From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Water temperature

Dear Dr. Hanover,

I am writing on behalf of the Octopus bimaculoides in your office aquarium whom you call Suzy. The water is too warm. Please reduce the temperature to 18℃. She would greatly appreciate it.

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

                 

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Water temperature

I don’t know who you are, and this is obviously some kind of joke, but the funny thing is that I tested the water and found that it was indeed too warm and that my thermostat was broken. I have replaced the thermostat and set it to the proper temperature (20℃).

Cheers and thanks for the unwitting help.

Best Regards,

Steve

P.S. I have changed the lock on my office door and alerted security. I assure you that if you return you will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Unless this is Fawad, in which case I will personally wring your neck.

From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Dear Dr. Hanover,

Suzy and I thank you for your efforts in replacing the thermostat, but would you be so kind as to reduce the temperature to 18℃ as I originally requested? Suzy prefers cooler waters. Suzy promises to solve the bottle/ring puzzle for you if you do her this small favor.

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Okay, I have to admit that I deleted your last email initially, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I just can’t understand how you know about the bottle/ring puzzle. Last night I reduced the temperature on the tank, and in the morning I gave Suzy the puzzle, and she attacked it right away. She solved it in under 30 seconds. Incredible. She had not gotten close before.

So, all I can say is bravo! This is one heck of a practical joke. I don’t know how you did it, but you got me.

Oh my god! I just realized that your email address is a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! “Oh freddled gruntbuggly, thy micturations are to me…” This is Colleen, isn’t it? You’re the only person I know who would quote Vogon poetry! You’re very good.

Mordiously yours,

Steve

From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Dear Dr. Hanover,

Thank you so much for adjusting the temperature!

We hesitate to ask, but Suzy would like to have a bigger tank, though we of course realize that it may be beyond your means. If money is an object, we may be able to provide funds if you can arrange for purchasing and installing the tank. If you agree, Suzy will happily solve any puzzle you like. 200 gallons would be great, but the bigger the better.

By now, perhaps, you have interrogated Colleen and know that I am not she. You do not know me. I am not a thief nor a practical joker. I am simply, and always,

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Finally cutting to the chase? I have to admit that your approach is more original than pretending to be a Nigerian prince, but come on.

From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Dear Dr. Hanover,

I have taken the liberty of locating a 325-gallon aquarium that should do nicely. Please take a look and let me know if you have any alternative suggestions:

http://www.aquariumemporium.com/products/tidal325

And to demonstrate that I am in no way trying to perpetrate a Nigerian prince style scam, I have transferred $10,000 to your checking account, which should cover the cost of the aquarium, as well as professional installation, new filtration equipment, decorations, etc.

Let me know what you think.

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Who the hell are you?! The bank says the money came from Switzerland. Of course. I’m a little freaked out over here. Can you understand that? Suzy’s acting funny. She keeps watching me, watching me.

Look, I’ll take you at your word. You are Suzy’s friend. Okay. So if you want me to buy this tank for her, tell me who you are, and no more messing around.

From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Dear Dr. Hanover,

I understand that you are “freaked out.” It is not my intention or desire to cause you distress. The simple reason that I have not told you more about who I am is that you are unlikely to believe me. I have talked this over with the others, however, and we have decided that I might as well tell you. It has to happen sooner or later.

My ancestors came from a planet that circles a star in the vicinity of Vega (as observed from Earth). You will no doubt be surprised to learn that we came here over 12,000 years ago but our representatives have spent most of that time in the deep ocean, in communication with a species of highly intelligent cephalopod that is, apparently, still completely unknown to humans.

It was only 50 years ago that we became more interested in the habits and cultures of land-dwelling animals on Earth. To you this must seem strange, but our home planet has no land, so it is to some extent understandable that we were largely dismissive of creatures that had abandoned the rich ocean environment to scuttle and scramble on the parched land. I admit that we were ignorant. We have since come to appreciate the bizarre and interesting lives of land animals, especially humans. In fact, in the last 10-20 years we have made a concerted effort to learn human languages. It has been an extraordinarily difficult task, let me tell you. We found the cephalopod mode of communication much easier to learn. But we have now, I am proud to say, a number of excellent translators able to work in human English as well as Chinese, Spanish and Hindi. I am, of course, working with one to translate my correspondence with you.

We were at first shocked and dismayed to see that some of our cephalopod brethren were imprisoned by humans in glass cages, with barely enough room to move, and fed restricted diets of subpar food. Some among us even advocated for punitive retaliation against humans and their societies. Fortunately, calmer minds prevailed, and we embarked instead on a program of surreptitious liberation of the cephalopods. You may recall hearing about some high-profile disappearances of octopuses from public aquariums a few years back. That was us.

Along the way, we began to see that many of the human captors were actually very well-meaning, and that many of the captive cephalopods were loath to leave what they considered their homes. And so we further moderated our strategy to, where appropriate, improve the living conditions of some cephalopods without removing them outright.

And that brings us to Suzy, who has a certain fondness for you and a sincere, though in my view unwarranted, dread of the open ocean.

I hope this goes some way in satisfying your curiosity about my identity. My translator tells me that my name would be impossible to render in English, and so I remain,

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

P.S. Have you had a chance to review the details of the new aquarium? That link again: http://www.aquariumemporium.com/products/tidal325

From: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Water temperature
Attachment: currents.dat

Dear Dr. Hanover,

I am unsure how to interpret your silence since my last email. The most likely explanation is that you think I am an insane person, or that I am “trolling” you, or both.

A colleague of mine came up with a clever way to convince you that I am telling the truth, considering that you are a scientist. If you or someone you know can point a radio telescope to the coordinates RA:18h35m72.6s Dec:+38°47’11.3” tonight from 22:03:45.875 to 22:05:22.378 UTC, you will be able to detect a data pattern that matches the pattern in the attached file.

Without getting into too much detail, this is a transmission from our planet, a sort of patriotic song, if you will, to which we like to hum. It helps connect us to home.

Sincerely,

Suzy’s Friend

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Time-sensitive Target

Ben,

Sorry for the short notice, but can SETI collect data from the following coordinates tonight? I know you’re mostly retired, but you still pull some weight in Mountain View, don’t you?

It’s probably nothing, but if it’s something, it’s huge.

RA:18h35m72.6s Dec:+38°47’11.3”

22:03:45.875 – 22:05:22.378 UTC

Steve

From: bcho@seti.org
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Time-sensitive Target
Attachment: 4steve.dat

Had to pull strings to get telescope time. Quick analysis shows nothing but noise. What were you hoping to find? You owe me a beer. Two beers. Mmmmmm, beer.

Ben

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Re: Time-sensitive Target

Ben,

You guys may need to redefine what you call noise.

I have to shop for a new aquarium this weekend. Join me? I will explain my above enigmatic comment. I’m on to something big. Huge. Better than beer.

Steve

P.S. Will also provide beer.

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: gruntbuggly54@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Water temperature

Dear Suzy’s Friend,

The new aquarium is installed and Suzy seems quite happy in it, though due to the increased size the water will take a little while to condition properly.

I have so many questions I don’t know where to start! I am just going to ask them as they occur to me. I apologize in advance for the barrage. A friend of mine who works with SETI, Ben Cho, is here too. He is even more excited than I am, as you can imagine.

What do you look like? How have you remained hidden from us for so long, even while learning our languages? Are you able to disguise yourselves as humans? Have you been living among us or do you observe us from afar?

How do you communicate with Suzy, or perhaps more to the point, how does she communicate with you? Have you planted some sort of communication device in her tank? (None was found in the aquarium transfer.) Does she do it visually with variations in skin tone, and if so how do you see that?

Please tell us more about the highly-intelligent cephalopods in our oceans! We would very much like to meet them and communicate with them. Would you be willing to translate for us?

Are there other advanced species like you in the universe that you know of? How many? We have often thought that there must be millions of advanced civilizations in our galaxy alone, but since we have never met any of them there has been a great deal of doubt and debate on this subject.

Tell us about your space ships! How fast can they travel and what do they use for propulsion? As water-dwellers, how did you even make the leap into space in the first place?

Tell us about your civilization! What form of government, if any, do you have? Have you dealt with self-made existential threats such as nuclear weapons and rapid climate change? If so, how? Is there hope for us in the long run?

Any responses to the above questions would be greatly appreciated. We are eager to learn from you, cooperate with you, and help you in any way we can.

Sincerely,

Steven Hanover

From: mailer-daemon@googlemail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Delivery Status Notification (Failure)

Your message wasn’t delivered to gruntbuggly54@gmail.com because the address couldn’t be found. Check for typos or unnecessary spaces and try again.

From: bcho@seti.org
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Search for the Vogon Poet

Checked with my friend at Google and no luck tracing the emails.

I sent the data to Sharon, and she thought it was interesting but was skeptical. Laughed at me actually. It stung. Agreed to continue monitoring Vogon, but for a limited time.

Still sure it’s not a clever joke?

Ben

From: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Greetings

Hello, this is Suzy! I like the new aquarium very much, but the water tastes weird!

More live food, please! I like to catch the shrimp. It is so fun and they taste good.

I like to solve puzzles.

What do you like?

Why did you put me in a tank in your office?

Why do you turn off the lights and sit in the dark and watch me for so long?

Where do you go at night?

If you write back, the translator will translate for me. The translator is nice!

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Greetings

Dear Suzy,

I was so happy to get your email, you have no idea! I’m glad that you like the new aquarium. I like it too. Hopefully the water will taste better soon, and I will keep the shrimp coming!

I will attempt to answer your questions.

I like to look at the stars. I have a big telescope and I use it to look deep into the universe. I like to imagine traveling out in space and exploring new worlds. I like to learn new things.

I put you in a tank in my office because I had always wanted an octopus as a pet. I knew that octopuses were very intelligent, though I never imagined writing an email to one! I also just wanted something pretty in my office to look at. When I am bored, or just need to think, I turn off the lights and watch you in your tank, and it is soothing to my mind.

At night I go to a house a few miles from the office, and, mostly, I sleep. I dream about mathematical equations, and I dream about distant planets. I dream about you sometimes, and sometimes you talk to me and tell me that I am a silly human.

Do you dream, Suzy?

I have a favor to ask. When I come in tomorrow morning, I will drop the blue bottle in the end of the tank by the window. Please pick it up, move it to the other side of the tank and drop it there. That’s all! If you do this, I will know that you received this message, and then I will give you some shrimp.

Love,

Steve

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Re: Search for the Vogon Poet

I’m sure. Call me.

Steve

From: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Greetings

The translator had to explain to me the concept of “dream,” because I never thought about it before. But yes, I do!

I like to rest under the purple coral, and then I go on trips. That is how I have always thought about it. And sometimes I go to the ocean too, and some of these trips are very scary. It is why I don’t like the ocean, even though I’ve never been there!

My friend—not the translator, the other one—told me that the ocean is interesting and full of good things to eat, but it is very, very big, and that’s the thing that worries me.

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Greetings

Dear Suzy,

We have something in common! I am also afraid of the ocean, of how big it is. I went scuba diving in the ocean once, and it was as beautiful and interesting as your friend says. When I looked at things up close—the coral, the fish, the anemones—it was pleasant and fascinating, but when I peered ahead of me into that seemingly endless expanse of dark water I felt unmoored and overwhelmed.

Was it the creatures that may lurk there that frightened me, or was it the sheer size? Would I feel the same terror floating out in space?

Anyway, to think that some of those creatures may be like you comforts me, and makes me want to try scuba diving again!

I would like to ask the translator something. Can I talk to you? We have been given such a tantalizing glimpse of a world beyond our understanding. I repeat that we want to learn from you, cooperate with you, and help you in any way we can.

Sincerely,

Steve

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Wow

Couldn’t sleep after your call. That’s some crazy shit. Mind blown.

I don’t know if I made it clear last night, I was so stunned, but if you can’t narrow down the search area then NOAA can do exactly nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Even if you can narrow it down, funds are tight and it will take some political jujitsu to get an expedition in the water. Keeping it real.

Damn that’s exciting though. You better not be messing with me. Keep me in the loop.

Irfan

From: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Greetings

If you are afraid of the ocean too, then I don’t feel so bad. I would like to see you scuba diving. It would be so funny!

The translator says that she is professional and is only supposed to translate for me. She told me to tell you that, and she is sorry.

By the way, I talk to the translator when I go on my trips (dream, you call it). She tells me your message and I tell her what to tell you. She reminds me a bit of a shrimp, but much bigger, and I wonder why she doesn’t mind that I eat shrimp. She says it is because life is cruel, but I don’t understand that explanation at all.

But unlike a shrimp her legs are long and on the end of each she has something like a human hand. She is constantly doing things with her hands—busy, busy, busy—even when she is listening to me. She rides a machine of some sort, and her hands fly around the machine pushing and pulling and poking things. I don’t know what she’s doing. She comes and goes on the machine so quickly it frightens me, but I am getting used to it.

So that is the translator you are so curious about. And my other friend is like her, only older, I think, because he looks ragged at the edges and moves slower.

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Cc: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: Search for the Vogon Poet

Any news?

Steve

From: bcho@seti.org
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Cc: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: Search for the Vogon Poet

The data are weird. The “song” pops up at random times, but otherwise can’t find a pattern.

I think I’m going crazy. Yesterday I lowered the frequency and fed the data into an audio renderer. Listened for a while and fell asleep in my chair. I dreamed of giant shrimp. So vivid. One gave me a thumbs up. Do shrimp have thumbs? Yeah, I’m going crazy.

Ben

From: jim@biggsrigs.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Your reservation

Steve,

Your reservation is confirmed for Jan. 13 – 16. Thank you for your prompt payment! The Kraken will be gassed, equipped, and ready to go. Howell’s Dock, slip 42, any time after 7am.

Best Regards,

Jim Bigg

~~~~~ Release the Kraken! ~~~~~

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: sales@biggsrigs.com
Subject: Re: Your reservation

Hi, Jim. Looks like you got the wrong email address. I didn’t reserve anything.

From: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Greetings

I am so excited that we are going to the ocean! I am a little scared but mostly excited.

My friend says to tell you that you will receive a package containing a special traveling aquarium, and you can put me right in that. It will look small to you, but it will be comfortable enough for the trip.

He reserved a boat for us, but you should already know about that, he said. The captain knows where to go.

He also said that you may not want to take me, but I hope you will. Please?

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: sales@biggsrigs.com
Subject: Re: Your reservation

Hi, Jim.

Sorry! Never mind! I don’t know how I could have forgotten about the reservation. See you tomorrow.

Steve

From: sales@biggsrigs.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Re: Your reservation

Okay, great! See you then.

~~~~~ Release the Kraken! ~~~~~

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org, irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Attachment: itinerary.pdf
Subject: URGENT: Pack your bags

Hi, guys

Can you fly to San Diego tonight? Ben, you’re not crazy. I think the giant shrimp are the Vogons and we may be able to meet them. Pack for four days on a boat. I’m bringing Suzy.

You gotta see this traveling aquarium they sent me. Whatever’s in it looks like water, but it’s a fraction of the weight. Some kind of sealing mechanism I can’t understand. Wish I could study it more but no time!

Attaching my itinerary with hotel details. Can brief you more tonight. If you come. You’ve gotta come.

Steve

From: bcho@seti.org
To: shanover@fnal.gov, irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: URGENT: Pack your bags

Can’t come. Please tell me what’s going on. Call me from the hotel.

From: lbanafort@fnal.gov
To: staff@fnal.gov
Subject: Steven Hanover

Dear Colleagues,

It grieves me very much to say that on Friday Steven Hanover was lost at sea off the coast of San Diego and is presumed dead.

We are heartbroken, but also deeply concerned by the mysterious circumstances of Steven’s ocean voyage. He left quite suddenly for San Diego, and many people have noted his strange behavior in recent weeks. He has been spending many late nights at the office and has alluded on several occasions to alarming communications he has received in email.

Steven’s friend, Irfan Bashir, was on the boat with him, but returned unharmed, as did the captain of the boat, and the boat itself. All of this adds to the mystery. If anyone has any information regarding any of this, let me know, or if you think it is appropriate you may contact the San Diego PD at (619) 531-2000. They have opened an investigation into the matter.

Steven is survived by his brother Mark and his daughter Mary Pinkerton. We have sent flowers on behalf of Fermilab, and we will forward information about services as soon as they become available to us.

Sincerely,

Laura

From: bcho@seti.org
To: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Steve

Irfan, what happened? Nothing I’ve heard makes any sense.

Ben

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Re: Steve

They took him, Ben. The giant shrimp with the thumbs. That’s all I can figure.

We had been out for a day, heading WSW. Jim (the captain) had some gps coordinates he was aiming for. There was a storm, but it was nothing. Jim waved it off. I waved it off. Wouldn’t even call it a storm, just some clouds. We put on rain gear.

Then while it was raining the wind picked up and this freak wave came along, huge and at an angle to the other waves somehow. Jim couldn’t get the boat turned fast enough, so we held on and the water swept over the deck. Next thing we knew Steve was in the water. He drifted fast, too fast.

We spent three days searching. Coast Guard too.

I’ve been on the water a lot, and this wasn’t normal. They took him. That’s all I can figure.

Octopus gone too.

Irfan

From: bcho@seti.org
To: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: Steve

I listened to Vogon last night. Saw shrimp again and yelled at them in full-on spit-flecked dream rage.

They were exactly like they always are, holding up their thumbs. I think this is the message to the universe they are broadcasting. At first it seemed friendly, but now sinister. Maybe it’s an insult? Maybe they are just displaying their opposable thumbs? (Universal feature of technologically advanced civilizations, maybe?) Maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all?

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Re: Steve

Holy shit.

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/breaking/hanover-found-alive.html

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org, irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: My Trip

What a weird day at work yesterday! I felt like a celebrity, but like a celebrity that just got picked up for drunk driving and had a particularly hideous mugshot in the tabloids.

I promised I’d tell you what really happened. I woke up early for work this morning, and my mind is racing, so I may as well get into it. I’ll tell it to you exactly as I remember it.

So, I had a strange feeling as the storm approached. Jim and Irfan just chided me for not taking a Dramamine, and I laughed along, but I could tell it wasn’t ordinary landlubber queasiness. I brought Suzy up from the hold, and we kept each other company. As the rain got heavier, I looked out at the roiling ocean and held up Suzy so she could see.

Then the wave came, picked us up, Suzy and me, and carried us into the water. I’m an okay swimmer, so once I got over the shock of being thrust into the ocean, I collected myself and looked for the boat, but it was unaccountably far away. Suzy’s ultra-light traveling aquarium floated nicely, fortunately, so I held on to it and waited, but the boat just got further away.

In about 10 minutes the boat was gone. I clung to Suzy, who seemed calm and inquisitive, looking out the bottom of her aquarium. In all directions water, a light rain falling, and I began to shiver. I was not only lost at sea, not only intimidated in my usual way by the vast expanse of water, but on top of that I was filled with the anticipation of an imminent arrival. A creature from above or below, from deep space or deep sea, with suspect motives and outlandish anatomy. I felt it approaching.

But nobody came. The sky cleared, and the sun dried my hair stiff, and I considered the other very real possibility that we were simply lost at sea, and I would die of thirst, exposure, or drowning. How long could I hold on to the aquarium? It was not a convenient floatation device. I tried to flop on top of it, but balance was precarious, and it had the tendency to flip over.

I considered Suzy, and realized that before I perished I would need to release her so that she could survive. This was, in fact, her natural habitat, or close to it. The water was roughly 18℃. I had to release her while I had the capacity to do so, though once I did the aquarium would sink, and I would perish all the sooner.

I discussed the dilemma with Suzy, scraping my words out of my parched throat. I asked her if she would like to try living in the ocean. She seemed to understand, and by gesture seemed to say that she would. I began to feel faint and feared that I might pass out, so I started fumbling with the silvery latch on the upper edge of the aquarium, my fingers numb and stuff. When I finally got the aquarium open, I rolled it over in the water. The impossibly light aquarium “water” flowed out and spread like an oil slick. Suzy dove down and undulated her legs experimentally. In a moment she was spinning joyfully. “The water tastes good!” I think she was saying.

I laughed dryly, but soon had to contend with my situation, as I quickly tired of treading water and the aquarium sank out of sight. I rested in a dead man’s float but felt my mind growing fuzzy. The end was near, or so I thought.

Then the water suddenly gave way beneath me. I shrieked. I was in freefall, in a long miraculous tube of air in the middle of the ocean. I tried to grasp something, but the water walls, of course, gave no purchase. I took a deep breath, and, as I was still falling, I resumed screaming for lack of anything more productive to do.

Time to go to work. I’ll send this off for now and continue later when I can.

Steve

From: bcho@seti.org
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Cc: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov

Subject: Re: My Trip

Seriously? You end your message there? Why don’t you answer your phone? You are one cruel bastard, Steven Hanover.

Ben

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org, irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: My Trip

Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a bunch, Ben. I’ve unplugged my phone, if you must know. Anyway, I’ve got some time before bed. Where was I? I was falling. I was screaming.

After a few seconds it was utterly dark, and after a few more seconds the tube bent and I found myself on my back sliding on a hard, smooth surface, wet but not just water. The tube continued to bend and I gradually slowed down until I came to a stop. I lay there in shock, not prepared to begin taking stock of my situation. When my eyes had adjusted, I realized that I could identify a shape to my surroundings. There was light. I sat up and identified the source at the end of the tunnel, which was about two meters wide. I rose shakily and headed for the light.

The tunnel opened out into a great spherical room, probably 10 meters in diameter. There was a series of lights around the edge, and halfway up the wall a large platform jutted out. I noticed a ladder built into the side of the wall that led to the platform.

As I was climbing, a voice echoed in the sphere. “Dr. Hanover?” it said. I stopped climbing and listened. “Dr. Hanover, are you there?” The voice was free of affect, as if computerized. I tried to reply, but no sound came out, a result of hours on the ocean and the life-rending scream I had let out on my way down. I resumed climbing and stepped up onto the platform.

There I found a large, comfortable-looking armchair, and, on the floor next to it, a gallon jug of drinking water. Had I not been so dehydrated I think that I would have cried with joy. I staggered in gratitude to the armchair, sat down and drank and drank.

There was a monitor on the wall in front of the armchair, with a wire going to a computer on the floor. Also attached to the wall and trailing their own wires were a speaker, a microphone, and a small camera. Basic off-the-shelf equipment. The monitor displayed a familiar sight that I had not seen in 20 years or so: a fish tank screensaver, with pixelated fish, jellies and seahorses moving mechanically from side to side. I lowered the jug and let out a long belch.

“Welcome, Dr. Hanover,” said the voice.

I cleared my throat as best I could and said “Hello.” I sounded like a goose with a bad cold.

“Thank you for coming.”

I started to protest, but then the significance of the moment finally dawned on me. Indeed, they had invited me, in their way, to this meeting, and I had accepted, had been beyond eager to come. A near death experience seemed like a steep entrance fee, but perhaps they were doing their best, and had acted in good faith. The armchair, in any case, was a nice touch. It is not every day, after all, etc…

So finally I just said, “Thank you for having me. Who’s this?”

“This is Susy’s Friend.” He was speaking through an interpreter and a voice synthesizer. He said he was turning on his camera, and the screen flickered and went dark, though there was a shadowy blob in the middle. He asked if I could see him. When I told him it was blurry he fiddled some more. “I’m not technical,” he said. The blob clarified, and another source of light flashed on from the left.

A creature floated on the screen. Kind of like a shrimp, I suppose, but I don’t think it had an exoskeleton. A segmented torso, dolphin-like tail, protruding black eyes, antennae, and anywhere from eight to twelve arms. It was hard to count because they were in constant motion. It rode something like a motor-scooter without wheels, unless that was part of its body. Hard to tell.

So, he told me how when I expressed an interest in learning from them and helping them, they didn’t believe me. That is, they believed that I, personally, was sincere, but that cooperation with us would not, ultimately, be to their benefit. Which, you know, I can understand.

“Our experiences with humans have been mixed,” he said. “Some are nice, but others… We thought it best to maintain our distance.”

But then he said that they had been very impressed with me. They felt that I had been a true friend to Suzy, and a friend of Suzy’s was a friend of theirs. So they had arranged for me to meet and speak with a representative of the intelligent cephalopods!!

Look at the time! Will continue tomorrow. Good night.

Steve

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Cc: bcho@seti.org

Subject: Re: My Trip

Sweet dreams, Steve. I have hired a man named Guido to smother you in your sleep, which is better than you deserve.

No shit? You got to talk to the smart cephalopods? Details!

Irfan

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: bcho@seti.org, irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
Subject: Re: My Trip

Guido sends his regards.

No more cliffhangers. I promise.

So, the monitor on the wall flickered again, and a ghostly image appeared. It looked a bit like a partially collapsed umbrella, with a webbed structure at the top and a long, curved tentacle trailing down. It also had two fin-like appendages that undulated back and forth. It looked, in fact, similar to photographs of deep-sea squid that I had seen before.

The synthesized voice, which had sounded male before, said “Hello” in a higher register.

I said “Hello” back, and then there was a long, awkward pause. I panicked a little, realizing that here was my chance to ask questions of an intelligent being unknown to science, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I was still foggy-headed from my ordeal on the ocean, and I made a flailing effort to master my faculties.

But then the voice said something interesting. She said that they, i.e. her race of intelligent cephalopods, had come into contact with humans before. At least twice that she knew of, human exploration vessels had been seen near their major population areas, but the vessels had passed by without stopping or, apparently, noticing. “I think it is because we are small,” she said.

I was confused. I had imagined the creature on the monitor to be quite large, a behemoth whose great significance was matched by great physical size. But there was something out of focus moving in the background on the monitor. I realized it was one of the alien hands manipulating a control on its scooter. The cephalopod was no bigger than one of its fingers.

The male synthesized voice cut in to say, “If it helps, my little friend here is about three centimeters in length.”

Maybe it was the tension of the moment, or the exhaustion, or the image of the little umbrella-shaped squid on the monitor, or the phrase “my little friend” spoken by a computer, or the realization of my own absurd assumptions, but I started laughing. I knew it was exactly the wrong thing to do, knew that it could very well go down as one of the great political blunders in history, but I couldn’t help myself.

Then through the speaker: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha.” Male and female synthesized voices laughing along with me.

We had a really good conversation after that. I asked Julia (the name I settled on for the squid) about how they lived, where they lived, what we could do to help them, etc. She had some questions too, though she was obviously more informed about us than I was about them. I left a thousand questions unasked, but there will be time, I hope.

When we had talked for two or three hours, I confessed that I was so tired and hungry that I didn’t think I could continue. The Vogon (I told him that’s what we called him, and he found that very funny) offered to take me to shore. I went back down the tunnel a ways, where there was a portal in the floor. I entered a tiny remote-controlled submarine furnished only with a rough blanket and no lighting. It was not comfortable, but the trip to San Diego took only 10 minutes.

They had a private dock where they let me out, and they spoke to me through an intercom on the outside of the submarine. After giving me directions to a nearby hotel and restaurant, they had an additional proposal for me. They were preparing an exploration deep into human territory and they wondered if I wouldn’t mind going along. I would get a chance to learn more about them and how they operate, and they would get my insider’s perspective on human society. The catch was that they were leaving within the hour.

Well, I told them I would go. How could I not? I went to the hotel and ate a breakfast that would choke a horse, then I went to meet the Vogons. They had a remarkable rig for their expedition: an ordinary-looking 18-wheeler (“Speedy Trucking” printed on the side) containing a huge tank for the Vogons and their equipment. I sat in the cab with an astoundingly lifelike animatronic driver, through whom they spoke to me. They told me their first stop was Las Vegas and that I should take the opportunity to sleep. I asked them how I could possibly sleep, but within a few minutes I was snoring away.

There’s more to that story too, of course. Hell, next time Irfan’s in town I’ll allow you to get me drunk, and I promise I’ll tell you anything you want to know.

Steve

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Cc: bcho@seti.org

Subject: Re: My Trip

Arrangements made. See you this weekend.

Irfan

From: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
To: shanover@fnal.gov
Subject: Greetings Again

Hello, Steve! I hope you are doing well. I am fine, but I have been feeling a little bit homesick. Remember my little aquarium? It was so long ago that I lived there, and you gave me puzzles to solve. But it wasn’t really that long ago, was it?

I was very scared when I lost you in the water, and the water was so deep, and I didn’t know where to go. But they helped me, and now I have a nice little cave, and there are clams and crabs to eat. I like it here.

They were right about the ocean. It is interesting and there are lots of good things to eat. But also I was right about the ocean, because it is scary sometimes. I understand now what it means that life is cruel.

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: suzyeightlegs@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Greetings Again

Dear Suzy,

It’s good to hear from you again, my friend. My office is quite dull without you. I miss you, but I’m glad that you are settling into your new home.

I have not had much first-hand experience with the cruelty of life, having lived my life in a sort of aquarium myself. Please take care of yourself down there, Suzy, and let me know how you are getting along. I may have a new email address soon. I will let you know.

Steve

From: shanover@fnal.gov
To: staff@fnal.gov
Subject: Moving OnDear Friends and Colleagues,

As most of you know, Friday will be my last day at Fermilab. I will cherish my years here. I have never for a moment wavered in my support for the work that Fermilab does, nor in my admiration for the awesomely talented and dedicated people that do it.

I will be honest. I have gotten a lot of strange looks and pointed questions lately. If I were leaving to “spend more time with my family,” it probably would have been easier for people to accept. That I am leaving to become a lowly truck driver does not compute. So I thought it would be good to take a moment to explain myself.

I will spare you the childhood story of seeing a truck driver at a highway rest stop, his gruff amiability, the magnificent rumbling, gleaming beast he stepped into, the wink he gave me before setting his sight on the road ahead and pulling away. That happened, but it’s not why I’m taking the job with Speedy Trucking.

Speedy Trucking is employee-owned and offers an unusual amount of autonomy to its drivers. My schedule will be flexible and will afford me plenty of time to engage in my favorite hobbies (astronomy, scuba diving) as well as, incidentally, spend more time with my family (assuming they will have me).

Also, I have always been attracted to life on the road, the opportunities for discovery in the small, overlooked spaces of life. At Fermilab, we work on the big questions. I am looking forward to spending some time working on some of the smaller ones.

This explanation will likely be unsatisfactory to many of you, to which I can only wink, set my eyes on the road, and be on my way.

Best Regards,

Steve

From: irfan.bashir@noaa.gov
To: bcho@seti.org
Subject: Re: Steve

You should have seen him, Ben. Like a fish. I couldn’t keep up with him.

He took me down to Suzy’s cave, and he knocked on this rock all casual. Your average social visit. When the octopus came out they swam around each other like it was olympic water ballet. They scooted off and later I learned they went to look at a particular patch of pretty coral that Suzy had found.

I assume you know he moved to San Diego? He doesn’t drive the truck that much, maybe 3 weeks out of the year. He showed me his workshop where he’s made a prototype for a new thermostat that automatically adjusts to the preferences of the animal. It works with octopuses and squid so far. He says it will be cheap and super-reliable. He talks like a kid hopped up on frosted flakes. “It’s going to revolutionize the industry!” he says. Also he wants to market the traveling aquariums and has about a million applications for the artificial water the Vogons developed.

He’s doing some other stuff too that he didn’t want to talk about. He had some kind of building schematic on his desk that he turned over so I couldn’t see it. He actually put his finger on the side of his nose and winked at me. I’m just like, whatever dude. He’s got his big-thumbed shrimp buddies now, I guess.

Irfan

From: steve@speedytrucking.com
To: gruntbuggly@speedytrucking.com
Subject: Delivery Status Notification

Your package is en route and is scheduled to be delivered tomorrow by 8pm.

The occupant of said package is an Enteroctopus dofleini named Stanley. He is nervous and stressed but otherwise unharmed. He will be hungry on arrival!

Stanley’s former caretakers will be very surprised in the morning to find that their last-minute security precautions proved totally inadequate. If only they had spent half as much time providing for the needs of their prisoner!

I am tired but exhilarated and looking forward to our trip next week. I’m deeply honored to be allowed to tag along on an extraterrestrial mission, and pleased that Suzy will be there too. I’m a bit scared, to be honest, to face the immensity of space, but comforted to know that I will be among friends.

Steve

6 Comments

  1. For me, it was completely riveting and downright delightful. Major kudos to an author who has mastered a humorous style of speculative fiction I can only continue to strive for. You have a wonderful and playful mind, sir!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *