“Did you know the proper plural of Octopus is Octopedes? Yes, Octopi is technically correct to an extent and you might argue that adding an -I would make it plural. But that’s for Latin words, and octopus is technically a Greek word. So, Octopedes is correct, and octopi isn’t wrong just informal, I guess.”

Jack in the Box

Arjan considered the hill at the end of the wooded valley, and wondered if he was going to die this day. 

The hill was irregular and topped with some scraggly metal ruins. The ruins themselves were alien, but unremarkable. Most of this world had been covered in similar ones, when the colony ship had arrived. Much still was.

The ruins were stanzas of an epic tragedy written across the planet’s very soil: mile after mile of devastated cityscape, overgrown, weed-choked, blasted and desolate. When Arjan’s grandfather had set out from Earth, frozen in hypersleep, this planet had barely developed steam power. By the time they arrived, centuries later, the creatures who built this civilization were long gone, victims of a catastrophe Arjan’s colleagues at the University were only just beginning to understand.

Now, the colony was expanding. And expansion meant roads. And this is where the hill came in: it was in the way. It blocked the proposed Leotis-Kola high-speed route.

Except it wasn’t a hill, at all. Arjan’s surveys discovered the ruins on top were just part of a very complicated structure underneath. It was dense metal, quite probably some sort of machine. It seemed to have eight legs and a thick armor carapace. It must have been some sort of octopedal tank. Somehow it had been half-buried here when the cataclysm overtook this world, and lain silent for centuries.

It couldn’t possibly still be active, Arjan thought, as the engineers’ lasers began to cut.