Bird-Chair-One

Commissioned Interlude 8 – The Bees And The Termites (Summus Proelium)

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At one time, a road had led all the way into Merit, Kansas. Back when there had been an actual Merit, Kansas. Before a series of mistakes, overreactions, and bonehead decisions by relatively few people had doomed not only the first contact between humans and an intelligent hive of Touched-Termites. A few paranoid, drunk types who happened to be the first people the termites attempted to contact. They, of course, lashed out and killed a lot of them. Then they went to get their friends to chase down more, trying to wipe out the ‘monsters.’ By the time anyone with actual authority (or simply a brain between their ears) knew anything about what was going on, the war had already begun. And it was a war the human citizens of Merit lost, as soon as the termites began to melt down every material object in the city with that fog stuff they could project.

It was Mayor Gilbert Sullivan (yes, he had heard all the jokes) who had made the decision to evacuate. Many in the town had wanted to stay. Now that the fighting had started in earnest, they figured it wouldn’t be hard to stomp on, poison, or otherwise kill the termites if they just stuck it out. But Gilbert, a very young mayor in his mid-twenties, had insisted that the point wasn’t whether they could wipe out the termites, but whether they should. And in his mind, there had been too much death already. Against the advice of several on the city council and his own police chief, Mayor Sullivan had the town evacuated, ordering everyone to take anything they could carry and escape. They’d had fire engines, garbage trucks, police cruisers, every vehicle either owned by the town or capable of being commandeered loaded down with everything and everyone they could carry. And then they had simply left. 

Once the place was evacuated, the military had been called in, and since that day no one had gone within several miles of the town. All access points were blocked off, and the grounds in between were patrolled both on foot and by drones. Until they had some idea of how to settle things with the termites properly, the citizens of Merit had been compensated for their losses out of the funds set up to handle large-scale Touched damages (commonly used to aid neighborhoods and cities in recovering from Collision Points), which itself was funded through a mixture of taxes and merchandise sales across every country who contributed a member to Armistice. For one year, those blockades had stood. After the first couple humans attempting to negotiate had failed to convince the now-rightfully paranoid termites of their peaceful intentions, things had been locked behind politicians debating the situation at the state and national level. 

Finally, one pencil-pusher at a desk somewhere had managed to state an obvious idea to the exact right person at the exact right time. It wasn’t the first time that idea had been bandied about, but in this as in so many other cases, it was about who heard the idea and when. 

In this particular case, the idea was heard and pushed along by the right person, until FBI Agent Izan Deans was finally appointed to follow through. Following through, in that situation, meant traveling to Eastland (soon to be Honeyland), Oregon in order to contact a hive of Touched-Insects that humans actually had pleasant contact with, to ask for their help in negotiating with the Termite hive in order to bring a fully peaceful resolution to the entire messed up scenario everyone had found themselves in. 

His trip to Oregon was successful, and now Izan himself (a Latino man in his early-to-mid thirties with crew-cut black hair and a clean-shaven face) had returned with a few friends in tow in order to have the negotiations with the termites. At least, that was the idea, anyway. In practice, things were a little more complicated. Because of course they were. 

“You need an escort, Agent Deans. I don’t know how to put it any simpler than that.” The man talking wore national guard fatigues and wore rank insignia marking him as a colonel. He was clearly close to retirement, or should have been, with a very balding head and the barest wispy hint of white hair. His pale skin was marked by several old scars, while his eyes were sharp, glaring intently at the man in front of him. “No one goes in that town without a squad of my men walking you through. I don’t care what sort of diplomatic namby pamby hakuna matata mission you’re on. You ain’t getting in there without the help of my men.” 

“Would that be the men with the flamethrowers, Colonel Rodon?” Izan asked, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses so the man in front of him couldn’t see them roll. “Somehow, I think that might give the locals in there the idea that we’re not serious about this being a peaceful talk.” 

Straightening up to his full, still less-than-impressive height of five feet, seven inches, Colonel Rodon gave Izan an even harder stare. “And if something happens to you and your little… friends while you’re in there, we end up in an even worse situation. I’m not saying I want to send a whole battalion in there with you. Just a little protection in case things go sideways. Cuz if they do, and those friendly insects you’ve got end up dying, we could go from having a hostile situation with one hive to a hostile situation with two of them. Diplomacy ain’t about looking or being weak.” 

“If we may, Colonel.” Those words were projected, in perfect chorus, from a small swarm of thirty bees that had flown up in formation together directly to the side of Izan’s head so they could look at Rodon. Their voices were projected from tiny speakers on the bottom of their abdomens that were connected through their brains to a chip on the back of their thoraxes. 

The colonel, for his part, still looked a little disconcerted. But he kept it together and gave a slight nod. “Yeah, what is it, ahhh, what do I call you all anyway?” 

“We are Diplomatic Swarm Alpha,” came the chorused response from all thirty. “And it would be our pleasure to explain, you would not be at war with our hive-queen should the worst happen due to our choices. We understand this is a dangerous situation, and have all volunteered for this service knowing the risks. The only thing that could lead to a strained relationship would be your refusal to abide by our requests, or those of Agent Deans, causing our deaths.” 

“Yeah, and I’d be pretty ticked off too,” Deans himself put in casually. “Now, you know what the guy who managed to set this whole thing up said. He got those termites to agree to a meeting with the bees and one human. That’s me. Not one human and a squad with flamethrowers. Not even one human with a flamethrower, before you even suggest it. Me and the bees. The bees and me.” Turning his head slightly to look at the insects hovering beside him, he added, “Which of those sounds like the better band name?” 

“The Bees And Me,” came the immediate response from all thirty insects. “Definitely that one.” 

With a nod, the agent turned back toward Rodon. “Look, if you prefer, we can take this up the line and some pencil-pusher behind a desk, or some guy just looking to get re-elected, can tell you what I already said. The risk is mine and theirs to take.” He gestured to the bees. “We know what’s at stake here, believe me, Colonel. Let us go in there and see what we can do. I’d say something stupid about the worst thing that could happen, but, I think we both know this whole situation could legitimately get a lot worse. That’s why we’re all here. You’ve been here on guard duty around this town long enough. Let us go in there, talk to these termites, and see if we can get you and your men assigned somewhere else. I’m sure you’d all like to go home and be done with this whole thing.” 

There was a long, silent pause while the man stared at him indecisively. Finally, Colonel Rodon heaved a long, heavy sigh. It sounded as though he was going against his better instinct. “Yeah, if I give up this shot at getting out of here, my husband might just kill me himself. Fine. You go in there with the bees. But if you have to come running out again without any clothes cuz those termites went and melted them off your naked tookus, don’t cry to me about it. You understand me, son?” 

“Completely, sir,” came the response. “No crying about my potentially-naked tookus to you.” 

As one, the hovering bees turned in the air to look at their companion. Their combined voices were curious. “Isn’t any body part that is not already literally naked, potentially so?” 

“Any body part that is not already naked is potentially naked.” Saying that out loud, Deans added, “And with that, you have summed up at least half of the thought process for every teenager between the ages of about thirteen to seventeen.” 

“Oh yes,” the bees droned, “puberty.” 

 On that note, the group was waved past the barricade and proceeded to move along the road. Well, for as long as the road lasted. It only went on, pavement wise, for another hundred yards. Then the concrete ended, where the termites have finished stripping it. In its place was a wide dirt path with a single narrow stone walkway that had clearly been recently added. According to the message that Deans had received, going anywhere except on that narrow path would be a bad idea. It would be seen as hostile, and there were members of the termite colony who were watching for just such a betrayal. 

So, he stayed on the path, while his companions flew, mostly silently, beside him. They continued on for another mile or so before reaching the very outskirts of the place that had once been Merit. 

At the end of that mile, a very… interesting sight waited for them. Spaced a couple feet apart all along the remains of the former road were a dozen dogs with wagons hooked to them by harnesses. In the back of each of those wagons was what looked like a small ballistae, complete with a loaded spear. A small glass orb, about five or six inches across, sat at the front of each wagon, and they could see a termite in each. They were clearly the drivers of the dog-powered wagons, waiting right there for the new arrivals.

We will have your names. 

He had been warned about the telepathic voices, but it still made Deans jump slightly. An act he regretted, but apparently the termites were either cooler headed than the humans they had first met, or they were under very strict orders not to fire unless there was a truly hostile act. Either way, he exhaled and started with, “Agent Izan Deans, with the FBI. You should be expecting me. And this… well, they speak better for themselves.” He had intended to introduce them himself, but in that moment, the man had a flash of inspiration that it might go over better if he treated his companions like equals. 

“We are Diplomatic Swarm Alpha,” the bees chorused. As a group, they flew ahead of Deans, splitting into two smaller, fifteen-member-sized swarms a moment later. One such group stayed just a few feet in front of him, while the other flew about half the distance closer to the termite-driven wagons. 

It was that second, closer group that spoke next. “It would be our pleasure to speak with you and yours about the troubles you have had with humans.” 

Troubles. That single word was filled with a mix of scorn and sorrow. Regret. There was regret there. How much of it was regret that things had gone poorly, and how much was regret that they had even tried, Deans wasn’t sure. All he knew was that this was a chance to fix that. 

Yes, we have had troubles. Those of us who were most excited to speak with humans, those who loved them the most, were slaughtered. Massacred with no mercy or thought. Those are the troubles we have had. 

“Yeah, my people can be real stupid sometimes,” Deans announced. “I know you’ve rejected everyone else who’s tried to say it, but there are plenty of us who are horrified by what happened. But then, I think you know that. That’s why you’ve let a few negotiators in now and then. You even trade with a couple people. You haven’t given up entirely. That’s why you agreed to this meeting.” 

There was no response to his words. At least, none that he heard. Instead, silence filled the air for a few long seconds before the two bee swarms, which had rejoined one another, simply said, “Yes.” At first, he thought they were agreeing with him belatedly. Then there was silence once more before they said, “No. Many people. Yes. Because they are our friends. Yes, we were fortunate.” 

He was only hearing one side of the conversation, the man realized. So, he stood silently and waited for another minute of that before a few chimes filled the air and several of the dogs abruptly began to move forward, turning in a wide circle to leave a path open. 

You will all come this way, the voice in his head instructed. Our spokesman awaits. He speaks for the queen. There was a deliberate pause, then, You will never see the queen. 

Yeah, that was fair. Especially after what had happened. Exchanging a look with the bees, Deans began to walk that way. They, or rather he, was escorted on all sides by those ballistae-armed wagons. Which made him nervous, but he kept it in check and just walked. 

There were no houses left in town, nothing the termites could have stripped down and used for their constructions. Practically all he saw that indicated where the town’s buildings had been were a few foundations here and there. 

Eventually they reached what his own studies had said was once where the city hall had stood. Now, like everything else, it was a vacant lot. In the middle was a tree stump that stood about four feet high. Under escort by the dog wagons, he approached that way before coming to a stop directly in front of it. Only then did he see the tiny figure waiting on that stump. It was another termite, though this one was different from the others. Larger than the others, with wings. Not a queen, of course. An alate, if he had the word right. Either way, it perched there, waiting for his approach. 

Agent Deans, Diplomatic Swarm Alpha, the alate’s telepathic voice spoke. Somehow, it ‘sounded’ different from the one that had been speaking in his head before. I am Horse-Spoon-Eleven. I will be speaking the negotiations on behalf of our queen. Rest assured, she is aware of all that occurs and is said here today. I speak her words. You have been escorted here today by the lead of Bird-Chair-One. 

With a simple nod, Deans replied, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Horse-Spoon-Eleven. And you too, Bird-Chair-One.” He was assuming that was the one who had been speaking before, though that didn’t really answer which wagon had held the one in question. Either way, he continued. “It was my original belief that an actual diplomat would be talking to you with my friends here today. But I was told you refused to talk to anyone except the FBI agent who brought the bees to begin with. Which is funny, because up to that point, we weren’t aware that you knew that an FBI agent was the one bringing them at all.” 

We have learned to seek out and treasure intelligence about what our… There was a brief pause before Horse-Spoon-Eleven amended, About what others whose actions may affect us are doing. And we have no desire to entertain the platitudes of those paid to argue for a living. Queen Lion-Sapphire-Zero wishes to speak to you and the emissaries from the Oregon hive. No others. 

“Okay, well–” Deans started, only to be interrupted. 

Not yet, Agent Deans. Apologies, but we are not prepared to speak with you until we hear directly from the representatives of Apis mellifera. We wish to know… why they work so closely with their own humans. And how.

Thus began another conversation the man himself was not a part of. This time, however, he was at least able to hear all of it. Standing quietly, he listened as the termite and his bee companions went back and forth about what exactly had led the Honeyland Hive to their current peaceful conditions with the humans there. Once in awhile, another termite approached and demanded to know if the bees wouldn’t be better off on their own rather than relying on ‘undependable humans.’ But the Diplomatic Swarm insisted that the benefits of cooperation outweighed the risks, and that the humans of the town were their friends. 

Finally, Horse-Spoon-Eleven summed it up as, To our queen, it is seeming that the path to peace is one of usefulness. And yet, we do not believe any level of use would make those of this place wish for our presence. Nor would we feel safe. 

After a brief pause at that until it was clear they were waiting for him, Deans managed a slow nod. “Yeah, we sort of figured that. We don’t see a peaceful resolution coming from you staying here.” 

Do tell us, Agent Deans, came the response, how do the humans see this ending? 

Oh boy was this far beyond his pay grade. With a sigh, Deans hesitated before deciding to go all in. “Well, I think it’s safe to say that nobody wins when it comes to our current situation. We know you’ve been building up a bunker, and that it would probably take a hell of a lot to punch through it if the more… trigger-happy among us ever get their way. And we know that you’ve probably got some of your own people spread out anywhere they could get to so they can do a hell of a lot of damage elsewhere if it goes that way. This whole thing goes violent and both our sides are gonna end up losing a lot. Thing is, there’s a lot more people on our side and a lot more stuff. More than you can break. You’d do a lot of damage, but you wouldn’t win. Not in the end. And us? We’re not exactly the good guys any way you slice it. Losing everything your people would wipe out just so we can kill off an intelligent species? Like I said, nobody wins in this situation. Just losers all the way around.”

Yes, that is our estimation too. The termite representative was staring intently at him, which was a disconcerting feeling. At best, such a conflict would be a matter of doing as much damage as possible before your people destroyed us. There was a long pause then, before Horse-Spoon-Eleven added, I was one of those who was most excited to meet the humans before, Agent Deans. I had many friends who were killed by the intolerant among you. A hard lesson to learn, but an important one. There are humans who will never accept us. And yet, as we have both said, this conflict will only end poorly. 

“Then let’s change it,” Deans put in. “You’re right, the Honeyland bees have a great relationship with the humans there. Those people are already accustomed to living with Touched-Insects, and they know how useful that can be. I’m sure you can all help each other out.” 

You would have us leave the place we have spent all of our time and effort to fortify, to go somewhere new? The tone of the termite’s response wasn’t exactly a refusal, more curiosity. 

Deans, in turn, nodded. “Look, I know you got burned really bad on that leap of faith before. But I don’t think you really have another option here. We’ve already been over it. If this keeps up, everyone loses. At least if you go to Honeyland, your colony has a chance of surviving.” 

The response that came was silence. The termite turned away from him, seeming to look off at nothing. He had the impression that it was conferring with others, before finally turning to the bees. Would you trust this man in our situation? 

“Agent Deans has proven himself an honorable human and worthy of respect,” Diplomatic Swarm Alpha chorused. “And the humans we live and work alongside would be happy to have a second hive–pardon, colony to work with. We believe that bees and termites could do much good together, for all of our peoples.” 

Again, there was silence for awhile as the termites conferred, before Horse-Spoon-Eleven eventually announced, We would have one request. The work that we have put into our bunker cannot be ignored or dismissed. If we are to travel to this Oregon, we would have the bunker extracted and taken with. And we would have you along for every step of that journey, Agent Deans. To avoid any… mistakes. 

Exhaling in relief, Deans gave a short nod. “Of course. Whatever it takes, I’m sure we can work up something. Especially with help from your new partners here.” He gestured to the bees. “But I’m going to have to bring some other people in and hammer out the full details.” 

One of the dog-pulled carts approached, and Horse-Spoon-Eleven seemed to gesture with one hand. Go with Bird-Chair-One to… hammer these details, as you say. We will await hearing more. 

The winged termite then sat silently upon the stump while the human and his bee companions moved off with their designated escort. Only once they were out of earshot did another voice speak. Another human voice. 

“Does this mean our deal is off?” 

Horse-Spoon-Eleven turned to where two human figures in metal armor had appeared from seemingly thin air. No. It is as I believe you humans say, do not put all of your eggs in one basket. We will send half of our colony to this Honeyland to see what the humans there have to offer. The other half will fulfill our agreement with you. We will come to your city and work as you would like, in exchange for your protection and aid. 

“Excellent,” the male figure murmured. “That’s excellent news, isn’t it, White?” 

“Indeed, Gold,” the female figure agreed. “And have no fear, Horse-Spoon-Eleven. 

“The Ministry will take very good care of you and yours. We keep our deals.”

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Commissioned Interlude 4 – Merit, Kansas (Summus Proelium)

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The following is a special commissioned interlude. The next chapter of the main storyline will be out tomorrow as scheduled. Thanks! 

Bird-Chair-One. That was the designation of the termite who bustled his way along the sidewalk. He was named, as all members of the Sphere Colony, via the convention of ‘animal-object-number.’ Most termites weren’t given names, of course. Most wouldn’t have been capable of comprehending anything resembling the basic concept of a name. Or any idea of individuality, for that matter. They were simply cogs within a machine. 

But Bird-Chair-One was no ordinary termite. Oh, on the outside he would look like a fairly typical representative of a soldier member of the Coptotermes formosanus species. That was the scientific term for the commonly known subterranean termite, a species often referred to as the super-termite thanks to a reputation for building enormous, expansive colonies and the speed at which they could consume wood. They were considered an invasive species of insects, capable of doing untold damage to homes and structures, particularly if not caught and contained in time before the colony spread too much. 

And that was before you gave them human-level intelligence and superpowers. 

There was one slight difference, physically, between these termites and most members of their species. Unlike typical Formosan termites, these possessed two tiny black nubs, barely visible, at the end of their heads. Nubs which provided them with one of many advantages they had over others of their kind: the ability to see. Those tiny, almost imperceptible bumps on each termite’s head, were eyes. 

On his way down the cracked and broken pavement, the termite passed a small swarm of his fellow hive-members, who lined up together. A stream of thick fog emerged from the gathered insects, drifting out in front of them before forming itself into a series of sharp, angled spears. Though spears made of thick fog were hardly going to intimidate anyone, in a moment, they changed. The fog vanished, replaced by metal in the same shape. Several six foot long iron spears appeared, before clattering loudly into a low, wooden wheeled cart that lay nearby. A harness made of wood and rope attached the cart to four dogs who lay dozing in the sun. Atop the cart, at the front, was a glass orb the size of a hamster wheel, where a single termite perched. 

Seeing (and feeling) the load of metal spears fall into place, the driver termite walked forward to stand on a small button, sensitive enough that even that miniscule amount of weight activated it. Doing so made a bell at the head of the cart ring, waking the quartet of dogs. Trained as they were, the dogs hopped to their feet and began to walk forward, pulling the loaded cart. The driver could move slightly left on the button to make a higher pitched dinging sound, which would make the dogs turn that direction, or move right to make a lower pitched donging sound, making them turn that way instead. Or the driver could move backward, creating a rapid beeping sound that would cause the dogs to stop entirely. 

The dogs weren’t intelligent, but they had been well-trained and would expect treats for the work they provided. Treats the colony would provide. 

Watching the wagon pull away briefly, Bird-Chair-One waved his antennae toward a couple termites in particular who were among those creating more spears. They were his friends, Giraffe-Rock-Thirty-Two and Elk-Cup-Fifteen, and he sent what amounted to a telepathic greeting. Members of the colony were capable of communicating with one another by sending and receiving the equivalent of ‘thoughts’ through their antennae. It allowed very complex conversations to be had in a much briefer time than human dialogue. 

Yet, despite how quick and easy communication was, Bird-Chair-One knew he couldn’t stay to spend time with his friends or marvel at how well training their new transport-dogs was going. His mission, at that moment, was entirely too important to indulge in even another moment of conversation. And he knew just how easily Giraffe-Rock-Thirty-Two could distract him with jokes and tall tales if given a chance. No, he had to keep going, hurrying along the broken sidewalk, attached to a broken street, in the middle of an empty field that had, at one time, been a town, if a quite small one. Now there was little to illustrate that humans had ever lived there, aside from bits and pieces.  

One year earlier, the humans had called this place Merit, Kansas. But that town no longer existed in any meaningful way. It was still listed on maps, of course. But every building within the city had been destroyed in a war. A war between humans and the Colony of the Sphere. 

Soon, Bird-Chair-One reached the nearest tunnel entrance, hidden as it was under the remains of a mailbox. Pausing at the misleadingly small hole (which gave absolutely no indication of the sheer size and scale of the structure it was leading into), he lifted those tiny eyes to look around once more. No houses or other buildings still existed in what had been Merit. Every human structure had been stripped down to nothing, including the very foundations. That was what had to be done, both to send a message to their human enemies, and to provide much-needed resources to defend themselves through the ongoing conflict. Resources for the war. 

It hadn’t begun with war. No, it had truly begun a little over a year ago, with the sudden appearance of a foreign object, a glowing orb which had appeared in the middle of an ordinary colony of termites. The glowing sphere had simply popped into existence in the middle of a tunnel, disrupting the work there. In its appearance, part of the tunnel had collapsed. But a moment later, for no readily apparent reason, the tunnel had repaired itself, stretching wide to accommodate its new intrusion. Meanwhile, several termites that had been crushed by the orb’s appearance were restored to their original, intact selves and were safely relocated. 

All soldiers or workers among the common termite lacked truly formed eyes or vision. They navigated using their antennae to detect odors, and could differentiate light from dark. And it was both the strange scent of the orb as well as the light it was giving off (to say nothing of the damage it had done to the colony tunnel) that attracted soldier investigation. One in particular drew itself close enough to reach out and brush the orb. And that was when quite literally everything changed. Not only for that single termite soldier, but for the entire colony. 

The first, most immediate change, was the fact that every single member of the colony immediately developed the ability to see. Those small, black, pebble-like bumps grew on the heads of the termites, awakening the ability of sight within all of them. Even those among the colony, such as the king, queen, and colony-expanding, winged alates they produced, who did technically have a rudimentary ability to see, had that ability expand greatly. Every single one of them, from that instant onward, had the gift of sight as clear as a human’s. Even better, technically, considering how well the vision worked within the pitch-black tunnels.

But the sense of sight, while being the most immediate and obvious change, was far from the most important. What followed, mere seconds later, was the ability to comprehend what that vision meant. The termites, one and all, every member of the colony, could suddenly understand what being able to see meant. They understood the concept of dying, of existing, of building. They knew what they were, what humans were, what other animals were. They were, one and all, as intelligent and aware as any average human. More importantly, the members of the colony were not only given a basic awareness and intelligence, they were gifted with the understanding of language. English, in this case. They knew what the words ‘tunnel’, ‘orb’, ‘dirt’, ‘wood’, and even their own designation of ‘termite’, meant. They knew the meaning of thousands of words, and even possessed at least a basic understanding of the history of humanity. The average termite in the colony, from that moment onward, possessed an equivalent knowledge and understanding of history, language, math, science, and more as, at a bare minimum, the average human high school student. 

As with humans, some were more intelligent and knowledgeable than others. A few of the lowly workers and soldiers developed a level of intelligence on par not only with the average human, but with human scientists or academics. The queen and king, meanwhile, were given the intelligence and knowledge needed to control the colony, including the understanding that the most gifted of their subjects had to be protected and nurtured for the good of the colony. 

It was an awakening, the uplifting of an entire colony of termites to a level of intelligence and understanding on par with any human. They were aware, intelligent, capable of individual personality. From that moment forward, every member of the colony, including those later grown from larvae, were just as individualized and capable of thought, creativity, and even emotions such as anger, compassion, and love as humanity itself. 

And yet, for as remarkable as the colony’s sudden intelligence was, the gift of the orb (which had become a sort of god to them) did not end there. It also bestowed the ability for each of the termites to generate a bit of white fog. This fog was capable of disintegrating any currently non-living material (including dead wood) it touched so long as at least one member of the colony was currently standing on or touching identical material. For example, if one member of the colony was perched against a tire, any fog produced by any of the termites could disintegrate any other tires. 

Materials dissolved this way could then be repurposed. The termites would simply produce more fog, manipulate it into the shape they wanted, and the fog would be replaced by the solid form made of their absorbed material. And while they were limited in how much material they could produce this way, it was not a one-one ratio with what they had dissolved. For every single pound of material the fog disintegrated, the colony as a whole could create ten pounds of the same material. Unfortunately, only original material could be multiplied this way. The termites could not, for example, disintegrate ten pounds of steel, create a hundred pound block, then disintegrate that and have access to a thousand pounds. 

That was the new colony, an intelligent collection of termites capable of working together to disintegrate any non-living material and use that material to build elaborate, incredible structures. Each could only produce a small amount of fog by themselves, but together, much large amounts could be used, and thus much larger structures created. 

With their new intelligence and individuality, the Colony of the Sphere (as they called themselves) attempted to reach out to the humans of the nearby small town of Merit, Kansas, by using their material-construction fog to create words made of stone, metal, and wood. 

Unfortunately, that attempt… did not go well. The humans they tried to communicate with, their first attempt at contact, reacted horrifically. They rejected the very concept that the termites could be intelligent. No, worse, they reacted as though the colony were monsters, and tried to kill them. Almost the entire greeting party had been annihilated. A thousand of their people, a thousand intelligent creatures, who had been looking forward to meeting real humans, were wiped out. 

And the humans had not stopped there. They had set about attempting to wipe the colony out entirely. Not all of them, naturally. But enough. And too few tried to stop them. After all, what they were killing were only insects. Poison, fire, huge drilling machines, they had gone to extreme lengths in their efforts to destroy the termite ‘invaders.’ 

The colony, of course, had retaliated once they understood that there was no negotiating, that there could be no compromise. Using their powers, they destroyed the drilling and digging machines, disintegrated the human weapons, even the clothes they wore. They moved further, destroying the very homes the humans lived in, the vehicles they drove, everything they could. They drove the humans to flee. And when more humans came with their weapons, their armored vehicles, their bombs, the colony destroyed those too. 

Eventually, the humans had stopped coming, for the most part. A few still approached, and those who could be trusted were traded with. One in particular, a human named Jerry Mose, had driven a scouting expedition of the colony across a large part of the state, to every junkyard, scrapyard, abandoned car lot, factory, everywhere that would allow the termites to disintegrate more incredibly useful metal and add it to their collective resources. The human authorities had subsequently cracked down much harder on anyone approaching or leaving the territory of the colony, performing very intensive searches to ensure none of the termites snuck beyond their borders. But by then most of the damage had been done. 

It was that, the addition of so much iron and steel (particularly given the colony’s ability to multiply any material they absorbed by ten), which allowed them to create the structure Bird-Chair-One was descending toward as he entered the tunnel. The tunnel, unlike those built by ordinary colonies, was made of concrete. The entrance area was quite wide, with a sharply angled ramp leading downward. Along the top of that ramp were twenty tiny, insect-sized boards with wheels under them. Each board had a spool attached to the back, with string leading from that spool to another one attached to the wall. Next to each spool was a small button. 

Essentially, any member of the colony could perch themselves on a cart and push off. The cart would carry them, much faster than they could walk, down the steeply angled concrete tunnel, staying within narrow grooves which prevented the carts from banging into one another. On the way, the string attaching the cart to the wall spool would unwind. Once the cart was at the bottom, either the button attached to the wall spool, or an identical one down there, could be used to open a small stream of water into a bucket that was linked to the spool on the far side of the wall. The weight of the water-filled bucket would pull the cart back to the surface, and once the cart was locked in place, the bucket would empty and return to its normal position. 

It was a complex system, and the colony was always trying to improve ways that they could get around. Particularly given the fact that their small size was the biggest disadvantage they had in their war for survival against the humans who kept trying to exterminate them. For now, it worked well enough, and Bird-Chair-One rode one of the carts down, down down. The concrete tunnel went through twenty feet of dirt, followed by a further forty feet of solid cement that matched the tunnel itself. And even then, after passing sixty feet deep into the ground through that mixture of dirt and concrete, the ride was only halfway over. A further sixty feet of solid steel, the exterior wall of the buried protective bunker that had become the primary colony home, had to be passed through. Twenty feet of dirt, forty feet of concrete, sixty feet of steel, all protecting the colony from the humans who had tried so hard to eradicate them.

For the moment, those humans had given up trying to destroy them, thanks to a mixture of the damage their very expensive equipment suffered any time it got close (the colony had scouting groups hidden in the wild watching all approaches toward their territory), and the arguments presented by those few humans that the colony counted as allies. They were intelligent and capable of rational thought, which prompted enough humans to speak up for their rights to exist that it was easier for the government to back off, put up signs and barricades blocking people from approaching the former town, and try to ignore the problem than it was to deal with it. 

But the colony had not forgotten. They knew that it was only a matter of time before more humans came to try to kill them. And they would not be helpless victims again. They prepared their defenses, their weapons, for when that time inevitably came. The next time humans decided to play exterminator with the Colony of the Sphere, they would find a much bigger fight on their hands. 

Bird-Chair-One and the rest of his people would not be wiped out. They had tried to extend a mandible of friendship to humans, and had been thoroughly burned. It was not a mistake they would make twice. While they could be allies with a few notable humans, those who had proven themselves, the colony would not expose itself to the risk of extinction again. Humans, as a general rule, were not to be trusted. 

Reaching the bottom of the ramp, Bird-Chair-One left the cart and raced through the maze of tunnels, passing many, many more of his people. Though not as many as there could have been, considering how much better the colony was at defending itself than most insects. Like other Touched-animals, they also seemed to live longer than most of their kind. Though given the fact that most termites lived only one to two years, and it had been merely a single year since they had been Uplifted, that was harder to gauge. 

The point was, they lived longer and thus the colony that had begun at a size of several hundred thousand should have been much larger. Yet something prevented that. Whether it was intentional on the part of the Sphere or not, their larvae only produced viable young at a pace that roughly matched their dead. Whenever they lost members of their species, for whatever reason, more larvae could hatch and grow. It kept the colony at roughly the same size, despite their greater intelligence and survival capability. 

Finally, the tiny termite soldier reached the entrance to the queen’s chambers. It was guarded by dozens of those like him, who would quickly be backed up by hundreds more at a moment’s notice. To say nothing of the various traps that could be triggered to block off the tunnel and fill it with things such as deadly spikes and a flood of water if need be. 

It took a few moments of telepathic communication of ideas and concepts before Bird-Chair-One was allowed to enter the queen’s chambers. Finally, however, the thick stone slab was moved aside, and he hurried in, before stopping to behold the queen herself. Truly massive in size compared to the lowly soldier he was, the queen perched in the corner of the room. Her gaze was centered on what, to humans, would be a tiny, cell-phone sized personal television that had been dragged in there. To the colony, it was a massive monitor, connected through a cable leading to a hidden metal satellite dish that allowed it to pick up these signals. 

She was watching the human news, the anchor reporting from a town over seventy miles away. Nothing of any great import, but Lion-Sapphire-Zero insisted on keeping herself up to date on everything the humans were talking about. Just in case. 

At the approach of her subordinate soldier, her attention moved from the commandeered television, and she sent the simple telepathic request of, Success or failure?

Success, Bird-Chair-One was happy to report. The boat floated properly on the water, and many of our people were capable of mounting it safely. 

This is excellent news, came the cheerful response from Queen Lion-Sapphire-Zero. Soon, we will be able to move our expedition along the river to the place the humans call Leavenworth. Let them watch our above-ground defenses with their satellites and drones. Let them continue to search our human allies to ensure none of us are smuggled beyond these borders. We will move our people through the underground tunnels to our boats, and sail them under cover of darkness far beyond where the humans expect to find our people.

After a brief pause, Bird-Chair-One felt safe enough in the queen’s good mood to ask, Will we attack them then, to repay the lost massacre? 

No, the queen informed him. We will not initiate hostilities. But we will place our people in position to retaliate if need be. 

And if the humans do make any move to exterminate us again, they will find the cost to be far higher than they could have imagined. 

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