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Experiments In Intelligence

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Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving presses herself closer to the hard-bottom, changing her chromatophores to match the pattern of sand and weeds around her. There is a human swimming nearby.

Humans are unpredictable. Sometimes they are harmless, and sometimes they are vicious predators. Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving is young, but she is not reckless, nor is she a coward, either. She is an observer of humans. She experiments with them because she wants to solve the ancient, controversial question of whether the humans are intelligent. Most octopuses think they aren’t, but they do use tools, and Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving has seen them do some things that indicate a sparkle of sentience. They wouldn’t even equal a mere squid or a giant whale, of course, but they do seem smarter than most fish.

The human swims closer, covered in the solid shiny objects that they bring with them into the currents from the above-empty. It does not have a hunting feel to its movements. Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving undulates up from the hard-bottom and fastens her arms around one of the objects. She brushes against the human as she grabs, feels and tastes its strange skin. The human pulls back and fights her but her greater strength prevails and she takes the object away from it.

She has seen these objects before, but their purpose is a mystery. Personally, she thinks that the fact that some human objects seem to be solely decorative is a sign of intelligence in them, though others disagree with her. The object is hard and smooth on its surface, tasting of remnants of human and unlike anything in the great currents. It does not taste like flesh, nor plant, nor like a rock, though it feels most like a rock or a shell.

She squirts and darts away from the human. It follows her, reaching out its strange arms. Does it want its object back? She moves slowly, teasingly, allowing the human to stay near her yet never get too close.

Twirling the object in her arms and brushing it past her mouth, Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving tries to imagine what it can do. If she were a human, how would she think? How would she use this? The humans carry it, move it around, touch it, but it never has an effect on anything. It is not for hunting.

One of the other objects the human carries is for hunting. It is a long spike that can be used to kill, but this human dangles it loosely and not menacingly.

Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving feels segments on the object she’s holding, feels part of it slide, and spins that part against the rest. She pries into the edges of the object, but it doesn’t open like a shell might. Nothing she does to it seems to really change it or give an indication of its use.

In her distraction, the human gets closer to her. It jabs out its spike, but ineffectually, not touching her. She has another idea and wraps herself tightly around the spike, which tastes more like a rock, though still strange. Now clinging to its length she cannot be hurt by its unbending tip. She realizes that she’s dropped the first object, and the human grabs it again from the water.

The human starts swimming and shaking its spike, but it doesn’t come closer to her, so she holds on easily. They move through the water, brushing through some weeds. Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving starts to relax. This human is no danger to her right now.

She starts to imagine herself as a human again, holding to this spike the way the humans hold to the huge objects that move them along the edge between the water and the above-empty. She knows that their normal place is beyond, where the hard-bottom meets the above-empty, and they only sometimes venture to the ocean. It must be an awful life, bereft of the great currents.

For all that she does believe the humans have some intelligence, Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving could never believe that they have any sparkle of soul. Only her own kind has that, which allows them to swim forever in the currents after death, because the currents are inside them.

But this is a great game, seeing what the human will do, pretending to be one for a moment, puzzling out its objects. She stares at it and watches it as it swims, carrying her harmlessly. Ugly but endlessly fascinating. Why does it just keep moving her? Why does it not come closer to her along the spike and grapple with her? Or else release the spike and leave? What could it be gaining from its action?

The human has an object over its eyes that makes it hard to see them, but she can tell that it is watching her back. What does it see? She flickers at it, gestures a greeting, but the human does not respond. They never do. They are incapable of understanding language, that much she has long been certain of. They never notice when they are being spoken to, and how could they possibly respond? They just don’t have the body parts to make words, not enough arms, no chromatophores.

After a while she lets go of the spike and jets a body-length away, to test what the human will do next. As she expected, it doesn’t attack her. She hovers in the water and they stare at each other for a moment longer before it slowly turns and swims away.

Her experiment may have yielded no conclusive results, but it did make Three Quick Flickers And All Arms Waving more convinced than ever that she’s right. Humans have some minor intelligence. She can’t quantify it, it’s just the feeling she got, when they were looking at each other, that inside that alien body was a humble little mind capable of recognizing hers as it looked back.