The Tube Worm



I admire you, son.

When my great-grandparents’ great-grandparents came to this planet, they were the same age as you, and they had the same wanderlust. You can understand why. They’d been born in space, and however enormous the Hayflick, however elaborate its intellectual and sensory diversions, it was still a metal cavern like those we’ve lived in ever since. All they wanted to do after the ship landed was get out and run.

It was easier for them back then. Nothing could harm them except misadventure, which their upgraded genes and tech made unlikely. So did the terrain. Pierr was bare rock, sand and shallow seas. The most advanced creatures were blue and yellow microbial mats just different enough from the greats biologically that they couldn’t be poisonous or pathogenic. Of course the greats couldn’t eat the native flora either. Food, ultimately, kept them close to the landing site, where they helped transform the ship into our new home with its mountainous rock shell, its vast aeroponic gardens and this single doorway onto the world.

A few of my great-grandparents ranged farther. By their time the ground had become covered in a furze as well as prehensile stalks and blue and yellow fronds. The largest creatures were the worms that budded from the stalks. For a long while these greats lived in the swamps expanding to the east, where they watched the worms develop wings, then bloom into early versions of the flitters that continue to plague our vents. The stalks and fronds lashed my greats only incidentally as they passed by, though, and the worms slithered into their clothes at night, but none ever bit them because they were still unpalatable. To the native life they might as well have been ghosts.

That’s why they returned. They were on Pierr, not of Pierr. Nothing paid attention to them, and they felt terribly isolated. They longed for the rain because it made them feel welcome. For snow because their tracks proved they’d walked there. For a breeze to make them dream of flying away on it. Only among their own, could they be truly embraced.

I had your wanderlust too when I was your age. Yes, I did. I sat here like we are now and watched the stalks and fronds give way to a butterfly ivy whose pods spilled forth all manner of gossamers that filled the sky. The furze loosened and rolled in variegated waves to the horizon. I considered traveling the world to catalog the flora and fauna until, one day, I threw a stone and watched the startled waves fling up rainbows of gossamer. I didn’t have to leave, I realized, to see all that needed seeing.

My wife, your great-grandmother, she was different. She liked to touch things. Smell them. She did leave for long enough to observe the furze begin to spawn the clumpers and rolling prickles that snatched at the gossamers, then to see the gossamers grow too large to be snatched. One of them, she swore, blocked out the morning sun. Another, a black one with purple veins, trailed her for three years. She tried to communicate with it, thinking it must be interested in more than her movement, but it ignored her--except when she covered her skin with mashed clumper. That it paid attention to. She said its double tongues tickled.

She also returned once the loneliness of being licked, but not tasted--her words--became too much for her. Of course I like to think it was also the loneliness of being separated from me for an eon.

After we had your grandmother, the stalks and fronds returned as pillars and fans a hundred meters tall, while the ivy became a hedge enveloping the land. After she had your father, the clumpers divided into a thousand shaggy, stinking species, some living in the flora, some feasting on it or each other, all at war with the rolling prickles and their throwing spines. And after you joined us, the gossamers shrank individually, but their chirring swarms darken the sky--until they dive at a herd of clumpers, tear them apart, and lap up the pieces.

It’s beautiful, Pierr’s wild, ceaseless hunger.

So I don’t care if the clumpers devoured your cousin not a thousand yards from this door after he left. I don’t care that they’ve developed a taste for us. I don’t care if my greats have convinced half the family to cower below, beyond the tertiary airlocks, while their greats have convinced the other half to restore the Hayflick and tear the top off our mountain so we can decamp for another placid planet. I won’t keep the door sealed. I won’t stop watching the world just because they’ve forgotten how to engage with it. And I won’t stop you from wandering through it either.

Do you know why our family lives for so long? Yes, our genes and our tech, but mostly it’s because this planet has lacked any threats to us. Like the tube worms on our home world, which lived for countless centuries in the lightless depths of the ocean because nothing preyed on them, so we have existed on Pierr. Simple existence is not enough, though. Safety is not enough. We need danger. Worry. Reminders of our mortality. Because death makes life feel new. What could even the tube worms have achieved if only something had nibbled on them every once in a while? Perhaps they would have travelled the stars the way our shipbuilding ancestors did, fleeing resource wars, rampant diseases and the planet they had turned against themselves.

So go, son. Don’t get torn apart. Or pierced with a thousand flying thorns. Or eaten. Go and be inspired and live as we were meant to live—as your cousin did, briefly.

I’ll wait for you here, admiring the view where the view can’t get me.






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