There are cases where ignorance is not a direct existential threat: The world turns, no matter who calls it flat. Sometimes, though, what we don’t know could hurt us all.
While the progression from obliviousness to understanding isn’t always smooth - and may involve many false starts - there are relatively few things about which we know as little now as we ever did. One of the notable exceptions, perhaps even the most baffling of them all, is Xiaern Clutches. Despite having been first observed in the early 1700s CE, with their appearances only becoming more and more common over the following centuries, even the most acute advances in other areas have done little to forward our understanding of them. This continual frustration would be difficult enough to explain if Xiaern Clutches were also otherwise inert but, given their apparent place in the lifecycle of some still-unobserved species, the sheer depths of our ignorance remain unfathomable.
Usually found suspended in mouldy or mossy corners, Xiaern Clutches are comprised of anywhere between ten and thirty translucent and almost-perfectly spherical white eggs. Each about the size of a human eye and pocked with patches of iridescence, they are coated in an oleaginous, yellow-tinged film which, whilst innocuous enough at a distance, reacts with the oils on skin to release a rotten and noxious odour. It would be reasonable to assume that this stench is a defence mechanism - especially since it is potent enough to cause searing pain to the delicate membranes of the eyes and nose and so offensively rank as to have an acute emetic effect - but various other factors render this an obsolescence: Xiaern Clutches do not need to rely on such indirect protections.
For as many instances as there are of Xiaern Clutches being discovered - their prevalence has increased at a steady (if not quite startling) pace since they were first identified - none have ever been found in a damaged state. Efforts were initially made to monitor their development passively, to observe them hatching in their natural habitats and, when this proved fruitless, attempts to incubate them followed. These methods did not lead to a single egg hatching, and the most invasive attempts to study them since have failed to cause noticeable damage. Even when defeat has given way to desperation, when someone has lashed out at one of these Clutches’ eggs with mindless aggression, they appear none the worse for it: They are dauntingly hardy, if not verifiably indestructible.
Some have argued, understandably, that this apparent immunity to force (as well as to various forms of radiation and direct application of the strongest and most volatile solvents) precludes the idea that the Xiaern Clutches are organic, but whilst no harm can be done to them, they have not resisted all efforts to interrogate their underlying nature. Though some had already claimed to see movement within the Clutches - something thrashing darkly within the milky albumen - these isolated observations were only collaborated when researchers bombarded an egg from a Xiaern Clutch with light several times brighter than that of the sun. Backlit and blown-out by the light, they saw the shadow of an embryo which, despite having been in storage for some time, still seemed to be alive.
Although the experiment was repeated dozens of times on various eggs from different Clutches, sometimes with the shaded side under magnification, very little real physical detail could be conclusively determined. Even those elements that seemed to be the most consistent were of limited help in determining what kind of creature gestated within: The idea of it being something so pedestrian that it could one day be called an ‘animal’ seemed to quickly fall out of favour amongst those who were studying Xiaern Clutches and there remains, to this day, some hesitation as to deciding what taxonomic Class any hatchlings might belong to. At some point prior to being studied, the gestational process had stopped - or slowed to an imperceptible crawl - too early to differentiate the embryos from any of the other, better understood species.
Potentially promising advances, such as the invention of the clinical ultrasound, have ended up proving to be of limited use in advancing our understanding of Xiaern Clutches; the frequencies being variously reflected by the surface of the eggs or baffled into producing indistinct blurs. Every new technique or technology that might be applicable, that might give us the smallest new insight, has been stubbornly defeated - a brief flurry of excitement and hope that ends with the intractably mysterious samples returned to storage. This staccato pattern of activity and protracted silences might eventually have wound down to a more consistent disinterest, except for the combination of two aforementioned factors: Xiaern Clutches cannot seem to be destroyed, and that the numbers being discovered have increased consistently, year-on-year, since they were first recorded.
Even without the reeking stench caused when the Clutches are disturbed or otherwise interfered with (which, while not lethal, is definitely and definitively unpleasant) their endless proliferation would eventually become a problem. It is not simply that more Xiaern Clutches are being found - all without any trace of whatever creatures might be laying them - but that these increases can be mathematically projected forward to a point which, whilst laying far outside any of our lifetimes, is not so distant as to be beyond our imagination or our responsibility. Their existence will be become impossible to keep secret by the late twenty-second century, and have a profound effect on daily life only a hundred years later. Another fifty years and they could destroy agriculture and industry almost entirely, leading to mass starvations and our eventual demise.
If they are as impervious as we currently understand them to be, it might only be our self-destructive tendencies that see our species become extinct before the world is overrun by these Clutches. Perhaps, as some particularly fatalistic parties have suggested, this is what they are waiting for. Perhaps they are the replacements that will inherit the ruins that we will leave behind: Robust enough to survive the nuclear wastes, lands flooded by the rising seas or even a complete ecological collapse. In the meantime, our response is both necessary and inadequate, with eggs being collected and stored with all possible caution. These sites, kept as far away from populated areas as is possible, are guarded and carefully monitored in case, someday and for some reason, the Xiaern Clutches begin to hatch.