We set down upon the coral where it was brightest. Only Seseq did not turn away as the bay doors yawned open. Even through my suit's filtered visor the poison light leaked through. We'd have something like a few hours on the surface to mine our quota before I would go mad.

Seseq knew more about the reef than any of us. She rapped on my helmet as she drifted past. 'Don't cut it so fine this time,' she said, turning in the coral's weak gravity with a few silent throat-clearings of her suit's oxygen jets. 'You're worth more to us as you are.' Her visor wasn't shielded and I could see the mirror plating where her eyes used to live. Her vision was the expensive kind. She watched the universe from spectrums the galactic reefs couldn't penetrate. The churning metal swept up into her hairline: a fashion choice.

As we set foot on the surface I knew instantly that the coral was reacting to our presence. Feldt guessed it too. He shivered and cast his gaze about. Oil-slick smears of unreliable colour warped and flexed in our vision as we looked out over the chaos of gnarled shapes. An infinity of tiny filaments formed towering columns like frozen smoke.

As we laid on toward our dig site a pale lidless eye sent our shadows running ahead. The white dwarf we called Moth was small but very fierce, hot enough to warm the coral's fibres even as a pinprick. Soon it would be gone. This coral's roots were elsewhere. Its structure spanned enough of its parent nebula that we thought of it as her skeleton. Moth was just passing through.