by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Kaleidotrope, June 2018
Jade’s belly was full of food from a dozen star systems, but she felt hollow. It was her place, as Moryheim’s closest friend, to pour the glass of Khenani-catalyst wine that would begin her friend’s change. Having attended dozens of K’shellica chrysalis parties, Jade had thought this time would be no different. It was always hard to say goodbye to her K’shellican friends, but she now realized it was much harder to pour the wine herself.
“It’s time,” Moryheim urged with her rumbly voice.
Jade looked around the party: a vast picnic spread on the chartreuse grass under Moryheim’s chosen tree. All the guests — mostly K’shellican but a few human like herself — had turned their faces toward her in expectation. With shaking hands, she picked up the carafe and poured the deep brown liquid, spilling only a little. She handed the glass to Moryheim, who took it with the chubby, green-skinned fingers of her uppermost arms. Moryheim’s other arms squeezed herself, wrapping her long caterpillar-like body up in a quadruple hug. Jade wondered if her friend was scared of the change.
When they’d spoken the night before, Moryheim had been excited, not scared. She had tried to sweep Jade up in it: wondering what her body would be like after her months of metamorphosis.
“My egg-mother had purple flecks in the folds of her wings,” Moryheim had said, looking down at her body and gesturing with several arms at the phantom wings of her imagining. Time would make those wings real, but Jade doubted that Moryheim would have time for her anymore when that happened.
The larval stage of the K’shellican life-cycle lasted nearly twenty human years. Plenty of time to make friends and build attachments that felt like they would last forever. However, the adult form was vastly more intelligent, and Jade had yet to meet a K’shellican adult who had time for humans. Their mathematics and philosophy had changed everything from religion to the basics of space travel across a multitude of cultures. They were among the most respected thinkers of any species that humanity had encountered. Jade admired Drogash the Illuminator, Chora the Harmonic, and Ghee Mo more than she could say.
But she also missed who they’d been before their chrysalis parties.
Moryheim drank the catalyst wine. Shudders rippled over her long body, but she rose until she was standing on only her four hindmost limbs. She held her uppermost arms aloft and grabbed the lowest limb of her chosen tree. She swung herself upward. Jade could already see Moryheim’s body stiffening.
The other guests danced and sang while Moryheim spun the silk cocoon that would hold her for the next few months. Jade sat as still as a stone, watching the silver strands wind around her friend.
“I’ll still be your friend,” Moryheim said, almost as if she could read Jade’s mind.
Jade couldn’t bring herself to say anything — no comforting platitudes, nothing she didn’t mean, and certainly none of the bitter recriminations she felt in her heart. Moryheim didn’t deserve her bitterness.
“Why do you keep making friends with us?” Moryheim asked. The silk strands covered most of her body now. Soon, her face would disappear beneath a silk so fine it was almost clear.
“I don’t know,” Jade said. But she wondered. “Maybe it’s the thrill of being close to greatness. Maybe I just enjoy the companionship of larval K’shellicans. Or maybe I hope you’ll remember my friendship — that something we’ve shared will affect the super-intelligent being you’re about to become.”
“That’s certainly true.” Moryheim continued winding the silk around herself as she spoke. “Much of who I am is due to you.”
Jade had her doubts. But she also had hopes. Maybe this time would be different. “Tell you what,” she said. “When you emerge from your chrysalis, you’ll be far better able to answer your own question than I am.”
“So, come find me then.” Jade looked down at the shadow cast by Moryheim’s chrysalis on the ground. She nearly choked on the words, “You tell me the answer.” She knew Moryheim wouldn’t.
The other guests departed, one by one, until only Jade was left, sitting under the tree beside a silver cocoon nearly twice her size. Moryheim’s final question haunted her. Jade wondered if she should leave K’shellica — move back to a human space station and make friends who wouldn’t outgrow her.
Then she thought of the first time she’d read an essay by Drogash after his change — the world, life, and meaning itself had never seemed so clear. Chora’s symphonies were ecstasy incarnate. And, if Jade did leave K’shellica, the trip to the nearest space station would be months shorter due to Ghee Mo’s bent-space portals.
She had known each of them. She had been their friends. Maybe in her small way, she had changed them. They had certainly changed her. Each one of them.
Jade wondered what Moryheim would do when she emerged from her chrysalis with purple-specked wings and hyper intelligence. She got up and laid her hands on the warm silk of Moryheim’s chrysalis. “Goodbye, friend,” she said. Then she walked away from Moryheim’s tree, back to her home in the larval barracks.