THE ABYSSALS NARRATE THEIR ARRIVAL AND SETTLEMENT OF EARTH AND THE AVERSION OF TERRAN-ABYSSAL WAR [which, as a note from me, your Abyssal narrator, we would have totally won]
Fiction. Several TWs, all of which refer to historical events: drugs & alcohol, the Holocaust, and historical suicides
THE ABYSSALS NARRATE THEIR ARRIVAL AND SETTLEMENT OF EARTH AND THE AVERSION OF TERRAN-ABYSSAL WAR
We are, in many ways, a lucky species. We dwell in water, and while we must have a planet warmed by a sun, our range of habitable planets is larger than yours. Nevertheless, here we are: the abyssals, and we are, as you would say, knocking at your door and asking for asylum. These words confuse me, their multiple meanings trouble me, and yet it was a number that nearly destroyed us. We have so much in common, and yet our species nearly committed the act we feared from you — genocide — because of a number. A number that was more than a number. You all know what it is now. We all know it too. We trembled in fear at it, when all but a few of you laughed when it was spoken.
Let me begin with why we should never have come to the brink of war. We have a language. We have names for our species and for us as individuals. (You may call me Ishmael, for I have read your literature and I have a sense of “humor.”) Although we are more sensitive to pheromones, due to our inhabitation fo water, and thus also more sensitive to emotional states of other abyssals, we are fundamentally verbal and visual-symbolic in communication. Our names for ourselves, like yours, vary based on our original geographic location on our homeworld. As we dwelled in abysses deep below the waters, a terrain that you cannot enter without the most advanced of your technology, you will never be able to pronounce the name we call ourselves, or speak our language, except through synthesized tones. Although we came to understand that it carries a tone that you call “spooky,” we chose to accept the first term that we and humans could reach consensus on: abyssal. It was a simple decision, the simplest of the entire first contact process.
We always came in peace, and we tried to come quietly. We had hoped to find a world like yours, a world made mostly of water, with deep geothermal reservoirs where we could farm what we term in your languages space shrimp, the only food we are capable of eating safely. However, we came with great urgency. There were only 500,000 of us alive when we left our home-seas; there are no survivors. We call them only the annihilators. This is perhaps hypocritical — we fear above all else what you call “genocide,” yet we have termed another… entity… with a name which signifies that they must be annihilated because all they know is annihilation. Yet this is all we know of them: they came to our world, made no effort to communicate, entered our seas and exterminated most of us. Their technology far surpassed ours (and yours by an even greater degree, although we hope this will soon change as we share our knowledge with you), but a moment of luck and… bravery… allowed a legendary abyssal, who we call the Hero since his name is incapable of translation, to seize control of an annihilator vessel. Unlike our space technology at the time, the annihilator vessel was armed, massive, and capable of manipulating gravity. And it is what you now see before you in orbit around your planet. Its appearance is fearsome to us, and by all accounts to you as well. We are sorry that we had to come in it.
We did not know the annihilators’ purpose, and we still do not. We do know that they came from somewhere within what physicists call a “light cone” that is the same as ours. They did not break the rules that your species names after the individual Albert Einstein — they came rapidly, but below *e*. We escaped, similarly, at extreme speeds, carrying what few we could shuttle onto our ark into the deep void of space. It is only from our capture of this annihilator ship — our ark — that we came to know them as more than simply spaceships boiling our seas from orbit. They, like us, are aquatic. While our physical form resembles that of what you would call a “giant squid,” their form was closer to what you refer to as a “sea spider.” At the very least, those were the crew onboard the ship that is now the ark. They are all dead; we poisoned them with a substance toxic to them, and somewhat less toxic to us. Their bodies have long since been allowed to decay. We make no apologies for that. The only apology we make with respect to the annihilators is that we have surely brought them to Earth.
We are here now, orbiting Earth. You can see us, and I and a few dozen others can speak your language in a way that might be described as “fluent.” We did not, of course, begin that way. We decelerated as we began to enter the gravitational pull of your star. The ark was on autopilot; it was our species’ salvation that we had developed the technology to cryogenically freeze ourselves and our embryos. Before the coming of the annihilators, we had practiced astronomy in the pursuit of pure knowledge and curiosity, a pursuit we share with your species. We, like you, wondered if other beings existed beyond our star system, and if they had minds like ours. And like you, we discovered that mathematically, it was highly probable both that aliens existed, and that we would never know of them because of that cursed principle you call *e*, the speed of light in an unobstructed vacuum. Earth was one of seven worlds where our astronomers promised us we would find an oceanic biosphere that could support our 500,000 lost beings. So we ran to you, and here we are — out of fuel. What we seek to do now is to “colonize” your planet, but it need not be like the colonizations of our past or yours, where our species committed great horrors to steal the lives and resources of those with less technology. You belong to the land, and we, to the sea. We seek leave only to inhabit your growing seas and to build our civilization there again — and in exchange, we promise to do whatever we can to undo the harm that we have, in trying to save ourselves, brought to you: the attention of the annihilators. Our only hope is to stand together, and that is why we must sum up what has happened with this infernal number of yours, and how it nearly doomed us both.
420. It was one of many, many numerical patterns we discovered as we approached your planet. We tried initially to be stealthy, coming out of our near-light speed travel at a great distance, nearly as far as Alpha Centauri. We had grown sixty generations on our ship; the cryogenic process can preserve the mind only so long, so we spent sixty generations raising our children to remember our home, and to fear the terror that lay behind. We revered the Hero who took the Ark from the annihilators, even though he was long dead. He died peacefully, naturally, but those around him felt his death — that is how it is for us. Pheromonal surges emit from one who is dying; it is one of the few situations where we experience what is to us non-verbal, non-symbolic communication, and what you would call telepathy. The consequence of this is that memories — only select ones, not whole identities — are passed down across the generations. We do not truly know how accurate the memory some of us possess is, after fifty-nine cycles of death and transmission, of the taking of the Ark or the fall of our homeworld. We, like you, encode memory imperfectly and even more so when it moves from individual to individual.
It is the reverence for the Hero that set us up for conflict. Yet it was his innate desire, as we remember him, not to fight, not to exterminate, not to be like the annihilators, that led us to take a course of caution. We were in our fifty-eighth generation when we began to decelerate on approach to your star, and we traveled at tiny fractions of this ship’s speed to determine if your planet was habited and, if so, whether its inhabitants were sentient. By the fifty-ninth generation, that of my parents, who died nearly one of your centuries ago, we had picked up radio signals from your world. We had arrived at the dawning of another spacefaring species — we came at the moment of your ascension.
The signals were weak at first and we had little context to understand them. It was during my fourth generation, as we used a gravitational slingshot around the planet Jupiter to slightly accelerate toward Earth, that we began to receive visual broadcasts. There had been another few broadcasts before that; we have now seen it, only because of the great 420 misunderstanding. The man who to this day we refer to by that cursed number sent it. We were not expecting both audio and visual transmissions from your world, so we received only the sound, meaningless to us then. We did not see the crowds, or the human who spoke the words “I hereby declare the Olympic Games in Berlin to have begun.” The signal was distorted and we took little note of it. With only audio to work with, and audio which is highly distorted in our acquatic environment, we had little to work with.
As you began to broadcast television, we understood more. Your “news” was close to useless, although we could infer a few words from it — “war” and “conflict” being perhaps the easiest. This concerned us, but we do not come to judge — in our home seas we fought many wars for many reasons that to you would seem as evil and irrational as your wars came to seem to us. As fictional stories began to be broadcast with pictures, we learned terms like “spaceship” and “laser,” and we learned a fair picture of your planet’s military capabilities — specifically, that you had in the course of a great war constructed nuclear weapons for the purpose of bombing. We do not judge you for this, either — we have also employed nuclear weapons, but we discovered nuclear power early in our civilization and have always known the deadly byproducts of a nuclear reaction, so we never considered detonating nuclear warheads in our seas. It was only in our last ditch defense of our world that we launched nuclear missiles, and they failed to penetrate the energy shielding of the enemy craft.
It was in my ninetieth decade that we landed our ship in a crater on the far side of your planet’s large moon. From there, we could monitor silently, without provoking attention. By then, we had observed your broadcasts and learned your system of dates, although there was still substantial academic controversy about the base of your number system, or if you even had a consistent base. It was the year 2010. We had determined from your outbound broadcasts a new term which was appearing with rapid prevalence: Internet. Based on highly speculative linguistics, some of our scientists proposed the true meaning of the word: a worldwide system of data. If we could access that, we could answer the question that we all felt the utmost urgency to answer: can we coexist? May we, children of a dead world, live in your seas, or must your species perish in our invasion to buy us a few centuries before the annihilators come to finish what they have begun?
In your year 2011, we detected that a particular satellite launched from Earth was using unusual beams to transmit to your planet. There were many beams, they were powerful, and they received energy bursts back from Earth, some of which we could decode and determined were packets of data encoded in binary format. This, we realized, was our “Rosetta Stone”: our connection to the Internet.
We sent a small drone, small enough that it could hide inside one of the beams from what we learned was called ViaSat-1. Technically it could have been spotted at any time, but we managed to passively intercept and decode Internet traffic for eight years. In February of 2019, the probe was found and recovered by your nation Russia. We lost our connection, but we had learned to understand your binary data packets, and thus decided that since we didn’t know how far behind us the annihilators were, the time to make contact was now.
A feverish debate began in our scientific community and governing body: could we risk revealing the Ark to humans? We were split along a number of lines on this particular notion. What you might call the “militarists” had two positions, neither clearly a majority: some believed that showing the ship whose guns had alone devastated much of our homeworld would intimidate your species beyond any risk of attack. Other members of the military pointed out the exceptional number of nuclear weapons and our lack of knowledge of their exact range against space-based targets. Our energy shield could survive a few nuclear missiles, but not the thousands that you have. Among the scientific and civilian populace, some feared creating an atmosphere of hostility with your species because of the shape of our ship; from the data we had gathered, its arachnid, claw-like appearance would cause an even greater sense of fright for you than for us. Nevertheless, in 2021 the decision was made to move the Ark into Earth orbit. We used what we knew to be a reliable method: we transmitted on the emergency radio frequencies of every military we had identified, a word in the language that by our best guess from the Internet data was your word for “peace.” Unfortunately, we were correct in only thirty of forty five transmissions; some nations received a more ominous term, either “silence” or “surrender.” This was a scenario we’d anticipated and we scrambled a wing of fighters to protect the Ark, while your militaries trained their missiles on on. Despite this, however, nine countries — all of whom had received the word “peace” — invited us to land shuttlecraft. They sent back a message in their languages that was expected, and easy to decode: “come communicate. No weapons.” We followed the stipulation.
Our shuttlecraft landed in the United States of America, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Russia, China, Vietnam, Australia, and England. After initial communications efforts were improved, we established landing sites in Sudan, Cuba, Japan, Germany, Holland, Finland, and Iraq. Neighboring countries sent scientific teams and our communications with each country varied.
In order to understand the chaos caused by the number 420, you must understand that mathematics is a universal language. The scientists who first met us outside our shuttles (we of course could not leave the water to “shake hands” or otherwise physically greet them) sent radio transmissions in which they inquired of our knowledge of mathematics, and soon a common understanding of algebra, calculus, and physics was confirmed. However, the question we needed answered was political.
This is where Ahab comes in. Ahab is the name I’ve chosen for an abyssal who was once my friend. They and I have children together with the third-parent Alice, and their actions have split our family. (I understand that these names carry implied “genders” to your people; it is important to understand that while your species has a concept known as “gender” which maps very imperfectly to the ability to carry children and the ability to insert DNA without carrying children, we can exchange DNA with any individual of our species, and while we have categories and social roles that could perhaps map to your “gender,” they are not related to reproduction. Any number of abyssals, within reason — I’ve never heard of more than eight — can choose to DNA flood with one another. This process creates an emotional bond, but it is not always culturally expected for an emotional bond to preexist. Most abyssals have between two and five parents; some are genetic clones with only one. This is the case for me; I am identical in all genetic ways to my parent, who for your convenience you may call Adam.) In any case, Ahab and I were not merely partners in spawning, but in research as well, and the two of us were assigned to what you would call a “task force” aboard the Ark which started as soon as we gained the ability, around your year 2013, to understand the data packets we had collected from ViaSat-1. Our task force was the “Marginal Bad Human” Task Force. In short, our job was to study humans who did not hold positions of powerful hegemony or control over nations, but who displayed attitudes that would indicate a threat to peaceful interspecies conflict. Groups we study you call insurgents, terrorists, bigots, among other things.
Data from my team was, to say the least, rarely given substantial attention. Your political situation was unstable before we made the Ark visible; by the time we did, rumors that an alien vessel (our Internet satellite) had been captured had leaked to your public. The United States had replaced what some called its leader (almost all of your nations claim to be “democratic,” but we still do not understand this word as nations that use it follow a number of patterns of hegemony; in any case, in the United States as far as I can tell the President has the power of war and the responsibility to do what he is commanded by the legislature, but also a strange ability to overrule the legislature unless many of them decide he cannot). This replacement did not happen in the standard cyclical way that the United States chose its leaders; in 2019, just after our satellite was removed from orbit, the human known as Donald Trump was removed by a vote of the legislative bodies of his country, and replaced by his associate, whose name was Mike Pence. I do not understand the full reasons for this decision, although I hypothesize the reasons may have included Donald Trump’s slightly higher rate of aggressive speech, or perhaps more importantly, the fact that his speech rarely formed a coherent lexicon — that is to say, he broke the rules of the English language spoken in most of America, and when I was able to fully understand sentences, I could often find others from him which said the opposite. I suspect that the Americans replaced their leader because they had almost as much trouble understanding him as us. (He is a “him,” yes?” This “sex pronoun” thing is difficult for me, but I know you have made an effort when writing our symbolic language to understand how declension varies based on age, so I try to reciprocate.)
In any case, Earth was afraid of us, and we were afraid of them. The focus was on the politics between nation states, and even with authorized access to your Internet, it was not possible for us to understand the many reasons for conflict that exist between your governments. It is not that we consider you unreasonable; it is simply that our lexicon is still limited. I am among the most experienced and I still do not know many words and I know fewer in all their contexts — hence the crux of the 420 incident. (It’s also worth noting that for purely practical reasons, we have been ruled by what you might call an elite council of the eldest among us during our many-generation voyage, and have with only three exceptions avoided war breaking out aboard the Ark. Thus, the vastness of your political… landscape… intimidated us.)
In particular, the mission of the main linguistics team was to make sure that the most powerful nations (by which I primarily mean the ones with the most explosives capable of reaching the Ark’s orbit) did not have immediate hostile intent toward us. My team’s job was much more specialized, and also much more difficult. Ultimately, even though Ahab may be what you call the “villain” of this story, I am probably the one to blame for the ultimate conflict. All the linguistics teams used statistical analysis, of text in particular (since building a computer model to translate your speech into text was a work in progress and quite challenging), to find recurring words and estimate their meaning. We used a statistical regression method to do this, among other things, and used various corrections to filter out things that seemed less interesting. A common term that we discovered on your primary diplomatic channel, the website known as Twitter, as well as in images of signs held up, personal emails, and many other contexts, was a number: 420. This was filtered by the main team of diplomats and linguists; our automated systems categorized it as a word carrying the valence of rudeness and glamour at the same time, perhaps associated with a color whose name we did not share with a particular light spectrum we can perceive, and with the forbidden. Interesting, but not a high priority. The regression methods that these teams used monitored a massive volume of data and filtered out a connotation that my team found, and that’s how I, as you say, fucked everything up by jumping to conclusions. (I can’t actually jump; I’m a space squid.)
So I, Ishmael, the overstressed and underrespected leader of the Bad Human Study Team or whatever we call it in your language, was tasked with monitoring websites and organizations on Earth that could best be described as “hateful.” This was of concern for us because the annihilators — at least, the ones who came to our home-seas — were hateful, and we do not wish to put ourselves at the mercy of similar people. We had, of course, determined that all species contain hateful people, because we have them; as far as we could tell, humans were more like us than like the annihilators, in that we observed a majority of humans who would not be described as primarily motivated by hatred. Furthermore, we noticed that particular kinds of hatred, particularly those that used the language of “genes” — a great concern for us, since our genes are vastly divergent from yours — had been politically marginal. However, utilizing your central information repository, Wikipedia, we determined that there had been great hatred in your history, as there was in ours. It had taken many forms, and we identified numerous groups of concern. As I’m sure you know by now, the one that nearly started a war was called the Nazis.
I don’t take responsibility for the first Nazi problem. First off, Nazis are terrible and I know you all agree with me on that. Second, Nazis in the United States, Russia, and Finland attacked our shuttles. Our first Ambassador to the United States was killed in this attack. Although the weapons they used were primitive, we had held to our promise not to bring weapons to our diplomatic meeting. Along with our ambassador, several American soldiers died in the Nazi attack. Russian and Finnish soldiers protected our landing craft at the cost of many of their own lives. The leaders of these nation-states informed us that these people were deviants and criminals, and confirmed that they acted against us and the humans who protected our agents because we were genetically unlike them. We were assured, however, that in most nations (notably excepting the United States), these groups were illegal, and that even in the United States, they were not permitted to act upon their stated desire of genetic purging, and certainly not permitted to fire upon extraterrestrial ambassadors (although the subject had never come up before; we did, of course, ask to make sure that your species had not yet met other beings from different stars.)
My team began to work overtime after the 2023 Nazi attacks. We focused in on Nazi activity on the diplomatic site Twitter as well as the civilian social gathering sites 4chan, 8chan, and Stormfront. It was on these sites that we ran a regression analysis of recurring terms in text and found a great significance to 420 — exclusively when we filtered our datasets to hateful groups. Initially, we simply added 420, the number, to a list of “numbers used nonmathematically.” This was something we did not understand precisely, but figured out through two methods during earlier interactions with scientists; first, with Mexican scientists who numbered the three emissaries aboard our landing craft “Uno,” “Dos,” and “Tres,” names by which those abyssals still relate to humans. When we asked for the basis of these names we were told that they were numbers designed to put organisms in sequence. We already had noted that the names were Spanish numbers, in sequence, but initially we did not understand the rationale for using numbers for things which are not quantities. The breakthrough came with the English team, who, in the process of failing to explain the concepts of gender and sex, demonstrated the form of art that your species uses to depict the exchanging of DNA, or the simulation thereof in order to obtain similar psychological effects. When we were shown a video on the website YouPorn which was tagged “69,” and asked to attempt to determine the reason for the tag, careful observation of the anatomy and actions of the humans depicted provided an answer within a day of research. However, because “69” signified a non-reproductive yet reproductive-connoted action which, when observed by a third party, resembles the numbers used by many (but not all) nations that make up the actual *number* 69, we still did not fully understand. Uno, Dos, and Tres had no particular resemblance to the numbers 1, 2, or 3, after all, nor to the phonetic spelling of them in Spanish or any other language we were aware of.
We finally understood when we queried Wikipedia about the deep history of your species, that which is before reliable history could be recounted. We learned that most among you for many generations believed that you were the vassals of a being of universal power that saw and observed all. Having seen many wonders, this concept, although our species had never taken to it as strongly as yours, fascinated me. But most importantly, it connected with how you understood taboo, right and wrong, correct and incorrect, “good” and “evil.” It could be said that my team’s job was to study the evil among your people that we hoped was kept in check by the good. In studying the word “evil,” I came across a phonetically and symbolically similar English word, Devil, and upon reading about the Devil, Lucifer, Beelzebub, I understood — because the Wikipedia entry also referred to a number which signified the presence of this individual of ultimate evil. 616. Sometimes miswritten as 666. Roughly as common in the non-hateful Internet as 420.
Here is where my great error occured: I knew that because of errors in translating your own ancient languages, 616 had been mistranslated as 666. This should have invited me to consider vast divergences in numbers-as-symbols. But while crossreferencing data points under great stress, I observed a trend based on historical Internet data we had obtained from human scientists: positive references to the word “420” remained stable within Nazi communities, but were increasing rapidly outside these communities. My initial guess, which was concerning but would not have led to panic if it were true, was that “420” was a kind of weapon, perhaps a “model” of gun (I had discovered similarly meaningless combinations of mathematical figures and other symbols, like M-16, F-16, AK-47, to refer to human weaponry) and that its increase in favorable reference was a result of humans who (justifiably) feared what the abyssals might do discussing methods of arming themselves. The Nazis were already armed, so it made sense that they wouldn’t talk about weapons more or less before or after we arrived.
Here was the problem: 420 started trending outside the Nazi world *before* the Ark became visible, before the satellite was even intercepted. I briefly ceased my study of Nazi use of the term and gathered a list of common phrases in which it appeared in the general dataset of text-based communication. Phrases I isolated included “420 blaze it” (which I interpreted in my then less-sophisticated model of English as “420, incinerate the object”), “legalize 420” (permit 420 to occur), and references to the time 4:20, with a significance not dissimilar to what our culture team had discovered about religions and various times that held sacred significance.
I began to feel a sick panic in my stomach. We had of course made inquiries about the great war humans had in the 1930s and 1940s, and had heard of Adolf Hitler. We had even apologetically heard that the first audiovisual transmission we could technically have received was part of his… mind-control? I think you call it propaganda. Simply from our Wikipedia-based research, we knew Nazis revered the man, despite his death. We knew human life, memory, and selfhood to end according to all biological evidence (including the testimony of human scientists) with the failure of cells in the brain, just as with us, but unlike us, there was no potential for telepathic transfer even of memories. Nevertheless, it was a widespread belief among humans that not merely memories but entire persons and their memory-structures survived death and existed in some other realm. While this seemed improbable, and we observed nothing (such as distortions in the magnetosphere of Earth when a human perished) that would support such an idea, a terrible notion was forming in my head. And within minutes of reading archived data from 4chan and Stormfront, I confirmed it: many Nazis believed that the spirit of Adolf Hitler lived, and attached special reverence to his date of birth: April 20, 1889. 4/20/89.
The next step was to check the context in which 420, 4:20, and 4/20 occurred in non-hateful discourse. When the hateful discourse was removed from the sample, the analysis indicated a connection between pleasure, secrecy and taboo, punishment, and this concept that we understood only in the most abstract sense, “race.” Further online inquiries, inquiries that should have slowed the panicked rush of my mind, indicated that “420” had a second symbolic meaning, which might be the one referenced in most of the non-Nazi uses of it: it was a term used to refer to a taboo plant, cannabis or marijuana (a concatenation of two “female” coded human names, signifying pleasure). However, I was struck with another cold feeling of terror when I attempted to determine why this plant carried taboo. I discovered that its stigma had begun historically in the United States in the 1950s and that it involved prejudice against particular ethnic groups. As a great deal of human racial prejudice is based on either skin tone, which we abyssals find difficult to perceive, or what are to us incredibly subtle features of the body, I could not parse *which* racial group was hated or how this had contributed to the taboo against what I had already begun to label in my mind with the name that all abyssals would soon call it: genocide plant.
What happened next in my mind was a flight of fancy. I should have held back, but I had seen the footage of humans and abyssals perishing in Nazi gunfire. I was scared. Here is what I imagined, and what I made most of the inhabitants of the Ark believe:
- Nazis believe in the everlasting spirit, that the dead continue to exist in some form [and I was correct about this in the vast majority of instances]
- Nazis revere the dead human Adolf Hitler in ways similar to how my species reveres the Hero, despite the apparent lack of empirical evidence that parts of Hitler survived as part of the Hero did [again, I was correct]
- in 1999, the humans Eric Klebold and Dylan Harris conducted a human sacrifice that ended their own lives as well on 4/20/1999
This was where my chain of thought got out of control. I found that humans had a practice never developed among abyssals, that of attempting to bring about otherwise impossible things through the act of destroying something — often a life — as a way to send it to the place where spirits and gods dwell. Since Hitler himself died by his own hand, and so did Harris and Klebold, I formed two ideas which were false: that they had acted as part of a human sacrifice ritual to restore their deceased leader to life, and that the Nazi movement was gaining prevalance. The latter *was* true, but not to the extreme degree that I feared.
I spoke to the general research team and warned them that we needed to alert the military. The humans needed to explain this, and fast. Because there was only one meaning that I then had in my mind for “420,” and that was the essence of Adolf Hitler himself: genetic extermination. Thus, the phrases “420 blaze it” and “legalize 420” translated, to all of us, as “ignite the flames of genetic extermination” and “legalize genetic extermination.” (I rarely found the phrase “420 is good for you” or similar semantic meanings, but I did find many such statements about “cannabis” or “marijuana,” and it appeared the growth of popularity related to the plant had to do with a medical concern. Thus, the term “medical genetic extermination” or “eugenics” became our primary concern.
We read the history. The Nazis used this idea of race, which they grounded in an idea of genetics (even though they did not know of the existence of DNA when Hitler was alive) as well as categories of disability — a concept we understood — and behavioral characteristics related predominately to this strange gender/sex thing (which they seemed to consider intrinsically entwined with genetics) as pretense to kill millions. If Nazis were to seize power on Earth again, they would certainly exterminate the tiny number of abyssal who existed — unless we acted quickly. And the Nazis were mixed with the human population — since Hitler’s death, their ideology had spread, a memetic plague, across the planet, even to groups which the original Nazis would have considered worthy of extermination on genetic basis. We suspected that, being space squids, we had no chance of being redefined within this notion of race in a way that would not lead to our extermination.
We moved the Ark into a battle position, exactly outside what we estimated was the maximum range of the longest-distance intercontinental ballistic missile. We fired a warning shot at a derelict satellite launched by China, which several nations were observing as possibly suspicious. Thus, the humans witnessed the destructive power of the Ark. Then, we used the original emergency meeting channel and demanded a meeting. This time, we would bring weapons. It was a demand, not a request.
The meeting site agreed upon was in the Pacific Ocean, near the equator. There, Russian, American, Canadian, and Australian military ships and aircraft awaited us, all armed. We set down and deployed our suits in combat suits capable of both water, air, and ground combat, filled with our natural aquatic environment, and developed specifically to fight a war on Earth. Your weaponry was far less advanced than ours, but without the Ark’s main guns, we were still outnumbered and outgunned. Luckily, the Ark was our trump card.
We met with several of the scientists we had previously worked with. They were confused at our sudden shift in priorities. I explained to them, in language much more broken than what I now have:
“We are concerned about Nazis.”
Ana Sappainen, one of the lead scientists on the Finnish team and the person solely responsible for our ability to understand the Finnish language, responded in English: “the Nazis are not humanity. All our nations stand against them.”
“Our data indicates otherwise,” I said. “Your historians told us that you were a species trying to overcome your mistakes, that genetic extermination was no longer a goal for any force among you. Yet the symbol of the man who among your kind *means* genetic extermination now resonates across your Internet.”
“Are you talking about the swastika?” South African Bezile Ngkobo asked. “It is… unfortunately common among the criminal elements of our society. But it is deviant, do you understand? Our governments fight it where we can.”
I projected a hologram. “This is the swastika, yes?” I asked. The humans nodded, signifying confirmation. Then, I displayed the symbol about which I was concerned.
There was a long silence, and then a reaction I had observed previously only in recordings by humans: laughter. Abyssals do not laugh; we emit a pheromone for which we have not determined a suitable term in your language. Had I had the set of information that the scientists with whom I was communicating had, I would have emitted that pheromone in great intensity. But from my standpoint, I was baffled.
“This is the birth date of your greatest evil!” I said.
The laughter slowed long enough for a young German scientist, Johanna Steinberg, to offer her opinion. “It’s true that Hitler was born on April 20, and the Nazis sometimes refer to that. But… it’s not…” she laughed again. Sergei Lamov of Russia finished. “It is a slang, primarily American, for a drug.” I had encountered this term, drug, but had never been on the biology team or investigated human medicine. I had heard references to the idea of intoxication, which our species also experiences, but had not linked this to “drug” — for us, we would be more likely to term a chemical which alters the mind as a kind of food. Furthermore, the one human intoxicant which did come to mind, ethanol, was usually referred to as a “drink,” which to my mind made it a type of food. Furthermore, ethanol was without stigma or secrecy and its consumption was associated with public places — the only thing it seemed to share with the term “420” was an association with pleasure.
“A medicine?” I asked. “Is it a killing medicine?”
“It’s actually quite safe,” one of the American scientists whose name I have sadly forgotten chimed in. “It was made illegal for racial reasons in the United States.” There was that race again — but it confirmed what I had read on Wikipedia. I knew more or less what the equivalent of “race” was for abyssals; we had, before the coming of the annihilators, fought many wars and committed many genocides based on attitudes regarding particular pheremonal emissions that were linked to a person’s genetic heritage. But that didn’t change the fact that I could not perceive race in humans, unless it happened to also correlate with language.
My mind went to an even darker place. The United States prohibited the genocide plant in the 1950s years, following World War II. What if… somehow… this plant was connected with the extermination of the perceived genetic groups targeted by the Nazis, and its return was somehow connected? Could 420 perhaps be the medicine that would be used in a final ritual to restore Adolf Hitler to life?
I waited, then spoke. “I do not understand race, but I understand that Hitler killed millions. I understand that race was somehow connected to this.”
“A vast number of the victims of the Holocaust were Jews, yes,” Steinberg replied. “Jews are an ethnic group the Nazis believed to be inferior. I am one. The Nazis want me dead. And in Germany, we have made it illegal to be a Nazi.”
I replied. “I understand your authorities say they oppose Nazis. But if this is true, why is this plant that is named for Adolf Hitler receiving such popularity?”
The American spoke. “It’s not associated with Hitler. It’s a coincidence.” He told me a long story, which to this day I find difficult to understand, but which I now believe to be true: something involving young humans following the planet’s legal prohibition believing that a street or other location designated by the number 420 hid a cache of the substance.
“The Nazis prohibited marijuana, anyway,” Steinberg said. “This is… an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Another long silence ensued. “I hope… I can believe you.”
“We can provide you with samples of the substance for analysis, if you wish,” Sappainen said. She looked around to her colleagues. “We can do that, right?”
Steinberg giggled. “Can we hook the alien invaders up with some pot to stop interplanetary war, guys?”
The American did that shrug thing. “I guess it’s goable. Give us a couple of hours to fly some in from San Francisco.”
The hours passed in uncomfortable silence, and then I returned with the strange plant to the Ark. We placed it in an aquarium that was sealed from our environment, waited, and took samples of the water. There were no chemical reactions or compounds from immersing the plant in water that would affect our biology; based on the voluntary human tissue samples we had been provided, there was no evidence that humans could alter their state of mind by swimming in or drinking this water. Again, I foolishly assumed the worst: the humans were lying. This was no intoxicant. It was a symbol of extermination — it served no other use.
“You have to smoke it,” a colleague of mine suddenly blurted from their terminal. (Let’s call them Herbert.) “That’s what ‘blaze it 420’ means. It means they light it on fire. For us to feel the effects, we would have to remove the chemicals in the plant. But everything I’m seeing says it’s definitely an intoxicant.”
My brain froze. It all made sense and yet it didn’t. I made the only decision that made sense. Noting that the criminalization of marijuana seemed to emanate politically from the United States, I contacted their current President.
“Mr. Ishmael,” Paul Ryan said, using a gendered prefix which confused me but which I was used to from previous conversations.
“Mr. President Ryan, I have an urgent question for you about marijuana.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that the recent… concerning diplomatic developments have something to do with the drug,” Ryan said. “It’s kind of a -” I knew he was trying to find literal language to use, to avoid confusing me, but I immediately filled in my mind for him “sticky situation” simply from his oral tone — “complicated situation. We’ve had laws against the stuff for a long time. I personally support them, but people all across the world want to use it and so we’re changing the rules.”
“I was told it was made illegal because of the race concept.” Ryan knew that we had made minimal progress on communicating about the concept of race.
“I think that might be a thing liberals made up.” I’d heard “liberals” before, knew they were a political faction, but different analyses of different groups painted a radically different analysis of what it meant to be one.
“What… what would a liberal say, if they told the story that was made up?”
“I guess it had to do with the Mexicans and blacks… some people think they made the stuff illegal because it made them happy and they wanted them to be happy. Look… I’m really not sure why you’re threatening to bomb my planet over marijuana, regardless. I’m against the stuff.”
“Your communication patterns,” I said. “The phrase is linked to Adolf Hitler. He was evil. Your people have assured me that those who believe he was evil was eradicated, but the symbol for marijuana — the code — it appears in so many transmissions. Like a thing people think is good.”
“I got the science team report,” the President said. “It wasn’t totally clear but they seem to think you are mixing up a slang term that people who use drugs use with a Nazi code word.”
“It is the same code word,” I said. “420. Four hundred twenty. April 20. Four twenty o clock, AM/PM not specified but usually appears in discourse in the evening.”
There was a silence, and a slight realization in Paul Ryan’s eyes — and I felt a shaking beneath me. For a moment I thought of the Biblical myths I had read when reading of human religion. And then… the signal went dead.
“No!” I exclaimed. Turning to Herbert, I burbled, “get me a status report!”
“Checking… Earth has jammed our communications and fired nuclear missiles. Incoming American, Chinese, and Russian fire at minimum, likely German, French, and Israeli will be en route momentarily.”
“We were so close!” I said. “This has to be more complicated. Who ordered the firing?”
“It was authorized by the Primarch,” Herbert said. My personal communicator sent an artificial pheremone signalling an incoming transmission.
“Yes?” I said.
It was Ahab. “I’m sorry, old friend.”
“You did this?”
“Check the transmission logs sent to the Primarch and you’ll understand. I’m sorry.” My clearance allowed that easily; feeling a growing rage in my stomach, I cut the call with Ahab and opened the log of high level communications with Earth. A transmission, from Wisconsin — near where the shuttle had landed, and where the Nazis had killed our Ambassador. “The planet will soon be ours. Adolf Hitler will rise again.” The man speaking was the spitting image of a World War II Nazi soldier. If this was true, my fears were confirmed.
And then it dawned on me, the core of the confusion that Ahab had exploited to bring us in range of weapons fire by a rogue human faction: humans categorize chemicals in a very strange way. Ethanol, which drastically affects the body and mind and also potentially serves as an explosive, is widespread with minimal taboo. Marijuana’s prohibition initially made a certain level of sense to me — we forbid the release of medications or mind altering substances except in a sealed acquarium where all within have agreed to be affected by it. This applies whether it is taken for recreation or for medical need. Yet humans have a very strange system for chemicals, and public safety seems to have minimal bearing on it.
As far as I can tell, the valences of Earth chemicals go as follows:
- food, which offers nutrition to the body. We share this category.
- poisoned food, like the shrimp we avoid because to put it inside us will make us ill
- chemicals which I can only describe as “outside poisons,” and these are inconsistent. Nitroglycerin and ethanol both fit other categories, but they are both substances which cause illness or death by damaging the body with explosion or fire. Humans place a great importance on this distinction.
- poisoned weapons, which are forbidden, but only if they harm humans through cellular processes and not by destroying their bodies from the outside
- medicines, which may or may not be intoxicants and may or may not be poisons
- intoxicant medicines
- poison intoxicant medicines
The Ark had arrived at the moment when the cultural understanding of what we — I — first knew as “420” moved from “poison intoxicant medicine” to a positively connoted intoxicant medicine. Through coincidental linguistic convergence, Earth’s xenophobes coded their hatred using the same term, but it had no more inherent connection with the plant than a human with the name Mary Jane necessarily did.
Then I realized… Ahab had requisitioned a shuttle to Earth three days before. Headed for the United States, unarmed, on unknown business — just before I had made my discovery public. But I had told them. Ahab had given one of our energy mass drivers, with the range to hit the Ark, to them. And now our xenophobes were about to get exactly what they wanted — a planet for us and us alone.
There was only one option. I called the Primarch, and swam to the ascension tube through which I could be vented to their command chamber.
“Make it quick, Ishmael,” they said (of course using my actual name). “I’m about to launch our retaliation. You were right, though — good work!”
“No!” I shouted. “Use the point defense systems, protect the Ark, but DO NOT FIRE BACK!” I entered the transit tube and felt myself being flung by pressurized water throughout the spaceship. “This is Ahab’s doing. He’s been working with neo-Nazis to play on my misunderstanding of the symbol. It’s a medicine, or an intoxicant! Maybe both! The Hitler connection is… what the humans call a… particularly colored dead fish.”
“What does that mean?”
“A coincidence. Irrelevant.” The tube door slid open, and I gurgled a scream. The tentacles on the other side were my former mate’s, one ripping my transmitter from my own fourth tentacle, and the others grasping for my body, his maw opening. Ahab had only one purpose — to clean up a loose end.
I struggled as his teeth closed in on my eyes and his pseudopods weakened my respiration. And then — they fired. The primarch’s security detail shot searing heat-beams through the water, and Ahab fell dead.
It seemed like just moments before I was in the Primach’s command aquarium, with a direct visual view of the Earth. I could see, deep in the atmosphere, flashes of light. Our bombers and fighters had entered the atmosphere. War had begun. But I had heard stories of the main guns — how they shook the ship. I hadn’t felt them firing. Maybe there was still a chance.
“I’ve got an emergency broadcast channel open,” the Primarch said. “I can barely speak the language, this is up to you.”
“Stop fighting now!” I said in English, then added, “Please!” I repeated the phrase in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, Finnish, Spanish, everything that came into my mind. “Call me Ishmael — and call this conflict my fault.”
“Clarify,” came a Russian voice, speaking Russian. I responded in both Russian and English.
“One of my team collaborated with Nazis to stage an attack on our Ark. We believed it was a first strike by your species. But all of this — all our aggression — was built on my mistake.”
“What mistake?” a voice asked in English. I wasn’t sure what nation.
“I thought that… the plant, 420. Marijuana. I thought it was connected to Adolf Hitler. My people thought so too, but it’s my fault. If someone has to pay for this, let it be me.”
The Chinese commander was the first to respond. “You’ve shot down eighteen of our jets. You think you can just end this?”
“Please!” a familiar voice exclaimed over the channel. It was Steinberg. “This is Johanna Steinberg, I’m with the German Prime Minister. We’ve held back our missiles for now. I encourage all nations to do the same. I’ve spoken with Ishmael and I understand his concern!”
“The CIA has confirmed that an abyssal ambassador landed near the location of where we believe the American Nazi group who attacked the previous abyssal ambassador was located,” an English voice chimed in.
“You’re saying this is collaboration between rogue aliens and Neo-Nazis?” asked a Russian in English.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said Steinberg. “According to our readings, the Ark has intercepted all of the first wave of missiles. Please do not fire another.”
And so our second interplanetary war, and Earth’s first, came to an end. We offered our condolences to the two hundred and thirteen humans killed by our forces in the combat, and the humans — somewhat grudgingly — offered condolences for the six of our troops and pilots who were killed. But the true regret is mine.