Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Talk To Us

Below his eyes, a dryped has two openings. One sticks out a little bit, and is like a siphon. He uses it to breathe. 

And to defecate? 

No. For that he has another opening, between his lower arms. Drypeds defecate in private, shut inside their dens, and do not talk about it. 

Weird. The females do use their siphons to mate, though, right? 

No, never. They have yet another opening for mating, also between the lower arms, but separate from the one for defecation. Mating is done in private as well, although they talk about it a little more.

Why do they need so many openings?

Let me finish, Speckled. I said there were two openings on the dryped's head. The second one, below his siphon, is a mouth.

What! Their mouth isn't hidden between their arms?

No, because they use it to talk.

They use their mouth to talk?

Yes.

That's really gross. Then do they also . . . eat . . . in public?

It is one of the most common things for drypeds to do. They are constantly going to one another's dens in order to eat together, and going out to special dens for the purpose of eating together.

Ugh. I'm glad they're leaving.

That is not a wise thing to be glad of.

#

Vella Pachik was eighty-three years old when she refused to evacuate Earth. If she played by the average human lifespan, she could expect another twenty years; with her genetics and lifestyle, it was more likely to be forty. She had a daughter on Mars and a son on the Moon, a grandson and a great-grandchild on Europa, and a granddaughter and two more great-grandchildren on Brahe. Her first husband had died in a Lunar mining accident that Vella had barely escaped. Her second husband's final research flight to Earth had gone down somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

"Dr. Pachik," said the bureaucrat, in a tone of carefully mingled respect and authority. "You must be aware that the loss of the Calypso thirty years ago has been investigated by the SU in the most thorough manner. It is not possible that your husband is still alive."

"Why are you talking to me about my personal history?" inquired Vella, matching him for authority and dropping the respect. "We're discussing Legacy's plan to retain an Earth presence."

The bureaucrat fumbled. "I, ah, our psychologist has analyzed the profiles of your group, Dr. Pachik. The variety of probable individual motivations for wishing to defy Evacuation are quite, ah, understandable. But the people have spoken; SU favors full removal; exceptions cannot be made." 

Vella leaned close, invading the man's personal space until she could count the drops of sweat on his upper lip. Sea levels were high, the ice caps long gone, and it was hot and humid in the Berlin coastal rocket base. Vella was glad that the land had been reclaimed by the ocean, that the talktopus were busily exploring the ruins of Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Venice. What she wasn't happy about was humanity's determination to cut contact and leave them to it.

"Our personal motivations are none of your business," she said. "Your business is to address Legacy's objections and proposal, as presented repeatedly to the SU, and just as often ignored."

She tapped on the wall of text beside them. These arguments had been posted and re-posted for years, ever since the SU began to debate Evacuation. But here, at Legacy's live-streamed last stand, she decided to say it all again. For clarity. And for drama.

"We, the members and supporters of Legacy, are in agreement with the official proclamation released by the Solar Union that Dictopus sapiens, commonly known as the talktopus, is fully sentient and conscious, with the same capabilities of language, tool use, artistic expression, and morality possessed by humans.

"However, Legacy finds the the subsequent assertion that D. sapiens 'merits the opportunity to grow and develop independent and free of outside influence' sadly lacking in scientific or historic understanding. Neither Homo sapiens nor any other species has ever developed free of outside influence, nor indeed would it be possible to do so. Legacy refuses to acquiesce to the totalitarian demand, based on this fallacious reasoning, that humans quit the planet Earth and leave it to the dominion of D. sapiens."

It had been hard for Vella to understand how most humans--including her own children--could support Evacuation. Then again, most humans--including her own children--had never been to their planet of origin and didn't much care what happened to it. Surprisingly, it was the Extra-Solars (or, as they were commonly called, the Excess) who had dug in their heels. "We chose our exile from Earth," wrote Vella's granddaughter. "We know what it's like, and it shouldn't be forced on anyone. Certainly not on everyone."

But Excess support for Legacy didn't translate into physical bodies on the ground. Only a handful of Legacy Solars, like Vella, were already on Earth, or could fly there in time to join the protest. So it was necessary to make as much of a fuss--a noble, peaceful fuss--as possible. Fortunately, the media were eating it up. Their aims were the same as Legacy's: a high-profile story and lots of views.

"The reasons for Legacy's position are threefold," Vella explained. "First, we reject the paternalistic assumption that humans know what is best for another sentient species. Second, we seek the understanding that may be gained from continuous contact with our only known fellow sentient in the universe. Third, we argue that SU cannot enforce Evacuation without violating its own charter, which makes explicit the human right to free movement, migration, and residence in habitable regions, barring only public health concerns--which are manifestly absent in this case."

Vella closed with a sweeping gesture around the planet, and turned back to the bureaucrat. Caught up in her own rhetoric, she almost expected him to be smiling and clapping.

Instead, his arms were folded, and he looked weary. "The last shuttle leaves in the morning, and it's my job to make sure every human on Earth is on that shuttle."

Vella narrowed her eyes and folded her own arms. Dusk fell as they played a game older than Homo sapiens--the staring contest.

#

To read the rest of "Talk To Us," as well as eleven other marvelous octopus-themed tales, find Suction Cup Dreams at Amazon or Eskimo/Lapin.

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