My first and only lover was Aartaan of the Nine Sky-Worms. Few of my sisters could say they ripened eggs with him. When the doorways opened, I was proud to carry his unborn children into the new nest-world.
But its sooty air sickened me. The bone-beasts born here had poisoned their green. Death-destined, purposeless creatures – almost. Their ends meant our children’s beginnings, mine and Aartaan’s especially. No more poison then, only healthy green for our children to eat, to grow strong. Unlike bone-beasts, we had purpose.
Some distance from my doorway, I found one of their stone mounds and crawled inside. There was no green in its tunnels and too much clutter. I’m slender among my sisters, but even I couldn’t wriggle through without knocking over hard golden tools and a small stringy pet that had somehow been carved from the green. A larger animal squawked at me as I crept across its toothy face, but it didn’t bite. Useless guard creatures. When the bone-beasts were gone, I hoped their pets would die, too.
Two bone-beasts came to check the noise. They were neither vibrant blue like my sisters nor translucent prisms like the Nine Sky-Worms, and they walked on harsh legs that jutted only from their bottom parts. Disgusting.
I held their firm, repulsive bodies only long enough to stab them with my stinger and make them sleep. They kept no earthen nectar nearby that would wash their oily residue off my body, and even if they had, I couldn’t leave once I’d filled their nest-flesh with eggs. The Nine Sky-Worms loved for eternity but mated with each partner only once. My children would someday boast that they were the only offspring of Aartaan and Twel. They needed protection while their shells absorbed simple proteins.
While the nest-flesh slept, I crawled into an alcove to watch and wait and dream of no more bone-beasts, their pets or their sooty air. The skies would clear for Aartaan and his fellow royals, the Nine joining us from every corner of home. Love would find a way.
After a time, the bone-beasts awoke together and patted their hardened middles. Crackling sounds cut from their throats, some crude communication, and then they looked at glowing tools, eyes to far parts of their nest-world. They showed open doorways from home, hatching broods and screaming, fleeing bone-beasts. My sisters worked fast, but soon my children, too, would hatch, a purpose fulfilled.
The glowing tools darkened, and the bone-beasts grew quiet. They rubbed appendages at each other’s faces. They almost seemed to understand their role in my purpose, but how could that be? Simple animals, they had destroyed their own nest-world, made it too filthy for the Nine Sky-Worms to fly. Who but fools would desecrate their nest-world against Sky-Worms? Even children know better.
One bone-beast sat beside the large pet and stroked bony appendages across its teeth. They must have trusted each other. The other bone-beast picked up the smaller stringy pet and slid an odd branch across its front. Their animals screeched at first and then–
Oh, what sound was this? Animal cries, but pleasant. I’d never heard anything like it before. The animals had made awful noises when I crept across them, but I must have been hurting them. With the touch of their bone-beasts, they found symbiosis. Sweet-song, I called it.
Was this the bone-beasts’ purpose? It couldn’t save their green or their lives, but its power made my muscles quiver, as they had when Aartaan last laid a hundred eyes on me. His purpose slid from my mind. Sweet-song was beauty for its own sake. What splendor the bone-beasts couldn’t accomplish by sight, they created in sound.
I could have listened forever.
The seated bone-beast jerked hard and fell from its toothy pet. Prone and jittering, it cried out not pleasant sweet-song, but pain-song. Its bony appendages tore at its flesh until its wet eyes went still, and then only its midsection trembled. Mine and Aartaan’s children were hatching.
The other bone-beast dropped its stringy pet and grabbed the fallen nest-flesh. It made crackling noises again, but its companion couldn’t respond. Fluids washed down its face.
No, I didn’t want this. I wanted sweet-song. I descended from my hiding place, wrapped myself around the stringy pet and thrust it at the still-living bone-beast’s chest. Touch! I told it. Make sweet-song!
But it was too simple to understand and had too little time to learn. It slumped beside its companion, convulsing and bleeding. Both their middles split at once, birthing twin blue rivers of my wriggling children.
I ignored them and tried running my body across the large pet’s teeth. It still didn’t bite, but squawked discordant cries like when I first touched it, nothing sweet. The stringy pet hardly cried at all.
They would not make sweet-song for me. We were not compatible. Their biology intertwined with their bone-beasts, and now that one side in that symbiotic bond had gone silent, so would the other. They were going silent across the nest-world.
Purpose, purpose, but no one had thought of the cost.
Children slithered under my body and probed with demanding tongues, oblivious to the biological miracle that had died in birthing them. I was supposed to feed them. They were mine, my purpose.
But what of it? There was little beauty in them, and they could never make sweet-song.