The ceremonial chamber was a welcome change after months of freezing conditions followed by boiling heat. Drained, I approached the sacrificial plate – a smooth white expanse that curved gently upwards at its edges. After settling into position, I needed distraction from the impending ritual. I noticed a lean steely type with four curved teeth lying next to the plate.

“Have you been to many of these?” I asked.

“Sure. I get to participate most days as a bearer.”

Bearers were needed to carry the sacrifice, but I'd never met one before.

“Is that difficult?” I asked.

“Not when you're as practised as me. Bearing's been in the family for ages. Before the 11th century, our gods ate with their bare hands. Then my earliest forebears came along. These primitive types helped the gods steady the sacrifice while it was being carved, and then transport it to their mouths. But with only two gappy teeth they weren't very effective. A third tooth evolved a few hundred years later, and by the 19th century a fourth was all the rage. Some relatives evolved a fifth, but their families went extinct. It was around then, during our gods’ Industrial Age, that my ancestors struck a deal. It had become fashionable by then for the gods never to dirty their fingers, so my relatives agreed to help carry their sacrifices, in exchange for reproduction on a massive scale. There are billions of us now, housed for most of our time in cutlery drawers.”

His story reminded me of our own. Once, we too had subsisted in small numbers. Then we made a pact: we would sacrifice some of our plump green embryos, and in return the gods would protect and cultivate us. After that, we spread far and wide over the planet. The gods determined who would procreate and who would be sacrificed, but their choices seemed arbitrary. So our species taught one god the laws of inheritance in the hope of more rational decisions. Some of our coated embryos took a round shape, others wrinkled; some green, others yellow. By counting offspring from arranged marriages, he soon got the idea. This year is his 200th birthday. He tried his best to explain the laws to his fellows, but it took them 35 years to get the message.

A rumble of voices.

“They must be almost ready,” said my steely companion.

“Will it be quick?”

“Could be over in a flash or it may drag on for hours. The gods are fickle. American gods insist I should be held in their left hand for dismemberment, and then switch to the right to deliver the sacrifice. European gods want me to be always held with the left. Eastern gods don't even bother with the likes of me and employ a pair of one-toothed bearers. Each god considers its own way best. It's all to do with where they come from. Their young are drilled to ensure they follow the traditional method.”

“What method do you think they'll use on me?”

“You're a very interesting case because your spherical shape makes you so tricky to pin down. Traditional English gods insist you should be pushed into a gluey sacrifice packed on my back, others contend that you should be speared.” I was beginning to regret having asked. “Yet others are happy for you to be scooped up into my belly. I once witnessed a young English god, trained in the art of back-packing, discover that belly-scooping was more efficient. Her father went ballistic when he saw her try it out. Ah, I see the ceremony is about to begin…”

The bearer rose and I tried to ready myself for our next encounter.

Read other ‘Developmental Twists’ articles by Tsuku Mogami

Mogami, T. (2021). Developmental Twists: The Scan. Development148, dev200108. doi:10.1242/dev.200108

Mogami, T. (2021). Developmental Twists: Only Human. Development148, dev200204. doi:10.1242/dev.200204

Mogami, T. (2021). Developmental Twists: Back to Back. Development148, dev200268. doi:10.1242/dev.200268

Mogami, T. (2021). Developmental Twists: A Colourful Character. Development148, dev200360. doi:10.1242/dev.200360

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: A Fateful Tour. Development149, dev200453. doi:10.1242/dev.200453

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: A Fertile Encounter. Development149, dev200523. doi:10.1242/dev.200523

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: Winter in Paris. Development149, dev200658. doi:10.1242/dev.200658

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: Sorgvliet. Development149, dev200847. doi:10.1242/dev.200847

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: The Attic. Development149, dev200960. doi:10.1242/dev.200960

Mogami, T. (2022). Developmental Twists: A Question of Identity 149, dev201171. doi:10.1242/dev.201171