The Planet Eater

Hi! This is a short story I wrote for a writing unit at university. It's from the point of view of a huge alien animal that eats planets. 
It was also published in Grapeshot (you'll find it on p. 52 through that link) but, because student magazines are nice, I retain the rights!

The Planet Eater

Lachlan Marnoch, 2015

 

The Planet Eater swung around the yellow star and closed in on his prey. He passed a gas giant and a dead rocky planet; an asteroid bounced off his long, worm-like body as he swept into the inner system.

The blue planet swelled into his view, emerging from the milky strew of stars. He could feel the radio waves emanating from it; see the spectral lines of molecular oxygen in its atmosphere, its swarm of tiny satellites. This was a planet at the peak of its lifespan. His mouth started to water.

He opened his vast jaws, matching the planet’s velocity with bursts of hydrogen once scooped from the shells of gas giants. His shadow swept over the planet’s surface like a global eclipse, and he closed his mouth around the great sphere. He slurped down the surface water, salty oceans flowing down his throat in a single swallow. The ice caps sent a chill through his teeth. Then his tongue emerged and swept over the planet’s surface, lapping up forests, cities and any habitat harbouring organic life. Finally, he pushed the rocky body between his teeth and bit down. It didn’t take long to crack the crust and crunch into the upper mantle, munching on burning hot grit and a soup of molten rock. He chewed and swallowed the planet a bit at a time, avoiding the dense core as an animal of more reasonable scale would the stone in a peach.

Finally, when all that was left was the solid inner core, he swallowed it whole. It would help crush and digest the rest of the planet, like a gizzard stone. Water, gases and organic material were sorted into a separate digestive system, while the planet’s bulk would be painstakingly dissolved and incorporated into his endo- and exo-skeletons. The planet’s moon was dragging along behind him; he turned and swallowed it as an afterthought. He could probably use the silicon.

The Planet Eater stretched luxuriously, sighing in pleasure. This was what life was all about. The rush of the solar wind, the hot iron of a planet’s core in your belly, the complex gravity of a solar system tugging you this way and that. It was good to be awake again.

Completing another orbit of the yellow star, he scanned the surrounding space for a likely feeding ground. Stable main sequence stars with a thick habitable band were the best prospects. Barren worlds are all well and good for the minerals, but planets with a thriving ecosystem are the key to a balanced diet. Locating a couple such systems, he listened closely for radio signals. Sure, there were a lot of planets with life but no intelligence, but they weren’t as easy to find.

He was in luck. A radio wave, faint but unmistakably artificial, was arriving from the direction of a yellow star slightly inclined from the stellar equator. A primitive species (like the one he was currently digesting) would have trouble detecting the signal; he, on the other hand, was covered in a vast array of radio-sensitive organs evolved specifically for the task. It was very kind of these organisms to broadcast their location so identifiably. Even if they species had blasted themselves to dust by the time he arrived, something would be hanging on. Life was pretty versatile that way. Frequently, organisms he had swallowed were able to find a new niche as parasites or symbiotes. And besides, radioactivity was good for digestion.

He picked a mountain range from his teeth, belched some excessively hot magma caught in his throat, and set out again. His planetoid-sized brain, having evolved with an instinctive understanding of maths and gravitational mechanics, computed the trajectories with ease. As he went he was very, very careful to avoid comets; objects moving that fast bore a threat even to him. He travelled back to the outer solar system and twisted into the appropriate vector. Then he dove inwards in a steep hyperbolic orbit, shot as close to the star as his body could bear; and then entered a slingshot that carried him straight towards his next destination. He fired one more enormous burst of gas to bring him up to escape velocity, and left the solar system.

The Planet Eater began to slip into hibernation, settling into his armour and locking down. Judging from the destination star’s parallax, measured repeatedly during his orbits, it would take him just over a century to get there. Plenty of time for his body to process his last meal and prepare for a new one. He drifted to sleep hurtling through interstellar space.


The Planet Eater shivered awake in the icy shell of a kuiper belt, shifting a couple of chunks into comet-like orbits. The new solar system stretched out before him. The radio signals echoed strangely, interfering with each other in ways that didn’t make sense for a single source. The Planet Eater realised, excitement rising in his spine, that there were numerous planets taking part in the broadcast. His stomach rumbled, an impressive affair which sent ripples through the interplanetary medium. It was his lucky day.

The Planet Eater shivered awake in the icy shell of a kuiper belt, shifting a couple of chunks into comet-like orbits. The new solar system stretched out before him. The radio signals echoed strangely, interfering with each other in ways that didn’t make sense for a single source. The Planet Eater realised, excitement rising in his spine, that there were numerous planets taking part in the broadcast. His stomach rumbled, an impressive affair which sent ripples through the interplanetary medium. It was his lucky day.

As he loomed over his next target, a sparsely-colonised rocky world, he noticed a scattered fleet of spacecraft leaving in great a hurry. They were minuscule on his scale, not remotely worth pursuing, but they were the largest planet-born craft he had seen. One of the ships smacked against the inside of his teeth as his mouth closed.

Approaching his third planet, he felt the stinging blossom of a nuclear explosion against the skin of his head. Ouch, he thought. Having already had his fill of minerals, he sucked the biosphere from the surface and spat the planet back out.

The fourth world was the intelligents’ primary, judging by the abundance of artificial light shining from its night side. A wasp’s nest provoked, a barrage of nuclear weapons swarmed from the world, at his eyes, nostrils and mouth. He blinked them away, eyes watering, and lunged at the aggressor warships, but they darted nimbly aside. Let’s see how spirited you are with your homeworld in my gut, he thought grumpily. He stretched his jaws...

An object roughly the size and shape of a moon, but moving much too fast, slammed into the side of the Planet Eater’s head. With a dazzling crunch it transferred just enough momentum to knock him off course. His tail grazed the planet lightly as he sailed past, tearing a deep canyon across two continents.

Dazed, he turned to see yet another large satellite flying towards him, motivated by a truly spectacular number of rocket engines. Distracted by the warships’ stings, he hadn’t noticed the moons’ orbits shifting. He tried to dodge, but agility is not the strong point of an animal with more mass than the average planet. The moon punched into his side, and he felt a crack spread across his carapace. A roar of pain would have been appropriate had there been a medium to propagate it. The intelligents followed through with a redirected asteroid shower, and a stray comet just for good measure. One or two of the rocks found their way to the vulnerable flesh underneath.

Too stunned to retaliate, the limp Planet Eater drifted as a third moon made its approach, accelerating to a speed no reasonable planetoid would consider, pushed by the vengeful desperation of a species on the edge of extinction…

She snatched the moon from the space in front of him and promptly crushed it between her teeth. She wasted no time scooping up the remains of the other satellite-projectiles and turning her attention to the planet.

The glittering sphere seemed almost to give a resigned sigh as she wrapped her mouth around it.

Emerging from his stupor, the Planet Eater swung his tail gingerly, wincing as shards of pain crept up his side. That would take millennia to heal properly. His attention quickly turned to his saviour: another Planet Eater. Lights were glistening across her body, aglow with colours that spanned the spectrum. Her tail twitched seductively as she finished her meal. She was emitting a strong radio signal; she must have been behind the sun while he feasted, or he sure would have noticed it.

It was a mating call.

By NASA/JPL-Caltech (NASA Image of the Day) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA/JPL-Caltech (NASA Image of the Day) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons