“I have been thinking for some time about this,” Neltoq said. I had a hard time concentrating on what he was saying because his anatomy was really fascinating–the way his body was enshrouded by deeply interlocking layers of plates through which he breathed and spoke. He was and yet was not a simian made of living armor with four matte black eyes that were remarkably expressive.

“Why?” I said. “Why is ending your life on your mind?”

“Because, counselor. I feel–deeply–that I owe it to my species to reproduce. To take my place among the Garden of Elders and pass on my characteristics to the next generation. One Ultoq can aid the Project now, yes. But what about multitudes, my sons and daughters, when they are of age? Surely that’s better.”

I put down my notes. “I…I don’t understand,” I said. “Gelb told me you were thinking of ending your life. It sounds like you’re planning quite the opposite.”

“Oh, my apologies, counselor. I thought that you knew about my people’s life-cycle.” The wheezing rhythm of Neltoq’s voice sounded concerned rather than angry. “The Ultoqs that most know, like myself, are but larvae. Once we reach a late stage of growth, we undergo our final metamorphosis into an Elder. They are non-intelligent filter feeders, not unlike the sponges with which you are no doubt familiar, and which live only to send out vast quantities of young into the sea to begin the cycle anew.”

“I’m so sorry.” Professionally, I knew that I shouldn’t have said it, but it was the first thing that I could vocalize.

“There is nothing to be sorry for,” Neltoq said. “In time, all Ultoq feel the need to stop taking the grinyth that delays the final state. It is that which I have been contemplating–ending a life in once sense, but beginning another.”

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