The Hoarfrost Eater of Ygrling-3
written by J. T. M. Sharp
The hoarfrost-eater of Ygrling-3 is well-known to scientists as unique among living species, but a casual observer would be forgiven for overlooking the tiny, inconspicuous insectoid. On cold mornings in the high latitudes, the hoarfrost-eater feasts upon solidified condensation, which adorns every blade of grass and leaf of low-huddled bush on this soggy world. Hence its name, given to it by the first adventurers to explore the lightweight Ygrling-3, an oasis of liquid water, sufficient warmth, and life in a sector otherwise held to be trackless waste. Little did they know how important it would later become to galactic commerce in those heady frontier days!
The metabolism of the hoarfrost-eater of Ygrling-3 was not fully understood until recent years, and its discovery as a natural resource for spacefaring was, like so many scientific advancements, a matter of happenstance. The history books for many decades recorded Dr. Ralph Argyle, lead science officer of the first crew to arrive at Ygrling-3 aboard the storied Can’t Beat A Beagle space vessel, as the man who first realized the creature’s potential. Many of us recall learning about Dr. Argyle and his adventures during our primary school days--dear reader, the author of this bestiary entry even played the role of Dr. Argyle in a second-grade dramatization of his escape from the prison of the Bloodladies of Shuggurath Prime. But in recent decades, historians have revealed that it was not Dr. Argyle who made this most important finding after all, but instead his assistant, a graduate student named Meryl diBeryllium. It seems that even in the latter days of humanity’s so-called enlightenment and ascendance to the stars, academic backstabbing managed to continue unabated.
As we all know, that first mission to land upon the surface of Ygrling-3 was ill-fated, or so it seemed to the crew for the many months they were stranded on one of its northern continents. Supplies ran low and eventually there was not even enough energy remaining in the power core to replicate food. Tyrael Agathon, captain of the Can’t Beat A Beagle, requested volunteers for a search party to fan out from the vessel’s crash site, a crater surrounded by dense, indigestible, viridian brush. Though he knew the chances were slim that they would find game on this nearly-inhospitable planet, they had no other choice given the circumstances. It was, in the opinion of this chronicler, a shrewd decision: low probability, to be sure, and high reward, indeed the highest reward of salvaging their own hides.
Ms. diBeryllium set out north-northeast while Dr. Argyle remained at the crash site, deeming himself too valuable an asset to the crew to risk getting lost in the thick subarctic jungle. Her first day’s journey proved unprofitable, so she made camp for the night under an overhanging cliff. She awoke to the sight, by then familiar, of miniscule water crystals coating the vegetation like powdered sugar, along with the similarly-sized brown insectoids that drank it up and excreted it to power their dainty bodies. She spent some time cuddled within her sleeping bag, watching closely their activities, as a branch had sunken from the icy weight almost to the ground next to her head.
Though, unlike some of her crewmates, she was no insectivore under normal circumstances, this busy activity of life sparked her imagination, which passed word along to the lower level of consciousness in charge of hunger. Thus the forthcoming advance in human space travel could be said to have been produced from both the thinking and unthinking parts of a particular woman’s mind.
Her molecular scanner revealed that the creature contained no known poisons or pathogens, although there was a trace percentage of unidentifiable material comprising its body. History does not record what or even if Ms. diBeryllium said before consuming the first hoarfrost-eater of Ygrling-3, but it seems rather more likely that, if she said anything it all, it was “Well, here goes nothing” than “Eureka!”
What is known, however, as a result of the work of historians in recent decades, is that once Ms. diBeryllium had picked a leaf and popped it in her mouth to chew, and once the then-mysterious contents of the hoarfrost-eater’s digestive system had dissolved onto her tongue, she found herself immediately back at the crash site, befuddled as to how she had arrived given that she had only moments before been a full day’s hike north-northeast. She reported her findings to Dr. Argyle, who replicated her self-experiment and recorded it in his journal, neglecting to note that it was she who had first discovered the strange space-folding powers of the little bug.
Today, the hoarfrost-eater of Ygrling-3 is cultivated on planets across the galaxy, affording a much more cost-effective means of teleportation to disparate communities than any non-living technology yet devised by humankind. It is this humble little creature that has made space travel possible on a wide scale, not only within the ambit of national governments and mega-corporations. We all owe a debt of thanks to Meryl diBeryllium and the tiny brown insectoid she discovered and had the bravery to stick in her mouth. Without their contributions, it is unlikely that humanity would have settled every nook and cranny of our Milky Way Galaxy in such a short span, and we would still have to board shuttles to visit even neighboring planets within the same solar system. So let us remember that even the smallest acts of curiosity performed with regard to the most seemingly-insignificant beings can have profound consequences.
If you want to listen to this short story from the author: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKHLpOZAMOv/