Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflection and Reconstruction

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Chax leapt nimbly between the lung struts and jumped to a neat landing in front of Aun, bearing the full cluster of eggs entwined around the sharp stick that Aun had bound onto Chax's foreclaw. Aun wanted to chide Chax for cutting off a whole cluster, but kept his peace. It was partly due to Aun's lack of luck in attaining eggs in the gentle way, but there was also something dark in Chax's manner that Aun had no wish to deepen. Something had shaken the Oistrem and left him vulnerable. Aun put on a cheerful expression.

"Thanks, Chax," he said. "That's more than we're likely to need... and it's better to err on the side of caution. I'll just sit for a while and process them."

Chax's mood did not change. "I'll stand guard," he said.

Aun took the sack of eggs and headed to a convenient lump in the floor of the Kollen. It was surrounded on three sides by a sort of translucent hill that contained a network of channels. Some channels bore a thick fluid, some a line of wobbly black blobs, moving curiously and all linked together by a thin thread that ran between them. A blob would ooze forward until it was restrained by the thread behind, then pause for several seconds, during which time the following blob got the message and oozed forward itself. The result was a sort of undulation that seemed to ripple through the line faster than the blobs themselves traveled. Aun got lost in watching them for a time, then jerked his attention free and turned to his task.

He started to slash away all the webbing from the cluster, but stopped himself and only cut a small hole—the sack would come in handy to carry the extra eluctuant. He removed all the eggs, counted them, then took from his pack a chunk of mlierd bark which he broke into a small pile of pieces. With everything in order, he seized the first egg and started boring a hole.

Meanwhile, Chax paced about Aun in a semicircle, pivoting neatly to reverse himself at each end of the arc. He'd had long practice since childhood in keeping watch, and he had almost unconsciously selected an optimal area to pace and the best timing to use. He checked the likeliest directions of attack most frequently, and checked unlikely and even impossible ones at longer intervals. Over time, in the brief glimpses he got from looking up over the hill by which Aun sat, he learned how the drones were repairing the hole he had made. They had already cleared the broken shards of the old blister away from the edges of the hole, apparently by eating it, and now one drone with a larger abdomen than the rest positioned itself at one edge of the hole. It applied a dollop of something from its posterior, then let itself loose to dangle by a slimy thread. It swung itself back and forth, gaining more and more momentum, until it was able to grab the claw of a drone on the opposite side of the hole. The normal drone drew up Bloated-belly until it could touch its rear to the other side, forming a thread that stretched across the hole.

This process was repeated five more times, leaving a webbing across the hole. The drones then busied themselves with other activities for a while as Chax continued his pacing and Aun's frenting rod continued to rasp at the egg cases. When Chax next had occasion to pay attention, Bloated-belly was in the center of the webbing, plucking at and testing the twelve radial strands. It looked fatter than ever, and kept shaking itself and chittering. Other drones crawled up the ceiling, bearing what looked like a long furry stick.

Two drones each took one end of the stick, selected adjacent threads, then crawled upside down in tandem towards the center of the web. When they reached the apex of the triangle, Bloated-belly's chittering reached a peak and it touched its rear to the stick, exuding a viscous fluid and swinging its abdomen back and forth to coat the stick thorougly along its length. Eventually, Bloated-belly stopped swinging and simply placed its rear at the apex, apparently feeding out more translucent goop. The two drones that held the stick then backed up towards the edges of the hole, holding the stick against the web. The goop spread out from the center, between the strands, stretched out by the stick, until the drones reached the edge. They then smeared the stick carefully against the edge, leaving no gaps, and lifted the stick away. A nearly perfect triangle of shiny fluid shone in the web, dulling slightly as it dried. Chax saw that once they repeated this process eleven more times, they would seal the hole.

The drones appeared to be working primarily on this task, and taking no notice of either Chax or Aun. This brought to mind another question...

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