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Ecdysis
by Geoff Hart

On evanescent wings of ten-folded space-time, they ride photonic winds through pheromone-scented ethereality. In a local eddy of the primal matter that forms the substance of the universe, they are drawn to the kindling of fusion-fed life, where their dance of mating causes a thickening in that substance, nearer to or farther from the flame as chance dictates. Where the dance of mating occurs correctly, at a proper distance from the beacon that attracted them, aedeagus and spermatheca perform their functions; later, only one of the gliders departs the flame.

The one who remains rests a time amidst the congealing eddies before she spins the first threads of magnetic force into what gradually becomes a web that will protect her child from predators that may wander near. Close at hand, that which receives the result of the mating lies quiescent, as the grand dance of creation nears its close. There comes a burst of liquid fire, near as intense as the mating itself, as ovipositor pierces the densest of the eddies and quickens what lies within. There comes a final warping of the weft of space, the web is sealed, and the glider departs, borne on photonic winds to another flame, another mate.

The egg's silico-organic skin, buried deep within the its host's contracting mass, crawls within its gossamer electromagnetic cocoon, stirred by the fires that have kindled around it. Surficial features of the host arrange, rearrange, obduct, and subduct; eruptions vent the wastes generated by that movement. In the heat that beats upon the egg, changes occur. After a time, there is a hatching, a burrowing and a feeding upon the richness left to sustain the larva. Meanwhile, in the ordinary course of events, commensal organisms arise upon the cooling skin of the egg's host. For other spores have drifted here upon the galactic winds, or borne upon other gliders, and some few of these come to rest on receptive ground.

Its magnetic wrap guards the larva against all threats, and spins quietly through a single dimension of space-time; sometimes it spins in one of those nine other mathematical constructs that can be experienced, but never described other than through the language of mathematics. These changes echo within the larva, mark developmental processes that change others of the tenfold parameters that define the larva, and there are times when the web unwinds, becomes quiescent for a time, or even reverses its spin. Those commensals that cannot adapt across the hundred-thousands of millenia these changes require, die. Yet in each dying, some few remain alive and vigorous, and spread once more across their host, wherein the larva lies safe within its regenerated coccoon. When at last there comes a final quiescence, a time when the entire body that held what had hatched from the egg lies still, anticipating, pupation begins.

During the breathless millenia of queiscence, the host’s surface ceases its restless motion, and those fires still banked within appear dead or dying. Many new lives come and go during this period, including one species that develops wings of its own and flees the great expansion of the nurturing flame, an expansion that compensates for the cooling that has begun around the pupa. Then, in one pupal heartbeat, the shreds of cocoon that remain speed outwards, where they meet with and constrict those of the giant but pale flame that had warmed them for so long.

In an instant, that flame incandesces, consumes that which had fed it for so long, explodes inwards and then outwards in a climactic blaze that strips the last dwindling shreds of web from the host and casts them into the void. At that same moment, the skin of the host tears open and the young glider emerges—emerges and rests a moment, a heartbeat, the radiance of the flame drying birthing fluids and forcing other fluids into evanescent wings whose expansion feeds on the expanding flames. Lacy antennae unfurl, bathe in the pheromone-drenched ethereality of other births, that chemical flux that foretells other matings and a renewal of the generations. Following the stream of iron, silicon, and carbon forged in the flame, a new generation of gliders takes wing, borne away upon the solar winds, off to other flames glowing warmly in the vast, cold, darkness of the night. With them, they carry the spores that in time will become other lives on other hosts in the fullness of time, when the cycle begins anew.

Author’s notes

Ecdysis is the process by which an insect sheds its outer skin when that skin grows too constraining. In this story, the metaphor is of moths drawn to a flame, mating rather than being consumed, and leaving their larva behind them to mature and launch the next generation. Here, however, the moths are interstellar beings, stars the flames that attract them, and planets the hosts in which their larvae develop; the central conceit is a form of the old notion of panspermia. For those of us who happen to live on the surface of those planets, the possibility of such things happening offers a somewhat disturbing image. This is the second of a planned triptych that envisions what is familiar and unquestioned from an unfamiliar perspective; Mover is the first.

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