A Certain Misunderstanding
by Adam Getchell
Published in Voices Future Tense Issue 20 (December 2012)

Every so often, a group arrives from some backwater world that hasn't been properly civilized. Probably more often than not on Dharamsala, since the whole point is to start them on their journey of self-discovery.

(I briefly thought about hijacking the guide eidolon and giving them the real story. But it wouldn't do to have the new arrivals turn around and go off running and screaming.)

So it was with the yokels arriving from some autocratic isolate who'd barely survived the fall of technology and had been brought back, like feral cats, to intermingle with polite society (though that might have been an affront to my feline friends). From the looks of this crew, that integration might have been a bit more forced and recent than they were psychologically prepared to deal with.

The SkyDrome was an impressive arch of diamondoid a half kilometer high, because staring at the Luminaire and sky beyond it freshly out of reification might possibly send delicate, planet-based sensibilities into gibbering madness.

Admittedly, spaceflight was rather baroque: Assembler/transmitters were all the rage now. We wouldn't be able to pass through a civilian-quality gate, so we were cooling our heels and waiting to take the elevator down to the spaceport on the outer skin and thence to the odd civilian transport outsystem, or whatever ride Cara had arranged.

You wouldn't have gotten me to go willingly through one anyways. Yes, I know all about quantum teleportation through comm-gauge wormholes. I don't care. I still agree with Einstein's spukhafte Fernwirkung.

I suppose that, newly instantiated from the Assembler (and quite in the dark about what that meant anyways), a group of pilgrims with limited life experience might look in askance at a four meter octopus draped over the good part of a narcotics dispenser in the local establishment, whilst playing with (and surreptitiously eating) floating globules of water in which swam brightly colored hallucinogenic fish.

(In which case, they certainly weren't fit company for the places I liked to hang out in my spare time.)

"—State be praised!" they goggled.

Heavy flicked an incurious orb over at them.

If Point had been here, he might have scared some sense into them in his overly friendly way, because make no mistake about it, a two-meter long talking ferret does not look peaceful no matter how you look at things, let alone once you meet all of his colony-brothers and sisters. Come to think of it, when we saw them again, they were probably going to complain about how we kept getting them killed.

But whatever society this crew came from, it had definitely been militaristic, because they were all male — which hinted at some sort of repressive ideas about gender — and they were boosted far above practical civilian needs as well as definitely familiar with the means of inflicting violence. They spread out and flanked us, as if by instinct. Fear arose in the room, and some patrons scurried for cover. Most watched the tableaux with genuine curiosity, or at least, lack of boredom.

The poor saps. They probably thought they were well-armed, and whoever had sponsored them here hadn't disabused them of the notion.

Funny, that the local authorities hadn't seen fit to relieve them of their weapons, crude though they were.

I think, sometimes, Cara does this to us on purpose.

Well, she was about to get her show.

They recognized that I was somehow associated, and so directed their attention towards me. I gave them a dreamy half-smile, as if I were drugged to the gills.

"What is that … thing?" the lead boy demanded, as if Heavy had no right to be here.

I favored him with a wink and a leer, which had one of several possible effects. He stiffened and cracked his knuckles menacingly. So. I'd pegged his culture correctly.

"Why don't you ask him?" I nodded towards Heavy. He trailed a tentacle tip down my leg suggestively, otherwise continuing to ignore them.

This one was not used to being ignored, and not used to not being feared. I suspect if his cardio-vascular system hadn't been overbuilt, he would have shaken and turned purple. I could see the words forming in his little mind.

Can I eat them?

No! I signalled back frantically; Heavy's reflexes were awfully fast.

C'mon, they just reified, we can just perambulate over and have them reinstantiated.

Tempting, but no.

Aww, you're no fun.

Really? I suppose the tentacle porn is for my benefit?

As if I had the slightest interest in sex. That's your mammalian thing. Well, I might as well play with their minds, if you're not going to let me stalk them.

Wait and see.

Heavy flickered with pleasure.

"That … " he meanwhile spluttered with rage, "— is an abomination! You must not —"

I cut him off in mid-tirade.

"Look pal, " I said in my most reasonable voice, "Why don't you mind your own business?"

Pal was slow on the uptake, or he didn't seem to notice that I wasn't impaired. He also seemed unused to not getting his way.

"—Public decency — the State does not permit —"

"Pal, I don't know what State you're talking about, but you seem to be in the one of Confusion."

His eyes narrowed, aware of the flashmob laughing behind him. He made the wrong decision; I could smell the reek of neuroendocrine boosts coursing through his system.

"Public indecency is not to be tolerated, even in this decadent place! You will —"

"Why don't you leave me and my …," I breathed the words suggestively, "pet alone?". I trailed my fingers along the pebbled surface of Heavy's tentacle.

That insinuation seemed to do it. At some unseen yet well-practiced command, they surged forward.

When they banged heads and appendages together a fraction of a second later, Pal searched in a panic before finding me, casually leaning against their luggage. He seemed a bit wide-eyed, wondering what happened and how I'd gotten there.

Too bad he wasn't wise enough to let it go.

He and his merry band of thugs were in a tight circle, still looking around in puzzlement. Globes of water containing hallucinogenic tropical fish floated over their heads. They seemed ignorant of what that implied.

I gave them a winning smile.

"Aww, now you've gone and disturbed him."

It's a very disconcerting thing for a dozen or so well-trained men to lose track of two targets. Especially when one of them is a four-meter octopus, still unaccounted for.

"What new devilry is this?" he spluttered, reaching for what he thought was serious firepower.

I shook my head sadly, and pointed up.

Even in the midst of his draw, he couldn't help following my finger. He was too slow by far.

The sight of Heavy's mantle spread with its thousands of suckers and poison-tipped beak was their last waking thought. He dropped softly, a living cargo net, engulfing every last one of them in his hideously strong tentacles. Heavy flickered with pleasure as their useless struggles subsided.

There was polite applause from the surrounding civilians.

I took a bow.

Heavy's eyes seemed to look out at our appreciative crowd, one by one, as he slowly faded away, leaving a pile of peacefully sleeping goons.

More applause.

  • * *
Show-off, I signalled to the empty air.

That was fun!, Heavy's suddenly visible eye orb flickered. Nice aikido there … and I liked the redirection. I had no idea you were such a connoisseur of the classics.

You'd better curb your enthusiasm, you left some nasty sucker marks.

Appropriate, all in all.

And done! said Cara, in my head.

I knew she had it planned, all along.


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