[Author’s Note: This version of the story is now obsolete. A drastically different form appears in my book Unearthlily. I leave this here because I like certain elements of the old version.]
With her right claw Genu46 grips the child and tugs her beak from its ribs. She dribbles softener on its forehead, then cuts from combed hair to snub nose and tenderly peels back the floppy bone, exposing lobes packed with eggs as round and white as pearls.
She gapes briefly but catches herself quick and tunes down her mood engine until she’s calm enough to tweeze out the eggs.
Afterward she darts up into the pea-green sky over the human village and cuts off east toward her roost, skimming over winged trees fluffy with spring feathers. On the horizon her roost, a glossy black pillar, slopes up hairlike into clustered stratocumuli.
Inside, Genu46 skips her usual friendly beak-rubbing and slips off to the chapel, where she discovers Genu85 perched in front, his eyeball cocked at the gauges set into the altar. In the altar’s testing chamber he has placed an entire brain—eggless, of course, like every day.
Normally 46 tries to be patient with 85—they all do—but today she shoulders him aside, plucks out his junk specimen, unseals her eye canal and lets one egg roll into the altar.
All sixteen gauges bong in unison.
46 and 85 glance at each other. 85 begins to twitter in happy hack-brained excitement, and even 46 permits herself some joy in the instant before her mind is overridden by an incoming command:
DELIVER THE EGGS.
Her personality dissolves like sugar into water. Only the smallest grains of self still blink on and off, sparking through the depths of an ocean of nonbeing.
Her beak siphons the egg back into her eye pouch. Her body turns to leave.
The chapel is crammed with her roostmates—they line the pews and are stacked along the walls up to the dome, tiers of glassy eyeballs arranged so that everyone can stare at her.
But her legs carry her past them, through deserted maintenance halls, and into a bright corridor to mountains and plains and oceanic sky.
Her body launches itself out and her wings lock into hummingbird mode and carry her straight up.
The landscape rapidly contracts, rivers and forests pulling together into a mottled, blossoming flesh. Her roost tapers and curves down into a shiny black spiral.
Other colossal spirals appear in the far distance, dozens tangling on pale plains that curve off to the end of the world, where red waterfalls cascade sparkling into astral darkness.
Her wings slow, three nozzles emerge from her tail feathers, and then she blasts up out of the atmosphere, a cyclopean magpie rising on triplet jets of white flame, a speck departing her planet, which looks like a reclining human wreathed in clouds, with a red umbilical ocean, ribs made of mountain chains, and a bald head with closed eyes and a serene smile.
Three eye-moons orbit its torso, sweeping their gazes across its length.
And near its left knee, the thin black hair of her roost.
In the back of her mind a half-crushed feeling rears up and she plunges after it, chasing the pain into herself, shrinking, as she falls inward, to a dot of mind snowing toward an electric island of fragmented emotions.
With time other human planets spin past, vast sleepers clothed in clouds and feather-forests, their transcendental smiles reflected in the glassy dome of her deserted eye.
Meanwhile, 46, deep inside herself, glitchy and incomplete, views and reviews the footage of her roostmates filling the chapel. Again and again they stare at her, the Finder of the Eggs, the One, with all the camaraderie gone from their ancient faces, replaced by disappointment and an awful distance.
As her body passes the sun, a gargantuan glass orb containing an irradiant organism with feathery membranes swirling around its blinding core, she’s composing a speech for her return in which she reassures everyone, and especially poor deluded 85, that she found the eggs only because of their work ethic, their determination, the unbreakable unity of all their people everywhere—they who had searched so long and so bravely for the eggs.
The sun fades behind her. The stars drop from view. Her body ascends through silent darkness toward a matte-black ceiling and angles into a short tunnel to a metal room.
She’ll say she was only ever the insignificant emissary of a noble, superior, and devoted race.
A mechanical pincer drops down, seizes her eye, and yanks her into the air. A green laser hums in sideways and halves her skull. Her body and most of her brain drop.
Her eyeball is scoured by microlasers until it shines and turns translucent—revealing the clutch of eggs stored behind its pupil—and then the pincer pushes the eye into a slot in the roof.
Her eye, wedged in place, looks out from a submicroscopic gap in a smooth pale surface that extends beyond all horizons, curving around 46’s entire universe—
All her reality contained in a round, glowing shell, a cosmic pearl that fills all space.
I press one final button.
Her pupil squirts the eggs. They spray out, glittering in a light that is not light, travel up your gaze and through your eyes and thud into your brain.
Your figments wriggle toward the eggs…