The human male is dying, his body incorrectly configured. Humans have long been extinct, but the biologist recognizes the primate physiology. She knows the creature should be externally symmetrical; that its head should be attached by a neck sprouting from the cavity at the top of the thorax; that its skeleton should be entirely internal; that its reproductive organs should dangle from its pelvis; that its four limbs should not be attached and joined together to its spine; that it should not be excreting so much fluid.
The biologist slides one arm over the primate oddity. Her suction cups try to gather information about the mammal; the human's pain is so absolute that it permeates his entire consciousness, interfering with data collection. The progenetic solution of the life-support shell has slowed the dying process but does not significantly lessen the creature's suffering. The biologist adjusts the composition of the serum, pumping more painkiller into the shell.
Three of the biologist's eight arms are massaging the human, tending to the animal. The fluid excreted by the deformed human seeps into the permeable flesh of the octopus biologist.
As her mind reaches out to his, his mind reaches out to hers. None of her subjects have ever reciprocated before; she has no armour with which to defend herself. When the human's relief from pain comes, it is sudden; it hits the octopus like a flash flood, and data streams – quantic and disorienting – whirlpool into her mind. The memories and experiences and perceptions and emotions of the two beings mingle and merge. The two individuals are utterly alien to each other – the octopus biologist and the human anomaly – yet they each become inexorably enmeshed with the other. For a span that lasts a plancktime in four-dimensional spacetime but for intermittent, syncopated perpetuity in eight-dimensional spacetime, they are mutually overcome by unexpected empathy and tenderness.
The human comes from a time he calls "the 21st century"; in that era, there are large continents of land mass above sea level, and humans are the dominant species on the planet. Octopuses are food for the humans. Though this human chose not to eat octopus, or any animal flesh at all. The biologist finds this odd. It excites her scientific curiosity, as does everything about this anomalous beast. The consumption of live flesh is the greatest ecstasy; oh, that delicious moment when the consciousness of the prey is subsumed to the will of the predator. She wonders about the taste of the human's flesh.
The human's data stream confirms a few of the biologist's ideas about the human era, but for the most part it is more alien than she had previously believed. She has eaten some mammals before, but the life-information she gleaned from these other animals did not prepare her for the reality of human history or how radically different the natural world was in this animal's time.
This, the octopus gleans before she and the human are quantically subsumed into each other.
There was an explosion; it killed two nearby octopuses. This animal was found among the rubble, then the biologist was brought to the site to study the strange beast. Normally, the meat would have been eaten by the three octopuses who found it. By law, this body belonged to them. But a consensus was reached by the trio. Could other explosions occur? Where they in danger? The strange animal should be examined as it was found before it could be consumed.
The biologist did not want to risk moving the fragile mammal. She brought her equipment to the site, handling the creature with utmost care. The anomalous mammal oozed a gooey fluid.
Professor Dexter Van yearns for escape, for a future where the Earth has rid itself of humanity. He feels no affinity for either his species or his time. Humanity's disregard for its own planet and for the others with whom it shares that planet disgusts him so profoundly that it has completely alienated him from his culture and species. His own unwilling complicity in the destruction of his homeworld and in the casual torture and thoughtless annihilation of countless nonhuman animals by human hand fills him with such self-loathing that he can barely sleep without the help of heavy medication.
The one thing that gives the professor any pleasure whatsoever is his absolute conviction that humanity is heading toward extinction, through a combination of blind self-destruction by the species itself and of the planet's self-regulating homeostatic system.
He wants to experience the posthuman future beyond the coming extinction event. To him, that world-to-be is home. Heaven on Earth.
And now he will get there. Away from the humanity he loathes more with each passing day of its miserable, despicable existence.
The time anchor will ensure that no matter how far in time he travels he will remain in the same relative space, compensating for Earth's orbit around Sol, the Solar System's circulation within the Milky Way, and the Milky Way's movement within the universe.
But time, he knows, is mostly a matter of perception. According to his calculations, he has perfected the correct cocktail of psychotropic drugs to propel his consciousness, and thus his physical self, into the far future. At least one hundred thousand years into the future. Perhaps as much as ten million years. But without experimentation he cannot be certain. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate.
He activates the time anchor, steps into it, and injects the psychotropic cocktail into his bloodstream.
Professor Van's consciousness has escaped linear time; his body tried to reconfigure itself in the image of his new quantic perceptions and is now secreting a molecularly enhanced time-travelling cocktail. The octopus biologist's skin is permeable to the secretion. The octopus and the human are thus quantically subsumed into each other.
The lifespan of Dexter Van is re-experienced by the octopus biologist. In this revised timeline, that life follows a different path, guided from birth onward by octopus sentience.
This Dexter Van does not become an introverted vegan. Instead, he/she revels in being an omnisexual predator, an insatiable carnivore, and a brash alpha male. He/she is, however, as misanthropic as the original Dexter Van.
Few like, much less love, this Dexter Van, but his/her predatory alien personality proves to be addictive and alluring to those humans vulnerable to dominant wills.
This iteration of Dexter Van yearns for escape, for a future where the Earth has rid itself of this snivelling species, humans. The air of their world is foul, disgusting – a situation entirely of their own making. Their world is much too dry for his/her comfort. The civilization the humans have built is hard, sharp, vulgar, alienating. Their art is ugly and loud. He/she wants to return to the posthuman, octupus future – wants to return home. And he/she will get there.
At the same spacetime coordinates as the original Dexter perfected time travel, the quantic human/octopus hybrid makes the same breakthrough.
The new Dexter Van activates the time anchor, steps into it, and injects the psychotropic cocktail into his/her bloodstream.
In the far future, there is an explosion; it kills two nearby octopuses. This animal is found among the rubble, then the biologist is brought to the site to study it.
The biologist is a female octopus animated since birth by the sentience of the human Dexter Van. The human consciousness of Dexter Van has barely been able to cope with octopus biology and cognition. The instant the human and the octopus had first interfaced, Van had experienced the entirety of the biologist's lifespan to that moment. Thus, he/she followed the map of the octopus's life as best he/she could, taking unexpected pleasure in the consumption of live animal flesh, experiencing unexpected and ecstatic empathy whenever his/her evolved octopus physiology subsumed the lives of prey.
Now he/she encounters his/her quantically reconfigured human body, which he/she never dared hope he/she would see again.
With better knowledge and experience, the Dexter Van octopus believes he/she can control the quantic time displacement and restore each consciousness to the correct body. He/she runs his/her octopus arms over the dying human body, absorbing the enhanced psychotropic cocktail it secretes.
In the most likely timeline quantically fractalling from the moment when the hybridized versions of Dexter Van and the octopus biologist commune, the Dexter Van octopus succeeds in controlling the quantic time event created by the interface of the psychotropic cocktail with his displaced human consciousness. Multiple past timelines converge and merge into one octopus future, the one to which the restored Professor Dexter Van now travels safely, his body retaining its viable primate configuration. His point of arrival is the same, but this time he can shift the explosion caused by his arrival to a barren coordinate in quantic spacetime, thus killing no-one. The octopus biologist, now gifted with enhanced quantic time perception, knows to expect his arrival, and she is already there to welcome him.
She adopts him, and he becomes her beloved pet. At first, they understand each other perfectly, as their consciousnesses still connect at eight-dimensional nexus points. But gradually their minds resettle into linear four-dimensional timespace and their empathic connection abates gradually until, one year later, it disappears entirely. They become like strangers. Still, there remain vestiges of mutual understanding.
A month after their connection is entirely severed, the octopus biologist is killed in one of the many duels she has had to fight to maintain her claim on Dexter Van. The human – the only such creature in this era – is much coveted among the octopus population.
The human escapes before his new octopus owner can lay claim to him, but without protection Van is, within hours, assaulted and devoured by an orcalion, the deadliest wild predator in this posthuman future.
In eight-dimensional spacetime, Dexter Van and the octopus biologist merge into one humanoid/cephalopod creature that exists simultaneously at the edge of probability at quantic fractal coordinates across various timelines. The quantic hybrid is only vaguely perceivable by those whose consciousness is in some way untethered from the linear causality of four-dimensional spacetime. Visionaries, artists, prophets, mystics, and junkies are among those few able to partially perceive the quantic hybrid.
God. Demon. Hallucination. Nightmare. Hero. Villain. Object of worship. Omen of doom.
Perpetually alone and alienated from any reality, the hybrid creature struggles to communicate with those few who can almost perceive it.
But the meaning and intent of its attempts at communication is quantically garbled by being translated from eight dimensions into four dimensions, turning its speech into vaguely menacing gibberish: bsh'rob-nakada dakegag-rua'll rnau-at'tha g'ghokhugga-shlagak g'tomo-p'cthu g'bakothl-shiggoth zathub-gthul'uh yuat-uach-k'thon…
Time stops. From Professor Dexter Van's perspective. The moment of arrival. One infinitesimal plancktime lasting a subjective infinity. Dexter Van. The only extant human. Evolved octopuses. Immobile as statues.
Outside. The world. A still life. The octopus future. Moss. Mould. A bed of water covers the ground. Thick damp air.
Van roams the world. The watery Earth. Advanced greenhouse conditions. Scant but surprising evidence of human ruins. Strange new flora. Strange new fauna. Giant ambulatory cephalopods. Quadruped fish.
Frogs. Toads. Lizards. Birds. Weird new iterations. Occupying different biological niches from their ancestors. Predatory plants devour small amphibious mammals. Halted mid-action.
Everything. Unmoving. Alive. Weird and wondrous. Rot. Renewal. Health. Evolution.
A global portrait of planetary survival. Lasting one infinitesimal infinite plancktime. Dexter Van's eternal afterlife. Heaven. Nirvana. A new Eden. Earth. Blissfully rid of humanity.
Octopus. Dominant. Ubiquitous art. Elaborate stone gardens. Sculptures. Resplendent colours. Everywhere. Beauty.
Each plancktime is an infinite quantic spacetime coordinate. Van does not exist in the next plancktime. Beyond the range of Dexter Van's quantic perception. Time moves forward, unaffected by the quantic anomaly. Equation: 1 = 8 = ∞ = 0. The octopus biologist never encounters Professor Dexter Van. The dreams of her multiversal alter egos converge. Octopus dreams of xenophilic empathy in quantic fractals.
This story originally appeared in Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology (Obsolescent 2013), edited by David Joseph Clarke.
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