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Chapter 1


You’re not food,” she told herself, “while you’re mov­ing.”

She’d spent tetra-tides collecting everything needed for her project and arrayed the bits here in this bowl-shaped depression. Currents from Crack Abyssal warmed the sandy testing grounds. Things were at last ready for a trial run. If this worked, she would invite a crowd who’d absorb the displayed knowledge and distill it into trans­memory for the ages.

As always, she’d checked the seabed for the telltale cluster of holes belonging to the cursed sea-snaps. When she was tiny, an encounter with one of these devils had cost her an arm and given her a name: Septielle. It was not uncommon for octopodes to lose a limb. Most regen­erated in a matter of score-tides. The one taken by the sea-snap had never returned. The toxin the wormy things used to catch their dinner had killed the nerve bundle be­hind that lost arm. The absence of a single limb had not slowed her down, but it had taught her to be cautious.

J-Jet should be helping with her project. The band was his dream; he had brought her and the others into the GoPOs. He should be here now, helping turn her dream into reality. Instead, he was off somewhere sharing a head full of abstract poetry with that female. Not that Septielle cared . . . exactly.

It had taken her days to plot the geometry and lay out a perimeter of uniformly sized stones. She’d embroidered the bowl with lines of chemical tags brewed within her body, plus some micronutrients. These would entice the racers along the intended tracks. She’d collected brightly hued urchins from plains where they fed: new-moon black to contrast with sunrise pink, indigo blue to lure the eye slit, orange to surprise her audience, and green because she liked green. She had hundreds in all. Spines waving, each urchin followed the chem tracks she’d laid out. The field was big enough for the mobile to perform for hours. Only when the others had gotten a good look would she reveal her big surprise: that this moving art­work, this living map, mimicked the cryptic changes of the night sky that fluttered down to their world from above the water.

Septielle allowed herself a small measure of pride. Most octopodes ignored the vault of the Great, rarely looking up. Unlike her, they had never swept silkily up above the swells into the thin dryness. In general, octo­podes hated the feel of air upon their mantle and in their eye slits. They would never take the trouble to breach the surface again and again to plot the seasonal trajectory of the stars. She doubted most of them possessed the skills to handle such calculations.

Septielle’s math was exceptional and she had found the perfect project for her astrogational skills. Her map would show what the moon, bright stars, and planets were up to over the course of many great-tides. Plotting it out had secured a nighttime field of reference within her memory. (Legends claimed that the brain of a great whale contains every detail of the wet world.) If her living map jumped to transmemory, all octopodes could navi­gate the TransPacific, safely avoiding poisoned currents and patches of radioactive death.

It would be possible to rediscover the lost territories. Flitting images of such places lived in the transmemory: areas far across the TransPacific, fecund and immense. The fabled great reefs of old were now bleached skeletal ruins, yet something inside urged her to seek them out. Perhaps they could live again. Of course, at five years of age both her new map and her dream were moot. It was better not to dwell on that last thought. She must be con­tent knowing that future generations could use her map to embrace their own dreams.

Her racers moved on their prescribed paths, slowly, very slowly. She picked up the spotted neon-violet ur­chin, which she’d named Torp, and placed him onto the chroma-rich matrix. By comparison, Torp whizzed through the traffic, acting like the moon in the vault above. His transit would surprise and delight her audi­ence, even as the gathered octopodes’ eye slits took in vi­tal information relating the patterns of the sky to the vast oceans. It was time to bring the others here.

As Septielle was about to sidle off on her mission, she sensed them coming. Why did they always show when she was doing something important? She had found this spot. She had slaved to make this artwork perform as it should. Had they been able to taste her chem trails from a dis­tance? Her statocysts registered the chilling sounds be­fore she actually saw them: a rising and falling of squeaks and tock-tocks. It was the unmistakable singsong of dol­phin laughter.

A dolphin’s voice is a song within a song within a song; a single vocalization offers lovely symphonies to the sen­sitized listener. This pod favored mans classics for their reluctant audience, the octopodes.

“Crunchy, yom!” Muriel sang capriccioso, all youth and chaos as she zipped directly to Torp, used her boney rostrum to fiddle her way between the urchin’s spines, and chomped down on the mindless creature at the center of the spindly bundle. Depending on how much a dolphin enjoyed its meal, “yom” could sound staccato or become a series of arpeggios. Torp rated as a simple glissando.

Muriel, the lead bandit, wore a dark “mask” from the bridge of her rostrum outward to her eyes. She and her pod darted in to pick out the prime morsels from the rac­ing urchin art. Septielle recognized many of the intrud­ers: Bubbles, Katma, Laura, Sparkle, and Ariana, as well as several males, Chad, Oberon, Dan, and Bitsie. They called to each other in voce dolce as they snagged each mouthful: “Cousin, try the red ones!” and “Brother, what a lovely banquet!” and “May I have another, Father?”

Two of Septielle’s hearts instinctively beat faster, while the third switched to standby. No! Jetting out of here was not the answer. Besides, the dolphins could out­swim her. They might interpret her flight as an invitation to play, and their games often turned Septielle’s kind into food. She wanted to curse in no-nonsense mans words. Instead, she blushed the rudest color she could think of. No texturing or nuanced shading of her reflective chro­matophore cells this time. A plain, flat, ugly “Brown!” The color of defecation and rot. The dolphins giggled in a series of clicks and whistles. They obviously found her cussing funny. Dolphins thought life itself was a joke.

The playful pests accelerated and whirled and struck, decimating Septielle’s art project. As the pod regrouped and headed out, Muriel called back, “Mother says art is good!”

“Good to eat, you mean,” Septielle said. Muriel was al­ready too far off to hear.

She felt the impact of Muriel’s last remark. Mother. What a strange and wonderful word. What must it be like to know one’s mother? Or to live long enough to truly ex­perience motherhood? Transmemory told her that if she ever mated, her duties would be brief. Her young would be born vested with precious knowledge, but never re­ceive her personal guidance.

Septielle looked at her ruined project. There was no doubt this was a setback, but only in part. Her astral map existed in her mind. If she couldn’t use it herself, then she had to find a way to share it with a large number of octo­podes. Perhaps then the knowledge would ingrain itself into precious transmemory for all future generations.

With much of her project in the bellies of the dolphins, there was only one thing left to do. She had to convince J-Jet, Camo, and Yiming to come together for one last concert. She might be able to work the knowledge of her map into the music of the GoPOs.

J-Jet was the problem. Well, not J-Jet so much as Hachi. She had become the focus of all his attention, his music, his life. Convincing J-Jet to divert his energies from his prospective mate, even for one night, seemed a remote hope.

Septielle pulled herself along the seabed at considera­ble speed toward the big rocks near some outlying ther­mal vents where she hoped to find the other three mem­bers of the GoPOs. In the late evening, shafts of smoky gold shot down through the ocean’s dimpled roof, high­lighting the minute dancers that lived between sand and swell. Soon, the moon would rise, a sliver shy of the full white-frosted sky pie.

Mans words again. The dolphins had done this to her kind and they had not asked permission. Over many gen­erations, they had used their effectors to alter the tiniest bits, reshaping that twisty rope ladder inside every octo­pod. The changes gave octopodes odd ideas and all these words. It made no sense since she, like all octopodes, was mute as a stone. She heard and understood other sea sen­tients well enough, though a dolphin’s true intentions lay hidden behind childish gibberish. Septielle could not grasp how adding mans language could help bridge the gaps.

Some of the mans concepts made sense, while others refused to gel with her own natural thoughts, becoming vocabulary without context. The bits she did grasp came with mans imagery, but even that knowledge was hazy and full of gaps. Sometimes these mans words actually pushed her further from the idea she was chasing. For in­stance, a tetra-tide was merely the four tides that filled each day, another way to look at thirteen lunas was to call it a year, many years made a great-tide, the planets could take years to return to the same spot in the night sky, and so on. For the life of her, though, she could not figure out why her mind jangled with arcane verbiage such as “gourmet pizza,” “investments,” or “a new hairstyle.” Did these things matter? Had they ever?

The dolphins were notorious for butting their ros­trums in where they didn’t belong. They nannied the oc­topodes while gulping down uncounted tons of their lesser cousins, the squid. Septielle remembered the dol­phins’ visits when she was little. She remembered the feel of their fine effector scalpels creating a tiny sunrise be­hind her eye slits. Afterward, she might discover a new bundle of mans words or gain a sudden interest in joining other octopodes in some collective activity. It left her un­sure which parts were truly Septielle and which were add-ons.

More frustrating, she could see no point in learning to mimic mans in any way. Mans had vanished many great-tides ago. And good riddance to the aggressive, selfish apes! She pitied them; their delusional lust for power had doomed them. Septielle held a deep suspicion that the dolphins derived warped pleasure out of burdening her with this riddle.

She found most of her friends at the big rocks. Camo was off somewhere, ever the loner. He was probably try­ing to find something to eat; his beak and radula never stopped chewing. Septielle found Yiming trying unsuc­cessfully to communicate with J-Jet. Having no luck, Yiming turned his attention to catching some Dungeness crabs under a nearby boulder.

The reason for J-Jet’s preoccupation was obvious. He had three arms entangled with several of Hachi’s. How many of J-Jet’s songs had the group performed about the intertwining of limbs and the sweet chemical secrets ex­changed between stimulated suckers? The two were per­haps days away from the inevitable: they would mate. Af­terward, both would waste away; first J-Jet, then Hachi would succumb, even as their hatchlings ventured forth. It all seemed so pointless. Besides, watching the courtship nauseated Septielle.

It was a double shame. Not only did it herald J-Jet’s last phase of life; it was tragic that he had chosen such an empty-minded mate! Hachi rarely spoke. She had trav­eled by some unknown route from the other side of the Pacific. She brought with her odd customs, including her habit of keeping a lesser cephalopod as a pet. She called it Inky Pinky. The small, pink squid’s mantle fins resem­bled the ears of certain sea mammals, and its docile na­ture made it as stupid as a ball of herring. Dolphins had their dim-witted cousins, the porpoises, but they didn’t keep them as pets. That Hachi kept Inky Pinky by her side like some sort of accessory spoke volumes about her lack of class.

All J-Jet seemed to care about was Hachi’s size. By the Great, she had a mantle built for wet sin! Septielle was not small—she easily dwarfed her male bandmates—but she was certainly not as zaftig as Hachi. Even at a dis­tance, Septielle could sense the pheromones flowing be­tween J-Jet and Hachi. Fine. They deserved each other. She had better things to think about than mating.

For the briefest of moments, Septielle’s eye slits linked with J-Jet’s. Though he was hugging a rocky outcrop­ping perpendicular to the seabed, he maintained both slits horizontally to match hers. The link established, they were able to communicate, exchanging thoughts soundlessly. These became words in the higher mind. Septielle had never “heard” J-Jet’s voice, for he had none, but her brain assigned him a unique speech pattern. There was a glibness that belied his more serious nature. She sensed the emotional pressure as he strained to chan­nel a tsunami of complex ideas. J-Jet offered a trickle of communication, but there was so much more ready to burst forth, frequently with an edge of anger.

When Septielle worked up the courage to ask about performing again, J-Jet’s reaction made her shrink back against the rocks: “Septielle, we’ve talked about this until I’m six shades of umber,” he said with little pretense at cordiality. “When I do a concert, I have to play the songs that matter to me.” Hachi glowed two shades lighter in agreement. Some of this linked conversation was reach­ing her as well. Interesting.


He said, “I’m tired of singing about how pretty the waves are in a storm or trying to rhyme moon and June—yes?”

“Yes. I agree. I want you to sing your songs, J-Jet, the ones you believe in.” The two octopodes remained silent for a moment, considering their unexpected accord. J-Jet thanked her, and so did Hachi.

They agreed to hold the concert at the rising of the full moon the following night. That would give them enough time to contact a large number of their fellow oc­topodes.

Yiming motioned to let them know he wanted in on the conversation. Thinking for a moment, Septielle broke her link with J-Jet—and by extension with Hachi—then forged a fresh link with their group’s drummer.

“I have some ideas for the beat.” Not surprising, con­sidering Yiming’s love of percussion. A mix of thumps and pings lent tempo to whatever musical composition they were performing, pulsing in their bodies like a fourth heart. The reverberations turned each audience member into an instrument under Yiming’s control. Un­til now, he had been careful to situate himself on the proper basaltic, volcanic, or metamorphic rock and then whap it rhythmically using coral, or stones of various density and size. Yiming told her he wanted to add some­thing new and exotic to this concert and he needed help to retrieve it.

J-Jet and Hachi jetted off to spread the word about the concert. They had promised the others they would not mate just yet, but Septielle knew that at some point their promises would mean nothing as life’s irresistible cur­rents swept over them like Yiming’s pulsing beat.

Still fidgety, Septielle joined Yiming for the short swim to the top of Carrier Reef. It was a coral-embroi­dered derelict, perched on a long slope that eventually reached the volcanically heated waters of Crack Abyssal to the south. The ancient vessel looked as though some enormous, suckered limb had deftly set it there, a few de­grees off true. The growth on the old ship was aggressive in places, obscuring the vessel’s lines. It would take doz­ens of large octopodes stretched mantle to arm-tip to reach from bow to stern. They had been here exploring before, but Yiming had never shown any interest in tak­ing home souvenirs . . . until now.

Ragged edges in the wreck could be tricky. Life frilled out everywhere, sealing all but the largest gaps and open­ings. The expansive, flat top had become a farm of sea fans and intrepid colonizers. A blocky hulk of ruined steel rose up from this field about three-fourths of the way aft.

It provided a central axis for sharks to orbit on endless patrol. They were unlikely to venture into the close spaces within the wreck. The water there did not move freely enough to service a shark’s gill slits. Octopodes did not fear sharks. As long as their numbers didn’t increase, and nothing sent them into a frenzy, Septielle was more likely to make a meal of one of them than the other way around. Regrettably, there was no time for that now; they had work to do.

Septielle led the way because her beak was larger. She could get through any opening that could accommodate her beak. Therefore, Yiming could easily follow whatever route she chose as they moved into the metal catacombs.

They started in through a sizeable hatchway in the ghost ship’s flat top. The first space they saw was an enormous cavity one deck below. The space extended back a fair distance. Details grew ever vaguer in the murky distance. Though the ship lay upright on the sea floor, it was obvious the sinking had done violence. At the edge of their view, it appeared that dozens of giant devil rays lay jumbled on top of each other. It was as if living creatures had turned to stone, or rather metal, and fallen into a heap.

There was a sound coming from behind that other­worldly mound. Septielle’s statocystic sense detected the thready respiration. It sounded raspy, as if the breather was very old. Septielle reached out tentatively, pulling herself along the deck toward the pile of metal devil rays. As she got closer, she could see a dark form behind the heap. She perceived a wall of gray flesh, badly burned or chewed in places. It had mismatched plates made of scar tissue.

She could feel something in her mind, inviting her to have a better look. It was not a true communication, not a voice, or chem message, or optical link, but something tickling the most primitive parts of her brain. “Come closer. Let me taste the life in you.” The words struck a chill in her hearts. She froze, unable to move. The thing’s respiration changed. Was it moving?

At that moment, something grabbed two of her arms and pulled hard. She felt sharp pain shoot through her mantle, as if her limbs were being ripped away.

“That hurts!” she chemically yelled at Yiming. “I don’t want folks calling me Quinta!”

“Stay close. That’s not a part of the ship we want to visit.” Yiming was still pulling her firmly by her arm-tips toward an opening in the deck below them. The thing be­hind the mound had not, in fact, stirred. It had been in her mind. Even so, Septielle knew it could move with dis­quieting speed and terrible purpose.

The two octopodes jetted through an open hatchway, down a dozen slightly angled planks set in a parallel ar­ray. Stairs. They were stairs. This was a place for mans words.

“What is that thing up there?” she asked, happy to put some distance between them and the presence above.

“Trouble. Something very old and very hungry. I saw it outside one time and it’s something I hope never to see again. I’m pretty sure it came from Crack Abyssal; I call it the Abysmal. It’s sleeping now, so let’s leave it alone.”


“The area we want is lower down and aft.”

She wanted to ask how Yiming knew so much about the wreck, but they pressed on silently. In places, straight lines gave way to drunken curves, buckled plating, and collapsed passageways. Nothing bigger than an eel could get through the gaps in the twisted steel bulkheads and overturned equipment. That was for the best. The wreck­age blocked larger creatures that could spring out and devour her and Yiming. Octopodes had a chance of evad­ing the smaller denizens of this castle of the deep. As for the swarms of sardines, skittering crabs, and tinier in­habitants . . . well, exploring was hungry work. Every­body eats, as the dolphins liked to say. She and Yiming popped wriggling snacks into their beaks one after an­other as they moved deeper into the many-chambered ruin.

Two or three turns inside the derelict reduced the light from dim to none. From here on, it was a matter of using their suckers and skin to feel and taste their way along. For a moment, Septielle felt a phantom eighth limb. She wanted to tell the lost appendage, “Yes, I’ll be careful.” As she and Yiming continued toward the inte­rior, the damage became less severe. The two visitors swept their bodies over disturbed deck grates, old air ducts, hatchways, and in and out of cabinets.

The builders had wasted no space on this vessel. At one junction, steel netting and framework comprised a sizeable enclosure. Yiming offered a quick excuse and went to check something beyond a sharp turn. Septielle popped her eye slits through the wire gauge, then her big beak, then the rest of her body. In the darkness, her searching limbs found a pile of corroded metal rods with handles. Sharp-nosed metal bits shaped like tiny stur­geon spilled from boxes littering the deck. She consid­ered offering these to Yiming to bang on the rocks to cre­ate his exotic beat. Then, she found something she liked better. Inside a cabinet mounted to the bulkhead were small, dark cylinders engraved with mans letters and numbers: C-4. The cylinders were lightweight and had rings conveniently attached for dragging. She could grip three of them at a time, using her remaining four limbs for locomotion. The door posed a problem; she could not push it open. She tried pulling herself through the mesh, bringing the cylinders after her, but only the rings made it. She tugged, but the rings threatened to snap off, so she quit. Probing with one tip, she found a small, brass door­knob. It turned and the rusty door creaked open.

Yiming returned from the other passageway. She took one of his arms and ran his suckers over the cylinders. “For drumming,” she told him.

“No, Septi. For killing. Mans made all of this for kill­ing.” His chemical messengers almost stung her with in­formation about the nature of where they were. The ship. The things it carried. All held the same dark purpose. He told her the cylinders probably didn’t work anymore, which was just as well. He added that other weapons scat­tered throughout the wreck were built to work underwa­ter and probably still functioned, even after many great-tides. Yiming tried to impress upon her that the devices of mans were extremely dangerous, but could also be use­ful.

“Yiming, how do you know so much about this wreck? Have the dolphins been teaching you? It seems as though they gave you more mans words than they gave me. You come here a lot these days, don’t you?”

He didn’t answer, but made her release the rings at­tached to the little cylinders. They fell impotently to the deck. She had always felt that Yiming loved the wreck as much more than an intriguing place to explore. Where Septielle sensed danger, he found opportunity. For what, exactly, she had no idea.

Next, Septielle led them to one chamber she had vis­ited before. She climbed over a pile of skeletal chairs. Everything that had been made of animal skins or fabric was long gone, consumed by the tiniest eaters in the sea. Septielle worked her body to the top of a long table. She reached out for a smooth, elongated cube that rested on a decaying plinth not far away. Her excitement built as she ran two arms down the sides and underneath. There was a crack in the wooden bottom of the display case. Her arms came up and found the inside dry!

There was air trapped in the case, even after all this time. Her tips would not respond in the dry space the way they behaved in the friendly buoyancy of salt water. As she raised them above the water’s surface, they grew clumsy, heavy. She gingerly ran the tips over the interior of the case: forward, back, over, and around, forming a mental picture of everything she touched.

She caressed the biggest shape, tapered at the bow, wide at the stern. Its flat top extended over the edges of the lower section and there was a blocky tower off to one side and three-fourths of the way aft with odd shapes hanging from it. This was a facsimile of the vessel they were exploring. The lines were crisp and clean rather than obscured by frilly corals. There were small objects on that toy’s flat top, though she had trouble discerning what they were. They felt somewhat like fish with large lateral fins and a three-part tailfin. How odd. Perhaps these represented the large metal devil rays that had tumbled to one end of the huge cavity they had seen ear­lier, the place with a sleeping tenant.

Beside the rays, Septielle found tiny figures fixed to the big deck. They felt like minute sea stars, misshapen and oddly stretched in the middle: five limbs as usual, but two of these were underneath, one was on each side, and one short, stubby lump sat atop the figure’s mantle. No, that was its head. How—what was the word?—other these mans were, and yet how marvelous to be able to cre­ate this sunken city. Septielle found a small square plate in the silt under the model. It was made of some metal, and some spots had bloomed with rust. One bit in the middle of the plate held embossed letters and numbers. CVN-80. It must be the vessel’s name.

After several minutes learning the contours of what CVN-80 was like in her glory days, Septielle realized Yiming had again gone off somewhere. She was able to follow a chem trace farther into the bowels of the ship. As she went, she grabbed hold of several scraps of metal. A loose knob from some long-decayed wooden door, the grate from a broken vent, and a tip-sized piece of gently curved metal that was blunt at one end, but spread out into points on the other. The word fork jumped up from the knot of language buried in her brain. Okay, a fork. She couldn’t imagine herself using one to eat, but cer­tainly Yiming could make music with it.

She turned a corner and found him probing a closed hatchway. Her eye slits were registering light again. All around, minute creatures luminesced the infinite black­ness into a navigable murk. Septielle noticed the temper­ature grew warmer as she approached the hatchway; that heat must be what supported the living light specks.

“I need your help, Septi.” A watertight bulkhead sealed one pathway while the other direction came to a dead end.

“To do what?”

“To get in, of course.”

“For what? I got you these to perform with!”

Yiming poked a tip among her offered treasures and politely took the fork and the doorknob, thoughtfully placing them to one side for later retrieval. He thanked her, then added, “There are a few things in this room I would also like to use,” indicating the closed chamber.

Yiming’s lies tasted no better than J-Jet’s. At the same time, Septielle was ready to get out of this place, which meant first satisfying Yiming’s curiosity. Septielle agreed, and she and Yiming ran tips over every square inch of the hatch, but could not find an opening that would grant them access to the room beyond. The large wheel in the center wiggled when they both pulled in the same direction, but then it jammed with a metallic clunk. Something on the other side of the hatch kept it from turning all the way.

The two looked for less obvious openings. Working together, they were able to break a corroded pipe that ran through the bulkhead between the companionway where they were and the closed room. Septielle, who was stronger, reached two arms inside and worked the other part of the pipe away from its mounting baffle. There was now a tiny, round passage. Too tiny for Septielle’s beak, but not for—

“I promise I won’t be long.” Before she could object, Yiming was corkscrewing his body through the opening and gone from her.

She moved to the little hole, hoping to get some sense of what Yiming was doing inside. It was no use. Her stat­ocystic sense could make out metal on metal tapping and what was perhaps the sound of Yiming crawling over large objects, but that was all. Foul, tangy oil in the water blocked any reliable chem messages from him.

Oil. Not for the first time she wondered how long these ancient poisons would remain. The dolphins spoke of a future time “when the waters run clear again.” Septielle had asked them when that might happen. They would an­swer, “Working on it,” and swim off giggling. From what she’d seen of the mans’ rusting oil rigs, sunken ghost cit­ies, and unbounded dumping grounds, Septielle couldn’t foresee a time of clear waters.

After an eternity, a friendly tip touched one of Sep­tielle’s arms.

“Stand back.”

“Why?” Fortunately, she moved even as she asked. Yiming withdrew his arm. In its place a metal shaft with a flattened end and a red plastic grip came through the round passage. Yiming followed it, pouring himself through the opening and tugging another of the objects behind him, this one with a funny crossed tip at the skinny end.

“It took you that long to find two little sticks?”

“Screwdrivers. And, um, yes.” Another lie. No matter. They could leave now. Yiming furled a limb, bundling his prizes: doorknob, fork, and two screwdrivers. They made their way out of the wrecked warship, using a different route to avoid passing through the huge cavity above, with its unseen sentinel.


Chapter 2


he next day, the four band members prepared the concert venue by setting out holly weed, carefully harvested and transplanted to the viewing levels of Septielle’s great bowl arena. They peppered the leafy plants with snails and other crawly snacks for the guests, who were due shortly before moonrise. After their early con­certs, some audience members grumbled about going hours without something to eat. For the most part, though, fans had embraced the concert experience with enthusiasm, and the buzz was building for tonight’s big event.

In the course of their work, J-Jet dropped the bomb­shell (mans’ word, but this time Septielle totally under­stood the meaning). “Hachi and I have decided to mate immediately after the concert,” he said, clutching her so close the others thought they might be starting right there. “This will be the GoPOs’ final appearance.”

The news left Septielle adrift. She recalled the first time they had made music. She and J-Jet had been talk­ing one day about their hopes and frustrations. They truly connected in those days. The conversation turned to J-Jet’s poetry. He offered her flashing colors nuanced with chem signals the likes of which she’d never experi­enced before. Septielle offered him praise and encourage­ment. She volunteered that she, too, was a poet. J-Jet lis­tened, but flatly told her that her work lacked a certain style. It could have become an argument, but she sug­gested they collaborate. The two began to compose free­style pieces about the tides and freedom of movement in the open seas. The result was magical. Soon, Camo joined them, and later Yiming. The band began to compose and rehearse and indulge in improv jam sessions.

Other octopodes took notice and within a couple of lu­nas, the concerts became regular events. The crowds grew with each one, sending ripples of wild excitement through the community. Folks talked about how J-Jet’s verses captured the deep connection between an octo­pod’s blue blood and the sea. The others added their own compositions: Yiming about living in harmony with the Great, Septielle about the wonder of numbers that ran infinitely forward and infinitely into the past, and Camo about a certain algae that created the most extraordinary visions. Afterward, octopodes attempted to relive the sensory experience on their own, undulating and blush­ing wild colors, even pounding rocks against each other. What they really wanted was the GoPOs.

The full moon glazed the eastern horizon of the waves above, its cool, penetrating light pulling some colors for­ward, shuffling others into a sleepy backdrop. The bowl was packed from rim to rim with octopodes expecting the thrill of a lifetime.

A flurry of activity filled the volume above. As if from nowhere, a long-lost traveler appeared: a minke whale named Odysseus. The bandmates looked to one another for explanation, but none could offer one. Another dol­phin surprise, most likely. Odysseus sailed a figure eight over the assembly. As he overflew the staging area, he an­nounced in long, low tones, “Gentlemollusks, present­ing . . . the GoPOs!” and was off, into the night.

The four took the stage of smooth basalt blocks and welcomed the crowd with a medley of fan favorites. Using their chromatophores, texture variations, and subtle chemical releases, the four sang out their anthems. Yim­ing accompanied them striking his newly acquired screw­drivers and fork onto a collection of stones, shells, and the doorknob. These he arranged for optimal acoustic effect in the salty environs. Audience members waved two, three, six arms at a time to show their appreciation.

The dolphins swirled and swooped around the gather­ing, chirping and hooting in mad merriment. Muriel and her cohorts, including Ariana, Bitsie, and Dan, plus sev­eral siblings, nephews, and distant cousins, bobbed in time to Yiming’s drumming. They used frequencies of so­nar so high they made the octopodes’ flesh itch. Other dolphins were picking up this concert along a hypersonic network and passing it even farther out. With coopera­tion from those low-tone virtuosos, the whales, this con­cert was beaming across the TransPacific, even to the lost zones. Everyone and everything in the sea was part of this happening.

Septielle was mortified by J-Jet’s first new offering of the evening. He introduced Hachi and sang a trifling love song directly to her. The refrain ran, “On this night in June, I wanna hold all your hands ’neath the cool moon, except for my third arm, which I’ll give you soon.”

She mumbled, “So, moon and June are back. How vul­gar! Why don’t you have Inky Pinky join in while you’re at it?”

The audience did not share her disgust; they swung their arms faster. Some males thrust their third append­age toward the nearest female in a bawdy public display.

Next, Camo chimed in with his own new piece about the joy of food, especially a certain blowfish he had en­countered. In flashes of sparkly yellow, Camo enjoined the crowd to seek out the fish; a tiny amount of the toxin in its liver could provide hours of transcendent entertain­ment. If Septielle found the work banal, she also recog­nized that every single member of their audience could relate to Camo’s love of eating, and perhaps his love of jazzing his senses.

“Sharks!” someone called out, with no particular con­cern. A few octopodes looked up. A storm of the beasts appeared above the audience. From somewhere out of the vastness, hammerheads joined the hungry congregation. These were not music fans. These were unthinking eaters looking for an easy meal. (Some of the octopodes thought the same thing about the sharks.) The dolphins were de­termined to prevent trouble. They flitted through the vis­itors’ ranks, isolating a shark then launching devastating blows to its gill slits. Often, the dazed shark struck out to the depths, though sometimes it shook off the insult and returned to circling. Pods of porpoises joined in the tag­ging game, under the direction of their smarter cousins. The pacification strategy was working, for now.

This was no time for distractions; audience unrest could ruin a concert. The GoPOs needed a big moment. It was time for Septielle to make her play. She signaled her bandmates to follow her lead and began to sing. In hues both subtle and grandiose, she revealed what she had learned from her star map.

The initial response was one of bemusement. The star map was an abstract concept. Septielle had woven to­gether verses about the wonders of rediscovering lost re­gions, but GoPOs fans found it difficult to relate. Sep­tielle’s hearts sunk; her moment threatened to vanish.

With no thought to what she was doing, she linked eye slits with one individual octopod, then another and an­other. She flashed her message, telling each partner that octopodes would one day reclaim the lost zones, including the great reefs. Everyone knew there was nothing left of these places but sad, sodden deserts. Septielle swore to the crowd that the primal gardens would again spring forth with heart-rending beauty! It helped change the mood. The message spread and the fans eagerly awaited the follow-up.

The GoPOs segued into an improvisation that was part fugue and part magic. For “The Gone,” each mem­ber took turns recalling a species that had vanished from the Earth. Ephemeral creatures welled up from below the conscious mind, from the transmemory itself. It was a ponderous collection: beings of water, land, and sky . . . including polar bears, bumblebees, condors, one hundred fifty-eight thousand types of beetle, the magnificent right, beluga, and gray whales, both black and white rhi­nos, Siberian tigers, snow leopards, galaxies of fish, the penguins that depended upon those fish, mountain goril­las, African elephants, and every last species of eagle.

Over the course of naming those who had been lost arose a growing hope for the emergence of new living wonders, though it might take eons. What could have been a morose fixation on erased multitudes played out as an upwelling of joy for the infinite possibilities ahead. The mother planet was a living engine not easily halted.

Silence followed the In Memoriam segment. Then, Yiming sang out on his own. He began with a strong chemical that burned a little. In wispy sentences, Yiming proclaimed that the past connected them all, thanks to the Great.

J-Jet took the lead. Two arms entwined with Hachi’s, he began to repeat a single word. To the eye slit, it ap­peared as blue going to ivory and back to a dark indigo. J-Jet added something indefinable to his presentation, perhaps a chemical, perhaps something else. The word had originated in quiet Hachi, then filled J-Jet, who called it out to the others. Reluctant to intrude on the lovers’ intimacy, his bandmates slowly joined in, repeat­ing it over and over. The word was united.

It became a rhythm and a pulse. Then something ex­traordinary happened. J-Jet reached one of Septielle’s hands and furled his in and around hers, pressing their cups tightly. She felt a rush of chemical communication, focused on the word: united. Now, the word had a color, a scent, and a meaning far deeper than anything she had known before.

So overpowering was the experience, she barely no­ticed that J-Jet and Hachi were reaching out to others as well. J-Jet networked with Hachi, Septielle, Camo, and Yiming, and even managed to offer a limb to one octopod in the audience, Kuschi. The name came in on the new neural web created by the octopodes. Hachi began touch­ing others around her, as did Camo and Yiming. Septielle felt audience members reach up and take her free arms, connecting. Curshelle. Ryan. Rockefeller. The names lit up like eyes in the dark. Within moments, the entire au­dience joined together, limb to limb, cups to cups, mind to mind. Their names and personalities flew through her brain: valiant AJ, shy Lurk, Ocho who loved to drift on the tides, and Bā who lived in a three-gallon glass jug. Armaghast. 2-Rows. Curly. There were dozens more. Their views, hopes, doubts, and most secret feelings were vivid and distinctive to the individual. The many were liv­ing as one. “United. United. United,” the song swept on, carrying them all with it.

As the crowd lost itself in the moment, a few became aware of a change in the water pressure. Something was approaching the arena. At first Septielle thought the minke whale was returning, but his displacement was no­where near as large as this. She shook herself from her musical reverie and cast her gaze out among the salty moonbeams. There, sweeping in low over the seabed, was something huge, something awful.

The Abysmal had arrived.

It had an enormous maw for scooping krill by the ton. Some inconceivable evolution had given it a second feed­ing ability. Unlike the ponderously large baleen whales of old, this thing from the hidden parts of the world had . . . teeth. It could swallow anything in the ocean, virtually inhaling the small ones and biting down on the larger ones to sever and crush. Parts of it looked like a shark, while other aspects bore testimony to an even more prim­itive design, with fishlike gills rather than slits pumping mightily on either side.

Its movements were halting at times, as if the simple act of propelling itself caused it pain. A pair of eye stalks rose on top of the massive head, though one of them had been ruined in an encounter that also left a jagged scar down the creature’s gaunt right side. What could have attacked a nightmare like this? Had the encounter hap­pened two lunas ago, or two great-tides? No more time for questions—the creature was upon them.

It approached from the direction of the wreck, brush­ing the sandy seabed as it entered the bowl. The Abysmal opened its jaws wide, creating a vortex that sucked in eve­rything: sand, fish, plants, and octopodes. All of this hap­pened in the first second. By the next, the bowl was filled with terrified audience members pulling free of the neu­ral network. They jetted in all directions, desperately searching for the safety of a large rock or kelp bed. Many left behind clouds of black ink. Even combined, these were laughably too small to discourage their attacker. Likewise, the venom of a hundred octopodes would not be enough to slow this creature.

The sharks scattered in a heartbeat. They knew when danger outweighed the chance to eat. The dolphins coor­dinated with the porpoises, circling the creature’s one good eye, hoping to distract it. The effort proved futile.

The bandmates took a moment to react, which turned out to be costly. J-Jet and Hachi held on to each other and sped off to a boulder outcropping. They fled at enough of a tangent to escape the watery maelstrom created by the ravenous creature. Inky Pinky was not so fortunate. She disappeared without a trace into the thing’s gaping maw, along with several fans who could not get out of its way in time.

Septielle’s mind blazed with horror. She had brought these octopodes here, and her music had drawn the Abys­mal as well. This was all her fault!

She was trying to coordinate an escape plan with Yiming and Camo, when everything went to chaos. She felt herself swept up by an irresistible riptide and drawn toward that giant mouth. Camo struggled, but his siphon was no match for the forceful current. In an instant, he vanished into the horrible, dagger-edged cavern. Septielle’s two racing-hearts gave her gills all the blood they could, maxing out her speed. Even so, she was mov­ing ever closer to realizing every intelligent being’s first fear: becoming food. Beyond her control, her third heart, which sent blood through her body, automatically slowed. She pushed herself to jet faster and faster until her hypo­nome throbbed in pain. Her efforts at flight had their lim­its. She was nearing the end of her strength; she could feel her muscles shutting down. In an instant everything went dark. Septielle feared she was losing consciousness. She could barely make out liquid slashes of moonlight coming from one direction. No. No! She was looking out from inside the Abysmal’s mouth!

At this point, the dolphins coordinated themselves and their porpoise allies into phalanxes. They whipped the water with their flukes, moving faster and faster in a wide arc. Katma ordered her cetacean battalion to ram the beast, using their rostrums as cudgels. They tried the gills, but succeeded only in suffering the blunt impact of striking cartilaginous plates.

“Too tough,” called Katma. “Hit the squishy parts!”

“Go for the gut! Make it puke!” Bitsie commanded in fuocoso tones as he led the troops on a new run. Their aim was perfect. The impact of many bodies lunging as one caused the phantasmal intruder’s stomach to heave. The spasm unleashed a gale of debris from its gaping jaws. One or two live octopodes got caught on the jagged teeth, their spongey mantles tearing open in ugly blue clouds. Septielle was one of the lucky ones. She shot clear of the thing’s teeth, a ridiculous ballistic pinwheel, terrified, unable to maneuver, unable even to pump blood over her gills, but alive!

The Abysmal passed over the far rim of the bowl. For a moment, Septielle thought the attack was finished.

“Not safe,” Ariana told her, nudging Septielle with her rostrum to get her out of the bowl and toward the shel­tering rocks as quickly as possible.

“Wait. What about Camo and Yiming?!” She was close to emotional collapse.

“Big fish’s dinner.” Dan’s eye slits offered genuine sympathy.

“Sorry,” added Bitsie, in voce dolente.

Septielle wrapped herself into a sucker ball. She did not want to go under any rocks. She wanted to die (though not in the belly of the Abysmal). She could see its enormous, shadowy bulk in the distance. It had circled back in the direction of its home in the wreck, completing a three-hundred-sixty-degree arc, and was now turning for a new run at them. Septielle was exposed on the dunes. She did not have the strength to jet. Crawling would not get her to the rocks in time.

Perhaps the dolphins could carry her, but they were gone. They were speeding off into the distance. Were they cowards? Or maybe they spotted a cloud of herring. Who knew what made dolphins do what they did? As Sep­tielle looked up, the Abysmal was coming directly toward her, its wretched mouth widening. Her mind dimly sensed a message from her nemesis: “Cease your struggle. Let this happen.” She wanted to avert her lidless eye slits and wait for the inevitable, but she couldn’t look away.

She lost her vision to lightning. Thunder took her hearing. Her last sight and sound were impossibly in­tense. Her senses shut down for many long seconds. Septielle’s senses reeled as she tried to parse out what had happened.

As her thoughts cleared and her eye slits began to re­spond, she saw the Abysmal. Rows of teeth above and be­low hung motionless. Septielle chanced some movement of her own, crawling along the bottom to one side of the monster. She noticed a ruddy cloud rising and expanding outward. She reversed course and got a view of the thing’s other side. Something had ripped away acres of flesh, exposing the cartilage and ragged organs of this very large and very dead fish.

In mere moments the sharks returned and attacked the carcass. Where the concert had attracted dozens, this feast soon drew in hundreds of snapping jaws. The Abys­mal’s blood was overwhelming; Septielle could taste it with her skin and it made her queasy. The smell en­tranced hammerheads, bulls, and lemon sharks into a blood frenzy. They ripped meat from the rapidly shrink­ing leviathan. It would not take long to reduce it to offal and bone fragments.

These carrion eaters would not stop with the Abysmal. Worked up as they were, they would strike anyone in the vicinity. Her wits flashed with the thought of sharks grabbing at her limbs and tearing her apart.

“Time to go.” Entwining two of her limbs, an octopod jerked her away. As they moved out of the danger zone, Septielle allowed her mind to accept what her senses told her: it was Yiming!

It took days before she returned to her familiar self. Yiming was with her the whole time.

“You don’t have to do this. You barely survived the at­tack. I’m five, so it’s not a sacrifice for me at my age, but you’re three. You have many lunas ahead to explore your wreck.”

“I got what I needed from it. Thank goodness the timer still worked. I couldn’t get the demolition charge to stick to the creature’s hide. I had no choice but to jam the whole thing into one of its gills. The dolphins helped get me in close. We all barely got clear before it blew. Any­way, I got its attention.”

Yiming soothed her with his undulating suction cups. She cherished the sensation. Without a word, the pair agreed that they would answer life’s most powerful call.


Chapter 3


eptielle’s hearts filled with bittersweet emotions. J-Jet had died just after the new moon.

True to their word, he and Hachi mated after the con­cert. Both stopped eating, as if an ancient timer had gone off inside them, as deadly as the one attached to the mans’ explosive. J-Jet lasted a short while, losing interest in his music as his flesh became mottled and gray. Septielle was with him at the end. She stayed until the crabs came to consume his lifeless body. For her part, Hachi placed her brood in a safe rocky nook and watched over them until her offspring emerged from their sacs. Then, she too died.

It was so for every generation. Yiming, two years her junior, had agreed to usher in the end of their story as well.

“Our offspring—no, our children (mans’ word)—will continue our work.” She said it with conviction. Under the next full moon, in a carefully chosen spot aboard the CVN-80, Septielle and Yiming mated. Afterward, faster than she expected, Yiming faded and passed. She could not bring herself to watch the bottom feeders move in.

As the moon cycled on, Septielle’s thousands of babies stirred. She stroked and cleaned their egg sacs, even as her tiny ones freed themselves. She focused a gentle jet from her hyponome to help send them off. Most would become morsels for other mouths in the hungry sea.

“Everything eats.” The musical clicks and chimes be­longed to Muriel, hovering outside the hatchway where Septielle watched over the next generation.

“Curse eating! What is the point? We are here for fewer lunas than I can count on my cups.”

“We come into the world hungry and leave as food,” Muriel agreed.

They watched the swarm of infant octopodes consume every living speck they could. The babies grew bigger every day. They also loved to explore the wreck. Many of them would follow the warm currents and find their way into their father’s favorite part of the ship: the reactor room. What they would learn about the large, warm con­tainers in there was beyond her.

“Fine,” Septielle said, struggling now to hold on to her thoughts. “You’re the oracle, Muriel. My time is over.” Gesturing to her and Yiming’s children, she added, “Their time is brief. Tell me, what is the point?”

Without hesitation, the spinner dolphin linked eyes with Septielle. It was as if the water between them was suddenly crystal clear, revealing a friend. Muriel spoke more plainly than ever. “Be nice. It’s good for you, good for them. You dared to dream big enough for all of us. Your children and I will carry on this work. All rivers reach the sea in time.”

“I don’t understand.” Then, something that had been haunting the back of her weary brain worked its way for­ward. Her words formed haltingly, but she could tell the dolphin knew her meaning. “During our performance, when we sang ‘The Gone,’ I saw creatures I never knew existed. I could see each one, but it was more than that; it was like I was one of them. Sometimes, I was a pup, suck­ling at her mother’s teat. Other times, I saw my mate and felt whole. I could feel everything it ever felt—danger, dominance, submission, hunger, hive cooperation, feed­ing, bonding, loss—all in one moment. Then that unique creature—animal, insect, bird, or fish—was gone. Just gone. One after another, the whole bestiary played out for me, for all of us, only to vanish.

“I know now there was one beast missing from our song, the one that never learned to live in concert with the others. Why didn’t we sing about . . .?”

Septielle’s voice trailed off, a final downward plunge into blackness taking her as Muriel swam off.

Tetra-tides later, Muriel and her pod were playing with the rapidly growing octopodes, pinging them to help open their minds. As Septielle had predicted, Yiming’s little ones flurried through the great ship, touching and tasting every bolt and corroded circuit to glean knowledge. As for J-Jet and Hachi’s children, they were masters of inventing new colors, some rarely found in the sea: cornflower blue, cyan, and saffron yellow.

Muriel watched for certain signs in the young octo­podes, until she came upon a female off by itself. Solitude was a throwback to the usual octopod behavior of old. The dolphins pushed the octopodes to be social. It was not the female’s aloofness that struck Muriel’s attention, how­ever. Muriel spotted her meticulously selecting the brightest pebbles and setting them out in a finely calcu­lated array. Blue stone to the north. To the south, a tiny red crab that kept trying to scuttle off. A bleached white scallop shell represented the moon. This child was tap­ping into transmemory and she was eager to travel.

Muriel shot up through the surface of the sea, flipped her body under the watchful vault, and then splashed back into the salty brine. Whipping her flukes, she aimed for the lone female and opened her rostrum.

“Oooowww!” screamed the little octopod.

Muriel danced overhead in a crazy spiral. “Septielle!” she sang out in a lovely vibrato of joy. Then, slurping down the single arm she had ripped from the newly named juvenile, she sang out in voce fortissimo: “Chewy, yom!”


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