My name is Dexter Jared Peterson. I am 26 years old and live in New York City. In the last seven years I have lived as 11,577 people.
The room was so white it was almost blinding. The floor was white tile, the walls were white wash. The ceiling was one solid bank of diffuse white lights. Even my clothes were white, though they were spattered with something dark blue and sticky.
“I said, can you give me the numbers of that reading, Peterson?”
There was a man in the room with me. I had not seen him at once because he was also wearing white and blended into the background. Now I looked, and saw him walk behind a rack of soothing gray computers. He was glaring at me, but only out of impatience. We were colleagues then, not enemies. Good. I looked down at my hands, hoping they held whatever was producing the reading this man wanted the numbers from.
There was a moment where I thought I was having a flashback to my day as a sushi chef, slicing octopus tentacles. But I’d never seen an octopus with green skin. One of my hands was holding a small device like a smartphone, with a cord that ran to my second hand, which was plunged into a vat of water which was in turn filled with writhing green tentacles. I stared at them numbly. Some of them were gashed and a few were missing their tips. Out of the wounds oozed clouds of dark blue blood, mucking up the water in the tank. Now I knew where the splatters on my clothes had come from. It’s so nice to be able to start piecing together the situation.
I seemed to be holding the end of the cord with my left hand up against the main body where all the tentacles converged, and there was a steady beeping coming from the smartphone in my right hand. Squinting at its display, I tried to make out the numbers. It felt like a vice had closed around my left hand. I gave a shout of surprise, looked down, and found the thing was looking back at me. One round eye, like an orange and yellow pinwheel, was staring at me.
You know how people talk about looking into each other’s souls? Well, this felt like having my soul X-rayed. For a moment we were frozen like that. Then all the tentacles came to life, swarming out of the water, wrapping themselves around my arm, and the thing surged up my sleeve and glommed (there is no other word) onto my head. It was cold and wet and slimy, and I gasped and shrieked—I didn’t know if there were teeth hidden in all those tentacles—when suddenly it talked to me. Not in the way people talk to each other, with words in sound, but there were words in my brain that were not mine, and they said, quite clearly and a little desperately:
Save me, I can help you get back to your own world!
I was about to answer when the thing was pulled forcibly off my head by my colleague and thrust back into the water. I heard a grill clang shut on it and some angry splashing as I wiped slime and sweat out of my eyes.
“Peterson, Peterson are you all right?” My colleague was leading me away from the tank, handing me a towel.
“Mm fine,” I said, though my heart was beating like a piston.
“Initial tests of its slime have shown it to be non-toxic, how are you feeling?”
Like my heart was going to explode. From shock, and from hope. It had said it could get me home! I looked back over to the tank. The creature was staring at me, almost beseechingly. And I had no idea what to do.
“A little shaken,” I said. That was a safe answer. Anyone would have been shaken by that.
“Okay, well, we should have some pretty interesting numbers on the bio-scan,” my colleague took the little smartphone out of my hand and went back behind the rack of computers and began entering data on a keyboard. “Peterson,” he said after a moment, “come and see this.”
I went around behind the computers to see the screen he was pointing at. I was just leaning over his shoulder when the door to the room we were in was shouldered open, and a woman in a green trench coat and a pink wig barged into the room. She held something like a gun, but it was covered in naked wiring and had a lot of little LED lights on it. We were shouting. Obeying instincts that were not my own, I reached for my weapon, which was stored next to the computer rack.
“Sorry for interrupting, boys,” she said, leveling the gun at us. Well, so much for getting home. Or even living through this day. “I’ll only be a moment,” she said cheerfully. “Well, it’ll seem like a moment to you, anyway.”
And in a way, it was only a moment. And in a way it was an eternity. There was a white flash, I heard the computers fry inside their plastic casings, and then it was like watching a film on super-speed. The woman in the coat was at the tank. Then there was a young man in the room, and a dog. A dog that walked on its hind legs.
Then the woman had the tentacle creature on her head. They danced around the room, there was a flash of red light, and then they were gone, and the woman was standing in the doorway, the tentacle creature still on her head, and she had the gun out again. The world came crashing back, and I finished the scream I had been in the middle of.
“See? Only a moment,” the woman was saying. “What did I tell you? Elo, you can disconnect us now!”
And she was gone. In her place was a small army of armed and armored security people, who trooped through the door and got myself and my colleague on the ground while they searched the room. I was disappointed. But also a little relieved: some lives get jerked out from under me just as I’m getting the hang of them. This one, from the way the security people were acting, and the way my colleague was talking, would be one I’d be happy to leave behind.
But I’ll never harm another octopus, wherever, or whoever I am.
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