by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
Edited by Brian J. White
When Aduaa and Lakeisha started dating, one of the first things they discussed was the difficulty of being together as human and as chrysilinid. Specifically, the necessary brevity of their relationship, for Aduaa’s people had two adulthoods. The first was wingless and full of explorations, of learning. The second was winged and able to mate or parthenogenize rather than merely engage in sensory activities.
Still, Aduaa’s chitin ached behind the still-translucent cocoon when Lakeisha found her that morning. She had slipped out of the bed in the night and left Lakeisha to sleep while the morph began. Aduaa regretted that now.
“I’m sorry,” she wanted to say. “I love you.” But the morph had advanced beyond that, vocal folds already gone permanently silent. She would have wings, later, and she would sing, later.
She felt the warmth of Lakeisha’s arms, so gentle around the fragile cocoon, a last embrace. Then Lakeisha pulled away, wiping her tears with the palms of her hands, exhaling the loud huff that meant she was trying so very hard not to cry. “I’ll come to the ceremony,” she said. “When you’ve morphed. To say goodbye.”
Lakeisha sent for Aduaa’s people. They came, shining, iridescent, singing the harmonious speech of second adults to one another. By this time, the cocoon had gone clouded, milky white, and Aduaa could only see shapes and color.
As they collected her and she slipped into the restless sleep of the third morph, Aduaa remembered her morph from the second larval stage, adolescence, to first adulthood. After emerging, she had asked her nestmother if her attraction to other females (and, though she spoke of it obliquely then, to the humans) was acceptable. Nestmother had inclined her head, and rubbed her wings together. The song was strange and complicated, and Aduaa had not been able to sing it back to herself in full. But she understood. Was she abnormal, no, of course not. Somewhat unusual, but not abnormal. But after the last morph, nestmother said, biology would change her and she should not be surprised if she put such feelings aside.
It did not matter, Aduaa realized, how much one might prepare to morph. There was always a bittersweet excitement, a gain and a loss.
Months passed, and Aduaa slept, dreaming of flight and the pheromone scent of her people around her. Dreaming songs she could not yet sing. She dreamt a song of Lakeisha and felt guilty afterward, shifting wet, reforming limbs to ease the pain that woke her.
The cocoon went brittle with its dryness, with her pressing fullness, ready to split and release her. Aduaa herself was filled with longings she had never felt before, feelings that sang through newly shaped limbs, through wet and folded wings that strained against the cocoon. This hurt so much more than her other two morphs, a pain that lanced through her body as she shifted.
The cocoon cracked, a split that let cool air brush the side of her arm. A flurry of songs followed, movements, preparations. They carried her — gently, gently — to the building’s high roof, far above the human city. Aduaa waited until she felt the sun’s heat and then she worked her fingers into the gap, prying it apart by centimeters at a time until it shattered around her, broke open to the day.
Aduaa knelt and let her wings unfurl, shining with colors she had seen once in an oil slick while walking with Lakeisha. It seemed so long ago. Another life. A different Aduaa. The warmth seeped into her, drying her wings. The other adults sang a perfect harmony.
She saw Lakeisha, standing with the other humans that Aduaa had known in her first adulthood. Need surged inside of her, lively proteins dancing through her guts and mind, neurochemicals flowing. Fly, they whispered. Fly.
Her wings stiffened over the course of an hour, dried to the song her people had composed about her life. Of who she had been, and who she would become, of the children she would bear.
The summer winds caressed her still-tender exoskeleton, beckoning her to the skies. Aduaa stood on her strange new legs and walked to Lakeisha, whose face glistened with tears she had forgotten to hide.
“You’re so beautiful,” Lakeisha said, cupping Aduaa’s mouthless face with her soft hand.
She only came to say goodbye, Aduaa thought, and then she remembered something, a song composed in her dreams. She rubbed her wings, softly at first, because her song was disharmonious to what filled the air around them.
Lakeisha tilted her head, while the music dropped out, all except Aduaa. She hummed in her human throat, an approximation, matching the song Aduaa had composed for her. And then, she understood.
“You’re staying,” Lakeisha whispered, radiant with the sunlight and her love.