When the pod door opened on their arrival back home Edrig was pleased to see Macrig's face appearing behind the open hatch. He felt a wave of normality which, in the light of Adrig's assurance that they were not in trouble, surprised him by making him feel glad to be back. But the smell that pervaded in through the hatch was rather different than he remembered. It was vaguely familiar, but he could not identify it.
'Hello Macrig. It is very nice to see you again. What's that funny smell though?'
Macrig looked past Edrig to Adrig.
'Have you not told him yet?'
'No,' admitted Adrig. 'I didn't want him to refuse to come back.'
'Ah well,' said Macrig. 'She wants to see the two of you immediately.'
'I thought she would,' said Adrig.
'The new Lady Lord?' asked Edrig.
'Yes,' Macrig confirmed. 'Downstairs right now.'
'What's she like? What's the smell?' Edrig persisted.
'You'll find out soon enough lad,' Adrig told him, 'But don't worry, she's actually not bad once you get over the… Well, once you get used to her. Come on.'
Rather than diminishing, the odd smell intensified as they walked down the stairs to the Lady Lord's quarters. But thoughts of that were banished from Edrig's mind by his puzzlement that the usual assortment of the Lady Lord's assistants was absent. The outer rooms were deserted.
But thoughts of that issue were also banished when the two travellers entered the Lady Lord's quarters and Edrig saw what was waiting there, sitting on the Lady Lord's ceremonial throne, a place most Lady Lord's did not usually sit.
It was an octopus.
A huge dark green octopus about twice the height of Edrig, with enormous black eyes on top of a bulbous yellow head that had streaks of yellow mingled in with the green. Its eight arms, or rather – her eight arms, flowed downwards to the floor on all sides, with their large yellow suckers quivering a little all the time.
'Steady lad,' said Adrig, grabbing Edrig by the arm as he swayed a little and seemed ready to faint. 'It's alright. I'll explain later. Just keep calm.'
What was almost as astonishing as the appearance of this giant octopus sitting on the Lady Lord's throne was the appearance of four of the old Lady Lord's youngest assistants surrounding the octopus in minimal white gowns and busily scooping up water from large basins and throwing a scoopful over the big octopus at regular intervals.
'They need to keep her moist,' Adrig pointed out.
'Don't worry lad. I'll explain.'
The big dark eyes of the big green octopus looked intensely at Edrig, and then one arm flicked up and over to a console by her side, and she began touching it. This caused a screen above and behind her head to light up, and slowly words appeared across it saying: Hello Edrig. I understand you did everything you could to save my colleagues. Thank you.
'Eh…' Edrig began, or tried to begin.
'She can't hear you,' Adrig told him. 'She can't seem to hear anything, thankfully. She has no ears, although she is very good at picking up vibrations. Just use the keyboard. Look.'
And Adrig indicated to one side of Edrig where a smaller octopus had appeared. An octopus about the same size as the ones that Edrig had brutally evacuated into oblivion, and it was standing up on six of its eight arms, or legs, while holding a keyboard at Edrig's waist height with the other two arms, or legs.
'She's referring to her little octopus friends. You did everything you could to save them,' Adrig said, 'That is what I have told her.'
So, still swaying and feeling very faint, Edrig began to type what seemed sensible to type: I did my best…
'My Lady Lord,' Adrig prompted.
Edrig shook his head in disbelief at this but added, my Lady Lord, to the end of his sentence.
The big octopus… the new Lady Lord, looked at a little screen beside her conveying Edrig's words and she cracked a slight smile from a thin slitty mouth that had previously not been apparent, and then the screen behind her filled with more letters, saying: You will be tired. You may be confused. Rest now. Adrig will explain. Go.
And so they both went. Back up the stairs, with Edrig getting more used to the fishy smell now, for yes, that is what it was, a rather fishy smell like the stale smell that wafted from the shabby fish and chip shops of Sample 717, and similar but somewhat different to the smell of the two little octopuses that he had murdered, or rather tried desperately to save.
And Adrig led him into their own rooms, where he indicated that Edrig should sit down on a soft seat, which he did, while Adrig said, 'Beer… Would you like a beer my boy? I think you could do with one.'
'Oh yes… we are allowed limited use of the Ladies' beer now. The old Ladies. The done Ladies. The gone Ladies, for now.'
'Adrig. What the heck is going on?'
'Just sit my lad. Just sit, and I will get us some beer, and then I will explain.'