Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

There are trillions of them and they fly in layers.

The larger ones at the top interlock together during mating season, puzzle-piece continents drifting above us. The whalescoops dive down to feed on the krillsparrows below them. Turtlehawks and wolflocusts prey on rabbitdoves and deergulls. Hummingbird piranhas flit and nip at the turkey squids, producing dark puffs of ink-cloud pollen.

Insects, plants, mammals, reptiles and unclassifiable combinations of the four. All flying. The inhabitants of this planet’s entire ecosystem are airborne and they never land because there is no land, only dark, sterile ocean thousands of miles below.

Small birds roost and nest on the bigger ones. There’s a hierarchy food and waste chain based on altitude, gravity pulling leftovers down through each layer, filtering evolution. The huge ray gliders drift through schools of brilliant parrot squirrels bursting with colour. The entire world is a continually shifting miasma of hues and sound.

At night, they glow. Flourescing horse pelicans trailing long tails of feather lights. Firefly minnow finches exploding with colour en masse looking for mates. Peacock trout cry out as they display fireworks of neon-shimmering leaves along their spines. Jellyfish Condors drip glowing willow-tree stingers to attract the mothgrouse. Deep-sky angler dragons trail ribbon-like through the lower atmosphere, dangling their lures like intelligent flares. Eel geese honk in giant arrow formations, stripes running across their bodies in synchronized communication. And the fissures underneath the massive air-island floaters above us glow with algae all colours of the rainbow.

I cannot see the ocean below or the sky above. I am a scientist and my name was Walter. My research mission ended six years ago but I elected to stay. There are skytribes here. I researched them and befriended them. Their name is birdsong that I have painstakingly learned to reproduce with my whistling.

My research helped classify them as a non-threatening, level-four primitive civilization. Tagged for quarantine non-involvement until such time as they develop the technology to explore space.

Personally, I see them as stalling at a sweet spot in their evolution that needs no improvement. There has been little to no change in them in millions of years, much like crocodiles or barracudas back on Earth.

I theorized that they started as a symbiotic relationship, remora-like with larger birds. Eventually, they started steering the birds to the best food. In time, that control made the remoras dominant and the larger birds the underlings. The remoras had to band together in schooltribes to hunt. Communities formed. Societies followed.

They have insect-like iridescent chitin armour skin. They reproduce by back spores seasonally like dandelion seeds. They hatch from eggs and go through larval stages in huge tadpole flocks. They mature into their final three stages as warm-blooded and gradient from male to female to genderless over their lives.

I’ve named the second-stage one next to me Rebecah. Her legs blend and clutch with the neck of her mount perfectly, forming the illusion of a swantaur. Her mane ripples out behind her.

She looks over at me with smile that I saw as terrifying years ago with all those eyes and beak teeth but I see as endearing now.

My mount is a ravenshark. My body is smeared with the fluorescent paint needed to mock Rebecah’s chitin skin. I have proven myself to them. They are fascinated by my ability to hold onto my male ‘stage’ for longer than usual. I have entered into their oral tribal history.

Rebecah screams the hunt scream and raises her spear. I copy her and we both dive. The hunt is on.

I live here now.

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