< Gathering Storm | Adversaries >
Having dealt with a group of mutant hunters and freed their captives, Techtor and Scope’s job is not done yet. A mutated ant convinces Techtor to travel with it to its colony for information on a nuke.
1240 words | 5 min
“This one senses it is almost at colony, Siphon.”
“Thank goodness.” Scope had run out of energy to complain a long time ago. This had relieved Techtor almost as much as Scope was now to hear the news that his torment would soon end.
Even Techtor himself had grown bored of the hundreds of miles of dry wasteland: crisscrossed with mountains mimicking the patterns on the sand dunes in the valleys between the mountains. The scorched land supported no plant life save the hardiest grasses and sparse bushes on the mountains. The climate here was so dry that, even in the dead of winter, there were only the scarcest amounts of snow.
The city where the brothers had raided a mutant-hunter ring was already far further south than they were comfortable with. Yet they were led further and further south by the mutant that only gave Scout for its name. Techtor dearly missed his green, forest-covered mountains and vales with their great life-giving rivers and lakes. Nevertheless, if this colony had the info that Scout claimed it had, this would all be worth it. Even the effort it took to get Scope to come along.
Their trajectory had not been the most efficient, but Techtor had long since figured out their most likely destination based on his readings from GPS satellites. They were almost upon this location.
Scout began to descend, confirming Techtor’s suspicions.
Far below them, barren regions of the landscape were pockmarked with craters. Most had weathered down over more than a century. Far from the cratered lands was an abandoned and neglected military complex.
In the 20th century, the government had tested nuclear weapons here. Eventually, testing was brought to a halt, but not before more than a thousand detonations had occurred. For some time, nuclear research continued then the place was made into a tourist attraction. Eventually, it was abandoned altogether. It was a decent place to hide a hive.
As they got lower and lower, Techtor only spotted slight movements in shadows and cracks. Aside from this, the place looked just as abandoned and lifeless as the humans likely thought it to be.
Scout was the first to touch down onto cracked asphalt, its quadruple wings layering over its abdomen in a light and graceful landing. Scope was next, his wings rapidly shrinking to nothing moments before he hit the ground, doing the bare minimum to prevent injury. He flopped into a more comfortable position, his back now showing no sign of wings ever having existed.
Techtor was last, having the heaviest landing – but one more graceful than his brother’s. The hard-light projections that formed the bulk of his wings quickly faded before the frames folded into the device attached to his back.
A pair of mutant ants soon scuttled out from a ruined doorway. They did not speak, but one rapidly tapped their antennas against Scout’s. It was slightly smaller than Scout, who was a similar size to a house cat, and had no wings. The smaller ones, however, carried far more dangerous-looking mandibles.
“Guard will take Siphon and Monarch to Queen,” declared Scout. Did they all have names like that?
“So soon?” Scope groaned. “Can you at least let us rest? I’ve just flown I-don’t-know-how-many miles and am starving.”
“You’ve got enough energy to complain,” Techtor observed. “But yes, I too would like some time to recharge. We’re in no state to meet the queen.”
“Reptiles want to be ready in the case they have to fight?”
Not answering, he swung two packs off his back. Scout didn’t press further for answers, instead turning to one of the guards who promptly departed.
Techtor had packed before departing on his mission to rescue the mutants from mutant hunters and restocked at a particular location that he’d taken some rescued mutants to.
From one bag he pulled a case, which he opened up, revealing a solar panel. He lifted it out from the case, before unfolding it to expose a far larger collection of panels. He then pulled a cable from his gauntlet, which he connected to a port on the solar panel array.
From the other bag, he took two chunks of dried meat, which he tossed to Scope. Scope regarded the dried meat with disgust, but eventually picked up one and began ruefully chewing. He’d had the reasons that Techtor couldn’t bring fresh meat explained many a time, and he was hungry enough to eat anything.
After a while, another ant approached. This one looked different to both the others, being even smaller and bearing less threatening mandibles. Yet, it still managed to tote a large chunk of a fleshy mass above it almost effortlessly.
“Worker has brought food for Monarch,” Scout spoke again.
“Eww, what is it?” Scope prodded the moist mass with his finger. The worker remained stationary, holding the food in place just in front of the grey lizard.
“Hive grows fungus near underground water. Worker has brought type of fungus that Monarch is most likely to enjoy.”
“Uhh… thanks?” Scope again prodded the mass. He looked down at his dried meat and then back to the fungus. Giving a noncommital motion, he tore a chunk of the proffered meal off with his hand, before eating it. He then began to tear ravenously into it with his mouth, pausing only briefly when the worker dropped it in front of him.
“Would Siphon like worker to get more?”
“No thanks, I’ll pass.”
The worker scuttled back into the shadows.
“Tell me, Scout, why are you talking for them?”
“Only Scout and Queen can communicate via vocalizations. It is superfluous in other ones.”
Techtor made a sound to indicate his understanding, before entering a low power state while masking his observation of the environment and readiness to strike.
“This one will leave. Guard will remain. Speak to guard when Siphon wishes to see Queen.”
The colony had used the large tunnels dug by humans as the basis for theirs. These were the only things remotely navigable about the colony. Any other outsider might have no hope of escape, but Techtor recorded every step.
Scope, who had at first chickened out, then shied away from being left alone above ground, and now was surely regretting not staying above ground. The big tunnels branched. A myriad of smaller tunnels, too small for the brothers to fit, branched off. And in almost every tunnel they did not enter, there could be seen the glistening of carapaces at the very edge of Techtor’s light.
Scope accidentally stepped on Techtor’s tail again.
Down they went. Down, down. Even Techtor regretted coming here, but the promise of a lead was very tempting, and now he had to follow through.
Eventually, light was sighted ahead. A gentle glow that was eventually revealed to be a luminescent fungus. The tunnel emerged into a chamber that was not pretty, even by Scope’s low standards but still held some fungal arrangements and other things that could only be called decoration.
In the centre of the chamber, surrounded by attendants, stood what could only be the queen. She was almost as big as Techtor, with a massive abdomen that did not seem physically possible. Her chitinous husk, covered in many hairs, diffused and reflected the light in the room.
“Welcome, Siphon and Monarch,” it chittered in a surprisingly pleasant manner, “We have much to discuss.”