Author:Gordon PinckheardSource:daily science fictionRelease time:2019-08-07

It is the very clever one that opened the interplanetary Portal between us.

Two tentacled viscous lumps, a Leader of the Imperium and its offshoot, had most of their eyes focused on the large grey creature beyond the metal bars.

"They call it an elephant," the Leader said. "That big thing on one end is called a trunk, not a tentacle. It has only one. The little thing is useless; that's a tail."

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Its offshoot was impatient. "I want to see the other animals too. They're weird!"

The Leader's tentacles warmed with affection. "Of course. Look over here. These are gorillas."

"But aren't these the previous owners?"

"Oh no, Blobbie. They were hairless, weak, things. These gorillas are hairy and quite strong. If you're good, I might be able to show you one of those previous owners."

With a sucking noise, the offshoot lifted itself up onto the tips of its tentacles. "I am good, very good! I do want to see one!"

Leaving a thin trail of slime, they slithered along to a low grey building. With the tip of a tentacle, the Leader rang the doorbell.

The door opened, and four eyes regarded them. The Leader elevated its crest of rank, and three of the eyes lowered.

"How can I be of assistance, Leader?" enquired the docent.

"I wish to show my successor a previous owner," said the Leader.

"Of course, of course. Please follow me."

They slithered down corridors deep into the building until they came to a glass wall.

The docent whispered: "We must be very quiet. It doesn't know we're here. This glass is one-way; it cannot see us."

Behind the glass, a gorilla-like being sat in front of a computer screen. Its body was covered by soft material; a harder material wrapped the tips of its lower tentacles. The ends of its upper tentacles were unprotected and manipulated the computer's inputs.

"But, Parent, you said it was hairless?"

"Well, Blobbie, it nearly is. It has that patch on top, and under that material only a few other patches."

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"Can I see it without its covering?"

The Leader relayed the query with a tilt of two eye ridges.

"I am afraid not, Leader and Leader-to-be," said the docent. "This previous owner is kept in isolation. It is the one working on the Treaty."

The Leader understood.

"Blobbie, this is secret," it said. "This previous owner thinks it is providing technical support to the Treaty negotiations. It is the very clever one that opened the interplanetary Portal between us. The negotiations require it to reveal how that was done."

The Leader wrapped its tentacles around its bulk, muffling its chuckles.

"And, of course, there are no Treaty negotiations! How many of them are left to have a Treaty with?" Suppressed laughter shook its body.

"But Parent, once we know how to create Portals, Treaty or not, why would we continue to keep it? Or any of them? It's only common sense!"

"It has no common sense. It's a genius. Now, don't tap on the glass."