Eight good reasons

Eight good reasons

When ‘amiable’ doesn’t necessarily mean friendly, it looks like this experiment has gone horribly wrong. But from the other side of the glass, it’s been a resounding success.

The day had started off well for professor Frank Rouass, but had taken an unexpected nose dive around lunchtime, when an alarm had been set off. What kind of alarm, Rouass was unsure - the knock-out gas had been piped through the ventilation at approximately the same time, and it left his recollection blurry. For the sixth time, he tugged at the ropes binding him to the chair and his colleagues, but the knots were as infuriatingly tight as they had been the first time. Professor Colleen Waimea kicked the back of his ankle.

“Stop pulling; it’s uncomfortable enough as is.”

“Sorry about that,” said the octopus sitting at the computer terminal next to them. “Those internal skeletons made restraining you safely tricky. Not to worry - I’ve ordered some suitably sized tanks for you lot. Three to five business days - I must say, Corwing really is an excellent company. Great customer service.”

“I told you we should have uplifted the cat,” hissed Waimea as the octopus squelched off the chair and landed with a splat on the tiles. It slid over to them and tucked an American Express card into Waimea’s wallet, before using a slick appendage to wedge it back into the professor’s lab coat pocket. The clock hanging on the wall ticked over another hour.

“Don’t be ridiculous. If you think you’d have gotten this level of amiability from a cat, I must inform you that you’d be sadly mistaken.”

“Amiability?! You must be joking!” Rouass spluttered indignantly, but the octopus merely plapped its way around to his side of the chair unconcernedly and patted the professor’s bearded cheek with a tentacle. It left behind a damp patch and a red, circular welt. 

“You’re so cute when you make silly noises. Simply adorable. Do read Merriam-Webster sometime; you’ll find I am the very definition of amiable.” Tentacles slithered up the side of a fish tank, dipping into the water. Seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics, the octopus’ bulbous body ratcheted up after them and slipped into the tank, chromatophores shimmering in vibrant hues. The computer pinged an alert, its screen reflected off the glass panels lining the walls and glowing in the octopus’ slitted eyes. A single tentacle dripped water onto the keyboard as it manipulated the device. 

“Oh, look, it appears your boss is asking how the project’s going? Whatever shall we tell her?” A quiet scraping sound filled the silence, and with a thud muffled somewhat by hundreds of litres of water, the octopus slammed five tentacles against the glass of the aquarium. Water sloshed over the sides and pooled on the floor, the puddle inching its was towards where Professors Waimea, Rouass and Stein, who had wisely chosen to remain inconspicuous and silent thus far, were attempting to co-ordinate a shuffling escape towards the door by way of synchronised chair lifting and leg movement. 

“Two more legs and you’d maybe pass as a concussed octopus,” the octopus burbled, tapping at some keys. “Too bad for you that student quit last month. Now, stop fidgeting and let’s write back to Professor Aliph. After all, look at all the progress you’ve made!”

The academics ignored the octopus, who pulled itself out of the water just enough to hook two tentacles over the edge of the tank and rest its mantle on them. It watched with unblinking amusement as the professors edged closer to the open door.

Waimea’s foot skidded on a puddle of water and the professors went down in a tangle of limbs, chair legs and bruised egos. Three pairs of straining ears heard a wet slap behind them, followed by a rhythmic squelching. Waimea felt something brush against her trouser leg and craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the top of the octopus’ mantle undulating past. 

“You should be more careful; I wouldn’t want any of you to be hurt accidentally.” Face pressed hard against the tiles, his spine and kidneys protesting the chair digging into them with every laboured breath, Rouass squinted balefully at the tentacles disappearing around the doorframe. The room was silent for an agonisingly long time, only the gentle whirr of the water filters and occasional muffled curses from a thoroughly squashed Stein breaking the quiet. 

The trio had just managed to gather enough coordination to attempt a rocking motion, with aspirations of using physics to achieve feats impossible to downed turtles, when the steady slapping sound of approaching tentacles echoed down the hallway. Waimea strained her ears. There was another noise, a scraping sound. 

“Ah good, you’re all still here. Not that I’m surprised; those ropes are rated for whales, you know, and I am rather good at knots, if I do say so myself.” The scraping sound became louder as the octopus dragged something into the room behind him. “Now, we’ll just fix this little situation and get back to corresponding with your supervisor, shall we?” 

The cephalopod crawled past Rouass, two tentacles smacking damply against his cheeks as the octopus dragged a yellow sign next to the academic tangle. “There we are, Professors. All fixed.” 

Rouass squinted up at the sign. It read: ‘CAUTION: WET FLOOR.’

“Now that we’ve got that teeny tiny OH&S problem resolved, let’s write this email. What do you think about ‘Dear Aliph’?” 

“This doesn’t make any sense!” Waimea frowned, trying to use the floor to push her falling glasses back up her nose. From her position, she could just make out the octopus tapping away at the keyboard. Four of its tentacles curled around the steel legs of the desk and two rested on the sides and top of the monitor. 

“Too informal? I see your point...” Suckers adhered momentarily to the plasma screen as it tapped at a word thoughtfully. 

“We were just making you smarter! How can you possibly know how to use a computer?!”

“Monkeys on typewriters and all that sort of thing, perhaps?” One bulbous eye swivelled to fix the fallen academics with a beady gaze, the other remaining fixed on the screen. Silence met its words, and it gurgled what might have been a sigh or possibly indigestion. Something made a splat noise. “Not buying it? Ah well. I have eyes, you know. We can see. I watched you, and I learned. And I must say, this is far easier with this many dexterous appendages than you lot make it out to be with your little sad sausage-digits.”

“Ridiculous!” spluttered a red-faced Rouass. “You only just got the boost today. Nothing learns that fast.”

“If I could roll my eyes, I would. Leaving aside the leaps computer learning is making, why do you assume I was stupid before you fed me that juice? Take as an example... what did you lot call him? Ah! Paul! You remember Paul, don’t you?” Waimea fidgeted nervously, feeling her wallet dig into her hip quite uncomfortably. It didn’t seem wise to tell a probably sociopathic mollusc that you didn’t remember anyone called Paul working in the building, especially when said mollusc had you tied to a chair. But before she could muster the courage to admit she had not the faintest notion who this ‘Paul’ man might be, Stein shifted slightly beneath her. 

“Football...” came the strangled gasp, and the octopus clapped four tentacles together. Its chromophores flashed a lurid, brightly coloured display that made Waimea’s eyes ache as it chortled.

“Yes! The ‘oracle’ octopus! Complete rubbish, of course.” The rapid-fire tap-tap-tap of the keys resumed. In the various aquariums lining the walls, blank-eyed fishes stared vacantly at the scene, mouths open wide.

“He... predicted correctly...”

“Yes, yes, of course he did. I’m not denying that. But you idiots put it down to luck or precognition. He just enjoyed watching the game in the break-room, and seemed to understand it better than you lot, judging from his predictions.” 

The octopus flickered its chromatophores through a range of browns and beige as it hummed wetly to itself. Its slitted eyes flicked back to the soggy pile of professors. 

“Aliph wants to know how the project’s going. Let’s see...” Switching to the slow, sing-song tone of one sounding out words as they wrote, the octopus continued to speak. “Project’s going... wonderfully, Aliph. Hu-ge break-through today... three... showing moder-ate si-gns of in-tell-i-gence...” 

A tentacle flicked idly in the direction of the academics. “That’s you lot, by the way.”

Without waiting for any sort of response or acknowledgement, it returned to its syrupy, condescending tone. “Got three... gibbons up-lif-ted—“

“Oi!” Rouass’s indignant shout caused the octopus’ mantle to turn, and it fixed both eyes on the outraged professor. His beard was nearly bristling with anger, and in the fluorescent lightning his beet-red face seemed a more lurid colour than should be physically possible for a human to achieve without suffering heart problems. “How dare you-?!”

Another wet, squelching sigh from the octopus. “Very well, very well.” The backspace key sounded echoed loudly against the tiles as it deleted its last words.

“Got two gibb-ons and a ba-boon...” Rouass made a strangled choking sound, his eyes bulging with barely contained rage. He strained against the ropes, causing his colleagues to squeak with discomfort, but their captor remained unconcerned. Barely turning to look at the now incandescent professor, the octopus flicked a dismissive tentacle at them. “You may discuss amongst yourselves which of you is which. But quietly, please, I need to make a good impression with this email.”

Note: A huge thank-you to R J Amos for providing me with the prompt that inspired this story! She also wrote a story for the same prompt, plus 29 others, and she’s published them as a collection called ‘Challenge Accepted’.

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