Outward Reviews: Guerillas

I’ve said it before, the monkey game can be a tough nut to crack. Preconceived notions of the apish persuasion aren’t exactly flattering to the genre. Monkeys are viewed as clowns. Beta humans; their lines to the animal kingdom christening them incomplete versions of ourselves. They’re either disturbing or hilarious. Spectacle is king.

“Look at that monkey dance! Monkeys aren’t supposed to dance!”

*Giddy laughter*

*Cracking whip*

“Dance monkey, dance!”

You know the drill.

Goliath with his little helper.

Goliath with his little helper.

Unless your goal is a healthy coating of cheek, you’d expect a genuine attempt at drama featuring our furry cousins to be a fool’s errand. How poignant can a scene be when the prime movers are convicted shit-slingers? Throwing comics into this mix, you’ve got an uphill battle so steep you’d wish you had a prehensile tail just to hold on. It’s a nigh-impossibility!

I was pleasantly surprised to be proved dead-fuck-wrong when I discovered Brahm Revel’s fantastic graphic series, Guerillas.

First released in 2008 by Image comics, Guerillas couldn’t exactly escape the “stinking ape” stigma and was later picked up for continuation/distribution by Oni Press. Though it may not feature unitard-clad superheroes, Guerillas has been steadily gaining cred through 5-star reviews by fans and the kind of steady attention that a deserving work of art merits.

Did I mention that ape-fiction has a fan base? I know I painted a grim picture a few paragraphs ago, but there is a silver lining. Perhaps it’s that mystical power of well-armed primates? Who knows, but if ever there were a work of ‘damn good’ simian drama that deserved recognition, it is Revel’s series.

Guerillas is the tale of a fresh new recruit named John Clayton and his introduction to the hellhole of atrocities that is the Vietnam War. Our boy John is painted as a wide-eyed young chap who seriously miscalculated when he decided to earn his aloof father’s respect by enlisting. This kid could barely hurt a fly. There are genuinely disturbing instances depicted when John and his platoon comb through the jungle and.. do what American GI’s did.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were... you know... into that whole 'talking' thing.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were… you know… into that whole ‘talking’ thing.

The writing is strong throughout. The interactions of the soldiers, while unflattering, remain candid and realistic. It’s got all the conflict and inner turmoil of your big time war flicks; your Platoons and your Apocalypse Nows, all coated in beautiful four-by-four. The art is minimalistic, yet sumptuously illustrated in layers of heavy shadow and bright sunlight. The attention to detail shows: from the rendering of a soldier’s rucksack to the inferred acrobatic antics of the titular primates.

Oh yeah, the chimps! Things take off when our hero buckles under pressure, witnesses his entire squad mowed down by Vietcong and does nothing. It’s at this point that he’s rescued by a group of ‘artificially enhanced’, battle trained chimpanzee commandos. And they don’t exactly take to him at first.

It’s obvious that Revel did his chimpanzee homework. His depictions are spot on. Social interactions are fully represented here, with ‘shit-your-pants’ dominance displays and termite foraging featured just like you’d see it on National Geographic: minus the combat fatigues.

John meets the monkeys.

John meets the monkeys.

Big bruisers like John Bull and Goliath puff on cigarettes; a habit abnormally trained chimps exhibit in real life. Smaller chimps like Goblin and Faben bound shrilly through the trees. These are behaviors (and names) that you see plastered all over nature documentaries. This authenticity legitimizes the story and almost lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading a comic about M-16 toting primates.

It’s this extra effort to tell a good story that is prevalent in Guerillas. It adds nuance and a deeper level of enjoyability to an otherwise fantastic ‘shoot-em up’ war comic. All the right layers are here: Good guys, bad guys, moral ambiguity about who the good guys and bad guys are, mad scientists, swearing; one liner spouting soliders, action, dramatic tension, chimpanzees hooting while they unload a clip into an unsuspecting village..

Guerillas gets my wholehearted stamp of approval. In the world of ape-pulp, this comic stands as a shining example of how to do it right.

Oh. And it’s got a baboon named Adolph that is probably the creepiest loose-cannon character that I’ve ever seen. Way to do that name proud, Adolph… *shivers*

You can get a free digital copy of Guerillas on comixology.com. Not a bad deal for a double-feature sized comic about monkeys.

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Short Fiction: Sapience Test

Sapience Test

Complements MrSummers

Complements MrSummers

An earthling approaches the

Megalithic structure seems luminous, reluctantly

Flickers, blinks at her like tail lights upended

In mist

It rose, long before

Now it flowers, again

Grasping with algorithms and preset programs, like

A chain it pulls itself free from non-being

It clamors, triple checks, settles without deciding on

An adequate response and

So it speaks

To a being from earth

“Welcome to Nexus.”

“I am a Cognition Interface Kiosk. You have activated me by stimulating my matrices of proximity and perceived purpose. Your intent has been deemed clear and focused to the extent it necessitates inquiry. Rest assured, your physical requirements are a top priority. I will be glad to assist you in any way that I can.”

“Firstly, let me thank you for including me in your perceptual field layout. Inclusion is the fundament for millions of species that match your preliminary categorization. Remember, this classification is cursory; so please forgive me if this method of communication is flawed and our exchange fails to harmonize. Your primary sensory instrumentation is very important to us.”

“Auditory cues have been received and will be deemed preliminary attempts at communication.”

“Sound generation has been recognized: vocal.”

“Frequency has been detected within the ranges of .01 to 300 Hertz.”

“These facts, coupled with your diurnal appearance and Nexus’ general solar-cyclic rotation, has narrowed the breadth of possibility to within acceptable parameters. Though error has been minimized, please realize that further investigation must be executed.”

“Your insistence is understood and appreciated, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Continued identification is critical to ensure a healthy exchange. Our services are tailored to over a billion forms of intelligence. Your mold fits a proportionate amount that inaccuracies pose theoretical bodily hazards.”

“Your continuous insistence will be viewed as an interest in the subject, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Based on deep spectrum scans, listening posts, habitation placement of this kiosk, and many other factors, your species has been narrowed to within 17 million possibilities. We hope that you are proud of this estimate.”

“Your continuous insistence will be viewed as an interest in the subject, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Activities that advance our interactions will always narrow probability and adequate identification will be achieved. Presently, the overlay is witling. Your continued patience is highly valued, but please act naturally if this interferes with specific species traits.”

“Based on numerical odds, it is likely that you are some form of arachnoid. This is far from a probabilistic mathematical certainty, however.”

“We’re sorry. Your continuous insistence cannot be viewed as an affirmation of arachnoid heritage. Further investigation must be executed. If it is determined that arachnoid heritage is sufficiently likely, continuation will be assumed.”

“Your inability to process this kiosk’s requests has been deemed a breakdown in communication. Recalculating.”

“We are aware that you possess a deoxyribonucleic acid molecular chain based on bioscans of liquids left on the menu selection applicators. Please understand that we can only narrow your phylum so far: Gene forgers and spectral projections have been known to skew results that lack enhanced corroboration.”

“Prior reading results merging with updated genetic data.”

“Species likelihood down to 5 million. Matches witling. Arachnoid heritage is still chiefly likely. You may have been right all along.”

“Your attention please. It appears you may be shedding integuments. Please find a way to calm yourself, as this is likely a sign of great stress or possible fatal injury. We will speedily ascertain your current level of peril.”

“It seems your integuments are attached to neither blood vessels nor active nerve endings. You are in no danger of shock-death. Luckily, we’ve narrowed the parameters to substantive levels. It is possible that you are what you say you are, but it is now more likely that you are a functional chordate.”

“It isn’t unheard of for some spider species having spinal nerve cords. Protraction on this hypothesis will now be assumed.”

“Please click your mandibles, as vocal communication has been your chief means of contact thus far.”

“Calculating.”

“Please expel air through your primary tagma segment’s tracheal system.”

“Curious, this expulsion is not situated in your abdomen. It isn’t unheard of some spider species accumulating vocal folds near or within their chelicera. Though this is unlikely, arachnoid heritage is still viable.”

“Please ‘speak’ in a way that is normal for your species.”

“Calculating. Recalculating!”

“It appears you are indeed a functional chordate. Please expel a vowel sound.”

“That will suffice. Please expel a consonant sound.”

“Very good.”

“Congratulations. It has been estimated that you are cognitively sentient.”

“You appear to be struggling. It is highly likely that you are a member of a gregarious species. Perhaps you should commune with a member who has used this kiosk on a previous occasion.”

“You have been operating the menu selection that links to chemical absorption. Tied to your most prominent legacy-type, it is likely that you are fascinated with: catabolism or, digestion. Do you require any kind of physical sustenance?”

“Please accept this protein supplement. It is mathematically certain to boost the energy reserves of your species-type. Analysis has observed that you control suitable means to break down this supplement, and heartily enjoy the process.”

“Warning: the prior insistence with which you have been attempting to select this application suggests that you may be suffering from extremely low subsistence levels. If you are in danger of starvation, please select this option from the menu once more.”

“Thank you. Here is another increment, based on your body proportions.”

“If you require any sort of medical or social courtesies, I can summon the proper accommodations for your disposal.”

“No? I see you are satisfactorily capable of specialized, powered locomotion.”

“I hope that this interaction has proven satisfactory. This Cognition Interface Kiosk has now been tailored by your collaboration. Well done! It has been an honor to partake in your socio-physical countenance.”

“Remember that intelligence connects us all.”

“And once again, welcome to Nexus.”

The earthling gathers up the offerings bestowed

By the yammering structure above

Which falters and dims

Ready for a century of rest if need be

When satisfied, she flushes her obsidian plumage fully

Extending, opening, clattering against ancient

Stone cold talons, brushing noisily, then

She drifts away

A gravelly call echoes back

A means of communication?

The End of the World has a Commentary

The end of 2012 appears to be angling towards batshit insane after all. It might not be on par with a Mayan foretold apocalypse, but between the east coast of America getting pummeled by a hurricane and news of talking animals coming to light, even hardboiled skeptics like me are beginning to take notice.

Belugas may have to trade in their old monikers of “canaries of the sea” to something a bit more appropriate. Is your money on parrots or mockingbirds?

In all seriousness, learning about several “high-profile*” animals taking to spontaneous mimicry is all that’s keeping me going. It’s good to know that when climate change eventually kills us off, parrots won’t be the only animals to carry on our linguistic legacy.

First up, we have a beluga whale who needed a little personal space. NOC (named after nasty little insects “no-see-ums”) apparently uttered a phrase from every ghost story you’ve ever heard. “Get out.”

When he was nine years old, NOC began to emit calls many octaves lower than cetacean norm. The haunting, garbled sounds appeared very similar to human frequency speech. Such spontaneity is a first. As you can imagine, dolphins have been taught to mimic human language (along the lines of teaching the apes to sign), but this could be the one of the first instances of a beluga whale taking it upon itself to mock exemplify hominid sounds.

Sure, it’s amazing to hear a whale babble incoherently, but it gets better. Or creepier. Or maybe just closer to home.

Next: A male Asian elephant called Koshik was recorded ‘actually speaking Korean words’. Though his vocabulary is limited, Koshik can clearly be understood by other Korean speakers. It turns out that in the formative years of calf-hood, the elephant was only exposed to humans and human interaction. He was taught several simple commands (which I strongly suspect influenced his lopsidedly “commandy” current vocabulary. “Sit down” and “lie down” make up one third of the words he uses.)

Koshik reproducing the devilry that is human speech. He uses his trunk for the tough bits; namely all of it.

Elephants are consummate mimickers. They sometimes emulate lyre birds and imitate manmade sounds such as car engines. That doesn’t make it any less creepy when you learn that Koshik reproduces his trainers down to their individual voices.

None of this comes natural to these animals by any means. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances that has led to their impersonations. Creating such sounds is obviously well outside what their bodies can produce naturally. A massive elephantine throat and the pitched nasal calls of belugas are hardly suited for the job. Both of the animals have to physically modify their ‘vocal apparatus’ to get the job done.

Koshik substitutes his trunk for mobile human lips. And it works startlingly well. He’s able to reproduce tone and enunciation to a degree that is unreal.

NOC had to increase the pressure in his nasal cavity to get it right. He over-inflated a few key elements of his anatomy (which doesn’t sound comfortable by any means) to reduce the pitch of his regular, screeched calls.

There’s a long distance between imitations and actual full-fledged language, of course. It’s a stretch between “Polly want a cracker” and “Hey, want me to drop by the local market for some chips?” But the implications are there. I thrive on implications.

Earth is changing around us. Storms are gettin’ bad and I’m ready to head for the hills when the coastline decides a change of scenery would be in order. Our perception of animal intelligence has also changed much over the last few decades. There’s simply a lot more to them than we once thought.

There’s still so much to learn. I hope we can stick around for the coming golden age in animal communication. Hell. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of the creation myth of the future elephant civilization?

*By “high-profile” I of course mean; candidates for sentient intelligence, or; our replacements.

Short Fiction: Squids Make the Best Captains

Squids Make the Best Captains

Complements: Mattias Ormestad

I gunned the SCUE Sub for the only observable point of light in the entire ocean. This was our last chance. People had died getting me this far. I wasn’t about to fuck up now.

Sonar blips told me I was still +10 kilometers away from source/0 central. What I saw was a staging area. Its blazing lights illuminated some kind of dig site. There was heavy machinery. Display was pinging something big. Big? Right. 0 central was a cyst. A tiny, puckering gouge of dirt that was probably the last vestige of humanity on this entire moon. All pressed flat by hundreds of cubic meters of sunless depths. And a kilometer of ice as a cherry on top.

I didn’t use sonar much. I didn’t need to be told to “Use her sparingly.” Hell, turning the broad emitter was just a practice in futility. There was no point in ‘looking over my shoulder’ as I fled. So onward I plunged.

I’d piloted skuas before. SCUE submersibles, an acronym for Single Cabin Undersea Exporters, were the bread and butter of Terra’s ongoing presence in aquatic alien environments. Everything changed seven months ago, when contact was severed. Now they pulled double duty. The little subs served as liaisons between outposts, as well as traditional hauling. No-one built a sturdier craft. Not with dollars on the line. Word spread slow, but consistently at first. All sector teams were accounted for, until the first month passed. Accusations flew. Unaccounted subs were the start of it. You couldn’t blame shit pilots forever.

The skua handled like its bird namesake. The maneuverability is what caught my eye in the first place. Vindicated my trade. It dove and weaved, expertly propelled by a hydrojet system. Just what I was used to.

She was capable of three cruising speeds, but I had her cranked. The hum of brinewater that flooded the ventral intakes sounded odd. But I didn’t worry; I just wasn’t used to hearing it like this –

Skua’s were wet deck machines, capable of cabin flooding per navigator necessity. This one had been enclosed while dry. It last saw use to a human. There wasn’t time to vent or mix ratios. I’d scrambled in through the diving bell, unawares. No time for arguments.

I could dry-live for days. No rush there. I could scoop gasses and breathe for maybe half that. Runs were rarely that long. This one wouldn’t be.

The unwavering light from 0 central stabbed out at me from the oppressive black sheet. Unchanging but near. It had looked the same at 100 kilometers. Only a wayward ping told me of progress. That and the ant’s crawl of uneven benthos my spotlights illuminated below. The sea floor dragged on and on.

It’s amazing my ancestors called places like this home. My tutors bred me well.

The overhead panel began chattering a disjointed rhythm. Again. As before, I decided to disregard it. I already knew it was seismic. I was aware that ground penetrating beams would just relay the same message. It would scream at me that the moon’s interior was coming to life. That, or a sizeable chunk of it. I’d already pushed my sensors well into this maelstrom. Anything at a distance was unreadable. A garbled mess of conflicting data points and readouts. It was a wall of distortion, but it was moving. Passive listening put it at +1,000 kilometers at present. At the start of my flight, it read +1,050. Whatever it was, it was gaining.

The mechanical squeal grew piercing, forcing me to lift a limb in response. I toggled the output to shut the damn thing up. The modulator ticked but remained unaffected. This was serious. I found myself nosing for another control. Maybe a little sonar peep was in order…

I was no coward, but I hesitated longer than normal. In the following and expectant silence, I knew the emitter was swiveling into place. The display sputtered to life and I did a double take. Heavy green splotches denoted something, some things, maneuvering out there in the black. I would have sworn aloud, if it didn’t take so much concentration to guzzle o2 in air.

Rechecks and triple takes didn’t make the problem go away. It only hammered home a simple, upsetting truth. I wasn’t moving fucking fast enough. The objects that approached were different than the Wall. They moved with a fluidity and precision that indicated life. They separated, flitted about, and cavorted like a pod of whirling porpoises. Or like hounds on a scent.

Nothing on this moon moved like that. The only complex life discovered were sea skaters; multi-limbed creatures analogous to insects. They clustered amidst the ice shelves, far above where tidal friction actually made it warmer. Only the odd corpse drifted down this far, like rigor mortis snowflakes. They fed the teeming yet primitive biospheres of the bitter ocean floor.

As I read shot after shot, ping after ping, I felt in my gut that I was dealing with something familiar. Whatever was out there tugged at my natural instincts. Gracefully pleading for me to sympathize. Damn it, was I identifying with auditory discharges? The thought unnerved me. I wasn’t going to escape. These – things, were going to get me. Try to run as I might, I was swimming through soup; like a bad dream.

I had to make a stand. Right now.

Surging forward in the cabin, I grasped the controls with a series of tremulous limbs. I panned the sonic emitter before anything, for I knew I’d be facing my invisible adversary soon.

No – adversaries. Thankfully I’d brought some backup of my own.

I kept a grip on the depth-leveling system, sweeping the skua into a low glide above the lumpy bottom. With a few fancy stunts, I could kick up substrate. Make some nice cover for a getaway. But for now I kept horizontal. I’d stow that move in my bag of tricks.

Time to put this SCUE through her paces. I fell onto the conn, working my multiple points of leverage to their fullest extent. I had to maintain momentum to have any hope of reaching 0 central. Leaving the engine tank wide to the elements would be key. I needed to liberally drown the pump, while at the same time tightening the crafts expulsion nozzle.

With a flick, I tightened the aperture. I prepared for a maneuver that could very well knock me senseless inside this metallic can. In that moment, I cursed the human that had last used this submersible. He might be a tutor, but fuck him all the same.

Though fear flashed up and down my pigments, I acted. Pushing her so hard I nearly choked the throttle, the skua tucked and rolled in one effortless movement. In that same instant, I initiated the reversingbucket, expelling a torrid flurry of water in a forward spout. I steadied myself inside the machine, momentarily perplexed. I’d done it. As she reoriented, I realized that I was drifting in the same direction as before, impetus maintained, only now the skua was propelled rearward across unseen plains; towards my lit destination. Without affecting thrust, I had managed to fare the craft backwards.

The tumble was a classic ploy, familiar to all swimmers. Mundane. Humans could even master it, though no-one took to it with such practiced ease as my kind. My dry friends could never hope to whip about so quickly.

Filling the compartment with water would have been a start.

One of the display panels illuminated emerald green when the blast of sonar filtered back into perception of the skua’s sensor equipment. No need to look. I knew they’d be on me.

I’d cut my speed in half.

Another prompt indicated the echoes were less than a hundred meters away. Damn. Yet I could see nothing. Only relentless black.

It was time to bring out the cavalry. Keep this train rolling. I released the fasteners securing storage space in the back of the sub. Despite the whine of thrust, I heard two distinct clacks. Eyeing my velocity, I was aware that I was still coasting along at quite a clip. I was likely moving too fast, even now. Not a good idea to leave reinforcements in the dust.

Like an afterthought, I realigned a series of plates within the sub’s chassis by flipping an overhead switchboard. The entire vehicle shook. I could almost feel the pools of flowing water course along the outside hull. It juddered again as I sealed valves seemingly at random, jabbing at the center console. It was deliberate. I was creating subliminal eddies along the skua’s exterior. The roiling skeins of liquid swelled up just as the first obie squid flicked into sight off the starboard pane. It wobbled when it caught wash. Dozens more surged up through the vortexes I’d distorted.

Suddenly, the interior was saturated in a riot of color. Obies, short for Orbiters, were semi-intelligent cephalopods bred expressly for hazardous environments. The hardy creatures were outfitted with protective membranes and gill-rebreathers for extended trips. They handled cold better than most squid, myself included.

Obies were much like satellites. They tended to circuit friendly subs in tight defensive formations, their pudgy tentacles and balloon mantles earning them their other nickname, stubbies. They were duty driven, brave, and an awful bore to talk to. And luckily or not, they were positively screaming at me now. The light shows streaming across their pudgy forms were actually a form of pidgin language. At a glance, I could see that most of them were confused. Flares akin to “What’s going on?” and “Where are we?” An honor bound few declared, “What would you wish of me?”

There was no formation in their movements.

An overall sense of bewilderment rippled through the squadron. Then I realized – It was probably the noise. I’d shut off directional microphones before cast-off. A deafening roar had picked up several days ago. Like the sound of endlessly shearing glaciers. The cacophony was probably 10x worse! Per regs, the little guys had switched receivers to wide bands. The idiots would probably go deaf before thinking to downgrade range.

I yelled back at them in their simple tongue, “Turn it the fuck down!” The order filtered quickly through the ranks. They settled, and before long I had them taking up flanking positions with my SCUE. And not a moment too soon.

I found myself avoiding sonar readout yet again. An immature thought emerged. Maybe all of this would just pass me by. I could stay in the depths, protected by distance and anonymity. This lightless world could be my refuge.

I was immediately disturbed; I’d actually taken the idea seriously. Not the most shining of moments –

The obies were probably out there chanting battle hymns, and here I was, so advanced – intelligent, and ready to turn tail. There would always be the side of me that wanted to condemn humanity. My kind hadn’t asked to be here. We never wanted to end up clay in the hands of…

Hands. What a lopsided term. My kind had already been so perverted; we hardly realized.

I read out the sonic returns. It made my hearts chill like ice, but I faced up. We were in trouble. The forms were so close I wondered why we couldn’t see anything. No report from obies. My instruments told me there was enough meat out there to outmass the SCUE three times over. I threw out pings as if they were cannon fire. The tangled mess of signals churned about like a blender. They neared. Then I saw it.

At the furthest extent of the twin-beamed spotlight, the faintest illumination registered. A single figure resolved from the ether, wending like a tumbling torpedo. It was like watching the barest hint of gray on black. Human eyes would have missed it. Then there was a torrent; another and another until a dozen of the shapes romped before my lonely light source. I knew there were more beyond, but no others presented themselves.

They were exactly like torpedoes, which should have put me on alert; yet my sensibilities were still foreign enough from human that I settled on an alternative. They were living. As they neared, I found myself more and more certain. They were squid.

One drifted close enough for detailed analysis. Onboard diagnostic read Mastigoteuthidae, but variables were spiked. The computer’s prediction was all but shit. I’d have to do this myself. What I saw distressed me.

Its skin was translucent, with a hint of an entombed, ashy notochord. A glare of light reflected over its marbled surface. I could see now, all of them, they were completely naked. The revelation struck a blow. It was primitive; a glimpse into time. Nevermind they shouldn’t be able to live out there!

They moved through a complex medium of configurations, but there were no communication buds. No organic or inorganic wavelength patterns, no apparent posturing. These things traveled as a whole, yet appeared individually blind and dumb. I could make out no fins, lobes, or tentacles at either end. No eyes. Just a long seamless fold of jelly which somehow drove them forward.

Jet propulsion?

A pair of them approached, causing my instincts to scream hostility. I didn’t know why. The obies were chattering incessantly now. They’d come to the same conclusion as me. An alien figure dove low beneath my view port. To follow it, I swiveled my sitting harness. Reaching a single limb, I halted my inertia and peered after it. It was licking to and fro near the slowly receding bottom. I could see inside. In the harsh, clinical light given off by the submersible, I could make out the sea bottom behind it!

It was doing something else. A thick, syrupy film was being expelled into the water around it. This wasn’t ink. It spread like molasses. Like a disease. To my shock, the sludge began flowering outward, on its own. Driven by some unknown, external will.

Turning about, I could see all of them. Every one of them bled openly, like some perverse stigmata. In the next instant, they were sweeping down onto us. Almost before I could react. Almost.

The obies had formed a defensive grid. By delegation, they had decided to face this threat head on. I had something else in mind.

I tacked a line of obies for intercept. They dutifully obeyed. A rampant warrior’s call flashed through their ranks before they dove into the fray. I pictured Flight of the Valkyries. No one said obies were subtle.

An arm of the squadron cinched into place, reinforced by another and another, all the way back to the SKUE. Their rotund bodies began to flare in sequence, building up a static charge. With their combined might, they were preparing an arc. Emitters built into their bodies were strong enough to incapacitate a stubborn walrus. Together, they might even deter a starving whale. It was shallow reassurance, but I was biding my time.

For a moment, the posturing seemed to have an effect. The sinister cloud condensed. Comparatively pale in the light, the squids brushed along the periphery. Testing bounds before diving headlong into obscurity. The screen of unbidden sludge was spreading, but it wasn’t advancing.

I was going to make it. I was actually going to fend this off. Whatever it was. Just long enough.

We were probably close enough to 0 central to expect reinforcements. Any moment now. They had to know the SCUE was out here. The phalanx of obies was bristling. You could see it for kilometers. A request passed down the line like dominos. I readily acknowledged. A pulsing flash of red undulated down my tentacles.

I told them to fire.

The obies released a yellow-hot javelin straight into the midst of the unknown. Then all hell broke loose.

A contingent of faceless squid shot into view, pulling porous streamers of slime like distended contrails. It was a living entity, clasping out voraciously. The speed was – primal. One torpedo raked a group of obies that struggled to scoot away. It was like watching insects flattened by sap. Struggling, screaming in their luminous way, the squid knew they were doomed.

Even at the distance, I could see the little fucks. They called for their brethren to fall back. “Protect the pilot,” they said. “Protect the pilot.”

Requests for orders filtered back to me. I ignored them. My eyes were fixed on the cloud. The tiny creatures trapped within, looking for all the world like dumplings in a stew. They spoke to me across the gulf. I knew they spouted encouragements. Even as the clipper-streamlined predators descendent upon them.

I finally saw the tentacles, expelling forth like an inverting stomach. The obies were torn to shreds.

The attack was relentless. Obies regrouped and fought as best they could, but it was hopeless. Inside, I placidly watched the chaos unfold.

Now that they were so close, closer than ever before, I was entranced. There was such purpose to their motions. A mindless hedonism. The violence tugged at a place long forgotten.

One hesitated, seeming to notice the SCUE for the first time. It twirled in slow motion, carried along on a centrifugal axis. I could have touched it. A beady eye rolled into view. A black, cancerous growth. In that instant, I knew it saw me; relayed a message to something hideous and unseen. I didn’t want to know. As desperately as I tried to shut myself to this entity, something persistently nagged.

I was looking into a mirror. One cracked and malformed, but a mirror all the same. Whatever alien intelligence had forged these creatures, twisting their bodies to unknowable form and function, I suddenly realized I was no different. We’d both been taken from something purely cephalopod, and molded into something other. Just as humans had done to my kind, the Cloud had twisted them into a facsimile of itself. A sick parody.

Amidst all this, I held fast to this fact. I’d use my spite and disgust to drive me on. It seemed apropos.

Better than to be lost in fear.

At any moment they would turn on me. Those cruel freaks. I knew I didn’t have much time.

I was at the conn again, using every limb I could spare. I kicked the engine in the teeth, spinning the skua into an abrupt dive. At the throttle, I cut the intake and then inundated it again. A diagonal sweep of drift almost drove me into the sea floor. Almost. A scar chewed down into the sediment, driven by the sheer force of my inertia. It was a brushstroke across a canvas. A ruddy column of debris shot up, blinding me instantly. And hopefully blinding everything else. It hung heavy, the spotlights glared against a living brine of sifting bacteria.

Sorry guys, I thought to the obies. I have to get the hell out of here. Somehow, I knew they’d understand. They’d fight the good fight until the last. It was bred into them.

Making sure to stick the leveler, I flopped out of my harness and reeled along the floor. The skua drifted precipitously.

Time was short. Not having bones could be a bitch, but I couldn’t stop now.

I pulled myself bodily through a hatch, no longer thinking of my imminent death. No longer caring.

Progress was painful and slow, but I reached the hull. I had to crawl through a stanchion that blocked off the bay housing for the diving bell. Once inside I paused for a split second.

By doing this, I was going to damage the SCUE sub irreparably, if not destroy it outright. I was naked. There had been no time to suit up. I’d be at the mercy of the elements. The cold would bite through me in an instant. Probably kill me from exposure anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes. And that was optimistic. I was less than +10 kilometers away from home base. I wasn’t going to make it, but I was going to try.

Clambering into the diving bell, I looped a single limb to the control switch. The silence was tranquil, but outside was anything but. I prepared myself.

A steady hiss fluttered my funnel groove like a deep unending sigh. I had to completely expel any unequal pressure. A gift from my human patrons.

I’d plied these depths before, fully clothed and packing a heat shield. I hadn’t liked it then, either. This would be painful. I hoped the shock wouldn’t kill me.

The gas stopped, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I’d been grinded beneath a boot. Time to act.

I overrode the safety locks with surprising ease. No getting away from it now. The bell lurched downward with a sudden acceleration. There was a clang and a groan, and a rush of water. Then I was pulled savagely into a frigid embrace.

I was ready for the pain. Nascent adrenaline surged through my expanding tendrils, fueling me.

Swelling myself out, I took a deep sift of brine across my gills. It would have to do, but fuck it was cold.

I spun in one smooth and practiced motion and jetted into the night. My fins flapped out, fully extending for the first time in a long time. One last gulp and I propelled myself into the alien sea. I ignored the earsplitting concussion as the skua imploded.

It would mask my departure.

Ahead of me I could make out the staging area of 0 central. A single light, seemingly faint, yet compellingly near in the close, impending dark.

This piece of fiction was inspired by one of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Challenges over at terribleminds.com, 2nd Game of Aspects. Though she ain’t so flashy at over 3,500 words. Gotta work on sticking to spec!

Aspects chosen were Lovecraftian, Bottom of the Ocean, and Some Kind of Alien Virus or Parasite.

Shared Bloodlust: When inter-species pacts go horribly right

Killers of Eden

We’re comfortable with our position on planet earth. As relatively new to the scene as we are, it does appear as if we’ve taken to the role of World Dominators with peculiar ease. We’re not exactly imposing in and of ourselves. Hell, we’re not even from predatory stock! No claws or fangs… though yes, we do tic the “forward facing eyes” part of the checklist, but that’s only thanks to some ancient ancestor that needed to be able to hop to the next tree over. It was only after we came up with a novel little weapon of our own that we started staking our claim.  We’ve adopted the predatory lifestyle with much gusto; but really, we’ve only been at it for a few million years. We’re really just glorified banana eaters. But I digress, the enemies that we haven’t hunted to extinction have been relegated to wildlife reserves or zoos. It was once thought that it was in our nature to elbow everything else out of the way. Our modern sensibilities tend to look down on this view of things, claiming that it’s done nothing but alienate us from the natural order.

We’re at the top of the ladder and, looking around, it’s pretty lonely up here. Or is it? Are there animals that would do the same thing, given the specific sequence of random events that might culminate into what we’d refer to as a chance? I’ll take a step back. Are there animals who find it in their nature to help man further his diabolical ends? Yes, actually. Plenty.

I could go on and on with a list of ‘Budding World Dominators’, but we know how that would end. My posts tend to be long enough as it is! Today, I’ll focus on one of my favorite groups of creatures. The cetaceans. Not only do I like the subject of whales and dolphins, but I like the subject of whales and dolphins acting like completely heartless killing machines. It’s much more fun, and probably closer to reality. So really, we’re not so different.

The advent of modern science has only recently shown us just how intelligent some of our fellow earthlings are. From tool use to culture, the list of candidate creatures continues to grow. One of the more popular entries is, of course, the dolphins. They’re up there in what I call the Famous Four: apes, elephants, corvids, and cetaceans. Communication is key when we’re talking about interaction between species. And not only interaction, but coalitions as I’m proposing. Luckily, it has been recently found that just such exchanges are well within their capacity. Dolphins are expert linguists. Just ask Brin.

Fishermen and bottlenose dolphin coordinate in an attempt to catch mullet.

Is it just me, or is the thought of an animal intelligence reaching out to communicate with us really freakin’ cool? Let’s begin in Brazil. Off the Atlantic coast of a small town called Laguna, the local fisherman have taken advantage of a strange outreach program doled out by a group of bottlenose dolphin. They (meaning the dolphins) drive shoals of mullet into the shallows near the beach, where they come into the range of the humans and their fishing nets. But it gets better; the dolphins actually signal when and where the fishermen should cast their nets. By thrashing their heads or slapping the surface of the water with their powerful tails, the dolphins appear to be communicating the presence of the fish. On the face of it, it seems a selfless act on the part of the bottlenose pod. Why would they act this way around humans? Please.. don’t get your rain sticks and prayer crystals out just yet, brethren. It turns out that the escaping fish are easier for the dolphins to scoop up individually. It’s a fully fledged, everybody wins, exercise in teamwork. Everybody but the mullet. This isn’t a new behavior either. This collaboration has been going strong since 1847.

But in a post touting blood pacts and promising heirs to earth’s destruction, this may seem kind of weak. What’s the big deal about coordinated fishing? Aren’t they just fish after all? It’s not much of a reach for dolphins to want to fish. Well, yeah – but if you don’t see the fact that dolphins having created a culture that integrates another intelligent species, our species, into the equation as extremely cool, I can certainly up the stakes.

An orca leads a group of whalemen to a baleen whale.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been a particular pod of killer whales that would journey to the mouth of the Port of Eden every year during their annual migrations. For over one hundred years, these over-sized predators visited the south east coast of New South Wales, Australia. They came to be know as the Killers of Eden and they were unlike any other pod of orcas known, before or since.

Old Tom featured with his primate pack-mate in 1908.

The killers of the Port of Eden were transients; meaning, they were the variety that have a taste for mammalian blood. For generations, these killers would chase baleen whales up and down the coast of Australia, as they had throughout the rest of the world. While all other killer whales were happy to keep their hunting “in-house”, the Killers of Eden fell upon a very interesting strategy. They would herd their quarry into Twofold Bay before commencing to attack. And this is where things got weird; several individual whales would peel off and cross the bay. Oddly, they would then begin to display at the mouth of the kiah river. Same story as before. The orcas would breach, crashing onto their sides, or pump their flukes through the water. This behavior was called ‘flop-tailing’. All of this was to gain the attention of a certain group of whalers, who would row out to, and be guided by the whales.

That’s right, the killers would inquire for the assistance of human whalers to help bring down their prey. The two deadliest super predators of their respective domains joining forces for mutual, bloodthirsty gain. The humpback whales never stood a chance.

After the deed was done, the killers were allowed first access to the carcass. A kind of accord was made between the whalers and the killers. It was called the Law of the Tongue. It was called this, I’d guess, because orcas feast mainly on the lips and tongue of their kills, leaving most of the valuable portions of the whale untouched. It was only later when the humans would return to the scene, having lashed an anchor to the rotting body, and claim the rest of the remains, such as the valuable bones for scrimshaw and the blubber. It was claimed that this was a kind of subsistence hunting, where the humans rarely took more than what the killers brought in themselves.

As you might imagine, the whalers grew very fond of their fellow hunters. The men went out of their way to free the orcas from fishing nets and in return, it was said that the killers would protect the men from sharks when their boats capsized. Some even called them family, going as far as naming some of the regulars. Names like: Skinner, Hookey, Jimmy, and Montague. This was pretty impressive in itself, as the whalers would usually recognize the whale by it’s particular fin shape and notch pattern of scars. This is the same procedure modern day naturalists go about recording individuals in a pod.

Carcass of Old Tom, found in 1930.

The most famous killer, however, was called Old Tom. He was said to be one of the most outgoing of the killers. Old Tom was usually at the forefront when it came to alerting the whalers to another kill. Because of his proximity to people, many legends sprung up around Old Tom. It was rumored that he was over eighty years old and that (naturally) he was the leader of the pod. He was said to be clever, even pulling the row boats out to the site of an attack by hooking the whaler’s tow lines in his mouth. Old Tom would also grasp harpoon lines after they had been thrown and appeared to play with them. Out of joy or blood lust, we’ll never know. It turns out that such activity might have doomed Old Tom in the end. His corpse was found after it drifted into Snug cove in 1930. When it was studied, it appeared as though his jaw had become infected due to the damage done to his teeth. Some had been worn to the gum line. *It was also discovered post mortem that Old Tom was closer to 35 years old when he died.

Because of overhunting of their prey species, it was theorized that the Killers of Eden eventually disbanded. Breaking up into several pods, they eventually moved on. The last of the original killers to be seen was none other than Old Tom.

The consequence of chewing on tow lines. Viewing the skull, it’s easy to make out the damage done to Old Tom. Also note the teeth on the left side of his lower jaw.

It’s interesting to see just how successful such ventures can be. A stable arrangement was made for more than a hundred years at the Port of Eden. It’s fun to speculate just what kind of legends might have sprung up on the other side of the waterline. Did the killer whales have their own equivalent to the Law of the Tongue, and did we somehow break the pact, causing their eventual dispersal? We have learned just how intelligent these creatures are in recent years, but perhaps the whalers of Eden knew so all along.

What sorts of arrangements would we find ourselves fostering when we finally break the language barrier with other intelligences? Would we stand back in horror when we realized how violent they really are? Would we stand by and allow them the right to pursue their own traditional or social ends? Would we even concede that they’re intelligent at all?