Deep, at the bottom of a gully, as unfathomably far down as it is inestimably wide, something gargles on its first breaths as it comes to life.
It is born of fragmentary, crystalline molecules, complex protein strings and an undeniable, impossible to pinpoint spark of self-consciousness. This is its most provocative birthright.
Since there is no day, this newly formed life achieved birth at some indeterminate time during an endless night.
Down inside its darkness which outstrips the purest black, illumination is reduced to a nothingness at war with the very notions of colour and light. Viscid with a density it is possible to feel, the environment renders the once-seeing blind.
Other creatures inhabit the thickly veiled shadow. Many are slurring, lurching accretions of that have somehow managed to survive despite their hotchpotch physiologies and ontological natures. Many are slow and easy prey.
The winged leviathans are the worst.
Their size should have had them crashing against the gully walls, despite its monumental widths, yet somehow they have learned to use them, grappling like fruit bats in caves at the heart of some infinitely far off world. With flight patterns more akin to consecutive, cycling waves of spasms, they exude mucilage from their hot, sticky epidermises. This ooze sticks to anything which it comes in contact with, which is mostly every living thing smaller than their size. These gummed casualties are doomed, facing barbed jaws screaming out of manifold scores written into their skin.
In the chasm of volcanic screams, unparalleled pockets of life whittle away at the business of their species’ development. At least when they aren’t writhing around and consuming one another and spilling forth wild, harrowing dins.
There are the fluid wraiths that dance in and out of all like vortices simulating tornadoes inscribing their language via the formation of scars upon different planet surfaces. The wraiths need not consume matter, for it attaches itself to them as they go. But they do so, for sport.
Impulses govern all in this heinous domain with no genuine sentience to speak of, except one. It is the risen, awoken and shivering free the shackles of biology. It thinks, its thoughts more terrifying in their liberation than any uncharted danger lurking beyond.
For now unable to walk, it raises itself to its knees with tiny, protractible mandibles that unfurl from the ends of stumps reaching out from the long, dual appendages that straddle either side of its torso. These fingers press against the ground, bordering thumbs as opposable to each other as it is to its own isolation. As it touches its chest it’s ocular receptors grow aware of the darkness through which it cannot see. It feels something beating, beneath its skin drenched in foetal slime.
It senses existence, its own and perhaps the very nature of such a thing, are both some sort of freak occurrence. The products of a far deeper, older process stemming from one or other inexplicable source. Down here it is, genealogically speaking, undeniably alone.
As it raises itself to its feet, it suddenly stands, bipedal. Its chest emits a bellowing rapturous roar as its instincts grapple with its own neural patterns. These probe reality, unrelenting in their scything alertness and accuracy. These neurophysiological proclivities were honed, in utero, in whatever gestational sacs beat below, bringing life to the living from down beneath the sludge. The swamps themselves act out of fealty to some strange, arcane instinct. They have no choice but to perpetually birth heteromorphic life.
For the first time, it is able to peer, intermittently, through the dark. What little illumination there is accompanies the smattering gusts of lava-filled lightning blasts.
It hears deeply, agilely listening to the night with a primitive yet discerning, subvocal auditory system.
Stepping through sloppy, slick undergrowth, it ventures on, unsteadily. Out, into the chasm, it continues for an age, its footfall ceasing only occasionally to feed on the edible excrescences that draw it to it like a moth drawn flame.
At a certain point in the development of this biped, it registers the aimless force that feels as though it is anchoring it to the semi-solid surface beneath its feet.
It looks up. With no mind for limitation, it registers no distance. Only a far off goal.
It restlessly begins to climb. It ascends heights that register as heavily and portentously as the seemingly endless distance it previously saw ahead of it, during its walkabout below. The climb lasts longer than it can accurately perceive. It is still building a sense of its place in space and time.
Eventually, it reaches the last crawl before the peak of the summit. For the first time, it can remember. It turns and looks down. Something prevented it from doing so, earlier, as though doing so would result in a fall.
Climbing over the edge, it faces a terrain wholly different to what lay below. The surface rises and crests, undulating like the countless worms that made their way inside the sludge, moving as though one giant glutinous singularity of form.
This surface is especially different in that it breathes with some unknowable, pulsing, shifting light. Its photovoltaic textures carry the biped, moving it against its will with a fraction of negligible effort or force. It looks back at the ridge and realises it is being carried both up and sideways and yet it feels as though it is travelling down.
This parallax view renders the world it was born into visible. It came from one ridge of many, carved into a body in space so vast it would be flat but for the curvature that is visible at such high altitude. As it is carried, it directionlessly senses that whatever body in space it thinks that this is, there may be others. Pinpoints of light speak to such possibilities, calling out to its eyes from the unreadable darkness beyond.
When it starts to communicate with it, the sensation crawls like tremors prickling beneath the skin. It tells it that it has waited so long for an organism capable of climbing out of its uncontrollable innards and making contact with its surface-bound consciousness. It intimates there is much more to come.
It is a collector of life, and, with the arrival of this sentient biped capable of fathoming its own existence, there is much work to be done. The biped does something it had no idea it was capable of, questioning as it speaks. The body in space replies with a calmness as still as the empty black overhead.
This is only the place of its birth, it replies. The biped will be jettisoned into space, to other unpopulated planets circling distant stars.