“Do stars hatch from eggs?”
The little girl glanced up at her aunt as the two sat on a fancy padded bench before the glass display.
Her aunt smiled at her. “Not everything that’s born comes from eggs. You didn’t.”
“Then where did I come from?”
“I’ll…let your parents tell you all about that. But if you want to know about eggs, I do have a story you might like.”
“Is it scary?”
The little girl’s aunt shifted her gaze to the object inside the glass display, a bejeweled egg set on a satin pillow that lay atop a disk with an array of spokes. “To you? No. To me, maybe. Should I tell it?”
The girl’s gaze too drifted to the egg, and followed the course of the dazzling crystal-blue gems that trickled erratically along the egg’s surface.
“Yes!” the girl said. “Tell it.”
Her aunt nodded and began to tell the tale.
“Once, a colossal egg floated in space. It was the size of a planet, and it orbited the twin stars of a system somewhere in a galaxy far from our own.”
A star-faring people, who were new to the exploration of spaces beyond the worlds orbiting their one yellow star, found the egg. And soon after realizing what it was, they began to fear it.
Naturally, they did not suspect that the curiosity they had encountered was an egg, not at first. They observed the smooth surface, bearing only the occasional scratch or pit from being struck by the occasional asteroid, but otherwise smooth and silvery-blue. No quakes cracked the surface. No mountains rose from it. No waters rushed over it.
The shape was contested. Some argued it was round, as planets are round. Some argued that it was slightly oval. Some argued that it did not matter what the shape of the heavenly body was, for one thing was certain. One thing was uncontested. Detections and measurements made by the instruments they placed around the globe revealed that something living lay beneath the gleaming silver-blue surface.
The greatest minds of their world were gathered together to examine, investigate, and question the certain wonder and possible peril that their people faced.
What was the nature of the life they detected within the globe? Was it the people who once lived upon the globe? Was it a planet after all, and were its last people suspended in sleep, awaiting a day when their planet would once again be suitable for habitation?
Or was there only one being within the globe? One colossal nascent life whose heart was already beating so loudly that a people several stars away could hear it.
It was a philosopher who first suggested that the globe was an egg, standing before a great assembly that comprised all the many peoples of their world.
“Many things have hatched from many eggs,” the philosopher said. “Some terrible. Some wonderful. Some massive. Some minuscule. And not all things that have hatched from eggs have substance. For thoughts have been hatched, and plans, and spells.”
The words provoked a restless rustling among many who were present, but still they listened. For by the rules of their society, none were allowed to interrupt. And the philosopher continued.
“Was there not a poet that spoke of the egg’s perfection as a container? No hinge, no edge, no keyhole, and yet, the newest and weakest of creatures can break through, and in doing so, prove themselves worthy of entering the world.”
The philosopher was at first accused of giving voice to rumors that would rouse the people to rebellion.
Since venturing outside of their system, the people both longed for and feared the moment they would encounter other life in their unending cosmos.
But the long discussion itself—in high courts and in quiet corners, in the halls of learning and in the factories of industry—that long discussion itself had prepared the people somewhat for such an encounter. But the colossal egg was not among the many possibilities they had imagined.
For a long time they studied it. And they confirmed what so many suspected. Whatever was inside the egg was one being. One colossal creature. When it emerged, the hatchling would only grow bigger, and it would surely need to consume incalculable amounts of matter and energy to supply that growth.
Yet calculate they did.
And their calculations were bleak regarding what would be left of their galaxy when the creature was done with its feeding. In all their studies, they could not find how this egg had come into being. Or if it were even native to their region of space—or their reality. It may have been from another dimension, an alternate universe. But if so, confirming its origins was beyond their capabilities.
Much less did they have the means to send it back from whence it came.
But that was assuming it was not native to their space, their cosmos. They could not fathom how such a vast being had come to be. Then again, they themselves were small beings with short lives, imperceptibly short lives when compared to the lifespan of a star or even a planet.
Or a being whose newborn form was the size of a planet.
The people asked themselves what they were capable of doing, to prevent the certain destruction of their system, and ultimately their galaxy. And maybe even neighboring galaxies, though by then, they would be long gone and far forgotten.
They devised plans upon plans. Plans to contain. Plans to destroy. Plans to flee. Plans to fight.
They drew upon all their genius, and even upon all their foolishness. Magic and machines. Alchemy and astronomy. Sorcery and science.
Discussion gave way to demonstration. And though it was firstly fear that focused and motivated their efforts, the people came to enjoy a gilded age of invention and innovation.
In the end, they had to decide upon one plan, for all their resources and ingenuity and time would be needed for that plan to work. And the plan that won—likely to the surprise of future generations, provided they came into existence—was the plan to shrink.
The primary inventors were a pair of siblings who were careful to caution their people that their invention was still untested, and that all should prepare to shift their focus if a better way was found.
But their way had more than one happy end. Their shrinking process would siphon energy and matter from the egg and convert it for their people’s use, but it would also leave the nascent being within the egg unharmed. The being would be able to hatch and live and thrive, as a harmless resident of their own planet.
The work that would have taken several generations without the threat of imminent destruction, instead took only one.
The sibling inventors grew old and tired, having given their own energies to the machine that they hoped would save their people.
They were not quite ready. They machine was completed. But the testing was not. All trials were failing.
But the egg planet had begun to quake from the shifting and struggling of the creature within. And its silvery-blue surface had already begun to crack. The egg had no atmosphere. When fluid from within seeped to the surface, it turned solid at once, forming glittering ice-blue crystals that ran like rivulets along the cracks.
Having no choice left but to let the egg hatch or to use their machine, the people began the shrinking process. By their calculations, another three orbits of their planet would pass before the shrinking was completed. The egg would hatch shortly after. It would be just enough time.
So they hoped.
But there are always unknowns when attempting a thing for the first time. The shrinking was working, but it was working far more slowly than anticipated.
The hatching too was slower than expected. But not slow enough.
And they had noted changes in the egg upon its shrinking. There came a point at which the egg could not abide in naked space. So the people built a shelter around it, a shelter that would one day become a station, orbiting the twin stars in place of the planet-sized egg.
When the egg was the size of a great mountain, the people began to haul it through space toward their system, their planet.
To move the egg, they had to halt the shrinking. They planned to resume the process once they reached their planet.
But the egg, warmed by the friction of its entry into the planet’s atmosphere, began to glow a soft orange. The crystals along the cracks reflected dazzling patterns of light. They began to melt and run along the surface and behind the egg as it descended toward an empty valley.
The mountainous egg landed with enough force to send a quake through the valley. The pilots had done well. The quake shook the empty valley, but those living outside of it felt only a moment of unsteadiness.
Nestled in the earth of the valley, the cracks again split open and the silvery-blue shell began to splinter.
In three revolutions of their planet, the hatchling emerged.
Many longed to gather, to lay their own eyes on the creature.
But the valley was kept empty both to protect the people and to guard this creature, who despite its size, was a newborn. A select few were appointed to observe and to record on behalf of their people.
The creature’s shape was familiar to them, and yet also strange. The creature had four limbs, each with three joints. The limbs ended in appendages with five—perhaps seven—long digits. When the forelimbs extended, there seemed the hints of a membranous webbing underneath. Its long tapering tail flicked back and forth, not with menace, it seemed, but as the newborn creature tested itself in its new world.
The creature’s head was almost the same size as its torso, a proportion that was again familiar to the people. Many creatures on their world—including their own young—bore heads that were proportionately large compared to their bodies. The head bore large dark ovoid eyes, a long snout whose bottom half was wide and flat, and whose top half was taller and tapered to a hook.
The creature was still covered in a thin film of slime, but fine feathery scales lay beneath. Under the light of their sun, the creature’s coloring matched that of their grasses and their skies upon the gathering of a storm.
Those who were appointed to watch observed the creature with wonder, as it padded forth on all four limbs and twisted it head to direct its eyes upward and sideways and all about, observing its new world. The creature seemed in some discomfort, or perhaps in annoyance, at the film that still covered it. It stood often on its hind limbs and shook itself, flinging lumps of the film all about the valley. Those lumps would be carefully collected and studied in the days to follow. The remainder of the egg seemed to be deflating and growing pale and thin. It fell in piles behind the creature. It too would be studied.
The creature opened its hooked mouth. Those who were appointed to observe readied themselves to hear the creature’s first utterance. But no sound came. The creature opened and closed its mouth a few times, then dropped to all four limbs again.
The people of the planet, for fear they might be devoured as the hungry baby creature began its search for sustenance, dropped a variety of foods that they hoped the creature would accept.
They had done their best to surmise what would be best, but in the end, they had nothing but guesses. As the creature grew, and as they observed, they expected they would be able to mold and refine their guesses until they became sound conclusions. And they hoped the creature itself would somehow indicate its needs and preferences.
When the creature began to feed, taking small quick bites, resting in the valley, glancing up every now and then to examine the sky, it began to captivate quite a few of those who were appointed to observe it. Despite its size, it was new to the world, new to the cosmos. In some of those who watched it, the creature inspired the instinct to protect it.
The last of its kind. The only of its kind. The people did not know. Many still looked upon it with terror. But many also looked upon it with pity. It would have died if they left it in space. But it was still massive, still the size of a mountain. They no longer feared that it would consume their galaxy. But it still posed a danger to their planet, for they could not know its ultimate dimensions.
The creature grew. And so did the people. They continued their exploration of the systems beyond their own star. They built their station where the egg once floated. And from there, they built more ships that traversed farther and farther out into their galaxy.
Several generations passed. The creature who was the size of a mountain would have grown perhaps to the size of a planet. But the people refined their shrinking machine. And they learned how to speak with the creature, who never made a sound, but conversed with the people through gestures. The creature agreed to being shrunk to protect the only home and the only friends it had ever known. At last, they reached the limits of the shrinking. The creature was smaller than a mountain, but could not be brought down anywhere near to the size of the people. It was still larger than the largest animal that lived on the planet, in the vast oceans. The creature was the size of their tallest buildings.
In time, the people built a ship large enough to contain the creature, and they brought the creature to see where its egg had once floated. They explained why their predecessors had done as they had done. The creature understood, but was sad, for while it had many friends among the people of its host planet, it did not know if there were any more of its kind. The creature did not know its purpose, its origins, its place in the vast cosmos. It always feared harming the delicate people and creatures who lived in the only home the creature had ever known. The creature asked to be among those explorers to traverse other systems in the hopes of finding some clues to its origins.
The people were reluctant, for they had struggled to carry enough food for the creature on the voyage to the system where they found the egg. The people had tried to use the shrinking machine. But for all their genius, they had only ever succeeded in shrinking the creature.
The creature understood and was grateful to the people.
But the people could see that the creature had grown restless.
None knew how long the creature would live. The people had done their calculations and their projections, and they believed that the creature would abide long enough to see hundreds of the people’s generations pass. And still the creature would only be in the prime of its youth.
But youth, it seemed, was ever impatient, even youths with eons-long lifespans.
The creature was keen. It had a simple suggestion for how it might be able to traverse space as it most wished to do.
The creature suggested that the people reverse the purpose of their shrinking machine. The creature vowed to leave their planet, and their system, if the reversal succeeded.
To do what the creature asked, the people would have to channel an unfathomable amount of energy and matter through their machine and into the creature.
In all the generations that had built and re-built the shrinking machine, none had managed to use the machine on any other creature. All tests with objects both natural and artificial failed, resulting only in objects that shattered, or collapsed into a pile of dust. Those who used the machine on the egg had hoped it would work. They hoped to save the egg. For it was the only one of its kind. And by the time they found it, there was already a life within it. But they expected that the machine would fail as it had every other time, and they feared that the egg would shatter.
Those who most dreaded the egg had hoped it would be so.
There was no explanation for how and why the machine worked on the planet-sized egg.
Those who had built the machine were happy to have a reason to find an explanation.
One possible reason for the success may have been that the machine needed to be used on something or some creature as large as a planet. That the objects used in the tests were far too small.
The machine had never been used to shrink any planets. To perform such a test would have been reckless. And so, the shrinking machine was only ever used on the creature.
It would be so for the growing machine as well.
The growing machine too did not grow anything when tested on rocks and even whole buildings.
The machine’s builders were reluctant to use it on the creature, who was now so beloved of the people.
But the creature told them that they must. They must, because the creature was always meant to be massive. It had been wondrous living on a planet that teemed with so much life that the creature had never truly been alone. But the creature felt the strain of being small.
The people took the creature to the orbiting station where they had first found the colossal egg. They built an adjunct where the creature could live, and they planned how they might feed the creature. And they began the growing process.
As the creature grew, its appetite grew, and the people began to worry that they might not be able to continue. But the creature asked them to trust its instinct, for it perceived the approach of a change. Just when the people feared that the creature would starve, for they had no more to give it, the creature stopped eating and yet continued to grow.
It left the confines of the station, and though without the aid of machines to warm it and provide it with air, the creature survived. The creature floated away from the station, and gestured to those who lived and worked upon the station. The creature explained that it could now perceive matters and energies that those of smaller dimensions could not. And it could feed upon those matters and energies without harming the system or the galaxy.
The creature continued to grow, surpassing the size of the colossal egg that once contained it, growing to the size of the gaseous ringed giants that swirled about many systems. So massive that even when it had floated a whole system away, the people of the station could still see it and speak with it.
The creature bid a final farewell to the people, glad that it lived a life filled with more than just consumption and roaming. The creature would enjoy its solitude, even as it searched for others like itself. It would enjoy stretching its limbs and wandering through the cosmos, even as it searched for a new home.
The people asked the creature if it would ever return to visit them. And the creature, who still saw them, answered.
Perhaps, the creature said. But you will be long gone when I do. And I will be only a story told to your distant descendants.
Though the words seemed forlorn, the creature spoke them with joy. From a distance, the creature expanded its forelimbs, and the feathery scales flicked out and sparkled in the many colors of a nebula. A blue-green flame erupted from those feathers. The creature turned, and with a whip of its fierce tail, it soared away.
The little girl’s eyes gleamed as she looked at the egg in the case. Her aunt could tell that the girl was noting the cracks in the shell, the silvery-blue color softly streaked with orange in some places, and the earthen hue of the satin pillow on which the egg sat. And of course, a glowing outline that hinted at the creature lying within.
“This egg was made to honor that story,” her aunt said.
The little girl bit her bottom lip and frowned. “Why did you say the story scares you, auntie? It’s a happy ending.” She turned to her aunt, brows raised now. “Well, it’s sad that friends had to say goodbye. But at least the people were good—mostly. And the creature lived and got to be free.”
Her aunt smiled. “It’s just…they couldn’t have known if the creature would be friendly or not, if it would be angry about being shrunk, if they would have accidentally killed it during the shrinking process. So much was unknown. It couldn’t be helped. But that’s what makes me anxious about the story.”
The girl returned her attention to the egg. “Did the creature ever return?”
“I don’t know,” her aunt said. She leaned down close to her niece’s ear and whispered. “We’re still waiting.”
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel