Ceiling-bound algae cast a dim blue light within the calcareous quarter, the faint, rhythmic sonancy of water mingling with the steady steps of Eidos Kryos. The svelte, pitch-garbed man strode the onyx floor of The Progenitor to a wide, shallow pool, girded by thin tangles of vegetation which hung from the ceiling, draping to flat black squares. Large spindly shapes skittered beneath the faint-roiling liquid. The water lapped at the man’s waist as he reached beneath the surface and ran his hands along one of the irregular forms, his fingers tracing bony, rust-colored contours. Suddenly, an attendant’s voice intruded from the far doorway.
“Mr. Kryos, Oversecretary Gild has arrived.”
“Fastidious as usual. Show him in.”
The attendant bowed low and moved to the automated interlocking polymer portal. Two sets of steps resounded, one entering, the other departing. Momentarily, Ermin Gild stood less than a meter before the broad pool in which Kryos waded, quivering voice ricocheting about the high calcite rafters of the colossal seacraft.
“I did not know.”
“I take it The Chancellor sent you.”
“Yes, yes, she wanted me to persuade you to come to the ceremony, people would begin to wonder should you not… But I speak now in a personal capacity. I didn’t know they’d go so far. I wasn’t consulted. She’s been meeting more and more with Sodabrucke’s advisor-“
“Yes. I fear she may be losing confidence in me.”
“I have not.”
“That’s… kind of you to say, Sir.”
“As for The Chancellor, she lost confidence in herself five years ago when she was unable to deter the partisans during the insurgency. So many lives expended for so little gain. She was blameless in that broil, on present matters, however, her culpability is clear.”
“You go too far.”
“I haven’t gone far enough, neither has your dear Chancellor. Aecer is a knot to be cut. Her hand wavers on the pommel.”
“This year has been hard on her.”
“Cares the raider at the gate for the archer’s inner turmoil?”
Gild fell silent and turned grimly to observe the flowering oddments suspended above his head, and the curious black stacks into which their filaments descended. After half a minute, Kryos broke the silence.
“Are you apprised of Inachidae?”
Kryos bent to a dark oval shape below the surface of the pool, seized it with a practiced motion and pulled it clear of the water. In Kryos’ hands writhed a massive mottled cream-colored crustacean. So enormous was the arthropod that its legs extended into the pool, even as the man brought it to eyelevel, its spiny, intricately textured carapace wide as its handler’s chest.
Gild drew back from the strange animal with disgust and fright.
“What… is that thing?”
“Shinin-gani. Dead man’s crab. A deepsea forager. They can achieve a weight of over 20 kilograms, a length of 3.7 meters, claw to claw, and a life-span of over a century.”
“May I ask why you’re raising them?”
“For study. Of their regenerative properties. Don’t fret, Mr. Gild, despite their fearsome name and appearance, they’re quite harmless.” He tilted the enormous, quailing creature to better observe its carapace, as if appraising a stonecutter’s burnishment. “Molting takes some time. Around 1 to 18 hours from start to finish. Mobility ceases whilst the abdomen, then gastric area, then appendages, are withdrawn. It is during this time the specimen is most vulnerable. Helpless to predation. On occasion, from their own species.”
Gild grimaced. “Fascinating, but I should prefer to return to the previous topic, much as I should prefer that thorny beast returned to its domicile.”
Kryos, still gripping the great crustacean, turned to the bureaucrat with a unwavering, xanthous gaze.
“I do not prevaricate. The milieu molts. Slip the shell, or be consumed by your kin.”