A funny thing happened on the way to Enceladus.
Terry could hear the clickety-clack of the prosthetic leggings on Number 876’s spacesuit as they ambled down the ship’s corridor. The octopi didn’t really care about names. Terry called Number 876 Klara because it made her feel better to call her partner something other than a number. The nickname scrawled on Klara’s helmet in radical ink had been their own choice, though.
“Water Baby,” it read, though in Japanese.
Dinner was a strange affair. Half of the mess hall was a dedicated habitat for their aquatic nakama. Before taking her place on the human side, Terry watched Klara shed their suit and slip beneath the surface of the limpid pool. There was a succession of splashes as other members of the octopi crew dove in to feed and frolic. Though they chatted more with the humans than each other, in the habitat they furtively engaged in their ancient war dances and timeless courtship rituals.
Terry joined Brewster from Logistics and Devan from Maintenance at the last open table. Terry didn’t like Devan. The blue-haired washout was always talking trash about the octopi and this time was no different.
“Time was, we’d put them in glass mazes and wait to see if the little buggers could even work their way out.”
“That was way back in the days before Lockheed invented the Interface. Now we can communicate with them. It’s different now,” objected Brewster, who was clearly uncomfortable with the direction this conversation had taken.
“It’s different now, alright.” Devan grunted and took another big bit of his sandwich. “Now we’ve got them navigating and piloting our ships. Next thing you know, we’ll be the ones taking orders from them. I ask you, what’s wrong with humanity plotting our own way to the stars?”
Terry set her fork down. She’d been trying hard not to take his bait but couldn’t resist snapping back. “Because as sapient beings, they have as much right to go to Enceladus as we do. Besides–”
One by one, octopi were leaping up out of their aquatic habitat and hurrying back into their suits. Terry dropped her sandwich and rushed over to poolside to find out what was wrong. They were all talking at once and chattering so fast in some other language. It took Terry nearly a minute to realize it was Japanese.
“English please, Klara! English.”
“Voice!” Klara gushed. “There’s a voice! Oh, you can’t hear it. Can you?” They skedaddled past Terry and made a beeline for the control room.
“Can’t hear what?” Terry ran after Klara. “What kind of voice?”
“Big voice!” Klara squealed. “This is big!”
“Klara!” Terry stopped. “What’s the hell is going on? Explain it to me!”
Klara scuttled back to where Terry stood. “Not like human. Like nakama but… big. Big voice.”
Terry tried to piece the little tidbits together as they neared the control room. “You guys hear a loud voice? A voice like one of your kind?”
“Hmmm!” Klara answered with a dip of the head.
The door opened and Klara headed straight for the display screen. One armored appendage clicked at the grey orb. That grey orb was this mission’s target, Enceladus. Pieces started falling into place. The nakama were hearing a voice, a voice on Enceladus. Something loud enough to reach a ship two months away had to be massive. There was life on Enceladus and it was huge.
A smile split across Terry’s face.
“This is big!” she crowed but then her smile fled.
This was big but in a bad way. Something massive was alive on Enceladus under all that ice. Whatever it was that spoke to the octopi had to be aware of their approach.
Was that voice a warning? If so, they were in trouble. The ship was two months out and way past the point of no return.