Short fiction

King Octopus: a story by: GF Willmetts.

The white light from space was approaching the Earth for a long time. Well, not really a white light as it was broadcasting a message as well so it wasn’t a comet or meteoroid but a spacecraft. It had a bona fide first contact situation and long enough to translate the message although it looked like it wasn’t a formal greetings but something more complex, like an access code. That could mean our visitors were making a return visit.

As one of the translators, I did offer the suggestion that they might not be looking for mankind but some earlier species that might have risen to sentience. That got laughed down, although I did add that they might not have expected an earlier species to be destroyed by a meteorite millennia ago. I didn’t gain much support although a few scientists were nodding than disagreeing. If these aliens were looking for an advanced reptile from dinosaur stock. Instead of looking for a binary or decimal math, we thought also look at base four or five then dimensions in that order. It still didn’t make much sense but it did look more like a key. Maybe they had known about the meteorite that destroyed most the dinosaurs and had provided a means for survival. The code was broadcasting across the Earth and although it didn’t mean anything to us, it might be reviving something not us. That still meant an earlier sentient species.

How had we missed them? There were no fossil remains. A suspicious looking early metal compass that could work out stellar positions but that would imply fellow humanoids. If they were being kept in stasis somewhere we hadn’t come across them.

The opinion then still remained that if we could at least find who they wanted to meet and prove they missed them then they might hang around to talk to us, the current tenants. There was an old film based on something like that but at least we knew who they wanted to talk to. I did point out that they might see the human race as interlopers although our level of technology should be proof that this was now our planet. We had to cover all eventualities and be flexible to change. The fact that it also covered my suggestions was just good game play. I also suggested that if it was a key that they might be reviving whoever it was as well. I agreed that this was getting us nowhere because we would still have no idea who or what or where. The signal was world-wide. No specific place for us to look.


I did boldly suggest we wait and see but man’s curiosity would always get the best of him and while the spacecraft entered the solar system and decelerating, we were still searching far more than preparing to meet these extra-terrestrials. Our repeat message to the aliens asking who they wanted to see remained unanswered. I did say that if we couldn’t translate them, how could we expect them to understand us in return? Saying that, we did also send the message in base 4 and 5. We were likely to have our first contact and neither would be able to speak to each other. Already our other linguistic experts started prepping visuals so we could teach our version of maths and into scientific laws, so we could develop a means of communication. Sometimes, the delay meant we had better preparation.

They didn’t always listen to me but did note that we shouldn’t necessarily turn away anyone coming forward declaring that they were the one the aliens wanted to meet. We certainly didn’t want another old film scenario. Of course, we did have several fields full of delusional people and many botched make-up jobs. If he or she was amongst them, then at least it would stop the aliens having to search the whole world with whatever means at their disposal.

As the spacecraft descended from above, satellite cameras were watching the descent over the Atlantic instead of what lied below as the water bubbled as a creature rose from the depth where a single camera watched. There had always been talk and sightings of giant squid. It wasn’t one of them. This was the mother of octopuses. A real kraken. Where had it been hidden all these years apart from sightings of all ships being invaded by its tentacles.

The view was obscured as the spacecraft moved over it and presumably a tractor beam took it on board and spent an hour in the spot. Only enough time to get a few drones to watch and seeing other objects being pulled out of the water. Presumably they also wanted to ensure they had some foodstuff for it or could propagate from samples.

But why a giant octopus? The kraken was legendary but we’d never actually seen one in modern times. We knew octopuses were smart with a unique biology but why choose one of them unless these aliens were also sea creatures and this was a species akin to them. We humans were small in comparison to them.

The spaceship just hung there for the better part of a day then prowling over the oceans dropping off things before moving in before flying upwards. Once it got above the atmosphere, its acceleration went up geometrically and was gone. So much for a first contact situation. We weren’t in their equation. They had what they wanted.

Should we be relieved? Imagine sitting down next to a big aquarium or in the sea making small talk with something the size of a giant king octopus?

One of the submarines was able to go deep enough to retrieve one of these devices that we described as probes.

As one of the translators, I was brought in to examine the probe. It didn’t take much, as a message was already being projected from it. The language was meaningless but I saw enough patterns to realise it was a code and suggested base 8. After all, if the aliens thought the kraken was similar to themselves, then go by the number of limbs. That raised my position again when it was found I was right.

The code turned out to be a key to activating a film message. The biggest surprise was the alien looked like the kraken. Identifying marks showed it was the kraken we filmed being drawn from the sea. It’s message was in English and a variety of other languages. Clearly, they had been noting us.

The message was stunning. The kraken was an alien on a first contact mission for many centuries on our planet. Living in the sea, it had assumed that the sentients here would also live in the oceans considering how much of the Earth was water. Finally, it examined the ships that passed nearby but its first contact resulted in them attacking and it retreated back into the depths. The quadpeds, presumably us by limb count, it decided were primitive and fearful and clearly not ready and had gone into hibernation until its pick-up spacecraft arrived. I was quickly joining the dots. The boxes that were picked up with the kraken was its luggage.

I don’t think it had realised just how quickly we had evolved over the past few centuries and probably left this probe for when we could make sense of it. This kraken probably didn’t anticipate our intellectual evolution or even if it did that we might not be ready to interpret its message. Their spacecraft left at speed and any radio communication could only be picked up when they chose to stop.

We were getting full privy to the report and I began wondering if this probe was really meant for us. It sounded more like a scientific assessment than a diplomatic mission of first contact. If it was, then it had failed from the onset. I was scribbling notes as I listened in and a few top brass were looking over my shoulder at my interpretations and a quick glance was an urge to go on. Being a translator also means making sense of what it really meant.

There were reports of our seas which weren’t healthy which we already knew about our own pollution. When it came to the assessment of the quadpeds, us, it didn’t think we would last long in the numbers we already have. As our numbers dropped, we would probably not be as much a danger to ourselves. I scribbled not genocide. These probes were designed to sort out ocean pollution but not for our benefit. Again, I scribbled: WHO FOR??!! Clearly to make my concern known.

Were these kraken species going to come back? Were we going to be seen as a world for colonisation? Was that the reason for the message it carried? To warn off other settlers?

The ending was the shocker. We were all wrong. Myself included. They had already colonised. The kraken was female and had left breeding eggs. A Queen Octopus not a King Octopus. A lot of eggs. For their own species, they didn’t expect them all to grow to adulthood. It was their own population control that they expected the food chain to remove the weakest. Lucky us when you consider how octopus was on the menu. However, we were now sharing our planet with a species better prepared to sort out pollution.

The military reaction was to rally against the, for the want of a better name, kraken but the ecologists had the louder voice. To attack the oceans would also destroy out own planet and who knew what these giant space-farers had to retaliate with when they came back.

It wasn’t like they had made any intention to attack us, just noting our species was facing its own extinction. It made more sense to prove them wrong and survive. Not that we saw ourselves in competition. We finally had an alien outside assessment that carrying out our current way of life would end us. What better incentive to show them they were wrong. We could only hope that next time they might talk to us. We’re going to need a big aquarium.


© GF Willmetts 2022

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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