By Sophia Hansen
Saltwater dripped from sodden hammocks—intermittent patters percussing throughout the dropship against the steady hiss of misters coating the Caribbean Reef Octopus Paratroopers with cool saline. CROP-15 closed his eyes in contentment, swaying as his berth dangled in the metal fuselage. As central brain, he appreciated the effort these land-dwellers had put into providing transport.
Curious, these humans that ferried the Reefer Brigade to their targets. They’d no obligation to the seas, but proved to be steadfast allies, nonetheless. Even they understood what would be lost. And they only had one brain to work with.
The avians had attacked first. Greedy, short-sighted birds—claiming the mariners possessed more than a fair share of the planet surface. Their offshore desalination plants were a cover for massive evaporators. As if destroying the shorelines wouldn’t hurt everyone.
The cephalopods hadn’t started this war between the layers, but they’d do their part to end it. They owed it to their future generations. But… they also needed to ensure those descendants would exist. His thoughts traveled to a certain ponderous female who’d promised to wait for him—if he made it back from the skies.
“I don’t have long,” she’d whispered, their arms entwined, suckers clinging gently in the reef.
“I won’t be long,” he’d promised. “But we can’t let them destroy our home.”
“At the expense of our future? You owe it to me and to your bloodline. Survive this—and come back to me.”
Central Brain suppressed a grumble. It was his third arm. Again. “What is it this time, Zree?”
Maybe the humans were lucky their appendages couldn’t form opinions of their own.
“The other arms are—” Zree chased after brother-arm seven and slapped at the cigarette in Syehm’s suckers. “They’re smoking again!”
The third arm’s policing attempt was unsuccessful. Arm seven merely flicked his cig behind their bulky mantle to the fifth brother-arm, Pyat.
Zree dashed under the beak, chasing the contraband. His brother-arms, surprisingly agile despite being out of their watery element, kept up this game of keep-away, each in turn tasting a drag with their suckers. Tsentral’nyy rotated his right eye, following the butt, and puffed a gentle breath from his siphon. Tell me something I don’t know, little arm.
Adeen maintained an aloof posture. He was the first arm, and only interested in games he started. Oozing confidence in his primary position, he sidled up to Tsentral’nyy’s left eye. “Would you like me to handle Zree?”
“No, Adeen, let them enjoy little pleasures while they can. Even Zree. Water knows, being the arm with the procreating packet, he’s going to have less time than the rest of us.” Tsentral’nyy shook his head, his mantle swaying behind him. “Especially once we return from this mission.”
“Hmm,” Adeen murmured in agreement.
Tsentral’nyy knew he didn’t understand. And he didn’t need to. None of his arms needed to understand that they were nearing the end of their short octopus life. The best they could do was make a difference while they had a chance and, if they were lucky, survive to procreate. Mating would be the death of him, but—in the fatalistic humor of the males of his species—what a way to go.
With a last spritz to hydrate, CROP-15 lumbered to the opening with the rest of the Reefers.
“Prepare to jump.” A human’s voice blared through metal speakers.
All eight of his arms quivered, but whether due to anticipating the dive or the unceasing rumble of the carrier, Tsentral’nyy wasn’t sure. He shrugged and focused on the fourth and fifth arms, wrapped around the rucksack as they prepared to slip off the plane. “Chehtyree, Pyat—guard those munitions. We have one chance at a surprise attack.”
Both tightened their suckers around the tactical backpacks, silenced in the face of this solemn charge.
“Brother-arms, your aim must be true. After today, the enemy’s air and ground defenses will be on guard.”
“Yes, Tsentral’nyy Mozg!” the limbs responded in unison.
At the jumpmaster’s “Go!” the CROP Brigade was airborne. One after another, they slid out of the carrier, arms streamlined behind as each navigated to their assigned target. A flick of webbing here and there kept them on track, and their chromatophore’s camouflage ensured that no one would see them coming.
At each central brain’s command, the arms extended their webbing deep, nearly to their arm-tips, creating billowing chutes to ride the winds, blending perfectly with the sky. Only the olive drab of their knapsacks broke the perfect blue continuity of the upper atmosphere. Each Reefer had a specific target and six free arms to use to hit it. The offshore platforms didn’t stand a chance.
Chehtyree clutched the pack while Pyat distributed munitions to his brother-arms. The installation came into range. Removing the pins with their suckers, the arms hurled their grenades with deadly accuracy.
Explosives deployed, the octo-paratroopers re-streamed their limbs and dove for the surface, welcoming the embrace of the deep.
Tsentral’nyy surfaced a safe distance off to observe the fallout. He climbed onto a large rock jutting out of the sea, pulled a watertight packet out of the knapsack, and offered precious contraband to his limbs. “If you want ’em, smoke ’em.”
He tested the waters. His hearts beat faster at the taste of her presence. She was close.
Zree stammered, “But, but… that’s against the rules.”
“Smoking’s not gonna kill us, but”—Tsentral’nyy’s eye rotated to wink at the much larger female clambering onto a nearby rock—“that smokin’ hot babe just might.”
Unwilling to risk breaking eye contact with her, he gave his third arm one final mission. “Gonna drop you off here, Zree. You, alone, were made for this.”
The remaining arms, even Adeen, flashed respect as their third brother-arm separated to make the ultimate sacrifice. Without his service, their species had no future.
“One way or another,” Tsentral’nyy murmured, mostly to himself, “we all gotta go.” He gave a soft chuckle. “But what a way to go.”