A chrysalis is not a safe place for any sentient being to be. Especially not here, not now. Eric stared at the brown, glittering, fibrous membrane that covered the rock wall. Their comrade, Emb, once sat there, gazing at everyone with her strangely, innocent, fanged smile. Her solution seemed as simple as the air she breathed. We needed a transport, and she was prepared to provide the solution. If Eric had deduced her language correctly, she was dissociating to provide the solution to their obstacle.
The lieutenant was unconcerned about the result of her choice. His troops tapped their feet or kept shooting glances across the mountainous terrain around the team and into the sky at the floating fortress, their objective. The vulnerable team needed more cover, in case their rivals came back after downing the spacecraft that brought Eric and his team here. They would accept any help Emb could provide, regardless of her sacrifice. A sacrifice she was willing to take.
How could any sentient chose such a life?
“Hey, she’ll be all right, doc,” Private Jenson finally spoke. “It’s her idea.”
Eric ground his teeth, Jenson noticed the change in the doc’s normally stoic demeanor. Eric breathed in and replied, “No, no, she won’t.”
“Don’t follow,” replied Jenson, more intent on the sky and the unperceived threats from the floating monstrosity than Emb’s real fate.
“Don’t want too or don’t understand?”
Jenson shrugged. “Either one, you pick, doc.”
Eric went for the latter choice. It was a longshot. “Emb is what we’ve called a Metamorph—”
“Yep, shapeshifter.” Jenson looked over at the chrysalis, raising an eyebrow. “Not exactly how the movies depicted it though. Thought it be quicker.”
“Not like a werewolf or some other silliness,” Eric snapped. “She is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis powered by a series of linked nanobots that are reprogramming DNA to create a new entity that will serve the purpose we need.”
If he had a cigar, the slack jawed Jenson would have dropped it from his mouth. “So, like a genetic costume change?”
Eric stormed toward Chrysalis. “No, a complete new creature, Emb is dying!”
How long of a life did she even have? The nanobots would have it filed away, but they did not possess any sort of AI beyond what they were programmed to do, except maybe to store enough memory of the former Emb so the new form could recognize and aid them. Their whole race philosophized life this way. They did not value their sentience the same way Eric did. Metamorphosis was fine for caterpillars to butterflies, but for a spacefaring race?
Eric knelt next to Chrysalis. He placed his hands over the fibrous membrane that made Emb’s tomb and the new creature’s womb. How long did the process take for her to be dissolved? Did it hurt?
Jenson voices was right behind him. “We all die, chief. We all make choices, Emb made hers.” There was a pause. “I think I was supposed to say something like that.”
Eric thought, this must be one of those war-buddy-bonding-moments. “I wish we didn’t have to wait several days for a new transport.”
“You know what they say: wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up quicker. They still say that, don’t they?”
Eric chuckled, it was one of those moments. “Give me a moment, Jenson. I need to concentrate.”
He felt the armored Jenson step back, slightly. Eric pressed his hand onto the Chrysalis. It was organic, so it wouldn’t be able to block his probe. He pressed his hand and visualized his neurons firing deep through the Chrysalis. He was searching for some semblance of Emb.
He found her, she felt groggy, sleepy, or just plain high. It would make sense that high-powered drugs would be needed to dull the pain. Don’t ever sell those to humans, he thought.
A feeling of curiosity fluttered up the neurons in Eric’s arm. She was searching for the source of the connection. She was bewildered and troubled.
Why are you here?
Eric coughed and attempted to gather his thoughts. Does it hurt?
Yes, but not long now. Nothing hurts forever. You should not be here.
Why, why would you do this?
Too many questions. It was needed and I am capable.
Another “you” will be capable, you are dying.
We all die.
I hate you, Jenson.
Jenson is not the name you gave me.
No, no, different thoughts. How long have you lived?
Three years. Length is not important, only now.
Do you regret not being able to explore this galaxy any longer?
I did explore. Now another takes my place. With your people, you do it by generations. Too long. I must go now.
No, Emb, wait one more question.
The process will not be halted, too much at stake.
I will remember you.
You cherish individuality, it is a waste.
A pulse of electricity shot through the neurons on Eric’s arm. The shock pushed him violently from the Chrysalis and into the back Jenson’s legs.
“Whoa, doc, I know you’re grieving, but I got two fine ladies in two different star systems. This would just be weird.”
Eric pulled himself to his feet.
“You crying, doc?”
“I . . . I just said goodbye to a friend.”
Jenson massive hand gripped Eric’s smaller shoulder. The big guy smiled. “We don’t always get the chance.”
Eric heard the Chrysalis rupture. He turned to see a gash from top to bottom. The gash grew wider. Membrane fluid leaked through the opening. A five-fingered, bluish-gray hand, reminiscent of Emb’s skin tone, burst through the rupture. A second hand ripped through and the two hands ripped apart the Chrysalis. The new Emb stood and towered over Jenson. Two pairs of fibrous wings, like gossamer, but probably stronger, extended from its back. Its massive feet were talons and massive, perfect for lifting a few compatriots at a time.
Lieutenant Stevens marched up a moment later, tossing the mass rifle Emb originally used. The new Emb grabbed it from the air. The new Emb inspected it and armed it, when satisfied everything was in order. Eric felt his lips quiver and eyes moisten, so many skills each new life could keep, but not the same identity. He wish he could understand why.
Stevens pointed at the slowly spinning metallic, crystalline structure rotating high in the sky above the team. “We need an insertion point. It’s likely there’s trouble up there. Can you help get a couple people up there to secure a position?”
Eric stammered at first, but quickly picked the translation back up. The new Emb smiled slightly at the stumble, but it nodded in response.
“New . . . Emb wants to take those with the heaviest weapons on the first foray.” Eric translated new Emb’s response.
The lieutenant started shouting orders to his men.
New Emb stared at Eric and nodded again. “Another Emb,” it said, “same blood, different person, and a new friend.”
Regardless of what Emb had called a waste, Eric had a feeling he would remember both of them as individuals and friends.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.