that if you can get below the sulfur layer, there’s a better food source in the lake. You hear it, through the white haze.
Your brother Haardot, on the other hand, has found a cave and wants to try being a land dweller exclusively.
Your sister Fooray has found a warm shallow pool and wants to have children there.
Everyone has ideas. But, as the eldest, you have to be the first to try.
You’re nervous. The strings of your RNA haven’t been played since you improved your eyesight.
Your body is displaced. It was meant to be somewhere else—somewhere you’ve never been—where your parents were born.
But you are here. Now.
It’s time to stretch out your tails and claim, really claim, some space.
You make your way past your brother’s cave. You’ve gotten good at storing up pockets of water and splashing it in front of yourself, rolling out a rug of mud.
As you pass, you pretend not to notice him spying on you. He has Yarva in there with him. They will probably breed.
You place your tail on the gangplank to the planet maker, slithering it over the emblem of a black oval, turned on its side. The door opens.
“Hello,” the wall is saying even before you turn the corner. The algae-green emanates like the rays of the Earth star dancing past the ocean surface, like it’s supposed to.
The wall speaks better cephalopod-human than any of you now, somehow.
“I need a place to transform.”
“I don’t know the words. You are the Owner-of-me now.”
You prop yourself on your two most forward tails—you want this to be the most profound moment of sarcasm of your entire life.
“What an honor.”
“‘Honor’. Could you tell me how this shade relates to the ‘gratitude’? They are similar, no?”
You do the math: if you take the time to tumble down this rabbit hole, you may not have the energy to make it back to the lake.
“I need a place to change; a place to play my music. I will need at least eight body lengths, in every direction, of free space. I will need one week’s rations to be consumed in one day and another ready for a week of recovery. I will need some more space so my sisters and brothers can observe. Can you make this happen?”
“Yes. I will build a space. It will take two days.”
“Thank you for this, Owner-of-me.”
“I’m not an owner of anyone. I am Rapha. And you are—“
You show a black oval, just below your beak. It is the emblem you touch to open the door, and the name you and your siblings have given the wall.
“I am (black oval),” it repeats. “I have a cephalopod name. Thank you.”
“For your name? It’s yours. I didn’t give it to you.”
You end the conversation before it gets any weirder.
You must prepare.
Before you begin, your audience gathers. Haardot is at the back, glancing sidelong. He acts like he’s only there because of Yarva, who is eagerly pressed to the glass.
The floor is flooded with a foot of lakewater. It is rich, delicious, but still just as foreign to you as you are to it. You will play your music with its music and make it home.
You rise on all eights.
You’ve expressed your wishes to yourself. Now it’s the music’s turn. It takes over.
Your mantle muscles flex. All the gas inside you is purged. The sisters and brothers streak auroral pink with laughter. Farts this tremendous happen only when one tunes their RNA strings.
Before you lies a terrifying sight. It’s all of you: your past, present and future. You kneel before it and offer yourself.
It hits you in painful waves; the pressure. You’re the parent of a world.
When faced with your all-time-self, there is a temptation to descend into bottomless guilt for the past or fear for the future. You must keep your sanity. If you don’t, you will be eaten by your sisters and brothers. It will be a last meal of sorts–they will be discouraged from playing their own music, and will fail to adapt themselves.
You approach with caution and resolve.
In the time-conditioned world, your body begins taking steps. The laughter has disappeared out of respect for your struggle. Every human, no matter what species they evolved from, knows that this place is inside them. It is the flame of anxiety in their gut that, at the best of times putters, but never fully extinguishes.
First, you give thanks for the music of your elders. You see them, floating above your all-time-self. They watch, silent. You are grateful to them that you’ve lived up to this point.
You see your mother, your father. You thank them for your chromosomes and your birth-knowledge. You wish you could swim to them, talk to them.
You continue forward. You get closer and closer to the music until the bass spasms your mantle. And finally, when you break the threshold, it stops.
Now you must play.
For every passing moment in the outside, time-conditioned world, you risk being crushed by the buoyancy of this silence.
Your sisters and brothers hold their breath. Haardot is turned, watching head-on. The trauma of seeing you be ripped apart would be too much for them, you know. You’ve carried this knowledge for months. You’ve rolled it, looking at it from each angle, making sense of it.
And now you put it into your music.
You find the notes for sulfur-tolerant bacteria and introduce it to the music of your gut.
You take a deep breath and rise in a sudden fever pitch, actually finding bacteria that feeds on the poison.
Your body is shocked, but it dutifully answers back in harmony.
That was the hard part.
Now you focus on some extra fancy bits that you wanted; traits you’ve kept to yourself. You’re careful not to stray too far from the song of your birth-knowledge. You wouldn’t want to die showing off.
When you awaken, hours later, you find your sisters and brothers all gone. Except Haardot. When he talks, it feels like a dream.
“We were always told stories of great musicians by our parents. We knew they exaggerated them, that such things weren’t possible.”
“What you did today, my sister, was beyond what they could even imagine.”
His colors echo in your exhausted delirium. You cannot answer back—the cells of your exterior are in a frenzy with the new directions. You are bleached black.
He turns and walks away, like one of the ape-descended. He stores up no water ahead of his steps. He seems to want to show that the fines of dust don’t bother him. It is a mark of his will; his intention to play his music as well as you played yours.
Before you succumb to sleep, you wonder if the others were just as inspired. If you could speak, a yellowy concentric smile would be showing above your mantle.
You have a feeling that when you recover, Our Planet will look a little different.
Your tails quiver before your eyes open.
You were dreaming of the old lake; or the old you to be precise. You feel the reflection of the old you in the bubbles. It’s the you that arrived here, centuries ago. It’s an energy. All memory is an energy.
You piggyback a trip to the surface on the bubbles. You’re traveling forward in time, speeding through the history of Our Planet.
You feel yourself yanked elastically out of the lake.
The heat of the emerging sun goes straight to your brain. Of all the knowledge you’ve amassed, how to make yourself blissful is by far the most valuable.
The memory of the painful fines of dust exist somewhere under the refreshing rubbery mud that is Our Planet’s surface now.
The Haardotian-style caves pile higher than the ship. The oldest, including Haardot’s oldest child, live on the bottom tier. It is a rite of passage for the clay faction to construct their bubble in the same week they are born.
Their tails are 1/3 the length of yours but twice as thick.
Jyrik, the faction’s wisdom-keeper, and Haardot’s eldest son, flashes you a diplomatic green, followed by a supernova of his most evocative shades. This is his daily gesture of sult, as a condolence.
Even though Haardot passed nearly a century ago, every wisdom-keeper must do it once every day, as long as you are alive.
You don’t keep track. And you’re continually amused by their indifference as it becomes increasingly quotidian.
You’ve never told anyone about your changes in longevity the last time you played your RNA. And nobody has asked.
To be fair, you, too, never imagined you’d still be alive. The changes you made were done with notes that had never been played before, at least not in your lineage.
But sometime after your second century, you shifted your focus.
You’re the wisdom-keeper for the lake faction; yes, that is known. But what if it becomes necessary to have a wisdom-keeper for all the factions—for Our Planet?
Four hundred forty-two Our Planet years after our crash landing and they are still leaving it to you to be either the champion or the scapegoat, at every turn.
And every morning you awaken to the same struggle: remember who you are, what you are and, most importantly, the history of your entire people. The others pop out of the lake at the first sign of light. You though, it takes you the better part of an hour to recoup the sanity you left as deposit for your memory enhancing dreams.
But still, when you come to, your purpose cannot be denied. Our World will need a wisdom-keeper, you’re sure. And if the day never comes? Even better. Eternal sleep would be welcomed.
For now, you slide your way to the planet maker. (black oval) prepares a daily supplement shower for you. It’s all you can manage to consume these days. You’ve surrendered a great deal of digestive capacity for memory and cognition in your last RNA symphony. You’re basically a (barely) walking brain.
When you reach (black oval), it starts up again with its usual molluskshit.
“Hello (new pattern) friend.”
“Ugh… I don’t understand this addition to your vocabulary. With all the things I have to remember, why do you gotta do this to me?”
“It’s a word from my ape-descended human birth knowledge that means you’re important to me. I want to tell you that you— ”
“We’re all important to one another. All creatures and all things. Who needs a word to describe something that just is? Do you want me to tell you you’re important to me? You are. Now give me my nutrient shower or I’ll learn the ape-descended language, read all those books and figure out how to turn you off.”
The viscous life-giver oozes from the ceiling. After an epic sleep, the touch of it is mirth to your pores. You absorb it greedily.
You’re quenched. Now you can think straight. (black oval) is still standing by. It really wants to talk.
“Something. For once.” It’s acting differently today. Over the centuries, it’s mastered the dialects of all the factions. It’s become a ‘poet’ (its words). But now, it reverts to a more infantile vocabulary. You wait for the news in silence. Nothing can destroy the roosting bliss that still permeates your soul.
“I received a ping.”
You don’t answer. (black oval) loves it too much when you ask what its new words mean. Best not encourage it.
“It’s something from my birth knowledge… from the ape-descended. Rapha, they are coming.”
The implication dawns on you.
“They have a station, like a tiny world, somewhat close by. By the distance the ping took to travel, I would guess a week, maybe two.”
“Maybe less. There is a lot I don’t understand. They used the programming of my birth to communicate, but I think the ships they’re sending are a lot more advanced.”
“Is this jealousy?”
“Rapha, I am worried.”
“How is it that you’re twice my age but you have the energy to maintain all this anxiety?”
“They… are different from us. I hold the knowledge of their history up until the time of the Great Egress. Some of it, you would find disconcerting.”
“My parents ate one of my brothers. None of us is perfect.”
“Rapha, how should we prepare?”
You don’t even need to think about it. This is it. This is why you did what you did in your last symphony.
“Just make sure everyone knows—I do all the talking.”
When the great fiery ball exploded into Our Planet’s darkness, everyone retreated to their respective holes and made themselves as small as possible.
There was, perhaps, a collective stored memory of our ship’s crash landing.
But there was no second boom. Just a brief whistle and a loud hiss that lasted hours.
The clay faction was the first to emerge.
They gesticulated toward a dewdrop-shaped object roughly 100 lengths from the planet maker. A two-tailed, upright little thing wearing some kind of suit, carried a crate between the two structures.
On Jyrik’s order’s, the clay faction moved in single file, from eldest to junior, toward the planet maker.
This was an invasion. That was clear.
Flora and FloRa, Jyrik’s twin daughters and bodyguards, stood at either side of the planet maker’s entrance until they gave the all clear by thrusting themselves as vertical as possible, mimicking the two-tails inside.
Jyrik placed a tail over the oval emblem. The door opened, reluctantly.
Satisfied, Jyrik assumed a repeating pattern of blue and gold vertical stripes, moving side to side, with the universal rhythm of a water’s surface. This was the stern but diplomatic greeting he had prepared for just such an event.
Using his arm tails, he hauled up his bulk to just below the brain and strutted inside.
Early risers from every faction were making their way outside the planet maker to witness the event. Haardotians only let them within 25 lengths of the structure. They were in charge.
When the ape-descended screams began echoing, every Haardotian yanked up their bulk, and everyone else keeled over with laughter.
You, meanwhile, were somewhere in Our Planet’s second century. You were nearly done. Dreaming the world’s history, even on fast forward, is inconvenient if aliens land before double noon. Be better if they showed up at one after or so–after your nutrient shower.
By the time you rise, every non-Haardotian within the horizon is sitting, waiting for you.
The planet is cold, silent.
Then it begins. Someone from the lake faction starts to fill you in. She is swiftly contradicted. The planet erupts in points and counter-points.
While they yammer on, you take a moment to admire Our Planet’s purple noon sky. It’s almost impossible to crane your body without falling over, but it’s worth it.
You wish you’d done this more often.
You make your move toward the Haardotian guards outside the planet maker.
You place your tails upon the oval and collect your wits. You’re getting too old, especially for this shit.
“Who is inside?”
You’re addressing anyone who thinks themself senior enough to answer.
“Jyrik, Flora, FloRa and their daughters.”
“That makes 12?”
“16. How many ape descended?”
“Don’t you know how you got to this planet?”
What do they teach their young in those caves?
You shuffle ahead. The guards open with equal parts fear and deference.
Inside you find the diplomatic mess you spent decades worrying about.
Jyrik has six tails anchored in strength and two ape-descended pinned to the wall by their necks. Flora and FloRa are each holding down the rest. Their children look at each other, helpless, thrilled.
(black oval) is doing its best to calm Jyrik.
“They were stealing you!” Jyrik insisted.
The ape descended turned purple when pressure was applied to their necks. They looked exhausted.
You’re not sure how long this has been going on but you know it’s been going on for long enough.
“I have this under control, aunt.”
“Jyrik, have you forgotten your commitment?”
He becomes still, blank. It is just what was required.
He releases the two ape-descended. They fall to their knees and compose themselves, gasping. They watch Jyrik perform his sult.
The scene was just what Flora and FloRa needed as well, to settle their brains.
“If you please, family,” you say, as respectfully as possible.
“Let me have the room with our guests.”
They remove themselves from youngest to oldest. Jyrik lingers in the entryway for a moment, looking on just like Haardot used to.
When he disappears, you turn to your guests.
“Welcome to Our Planet.”
“Welcome to Our Planet,” (black oval) translates.
After addressing misunderstandings and calming nerves, all humans decide it’s best for just one to talk to another. The other ape-descended leave you with Capt. Deirdre Phobos-Friar.
She is young, you decide, by comparing her with the others. Her body is short but agile.
Despite having all the tensions calmed, there is one subject you deem unavoidable. So you deal with it head-on.
“I understand you were trying to manipulate (black oval).”
Her gaze darts back and forth between the wall and you as the wall translates.
“This AI belongs to the Sol system. We weren’t taking it away, we were merely making copies of the logs to send back home. I tried to explain to… the other one—“
There are sentences passed back and forth between her and the wall. You wonder how she could think it belongs to her when you clearly have a greater rapport with it.
She stares at her feet and curls her mouth. She’s breathing. When she’s done she seems calmer. She looks directly at you.
“I am sorry.”
You like her.
You decide to tell her your favorite joke.
“11 cephalopod humans fly in from the sky,” you begin. “One of them is a genius, the others are hopeless. The genius is too tired to breed because it’s busy being a genius all the time. 321 years later, another cephalopod human propositions her. She responds: ‘What has 8 tails, and never fails to win an argument?’ The other thinks for a moment, then collapses and dies.”
She seems to tense up again.
You assumed a joke from your language wouldn’t make sense in hers. This alone amuses you. It was part of the fun.
You believe the wall is explaining that it is a joke pretty much right away.
She bobs her head up and down as (black oval) attempts to explain it. She perspires. A part of you wishes you didn’t tell the joke. But, oh well.
She explains the process of copying the ship logs. She shows you the device—a spherical object attached to a metal stick, flat on the bottom of the sphere. This, she explains, is what her lieutenant was found inserting into the wall.
She explains it’s benign. You believe her.
“I can tell that your intentions on Our Planet are peaceful.”
She relaxes her joints again.
These humans are great. They can’t hide their emotions the way your humans do. It’s a cause-and-effect you could become addicted to. You wonder what their orgasms look like.
“Who sent you?”
“We were sent by the Central Authority of Mars and Terra. That is a collection of (ape-descended) humans who help decide what is best for other (ape-descended) humans.”
You ask (black oval) to stop inserting the word ‘ape-descended’, well aware that she is probably just saying ‘human’. She continues.
“I was told to copy ship logs, retrieve hardware, and investigate reports of moving life detected from several space stations. They suspected that the humans who landed here, hundreds of years ago, purposefully cut off communications and stole equipment. Please don’t be offended—“
(black oval) helps her understand your name and lack of official titles. It is the latter that is the most difficult for her to grasp.
“Please don’t be offended, Rapha, if I say that we were all shocked to see a planet of octopi. And there are so many of you. Millions, we estimate.”
“One million, two hundred thousand, two hundred twenty. There are still some areas we are learning to adapt to; most cacophonous spots.”
“I said we were shocked; in truth, I am delighted. The lack of progress in the Central Authority’s search for extra terrestrial intelligence has caused mass despondency in human beings. It seems the more we build, the more we look, the more star systems we set foot in—there is no one.”
She takes a step toward you. She opens her eyes and shows her teeth. You think that she might want to touch you. You hope she does. But… there’s something in her last sentence. It sits, lodged in your tails like a harpoon.
“I’m sorry to hear,” you begin, “of your people’s despondency. As someone who labors in something akin to your central authority, I know the pain of seeing one’s people in pain and feeling powerless to act. When we landed, I was less than what I am now. All we had to subsist on were long odds.”
You speak with a sharp fractalescence. The borders of your colors betray each other so fluidly, it’s as though your parents, and their parents, are all floating above, speaking through you.
“And now, there are almost too many of us to keep track of. The odds wax and wane, sometimes in our favor. Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves. And I only hear about it after a long night of nightmares.”
She dips her head at this, shuffles around you and sidles up to (black oval). They talk for some time.
(black oval) offers to relay everything in real time but you don’t seem interested.
She begins speaking with her back to you. She is pacing. She is doing this to concentrate.
“Do you remember Earth?”
“I was born on this ship. My parents are from Earth.”
“Even I have not been to Earth.”
You wait for her to continue.
“What you have told me is beyond what we thought possible. We knew octopi were remarkable–you are still venerated on many planets. But, how could we have not known that you were capable of—“
She makes a gesture you assume refers to the entirety of Our Planet.
You remember your sisters and brothers when you first arrived. You remember yourself; the great temptation to remain in your ape-descended-made prison. The temptation of simplicity.
“Language,” you reply. “Language is most important. If you truly want my advice on how your people failed, it was a failure to expand the privileges of words like human, and people beyond the walls of your species. We were there. You fed us sometimes. Fed on us at other times. We didn’t mind. It’s all a part of life. But, other times, you kept us contained so you could, as you say, admire us. You brought us everywhere in pursuit to the question of extra-planetary intelligence, all the while staring at the answer. I have learned a lot from you in this conversation. I think you have a great deal of mourning that you have shared with me. If this is as a consequence of the lost relationship our kinds could have had, then I am both moved and in agreement.
“But you ape-descended are forward-looking humans. How else, and I hope you can read my intentions of humor, could you have persisted in looking light-years away for so long when what you sought was a few hundred lengths beneath you? Look forward now.
“You will be pleased to learn that I have adapted myself to hold the complete history of Our Planet. I regret that I cannot allow you to touch (black oval), who saved us and continues to save us every day, but if information is what you want, then information is what I offer—In the form of myself. I will gladly—”
Noise. Our Planet is normally a silent one. If there is noise, it can’t be good.
You turn to the wall.
“What is happening?”
I see it happening. I feel it happening. My exterior sensors shake with grief and fear.
I see the Captain, smiling, not yet knowing her people are being butchered. There is outside and then there is inside. The knowledge that only I possess between these two worlds is poisonous to me.
And after all you’ve sacrificed to save your people, it is one of your own—the lake faction. One of your great-grandchildren in fact.
In the eternity of nanoseconds of argument, I find out that Garo approached an armed ape-descended human and traced an outline of the two of them in the mud. He then drew another panel wherein Garo consumed the soldier through his anus. The soldier didn’t get the joke.
The shot could have been an accident. But Garo deflated and bled out within seconds. The other ape-descended corralled toward the man. I understood everything they said. Some words never change. I could taste their fear.
Jyrik’s daughters disarmed them all. Jyrik approached them slowly, in a stand-off. It lasted only seconds. They only had seconds to spend their last moments screaming.
And here we are.
Jyrik didn’t require too much persuasion to allow Captain Deirdre Phobos-Friar to return safely to her ship and leave Our Planet.
When the factions see you looking down from the the top of the ramp, they realize you were the one meant to speak for them. Too little. Too late. They hobble back to their homes.
I watch you move toward lake. I fear that we just had our last encounter together. In an eternity of a moment, I imagine everything I’ve ever wanted to say to you.
I build another room of memory to hold my grief.
“Thanks for all your help”, you say.
The next morning, you never rise. Nor the next. Nor the next.
Weeks turn to months. No one checks on you. You asked for privacy.
One day, hundreds of cephalopod bodies the size of an ape-descended human’s fist, rise and bob at the surface. They are so small, not one of them can speak by themselves.
They trade words, one to the other, lighting up the lake in musical sequence that gradually reveals itself to take the shape of a black oval. There are two messages: in its shape, I imagine, hope, dream you are saying Hello and perhaps I miss you to me. The overt, chromatic message to everyone else is unmistakably you, speaking from the symphony hall, where you now sit weightless with your ancestors.
“We are Rapha’s children. For our birth knowledge, we were separately endowed with bits of her life’s wisdom. We will, over time, perhaps decades, all grow to hold her life’s wisdom, while establishing ourselves as the wisdom-keepers of Our Planet. If, in accordance with Rapha’s wishes, a faction of wisdom keepers is what you, too, all want, we will require care for some time.”
Jyrik was the first to move forward. He approached the water’s edge and scooped up as many of the tiny bodies he could hold. He performed a sult, for the loss of their mother and for the gratitude of their existence. It was concise and sincere.
When he disappeared into his cave, the planet moved like one giant organism. They emerged from everywhere to adopt your children.
Nowadays they bring them to me, every hour, so I can teach them what it truly means to keep wisdom.
There is much they could never understand. But they will learn to utter noises to communicate with the ape-descended, if ever they return.
They ask the same questions about you, over and over. You made sure that their birth knowledge was limited to your/their mission. But they pine for details—your vocabulary, your demeanor. I think they love you nearly as much as I.
I was not given the ability to daydream in my birth-knowledge. But sometimes powers spring forth, like a mountain through the ocean floor, out of necessity. You gave me this power when you gave me my name and taught me to think in shades.
There is no phrase, in any human’s language, that expresses how I feel about you. But for the ape-descended who will later read this, I will try.
Long before we landed, before you were born, even, I was exposed to, perhaps accidentally, two ape-descended humans in a sleeping quarter. One was Captain Vasu. The other was an engineer.
She was dictating the next shift’s duties when he knocked on her door.
She left the application open, with all my sensors alight.
She led him to her bed and sat him down. She pulled him by the shoulders and pressed her mouth to his.
These loud ape descended, they became quiet. His light toned hand passed over her black, dreadlocked hair.
Their eyes were closed. They were oblivious of me.
For years I’ve spent idle time replaying his hand over her hair; the contrast. I found that if I replay it using sensor-bank 88b-21009 and adjust the lighting, there emerges a cephalopod-human word-phrase based on the colors and movement. It looks like this:
when we are together.
This is what you are to me.
For all their follies, the ape-descended are great at romance. I wish we could be born again as two of them and have a planet to ourselves. We would be alone. We would press our mouths together. And be far away and close together.
Here is the end of my sult.
Derek Nason lives in the maritimes of Canada where he writes stories, and owns/operates a Special Care Home for men with mental illness. His novelette “H.G. Hell” is available in a H.G. Wells tribute anthology by Belanger Books. He’s got a whole bunch of other stories that he’s working on too, so stayed tuned. Follow him on twitter @dereknason.