“Embrace tha gifts of tha Great Cuttlefish! Heed His callin’ and he’ll bring blessins into yer lives, mah Brothers and Sistas! As he spake tah me just t’other day, ‘Cal,’ he says tah me ’cuz we’s buddies and I’m his priest, ‘Cal’, he says, ‘Go forth an’ spread mah word and there’ll always be bread on yer doorstep and wine in yer napkin.’ At this point, Imma tell yah I think he was a bit on tha tipsy side but I know what he meant, Brothers! And Sistas… Sistas are important too and ain’t no one talkin’ ’bout sistas ’nough these days, ain’t that right Brenda? ’xcept people talk ’bout yah everyday on account of yah bein’ always in everybody’s business, but that’s fine, Cuttlefish loves yah anyways. And that’s His message, mah people! Accept His love and he’ll always make sure ye’re not short of somethin’ tah eat and tah have. And I promise I’ll have a talk with Him ’bout his aimin’ when it comes tah the wine… Aaaaaanyways! Who here will accept His touch today and see His message first hand? I got the sanctuary all fired up and there best be somebody ready tah take in tha Holy Visions ’cuz I can’t on account of havin’ tah write everythin’ down fer future interpretation of Cuttlefish’s wise words and His message tah y’all young and attractive people. Not you, Brenda. I ain’t talkin’ ’bout you.”
Cala almost flinches in disgust from the flood of preaching as she and Aliyah pull open the doors of the restaurant-turned-church, which reveals its mundane past in the form of scarred tables and splintered counters, but which is festooned with blue and green bunting and crude handmade posters depicting a tentacled deity blessing a motley collection of mortals of various species. “Ugh, ridiculous prattle…”
Aliyah laughs. “Good ol’ Calimari Cal. He’s hilarious! Really built up a head of steam there.” She cups her hands around her mouth and shouts, “Yo! Cal!”
“And so I say – Oh, crap, what’s tha cops doin’ here? I mean, that’s not what I say… Y’all just pray amongst yerselves.” The preacher, his bishop’s-mitre-shaped body rising almost as high as Cala’s shoulder, huge blue eyes with barbell-shaped irises down near the floor, slithers down from the pulpit and stage on eight relatively short, muscular tentacles, holding up two longer ones questioningly. “Whaddyah want?! I’m preachin’ here!” His squeaky voice blats out from a modified organ to the side, that would normally be used for channeling water, if his species of giant cuttlefish had not evolved to live on land.
“Preaching?” Cala says with disdain. “You call all that preaching? You’re no holy man. You’re nothing but a small-time grifter.”
Aliyah looks a little thoughtful and blurts out, “Are you even male, Cal?”
The cephalopodic preacher tilts back to glare up at her, the chromatophores in his skin flashing agitatedly. “I’m as male as an octopus in heat, Miss Copper! And that was some real good preachin’ too! Just ’cuz yah can do all that kneelin’ and risin’ stuff, it don’t mean mah kind o’preachin’ ain’t preachin’. We all gots our styles. Get with tha times, lady! Now, whadda youse two want from me?”
Aliyah crosses her arms and says, “We got people wanderin’ around the streets talking about crickets and oversexed llamas!”
Cala rolls her eyes and says more clearly, “We have reports that your worshippers are imbibing some kind of mind-altering drug. What do you know about it?”
The land-cuttlefish turns white with fear. “I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no drugs. All I know now is tha callin’ and message o’ tha great Cuttlefish, God of all Cefflapods. ’cept fer squids – he don’t like no squids… Thinking they’s too important tah have Cuttlefish as a god an’all… Oh! An’ God of saltwater and seaweed and stuff like that. An’ crabs! He likes crabs too. Grilled… with a slice o’lemon.”
“Aww! Poor squids…” Aliyah sounds sincerely sad.
Cal points an accusatory tentacle at her. “Don’t yah side wit’ dem!!! They’s evil, I tells yah! They’s snobbish and they’s squishy and they turns tah rubber if yah tries tah cook’em and they’s not a part of tha Great Cuttlefish’s divine plan!” He turns to his mostly human audience and raises his longer tentacles. “Death ta tha squids!”
”With flames and butter sauce!” the audience replies, the human members in an almost mystical trance, the scattering of land-cuttlefish more self-aware.
Cala looks shocked and disturbed at the human parishioners’ lack of affect. “Uh…” She stops and, sort of herding him with her hand but not quite touching his smooth, color-shifting skin, she takes Cal aside and asks, “Tell me straight up Cal...does this god even exist? I mean, you know, as one of those who walk around claiming to be gods?”
“Straight up, miss… He exists tah me and that’s what matters, ain’t it? There’s a little o’im in every one of us. Unless ye’re on o’dem veggie lovers.” The human-sized invertebrate looks at her up and down. “And yah don’t look like no veggie lover...”
Aliyah pokes Cal. “Don’t you be talkin’ ‘bout Cala’s weight!” She looks at her finger in surprise. “Hey, you’re a lot less slimy than I thought you’d be.”
Cala glares at both of them. “What you’re doing is affecting people outside this so-called church. Now what is this mind-altering substance you’re using?”
“Yeah! Dude was seein’ hippos! In our Guardia station!” Aliyah crosses her arms as well and uses her height to try to intimidate the tentacular preacher.
He flaps the fins that line his mantle and flashes colors and patterns. “Well ain’t mah fault youse don’t cleans up yer place of work, is it? Besides, I ain’t dealin’ no drugs. I swear! I’m out of that there line of business. Ever since that thing with tha saltwater pills fer treatin’ stress, I promised mahself I’d never deal no drugs again.”
“Those pills very nearly killed some people!” Cala says severely.
“How was I supposed ta know youse primates get sick when yah drink saltwater? Anyways, all I’m doin’ is lettin’ people share in mah god’s message tah mankind an’ other kinds alike. ’cept fer squid.”
A smaller cuttlefish squeaks, “Flames and butter!”
“Shuddup, Franky!” He rolls his eyes and raises his longer tentacles in a sort of shrug. “Mah sista’s kid. And she’s got like 200 more o’those back at her place… Look, ladies, I got a sermon tah finish… It’s gettin’ tah the good part too, with all tha flames and tha monsters and tha squids gettin’ eaten and mah cousin Ben doin’ all tha scary noises and my pickin’ someone to go inta tha sanctuary tah receive Cuttlefish’s message of tha day.”
Cala blinks. “Sanctuary? Where is that?”
Aliyah glowers and almost growls. “Yeah! Make with the cooperation with authorities, Cal!”
“I ain’t makin’ with no cooperations! Don’t ye go disrespectin’ me like that! I’m all ’bout tha small business owners, I tells yah! Cooperations is fer squids!”
“SHUDDUP, FRANKIE!” Calimari Cal half-closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Fine, whatevahs, I’ll show ye tha sanctuary. Even if youse is smirchin’ me. Cuttlefish teaches us tah show th’other cheek and cooperate with authority, he does.”
Aliyah laughs. “Cheeks? What cheeks?”
“Lead the way,” Cala says.
Cal slithers ahead of the two Guardia and takes them into what was once a back room meant for parties. The walls are covered with undulating curtains of blue and green, giving it a peaceful, undersea feeling.
“So here’s tha sanctuary, where people get tha message and I write it down. May not look like much but it’s holy enough fer two. Like tha decorations? I picked ’em meself.”
Aliyah pokes around. “Well, there ain’t nothin’ here that looks like drugs.”
Cala asks Cal, “Is there anywhere else the people go before they start having these so-called visions?”
“Well, I always has ’em shower first. Cuttlefish is very picky ’bout that. I mean, humans stink all tha time but in this weather, they sweats like it’s no squid’s business. Shut up – Oh… where’s that kid when ye need’im?”
Aliyah steps into the washroom, Cala close behind her, and they register a large tub added to the center of it before the smell slams into them.
Cala, coughing and putting a handkerchief over her mouth, gasps, “This room...that smell!”
“It stinks like rotten eggs in here!” Aliyah cries.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Cal says, looking confused at their reaction. “Imma male. I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no eggs.”
Aliyah sways. “Whoa...Callie? Uhh...I can...I can...I can totally see hippos…”
Cala grabs Aliyah and yanks her out of the room, rushing them both outside, past the parishioners, into fresh air. Holding her friend to keep her from falling, Cala fights off dizziness herself and asks, “Are you all right? Are you still hallucinating?”
Aliyah looks at her in fear. “Uh...are you a giant praying mantis with two heads?”
Cala shakes her head and feels a wave of nausea. “My head is swimming a bit. Come on, Aliyah, snap out of it!” She shakes her patrol partner and friend.
“Fine! Stop shakin’ me! I’m better now...at least, you only have one head now.”
Following them out onto the street, Cal says, “Youse two shouldn’t be drinkin’ durin’ workin’ hours. That’s bad Guardia work, that is.”
Cala snaps at him. “Cal, whatever is in that room is a dangerously powerful psychoactive drug! You have to stop putting humans in the baths, immediately! And we need to get our people to look at this.”
Aliyah, looking slightly less green now, asks, “You mean the Inspector and the Dei Sergeants?”
Cala shakes her head no. “There’s nothing supernatural about this. We need Syron. And Doctor Nataniel.”
Cal tries to hand them an orange sheet of paper. “Y’all wanna take a pamphlet tah help spread tha word ’bout tha Great Cuttlefish? I gots one right here.”
The two Guardia shout together, “NO!”
Cal raises his tentacles in another shrug. “Can’t blame a guy fer tryin’...”