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Chapter 5


          A pitiful Na awoke, delirious with shock and pain. "Where am I?" he whimpered, as he feverishly probed the darkness for his tribe. Flopping helplessly, Na tried to right himself and slow his spiraling descent. Then he looked where his right wing should have been, and saw only frayed and twisted tendons. The anguish of remembrance abruptly flooded his mind. "Ki! Que! I have killed you! I HAVE KILLED YOU," he screamed into the deaf night. "I have killed you…" Mercifully the convulsions dulled, and Na lapsed into a bittersweet coma. The coiles passed unnoticed. Death would come easily.
          Yet death was not Na's immediate fate. He awoke again to the physical world, this time bathed in a dim, eerie acoustic light. His pain had mysteriously eased. Though upright and steady, he did not fly. He was supported instead by an unnatural agent, hard and constant, very unlike the wind. And he labored for breath in still, foul air. Na groggily peeked at his surroundings. Above – an inert yet impenetrable, unmoving wall. The same to his left; to his right; and in front! An icy fear gripped him. In what devil's vortex was he trapped? Could this be hell? The hell he so deserved? He struggled to move, but only quivered. Even as he stirred, a faint buzzing sound arose somewhere off to the side – almost voicelike, yet weak and utterly foreign. Na strained to discern its source. What he saw his mind refused to believe. More comical than frightful, it was an impossible, ungainly creature – not graceful like a rey, or deathly efficient like a serpent. Rather it seemed mostly head, with grotesque eyes bulging from either side of a lumpy face, and supported below by eight long tentacle-appendages, flailing excitedly in every direction at once!

Image of a mature octo, portraying the 8 tentacle arms, bellan, two large acoustic eyes, two small ears, and two infrared eyes
          Clutching a floatation aid, Nemo-137-Menno swam awkwardly between the great halls of the university, now crawling with thousands of students. He did not want to arrive late for this lecture, which he knew would be well attended. The subject was Jopian evolution, up to the emergence of early octins. Nearly every student on the campus, including Nemo, was an octo – short for Octu manipulans, the most cognitively advanced member species of the genus Octu.
          Overhead, Nemo glimpsed one of the enormous bladders full of pure hydrogen that helped to hold the complex aloft. It glowed slightly in his infrared vision, against a cooler sky. The bladder had grown out of an opening in the rounded, bark-crusted roof of a nearby building, to which it was now tethered by a tapered, rubbery neck. Octan (octo) habitats were traditionally constructed of living plants, derived from buoyant shrubs of the floating thickets colonized by octo precursors. In prehistoric times, the hydrogen balloons were all that kept the thickets and resident octan hives from sinking into hellish oblivion. Now octos employed so-called Drac bubbles to support the extra mass of modern structures, which included numerous inorganic components.
          The bulk of the main lecture hall loomed straight ahead. Nemo stalled for a moment, to admire the magnificent archaic clock mounted on its outer wall. Unlike reys, the octos did recognize the suolar day as a unit of time, which they called a yad (equal to 9.9 human hours). Eight yads comprised a kew (an octan "week"), while the yad was conveniently divided into eight rohs (octan "hours"). The clock face sported two concentric rings of eight large infrared lamps each. Nemo saw that the single lit lamp at the top of the inner ring indicated the first yad of the current kew, while the lit lamp partway around the outer ring indicated the second roh of that yad. Smaller lamps spaced between the main lamps of the outer ring indicated that the current roh was almost over. The lecture was scheduled to start at the beginning of the third roh, so he needed to hurry along!
          Nemo propelled himself forward. Approaching the floating hall, he reached out with one of his tentacles and grabbed the side of a lower entry port, then pulled himself inside. There were still a few free pits in the floor, and he quickly nestled into one not too far from the speaker platform. The trip from his living quarters had been trying, and Nemo embraced the security of the snug cavity. He could concentrate so much better within a confined space. He particularly disliked having to hang from a wall during lectures. Swimming between buildings was necessary and therefore tolerable, but dangling exposed for any extended period without the best of reasons was sheer masochism.
          The hall was well lit with the gentle tone of ultrasonic illuminators. Peering up with a pair of large acoustic eyes, set stereoscopically on either side of his face below the smaller infrared eyes, Nemo surveyed tier after tier of pitted levels, rising back into the ceiling. While his acoustic eyes were sensitive to three primary ultrasonic colors, and he could distinguish a wide range of complex hues, the tones here were rather subdued and monotonous – the acoustic equivalent of a dull tan. Each acoustic eye sported an ear-like receptor along its outer rim, on opposite sides of Nemo's domed head. These organs responded to a broad range of low-frequency sound, which was heard rather than seen. The clamor in the hall was at the moment almost deafening, and Nemo squinted as he looked around.
          Protruding precariously from an upper level of pits was a row of terribly modern hang-bars. Several of Nemo's colleagues perched nervously there, each tightly clutching xyr own bar (when deemed appropriate, both octos and reys use gender-neutral pronouns like xe/xem/xyr/xyrs, or sometimes it/it/its/its when referring to infants or to other species) with all eight suckered tentacles. Their heads teetered awkwardly. Rafu, an old friend from Nemo's birth hive, stared down, taunting Nemo to join them in heaven. He began shouting with his bellan – an acoustic source organ centered on his lower face.
          "Nemo! Neemoo!! Come on up, you coward! What are you waiting for?! The lecture begins in only three nims!" Just as humans partition an hour into minutes and seconds, octos conveniently divide a roh into 64 nims, and a nim into 64 nocs. "I saved you a spot! NEMO!!"
          Nemo pretended not to hear. Rafu and most of his fellow daredevils were members of a genetic engineering society that promoted selective modification of their genetic lines, in particular the elimination of an instinctive fear of open spaces. While genetic modification and bioengineering had already created countless octan subspecies and hybrids, this university was geared to students from ancestral groups that had opted to preserve the fundamental octo genome. Nemo did support establishing additional lines that did not suffer outdated instincts, but could see no logic in denying his own very real primitive emotions.
          Shifting attention to the opposite direction, Nemo playfully emitted a short burst of ultrasound from his bellan. Autonomic timing of pulse reflections from his surroundings provided a particularly accurate sense of depth perception. Nemo marveled at the size of the hall. He spotted a keeper trimming excess plant growth at an exit port on the far side, while another cleaned out an overgrown pit nearby.
          A commotion near the speaker platform caught Nemo's attention, and he turned to see the eminent paleontologist, Hyr Hughos, pop up through the floor. He was not surprised to observe that Hughos was neither male nor female, but a neutor – a third, sexless gender (gender-specific pronouns zo/zom/zor/zors) common to many thicket-dwelling herbivores. Octan neutors were easily recognized by their smooth scalps, which lacked the distinctive ridges of males and females. A hush settled over the audience, as the aged professor settled into a raised pit behind a simple console. Although live lectures were comparatively infrequent now, they had not suffered the demise predicted so long ago. There was still no substitute for a presentation by a renowned scholar in the flesh.
          The speaker lifted a webbed helmet over zor head and energized the equipment, as Nemo sensed a surge of static emission from above. Suddenly the auditorium's arched vault was alive with colorful, three-dimensional images of ancient life forms, projected holographically from an array of ultrasonic projectors studding the ceiling. Hyr Hughos controlled the display by zor thoughts alone, detected and processed by electromagnetic and biochemical circuits in the communications gear. Zo skillfully drew on a mix of mental imagery and digitized representations stored in a data bank nearby.
          "We scientists on mother Jopitar have not been blessed with a hard fossil record of the kind found on rocky terrestrial worlds such as Terra-3." The low-frequency narrative seemed to emanate from all directions at once. The planet Terra-3, commonly called Aerth, was the third planet from Suol. "But genetic evidence is abundant, and statistical methods developed by our predecessors have allowed us to determine our ancestral beginnings with surprisingly little ambiguity."
          Nemo recalled that simions – the hairy, four-limbed animals of moderate intelligence that currently dominated macroscopic life on Aerth – had eyes that were sensitive only to high-frequency light. They could see no more than the uppermost cloud tops of Jopitar through their telescopes. These appeared as alternating dark- and light-colored bands running parallel to the equator, corresponding to the so-called belts and zones. Nemo's own home lay deep in the second belt south of the central equatorial zone.
          The menagerie of creatures projected overhead fell away, and disappeared into a cross-sectional representation of Jopitar's churning atmosphere. "Jopian life evolved within the mid-tropospheric circulation of Jopitar's belts. Habitable regions, between 440 to 550 kilurets depth, form giant tori that girdle the planet, and collectively comprise the Jopian biotorus system. Here mammoth convective plumes rise from the abyss, spinning off hot springs along their peripheries, that provide life with thermal energy, silicon and other vital raw materials." Nemo knew that the kiluret distance scale was originally set so that the 512 kiluret depth value of the octo thickets was numerically equal to 1,000 in the base-8 number system, still routinely used by octos (though in deference to human readers, the more familiar base-10 system is used throughout this story). From courses on simion technology, he also knew that the kiluret was just under half a simion kilometer, or about three-tenths of a mile.
          A magnified image of a tiny organism emerged from an upwelling region of the atmosphere. "The earliest life probably developed from silico-organic residues some two bevujopes ago, around hot springs near the base of the habitable range." Modern octos measure long periods in terms of the jope, or local suolar year, equal to 11.9 Earth years. Prefixes to the basic jope unit indicate some power of eight; here bevu indicates eight raised to the ninth power, a factor of over one hundred million.
          "This one-celled creature, Alphabios, was little more than a self-replicating membrane, supported by a bubble of pure hydrogen. The hydrogen was generated by simple chemical reactions within the cell membrane, and made the organism buoyant." A wavy line appeared, showing the probable level at which Alphabios lived. The indicated temperature there was 600 nevlu, very warm even by octan standards, with a pressure exceeding 880 rabs (detailed conversions between octan and familiar human/simion units can be found in Appendix G).
          Alphabios faded away, and was replaced by a cloud of colored dots. Each dot by convention represented an atom of a particular element, indicated by its color. Over 92% of the atoms were hydrogen, and 7% inert helium, leaving only a fraction of a percent for the heavier elements. Atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, silicon and other trace elements of biochemical importance were garishly colored, to stand out against a background of dull hydrogen and helium. The atoms collided and formed a variety of compounds. Nemo watched attentively, while Hyr Hughos described the most important chemical processes that presumably led to life.
          There was little said that Nemo did not already know, but he relished the visual effects, and the integration of disparate facts into a sensory whole. The role of silicon particularly engaged him. Silicon was normally sequestered at scorching depths beneath the silicon cloud tops, and was brought to higher levels only through the hot plumes. Yet silicon was crucial to Jopian life. It combined with water and methane to make durable silicone polymers, which in turn formed structures that stabilized other complex molecules from heat degradation, and provided a skeleton from which living organisms could evolve.
          A likeness of Alphabios reappeared overhead, and morphed into a more complex unicellular creature. Now it assumed a more regular spherical shape, comprising a double-layered membrane, surrounding and supported by a bubble of buoyant hydrogen. A background scale showed it to be some hundred micrurets across, several times broader than a typical Earth cell. Metabolic processes sizzled in the porous scaffolding that occupied the narrow space between the inner and outer membranes. The internal hydrogen compartment gradually became more balloon-like, until it swelled out the "top" of the tiny organism, stabilizing it vertically.
          The lecture continued. "… The scions of Alphabios evolved in multitudinous ways throughout the prolonged primordial period, driven by the twin forces of mutation and natural selection." Alphabios split into an assortment of one-celled creatures, which competed for resources as over 300 megujopes passed. Such incredible time spans, Nemo mused with a sense of wonder. So vast, they are scarcely comprehensible! It was not surprising that many ancient octos could not accept biological evolution when the idea was first advanced.
          "Some cell lines acquired a limited ability to exchange genetic material, and became dominant. Several genetic codes apparently evolved and competed, before the familiar SNA scheme became established. Vestiges of the other ancient systems remain in the reproductive elements of cellular organelles in a variety of organisms, including octos. It is interesting to note that the genetic codes and biochemistry that spontaneously arise on gas giants like our own Jopitar are generally based on mixed chains of silicon, oxygen and carbon, while those on rocky terrestrial planets tend to be carbon based. This difference can be explained by the markedly lower temperature and pressure conditions under which life on terrestrial worlds develops."
          While Nemo understood intellectually the biochemical basis of life on the strange terrestrial worlds, he still could not grasp emotionally how life of any type was able to develop and persist under such cold, vacuous, unstable, utterly inhospitable conditions. Perhaps he needed to experience it first-hand?
          Evolution proceeded at a rapid pace overhead, as yet another 300 megujopes elapsed. Now a mix of microbes swirled around a surging hot spring, some 620 kilurets beneath the cloud tops. Many developed spots representing primitive infrared, temperature, and pressure sensors, as well as extensions for turning, gliding, and manipulating other cells. The yads of passively maintaining depth and waiting for nutrients were over. "… The new species actively exploited the currents, and puffed up or deflated their hydrogen balloons to control cell buoyancy. They developed mechanisms to feed near the hot springs at the greatest tolerable depths, where silicon and other nutrients were most abundant, then inflate and ride peripheral currents to higher levels to reproduce." Nemo recalled that duplication tended to be more faithful in the cooler climes.
          The microbes divided into two groups, colored the ultrasonic equivalent of red and blue. Hyr Hughos was obviously excited by this development. "Significant differences developed between existing cell types. The red cells grew progressively more proficient at the chemosynthesis of higher-energy food stores. The blue cells took advantage of these advances, and began to prey on their red cousins." Nemo watched as a blue cell attached itself to a red one, then ingested its contents.
          "Some members of the red group pioneered photosynthesis, harnessing infrared radiation from the hot springs." A subset of the red microbes shaded yellow. "The red and yellow cell lines ultimately led to today's chemosynthors and photosynthors [the Jopian version of chemosynthetic and photosynthetic bacteria]. Both early synthor types remained dependent on the plumes and springs as a source of silicon, and continued to feed at the deepest levels."
          Hyr Hughos unexpectedly launched into a tedious, tangential discussion of fine differences between various synthor lines. Nemo recalled that this was a pet interest of the head of the Evolutionary Biology Department. Was Hughos currying some political favor? What could a person of zor stature possibly require??
          Nemo's mind drifted. He began to daydream about Ikta, a graceful female he had first met about one jope before, at an archeological workshop. She had been reverently caressing a decrepit electric generator from the early Electric Age. The discovery of electricity had changed everything for the octos. The ancients considered it a gift from the gods. Nemo and Ikta had been instantly attracted to each other, and were soon besotted. They even shared a cozy lair for a while, until Ikta became impatient with Nemo's plans to pursue an academic career. Nemo had made promises he could not keep. He should have known better. Heavy ripples rolled down his coiled tentacles.
          Nemo jolted, and his attention snapped back to the present. Wasn't this session supposed to last only two rohs? He glanced back and up toward Rafu, who appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep. This in itself was not unusual behavior for Rafu, but his friend was not usually dangling from such an awful height. Nemo squirmed uncomfortably, until the focus of the presentation returned to evolution. Microorganisms swarmed to higher and higher levels around a towering hot spring.
          Nemo noticed a change in the behavior of the predator microbes. They were feeding more at the upper reaches of the synthor domain, then inflating and riding the currents to still higher levels to reproduce. Hyr Hughos elaborated further developments. "… The overall shift of the predator microbes to more moderate temperatures and pressures permitted more sophisticated organisms to evolve. New predatory lines emerged that fed on other predators. These were able to occupy progressively higher, more hospitable levels in the atmosphere. A hierarchical ecosystem emerged, spanning depths from the original 620 kilurets up through 510 kilurets, or temperatures from 600 down to 510 nevlu. Silicon requirements diminished at higher levels, as more versatile carbon replaced an increasing fraction of the silicon in structural materials. Complexity likewise increased, while the density of microbes decreased."
          The projection zoomed in on the upper-level microbes. Genetic material became segregated in a protective nucleus. Nemo observed that the nucleated predators had trouble exchanging genetic bits the old-fashioned way. A primitive mode of sexual reproduction evolved before his eyes. Two related cells and their nuclei fused, then divided after corresponding SNA segments swapped analogous genetic material. Original sex! Nemo's mind strayed back to Ikta.
          By the time he regained focus, Nemo had missed most of the narrative concerning the implications of the new sexual mode of propagation. His attention was drawn to a large blue microbe as it engulfed a tiny photosynthor, and consumed it whole. Nemo recognized that this method of devouring prey was a recent innovation. But rather than being digested, the smaller cell established an uneasy truce with its host, and began providing it food.
          "… One family of advanced predators established an endosymbiotic relationship with wayward photosynthors, and subsequently specialized in photosynthesizing high-energy food stores. An ample flux of infrared radiation was available even at their altitude, both from hot springs and [to a lesser extent] from warmer air directly below. The microbes consequently achieved a large degree of independence from life at deeper levels, though they still needed to ingest other cells to obtain silicon, in particular prior to reproduction. These hybrid microorganisms led the way to the modern Jopian version of plants. A second group of advanced predators specialized in feeding on the energy-rich plants, spawning today's animals. Because the plants could provide most of the food required by both groups, their populations swelled, but remained loosely tied to the hot plumes and springs.
          "About 260 Megujopes ago, some plant microbes acquired a tendency to stick together following division, forming colonies." Overhead, a plant cell divided, but its daughters remained attached. These continued to so divide, resulting in a spherical shell of identical cells. "While these groupings by no means displaced the solitary one-celled life forms, there were numerous advantages to a colonial existence." A predator microbe tried to wrap itself around a colony cell, but failed. The central cavity of the colony filled with dots representing pure hydrogen, providing extra buoyancy.
          "The multicelled plants evolved quickly." Cells covering half of the colony flattened, and became the skin of a buoyant hydrogen balloon. This tended to float in the upward direction, defining an upper surface. The balloon soon swelled out the top, further stabilizing the organism vertically. Regulator cells allowed some hydrogen to escape, and the colony began to slowly sink through the surrounding air. Islands of cells in the lower hemisphere formed sticky pits, and snared a few passing microbes. Other patches of cells on one side specialized in photosynthesis, and turned bright yellow. Cells along the equator developed long flagella-like extensions, which beat in unison to turn the colony around its vertical axis, so that the yellow patches faced a nearby hot spring. Short, flat stubs angled out from opposite sides of the equator, and the colony drifted toward the hot spring as it descended. New inner cell layers emerged in the lower hemisphere, for chemosynthesis and storage.
          "Multicelled animals appeared shortly after the plants." The plant colony was suddenly attacked by a puffy, flattened, elongated animal colony, which attached its puckered front end to the plant, and worked to extract and ingest a few cells. Now the animal morphed into a flattened wormlike creature with a mouth, a straight-through digestive tract, primitive infrared eyes, fins, a tail, and small wing-like flaps on either side. It rode currents near the hot springs to a level high above the plant colony, released a single reproductive gamete cell, then dove back to seek more food.
          "The multicelled plants coevolved with their animal predators." The plant colony developed scaly bark for protection. Primitive photosynthetic leaves projected from under the scales, into open air. An animal ripped a few away, without harming the underlying plant body. The bark gradually extended up the sides of the plant, squeezing out the hydrogen balloon, until it became a buoyant bladder, attached to the colony's central cavity by a rubbery neck. A small gauge hovering nearby indicated that the balloon gas was now much warmer than the ambient air, providing additional lift.
          The plant discharged a cloud of spores, which floated away to form independent colonies. Buds sprouted from its sides, and grew through hollow stalks into new globular structures with their own hydrogen bladders. Soon there was a tiered thicket of interconnected, leafy globes, held aloft by an array of graceful hydrogen bladders.
          "A variety of larger animals emerged, including mannavores, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores." The wormlike organism was now replaced by several distinct creatures. One with a scoop mouth swept up a swarm of so-called manna microbes, and swallowed them whole. Another with a raspy mouth attached to a thicket plant, and began grinding through the bark. It was attacked by a creature with sharp teeth, and dragged away. Nearby leaf eaters responded by hiding within the same shrubs they normally grazed. The simulation was so real, Nemo instinctively pressed into his pit. He noticed that several of his high-flying associates had abandoned their hang-bars.
          "Some of the new thicket-dwelling herbivores evolved social behavior, which promoted the development of a more sophisticated nervous system and central brain. The upper corners of their breathing slits adapted to generating and detecting sounds." A slinky denizen with six tentacles poked out from a cavity in a thicket plant, and screeched a warning to its kin when a primitive ribbon serpent approached. "Paired appendages appeared, which allowed the animals to move more efficiently through the rough branches of their homes, and fashion comfortable nests. These changes encouraged further brain development, and more sophisticated communication." The scene was becoming more familiar to Nemo, though it still bore a markedly primeval tone.
          Now attention panned away from the plant thicket, to open space beyond a nearby hot spring, where a lumbering giant plied the currents. "The free-swimming mannavores lagged behind the colony-dwelling herbivores in mental development. They generally remained solitary and non-social, simply enlarging over time to counter the carnivore threat. By about 16 megujopes ago, they encountered increasingly stiff competition from smaller but more advanced social animals that nested in the plant thickets but fed on manna in addition to the shrubbery." A small group of winged forms swept past the huge mannavore, squawking mysterious signals to each other, as they filtered manna from the thick air. Nemo felt his circulation quicken. "Herds of these creatures would leave the protection of their nests to feed on manna at nearby hot springs. Over the generations, they spent more and more time in free flight, soaring high on the currents out of the serpent habitat after feeding, until some broke free of their nests altogether. This new type of mannavore led to the mysterious reys."
          "It is baffling to me how such animals could have developed their obviously high degree of intelligence. Arms and suckers were useless to them, so any evolutionary pressure associated with the creation and manipulation of tools and other artifacts was absent. In time they lost all external traces of their former appendages."
          Nemo reflected on the flush embarrassment of the academic community when the sophisticated mental abilities of the reys were first demonstrated conclusively only a half octade earlier. The reys had been virtually ignored in scientific circles since ancient times, except for an occasional "crackpot" researcher, and had generally been regarded as primitive, uninteresting relics of a bygone era. Of course, they had long been thought to be at least minimally sapient, so capturing one for study against its will would have been clearly immoral. But almost no one had bothered to study them even from a distance.
          Perhaps rey intelligence had evolved in response to peculiar demands on communication within a herd? It was well known that a primitive ability to manufacture and manipulate physical tools would generate positive feedback evolutionary pressure toward still higher creativity and intelligence. Could a primitive ability to fashion and manipulate mental images have a similar effect? The reys were known to communicate by transmitting images to each other, as well as by audible signals and symbolic speech.
          Still, it was difficult to imagine intelligence without physical appendages. Nemo glanced at and flexed his ten (simions would have said eight) densely suckered tentacle arms and legs coiled beneath him. Simion beings also had appendages for manipulating objects, though they were limited to a mere two arms and twelve (simions would have said ten) smooth fingers. How unfortunate the two extra fingers. The simion number system, based on the number of fingers on both hands, was unnatural in pure mathematics and digital computer applications, and must be a terrible impediment to progress in those fields. The octal system, based on the total number of arms plus legs on the octan body, was more natural and universal, due to its intimate connection with the binary number system.
          Nemo jerked back from his reverie, to find the lecture winding down. "… herbivores that remained in the plant thickets evolved over the megujopes into a vast array of species, including our own. While moderate levels of intelligence of various types developed in most of these, only octos acquired the capacity for abstract thought and speech. These special attributes probably originated within small groups of octo precursors during periods of instability in the zonal circulation, when feast followed famine in rapid succession, and a premium was placed on flexibility and learned behavior. Our forebears established a symbiotic relationship with the plants, tending and shaping them to create more secure homes and a more reliable food supply. Coevolution over the past several megujopes produced the remarkable tree-bushes we rely on today."
          "For further information on this subject, including an extensive bibliography and a discussion genetic analysis techniques, refer to disk 3351:01 in the Cross-Campus Library." Although it was possible in principle for a student to feed information from an entire disk directly into xyr brain in a matter of nocs using bioelectromental equipment, such methods were banned from routine use. Ancestral octos had learned through bitter experience that unrestricted application of such learning techniques led to dangerous conformity of thought and expression, which tended to quash creativity and critical evaluation. Among pre-adolescents, use of direct-feed technology further interfered with normal personality development. The risks of sabotage, abuse and malfunction, leading to permanent psychic alteration and damage, were nontrivial under any but the most supervised conditions. Students still in the general phase of their schooling were limited to manual study techniques. Upon successful completion of a common course of education and preparatory study for a selected profession, an individual could apply to use the rapid-transfer equipment to quickly acquire rote specialized training. The data imprinting took place in a formal, regulated ceremony, one of the important rites of passage in an octo's adult life.
          Students crowded around Hyr Hughos, even as zo removed zor communications gear. Nemo slid quietly to the back of the throng, to await his turn for an audience. When the others had finished with their questions, he tentatively extended a tentacle forward, and lightly tapped the floor. The professor turned to Nemo and nodded almost imperceptibly, signaling zor attention. Nemo cleared his bellan, and politely addressed his superior.
          "Hyr, I understand that you are seeking an assistant to help investigate and care for the injured rey recovered several yads ago. Rey evolution is a special interest of mine, and I am most interested in the position. I sent you a communication including my academic transcript, but have received no reply. If it is not too impertinent, I would like to ask if the position is already filled?"
          "Would you happen to be Nemo-137-Menno? I must apologize, since I had intended to contact you earlier. I discussed your application with my colleagues only yesteryad, and we are in complete agreement – a rare event, I might add. If you agree to the standard terms, the position is yours."
          Although the standard terms in this case meant a bare pittance for compensation, there was no question in Nemo's mind. "Of course I accept! How soon can I begin?"