The space slug -- technically an exogorth -- is as old as the cosmos, born on the edge of existence where “light and warmth are legends told to frighten children.” Sy-O, as it is called, eats a dead star, kisses its ma and pa goodbye, then starts out toward the Galactic Core, a.k.a. Star Wars Land. The slug’s a billion years old and a baby simultaneously, and it marvels at all the good and bad watching entire civilizations rise and fall in the time it takes to perform its species’ equivalent of a sneeze.
But space, Sy-O soon discovers, is cold and endless. And as much as it enjoys eating stars and dust and scattered debris, it’s also desperately alone. All Sy-O wants is to be loved, and to love something in return.
And, lo, the hum of the universe changes. There’s a big space-slug jamboree happening and Sy-O is invited! So it gussies up its exoskeletal asteroid -- that’s right, all those “asteroids” the Empire kept exploding against were actually exogorths having a party -- and swallows a bunch of mynocks whole so it’ll have something to show off to all its fellow slugs. Because that’s the space slugs’ whole deal: they’re little, floating pocket planets that exist to house interstellar life inside of them.
Anyway, Sy-O’s pretty proud of its mynocks and calls them butterflies, because to Sy-O they’re beautiful and it loves them and it even teaches them to hum the extradimensional music of the universe because Sy-O’s a pretty great host organism. But all the other space slugs start laughing at Sy-O for housing space-rats, because exogorth is apparently the Galactic Basic translation of “pretentious assholes.”
Sy-O’s pretty devastated, but then the Millennium Falcon flies into its face while it’s sleeping. The slug sees all the Imperial ships flying around and bombing its fellow (jerk) space slugs, so it decides to protect Han and Leia, and even starts to create oxygen for them, because, again, Sy-O’s the best. But then our intrepid heroes start shooting the “ancient, infant” slug's guts anyway and murdering its beloved butterflies. Sy-O tries to tell them to chill the hell out, but the Falcon leaves anyway, breaking the slug's heart and blistering its insides with the ship’s afterburner. And suddenly Sy-O is all alone again, with nothing but injured mynocks and a lot of internal scarring.
The space slug spends the next century grieving, then consoles itself that it will, eventually, be reunited with Han and Leia and the rest. So Sy-O sits back and starts waiting for the death of the universe. And somehow it’s a happy ending.
Seriously, Valente’s “This Is No Cave” is like if Werner Herzog wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – which is to say, amazing.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.