What’s a breeder male to do when his hive is invaded by the evil Marauders?
What’s a breeder female to do when, because of those same Marauders, no one wants to buy the artists she prefers to lay?
What’s a worker to do when his Duchess insists that she’s not going to rupture herself laying fighters?
And what are solders to do when their hive spends their time as larva teaching them about art and music? And no one in all of the Trade Group thinks artistic fighters are worth squat?
Kick ass! That’s what they are going to do. But it’s not going to be easy. There aren’t a lot of them and there are a whole lot of Marauders. It will take every trick they learned in art class and a willingness to think about war in whole new ways.
Find out what life is like for a eight-limbed intelligent aliens who live in hives and have all the instincts that we would focus on our own survival and reproduction focused instead on the hive’s welfare. Learn how they think and feel and walk a mile in their carapaces. All while you enjoy a rip-roaring adventure with eight-legged, egg-laying romance no less.
A Darvinian Legend
This story was told to me when I once visited the Heesiik Hive. It is one of many stories, all alleged to have been handed down by the Hiisseek- Tiif Alliance. It is said that the Alliance lasted for about three thousand years, spanning a period that began eight thousand years ago and, in its mightiness, ended a mere five thousand years before our time. There are many versions of this story, but what follows is the version I was given during my visit.
First, I offer a little background. For those who don’t know, Darvinians have eight limbs; four legs, two leg-arms that can act either as legs or arms, and two arms. They have carapaces which are not grown, but made, and they also have a cartilaginous inter-skeleton, like that of a Terran shark, but it is the carapace that supports the body out of water. The carapaces are made by a special class of non-breeder males and are applied directly to the body of the new adult before it leaves the larval pool. The carapaces are specialized to the class and worker and help define the workers’ place in the hive and the comparative status of workers from different hives.
Trade City, eight thousand years ago, at the time of the last great Marauder incursion, was the central city of a large number of loosely allied Hives known simply as The Trade Group. Trade City was located where two rivers joined and was close to the sea. It was the prime transshipment point for goods within The Trade Group. As a free city, it had over a hundred independent, but affiliated, small hives. The total population consisted of about a million beings. These beings included merchants and workers from most of the hives in The Trade Group. Over a thousand hives were included in the Trade Group, at the time we discuss here. In Trade City, then as now, you could buy any type of worker.
It is generally conceded that The Trade Group was expecting the incursion. Unfortunately, the Marauders had moved much faster than expected. The Trade group was preparing for an incursion, but it was not fully prepared.
The Hive of Duchess Hiisseetaaff
“I hate it when he’s right,” Duchess Hiisseetaaff clicked and whistled at her maid, Keek Suus.
Keek Suus, more intelligent than most of her class but still no mental giant, clicked and whistled in sympathy lightened by a touch of humor.
She didn’t know the details of the issues involved but she knew that if Heek Fiis was wrong, her breeder would be much worse than irritated.
“Oh, well. You’d better let him in,” Duchess Hiisseetaaff clicked with ill grace.
“I don’t like soldiers.” Heek Fiis heard Duchess Hiisseetaaff click before his rear legs had even entered the Duchesses chamber. “They make my artists nervous. They make me nervous.”
The comments didn’t surprise Heek Fiis. He had been hearing the same things for years. “Unfortunately, your soldiers don’t make anyone else nervous,” he clicked back. “The Koos hive representative reports his hive is not interested in acquiring ‘artistic’ soldiers.”
“Well, what are we going to do with them, then?”
“I don’t know at the moment, Duchess,” Heek Fiis admitted. “I know our artists aren’t selling even as well as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the soldiers aren’t selling either.”
“Why not? Kees Sar admits herself shocked at the skill of the soldiers I lay.”
Heek Fiis lowered his lower chest, spreading his arm legs in an eloquent shrug. “Partly it’s that they are a little smaller than the average soldier . . . ” Heek Fiis’ explanation was interrupted by the emphatic clack of Duchess Hiisseetaaff
“I will not rupture myself laying giant soldiers,” she insisted as she had insisted every time that the subject had come up. And it was true that at only fifteen feet long she was a bit small for a queen. Not all that small, but smaller than average.
Heek Fiis waited out the interruption then continued, “The rest, I fear, is our reputation. Ever since our mother established the hive, we have worked for a reputation of producing the best artists. And it worked. For works in bronze, resin or paint they come to us. For the best dancers and poets, as well. But the hives don’t see art and war as in any way related. They don’t want our soldiers for the same reason that they don’t want our miners or mound builders. I had hoped that the Marauders would take longer in coming. That there would be a period where soldiers would be fashionable, but the hives wouldn’t be all that frightened.”
“Yes. Yes. I know. Soldiers with style and grace.” She clacked her irritation. “I laid them and we taught them; art, poetry, dance, even reading and math while they were still larva.”
“Which has backfired. With the loss of the outland hives, Trade City is in a panic. They want soldiers, but not artistic soldiers who they think will be useless in a fight. Perhaps after a few more months when the panic has died down and when there have been a few incidents.”
“Incidents?” Keek Suus asked, in nervous clicks.
“Of course, incidents,” Duchess Hiisseetaaff clicked back. “Soldiers are dangerous. They think of nothing but fighting.”
“Not ours,” Keek Suus insisted loyally. “Why, just the other day I had a very pleasant talk about maps with Seesii. I didn’t understand half of it, but she was very enthusiastic and not at all threatening.”
“As I said.” Heek Fiis gestured at the maid. “Our soldiers don’t intimidate. At the moment that is working against them.”
There was a scratch at the chamber entrance. One of the soldiers came in and bowed. “There is a Sir at the door. He calls himself King Kiitiif.” The soldier’s tone of whistle made her doubt of that claim clear.
“Where is Kiitiif?” Keek Suus asked. She had a tendency to chatter.
“Kiitiif was a mining hive in the KiiSeek mountains,” Heek Fiis told her and in the process reminded Duchess Hiisseetaaff. “It was overrun by the Marauders three months ago.” Then he continued in a thoughtful tone, “There was a single Sir who survived the massacre and made his way to Trade City. I suppose he is technically the King of Kiitiif Hive. He has been here for a little less than a week and our soldiers have asked if I could arrange an interview.”
“Whatever for?” Duchess Hiisseetaaff asked.
“They want to find out how the Marauders managed the attack.” Heek Fiis shrugged again. “They call it war choreography, and talk about learning the Marauders dance moves so they can counter them.” It seemed weird even to Heek Fiis, in spite of the fact that he had believed that bringing style to war would make better soldiers. Truthfully, his belief was based more on an almost blind faith in the superiority of his hive and the way it did things than any understanding of war. He believed that art made everything better.
“Fine. So let them interview him.” Duchess Hiisseetaaff wasn’t in the mood to deal with some backcountry sir with delusions of grandeur.
The soldier scratched mandibles in the Darvinian equivalent of clearing it’s throat. “He said he was interested in acquiring soldiers.”
“Well, why didn’t he send one of his kees?” Duchess Hiisseetaaff complained.
“From what I understand,” Heek Fiis told her, “All his personal guard were killed guarding his escape. No kees, no keek, no support of any kind. All the workers of his hive that survived are held by the Marauders.”
“Well, if he doesn’t even have a keek, how is he going to buy our soldiers?” Duchess Hiisseetaaff complained.
“That’s a very good question,” Heek Fiis agreed. “There is apparently only one way to find out.”
“You deal with him, then,” she said. “I have no time for this.”
“He’s a King,” Heek Fiis said. “It’s . . . inappropriate. As you have pointed out innumerable times, Duchess.”
Sir Tiif waited in a state of almost despair. He was still trying, but by now he was mostly going through the motions. He stood in this well-appointed entrance hall and tried not to whimper. His hive was dead. His mother, his aunts, his sisters and brother, cousins, the maid, his guards. He remembered how upset he had been when his hive mother had insisted on buying him extra guards, rather than the decorating keek for his carapace. From this very hive, as it happened. He remembered. . . .
“But, Hive Mother,” Prince Tiif whined prettily. “I would look so much better in a carapace crafted by one of the Hiisseetaaff keek. They are famous all over the trade group, and such a carapace must increase my value when I am loaned to other hives to shell their eggs.”
“Which will do the Hive no good at all, if we are overrun and destroyed.”
Prince Tiif had flounced out of the room in high dudgeon. . . .
Two years later those soldiers had died, one at a time, guarding his back trail, and he felt horribly guilty for the way he had ignored them. Now here he was, in that selfsame Hiisseetaaff Hall, looking for soldiers that no one wanted and without a single asset to pay for them. He looked over at the door guard, who stood like a statue.
“What do you think of the war?” Tiif asked . . . for something to say, anything to say.
The guard looked at him, then moved over to an entrance and spoke quietly to another guard, who clicked something in return and left.
“I think it is being fought poorly,” the guard whistled quietly. Then added, with a couple of polite clicks, “On both sides.”
“What do you mean?” Tiif asked. He had asked that same question many times in the last few months to many different soldiers of many different hives, and they had all had much the same answer. It wasn’t this one. Instead, they talked about how the Marauders overwhelming force was pressuring the trade group and more soldiers were needed if the trade group was to survive.
The guard looked at Tiif again and said, “From what I hear, the Marauders are fighting in a very foolish manner, but the defenders, no offence intended to you or your hive, are fighting just as badly. . . or perhaps even worse.”
“How should they be fighting?”
“That isn’t a simple question. Can you tell me how the Marauders got into your hive?”
“I’m not sure. They were just there, before we knew about it. The commander of my guard said they rushed the gates and came over the wall.”
“They shouldn’t have been able to get near your walls without your knowing,” the soldier insisted with what sounded to Tiif like the arrogance of inexperience. “You should have had had guard posts out.”
“We did!” Tiif clacked with more force than he intended. This was, after all, not his hive and not his soldier. “It was a punishment detail since no one likes to be out on their own. I remember the guards complaining about it.”
“Where were they placed?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, perhaps our maps are wrong. But alert guards should have been able to give you at least a few hours warning.”
“How would you have done it?” Tiif asked. Curiosity was pushing resentment out of his mind.
“I’m not entirely sure. It depends on the terrain, but I would have probably had guard colonies at Suusii Peak and Tiin Pass.”
For the next few minutes, Tiif and the guard talked about the attack on Kiitiif Hive. Then a thought occurred to Tiif. “What did you say to that other soldier, the one who left?”
“I sent her to guard the door from an outside watch point.”
“Because the door needs to be guarded, and you wanted to speak to me.”
“No, I mean why shouldn’t she guard from here? I wouldn’t have minded.”
“The Marauders are of great concern to us all, and while I trust Seesii to do her duty, she can do it better when she isn’t distracted.”
It was then that Tiif noticed that the carapace of the door guard had a set of inlaid rank symbols. This was a lieutenant, if not an undercaptain.
“Why is an undercaptain doing guard duty?”
“Rank has its privileges,” the undercaptain said. “And we saw you coming, so I took the guard in case you wanted to talk. I am Undercaptain Siel.”
Just then another soldier arrived with word that the Duchess would see Prince Tiif, and he left the undercaptain in deep contemplation.
Tiif had lived on the kindness of workers since his hive had been taken. They all wanted to talk to him about what ever their job was. Plumbers wanted to talk plumbing. Farmers, farming; soldiers, fighting and war. What none of them wanted was to listen to him. They all knew more about their jobs than he did, and they knew it. What they wanted from him was the simple acknowledgment that whatever it was they did, was important. So he let them tell him about how important their work was, and in exchange he was fed and housed as he made his way to Trade City and, to an extent, even after he arrived.
What didn’t happen was them wanting to find out anything from him. But these soldiers, at least Undercaptain Siel, wanted just that. Siel had just debriefed him about the attack on his hive, what the Marauders had done, and what his hive had done. Things were brought out that Tiif didn’t want to remember, but even more were the things that he had never known. Things he doubted even the soldiers of his hive had known.
“Marvelous,” Sir Tiif said with charming enthusiasm as he entered. “A soldier with a mind! As always, Duchess Hiisseetaaff, you breed the best.”
Nothing about the young Sir was what the Duchess expected. This was all very confusing, if gratifying. “Marvelous? Most have not had that reaction.”
Heek Fiis, as was his clear duty, interrupted before His Duchess could say more. “Sir Tiif, I presume?” he asked, gesturing for the young Sir’s papers.
Tiif paused and looked at the Heek for a moment, reminded of his change in status. Being called “Sir” had put him on the defensive the first time he had heard the title, and every time since. At first he had rejected the title out of hand, and insisted that King was his correct title. If you stretched a point, he was entitled to be called “King.” He was, after all, the ranking breeder of his hive. And he did legally own enough property to support the title of King. Later, much subdued, he had let the title of “Sir” stand. He hadn’t had much choice. Then, the soldier in the hallway came to mind. She had neither refused to speak nor weakened the door guard. Perhaps he could come up with an alternative.
He made a gesture of uncertainty in a style that said it was the circumstances that were uncertain, not him. “Yes and no. Perhaps only for the moment,” he said as he handed the papers to the Heek. “I come to you as a beggar, presuming on your good nature. My hive lost, my non-breeders either slaves or food.” He lifted his head, “Yet, I am not wholly a beggar. My hive owns a great deal, and may yet regain its possessions. It’s your soldiers who convince me of that possibility. Yet, as the Duchess has pointed out, most fail to see their virtue. That is a sad thing for the whole Trade Group.
“If things continue like this, the Marauders will be here in as little as another year or two. For me, the Trade Group’s blindness offers an advantage. It gives me more to offer. I can offer an opportunity to show the Trade Group the value of your soldiers. My hive’s mines are still operating. Truthfully, for now and for a bit longer, the mines are probably producing more than they ever have before. The Marauders don’t care for the welfare of their captured workers. That can increase production, for a while. I have legal claim to that ore. Mine is the only legal claim.”
“The problem is getting the ore,” Heek Fiis responded. “There is the little matter of those thousands of Marauders standing between us and it, isn’t there?” Still, Heek Fiis was impressed. The prices of copper, tin and bronze had gone up amazingly since the loss of the Kiitiif Hive. Kiitiif was not the only source of metals, but it was both the largest, and effectively the closest. With the need for weapons increasing just as the main source of metal was lost, prices had gone through the roof. The arguments, both for and against, the melting of “Dancers,” a sculpture by Keeniif that was famous throughout the Trade Group, continued to rage. The sculpture was perhaps the Hive’s most precious possession, aside from Keeniif himself.
“Not so little a matter, I grant you,” Tiif answered. “But before we concede that it is an impediment too great to be managed, perhaps we should discuss this with your soldiers. They seem to have a way of looking at war . . .” Tiif paused, then made a gesture that meant “the word cannot be found” before continuing. “. . . that is different. Let’s see if they think it could be done before we concede that it cannot.” He made the gesture “waiting for further word” in a style that indicated willingness to wait as long as it takes.
“That,” said Duchess Hiisseetaaff, “is an excellent idea.” She had, in her way, been letting Heek Fiis carry the discussion. But she had been listening. She found herself increasingly impressed by Tiif, but not because he was pretty. Well, not just because he was pretty. There was something about Tiif that was almost like the Artists she so admired. He had style.