There was a very rich lady, very rich indeed. And one day she saw a spider pulling her egg sack into a corner so that dozens, even hundreds, of her progeny could split forth from it. This lady, envious and desirous, thought she already had a few children of her own, decided she would have as many children as the spider had. Her husband was sowing his seed in whatever earth would have him. She too would make her own seed to sow, even more and farther.
She sent forth her minions to find a great inventor, one who could build and one who could birth.
After many years of searching, they found a woman in the middle of her age, with no children of her own, but having birthed many. She had started as a midwife, but soon came to learn much of medicine, and she built many devices to heal, cure, and comfort the ones she tended to.
The inventor agreed to go to the rich woman, for she was willing to help any who sought aid in the making and bringing forth of children.
When the rich lady explained to the inventor what she wanted, the inventor asked for time to think. The rich lady pointed to the full moon and told the inventor that she would have until the moon’s light faded in the night sky. At first, the inventor proposed gathering eggs from the rich lady’s womb, and seed from her husband, and planting both in the wombs of many other women. Such a planting had been attempted by some, and with some success. But the rich lady rebuffed this idea. She wanted her husband to have no part in her new progeny. For she had nothing to do with his plantings. And she wanted no other woman to have any part in it.
Her new progeny must be her children and hers alone.
She would not carry them within her body, but outside of it, where she could watch them grow. They would need no care from her upon hatching, for they would not be helpless. And yet, she desired that her hive progeny not have their own minds, so that she might guide and direct their thoughts. Then she would unleash them upon the world.
The inventor was at once relieved and disturbed. She was relieved for she feared the method she had proposed would be a danger to the rich lady, and to the women whose wombs would be used to carry the new children. She was disturbed, because she had no other ideas.
She mulled upon the rich lady’s words for many days.
At last, she made a device, not built from stone, earth, and metal, but grown from living things.
It appeared like a monstrous hive whose insides were netted with something like spider-silk, and full of glittering seed-eggs, empty and waiting to receive their mother’s matter, so they could begin to sprout and grow. The hive was round, so that the rich lady could have her servants roll it to wherever she wanted, though the inventor cautioned her to keep the hive warm and well-nourished.
As well, she warned the rich lady that the progeny would not be quite human, for she had to make many changes to meet the limits that the rich lady set upon her. The rich lady cared not if her progeny were human or not. She desired only that they be glorious. If they were better than human, more beautiful, more elegant and graceful, all the better.
In only a single waxing and waning of the moon, the hive began to hatch.
The progeny that hatched from the hive were indeed glorious.
They were independent and capable from the moment of hatching. They had the look of humans, but were much smaller, out of necessity, for they were not given as much time to grow. Their complexions matched the petals of flowers and leaves, as did the colors of their wispy, cottony hair. Their faces sparkled, and they bore the qualities of some of the creatures whose material the inventor had used to build the hive. Some bore the feathery wings of butterflies or the feathered wings of birds with bright plumage, and they sang sweetly. Others shifted color like chameleons and climbed and jumped great distances. And they found that when they touched their mother’s dress, they could make her dress change shape and color as well.
As it was, the inventor had to give the progeny simple minds. And it seemed that they were already making good use of their limited cleverness. They lacked imagination, foresight, and the ability to gain wisdom. But they could acquire knowledge.
They were varied, but all brought delight to the rich lady, who clapped and laughed, and cared not that some of her new progeny were flying or hopping or dashing away from her.
Indeed, the rich lady was so delighted that she forgot she was angry with her husband. She showed him some of her progeny and told him of the inventor she had found. And she showed him her empty hive. She reveled in the proof that she had outdone him, even as she hoped to receive his praise and approval.
The husband was only displeased. He was troubled by the invention, but so too was he covetous of it. The rich man abducted the inventor, so that she could no longer work for his wife. And he set her to the task of making another hive full of his own offspring. Mighty and merciless, and with a handsomeness so radiant as to rival all other creatures in creation. He would set his offspring against his wife’s fair little creatures, swatting them down, and claiming dominion over all his living children. For he would have the patience to let his offspring grow tall and broad.
The inventor, already troubled by the horde she had made for the rich lady, beings who were mischievous and sometimes even cruel, now began to fear and despair. She feared and despaired so greatly that she could not think. She needed help from some other, but there were no others to whom she might turn. The rich man had locked her away, so she would not reveal the knowledge of the hives to any other.
In the chamber where her captor had left her to think and plan upon the making of the rich man’s hive, the inventor found materials she might use to build the very thing she needed, another mind to assist her own, a mind that would be calm where her mind was troubled, a mind that would be agile, where hers had grown heavy, a mind that would sharp, where hers has grown worn.
The inventor labored for many months without interruption, for the rich man was indeed far more patient than his wife. She held her mind steady long enough to build a second mind, but before she could use it to find some way to prevent the building of another hive, her captor returned, and he set her to her the work of building.
Now the inventor was watched every moment. She could not use the second mind she built to help herself. The only invention she was allowed was the hive.
She was watched carefully to ensure she built nothing else. So she had an idea.
Inspired by the ease with which she could see her own brown-black hand against the vivid colors of the seed-eggs, the inventor made one seed-egg different from the others. Instead of glittering and glowing, this one was dark red, so dark it was almost black. She did not even hide the egg from the many guards who watched her. She told them she was marking one of the hatchlings to be her assistant, so that the next time, she may build two hives for their lord, instead of one, for he had ordered her to build more and more. And the guards knew this to be true.
The guards believed the seed-egg’s color was the mark she spoke of, so they turned away before she could place their lord’s seed within the egg.
With a pair of metal tongs, the inventor pried loose one of her teeth, and held it up. Dripping dark red blood, the white tooth just shown beneath a thin coating of soft red. This was the seed she placed within the empty black seed-egg, ensuring the being that grew within would be her own.
When the hive hatched, a few years hence, it was full of dense and muscular creatures, taller by half than the tallest man, with flowing silken hair in many colors. The inventor claimed the child that was her own, a child with skin of a red so dark it was almost black. Into this child’s head, the inventor set the second mind she had built some years past. The created child was tall, but not dense and muscular like the others, for she was made from the inventor’s stock.
The inventor gave this child no name, but only called her, “my tooth.”
The rich lord was as pleased with his hatchlings as the rich lady had been with hers.
He gave to his giant offspring weapons and wealth, and he sent them out into the world to wreak mayhem and murder upon his wife’s fair little progeny.
But the inventor watched the new offspring, so full of force and frenzy. They would not stop with the rich lady’s progeny. They would soon turn to hunting humans.
The inventor was left to rest, while the rich lord marched out with his offspring to hunt the fair little folk that had hatched from his wife’s hive.
The inventor spoke to the child of her tooth.
“There is no escape. I have tried it. Always I am captured anew. I fear I must end my own life to end the danger that these hatchlings bring into the world. But I do not wish to die. What other way is there, my tooth? All my thoughts are spent.”
The red-black child was calm, for that was how the inventor had made her mind. “I do not yet know, mother, because I have not yet thought upon your difficulty. Will you give me some time?”
The inventor frowned. “I am not your mother. I made you to be my helper, not my child.”
“Then I will help you.”
The inventor nodded. “You have until the next building. Then we will both be called upon to make more giants.”
The red-black child began to think, and she began to build. And she knew that she must do as the inventor had done with the hives. She must build something that could build itself.
The red-black child wandered through the forest that surrounded their chambers, followed by giant guards. The rich lord had replaced the men who had once stood guard with his own offspring. The red-black child asked many questions of the inventor, who sometimes answered eagerly, sometimes patiently, sometimes with irritation, and sometimes with anger.
Great was the burden upon her conscience, for she heard the giant guards speak jealously of distant siblings who were hunting and killing the little progeny of the rich lady. The fair little folk were clever and cunning. They were not easy to kill, and so there came no news of giants razing human villages. Or burning forests. Or hunting any other animal, save for food. Still, the inventor feared that such news would come in time.
She tried to think and to build. But she came to decide that her best efforts would be in helping the red-black child, the child of her tooth.
This she did, by teaching the child all that she knew. And by distracting the guards so that the red-black child might do her work of building without being discovered.
At last, in only three moons’ time, one night when their careless giant guards all fell into sleep at the same time, the red-black child led the inventor into a grove where there grew an apple tree.
But when the inventor drew closer, she saw that the apples were strange-looking.
The red-black child plucked one of the apple-like fruits. She produced a knife and split open the fruit and held it forth.
The inventor gasped and held wide her eyes, for she had never seen such a fruit.
The two halves burst with tiny little sparkling jewel-like seeds. Half the seeds of each fruit were a dark but vivid red, twinkling in the full moonlight. Half were a red so dark and deep that it was almost black, and they gleamed as if from within.
“What is it?” the inventor asked.
The red-black child answered. “A fruit, filled with the seeds of sleep.”
The inventor thought then upon the sleeping guards, and understood that it was not mere carelessness that had brought them down. “Sleep? Why not poison?”
A furrow formed upon the child’s dark brow. “You have given life to many, mother. Do not take away that gift. Only give another. You gave me a mind of my own. Perhaps you can do the same for my…siblings.”
The child explained.
Half the seeds were for planting and half were for eating, so that more and more of these trees may grow all over the region. As the inventor had done, the child had marked the ones for planting with a darker color, so dark red, they were almost black. The black seeds would produce trees that grew fast and hardy. As the trees spread, the black seeds would grow fewer, so that new trees would grow slower and steadier.
In people and other animals, the eaten seeds would do no harm, and may indeed undo some of the ills that the enchanted progeny of the rich lady had caused. However, if the children of the inventor’s hives ate the seeds, they would fall asleep. The more seeds they ate, the deeper and longer the sleep.
The red-black child had counted how many seeds would be needed so that the fair little folk and the giants would sleep for many, many years, far beyond the mortal life of the inventor. In that time, the inventor and the child would build minds, minds capable of foresight, wisdom, and imagination. Once placed within their heads, these minds would wake the giants and the fair little folk. Perhaps some would still choose mischief and malice. The red-black child expected that would be so. But a great many might grow beyond the petty and careless influence of their seed-egg stock, the rich woman and the rich man.
“I have given a name to the fruit, mother. May I tell you?”
The inventor’s eyes gleamed, and her heart was lifted by a wave of hope. “Though I am not your mother, I am proud. Your invention is brilliant. And I would hear its name.”
“Pomegranate,” the red-black child said with a small smile.
The inventor smiled back. “A grand name.”
The red-black child nodded.
The inventor and the child escaped. The giant guards had been a sound test of the child’s invention. She had made the fruit enticing. Beautiful jeweled seeds within. But she was inspired first by the inventor’s tooth, blood red with a white seed within.
The inventor and the child spent many years planting the pomegranate trees, and teaching other people of the fruit. In due time, all the giants and the fair little folk had fallen asleep. And yet they lived, nourished by field or forest or earth, as they had been in their hive. The inventor then settled in a village and opened a workshop where she built minds, teaching first the red-black child, and then other apprentices how to do so.
Never did she pass on the knowledge of how she made the hives.
Others might discover it on their own. But she would not help them along.
Upon her deathbed, the inventor was surrounded by many of the fair little folk and the now-gentle giants to whom she had given the gift of a mind of their own. Some who received the gift still decided upon mischief and mayhem. Those were not present. But right next to the inventor, beside her, was the one who called herself the inventor’s daughter.
The inventor gently dismissed all others.
“You are not my daughter, yet I am proud of you,” the inventor said.
“You are not my mother, yet I belong to you,” said the red-black woman.
The words would have seemed strange to any but the two who spoke them. The inventor had always loved children, yet never wanted any of her own. And when first the child of her tooth came forth, she could not dare to regard her as anything but a second mind housed within a body only so that it could speak and do. But as more and more pomegranate trees bloomed and bore fruit, and more and more havoc was averted, the inventor came to claim the red-black child as her daughter.
“You need not carry on my work once I am gone, my tooth. You need not carry it on now.”
“And yet I will,” the red-black woman said, smiling, “and others will help me. You may go in peace, knowing that your inventions will not ruin the world, but will find their place within it.”
The inventor tried to lift her head then, but it felt too heavy. “I go into the eternal sleep,” she said. “I will not again awaken into this world. But perhaps I will see you again in the next one.”
The red-black woman sighed. “I hope so. But I am uncertain. You gave me life and a mind. But you did not gift me a soul.”
The inventor laughed. “No inventor can invent a soul. You must grow it on your own.”
The red-black woman still looked troubled. Her mind was so calm that it was strange to see her look troubled. And the inventor was moved to assure her.
“Do not doubt that you have grown one. You have, from the moment of your birth, grown many things. But even that tree of glittering jeweled seeds, magnificent though it may be, is not the most magnificent thing you have grown.”
“Then I will see you beyond the eternal sleep…mother.” The red-black woman smirked, hoping to cheer the inventor with her teasing.
The inventor chuckled. “Not too soon though, dear daughter. Not too soon.” She closed her eyes, fell into sleep, and never opened them again.
Copyright © 2023 Nila L. Patel