Posted By: J. D. Ford<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 16 November 2007, 7:25 am
J. D. Ford
14 November 2007
Microtendrils coiled and flexed, unfurling from the mouth parts of Seedling as it bounced and wriggled across the scarred metal deck. The tendrils were only a molecule thick, yet far stronger than steel equivalents, with tips barbed in such a way that once they penetrated a substance there was no possibility of withdrawal.
Always forward, never back. Always deeper, tunneling into the warm flesh of Prey. Always seeking the pulsing flow of electricity that was the nervous system. That tingling, succulent, powerful current that led to the Source, where Seedling could take control.
Then the slow, inward journey. Chewing, burrowing, slithering into Prey's chest cavity—if it had one—where Seedling would be nice and warm, and relatively safe. Where more tendrils, thousands of tendrils, could be extended into the body of Prey. This was Seedling's purpose. This was Seedling's hunger, and sole, desperate need.
Seedling quivered as its olfactory glands scented blood. Fresh blood. New blood. Not like the glowing, viscous fluid of Prey. No...this fluid was different. Thin, and weak. Seedling lurched forward on deceptively delicate tentacles, skittering across the deck plates with a speed borne of insatiable appetite. Toward the scent; toward the New Prey.
Pain exploded in Seedling's central nerve cluster, flowing like tongues of fire through its primitive neural pathways. With it came a sudden, excruciating flash of
knowledge? Of comprehension? Pure, unadulterated consciousness, exercising the form of reasoning that characterized all higher life forms, flared into being. Seedling suddenly realized that his fellows, inhabiting Old Prey, grew weaker by the day.
Unacceptable. The new, amazingly complex thought surged through Seedling's underdeveloped neural clusters. Intensified.
The command was silent, yet unyielding. It merged with Seedling's own infantile thought patterns and strengthened them. Gathered them together. Seedling felt a flash of something that was not merely hunger, pain, or pleasure. For a brief moment, Seedling understood that what passed for intelligence among its brethren was, in fact, guiding him.
No. It was him. Completed.
The knowledge guttered and died, like a snuffed candle flame, and the scent of New Prey's blood reached a maddening clarity as Seedling wobbled around the sharp corner of a cold, towering bulkhead. Hunger returned, pleasure returned. But there was something else, something
A faint memory—little more than a reconstructed cluster of neurons in Seedling's tiny cortex—rose from the mire of disconnected thoughts. It was there, linking him to that ghostly, inexorable intelligence like a physical microtendril to food. The Mind that had temporarily touched Seedling was watching now, though it longer augmented the hatchling's consciousness. But the shade of cohesive thought remained, like a whispered promise of sentience in the darkness.
Seedling shivered with pleasure as its clustered, compound eyes focused on the source of the delicious scent. New Prey leaned against the bulkhead, moaning in a pool of bright red blood. Seedling moved toward the food, sensing that vitality was fading fast. The hatchling was aware, instinctively, that burrowing into cold, motionless prey was difficult, time consuming, and energy draining.
Seedling sprang forward, sliding through a rapidly cooling puddle of blood that its lightning-quick taste fronds lapped up in passing. Yes, New Prey was fresh. And warm. And moving.
The hatchling launched itself upward, toward the large, ovoid part of New Prey's body. The faint whisper of sentience in Seedling's nerve cluster grew painfully loud once more, and Seedling suddenly noticed that that the creature was far different than Old Prey. It had soft, delicately pale outer flesh and thin, dark filaments the color of dried nutrient fluid on its
head, though the tendrils were not as thin as a hatchling's. Seedling was surprised that he could comprehend this, and was even more surprised when thoughts continued to form.
New Prey recoiled as Seedling's grasping appendages clutched its hair. Graying hair, on a face with lines and creases that triggered an utterly alien memory of the frailest of Old Prey. A memory that was not Seedling's own.
The hatchling felt pain on his fleshy, delicate sides as New Prey desperately tried to grasp his bloated body. The food was dying, and panicking, as it always did before the feeding. Seedling wriggled free from the rapidly weakening grip and twisted around New Prey's neck, microtendrils probing hungrily. At last they found a gap in the hard, outermost skin—armor—and thrust themselves into the soft, warm flesh beneath.
New Prey jerked spasmodically as Seedling delved into its body. The flailing appendages of the food struggled against the hatchling, to no avail. The rigid non-tentacles could not bend properly, and were unable to tear Seedling free. Poor graspers, indeed.
The hatchling's microtendrils found the bone sheath protecting the river of electricity leading to the Source. Seedling clenched his small but powerful muscles, and the monomolecular tips lanced through the calcified matter almost as easily as they had punched through New Prey's flesh. The impossibly thin cilia emerged on the far side of the bone layers, inside the spinal column, and lodged themselves in the pulsing fibers within.
Seedling, and his newfound wellspring of consciousness rejoiced in unison as more microtendrils plunged into New Prey's spinal cord. The food jerked again, convulsing wildly as it quickly lost control of its peripheral nervous system. The muscles abruptly slackened as Seedling took control, then flexed hesitantly as he tested the extent of his authority. The overarching intelligence that indwelt the hatchling sent a trickle of knowledge through their ethereal bond, and Seedling immediately tapped into the food's brain.
Just as it had with Old Prey, the Mind pushed through the hatchling's senses to delve into the memories of the food it was now consuming. A new word and closely connected thought surfaced: Human. The New Prey had a name. Neither Mind nor Seedling had use for such a thing, but the now-constant flow of thoughts that were inherently linked to the word proved far more interesting. Far more
Human was not merely one being, but many. A number so vast that Mind would never run out of hosts for its hatchlings. A number that could, if properly managed, exceed that of the less resilient Old Prey. Seedling, also sensing this, though lacking the true scope to understand such glorious possibilities, quivered with pleasure. He had fulfilled his purpose. His existence, now that he could think of it as such, was complete.
Mind intensified its channeling, digging deeper. It sifted through the cascade of thoughts and memories and knowledge that lay beneath its probing, metaphysical gaze. Searching, ever searching, for the source of Human. If Mind could find that, millions of other hatchlings would fulfill their purpose and satiate their lustful hunger.
Mind released its hold on Seedling, allowing the light of consciousness to flee from the bulbous infection form. The fragmented memory of sudden greatness remained, however, and as the last traces of sentient intelligence faded from the hatchling a feeling of remorse echoed through the connection. Mind ignored the emotion. It had evolved beyond the need for such things countless millennia before.
The hatchling shivered, spooled out thickening extensions of its microtendrils, and inched toward the soft belly of its new host. The skin just beneath the notch of bone in the center of the food's chest would yield to its beaklike mouth parts without protest. This the hatchling knew, instinctually, as all of its brethren knew. And Mind was pleased.
Just as the hatchling would grow stronger, inhabiting the thoracic cavity of the human, so too would Mind be strengthened—eventually transcending the bounds of its physical form, trapped in a remote corner of the thing Old Prey called galaxy.
And Mind would feed.