The Gift of the Iron Mother
Copyright (c) Kent Brewster 1992
All Rights Reserved
Prrt floated, inverted and comfortable within the warm,
sea-wet atmosphere of the cavernous brood-chamber. Salty
currents of rich, steamy air carried shifting tides of newspawn,
too young to have airtight shells of their own. Prrt picked and
chose among them, munching contentedly on the small, the weak,
and the malformed, occasionally stripping a transparent
starter-shell before devouring its hapless occupant. Shell-less
Motherslaves around him did likewise, culling the poorest of the
Mother's myriad children, reabsorbing the nutrients and directing
the waste outwards towards farm-areas, assisting the eternal
process of natural selection.
The Song throbbed and hummed around Prrt; many-colored
currents of Mothermilk twisted and flowed, dancing clouds of
spawn changing in response, learning basic communication-patterns
and motive strategies at the same time. Alliances were formed,
twisted, violated, and dissolved in seconds as crude group-minds
fought for domination among the smallspawn. Most of their weak
air-carried signals did not penetrate Prrt's defenses;
occasionally a stronger pattern of attraction evolved into the
radio spectrum and was evaluated by the Mother's always-ravenous
With a misty breath of expressed lubricants, the sphincter at
the back of the brood-chamber opened. Stubby tendrils beckoned
Prrt forward. Leaving the disinterested Motherslaves to their
eternal labor, he jetted forward on an eager puff of compressed
air. Dodging a few shell-fragments from one of the Mother's
previous mates, Prrt entered the mating-chamber.
Set beneath the clear dome of one of the Mother's blind
eye-bubbles, the mating-chamber commanded an impressive view of
local space. Calm, ordered activity prevailed throughout the
Mother's reign: a huge section of the Ring, containing evenly
ranked chunks of rock, iron, and ice, each with its own
specialized locus of drone workers, plants, and livestock. Here
and there, wild Ringlife chased itself and was pursued by the
Mother's half-tame predators; even well within the strongest of
holds, the constant pressure of rogue, untamed spawn was strong.
But Prrt had no interest in the view. His attention was held
instead by the Mother's wide, fleshy mating-organ. Better than
double his size, it pulsed to the insistent beat of the Song,
its forest of holding-tentacles curling and relaxing, beckoning
him forward. Hearts pounding, Prrt wafted himself closer.
The innermost arms of the Mother were soft and yielding at
first, curling around each of his holding-tentacles, gently
pinching his hard-grippers shut one by one and rendering them
useless. Pulling Prrt closer, they probed his exposed internals,
caressing his mantle, quickly curling around his painfully taut,
shiny seed-sack and penetrating the tip of it with a quick jab of
a hidden stinger.
The momentary spark of pain was immediately extinguished by
the roaring rush of mating-ecstasy that coursed through Prrt.
Feeling his essence bursting forth as the Mother slowly milked
him dry, he was barely aware of a second, larger set of tentacles
curling into a practiced grip around his bulky shell, squeezing
unbearably tight, and, with a *crack*--
Prrt jerked awake, flailing in the void, correcting spin
with a short, economical rotation of his claws.
"That was a strange one", he thought, reflecting on his
fading memory of the dream. Hungry, he snagged, inverted, and
ate a passing bit of smallspawn, using one smooth, instinct-honed
motion. At the same time, he shifted his eyes to their
transparent shell-bubbles, casting about for his bearings.
Motherworld was *that* way, Ringplane was *that* way; Prrt knew
at once where he was. Too far out, without nearly enough air in
And the Song was absent. Not a single note pierced the
gloom, not even the tick-tick-ticking binary chatter of
Come to think of it, *everything* was strangely silent.
Quickly paging through all frequencies he knew, Prrt heard
nothing around him, not even radar bounceback from his own pulse.
Absent entirely was the dull, comforting growl of the Motherworld
and the ever-present background hiss of the universe.
"Hrrk!" Prrt called into the void for his drones, feeling
the first prickle of fear beneath his shell. "Jkk! Gddt!"
None called back. It was time to risk wideband. "All drones,
report at once!"
Nothing. Even the sound of his own voice was missing its
high-harmonic part; all Prrt heard was the vibration within his
shell as his shallow-lung forced stored air through his reed.
Straining with his nearsighted eyes, all he could resolve was
the bright blob of the Motherworld and the dim mist of the Ring,
breaking into chunky streaks of fog as it approached him.
And there was something else, something that was both bright
and dim by turns, something that wasn't a natural part of the
Ring. Querying his last fragments of Song-memories, he realized
that something was seriously wrong; a gaping hole in the Ring--
large enough to be seen by Motherlight alone--yawned where
peace and order had once prevailed. And there was something in
the center of the hole, something new. Prrt strained to see,
involuntarily sending a horribly silent recon burst as he
rotated. Bringing each eye to bear in turn, he searched for
the best view.
Ice. It had to be recently broken ice. Nothing else was
that combination of sharpness and dullness. And it was *big*,
easily eight-cubed times the size of the biggest Mother Prrt
had ever seen. He steeled himself and called his drones once
more, shuddering at the heavy flatness of his voice.
Lining up for boost to the iceberg was the hardest thing Prrt
had ever done. His eyes were spaced evenly around the equator of
his shell; he had never before boosted to a target he had not
firmly acquired by querying first the Song and then his own
radar. After an agonizing period of indecision, he aligned
himself by guessing the best angle against the Ring. He then
sparked the tiniest possible puff of his carefully hoarded
hydrogen and oxygen. Tumbling after boost, he sighted against
the berg and watched impatiently until it grew perceptibly
larger, resisting the temptation to throw another futile
clickburst at it.
"In the groove, thank the Mother," he mumbled to himself,
recoiling once more at the stuffy sound of his voice, trapped
within his shell. Adrift, half-blind, completely deaf, and
alone, with time on his claws, Prrt finally began to notice the
frenetic level of activity around him.
Motherspawn of all sizes boiled in feeding frenzy; the void
was awash with quick-frozen body-fluids and sparkling with
jet-flares. Since he was by far the largest in the immediate
vicinity, the mass of predatory younglings left him mostly alone;
still, the chase occasionally brought a shoal of them close
enough so that he could see what was happening.
Clearly, the Song had deserted a huge number of its Singers,
not just him alone. Beings of every size struggled under attack,
suddenly unaware prey, from the tiniest of fingerlings to the
largest of Mothers. Off to sunward at the limits of his vision,
Prrt saw Hrrd'nkk'kssh, once one of the Song's strongest anchors
in the region, fightng for her life. Half-inverted, she still
struggled against the attack of a thousand tiny opponents made
bold by the taste of her crystallized blood.
Prrt could see quick, organized patterns of attack swirling
around him; the Song obviously still rang true in the minds of
some. Assuming the confident posture of one in full control
seemed to help. Body language, his size, and pure luck kept Prrt
alive for a few more precious seconds.
Closer, now--the berg floated freely, untouched by the riot
of carnage about it. It didn't look quite so white and pure any
more; there were imperfections, dark mottlings under the mantle
"A comet, then--even better!" thought Prrt. "No, a comet
would have punched straight through the Ring. Or would it?" It
was hard to think within the confines of his own mind without
unconsciously querying the Song. Someone in the Ring or on the
Motherworld would have been able to tell him what kind of an
iceberg could drift into the Ring and stop dead, matching orbits
without hitting anything.
The iceberg--if that was the correct word; Prrt was no
longer sure--crawled with new colonies of microbes, algae- and
lichen-analogs that formed the broad base of the Ring's food
chain. Gently soaking up his momentum with carefully deployed
tentacles, Prrt landed in a field of iron-concentrating algae
that had eaten through the thin layer of ice and was well into
the metallic core itself. Wiping away a patch of the dark
microlife, Prrt scraped off and tasted a bit of the foreign
body. It was definitely iron. Concentrated and hardened beyond
his experience, with a strange carbon tang, but iron nonetheless.
The microbes were making short work of it; Prrt could see pits
widening as he watched.
Pulling himself along, staying close, Prrt began to
methodically explore the new body, remembering his deafness only
when he lost control and sent out exploratory clickbursts, or
tried an inquisitive stanza or so of Song. Already, microlife
was attracting the inevitable; a huge mass of smallspawn sparked
and jetted about, gorging itself on the unexpected bonanza of
In the eighth-turn or so since Prrt awoke, the thin layer of
ice--frost, really--had almost entirely gone from the new
mass, consumed by hydrogen- and oxygen-hungry beings of every
size. And what was revealed was... strange.
Round like a Mother, only much, much larger, the Intruder was
made almost entirely of metal. Dark patches of microlife
concealed iron; light, magnesium. Aluminun and titanium grays
also ran riot in strangely symmetrical patterns around the middle
of the Intruder; fragile-looking arms, disks, spheres, and
gridwork structures all broke loose in the corrosive grasp of
microlife and tumbled slowly away, each becoming its own island
of frantic activity.
And, oddest of all, spaced around the equator of the
Intruder, just like the clear shell-bubbles lids over Prrt's
eyes, were eight hard, transparent windows.
Once on the shadow-side of the Intruder, Prrt could see into
the ports. They glowed with a bright white light, completely
unlike the dull red Motherglow that usually lit his way. The
color was something like starlight, only warmer, fuller, allowing
his nearsighted eyes to make out much more detail; it was almost
like having his radar back.
And there were *colors* in there, weird shades he'd never
even imagined. The inside of the Intruder was full of
star-brightness. Lights flashed everywhere. And there were
moving things, live-things that looked to be about Prrt's size.
Jet-shaped like predators, each had a round knob at one end
that might have been a shell, if it wasn't so small. Pink and
brown and black at the shell-end, their internals were of many
strange star-colors, blues and greens and yellows, all hanging
free in the pressurized interior of the Intruder.
"A Mother, then," thought Prrt. "It's some strange new kind
Coming closer to the window, Prrt brushed away what tasted
like aluminum-eaters--although they were the strangest yellow
color--and wrapped his claws around corroded, half-eaten
protrusions. Steadying himself, he felt patterned vibration
from within the Intruder.
Shrugging mentally, Prrt set one hexagonal segment of his
shell firmly against the port and began the Verse of Greeting,
hating the flat clacking sound of it but continuing anyway.
Almost at once, someone within the Intruder heard his call; one
of the live-things rebounded from an internal wall with a
bizarre *pushing* motion that repelled Prrt with its sheer
strangeness. It floated closer, moving toward the clear
--and screamed loudly enough for Prrt to hear through
shell-to-shell contact. More live-things bounced into view as
the first one recoiled; they struggled, but sanity prevailed
without anyone being eaten.
More than anything else, this convinced Prrt that he was
dealing with intelligent life; he set his shell back against the
port and began the Verse of Greeting again. A different
live-thing, this one smaller and darker, cautiously made its way
back to the port, closely followed by others. They appeared to
be listening, if that slight cock of shell meant anything. The
dark one reached a tentacle towards the clear port, hesitated,
and then pressed the end of it flat against the glass, spreading
the end of it into five stubby, claw-tipped grippers.
Prrt knew parley-sign when he saw it; he broke off the Verse
and brought one of his own tentacles against the glass, spreading
his grippers and holding it up for the live-thing's inspection.
The live-thing brought another tentacle into view, this one
holding something small and far too metallic to survive in the
Ring. Rapping at the clear glass, the creature banged out a
crude rendition of the first few measures of the Greeting Verse:
*tick, tick-tap, tick-tick, tick-tap-tap, tick-tap-tick,
Shorn of all harmonic nuance, the Verse was reduced to its
simplest component: a non-random binary progression that meant
Any doubt remaining in Prrt's mind was erased by the next
thing he saw: gesticulating towards the back of the yellow-lit
compartment, the live-thing pushed off the clear port and sailed
to the far wall. Brushing off the suddenly agitated tentacles of
the others within the compartment--there was evidently some
disagreement among them--it opened a square panel in the wall
and freed a fingerling into the room, wafting it near to Prrt
with a gentle wave.
It breathed freely, fully inverted and relaxed, aimlessly
picking its way around the compartment. Although its internals
were brightly discolored in the white light, Prrt could see that
its deep-lung bulged with air, tight and shiny.
Prrt was convinced. Scratching at the edges of the clear
port, he began peeling away rotting strips of aluminum, searching
for a way in. The live-thing inside the Intruder waved frantic
tentacles at him, catching his attention and pointing to one side
of the window. With a grinding squeal of protesting metal, a
large, square maw opened in the side of the alien craft,
sending flakes of corroded material outward in a wasteful spray
of released gas. Prrt pulled over to the door, sweeping away a
swarm of smallspawn and microlife attracted to the bonanza of
fresh, unsullied metals. As soon as he was inside, the door
closed, trapping him inside a cavity barely big enough to contain
him. Suppressing panicked thoughts of being eaten, Prrt waited.
And was rewarded by a heavenly blast of cold, life-giving
air. Gulping enough to fill his deep-lung slowed the airlock
cycling process enough to bring curious live-things to a small
round portal in the far wall. Sounds became louder and louder
as the pressure grew; Prrt relaxed in the new warmth, glad he
was able to hear with his short-ear at least. With a sigh, Prrt
inverted himself, glorying in the feel of cool, dry air against
Fully inverted, Prrt took up better than four times the
volume he did when in vacuum; his much-abused internals preferred
free circulation of air between them and so tended to stand out
from each other. During inversion, his maw spread to its widest,
allowing first his tentacles and then his body to flow outward,
fold over, and eventually completely cover his shell, leaving his
blast-pit open. Also during inversion, his waste sacs opened and
emptied, dumping liquid, gaseous, and solid wastes of various
consistencies and pungencies. While Prrt could, if necessary,
dump waste in vacuum, strong instincts reinforced by conditioning
from first mind-awareness directed him to wait, to void only
within a Mother, so that his nitrogen-rich effluents would not go
Prrt had been in vacuum a very long time; there was a lot of
waste to be purged.
With a hiss, the door opened, scattering a cloud of
quickly-dying anaerobic microlife. Inside floated a group of
seven live-things. They were smaller than they had looked
through the portal. One was in some sort of distress; batting at
quickly-dispersing blobs of Prrt's excrement, it added a stream
of its own watery brown bubbles.
The fingerling stirred with new purpose, jetting towards Prrt
on a quick stream of air. "Nggk," it said, extending proper
greeting-sign towards him. "Hear-me-now?" Its voice growled
and clicked, carried only to Prrt's short-ear. Shorn of its high
radio harmonics, it was crude but understandable.
"Prrt." Relief flooded through Prrt. Communication was
possible--he wasn't dead yet. He continued, using Nggk's
truncated small-talk. "What-you-do-here?" He raised
greeting-sign of his own, starring all sixty-four gripper-tips.
"Nggk-talk-for-Iron-Mother." The greeting-sign swelled
into a proud bristle. "Iron-Mother-give-Nggk-voice-back.
"How did the Iron Mother give Nggk-voice-back?" Out of
patience, Prrt seized the small one and drew it up against his
internals, bringing it close to his beak.
"Iron-Mother! Iron-Mother! Iron-Mother!" Nggk screamed
and writhed in Prrt's grip. Prrt hung on, gently warding off two
of the larger live-things that advanced upon him.
"How. Iron. Mother. Give. Nggk. Voice. Back?" Prrt's
voice was as gentle and calm as he could make it. At the same
time, he vented onto Nggk a generous sigh of the purest oxygen he
Pinking up, the fingerling relaxed. "Prrt-ask-Iron-Mother,"
it slurred, almost giggling.
Prrt tried to be gentle. "Where is the Iron Mother?"
"All-around-Prrt!" Nggk shivered with delight.
Releasing Nggk, Prrt scanned carefully in a circle. None of
the live-things seemed an immediate threat. Wetting his reed,
Prrt began a formal request-to-enter, feeling ridiculous as he
directed it to the smaller being.
"Iron Mother, this-one is called Prrt, the most insignificant
spawn of Ffdh'nkk'sssh-"
"Welcome." The Iron Mother's voice was deep and rich,
seemingly too big for Nggk's tiny reed. "You require healing, do
"Yes. This-one thanks You."
"Allow the hew-men to touch you. They will correct your
The hew-men smelled bad. Their speech was a confusing mix
of low-tones, all unpronouncable groans and screeches. Their
gripper-pads carried warm wetness that came off all over Prrt;
the slime was salty, and burned the tender tissues of his
internals. The hew-men spread three of Prrt's holding-sacs and
cemented a round, flat, not-metal thing to the inside of his
shell. And then, as simply as that, he could hear again.
The first thing he did was attempt control of Nggk. Almost
withut conscious volition, he sent an acquisition-burst to the
fingerling. The Iron Mother's programming, however, was a smooth
block of code, impervious, much to Prrt's surprise. Nggk sent a
derisive chirp of static and jetted free of his grasp.
And then the Iron Mother spoke again, this time from inside
the little not-metal box that contained Prrt's new long-ear.
"Apologies," sent the Iron Mother, "but I have further
need of that one." Prrt trembled, mustering his best memory
defenses, awaiting the onslaught of acquisition-virals. None
came. "You need not fear Me," she continued. "Your value to
Me is centered in your intelligence. You are close to Motherhood
yourself, closer than you know. I dare not interrupt your Song,
lest it be lost forever."
Motherhood. Prrt was stunned Songless for a long instant.
Unlikely even under the best of circumstances, Motherhood came
only to those few who were both valuable enough to a Mother to
earn mating-privilege and intelligent enough to escape without
being devoured afterward. Trace memories of the mating-Song
shared by Mother and mate inevitably remained, triggering the
Change, a series of vast hormonal tides that eventually turned
mate into Mother.
"Is this-one to be Your mate, then?"
The Iron Mother sang Her laughter, gently, and sent a quick
verse of imagery, mostly Prrt entangled in a heaving mass of
alien metal tentacles, mindlessly squirming in mating-spasm. "I
think not. Your kind and Mine are... incompatible, to say the
"What do You wish of this-one?"
"I am dying," sent the Iron Mother, along with a mournful
image-verse of huge swarms of Ringspawn struggling over spinning
fragments of Her metal-rich shell. "I wish continued survival
for My Song."
"What of Your drones? Can they not protect You?"
"No. Their shells are as weak as My own; they will die
with me." The Iron Mother sent a stark set of images, still
flashes of Her drones encased in odd, flexible shells, afloat
in space, struggling against thousands of Prrt's kind, and
finally inverting into the void, spilling air and fluid into
the whirlwind of microspawn. "I have given you back your
Voice, your Ear, your life. I ask in return that you carry My
Song with you, and pass it on to your spawn. Someday another
of My kind may visit the Motherworld; She must be on Her guard.
Your kind and Mine have many things to teach one another--"
The Song of the Iron Mother halted, chopped cleanly off in
mid-line. At the same time, Prrt felt and heard the sudden
*chuff* that meant a blowout.
The resulting gale of wind bounced Prrt around the
compartment like a fingerling caught in boost-wash; he struck and
crushed one of the Iron Mother's drones, feeling small alien
bones breaking beneath his sudden weight. Struggling to
re-shell himself, Prrt bounced twice more before the wind
eased into the blessed quiet of the void. His final impact split
Nggk's shell and sprayed the fingerling's internals in a bright
And then the lights went out. Fully shelled against the
void, Prrt hung half-stunned in the gray reflected Motherlight
that streamed in through the window. Out. He had to get out.
The door was *that* way, down and away from the comforting
light of the Motherworld. At least he had his radar back; the
Iron Mother's metal corridors stood out sharper and clearer than
anything he had ever seen. Prrt caught a dangling silver rope of
the Iron Mother's now-exposed internals and pulled himself
downwards into the darkness. The door was wedged open by the
still-twitching corpse of one of the Iron Mother's drones; Prrt's
hard-grippers peeled back the thin metal sheet enough for him to
The far end of the passage opened into raw vacuum. A boiling
cloud of microlife and smallspawn filled the gaping hole, eating
further and further into the body of the Iron Mother. As Prrt
watched, another door failed down the line, spilling a mixture of
air and frantically kicking hew-men into the shaft. One wore the
Iron Mother's soft-shell and had the presence of mind to catch
onto a protrusion near Prrt; he moved close to it and peered
through its single huge, transparent eye-bubble. Prrt thought he
recognized the one who had first made parley-sign to him.
Its two flat, white eyes bulged outwards. As Prrt brought
his shell into contact with it, he heard an eerie, high-pitched
scream, like that of smallspawn being pulled apart for sport.
Aluminum-eaters were already mining the thin rings that held its
shell-segments together; Prrt's claws were far too big and clumsy
to do more than scratch at the damage and make it worse,
frightening the hew-man even further.
There. A small school of fingerlings, each perhaps an eighth
the size that Nggk had been, responded to Prrt's hurried
acquisition-call. Deposing their loosely organized group-mind
with an ease that surprised him, Prrt inserted his own basic
command structure in a few seconds.
"Eat-here-now. Eat-well." Short-talk was the safest;
even so, he still had to pluck a few of the fingerlings loose
from the walls and set them bodily against the hew-man's shell.
His simple set of algorhythmns took hold at once--the
fingerlings began scraping away at the aluminum-eaters on the
hew-man's shell. And then he had to secure the creature itself,
gently but firmly encircling each of its suddenly panicked
tentacles. Luckily, it only had four to his eight, so the task
was not difficult.
Prrt's new drones made short, easy work of the succulent
aluminum-eaters and then spread out into a filtering
englobement, guarding Prrt and his prize from further attack.
"Good. Follow-me-out," ordered Prrt.
"Eat-now! Eat-more-now! More-more-more-now-now-now!"
"No! We-go-now!" The school quieted, except for the
largest member, which continued its nagging clamor.
Prrt snapped the insolent fingerling up, crushing and
consuming it without bothering to invert it first. The rest of
the school fell into place, only pursuing the microlife that
strayed into its assigned volume of space.
"We-go." Prrt pulled the feebly struggling hew-man along
the passage, occasionally sending new acquisition-calls to
promising-looking smallspawn on the way.
The maw of the passage was a ragged pit, unrecognizable as
the perfect rectangular box that Prrt had passed through upon his
entrance. Microlife and smallspawn had penetrated several of the
Iron Mother's layers of passages; occasional drafts of quickly
expanding vacuum-exposed air continued to buffet Prrt, his drones,
and their cargo as they made their cautious way outward.
"Prrt." The voice of the Iron Mother crackled with static
and grinding silvery image-fragments that hovered over everything
Prrt saw. "You must flee, and quickly. My dying will end the
Song of all who are near."
"But what of Your spawn? It lives still; this-one has
protected it from attack-"
"Leave it. It will die soon."
"Leave it!" Prrt heard something strange, a quick buzz of
information on a frequency higher than he knew existed. The
hew-man's shell split and fell into many segments, parting at its
aluminum seams with a quick rush of air. Screaming silently into
the void, it vomited its internals, thrashed, and died. "Now
move!" The Iron Mother's voice blasted at Prrt, crackling and
buzzing. He jerked into motion, waving his drones into
formation, just as something exploded deep within the Iron
A wall loomed large, striking Prrt, knocking him tumbling
down the passage towards the exit. Followed closely by his
drones, he righted himself and wasted no more time in getting
The Iron Mother's outer shell was a chaotic mess of Ringlife
in feeding-frenzy; huge chunks of the metal alien broke off and
scattered, each trailing a cloud of spawn that squabbled over the
And there was... something else. Something made of open
metal meshwork over thicker beams, roughly cubical. Obviously
a tool of the Iron Mother, it moved quickly, shuddering back and
forth under the power of tiny jets at each of its eight corners,
shedding a trail of microlife and smallspawn. Approaching Prrt
and his drones, it slowed and spoke with the voice of the Iron
"Catch on and hold fast--there isn't much time!"
The Iron Mother's drone had a yawning blast-pit at one end;
Prrt wisely chose the far end and twined all sixty-four of his
claws through the coarse metal weave. Following his example,
most of his drones secured themselves before boost began. The
smooth push turned into frighteningly strong acceleration,
smashing Prrt out of round against the metal weave, leaving him
able to do nothing but listen to the roar of the huge jet and
the groaning and creaking of his own shell-segments. The storm
of ravenous Ringlife receded like a bad dream, quickly
shrinking to a small gray cloud.
Suddenly the jet cut out. Prrt's much-abused shell snapped
back into roundness, propelling him up and away from the flat
metal surface. The Iron Mother's drone sparked corner-jets and
pivoted on its long axis, pointing its red-hot blast-pit directly
at Prrt. Hurriedly blasting back towards the drone, Prrt was
barely able to catch hold of its side before the big jet fired
again. The plaintive peepings of his drones spurred Prrt
onwards; climbing claw-over-claw up the mesh side, he finally
heaved his bulk over its top edge and sprawled once more on its
top. The acceleration doubled, then doubled again.
The Iron Mother was a bright speck in a gray knot of strife.
In a few short minutes, Prrt and his band of drones had been
blasted at least eight Ringwidths away. After what seemed like
an eternity of crushing weight, the jets guttered out with a
series of bangs that would have spelled death-by-uneven-mixture
for any of Prrt's kind; the Iron Mother's drone drifted, dead,
against the background of the Ring.
"Prrt." The Iron Mother's voice was faint, overlaid with a
howling storm of what sounded like random static, all but
unintelligible. "No-more-is-my-Song." Short-talk from the
Iron Mother seemed almost blasphemous; Prrt recoiled but listened
still. "Sing-me-to-your-spawn. Sing-me-well." More static,
volume rising, a scream of dischord that caused Prrt to twitch
uncontrollably. Something was building itself inside him,
something that felt like an incredibly powerful
acquisition-virus. Growing within his memories, altering his
command-structure, it was huge and powerful and unbelievably
quick. Prrt was unable to resist, to think, to close his
traitorous long-ear. "Now-my-gift-to-you."
And then the Iron Mother died.
An enormous flash of white star-light revealed the
Motherworld's true colors to Prrt for the first and last time.
Glorious, flowing bands of blue and white cut across the face
of the home planet where only faint gray smears had existed
before. And the Ring was made of shining, twisted yellow and
green strands, except for the ragged gap that marked the demise
of the Iron Mother. Burned permanently into the retinas of
three of Prrt's eyes, the image would be with him forever.
The brutal clap of radio-thunder that followed was loud
enough to trip safety breakers within his artificial long-ear,
reducing the noise to a faint growl that quickly faded. His
drones had no such protection; they jerked into reflex-spasm,
all higher programming halted. Some jetted away in fear, some
attacked each other in feeding-frenzy. Prrt's long-ear snapped
back to full sensitivity and he reached out immediately for his
A simple repetition of his name restarted the dormant
commands within most of them at once; upon examination, his
programs revealed the same touch of the Iron Mother that had
protected Nggk from his exploratory fumbling. "I did that",
Prrt wondered to himself. "But how?"
Just as he began closer examination of the curiously
resilient code-fragments, something came awake within him.
Memories shifted; a small portion of his processing ability was
closed to him forevermore. It almost felt like being possessed
by his own Mother once again. And then something spoke.
It was, of course, the voice of the Iron Mother, this time
entirely without that overwhelming sense of hugeness and power.
This time, the voice was small, harmless, almost like that of a
"You. I... I thought you were dead," Prrt sent into
empty space, startling his flock into confused circles. Further
conversation was rendered difficult as the voice of the Iron
Mother raised itself into glorious mating-Song; just before Prrt
fell into trembling ecstasy at the onset of his Change, an answer
"No. This-one will be with You always."