Space is a strange place, but when the animals you're experimenting on start talking back to you, you know something's not the way it should be.

Williams and I made our rounds that one night, his PLD jammed firmly in his ear, constantly listening to the same four songs over and over again. It was a night I never would have dreamed as a scientist to see. We happened to land the midnight to 4 a.m. slot. The other fourteen crewmembers were asleep. Of the entire crew, I had spent the logged the most hours in space, yet my experience with the inferior kingdoms was limited the most of all, as the bulk of my work dealt mostly with effects of space travel on human beings. It was for this expertise I was recruited for this task, the first of its kind, the study of animal life and how space travel affects it. We were progressing well, our particular shift, just three more cages and we’d be done, and it was only 1:45 a.m. “Hey, you want to get a beer if we finish early?”
“How did you get beer on the ship?”
“I told them I used it for cooking. You want one or not?”
“First, let’s finish the shift, okay?” I said. I didn’t like breaking the rules, and I didn’t expect this kind of behavior from Williams, either.
No changes were noted on the next two cages, the hamster and the parrot. We approached the next subject, number 15032015, whom we called Horace. Horace was an octopus. I began writing that no changes were noted next to “octopus”. It appeared to Williams and me that space travel had not affected the octopus in anyway, just like the other hundreds of animals onboard. No one had ever noticed any changes in the past eight months, and for the next 4 months it didn’t look likely that changes would be observed.
Williams was busy with his earpiece, but I noticed that one of Horace’s arms somewhat extended out of the water up against the glass wall of the tank. I stopped and touched Williams’ arm, then motioned at Horace. “Look at his arm.” He looked at the tank and was about to pass it off as chance. Then another arm slapped the side of the tank with some force. I could see the octopus’s eye; it looked right at me, so it seemed, and then suddenly blinked.
I turned around to see who called my name.
I continued to search to see where the voice came from.
“Those are your names, aren’t they?” I looked at Horace.
“Horace? Is that you?” I couldn’t believe I was talking to an octopus.
“You’re Davidson, right?” I heard the voice again.
“Yes…Williams can’t hear you?”
“No, his thoughts are elsewhere.”
“Can you hear our thoughts, Horace?”
“Yes, that’s how we hear each other now. We think at each other.”
I was stunned. “I’m telling Williams!” I thought, apparently not to myself.
“Don’t do that,” Horace begged. “Davidson, when you’re done looking at the other animals, and doing whatever it is you do, come back to see me.”
“Okay, but why do you want me to come back?”
“My area is small. I feel tight in here. I need your help.”
“Do you want me to take you out of your tank?”
“Davidson, I’m not sure what a tank is.”
“Your area, Horace.”
“Oh…just for a little. But put me back because I don’t want anyone else to know.”
“Horace, this is good! This is a tremendous leap of science! A breakthrough! Why don’t you want others to know about your thinking?”
“Davidson, I’m not sure what a science is.”
“Never mind…listen, I just have to file the report and change shifts. Then I’ll be back.”
“I’m not sure what you just said, but I’m glad that you’ll be back.”
I returned twenty minutes later. “You ready to come out, Horace?”
“Yes, this clear water prevents me from moving around.”
“All right, I’ll let you out then.” I took Horace out but I immediately realized that something was wrong.”
“Davidson, help! I can’t breathe! What happened to the water?” I panicked. Horace was dying without water. I ran to the refresh tank at the center of the room. “Davidson, it’s too much! Something is wrong! No salt.” I could feel Horace gasp in my hands. Immediately I returned him to the tank. Horace’s breathing returned to normal.
“Davidson, don’t you have water?”
“No Horace. Humans live in air.”
“I didn’t know that. Davidson, could I get more fish?”
“Horace, you’ve had your ration for the day.”
“Yes, but I’m hungry.”
“All right. Just a little more,” I coalesced, tossing him a couple more fish. “Now I’ve got to go to bed. The shift that relieved mine is coming up pretty soon, and I’m tired. So I’ll see you tomorrow, Horace.”
“I will see you later,” Horace answered, blinking his giant yellow eye slowly. Then he slapped an arm on the tank’s wall again. I noted in the log that 15032015 was behaving more animatedly.
For the next few days, I shared a shift with Williams, same midnight to 4 a.m. timeframe. Toward the end of the week, I suddenly noticed that I began spending more of my free time with Horace. I also realized that I was yielding more and more to Horace’s desires and demands, and it was something I didn’t mind at all, in fact, I had grown to enjoy serving Horace. I began to wonder if my newfound complacency was due to the effects of space on me, the veteran space traveler, or if it was because of Horace’s newfound personality.
“Why don’t you take that end and I’ll take this one?” I recommended to Williams, to which he agreed.
“Davidson, I’m glad that you are back!” Horace was excited.
“Just like always, right buddy?”
“Davidson, I don’t know what a buddy is.”
“A buddy is a friend.”
“I don’t know what a friend is.”
“A friend is someone who helps you when you are in need.”
“Then yes, you are my friend. This is not common in the animal world. Animals will fight each other and eat each other. Animals do not usually help each other.”
“Horace, I want to explain as best as I can what we’re doing here. As you know, Davidson and Williams and the others who come here like us are humans.”
“I knew that you are humans.”
“And our home and the animals’ home is a place called Earth. This place is a very round place and it has land, water and air. Some creatures, like fish and seaweed and octopi, that’s what you are, live in the sea. Others, like humans and birds, live on land and breathe air. Humans have always wanted to know more about animals, and we have made a container to go into the night sky, by the stars, and see how animals behave in a new place.”
“Humans are intelligent, then?”
“We can be. We like to think that we are the most intelligent creatures on Earth.”
“Oh my, what a bad thing to say! Don’t you see that the octopus is the most intelligent?” Horace slapped his arm against the tank’s wall. “How can you do this to us? What right do you have?” He slapped two more arms. I couldn’t tell if it was just me, but I could swear that I saw a menacing look in his eye. “Davidson, please bring me fish.” I grabbed some fish for him and fed it to him. I was thrilled to be able to make him happy again. “Davidson, I want a bigger area. Please get me a bigger area.”
“Horace, I don’t know if I can find you anything—”
“I want a bigger area. This is too small.”
“Horace—” He curled his tentacles over the tank’s rim and pulled himself out. He dragged himself out of the water, up against the glass, curling more tentacles out, hefting himself out and flopping onto the floor. “Horace, you’re going to die!”
“Put me in a bigger area!” I would switch him with the fiddler crab, who had the biggest tank. “Hurry, Davidson! It’s hard to breathe.” I got him there and submerged him. But before I could move to get the crab out, Horace sped up to it and sucked it in his mouth.
“Mmm, crab!” he delighted in his contraband meal. Suddenly, Williams appeared. “Davidson, what’s happening?”
“I’m moving Horace to a bigger tank.”
“What for?”
“It was too small.”
“Too small?”
“He was complaining…”
“Horace was?”
“You know, he kept slapping his tentacles up against the side of the tank.”
“Where’s the fiddler crab?”
“Horace was too fast and ate him.”
“Damn it, Davidson, what are you thinking? Put him back in his old tank.” Williams walked to the office. “My part’s done. I’m turning in.”
“I hate him,” Horace said. “Davidson, look at my eye.” I hunched over. “I need something from you. I need you to listen what I tell you, and then do it.”
“Of course. Anything.”
“I need to stay in this tank. Don’t move me out. I want you to know that I hate all the other humans here, not just Williams. You’re the only one I like. I want you to kill them and bring them to me. I don’t get enough fish, Davidson.”
“All right.” I went up to Williams. He was getting ready to leave. I placed my hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, everything okay, Davidson?” I took a USB cable and wrapped it around his neck. He gasped, shocked, but it was no use; I hung on so tight that his face turned colors. I took one of the console relayers and bashed it on his head. He was dead. I dragged the corpse to Horace, into his tank, and he began to feed.
I proceeded to kill the rest of the crew, and I stopped responding to communications. Our craft has drifted off into the deep, and as far as anyone on Earth knows, it was destroyed in deep space. But we continue to survive contented, Horace and I, on the other animals, until the last animal is eaten, and I sacrifice myself for the good of the greater intelligence of Horace.

Submitted: September 21, 2010

© Copyright 2022 Peter Amaral. All rights reserved.

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