Life in the Broken Places
Bones Worth Breaking: An Annotated Playlist

The Borne Bestiary

Text by Jeff VanderMeer
Artwork by Eric Nyquist

Bestiarypattern1variation300 sm
Artwork by Eric Nyquist

Compiled from blatant hearsay, stories related by disreputable sorts, and eyewitness accounts while cowering behind big rocks

Animals and animal-plant hybrids play a prominent role in my novel Borne. The novel is set in a ruined city abutted by a Company building that, now failing and broken, once churned out biotech and sent it to more stable realms. Meanwhile, people in the City like Wick, the Magician, and others survive by using the Company’s cast-offs to create their own home-grown biotech.

Oh, yes, and a huge flying bear named Mord terrorizes the City. Once muscle for the Company, Mord has gone rogue, causing severe problems for Wick, his partner Rachel, and for Wick’s rival, the Magician.

At the beginning of the novel, Rachel finds a lump of green sea-anemone-like biotech she names “Borne.” Soon, Borne begins to grow, and eventually, to speak. As Borne ventures outside of their home, he becomes more independent and headstrong. As the war between the Magician and Mord heats up, Rachel must navigate a City that is ever more dangerous and shifting—in part because of its legacy of biotech. In the broken places, forces are gathering that no one understands.

Except, perhaps, you. For, herein, you will discover a carefully curated selection of the creatures that peer out from the pages of Borne, with more information provided, for even the least among them, than a mere novel could fruitfully contain. From the entry on Anonymous Meat to the musings on Duck With Broken Wing, from Fire Slug to Silverfish, you are about to embark on an adventure unlike any other. Page numbers from Borne have been included for ease of tracking down these beasts in the novel.

Still, even a bestiary has its limits. We hope you understand that some information is too dangerous or outrageous to be of use to you (or to me), and thus has been excluded (the novel itself includes many more creatures of one kind or another). With that caveat, we hope you enjoy this exclusive peek behind the scenes of Borne. And by “we” I mean “me and whatever form of biotech has already colonized that me.”

With all best wishes, Jeff VanderMeer

Alcohol Minnows (p.25)

Also known as “alkie sardines,” these tiny silver fish were seeded throughout the City when the Company arrived—dropping them in a torrent from helicopters via the polluted river. At first, this was seen as a friendly gesture, but in the ensuing decades it has become clear that this was the opening salvo in an effort to keep the population docile. These weird fish have survived and thrived ever since in the sand and dust. Because their fish genes are fused with the genes of succulents, alcohol minnows can burrow into very dry places for many years, living in a kind of suspended animation.

At times of sudden rain, they will appear in more abundance, but their reproductive cycle remains a closely guarded secret. The moisture that mimics liquor is actually a kind of resin or sap that serves the same purpose as blood in human beings. Some claim that the eating of an alcohol minnow changes the experience of shoving a memory beetle in your ear—that the two experiences exist in a symbiotic relationship—but there is no way to prove or disprove this theory. The taste of an alcohol minnow, however, is said to mimic the recipient’s own best memory of having been drunk, and thus is different for every person. (See also Memory Beetle)

Anonymous Meat, Packets Of (p.5)

Due to the Company’s decline, eyewitness reports of “packets of anonymous meat” are all we have to confirm the possible continued production of food items from the seemingly derelict Company building. Most later iterations seem inconsistent at best. One week, for example, people still remember that the “anonymous meat” writhed and bleated within its biodegradable packaging, and at other times the “anonymous meat” was actually tiny organisms made to resemble lions, tigers, bears, and other extinct creatures found in a product called Animal Crackers, which some of the older scavengers remember their parents recalling with nostalgia. Since the civil war with the Magician, the Company has fallen further into disrepair, with sightings of new food packets rare. (See also Autonomous Meat)

Autonomous Meat (p. 59)

Origins unknown, but definitely autonomous, with concern from some quarters that instances of such meat are not lab-grown, yet somehow authentic human and more mobile than one might wish. Nothing is more alarming than a sudden accumulation of autonomous meat, quivering in a semi-circle like a fleshy siege. As a defense mechanism, some autonomous meat will explode under threat. Speculation that it is “slab meat” refers to off-loaded meat from other biotech; in other words, synthetic animals that can grow edibles off of their bodies, but have done so too fast, creating anomalies and sometimes meat that burbles; also termed “sweat meat,” as in “the newness sweated off the meat.” (See also Anonymous Meat, Packets of)

Company Lichen (p.154)

Although described as a “moss,” Company moss is yet another animal-plant hybrid, with protein strands that resemble beef and an infusion of nutrients more commonly found in potatoes and beans. Company moss contains neurons in simple synaptic relationships, which means it can think in a very limited way. Company moss is edible, a dull but constant staple for many in the City. To further indoctrinate the population with the alcohol minnow, Company moss tastes better if you have eaten a minnow first. (See also Company Moss and Lichen, Not the Good Kind)

Company Moss (p.95)

Although described as a “moss,” Company Moss is yet another animalplant hybrid, with protein strands that resemble beef and an infusion of nutrients more commonly found in potatoes and beans. Company Moss contains neurons in simple synaptic relationships, which means it can think in a very limited way. Company Moss is edible, a dull but constant staple for many in the City. To further indoctrinate the population with the Alcohol Minnow, Company Moss tastes better if you have eaten a minnow first. (See also: Company Lichen and Lichen, Not the Good Kind)


Alcohol Minnows


Anonymous Meat, Packets of


Autonomous Meat
Company Lichen


Company Moss


Compost Worms






Digging Gap-Jawed Leviathan

Compost Worms (p.18)

Worms need food, moisture, and oxygen, and in this way are not unlike human beings (no matter how you might complain about the comparison). Compost worms differ from “regular” worms in that they were made to live indoors and break down human waste. Some call them “shit worms” or “crap worms” or “turd worms.” You may call them whatever you want in the privacy of your own bathroom. As might be expected, the spring celebration of turd worms practiced by some is largely an indoor, low-key affair.

It is largely the confluence of natural worms and unnatural worms in the soil that has sustained the City despite all of the problems. Most artificial worms have been altered to feed on dormant alcohol minnows. Most artificial worms have also been made edible, to be dual purpose in an emergency . . . with all that this implies. Other kinds of biotech worms include diagnostic worms (p. 32) and defense worms (p. 133). (See also Earthworms)

Coyotes (p. 265)

Rumored, but existence may be apocryphal, even if tales are told of distant sightings in silhouette in the subterranean sections of the City that once held a subway system and underground mining facilities. If coyotes exist, their lives must be so far removed from the life’s blood of the City’s commerce as to be considered a kind of haunting they inflict upon themselves. Legends surrounding coyotes speculate on a symbiotic relationship with Company-bred surgical mice that make them impervious to diseases, and that they have become the dominant intelligence outside of the City and we are simply too remote to observe this development. (See also Dog-like Creature, Brittle Remains of and Mice, Solemn)

Damselfly (p. 243)

Rare, the damselfly, with its diaphanous black wings, can exist only in certain temperatures below sea level. For this reason, remaining specimens in the City are usually found in hidden cisterns or wells, clinging to bits of moss and other vegetation. And yet this species is not extinct, suggesting a toughness at odds with its delicate appearance and habitat requirements. Over time it has adapted by de-emphasizing eyesight in favor of other senses and has changed how it lays eggs to maximize dispersal to increase its range, if not its population. Unlike some species of insect that have been obliterated by Company versions that mate faster and live longer, the delicate look of the damselfly has made it an undesirable subject for biotech experimentation. Glimpsing a damselfly is considered good luck by inhabitants of the City, and this may also account for its survival.

Digging Gap-Jawed Leviathan (p. 250)

A biotech beast modeled on both the mole and the basking shark that would have scooped up soil and spit it back out transformed, cleansed of any natural life, replaced with patented CompanyLife™. Such artificial life would have enacted Company feedback loops and other orders while serving as surveillance peeking up at the City’s inhabitants. In effect, the Company could then claim that it owned the City, or at least the soil beneath every building. The practicality of such a claim, employed with efficiency and success in other locales, was never tested in the City, as both the City and the Company fell into chaos well before such a test could occur, or the digging beast could even advance beyond the conceptual stages. (See also 50-Winged Creature and Leviathan)

Dog-like Creature, Brittle Remains of (p. 13)

Several doglike creatures in mummified form litter the interior of the Balcony Cliffs, a vast complex of sunken and abandoned living quarters overlooking the City’s polluted river. The advanced age of these remains, and where they are found, suggest less that they served as pets than that feral dogs, possibly human-made, supplanted the original occupants in these apartments for a time. Rumors of an uplifted species of dog, similar to a whippet—bred for aggression and used to guard the apartment complex—are complete rubbish. (See also: Coyote)

Doglikecreaturebrittleremainscolor Dog-like Creature, Brittle Remains of

Duck With Broken Wing (p. 264)

Often sighted and also often misunderstood, the duck with a broken wing reported as living alone on the approaches to the Company building is in fact not a duck at all. But none who have approached it have ever lived long enough to report as to its true nature. As a result, ducks have flourished as a species in the City due to a general suspicion and caution. (See also Elongated Elastic Creatures)

Earthworms (p. 152)

Good old-fashioned, durable non-biotech echinoderms who have adapted to the City’s sandy soil and arid conditions. The salt of the Earth, but please do not salt their earth. The earthworm’s ability to regenerate tissue and its rudimentary yet three-tiered nervous system make it ideal raw material for biotech, simple enough even for amateurs to adapt. It is said, “Do not trust a bioengineer who cannot tell the difference between an earthworm and a compost worm any more than you would trust a plumber who doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.” (See also Compost Worms)

Eel-like Things (p. 54)

Mysterious and often difficult to catch, the tough and hardy eels that inhabit the river and vestiges of underground reservoirs of the City may remain hidden for months before emerging into view. Unlike eels in the natural world, these “eellike things” are not just elusive but also very clever and go about their business with an intensity that makes it noteworthy when they do pop up. Rumor has it that the biotech signature on these creatures is three initials: “MCD.” Who MCD is or what MCD’s agenda is, not even the most astute scavenger can say. If few have seen the eels, then none have seen MCD or even know if MCD yet lives. Conjecture that MCD is Company-related or among the hidden masters who pull the levers of the world cannot be confirmed, for the obvious reasons. (See also Elongated Elastic Creatures)

Elongated, Elastic Creatures (p. 316)

These being a new thing, and having popped out of the sand near the end of the world’s story, they do not register in the normal way, and are often like shadow or mist to the naked eye, as if even their atoms laugh at the scavengers who hunt them. These elusive creatures like to come out at dawn or dusk, when it is hard to look upon them directly. For they slink and slide past the senses, and are seen or experienced at the corner of vision. “There is no way,” say wise women in the City, “for the past to truly see the future.” (See also Duck with Broken Wing)

Fiddler Crabs (p. 239)

Displaced persons from coasts of continents and from islands lost to rising seas displaced with them fiddler crabs, which they brought along as pets and as reminders of home. Fiddler crabs can live for three years, or longer under protected conditions. At one time, a handful of mud flats along the polluted river in the City became colonized by fiddler crabs released as an intended act of mercy by refugees who had come to the City. The crabs breed rapidly and practice extreme caution in popping back into their holes. However, although used to the brackish water of estuaries, they are not a freshwater species and cannot survive forever in freshwater. Such colonies inevitably failed, and the only fiddler crabs still extant in the City are those that have not been released into the wild. (See also Mudskippers / Mudpuppies)

Fire Slug (p. 215)

The terrestrial version of a sea slug, a repurposed Company invention, one meant to be sold instead of wood for fireplaces. But the fire slug loved fire too intensely and devotedly, and accidents occurred at an untoward rate. What is not understood is how the dance of foxes also seems to be mimicked by the handful of fire slugs that remain in the City—or why. Fire slugs can live to be over a century old, if left to their own devices. Made to flame and flame again by their oppressors, they will instead fade and desiccate within three to four years. But if even just an ember of their life remains within the gray dull remains, a fire slug can rise again in even greater splendor. Other kinds of slug include a fat, luminous variety (p. 244) that serves as a water filter, surgical slugs (p. 32) that cover and heal large wound areas in skin, and azure slugs (p. 19) that rejuvenate the soil through excretion of ground cover.

Fireflies (p. 21)

Any fireflies in the City are artificial, the work of amateur bioengineers. Fashioned from gene splices between fireflies and bees, the City’s fireflies are social creatures that like to congregate together and pull sustenance from dew spots and by eating the lice and mites that accumulate inside City buildings. In this respect, their predatory habits resemble certain types of wolf spiders. When encountered en masse of an evening, firefly swarms turn the dark to gold and in their pointillism rival the greatest of firework displays, suggest that beauty can be inexhaustible. Most people in the City take pride in fireflies, as their particular contribution to the field of “made beasts.” But as important, they love the social aspect of the fireflies, congregations and concentrations more possible than any human community in the dangerous City.


Duck With Broken Wing




Eel-Like Things


Elongated Elastic Creatures


Fiddler Crabs


Fire Slug

Flounder Creature Final

Flounder Creature


Flying Creature, With Many Wings


Fox, Blue

Flounder Creature (p. 14)

This dual-purpose fish and living map has a confused origin. Some claim the bioengineer Wick stole it from the Company, while others proudly proclaim it is Wick’s work, and thus proof of the mad skills of amateurs in the City. Regardless, the flounder has no parallel in the literature on biotech. The method by which Wick, or some unknown other, created a sensitivity to the architecture of the Balcony Cliffs demonstrates an almost preternatural ability and must be considered a myth of sorts. The Magician once introduced the slander that the flounder served no purpose whatsoever, had no agency of any kind, but that Wick would pretend, so as to convince his clients of his powers. In which case, the fish was merely a poor, confused flounder far from home, floating in a shallow pan, asymmetrical eyes peering up at all and sundry with something akin to a plea for help, or at least for honesty. (See also Leviathan and Mudskippers / Mudpuppies)

Flying Creature, With Many Wings (p. 250)

Another of the Company’s blueprints that was never created, perhaps rendered obsolete by the rise of Mord or simply by the Company’s decline. According to a scavenger who once worked at the Company building, this bird would have been so large it would have blotted out the sun as it patrolled the skies, its fifty sets of wings both awe-inspiring and unwieldy. Sometimes the myths surrounding the strange bird become intertwined with those about the flying creature, and it is not unknown for those who worship the strange bird to come to blows with blasphemers attributing heroic struggles instead to a tool of the Company. (See also Digging Gap-Jawed Leviathan, Strange Bird, and Vultures)

Fox, Blue (p. 10)

Some residents recall their grandparents mentioning a time without foxes, which suggests they are not native to the City. Nor is there one kind of fox; nor can it be substantiated whether the Company created one or more of the several species or “versions” found in the City.

The desert fox, related to the fennec fox, is small and tan-colored but possessed of enormous ears. This type of fox tends to stick to the outskirts of the City, but often works in concert with other species, especially to coordinate attacks or initiate distractions to steal food. The desert fox burrows deep and furiously, using large front paws and powerful back legs. Scavengers who wander out into the desert looking for lost biotech have been known to break a leg falling through into a fox labyrinth.

The blue fox has been seen only three or four times, and none recently; it is rumored the blue fox was kidnapped by the Magician for her experiments. Scavengers tell the story that the blue fox was the secret leader of all the foxes and that the Magician kidnapped him out of spite because he was so beautiful and because she feared the foxes he led and worried that they might make common cause with the great bear Mord. But the blue fox, even held by the Magician’s power and only a head upon a wall, could not be killed, for the blue fox did not truly live within our world. The blue fox had slipped over from elsewhere so that even if it should appear to die, it could never really die—not its heart, not its mind.

Once, it is whispered, the blue fox and Mord spoke together at dusk, the great ursine head bending low to peer down into the laughing face of the fox, and that some silent understanding passed between them, some moment of seeing beyond the comprehension of human beings, and that afterward the great bear rocked back on its haunches and was observed to roar with laughter . . . except that for a long time no one understood Mord had laughed because he had never laughed before. Afterward, too, the blue fox danced out in the desert until well after the moon came up, and the moon was blue too as if in on the joke, and all the other foxes joined in that dance.

“If you see a blue fox,” people in the City tell their children, “you must laugh as if you have heard a joke—and then you must run, you must run for your life, for otherwise that blue fox will pull you over into his world.”

Another one-off fox has been seen with tiny hands sprouting from its chest, a fox that in the dark teems with quiet bioluminescence. Both of these characteristics, sprouting hands and glow-affect, are trademarks of the earliest Company experiments in the City. For this reason, it is thought that the fox with the human hands must be very old indeed—a matriarch, whose origins and knowledge she has passed down to the others. That the human-hands fox and the blue fox traveled together for a time, trotting through the ruined buildings in the center of the City, must be a lie, the kind of fancy that a blue fox would spread just to be mischievous.

Certainly, foxes of all types have in the City exhibited atypical behavior or coordinated group behavior in stalking prey or they simply engaged in pranks—the pranks themselves indicative of higher-order brain functions and possible strategic analysis. According to legend, fox antics include foxes that gambol and seem to enact short plays out in the desert; foxes that leap over the narrow part of the poisoned river and back again, as if on a dare, for no particular reason except “why not?”; foxes that steal a scavenger’s salvage and then return it later (perhaps changed in some subtle way), and just stand there, laughing with lolling pink tongues; foxes that appear to scrawl words with their paws in the desert sand; and foxes that at times warn scavengers of the approach of Mord, or appear to do so.

“The Lord loves a fox,” goes the saying, “because no one else can understand their ways.” (See also Duck with Broken Wing and Elongated Elastic Creatures)

Leviathan (p. 158)

Although some speculate that the leviathan that erupted from the holding ponds to fight Mord could be a version of the “fish project” that the bioengineer Wick would, when drunk, ramble on about to his clients or to some scavenger he hardly even knew . . . it was more likely some relic of the Company defenses. That some who witnessed the appearance of this leviathan reported that it “resembled an iguana more than a fish” would indicate it could not be Wick’s “fish project.” How long the leviathan had hidden in those murky waters and what it had eaten to survive cannot be determined.

Nor should we take the word of the old woman who lately likes to throw rocks at passersby outside the Balcony Cliffs, when she told one of her victims, “The leviathan was my brother! He was my brother from another mother and he cooked himself and tore off his own limbs to feed us and I miss him because that leviathan was not Company-made but had always lived there as I lived there until I assumed human form. Here, have a rock. And another.” (See also Flounder Creature and Mudskippers / Mudpuppies)

Lichen, Not The Good Kind (p. 59)

A catchall term for vaguely hostile lichens that cannot be categorized as either Company lichen or Company moss yet are hard to tell apart due to similar patterns or colors (such as green and red). Long-term scavengers in the City use this term for vegetative matter that seems aggressive in either growth or locomotion—i.e., to identify a plant-animal hybrid that may be an unintentional mutation or a targeted enraged vector. The color blind are much more likely to be poisoned by hostile lichens, often serving as dispersal systems during certain disruptive lichen species’ rather proactive breeding season. (See also Company Lichen and Company Moss)

Memory Beetle (p. 6)

One of the Company’s more ingenious creations—both used to placate the local population and sold elsewhere—the memory beetle allows extraction of memory from one host to another or for a host to better access their own memories. This is a tactic used by unhappy residents of the City to forget their problems by existing in the past. Memory beetles have also reportedly been created by rogue bioengineers, although the quality of these beetles may be poor and the memories thus thin or unsatisfying or unexpectedly banal.

Most “hacking” of Company biotech creates a mere echo of the original. But beetles function as excellent delivery systems for many different experiences, as their exoskeletons make them durable, while their soft insides are ideal for housing certain kinds of genetic material. Their ability to fly increases their range, and it is easy to adjust beetle mating cycles to, in some cases, naturally create next-gen biotech. Other variants include the golden beetle (immediate obliteration of senses, good for escaping trauma, p. 12), the spy beetle (surveillance, p. 27), diagnostic beetle (otherwise known as the medic beetle, p. 32), defense beetle (creating mist-screen and vectored noxious spray, p. 179), and the battle beetle (p. 180). This last variety was used by the Company as a solution to the problem of security. It functions as a kind of living bullet, as it tunnels into the flesh, seeking the heart or brain. (See also Alcohol Minnows)

Mice, Solemn (139)

As distinguished from ordinary mice found in the City, a “solemn-looking mouse” is slang in certain neighborhoods for mouse-based diagnostics and medical repair. Some species are small enough to live within the human throat, exuding a liquid through their paw pads that numbs the scratch. Such mice provide triage services. Developed as “in-house” medics for soldiers in foreign wars, a strain of “solemn-looking mouse” clings to a precarious existence in the City. Most scavengers revile these mice, consider them unclean or cursed, and recycle their parts for other biotech projects. A few revere the mice and actively participate in their use and trade these mice amongst their various throats to create the best medical combinations. But because these mice have regressive genetic markers, they often lose out to “real” mice for food and other resources when they fend for themselves sans human cohabitation. Thus, their range is limited to the boundaries of an unpredictable territory: the unnamed countries formed by the bodies of their hosts. (See also Coyotes)




Lichen, Not the Good Kind


Memory Beetle


Mice, Solemn




Predator Cockroach


Red Salamander

Mudskipper / Mudpuppies (239)

These fascinating carnivores are a kind of fish that has bulging eyes and strong fins that propel it across mudflats, its primary habitat. Although not found in the City, mudskippers are thought to be a partial influence on two Company creations: the fish project worked on by Wick, the bioengineer, and the leviathan that, once discarded, lived in the holding ponds outside of the Company building. The mudskipper’s amphibious nature and ability to walk on land like certain species of catfish make it a desirable subject for genetic manipulation, as does its tenacious toughness. Well into the Seventh Extinction initiated by and sustained by human activity, the mudskipper, despite habitat loss, continued to maintain high population numbers, and even population growth. It was also among the first subjects of the advanced biotech experiments that led to the growth of commercial biomimicry, of special interest to spy agencies and the surveillance sector. The introduction of these “fake” mudskippers into local environments on the mainland and on islands only strengthened the genome of the mudskipper in general—while also strengthening the paranoia of human populations in these places. (See also Fiddler Crabs and Leviathan)

Predator Cockroach (p. 30)

Most cockroaches are predators in some context, but for scavengers “predator” always suggests proactive attack. Predator cockroaches are an aggressive, invasive species bred by the Company to coat the outer walls of their main building and to swarm in the case of a breach. However, these cockroaches are so aggressive that they swiftly resort to cannibalism when in close proximity to each other. Without culling and maintenance by the Company, they quickly ate each other into almost-extinction. Perhaps a couple hundred remain in the City, sequestered, and are of great value due to scarcity. Once used instead of currency, too few remain to form a stable monetary unit. Almost exclusively employed for intimidation and extortion, as their aspect is fearsome and their burrowing into flesh horrifying, if usually nonfatal.

Q: “What are two predator cockroaches?”

A: “One predator cockroach.”

Q: “What is one predator cockroach?”

A: “Happy.” (See also Memory Beetle)

Red Salamanders (p. 16)

Red is the color of caution or “stop,” and when the red salamanders tumble from the sky, it signals that conditions in the City have faltered and contamination is heavy. For the tiny amphibians sacrifice themselves to cleanse the City, dissipating in the heat, and are absorbed as liquid into the soil. The levels of poison in the air drop, taken in by their skin and then diffused through the medium of the fluid they become. And where they go as liquid is not known, except that like wraiths these very same creatures reform and are taken up by the sky and deposited again. These creatures are so very old and yet so very new, and take on our sins as their own, for which we should thank them. Or so say the elders in the City, such elders as they be, who also claim the salamanders are holy relics. For if you put your ear to the ground after the rain of their bodies, you can hear them singing for the joy of their service and the promise of resurrection. All of them soft in their singing, yet so beautiful.

Revisedsilverfishcolor Silverfish

Silverfish (p. 205)

An ancient insect that existed on Earth before the dinosaur, the silverfish has thrived in the City, much as it has thrived everywhere for more than four hundred million years. Wingless, the silverfish depends on extreme speed and a nocturnal existence to pursue an advantage. The versions found in the City are much larger than the norm, live for decades, have become adroit at moisture extraction even in the driest conditions—sometimes existing on the bodily fluids found within its prey—and have been observed to be more social than their predecessors.

Silverfish will eat anything and, given the immense inventory of papers and books that housed the City’s history, could be said by their devouring to have absorbed that history and made it their own to the extent that it now belongs to them. Inasmuch as an insect rules the City, it is the silverfish, as silverfish females produce up to one hundred eggs per day. A relative of the silverfish, the firebrat, has not fared as well in the City, for reasons too esoteric to relate here.

Impervious to pollution and poisons, the silverfish also tastes terrible, discouraging scavengers from harvesting it, and has a nasty bite that often becomes infected. Their molted scales, however, resembling the scales of a fish, are much prized by biotechs—or, at least, the properties of those scales when ground into glitter and reapplied to beetle carapaces.

The rantings of the old man named Ted-Ned, who stood outside the City’s ruined observatory in better days, alluded to an empire of silverfish beyond the desert, where they have created their own complex society, with their own customs and their own ways of governance. Their cities are tiny but plentiful, forming sandy towers burrowing into the sky and extending far beneath the surface. Within these citadels, the silverfish have developed their own arts, based on speed and toughness, expressed in signs and symbols cut into the sand floor and flourishes cutting the air that fade as soon as made so that ever some members of the empire must replicate what will always disappear. The silverfish king sits upon a throne made from the cracked exoskeletons of a thousand locusts and holds a staff fashioned from the hardened horns of a dozen lashed-together rhinoceros beetle horns.

If you, a human, approach one of these silverfish cities, the melodious music from within will cease and they will appear ghostly and empty and you will think them merely the whims of some desert children, even as you marvel at the craftsmanship. Soon enough, though, you will not even notice this as you will have fallen into one of the main quicksand traps of the silverfish and you will be served up as a fine meal for two or maybe even three generations of young silverfish, contributing in your way to the culture of the silverfish empire.

The old man is crazy, of course, but there are children daft enough from staring into the flames of the fire slug all night to listen and repeat these things, and thus they perpetuate this nonsense, and thus silverfish have come to be revered in more ways than one. (See also Damselfly and Memory Beetle)

Strange Bird (p. 169)

Almost certainly apocryphal; no evidence of this bird exists in the City. For this reason, many believe the strange bird is a myth of freedom or imprisonment used as propaganda by the Magician. Possibly this bird was unique biotech blown in from the desert by a storm and unable to find its way out, but if so the creature led a short and miserable existence in the City until scavengers tore it apart. Every sort of description has been given for the strange bird and every sort of story has been told about her, and this will continue until there is no City at all to speak of. (See also Flying Creature with Many Wings and Vultures)

Tick, White Engorged (p. 26)

Misunderstood by some as a real creature. In fact, simply a metaphor for the Company.

Unrecognizable Animal (p. 5)

On occasion, scavengers find animals whose skulls seem “burst from internal pressure, eyes bright and bulging.” Are these residual high-altitude experiments by the Company? The paranoid within the City speculate that there is another Company building hovering “above the sky,” from which such things inevitably must fall. At times, this other Company building is conflated with the empire cities of the silverfish, especially among drunk storytellers late at night who should know better. (See also Elongated Elastic Creatures and Silverfish)

Vultures (p. 233)

This kind of bird can be tricky and cunning, for some are actually automated cyborg drones, or “dark wings,” programmed centuries ago to surveil or drop seed loads from now empty cargo bellies. The stomachs of real vultures can be strange enough, containing acids that dissolve anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria. They use their own vomit as a defensive mechanism and the wizened boy down by the corner near the courtyard of dead astronauts swears that vultures in the air together are known as a “venue,” while those congregated on the ground are a “kettle.”

Alas, vultures tend to be shooed away and go distinctly undervalued in the City because in eating carcasses they clean up bits of biotech that might be valuable. Some vultures are colonized by the “dead” biotech they eat and thus become the eyes and ears of another organism entirely.

So you never really know what is hovering above you or who it reports to. But ever this was the way in the City and, really, the wider world as well . . . (See also Flying Creature with Many Wings and Strange Bird)

Wayward Crayfish (p. 239)

Although usually considered a nostalgic reference to a bygone time before the destruction of most of the world, the crayfish has adapted to desert conditions, aided by a high resistance to pollution and heavy metals. For this reason, the blotched crayfish, as it is sometimes called, has managed to survive in the City’s harsh conditions. The crayfish can immerse itself even in the polluted river for brief periods of time without harm and retain moisture for up to a week. Adaptations that include pollutant-targeting echolocation and the ability to eat Company moss have helped its chances. This species is called “blotched” due to the unique pattern across its carapace, which helps in camouflage but also functions as a two-fold screening system for certain types of pollutants. When the blotched crayfish was more common, some scavengers would use changes in its coloration as a guide to the level of contaminants in any given part of the city. (See also Fiddler Crabs and Mudskippers / Mudpuppies)


Tick, White Engorged


Unrecognizable Animal




Wayward Crayfish

Borne book cover


MCD × FSG, 2017

“Am I a person?” Borne asked me.

“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner,...

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