(Transport 1 follows Preparations for Transport)
My older brother had already been taken.
It had been our turn, in the junior school.
Mr Lord had said how we’d a lot to live up to, and so on, before handing over to an old woman in a nurse’s uniform.
She’d read out some names. Mine was in there. And we’d been told we’d been given the chance of a lifetime.
They’d flown us down to the ice, of which there wasn’t much, and we’d spent I don’t know how long, probably the whole winter, training. It was dark all the time.
After that, there were more flights, and finally the big one.
We were crew.
There’d been a ceremony, a short one, and Mum and Dad had said good-bye by video.
Now here we were watching the ship’s eggs being placed in the jellied folds of its underbelly. They were like frog’s eggs, held together by something flexible.
An old-fashioned machine, with a claw arm, was doing the loading. Every time it drew near the ship, we winced.
The ship was delicate. And this was a difficult procedure.
We were onboard. And this was space.
We could see outside. We could see all around the ship. But there were no windows. And this wasn’t a ship.
We could see the earth. It was rising out of the shadow of the moon. It was still blue and white, green and tan, but it didn’t do anything. It just hung there, stupidly, in the blackness.
The ship was a living being. It had been grown in space. It had grown up without gravity. And it was enormous.
It showed us what was happening outside through pictures. And we felt some of what it felt. But its mind wasn’t very strong. I thought this was because it had more important things to think about, like the eggs, and leaving and carrying us all safely through space.
It had reached full size almost a year ago. And now it had its own children to look after.
After the last of the eggs was pushed inside the ship, you could hear it in the background repeating what it had learnt, repeating its lessons. It was like the sound of the sea in the distance. It was like a lullaby.
The ship lay in space, its wings stretched out against the stars. It was bigger than the space-station, to which it was still attached by thin tubes and wires. It was like a patient in a hospital, except that tiny specks buzzed around. They were like flies.
It had grown up with only humans for company, but we were its first crew. It had known people only from the machines they drove. It had seen them through the small windows in those vehicles, lit up at the controls. It was like a giant animal, grown by flies, to carry their eggs, out into an alien universe. We were the first to feel the ship shiver when the flies buzzed near its skin or pricked it with their metal probes.
And we were its first friends. Like it, we wanted to throw off the lines that held and connected us to the machines. Like it, we wanted to begin our mission and sail out of reach of these annoying little creatures. And, like the ship, we ourselves had been made by them.
It was dark inside and warm. There were large open spaces spanned by softly glowing white bones. There were also narrow pipes with bumps along them, like throats. You had to squeeze through and they gave when you pushed into them with your heels and hands.
Our sleeping compartments were not much more than recesses in the wall. They had valves for doors, which opened at your approach and when you crawled in and filled it the space moulded itself around you.
It was a shock to feel the ship push against your face, covering your mouth and nose with its strange skin. And you panicked the first time and held your breath. Then you emptied your lungs and found you could breathe through these folds in the ship’s skin and that the air was fresh.
When you were hungry there were cavities along its passages where food and drink were made available in the same way. The food smelt slightly of fish and the drink was mildly salty.
Our other bodily needs were just as easily dealt with. After a couple of incidents of embarrassment, the ship soon withdrew politely when we went to the toilet.
In fact, the hardest part of our new lives onboard was the weightlessness we encountered in the open areas. Elsewhere we had the walls to push against. They held us. The interior skin of the ship was textured and rubbery and easy to grip. Where the passages opened out it was almost possible to make your way along the sides or the roof or floor, but it was like cliff-climbing. You had to keep as much of your body in contact with the surface as you could. Or else you floated away.
This was fun if there was more than one of you, but even then somebody would get hurt in a mid-air collision, or by banging into the giant chicken-bones that held the ship together. And it made it difficult to do our jobs.
The main open area was what we called the hold. This was where the eggs were kept. The eggs occupied the entire length of the hold. There were thousands and they glowed. Their light passed through its walls illuminating the whole bottom half of the ship.
Our job was to look after the eggs. We were a crew of egg-gardeners.
We even had implements, on long white plastic handles, like rakes or hoes, to rotate the eggs and keep enough jelly around them so they stayed at the right temperature.
The problem was, every time you pushed against something, an egg or a load of jelly, it sent you spinning upwards, towards the white bones that spanned the space and the smaller spines which stuck out of the ceiling.
It was fun when we had a battle. And we used our gardening tools as swords and staves. But it was dangerous.
The ship could help us heal, we knew that, just as we knew it would look after us when we were sick.
If somebody got hurt, the problem was moving them, towing or carrying them, without disturbing the eggs or the jelly, up to the sleeping passages, where a fold could be opened and they could be placed inside. They would scream if they were badly hurt and sometimes fight and stuggle. They were as light as feathers, but dangerous for the eggs.
It wouldn’t happen until we were a long way into our journey, and the space-station was far behind, but when one of us died, the ship couldn’t help.
She would get stuck on a ceiling spine and blood would form into globes that would slowly float down and stain the surface of the eggs, as if the eggs had their own small forces of gravity.
We would have to bounce ourselves up to her and grab her by the arms and remove her body from the white spine on which she was pinned. And we’d have to look at her. And her sleeping fold would be sealed up forever with her body inside.
We didn’t have days. The ship woke us up when we had to go to work. It showed us pictures of light. They were like fireworks without the sound.
At first it wasn’t clear that the pictures came from outside and were not part of our dreams. Then the ship would make them flare so brightly that even asleep or half-asleep they would hurt our eyes.
This was like the ship’s tone of voice. When it was angry or when something was urgent the pictures became more intense.
I was sleeping when we left earth. Even asleep I noticed a change, because it went quiet.
The ship woke me with bursts of green and blue and in my dreams it looked like the world exploded and where it had hung in space there were just lights the size of raindrops. Nothing else was left.
When I opened my eyes and wriggled out of the fold in the ship’s skin where I slept and into the dark passage, I felt the change more clearly. The air was fresher. The darkness was deeper.
Under my palms in its skin, even this far inside the ship, there was movement, as if there was blood in its veins, as if the ship was using its muscles to fly, flapping its wings against empty space.
And it was silent. The sound of what I had thought was the ship repeating its lessons was gone. We were alone.
The ship showed me what was outside. There were the stars, above and below, and nothing else was there, only the glow of the eggs in the hold.
It was exciting to be on our way and I had butterflies in my stomach. I pushed my way along the passage and, after a toilet stop and some breakfast, which had a new taste, as if we’d only ever had stale food before, I arrived at the hold.
I met up with a few others of the crew. We were never all there. At any one time at least half of us would be asleep.
‘Why are the eggs so bright?’ I asked.
‘Look at this!’ One of them picked up some jelly.
It looked clean and clear. It had been cloudy before.
He held it against the shell of an egg. It melted away and my eyes could’ve been tricking me but the egg seemed to glow even more brightly.
All day we worked hard. We still called them days.
The eggs absorbed the jelly as fast as we could pile and rake it up around them. The ship produced the jelly as fast as we could collect it, faster, in fact.
It rose like a foam, not from the floor, but from the sides of the hold. The eggs in the middle rows needed our constant attention to make sure they didn’t go dry.
If this happened they started to get dimmer, but only slowly. The ship would show us where the dim eggs were and the pictures it sent would be more or less intense.
Nobody knew what would happen if an egg dried completely. Maybe it went black. One day this might’ve happened but I would never see it.
If the jelly didn’t need to be pushed too far, we used our rakes and hoes. If, as now, we couldn’t keep up, we had soft-sided buckets and things like a cross between a scoop and a shovel, and the scoopers would scoop, the ones with the buckets would carry and those with the long-handled tools would spread. Carrying and scooping were easier than spreading, so we took turns.
We worked so hard we hardly ever spoke, except to say how tired we were.
A long time passed like this, perhaps a year, a year without a single egg of all the thousands going dry!
The ship was pleased with us. It made us warm sugary drinks. We had a party. And, when we’d gone to bed, there was another party for the crew who worked while we slept, our opposite numbers.
One day, soon after, I realised we were slaves. We were the ship’s slaves. All we did was work and eat and sleep.
For play, there were the beautiful and frightening images of space the ship sent to our minds, but space moved slowly, the ship thought slowly. And we were small and fast.
I opened my eyes against its warm rubbery skin and I bit the ship. It was tough.
As soon as I’d done it, I knew I was going to go all the way. I bit down hard and began to tear a hunk out of the inner skin of my sleeping fold. Tears came when I though of what I was doing.
Finally the ship responded.
It sent an image of teeth being bared.
They were not human. They were a monkey’s, with big canines and incisors. They were coming closer.
I tore at the skin, jerking my head from side to side.
The monkey’s teeth opened and lunged at me as if they could bite me from inside my mind.
The skin was hanging on by a couple of threads and there was now a bitter taste in my mouth, like plant sap, with an even more disgusting smell, like fish oil.
On the underside of the skin there was slime. I could feel it sticking to my cheeks and on my chin and against my nose as I worked the flap of skin back and forth.
The image changed from the monkey’s teeth to its whole body.
It was a chimpanzee.
It lay on its back. It had a little pair of overalls on, like ours. It was sleeping.
No, it wasn’t. I stopped tugging against the ship.
The chimpanzee was lying on its back in one of the ship’s sleeping folds. It was dead. Then something started happening to it. It was something only the ship could’ve seen.
A kind of liquid gradually enveloped the monkey.
First it ate through the overalls. It was very slow.
Then the hair began to melt into the liquid, the hair, and the lips and eyes of the monkey, eyes that were still open, still staring.
I got out of there as fast as I could, leaving the flap dangling and slimy with the taste in my mouth and the sticky stuff on my face, which I tried to wipe off now. But I couldn’t run away from the pictures the ship was sending.
I saw the chimpanzee’s eyeballs break open and melt away until there was nothing in its head but two staring black holes.
I couldn’t get away from the pictures but I kept going. I bumped into things and people. I didn’t stop.
I ran and tumbled and flew down passages without knowing where I was going.
If the valve-like doors didn’t open in time for me, I ran straight into them and bounced off and sometimes I changed direction and sometimes I tried again. I squeezed through and shot out or I was spat out like a lemon pip.
I had to feel my way, but then I went for periods without touching the walls, the ground or the ceiling, until I hit something and I’d grab it and slingshot myself further. I was completely weightless now and there was nothing but black around me and I knew I should stop but I couldn’t. The muscles in my body wouldn’t let me.
When I closed my eyes it was the same as with my eyes open. The ship wasn’t sending but I went further, on and on.
I was racing along passages so narrow I had to crawl or pull myself with my hands flat against their rubbery insides. The passages were getting narrower and there were few branches.
At least, I couldn’t feel their openings or valves from the one I was in. I was lying and using my toes and the flats of my hands to go forward.
I realised I was barely moving. And then it occurred to me that I was stuck. I could neither go on nor go back.
I put all my remaining strength into it. I heard myself grunt with the effort. It didn’t work. I heard myself sobbing.
I woke up starving. I woke up without knowing whether my eyes were open or shut. Whichever way, there was only blackness.
‘This is what the earth must have felt like,’ I thought, ‘hanging there, nothing around, not turning, but being turned.’
I was starving. And I was lost. I was lost inside the biggest animal ever made in the biggest place you could ever think of.
How far were were from home, I’d no idea. How far I was from where I was supposed to be, I’d no idea. Were the others in the hold? With the eggs? There were always crews at work down there.
I thought of it as down because for some reason where the eggs were there was some small amount of gravity.
So I had been going up.
Did the ship have a head? I didn’t know.
And were there other crews on board in other parts of the ship who could find me? Perhaps there was even a search-party crew.
Perhaps there were crews working at more important and interesting jobs than raking jelly around giant eggs, than us egg-farmers, and they’d just told us we were the only ones and we had an important job to make us feel important. And there was a crew actually steering the ship, with a captain and a bridge, with a window looking out onto all of space. That’s all I wanted. I wanted a window.
I saw it. The stars came out.
First a couple, then, shining brightly, millions. Millions and billions and trillions.
I reached out my hand but I didn’t see its shadow. But neither did I feel the grip of the narrow passage.
I thrashed around.
I was suspended in the blackness and my eyes were open.
I shut them tightly and all of space opened up in front of me.
Nothing moved and yet it didn’t look like a picture. I started to see some stars were close and some far away. And there were parts where the light smudged, as if it was raining in only that part of space. And you could see colours and the colours blurred. But nothing moved.
‘Rain,’ I thought.
I remembered rain. I remembered the smell and the black spots it made on the footpath.
It was like I was looking down on myself.
I lay on the footpath. My mouth was open to catch the raindrops and the eyes of the footpath me were shut.
I could taste the rain.
I opened my eyes suddenly.
It tasted salty, as salty as the sea.
It was spraying out of the blackness.
‘Stop!’ I shouted.
My voice cracked. I didn’t have enough voice.
I shut my eyes again.
Footpath me was walking to school. He had his schoolbag on his back and the sun was shining.
Then it was lunchtime. The bell went.
He sat on the warm wooden benches outside the classrooms. He got his lunchbox out. He unwrapped his sandwiches.
‘Come on,’ I thought.
But he looked inside to see what was in them.
They were ham and chutney. He ate them.
I didn’t want him to stop eating them. I wanted him to go on eating them and sitting on the warm wooden bench in the sun at school forever.
He was chewing. He looked like he was listening to something.
I couldn’t remember if I used to sit on my own or not.
His chewing slowed. His jaw stopped moving.
He gave a little shake, as if he’d thought of something, as if it gave him the jibblies.
Then he just got up and went off and played.
It was the weekend.
We had a special dinner.
I was eating.
I thought, ‘What are you doing? Why are you waking me up at this hour?’
I felt a heavy lump by my feet. It was the dog, the family dog.
I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I had no breakfast.
We were told to have no breakfast. It was in the notice.
I was starving.
I wanted to run away and not go to the training, not today.
Maybe I’ll go another day.
Was it my birthday?
My friends’ faces were all dark, as if the ones you get when you’re in a bad mood, as if cartoon rain clouds hid them.
The cake was made of whale meat and the candles were eyes on sticks.
I blew them out but not with one breath.
I cried because it was bad luck and when no one was looking I took another breath and blew again.
The ship was sending something. I tried to resist.
I must’ve drifted. I was by a wall. Or it could have been a ceiling or a floor.
I had food. At least it was sweet.
It was so chewy it took a long time to eat.
It tasted like the colour dark green.
The ship showed the way I had to go.
When I got back to the light, the light from the eggs down below in the hold, the others said I’d been gone for ages, maybe weeks.
I was so tired. I opened my sleeping fold and crawled in.
In the place where I had bitten the skin had grown back. There wasn’t even a scar or a bump.
The skin rested over my face like my mum’s cool hand, except I could breathe through it.
We had no idea how long had passed.
I knew that I had grown. I knew this not from looking at the others but against the egg-farming equipment and the eggs themselves. I could touch the top of an egg.
I thought, ‘We’re getting used to it.’
Was this the bad thing I’d thought it was when I bit the ship? I didn’t know.
Our battles in the hold became more serious after I came back. I knew that this wasn’t because we were now used to being weightless. It was because we could fly. Although it wasn’t really flying.
It was more like gliding, jumping to a high place, making a turn around the giant chicken-bones, or between the spines on the ceiling, and bouncing in a curve. We could do this while still holding on to a rake or the handle, just using our legs.
Some of us broke their handles to get rid of the annoying plastic blades or comb things on the ends.
One of the crew worked away in secret sharpening his into a point. When he went to use it in battle, the ship sent a warning.
We hardly noticed the ship these days. It woke us up. It fed us and looked after us in its slow way.
We found the store of extra overalls. We discovered where the gardening tools were. We felt that we were no longer its slaves.
It sent us views of space. And by now we were so used to it being in our minds that we didn’t really talk about it.
And the ship showed us about when it was being made and how they trained it using monkeys.
It never showed the chimpanzee that I saw again. And I never mentioned it to anyone.
The ship usually sent soothing pictures, slow ones, like space. So when it sent a warning, we all reacted.
‘You can’t use that,’ we said. ‘It’s not fair.’
The sharpened handle was broken and thrown into the waste.
Somehow it happened that the night and day crews began to overlap.
At the end of a shift or at the beginning we would hold our competitions.
The ship must’ve known. Maybe it even watched.
It showed us we should put jelly on cuts and that for anything more severe we needed to get the wounded player to their sleeping fold.
The ship was able to heal even broken bones. But we’d been on board so long and the gravity from the eggs was so small that perhaps our bones were lighter now, easier both to break and to fix.
If so, we had all been affected the same way. We had no point of comparison. Except our clothes.
When I’d started egg-farming I was almost the same height as a rake handle. I’d grown half that again. And my wrists and ankles were one and a half times its width. I was not the tallest. And I was not the shortest.
I thought that the ship must still be growing as well. The spaces inside it never seemed any smaller to us.
In the passages where we could reach the top and bottom and propel ourselves along with our hands and feet, I could still only place my hand flat against the ceiling with my foot flat against the floor.
In the clothes store we found big overalls. They must’ve been designed for humans, not a ship’s crew, like us, from the junior school.
They were usually too wide in the bodies and legs and arms, so we pulled them in with sashes and belts torn from our old blue overalls.
For battles we wore as little as we could, not to get caught by the whirling staves of the tool-handles.
The night-workers took to wearing white. They must have found another store-pod somewhere.
When our shift finished we’d meet at the very end of the hold. Where it narrowed, a small passage came in and there was a raised platform big enough for us to sit in a circle.
We’d carry not only those we used for the jelly but also our fighting tools. Fresh buckets were kept there with food and things like sausages which were skins full of drink. The ship made us this specially for the battles. It gave us energy.
We looked out on the thousands of eggs, and, separated from us by one of the hold’s giant bones, which ran across from side to the other, was another raised platform.
The night shift left the folds they slept in while we talked and, dressed in their white belts, sashes and armbands, they prepared for battle.
There were two types, individual and group contests. We knew which it was going to be because that’s the way it would happen. Suddenly one or a couple of us would leave the circle and the battle would begin.
It was exciting. We shut our eyes and watched.
Battles sometimes grew and more of us would be called to join in. And sometimes a fight in which we were all involved would be decided in a bout of single combat.
This was how it happened. It was a misjudgement.
One of the night-shift girls faced a day-shift boy.
We were yelling for him. We’d only just left the fight ourselves.
She managed to press him down onto his back.
With all the strength he had in his legs he kicked her away.
She simply flew into the ceiling.
At first she struggled, flapping her arms and legs.
We were making so much noise and we thought her screaming was a battle-cry.
Our view of her went right up close. We saw the spine coming out through the middle of her chest and went quiet.
The day-shift boy was the first to get to her.
She’d stopped moving her mouth and her eyes were open. He didn’t know what to do so he held her hand.
When we got there, he said, ‘She’s not dead.’
Then he said, ‘Is she?’
The ship was sending urgent messages to get her down.
Together with the night-shift we pulled her off the long red spine, being careful not to spike ourselves.
Blood formed into fat round drops and slowly fell down to the eggs. It marked them with dark spots.
A strange noise came from the girl, like a hiccup.
The ship showed us to take her as gently as we could back to her fold.
We all went and we lifted her and one by one each of us from the day-shift and the night-shift all mixed together touched her and we placed her inside.
For a long time we stood and then we sat in silence.
The ship played us what happened.
She hadn’t time to turn around. She wasn’t looking where she was going.
She didn’t do the turn. She didn’t push off from the ceiling with her handle or push away with one leg to avoid the spines.
She didn’t do what she was supposed to.
‘Listen!’ the ship seemed to be saying. ‘She didn’t listen!’
When the ship showed us what was happening inside the sleeping fold, that it couldn’t heal her, we cried. We cried out.
It wasn’t like the monkey. Her eyes stayed shut.
It was like watching someone sink into a dark sea forever.
The ship left us looking into the fluid darkness where she’d been. We stayed there until there was no more trace of her fold, until it had sealed without a join or a seam.
A mixture of night-shift and day-shift crew returned to work. They worked together to make sure the clear jelly was evenly distributed around the eggs.
The ship soothed the rest of us with special food and, when we were awake, with its memories of the earth, sunrises, sunsets, and the changing face of the moon.
We were soon back in the hold, formed into alternating shifts of day and night, night and day. White overalls and light-blue overalls worked side by side and there was more to be done than before, or it seemed there was. We were tired and the shifts were long. And for a while we did not have the excitement of the battles.
We had little to say to each other. We’d sit in our circles, now mixed together, and share meals, and the ones who were starting would be hurried on by the ship and those who weren’t would be so tired they’d sometimes nod off.
When you woke up it was disconcerting. You didn’t know whether your shift had begun or ended, or whether you were supposed to still be working. Some just sleep-walked through their shifts anyway.
I knew what that was like. Your limbs were sodden and heavy. The jelly looked like mountains. It was too much to carry even a spoonful. The buckets stuck to the floor and the gardening tools refused to face the right way. They were always banging up against something, or someone. And a little play fight might develop but you couldn’t really be bothered.
Who knew how long had passed? Longer than necessary, when the routine for all of us was suddenly broken.
The ship called us together, sleep-walking workers and actual sleepers.
We made our way through the rows of eggs to one right in the middle of the hold.
We stood staring at it.
Its shell glistened and you could see the glow was from somewhere deeper inside it.
It was tempting to touch it.
And then I did.
It didn’t feel like the eggs I’d touched before. Whatever they were made from was more tightly packed together.
This one was loose, like you could get a scoop and dig into it. It also felt cold.
I tried to get some by gouging into it with my fingers. It didn’t give.
I made my hand into a tight fist and I punched the egg.
My hand disappeared into the hole.
I was so surprised I jumped back.
I noticed that others were doing the same, punching holes into the shell and jumping back. One of them had grabbed a handle. She was poking the shell.
She stuck it in as far as it would go and it hit something hard.
Now everybody was grabbing whatever they could find and stabbing the egg.
A deep green fluid dribbled out of the egg. It seeped through the shell, dying parts of it. It smelt familiar. But as more came out, the smell grew stronger and we were forced back.
It smelt like a taste. It got stuck at the back of your throat. It made you want to throw up. And the girl who’d poked the egg started retching.
The ship got some of the crew to move her right away.
It was the same for anybody who vomited. They were removed to a safe distance.
It looked like the egg was crumbling and now whole chunks of it fell to the floor of the hold.
The smell increased as more and more of the blue-green syrup flowed out. I tied a strip of old overall to cover my face and seeing me a few others did the same.
We stepped forward avoided the still glowing chunks of eggshell. They were like icebergs and we tried to breathe only through our mouths.
We were scared now at having broken the egg. It was a mess. And it was what we were put on board to protect, to feed and look after, as the ship fed and looked after us.
The ship wasn’t sending. It was as if it had withdrawn to a safe distance too.
There had to be a reason the ship wanted us to do this and I was curious to see what was inside.
I had a hoe-type tool. With its blade, I hooked and pulled and brought some of the shell down.
In its wreckage there was the source of the stinking liquid. I didn’t want to use my hands.
A couple of the others had got a whiff. They retreated.
I crept just a bit closer, both to see and to more easily pull down the rest of the shell.
It was still pretty solid and heavy. I hooked it and gave it a really strong yank. I had some help. Somebody had grabbed the end of the handle.
A large irregular piece of the shell wobbled. Like the continent of America on the earth, it spanned nearly the whole egg, from top to bottom.
We tried again. Then we released the blade and pushed at it from the outside to loosen it.
We went from inside to outside. It refused to part with the egg.
Another pair of hands joined us. Back and forth, back and forth, we pushed it in and pulled at it.
We got all the hands we could fit on the handle to help and the ship was watching again. We gave a mighty tug. America fell to the floor of the hold.
It even sounded like ice. It landed with a dull thud. Then, following it, a green-blue object sloshed to the floor. It slipped out on a wave of the remaining egg-syrup, which splashed at us. We jumped back.
Whatever creature it had been, it looked dead. None of us moved.
It wasn’t a baby, we could see that. It was folded into itself.
I could sort of make out limbs, but the limbs met the hair and smaller elaborations on the limbs, which could have been fingers as much as they could’ve been toes or claws.
It was the same colour as the stinking liquid. It was still covered in it in a thick layer.
Then something strange happened. It cracked. It cracked in a way the egg hadn’t, but like an egg.
We all gasped and inadvertently got a big whiff of the stink. We tried to keep our attention on it but it was difficult with the smell.
The ship told me to hook it, to hook the thing that’d come out of the egg, when I don’t know. I’d gone into a kind of a daze, stunned by the smell and the awful thing we’d done.
I hadn’t noticed that the egg-thing had freed its head. It had no face but a noise was coming from it.
I got my hoe and I attempted to hook the head. It was moving, sort of nodding.
I scraped it and a thick chunk of slime came away on the blade of the hoe. It was green and had dark blue tendrils or veins running through it.
As I pulled it in I saw in the deep green a thing like a tree, a blue tree. It had a hollow trunk, hollow branches and bare hollow twigs, like blood vessels.
Where it had met the egg-thing’s head there was a hole, a black-rimmed hole.
It kept on coming out. I had to turn and walk it away.
Behind me there was a sound like a kitten coughing.
I looked back at the egg-thing. It now had a face.
Just as the smell of the egg-yolk had been, the face was somehow familiar. It was horrible. But it was horrible in a different way.
It was my older brother.
I didn’t need the ship to tell me what to do. He couldn’t breathe. I went up to him and I stuck my fingers in his mouth to pull out the remains of the dark-blue tree that had allowed him to breathe in the egg.
More came out than I would have thought possible, as if it had grown inside his lungs. I got it off his mouth and cleared his tongue. My fingers could reach halfway down his throat, he was so tiny.
He convulsed and I tipped his locked-together body. He vomited up more fluid, like the egg-yolk, with more tendrils in it from the lung-tree. The vomit came out his nose and mouth. I put a hand over my face to stop myself vomiting too.
Each time his body spasmed it loosened slightly, until with a sound like a faint hiccup, like the dead girl’s, he unfurled. I could now ask for help.
We carried him away from the hold, through passages with valve-like doors to where the sleeping folds were. The ship showed us his.
He still smelt and was slippery with slime and he slid into the fold easily. To get clean again most of us had to do the same. I shut my eyes, the skin of the ship against my face, and I slept.
My brother was as skinny as the rest of us. But when I stood next to him, he was half my height. He was a baby.
My older brother had become my younger brother.
His skin had a green-blue tint to it. He was the first of the new crew.