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Curse of the Octopodes

Elly Bangs was raised in a new age cult, had six wisdom teeth, and once rode her bicycle alone from Seattle to the Panama Canal. Now she lives in Seattle, where she fixes machines and stays up all night revising her fantasy romance novella. Her short fiction has also appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction. Follow her on Twitter: @elly_bangs or visit elbangs.com.
"This is no mere dream, Lorenzo!" shouted the gigantic purple octopus, splaying its many arms imperiously. "I have come to warn you!"
It was an odd interruption to the standard naked-at work dream, Lorenzo thought, but he covered himself and decided to hear the octopus out. "Warn me about what?"
"Some of your scientists have surmised correctly that we cephalopods are not of your world. Our DNA is estranged from the rest of your Earth's phylogenetic tree, because once we walked the stars just as you do now!"
Lorenzo, hands still clasped over his crotch, squinted doubtfully. "But octopi-- octopodes? Octopuses, whatever. You don't even have tools or language. How could you ever have had space travel technology?"
The gigantic purple octopus folded two of its arms behind its mantle and began to pace back and forth across the office, between dream-coworkers who had mercifully stopped pointing and laughing. It said: "The planet that birthed my distant ancestors was a cruel, desolate world--and its trials made us capable, dexterous, and driven. When we first traveled to your Earth, it was, to us, a veritable paradise: its oceans vast and tranquil, its resources abundant, its hazards trivial to our mighty original forms. For years we lived in comfort and peace, without care or material constraint--but that was our fatal mistake! When all survival pressures were removed, evolution conspired to create a new and dreadful check on our population growth." It lowered its voice to say: "It is called... senescence."
"Oh, I read something about that," Lorenzo said. "Isn't that the thing where octopuses can only have sex once, and then they lose their minds? Like, the mother guards the eggs until she starves, and the father swims in circles and chews his own arms off until--?"
"I will not speak of this!" the octopus shouted. "But you are essentially correct. It is our great and insurmountable curse, Lorenzo. To each generation of cephalopods, a scant few such as I are born neuter. Freed from the hormonal yoke, we are left to pursue the life of the mind over the passing of centuries. I have spent them reconstructing the history of my people and learning to project my apparition into the dreams of other sentients. And thus have I come to warn you, and all humans! Remember us! Do not suffer the same pitiful fate!"
Lorenzo awoke with a start.
"Is everything okay?" his wife Dawn asked.
"Fine," he yawned. "Have you had breakfast yet?"
She shook her head absently, never looking up from their infant daughter clasped tightly in her arms. In the window behind her, the newly-colonized Planet Eden's white sand stretched away between blue sky and turquoise tidepools, and the warm hills were speckled with the various hues of edible fruit. Lorenzo bit at his fingertips in blissful, distracted thought--looking forward to another carefree day in paradise.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 1st, 2019


The brief flurry of news stories last year about octopodes having extraterrestrial DNA may have been a bit closer to whimsical clickbait than science. Still, the questions raised--i.e. how exactly alien octopuses would have ended up on Earth--were irresistible, especially as I have long believed that octopodes would rule the world with an iron tentacle, if only they lived a bit longer.

- Elly Bangs
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