The Octapi

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The Octopi are something of a mystery to say the least. Nobody has ever seen one, or at least it’s impossible to find credible people who will admit to personal contact. There are plenty of starport drunks and old spacers with tales to tell, who will claim to have dealt direct with the Octopi, but we’re a bit sceptical about that sort of individual.

Little is known about the Octopi. The name has entered the collective consciousness but it’s almost certainly not their own. We think it was applied by someone with no idea what to call the mysterious ships that arrived in his vicinity, and seized upon the repetition of the number eight in Octopi design features. Their ships tend to be shaped vaguely like a Terrain octopus, with a spherical or ovoid main section and (usually) eight cylindrical protrusions housing drives, small craft and the like. Some ships have six or ten protrusions, but eight is usual. Typically, the protrusions point in the same direction, away from the most common direction of motion, but this is not universal.

Though they are not common, Octopi ships can be encountered all over the region. They are traders; or rather, recorded encounters have usually been with ships engaged in trade as opposed to other missions. Ships are well armed but not aggressive. Nor are they very communicative. The usual response to any form of communication is by standard codes rather than direct comms. When a conversation strays outside the realm of set-piece code responses, a synthesized voice is used. This is sometimes accompanied by a video display that is obviously a composite of various human actors and musicians. All Octopi ships use this synthetic image as their public face, implying that their actual appearance might not be acceptable to others…

The Octopi do not deal with anyone in person, but use robots as an interface. These are odd-looking ovoid devices fitted with eight manipulator tentacles (most of the time). Human factors are used at the main trade ports, but these individuals never meet their trade partners face to face. Instead these cut-outs have a mutually profitable relationship carried out through electronic transfers and meetings with robots.

Octopi ships routinely ignore communications from other vessels. Traffic control orders and even distress calls often go unheeded. This is a gross violation of interstellar law, but there are many places where it has become sufficiently common that it goes unremarked. Similarly, Octopi vessels do not recognise stop-and-search rights of most customs forces.

When they do consent to be boarded, the Octopi restrict visitors to their cargo areas and ignore any requests or demands to see the rest of the ship. Robots are used to interact with a boarding party. This refusal to cooperate with customs forces is illegal almost everywhere, and some authorities have attempted to enforce their rights. The usual Octopi response is to state that they will depart the region immediately or will fight to the death rather than be boarded. This threat has been made good on more than one occasion.

As a result, Octopi ships tend to visit worlds whose customs service has shown willing to waive its own rules in return for Octopi trade. This is a dangerous precedent, and not all worlds are willing to do it. Those that show a determination to stand by their rules are avoided in future. However, the number of ports where an Octopi ship can breeze past customs inspections is growing.

Some observers find it rather sinister that there is a power ‘out there’ that nobody knows anything about, yet whose ships can go more less where they please and can get away with ignoring interstellar law. There are those that think that the Octopi are aliens, and others who imagine that they are controlled by some kind of villainous genius living in a hollowed out asteroid somewhere… probably with a fluffy white cat.

What is known is that the Octopi deal in high-technology goods for the most part. These are generally of extremely good quality and slightly unusual design. However, all goods are fully compatible with existing models available from other manufacturers. These goods are usually a little better or a little cheaper – or both – than their competitors.
Often a cutting-edge design from one of the leading manufacturers is followed into the marketplace by an Octopi competitor with no regard to patent protection or other legalities.

There are good reasons for refusing to deal with these ‘people’ – they may be nothing but a bunch of robots for all we know – but these can be eroded by financial factors. Dealing with the Octopi means getting the best goods cheaper than elsewhere, or being able to buy gear that’s better than your competitors.

The differences are often subtle, but an extra half-percent output per unit mass on a portable reactor adds up to a lot of energy over its life, and gives the Octopi consumer an advantage over their competitors. Obviously, there is a lot of concern about the gear sold by the Octopi. Will it suddenly all switch off, or somehow convert itself into a plague of deadly machinery and make war upon society? No evidence has ever been found that Octopi gear is anything other than well-made consumer goods constructed in high-tech factories with no regard to patents and other legal niceties.

And what of these factories? Surely it must be possible to locate wherever the ships and the trade goods are built? Factories and shipyards require a supply of raw materials, which should in theory be trackable. However, thus far nothing has been found. One theory is that the Octopi use mobile factory ships which are provided with raw materials by suppliers whose contract is too generous for them to consider informing on their clients – or who are too frightened to do so.

There are all kinds of theories surrounding these mysterious and secretive traders. All that is known is that their gear is turning up in more and more marketplaces, and their ships rove more widely every year. Intelligence services, corporate security departments and conspiracy theorists alike are desperate to get a look at an actual crewmember or inside a ship… but for now the Octopi remain a total mystery.