The Spanners of Xanxes

Dr Susan Eribaku wondered if she would ever cease to be amazed by Xanxes, the small planet on which she was Lead Exploratory Scientist. The latest addition to her planetary catalogue, the Spanner, was one of the strangest life-forms that she had ever come across.

Like any xenobiologist worth her salt, Susan had encountered numerous alien life-forms, both in person and virtually. There were some very strange ones: the flocks of giant winged crabs from Po, the Swarm-Bear of Magellus whose ‘appendages’ were spread over the entire planet, and the appealing Sluggies of Kieron V to name but a few. Spanners outdid them all, mainly because of how the creatures reproduced.

Spanners resembled large treacle-brown toadstools with burnt orange spots, legs and a mouth. They only reproduced over great distances and could somehow sense the location of other Spanners. If one caught the scent of another that was far enough away (the exact mechanism had not yet been determined), a tendril would shoot out of one of its spots and up into the sky. Once clear of all vegetation, the tendril would curve down towards the source of the scent and connect with a corresponding spot. The creatures would remain stationary for several months while genetic information was exchanged.

During this time, a diaphanous, orangey, rainbow-shaped strand connected them. At some point, the strand would unravel at both ends, revealing a cocoon at its apex which would drop to the ground. On impact, the cocoon would split open and a young Spanner would emerge.

At times, the sky of Xanxes took on an orange hue, so criss-crossed it was with strands spanning the planet. It was because of this vision that Susan’s team had given Spanners their name.

11 thoughts on “The Spanners of Xanxes”

  1. I love the weird creatures and ecosystems, great world-building!

    I must confess I don’t get why they are called spanners…. I suspect that it is long middle bit + two bits at the ends, but the image of criss-crossed sky does not bring to mind spanners…

    I would have liked to see the piece in more context – a report or diary entry, or some sort of realistic reason for these thoughts to be collected.

    Thank you, very imaginative piece!

    1. Thanks for the praise and the crit :-) The world building stuff and strange creatures were the bits I like most about this. I’m not very happy with the style – formatting it more like a report would certainly improve that.

      I meant Spanners because of the tendrils spanning the sky but can see how it would be confusing. I don’t think I emphasised it very well.

    1. Thanks :-) I must admit that I thought of this meaning of span first, odd though that is. I think it might have something to do with it sounding a bit like Scanners, which is a sci-fi movie I know well and about people who are named for their function.

  2. Nice!
    I like the Spanners themselves a lot – lovely description of them – and the other aminals in the menagerie.
    I’m also a little confused, though.

    The last paragraph seems to imply that the criss-cross orange sky inspired the name, whereas for me it was more obvious from “…tendril would curve down towards the source of the scent…” that kinda looks like a bent spanner. Thing. Stuff.

    I like the name Swarm-Bear. Can I have one?
    Last thought: pronunciation guide for Xanxes?

    1. Thanks for the comments. I like Swarm-Bear too.

      Xanxes = zanksees :-)

      See parfles response for spanner. Never thought of a meaning possibly coming from tendrils looking like spanners. Cool.

  3. I also vaguely toyed with the idea of “spanners” as “things that span”, but couldn’t come up with anything meaningful – I like the way you’ve played with the idea, and the fun and inventive alien species which have resulted. This didn’t work for me, though, on the level of voice – I’m with Parfles in thinking that the format is a bit dry and straightforward, and that this really needs some other kind of “in” to the mere fact of the spanners’ existence. You needed, I think, to jump off from the idea of the spanners into some actual kind of plot or urgency – this is more background than story. I’d love to see what you did with it in a longer format, with the basic idea as a starting point.

    1. Thanks. I agree about the voice. I wasn’t very happy with it and ran out of time, but the creature descriptions were the important thing and I’m glad they worked. I must confess that I was thinking of the piece more as an extract than stand-alone when I was writing it, so its no surprise that it came out as more background.

  4. This is a descriptive piece about Spanners, an organism which uses long strands to span the planet in search of a mate.

    Interesting piece. The world-spanning creatures are lovely, as are hints of other odd creatures: the “bats” and the “bear”. Also, “diaphanous” is a great word :)

    Like others, I had problems with how the piece is very much only a description of the spanners. It did get me thinking for ages about writing and plot and story, though, which was cool. I’m not going to infodump my thoughts here, other than to say that for me, what this piece lacks is a “meaning” to what is being described. I don’t know what this means (what its implication is) to Susan, to the spanners themselves, or to the narrator.

    Thank you for the piece :)

  5. Great visual ideas. Love the tease-descriptions of the other life forms – very intriguing.

    I enjoyed the contrast between the (rather nasty sounding) brown toadstools and the spectacular orange sky of spanners spanning.

    Unlike the others I don’t feel a lack of intent/focus/point here – the simple, rich description of something unusual was enough to engage me for this length – a celebration of strangeness told with lightness and some humour.

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