This Wooster is not the most perceptive of chaps. I am not quite so stupid as my aunts will persist in believing, but I will readily admit that Bertram is not the world's greatest brain. However, he lives with the world's greatest brain on terms of deepest mutual affection, and it was clear that all was not well with said w. g. b. I came home to find the flat apparently empty, and searched for Jeeves only to find him under my bed. Kneeling down beside the bed, I could just begin to see the sinuous mass of his tentacles, and really began to worry.
"Jeeves? Jeeves, are you all right? It's not bad news from home, is it?"
The last time he had gotten like this, it was because a distant cousin had been killed by one of those bally underwater volcanoes there are so many of on his world. Honestly, one had nearly gotten me when I had gone to visit, so I had been full of even more sympathy than might naturally be expected.
"No, sir," he said softly. "All the family are well." The tip of one tentacle came snaking out from under the bed, and I jumped.
"You're blue!" To be fair, in his true form Jeeves is no human color, but I had to assume a change from green to blue meant something to his health.
"Indeed, sir." He sounded both soupy and very nervous, and I sighed.
"Come out, love. Tell me what's going on."
Upon that last bereavement I had just held him while he trilled and cried a little about carrying his cousin's egg around for "airings" (really waterings, since you're not supposed to expose the egg to air) when they were both small, and had gradually regained control of himself, with the help of a good stiff drink and a few more consoling embraces from Wooster, B. This time I thought it might take a bit more. It certainly took a bit to coax him out, but he finally came, engulfing me in his tentacles and wrapping around me as though someone might try to steal me.
"I am--" He said something in his own language that roughly meant 'with egg', as far as I knew, and clung a little more tightly.
"...I know things are a bit different for marine life, but aren't you a chap, Jeeves?" I tipped my head back onto his shoulder to look up at him.
"...I am. This is rare, but possible." He then went on to say something about the acid balance in London's water and geographical sparsity encouraging hermaphroditism and breeding-caste changes, and then coughed like a sheep on a distant hillside as he reminded me how much our usual balance of each taking the receptive role about half the time had tilted lately to Jeeves all the time. "I should have noticed the signs, sir. I am sorry."
"Don't be, love. How many are we expecting?"
"I don't know." He shivered a little. "It could be anything from a single egg to three hundred."
"Well. If it's only about four or so, we can keep them. If it's three bally hundred, we'll probably have to take them back to your family."
"You're not angry, sir?"
"Why should I be? I was the one who wanted to adopt, remember? If it's just the one we'll say he lost his real mother in a tragic laundry folding accident or something."
He smiled slightly, and kissed me.
Jeeves was able to continue valeting me as though nothing was any different for quite some time, but I reveled in catching him in his cerulean, tentacled glory in the tub. It was more important than ever for him not to dry out, and just like a human woman he needed naps and a good four meals a day, all of which I was happy to help with. Part of helping was to allocate all the funding needed to buy truly excellent fish. Jeeves trotted round to the fish market every single day, and wouldn't accept anything that hadn't been swimming that morning. He ate a good deal of it raw, and persuaded me to try it as well, on the grounds that the Japanese seemed to do quite all right. It wasn't half bad, especially delivered by blue tentacles and garnished with Jeevesian smiles.
Of course, his craving for copper wasn't something I could join in. Apparently humans do actually need copper, but we get it in roundabout ways such as plates of liver and onions. Jeeves actually just sat there and gnawed on copper wiring, purring to himself. Really, it was precious, if very odd. I still couldn't get over the color change. Jeeves is usually a deep, foresty kind of green. Like kelp, but much nicer. 'With egg', he was a rich, vibrant blue with tiny gold glimmers in it. Rather like a necktie I would buy without him and yet be graciously allowed to keep, really.
Our plan was a fairly simple one. Wait for him to start to show, then pretend to go on a cruise around the world while we in fact spent Jeeves's confinement on his home world. After that, it all depended on how many there were. Even if there were three hundred eggs and we had to leave them all there, I was still looking forward to visiting Jeeves's ancestral home again.
It was about another three months before Bingo quietly leaned over as Jeeves left the room, and asked me if my paragon had exchanged fish for pudding. I blinked, said something noncommittal about not noticing the weight he was putting on, and steered the conversation onto other topics. Still, I knew that our time had come, and after we had shown Bingo out, I wrapped around Jeeves, who let his human form go with a sigh of relief, tentacles absently worming their way out of his uniform anywhere they could, twining around my neck and ruffling my hair.
"I think perhaps it may be time to leave, sir."
"I was thinking rather the same. You've got the earthly travels all set up, right?"
"Well, we might as well go tomorrow." And so we did. Travel to Planet Jeeves is a very peculiar thing. Yes, the world has a proper name, but if you have only one uvula you can't pronounce it. They don't fuss about with taking ships across the stars, or any of that. The place is apparently in another bally galaxy, and years away no matter how fast you cover the intervening space. So they don't. They go through a strange kind of void thing that's also a fold of space and time and I really don't understand it, but suffice it to say that if you open Jeeves's closet, you will find his clothes neatly put away on one side, and what looks like a patch of night sky on the other.
The idea is to step into the latter, and let yourself sort of fall to your destination. It's all very interesting, but before even doing that much, I had to shapeshift. I personally don't know how, but Jeeves has a little hypodermic type thing we use for this. It takes a pinch of his skin and injects it into mine, along with, I suppose, extremely detailed instructions about matching it. I can only assume the Wooster cells are just as gormless as I am, but they seem to get the idea. I don't turn into another Jeeves, that would be bally awkward, but I do turn into a sort of squiddy version of B. Wooster. It's not at all painful, but it does feel rather strange. I shivered and sneezed the way I always do when I change, and then stared down at myself in some alarm.
Usually, I'm sky blue and violet in patches after this procedure. A bit like a tabby cat, if they came in those colors. This time I was deepest black and a red so vibrant it nearly glowed. "I say! Jeeves?"
Deep blue tentacles wrapped lovingly around me. "You seem to have become a throwback as well, sir. Those are breeding colors."
"Oh?" I always get a bit confused in fully tentacled embraces, but it's a good kind of confusion.
"To warn others away from me, and to advertise the fact that you are now venomous."
"I am? Good Lord!" I pulled back a little, not wanting to poison him by accident.
Jeeves smiled. "Only if you break skin with these, sir." He took the tip of one of my tentacles and showed me a little hooked claw, slightly swollen at the base.
"Jolly good, then." I squeezed his six more handlike tentacles with my own, and then paused. "I do look all right this way?"
"Simply beautiful, Bertram. Step through the gate before I ravish you to prove it."
I laughed and went through.
Jeeves's home shuffles around between two suns, and the light is unbelievable. One sun is bright blue-white, the other a dimmer red. Everything has two shadows, and I stood on one of the rafts the float on the surface, holding receiving pads for travelers. There's no land to speak of, and since I was already in water-breathing form, we just hopped over the side and headed down. One always has to make multiple stops to pressurize, but with Jeeves in the family way the stops were much more frequent. About a mile down he apologized for the delay, and I dragged him in with all fourteen limbs and kissed him.
"We can take days, dearest."
He smiled. "The days are fifty-six hours long here."
"Are they, by Jove? I never noticed."
"It is less apparent from the depths, it's true."
"The point remains. We go as slowly as the eggs demand."
He smiled softly, and kissed me again. It took us a long time to get there, but the time passed quickly enough, especially when we ran into some of Jeeves's family coming back from a fishing trip. They crowded around him and cooed over him and asked him questions about trace minerals and organic chemistry that I really couldn't follow, and beamed at me. Apparently my condition mirroring his was a sign of devotion, and I was quite touched to actually feel valued by in-laws. A few of them went on ahead with the fish and to tell Jeeves's mother he had arrived, the rest hung back and escorted us down, catching Jeeves up on all the news, a good deal of which went right over my head.
I was admiring the scenery when I caught sight of Jeeves's mother, and tugged one of his tentacles to get his attention. His mother always made me a bit nervous, because Jeeves's people work a bit like bees, so their mother is essentially royalty. Besides that, she's enormous. About twenty feet tall, and the same blue Jeeves was at the time. He smiled shyly at the sight of her, and the others stood aside to let her reach out and reel him in with her tentacles. She doesn't actually talk like you, I, or even an ordinary member of the Jeevesian race. You can sort of feel every word she says reverberating inside your skull like a heart-breakingly perfect bell, and it's always a bit overwhelming.
Greetings, little mother.
"Greetings, Mother. I bring you my mate and growing clutch in peace." I was getting the feeling that this exchange was some sort of ritual.
I accept all, formed and unformed, in peace. She kissed his forehead and smiled. As you knew I would, you silly creature. I couldn't help but twitch as she pulled me up beside Jeeves. And you are absolutely precious. I promise you to take good care of your spawn if you have to leave them with me.
"Thank you," I said, tentacles wriggling nervously. She smiled, and gently towed us further down.
By the time we got to the city, several of Jeeves's favorite siblings had put together a phenomenal spread in the local style. A lot of it was raw, some of it was still alive, and there were only a few things I could have possibly even nibbled at in my usual form, but as a tentapod (so they had been termed in a scientific treatise everyone had thought the work of a madman, and they find the name reasonable enough) it was like sitting down to Anatole's cooking. A lot of the dishes were specially composed to meet an expectant mother's needs, and watching Jeeves positively wolf it down, I was glad we had come.
Jeeves's people are generally infertile, so finding oneself in the family way is a mark of great distinction. Still, they're not like humans. They have the sense to give a person privacy in their confinement, and Jeeves was able to settle himself snugly in a dark little cave warmed by a geothermal vent without a lot of interference. He was becoming a deeper blue by the day, slowly but surely making its way to royal purple as he became more and more huge. His eyes were changing color too, shifting from bright yellow to a dark copper. He assured me that it was all quite normal, and I was thereby left free to admire it and to feed him. The latter was very nearly a full-time job, and I felt an ardent sympathy with those poor male birds who have to fly hither, thither and yon to cram food into the mouths of their mate as she sits on the eggs.
Still, Jeeves was always endearingly appreciative, and would frequently snag me with his tentacles and do utterly disgraceful things to me for dessert. If anything, his desire seemed to have increased, and I kept myself at his disposal despite mild exhaustion. I was drifting off to sleep one... well, probably late morning now that I think about it, but it bally well felt like evening, when a little vibration jolted me awake.
"The eggs are turning, beloved." I could feel the process from where I was pressed against his belly, and smiled.
"Must be dashed odd to have that going on inside the old tum." I held up a tentacle to forestall correction. "I know, I know, it's a broodpouch, but it's still in the same region of one's corpus."
"Indeed." He kissed me softly. "I think we shall be able to bring them home, dearest," he murmured.
"There can't be more than five," he said, in a deferential kind of way.
"Darling, I'm sure I can support up to octuplets in reasonable style."
He chuckled, and I suddenly found myself tangled in him and being devoured again. There's really no other word for the way he took me while he was waiting to lay our eggs. When we weren't thus occupied and when I wasn't cramming raw fish and certain precious seaweeds down his throat, his mother and other relations would come by. I even got to meet Jeeves's particular father. There are three breeding males for each female, you see, but one can generally keep track of who begot whom. I recognized him right off, coming in with a basket of this peppery, red growth that Jeeves had been craving by the pound. He was seated with his back to entrance, but the line of his back and the shape of his cranium were just like Jeeves's, and he was the same deep green that my man usually is.
Jeeves beckoned me over and introduced us. The breeding males aren't quite as huge as their partners, but he was still tightly balled up, a good ten feet tall. Like most other tentapod names, it's dashed hard to transliterate, and a full translation is something like A Being Possessed of the Strengths and Weakness of the Hermit, Ever in Conference with the Five Moons, so I'm just going to call him Herbert. Herbert was very curious about me and about Earth, and listened with particular fascination as I explained postage stamps. Jeeves smiled fondly, devouring the seaweed I had brought him and periodically interjecting when I forgot an exact date or precisely who had invented what.
It wasn't much longer after that visit that Jeeves got on with the business of laying the eggs. It apparently wasn't a patch on human labor, but it was very uncomfortable and Jeeves appreciated having me there to rub his belly for him once I was fully awake. The little pests elected to come out while we were both having a nap, and the first I knew of it was Jeeves's tentacles coiling up in pain and giving me about sixteen rather nasty pinches, tangled up as we were. Still, it didn't take very long, five clear bags all coming out on a ropy kind of string. About as soon as his body had closed up behind them Jeeves swam to attach it to the ceiling of the cave, letting it hang down like a fruiting vine or some kind of outlandish party decoration.
"So. Those are the little chaps?"
"Indeed they are." Jeeves gently cleaned the bags, and coming closer I could see four beating hearts. There was a fifth, but it seemed to be empty.
"So what's our tally, Jeeves? Four or five?"
"The fifth appears to be a ghost egg." He examined it closely, and then nodded rather sadly.
"A ghost egg?"
"An empty one." He plucked it from the strand. "Still, an eighty percent spawn rate is quite good."
He cradled each full egg in turn, pressing my tentacles to their sides so I could feel how warm they were, how sleek and squashy. They bulged, as if they could barely contain the frantic growth going on inside them. As yet, the babies were just huge black eyes and fluttering hearts, but I could see them taking shape. We sat with them for a long while before Jeeves made sure they were secure and bathed by a refreshing current, then towed me out and away, carrying the ghost egg. "They'll be all right for a little while."
"Where are we going?"
"Essentially, to the graveyard, but it's not so sad as that."
"A ghost egg is not so much a stillbirth as a failure to conceive."
We skimmed along in a direction I had never really explored in before, and soon saw a massive, dark crater spilling out below us. Warmth radiated up from it, and I could see waving fronds of vegetation. Jeeves led me to stand on the edge, and tenderly bound a stone to the egg. He kissed it, and then passed it to me, and I did the same. It felt like the others, but cooler, and without a certain humming thingness. You know, the same sort of feeling that separates an empty house from an occupied one.
It was a farewell kiss, for Jeeves gently tossed it over the rim of the chasm, and we watched it sink from sight. Jeeves explained quietly that the dead were sunk likewise, and that they helped to feed a thriving and valuable ecosystem. Medicines grew here, and a myriad of other useful things. It seemed both macabre, and rather tidy and practical. After a while of loving and solemn silence, we went back to the cave to fawn over our clutch and discuss names. They were lively little things, turning over and fluttering, and everyone came to visit, especially Jeeves's mother. She was almost ridiculously proud of him, and sprawled half in and half out of the cave to watch the eggs, assuring us that they were forming beautifully.
Another three weeks and we could pluck them from their vine and carry them about with us. Their little tentacles were much clearer now, and they looked a bit like colorless spaghetti in cellophane bags. Still, love is blind, and spaghetti doesn't have giant, watchful eyes. Or at least it bally well shouldn't. The children did, of course, and long before they hatched they were taking it all in, wriggling happily whenever we spoke to them.
The eggs darkened gradually to a clear, spring green, like new leaves, and they were obviously getting more and more cramped by the minute, the eggs stretching more and more to accommodate their growth. Jeeves watched them closely, his eyes lightening and his skin going back to green as mine faded back to blue and violet.
"They're going to be bicolored," Jeeves said softly, after a minute study of our clutch.
"Oh?" I looked up from my book. "Like me, but in green?"
"Presumably, sir, though they will darken a great deal when they hatch."
As if his words had given them the idea, one of them thrust a tentacle out through the wall of its egg, wriggling it joyously. The others all made the little squealing noises we had started to hear from them, and started tearing their way to freedom. Jeeves beamed, and I watched in amazement. Soon there were only a few shreds left of the eggs, and the whole clutch was swimming in giddy circles, chirping and trilling. After a few minutes, they drifted down to us, a bit tired from their exertions. Tentapods not being mammals, the children are on solids right away, and we fed them some fish, cooing over them in an utterly soppy, disgusting, and excessive manner.
I left the naming to Jeeves, really, only interjecting to steer him away from some of the ones that would really get them mocked at school. Certainly, I don't know much about girls' schools, but I can only assume they're at least as savage as boys, if not more so. Beatrice, Penelope, Jane, and Elizabeth are normal enough, I think, and more importantly, sounded well with either of our surnames, since we hadn't yet decided which to use. As Jeeves pointed out, we knew what they looked like as tentapods, but not as humans, and 'Jeeves' would be a bit ludicrous if they were all fair-haired. They were lovely tentapods, by the way, and that's not just a doting father's partiality. They darkened to a rich turquoise, with thinner versions of my violet markings, and were chubby, cherubic babies like the sort you see in advertisements for cod liver oil. With the addition of tentacles, of course.
They grew quickly, and were soon ready for our gradual journey to the surface, babbling and poking at everything on the way. Jeeves's mother escorted us, and you'd better believe everything kept well out of her way. We carried one of those hypodermics with us, and once we finally reached the surface and the girls had had a moment to look around in the sunlight and laugh with delight, I changed back (one does this by thinking very, very hard about what one really looks like) and we gave each of them a little pinch. They all howled and fussed, but changed into four black-haired babies, blinking enormous blue eyes. They seemed to have a moment of confusion from only having four limbs, but were soon taking shaky steps on the raft, fascinated by this walking business. The first time one of them fell off, my heart nearly stopped, but Beatrice swam just as well in human form as she had in her own, giggling at my shock and then squealing as her grandmother scooped her up in the palm of her hand.
In the end, we decided to say they were orphans I had adopted during our travels. We worked up the necessary documents, and soon had the girls at home in London. They spent a great deal of their time in their true form in the bathtub, giggling and splashing. They were fascinated by dry land, and were running everywhere before they could talk, bringing us things with their chubby little hands. 'What' was their collective first word, as in, 'what is this?' Jeeves was always glad to supply an answer. I had been worried that having their mother officially be a servant, with all the distance that entailed would damage them, but watching them together, I realized that tentapods are used to a certain degree of formality, and there's no way they can't know Jeeves loves them.