by Stephen R. Loftus-Mercer
“Follow me to the lab! I have something to show you!”
That giddiness, the light in those two over-large eyes, the quivering of all eight arms… I’d seen my lover like this only twice before. One of those inventions led to a Nobel prize; the other sold for life-changing money to a venture capital firm. I walked behind on my two legs, admiring the way my lover’s eight limbs pulled along, each independent yet in synch with the others. Our house included handholds everywhere, one of many accommodations for a joint human-cephalopod household.
As much as I loved the excited “come see what I built,” I dreaded the frequent depression that followed when the invention didn’t quite work, but I had learned early to endure difficulties in my relationship. Simply dating a cephalopod requires patience. Because each arm hosts an independent brain, I had to go on separate dates to win over each tentacle. It took three months before tentacle Delta (my lover’s naming scheme) finally decided I was better as a mate than as food and stopped trying to pull me into the chewing cavity.
Walking behind my lover now, I smiled, remembering that first night when we lay tangled in each other’s arms. We might still be there, blissed out, if my weight hadn’t cut off the blood flow to tentacle Theta and made it go numb. Cuddling on a couch is hard enough for two humans, with someone’s arm frequently pinned down wrong, but throw some extra limbs into the mix and pain is virtually certain every time. Ah, the things we do for love! All the numb arms are made up for by the shared time together – which this trip to the lab was clearly intended to be.
I beheld… a couch. A two-human loveseat, to be precise. Microfiber with armrests at both ends. The couch itself was red, but the seat cushions were blue (left) and green (right) — each one 0xFF of its respective color, as if a kindergartener armed with only the primary color markers had drawn it. “What does it do?”
“It does not do anything. We are going to do something to it. Or, rather, on it.” Cephalopods do not have eyebrows, but the left eye ridge performed a reasonable facsimile thereof. “Look beside the couch. What do you see?”
“Um… pillows? All sorts of different shapes and solid colors. Honestly, babe, if you’re wanting to replace our current couch, this is a bit garish.”
“Don’t pass judgement yet. Now, I’ve had the computer running analysis for two weeks, and it has generated a list of instructions. I’m going to start it reading the instructions aloud, and you and I will follow along. Got it?”
My mother warned me when I got into this relationship: “Genius leads to madness,” she said. She said the eccentricities would build up and get me killed. There had indeed been some close calls with some of the inventions.
But that giddiness — I could not ever say no to those eyes. And, really, pillows seemed safe enough. “Ok. I’ll play your game.”
“Great! Computer, please play Couch Instruction Set nine seven two.”
The speakers played a dramatic fanfare chord and then settled into some calming flowing water overlaid with some light jazz. “Human, please remove your shoes and stand on the blue seat cushion.”
“Stand on the couch?”
“Just do what it says. Trust me!”
“Fine. There. Now what?”
“Computer, next instruction.”
“Cephalopod, please hand the yellow wedge pillow to the human.”
“Human, please place the yellow wedge between your legs.”
“Cephalopod, please place arm Alpha lengthwise on the back of the couch. Then place the cyan round pillow upright between the blue and green seat cushions.”
“Human, please lean right and arch over the cyan pillow.”
It went on like this for several minutes: move a body part, add a pillow. I whispered to my lover, “It’s like some advanced game of Twister. And I don’t know where this is headed, but if we get much more tangled, maybe I should’ve started with fewer clothes?”
Chuckling. “Patience. You’ll understand in a moment.”
The computer intoned: “End of instructions.”
Now we were at rest with just the music playing in the background, my two arms and two legs threaded through my love’s eight appendages amid a nest of pillows. Our heads rested together such that we could whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears. It was truly comfortable, and I lay there just basking in that wonderful sensation of being totally enveloped by another being.
After a couple minutes: “Do you notice anything?”
“Other than your breathing, and that little stroking thing Beta is doing on my ear? Not really.”
“How’s the blood flow in your arms? Any numbness?”
“It’s… oh!” I gasped. “You’ve done it! I thought you said the multiple parametric equations were too complex to be solved in our lifetimes?”
“I found a shortcut — a revolution in mathematical knot theory. And the shortcut doesn’t just help us. My program analyzes any species pairing and produces the necessary instruction set. Couples just have to supply the pillows.”
I snuggled closer. “This is your best invention yet.”
We rested there for hours on that amazing couch, dreaming our future together, all without either one of us losing feeling in any appendages. My lover had cracked the ancient problem. At long last, all couples would be able to cuddle without pain! Love wins!
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About the Author
Stephen R. Loftus-Mercer is a computer scientist and writer based in Austin, TX. His stories have appeared previously in Analog Magazine. He may be contacted on Twitter @AristosM. Stephen wishes all new couples to know that they can stop scouring the Kama Sutra for answers because the secret your parents never told you really is “better pillows strategically placed”!